We Analyzed the Results of 71 IDP Best Ball Drafts. The Results May (Not) Shock You.
If you drafted THIS position early in 2023, you likely won a lot of cash.
As best ball has gained popularity, the drafts have provided us with a tremendous volume of data to analyze and help us understand the best way to build teams. While IDP best ball is not currently offered by any big site, the guys at The IDP Show hosted 71 best ball drafts last offseason which we can go through to see what worked and what didn’t. Of course, it’s always important to draft the best players but this article aims to go beyond that, to find the best draft strategies for IDP drafts both here and beyond.
If you read last year’s article, you will be familiar with the best ball simulation. The simulation was necessary last year because there were only six drafts completed in 2022. With many more drafts completed this year, I have shifted to looking at the actual results of the drafts. This removes some of the artificial rigidity I had generating teams. Several player combinations were never possible in last year’s simulation because players were locked to a specific round or group of rounds.
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Before we get into this year’s results, I want to acknowledge some of the people who inspired this work. The idea of looking at different starts of drafts by positions selected comes from the 4for4 Roster Construction Tool. I first heard of player win rates and best ball points added from Hayden Winks at Underdog. Michael Leone’s Best Ball Manifesto at Establish the Run inspired the look at ADP value and team performance.
It’s important to acknowledge the ADP environment in 2023 and how it was different from 2022. In 2023, the first 36 players by ADP included 23 defensive linemen, 11 linebackers, and 2 defensive backs. The year before was a little more balanced, with 18 defensive linemen, 13 linebackers, and 5 defensive backs drafted. Of the first 72 players selected, there were 41 defensive linemen, 25 linebackers, and 6 defensive backs selected, versus 37, 26, and 9 respectively in 2022.
It was a rough year for defensive back drafting in 2022, with many of the top picks struggling while the top 5 scorers were dominated by late-round selections. The scoring settings for these leagues, which feature 4 points for a pass deflection, make cornerbacks more competitive with safeties and further muddies the overall position. As a result, 2023 drafters rightfully faded the position a bit more.
Drafters in 2023 also focused on defensive linemen a little bit more than 2022. In the first three rounds, this is at the expense of both linebackers and defensive backs, but by the end of Round 6, linebackers catch up with 2022 ADP, with the extra defensive linemen coming mostly from less defensive back picks.
Player Win Rates
The chart above includes every player drafted in at least 25 drafts. Win rates are nice because they adjust player performance for draft capital spent. If two players score very well, but were drafted 4 rounds apart from each other, the lower-drafted player should be more impactful to your team winning. Similarly, complete busts hurt you more in the early rounds than late rounds. This assumes some level of efficient drafting, but in most cases, drafters are decent at broadly figuring out which players will score the most points.
Charting player win rates are nice to visualize portions of the draft where some positions are better than others. Because we only had 71 drafts to work with, I also charted the rates that players were on teams that finished in the top three of their league.
Overall, player win rates and third-place rates show similar trends to 2022. In 2022, there were clearer thirds where defensive linemen were better picks in the first third of drafts, followed by linebackers and lastly defensive backs.
Defensive backs keep roughly the same shape, except that they are far worse in the early rounds than in 2022. Defensive line starts as the best position again but gets passed earlier by linebackers, this time during the fourth round by win rate, and the sixth round by third place rate. This could be several things, including ADP shifts between years or the presence of truly dominant defensive linemen in 2023 (four players with win rates over 20%) that wasn’t seen in the 2022 simulation.
The full list of all player win rates and 3rd place rates can be found here, but I’ll highlight a few players:
Micah Parsons (ADP 1.5, Win rate 8.5%, Top 3 rate 32.4%)
There were some contrarian takes last summer that Parsons shouldn’t be the first IDP drafted. While you would rather take Maxx Crosby or T.J. Watt if you drafted over again, Parsons still delivered above-average win rates and top 3 rates (average is 8.3% win rate and 25% top 3 rate) with a DL7 finish. He was without question a good pick.
