DFS Strategy 2017

By Armando Marsal
Armando Marsal

Some Basic Information For Those
Ready To Dive Into The Daily Game

Daily Fantasy Sports, also known as DFS, continues to grow at a rapid pace despite some bumps in the road. On DraftKings, there are tournaments that pay a million dollars for first place in both football and golf. In football, that tournament happens every week during the regular season. I first began playing in 2014 after listening to an advertisement on the radio. At first I was skeptical, like many people are, but then I decided to give it a shot.

The transition from season-long fantasy leagues to DFS was not as easy as I thought it would be. There were so many things that had to be assessed when building daily lineups that I did not have to consider with my season-long rosters. Being that I am competitive and always looking for an edge in the games I play, I began to educate myself about DFS. I read some of Jon Bales’ books, listened to Podcasts, read a lot of DFS content, picked the brains of some of the greatest minds in the industry, and last, but not least, I studied the winning lineups from each week and tried to figure out the thought process behind those lineups. The way I saw it, and still do, if you want to be good at DFS, you have to invest your time and always be willing to learn.

One of the first things that you have to be aware of are the scoring rules and roster breakdown. For example, I play mainly on DraftKings. The scoring rules are different there than they are on FanDuel. This is pretty straightforward, but also very important as it determines what players you should be targeting. For instance, on DraftKings a pass catching running back would be more valuable than on a site like FanDuel because DraftKings awards a full point per reception, whereas on FanDuel, catches are only worth half of a point. You’d be surprised how many people are not aware of that when they first start playing.

l Bankroll Management

I consider your bankroll to be whatever you are willing to play. Some may say that it is whatever amount you have in your DraftKings or FanDuel (or whatever site you play on) account, but to me it is whatever amount you are willing to play. For instance, if you deposit $500, but are only willing to risk $300, your bankroll is $300, not $500.

Many people have different ideas as to how much of your bankroll you should have in play on a nightly or weekly basis. Personally, I use 20 percent of my bankroll, and I divide that 20 percent between cash games and tournaments. Initially, I did an 80/20 split, but I have since moved on to a 70/30 and at times 60/40 ratio. It really depends on the slate and games available each week. However, I will get into that a little later. Maintaining proper bankroll management will allow you to survive bad weeks and not lose your entire roll on any given week.

l Game Selection

This is just as important as bankroll management. In DFS you have cash games and tournaments, also called 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 one other opponent and the winner takes the entire purse. 50/50 games are those where half of the field cashes and (just about) doubles their buy-in. There are also multipliers where you can multiply your money by three, five, and even ten times.

Guaranteed prize pools typically involve thousands of entries and for the most part in these games fewer than 20 percent of the entries get paid. GPPs are generally classified as multi-entry tournaments (you can enter the same tournament as many times as you want), single entry tournaments (only one entry per player), three-max (you can enter up to three entries per player), and 20-max (you can enter up to 20 times in a single tournament). Tournaments come in different field sizes and it is important to understand the variance associated with each.

Every week there is a big NFL tournament on DraftKings where someone will win a million dollars; however, the odds are against you due to the size of the field (over 250,000 entrants in some cases). Do not get me wrong, someone has to win and it could be you. But. ... Those chances are slimmer than if you played in a smaller field tournament with far fewer entries. While first place may not be a million dollars, it can be a couple of hundred or even a couple thousand dollars (depending on buy in and field size). For those that still want a shot at a nice payday, but want to avoid high variance spots of the huge games, these smaller field tournaments are the way to go.

Both cash games and tournaments have a totally different approach to them. I’ll break down both of them below.

l Cash Games

Cash games offer the highest probability to win on any given week because (most of the time) you just have to beat 50 percent of the field. In cash games, you should look for consistency, high floors, and high-volume players. In addition, you want to take advantage of pricing arbitrage. Since player salaries do not change during the week, sometimes players can end up being significantly mispriced. For instance, a backup running back that will be getting a spot start due to an injury and is expected to get the bulk of the carries but is still priced as a backup running back is a player that will likely have high ownership in cash games (and rightfully so). Since you only have to beat half of the opposition, you want to be as conservative as possible. Taking risks is unnecessary. Ownership percentage should not be a determining factor when constructing your cash game lineups. You want the optimal lineup with the highest floor. Boom-or-bust players are not ones you want to target for cash games, since you are tr
ying to reduce variance as much as possible. What you need to know for your cash games is that you want the least amount of volatility in your lineup: high floors are vital, consistency is key, and ownership percentage is not of importance.

l GPP /Tournaments

There are several types of tournaments as I mentioned above, but the objective for each of them is the same – finish in first place. Breaking even on your entry fee is fine, but that is not the reason you register into a GPP. In these formats I have no interest in a player’s floor; what I want is upside. In tournaments, embrace the volatility. After all, you’re trying to maximize your roster’s overall ceiling. If there is a player facing a great matchup that has the ability to score 20 fantasy points, but might also finish the day with a goose egg, sign me up.

