Best ball fantasy football is all the rage right now. And rightfully so. It scratches that draft itch for us in this period following dynasty rookie drafts but before our seasonal redraft leagues (as it’s far too early still to be drafting leagues with trades or waiver wire adds). 

Yes, best ball adds a unique spin on fantasy football where you can draft teams guilt-free without having to worry about all those pesky season-long interactions. But there is another layer to this strategy that isn’t often talked about. Because not all best ball leagues are created equally.

And I’m not just talking about the site you play on or the scoring format. Obviously, some sites will be PPR or half PPR or have different scoring. I’m talking about the types of leagues in terms of number of competitors, the number of entries, and the quantification of the prizes. From that standpoint, there is a big difference between a contained league of 10-12 people vs. a tournament with tens or even hundreds of thousands of players in it. And that should affect the way you approach these drafts as well.

First, we need to apply some type of definition to the “tournament” vs. the “contained” league mentality to sort out which contests they might apply to.




Best Ball Contained League: The classic definition for these leagues are ones where your ONLY competitors are the folks you are drafting against. So, if you have a 12-person league where the only people in the contest are those 12 people, I consider that a contained league.

HOWEVER - we also might apply some contained league strategies to other formats. For instance, leagues with “flatter” payout structures. For instance, The Mitten 4 on Underdog Fantasy last year had 55,800 entries but 27,900 or 50% of contestants got some money back as part of the payout structure. In the daily fantasy sports world, folks often refer to these 50% contests as “cash leagues”. 

I also often apply this “contained league” line of thinking to some “single entry” contests where you only get one team. An example of this type of tournament is The Greyhound which just opened on Underdog).

Best Ball Tournament League: This definition applies to game formats that have playoffs that transcend the base league you are drafting in. For instance, in Best Ball Mania V, the playoffs start in Week 15. You still draft a team against 11 competitors in a typical draft to start the season. After 14 weeks however, the top two teams from your league move on and everyone else is eliminated. 

When all is said and done, the top 16.6% of teams are paid out some sort of winnings - everyone else gets nothing. These leagues also often allow you to enter over 100 teams, if you choose to do so.




Aggressive vs. Conservative

Based on the descriptions alone, you can understand why some folks might take a different mentality with one league type vs. the other. And I say it that way because it’s entirely up to you. You might want to draft EVERY team conservatively or EVERY team aggressively. 

The beauty of fantasy football is that we don’t know what is going to happen so it’s hard to even say what players or approach have the most upside. We do our best to encapsulate that with our tiered rankings grid in our 2024 Best Ball Cheat Sheet so that you can get the guys you want without going completely off the reservation in terms of ADP.

Conventional thinking, however, suggests that you’ll want to be more aggressive in the giant tournaments and perhaps more conservative in your contained leagues. In Best Ball Mania V, you need to beat over 600,000 people while, in a classic 12 team league, you only need to beat the other 11 players. The same goes for leagues that have payouts for the top 50% - all you need to do is be above average. 

If you draft a bunch of teams and “play it safe”, you might not win a million dollars, but you could easily make more money than you spent on buy-ins. When you consider the rake these sites take, more folks naturally will lose money playing this game than will make money. So, coming out in the green is no easy task.




Differentiation vs. Uniformity

Many of us will have our core players that we truly believe in and are willing to take at or above ADP. And it’s smart to “draft like you are right” at times because that’s the whole reason we are playing - because we believe we can win. In contained leagues, especially ones with big buy-ins, I not only use a fairly conservative approach but I play things by the book with the guys I like vs. the guys I’m fading. 

I lean into my core players since I’m essentially getting one shot to win and my odds of winning are good. In the big tournaments however, there are a couple of benefits to diversifying. Obviously you don’t want to draft a team that you completely don’t believe in just to mix it up. But, compared to a small league or a single-entry contest, a lot of these tournaments allow you to enter multiple times. Best Ball Mania V allows you 150 entries and a lot of the folks that take this seriously will max out those entries. 

If you plan to do multiple entries, a good approach is to lean into your core players while diversifying slightly from one team to the next to give yourself more exposure. This is ESPECIALLY beneficial if your team wins and it’s unique. If you have the same exact team as someone else, you’re splitting that prize. Maybe with multiple people. If your team is unique, the money is all yours.




Best Available vs. Correlation

No two players are EXACTLY the same. Similar, maybe. But not the same. So, if you really take the time and effort to rank these players in a vacuum, you would not really need any sort of “tie-breakers” because there are no ties. And that might work well for contained leagues - especially the ones where there are no playoffs where all weeks are created equally. 

If you just take the best available players, you probably give yourself the best chance at scoring the most possible points and winning your league. In tournaments though, you might want to consider correlation. I often lean into these when players are really close in my rankings. By “correlation”, we mean things like stacking, matchups, and even weather. 

In a big tournament like Best Ball Mania V, the playoff weeks are 15, 16, and 17 and they’re obviously more important than other weeks. You might want to look at the schedule and see what matchups could be shootouts, like Baltimore at Houston in Week 17 for instance. And, considering that, you might want to “stack” a quarterback like C.J. Stroud with a pass catcher like Stefon Diggs or Nico Collins

And, if you really want to get crazy, maybe you consider that that game in December will be played in Texas in a dome. As opposed to, say, Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman bringing their smash-mouth football brand to New England that wintery week. Just something to consider.




Don’t Get TOO Cute

At the end of the day, you still want to draft a “realistic” team. Sure, you can do a few things to differentiate yourself or think outside the box. You can get a little aggressive. But the teams that usually win the big bucks are often a combination of accumulating value, taking the right risks, and getting lucky. 

Lucky for you, our 2024 Best Ball Cheat Sheet has all our core targets, sleepers, busts, and rookies that fit into all of these strategies. And the tiered ranking grid will ensure that you are getting the right guys without overpaying and throwing value out the window. THAT is the best way to win your best ball leagues this season. So, grab your copy today!