Foysade Oluokun (ADP 6.5, Win rate 7.0%, Top 3 rate 26.8%)
Being drafted as the 2nd overall linebacker and also finishing second at the position should deliver better-than-average win rates and third place rates. I’m seriously questioning how much upside there is with linebackers drafted in the first two rounds. In 2022, it with slightly better, with Oluokun delivering a 12% win rate as a 2nd round pick. This isn’t a knock against Oluokun, just at the position in general. With Oluokun you had to sharpshoot a top finish. With Parsons, you didn’t.
Germaine Pratt (ADP 123.7, Win rate 28.2%, Top 3 rate 46.5%)
I have no explanation for how he ended up on 20 of the 71 teams that won their league this season. At least his Top 3 rate is a little more normal.
When to Draft Defensive Backs
In last year’s simulation article, teams with 2 or fewer defensive backs drafted through 10 rounds had slightly better win rates than teams that took more than 2. (The reason why the cutoff was the first 10 rounds was because the 24th defensive back by ADP was selected in the 10th round.) In 2023, the 24th defensive back was drafted in the 13th round. With defensive backs drafted a little later, you might think that drafting them early would have been better.
Hoo boy, were you wrong:
Drafters set a new low from drafting defensive backs, with only 4 of the top 24 defensive backs by ADP finishing in the top 24 at the end of the season. In case you were curious, those players were Derwin James, Kyle Hamilton, Antoine Windfield Jr., and Kyle Dugger.
Excuse me? Only 4 of the top 24 DBs finished there in 2023?
Last year I mentioned that Matt Record from IDP Guys won a best ball draft with four early defensive back picks while nailing some late defensive line picks. Amazingly that happened again this year with Andrew Morgan (AKA CountryBoySwagger) winning IDP Madness with 4 early defensive back picks between rounds 5 and 8, including Winfield Jr. and Hamilton. He also nailed some late-round defensive linemen with Boye Mafe and Jermaine Johnson. Nothing I suggest in this article will beat just picking the best players.
Drafting Defensive Line or Linebacker Early
The best structures in last year’s simulation involved drafting mostly defensive linemen early and sprinkling in a linebacker or two. This year I looked at how drafters started in the first 3 rounds and the first 6 rounds.
With practically all of the linebackers drafted in the first 3 rounds delivering below-average win rates and top 3 rates, it’s not surprising that heavy DL starts were dominant in 2023. The 3 linebacker start performed a little better than the 2DL/1LB and 1DL/2LB start, but on a very small sample.
Derwin James was the only defensive back drafted in the first 3 rounds. After everything that’s been said about drafting defensive backs early, there was no need to show the win rates of draft starts that include a defensive back drafted this early.
The 6 defensive linemen start was wildly dominant, albeit once again on a small sample. Still, a 52% rate of top 3 finishes is worth noticing.
Other than that, most other stars through 6 rounds do fairly well. The way I interpret this is that as long as you start with 2 or 3 DL in the first 3 rounds, the drafts are open to pretty much anything so long as you aren’t drafting defensive backs.
Best Ball Points Added
So win rates are fun, but perhaps a better measure of a player’s impact on their team is best ball points added. This was calculated by taking the weekly scores of all players drafted in 25 or more drafts and adjusting them against the cut-off for the last starter in each week. This was done with the larger formats in mind, where 4 of each position and 4 flex players were started, so weekly scores were adjusted by the 192nd highest-scoring player in each week. That score varies by week and was about 5 points in early weeks and 4 points in later weeks when more players were injured. If you had a player score 20 points in a week, they got about 15 best ball points added, depending on what week that happened. If a player scored 0, 1, 2, or any number of points at or under the cutoff for the week, they got 0 best ball points added and they likely didn’t get into a lineup that week.
This is a concept that doesn’t exist in managed leagues, where you declare your starters and you’re left with whatever they score. In best ball, the bad scores are usually not counted because you have better scores from other players on your team. This rewards position groups that have volatile scoring, because you get the spikes and not their valleys. A perfectly consistent player who scores 10 points every week sounds good, but isn’t as helpful in best ball.
We end up with a chart that looks somewhat like the win rate and top 3 rate charts, with the difference being that win rates and top 3 rates effectively adjust players against the other players they are drafted beside, where the best ball points added chart is showing you the points added to a team.
