This article is part of our Best Ball Journal series.
I recently participated in an NFFC $150 Best Ball Championship draft, a best ball format with a twist both regarding the high stakes and the long-distance nature of the contest – it features both kickers and defenses and the draft is 35 rounds.
More than any other single-season format I can think of, this is the type of game where an advanced understanding of NFL prospects is most useful. The typical best ball format is 18 or 20 rounds, so if you're not ready you might find yourself picking players you've never heard of in the final 15 rounds.
In this article I try to describe my approach to the 35-round draft and gather some general thoughts on the format. Drafting from the No. 10 slot, I think the team turned out great.
Aside from following my board, I had a few structural goals I wanted to stick to:
1. Get three undisputed starters at QB.
The scoring includes six points per passing touchdown, raising the stakes for passing production and slightly lessening the utility of the rushing production loophole for quarterbacks. More importantly, in a 35-round format like this you can amass snaps at running back, wide receiver, and tight end in the later rounds. It's more difficult to find late-round snaps at quarterback.
An NFL team's WR4 can sometimes become a viable fantasy option if any of the three wideouts ahead of him falter, which is two more shots at promotion than the QB2 on any given team. 'Going cheap' at quarterback in this format is easier said than done. You generally either need to pay up in the form of early selections or in the form of risky later selections. Even these high-risk options aren't exactly cheap – you'll see owners chasing quarterbacks like Ryan Fitzpatrick in the 13th round in this format.
2. Get three team kickers and three team defenses
This is similar reasoning as in the quarterback case. You can build a structural advantage for your team by securing three options at both of these positions, because that necessarily leaves some of your opponents with only two, yet those two-defense or two-kicker teams are unlikely to add an equally useful player at quarterback, running back, receiver, or tight end with their spare roster spot. In this draft, the last defense (Las Vegas) went at 27.10, and the last team kicker (Giants) went at 31.12.
Beyond that, I'll break the roster down by position.
-Lamar Jackson (2.01), Patrick Mahomes (2.05), and Kyler Murray (4.05) all went earlier than their ADPs in other, more standard league formats, which encouraged me that much more to pay up at quarterback. I love Murray, but I still have Dak Prescott ranked higher, so I fixated on Prescott once Murray went off the board. Going into the fourth-fifth round turn, I knew I wanted two of Prescott, Calvin Ridley, and Mark Andrews. As much as I hate to pass on Andrews, I decided to pursue Prescott and Ridley instead, reasoning (right or wrong) that the premium on quarterback value in this format primarily occurred at the expense of tight end utility. Perhaps I'll regret passing on Andrews, but for now I'm glad to have Prescott and Ridley.
-Whereas I was easily sold on the Prescott selection, I was more conflicted when I took Jimmy Garoppolo at the front of the ninth round. I ranked Garoppolo about the same as subsequent picks Baker Mayfield (9.06) and Ben Roethlisberger (9.12), but this was before the announcement of Deebo Samuel's injury. I was to that point hopeful that Garoppolo might post bigger 2020 numbers thanks to improvement from his 2018 ACL tear, so the Samuel news certainly pushes back against that.
-Whatever the case with Garoppolo, I'm glad I took a quarterback there and I remain optimistic that he'll serve his purpose. The Ryan Tannehill pick in the 11th was a much easier call – I was glad to stack him with my WR1, A.J. Brown, and I was lucky he was available at all since the pick before that was Drew Lock. I'm pretty skeptical of Tannehill as a real-life quarterback, yet I would much rather have him than Lock.
-By spending up 4th, 9th, and 11th-round picks for Prescott, Garoppolo, and Tannehill, I think I've assembled a group that has among the most week-to-week upside and stability both. I had to pass on a few tempting skill position players to make it happen, but I like the skill position players I picked in those later rounds. I'm guessing the owners of late-round quarterback picks would acknowledge their desperation at the position, even if they think that I'm too thin at the skill positions. I was also fortunate enough to land at least one stack target at the skill positions for my quarterbacks.
