Best ball leagues have emerged over the past few years as one of the more popular trends in fantasy football. Why? Well, it’s simple. There’s nothing fantasy football owners love more than drafting. That’s when endless opportunities exist and fantasy owners have countless sleepers and value picks circled on their cheat sheets. All you have to do is draft and wait for the points to roll in.
Everything is out of your control after the draft. Your optimal lineup is automatically set on a weekly basis. There’s no start ’em, sit ’em choices, waiver wire pickups, or trades. As fun as those can be, they’re also time-consuming and agonizing. While best ball adds a little extra stress during the draft, it still beats the headaches that come with lineup decisions.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2021 Cheat Sheet
You can study different strategies ahead of best ball drafts, but the only way to be truly ready is to test out a mock draft or two. Recently, I participated in an 18-round best ball draft with 11 other fantasy owners at Underdog Fantasy. The half-point PPR league had 18 roster spots with no defenses or kickers (common for best ball), and I ended up with the No. 9 overall pick.
Because I was picking late in the first round, my strategy was to double up on running backs early on. Waiting until the third round to draft my RB2 could get risky, and I might have a chance to draft a borderline RB1 with both of my first two picks. After that, the plan was to grab receivers often and build up a wealth of depth there since this league starts two RBs, three WRs, and a flex.
While I followed our top 200 PPR rankings at times, I also had to make some adjustments. Best ball is a season-long format with no transactions or start/sit decisions, so it made sense to add some younger, upside-based sleepers to the fold. They come with some risk, but if they pop off, then they could really buoy my team.
Also, a key difference with best ball is your flex is often a receiver. In season-long leagues, you often want stability in that position going into the week; in best ball, the highest-scoring player is going to wind up there automatically, and that’s often a WR who caught a 40-yard TD pass, not a handcuff RB who received 10 touches and failed to get into the end zone. That’s why I went WR heavy after the first couple rounds.
2021 Fantasy Best Ball Mock Draft: 12-Team half-point PPR league
* This draft was for a half-point PPR best ball league that starts 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 FLEX and has 10 bench spots
Austin Ekeler, RB, Chargers (Round 1, Pick 9). There were backs that ranked higher than Ekeler among our top 200 PPR rankings, but he carries a lot of value in half-point PPR formats. He had 92 catches, 993 yards and eight receiving touchdowns in 2019, the last time he played a full,16-game season. Ekeler still produced 933 scrimmage yards in 10 games last year, and he should only be better given the improved blocking in which the Chargers have invested. He’s a nice high-floor option at this early stage.
Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington (2.16). We actually have Gibson ranked higher than Ekeler in both our standard and PPR rankings, but I wanted to see if I could get him at the 16th spot. Mission accomplished. Like Ekeler, Gibson is a great pass-catcher, as he played receiver in college. He had 36 catches in 14 games (10 starts) last year but should eat into J.D. McKissic’s target total in 2021. McKissic was targeted 110 times last year. Gibson also did well between the tackles, averaging a strong 4.7 yards per carry and totaling a whopping 11 TDs. He did that with little experience at the running back position. With a full offseason at his new spot, he should be even better than he was as a rookie.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Rams (3.33). With two strong running backs in tow, the third and fourth rounds were all about adding a couple of high-quality receivers. Getting Kupp with the 33rd pick was a good start. Kupp has averaged 129 targets over the past two seasons and has been on pace for 1,102 receiving yards and seven TDs per 16 games during that span. The impressive thing? Kupp did that all with Jared Goff. Matthew Stafford should be an upgrade over Goff, so Kupp’s ceiling is even higher that usual. While some prefer his teammate, Robert Woods, we actually have Kupp rated slightly higher in our WR PPR rankings.
Brandon Aiyuk, WR, 49ers (4.40). Receivers were flying off the board at this point — as they’re wont to do in best ball leagues — so we had to reach a bit here. We also faced a tough decision: Odell Beckham Jr. or Aiyuk. Ultimately, we went with Aiyuk because he was on pace for 128 targets last year while generating seven total touchdowns (five through the air and two on the ground). He’s a safe, multi-faceted weapon with upside. Beckham certainly is appealing, too, but Aiyuk’s floor/ceiling combo is just a bit higher.
