DFS Strategy - Getting A Handle On The Daily Game

By Armando Marsal
Armando Marsal Daily Fantasy Sports, also known as DFS, has grown tremendously over the last couple of years. And the best part is that it should continue to grow -- many players are just now getting into it and are competing for a lot of money on a weekly basis. Last season DraftKings offered a $20 tournament that paid out $1 million each week, and it sold out just about every week. I mean, think about that for a second. As the industry continues to grow, so will the fields and prize pools.

I first began playing daily fantasy in 2014 after listening to an advertisement on the radio. At first I was skeptical, like many people are, but I decided to give it a shot. After all, I would consistently win or at least have a competitive team in my regular fantasy leagues, so chances were I’d be pretty good at the daily thing, right? Well. ...It wasn’t as easy as I initially thought it would be. At first I won, but then I lost. However, I’m very competitive and tend to be a perfectionist. So I did what most in my shoes would do: I read Jonathan Bales' books on DFS strategy, I listened to podcasts, read a lot of DFS websites, picked the brains of some of the greatest minds in the industry, and last but not least, I studied the winning lineups every week and tried to figure out the thought process behind building those lineups. The way I see it, if you want to be good at DFS, you have to invest your time and you must always be willing to learn.

One of the first things that you have to be aware of are the scoring rules and roster requirements for the DFS site you’re playing on. For example, I play mainly on DraftKings. The scoring rules there are different than on FanDuel. This is straight-forward but very important, as it determines what players you should be targeting. For instance, on DraftKings a player like Danny Woodhead is more valuable than on a site like FanDuel, because on DraftKings it’s a full point per reception -- whereas on Fan Duel it’s half a point. You’d be surprised at how many people are not aware of that when they first start playing.

Game Selection

In DFS you have cash games and tournaments, also known as guaranteed prize pools (GPP). Cash games consist of head-to-head matchups and 50/50s. Head-to-head is just as the title implies, you put your team up against a single opponent’s and the winner takes the entire purse. 50/50 games are those where half of the field wins, and nearly doubles their entry fee. There are also multiplier contests where you can increase your entry fee by three, five, or even ten times.

Guaranteed prize pools typically draw big fields, and usually in these games fewer than 20 percent of the entries finish in the money. GPPs are further split between multi-entry tournaments (you can enter the same tournament multiple times) and single entry tournaments (only one entry per player). Cash games and tournaments require a totally different approach when building your roster. I’ll highlight some of the differences below.

Cash Games

For those who tend to be risk-averse, this is the way to go. Cash games offer the highest probability of winning in any given week. In building your roster, you want consistency: high floors and high-volume players. Essentially, you’re looking for the chalk. Since you only have to beat half of the opposition, you want to be as conservative as possible. Taking risks just isn’t necessary. You want the best optimal lineup with the highest floor.

Players like Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and Aaron Rodgers make fine cash game plays most weeks. Obviously it’s somewhat dependent on price and I’ll get into salaries a little later in the article. Players like DeSean Jackson and Torrey Smith are far too inconsistent to be viable cash game options. I’m not saying they should never be played in a cash game, but boom-or-bust players are guys I prefer to steer clear of. Again, a player’s salary will play a role in their ultimate value. What you ultimately need to know for cash games is that you want the least amount of volatility in your lineup. High floors are imperative, consistency is key, and ownership percentage is not of importance. You only need to beat half the field to finish with a profitable week.

GPP/Tournaments

The way I view tournaments is I either win the entire thing or I don’t. These are not played to slowly increase your bankroll week by week. If that’s what your goal is, stick to cash games where the odds of winning are higher. A player’s floor doesn’t matter when building your GPP lineup. I’m well aware there are players that can score 20 fantasy points one week and zero the following. Those are the players I target. In tournaments, embrace the volatility. After all, you’re trying to maximize your win probability.

If Antonio Brown has a great matchup and seems like a no-brainer start, feel free to fade him in a big tournament contest. Seems crazy, huh? It can be, and it may not lead to success if he has a great week, but in the long term, plays like this will set you apart from the pack. Let’s assume that Julio Jones also has a favorable matchup that week, but maybe not as good as Brown’s. In this case, his ownership percentage might be half (or even less than half) of Brown’s, but we are assuming that they offer similar ceilings. So why not go with the latter? If Jones ends up outscoring Brown, your team climb up the standings. If you decide to play Brown and he does well, you won’t gain much of an advantage against the competition due to his high ownership percentage.

