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How to Play Daily Fantasy Football

Daily Fantasy Football

Daily fantasy football is a very easy concept to wrap your head around if you’re used to season long fantasy football leagues. The only difference is you get to draft every week, rather than get stuck with the same injury-ravaged unit you drafted back in August.

The catch? You’re putting money on the line each time out and an insane amount of preparation goes into being a successful daily fantasy football gamer. First thing’s first, let’s take a quick look at how the daily fantasy football rosters are constructed over at DraftKings, as well as how the scoring unfolds.

Rosters and Scoring Settings

Every time out, you get to choose 9 players based off of a $50k salary at DraftKings. The roster is broken up into 1QB, 2RB, 3WR, 1TE, 1Flex and 1Def.

  • Start with $50,000 to spend
  • Distribute it over 9 roster spots

All of the positions are relatively self explanatory, but the Flex spot can be used on any positions except quarterback and defense. This can play into your strategy based on positional pricing and value, and when compared to other DraftKings roster spots, basically amounts to a “utility” position.

As for the scoring, all DraftKings daily fantasy football games work the same and go as follows:

DFS Basics

Before you dive into player and roster strategy, always be sure to mind the basics of fantasy sports:

  • Injuries/Player News
  • Weather
  • Vegas, Baby
  • Schedule
  • Advice

Injuries/Player News

Injuries might be the biggest thing to monitor, as players are often not ruled out until the very last second. It can happen after lineups lock, so rolling with a banged up player can be quite the gamble. They can either miss the game entirely or they can exit the game later after further injuring themselves. Taking advantage of a hurt player is key, too, as a star player being out or limited can open the door for a cheaper player to return killer value.

Weather

Weather can play into NFL games at times, although you very rarely see a game delayed or cancelled. Still, rain, snow and harsh conditions can impact the game in a lot of ways. Most conditions impact throwing the football, as it can be a tall order the colder, windier or wetter the air or field are. While those poor weather conditions can have you off of passing game weapons, a shift in offensive strategy due to the elements can aversely help a running game.

Vegas, Baby

Vegas is king in all sports – especially pro football. If you want a solid indication as to who is going to win a game, how many points we can expect or how close a game will be, be sure to stay on top of the latest spreads and totals at your favorite sportsbook. Vegas updates lines throughout the week based on a lot of the very aspects you want to track for your DFS needs, but their final indication of a game is usually quite close to reality. Use that as a backdrop to every decision you make, but don’t necessarily let it rule your DFS strategy.

Schedule

Schedule can change your thinking, too. Primetime games often bring out the best in offensive players, as they like to shine in front of the nation. It also can work against teams for preparation. Monday night games extend the week and can throw players off, while Thursday night games have teams on short weeks and they can come in flat. TNF games are generally good to avoid because they tend to be blowouts or low scoring, and the short week often has a lot to do with it. Consider holiday game impacts, long road trips and even games overseas in London.

Advice

Before you start developing your own strategy, it’s always wise to read up on some advice columns and poke around someone else’s DFS thoughts each week. You don’t need to follow anything you don’t want to, but getting extra insight can often reveal data or narratives you hadn’t discovered or thought about. It’s like a writer that doesn’t read – the more you put into completing your own craft, the better it gets. That’s the hope, at least.

Research & Strategy

There is a ton that goes into piecing together a strong daily fantasy football team. The annoying part is that sometimes all of the research in the world can’t prepare you for a rookie going nuts or an average quarterback defying logic and dominating an impossible matchup. That can’t keep you from putting in the time and effort to gain an extra edge, however, as every piece of information you ignore could be a helpful piece to the puzzle.

DFS fantasy football gamers also need to consider this when building their teams: it’s not about all of the players you miss out on, it’s about getting your roster right. This applies to all DFS genres, but is a really good thought to lean back on when fighting over which players to use and which to fade (not use at all).

Now that you know how to get into jump into a DFS fantasy football contest on DraftKings, the scoring and the roster settings, you can really start to buckle down on your research, preparation and overall strategy. It’s multi-layered, so each time you go into a new week, you’ll want to consider most – if not all – of the following aspects.

Fantasy Trumps Reality

The first order of business is to realize that fantasy and reality do not have to mix for you to be successful in fantasy football. Matchups in real life do not necessarily reflect matchups in fantasy football, nor does the scoring or who wins or loses.

