If you've watched just about any sporting event in the last year or so, you've most likely seen an ad for daily fantasy sports (DFS). For the most part, anything with an ad makes me question how can this thing be useful to me if the company is making such huge profits to go on a television blast, but thankfully, I started playing daily fantasy before the boom, and I'm here to tell you, it's fun and yes, you can make some money while having said fun.
Below I'll show you why I enjoy playing daily games while also giving you some tips to get started.
The biggest difference between DFS and year-long leagues is being able to research specific matchups. In DFS, you can research that specific week instead of trying to prognosticate a whole season, which is probably my favorite part about daily fantasy. Yes, in yearly leagues, you have to decide whom you start from your team, but in the daily format, you get to decided from every player in the league. Of course, you have to fit your team under a salary cap, but the possibilities are almost endless.
There are many ways to research matchups, but my favorite starting point is to look at how well each defense has fared against each particular position. The raw stats of how many yards and touchdowns per game a defense allows to say a running back is the frame to your DFS team's house. You don't even want to look at names to start.
Last season, the Titans allowed a league-high 125 rushing yards per game to opposing running backs, including the second-most rushing touchdowns. So of course that's a big ol' flag waving at you to start a running back against Tennessee. But that is just the beginning. Then you take a look at individual games that defense had played to see exactly why they were getting scorched on the ground. Did they face DeMarco Murray, Le'Veon Bell and Marshawn Lynch in their last three games? Or were they destroyed by Trent Richardson, Matt Asiata and Bernard Pierce? Were the Titans way behind early and the opponent ran the ball to kill the clock? Were any key run-stopping defenders missing? This is the level of research you can do for NFL matchups compared to other sports, which just have too many games back to back to quite get to that level of minutia.
Snaps, Targets, Touches
So, you've figure out the best matchups, but then you have to pick the players you want on your team. Before you even look at prices, you want to pick the best players with the best matchups first. Yes, you may have your eye on a nice value play, but to know how much value he brings to your team, you need to know where he ranks as far as ability, opportunity and matchup. And for me, that middle word there - opportunity - is just as, or more important, than the other two.
C.J. Spiller over the last couple of seasons has been a good example of this. We know he has talent seeping out of his pores, but no matter how great we think he is, if he isn't getting on the field, then he can't use that talent. Snaps, targets and touches are the best way to quantify how often a player is used each game. I usually grab that data from Pro Football Focus, but there are other sources out there popping up every day. When playing DFS, there are plenty of strategies to implement, but making sure your players are consistently getting work, especially if that work has been increasing, is the basis of winning consistently.
Once you've done your research, you'll want to, I mean, you MUST find value plays so you can put a good team together. The definition of a value play in DFS is a player who is priced lower than he should be compared to his projected points scored. There are a few different ways to find value.
Much depends on how quickly a DFS site changes a player's price, but usually if a starter is injured, his backup is going to be much cheaper. Mohamed Sanu last season was a good example of this. A.J. Green was hurting much of the season, and Sanu stepped up to provide good value per targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns.
When a starter is out for the game, the next man up inherently has possible value because his pricing is related to his past performances, which usually aren't that good since his snaps and touches have been limited behind the starter. Of course, not all backups are created equally, but opportunity, like I mentioned before, is a key component to winning daily fantasy.
Sometimes the matchup is so good that even the most average of players has a good shot of putting up points. Take the Titans' defense last season; any warm body was going to have some success against them. So maybe this player has a low price due mainly to the fact that he is not really that good or he's faced really stout defenses or a little of both, but he can still have value in the right matchup.
DFS pricing will fluctuate from week to week based on performance, so if a player takes on the No. 1 defense in the league and is shut down, his price will drop. If then that same player takes on the worst defense in the league the next week, you have someone whose price has been skewed by extremes. This can often become more pronounced when a player faces three or four consecutive weeks of tough defenses. You can see his price drop significantly, which will set him up for great value once his schedule gets easier.
