This daily fantasy sports thing has sure gotten crazy, eh?
Keep in mind that this piece is a pretty broad introductory write-up into the NFL DFS world, so I’ll define a couple of terms that I’ve already used and may use moving forward:
Cash LineupCash games consist of 50/50 and head-to-head leagues mainly. You only need to beat half of the entrants in a 50/50 contest to double your entry fee. And, you only have to beat one person in a head-to-head league. That’s pretty straight forward, right? Cash lineups are usually constructed from a “safe” vantage point. You want to build balanced lineups that produce solid results across the board, locking in higher floor players. This is where you look for value, which means players that are underpriced and expected to outplay similar players at higher price tags. Injuries are the perfect target here – finding backup players that are filling in for an injured starter for example.
Guaranteed Prize PoolGPP stands for “Guaranteed Prize Pool”, facing many other entrants, sometimes into the 100 thousands! These types of leagues are a blast, especially when you can pull out a win. It’s hard to do but not impossible. You build these lineups with a bit more flair, looking for the boom-or-bust kind of guys. Plus, lower-owned-contrarian-type plays are fantastic here. You actually want variance and against-the-grain thinking. With so many competitors in GPPs, it’s tough to win with a safe lineup. Keep in mind though, that doesn’t mean your entire lineup should be boom-or-bust. Having a variance of players with high upside and ceiling, mixed in with some “for sure” options is smart.
I know you want to ask: how do you win playing this NFL DFS stuff?
The first thing you want to figure out is what type of DFS player are you. Are you looking to just double your money in one-on-one head-to-head cash matchups? Maybe you’re a 50/50 guy, or you prefer big-entry GPP leagues. There’s nothing wrong with any of these formats and to be quite clear, there are many players that mix in all league types. Personally, I’m a GPP guy. About 95% of my dollars go towards the big GPP leagues and then some filter down to single entry leagues. The allure of the big payout is just too much for me, and to be honest I’m limited by the amount of time I spend at a computer researching numbers, matchups, etc., for my lineups. I take advantage of a small window only, pushing research towards the contrarian theory for GPPs.
Once you’ve figured out the type of player you are, you can then focus on how to set your lineups in the future.
The Roster BuildAlright, so now you’re ready to give this DFS stuff a stab and you want to put a lineup together. Just how do we do that?
I’ll break things down by position to give you a general idea of how I like to build my lineups:
QuarterbackThis is one position that you shouldn’t get cute with, mainly since QB is the driving force of most DFS lineups. QB generally amasses the most fantasy points per position and if you mess up here, in any contest format, you’re likely going to have a rough DFS week.
I love to find value at the QB position for GPP leagues, and any other position really (duh), but QBs are sort of special when it comes to value-finds. Since the QB slot takes up such a large chunk of your salary dollars most weeks, it’s wonderful when you can find a true value-champ. Andy Dalton was a perfect example last season in GPP leagues. Dalton wasn’t the typical automatic-slot-him-in-stud-QB, although he sure helped owners win leagues last year. Catching my drift? Sometimes host sites like DraftKings or FanDuel put too much salary emphasis into the big name players like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
When it comes to cash leagues, I don’t mind paying up for QB so I know I’m landing one of the more “safer, reliable” top options that will give me top points. Don’t forget when choosing your QB, you want a gunslinger that’s involved in a good offense, one that is known for driving the ball downfield and netting touchdowns. Be sure to pay attention to the Vegas lines as well - we don’t want to roster a QB that’s part of a low scoring ho-hum fest.
Lastly, let’s not forget about matchup. I’m not just talking about general defensive matchup, but you want to look at the defense’s top pass defenders. Will your QB choice face the Redskins’ Josh Norman this week? It’s something to obviously consider when choosing, although certainly not the end-all reason.
Running BackRunning back is a different animal altogether than QB and when choosing your RBs the first thing you should consider is injury. Immediately look at the potential for value in a replacement RB that will be getting touches for an injured RB. This value can be used in both cash and GPP settings and can often set you apart from your competitors. We should always look at upside compared to the salary pricing of all positional players, although at RB it’s key.
