Daily fantasy football is pretty sweet, and I’ve become very active in it this year. I’ve only played on FanDuel (affiliate link, here), so my analysis will be limited strictly to that site.
At FanDuel, you start 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 K, and 1 defense, with a salary cap of $60,000. The scoring system is pretty standard, with 0.5 points per reception being the most notable feature to keep in mind. There are generally two that I play: 50/50s, or what people refer to as cash games, where you say, pay $25 to enter a tournament of 50 people, and the top 25 people win $45. The house gets roughly the same cut of ~10% in most games, so the 50/50 is the low-variance play.
The other option is to play in tournaments, which can range from large, to very large, to absurdly large. Anyway, enough minutia. I have limited my play to 50/50s this week, although I did enter one tournament lineup which I’ll explain at the end.
As a general rule, I think QB, TE, and K are different beasts than RB/WR. That’s because salaries are mispriced for those three positions. For QBs, salaries are too low: the elite QBs are simply underpriced, if you look at fantasy points as a multiple of salary. For example, Andrew Luck is averaging 26.6 FP/G, while his salary is only $10.2K. As a general rule, you won’t find too many players who are 2.5x their salary. Luck and the elite quarterbacks really should be more expensive, but I guess FanDuel thinks that wouldn’t be fun for people. So if they want to subsidize my fun, I’m all for it.
For tight ends, the opposite is the issue: the bottom players often stink, but the spread in salaries is not as wide as it should be. With a minimum floor of $4500, this means Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas are not even twice as expensive as the minimum-salaried players there. And you can be sure that they will score, on average, much more than twice as many points.
As a result, spending money on the elite QBs and TEs makes sense in cash games (what people refer to the 50/50s as — if you enter a $25 50/50, half the people will win $45, half will win $0, and FanDuel takes the rest). For kicker, I think that Gostkowski is undervalued most weeks. His salary doesn’t go too much past $5300 (what he is this week), but he’s averaging 12.6 FP/G. He’s the safest kicker in fantasy football, and probably should be closer to $6K.
Now, given the nature of the NE/IND game (with an insane over/under of 57), I absolutely wanted to build a lineup around those three (Luck/Gronkowski/Gostkowski). That costs a lot of money, but fortunately, there are values to be had this week:
1) Bishop Sankey – $5300. I have no idea why his salary is so low, because he should be at least $1K higher. No, I won’t convince you that he’s a sleeping giant, but he’s had 16+ carries in 3 of the last 4 weeks and is at home against a mediocre PIT D. That is enough to make him value at this price.
2) Jerick McKinnon – Hasn’t scored a TD this year which is probably what’s holding down his price ($5500). Obviously Matt Asiata is the goal-line back, but McKinnon has averaged about 88 yards from scrimmage over his last six games. Against a Bears defense that looks intent on quitting, he seems like a bargain. For what it’s worth, in this 50/50 of 50 people, each RB was owned by just 6% of teams (which means just two other owners). So there’s a good chance their ownership percentage will still be low on Sunday.
3) Kelvin Benjamin/Jordan Matthews – both had their salaries frozen since they played on MNF. As a result, FanDuel didn’t jack up their already low prices after big games. More importantly, both have great matchups this week. Benjamin gets the terrible Atlanta pass defense, while Matthews should be a shootout against the Packers. Matthews is only $5500, while Benjamin is the safer but slightly more expensive play at $6600.
4) Julio Jones. Jones was 1 TD away from a huge game against Tampa. In fact, he’s gone a career long 6 straight games without a TD. I do not think that streak gets to 7 against a terrible horrible no good very bad Carolina pass defense. I’m not alone: even at $8200, he was owned by 22% of people. Of course, Benjamin (28%), Gronkowski (30%), and Matthews (42%) weren’t flying under any radars, either.
Finally, that leaves me with $5300 and a defensive spot to fill. Like probably everyone else, I like the Miami D this week. While I am writing this just before the game starts, I recognize that this has little value to folks reading it Friday morning. But since the point of these articles is to present my logic, here goes. Football Outsiders has Miami 3rd in defensive DVOA and 1st in pass defense DVOA. It’s a short week. The Bills are still using Kyle Orton at quarterback. Miami will have a very high ownership percentage I think — even at a high price — and I’d rather not fade them (as it turns out, only 12%). I don’t think I will use the MIA D in the majority of lineups, but I definitely want some $ on them.
