Seeking Fantasy Football Best Ball Values With Season Simulations

NFL best ball drafts aren't a super new concept, but they are new to FanDuel, and that means you may be joining them for the first time.

Even if not, they are always a fun game to try to figure out.

So, anyway, here's Wonderwall I simulated the season out because -- why not?

Here are some takeaways.

The Process

I leveraged numberFire's weekly projections and ranges of outcomes as the basis for the simulations.

From there, I made sure to try to inject injuries and missed games at a historical rate based on positions. When a starter was out in the simulation, his backup(s) got an appropriate boost.

It's always a bit hard to determine what a "good" week is in best ball because there are positions to fill (a quarterback, a tight end, two running backs, three wide receivers, and two non-quarterback flex positions). Top-three tight end weeks are great, but if you're drafting one early and missing top-eight running back weeks, you can still be falling behind.

This gives us, in a 12-team league, 96 relevant flex positions each week (8 per each team).

So in the sims, I'm looking for top-96 weeks across those flex positions (it's not perfect, but it's not nothing) as well as top-12 quarterback weeks to find "startable" weeks. For more upside, I'll be seeking top-12 flex position results and top-2 quarterback weeks for a bit more of that "week-winning" appeal.

The Results

Quarterbacks are their own thing in FanDuel best balls because they're the only true singular position on the board. As many quarterbacks as there are teams will enter the starting lineups for the week. Yes, the Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes eruption weeks are elite to have on your squad, but other quarterbacks can and do post big scores in good matchups. And in best ball leagues, you don't have to guess at when that'll even be.

Last year, Jackson posted an insane seven top-two quarterback weeks. The next closest total belonged to...wait for it... Daniel Jones, whose average draft position in best balls was 23.09, via FantasyMojo. Three other quarterbacks had three top-two weeks: Deshaun Watson (6.09), Aaron Rodgers (7.10), and Jameis Winston (11.06). We're looking at small numbers of "elite" weeks to be had.

As for startable (top-12 weeks), that's obviously a bit more fruitful, as it's much easier to attain. In all, nine quarterbacks had at least eight such games: Jackson (13), Dak Prescott (11), Mahomes (10), Carson Wentz (10), Watson (9), Winston (8), Drew Brees (8), Ryan Tannehill (8), and Jared Goff (8).

Here's a snapshot of the 2020 sims (which should resemble some of last year's data but skew a little lower due to injury risk).

Quarterback Elite
Lamar Jackson 3.3 10.9
Patrick Mahomes 2.8 10.3
Dak Prescott 2.1 9.1
Deshaun Watson 1.9 8.8
Russell Wilson 1.9 8.9
Kyler Murray 1.4 7.9
Josh Allen 1.4 7.6
Tom Brady 1.3 7.4
Drew Brees 1.3 7.4
Matt Ryan 1.2 7.5
Carson Wentz 1.2 7.1
Cam Newton 1.1 7.1
Aaron Rodgers 1.1 7.0
Ben Roethlisberger 1.0 6.5
Matthew Stafford 0.9 6.7
Ryan Tannehill 0.9 6.4
Jared Goff 0.9 6.2
Kirk Cousins 0.9 6.4
Baker Mayfield 0.8 6.0
Daniel Jones 0.8 6.0
Jimmy Garoppolo 0.8 5.7
Derek Carr 0.7 5.8
Teddy Bridgewater 0.7 5.5
Sam Darnold 0.7 5.4
Gardner Minshew 0.7 5.3
Joe Burrow 0.6 5.3
Philip Rivers 0.6 5.3
Drew Lock 0.5 5.0

The first thing you may notice is Jackson's elite games are effectively cut in half, but that's to be expected. There are injury risks and the risk that other quarterbacks don't get hurt. Let's not forget that Mahomes didn't play a full season in 2020.

Last year, nine quarterbacks hit that eight-startable game number. The sims right now identify five but have a slew of quarterbacks in the seven range. This passes the eye test, then.

I'm treating the flex as its own position because while, yes, you need two running backs, three receivers, and a tight end, I think looking at the overall flex position can show us which positions are popping up in the top of the ranks most frequently.

Last year, only one flex player posted more than eight top-12 flex weeks: Christian McCaffrey (11). That's insane. By contrast, only three other players had more than five Derrick Henry (7), Michael Thomas (6), and Aaron Jones (6). Of the 14 total players with at least four elite flex weeks, 10 were running backs and 4 were receivers.

