Course No. NFL 106
Big prize pool tournaments are what draw most of the new users to daily fantasy sports. These contests are constantly growing in size and are what is often used to measure the size of the site at a quick glance. These tournaments require an entirely different strategy than almost all other types of fantasy football though, especially if you are trying to take down a top prize in a massive field. Simply finding good plays won't get the job done in most cases.
Forget the Floor, Find the Ceiling
In fantasy sports, we hear a lot anecdotally about floors and ceilings. A player's floor is what most people generally consider the lowest point total that player will have, while the ceiling is the highest. In tournaments, you really don't need to care what a player's floor is at all. Tournaments are all about upside, both in payouts and in scoring. Forget about a player's floor entirely, if he busts and scores two fantasy points, you just chalk it up as a lost lineup, because him scoring eight or nine wasn't going to help you very much in this scenario anyway.
Upside is what you need, instead of that safe eight or nine points, you need the guy who can give you a massive 20+ fantasy point game. Essentially, you need variance in results to find a good tournament play. A perfect example of this type of player is DeSean Jackson recently. He's been a guy who all too often has games where he finishes with one catch for 22 yards and can absolutely crush a cash game team by himself, even at his usually middling price tag. However, that's exactly the type of player you want to target in a tournament. He offsets his poor games by posting big ones. Let's take a look at his trend in the graph below.
As you can see, his graph looks more like a rollercoaster than anything. Of 16 games played last season, he scored less than six standard fantasy points in half of them, not great for a guy generally priced in the top third of the wide receiver pool. However, in the other eight, he scored at least 12 standard fantasy points in each. As you can see, he never once finished between six and 12 fantasy points last season. That's exactly the type of variance you should be looking for when selecting players for tournaments. He's a guy that's going to be low owned because he's unpredictable, but 50% of the time he scored well above his expectation and over 33% of the time he scored at least 15 fantasy points, an impressive score for any receiver, especially a non-elite priced one. This type of example is easiest to find among wide receivers as it's the most high-variance position and also has the most playable players of any position.
Variance is Your Friend
Quarterback is a position that even in cash games, players tend to overvalue consistency. Playing really safe quarterbacks seems like a good idea, but most of the ones that are cost effective like Alex Smith last season, don't offer much upside and quarterback is the highest upside position in the NFL in it's current state. Quarterbacks generally play every offensive player for their team if they start, unless they get injured mid-game, so it offers some enticing value when you find a cheap one in a good matchup, but you need massive upside in order to place near the top in large-field tournaments. A great example of this from last season was Ben Roethlisberger, who we'll look at in the graph below.
His results are graphed in red, while the league average score for quarterbacks that week is graphed in grey. As you can see, he was often well above or well below that average score, giving him a reputation as inconsistent. However, that's exactly what we're looking for in tournaments. Players' who will be lower-owned due to public perception, that can give us totals that are hard to match with other options. Roethlisberger turned in five games over 29 fantasy points last season, while the league average only reached that total twice all year. He also turned in seven sub-15 fantasy point games that kept his ownership down basically all season outside of the week following his back-to-back monster performances, which he accomplished twice. Notice, he was awful the week after his second big game each time, which led to even more public disappointment. He had two of the four highest single-game totals last season, but was almost never highly owned, or that highly priced, making him an elite example of a quarterback tournament play to target.