DFS Strategy: How to Attack the QB Position (Fantasy Football)

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Over the next month as we look towards Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season, be sure to come back to the DFS Pass frequently, as Kyle and I will be continuing to put out more strategy-based content to help set a successful foundation for the 2021 season.

When building a DFS lineup, most of us start at the top with the quarterback position. Get this player wrong, and you’re likely not winning money in that particular week. It’s crucial to have an understanding of the QB position in DFS in order to gain an edge on our opponents. Let’s dive deeper and look at some big-picture principles we’ll want to utilize as a foundation when rostering QBs in our DFS lineups.

Spend Up on the Quarterback Position in Tournaments

Years ago, the general recommendation in DFS was to spend down at the QB position to save some salary. Why? QB scoring was relatively flat across the position, so why would we spend unnecessary salary for the top tier guys when we can get 85% or 90% of the production at a far cheaper price tag? This is essentially the rationale and strategy behind drafting late-round QBs in redraft formats. That was then, this is now. That strategy no longer works on week-to-week basis, especially in tournaments.

There is still some viability in cash formats in finding value when it’s there to find a safe floor. After all, in these formats, we’re not trying to win the whole thing – we just need to finish better than half the field. In tournaments, however, it’s a completely different conversation.

Take a look at the winning QB in DraftKings Milly Maker NFL Tournament last season

For this sample, I’m going to exclude Taysom Hill in Week 11 vs. Atlanta as this $4,800 price did not indicate that Hill would be the starter at QB – It was a misprice for Hill after Drew Brees‘ injury. Outside of Hill, the winner in DraftKings’ Milly Maker contest last year spent an average of $6,831 on the QB position. But anyone can enter these contests. After all, the entry fee isn’t that big and there’s a lot of casual players entering the Milly Maker every Sunday, so what about the serious, high stakes players?

I looked at the data for DraftKings $1.5M Wildcat contest, which features a $333 buy-in with $300K going to 1st place. In that contest, the average salary of the QB on the winning roster came in at $6,780, again showing us that it is more advantageous to spend up, or at least to avoid spending down at the QB position in order to win in DFS tournaments.

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The QB position in the NFL is changing, as we’re starting to see less traditional pocket passers and more rushing, or at least mobile, QBs who have a massive ceiling. Entering last year, we already had elite guys like Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, and Deshaun Watson as well as above-average runners like Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, and Patrick Mahomes. Then, the position added for a portion of the season more elite runners in Taysom Hill and Jalen Hurts. After the 2021 NFL Draft, we get to add to these great runners guys like Trey Lance and Justin Fields.

In order to find ceiling at the QB position in DFS, the trends tell us that we should at least consider QBs who have rushing upside as well as be willing to spend up on the position, especially in DraftKings scoring where it is possible to achieve the 100-yard rushing bonus.

You Have to Stack Your Quarterback, And You Should Probably Double Stack

Kyle and I spent an entire episode on the DFS Podcast talking about stacking in DFS. If you’re looking for more specifics on stacking, I’d absolutely recommend checking out that episode to get an understanding on how to stack appropriately.

The term “double stack” refers to playing a QB with two of his teammates rather than just one. For example, playing Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Clyde Edwards-Helaire together would qualify as a double stack. Playing Pat Mahomes with only Tyreek Hill, for example, would only be a single stack.

I’ll just note quickly, that most think stacking can only be done between a QB and a WR. However, there is positive correlation at all positions. Here is the strength of correlation, according to FantasyLabs data going back to 2014.

In terms of a ceiling outcome at the QB position, the data shows us that double stacking is more advantageous than single stacking. From 2018-2019, lineups that finished top-10 in the Milly Maker used a QB and two of his teammates 41.2% of the time while the rest of the field did it just 28.9% of the time.

In the Milly Maker last year, lineups that finished inside the top 100 double stacked 39.5% of the time. The rest of the field did it about 29% of the time, suggesting there is an edge in double stacking your QB. Looking at the winning Milly Maker lineups as well as the winning lineups from the aforementioned WildCat contest, every team except for one in those two contests that took home the grand prize stacked their QB with at least one pass catcher. In the Milly Maker, the winning lineup double-stacked the QB position 12 of 17 weeks.

