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How To Play Fantasy Football: The Five Biggest Mistakes to Avoid in NFL Best Ball Drafts

Dave Loughran

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When entering your 2020 best ball drafts, it’s paramount to have a strategy. However, no draft always goes as expected, so the ability to adjust on the fly is of utmost importance. In this article, we’re going to teach you how to play fantasy football by giving you the biggest mistakes to avoid in your best ball drafts.

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If you’re new to the best ball format be sure to check out my best ball strategy guide to better understand the basics. 

Flying Blind

Being more prepared than your opponents is half the battle in best ball leagues. The first few rounds are more or less dummy-proof, but the second half of the draft is what separates the men from the boys. It’s not hard to take someone else’s rankings and blindly make strong picks early on, but you’re going to be at a serious disadvantage using those same rankings once you get into the double-digit rounds.

After a point, draft picks become dart throws with a very low likelihood of panning out. That’s why you want to put in the research and hone in on a number of players who you think could be special. Understand that you’ll probably be wrong on most of them — we all are — but hitting on even a few will pay huge dividends.

I loved Darren Waller heading into the 2019 season and made it a priority to land him on as many teams as possible. While several other late-round players I liked ultimately fell flat, being right with someone like Waller in the 14th round or later was a difference maker. I paid very close attention to training camps, preseason performance, even coach speak. I read up on as many players as possible and formed my own opinions. Sure, it takes time, and it isn’t as much of an issue for someone like myself who talks about sports for a living, but it’s usually the difference between winning and losing.

We’ll talk about why to avoid reaching in a moment, but remember, taking someone like Waller in the 13th instead of the 15th to avoid getting sniped is completely different than taking a fourth rounder in the second. The level of talent thins out considerably late in drafts and there isn’t much difference between a 13th and 15th, whereas reaching in the early rounds prevents you from landing better talents than the player you’re targeting. 

Being Inflexible

Not having a plan-B can be just as costly as having no plan at all. You will never have a draft where everything goes according to plan, but if you do, please send me the invite link. This is precisely why flexibility is key. Let’s say you’ve done your research and feel more prepared than ever. You’ve done over a dozen mock drafts from almost every position and have a good feeling about how the early rounds are going to flow. Then your draft happens and nothing goes according to plan. Your hours of preparation are thrown out the window and here you are, sitting in the eight hole completely unprepared.

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Always be willing to adjust to what your opponents are doing. When you’re determined to go RB/WR in the first two rounds, you might completely miss out on drafting a player who has slid in the draft. Let’s say for some reason Michael Thomas doesn’t get drafted in the first seven picks. This is an opportunity you can’t pass up, but that tunnel vision could have you drafting Derrick Henry because you had to stick to the plan. Ultimately, your plan is only as good as your opponents. When people make mistakes you have to capitalize, and sometimes that means deviating from the original strategy.

Conversely, you might find yourself in a position where the league is sharper than you expected and keeps putting you in precarious positions. The players you thought would be there are off the board and now your roster looks nothing like it did a night ago when you mocked it seven times. The simplest solution: take the best player on the board. Just because you think you need a running back in this particular spot doesn’t mean you need to pull the trigger — not if it means reaching a full round just to get the next decent player at the position. Adapt to what’s been given to you, even if that means drafting three receivers before your first running back. 

Reaching

I get it. You really love Cam Akers this season. You need him on your roster. You’re convinced the Rams’ rookie running back will be the starter and three-down back in Los Angeles by Week 1 and there’s no way you’re missing out. It’s not like Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown can push him for playing time anyway, right?

Slow your roll, big fella.

We all like Akers. I do. You should. He’s one of only a couple rookie running backs positioned to make a big impact in his first season. But big hype creates even bigger risk, and if Akers’ ADP continues to rise on the excitement, you could end up passing over more consistent and proven players just to draft him. Rookie running backs are the most likely to produce in comparison to other skill positions, but they’re also drafted significantly earlier. When taking shots on rookie wide receivers and tight ends, you’re risking much less. So when you become enamored with a player or players, be sure to consider how much you’re risking and what other players are available before you decide to make that reach.