Scaling back to top-96 weeks (again, 8 flex players for 12 teams), we saw 32 players finish that well at least 12 times in 2019. The positional breakdown was 16 running backs, 14 wide receivers, and 2 tight ends.

Tight ends are a little tricky because you must start at least one tight end. However, pure ceiling and a reliable floor are elusive for most of the options.

Among the 85 players to get at least 8 startable flex games, 34 were running backs, 43 were wide receivers, and 8 were tight ends. This, at least anecdotally, speaks to the idea that wide receivers have the ability to put up usable games -- but in a less predictive and less consistent way compared to workhorse running backs such as McCaffrey and Henry.

Here are the top results from the simulations. (Again, 85 players had at least 8 startable flex games last year. The sims anticipate that rate for 92 players this year, so we're on the right track of replicating what actually happened last year.)

Player Position Elite
Christian McCaffrey RB 8.3 13.9
Saquon Barkley RB 7.3 13.6
Ezekiel Elliott RB 6.6 13.3
Alvin Kamara RB 6.3 13.4
Dalvin Cook RB 6.2 13.2
Michael Thomas WR 5.8 13.4
Derrick Henry RB 5.5 12.7
Clyde Edwards-Helaire RB 5.0 12.8
Miles Sanders RB 4.6 12.6
Davante Adams WR 4.6 12.9
Josh Jacobs RB 4.3 12.2
Kenyan Drake RB 4.2 12.4
Joe Mixon RB 4.2 12.4
Nick Chubb RB 4.2 12.2
Aaron Jones RB 4.0 12.1
Austin Ekeler RB 3.9 12.5
Tyreek Hill WR 3.7 12.5
Julio Jones WR 3.5 12.6
Chris Godwin WR 3.4 12.3
DeAndre Hopkins WR 3.2 12.3
Mike Evans WR 3.2 12.2
Kenny Golladay WR 3.1 12.2
Travis Kelce TE 3.0 12.2
Todd Gurley RB 2.8 11.4
Allen Robinson WR 2.6 11.8
George Kittle TE 2.5 11.8
James Conner RB 2.5 11.1
Odell Beckham WR 2.5 11.6
Le'Veon Bell RB 2.4 11.3
Chris Carson RB 2.4 11.1
D.J. Moore WR 2.3 11.7
Leonard Fournette RB 2.3 11.3
Melvin Gordon RB 2.3 11.0
Adam Thielen WR 2.3 11.6
JuJu Smith-Schuster WR 2.2 11.5
Jonathan Taylor RB 2.2 10.8
David Johnson RB 2.2 10.9
Amari Cooper WR 2.2 11.4
Calvin Ridley WR 2.0 11.4
Robert Woods WR 1.9 11.3
A.J. Brown WR 1.8 10.9
Courtland Sutton WR 1.8 11.0
Terry McLaurin WR 1.7 10.8
D.J. Chark WR 1.7 11.0
Cooper Kupp WR 1.6 10.9
Tyler Lockett WR 1.5 10.8
Keenan Allen WR 1.5 10.8
T.Y. Hilton WR 1.4 10.6
David Montgomery RB 1.4 10.1
Mark Andrews TE 1.4 10.6
Stefon Diggs WR 1.4 10.6
D.K. Metcalf WR 1.4 10.5
DeVante Parker WR 1.3 10.5
Kareem Hunt RB 1.2 9.9
Jarvis Landry WR 1.0 10.1
A.J. Green WR 1.0 10.0
Mark Ingram RB 1.0 9.3
Michael Gallup WR 1.0 9.8
Cam Akers RB 1.0 9.4

Even with historical injury rates, the backs with claims to the best workloads in football pop with the most expected elite games.

In total, 52.9% of the top-12 weeks are expected to come from running backs, 41.4% from receivers, and 5.7% from tight ends (compared to 47.5%, 46.6%, and 6.4%, respectively, from last year).

As for the startable flex weeks, 35.2% are projected to come from running backs, 47.8% from receivers, and 16.9% from tight ends (compared to 36.1%, 47.7%, and 16.2%, respectively, last year).

It's, again, important to remember that you have to draft a tight end, but 14 of them put up at least 6 top-96 weeks last year, and only two of them had multiple top-12 flex weeks: Mark Andrews (3) and Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Zach Ertz, Ryan Griffin (really?).

With a sizable number of quarterbacks putting up big weeks, and without having to predict usable games from late-round tight ends with less certain roles, hitting running backs and receivers hard early is very likely a long-term winning strategy.