Why Stacking is Critical in Best Ball

Buffalo Bills WR Stefon Diggs, QB Josh Allen, and TE Dawson Knox
Buffalo Bills WR Stefon Diggs, QB Josh Allen, and TE Dawson Knox
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Offseason - Daily fantasy and best ball formats both heavily reward top finishers with their typical tournament payouts. It's little wonder that players of both games rely on a common strategy of stacking, loading up on quarterbacks and receivers from the same NFL team. But the daily and best ball similarities can obscure a subtle difference that provides an extra incentive to stack in best ball and points managers to specific stacking targets. Best ball stacks offer players a chance to turn one correct quarterback sleeper call into wins at multiple different positions.

At first blush, quarterback sleepers seem just as enticing in daily fantasy as they are in best ball. But the former game's fixed weekly salaries and repeatable draft picks offer other stacking incentives. When one receiver is hurt, his less expensive backup can motivate an underpriced team stack with his quarterback. When one running back is hurt, his less expensive backup can motivate an underpriced game stack with his opposing quarterback and wide receiver. And when one player is under-rostered, he can motivate an underused stack whose potential success would earn you more exclusive benefits.

Best ball does not have those other incentives. A best ball snake draft will, on average, capture current injury expectations. And every best ball lineup is unique to its league since players are drafted to specific teams. That distillation funnels drafters between the guardrails that Hayden Winks of Underdog Fantasy illustrates in a pair of charts. They stack because best ball teams see a positive correlation in their playoff advancement rates when they draft teammates from any combination of the four offensive fantasy positions.

Best Ball Table 1

And they don't reach because teams score fewer points when they consistently pick players ahead of their average draft positions.

When everyone stacks and no one reaches, winners win with luck or by beating the market on player projections. And while our full-season KUBIAK projections (which will roll out for 2022 in the coming months) should help you identify quarterback and skill-player values at their average draft positions, quarterback sleepers carry an added strategic importance because of what their breakouts typically do for their teammates.

A comparison of full-season KUBIAK projections and actual fantasy scoring from recent seasons demonstrates the point. I bucketed projected starting quarterbacks who played 12 or more games into five groups:

  • those that averaged at least three more fantasy points per game than their projected totals;
  • those that average one to three more points per game than projected;
  • those within one point of their projections;
  • those who fell one to three points short of their projections;
  • and those who fell three points or more short.

Then I calculated the average fantasy points those quarterbacks' No. 1 projected running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and No. 2 projected wide receivers scored per 16 games over their projected totals. The results really pop. When quarterbacks out-score their projections, their skill-player teammates do as well.

Best Ball Table 2

You may be tempted to stack early with popular players such as Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and Gabriel Davis and then try to beat the market with independent late-round sleeper picks such as Ronald Jones, Braxton Berrios, and Brevin Jordan. But these tendencies show that it's easier to stack later, because if you nail your sleeper quarterback pick, then that success will manifest as surplus value for all his teammates in your stack.

As for the positional differences, it's no surprise to see No. 1 receivers ebb and flow with their quarterbacks more than No. 1 running backs do. It's the same reason Winks found more than double the correlation in playoff advancement rates between quarterback-receiver pairs as he did quarterback-rusher pairs—wide receivers gain almost all of their yards and touchdowns on quarterback pass attempts and running backs don't. I suspect No. 2 receivers see a compressed spectrum because their roles and therefore target shares have more room to change. But I was surprised to see tight ends benefit the most from dramatic quarterback underpricing. And while that 38.1-point surplus is likely inflated by breakouts from generational players such as Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, the 12 best quarterback values since 2010 all carried their top tight ends to surplus fantasy points and justified the latter position as a stacking priority.

Tight End Fantasy Point Surpluses for
the Most Under-Projected Quarterbacks, 2010-2021
      Quarterback   Tight End
Season Team Player PPG
Player Pts
2019 BAL Lamar Jackson 9.8 Mark Andrews 85.5
2018 KC Patrick Mahomes 8.9 Travis Kelce 65.6
2011 CAR Cam Newton 8.8 Greg Olsen 9.6
2011 DET Matthew Stafford 8.0 Brandon Pettigrew 38.4
2015 CAR Cam Newton 7.0 Greg Olsen 24.0
2011 NE Tom Brady 6.6 Rob Gronkowski 166.4
2011 NO Drew Brees 6.3 Jimmy Graham 134.4
2011 GB Aaron Rodgers 6.3 Jermichael Finley 1.6
2020 KC Patrick Mahomes 5.6 Travis Kelce 97.5
2014 IND Andrew Luck 5.4 Dwayne Allen 19.2
2020 TEN Ryan Tannehill 5.3 Jonnu Smith 40.6
2017 PHI Carson Wentz 5.2 Zach Ertz 49.0

It isn't easy to hit on quarterback sleepers. KUBIAK adjusts for all of the obvious tendencies like indoor/outdoor splits and second-year breakouts—all five quarterback buckets from my research saw average ages between 28.4 and 29.5 years old—but so do most other projection systems and ranking sets that inform average draft positions. But in best ball, you don't need to be right more often than other drafters. You just need to be right in clusters, and stacking with quarterback sleepers improves the chances that you will be.


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