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: Expensive QB: Aaron Rodgers ($9,100 FanDuel)
Week 9 is shaping up to be the opposite of Week 8, at least in the planning stages…Last weekend it seemed there was no shortage of great matchups to exploit, while this weekend is full of questions. I'll be taking a more cautious approach to lineup building this week for the most part (I'll point out where/how I deviate as we go on), and that starts at QB. Rodgers had a beautiful game against Chicago last week, finally remembering Jordy Nelson and racking up 60 rushing yards in addition to four passing touchdowns. Indianapolis is actually a better matchup than Atlanta was, as they've given up the sixth-most fantasy points per game to QBs so far. If you want to use Rodgers solo, I'm fine with that. Nelson is still pretty pricey ($8,200) and Davante Adams ($7,100) is definitely cutting into his targets (14 to Adams last week). We aren't sure of the status of Randall Cobb or Ty Montgomery yet. My guess is that Rodgers spreads the ball around and touchdowns will determine value for his receivers. Like I said, I'm not about guessing this week.
So pairing Rodgers with players from high scoring games with weak defenses is my plan. Let's start with Devonta Freeman, who gets the Bucs Thursday night without Tevin Coleman, either Carlos Hyde or Mike Davis, who play the Saints at home, Davontae Booker at Oakland, or Charcandrick West, the value play of the week, vs. Jacksonville. The total on his game isn't great, but that is somewhat less of a concern for RB than QB/WR, so I'm also considering Jonathan Stewart. He's scored over 20 fantasy points in his last two games, and the Rams have been beat on the ground by versatile backs like LeSean McCoy this season. Going with Stewart and West leaves us $6,400 per player.
Receivers from Denver, San Diego, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Dallas, New Orleans, Kansas City, Miami, and Jacksonville will be my first looks. DeMaryius Thomas continues to see high volume and high quality targets, from Trevor Siemian, so I slightly prefer him to Emmanuel Sanders. If it comes down to price, both are looking good this week. With Nick Foles quarterbacking the Chiefs, Jeremy Maclin and Tyreek Hill are in good spots as huge favorites at home vs. Jacksonville, but I won't pair either of them with West in this lineup. Brandin Cooks and my favorite underpriced receiver, Michael Thomas ($5,800) are totally in play, as is Dontrelle Inman or Tyrell Williams. Inman gets the boost at a better salary if Travis Benjamin decides to rest this week. T.Y. Hilton killed me last week, but he and Donte Moncrief are in a good spot again this week against a skilled Packer run defense and game flow that bodes well for a lot of passing by Andrew Luck. Keep an eye on the hamstring news for Hilton, or just be safe and use Moncrief. Delanie Walker pops as a nice TE option, but if you don't use West or Stewart, the more expensive guys (Travis Kelce and Greg Olsen) are in good spots too. Kyle Rudolph ($5,000) wins the Lions lottery this week, and while I'm not recommending his quarterback here, you should get some exposure to Rudolph at least.
- B.Or your starting point is: Expensive RB: Ezekiel Elliott ($7,900 DraftKings)
Dallas is a big favorite in a relatively high scoring game in Cleveland this weekend, and fantasy points could be abundant here. I like Elliott in a generous rushing matchup, and to secure all of the Cowboys' scores for my DFS lineup, I'm pairing him with Dak Prescott. Prescott is one of the cheapest options I like at QB this weekend. You won't see a lot of advice out there on pairing a QB/RB for DFS, but on a team that's set to score a lot of points, and spreads the ball around, I like this strategy.
Many of the plays I listed above will also work here, but to go a little more contrarian, consider Terrence West as a second RB option. Pittsburgh isn't as effective on the road in general, and has allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing backs this season, including multi-touchdown games by the Eagles, Dolphins, and Patriots. West has been productive, but is coming off a horrific performance in New York followed by the Ravens' bye week, so he might be under the radar. I like his potential in what is typically a good rivalry.
Keeping with a contrarian slant to this lineup, consider some higher priced receivers. One of Antonio Brown (assuming full health), Brandin Cooks, or Jordy Nelson, if not all three, ought to dominate this week (although my Hilton, Evans, Jones lineups from last week would beg to differ). All three players are featured in high scoring games with high passing volume offenses. Balancing two high-end WR with a cheap threat like Kenny Stills ($3,900), Torrey Smith ($4,100) or Kenny Britt ($4,400) who are all in nice matchups with solid market share of targets is a good way to go. Tight end leaves me underwhelmed this week, so I will punt with Kyle Rudolph or Gary Barnidge in this lineup, leaving me around $4,600 for my flex spot.
The return of Corey Coleman is enticing, at $4,500, particularly because I'm investing in the belief that this is going to be a high scoring game. Dallas is without a couple key players in their secondary, and Coleman was just getting acclimated to the tune of 5/104/2 before breaking his hand in Week 2. Taking the key receiver against the favored team in a high projected scoring game is a sneaky way to find value. This approach might also work with Allen Hurns, Donte Moncrief, Quincy Enunwa, or Sammie Coates this weekend.
- C.Or your starting point is: High Volume Receiver: Jarvis Landry ($7,100 DraftKings)
To be honest, it's been a struggle not to mention Landry up to this point. He's a PPR gem playing a Jets defense that forces you to throw a million short passes. I don't think much of Ryan Tannehill from what I've seen so far this season (only seven TDs, plus seven interceptions), but he has kept Landry in business with double-digit fantasy points in all but one game this season.
There are infinite number of ways to go if you start here, but as I said at the outset, I'm not deviating much from my personal party line. So I'm looking to Rodgers, Jameis Winston, Nick Foles, Dak Prescott, Trevor Siemian and perhaps Case Keenum. I've given you a lot of RB/WR to think about, so I'll close with a couple of thoughts on defense. Minnesota, Kansas City, Carolina, Miami, Green Bay, and maybe Baltimore (if Ben Roethlisberger is hurt) are the units I'm considering. With the Packers and Chiefs, we're hoping for sacks and turnovers, because the score is probably not going to be low. The other games have low point totals, but less upside for the defense based on fantasy scoring.
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 9. 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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