Best ball is all the rage, and a great way to play fantasy football. It allows fantasy gamers to take part in what they love most -- drafting -- without the task of having to set a lineup each week. Not only is this format fun with no maintenance, but there are edges that present themselves as a result of playing in this style.
One of those edges is stacking. For those of you who don't already know, a stack is when we pair teammates together. There are different ways to do this -- especially if we expand our context to daily fantasy and other sports -- but for the purposes of this piece, stacks will refer specifically to pairing a quarterback with at least one pass-catcher.
Why You Should Stack
The reason stacking is paramount to best ball success has to do with understanding one basic principle of best ball: it is a weekly game played over the course of the season. This sets the stage for everything that we do in terms of team construction. Our objective isn't to score a set number of points, it is to outscore our opponents by as many points as possible each week. At the end of the year, our aggregated differential versus the field is what determines if we win or lose.
If we accept that our differential versus opponents is what matters most, then that means we want to accumulate as many big scores as we can that will be difficult for them to replicate. To simplify, think about this on the player level. Tyler Lockett is someone who season-long players had a lot of consternation over last season, because his results were so variant. But in best ball, he was a league-winner. He posted games of 45.5, 32.5, and 27 fantasy points (0.5 PPR). In context, he was one of only two WRs to post a game of at least 40 points, one of 13 with a game of at least 30, and one of 32 with a score of at least 25. The only player with more games of 25 points than Lockett was Davante Adams. Not only did these scores give fantasy gamers an advantage in the week they were obtained, they were also scores opponents were unlikely to make up in future weeks.
So what does that have to do with stacking? Individual player distributions are difficult to predict, but if we extrapolate this to the full roster level, we can try to maximize our big weeks through these teammate pairings. It should come as no surprise that quarterbacks are highly correlated to their teammates. Again, we can look to daily fantasy for some answers.
The good folks at Fantasy Labs keep track of the correlation between positions. As you can see, quarterbacks have extremely high coefficients of determination. If you aren't a stat geek like me, these numbers essentially tell us what percentage of the variance, or spread, of the data is explained by each variable. So quarterback scoring explains 55% of the scoring for the team's WR1, 53% for the WR2, and so-on.
What this data tells us is that when our quarterback does well, it is likely that his weapons are performing well also. This is intuitive, and means that our best way to maximize big weeks is likely through stacking -- and preferably with at least two pass-catchers. Of course, this correlation works in both directions, meaning that if an offense does poorly, we could very well obtain low scores from multiple parts of our roster. But the beauty of best ball is that if those players perform poorly, they don't have to contribute to our score for the week. We will have other quarterbacks, wide receivers, etc. who can give us scores, putting us in position to mostly gain from this strategy if we stack the right teams.
2021 Stacks to Target
Now that we understand the importance of stacking, here are three stacks to target in your drafts this summer (ADP data from Underdog Fantasy).
Much has been made of the Ravens' rush rate in 2020, which was a league-high 55%. However, there was a noticeable difference in how frequently they ran the ball based around Lamar Jackson's COVID bout.
- Pre-COVID: 32.7 rushes per game, 51.9%
- Post-COVID: 38.0 rushes per game, 62.8%
The post-COVID rate was largely responsible for the Ravens passing the ball just 406 times -- and 34 times fewer than the next-closest team. They were on pace for 40 more pass attempts using their pre-COVID numbers. Additionally, Baltimore made two adds at receiver during the draft, selecting Bateman in the first round, and Oklahoma's Tylan Wallace in the fourth. With better weapons at Jackson's disposal, this could allow them to throw more -- something we've seen from other run-heavy teams in the past.
Additional passing upside to go along with Jackson's all-world rushing capabilities makes this an explosive stack.
Minnesota is another run-heavy team (45.75% - sixth in the NFL), but have displayed a willingness to abandon the run in negative game-scripts. Over the past two seasons, here is how frequently the Vikings passed based simply on win/loss (excluding the one game Cousins did not play):
- In Wins: 28.82 passes per game, 47.1%
- In Losses: 33.71 passes per game, 60.4%
This has led to Cousins and the Vikings having some huge games in losing or comeback efforts. The receivers are a little expensive, but obtaining players such as Cousins or Smith is fairly easy to do right now in drafts. Minnesota is a less-expensive version of the Titans, who have similar tendencies and skill-player talent.
This is mostly price-based, as the Giants are extremely cheap right now. Last season, Jones was being drafted as the QB15 according to Fantasy Football Calculator. Jones' ability to run the ball excited fantasy managers, but he disappointed them -- finishing behind players such as Mitch Trubisky and Drew Lock in points per game. Now he is being drafted in the 20's with players such as Carson Wentz and Sam Darnold.
When looking at the changes for Jones heading into 2021, there are only positives. The team has done everything they can to surround him with better weapons, signing Golladay and drafting Toney in the first round. Jones is also healthy now, after hamstring and ankle injuries limited his ability to run greatly down the stretch of 2020.
- Weeks 1-10: 4.9 rushes, 38.4 rushing yards per game
- Weeks 12-17: 4.0 rushes, 9.8 rushing yards per game
Jones rushing for over 600 yards in 2021 would be a huge boon to his fantasy value, and all of the Giant skill players are cheap aside from Golladay -- who appears to be sliding in drafts as well. There will be some guess-work with the secondary targets for New York, but this is a stack that can do a lot at low cost.