For the next three weeks, this series will provide a detailed breakdown of three of my best ball teams that have won tournaments over the past two years. These teams have won Best Ball Mania Two for $1 million in 2021 and in 2022, the DraftKings $555 for $250k and the DraftKings $2,120 for $50k, earning north of $1.3 million.
Although those teams were successful, don’t draw sweeping conclusions from them. Winning best ball tournaments, even if you’re the best player in the world, requires conquering an insane amount of variance. Looking at finals teams provides a bigger sample, but it’s still just a sample that worked that year for that draft landscape and for that three-week fantasy playoff sample.
Identifying patterns from winning teams is important but be careful concluding that how these teams were constructed is how you need to construct winning best ball teams. Many different draft strategies can work, and drafting “weird teams” to be different from the field is a viable strategy.
This first part of the series will evaluate the winning $555 DraftKings team. A note about the main difference between DraftKings and Underdog’s structure is DraftKings is full point PPR (points per reception) and 20-round drafts. Underdog is (for most tournaments) 18-round drafts and half-point PPR.
The Winning $555 team
The $555 best ball tournament on DraftKings was around a 2,000-entry field. The group sizes of the first round, the playoff rounds, and their advanced structure and prize pool are attached below.
Higher entry fees and smaller field-size tournaments are generally viewed as more skilled. It’s reasonable to conclude you can win a 2,000-entry tournament more often than a 450,000-entry tournament.
The team’s structure was two quarterbacks, six running backs, nine wide receivers and three tight ends. The team’s stacks included Patrick Mahomes – Travis Kelce – Jerick McKinnon, Kareem Hunt – Amari Cooper – David Njoku and Christian Kirk – Zay Jones.
The Week 17 stacks included: Kansas City Chiefs – Denver Broncos (three players), Washington Commanders – Cleveland Browns (four players), Seattle Seahawks – New York Jets (two players), Chicago Bears – Detroit Lions (two players), Jacksonville Jaguars – Houston Texans (two players).
In total 13 of the 20 players were stacked up in some way for Week 17. During the 2022 offseason, I targeted six defenses expected to be bad (Seattle, Chicago, Detroit, Jacksonville, Houston and the New York Jets, who I was wrong about).
In general, stacking and Week 17 game stacks are less important the smaller the final field size; however, if your opponents also are drafting this way it’s to keep stacking to be different. Week 17 game stacks are important to winning best ball tournaments. The team wouldn’t have won Best Ball Mania 2 without the Rashaad Penny – Amon-Ra St. Brown mini stack.
Taking Mahomes early (around fourth) allowed me to lean on the advantage an elite QB provides and wait for an unstacked Geno Smith. There’s no way to tell when players are selected on DraftKings, however, Smith was roughly a 20th-round pick, and he was the last startable QB to be drafted.
It makes sense to punt QB 2 if you’re going to invest a premium pick in Mahomes. Smith ended up being a player I drafted a lot on DraftKings (he was on my winning $2,120 team too) once it was clear he was the starter over Drew Lock.
His outstanding season was unexpected, but the pick made sense to pair him with DK Metcalf, and Smith was the cheapest starter in best ball. Smith could’ve been more useful in Underdog. However, the uncertainty of his battle with Lock early in the offseason made it a tough sell.
This team featured Saquon Barkley (drafted in the second round) and Breece Hall (drafted around the fifth round). With Barkley and Hall as anchors, Hunt was selected in the mid-rounds and Khalil Herbert, McKinnon, and Jaylen Warren were late-round picks.
This gave the team two locked-in starters with Barkley and Hall. Hunt was a disappointment, but he could’ve provided several usable weeks on a team with an elite offensive line and questionable QB play. The three late-round running backs were home runs.
Herbert provided many usable weeks in the regular season until he was injured. McKinnon was a player I drafted a lot in best ball last year. He was the Chiefs’ starter during the 2021 playoffs, Clyde Edwards-Helaire didn’t look overly impressive, McKinnon’s usage was likely to come during critical late-game weeks and he stacks cheap with Mahomes. The Mahomes – Kelce – McKinnon stack, and primarily McKinnon, is one reason this team won the tournament.
