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Best Ball Draft Recap: Leverage Through Preseason Unknowns

Hilow

How do we create leverage in Best Ball? Great question! I’m not going to get into the nuts and bolts in this article as I covered it fully in my recently released course, “Game Theory Guide To Crushing Best Ball Tourneys.” What we are going to do here is expand upon one of the unique ways to create leverage that only a small minority of drafters are utilizing in Best Ball drafts: embracing the unknowns and “what if” questions found in the preseason as opposed to either shying away from them or, even worse, managing variance while also leveraging variance at the same time. We’ll do this by looking at a roster I recently drafted in the Draftkings Best Ball Millionaire tournament. 

The Roster

I drafted from the 1.04 spot here, with selections as follows:

1.04: Alvin Kamara

2.09: Joe Mixon

3.04: Allen Robinson

4.09: Julio Jones

5.04: Chase Claypool

6.09: Juju Smith-Schuster

7.04: Damien Harris

For those that have read my course, what do you notice from those first seven rounds? For those that haven’t read my course, I apologize for the open-endedness of this break, but I can’t spoil all the fun! If you want to learn why these first seven rounds are so important in Best Ball and how to attack them in the most optimal way, backed up by historical data, my course is available in the Marketplace for $10 off (promo code: save10)! Now, back to how I filled out the roster.

8.09: Brandin Cooks

9.04: Jalen Hurts

10.09: Marvin Jones, Jr.

11.04: Jamaal Williams

12.09: Marquez Callaway

13.04: Alexander Mattison

14.09: Gerald Everett

15.04: Adam Trautman

16.09: Eric Ebron

17.04: Taysom Hill

18.09: Keke Coutee

19.04: Chris Conley

20.09: Cedrick Wilson

Roster Construction

The roster came together as a 2 QB/5 RB/10 WR/3 TE build, driven primarily by Game Theory, the early running backs selected, and the fact that a tight end was not selected until round 14. 

We’ll save the Game Theory discussion for the following section, but I wanted to cover some general roster construction thoughts prior to jumping in.

The two early running backs, specifically Alvin Kamara and Joe Mixon, allowed me to bypass the “running back dead zone” until my round seven selection of Damien Harris, and focus primarily on high upside wide receivers through the early-middle rounds. I filled out running back with the weekly floor-with-potential-injury-upside of Jamaal Williams and the number one handcuff this season in Alexander Mattison. The most upside can be generated from projecting wide receivers to fill your flex position on Draftkings, making these five running backs a solid mix of weekly floor and ceiling across their range of outcomes to fill the two running back positions. 

When taking that line of thinking to the next level, I want as many wide receivers as I can jam into a roster, considering quarterback, running back, and tight end composition. The rest of the roster allowed me to take 10 wide receivers here, and we’ll discuss some of the leverage generated that allowed me to do so shortly. Brandin Cooks and Marvin Jones are two of my three primary middle-round wide receiver targets (joined by Corey Davis) as the lead wide receiver on their respective teams, that also play on teams projected by PFF to have bottom five defenses this season (Texans, Jaguars, and Jets, respectively).

At the tight end position, Gerald Everett is the lowest I like to go without selecting a tight end, if I can help it. When I go this long without taking a player at the position, I will always take three tight ends that carry high weekly variance, primarily driven by touchdown output.

Game Theory and Leverage

The glaring question on everyone’s mind is “how the hell can you take only two quarterbacks when those quarterbacks are Jalen Hurts and Taysom Hill?”. My answer: Game Theory and leverage! Let’s unpack this one fully. Jalen Hurts and Taysom Hill both have questions surrounding whether they will start for their respective teams for the duration of the season. But what if they do? A vast majority of the rosters drafted in these large field tournaments will select three quarterbacks on any roster with either of these quarterbacks. I can also all but guarantee the number of rosters in tournaments with both Hurts and Hill will be under 0.1%. Now think about how many rosters will have only Hurts and Hill. Yea, not a lot. Back to the “what if.” If Jalen Hurts starts the entirety of the season, he is a top-five quarterback in this setting for his rushing upside. If Taysom Hill starts the entirety of the season, he is a top 12-14 quarterback in this setting for his rushing upside. That same rushing upside gives each quarterback a solid weekly floor as well. Hurts started and finished three games at the end of last season (weeks 14-16), during which he rushed for 106/0, 63/1, and 69/0, not to mention the 34/2 he put up in three quarters of the week 17 game. That equates to 12.05 fantasy points per game over those four games on the ground alone, which is the same as three passing touchdowns per game in this scoring format. 

Taysom Hill started four games in 2020 (weeks 11-14) and started over Jameis Winston. I am of the belief that this Saints team is given the best chance to win games this season with Taysom under center. The Saints have a top seven to eight defense again this season and have a wide receiver room lacking much explosiveness, so considering everything we know, my best-educated guess is that Sean Payton will look to slow games down and win with defense, the run game, and the short passing game with Taysom at quarterback. In Taysom’s four starts in 2020, he put up rushing lines of 49/2, 44/2, 83/0, and 33/0, which equates to 11.23 fantasy points per game on rushing alone. Again, almost three passing touchdowns worth of points per game.

Now, consider this roster under the assumption that each starts and plays the entire season. By selecting only these two quarterbacks, I was able to select 10 wide receivers on a roster with three tight ends, which almost will not happen in these contests. Now let’s take a look at all those wide receivers. 

