Each week, millions of dollars are paid out to one-week fantasy football players. FanDuel alone pays out a reported $75 million in winnings each week. If you want a share of that, though, you’ll need a lineup that sets you apart (and above) from the pack. So what are the keys to nailing that perfect lineup? It’s not that hard once you know the strategy.
Understand the Salary Cap
If you’ve ever played a season-long salary cap game, you’re already familiar with the basic format of how most daily/weekly fantasy football games work. If you haven’t, the basic premise is simple. You’re given a starting budget from which you have to build your team. Each player is assigned a salary, with the best players priced the highest, while role players might come in at near-minimum prices. The goal, then, is to decide which combination of players will keep you under the cap while maximizing their fantasy performance. Note that different sites price players according to their own algorithms, so a perfect lineup on FanDuel might not even be valid (let along successful) on another site like Yahoo! or DraftKings.
Understand the Scoring
This sounds obvious, but it’s easy to get thrown off if you plan on trying your hand at multiple different sites. For example, on FanDuel, receptions are worth a half point, while on DraftKings, it’s a full PPR. Furthermore, DraftKings utilizes a bonus point system that can get very complicated very quickly. The good news is that each contest shows you the rules (though you’ll have to click over and read them) so you know exactly how your players’ performances will be scored. This is especially important when choosing running backs and wide receivers, as PPR rules can drastically influence value, point ceilings, and floors.
If you’ve poked your nose into the world of DFS before, you might’ve heard the term “hitting value” in reference to a player’s performance. The concept is actually very simple. If you’ve been playing your site of choice for a while, you start to get a sense of what score tends to pay out in a given tournament (note, this changes from site to site and game type to game type). If you have a certain amount of total salary available to produce those points, you can determine a point-per-dollar value that players on your team need to average in order for you to get paid.
For example, if you’re playing on FanDuel and think that you’ll need to hit 120 points this week to get paid in your 50/50 league, and you have $60,000 in budget at your disposal, your players will have to produce 120pts/$60 = 2 pts per $1K in order to “reach value”. 2x is actually a very commonly used multiplier among FanDuel players, and it’s an easy rule-of-thumb way to decide whether you think a given player can contribute efficiently to your team.
Maybe you’ve finally settled on a few players you really like this week. Perhaps you think Devonta Freeman is still criminally undervalued, or you just appreciate that DeAndre Hopkins is a target monster and a great bet to hit value each week. Before you set and forget your lineup, though, take into consideration how many people are thinking the exact same thoughts. While this doesn’t matter as much in 50/50s and double-ups (sometimes referred to collectively as “cash” games), for guaranteed prize pool (GPP) tournaments, reaching the upper echelon requires being a bit contrarian. If you choose the same players as everyone else, you’ll be relegated to the middle of the overall pack, even if those picks were solid. Find a sleeper or two that only you believe in to help add uniqueness to your lineup and give yourself a shot at the grand prize.
Keeping track of weekly touches and targets is key for projecting a floor for your player’s performance. For example, Le’Veon Bell is dominating touches out of the backfield for the Steelers, and also does damage on the receiving end. It’s no surprise he’s the priciest RB on the market. Meanwhile, Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill are both skilled rushers, but with a workload split between them, it’s a lot harder to project their output any given week. In fact, this issue is commonplace with RBs right now and is part of why people are willing to pay a premium for players that are guaranteed 20+ carries a game.
Salary prices are determined at the beginning of the week, which means if a player’s health status changes during the week, the salaries won’t be able to reflect that. If an injury just opened up a chance for an unheralded player to increase his workload, you might be able to find tremendous value (for example Charcandrick West this week following Jamaal Charles’s season-ending injury, still min-priced on Yahoo!). This is especially helpful in cash games that you might’ve joined early in the week, where other owners might have forgotten about their lineups entirely. By staying abreast of fantasy news, you’ll have an edge over more lackadaisical owners.
In season-long fantasy football, you always start your studs, because there really isn’t a better option. In DFS, however, you’re free to pick and choose which matchups you want to exploit or avoid. Though player pricing tends to take this into account to some degree, you’re still typically better off targeting matchups where your skill player is going against a defense in the bottom half of the league in that category. Otherwise, you might find yourself paying for past performance without any guarantee of future success.
Trust Your Gut
At the end of the day, fantasy sports are about having fun and rooting for your favorite players and teams. You’ll be a lot less frustrated if you went with your gut and turned out wrong than if you stuck with only the objective data and watched as the “logical” choices let you down. Plus, no matter how many projections you read or simulations you run, football is played on the gridiron and the week-in, week-out performance you’ve observed with your own eyes can’t be replaced. And if you’re going to dread rooting for a player to carry your team (maybe your favorite team is playing against him this week), maybe pick a different lineup.
Take Our Advice
Ok, so we’re definitely biased, but as long-time fantasy football players, we sure think we know a thing or two about picking a good lineup. Check in with us weekly to see our favorite picks. Even if you disagree, you might stumble across a gem that you hadn’t considered before.