With DFS fantasy football, it’s all about the stats, and that often puts the worse of the two teams in a good spot. If a team is trailing for much of the game, they’re a bad regular NFL bet, but using passing game options from that team can be highly beneficial for fantasy football purposes.

Wide receivers will be more active and can eventually “win” even against tough matchups, receiving running backs will be much more effective than normal and even the worst quarterbacks can inflate their value by being down and having to throw from behind.

The key here is to not fully lean on NFL logic and to look at the matchups with just fantasy potential in mind. From there, you can cater to DK’s roster and scoring settings, as well as your own projections for player production.

Target PPR

One of the biggest things is the fact that DK awards one full point per reception (PPR). This obviously gives major value to anyone who catches the ball a lot, making running backs, tight ends and especially elite wide receivers the most valuable positions.

Touchdowns are the quickest way to rack up points, but receptions can hugely inflate an otherwise pedestrian line. That makes wide receivers and tight ends arguably the most valuable assets when building your roster, meaning you’ll likely want to spend top dollar on the elite of elites at these two positions.

This can also trickle into the running back position, both for feature backs who both run and catch the ball with regularity, as well as specialty backs who get more involved in the passing game due to their team playing from behind.
A good example of this is comparing a more traditional star starting running back with a “scat back” that doesn’t carry the ball often and is mostly used in late game/passing situations.

Alfred Morris vs. Theo Riddick
Normal game for Morris: 20 carries, 66 yards rushing, 1 reception and 5 receiving yards

Morris is an early down and goal-line runner who does not normally catch the ball. In a regular game, if he carries the ball 20 times but doesn’t score, he could end with these stats, which equate to just 8.1 fantasy points.

Normal game for Riddick: 6 receptions for 60 yards

Riddick, on the other hand, is unlikely to receive a single carry all game. However, he’s very active in the passing game so he will get 1-2 receptions in the first half, and then potentially 4-5 when his team is trailing late. That gives him a rough projection of six receptions for probably around 45-60 yards. If we go to the high end of that spectrum, he finishes with 12 fantasy points – absolutely crushing Morris on 14 fewer touches and 11 fewer total yards.

These comparisons can and should be considered across the board, and can stretch to wide receivers and tight ends. There will always be different matchups, talents, situations and circumstances, but when you take everything into account, you’ll usually come away with a pretty good idea as to where you stand on player value and upside based on their PPR capabilities.

Whatever your reasoning is, the point is PPR dominates DK and you can’t get past it if you want to win. It’s not always bullet proof, as even the most elite wide receivers and tight ends can have bad games. Ignoring players who are highly targeted or routinely post high reception totals, however, is a great recipe for failure in daily fantasy football at DK.

Matchups

The core of any DFS genre is matchups and when to exploit or avoid them.

Playing cheaper players against a bad defense usually bodes well, as it not only gives you great value at a low price, but saving money on some value picks also allows you to pay up for the more reliable studs. If you mix the right value plays and studs together, you could even have a chance to win big in a GPP tourney.

Here are the things you look for when trying to exploit matchups:

  • Offense/Defense Rankings
  • Opposing defense talent
  • Opposing defense injuries
  • Game Location
  • Rivalries
  • Positional performance

Mission number one when assessing a matchup is going to be knowing how offenses and defenses grade out. This means knowing high scale ratings and ranks, which positions are the unit’s weak chains and which positions they matchup best or worst against.

Knowing the specific players and their talent levels – precisely what they are capable of – is also big, especially when you try factoring in what certain players can do when they go up against tougher matchups.

Game location can also be huge, as some teams play very poorly on the road or in bad weather, games in London need to be taken into consideration and a lot of teams are pretty much unstoppable on their home field. Rivalry games between divisional foes or stud players that hate each other can also factor into the matchup on a high level.

In addition, always consider injuries to both sides. Ratings, rankings, location and rivalries are all important pieces of information, but if a good defense is without 1-2 of its most important defenders, they could be in a lot of trouble against a potent offense.

Positional Value & Strategy

Quarterbacks Football Player

Quarterbacks are the face of teams and really the NFL, but in daily fantasy football they are not always easy to figure out. The best quarterbacks can have very pedestrian outings, especially when you compare them to the other positions, as their passing touchdowns only count for 4 points.

