When dealing with the finite limits of a DFS roster budget, it pays to be aware of how one decision affects the course of the lineup construction process. In this article, we'll be looking at a couple of examples from FanDuel and DraftKings of how a lineup takes shape when you start with certain players. The goal here is to emphasize the process rather than provide my favorite lineup; what principles guide your lineup decisions? Some of the statistical factors that we'll consider in this article include implied team totals, offensive/defensive positional matchups, targets and touches, but I'll also be very aware of game theory considerations like predicted ownership percentages.
To set the stage, my personal process goes something like this. I start with Vegas lines to get a feel for the week's lines and spreads, though implied team totals are the most important factor to me. I next move to positional opportunities—noting which defenses are most generous to each position (these are taken with a large grain of salt at the beginning of the season) and what players are facing them. By the time I ever lay eyes on a DFS website, I usually have several high priority candidates for my lineups at each position. It's then time to negotiate the salaries and take a look around the industry to see what everyone else is thinking to get an idea of player popularity and therefore, ownership probability.
A. Your starting point is: Expensive wide receivers—O'Dell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown (FanDuel)
It makes sense to target the high volume, supremely talented receivers regardless of which site you're playing on. These guys are playing in what Vegas projects as high scoring games and are their teams' best option to score. Once you're committed to spending up for these guys, the rest of your lineup options are limited ($5900 remaining per player on FanDuel).
Most people would move to roster Ben Roethlisberger or Eli Manning to get the fantasy point correlation stack. However, I recommend you don't further strap yourself by doing that. The reason is simple. Brown and Beckham Jr. are the best options on their teams. They are most likely, though not guaranteed, to account for a lot of the scoring. Big Ben has a big price tag (particularly on FanDuel), and Manning, though more reasonably priced, is not someone I have a high degree of trust in on the road in Dallas. His two worst games in 2015 came against this NFC East rival.
Instead, you can go with a cheaper stack that allows you to get an affordable QB, WR, RB from a team in a good position. Kansas City, New England, Baltimore, or Detroit fit the bill in Week 1. Let's say we lock in Alex Smith, Spencer Ware, and Jeremy Maclin as our cheap-ish stack. The Chiefs have one of the higher team totals and this stack leaves us $5600 per player on FanDuel. I love using the Browns defense in Week 1 against Carson Wentz and the Eagles. They're conveniently at or near minimum salary on both sites. Next I want to lock in a solid running back like Latavius Murray, who gets a Saints defense that allowed the third most fantasy points to opposing running backs last year. At the tight end slot, using our expensive wide receivers takes Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Reed off the table. There are still several viable options…one of my favorites is a healthy Antonio Gates. The chemistry is undeniable between he and Philip Rivers, and he's close to the TE touchdown record-a record Rivers has said he wants Gates to achieve. Lastly, give me a proven kicker in a high scoring game like Stephen Gostkowski.
B. Or your starting point is: Expensive QB—Aaron Rodgers (DraftKings)
When you start with a QB, stacking considerations dictate that you should use his WR, and maybe RB and/or TE as well. So we'll go ahead and lock in Eddie Lacy and Jordy Nelson. Lacy is reportedly in prime shape physically and mentally for a rebound season. Although Jacksonville may have shored up their defense somewhat, they were a top 10 fantasy matchup for running backs last year. Nelson is a “full go" for Week 1 and the Rodgers/Nelson combo could easily be the highest scoring tandem in DFS. Note that we're left with a paltry $4500 per player (DraftKings).
I still have no problem using the Browns at $2300, which gets us closer to $5000 per skill player. When I need a quality receiver or two at a discount, I look for #1 options on teams in less than ideal situations. Maybe they face a tough matchup or have a new quarterback, or haven't been in a position to be the top guy before, but either way, they're the one who stands out as a good option to receive double-digit targets. In Week 1, Jarvis Landry at Seattle and Marvin Jones at Indianapolis stand out. It's completely reasonable to expect 6-8 catches from both of these players.
I'm sticking with Spencer Ware at running back because of his attractive DK price ($4400) and matchup (San Diego allowed the fifth most fantasy points to the position last year). I'd like to supplement this lineup with an elite tight end like Jordan Reed. When healthy, Reed rivaled and even surpassed Gronkowski last season in terms of his production and efficiency. He gets bonus points for being in a high scoring game at home, where Kirk Cousins has been better in his short career, against a Pittsburgh defense that failed to stop tight ends last season. However, that puts us in a precarious position at flex. With just $3200 remaining, starting tight ends are the best way to spend the money. Given our Packers stack, I'm inclined to go with Jared Cook, who outperformed Richard Rodgers at the position for most of the preseason. This is a situation I'll be monitoring up to Sunday morning. If Cook is not named the starter, I'll probably go with Denver's Virgil Green, who is also $2900. Trevor Siemian has already established a nice connection with Green in the preseason. The alternative is to go with a mid-priced TE like Charles Clay, Julius Thomas, or Martellus Bennett, which affords you a higher quality flex play.
C. Or your starting point is: mid-priced RBs—Latavius Murray and Mark Ingram (DraftKings)
There are lots of options to fill out your lineups if you start here. Murray, as I mentioned above, is a three down back in a generous matchup defensively and the highest scoring game of the week. The same can be said for Ingram on the other side of the ball. Though people like Oakland's defense as a potential fantasy sleeper, on the road in New Orleans isn't where I expect to see them dominate. Ingram was a model of consistency in 2015 at a position where volatility continues to rise. As a part of the passing game, he averaged four catches a game on five targets, adding further value in DraftKings' PPR format.
From here, you can go very much stars and scrubs, locking in Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant in a great matchup, for example, or stick with a middle-of-the-road approach. I like going with a mid-priced QB and some tier two receivers to fortify this solid core. Someone like Derek Carr, Tyrod Taylor or Kirk Cousins makes a good choice at QB in Week 1. All face friendly matchups and should give you a pretty safe floor. If you're stacking you can easily fit in Michael Crabtree (target hog in 2015 with over nine per game), Sammy Watkins (the clear #1 in Buffalo) or DeSean Jackson (always the big play threat) with them.
Once I've committed to either stars/scrubs upside lineup or a safer, high floor roster, I'll do my best to stick to it with the rest of the picks. You may be tempted to balance your high risk picks with safe picks but it makes more sense to commit to high ceiling or high floor with your roster. Players like Jordan Matthews, Julian Edelman, or Demaryius Thomas could have huge days, but all come with significant risk. If you go the safer route, use the most expensive defense (Seattle) and target high floor receivers like Kamar Aiken, who closed out the 2015 season averaging 15 DraftKings points per game (and had none below 10 points from Week 8 on) or Jeremy Maclin, who is always under-owned in DFS.
Being aware of your starting point when building lineups at the outset can help you clarify the goals of the lineup and force you to recognize what trade-offs different starting points require. These are just a few scenarios I've been playing with for Week 1. I recommend you look at Daily Fantasy Café's lineup optimizer to see what other options you can come up with based on these starting points or your own favorite lineup core.
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