There’s an ongoing joke in the fantasy space to not worry about all of these “galaxy brain” strategies and just draft the best players.

It’s a joke, but it’s also true. If we had a crystal ball, we wouldn’t need to worry about optimal roster constructions or the tournament tactics that we are going to discuss today. We’d simply select all of the league winners in each round and not stress about anything else.

But we don’t have a crystal ball. And more concerning, we collectively aren’t very good at identifying the best players. Go back and look at any of your old drafts and you’ll be amazed at how many busts and injuries litter the roster.

Luckily, though, we don’t need to go 18-for-18 on all of our picks in Underdog Fantasy tournaments like The Puppy or Best Ball Mania. In fact, there’s a simple strategy that we can employ to reduce the number of things we need to get right.

That trick is correlation, or put more simply, stacking. Let’s dive in…

What is stacking?

In the literal sense, stacking means taking multiple players from the same team, preferably a QB with his pass catchers.

Stacking, and more generally speaking, correlation, reduces the number of things we have to get right to win. 

If Dolphins WR Tyreek Hill has a massive year where he beats Calvin Johnson’s receiving record, it’s very likely that his QB, Tua Tagovailoa, will as well. So when we draft Hill, we should also consider targeting Tagovailoa because you only need to be right about one thing. 

If you take Hill and then, say, Dak Prescott, you now need to be right about two different, uncorrelated things. 

If you were to double stack three different QBs with two of their pass catchers, that’s 9 of your 18 roster spots. In this scenario, you only need to be right about three things (those offenses hitting in a big way), instead of nine different things.

Why do we need to stack?

Stacking players and teams widens our range of outcomes in both directions. It gives our teams a higher ceiling when we correctly identify the right stacks, but it also lowers our floor if the stack performs poorly. 

We want to embrace this kind of variance in tournaments like Best Ball Mania IV where we’ll need to best 677,375 other teams to win $3,000,000.

We’re not playing for the friendliest loss–these are massive tournaments with top heavy prizes–so we should be willing to take on the downside risk associated with stacking because of the upside.

How to get first place in a tournament

To understand why stacking and correlation is so important, it helps to review the way these tournaments are structured. Let’s use Best Ball Mania IV as an example since it is the biggest season-long contest to date with a massive $15,000,000 prize pool.

To win $3,000,000 you’ll need to traverse this gauntlet of four different stages:

  • Finish Top 2 in your 12-person league in the regular season (Weeks 1-14)
  • Finish first in your 16-person pod in Week 15
  • Finish first in your 16-person pod in Week 16
  • Finish first in the 441-person finals in Week 17

That might not seem too daunting on the surface, but remember that as you advance to each subsequent round you will be squaring off against the best of the best teams. 

The beauty of stacking is that it can help us both over the course of the regular season (Weeks 1-14) and in the individual playoff weeks (Weeks 15, 16, and 17).

Nov 14, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) and wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) in a game against the Washington Commanders at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

How to stack in the regular season (season-long sacking)

This boils down to making concentrated bets on a couple offenses you think could outperform expectations. 

If you nail a stack on an undervalued offense, you are going to reap those benefits in Weeks 1-14 and increase your chances to advance to the playoffs. 

In 2021, one of the teams that finished in the top ten of Best Ball Mania II devoted 11 of their 18 picks to players on the Packers and Bengals. Both teams massively outperformed expectations:

BBM2 Stacked Lineup

In 2022 King Kaapital, who won the regular season top prize, took three Eagles (A.J. BrownJalen HurtsMiles Sanders), three Texans (Dameon PierceNico Collins, and Davis Mills) and two Jags (Evan Engram and Zay Jones). 

The final round selection of Mills–who hilariously did nothing for his team all year–actually supports the case for correlation. King made a bet on the Texans and even though he burned one of the picks, it supported his bet on Pierce (league-winner) and Collins (a couple important spike weeks). 

When we lean into correlation, we only need to be directionally accurate. In the case of the Eagles and Jaguars, King’s bet on the entire offense being undervalued relative to their ADPS yielded million dollar returns.

There can be diminishing returns to over-stacking like this, specifically with how BBM4 is structured, but this illustrates how drafters are able to reduce the number of things they need to get right by heavily correlating their picks.

