DFS 101: Winning Strategies & Tips (Fantasy Football)

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Recently, Matthew Betz and I began the process of laying down a framework for approaching DFS for the 2020 season. If you’re new to DFS or you want to be renewed in the way you construct lineups and research, we’re excited to walk with you this year. Here is a podcast recap for DFS 101: Winning Strategies & Tips for those who need to visualize what we discussed. Make sure you subscribe to the DFS podcast and stay tuned for the tons of content from the DFS Pass.

The biggest difference between redraft and playing DFS is the mindset you have to carry. DFS provides the blessing and the frustration of being a one week sprint. You ride the highs and lows in such a different way because not only are you focusing on one week at a time but often the ‘main slate’ is seven or eight matchups to decipher. Going in, you have to know that losing is on the table. In tournaments, you are shooting for the moon knowing there is an inherent risk with so many volatile players especially WRs.

Another thing to keep in mind is not being able to see who your opponent is rostering until lock. In redraft, you can tinker with your lineup if your opponent is projected to outscore you by 30 points. You can adjust before lock. In DFS, everyone is setting their lineup blindly in comparison to the field.

1. Contest Selection

Before plugging players, the process of constructing a winning lineup starts first with the contest you are selecting, not the players. The lobby in DraftKings and FanDuel is filled with so many options it can be numbing trying to figure out which one suits you best. For beginners, it’s essential to not only know the difference between the two but what mentality you need in both. Start with 80 percent of your weekly allotment being cash games and 20 percent in tournaments.

For Cash contests, you are narrowing the competition down to either one opponent or a small base where being part of the top-51% pays out. While building the best lineup is still the goal, there is more room for error and an opportunity to work on your process. Start small with the $1 contests as Betz described. It may sound like not a great payout but as you gain the confidence you can let cash contests be the foundation of your weekly lineups as you mix in bigger tournaments.

For GPP contests (Grand Prize Pool), you’re inviting not only a different level of competition but a whole host of people to match up against. As the number of entrants in a contest changes, the amount of attention to detail also increases exponentially.

Be prepared if you plan on entering a GPP, the best players will be utilizing the maximum number of entries. For instance, if 150 lineups are the max, that is the route many will go. Statistically speaking it is hard to get a leg up on the competition even with the best research when your opponents are running at 150 lineups and you’re taking a shot at four or five. The rule of thumb is if you enter a GPP, be willing to fork out the cost to max enter. Luckily, DraftKings and FanDuel have large-field tournaments (100,000+ entries) that cost as little as five cents to enter. 150 lineups, in that case, is only $7.50, a much smaller amount than flushing your one $25 Milly Maker lineup down the toilet while everyone else max entered. Trust me I’ve flushed that ticket many times in the past.

For more in our DFS 101 series, check out Mitch Carl’s Contest Selection article.

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2. Opponent Selection

There are very smart DFS veterans who know how to take advantage of players who casually throw a couple of bucks in each week. Especially in head-to-head contests, realize that many people aren’t just entering in once but likely 100+ times each week even with under small amounts of $1. For beginners, creating contests is easier road to success than choosing an opponent who already has set theirs up in the lobby.

On DraftKings and FanDuel, you can enter cash game contests based on experience level. Starting with head-to-head matchups is a great way to learn the strategy and something I highly recommend committing to for a season.

Take on a friend head-t0-head. Gather together a small group of friends perhaps from your home league with lower stakes.

3. Know Your Scoring

If you are used to the settings in your home league, it’s time to educate yourself.

For DraftKings, the site carries a number of unique scoring benchmarks under the umbrella of full-PPR scoring. The bonuses include three points for 300+ yd passing as well as 100+ yards rushing and/or receiving. The top-end RBs who catch passes like Christian McCaffrey are basically cheat codes. QBs such as Matt Ryan consistently hit 300-yard bonuses which help boost their floor. Check out Ben Cummins’ article A Beginner’s Guide to DraftKings for a more in-depth look.

For FanDuel, the 0.5-point-scoring format is likened to the Ballers’ Preferred Scoring Format. I wrote up a FanDuel Beginner’s Guide as well a few years ago.

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When playing across multiple sites, it’s important to only focus on one at a time. While certain players might be excellent plays on both sites, their scoring will look different at the end of the day. For instance, Will Fuller’s monster 14/217/3 game against the Falcons was a tournament winner for sure despite being declared chalk that week. Fuller threw down an insane 59.7 DK points and 46.7 FD points. Both are ridiculous.

4. Carry a Longterm Mindset

The type of profitability that comes through playing DFS week-in and week-out is all about gaining endurance and longevity in your mindset. It’s the age-old adage of process over results. We are building out a process that can weather the storm of outlier weeks and our own biases.

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As I stated on the podcast, be prepared to be kicked in the groin again and again. It’s easy to get greedy or convince yourself that Courtland Sutton is going to go for 150 and two TDs that week but it ends up being Noah Fant. Also know you might be able to beat a Vegas line in the short term. But over the course of the season, don’t mess with Vegas. There’s a reason their sportsbooks hit near 60% so don’t go chasing that feeling week-to-week.

Keep yourself accountable. Open up a spreadsheet and track your progress each week noting the types of contests you played in, your entry fees, the number of entries, and your return on investment (ROI). Rather than vaguely remember that you lost $150 in Week 2 because you were feeling lucky, learn from your mistakes and improve your process so you can play long-term and enjoy DFS.

5. Backwards Design

This approach to DFS was something I adopted from my years as a high school teacher. In grad school, our professors taught us how to make our lesson plans with this process in mind. Essentially, it’s about having the end goal (or teaching standard) at the forefront so that lessons start there instead of specific activities. It sounds simple enough: yes, I want to start building my DFS lineups with the goal of winning money…

Think about this like “reverse engineering”. Take a product, deconstruct it, lay all of the parts out, and now examine the plans that make up this product. This type of process begins with the end in mind so that you can fine-tune a process to use again and again. In our case, DFS is a weekly endeavor and a chance to set ourselves up well each week before jumping immediately into player evaluations. Here is the three-fold process I’ve dubbed for DFS Backwards Design:

  1. Calculate a Narrative
  2. Identify the Inefficiencies
  3. Stack and Mix

Check out the recently published Backwards Design DFS Strategy for a full explanation of each step.

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