This article is part of our Best Ball Journal series.
I recently entered my first best ball draft of the 2021 season, and in a format I've never played before. Rather than the standard 1QB/2RB/3WR/1TE/1FLEX system, this particular FFPC league is 1QB/2RB/2WR/1TE/SuperFLEX/FLEX, and the scoring grants 1.5PPR to tight ends. The result is drastically higher prices at quarterback and tight end, with a deflated wide receiver market. Less interestingly, the format features team kickers and DST as well. You can view the ongoing draft results by clicking here
I'll talk about the picks I made through 11 rounds and the considerations that led to them, as well as the picks I hope to make in the remaining 17 rounds.
I was assigned the seventh pick in this 12-team league. Given that I've never drafted for superflex or TE-premium best ball leagues before, those two positions were my main source of anxiety, especially quarterback. I understand the risk-taking logic of trying to punt at quarterback, but it's difficult to identify and secure a bargain at the position when it's the most-picked position in three of the first four rounds. So I went in mostly determined to not get burned at quarterback. I suppose it's up to the reader to decide whether I accomplished that, but I like the way it's turning out.
Here's the current roster. Scroll past the 11 pick blurbs if you want to get to the remaining picks I'm considering.
Round 1 (7th overall) – Darren Waller, TE, LV
Travis Kelce, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Christian McCaffrey, Kyler Murray and Dalvin Cook were the first six picks, in that order. Sitting at seven, I thought my choices were pretty clearly limited to quarterback and tight end. First I considered quarterback, Lamar Jackson in particular. I'm a huge fan of Jackson and will likely end up with many shares in 1QB leagues. In this case, though, I decided to handle it differently.
I understand what Waller doubters think they know, and if what they suspected were true they would indeed be correct to doubt him. I don't think their premises are sound, though, which is why I was a fan of Waller in 2019. The reasons to be a fan of Waller at the time remain the case now, aside from the escalated price. He's a 100-catch candidate in a league where 100 catches for tight ends is worth precisely 150 receptions for a receiver, and 150-reception receivers tend to go quite high, so that point made me look past the price question. He's my No. 2 TE in PPR scoring and so paying an according price strikes me as reasonable, even if it's not as advantageous as taking him as the TE5 or whatever he was in 2020.
What I zeroed in on from this point, though, was the fact that if I didn't get Waller or Kittle then I might not find any of the remaining tight ends worth the post-inflation price in this league. Mark Andrews and T.J. Hockenson were the only other tight ends I considered both TE1-viable and likely to be worth the price, and given the option of taking Waller at seven it struck me as an unnecessary risk to wait on Andrews and Hockenson while waiting 12 picks at a time between rounds. Ultimately, I decided that taking Waller at seven was a privilege rather than a risk.
Round 2 (18th overall) – Matthew Stafford, QB, LAR
I was hoping one of Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, or Russell Wilson might fall to my second pick, but they unfortunately were selected 10th, 11th, and 15th overall, respectively. Aaron Rodgers went 16th, but that was fine because I value Stafford more going forward.
It felt like a slight disappointment to get Stafford rather than one of the other ones, but from a broader roster construction angle the Stafford selection could prove a blessing if I complete a Rams stack and if I'm correct that the Rams passing game is generally underpriced. A Rams passing game stack could very well be a winning formula in 2021 best ball, but if I had taken Jackson in the first instead of Waller then I would have been less likely to pursue any Rams pass catchers, and of course none of them would be paired with Stafford in the scenario.
At the end of the day I'm totally fine with a potential 5,000-yard, 40-touchdown quarterback as my QB1, and I think Stafford has a better shot at that than generally acknowledged at the moment. I figured that if I build the rest of the roster well then Stafford as QB1 should suffice, especially if I get a good QB2 to go with him.
Round 3 (31st overall) – Trevor Lawrence, QB, JAC
I think most fantasy media and fantasy consumers have struggled to acquire a coherent perspective on the kind of player Lawrence is and the kind of effect that he will have on the NFL. His current market is informed at least partially by ideas like 'Justin Fields and Zach Wilson might be better,' or 'Brian Schottenheimer and Darrell Bevell aren't going to let Lawrence throw the ball,' and both lines of reasoning are ridiculous to me. I expect Lawrence's price to get higher closer to the season, so I was glad to get him here. Crucially, while I expect Lawrence to do well as a passer immediately, he has rare rushing upside to boost his fantasy floor even in the event that he struggles somewhat. I don't think he's going to struggle much at all, though, and like the Rams I think the Jaguars offense is generally underpriced.
I can't claim to have planned ahead of time on building this team around Stafford, Lawrence, and Waller, but I was distinctly encouraged by the possibilities ahead going into Round 4. I prefer Lawrence over Ryan Tannehill (20th overall), Jalen Hurts (21st overall), Tom Brady (22nd overall) and Joe Burrow (28th overall). I took Lawrence with Kirk Cousins (32nd overall) and Matt Ryan (36th overall) on the board, and I'm not convinced Ryan starts 10 games in 2021.
Round 4 (42nd overall) – A.J. Brown, WR, TEN
I thought about taking Joe Mixon or Antonio Gibson here, but Brown is the best receiver in the NFL to me and in a 2WR format it's easier than in other cases to guard against the inconsistent volume of the Tennessee passing game by building depth behind Brown. If Brown has a bad game it will be easy for me to have a higher-scoring wide receiver that week, but on Brown's best days he reliably ranks at or near the top of the position.
