One of the most interesting (and rarely talked about) aspects of Best Ball is that the big tournaments are drafted over a lengthy period of time, which means player ADPs will change; sometimes slowly as players become more or less popular among the user base, sometimes very very quickly when a guy is hurt, newly signed, or a clear change in role is apparent. I am not a Best Ball expert, but I do know that a consistent edge in any game of strategy (which includes DFS and Best Ball) is in finding things that others aren’t thinking about. At least from what I’ve seen in the content industry, thinking about how to handle changing ADPs over the course of a draft “season” is something I rarely see discussed. So, let’s see if we can figure out anything interesting and useful here, shall we?
Let’s start with the basics here: Best Ball tournaments are drafted over the course of weeks or months before the season starts. I don’t know the dates when various sites posted their tournaments, but on Underdog Fantasy their big flagship tournament is 40% full as I write this on July 20th. On Draftkings I’m unable to find info on how full the Best Ball tourneys are at the moment (last year you could see it on the main Best Ball page, but this year that information seems to not be there, at least not right now). With months spanning the tournament-opening until it’s filled, that’s a lot of time for fantasy situations to change, and that should impact our strategy.
The easiest way to think about this is a simple example. If a player’s ADP rises significantly, you know there are rosters in the tournament that have that player at a lower draft slot. So, if you take that player at his new, earlier-round ADP, you are at a disadvantage when compared to rosters that were built when his ADP was later. Before the 2020 draft, Clyde Edwards-Helaire was being drafted anywhere from the 4th to 8th rounds (I don’t remember his ADP off the top of my head here so I’m just going off of what I remember seeing in some drafts I was in). After CEH was drafted by the Chiefs, his ADP skyrocketed, and by the end of draft season, he was being picked up in the middle of the 1st round. The problem, though, with using a 1st round pick on CEH is that there were rosters in the same tournament that had picked up CEH in the 6th, 7th, or 8th rounds; they had another 1st round pick that your CEH roster didn’t have. Those rosters would be objectively stronger than your roster on which you picked CEH in the 1st. We don’t want to play at a disadvantage, so being wary of significant ADP increases is a good rule of thumb to add to our Best Ball playbooks.
Does this mean “don’t draft anyone whose ADP has risen?” No, it doesn’t. It means we need to be thoughtful about doing so. In CEH’s situation, the rise in his ADP was counteracted by a fall in Damien Williams’ ADP; Williams was expected to be Kansas City’s lead back, and now he wasn’t (and then it turned out he sat out the season entirely due to Covid). So while there were some “extra strong” CEH rosters in the tournament, there were also a lot of disadvantaged rosters that had picked up Williams with an early-round pick. What’s important here is considering the overall ramifications of changing ADP, and also considering how full the tournament was when the news came out that resulted in the ADP change.
A good example of this that just occurred is the season-ending injury to Cam Akers. Akers was going in the late 1st, early 2nd round in drafts (ADP of 12). The Underdog flagship tournament is 40% full, so we know that about 3.5% or so of rosters in this tournament are severely disadvantaged, having used an early pick on Akers. We also know that a further 3.5% or so of rosters have Darrell Henderson at an ADP of 126; a spectacular bargain of Henderson ends up being the lead back. Henderson’s ADP is likely to skyrocket, barring any further news about the Rams’ running back situation. How should we approach this?
Personally, my approach is to treat it as a situation with a lot of uncertainty. If Henderson ends up being the lead back and has a monster season, it’s highly likely that one of the 5,000 or so rosters in the tournament that picked up Henderson at his ADP of 126 is going to take it down. The tournament is already awfully full with 62,000 teams, so there are a LOT of Henderson teams you’d have to compete with. Even if you get Henderson on your team in the 2nd or 3rd round and he has a big year, you’re still up against 5,000 teams that got him in the 10th round or later. What do you think the odds are of your roster being better than all 5,000 of those teams despite the massive edge they have with their 10th round Henderson vs. your 3rd round Henderson? Pretty slim. So, the way I would play this is to avoid Henderson and hope he ends up having a disappointing year. After all, it’s entirely possible that the Rams go out and sign someone else, or maybe one of the other guys already on the team outplays Henderson (hi there Xavier Jones, 2nd on the depth chart), or maybe Henderson also gets hurt. There are lots of ways for Henderson to not be a winning piece, whereas if he does end up being a winning piece, odds are you aren’t winning anyhow because of all of the other rosters in the tournament that got him cheaper.