So, lineup 1: Luck/Sankey/McKinnon/Julio/Benjamin/Matthes/Gronk/Gost/Miami
I like Tom Brady at $9500 (owned by 8% in this 50-person 50/50), and I figure it makes sense to pair him with Julius Thomas, since I am going to want to grab Manning and Graham in another lineup. Again, I think splitting the variance between QB/TE makes some sense in a 50/50, so I’d rather not pair Manning and Thomas together. So I will now have a Brady/Thomas duo, a Manning/Graham duo, and a Luck/Gronk duo. At kicker, I like Adam Vinatieri, who seems really cheap at $4900 given the high-scoring game this weekend and his 11.1 FP/G average.
I agree that Jeremy Hill is good — maybe great? — value at $6500, and his ownership percentage will only increase by Sunday when more people become aware that Giovani Bernard isn’t going to play (as it turns out, Hill is owned by 16% of owners). Finding another RB is not easy, but I do think Alfred Morris is good value at $7300 given that WAS is coming off a bye, at home, and against a bad D. As it turns out, I am not alone — 22% of folks have Morris.
The Buffalo D has been playing well, and I have a feeling the Miami OL is in serious trouble without Branden Albert at LT. The Bills pass rush should get to Tannehill, and I think BUF is a good play tonight. I think this will be a low-scoring, ugly game. Only 8% of owners had Buffalo, though, which is pretty low for a Thursday game.
At wide receiver, from a big picture perspective, I want some skin in the PHI/GB game, the NE/IND game, the DEN O, the NO O, and for teams facing the NFC South. So let’s go with Reggie Wayne ($6900) (2%), Brandin Cooks ($6800) (4%) and Davante Adams ($5200) (6%). Wayne should be in a shootout, Cooks has 333 yards, 28 catches, and 3 touchdowns in 4 home games, and Adams is still outstanding value. Of course, you need someone like Adams if you want to fill in the rest of this lineup. I’m not sure I love those three receivers, but those low ownership percentages are really interesting. If you like them, it probably makes sense to throw them in a tourney (if you think the ownership %s will be consistent).
Peyton/Graham, because those two are values every single week. Gostkowski because of the value.
I’m not sure what I think about Ryan Mathews. But at just $6500 while getting to play the Raiders, it seems like he’s worth throwing into a lineup. Could be a great game script for him, and perhaps a hidden gem – only owned by 10% of people in this game. I’ll be honest, having Manning around makes you feel more comfortable taking some risks, because you feel so confident that he’s going to throw for 3-5 TDs every week. Which is ridiculous, by the way. And he’s only owned by 6% of folks (Graham is at 18%).
Shane Vereen at $6500 seems like another strong value. NE will have to pass a lot, and Vereen always seems to play well in these sorts of games. It’s the game scripts where NE plays a crappy team that makes Vereen risky. He’s at 18% ownership, so he’s not flying under the radar; I actually like him more in tournaments than 50/50s, but I needed to go cheap at running back.
At $5500, Jordan Matthews is just too cheap to ignore if you want to go Manning/Graham. He’s got a whopping 50% ownership in this game. I’d like to go with Julian Edelman ($6900, 8%) in a lineup, and I think pairing him with Vereen actually lowers both of their risks: they are similar players, so I think the odds are at least one does pretty well. Finally, that left me with just enough money for Benjamin as my final wide receiver (24%).
I was heavy on Matt Ryan/McCoy last week: neither did great, but (1) because of that, their salaries didn’t change and (2) both have still great (if not better) matchups this week. So I wanted a Ryan/McCoy lineup. Both cost $7700, were owned by 10% and 8% of teams in this 50/50.
