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 to further dive into 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.
So far, we have explored optimal roster builds for the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver positions and the differences both of those positions have on each of those primary sites. The tight end position has the most glaring difference between these leagues.
You still are only forced to start one tight end weekly on both sites, but FFPC formats have an extra FLEX spot (two in total) that tight ends are eligible for while the scoring per reception for tight ends is 1.5 points per catch in FFPC leagues as opposed to the 1.0-point at Fanball. There is potential to start up to three tight ends in that format. With that in mind, let’s dive into a look at how the results have played out for wideouts in these leagues.
Number of Total TEs Selected and Win Rate
|# of TE||Fanball Tm%||Win %||FFPC Tm%||Win %|
*FanBall Data is from 2015-2020
*FFPC Data is from 2017-2020 (no SuperFlex)
Between the difference in roster size and TE-premium scoring at FFPC, we have two different approaches at the position between each site.
At Fanball, 97.1% of all drafters have left their drafts with two or three tight ends. More teams are edging towards the 3TE approach at 52.2% of the field. Those teams are at our inherent baseline win rate, but the 2TE teams have held a slight upper hand over those 3TE teams in overall success. Even with the small samples outside of 2-3 TE teams at Fanball, there is not much success for teams outside of those buckets.
In FFPC leagues, 93.3% of drafters have selected 3-5 tight ends with the most common and successful approach being 4TE roster builds. Three and five tight end builds are still right at the base rate of success, but the most success has followed the herd here from a top-down view.
As we have been doing so far, let’s cross-reference these overall results against the 2020 season isolated on its own.
2020 Number of Total TEs Selected and Win Rate
|# of TE||Fanball Tm%||Win %||FFPC Tm%||Win %|
At Fanball in 2020 alone, we see similar results from our overall six-year sample. 3TE teams were once again the most popular approach taken by drafters, but 2TE teams wiped the floor with them at a higher winning percentage than the overall rate we have.
In FFPC leagues, 4TE teams stayed the course in success and popularity, but 5TE teams took a step back in win rate while 3TE teams were on par in the number of teams using that roster allotment and success rate from the overall sample.
With the top-down success suggesting that you want to have 2TE builds on Fanball and 4TE builds in FFPC formats, lets go further down the well to see where success can come from in each particular build, but first, starting off with the most successful rounds to select your first tight end.
Allocation and Success Rate for First TE Drafted
Right away, we can see how the TE-premium scoring in FFPC formats impact the draft capital spent on tight ends. In those FFPC leagues, 49.9% of all teams selected their TE1 in the opening five rounds of the draft compared to 30.4% at Fanball. 87.9% selected their TE1 in single-digit rounds in FFPC formats compared to 74.4% at Fanball.
Taking a tight end with your first pick overall isn’t an overly popular strategy, but has been far more successful in FFPC formats with the weighted scoring compared to Fanball. First-round tight end drafters in FFPC still only make up 7.3% of the field, but have posted a strong 12.6% win rate. At Fanball, only 2.5% of the field have kicked off a draft with a tight end, and those teams have not been strong overall, with a 5.7% win rate. But in 2020, those Round 1 tight end drafters did have a 9.8% win rate at Fanball, with 2TE builds (11.0% win rate) having a large edge over 3TE builds (7.5%) from that sample.
As we get into the weeds on how early-round tight ends have been a bit of a best ball hack, we first have to highlight that in particular, the first tight end drafted on both sites in the majority over the past four years has solely belonged to Travis Kelce. Whereas the RB1, WR1, and QB1 have had some variance and new life, Kelce has been on a tear of positional dominance from a cost and production stance.
Travis Kelce ADP and Best Ball Win Rates
|Year||Fanball ADP||FB Win%||FFPC ADP||FFFPC %|
Despite leading all tight ends in PPR and 1.5-PPR scoring in each of the past five seasons, Kelce does have some subpar win rate seasons at Fanball, but 2020 was an absolute destruction of the field. At Fanball in 2020, no player at any position had a higher individual win rate than Kelce at 24.4%. For a top pick at a “start-one” position, that is an accomplishment considering the margin for error you have with that pick.
In FFPC formats, Kelce was fourth among individual player win rate at 19.0%, but it was his highest leverage season there as well in our sample. Over the past four years in FFPC drafts, Kelce is just one of two players to have a win rate at 10.0% or higher in each of those four seasons. The other is Robbie Gould.
This of course provides no solace to teams that drafted George Kittle with a high draft pick in 2020 (Kittle had an ADP of 14.8 overall in FFPC leagues and 22.0 at Fanball a year ago), but as mentioned, early-round tight ends have provided an overall edge for best ball drafters. A large part of that is Kelce himself, but Darren Waller last season, Kittle himself in 2019, and Zach Ertz 2018-2019 have provided high-leverage fantasy campaigns for those willing to pay up.
At both sites, being aggressive at tight end overall has paid while the secondary-tier of tight ends has been a trap zone (something that also applies to seasonal drafts).
At Fanball, teams selecting their TE1 in Rounds 1-4 have had a 10.2% win rate compared to a 6.8% win rate for those teams taking their TE1 in Rounds 5-8. In the TE1 table above, success rates hit a dead spot when teams try to follow up with the lead tight end in that dead zone.
Teams waiting to take their TE1 after Round 8 at Fanball climb back up to an 8.0% win rate, with 3TE teams having more success (8.4%) than any other build if the board just does not fall your way and you have to go that route.
The same holds true in FFPC formats. Teams selecting their first tight end in the opening three rounds have posted a 10.2% win rate compared to a 7.6% win rate for those afterward. But for teams waiting to take their TE1 after those opening three rounds, the win rate is steadily below the base rate outside of showing some signs of life outside of the 8-9 round range. It is a strategy that has only been used on 1.2% of all FFPC teams, but opening a draft TE-TE in the first rounds has produced a 10.1% win rate.