Unlike cash games, in tournaments player ownership plays a big role in decision making. For instance, if there is a player in a very good spot and the entire industry is talking him up, there is merit to avoiding (also known as “fading”) him in large field tournaments if his ownership is going to be very high. Why, you may be asking? Well, if this particular player does not reach his ceiling or fails to have that expected huge game, then by fading him you are already ahead of the pack. In these instances, I try to look for another elite player at the same position in a good matchup and roster him instead. This player provides me with a similar ceiling but with a much lower ownership percentage. If he does well I will move up the standings at a much faster rate since fewer people have rostered him. If you are rostering the same players that everyone else owns, how will you be able to set yourself apart from the pack?

Look at some of the GPP 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 toward a top-level finish. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advising you to play the No. 4 WR from a pass happy team hoping he catches a long pass for a touchdown. What I’m saying is make a calculated decision based on stats that will back it up.

l Using Vegas Lines, Spread, Etc.

If you’re playing DFS, NFL spreads, lines, and even player props are essential things to consider. Each week I look at the lines of each game to see which games are projected to have the highest scores. This is a helpful tool because if a team is projected to score 28 points (or four touchdowns), you know it’s a team you probably want exposure to. Especially if it’s a team that is pretty easy to predict where those touchdowns are coming from. Player props are also helpful because they are a foundation of what you can expect a player to do. Let’s say that Ezekiel Elliott is -200 to rush for over 100 yards and +150 to rush for under 100 yards. Looking at those props you know he’s favored to rush for over 100 yards that week. Keep in mind, nothing is guaranteed, but these weekly numbers are a good way to gauge what a team and/or player is projected to do.

l Stacking

Stacking is when you decide to pair a quarterback with a tight end, a receiver, or even a running back from his team. There are times where you can even stack multiple pass catchers with their quarterbacks. The least popular stacking option is pairing a quarterback with a running back, but I like to use that strategy because it offers differentiation. Another stacking option to consider: pairing a defense with a kick returner. This is what people in the industry call double-dipping. If the returner runs one back for a touchdown, he gets the six points for the touchdown and your defense (special teams) will also get the six points for the touchdown.

l Taking Advantage of Pricing

One of the first things I do when salaries come out for the week is to take a close look at all player’s prices. I try to identify a player’s price difference between the previous week (or weeks), seeing if it has increased or decreased, considering why it has moved, and then thinking about how the public will react to it.

In this process I am also looking for players who are mispriced. Identifying these players is very important as you look to provide your lineup with the highest possible upside given a fixed salary cap. You would be surprised at how often you find a player who is priced too high or low in the player pool.

l Final Tips

Take what a particular week gives you. Do not force four  receivers into your lineup because conventional wisdom tells you to. If your research and/or gut calls for a running back or tight end in the flex slot, go ahead and plug them in.

Variance is part of the game. Do not let one (or even several) bad weeks raise doubt in your process. It happens, even to the best DFS players. Stick to your process and keep making the proper, calculated decisions. You should be fine over the long haul.

Roster construction is important in DFS. Get creative with your lineups. Think outside of the box and find ways to generate unique lineups by having different starting points when creating them.

Use the flex slot wisely. At times there might even be merit to playing two tight ends, and going this route can in and of itself be contrarian.

Dig into statistics as much as possible. At times you will find something that others may have overlooked due to your extra efforts. This can be the difference between a big weekend or just an average one.

“Recency bias” is a term you will often hear about in DFS. This is basically the public’s perception of a certain player after he has a particularly good (or bad) week. You want to use recency bias to your advantage at all times. If a specific player laid an egg in Week 5 of the NFL season and he’s in a good spot heading into Week 6, do not let the previous week affect your decision – play him! Remember each week is a new week, and that’s why it’s called DFS.

Involve yourself in the DFS community. Open a Twitter account and follow some of the best DFS players. You’d be pleased to see how welcoming most of them are and how willing they are to help answer any questions you may have.

DFS is a game where you can never know too much. Learn as much as a 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 where the crowd is going is by identifying which players are being talked about the most during the week.

Study the lineups of the weekly 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 is something that can be used to your advantage on DraftKings. For example, if you are trailing in a head-to-head contest and suspect that your opponent may have the same player left in the later games, you may want to swap that player out and plug in someone else to give yourself a shot to win.

Finally, have fun and 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. Best of luck to all!

Armando Marsal has been covering fantasy sports since 2010 and was an FSWA Football Writer of the year finalist in 2015. You can find him on Twitter @Armando_Marsal