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This isn’t just about rookies, though; if you’re taking any player well ahead of his ADP, make sure you aren’t passing up on something better. Drafting someone a round early is fine if you’re confident they won’t be there when it comes back around to you, but multi-round reaches will not only make you look dumb but put you in a hole that’s hard to dig out of.

Having An Unbalanced Roster

You can oftentimes get away with having an unbalanced roster in regular redraft leagues, but that will never be the case in best ball. Because you aren’t actually setting your lineup each week, lineups must be balanced in best ball for a number of reasons.

First: Bye weeks. Having a lack of depth at a position can crush you when several of your top players have bye weeks, especially if two or more of them have the same weeks off. The top fantasy scorers from your roster are counted as starters each week (read this primer on best ball leagues if you are new to the format), and you cannot add free agents throughout the year, so the team you draft is the team you’re stuck with all season. It’s OK to have a number of players with the same bye week considering your roster will carry up to 25 spots, but you’ll need to make sure you have depth and balance at each position — yes, that includes defenses (and kickers if your league includes them).

Second: Balance with bodies, not necessarily with talent. Let me elaborate. You’ll rarely ever have equal talent at each position at the conclusion of your draft. There is always going to be one position weaker than another. That’s just how it goes. The best way to balance out the discrepancy is by backloading your roster with several longshots at your weakest position.

For example, you drafted RB/RB in your first two rounds, grabbed a WR in the third and another RB in the fourth. Running back is obviously going to be your strongest position, where you could find yourself lacking at wide receiver. In a position like this, I’d recommend drafting a couple more wide receivers than running backs, taking shots on players later in the draft. This way you’re giving yourself plenty of outs to hit on a couple sleepers at your least impressive position. You won’t be hurting at running back most weeks, and your top options at the position will almost always be slotted into your starting lineup.

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At wide receiver, however, you’ll be giving yourself more opportunity to get those less predictable big weeks from one or more of your longshots. The imbalance is actually creating balanced results in this scenario. Two of the most successful best ball roster constructions have been 2 QB, 6 RB, 8 WR, 2 TE, 2 DST and 2 QB, 6 RB, 7 WR, 3 TE, 2 DST.

Thinking Any Player Is Undraftable

Average Draft Position (ADP) can make many players unappealing, but no one is undraftable. You might not like Odell Beckham Jr. this season, but if he falls to the fourth round, you’d be crazy to pass him over. If most of your league shares similar opinions to your own, a lot of players will continue to fall in the draft — much further than they should. You can be less than excited about a player and still be willing to draft them. Put simply, don’t let your opinion of a player keep them from landing on your roster if there’s value to be had.

Not liking a player at their ADP is entirely different than not being willing to draft them. For example, two seasons ago Deshaun Watson fell to the late seventh round in my SiriusXM Host League. His ADP was somewhere in the neighborhood of the fourth round that year. I generally wait a long time to draft my first quarterback in one-quarterback leagues, but Watson in the seventh round was too strong a value to pass up. Be measured, but pounce on these opportunities when they present themselves.

There you have it; those are five of the biggest mistakes to avoid in NFL best ball drafts. Have a plan, and have a plan-B. Don’t make huge reaches on players just because you think you’re smart then the rest of your league. Balance out your roster by giving yourself as many chances to hit on players as possible, and always be willing to draft players you don’t like if they fall far enough in the draft. Now get out there and win some money. Good luck. 


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Dave "Loughy" Loughran has been a fixture in the daily fantasy community since not long after its inception, quitting his career as a Drug and Alcohol therapist to become a full-time DFS analyst, player and media personality in 2014. Loughy is the host of "Awesemo Radio" on SiriusXM Fantasy, qualified for the 2016 DraftKings Fantasy Football World Championship, and was featured in the Washington Post and other publications for his success as a player. You can find him on Twitter at @Loughy_D where he'll likely be ranting about the miserable life of a Philadelphia sports fan, using "fella" in almost every tweet, or via email at [email protected].

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