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: Andrew Luck ($7,900 FanDuel)
As I've done research this week, Andrew Luck is a guy I've really come around on. The game has a high total, Indy is home, and while he's been under tremendous pressure this year—one of the main drawbacks to using him in DFS—he faces a Kansas City defense that has recorded only eight sacks all year. I think you have to go into it expecting one interception, but in a close, high scoring game, Luck will pass a ton and 2-3 TDs is quite likely. As the seventh-highest priced QB on both sites, Luck is in line for a top 3 finish, making him a nice value. I'll use T.Y. Hilton with him, who has been good or great in favorable matchups. It may surprise you that the Chiefs have given up the second-most fantasy points per game to opposing WRs this season.
To me, even though I like them a lot this week, the Colts players I've locked in are not without risk and I'm using them for the upside they offer. Keeping with that theme in a lineup I'll use mainly in multipliers, my running backs will be guys like Matt Forte, Christine Michael, and Spencer Ware. Mostly solid, with the potential for a multi-touchdown game in great matchups. I like spending up at tight end this week, but with only $5,900 per player left, I have to start being a little more value-conscious. Call me crazy, but I trust C.J. Fiedorowitz this weekend against Detroit, one of the best passing and tight end matchups in football. Brock Osweiler (see below) is getting a nice return on targets from Fiedorowitz too, especially relative to Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins. Brandon McManus is my kicker on FanDuel this week, and I like forcing Minnesota's pricey defense into this lineup. Jay Cutler makes mistakes and the Vikings are as good as any defense out there, ranking top 10 in sacks, fumble recoveries, and interceptions.
We have $7,350 left for two wide receivers. I like a Brandon Marshall bounce-back effort with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mike Evans is the man in a high scoring, fantasy friendly matchup, Julian Edelman looks back in the saddle with Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald with some banged up teammates is nice, Quincy Enunwa, Michael Crabtree, Randall Cobb, and Michael Thomas are all possibilities for big games this weekend and can round out this lineup.
- B.Or your starting point is: Top-end receiver: Julio Jones ($9,600 DraftKings)
Starting with a top-flight receiver like Jones limits your lineup big time. We're left with just over $5K per player right off the bat. So Jones is the most talented guy out there in the highest total game per Vegas, on the team that has scored the most points and facing a top-10 fantasy matchup for WR. I want to use him, but I don't want to waste what could be the week's best performance by sticking a bunch of scrubs around him.
Let's start with quarterback. How cheap can you go before the risks outweigh the value? Of Tyrod Taylor, Carson Wentz, Brock Osweiler, Jameis Winston, Dak Prescott and Alex Smith (all $5,200-5,800), the one I'm most comfortable with is Smith. He's been pretty steady with the tiniest amount of upside (three 2TD games and one 300+ yard game). No doubt, he's been worse on the road, but Houston is a very tough matchup and the run game took over in Oakland. This is another game with a 50+ point total, and I think the Chiefs will be throwing the ball to stay ahead of the Colts. Keeping with a conservative strategy, I'm not taking any Chiefs receiver with Smith.
James White, Jacquizz Rodgers, Devontae Booker, and possibly Mike Gillislee (if you want to go through that again…) make for affordable running back plays. White has been extremely solid since Tom Brady returned, Rodgers gets the Raiders and all the carries he can handle, Booker has steadily increased his role and averaged almost five yards per carry Monday night and is in a great matchup with the Chargers (and now C.J. Anderson is dealing with a knee injury), and if LeSean McCoy is really, truly out this week with his re-injured hamstring, Gillislee is the cheapest of the bunch. I'm playing it safe with White and Rodgers as of this writing.
Ty Montgomery ($5,300) immediately comes to mind if I'm thinking high volume, high scoring player. Yes, that's based largely on the last two weeks, but not a lot has changed for Green Bay. They're still down two running backs, which keeps Montgomery on the field. His versatile skill set allowed him to catch 10 passes from Aaron Rodgers last Thursday night, several when he wasn't lined up as a receiver. A duel threat for his price in this game is a steal. The other WR I'm high on is Michael Thomas ($5,000). Thomas was the Saints leading pass catcher last week vs. the Chiefs tough secondary, and while defenses have to monitor Brandin Cooks, Mark Ingram and Coby Fleener, it's Thomas who is getting open. Drew Brees at home vs. Seattle is a great battle, but I think Thomas should continue to produce.
I want to use the Vikings defense this week, but at $4,100 they are too pricey in this lineup. The Jets are my second favorite unit, facing Cleveland, still accumulating some fantasy-relevant stats (13 sacks, 10 forced fumbles), and $700 less of the salary cap. That gets us back to $5,150 for our tight end and flex play. It's a nice week to pay up at TE, with Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen, and Jimmy Graham all in terrific positions to shatter their value. If you go high, the flex becomes more of a risk/reward play. Several guys I've mentioned are available, but also consider Rishard Matthews (Thursday, especially if Tajae Sharpe doesn't go), Zach Ertz, Mohamed Sanu, Marqise Lee, Jack Doyle, or Cordarrelle Patterson.
- C.Or your starting point is: Cheap QB: Brock Osweiler ($5,400 DraftKings)
Last but not least, I will continue to chase the magic that was a Case Keenum vs. Detroit lineup from Week 6. Osweiler finds himself in a somewhat different position than Keenum, but I am building a case for using him anyway. Osweiler has would-be great receiving weapons and an ailing running back in Lamar Miller, who is clearly less than 100%. The most efficient of those receivers is actually Fiedorowitz, mentioned above, with a 68% catch rate. Fuller and Hopkins are hovering around 50%, so I'm not rushing to lock either in most weeks. Back to Osweiler, he is producing twice as many fantasy points per game at home (and has faced Denver, Houston and New England on the road), and Detroit gives up the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks by a decent margin. He's in a great spot to succeed.
Surround him with solid running backs (Ware, Johnson, Michael, Freeman, Forte, White, L. Murray, Rodgers), go high-low with any receivers already mentioned, mid-range tight end or Fiedorowitz mini-stack, Jets or Vikings defense and you've got yourself what might be a surprisingly good tournament lineup.
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 8. 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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