NFL DFS Contest Selection for DraftKings
It’s Sunday morning at 10 am. You log into DraftKings to set some DFS lineups, go to the lobby and….freeze. There are over 100 available contests, but which ones do I play – the Milly Maker? The contests that pay the most? The contests with the fewest entrants? Panicked and overwhelmed, you randomly click on a contest, fire off a few lineups, and hope for the best. Sound familiar? If you’re relatively new to DFS or haven’t been the most successful so far, there’s a good chance the answer to that question is “yes.” Simply knowing which players to roster for a slate isn’t enough anymore. We need to be mindful of which contests we’re entering.
Even if you’re a seasoned DFS player, a further understanding of contest selection can help take your game to the next level. If you’re a rookie in the DFS streets, understanding which contests to enter and which to avoid is one of the more underrated aspects of becoming a successful DFS player. By playing in the correct contest for your goals and for the lineup you’re building, you can automatically improve your expected return on investment for the 2022 season. Before we dive into specific contests on DraftKings, let’s look at a few higher-level things to consider as part of our contest selection strategy.
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Things to Consider
Be Rake Conscious
“Rake” refers to the percentage of entry fees that the DFS sites keep as a fee for creating the contest. Think of it as the DFS platforms “raking off the top” of whatever the total entry cost is for a given contest. The higher the rake, the lower the amount of money that gets paid out to those who enter the contest. While this is inevitable to avoid (it’s a huge source of revenue for these platforms), be mindful that we generally want to find contests with lower rake as this will allow more money to go to us, the DFS player. In general, higher stakes contests tend to have lower rake and vice versa.
Look for Overlay
The term ‘overlay’ refers to the idea that guaranteed contests don’t fill to their max capacity. Guaranteed contests are those that are going to run no matter how many entrants are in the field. The overlay can be a way to increase our chance of winning by trying to identify contests that don’t fill. Let’s say, for example, that there’s a contest on DraftKings that’s a GPP (guaranteed prize pool) that has 1,000 entrants. If this contest fills we’re playing against 999 other DFS players, but let’s say for example that only 875 people enter the contest. Our chance of winning the tournament increases because, in this scenario, we’re playing against 874 people. The chances of winning the whole thing increase and the chance of hitting the cash line also improve. This isn’t rocket science – we want to be playing against the fewest number of opponents possible in order to increase our chances of winning. It’s recommended to check for contests that may not fill close to lock. Anecdotally speaking, I have also seen more overlay in the shorter slate contests (the 1PM only slate, the 4 PM only slate, or the Primetime slate, for example) because they’re far less popular than the main slate contests.
Contest Selection With a Purpose
As Kyle and I have discussed in recent DFS Podcast episodes, it’s important to be honest with yourself as a DFS player in regards to your goals. This includes short-term and long-term goals. Are you just logging into have some fun and throw some darts at a Million bucks while having an expendable income? Great, play the Milly Maker. Are you trying to build a bankroll consistently on a tighter budget? It probably makes sense to try to find tournaments that pay out a larger percentage of the field or focus on cash-style contests. Are you a serious DFS player who relies on winning as part of your income? Looking for overlay and being rake conscious are hugely important.
Depending on your experience, goals and the type of player you are, this is going to look vastly different for every person. Be honest with yourself and be realistic with what you expect to happen during the NFL season. The worst thing you can do is unload all of your funds in the first three weeks of the year blindly firing away at random contests and hoping it works. Be honest, be consistent and have a process that works for you.
Cash games refer to any contest that pays out roughly 50% of the field (minus the rake) and in general, these have a lower pay structure. In other words, you probably aren’t going to get rich in one weekend playing cash. These contests generally refer to head-to-head against one other player, or in a large-field contest in which roughly half of the entrants double their money, or beat the cash line. Finishing position does not matter, so long as you’re in the top half of the field. In other words, the person who comes in 1st wins the same as the person who comes in 300th. Below are my favorite cash games to enter in order to consistently build a bankroll.
A quick note on cash games – We recommend entering only one lineup across all your cash contests, including 50/50s, double-ups, and head-to-heads. The reason for this is that we generally don’t want to be hedging in cash-style contests given the rake. Remember, these contests won’t land you a ton of money so we can’t afford to take “small wins” and “small losses” by entering different lineups. This caps our ceiling weekly and on the season.
