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 3

A.Your starting point is: Running back—Melvin Gordon (DraftKings)

Ryan Tannehill ($6,200)Melvin Gordon ($5,800)Jarvis Landry ($6,600)Tampa Bay ($3,100)

It's a great week to lock in a high floor, high upside back as the core of your lineups. Wait, are we really talking about Melvin Gordon? Indeed we are. He's seventh in both rushing attempts and rushing yards, and has three touchdowns already. At $5,800, Gordon's an absolute steal on DraftKings relative to anyone else in his neighborhood of production and opportunity AND gets the literal best matchup of the week at Indianapolis, who has allowed the most fantasy points to opposing backs this season.

Sticking to the theme of safe with upside, consider a receiving corps of Larry Fitzgerald, Jarvis Landry and Marvin Jones Jr. There are others that fit the bill too, including T.Y Hilton (see below), Sterling Shepherd and Jeremy Maclin. Landry leads the league in receiver receptions while Fitzgerald is fourth. All of these guys will see fantasy friendly matchups this weekend.

At QB, there are obviously a number of ways to go. I'm leaning toward Ryan Tannehill in this lineup not only because of the connection he has with Landry, and for the matchup with the Browns, who are just average vs. QB this year in terms of fantasy points allowed, but because the injury to Arian Foster should put the playmaking squarely on his shoulders. Tannehill hit the 300+ yard bonus last week and I think he's a good bet to do it again. Turnovers saved him from having a really nice fantasy day against New England, but it's a bonus that he's rushed five and six times in consecutive weeks for a total of 52 yards. Stacking the Miami passing game with affordable Jordan Cameron, who seems to be (maybe?) back to his former self with a 5/49/1 line in Week 2, leaves us $5100 per player including defense.

Many people believe strongly in pairing running back and defense, and if they want to use Miami this weekend, will shy away from the passing game, making this lineup potentially contrarian. I like Tampa Bay's defense just as much as Miami and expect them to be quite low owned and effective. The Bucs have five interceptions, one returned for a TD, and are facing the turnover prone Rams, who have given opposing defenses the fourth-most fantasy points this year. Sticking with safe floor guys, let's spend a bit on Matt Forte and finish with Travis Benjamin, the de facto #1 WR in San Diego, or go full Miami with DeVante Parker, or ride the hot hand of Stefon Diggs. The result is a solid cash game team that you'll want to enter into tournaments too.

B. Or your starting point is: Expensive QB—Aaron Rodgers (FanDuel)

Aaron Rodgers ($8,900)Shane Vereen ($5,200)Jordy Nelson ($8,300)Delanie Walker ($6,900)

If you like to lock in a top tier QB, which has worked well for me in this space in the first two weeks (Brees Week 1, Newton Week 2), Rodgers is my guy for Week 3. Detroit has allowed six passing TDs through two weeks and the second-most fantasy points overall to QBs. We saw 'good' Rodgers in Week 1 and I for one think he's going to be pisssssssed about his Sunday night performance. Cue the bounce back. If there's a receiver you want to pair him with, it's obviously Jordy Nelson, who leads the team in targets, touchdowns, yards and receptions (tied with Randall Cobb). This duo will cost you on FanDuel, leaving us just $6,100 to work with going forward.

Value can be found at RB, and I don't mean trying to see into the future with Cameron Artis-Payne, Fozzy Whitaker, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata. I'm pretty much leaving that game alone this week, fwiw. The value backs I'm interested in are Shane Vereen ($5,200) and Frank Gore ($5,700). Vereen has four carries inside the 10-yard line this year, Rashad Jennings is banged up, and the Giants face a Washington defense that has allowed four rushing TDs and the second-most fantasy points to opposing backs in this young season. His role in the receiving game is well-documented, which is why I emphasize his role as the go-to guy near the end zone even when Jennings was healthy. Gore is ho-hum boring, but is playing in one of the higher scoring games this week, has a secure, steady role involving about 14 carries and 3 targets per game from Andrew Luck, and faces a Chargers defense that was torched on the road by Spencer Ware in Week 1.

The money we saved at RB can be distributed over the remaining slots. Touchdowns are hard to predict, but a couple of teams stand out with high implied totals and favorable defensive matchups. Atlanta (MNF), Kansas City, Arizona, and Tennessee all face defenses that have given up over 500 yards to opposing receivers. We can't squeeze in Julio Jones, and he's no longer part of the FanDuel main slate, but Larry Fitzgerald, Jeremy Maclin, Michael Floyd, and/or Tajae Sharp all look good here. Speaking of Tennessee, Delanie Walker, who is more like a receiver than a tight end, is a great option against Oakland too. Saving at RB like we did allows you to spend up on one slot and if you want to do that, I think Mike Evans will be the most effective under-owned receiver you can afford.

C. Or your starting point is: Matchup-based—T.Y. Hilton (FanDuel)

Andrew Luck ($8,700)Shane Vereen ($5,200)Charles Sims ($6,300)T.Y. Hilton ($7,400)

Following the Vegas lines should lead you straight to Indianapolis as an intriguing DFS starting point in Week 3. With Donte Moncrief ailing and likely out with whatever is bothering his shoulder, Hilton becomes the man of the hour. To be honest, he always has been, he just hasn't been performing like it. He's actually tied for second in the league in targets (23) but has brought down only 10 of them, no touchdowns. It's been a disappointment, but I fully expect a turn around at home vs. San Diego. Yes, I like both sides of this game. Andrew Luck has been good this year, fourth in fantasy points per game in fact. He's easy to play with Hilton.

Let's design this lineup for tournaments, filling it out with high upside, low-owned players. I already mentioned I like Mike Evans in this category, but I think Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Kamar Aiken, Michael Wallace, and Antonio Brown (a tough fit, but doable) will fly under the radar this weekend. At RB, the cheap Vereen, Charles Sims, Giovanni Bernard or Gore fill one spot, while I like LeGarrette Blount (TNF), T.J. Yeldon, DeMarco Murray or Jeremy Hill in the other. Good or new opportunity, previous targets/attempts combine with a bad matchup or bad reputation to make any of these guys capable of a big day at less than 10% ownership (except perhaps Sims, who is hard to guess because his price is a bit high). I have to use Miami's defense somewhere—they will be facing Cody Kessler after all. Beyond that though, the Dolphins have been aggressive, notching two TDs and forcing four fumbles through two games. Upside here trumps ownership.


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 3. 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.

Nice job Renee!