How to stack for the playoff weeks (single-game stacking)

While season-long stacking has its benefits, single-game stacking for the playoff weeks is even more important. 

Because you need to finish first out of 16 teams in both Week 15 and Week 16 to advance to the finals, nailing a stack in those weeks can help you jump to first in your pod and advance.

Anyone who plays DFS is familiar with this dynamic. Every time a QB throws a pass to a receiver, they both score points. So their production is directly correlated. You can see in this chart from TJ Hernandez that QB and pass catcher (WR + TE) production is highly correlated (green):

Correlation Chart

Rotoviz’s Michael Dubner, confirmed the power of correlation when trying to advance through the playoff gauntlet. In 2023, 10,000 teams had a QB1-WR1-WR2 correlation, and those teams had a 2.6 times higher rate of advancing to the finals than expected:

Week 17 stacking

The majority of the prize pools in these best ball tournaments go to the top teams in Week 17. And since the prize pools are very top heavy with the largest chunk going to the top 10 finishers, it becomes clear that Week 17 is extremely important in realizing your edge as a best ball drafter.

I fully understand that it might seem silly to plan for games in January 2024 while we’re still in the summer months. However, there are concrete variables that we can account for months out, like players on the same team and their opponents in the playoff weeks, specifically Week 17.

We don’t know which specific games are going to go off, but we do know that when a game does produce a ton of points, the players’ production in those games is correlated.

Pat Kerrane, who won the $2 million top prize in Best Ball Mania III, heavily embraced Week 17 stacking and correlation on his winning team.

He had two different game stacks on his roster:

  • Tom Brady to Chris Godwin (D.J. Moore bring back)
  • Tua to Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki (Rhamondre StevensonJakobi Meyers, and Tyquan Thornton as bring backs), as well as Raheem Mostert

In that Week 17 Dolphins/Patriots game, Mostert scored 19.1 for his lineup, and both of his Patriots WRs cracked his lineup, with Meyers scoring 13.8 and Thornton scoring 13.5.

Not a single one of those stacked players mentioned was a league winner, but they all contributed in a correlated fashion in the same game environments when it mattered the most.

This isn’t cherry picking a single roster, either. The data fully supports the importance of Week 17 stacking for the entire field. ETR’s Mike Leone did a deep dive on game stacking and discovered that your ability to win a 470-person field can increase by ~50% by game stacking in Week 17. That is a staggering number and something we can’t ignore. 

He also concluded, based on Best Ball Mania III data, that having between 6-9 total game-stacked players was ideal.

People get sick of the Week 17 discourse, but we can’t gloss over it. It matters too much.

Sep 18, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) and wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) and running back Joe Mixon (28) and wide receiver Tyler Boyd (83) during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Cincinnati Bengals at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Tying it all together (ft. be patient)

The key is to execute these stacking and correlation goals in tandem with the other important pillars of best ball drafting. Not at their expense.

This means being patient with your stacks. Last week we emphasized the importance of being flexible with which draft structure you employ in a draft. The same principle applies to stacking.

There will be a temptation to “reach” ahead of ADP to complete your stacks in fear of missing out, but if we are constantly reaching for these stacks then we are going to cancel out the correlation benefits and end up with teams that are watered-down versions of other teams who were more patient. 

Think of correlating your players as a boost and reaching ahead of ADP as a negative. When you correlate with strong ADP values, then you are able to enjoy the correlation boost without hurting your team.

If you’re only doing one draft, being patient can be especially tough. We all want to get our guys. But the more drafts you do, the more comfortable you will become with waiting patiently for your stacks to fall to you. 

You can deploy these stacking strategies on Underdog Fantasy, where you can also get a 100% deposit match of up to $100 when you sign up for a new account. Simply click below to claim your offer and start stacking today!

Stacking in Best Ball
Peter Overzet
Peter Overzet
Peter Overzet is the creative lead for Fantasy Life and voice of the newsletter, as well as a podcast host and comedian. He streams a variety of fantasy football shows on his YouTube channel covering best ball, DFS, and high stakes season-long. He is also known on Twitter as a thought leader, influencer, deposit king, and aspiring engagement farmer.