Javonte Williams, RB, Broncos (5.57). If you can land three high-quality running backs in best ball, you’re usually in great shape at the position. That’s why I grabbed Williams here. The price was right for our 54th-ranked player, and he adds some extra upside to our RB room. Plus, he’ll protect against any potential injury to Ekeler or Gibson, who both missed time last season. Williams averaged 7.9 yards per touch in his final year at UNC and scored 22 times. He won’t repeat that production at the NFL level, but he can still be a rock-solid RB2. Melvin Gordon will take some touches away from him, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Williams emerge as the workhorse by the end of his rookie season.
Josh Allen, QB, Bills (6.64). I wasn’t planning on drafting a quarterback this early, but Allen was too good to pass on. He’s our No. 3 ranked QB for 2021, yet he was available early in the sixth round. Allen has an elite rushing floor, as he ran for 421 yards and eight scores last year. He had 45 touchdowns in total and threw for more than 4,500 yards. Allen has improved markedly in each of the past two seasons. If he makes another leap, he could be the best quarterback in fantasy football. Even if he doesn’t, he’ll still be a sure-fire top-five option. He is a steal and will allow us to wait on another quarterback until much later in the draft.
DJ Chark, WR, Jaguars (7.81). Chark kickstarted a run of five consecutive receivers for my team, as I was desperate to add depth and talent at the position. Chark is dealing with a broken finger right now, but he should return before the start of the season. He has averaged 13.6 yards per reception each of the past two year despite playing with a plethora of different quarterbacks. If Trevor Lawrence can close that revolving door, Chark could have his best season yet. At the very least, he’s a good deep threat and a nice WR3. You could also make a case for his teammate, Laviska Shenault, here, but Chark is the more proven option.
Darnell Mooney, WR, Bears (8.88). OK, this was definitely a reach, but sometimes, you have to take risks in best ball leagues. Drafting Mooney in Round 8 qualifies as one that could pay off. Mooney caught 61 passes for 631 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie. Those numbers are modest, but his potential is sky-high. He was targeted 98 times despite starting just nine of 16 games. Frequently, he was able to shake open downfield but Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky couldn’t get him the ball. Take this play, for example.
— Slightly Biased (@BiasedSlightly) October 27, 2020
So, is Mooney a risk? Definitely, but his upside is through the roof. Once Justin Fields gets on the field, Mooney could be a great deep threat. And with Allen Robinson there to take attention away from him, opposing defenses won’t be able to focus on him.
DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins (9.105). If Mooney is a boom-or-bust pick, Parker is a vanilla pick. He averaged a solid 7.4 fantasy points per game (FPPG) last season in 14 games. He’s a steady performer, and at this point, he is what he is. A good starter that will be a worthwhile flex play in most matchups. He may even be a WR3 if Tua Tagovailoa continues to perform as well as he has during the preseason. Parker has only played a 16-game season once in his six-year NFL career, but he has never played fewer than 11 games either. He’s a nice, safe foil for Mooney and will be fine as our main flex option if Mooney busts.
Gabriel Davis, WR, Bills (10.112). As a rookie, Davis averaged 17.1 yards per catch and scored a touchdown on seven of his 35 catches. He had 599 receiving yards while playing 73.3 percent of the Buffalo snaps. Davis figures to have an even bigger role in 2021 with John Brown gone. The Bills brought in Emmanuel Sanders to repalce Brown, but he will likely serve as the fourth receiver and a versatile backup. Davis could be a big-time TD threat and like Mooney, will benefit from playing across from another dynamic receiver, Stefon Diggs. He’s a great 10th-round value, and stacking him with Allen will raise our team’s ceiling. Boom-or-bust backups like Davis are a must in best ball leagues.
Jakobi Meyers, WR, Patriots (11.129). Meyers is one of the best sleepers to target in best ball PPR formats. He caught 59 of 81 targets in 14 games last season and figures to be the No. 1 receiver on the Patriots in 2021. If Cam Newton can stay healthy or if Mac Jones can perform at a high level as a rookie, Meyers should have a chance to be a reception machine. He averaged 5.8 targets per game last season but should see even more with other receivers like Nelson Agholor there to draw attention away from the defense.
