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 Thanksgiving Day starting point is: Pittsburgh Steelers Defense ($2,800 DraftKings)

I'm a fan of the obvious, and when the Colts finally name Scott Tolzien the starter for the Thursday night Thanksgiving game, nothing will be more obvious than rolling out the Steelers defense. You might know that I'm a big fan of the Viking D/ST as well, but this week you can't beat the price of Pittsburgh. I'm going to want that money in order to pay up for Le'Veon Bell. Not only is RB-D/ST a strong fantasy correlation, but Bell doesn't suffer the same negative home/road splits that Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown do. I'm not necessarily avoiding the Steelers pass game, especially in tournaments, but Bell is nearly a must play for me on this slate.

Let's keep it high floor, and look to either Dak Prescott or Kirk Cousins at QB. Both have thrown for 17 TDs, but Prescott has made fewer mistakes while Cousins boasts higher passing volume and yardage. I think Cousins is the play on DraftKings for two reasons. First, without a strong run game and expected to be playing from behind, Cousins will have to throw more and is a better bet for the 300-yard bonus. Second, his price is lower and with a similar floor to Prescott, he has more upside. Theo Riddick is the perfect choice to pair with Bell, as he has been seeing around 10 targets a game in addition to 10-15 carries. While the Vikings defense is the best in the league in terms of points allowed, they've allowed over 120 rushing yards in three of the last four games and seem particularly susceptible to dual threat backs.

With around $5,300 per player left, we'll have to be creative at wide receiver. I'm clearly out on the Colts' guys and Antonio Brown, which leaves some decent value from Minnesota against Detroit's awful pass defense, and of course the Redskins and Cowboys receivers. Cole Beasley is a favorite of Prescott's, even though I'd prefer Dez Bryant ($7,700 is hard to fit, but possible) and Adam Thielen has emerged as a reliable option for Sam Bradford in Thursday's best passing matchup with the Lions. I'm pairing Cousins with Jordan Reed, whom I see as the safest tight end play on this slate. He had 5/70 in the first meeting with Dallas, and like most tight ends, needs to score to exceed value. With the total on this game over 50, I think it happens at least once for Reed. If we use Bryant, we're left with just $3,500 and the options I'd consider at flex are Anquan Boldin, who did very little with nine targets last week and faces a difficult matchup with the aforementioned Vikings, and Jason Witten. I'm leaning Boldin because of already using Bryant and Beasley, but wouldn't be opposed to a full Cowboys stack in a tournament setting. The alternative is to forego Bryant and use two more mid-range players, like maybe Eli Rogers, Eric Ebron, Pierre Garcon or Kyle Rudolph.

  • B.Or your starting point is: Matchup-based QB- Eli Manning ($7,800 FanDuel)

A matchup with the Cleveland Browns gets everyone's attention, as they've given up 25 passing touchdowns so far this season. Manning has been solid over the past three games (9 TDs but also 4 INTs with an average of 20 fantasy points per game) and I prefer using him on FanDuel where there is no yardage bonus. His mid-range salary allows you to build up or down around him. While I was eventually scared off of using Odell Beckham Jr. last week because of the wind in New York, I think he makes for a fine option this weekend. If you prefer to build more conservatively than OBJ's $9K salary, I think Will Tye or Sterling Shepard make for quality choices too. I'm actually going with Manning and Rashad Jennings with the idea of capitalizing on all the Giants TDs (and Vegas expects there to be a few, with the Giants implied team total of 25.5). The Browns have given up 1437 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns this season, as well as two receiving touchdowns to opposing backs.

A slightly less obvious guy I'm leaning on this weekend is Lamar Miller. He's been at his best in good matchups and San Diego definitely qualifies. His volume tends to pay off against weak opposing units and I expect at least one touchdown from Miller on Sunday. With $7,200 left per player after K and D/ST—Graham Gano and one of New England, Buffalo, or the Giants are reasonable picks—I'm looking for a wide receiver corps to outperform its salary. Someone from Arizona should fit that description, but no one I trust enough to lock into cash games (see below). The same can be said for the Dolphins and Titans…Tajae Sharpe or Kenny Stills could be among the best bargain plays of the week, but are more like 20-30% likely to exceed value. Instead, I'm relying on a guy who should be heavily involved in a good receiver matchup with the Ravens. With A.J. Green and Giovanni Bernard out, the sky is the limit for Tyler Boyd, who went 6/54/1 after Green went down in Week 11. His floor is probably 10 targets and although this is one of the lowest scoring games of the week I think he can pay off his $5,900 price tag. Going a little higher end, Mike Clay pointed out that it's Amari Cooper who draws the more favorable cornerback coverage this week vs. the Panthers. He's also less dependent on touchdowns for value than Michael Crabtree. Cooper's had a few big games this season and the fact that this could be a shootout in Northern California makes me confident in his fantasy production Sunday. Finally, although he'll be a little lower owned than usual because people are fearful of the Rams defense, I like Brandin Cooks this weekend. The Saints at home are an offensive powerhouse, and Cooks is still the centerpiece of the offense with around eight targets a game and six touchdowns this season. We have plenty of salary left to upgrade somewhere if you want to, but it's okay to leave it on the table if you have a lineup you love too. Round this one out with Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, or C.J. Fiedorowicz at tight end and use it for 50/50's, multipliers and single entry tournaments.

  • C.Or your starting point is: Contrarian QB-Carson Palmer ($5,300 DraftKings)

Listen, Carson Palmer has been bad this year, but even when he's bad, he's okay for fantasy, as evidenced by his 15 points vs. Minnesota last week. This weekend, he's featured in a terrific game with the Atlanta Falcons who give up the most points per game and are the number one fantasy matchup for QBs, allowing 23 passing TDs so far. Until Minnesota, Palmer had a run of three consecutive 300+yard games, and while his TD:INT ratio (13:10) is disgusting, the fact that he slings it like a mad man is good for us. His price couldn't be lower to take advantage of this situation, but it's either Palmer alone or Palmer plus David Johnson for me. I don't trust any of the four wide receivers or Jermaine Gresham this week. I'm sure there will be fantasy points for someone, but good luck guessing who. This Cardinals wide receiver group makes for interesting diversification opportunities for multi-entry tournaments.

Some players I want exposure to that I haven't mentioned yet include Jay Ajayi, Melvin Gordon, Doug Baldwin, Jordan Matthews, and Julian Edelman. The combination of soft defenses and high team totals make these fellas safe and high upside plays for any lineup. In fact, that's really the theme this week for me. Use the high volume plays with advantageous matchups or game scripts and it'll be hard to lose (barring first-play-of-the-game-season-ending-injuries of course).


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 12. 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. Enjoy the football, family, friends and food this Thanksgiving!

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