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: Steady running back: Melvin Gordon ($7,700 FanDuel)
The cornerstone of a cash game lineup is a running back with talent, opportunity, and a great matchup. Gordon gets all three and has been arguably the most consistent high-end running back of 2016 (17.7, 19.5, 15.8 and 20.9 FanDuel points through four weeks). This week the Chargers are once again playing in what Vegas has as the highest scoring game in Oakland. The Raiders have given up the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing backs, so Gordon's usage and effectiveness thus far should pay off once again.
To continue a safe, high upside lineup, I'm looking to the other side of the field to Derek Carr and company. This has been a pass-first offense, with Carr currently top 10 in passing attempts, touchdowns (nine), and fantasy points. He's priced accordingly ($8,100) but that won't hurt you. The receiver I'm looking to pair with him continues to be Michael Crabtree, who is out-targeting Amari Cooper. Cooper has yet to score and is more expensive than Crabtree, but I do like him for my higher risk lineups this week. Rounding out the other running back slot with LeSean McCoy, C.J. Anderson, or Carlos Hyde (Thursday) leaves us with around $6,000 per player.
There is plenty of wide receiver value this week, but I want security here too. That means Jordy Nelson for me. I think he'll actually be somewhat low-owned with all the options this week, but Green Bay's implied team total is 27 points and Aaron Rodgers should look to him often again in Week 5. The players I trust in the low-end range include Steve Smith Sr., Tyrell Williams and Eddie Royal. It's impossible to ignore the attention Sam Bradford pays to Kyle Rudolph (eight targets per game and six red zone targets) at tight end. Take your pick of mid-range kickers and defenses (I like Justin Tucker and the Bills here) and you've got a solid core lineup for cash games.
B. Or your starting point is: Affordable quarterback: Carson Wentz ($6,400 DraftKings)
The Eagles come off the bye week to face a Detroit defense that simply hemorrhages fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. We did well with Brian Hoyer in this spot last week, and while Wentz's price is more fair, he's put together a really nice start to the season. I can't consider a lineup headed by a rookie QB super safe, but the Eagles' team total is in the range that typically produces the most QB value. I'm looking to build a tournament lineup full of players that I expect to score one touchdown, but two or three wouldn't shock me. Use it in double ups, multipliers, and GPPs.
Detroit's main passing weakness has been against tight ends. Luckily, Wentz gets a fully healthy Zach Ertz back this week and at $3,500 he's a lock for me at TE. If we're searching for multi-touchdown potential, we should look for high Vegas totals and Vegas is starry-eyed over the Chargers and Raiders. Latavius Murray has been rumored to be on the outs with his coaches and supplanted by rookie DeAndre Washington, but I'm not fully buying it. Against the Ravens, one of the league's best rushing defenses, Oakland was right to emphasize the passing game. Murray is still a talented back and with how the Raiders are expected to move the ball this week against the Chargers, I expect multiple red zone opportunities for Murray. At $4,200 I would not be surprised if he went for 4-5X value.
Receivers with multi-touchdown upside are hard to predict. While the Packers run defense is not to be trifled with, they are an okay passing matchup. I fully expect the Giants to have to pass a ton to keep up on Sunday. That combined with the media circus Odell Beckham Jr. has created this week makes this a guy to take a chance on here. He's been frustratingly quiet on the field and I think his demands will lead to him being fed big time. Antonio Brown is another fine option, but you'll have to be very careful with your value plays to fit both guys in. One way to do it is with Bilal Powell, who has seen 16 targets in the last two games. We don't know what, if anything, is up with Matt Forte, but it looks like Powell is going to remain a factor in the Jets passing game and we've seen his usage in the red zone in seasons past. The other thing he has going for him is a $4,100 price tag. If you don't like Powell, another option is to go with Zach Miller in the flex (still somehow $3,600 after catching three touchdowns from Hoyer in the past two games) or Kenneth Dixon ($3,600) at running back. Dixon debuts in a dream matchup with the Redskins and while it is a time share with Terrence West, it wouldn't surprise me to see Dixon get red zone work. Victor Cruz, Eddie Royal, Quincy Enunwa, Jamison Crowder, Jason Witten, and Tajae Sharpe are all candidates for the final spot in this lineup—the volume is high enough to expect a touchdown, but game flow and/or injuries to teammates provide additional upside.
C.Or your starting point is: Vengeful quarterback: Tom Brady ($7,500 DraftKings)
To be fair, I don't know the exact mental state of Tom Brady, but I have seen him play with a chip on his shoulder before and it is glorious in terms of fantasy. The Patriots were embarrassed at home last weekend and now get to face the Cleveland Browns, a defense that ranks in the top 10 for both rushing yards allowed and passing yards allowed. I have a sneaky suspicion that Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski have been lying low a bit the past couple of weeks waiting for Brady's return. I don't completely buy the “Gronk isn't right" news, given the history the Patriots have of deceptive injury information. I will have a Brady-Edelman-Gronk tournament lineup, but I believe Brady can be the starting point for a saner lineup too, and that's what I'll walk through now.
I love Chicago again this week, and after seeing what Jordan Howard did against the Lions defense, I'm excited to fit him into my lineups as he faces the Colts this week. Take your pick of Gordon, Anderson, or McCoy to fill in the second RB slot with a nice blend of safety and upside. For receivers, I can fit three of the top 10 receptions leaders—pick three Michael Crabtree, Emmanuel Sanders, Stefon Diggs or Jarvis Landry. The high target volume, medium to high team totals, and reasonably good matchups make any of these guys fair game.
Value plays at tight end—there are several I like but I've got Hunter Henry here—and flex are necessary to finish this lineup. Eddie Royal is just $3,900, but with Kevin White going on IR and Brian Hoyer playing so well, he's nearly a must play. Affordable defenses to target this week include Miami and Buffalo, with Miami being the only option I like that fits here.
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 5. 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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