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Underdog Bestball Tournament Strategy 2023-1
It's the beginning of August and as I sit down to write this article, I have drafted over fifty best ball teams. Which to some is a modest number but to others seems ridiculous since we are still more than a month away from the start of the regular football season. These best ball formats run the entire gambit of options available to fantasy players, super-flex, one quarterback, tight end premium, third round reversal, slims with no defense or kickers, leagues where defense is heavily scored. You name it, I've probably drafted it. Some teams are in stand-alone leagues where your competition is the other eleven managers, but the majority have been in tournaments where you are drafting against thousands. In some cases, hundreds of thousands. I'm talking specifically about the tournaments available on the Underdog site, like their incredibly popular Best Ball Mania IV and the rest of the smaller, adorably dog themed contests.
These tournaments have never been more popular and are great options for players of all levels from your casual fantasy player to professional drafters who are lucky enough to play fantasy football for a living. If you are newer to this format you might think to yourself, "how can I draft a competitive team against a field of thousands?" or "what can I do to make my team stand out against this many other teams." If this resonates with you, then you've come to the right place. Grab a pen and paper or whatever it is people use to take notes in 2023 because below are some tips to help you navigate the best ball tournament streets.
If You Build It, They Will Come
If you set out to build a house, you wouldn't just wing it. You would start with a plan, pour a solid foundation, put up a sturdy frame. You should be doing the same thing when you draft if you want your team to withstand the rigors of a 17-week season and make it all the way to the playoffs for a chance to win the whole thing. Having a plan does not mean that you have a list of players you want to draft and only stick to those specific targets no matter what happens. What it does mean is that once you decide who you are taking in the first round or so you determine the type of team you want to construct and maintain the discipline to draft players that fit into that particular build. Below we'll discuss three of the most common builds in best ball right now.
The Zero RB Build
One of the most popular builds in best ball, really any fantasy format, is the Zero Running Back (RB) build. Meaning you go all in on the top wide receivers for the first several draft picks, holding off on drafting a running back until the later rounds of the draft. Value at the running back position can be found much later in the draft so it is easy to see why this build is so popular among tournament drafters given that the roster requires you to start at least three wide receivers. Especially when the talent drop offs comes so much quicker for that position. The key to successfully building this kind of team is in correctly drafting running backs who have the opportunity to see a good amount of volume, or at least the potential for volume in their backfield.
Rhamondre Stevenson's 2022 season is a perfect example. That year Stevenson's average draft position (ADP) in points per reception leagues, according to Fantasydata.com, was 77 overall. Which means you were likely drafting him in the sixth or possibly the seventh round. He ended the season as the number seven running back overall in fantasy. If you drafted him at that ADP, you received tremendous value at very little cost in draft capital. Unlike, for example, Najee Harris who was being drafted in the first round at an ADP of around seven and finished the year as the overall running back 14. Your task, if you choose to accept it, is to find who will be this year's Stevenson and add him to your "Zero RB" teams.
The Hero RB Build
If you find yourself in a position to draft Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, or Bijan Robinson in the first round then you might consider a Hero RB build. The idea is to draft one elite running back in the first or early second round and then holding off on drafting your second running back. With this build you're buying into the idea that the second running back is the least important roster spot on your team or at least the easiest to replace. Typically, this position is not going to be the sole reason you win your league. Due to the volatility of the position and the rate at which running backs are injured in comparison to other positions, you will likely rotate players in and out of this roster spot throughout the season. Once you take your first running back, you can focus on filling out the other positions before going back to the running back well.
Your team in this build might look something like drafting Christian McCaffrey with the third or fourth pick in the first round. You would follow that up by drafting several top receivers and then in perhaps the seventh or eighth round targeting a player like a James Cook, for example. Right now, Cook has the starting running back job for the Buffalo Bills. The Bills are an elite offense and Cook is being drafted routinely in the Underdog tournaments at an ADP of 94. The idea here is similar to the Zero RB strategy where you are evaluating players on their potential for heavy volume and usage in the later rounds.
The Robust RB Build
Does the thought of a Nick Chubb, Saquon Barkley, Jahmyr Gibbs start to your draft give you the tingles? Then a Robust RB build might be for you. The opposite of the Zero RB build, here you commit to drafting elite running backs to start your team and pick up talent at the receiver position in the later rounds. If you go this route, you must be selective in the backs that you are drafting and commit to choosing players who will have the main role on their team and could be in more of a "bell cow" position rather than a committee. You are spending tremendous draft capital at this position in a tournament that requires rostering three receivers and only two running backs. This is a riskier build choice since we know that the running back position tends to experience more injuries than the pass catchers typically see.
This build is a bit of a gamble, but thankfully not one that will get you suspended from the NFL for this season. Fear not, this doesn't mean no upside exists to constructing your roster this way. You'll likely find in your draft that these builds are not as common, which could give you an advantage. The idea is to stand out in a sea of thousands. To build your team in a way that is unique but still successful because if you make it to the playoffs, the competition is whittled down to a smaller group of teams. You want to have players on your roster that not everyone else has but especially ones with the ability to keep you in the hunt for the grand prize.
Understanding builds is one of the first steps on your journey to becoming a best ball savant. Going back to our construction analogy, perfecting your build is like pouring the foundation. Having a solid base is vital to your team if you want to still be in the mix beyond week 14 heading into the tournament playoffs. Once you've mastered this skill, you'll be ready to add in other ideas such as stacking and playoff correlation to your drafting resume.