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.
Week 2A.Your starting point is: cheap QB—Josh McCown (FanDuel)
The injury to Robert Griffin III is unfortunate for the Browns and those who invested in season long fantasy leagues. For us, it opens the door for McCown, who was more than serviceable for DFS many times last year at near minimum salary. With an enhanced arsenal of receiving weapons, plus his favorite Gary Barnidge, McCown is facing what appears to be his favorite opponent. You've no doubt been reminded of his 2015 stat lines vs. Baltimore. When we lock in a QB in a favorable matchup at $6000, the rest of the lineup almost makes itself.
Along with McCown, I'd use Barnidge, who thrived with him last year. The zero from Barnidge in Week 1 won't sit well with some DFSers, but if you play long enough you get that short memory you need to take advantage of the current week, and not lament the prior week. Let's use the salary cap we've saved to max out at WR. Going back to Odell Beckham Jr. may not be easy, but he's facing New Orleans at home, and Eli Manning looked fine in Week 1. OBJ will get his and a multi-TD game would not surprise me. You can stick with the red hot Brandin Cooks in that same game, which I like, or go with any of several tier two receivers that you're excited about. The third receiver I like in this lineup is $7100 Julian Edelman, who plays at home vs. Miami in a game with a low total, but New England is the big favorite. Edelman's efficiency showed as he caught all seven of his targets in Week 1. Expect one of those to be in the end zone this week.
If we use a decent kicker and one of the best defenses (see below), we're left with $6700 per player at RB. This allows us to get two of my favorite plays of the week in: Danny Woodhead, who clearly benefitted from Keenan Allen's absence at $6400 and Mark Ingram, who disappointed in Week 1, but should have more than enough opportunity in New York on Sunday. Overall, this lineup has solid floor and high upside assuming McCown is competent.
B. Or your starting point is: Expensive QB—Cam Newton (DraftKings)
Maybe McCown terrifies you and you want a top flight QB for Week 2. Paying up at QB when there are solid options at every price point (think Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, and Carson Palmer in the mid-range) can be a nice contrarian strategy. The Panthers have one of the highest team totals this week and are huge home favorites, all things that have been shown by Chris Raybon to correlate with QB fantasy points. On DraftKings, I'd prefer to pay for Cam than Drew Brees, who though very good in any context may see the lower end of his range in New York this week.
With Newton locked in, you have to consider Kelvin Benjamin. He saw 12 targets, caught one for a TD and was very close to the bonus against Denver. Even though the Rams' passing game couldn't do anything against San Francisco, I'm confident Carolina moves the ball with ease and it's likely Benjamin is the primary recipient. Being such big favorites and at home also makes Jonathan Stewart somewhat enticing. Stewart competes with Newton for carries, especially at the goal line, but could be used extensively in the second half of this game and I like his chances for a TD.
As mentioned above, I don't want to ignore the Saints-Giants game, and I'd like some exposure to the Steelers offense, but we'll need to pick our plays with an eye toward value now that we have just $5000 per player remaining. If you force Antonio Brown at $9900, take that down to $4000 per player remaining. There aren't really any cheap defenses I like (see below) so lock in the Seahawks to get up to $4100. With it looking likely that Shaun Hill starts again for the Vikings, I'll try to take advantage of the fact that he targeted Kyle Rudolph ($3100) eight times in Week 1. If they ever get close to the end zone, Rudolph is a guy Hill should key in on there as well. LeGarrette Blount is hard to pass up at $4000 in a home game where the Pats are big favorites, even though predicting Bill Belichick's run game makes me squeamish.
Week 1 sensations Will Fuller, Eli Rogers, Cole Beasley and Tajae Sharp are viable fillers for our last WR slot, but also consider taking advantage of Keenan Allen's absence with Tyrell Williams for just $3700 to keep this lineup on the contrarian side. With $5700 left for the flex spot, you can go full Panthers with Greg Olsen, or slot in Latavius Murray against the Falcons. A Week 1 favorite of many, including me, Murray will look to keep rolling as the Raiders primary back in a high scoring game that just might fly under the radar a bit.
C. Or your starting point is: Defense—Seattle or Carolina (FanDuel)
Starting with D/ST in no way hamstrings the rest of your lineup, just to be clear. I include it as a starting point this week to point out that this is NOT the week you want to build the perfect lineup and be left with the likes of New Orleans or San Francisco at defense. So maybe slot Carolina or Seattle in there right off the bat. With many ways to go, I'd like to point out that Pittsburgh is in a unique position of coming off a high scoring Week 1 game, being favored at home in a second projected high scoring game, and in a good position defensively to control the ball—Steelers defense was opportunistic against Washington, and Cincinnati gave up the ninth-most defensive fantasy points to the Jets last week. The Steelers won't be the most popular (nor cheapest) stack this week, but could make for tournament winning plays. If you lock in Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and DeAngelo Williams, you're not even dead in the water for the rest of this squad. Rashad Jennings vs. New Orleans, heavily targeted Jarvis Landry, Antonio Gates without Allen, and Sterling Shepard are just a few of the more affordable plays I like to fill out lineups with 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 few scenarios I've been playing with for Week 2. 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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