Another way to be contrarian is deciding to roster an elite player that not too many others are willing to pay for. For example, if A.J. Green is more expensive than Odell Beckham and both have about the same projected points, most people will save their salary budget and go with the latter. However, in this example it might be wise to go with Green if you’re anticipating his ownership percentage to be far lower. Remember, in tournaments, you’re trying to maximize your win probability. If you are rostering the same players that every other contestant is rostering, how will you get ahead of the pack?

Look at some of the winners on a weekly basis and check out their lineups; you’d be amazed at how being a little different can go a long way. Now, don’t get me wrong -- I’m not advising that you play the No. 4 WR from a pass-happy team with the hopes that he catches a long touchdown. What I’m saying is you should make calculated decisions based on stats.

Using Vegas

If you’re playing DFS, spreads, lines, and player props are essential pieces of information. Every week I look at the lines of each game and note which games are projected to have the highest point totals. If a team is expected to score a ton of points, you know that is a team you probably want some exposure to. Especially if it’s a team that is pretty easy to predict where those touchdowns are coming from. Player props are helpful because they are a foundation for what you can expect a player to do in a given week. Let’s say that Adrian Peterson is -200 to rush for over 100 yards and +150 to rush for under 100 yards, you know he’s favored to rush for over 100 yards that week. Keep in mind nothing is guaranteed, but player props are a good way to gauge what a player is projected to do.

Stacking

Stacking happens when you pair a quarterback with a tight end or a receiver from the same team. There are times where you can stack multiple pass-catchers with their quarterback. For example, if you start Tom Brady, you may want to own both Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. Gronk will usually get the touchdown catches, and Edelman is usually peppered with targets. Stacking a quarterback with a receiver (or tight end) allows you to maximize your points each time they connect for a touchdown.

Another form of stacking is using a quarterback and a pass-catching back. This is not as popular of a strategy, but guys like Danny Woodhead usually catch a handful of passes and tend to score on some of them. This is another way to be contrarian since not many people consider this approach.

A final stacking strategy is pairing a defense with a kick returner. This is what people in the industry call “double-dipping”. If the return man runs one back for a touchdown, he gets the six points for the score but so does your defense. An example of this is Tyler Lockett, who is a wide receiver for the Seahawks and also returns punts. This isn’t that popular, but there are instances when it might make sense.

Final Tips

  • Recency bias is a term you will often hear about in DFS. This is the public’s perception of a player after a good or bad week. You want to take advantage of recency bias at all times. If the general public got burned by a specific player in Week 5 and in Week 6 has a good matchup or is less expensive, do not let the previous week influence your decision. Play him. Remember. ...Every week is a new week. That’s why it’s called DFS.
  • Bankroll management is fundamental in DFS. If you want to be able to play over the course of the entire season, make sure you play within your means. My general rule of thumb is not to spend more than 20 percent of my bankroll on any given week and to split it 80/20 between cash games and tournaments. This means I play 80 percent of the week’s bankroll in cash games and 20 percent in tournaments.
  • Involve yourself in the daily fantasy community. Open a Twitter account and follow DFS players. You’d be surprised how welcoming most of them are and how willing they are to help you with any questions you may have.
  • DFS is a game where you can never know too much. Learn as much as possible, and when you think you know it all, keep reading and learning -- because you don’t.
  • Determining ownership percentages is never easy. The best way to gauge which players the crowd favors in a particular week is by seeing what players are being talked about the most.
  • Study the lineups of the winners and of the industry’s best players. Put yourself in their shoes and try to see how they came up with that lineup.
  • Late swapping. This is something that can be used to your advantage on DraftKings. If you are trailing in a head-to-head contest and suspect that your opponent may have the same player left as you, you may want to swap that player and plug in someone else to give yourself a shot to win.

Lastly, enjoy the process of developing into a better player. For most of us, DFS is a form of entertainment. Don’t forget that. Just keep grinding and finding ways to improve while making some extra cash. Have fun and best of luck to all!


You can find Armando on Twitter @Armando_Marsal