-Perhaps I buried the lede a bit by arranging the article this way, but my first two picks were Joe Mixon and Nick Chubb. That's pretty much the perfect start for me – I think it's important to reel in at least one heavy hitter at running back in the first two rounds, because the middle and later rounds are much more generous at wide receiver than running back. It's a privilege to check out of the running back market for Rounds 3 through 8, and I was able to do just that since Mixon and Chubb fell to me.
-I think I jumped back into the running back market at just the right time. Tevin Coleman in the late eighth is probably cutting it a bit close for an RB3 pickup, and I understand why people are sick of him. His week-to-week inconsistency is less relevant in best ball scoring, though, and Raheem Mostert is the only thing blocking Coleman from a sizable workload. Mostert's light frame and history of fumbling imply a usage cap, so Coleman should have a prominent role off the bench in one of the league's more effective running games.
-Zack Moss is a better prospect than players like David Montgomery and Alexander Mattison from last year, yet the general ADP markets clearly regard him as something less than that. Devin Singletary is at once good but limited at 5-foot-8, 203 pounds, and he specifically left the field last year when the Bills got inside the 10-yard line. At 5-foot-9, 223 pounds with memorable balance and tackle-breaking ability, Moss projects better for short-yardage work than Frank Gore did last year, yet Singletary lost that work to Gore all the same. The Bills defense should be at its best yet this season, and Josh Allen is limited as a passer, so if time of possession increases there could be even more slack for Moss to pick up than there was for Gore last year. Moss' supremely explosive college production gives us reason to think he'll play well, moreover. Not only is Moss a shifty bruiser out of the backfield, he was also extremely effective as a receiver at Utah, reeling in 66 of his 81 career targets for 685 yards (81.5 percent catch rate, 8.5 YPT). I love Moss' ADP pretty much all across the industry.
-You don't need to think Carlos Hyde is good to think he's worth buying at his current price, or at least that's how I see it. Chris Carson has both the fumbling and durability concerns, and the tone around Rashaad Penny (knee) is consistently disheartening. If Carson gets hurt, Hyde should get a lot of work. If Hyde should stumble then I like Travis Homer to get that work over fourth-round rookie pick DeeJay Dallas. Homer already started over and outplayed Dallas when the two were teammates at Miami (FL). Homer's explosiveness is uncommon. I'm in any case plenty content to spend my 15th and 25th-round picks in exchange for what I think is the non-Carson share of this backfield.
-Ito Smith just split snaps with Tevin Coleman two years ago, and he was hurt in 2019. The former fourth-round pick has by far the best pedigree of the Atlanta runners behind Todd Gurley, a major injury concern who might concede a good amount of passing down snaps to Smith either way
-JaMycal Hasty might not make the 49ers roster, but I like his chances as an undrafted rookie out of Baylor. Hasty is competing with Jerick McKinnon, Jeff Wilson, and Salvon Ahmed for the RB3 role, and he has a decent shot to win it. At 5-foot-8, 205 pounds with a 4.55-second 40, 39-inch vertical, 123-inch broad jump, and 4.03-second 20-yard shuttle, Hasty boasts standout explosiveness at the lowest center of gravity among 49ers runners.
-Jason Huntley should make the Lions roster as a fifth-round pick, because the former New Mexico State star offers convincing explosiveness for the NFL level and supposedly will be a candidate for wide receiver snaps. Huntley was an ideal pick for my particular lineup construction, stacking him with T.J. Hockenson and the Detroit team kicker.
A.J. Brown (3.03)
Calvin Ridley (5.03)
Michael Gallup (6.10)
Will Fuller (7.03)
Parris Campbell (16.10)
Steven Sims (19.03)
Trent Taylor (22.10)
Olamide Zaccheaus (30.10)
Kalif Raymond (32.10)
Willie Snead (33.03)
Scott Miller (34.10)
Ted Ginn (35.03)
-A.J. Brown is most easily justified in a tournament best ball setting like this one, where ceiling matters more and consistency matters less. Perhaps I should have taken someone like Odell Beckham or, particularly in light of the Prescott selection, Amari Cooper, but right or wrong I guessed that Brown had the highest upside of the three. The route to this upside is agonizingly narrow – it would take failure on the part of Derrick Henry or the Titans defense, forcing them to throw more – but if Henry goes cold or misses time then Brown basically goes Godzilla. I added Kalif Raymond in the 32nd round simply for his big-play upside, and he offered a bit more utility as insurance behind Brown. Brown and Raymond also formed a stack with Anthony Firkser in my tight end rotation.