No one quarterback is always going to match all of your criteria for that week, but running through the following and seeing how much can match up is a good practice:

  • Price meets value
  • Favorable matchup
  • Consistency
  • Dual threat upside
  • Home field advantage
  • Low turnover risk

Most of this is self explanatory, but in a nutshell, the ideal quarterback will be a fair price, have a good matchup, preferably be at home, have the ability to score with his legs, commit few turnovers and be a relatively reliable or consistent performer. The dual threat upside isn’t a foolproof strategy, but if you can get a quarterback who runs well and scores on the ground, his rushing touchdowns give you 6 extra points that you normally wouldn’t get with a less mobile passer.

The other thing to be aware of is when quarterbacks are trending, as well as which circumstances make them good or bad bets. A lot of quarterbacks are specifically good or bad at home/away, against specific base defenses (usually 4-3 ad 3-4), East/West Coast or against divisional opponents. You can use this data to sway your decision if you’re stuck between a couple of options, but just remember not to make a decision just because of one piece of data. You only get one quarterback slot at DraftKings, so you want to make it count.

Running Backs Football Player

Running backs carry strong value just because they touch the ball so much during the game and can fill up to three slots on a DK fantasy football roster.

With at least two slots occupied by running backs, let’s consider the criteria in mind when picking them:

  • Price meets value
  • Matchup
  • Consistency
  • PPR and Scoring upside
  • Role
  • Fumble rate
  • Injury risk

Price and value can be huge for the running back position because some very nice values always will be floating under the radar and every week we see an elite rusher with an insane price tag come up totally lame.

This is because in season long leagues, you’re drafting those stud running backs early so you get them for the entire year. In DFS, it’s up to you when you pay for them, so you need to make sure you’re picking them at the right time.

The right time can often refer to an ideal matchup. If Adrian Peterson is on a roll but is super expensive and gets a top-five run defense on the road, he’s suddenly not nearly as attractive as you would have thought.

Price and matchup also play into consistency. If a player routinely fares well regardless of matchup and seems to always meet or exceed his price value, you’re going to be in good shape. The higher the price goes, of course, the less likely that is to occur.

The next stop is the running back’s PPR and scoring potential. You can include price, matchup and consistency in here to gauge their upside, but role is also going to factor in on a high level. Touches alone don’t dictate value, as we’ve learned, but generally the bigger the overall role, the higher the upside.

You also don’t want guys that fumble or get hurt often. Playing hurt or getting hurt can lead to a player being effective or taken out of the game, while fumbles lead to negative points and also can lead to benching.

When picking your running back, you’re ideally settling on players who have a defined role, are relatively consistent, have a decent matchup, represent solid value and are as close to 100% healthy as possible. If you can meet most of those going into the new week, you should come away satisfied with your running back picks.

Wide Receivers Football Player

We needn’t waste a ton of time on the PPR aspect of the wide receiver position. We already touched on it and it’s pretty simple: you want wide receivers who are going to catch the ball quite a bit.

Let’s take a look at the main criteria you’ll want to consider when picking WRs in DFS fantasy football:

  • Price meets value
  • Matchup
  • Targets/Role
  • PPR & Scoring upside
  • Quarterback/offense play

Your best starting point is always going to be price and matchup. Does the wide receiver’s price and value align, and do they have a moderate or favorable matchup?

This can go both ways. Either a top shelf player can destroy a favorable matchup early, or a mediocre player could rack up stats with his team throwing from behind all game. You also will always want to consider direct matchups for your wide receiver. If he’s going up against a stud corner like Richard Sherman or Josh Norman, this may be the week to avoid that elite receiver.
Another huge part in deciding which wide receivers to use in daily fantasy football is who their quarterback is and how their offense operates. The better the quarterback, the better the chemistry and overall offense should be. On the flip side, no matter how talented a receiver is, if he doesn’t have someone that can effectively get him the football, he could be a disappointment in daily fantasy football.

Value is very easy to come by at wide receiver, especially if you correctly gauge all of the criteria in picking out suitable receivers. Price is an easy way at first glance, while matchup and role should show you enough to help you make an informed decision. In the end, if you can get a wide receiver who has at least moderate talent, a solid role, a favorable matchup and a competent quarterback under center, you’re probably going to be in good shape.