Round 5 (55th overall) – James Robinson, RB, JAC
I passed on rookies Najee Harris (60th overall) and Travis Etienne (61st overall) to make this pick and probably would continue to do so eight or nine times out of 10. I understand the reasoning of those fading Robinson – the history of undrafted running backs lasting in the NFL is sketchy at best, and generally low draft capital will invite competition. The problem I see is that most of those other qualifying cases were unlike Robinson's because many or most of those cases only occurred because some other starting RB got hurt. But Robinson forced his way into the lineup as an undrafted player out of Illinois State, and that never happens.
Whatever he is, it's not possible for Robinson to be the next Damien Rhodes, Mike Anderson, or Olandis Gary. He's not eligible for their category. He already displaced the higher draft capital we're supposed to fear – Leonard Fournette was a top-five pick! If anything, Robinson showing such a reliable and versatile skill set as a rookie on an undrafted contract gives Jacksonville reason to run him into the ground while he's cheap. It's not easy to find running backs better than Robinson, and to do so you generally have to pay a price that the Jaguars can't justify given their issues on the offensive line and defense.
I only otherwise considered Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who went at the next pick. Whereas it's possible that the Jaguars add competition for Robinson it's instead a near certainty in CEH's case – we already know Damien Williams can produce at a high level in that scheme, and it's a bad ongoing detail for CEH that Williams is much bigger and much faster than he is.
Round 6 (66th overall) – Sam Darnold, QB, NYJ
I don't expect anyone to care but I still think Darnold is good and think he will have a strong 2021 season if he's traded to either San Francisco or Denver. He could of course go to neither team, but I in any case thought it was more certain that Darnold would have a starting job somewhere in 2021 than Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater or Jimmy Garoppolo, who were the next three quarterbacks selected.
Round 7 (79th overall) – Robert Woods, WR, LAR
Round 8 (90th overall) – DJ Chark, WR, JAC
People are underrating Chark and I'm psyched to get him here to pair with Lawrence. The roster is shaping up like I'd hoped heading out of the third round.
Round 9 (103rd overall) – Chase Edmonds, RB, ARI
With just Robinson and Edmonds through nine rounds I'm committed to a sort of diet version of the Zero RB approach, and that works for me given how many of the running back picks otherwise struck me as insane reaches. Kenyan Drake isn't getting much pass-catching work even if he re-signs with Arizona, and he might not re-sign with Arizona. Whoever Arizona adds otherwise is unlikely to get as much of a share of the 2021 offense as Drake did the 2020 one. I can't tell you how much I prefer Edmonds at this spot to someone like Javonte Williams at 64th overall.
Round 10 (114th overall) – Odell Beckham, WR, CLE
If Beckham gets traded this pick could be a huge steal, and if he stays in Cleveland that's fine with me too. Beckham is still one of the five best wide receivers in the NFL to me and, like Brown earlier, I love locking in his per-game upside at a discount like this when it's so much easier to provide depth protection than in 3WR leagues, or leagues where QB and TE have normal prices. Getting Beckham later than guys like Ja'Marr Chase, Deebo Samuel and Laviska Shenault is just wacky to me.
Round 11 (127th overall) – Austin Hooper, TE, CLE
I was hoping to get Tyler Higbee here but he went two picks earlier. Hooper works fine for me though – he gives me a little consistency protection if Beckham stays in Cleveland, and either way I like his price for his projection. If Beckham is traded it could be a cascading boon because both players would see their target projections rise.
I like the roster I have to this point, but I need to start taking some shots at running back and I want to get one more high-upside quarterback lottery ticket. I also need to mine for some upside at tight end, which is another tricky part given the lack of bargain opportunity.
Here are some of my favorite remaining targets by position. Keep in mind that this is specific to this roster construction rather than a general ranking.
All these guys can run, which helps justify the risk of spending meaningful draft capital on quarterbacks assured so little in terms of playing time. I like Cam's chances of returning to New England, and the Raiders might be forced to cut Mariota. Heinicke is a good bet to start outright in Washington, though Scott Turner can't be trusted in any sense.
There are other runners ahead of these guys in the ADP, but I think I'm looking at these four as my favorite remaining values aside from the more obvious lottery ticket types like Tony Pollard and Alex Mattison.
I've always been a believer in Penny and love the upside of a 220-pound back with 4.46 speed. If Chris Carson walks then I'm absolutely buying in on Penny this year. Cohen isn't assured much but the guy catches passes. Hill is my favorite rookie running back value – I'm not convinced he's worse than Javonte Williams, who went in the sixth round.
There are too many good receivers left to name. This draft is understandably marginalizing the position, but guys like DeVante Parker, Jerry Jeudy and Jarvis Landry need to go off the board soon all the same. Beyond them, I'm looking to Parris Campbell and Van Jefferson as potential bargain targets. But really, there are a lot of targets on the board still either way.
I think both Anthony Firkser and Mo Alie-Cox would be Pro Bowlers on teams that used them correctly, so I like their upside despite uncertain usage. If some team signs either away from the prior teams then the TE1 upside would be obvious, but that's rather unlikely to happen. I'm otherwise interested in free agents David Njoku and Gerald Everett. Logan Thomas scenarios very rarely occur, but I like their chances if there's to be any similar tight end bargain in 2021.