You want to be a DFS Millionaire?

By Kyle Dvorchak
Kyle Dvorchak

Please, don’t stop reading now, but I do not actually possess the secret to winning one million dollars. Think about it: If I did have that knowledge, would I be spending my time writing for a magazine? No. Without knowing how much one costs, I assume I would be on my island drinking fancy drinks. Currently, I’m in a small apartment.

So, I don’t have the single key to winning millions in tournaments. I do I have a lot of tips based on previous winners. The DraftKings Fantasy Football Millionaire pays out a cool $1,000,000 to first place every week of the NFL season. That gives us 17 weeks of data to work with from 2018 to see what was winning people private islands last year.

Let’s start at the top.

Choose Your Passer

Winning a million dollars starts with choosing the right passer. Choose a quarterback who has weapons you’ll want to target in DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) as well. We’ll talk about stacking in a bit, but for now, just keep that in mind.

Don’t pay up for your quarterback. Out of 17 winners, only a single player rostered a quarterback that cost more than $6,300. Conversely, don’t scrape the bottom of the barrel either. Cheap quarterbacks have the allure of allowing you to roster another stud receiver or rusher, but this rarely pays off. Brock Osweiler’s infamous 31 fantasy-point game was where the cheap-QB strategy worked.

Quarterback ownership tends to be a gradual decline from the most owned to least owned passer. It’s generally ok to roster one of the popular passers in a given week because quarterbacks just don’t see the same ownership as other positions. Four passers were a part of a million-dollar team while being owned by less than three percent of tournament players. When it comes to quarterback, stay in the middle of the road, and prepare to build some stacks.

Chasing the Chalk

In tournaments, it’s generally understood that choosing a player everyone is going to be on is less than optimal. Even if he does well, he’s doing well for everyone.

However, running backs tend to buck this trend. For your first running back, finding a player with sub-30 percent ownership is ideal. Only three winning lineups had their most expensive back owned by 30 percent of the field. The average RB1 was owned by 23.6 percent of contestants. They cost $7,800. This is $500 more than the next-highest position, WR1.

Paying a premium for a bell-cow back isn’t a must, but it does help. In 12 of the 17 lineups, the top running back cost more than $7,000. The top running back ran up a tab of at least $9,000 six times. Don’t be afraid to break the bank for a stud rusher.

At the RB2 slot, go big or go home. Three backs were owned by between 10 and 20 percent of players. Eight were over 25 percent owned and six were rostered at a rate less than 10 percent. If there is an obvious play at the position, feel free to think with the crowd. Running backs thrust into starting roles, who are often mispriced, are typically safe bets. They are popular but they often pay off their cost many times over. James Connor in his first start is a great example of this. The other way to roster popular backs is to buy rising stars. Saquon Barkley was a mainstay in winning lineups because DraftKings refused to send his price to the moon. Until that happened, he was a free-square at running back. Guys like Josh Jacobs and Darrell Henderson have that type of potential this season.

If you want an uncommon play at running back, look to pay down. The winning lineup RB2s with sub-10 percent ownership rates cost, on average, $5,600. Second backs as a whole cost $6,400.

The winning tandem of running backs cost at least $10,000 every week. Don’t get cute and try to punt both RB spots. Despite the fact that there is an additional receiver spot, paying up for multiple backs is a legitimate strategy. Eight winning lineups featured two backs that combined for more salary than the three wideouts. Because volume is so predictable at the running back position, paying extra for that is often worth it.

The Wildcard Position

Because there are more receivers who can score fantasy points in a given week, they are typically owned at much lower rates. Keeping this in mind, you should still be hunting for upside plays that won’t be as well known in the minds of the rest of the players. The average WR1 had an ownership rate of 12.1 percent. There was a single WR1 who eclipsed 20 percent ownership and made a winning lineup. That was Julio Jones in Week 6, when a shootout with Tampa Bay was clearly imminent.

Even though elite wideouts are less popular and more inexpensive than elite backs, they are often the key to taking down tournaments. The first wideout for a winning lineup averaged 32.4 fantasy points compared to 32.9 for the top back. Wide receivers let you create more unique lineups at a fraction of the cost of an elite back.

The WR1 group had four games of over 40 points compared to just one for the RB1 group. While the backs have a slight edge in average points, it’s the divas who produce more explosive games.