By position, linebacker does better at an earlier stage in the chart, passing defensive line around pick 18 of drafts. Defensive backs actually dip in early rounds before rising around pick 120. This should never happen in an efficient drafting market, we were picking worse players earlier than we were later in drafts. This is also reflected in the R2 (correlation coefficient) for defensive backs, which was 0.10. Defensive line had a R2 of 0.37 and linebacker had a R2 of 0.34. Drafters are just better at picking defensive line and linebacker. This has been repeated in other studies, and this transfers – I think – to all other IDP formats. And yes, scoring passes defended at 4 does boost cornerbacks and adds to the volatility in the position, but that didn’t stop drafters from making safeties the first 9 defensive backs by ADP before touching a cornerback anyway.
The full list of all players with their best ball points added can be found here.
Getting ADP Value
Michael Leone’s Best Ball Manifesto analyzed ADP value in drafts and found that teams who got better value compared to ADP were more likely to advance to the Best Ball Mania playoffs, but it didn’t have as much effect on winning playoff weeks. As our IDP best balls are 18 week, total points leagues, we are playing a game that is more like trying to advance to the playoffs in a best ball tournament than we are advancing through the playoffs in those tournaments. Throughout our best ball drafts last year, I wondered if the same would be true for IDP.
The idea of drafting for ADP value has been around in traditional best ball for a while, and it relies on the assumption that the ADP is sharp. While IDP ADP is likely not as sharp as offense ADP is, it’s still worth checking to see if there is an edge. We did this by finding the trendline of best ball points added for all players drafted in 25 or more drafts in 2023 and then assigning a value to each player based on their ADP and a value to each draft pick based on its draft slot. As drafts were different sizes (for example, most early drafts were 31 rounds while IDP Madness drafts were 24), I looked at the ratio of value of players on each team versus the value of that team’s picks. It was then split into five buckets, with bucket 5 being the teams who had the most ADP value and bucket 1 being the teams who had the least.
Teams that earned the most ADP value dominated with well above average win rates and top 3 finish rates. The next two buckets were essentially average and the bottom two buckets suffered from poor win and third place rates. The bottom bucket includes most teams with multiple timeouts and auto-picks of bad players, but you didn’t need this article to know that doing that in drafts hurts your team.
Either way, this might be the best advertisement for upgrading to being a paid subscriber to get access to the best ball ADP compiled from these drafts. ADP data for IDP drafts is notoriously bad on other sites. The IDP Show best ball ADP might be the best data product available outside of Pro Football Focus.
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It might be hard to visualize what a team with good ADP value might look like, so I’ve provided some examples of successful teams in different buckets.
Bucket 5 – Best Ball 32 – AdamIDP
Adam had a very successful year and had a lot of teams in the highest bucket of ADP value. In this case, Adam had a run in the middle of his draft where he got a full round of ADP value on almost every player he picked.
Bucket 4 – IDP Madness Draft 4 – CountryBoySwagger
The IDP madness winner made big reaches on a few players in the middle of the draft, some of which paid off big time for him. He ended up getting several 2+ round discounts on several players at the end of his draft.
Bucket 3 – Best Ball 1 – Professor IDP
Being the first draft, ProfessorIDP would have had no idea how the final ADP would shake out. He ended up making some big reaches while also nailing a few players who would make big ADP rises through the offseason, such as Azeez Al-Shaair eight rounds after his final ADP.
Bucket 2 – Best Ball 22 – joshraymer1003
It doesn’t really matter what values you get against ADP if you nail the overall DL1 (Watt), DL4 (Hunter), LB1 (Okereke), LB3 (Bernard), LB7 (Wagner), and DB4 (Hamilton).
I encourage everyone to look through the data and arrive at their own conclusions, but here are mine:
Stop drafting defensive backs early
Defensive linemen are better picks at the start of drafts
Getting value in drafts is important
It’s important to see how the draft board is developing and adjusting from there. Will drafts in 2024 remain as defensive line-heavy as 2023, or will that change? That will affect draft strategy as the best team builds in 2024.