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: High end running back--Le'Veon Bell ($7,900 DraftKings)
While a lot of people will look at the Steelers' team total and rush to roster Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, the player I'm building around is Bell. At an astronomical salary, it's worth noting that Brown scores just one touchdown on the road for every three in Pittsburgh. Put another way, only 25% of his career touchdowns have come on the road (per Pro Football Reference). Bell is a safe play anywhere, and should be involved early on in establishing the lead Vegas expects Pittsburgh to hold as well as late in the game to protect it as we saw last weekend. His talent and production speak for themselves. He's scored 25 DraftKings points in each of his two games this season without scoring a touchdown.
To bring some value-based stability to this lineup, look to another high team total in the Tennessee Titans. Marcus Mariota has steadily increased his passing attempts over the past few weeks, is spreading the ball around a lot, and has DeMarco Murray keeping defenses honest. At $6,100, there are cheaper options (see starting point #3), but Mariota is facing the Cleveland Browns and Vegas likes the Titans to win big at home. Delanie Walker is probably the Titans receiving option I like best if you're looking to mini-stack here. Andre Johnson (I just can't), Tajae Sharpe (I just can't again), and Rishard Matthews may all have decent games here, but Walker's volume is rock solid. He should make some big plays against a league-worst tight end defense that has allowed five touchdowns and over 500 receiving yards to opposing tight ends this season.
The PPR running back I like to pair with our starting stud is Giovanni Bernard. Jeremy Hill sounds doubtful for Week 6, and that, in combination with the projected game script, bodes well for Bernard. A talented receiving back, Bernard's floor is boosted by additional carries in Hill's absence. There are a number of risk-reward cheap receivers this weekend, including Sammie Coates, John Brown, Michael Floyd, Chris Hogan, Cole Beasley, and even Tavon Austin (all below $5K on DraftKings), but I like a couple of guys that I think will see high targets for sure. Kamar Aiken, now $3,000 but once predicted to be the Ravens WR1 for 2016, is going to be forced by injuries into that role. The game could be a defensive showdown, but Aiken could also see 10 targets from Joe Flacco, and the two were able to connect quite a bit down the stretch in 2015 after Steve Smith Sr. was injured. The other guy I'm looking at is Cameron Meredith. Perhaps a day late and a dollar short, but perhaps an emerging force in Brian Hoyer's Bears offense. At $4,100 he doesn't need 12 targets again to reach value, but in a soft matchup with the Jaguars, it isn't out of the question either.
I like Arizona's defense of course, but there are less expensive (non-Monday) options too. The Titans, the Bears, the Bills all face mistake-prone offenses at home this weekend. With our thriftiness at WR, we now have around $7,500 to spend on our last two spots. Combinations like LeSean McCoy/Jordy Nelson or David Johnson/Amari Cooper works; it's easy to fill in at the top of the salary spectrum.
- B.Or your starting point is: Mid-range, under the radar quarterback—Russell Wilson ($6,900 DraftKings)
Teams coming off their bye week are sometimes overlooked thanks to the recency bias. The last time we saw the Seahawks, they were banged up but put together a heck of a fantasy outing across the board. Now they take on a Falcons defense that has given up the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and tight ends. Jimmy Graham is coming off back to back 100+ yard games and if you can get that bonus with your tight end on DraftKings, you're in pretty good shape.
To address running back in a lineup where we are slightly biased toward upside, you can stick with Bernard here, and/or look to Cameron Artis-Payne ($3,700, 85 rushing yards and two touchdowns last week and now facing the Saints), Lamar Miller (should bounce back big against the Colts porous defense and perhaps finally score a TD or two), or Ryan Mathews (should get most of the carries against a Redskins defense that has given up seven rushing touchdowns and well over 600 rushing yards so far this year). I'm going Artis-Payne and Miller, leaving me with about $5,600 per player.
Upside equals touchdowns and/or bonuses. At wide receiver, I like Julian Edelman for both this week in what should be another Patriots shootout-blowout. I'm not afraid to go all Seahawks with Doug Baldwin, in part because he's been so much better at home this year, catching 17 of 21 targets for 250 yards and two touchdowns in two games. I definitely want a piece of Drew Brees' passing offense at home, so looking at Willie Snead or Brandin Cooks to fill in the last WR slot makes sense here. There is a salary difference of $1,200, but I think Cooks is the higher upside play this Sunday. If you're looking for a better on-paper defensive matchup for wide receivers, Amari Cooper looks like a nice alternative. Even after going with Titans defense vs. the hapless Browns, we're in a pinch for our flex spot. Aiken is still an option, as is Steelers' tight end Jesse James or Saints tight end Coby Fleener. I think Fleener is actually the best bet for the bonus, though any of the three could score.
- C.Or your starting point is: Value quarterback—Case Keenum ($6,500 FanDuel)
Sometimes you really want to save at quarterback, knowing that it's the most consistent position in the DFS roster (meaning there is less week-to-week variability among quarterback performance relative to running back or wide receiver). Thus, a lower end quarterback like Keenum, who has averaged 11 FanDuel points per game with a high of 18.2 fantasy points is tempting in a matchup with the Detroit Lions, football's most generous passing defense so far this season. Keenum had a tough time vs. the Bills last week, but 15-20 fantasy points should be his floor this week.
You can use Keenum alone or pair him with one of his receivers. Kenny Britt has been seeing the most targets, but Brian Quick has been an end zone outlet when the Rams get close and Tavon Austin is a threat to break a big catch and run or return for a touchdown. In addition, I want to shore this lineup up with some safe plays. I like the Chiefs this week, and think either Jeremy Maclin or Jamaal Charles is a nice fill-in here. With Trevor Seimian likely back in the Broncos starting lineup I like Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas a lot this week against San Diego, a team you can definitely throw on.
Rob Gronkowski is an expensive alternative to one of the tight ends I've already mentioned, but one of the reasons to go with a cheap QB is to pay up for the studs at other positions. Jordan Howard and Christine Michael are two additional running backs with high floors in good matchups. Their mid-range salaries leave plenty of room for the defense and kicker of your choice (e.g. Bills and Stephen Gostkowski or Steven Hauschka).
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 6. 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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