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The take-home here is that if you’re not stacking, you’re behind the eight ball. In order to improve correlation and ability to reach ceiling outcomes, it is recommended to double stack the QB position, and that doesn’t mean it has to be with two wide receivers.

Efficiency Gets The Job Done

At the running back, wide receiver, and tight end position, we care a lot about volume. Who’s playing the most snaps? Who’s getting the touches? Who’s getting targeted? At the QB position, we care most about efficiency as every QB in the NFL is touching the ball every play – volume isn’t as much of a concern.

Since significant passing volume is the norm, QBs must find another route for success in order to rise to the top of the statistical leaderboards, and that is done through efficiency. So in order for us to get an edge on our competition, it’s important to pay attention to efficiency statistics at the QB position. Here are three of these important metrics to keep in mind:

  • Yards per Attempt – Passing yards divided by pass attempts. We want our QBs to be pushing the ball downfield.
  • Touchdown Rate – Pass attempts divided by pass TDs. No brainer here, but passing TD are crucial to creating spiked weeks at the QB position.

We’ll want to target QBs at the high end of these efficiency metrics but it’s not enough to just study them. When it comes to the QB position, we also need to train our brains to predict outcomes using these metrics rather than concepts that pertain to overall volume. Thus, we don’t necessarily have to fade a QB on a team that is a huge favorite because even if they build a big lead and the QB doesn’t have to throw a lot in the second half, it’s likely the team’s lead was created by a successful and efficient performance by the QB. On the flip side, playing a QB that should be down and have to throw a lot doesn’t mesh well with these efficiency concepts since trailing would likely mean the QB has struggled with efficiency and effectiveness to that point in the game.

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Target Quarterbacks That Are Favored According to Vegas

In general, QBs tend to be more consistent and offer higher upside when playing as the favorite. The image below is taken from Matt DiSorbo’s article highlighting game scripts and fantasy points across every position. As you can see, QB scoring increases even in games where there is possible blowout potential, or there is a large Vegas spread. Because of this, we recommend using implied point totals according to Vegas rather than the spread when trying to identify blow-up performances at the QB position.

Each week in the DFS Pass, I write up a Vegas Report article that highlights the best game environments and identifies teams with the largest implied total in order to look for opportunities for a massive performance from the QB position. The idea is simple – if Vegas is projecting a team let’s say with a 27.5 implied total to score 4+ touchdowns, it’s very likely that the QB is going to be involved, and we want those fantasy points. Sure an RB can take a carry from inside the 1-yard line, but what we’re trying to do here is to target QBs who have a path to multi-TD games. Finding the end zone once isn’t going to cut it, especially in a tournament.

Contrarian Tournament Strategies

If you’ve listened to the DFS Podcast before, you’ve probably heard Kyle and I discuss “playing a QB naked.” That means rostering a QB without stacking at all. That may sound odd, but stacking has become so mainstream, we’re not necessarily differentiating our lineups enough from the field when doing so. We’ve already established that double stacking is a +EV (expected value) move and is associated with higher ceiling outcomes (see above), but single stacking doesn’t really provide that much of an edge anymore, simply because almost everyone is already doing it in tournaments.

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Instead, playing a QB “naked” (without any of his pass-catchers) makes sense when that QB offers extreme rushing upside. If that high range of rushing upside hits, the pass catchers playing with that QB will have limited upside. Essentially in this scenario, we’re saying we think this QB hits the 100-yard rushing bonus on DraftKings and he accounts for at least one rushing TD, ideally 2+.

Let’s take Lamar Jackson‘s Week 14 stat line from the 2020 season as an example.

  • Rushing: 9 attempts, 124 yards, 2 TD
  • Passing: 11/17, 163 yards, 1 TD

Lamar went off this week, but if you didn’t have Marquise Brown, who caught two balls for 50 yards and a TD, you were fine in DFS. Lamar still hit his ceiling thanks to hitting the 100-yard rushing bonus and finding the end zone twice with his legs. A traditional pocket passer like Tom Brady or Matt Ryan won’t fit this bill. If playing a QB naked, we need him to have elite rushing upside.

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