The Denver D was dominant last week statistically but not necessarily in fantasy. I think that’s pretty fluky, and like them in a game against a third string QB in Shaun Hill. Price is steep at $5200, but this seems like a game where Von Miller/DeMarcus Ware can dominate a pick six is on the table. FWIW, 20% of teams owned Denver, so people aren’t afraid to spend money on the Broncos this week.
Mason Crosby, because kickers against Philadelphia have been very good this year, that game should be high-scoring, and he’s only $4800 (8%).
I didn’t want to fade the GB offense (other than Adams), so I put in Jordy Nelson at $8900 (16%). Thought it made sense to throw T.Y. Hilton in a lineup, and while he’s not cheap at $8600, he still seems like a good value in a possible shootout (6%). That means you have to go cheap elsewhere.
I’ll get back on the Hill bandwagon against the Saints (18%), go with Larry Donnell for $5200 (6%) against the 49ers, and Maclom Floyd for $5400 (12%) against the Raiders certainly qualifies as cheap.
After putting in those four lineups, I wanted to then increase my exposure to the players I liked most. This meant entering the following lineup:
Manning (6%), Sankey (8%), McKinnon (16%), Julio Jones (20%), Wayne (2%), Matthews (32%), Gronkowski (34%), Vinatieri (8%), and the Broncos (12%). The thought process here began with Manning and Gronkowski, then Jones and the Broncos D. While I don’t love Matthews, he’s too cheap to pass up: given his high ownership percentage, if you don’t have him you are basically betting against him. I’m not comfortable doing that. Even with Matthews, that didn’t leave much, so I went with the cheap RB combo again and Wayne.
I decided to have at least one lineup I went cheap at quarterback. Mark Sanchez is good value at $6900, and he’s owned by a whopping 26% of people. So hey, if I’m crazy, I’m not crazy alone. I was able to pair him with Sankey and Morris, Matthews, Jones, Gronkowski, and the Broncos D. The two new additions here: Nick Novak (40%!) and Antonio Brown (12%). In this lineup, Sanchez, Morris (18%), Matthews (36%), Jones (18%), Gronk (38%), Novak, and the Broncos (30%) were all heavily owned. That will make the Sankey/Brown combo more important for me, which means I might be the only non-Steelers/Titans fan watching Pittsburgh/Tennessee.
At the last minute, I decided I wanted to go in on Bryce Brown. I wound up putting him in two tourneys and this 50/50. The thinking was that he was going to get the start and be the third down back, which made him both high upside and high floor at $5300 (8%). I then decided if I paired him with Sankey (14%), I could really have some money to spend.
After grabbing every elite QB besides Aaron Rodgers, I decided not to tempt fate. He’s owned by 16% of people, so it was probably smart to have him in at least one lineup. Demaryius Thomas was the most expensive WR this week, but he was someone I wanted to get in at least one lineup. I was surprised to see a 24% ownership for him at such a high price. I teamed him with Benjamin, who was also highly-owned (38%). Speaking of highly-owned, Novak was at 58% in this game!
One player who was cheap that I had liked but otherwise avoided was Keenan Allen ($6400/14%). A great matchup against the Raiders, and it feels like he’s going to have one of those breakout games soon (sound logic, I know!). Finally, as a bit of a Sanchez counter, I went with the Packers D here, too.
In tournaments, you are shooting for upside. I wanted to get in on Gronkowski (24%) and I like Vereen’s (22%) upside; well, the only way to win would be if both of those players had big games, and if that happens, Brady (9%) will, too. So I started building around a Brady/Vereen/Gronk lineup. Given my thoughts on Bryce Brown’s upside, I threw him in, too.
Matthews, because of his price, was another obvious tournament play (33%). Novak (31%) was a last-minute add because of price, while the Denver D (19%) was my favorite defensive play of the week. That left me with an interesting amount of money, so I decided to go with a couple of upside players.
T.Y. Hilton (6%) should be a good upside play — especially if I’m high on the NE passing offense, it probably makes sense to get a piece of the Colts offense, too. Finally, Roddy White (8%) is is quietly on pace for a 68/982/8 season. Given the terrible Panthers defense and my heady loading up on Julio Jones, this seems like both a good play and a nice hedge.