Tight Ends Football Player

Tight ends are very valuable on DK for two reasons: there are only so many truly elite options and the value for the cheap options can be insane.

Rob Gronkowski is the obvious top pick almost every single week, so in lieu of just using the star Patriots tight end every time out, you’re going to want to search for other suitable options that make sense.

Here’s some criteria to consider when drafting your tight end:

  • Talent
  • Role
  • Matchup
  • PPR & Scoring Upside
  • Quarterback/offense

Talent and role take care of business most of the time at tight end, so if the guy you’re eyeing has size and speed and is used a good amount in his team’s passing game, you’re on the right track.

Going up against a favorable matchup naturally only helps a tight end’s odds of performing well, but be sure that he won’t be asked to block more than usual. Heavy blitzing defenses can spell trouble, as can defenses with elite coverage linebackers that could potentially stifle your tight end.

The next big thing is your tight end’s PPR and scoring upside. If they’re talent, have a big role and the matchup is positive, the upside should be pretty good. This upside factor is more important as you dive down for cheaper values. These options will understandably carry greater risk, but they also can help you piece together the perfect DFS lineup for a given week.

Quarterback play and overall offense factor heavily into a tight end’s production, as a good tight end will exploit mismatches over the middle of the field and in the red-zone, and a good quarterback will see it. On top of having a quality quarterback, a good DFS tight end needs to have an active role in the offense. This is important to note, as a tight end with a big role can often pay off even if his quarterback isn’t elite.

In the end, Rob Gronkowski is going to be tough to fade on a weekly basis, but if you piece the right criteria together each week, sleeper tight ends can be easy to find.

Team Defenses Football Player

The old expression “don’t get cute” can often apply to selecting your team defense, as the top real life defenses tend to be among the safer plays in DFS. That definitely is not a foolproof method, of course, as things like matchup, playing on the road and injuries can make a good defense come out poorly in the daily fantasy realm.

Let’s take a look at the main criteria you’ll want to consider when selecting a team defense:

  • Price meets value
  • Favorable matchup
  • Healthy unit
  • Pass rush & Turnovers
  • Special teams

Value works two different ways for team defenses: either a very strong unit is just too well priced to ignore or there is a defense way at the bottom of the pricing spectrum that is too tempting not to dive for.

It’s up to you to gauge that value based on expectations and more importantly, the matchup. A strong defense facing a bad offense is always a good play, while it is always good to target specific offensive weaknesses with specific defensive strengths. Defenses that can rush the quarterback, stop the run or force turnovers and have a positive matchup can suddenly change from a moderate option to one that is elite.

It is also very important to factor in a team’s special teams unit, as it ties in with a defense’s potential in daily fantasy football. If their special teams has an explosive return man that can return kicks or punts for scores, you can add some serious value on top of your defense.

Stacking

Now that you know all of the positions and how to target/draft them, you can start thinking about utilizing some stacking methods. The best ones are:

  • QB/WR or TE
  • DEF/RB or WR

Offense Stacking

The idea here is to double up your points. If you believe Aaron Rodgers is in for a great game, then you’re naturally going to agree that the Packers as a whole should have success passing the ball. You can also probably assume one or more of his receivers are going to benefit from his big game. If you pair the right receiver with Rodgers, you could benefit greatly every time Rodgers tosses a touchdown.

This can work with running backs and defenses, too, and it pertains to game flow. If you think Team A is going to win because their defense will limit Team B’s scoring, then you can bet on a low scoring game and Team A to have the ball late in the game. Because they’ll be leading and running the clock out, pairing Team A’s running back with their defense makes good sense.

DEF/Special Teams Stacking

The other way to tie successful DFS options together is pairing a special teams player that both plays a skill position and also returns punts and/or kicks. That gives you an explosive option that has up to three roles and then you can use it with their defense, which would accrue special teams points if that player also scored on a punt or kick return.

Tyler Lockett of the Seahawks is a great example. If he catches three balls for 75 yards and also return a punt for a touchdown, he registered a solid 10.5 fantasy points as a receiver and then also added six more as a member of the special teams unit. That also gives Seattle six points for a return score, plus whatever else they accomplish during the game. At a minimum, Lockett gets you 16.5 fantasy points himself and chips in six fantasy points for his team’s defense.

