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: Top RB David Johnson ($10,100 DraftKings)
This is a tough slate for starting points. I can poke a hole in most of them, but not Johnson. Sure, if you went with him over Le'Veon Bell last week it didn't work out perfectly, but this weekend the Cardinals take on a struggling Saints team in Arizona. You know all about the defensive woes of New Orleans, but the fact that their offense has been so ineffective (six interceptions, zero passing touchdowns over the past two games for Drew Brees) means that the Cardinals defense should be able to get Johnson and Carson Palmer on the field more often. The issue with Johnson is his price. Costing you over 20 percent of the salary cap on DraftKings, Johnson will force you to carefully consider the rest of your squad.
Teammate J.J. Nelson is emerging as one of my favorite value receivers this weekend., providing he practices Friday and is good to go. He's scored three times in the past two games and only projects to have a bigger role as Michael Floyd is gone and John Brown nowhere near 100 percent. Vegas likes the Cardinals to score a lot, so starting with Johnson and Nelson is fine with me. This is going to be a high-low kind of week, so for additional value let's think about Ladarius Green. Green should have the easiest time of the Steelers pass catchers as the Bengals secondary has done a good job limiting opposing receivers, but Cincinnati has allowed tight ends the fourth-most fantasy points. For a second running back, I like LeSean McCoy at the top, but he's the only other stud player you can fit if you go that way and you'll be left with receivers like Taylor Gabriel, Dontrelle Inman, Robby Anderson, and Tyreek Hill. I'm not opposed to any of them, for what it's worth. If you go cheap with Kenneth Farrow, Tevin Coleman, Jeremy Hill or Isaiah Crowell, all in the $4-5K range, you can get a couple decent receivers or a higher tier QB, even Matt Ryan. There's enough value for you to make an appealing stars-scrubs team this week, which is how I'm playing tournaments. Here I'm closing it out with the Arizona defense for $3K.
- B.Or your starting point is: Mid-range QB Derek Carr ($7,900 FanDuel)
Weather is an issue for a lot of QBs this weekend and I'll be avoiding some of them for that reason, including a guy I was initially higher on, Eli Manning ($7,700). Bone chilling cold and heavy snow won't be an issue in southern California, where San Diego will look to put the brakes on Oakland's fairy tale season. It's an interesting matchup because the Chargers are tied for the league lead in takeaways, but the Raiders are tied for the league fewest giveaways this season. Derek Carr is coming off an atrocious game vs. Kansas City (with whom the Chargers' defense is tied), but should be able to bounce back here. He passed for over 300 yards and two touchdowns in October, and doesn't have significant home/road splits. With an implied team total of around 26 points this weekend, Carr might be a very safe, high upside play.
Making this lineup around that ideal of Carr dictates finding other safe, upside players to surround him with. Volume is where to go to find it. Therefore, I like Carlos Hyde and DeMarco Murray in the mid-tier range at running back. Murray is coming off two tough games and his price has dropped. The Chiefs game looks cold, and while I'm not interested in Marcus Mariota thanks to that secondary I mentioned above, teams have scored on Kansas City, and they're middle of the pack in fantasy points allowed to running backs. Hyde gets a very friendly matchup with the Falcons, and just went nuts vs. the Jets who have been very good against opposing running backs.
I talked about Nelson and the Cardinals above, but I was saving Larry Fitzgerald for this wide receiver discussion. He's the main man in AZ, and should see 10-12 targets this weekend. A two-touchdown game would not surprise me, but he should be able to reach value regardless. Taylor Gabriel, Mike Evans, Jordan Matthews, Pierre Garcon, Sammy Watkins, Jamison Crowder, Dez Bryant or Jarvis Landry are some additional players I think fit the description.
I like the Vikings this weekend and plan to take advantage in tournaments with Sam Bradford and Stefon Diggs, but here I like Kyle Rudolph. You can throw on the Colts, and opposing tight ends have racked up the ninth-most fantasy points per game against them this year. He's averaging 10 targets a game over the last three. Defenses to use include the Vikings, Chiefs (if not using Murray), Bills, Dolphins, or Texans depending on how you spent for wide receivers. Use a kicker in a dome or down south this weekend…if you've been watching football, misses are at an all time high!
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 15. 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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