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 starting point is: Value quarterback—Joe Flacco ($5,900)/Dak Prescott ($5,700)(DraftKings)

Kelvin Benjamin - $7,000Marvin Jones - $7,300Hunter Henry - $2,700Melvin Gordon - $6,300

I've done well here and in DFS using expensive quarterbacks as my starting point over the first three weeks of the 2016 season (Brees, Newton, Rodgers). In Week 4, I'm drawn to the value tier at the position. Anyone who's read me for any length of time knows I'm not a Flacco fan, but facing an Oakland Raiders defense that has already allowed over 1000 yards through the air to its opponents is not to be overlooked. For his part, Joe Flacco comes into the week with more interceptions (4) than passing TDs (3) ranked 17th in passing yards and in the bottom third in fantasy points per game. While these are not elite statistics, Flacco does have the occasional elite game and I think we see it this weekend. The problem with Baltimore is that the receiving corps is weak and unreliable, so Flacco is a solo play for me based strictly on the matchup and team total.

Breaking News: Flacco is elite at choosing a middle name for his new baby.

Alternatively, Dak Prescott has been more than competent through three weeks, finally throwing for a touchdown in Week 3 and rushing for two already this season. The production should continue to build with the rookie, who is rightly taking a conservative approach to the Cowboys offense. Dez Bryant (he should play), Cole Beasley, and/or Jason Witten can be paired with Prescott on DraftKings in cash games or tournaments. I think we can now say that the 49ers defense is a good matchup, as they just allowed 77 points in two games. I like Bryant, assuming he practices all week, not just with Prescott, but with Flacco or any other QB you choose to start with this weekend. A Prescott/Bryant start leaves you with $5,200 per player.

A safe, affordable QB start leads to a lineup that I want to keep as a “safe with upside" all purpose roster. Melvin Gordon and Isaiah Crowell both see price increases on DraftKings, but their generous matchups with New Orleans and Washington, respectively, and the roles they've carved out in their offenses make them two of the top running back plays for me this week. Adding receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, Kelvin Benjamin, Marvin Jones Jr., Mike Evans, Travis Benjamin, who should bounce back or continue to be high volume targets for their offenses this weekend accomplishes my goal, but forces us to look to value at TE and D/ST. Hunter Henry, in the highest projected scoring game of the Sunday slate, looked like a solid fill in for injured Antonio Gates and I'm fine with using him against the Saints. Value defenses are harder to come by, but the Jets or Ravens are solid units that I expect to minimally keep the score down (e.g. they're not the most opportunistic defenses for fantasy, but shouldn't kill your lineup).

B.Or your starting point is: Expensive wide receiver—Antonio Brown ($9,700)(DraftKings)

Jordan Howard - $3,700Greg Olsen - $6,000Adam Humphries - $3,000John Brown - $4,300

I love the Steelers to bounce back in a big way (much like Arizona, mentioned above) at home against the Chiefs for SNF. Pittsburgh has an implied team total of 26, making this a passing offense not to overlook. Brown is pricey enough on a week where there is a ton of wide receiver value that I expect him to be a low-owned, contrarian play. A Ben Roethlisberger, Brown and Le'Veon Bell stack will cost you (left with just $4,300 per player) but could pay off big if Pittsburgh has one of those 6 TD home games they are capable of. I expect to see this offense running much more smoothly in Week 4 and love this as a tournament stack.

We'll need to swallow the chalk RB play of Jordan Howard for $3,700 and look to some of the less obvious wide receiver value to make this high upside contrarian lineup work. John Brown's price has dropped $900 since Week 1 and he's coming off an 11-target game in Buffalo. Michael Floyd is in the concussion protocol, Brown has been extremely effective with Carson Palmer in terms of big plays and volume receptions, and Arizona is heavily favored against the Rams at home. All of that bodes well for John Brown this week, but no one in fantasy can trust him, so if he goes off, it'll be that much nicer for you. Adam Humphries ($3,000) has built steadily from five to eight to 12 targets from Jameis Winston and efficiently hauled in 72 percent of them. He's reaching value without catching touchdowns, which should come eventually as Winston is tied for the league lead in passing TDs with eight. The lack of TDs is keeping Humphries' price nice and low for now though. If Denver puts their best corners on Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, Humphries could be the volume hero of this lineup.

On a week with good TE value in Henry, Zach Miller and Cameron Brate, I like the idea of paying up for Greg Olsen on a contrarian lineup. Atlanta has allowed four touchdowns to opposing TE this season (second-most fantasy points allowed to the position), and Olsen has quietly been Olsen to this point, averaging nine targets for almost 90 yards and 17 DraftKings points per game this year. There are a ton of options to finish this lineup with around $6,000 left for the flex spot, but my guy is Spencer Ware. Ware has been fantastic, the Chiefs have no need or interest in pushing Jamal Charles too hard should he return at all this weekend, and the Steelers run defense leaves a lot to be desired. For one thing, they've allowed opposing backs 290 receiving yards en route to the fourth-most fantasy points this season. Ware will scare some people especially if Charles is active, but should remain the workhorse for at least one more week. Take advantage.

C.Or your starting point is: Mid-priced running back—LeGarrette Blount ($7,500) (FanDuel)

Brian Hoyer - $5,000Zach Miller - $5,000Antonio Brown - $9,400Alshon Jeffery - $8,200

Blount leads the league in rushing attempts, rushing yards, and is tied for the most touchdowns (4) through the first three games and yet is nowhere near the most expensive option ($1,200 cheaper than David Johnson). The Bills have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing backs so far, and while New England is no doubt going to pull some sort of new QB magic rabbit out of their helmet this week, their game plan has to rely heavily on Blount's legs. There's no reason your lineup shouldn't as well. I'm looking at adding David Johnson—already discussed how much I like the Cardinals—at RB, but want to highlight the Detroit-Chicago game here too.

Brian Hoyer is minimum priced on FanDuel, but gets the most fantasy-friendly passing matchup in a Lions defense that has allowed 10 passing touchdowns through three games. Hoyer is good enough to take advantage here at very little risk to your salary cap. Pair him with Kevin White or Alshon Jeffrey and Zach Miller—five of those passing TDs vs. the Lions defense have gone to tight ends. White actually led the team with 14 targets in Week 3, many coming after Jay Cutler left the game. White is an incredibly athletic receiver and will figure out how to catch more of them going forward. Buy now at this affordable $5,500 salary.

We've got cash to spare here, so add in the stud WR of your choice—mine is a Thursday lineup so I've got A.J. Green and Antonio Brown, who I prefer to Julio Jones or Odell Beckham Jr. this week. I'm using the Arizona defense, which has 12 sacks, five interceptions, and a fumble recovery touchdown already this season, against the hapless Rams as much as is humanly possible. This makes a lineup I feel great about in double ups, multipliers, and tournaments.


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 4. 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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