This time of the fantasy football offseason, two things are the primary focus for gamers: Dynasty leagues and best ball drafting.
Outside of covering the free agency fallout for the moves that have been made over the past week, the primary focus for me this offseason is establishing a foundation of player ranks and writeups that we will add to throughout the offseason. You can find all of those in the 2021 Draft Central hub, but in preparing for joining early best ball drafts, we can put that information into action.
For anyone new to best ball, the format has grown exponentially in popularity over the past few years. At its core, best ball leagues are fantasy football leagues that remove week-to-week management. You draft your team and your optimal lineup automatically gets set for the highest score each week. It is that easy. No waivers, no trades, and no management in season. When the dust settles, the best team(s) take home the prizes.
The two most popular places to currently compete in best ball leagues are on Fanball BestBall 10s and in FFPC satellite leagues. With those two places being the focal point of popularity, we are going to dive into some data from the tools available at RotoViz that you can further dive into yourself over the past few seasons for what has been ideal lineup allocation and construction per position just to provide a few guidelines in building successful teams. The difference between those two particular formats is that Fanball is a 20-player roster compared to a 28-player roster for FFPC leagues.
Underdog Fantasy is also growing in popularity and focusing on growing in the industry, but without that data and just a one-year sample size overall, we are focusing primarily on those two formats up top. Overall in our sample, we are looking at over 340,000 Fanball rosters and 50,000 FFPC rosters.
Earlier in the week, we dug in on the quarterback position for best ball formats, which is still a “start one” position on both of those sites. Running back has much more variance, however.
Both sites still require two starting running backs, but Fanball requires three wide receivers and just one regular FLEX position (RB/WR/TE) whereas FFPC requires only two starting wide receivers with two RB/WR/TE FLEX positions for the starting lineup. So in theory, you have the potential for four starting running backs in FFPC formats versus a max of three at Fanball. With that in mind, let’s dive into a look at how the results have played out for running backs in these leagues.
Number of Total RBs Selected and Win Rate
|# of RB||Fanball Tm%||Win %||FFPC Tm%||Win %|
*FanBall Data is from 2015-2020
*FFPC Data is from 2017-2020 (no SuperFlex)
From a 10,000-foot view, teams with 5-6 running backs had the best hit rate of besting the inherent win rate just for joining the league. Teams taking six running backs overall has been the more common approach, making up 46.9% of all drafted teams, but the 5RB teams have bested those teams in win rate.
In FFPC formats, we see more overall running backs drafted due to the eight extra rounds of picks and more overall variance in approaches. Teams selecting anywhere from 6-9 running backs all occupy at least 10% of the field with the most common approaches being 7RB squads (35.3%) while also having the highest success rate at 9.4%. 8RB teams are the second-most common track taken, but fall slightly below the baseline win rate while the 6RB teams produce better results.
Isolating 2020 only to compare the results, we end up with a similar outlook.
2020 Number of Total RBs Selected and Win Rate
|# of RB||Fanball Tm%||Win %||FFPC Tm%||Win %|
On Fanball a year ago, 6RB teams remained the most popular approach and yielded strong results, but was still bested overall in success rate from the 5RB drafters.
In FFPC formats, 7RB teams remained dominant in approach in results, but as was the case overall, 8RB teams were more popular than 6RB teams despite producing a lower overall win rate, but the 6RB teams did decline below the baseline win rate a year ago.
With a complete surface-only idea of where to land on total amount of backs on your roster, let’s check out the success rates for when teams are selecting the first running back on their roster.
Allocation and Success Rate for First RB Drafted
|RB1 Round||Fanball Tm%||Win %||FFPC Tm%||Win %|
Just like any fantasy draft you will do, running backs fly off the shelves still in best ball formats. Over 60% of the teams in our samples selected a running back with their first pick in drafts while 87.2% of all Fanball drafters and 90.1% of all FFPC drafters selected their first running back over the opening three rounds of drafts.
Round 1-2 RB1 drafters hit above the baseline win rates, but then take an immediate nose dive for a few rounds before climbing back up across our platforms at various points. On Fanball, we see that 16.6% of all teams failed to take a running back in the opening two rounds and tried to course-correct over Rounds 3-4, but fall below the baseline before climbing to and above that baseline Rounds 5-7. If you opened up on that site without a running back to start the first two rounds, immediately chasing has not paid off.
That also largely holds true over in FFPC formats as 18.5% of the teams that failed to open up with a running back over the first two rounds then took their RB1 in Rounds 3-7, with all of the results hitting below expectations.
Patience can pay off over panic when swerving away from lead running backs on both sites, but the difference is that we see FFPC formats is that there is a spark of light that “Zero-RB” has upside despite making up a small sample and being an uncommon approach. On Fanball, that approach is tough to latch onto as teams waiting to select their RB1 in the double-digit rounds have combined for just a 6.4% win rate.
I am going to fully get back to that FFPC thought in a moment, but bear with me here as we dig just a bit deeper in allocating the bulk of your early draft capital into the running back position on our way towards that path.
Allocation and Success Rate for Total RBs Drafted Rounds 1-5
|# of RBs||Fanball Tm%||Win %||FFPC Tm%||Win %|
When looking strictly at the early rounds of drafts over our sample, 78.3% of all drafted teams at Fanball have settled in on taking 2-3 running backs over their opening five selections, but the 1RB and 2RB teams are the only teams above the baseline.