Allen Robinson and Julio Jones anchor the position and provide the perfect mix of weekly floor and ceiling. Allen Robinson has commanded 151 targets or more in every season he has played 16 games. That equates to 9.44 targets per game over that span. Chicago has a bottom half of the league defense and all they did to address their pass-catching depth, or lack thereof, in the offseason was to add Marquise Goodwin. Expect a large portion of this offense to once again flow through Allen Robinson. Julio Jones moves from one high-powered offense on a team with a terrible defense to another. The Titans are by all metrics a bottom-five defense this season and could push for historically bad levels if things fall just right. This should serve to provide a slight bump to the 481 pass attempts Ryan Tannehill attempted last season. If that number jumps even 10%, we’re looking at 529 pass attempts this season. If we conservatively (low end) project Julio Jones for 23% of the available targets (it’s likely to be higher), that leads to 122 targets. On a highly efficient offense that utilizes play action at a high rate, that should lead to some legitimate spike weeks from Mr. Jones. The weekly floor is not ideal considering the Titans are extremely likely to try and win games in the same way as they did last year, but Julio is sure to provide four to six weeks approaching 30 points and finish half of the weeks as a WR2 or better. So, we have our WR1 and a WR1.5 locked in, with upside.

I filled the WR3 spot with the pairing of Chase Claypool and Juju Smith-Schuster, who should combine to provide WR2+ numbers on a weekly basis considering pure volume alone. Side note, think real hard about whether the reports out of Pittsburgh surrounding them planning more 12-personnel sets with their rookie tight end make much sense… spoiler, they don’t. I expect heavy 11-personnel usage once again, meaning these two are going to be on the field a lot in a high pass rate offense.

We now have a WR1, WR1.5, and combined WR2 through the first six rounds with Allen Robinson, Julio Jones, and the pairing of Chase Claypool and Juju Smith-Schuster. What about this Houston stack, Hilow? This might be my favorite part. We already spoke to the fact that Houston will have a bottom-five defense. Houston also has a bottom-five offensive line and a win total of five games, tied for the lowest in the league. Houston’s head coach, David Culley, is a 27-year NFL coaching veteran and should be considered an “old school” coach. During his time in Baltimore as the assistant head coach, pass coordinator, and wide receivers coach, the team was hesitant to play rookie wide receivers meaningful snaps (to answer the “what about Nico Collins?” question). Anthony Miller appears to have re-injured a shoulder he has dislocated on multiple occasions, an injury that weakens the joint and surrounding tissues and tendons with each occurrence. This should provide a situation where the starting wide receivers for the Texans for a large portion of the year are Brandin Cooks, Chris Conley, and Keke Coutee. Their tight end room consists of Jordan Akins, Pharoah Brown, Ryan Izzo, and Kahale Warring. A bad defense with a concentrated offense, and a low cost of acquisition, make this team stack one of my favorites this season. Taking all three of these guys on this roster should provide the weekly “fill in the gaps” for all other receivers by itself, and I’ve still got Marvin Jones, Marquez Callaway, and Cedrick Wilson, who would be the WR3 on the Cowboys if one of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, or Michael Gallup were to get hurt, for those spike week fill-ins.

Finally, since I built this roster assuming Taysom Hill starts for the entire year, what about if we take the Game Theory assumptions one step further and assume Michael Thomas doesn’t play a snap for the Saints this season? While it might seem like a stretch to most, this is a legitimate scenario for a wide receiver coming off ankle surgery that also has documented issues with team coaches, trainers, and doctors and has reports already out of a possible trade. If that is the case, such a massive portion of the Saints’ offense will run through Taysom, Kamara, Callaway, and tight end Adam Trautman. The Saints are going to score, regardless of their offensive personnel and starting quarterback. Sean Payton is just that good at offensive design, scheme, and in-game management. Again, if these things happen, I have 80% of the weekly fantasy points from this offense on this roster. 

The last thing I’ll say before we wrap this up is that this roster has an insane amount of variance associated with it. It could literally be dead in week one. But at the same time it has about the maximum amount of leverage that you can pump into one lineup, and it is done smartly, methodically, and does not stray from optimum roster construction or fall into draft theory mistakes. When we look to generate leverage, it is imperative we do it smartly and not violate general roster construction theory or draft theory. Accept all the variance on individual rosters, and manage the variance through your portfolio by not drafting more than a handful of rosters like this.

I’ll close by asking a few questions: Would you be surprised if Hurts and Taysom started the whole season for their respective teams? Would you be surprised if the Michael Thomas saga ends with divorce? Would you be surprised if Houston ended the season top 10 in pass attempts? If those would come as a surprise, are they completely out of the realm of possibilities? And finally, what other preseason unknowns can we leverage and what do you see as the optimal way to leverage each situation? Let’s continue this thought process in discord (see #Best-Ball Channel and join the thread)!

More Hilow in 2021!

Best Ball

JM + Hilow Pods (Coming Soon!!!)

4-Part Best Ball Pod Series with Pawel (Now Available on Podcast Networks!)

Exploring The Fallacies of Stacking

Marketplace Courses

Best Ball Game Theory ($10 off with Promo Code: save10)

The Theory (Game, and Otherwise) of Roster Construction (!!!)

In-Season

NFL Edge + DFS Interpretations(!)

Betting Substack(!)

Exploring Extremes Pod with Pawel(!)

End Around(!)

Hilow and Xandamere Strategy Pod(!)