-Hayden Hurst is unlikely to draw targets at the rate Austin Hooper did, in my opinion, so I love the way this year sets up for Calvin Ridley. If Todd Gurley struggles or gets hurt then Ridley might pick up more slack yet. I was glad to bundle Ridley with Ito Smith and Olamide Zaccheaus, who I think has a good chance of displacing Russell Gage from the lineup. Whereas Gage was unproductive at LSU and has done nothing in the NFL, Zaccheaus was highly productive at Virginia, catching 229 receptions over his last 38 games.
-Michael Gallup is a candidate to lose some work to impressive first-round pick CeeDee Lamb, but at 6.10 there's no real argument against the acquisition price. Gallup's a good value in a vacuum there, and I was glad to stack him with Prescott.
-There's no denying that Will Fuller is a major injury risk, but people should be more serious about his upside. In terms of the ability to get open and run after the catch, you can count on one hand the number of receivers more dangerous than Fuller. With DeAndre Hopkins gone, Fuller could hit value in the seventh round in as few as 12 games.
-Parris Campbell and Steven Sims are two second-year slot wideouts I like this year. Sims is the real deal and I'd buy him in bulk in the 19th round if I could. I was hoping to pair Zach Pascal with Campbell but couldn't quite reel him in.
-I was glad to match Trent Taylor with Garoppolo, especially in the 22nd round. San Francisco beat writers suggested that Taylor might lead the 49ers in receptions before he broke his foot in training camp last year, and I think if healthy he'll kick Kendrick Bourne out of the starting slot role. Sims and Taylor strike me as superb slot values across the industry.
-T.J. Hockenson drew rave reviews throughout training camp last year and was off to a fast start in the regular season, but the rookie wall and an eventual season-ending ankle injury have erased what used to be a high level of anticipation around Hockenson. He's my favorite high-upside target among later-round tight ends, so I was in any case glad to get him here.
-Irv Smith will only be 22 on August 9, yet he already has 693 snaps and 50 targets to his credit as an NFL tight end. He has the talent to emerge as Minnesota's third-leading route runner behind Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, the only question is how much Minnesota will use him by design.
-In the 23rd round I don't need Darren Fells to do much, so his status as a red-zone specialist in a Deshaun Watson offense should suffice if he can maintain that role. Pairing Fells with Fuller adds a bit more utility for this pick.
-Anthony Firkser played the Delanie Walker role last year in Tennessee, very rarely blocking as the (rightfully) more heralded Jonnu Smith spent more than a quarter of his passing snaps helping against the rush. Firkser has been fairly automatic in this role, so I'm happy to get him in the 26th and stack him with my other Titans.
-Mo Alie-Cox is another up-and-coming tight end prospect who fantasy football owners might want to take more seriously. He has almost identical height/weight/athleticism as players like Cole Kmet and Martellus Bennett, and the former basketball player specifically makes a lot of sense for the red-zone jumpball targets that Eric Ebron drew before walking to Pittsburgh in free agency. You can read a bunch more about Alie-Cox and the previously discussed Firkser in this article about the Tennessee and Indianapolis tight ends (paywall).
Tampa Bay (18.10)
I suppose I don't have much to say about my kicker or defense selections, other than that I think they're very good. Legatron is in Dallas now, and I was glad to stack kickers with picks like Prescott/Gallup, Tannehill/Brown/Raymond/Firkser, and Huntley/Hockenson.
I made the Ravens the first defense selected, buying in on the idea that players like Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, and Patrick Queen will improve a defense that was already defined by its unfairly strong defensive back rotation. Tampa Bay is an overlooked defense as long as they get franchise-tagged pass rusher Shaq Barrett into the fold. Indianapolis has at least two stars on defense between DeForest Buckner and Darius Leonard, but there's an impressive secondary cast of looming contributors as well.