Welcome to NFL week 15, the start to the playoffs for most season long and best ball contests. I usually make six common sense DFS plays in this column, but I thought I’d do something different this week. If you are only here for the NFL DFS content, we have a world class team breaking that down for you in written, podcast, and streaming form.
I play a somewhat obscene amount of NFL best ball (601 teams drafted across Underdog and DraftKings). Now that I have seen how many teams I’ve advanced to the playoffs (112), I thought it was a good time to share six lessons that I have taken away from this season.
These are just my opinions. Some may disagree. Best ball, especially in the form of these gigantic, top heavy tournaments is a relatively new game. It is far from solved. These are thoughts that I am going to carry with me into next year’s drafts.
1- Don’t Put Too Much Stock in Week 17
“Week 17 is the only thing that matters,” became a popular sentiment of those making best ball content this draft season. While that is certainly true, relative to how the money is paid out, I think many people (myself included) vastly overestimated our own ability to predict what games will shoot out in week 17 and what players will still be available in those games.
In a sport where injuries reek havoc on rosters, very few matchups will resemble what we pictured while drafting. We thought it so clever to build those Kyle Pitts and Kyler Murray correlated lineups. Now those teams exist only as the burning money GIF. I really like the way the LA Chargers offense is coming on at playoff time. I really wish I didn’t force presumed week 17 runbacks of dead weight LA Rams on to those stacks.
One of my biggest stands of the year was Travis Kelce. I thought the positional scarcity made him the best pick in the later half of first round. Great call by me. That naturally got me on a lot of Mahomes, who I thought was being under valued as a 4th or even occasionally 5th round pick. Proved to be a good call as well.
The problem may turn out to be that I prioritized correlating for week 17 and took a bunch of Denver Broncos on these teams. Looks like a real bad call. I thought Russell Wilson would elevate his pass catchers. Couldn’t have been more wrong. Without thinking twice, I took Javonte Williams over Nick Chubb on any Kelce squad. Sure, I ran bad with injury here (still believe Javonte is stud), but I think this is probably bad process as well.
Similarly, it seemed a no brainer to take Cortland Sutton over Amon-Ra St. Brown on a Kelce team, even though at the time I would have readily admitted that the Sun God is a better football player.
I drafted a lot of CMC. He was number one on my board over Taylor. In hindsight, another really good call. This stance was not as profitable as it could have been considering I dragged a bunch of McCaffrey teams down with underperforming Tampa Bay players. This one is especially comical considering he got traded and won’t even be playing the Bucs in week 17.
Someone could do a good statistical study as to whether forcing a runback is even optimal for winning a DFS GPP. (If it’s already been done, I’d love to read it.) I am starting to believe that it is certainly not optimal for best ball, especially when the GPP you are trying to win is played 5 or 6 months after you draft the team.
I am not saying that I will never think about the week 17 matchup while drafting next year. I will just use it only as a tie breaker, not a primary point of decision.
2- Be Careful With Taking Too Big a Stand on a QB
I believe in taking stands on players. Felix Castro, who won the best ball million on DraftKings last season, and ChessLiam, who won it on Underdog, both took massive stands on players. I don’t think the best way beat a huge field is to draft 8-10% of everybody.
That said, because you are generally only rostering 2 or 3 QBs on a team, if you get an injury to a player who you are massively overweight on, it can essentially sink your whole portfolio. Enter Trey Lance into the discussion. I had a shit ton. I drafted Lance 45 times out of 150 in the $5 DraftKings Milly Maker. I drafted him in 18 out of 100 BBM3 drafts on Underdog. Only 1 of these 63 teams got to the playoffs. 1/63 is not a good look for the advance rates.
Because the advance rate of the quarterbacks is relatively flat at the top and you can find spike weeks in the mid and late rounds, I don’t think the risk is worth the reward of taking a huge stance on one player. Jalen Hurts (34%) had the highest advance rate in Underdog’s BBM3 tournament. Mahomes was in second at 31%. After that came a cluster that includes Geno (29%), Fields, Tua, and Josh Allen all at 26%, and Lawrence at 25%.
If Lance had stayed healthy and smashed, he would have probably had something similar to the Justin Fields season. Which would have been nice, but I don’t think that advantage gained would have been worth the risk of sinking a quarter of my rosters.