None of these stacking options are guaranteed for success. Rodgers could bomb. He also could crush it and throw all of his touchdowns to the one Green Bay receiver you didn’t use. The running back you pair with your defense could get hurt or fail to score. And Lockett could get blanked in the passing game and fail to return a touchdown.

The possibilities are endless, but that’s part of the beauty of daily fantasy football. Stacking just gives you the potential to limit those possibilities and take advantage of them. If you want to find more specific and help with this method then please check out our article on stacking in daily fantasy football.

Assessing Value

We’ve talked about value a lot so far, but what does it really mean, and how do you know when you’re seeing it?
Value refers to a player’s ability and price tag, and what the perceived expectation is of them in a specific week based on how much you have to pay for them. If they score more than their price projects them to, then they are exceeding value. If they score under their projected mark, they are failing to meet value.

Value defined is a player’s worth per dollar you’re spending on them. In other words, how much of your salary cap is being spent on each player, and how much are you getting back in return for their services?

Definition of: Value

  • Projected fantasy points/Price tag
  • Pick a Score Goal
  • Assign Value
  • Project Score

The best way to assess player value is to pick a target score goal for your daily fantasy football team, assign value based on the DK pricing and then build your team with a projected score in mind.

Using 160 points as a team score goal, we can find that we need 17.8 fantasy points per position (160/9 positions).

From there, we divide our points per player (17.8) by the decimal equivalent of the average player price (5.55). That brings us to a multiplier of 3.2.

With this, we can start assigning value based off of a given player price. If Tom Brady is priced at $8.1k for the week, he needs to get you 25.92 fantasy points to meet value. If Julio Jones is priced at $9.2k, he’ll need to get at least 29.44 fantasy points to meet value.

This is not the end all, be all way of figuring out value, but it’s a good baseline to work with. The real importance is when you can apply value to the cheaper players that you feel are in for bigger weeks than their salaries suggest.

The DK salary cap is what it is and you’ll need to find ways around it. Projecting your score and player performances can go a long way in helping you carve out value, even if you don’t see it at first.

React & Rely

You also don’t want to let DK’s player salaries dictate how you operate. That’s why you do want to go with your gut in your first go around when looking at the player salaries – even before testing out projections with the multiplier.

At first glance, which players stand out as obvious value plays? Are there elite players who are not priced with the other elite options based on various circumstances? Are there players near the position’s minimum price that just don’t make sense being priced that low?

Take all of that into consideration and then assume your own value and projections. Going just off of DraftKings would be asking for trouble, as the most expensive players do not always do well, nor do the cheapest players all do terribly. Formulate your own ideas based on the salaries, assign your value and build the best team possible. React to DK’s perception of value, but rely on your own.

Pro Tip:

React to DK’s perception of value, but rely on your own.

Manipulating Player Ownership & Projections

Once you have value figured out, you can then start thinking about player ownership and how to manipulate it. The two things you want to consider when thinking of player ownership are:

  • Chalk
  • Contrarian

A player is considered “chalky” when they are an obvious play and are widely expected to be used throughout a contest. Contrarian is a label for a player that for one reason or another is not going to be widely used.

You definitely don’t want to avoid chalk plays at all costs, as they tend to be the best and safest options. You also don’t want to avoid being contrarian altogether, as doing so can potentially separate you from the pack (in a positive way) in larger GPPs.

Ownership Explained

Tom Brady costs $8.1k and is owned by 40% of your daily fantasy football contest. If Brady crushes (30+ fantasy points) and you use him, you and everyone who used him have an edge on 60% of the field (potentially). If Brady does not meet expectations and your quarterback you used fared better, you could have an edge on 60% of the field the other way, too.

That potential edge is magnified greatly if you use a contrarian pick like a Kirk Cousins. If Cousins was owned in 2% of leagues and he bombed, you’re in big trouble. That would give potentially 98% of the field a big positional edge on you.

However, if Cousins is that low owned and goes nuts (30-40 fantasy points), 98% of the field didn’t use him and you could have a gigantic advantage.

There is a serious trickle-down effect with this, too. Using Brady takes up salary cap space, which likely means at the very least that you’re not rostering a ton of other safe, expensive options. You would need a lot of value plays to pan out, should Brady not work out.