Warren was a player I drafted a lot in late August after depth charts were released. Warren wasn’t being drafted earlier in the offseason (low ownership and therefore leverage in playoff rounds), Najee Harris — the Steelers starter — was an expensive draft pick and the field wasn’t drafting any of the Steelers’ backups. They couldn’t figure out who to draft between Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland. However, both those answers were wrong, as it should’ve been Warren.
DJ Moore, Cooper, Diontae Johnson and Kirk were the team’s four expensive receivers, likely costing picks somewhere between the fourth and eighth rounds. Funny enough, Moore, Cooper and Johnson are not players I drafted a lot in best ball last year because I was lower than consensus on them and their passing-game situations. Moore and Johnson made more sense on PPR sites vs half-point PPR because their fantasy points would come from catching passes rather than scoring touchdowns. With little exposure to these players, it makes sense to draft them in a high-stakes team as a hedge.
Cooper had a great year with Jacoby Brissett. Moore and Cooper also helped the team advance in the playoffs, and they scored the most points in Week 17. Kirk is a player I drafted a lot in best ball. Unlike the others, who made fun of Kirk for his record-breaking contract, I thought Kirk was a talented WR, and I wanted to bet on Trevor Lawrence.
The rest of the receivers were Tyler Boyd, Michael Gallup, Jahan Dotson, Jameson Williams and Jones. Boyd is attached to Joe Burrow, and if Ja’Marr Chase or Tee Higgins got hurt Boyd’s contingent value is huge. Gallup was coming off of injury, but the Cowboys prioritized paying him over keeping Cooper, meaning they valued Gallup highly.
Dotson and Williams were rookies who earned expensive Round 1 draft capital in the 2022 NFL Draft. Drafting rookies is generally a good bet, as they tend to score their fantasy points when the money is made in best ball at the end of the year. Still, it’s important to note the process isn’t perfect and worth resisting. Williams barely played this past season, and Gallup was pretty disappointing when he did play.
Jones was a mini-stack with Kirk and far too cheap. Jones had a good year with the Raiders the year before, and it seemed likely he could be the No. 2 or at worst the top deep threat in an offense that was trotting out 32-year-old Marvin Jones as competition. Lawrence took the next step, and Zay Jones had a massive year.
This team saw success thanks in part to the selection of elite tight end Kelce in the first round. Kelce ended up having a massive season even at 33 years old. A side note: taking Mahomes without drafting Kelce in the first round would’ve been a mistake. Taking high-volume passing quarterbacks without their top weapons is risky.
Njoku was drafted somewhere between the 10th-12th rounds. He’s athletic and had one of the top contracts for tight ends at the time. Njoku fit in nicely with the team’s other Browns players in Cooper and Hunt. There was also a big drop-off in tight end quality after Njoku’s tier, so it made sense to get him before that drop-off occurred. Njoku had a good season but wasn’t that important to the team with Kelce taking most of the tight end production.
I added Trey McBride as a third tight end. Drafting three tight ends is pretty normal for 20-round drafts. However, after taking Kelce in the first round, stopping at two made sense. Still, there were five reasons to select McBride.
- Zach Ertz is old and showing signs of slowing down
- The Cardinals often utilized tight ends under former coach Kliff Kingsbury
- There weren’t any running backs or wide receivers that were great bets
- The Cardinals played the Falcons in Week 17, giving McBride a good matchup
- He wasn’t drafted that often by the field, providing playoff leverage
McBride’s upside made him a plausible selection in a number of drafts. He ended up having a disappointing season even after Ertz’s injury, but in a strange twist of fate, with David Blough as his QB, McBride scored a touchdown and 20 PPR points in Week 17, allowing this team to win a low-scoring affair. Don’t you love when sharp preseason takes are paid off?