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: Cheap QB—Blake Bortles ($6,200 FanDuel)

Jacksonville made a point of saying they haven't given up on Bortles, and I'm not so sure that's the right choice for real football, but I'm on board for fantasy. Over the past three atrocious weeks for Bortles, he's faced Denver, Houston and Minnesota. His price has fallen accordingly, but now he gets a great matchup with the Titans, who have allowed opposing QBs the fourth-most fantasy points per game. I think Bortles gets back to 300+ yards and 2-3 TDs this weekend. I like a cheap Marqise Lee with Bortles, thanks to his ability to contribute receiving and return yards, but don't think it's wise to heavily stack this team in cash games.

With cash games in mind, I want to be careful with how to spend the extra cash Bortles gives us. Many of the top RBs have really bad on-paper matchups (facing Seattle, Baltimore, Detroit, or Carolina). Two names stand out: DeMarco Murray, facing a Jaguars defense that has given up 12 rushing touchdowns this year and LeSean McCoy, at home vs. a Dolphins team that has allowed the fifth-most rushing yards and second-most receiving touchdowns to running backs. It was annoying that Derrick Henry and Mike Gillislee ended up with the touchdowns last week, but neither are a threat (barring injury) to take over the starters' dominant role in their offenses. Moving onto defense, I like several in the mid-range salary space. Buffalo, San Francisco and Green Bay are opportunistic units with upside. Buffalo is at home taking on the sun-loving Dolphins with Matt Moore leading the way—I think Moore struggles much more this week than he did against the Jets. The 49ers are on the road, but playing the Rams who give up more fantasy points to opposing defenses than anyone, plus it's among the lowest point total games per Vegas. Green Bay has been fantastic defensively lately and while the Vikings don't generally make a lot of mistakes, to me the Packers are in contention at home in December, period.

Look to touchdown makers at tight end. Cameron Brate and Hunter Henry are tied for the league lead with seven, and both have been racking them up lately. I like either of them this week, particularly Henry against the Browns. I've given up on the Antonio-Gates-touchdown-record-narrative, I guess. We're left with around $7,100 for our wide receivers. There are options I like at this position from the top (Antonio Brown) to the bottom (Jeremy Kerley). T.Y. Hilton is in a great spot to bounce back in a high scoring game and is priced very well considering he's second in the league in receiving yards and top 10 in both targets and receptions. With $5,600 left, there are a lot of options: Pierre Garcon, who leads the Redskins in targets against a soft Bears secondary, Robby Anderson, Bryce Petty's favorite target (29 targets last three games), Dontrelle Inman vs. Cleveland, or in Thursday night's NFC East battle, Jordan Matthews and his 10 targets just about every week. You could elect to leave some money on the table with Chris Hogan, Corey Coleman, Marqise Lee, or Kerley, but I'm playing it safer in cash games.

  • B.Or your starting point is: High end QB—Tom Brady ($7,700 DraftKings)

It's hard to argue against Tom Brady being the top QB play this week. Of course Drew Brees is coming off a great game and back in New Orleans, and Matt Ryan shouldn't struggle in Carolina, but the Patriots are at home vs. the Jets with a monstrous 30 point implied team total this week. I expect them to exceed 30 points as they go into this game hoping to secure home field advantage for the playoffs. The Jets just got trounced by Matt Moore, and overall have been the fifth-best QB matchup. You could mix and match Pats receivers with Brady—I kind of like Chris Hogan for a cheap play. His volume has been variable this season, but I honestly feel like everyone will get theirs on Saturday. Be a real daredevil and try out Michael Floyd ($3,600), or play it a little safer in the mid-range salary space with Julian Edelman or Malcolm Mitchell, whom I'll start with here.

Chicago has been pretty savvy with how they've approached their recent matchups, forcing Matt Barkley to throw a lot on weak secondaries and allowing Jordan Howard to run wild on the weaker fronts like San Francisco. You could make the case that Washington is both—and in terms of fantasy points allowed that's true, but I like Howard to dominate this home game in the cold on Saturday. He's a little pricey, but I think he'll be worth it. For the second back, we'll look a bit cheaper at Kenneth Farrow, Doug Martin, or even Frank Gore in a great matchup with Oakland. He won't have all his touchdowns vultured and is still the volume back in Indy.

Saving with San Francisco at D/ST and Dion Sims, who has caught 16 of his 18 targets over the past few games, including four for touchdowns, at TE leaves us with $7,100 at flex. It's generally my goal to lock in a high reception player, but this week Devonta Freeman and DeMarco Murray are providing some temptation in the $7K range. If you wanted to go full Patriots, Edelman is there, and so are other receivers in high-potency offenses like Taylor Gabriel, Jordy Nelson, Brandin Cooks and Amari Cooper. Tough decisions like these can lead you to a diversification approach where you work a different flex play into the same core lineup in a multi-entry tournament. I'm starting with the floor/ceiling combination of Murray for now and using this lineup in 50/50's and multipliers.

  • C.Or your starting point is: Matchup-based RB—Todd Gurley ($7,900 FanDuel)

I gave Gurley a 'now or never' ultimatum two weeks ago when the Rams hosted Atlanta and he weaseled through with 61 rushing yards, 22 receiving yards and a rushing touchdown. Now he gets the 49ers, who have allowed more fantasy points to running backs than any other team by a literal mile (or by like 300 yards and five touchdowns, which seems close to a mile). Gurley is priced a little high for my taste, but getting some tournament exposure could be smart this week. In a fully risk/reward lineup, also consider guys like DeSean Jackson, Tyler Lockett, who has been amazing at home over the past few weeks, Jameis Winston or Matt Barkley at quarterback—good matchups, low floors--, Stefon Diggs, who along with Adam Thielen gets the current top wide receiver matchup for fantasy in Green Bay (assuming his hip is okay), David Johnson at a discount in Seattle, or Doug Martin vs. the Saints. I'm using this “throw caution to the wind" approach in low buy-in tournaments only.


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 16. 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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