Here are the overall stats I consider when rostering RBs:
- Yards After Contact – does your RB break tackles creating opportunity to gain more yards/score?
- Yards Per Carry – YPC is one of the most important RB stats around, showing how involved a runner is in his offense.
- Red Zone Touches – how often does the RB score?
- Overall Touches – it’s all about opportunities!
Touches are huge. How many times is the RB going to touch the ball? Does he get his hands on the ball 10 times a week on average? 20? It matters. What is his propensity for finding the end zone? I want a RB that has great potential to score, so red zone touches are important as well. Also, does your DFS league host site give points per receptions to RBs? Most seem to do so these days, so a RB that can catch the ball out of the backfield can be pure gold to owners.
Don’t forget in GPPs you want RBs that offer a high ceiling. So you want high upside at a low salary, while not being too concerned about reaching a minimum point total (floor).
Wide ReceiverIf there’s one position where I’m willing to take a chance at its wide receiver. I want variance and upside for GPP leagues, and that’s exactly what the WR position gives on a week-to-week basis. For cash leagues, it’s all about the targets. How many opportunities is your WR going to get? The type of offense pays a huge role here as well, mainly since you don’t want a WR that only gets looks on third down. It really limits his potential on targets and receptions, and essentially hamstrings your chances at cashing out or winning.
Ideally, you want a WR that gets targets, scores touchdowns and plays in a premier offense. That’s not much to ask, right? But what is that going to cost you? Unfortunately, you’re going to need to pay up to snag one of those special Odell Beckham, Jr. types; however, that’s okay. You’re going to have to spend your dollars somewhere, so why not spend at WR and QB and find values at RB? Remember, it’s the massive upside and ceiling we want out of our WR for GPP leagues.
Of course, this is only one way to build a lineup. I’ve had some success doing just the opposite, however, finding low-dollar values at WR and putting my money elsewhere is tough to come by. One of my favorite WR strategies is to punt one of my WR slots and then load up on the other one or two slots spending full dollars. How do I decide which WR I’m punting? Good question. My favorite strategy is to roster a WR that has excellent average yards per reception totals. As an example: I was dope for Kenny Stills as a DFS play due to the average length of his receptions in 2014. Did I roster Stills every week? No, but Stills played an important role during certain strategy lineups.
Tight EndIt’s tough to go with a consistent plan at TE when filling out a roster. Most weeks, I like to run with a mid-range TE. I don’t like putting a ton of dollars into the slot unless I’m locking in Rob Gronkowski. And, even so, his price has to be somewhat reasonable. There’s no question that Gronk is the bees-knees of TE production and deserves to be on your roster every week but sometimes that’s just not possible depending upon roster construction and price tag.
Usually, I’m spending mid-range bucks at TE. And, I may even punt the position altogether if the need suits me. Keep in mind that red zone targets are huge when it comes to tight ends, considering the variance and inconsistency at the position week-to-week. In GPP leagues, it’s okay to punt TE, although in cash leagues I’m looking to lock in a consistent option in most cases. I’m willing to forgive an average day at the TE slot if I can make it up elsewhere. If you’re looking for variance and a big boost, keep the offense in mind and consider the QB tossing the ball to him.
Defense/Special TeamsThis is a tough one and, to be perfectly honest, I think when an owner nets huge return from his defense it’s more luck than anything. Sure, you can roster a defense based upon past history, matchups, etc, but we are looking for value. We want to find defenses facing offenses that are not expected to put up many points. Yeah, that’s pretty basic but it’s still good strategy. Plus, it’s hard to peg turnovers early in the season; however, as the season wears on it does get easier to depend upon a defense based on turnovers. Still, that shouldn’t be your sole-source reasoning to choose a defense. Give the slot some merit, just don’t make it the center of your lineup build.
That just about does it for basic lineup-building strategy. If you’ve got the time to give for research, there are plenty of solid sources out there for getting down and dirty with your lineups. The last thing you want as a DFS player is to limit yourself to one source of information. We’re all here to help you win the big bucks! Good luck in 2016!