3- Take Stronger Stances on Position Players in the Mid to late Rounds
We’ve established above how losing one quarterback can cripple your best ball roster. The opposite is true of running backs and wide receivers because we draft so many of them. Most rosters are going to have anywhere from 4-7 RBs and 7-10 WRs depending on the intended structure of your build. As a result, unless it’s a 1st or perhaps 2nd round pick, an injury to player you are taking a big stand on isn’t necessarily going to sink you.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire was a complete bust who hasn’t played in a month and hasn’t broken 10 points since week 4. He has a dead average advance rate in BBM3 of 16%. Kardarius Toney has only played in 4 games this season and only scored more than 3.2 points in one of those games. Yet, he still advanced on 11% of teams. The point being, these were two of the worst picks you could have made in the 7th or 8th round, and if you had taken a big stand on either player it wouldn’t have buried you.
I remember thinking myself over the summer that I should be taking Tony Pollard in every draft. I thought that baring a major injury he was priced at his floor with a 7/8th round ADP. Even if Zeke remained healthy and regained his form, Pollard would be efficient enough to justify that price. He also had the obvious contingent value that he realized when Elliott went down, resulting in a terrific 35% advance rate.
I drafted a good amount of Tony Pollard, but not as much as I should have. I am going to aim to get over 50% on certain position players that I feel particularly strong about in the middle to late rounds next year. I think there is more to gain than there is to lose by taking these big player stands, if they are done within sharp roster constructions.
4- I am a Better Judge of Talent than Situation
Given how much he outperformed his draft position, you are probably not surprised to learn that Josh Jacobs was the most common owned player (28.8%) on first place teams in Underdog’s flagship BBM3 tournament. Miles Sanders was the 5th most common at 18.3. I would have described both before the season as talented, above average, starting RBs who never seem to be given the full opportunity to shine.
Despite excelling as pass catcher at Alabama, Jacobs was never given a 3 down role by the previous Raider regime. New head coach Josh McDaniels constantly rotated backs during his long tenure as offensive coordinator in New England. Las Vegas chose not to pick up Jacobs 5th year options and famously played him the Hall of Fame Game, when most starting running backs of any value would be in street clothes.
Miles Sanders had clearly been the best back in Philadelphia for years, but had constantly lost work to the likes Boston Scott, Kenny Gainwell, and various goal line vultures such as Jordan Howard. I found no reason to believe that Sanders would suddenly be handed a bell cow role in 2022. I was significantly underweight on both players and it cost me.
It sounds over simplified and reductive, but next year I willnmake sure to draft more good football players. I knew going into the season that Jacobs and Sanders were good at football. Situations can, and did change. Even if I did not want to take an overweight stand on either of these veteran backs, considering that they were being drafted in 8th and 9th rounds, I should have had more exposure.
5- Draft More Zero RB Teams
I’ve been slow to come around on this increasingly popular draft strategy, originally outlined by Shawn Siegele. As someone who has been playing fantasy football since the late 90s, waiting on running back (traditionally the most important position), is difficult. In recent years the league has become more pass heavy, running back by committee is more the norm, and elite QBs have further separated from the late rounders. It is becoming harder to deny the effectiveness of the strategy when it is well executed.
The million dollar regular season prize in BBM3 was taken down with a Zero RB build. Winner @kingkappital didn’t draft his first running back (Miles Sanders), until the 8th round. He followed it up with productive rookies Kenneth Walker in the 10th, Rachaad White in the 11th, and Dameon Pierce in the 12th. This team, which was dratted on July 18th is also a good example of the potential benefits of drafting early. By the time the contest closed Pierce had been established as the starter and was regularly being drafted in the 3rd or 4th round.
I am not going full Zero RB Bro in 2023. I don’t want to go into the playoffs without any exposure to the Christian McCaffreys and Austin Ekelers of the world. I will make a point, however to use the strategy more than I did this year.
6- Draft Only from the #underdogcardioclub
I am mostly kidding with this one, but it was fun promotion that for some unknowable reason increased my advance rates. During the middle of draft season Underdog announced that if you tweeted screenshots of 7 BBM3 teams that you drafted while doing cardio, you would become a member of the #underdogcardioclub, earning a free tee shirt and other surprise benefits. One of those benefits turned out to be $3 rake back your remaining BBM3 drafts. It probably saved me at least $100 in entry fees.
I had a 22% advance rate while drafting in the Underdog Cardio Club compared only 17% while not. I don’t know if there is any actionable take from these numbers. Maybe, it had to do with the time of year those drafts took place, maybe it was completely random, or maybe the good vibes were worth 5%. I’d just suggest paying attention on Twitter next year for promotions that might save you a few bucks and a few calories.
Good luck to everyone sweating their playoff best ball teams and trying to climb to the top of the DFS leaderboards this weekend. All the tools you need to get there are available with DFS Army VIP Access!