On FFPC, those 2-3RB teams in the early rounds make up 73.9% of all teams and produce the best results.
Let’s take this a step further and break down going Robust-RB on each site.
Robust-RB Success Rates
|Draft Start||FB Win%||2020||FFPC Win%||2020|
Opening up drafts with a running back and then just spamming running backs has yielded depreciated results across both sites.
Some interesting notes here. On Fanball, teams taking a Round 1 running back as your lone running back over the opening three rounds has a 9.4% win rate, while the same “solo-RB1” approach for Round 2 running backs is still strong at 8.8%, but then dips down to 7.5% in Round 3.
The same holds true on FFPC, but to a lower degree. Teams taking a Round 1 running back as their lone running back over the opening three rounds has notched an 8.5% win rate, while the same “solo-RB1” approach for Round 2 running backs dips to 8.4% and then down to 7.3% in Round 3.
There is some strong credence to a “modified-Zero RB” approach on both sites, whether you are into all of these monikers or not. On Fanball, teams taking their RB1 in Round 1 and then waiting to select their RB2 after Round 6 have posted an 11.0% win rate and those teams also had an 11.1% win rate in 2020. Teams taking their RB3 after Round 6 had a 9.8% win rate and 9.6% in 2020. Given that you must start three wide receivers before even accounting for the FLEX spot at Fanball, going running back heavy can hurt your optimization.
All of this holds true in FFPC leagues to that same lowered degree for RB1 drafters in the opening rounds. Teams taking their RB2 after Round 6 had an 8.0% win rate overall (8.4% in 2020) and teams taking their RB3 after Round 6 had an 8.4% win rate (8.9% in 2020).
Going deeper, Fanball teams taking their RB2 in the double-digit rounds have a combined 9.5% win rate. Here are the results for those teams, though, pending how many total running backs those teams that had supreme patience had and their success.
Fanball Supreme Modified RB1 Teams
|Total RBs||Win %|
If you are going wait until the double-digit round stages of the draft to start throwing darts at your RB2+ depth, settling on just four running backs is just not going to cut it. Those teams have posted just a 3.7% win rate. But 5RB and 6RB teams have cleared the baseline with 6RB teams smashing through with a 12.3% win rate.
Remember, in best ball, you are not looking to just win a weekly game versus your opponent and are grandfathered your best results per starting roster spot, so any deep cut running backs that would be tough to start in seasonal formats based on a limited projected workload, but also run into high-scoring weeks typically make your lineup when those backs do turn in those high-scoring performances (think along the lines of Nyheim Hines in Week 8). Backups, handcuffs, and committee backs all have elevated value in best ball formats over their weekly, in-season formats.
On FFPC sites, those RB1 anchor teams that wait on their RB2 and bench depth at the position also have offered a lot of scoring potential despite coming along with limited deployment by gamers.
On FFPC, RB2 drafters in double-digit rounds have a stellar 12.1% win rate, but only make up 1.6% of all drafted teams (815 teams in total).
Check out the results from those teams based on total running back allocation…
FFPC Supreme Modified RB1 Teams
|Total RBs||Win %|
While on Fanball, you want to stay in the 5-6 total running back area for the best results, the added roster spots in FFPC offer a larger circumference for success when taking 6-9 total backs with that approach, with all registering in the double-digits in terms of success rate.
The best of the late-round backs that have aided late-round running back drafters have come from 2018 James Conner (22.1% win rate at Fanball and 20.7% FFPC), 2018 Phillip Lindsay (14.7% and 20.1%), and last season with James Robinson (20.4% and 22.7% win rates), but you also find those ancillary backs have increased value as J.D. McKissic teams in 2020 had a 23.1% and 18.1% win rates.
Circling fully back to the open, Zero-RB is a sketchy approach on Fanball, but in an exceedingly small sample on FFPC formats, there has been success and upside. Just 118 teams in our over 50K sample have selected their RB1 in the double-digit rounds on FFPC, but those teams have had a win rate of 11.0%.
The Best Way to Follow Up a Round 1 RB
We are bringing this home now. If stacking early-round running backs has had declining results, what has been the best way to open up a draft after taking a first-round running back?
|Round 2||Fanball Tm%||Win %||FFPC Tm%||Win %|
Over on Fanball, 47.5% of all Round 1 running back drafters have then split the baby with a wideout in Round 2, by far the most common approach. It is also has been more successful that those who double-dip on backs to open, which falls slightly below the baseline.
On FFPC, opening with back-to-back running backs is the more common method for those starting off a running back and has had the same level of success of going WR to pair with your RB1.
Where things get real interesting is for those who have gone the less common route of jumping in on their TE1 in Round 2 to pair with their RB1. Tight ends will be getting their own post just like all of the positions, but the leverage early-round tight ends have held in best ball is significant, whether 2020 George Kittle drafters want to hear that or not.
This one was denser than our quarterback post, so for the TL; DR crowd…
- Round 1 and Round 2 RB1s are successful starts.
- No need to go more than 6RB on Fanball regardless of approach while 6RB is optimal for those late-round RB drafters there.
- Spamming early-round RBs has diminishing returns on both sites.
- Anchor RB1/Modified Zero-RB results are strong paired with the earlier you take your RB1, the better.
- A Full Zero-RB approach has been more viable on FFPC than Fanball, but comes with a small sample size.