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: The other QB in this big game--Andrew Luck ($8,100 FanDuel)

I fully expect the majority of people to overlook Luck in favor of Marcus Mariota, and with good reason—Mariota is top five or ten in basically every statistical category for quarterbacks. But so is Luck. Coming off the bye week, Luck should have healthy receivers in T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief, as well as the ever-steady Frank Gore. The Colts are slight favorites here, but after dismantling the Green Bay secondary, I really think the Titans will be everyone's first choice in DFS, making Luck a nice contrarian play with a high floor and plenty of upside.

Pairing Luck with one of his wideouts—Hilton in cash games for sure, but Moncrief if you'd like to save a bit in any format, is a must to take advantage of the fantasy synergy. We are at a decision point, starting with Luck and Hilton-both second tier options at their respective positions. We can stay in this tier and build a steady lineup or start going high-low to try to maximize its ceiling. Steady looks like LeSean McCoy and LeGarrette Blount at running back, Jamison Crowder and Julian Edelman at wide receiver and Delanie Walker or Tyler Eiffert at tight end. These guys all check the box for volume, talent, matchup and game flow and should be very solid plays.

If you went with the high ceiling approach, you might also try to work in Odell Beckham Jr. (see next) or Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell (but I'm not especially high on Ezekiel Elliott or David Johnson this weekend). To do so, you'd need to really dig for bargains like C.J. Prosise (think he retains a healthy advantage over Thomas Rawls for at least one more week), Kenneth Dixon (a pretty big risk given what we've seen so far) or James Starks at running back, and maybe Tyreek Hill or Jeremy Kerley at wide receiver. Ladarius Green or Martellus Bennett fill in at tight end, but you can probably afford Jordan Reed if you do it right. I've worked on each version and am excited about the prospects of both lineups.

  • B.Or your starting point is: Bargain Stud Receiver--Odell Beckham Jr. ($8,500 DraftKings)

The $1000 discount from Antonio Brown makes OBJ and his top rated WR matchup with the Chicago Bears my favorite receiver on DraftKings this week. Beckham Jr. averages just over 10 targets per game and five of his six touchdowns this season have come in the last four games. One of the things you want on DraftKings is receptions, while the other is the bonus a player earns with either 300 passing yards or 100 rushing/receiving yards. We do have to be cautious with salary, so let's look at Jamison Crowder, who had consecutive 100+ yard receiving games prior to Minnesota last week and should be fine against Green Bay's third-most generous receiver defense. I mentioned Edelman above; he's probably an even better play on DraftKings given the volume of short receptions he gets. I think Tom Brady comes out throwing a lot and throwing touchdowns, and with Rob Gronkowski questionable at best this week, I think the volume and quality of Edelman's targets rises. In fact, I think you can pay up for Tom Brady here as your QB, but Mariota, Luck, Drew Brees, or going cheap with Blake Bortles or Colin Kaepernick are all viable ways to play it.

I still like Zach Ertz' price point at TE, and going there allows me to get quality running backs like Blount, McCoy, DeMarco Murray or Spencer Ware in here. Blount leads the league in touchdowns scored (12) and the 49ers have allowed more rushing touchdowns than anyone this season (13). Ware gets a great matchup with Tampa Bay and Murray gets the Colts, both top 10 in fantasy points allowed to running backs. I'm going high for the most part at defense; I like Seattle, Miami, Minnesota, Arizona, and Kansas City this weekend.

  • C.Or your starting point is: Obvious QB—Ben Roethlisberger ($7,500 DraftKings)

I can't leave off Big Ben; after all he is facing Cleveland. The Browns have given up 25 passing touchdowns this season, and while Roethlisberger is generally better at home, I think he's going to pay off his top three salary this week no problem. 300 passing yards is very much in play, as is three touchdowns. It seems silly to pay up for Ben without Bell and/or Brown, but you do force yourself to hit the value plays spot on if you do. Draw from Tennessee, Indianapolis, New York Giants, Detroit Lions, and Washington Redskins starters—many of whom I've already mentioned—for affordable options in good matchups this weekend.


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 couple scenarios I've been playing with for Week 11. 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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