Second receivers function similarly. The second receiver in a winning lineup is owned by 9.1 percent of the field, a close mark to their WR1 counterparts. They, too, provide more tournament-winning capability than their running back competition. While working with lower ownership and cost ($5,600), they produced two more 30-point games than the RB2s. The backs only out-scored them by 2.8 points.

No. 2 receivers on winning lineups also begin to foreshadow the mystic arts of winning a tournament. The first player who was owned by less than 0.3 percent of the field comes in this cohort. In Week 13, Zay Jones was a member of the million-dollar lineup and only 0.17 percent of players were on to him. He would go on to score 24 points. It’s clear you can take more risks here, but finding the ultra-contrarian plays isn’t necessary just yet.

The third wideout in a winning lineup is usually the missing puzzle piece that your average tournament player doesn’t see coming. They are the only group of players that are owned by an average of less than 10 percent of the players in a tournament (6.5 percent to be exact). Last season, three lineups featured a No. 3 receiver owned by less than 1 percent of people. In total, 11 lineups included a player owned by less than 5 percent of tournament goers. Outside of defenses, the third wideouts are typically the most affordable pieces in a lineup. They average a cost of $4,400. This is also the first position where it’s ok to flop. Creating a lineup that scores insane points at every position is incredibly rare. So rare, that you don’t always have to do it, even to win a million dollars. Of the 17 lineups that brought home the big bucks, six had a WR3 that scored under twenty points. Two even scored fewer than ten. Every other position we’ve looked at so far has combined for six total games of fewer than ten po
ints. While dropping the ball at any point throughout Sunday makes it difficult to bring down the million-dollar tourney, it’s possible to do so at the WR3 spot.

To Pay Up or Not?

The obvious question when it comes to tight ends is whether you need to be paying up for a stud like Kelce or taking the savings to spend elsewhere. Generally speaking, it’s best to let others chase the high-end tight ends. The one scenario where you may want to consider paying for their talent is when it’s popular. Four tight ends made a winning lineup while scoring more than 32 points. Those were also the four most expensive tight ends to make a winning lineup. On top of that, three of the four were owned at a higher rate than the average winning lineup TE (13.3 percent). The exception was when Travis Kelce was owned by less than 5 percent of people while facing Pittsburgh, in a guaranteed shootout. I cannot explain that ownership.

If an elite tight end is an obvious play, he’s worth a shot in some of your lineups. But when zooming out, paying a premium for a tight end should be avoided more often than not.

Flex Appeal

The flex position is a great spot to circle back and get the stud player you missed when choosing your first two backs or three receivers. The average cost of a flex player in a winning lineup was $5,600, the same price as a WR2. Somewhat shockingly, these players scored 29 fantasy points, more than second wideouts or second backs. The primary driver of this is the wild distribution of points among the 17 games.

The flex players crested 30 points a whopping nine times. They also fell below 20 points on four occasions. The flex spot is your last chance to make a million big ones. The winning strategy was to double-down on a high-upside player and even a modest performance wasn’t the end for four lucky millionaires.

When looking at the position, running back was the most common choice for flex with ten winning lineups having a rusher occupying the spot. Receivers made up the other seven places. Because 17 games isn’t a ton of lineups to work with, it’s tough to say that one position is much better than the other. What I can say is that you should never consider a tight end. Not once did that strategy win a million last season.

The Final Ingredient. ... Stacking

Creating a stack of players on the same team is the final ingredient in creating a tournament-worthy squad. Stacking is an absolute must if you want to win tournaments. Every single lineup that won the Fantasy Football Millionaire contest included a stack of a quarterback and another fantasy player from his team. The lone exception is the winning lineup from Week 12, which saw Lamar Jackson paired with his defense (technically not a “player” per se).

The average stack involved a quarterback plus 1.8 additional players from his team. The most common players to stack were the second and third receiver slots with their passer. Seven winning lineups featured at least the QB-WR3 stack while five included a QB-WR2 stack. Elite running backs and wideouts don’t necessarily need their quarterback to have an jaw-dropping day to produce themselves. Odell Beckham never required good play from Eli Manning. But the deeper you search on a roster, the more players need to be lifted by a good day from their quarterback. This is why the ancillary pieces make better pairing options with a quarterback. Finally, eight winning lineups had the second stack in their lineup from a separate team. These were all two-player stacks and half of them involved a defense. Matching a defense with a running back or receiver who has special teams upside is a sneaky way to correlate two more positions.

You’re ready to take DFS by storm now. Just remember whose tips won you a million dollars when you get lonely on your island.

Follow Dvorchak on Twitter @kyletweetshere.