You’re toast if Cousins doesn’t pan out, but if he does, you already have a huge edge on the field, so in most cases you probably would simply need most of your team to meet DK’s projected value. If a lot of your options end up exceeding that projected value, you could be looking at a mighty fine day in a GPP. To put it one step further, using Cousins (who would naturally be cheap, around $5-$5.5k), you’re also saving salary cap cash to spend elsewhere on other elite options.

Using TNF

You can largely assume who is or isn’t going to be highly owned in any given week, but a really good way is to pay attention to locked FanDuel GPPs when the Thursday Night Football games start. FanDuel does not hide player ownership and they lock their contests when the first game starts, so the second TNF kicks off, you have a really good sense of who people are after for the given week.

If you were already into Matt Forte because he had a good price and a misleading matchup and then suddenly find out he’s only 6% owned, he becomes a lot more attractive for your GPP. This works the same with Cousins. Even if you’re not overly confident in him, he could be worth a shot because he’s at home, his matchup is good, he’s cheap and this week the TNF game is showing a low 2% ownership.

If that ownership sticks and Cousins or Forte play well, you’re looking at a serious advantage. The more you work to manipulate ownership and player projections, the more success you can find in bigger tournaments.

Ceiling vs. Floor (consistency vs upside)

When picking players, you often will have to make a choice between a player who gets you solid production on a regular basis, or one who has extreme highs and lows on a week to week basis.

Ideally you’re getting as many guys that can fulfill both needs: they consistently perform at a high level and also possess the upside to crush their value in any given week.

Outside of the best players, though, it’s unrealistic to fill out even half of your roster with guys that reliable. This is why you need to research to best pick your spots and figure out how, when and why certain players are their most volatile or their most consistent.

Projection websites can give you a pretty good statistical idea each week as to what a player’s ceiling or floor is, which shows you roughly the lowest fantasy point total they should get you, as well as the highest.
What you’re looking at:

  • High Ceiling/High Floor (Ex: Aaron Rodgers)
  • High Ceiling/Low Floor (Andy Dalton)
  • Low Ceiling/High Floor (Ryan Fitzpatrick)
  • Low Ceiling/Low Floor (Case Keenum)

Suffice to say, you are typically getting what you pay for. Rodgers is going to be elite just about every week, Dalton will be close but will have some bad games, Fitzpatrick will be just average or slightly better and Keenum will have very few good games. The trick is avoiding overpaying for a guy like Rodgers during his down weeks and using a guy like Keenum the one week he goes nuts.

Variance

Keep in mind that the NFL flows unlike any other DFS sport. There are only 16 weeks to a regular season, and unlike the NBA and MLB (which have 82 and 162-game seasons), there isn’t enough time for the numbers to average out per team and player perfectly.

Simply put, it can be very tough to gauge players at times and inconsistency can be a killer. When you think of the NBA and MLB, the variance is low not because of the games, but because of the ways a player can rack up points. In baseball, a pitcher may not throw any strikes, but if they can last 7-8 innings and give up zero runs, they will score a good amount of points. In basketball, a player can score under 10 actual points, but if they can grab 10 rebounds, dish out five assists, get two blocks and two steals, they’ll also have a good score.

This really isn’t the case with the NFL, as you’re basically being judged on three things: touchdowns, receptions and yardage. Even the most elite running backs and wide receivers can go scoreless in a game or get stifled to far fewer rushes or receptions that initially projected. A quarterback’s good game can also go off the rails quickly due to negative points with turnovers, as well.

The point? Daily fantasy football is not as reliable, so it’s harder to predict. There is a reason someone new is the highest scoring player each week. You can’t rack your brain trying to figure out who the top scorer will be, though. Instead, acknowledge variance, embrace it and just do your best to work around it.

Summary

Daily fantasy football can be highly profitable if you can learn how to mix outside the box thinking with obvious thinking. Staying on top of the latest injuries and news, leaning on Vegas and keeping your finger on the pulse of the league (stats, rankings, schemes, etc) is a great start toward having a good enough grasp on the NFL to starting mastering the sport in the DFS realm.

The biggest aspect of all, of course, is to always be on the lookout for extra advice, resources and strategies that you can combine with your own logic, research and intuition.

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