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: Mid-range quarterback: Andy Dalton ($6,000 DraftKings)

There are two lotteries to be won as a quarterback in 2016: the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions. We picked on the Lions last week with what ended up being my highest scoring FanDuel lineup featuring Case Keenum. So I like both Kirk Cousins and Andy Dalton this weekend, but Dalton's price on DraftKings is particularly exploitable. He's the 15th most expensive QB, but could easily be among the three highest scoring against a Browns' defense that has given up 16 passing touchdowns so far this season. With Dalton comes A.J. Green, who has had his ups and downs this season, but who could easily be in line for his first multi-touchdown game of the year.

Adding a couple running backs we can trust to the Bengals mini-stack will force us to look for value later on. If, for instance we go with DeMarco Murray (see below why I'm high on him) and Spencer Ware (great matchup, still going to see the majority of carries and a few passing targets in one of the week's highest scoring games), we're left with just about $4,500 per player. If this makes you uneasy, an alternative is to go high/low with Murray, LeSean McCoy, or Le'Veon Bell with Duke Johnson Jr. or Jacquizz Rodgers (assuming Doug Martin remains sidelined). That second option leaves you with about $4,700-4,800 per player.

Moving to tight end, my favorite play is Hunter Henry, again supported by the point total on his game, but also clearly becoming a favorite--and reliable--target for Philip Rivers. It's a little unusual for me, but there are a few defenses I can live with in this lineup. Tennessee, the cheapest, has recorded six sacks in each of the last two games and faces a Colts team that routinely leaves Andrew Luck vulnerable. Denver, Minnesota, Houston, Baltimore, and even Kansas City all have something going for them this week.

To fill out the rest of the lineup, I'm looking at high volume players in high scoring games as much as I can. The most consistent receiver on New Orleans has been Michael Thomas. While I'm not high on Drew Brees given the interception rate of the Chiefs defense, I do think Thomas hits the higher end of his 10-20 fantasy point range on DraftKings this weekend. The same could be said for Cameron Meredith if you're playing a Thursday slate. Brian Hoyer has looked his way an astonishing 27 times in the past two weeks, and Green Bay is a fine passing matchup—in fact they've allowed the most fantasy points to opposing receivers this year. One guy I definitely don't want to forget about, coming off the bye week with his WR2 on IR is Mike Evans. With Vincent Jackson healthy, Evans averaged about 11 targets per game and scored in all but one (vs. Denver). He could have an absolute monster game at San Francisco. If Evans' probable high ownership alarms you in tournaments, pivot to either Amari Cooper or what should be a nice bounce-back game for T.Y. Hilton.

  • B.Or your starting point is: High-end RB/WR duo: Le'Veon Bell and Julio Jones ($8,600 and $9,200 respectively, FanDuel)

When you blow this much salary to start, you better be sure, because you're left with a mere $6K per player. With Ben Roethlisberger out, expect the Steelers to rely heavily on the run game with Bell. He was a minor let down in what seemed to be a perfect spot last week, but the man WILL get in the end zone. New England will try to stop him, but Bell's versatility will prevail in my opinion. With Julio Jones, Matt Ryan's top receiver in the game Vegas has projected as the highest total (and Atlanta has the highest implied team total), you get high floor and plenty of upside. Atlanta is working well right now with a balanced run game and accurate passing from Ryan, who has a 15:3 TD:INT ratio.

Luckily, I'm in on Cody Kessler for $6,500. He was impressive last week in mounting a second half comeback at Tennessee and should be in a similar situation across the state at Cincinnati this weekend. I would like Kessler a lot more if Terrelle Pryor Sr. were available, but Andrew Hawkins would make a much more affordable pairing as Cleveland's de facto WR1 if not. Let's turn back to Jacquizz Rodgers ($5,600) to round out the running back position. Rodgers was excellent in relief of Doug Martin and Charles Sims in Week 5's Monday Night Football and faces a 49ers defense that has given up around 900 rushing yards (over 1000 total yards) and nine rushing touchdowns to opposing backs. If you're playing a slate that includes MNF, take advantage of the discount on Houston's D/ST. This is one of the lowest projected scoring games of the week, and part of the reason is that Houston has allowed only 18 points per game this year on average. They also have 16 sacks and six forced fumbles. I don't think they'll kill your high upside lineup. Take the correlation with Nick Novak at kicker (one of the few kicker mentions I'll ever make here).

Now we're left with about $7K to fill out our tight end and wide receivers. Coby Fleener or Jimmy Graham are nice mid-range options, but I could see Cameron Brate or Dennis Pitta being very nice plays as well. Using Pitta allows me to get a couple more of the guys I like—Evans and Hilton into this lineup, or to get some exposure to Allen Robinson vs. Oakland, one of the most generous wide receiver matchups. Overall, taking advantage of a cheap player, with a good game script and the lowest positional variability (QB) allowed us to flood this lineup with high floor, high upside players. I favor using it in multipliers and tournaments.

  • C.Or your starting point is: Solid running back: DeMarco Murray ($7,200 DraftKings)

Murray gets one of the most suitable running back matchups for his diverse skill set. He has averaged 4.6 yards per carry and has 172 receiving yards, but more impressive is his steady 19 carries and five targets per game. Indianapolis has allowed over 100 yards rushing in all but one game this season, has given up five rushing and four receiving touchdowns, and in the process allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing backs. Murray screams stability and I want him to be a cornerstone of my cash game lineup. Matt Ryan, mentioned above, plays that role at QB this week, but I'll take him with the more affordable Mohamed Sanu this time. Staying affordable with Cameron Meredith (TNF) or Desean Jackson in good matchups lets me go with Melvin Gordon at my second running back spot. Another high usage back with red zone opportunity in what should be a shootout with a suspect Falcons run defense makes sense here. We've talked about plenty of TE options--I choose Henry here, and round it out with LeGarrette Blount, who continues to add value for the Patriots, who are expected to be nursing a decent lead in Pittsburgh this Sunday.


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 7. 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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