All of that said, 2020 was the first time we saw aggressive tight end drafting hit a bump in the road, but more so on Fanball. While Kelce (24.4%) and Waller (14.5%) had stellar win rates while also coming attached to top-5 ADP at the position, they were also the only two tight ends out of eight at Fanball with an ADP lower than 100th overall to have win rates over the baseline.
In FFPC formats, things still fared a bit better as Mark Andrews teams still posted a 9.9% win rate and Mike Gesicki (ADP of 85.7) had a 10.4% win rate, but of the 16 tight ends that had an ADP lower than 100 there, just those two tight ends paired with Kelce and Waller were above the base rate of winning percentage. 2020 was a catastrophic season for individual producers at the position despite the position in bulk still being productive, but the lack of actual tight end league-winners with early-round picks still is a cautionary tale of the opportunity cost present at the position with high draft capital.
On both sites, if you miss out on the top tier of the position, you’re better off just going with a later-round approach at the position rather than settling for the middle-tiers of the position, but let’s explore how to have success with your team build if the board and draft layout forces you to go off-script.
TE2 Selection for 2TE Teams
|TE2 Round||Fanball Tm%||Win %|
2TE builds are not optimal in FFPC formats, so this section is solely for those playing at Fanball, where 2TE builds have fallen below 3TE teams in approach, but have had more success regularly.
When going with the 2TE approach, you can find consistently success throughout on where to select your second tight end as long as you stay out of the back end of drafts. 21.7% of all 2TE teams have waited until the final five rounds of the draft to take their second tight end and those teams have yielded just a 7.4% win rate compared to the 8.9% win rate for those 2TE teams not waiting until the tail end of drafts.
2TE teams waiting to take two late-round options have also not had much success. Those teams waiting to select both of their tight ends in the double-digit rounds have posted a 7.8% win rate. Going a step further, teams 2TE teams waiting to take both tight ends in the final five rounds have had just a 4.0% win rate. You cannot punt the position and have consistent success.
On the opposite end, 2TE teams selecting both tight ends in the single-digit rounds have had a 9.2% win rate with a 10.4% win rate selecting both tight ends in the opening five rounds. That tight end “dead zone” we discussed earlier is not fruitful for TE1 options, but are fine TE2 selections when deploying a 2TE approach.
TE3 Selection for 3TE Teams
|TE3 Round||Fanball Tm%||Win %||FFPC Tm%||Win %|
3TE team builds are the most popular approach taken at Fanball. Even though 2TE teams have had more success overall, there are still ways to successfully make 3TE builds work out by avoiding the same mistakes we have covered in the 2TE approach.
To start, stacking good tight ends has paid off. 3TE teams taking all three tight ends in single-digit rounds had an 8.9% win rate, but make up less than 1% of the field of all 3TE teams. 99.4% of all 3TE teams at Fanball are selecting their third tight end in double-digit rounds for a modest 8.3% win rate, but again, staying out of the tail end of tight end draft picks has been more rewarding. 49.1% of all 3TE teams are waiting until the final three rounds of drafts to take their third tight end, with a win rate at 8.0% compared to 8.6% prior.
3TE Fanball teams waiting to select their TE2 and TE3 in double-digit rounds check in with an 8,3% win rate, but those waiting to take both TE2 and TE3 in the final five rounds together dip down to 7.4%. Again, it is hard to get results out of a stars and scrubs approach.
In FFPC formats, 3TE teams are the second-most common approach for drafters. The results have been right at the baseline win rate, but successfully maxing out 3TE rosters there follow the same principles.
Among those 3TE teams, 49.3% of those teams have selected their TE3 after Round 20. Those teams had a 7.3% win rate compared to a 9.0% win rate prior. Teams taking both their TE2 and TE3 after Round 20 have had just a 6.5% win rate.
Those 3TE teams selecting all three tight ends in single-digit rounds have had a 9.2% win rate and when selecting their first two tight ends in single-digit rounds have notched a 9.8% win rate.
TE4 Selection for 4TE Teams
|TE4 Round||FFPC Tm%||Win %|
4TE teams are an FFPC-only approach and the most common and successful approach from a top-down stance there.
76.5% of all 4TE teams selected their TE4 in the final five rounds. Unlike the previous approaches, those teams held strong with an 8.9% win rate even shopping in that late-dart tight end territory. The catch here is to not stack those dart-throw options. Teams selecting both their TE3 and TE4 from that area of the draft dip down to a 7.8% win rate and those teams selecting their TE2-TE4 from that area fall down to 6.3%. Teams taking their TE2-TE4 after Round 20 also have just a 6.3% win rate.
On the flip side, being aggressive at tight end has still provided the best results for 4TE builds. 4TE rosters selecting all four tight ends in single-digit rounds have a 9.5% win rate and those teams selecting all four in the top-20 rounds have won 9.2% of the time. 4TE teams selecting their top two tight ends in single-digit rounds have a 10.0% win rate.
We covered a lot of ground here, so let’s bring things home for the TL; DR crowd…
- 2TE is an underused approach in Fanball formats.
- 4TE builds are the most popular successful in FFPC leagues.
- Travis Kelce is a demon, but being aggressive on non-Kelce tight ends early in drafts has paid off outside of 2020.
- Avoid your first TE coming in the middle rounds of drafts (5-8 at Fanball and 4-7 in FFPC).
- Those mid-round options make sketchy TE1 options, but are great TE2 and TE3 options. Stack as many single-digit Round tight ends as possible pending your overall build.
- No matter how many tight ends you are selecting, do not count on late-round options.
- You cannot punt the position at either site with consistent success, avoid stacking multiple late-round options no matter the build.