Make sense so far? Good. Now let’s talk about the inverse situation: falling ADPs. This is where you can play the other side of the coin and try to pick up guys where, if they succeed, your rosters with that player are at an advantage over other rosters with the same player that was built earlier in the draft season. Now, often a falling ADP is for good reason; someone’s role has changed, someone gets hurt, etc. But, other times, falling ADP is simply a result of uncertainty around the role, and embracing uncertainty has as much value in Best Ball as it does in DFS, especially if you want to win a large tournament. In a field with public ADPs that is thus, generally speaking, pretty efficient, it’s rare to see guys be picked THAT far away from their ADP, especially in the first 100 or so picks. This makes it tough to build rosters in a way that can give you a clear, objective advantage over the field if a given outcome goes your way. Did you pick Tyler Lockett at his exact ADP, and then he had a big year? Great, good for your roster, but also good for the thousands of other rosters that picked Lockett around his ADP. But if Lockett’s ADP drops close to the start of the season and you get him a round or two later than a large chunk of the field, then a big season helps your roster more than it helps all of the rosters that drafted him 1-2 rounds earlier.
The takeaway here from a strategy perspective: you need to be aware of current ADP and historical ADP (how it’s changed over time, and how many rosters are out there with guys in their old and new ADPs). This is an inexact science, of course, and it isn’t worth tracking very minor ADP changes in this way, but you should definitely keep track of big multiple-round changes (like Henderson is about to experience). It’s worth noting a very useful tool here for Underdog is https://www.4for4.com/underdog-adp, which lets you see data on how ADPs have changed over time (go play with it; plug in a significant number, like 30+ days, and just look at how much ADPs change over time).
This timed filling of tournaments also means late news just prior to the season can be enormously impactful. James Robinson was a Best Ball tournament winner last season and almost nobody even knew who he was. A couple of weeks before the season, the Jags listed him at the top of their running back depth chart after cutting Leonard Fournette. Even after that, because there wasn’t a lot of industry news or analysis about him, his ADP was very slow to rise, and he could generally be picked up in the very latest rounds of the draft. I don’t remember where his ADP landed just prior to the season but I’d be shocked if it was higher than somewhere in the middle rounds (I was getting him in the mid to late teens all the way through draft season). When it comes to late news like this, embracing uncertainty is your Best strategy. Not every bit of late news will work out as well as Robinson, of course, but you can set yourself up for a massive edge. If 90% of the tournament has filled when news like that breaks, that takes a player from undrafted to a potential league-winning piece. The important factor here, of course, was that Robinson was going undrafted, so you weren’t competing against a bunch of rosters that had gotten him in late rounds; 90% of rosters just didn’t have Robinson at all.
So far all of this has been about how to approach a given draft, and I think there’s plenty of value there, but I should also mention that if you plan to put multiple entries in a Best Ball tournament that you should also think about the timing of those entries. Let’s say you want to put 100 entries in the big Underdog tournament. Should you do them all early? All late? Somewhere in the middle? I think you can win either way, but you’re exposing yourself to more variance by focusing on drafting all or most of your entries in a particularly small window of time. If you draft early, you miss out on the late news opportunities like James Robinson. If you draft late, you miss out on getting early draft season values (imagine if CEH had a monster 2020 season and there were a bunch of rosters who got an RB1 in the 8th round, you would have a hard time beating them out!). I think the right way to play these is to try to draft over time, allocating your entries to basically match the tournament as it fills. So if you plan to do 100 entries, you should try to get your first 10 in by the time the tournament gets to 10% full, your next 10 by the time the tournament is 20% full, and so on. This way you can just focus on winning each individual period of time by using the information available at the time and smart draft strategy. This will reduce your odds of having your entire Best Ball season undone by a piece of news that you aren’t able to adapt to, either because you haven’t drafted any entries yet or because you’ve already put all of your entries in.
We know that the basics of player valuation (via ADP) are at least relatively efficient. We also know that the Best Ball field is rapidly getting smarter about incorporating stacks into their rosters. But looking at ADPs over time rather than just at a moment in time is hardly talked about and thus presents a strong edge for those who can approach it smartly.
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