Every game has strategy and daily fantasy is no different. Do you spend on the big-name players? Should you play it safe with consistent players or go big with boom-or-bust guys? Are you playing in a tournament or 50/50? Do you want to be contrarian and not start the obvious player who everyone and their dog are starting? The more you get into the game, the more these questions will arise.
Where to allocate your money?
For this section, I am going to focus on 50/50s. For these, you don't need to score the most points, you just need to score more points than 50% of your opponents. So you want to take out as many risk variables as possible and bank on others putting together riskier teams that on average will score fewer total points than your mundane noodle team. Yes, their team may blow up and score the most points in that league, but as long as you get more points than that 50%, you win the same amount of money as that person who finished "first."
Quarterbacks: If you are putting the safest team together as possible for head to head or 50/50 matches, it is always a good idea not to skimp on your quarterback. The top quarterbacks are always the most consistent, and paying up for them in a good matchup is safe and, in the long run, profitable.
Running Backs: Running backs are a bit more variable than quarterbacks as far as fantasy consistency goes, but are still more consistent than wide receivers and tight ends. So if there isn't great value somewhere at running back, then it will behoove you to pay up for a guy you know will get every-down work, including goal-line looks. You want to try to stay away from situational running backs as best you can when making a safe lineup. That, of course, is easier said than done in today's NFL, but every-down backs are still out there, you just have to pay for them.
Wide Receivers: As we go down this list, we are losing week-to-week consistency. Many variables impact how a receiver will do each week. His quarterback, the weather, the defense, red-zone targets, etc. When you pay for the top wide receivers, you are risking a dud from them just by their team running the ball in the red zone rather than throwing it, or a defense could scheme to completely take away the opposing No. 1 receiver, leaving the rest of the team showered in fantasy points while your player acts as a decoy. So to be safe, don't overspend on wide receivers. Look hard for value here.
Tight Ends: Even more than wide receivers, tight ends are the most volatile group of offensive players. This may lead you to want to pay up for Rob Gronkowski, but picking a cheaper tight end often gives you a better chance of maximizing your money spent. Gronk is amazingly consistent, but with that consistency, comes the highest price possible. The fact that he doesn't have down games to lower his price means he rarely has much, if any, value. He has to have a great game to meet his price or an insane game to give you value. A cheap tight end who catches four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown most likely brought you more value and allowed you to pony up for Andrew Luck, who threw four touchdowns and ran for another. So do the work here and find the best matchups. Then look for tight ends who are getting the most red-zone targets and guys from teams who may have lost an integral part of their receiving core for that week, before backing up the Brinks truck for Gronk.
Defenses: This position is extremely variable, and spending big on it will most likely hurt you in the long run. You could pay up for a top defense like the Seahawks, which would hurt your overall budget, and they could win and even shut out their opponent, but if they don't have a ton of sacks, turnovers, etc., there's a good chance a cheaper team or many cheaper teams will outscore them. I stick closely to past performances by quarterbacks. If a quarterback is getting sacked and turning the ball over consistently, I'll use the defense facing him even if they aren't all that good. One returned interception for a touchdown is the golden snitch.
Tournament Games: When allocating your money for tournaments (or GPPs: Guaranteed Prize Pools) take what I said above and for the most part do the opposite. Above, I wanted to make the safest team possible so you could maximize each position while not setting yourself up for failure. For tournaments, you want to set yourself up for total failure because that means you have a chance at hitting it big.
You'll want to spend on someone like Gronkowski and Antonio Brown because they will most likely give you the best chance for maximum wide receiver and tight end points. And then you want to find value and upside at quarterback and running back. Your goal here is to spend a third of the money for the same amount of points as Le'Veon Bell and Andrew Luck are going to give you. That is a tall order, but diversifying your team from the crowd and stabilizing the more unstable positions like tight end and wide receiver usually gives you the most possible points. Yes, you will have some stinkers, but if you do win a tournament, the prizes are much higher and can make up for the losses, whereas in 50/50s you need to keep a steady winning percentage to stay ahead of the game.