Best ball fantasy — specifically best ball fantasy football — has grown exponentially in the last few years. And while there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this, one need look no further than the leader in the space: Underdog Fantasy.
The company launched its first Best Ball Mania contest — the company’s signature event — in 2020, with a million dollars in prizes. In 2021, the pot grew to $3.5 million. In 2022, it was $10 million. This year, it’s up to $15 million in prizes, including an eye-popping $3 million to the winner.
In fact, many otherwise diehard NFL fans, fantasy players, and sports bettors have yet to give it a whirl. With that in mind, we thought we’d provide a little service here and present Sports Handle’s official best ball primer.
Ready? You’re on the clock …
What is best ball fantasy football?
Best ball contests are pretty much the easiest way to play fantasy football. You draft a team, and … well, and that’s it. There’s no trading, no waiver wires, no setting lineups. You draft your team, and each week your highest-scoring players at each position rack up points.
Underdog and DraftKings — the two unquestioned leaders in today’s best ball landscape — both use 12 as the number of teams in each draft. So it’s you going up against 11 others.
Each draft typically takes about 45 minutes, with 30 seconds allowed between each pick, but both sites also offer “slow” drafts, with eight hours between each pick (with both of the clocks extending during the late night hours).
One chief difference between the sites is the number of players you draft for your team — Underdog’s rosters are 18 players deep, whereas DraftKings uses 20 players. (Another major difference: DraftKings gives a point per reception, whereas Underdog grants a half-point. Additionally, the 300-yard passing and 100-yard rushing or receiving weekly milestones garner points at DraftKings, but not Underdog.)
Despite the larger rosters at DraftKings, both Underdog and DraftKings have the same roster construction: Each week, your highest-scoring quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, and one non-QB flex are your players that score points for your team.
In the tournament-style format, each week’s scores are added up, and the regular season lasts 14 weeks, with the playoffs happening in weeks 15, 16, and 17 of NFL action.
If you make the playoffs based on the standings after the regular season in your 12-team league — for both Underdog and DraftKings signature contests, the top two move on to the playoffs — your team now faces a new set of teams. Make it out of there, on to week 16.
Make it out of there, on to the championship.
Well, let’s not forget Underdog’s Best Ball Mania IV will have over 677,000 entrants at $25 a pop, and the DraftKings Millionaire contest will have nearly 1.2 million entrants at $10 a head.
Which means advancing to Underdog’s 441-person final and/or DraftKings’ 1,364-person final isn’t exactly what one might call “easy.” A lot of skill — and a lot of luck — will play a massive role in who walks away as a millionaire.
Best ball tournament types
Both sites also offer tournaments that vary in size and cost, with tourneys for as little as $3 a draft, and both sites have tournaments that cost over $1,000 to join.
Additionally, both sites offer smaller, single-league tournaments, where there is no advancing to a playoff round.
There are other best ball sites out there, such as Drafters, which only counts total points accrued over the 17 weeks to crown a winner. Yahoo runs single-league tournaments, and FFPC and BestBall10s offer similar, if smaller, tournaments much like Underdog and DraftKings.
Underdog has also introduced a new tournament structure for 2023 called “Weekly Winners.” In this tournament, it doesn’t matter how your team does over the course of the year; all that matters is week to week. Score the most points that week, you win.
Additionally, for Underdog’s flagship Best Ball Mania tournament, $5 million in prizes — with $500,000 to first place — will go to the team with the most regular-season points.
Best ball strategy
While it might seem counterintuitive, just picking the best players is almost certainly not the way to go about drafting.
Consider: While you need to score enough points to get out of your 12-team league to get to the playoffs, once you’re in the playoffs it becomes, in many ways, a typical DFS tournament.
And as anyone who has played DFS has come to learn, stacking is of utmost importance. If your quarterback throws for 350 yards and four touchdown passes, you’re going to want his skill position players on your roster as well.
Additionally, there has been a groundswell of support to not only draft stacks, but to try and set up game stacks — players on both sides of the ball — for the all-important week 17, should you happen to find yourself playing for the championship.
In short: It’s a lot easier to get one thing right — say, loading up on Chargers and Broncos, watching them go to a 41-38 overtime shootout in week 17 — than it is picking eight uncorrelated players who have ceiling games.
Another consideration when drafting: how to build your team. Remember, you’re only getting points from your top quarterback, your two top running backs, your three top wideouts, and your top tight end, and so positional allocation is very important.
For instance, if you draft a stud quarterback like Jalen Hurts or Josh Allen in the early rounds, you may decide to draft only one other quarterback later in the draft. On the other hand, if you wait to take a quarterback like Matthew Stafford in the later rounds, you might want to make sure you have at least two other quarterbacks to fill the gap.
The same principle applies to all the positions. If you have Travis Kelce, do you need four tight ends? Clearly, no. But if your first tight end drafted is Hunter Henry, you may want to grab a few more.
A few other thoughts on strategy:
- Rookies are a big question mark, generally speaking. But having a rookie or three — especially rookie running backs — on the back end of your roster may prove to be very valuable late in the season. Injuries and/or teams dropping out of playoff contention can pave the way for late-season surprises.
- Don’t get married to a draft strategy. It’s easy to say “I want a stud running back” or “I want three stud wideouts,” but once the draft starts, it pays to stay nimble.
- Assume you’re correct. If you take Christian McCaffery and Tony Pollard with your first two picks, assume they are going to perform at “A+” levels. You almost certainly don’t want to draft another top running back next. Move on to another position. Treat players who should be “sure things” as sure things.
- Target high-upside players: You’re looking for spike weeks. (And our sister site Spike Week is a phenomenal resource for all things best ball.) In other words, a player like Marquez Valdes-Scalding is probably a better late round pick than, say, Hunter Renfrow. Valdes-Scalding will undoubtedly have a lot of zero weeks, but he’s also capable of going 3-167-2 a few times.
Also: Don’t forget about bye weeks. Duh.