Jonnu Smith, TE, Patriots (12.136). Waiting on a tight end can be risky, but I managed to get a good one in Round 12. Having Smith and Meyers may not look ideal, but Meyers is my WR7, so I don’t have to worry to much about them cannibalizing each other’s production. Smith had nine total touchdowns last season despite dealing with a knee injury. He’s a versatile player who can be used in-line, as a receiver, and out of the backfield, so Josh McDaniels will scheme up ways to get him the ball. If you’re waiting on a tight end, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than Smith.
Xavier Jones, RB, Rams (13.153). We’re finally going back to the running back well here. Jones is a nice sleeper option, as the Rams are looking for a running back to pair with Darrell Henderson in wake of Cam Akers’ season-ending Achilles’ injury. The Rams didn’t sign any players to compete at RB, so it seems as if they’re comfortable with Jones and seventh-round rookie Jake Funk at the spot. Either would be a solid add, but Jones is ahead of Funk on the depth chart and had the more productive college career. Plus, Funk has had some injury issues, so Jones is the better pickup late.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Lions (14.160). Here’s one more receiver with upside. The Lions have no set pecking order at the receiver position. They have veterans in Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams, and Kalif Raymond at the position, but St. Brown has looked good so far during training camp and the preseason. He had 41 catches for 478 yards and seven touchdowns in six games during his final season at USC, but he flew under the radar. If he can win a starting job, he could catch a lot of passes from Goff, as the Lions figure to be trailing a lot.
Jared Cook, TE, Chargers (15.177). I wanted to pair Cole Kmet with Jonnu, but he went off the board just before this. As such, Cook was about the only viable tight end option available. He’s 34, but he has averaged 701.7 receiving yards and 7.3 TDs per game over the past three years. He’s playing with Justin Herbert, so you could do a lot worse than Cook as your TE2.
Taysom Hill, QB, Saints (16.184). I’m going to explain this strategy in a second. Stay tuned . . .
Jameis Winston, QB, Saints (17.201). So, I went with both of the Saints quarterbacks to back up Josh Allen. On one hand, that may look like a waste of a roster spot. On the other, I’m now guaranteed to have a starter available unless both Hill and Winston are injured or benched. That approach may not be viable with, say, Josh Allen and Mitchell Trubisky, but doing it with the Saints QBs makes sense. We don’t know who will start for them (as of this writing), and both guys have appealing fantasy upside. Winston threw for a league-high 5,109 yards last time he started a full season. Hill averaged 11.2 FPPG from rushing alone during his four starts last year. Either is a good option to have behind Allen, so taking both seems viable. I may regret this if either Hill or Winston starts all 16 games, but hey, it’s the 17th round. At some point, you have to take a risk.
Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Patriots (18.208). Stevenson has four TDs in two preseason games and has drawn comparisons to LeGarrette Blount. Sign me up as my fifth RB.
By the end of the draft, this is what my team looked like:
Josh Allen, Bills
Taysom Hill, Saints
Jameis Winston, Saints
Austin Ekeler, Chargers
Antonio Gibson, Washington
Javonte Williams, Broncos
Xavier Jones, Rams
Rhamondre Stevenson, Patriots
Cooper Kupp, Rams
Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers
D.J. Chark, Jaguars
Darnell Mooney, Bears
DeVante Parker, Dolphins
Gabriel Davis, Bills
Jakobi Meyers, Patriots
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Lions
Jonnu Smith, Patriots
Jared Cook, Chargers
This looks like a strong draft overall. There are certainly some concerns about my RB depth; the group is completely unproven behind Ekeler and Gibson, both of who were injured last year. If one goes down and Javonte Williams doesn’t pan out, I could be in for a long year with a bunch of sub-five-point games at the RB spot.
However, my receiving corps is in great shape, and having Josh Allen and his rushing upside around mitigates the concern with my lack of RB depth. I shouldn’t have any trouble filling out my three WR spots and flex each week. And my tight end room should be good enough to get by, as well.
Still, this mock proves that stacking up receivers in the middle of the draft is a good approach, and rostering eight in a league with 18 total spots is usually the right move. Receiver depth is the most critical part of a best ball team. If you have that, then you’ll have a good chance to compete for a league title.