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 first starting point is: Jameis Winston ($6,700 DraftKings)

Although I think Drew Brees bounces back nicely in what is expected to be one of the highest scoring games of the week, Winston represents the best value in this game. He's averaging over 20 fantasy points per game at home, and faces a Saints defense that allows the third-most points per game. With Doug Martin just rounding back into shape, I prefer to take advantage of this high-potency situation with Winston, Mike Evans, Cameron Brate and perhaps the bargain play of the week, Freddie Martino. Watch for confirmation that Cecil Shorts and Adam Humphries will indeed be ruled out and look for Martino, who has caught all five of his targets including a touchdown over the last two weeks. Winston is definitely aware of him, and so should you be.

Balancing two or three Bucs with some players from other high scoring games is how I'm building cash game lineups. If you don't use Brate, consider Greg Olsen. The on-paper matchup isn't ideal, but Olsen is Cam Newton's favorite target and this looks like a close high scoring game in Carolina. At running back, I'm leaning toward Atlanta's two-headed monster, thinking Devonta Freeman is the safe play, while the cheaper Tevin Coleman could make his comeback statement by vulturing a touchdown or two vs. the Rams vulnerable run defense. Other options include Frank Gore, Thomas Rawls, LeSean McCoy or Lamar Miller. I like the idea of going cheap at defense with the Chargers. The Panthers give up the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing defenses, while the Chargers lead the league with 15 interceptions and have turned four of their turnovers into return touchdowns.

We're left with $6,300 per player for our last receiver and a flex, who I will also fill with a receiver most of the time. Targeting the Steelers with Antonio Brown and Ladarius Green is one way to go, or you can stay more steady by targeting a couple of the Broncos' and Colts' receivers. All four are in positions to succeed in high scoring games and facing weak secondaries.

  • B.Or your starting point is: DeMarco Murray ($7,900 FanDuel)

I think Murray flies under the radar a little bit here. First, his price dropped after a poor game vs. one of the league's best run defenses in Chicago. Second, he was on bye last week, and third, he faces Denver—a scary defense who has been surprisingly vulnerable to the run. The Broncos give up the 10th-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. Expect Murray to be involved in all phases of the game and back to his 20+fantasy point production come Sunday. I like pairing top tier running backs together so I'll be working LeSean McCoy into this lineup with Murray for what should be a high probability of 40 fantasy points.

With such a solid core of RBs, I'll allow a little more risk/reward in my QB and WR plays. Who's capable of throwing 2-4 touchdowns and reasonably priced? Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton come to mind. All have made mistakes this season, but all have a high enough floor and are in some of the best passing matchups of the week. I'm going with Dalton for now, but certainly don't mind some limited exposure to any of these Week 14 road warriors.

Cleveland has given up 28 passing touchdowns, raising the possibility that Dalton finally throws for 3+ TDs. Who's going to catch them, you ask? It could easily be Tyler Eifert, the most expensive TE on FanDuel after a questionable Jordan Reed. I still like Tyler Boyd to have the breakout game, so I'm going to go with him and go back to Brate at TE. If we fill in a defense (Minnesota please) and kicker (I used Brandon McManus here), we're left with a hefty $7,700 each for two more WRs. Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall (too risky with Bryce Petty), Jordy Nelson, Doug Baldwin, T.Y. Hilton, and Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders are all right there. You could definitely consider Amari Cooper or Michael Crabtree if you're playing the Thursday slate too. They get the Chiefs top ranked WR defense for fantasy.

  • C.Or your starting point is: Tyrell Williams ($6,800 FanDuel)

While some of the higher priced receivers not named Brown or Evans turn me off this weekend, there are a few mid-range options that appeal to me. I find it very easy to fit Williams into lineups and to build around him for either cash games or tournaments. He should be heavily involved in a Chargers offense that will be able to throw on the Panthers. Here's where I lock in Rivers and look to some more high-priced options such as David Johnson, Mike Evans, and Jimmy Graham. To afford those studs, consider some time share guys like Tevin Coleman, Mike Gillislee, and replacement wide receivers like Freddie Martino if he starts. Taylor Gabriel is still very affordable, and you can go cheap with the Chargers defense as I already discussed above.


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 14. 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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