Single Entry Large Field Double-Ups
One of the easiest ways to build a bankroll right out of the gate is to enter large field 50/50s and Double Up contests. In general, the lower the stakes, the softer the field is going to be. I want to be very clear. Our goal in this style of format is to find opponents who are going to make mistakes while we put out a high-floor lineup. In the words of the great Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game.” In the lower entry fee large field double-up contests, there will be several novice players. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather play against them than the DFS pros. We want to avoid the multi-entry double-ups as the best cash players in the world will max enter these, creating a more challenging field. These contests generally have anywhere from 5,000 entrants all the way up to 20,000 entrants.
Recommended Double Up Contests:
- $2 Single Entry Double Up
- $5 Single Entry Double Up
- $10 Single Entry Double Up
- $25 Single Entry Double Up
Create Your Own Head-to-Heads
Head-to-head contests are exactly as they sound – mano a mano. It’s you vs. one other person, and the winner takes home the money (minus the rake). On DraftKings, you’ll find that they offer head to head contests for every bankroll. There are contests that are as small as $1 to enter and those that are for the nosebleed stakes players up at $10K. Again, we generally want to be playing against softer opponents, and those are more likely to be found in the lower stakes contests like the $1, $2, $3, and $5 head-to-head contests. While you can enter any of the available contests in the lobby, just be mindful that DK is going to match you up against another random player. Maybe you’ll play against a novice or maybe you’ll be matched up against a pro. If we can control who we play against, we’ll have a much easier time winner. Here’s how to do it.
Create the head-to-head contests yourself. Be sure to click the box that limits the number of times one person can play against you to one. This prevents really sharp players from consistently picking off your contests and helps to limit variance in cash games. After you’ve played for a few weeks, you’ll be able to notice who is or isn’t picking up your contests and if someone is consistently picking up your games that you post and beating you, block them. You can do this by going to Account Information > Preferences > Head-to-Head Settings.
Once you’ve got a curated list of players you don’t want to play against, the next thing to consider is that if you post a head-to-head contest and no one takes it, DraftKings will automatically fill it with someone else who has posted a head-to-head. Generally speaking, this will be against sharper players, so I’d recommend canceling those entries roughly 20 minutes before lock if they aren’t filled.
We generally recommend a tiered approach to head-to-head contests. Here’s what it might look like if you’re playing $100, for example. Of course, feel free to adjust based on your bank roll and goals.
Recommended Contests if you want to play $100 in H2H:
- Twenty $1 contests ($20)
- Fifteen $2 contests ($30)
- Five $3 contest ($15)
- Three $5 contests ($15)
- Two $10 contests ($20)
GPPs and Tournaments
GPP stands for ‘Guaranteed Prize Pool’ and most DFS players generally think of these contests as tournaments. These are the contests where we want to embrace volatility and shoot for those high end outcomes given that the payout structures are generally pretty top-heavy. I wrote all about building tournament lineups in this Roster Construction Checklist article. Our lineups should obviously look a lot different in these contests vs. cash games, but knowing which tournaments to enter is just as important.
Large Field Tournaments
In this section of the article, I’ll provide some contests for a variety of different styles (20 max, 3 max, and single entry).
NFL $250K First Down (20 Entry Max) – This low-stakes contest is great if you want to test out your MME skills using an optimizer. We generally recommend folks only enter these multi-entry contests if you can afford to max enter, and given that this only costs $1 per entry for a $20 max, it fits the bill. There are over 297,000 entrants with $20,000 to 1st, and 24% of the field gets paid.
NFL $100K Engage Eight (3 Entry Max) – Compared to the other contests in this section, only 20% of the field gets paid but the pay structure is much more friendly. There’s $10K to first, $5K to second, $4K to third, $3K to fourth and $1.5K to fifth. Other tournaments are extremely top heavy with most of if not all the money to first place. Here we’re rewarded handsomely with a top 10 finish as each user who finishes inside the top 10 gets at least $1,000. It’s only $8 per entry for a max of $24.
NFL $100K Screen Pass (3 Entry Max) – This is another 3-max contest I like given the size. It’s just under 8,000 entrants and over 21% of the field gets paid. At $15 per entry, it’s a nice step up for those looking to increase their entry fees as they have success. There’s $10K up top to first and like the Engage Eight, all users in the top 10 are taking home at least $1K.
NFL $25K Fair Catch (Single Entry) – This single entry tournament costs just $12 to enter and is very winnable with ‘only’ 2,450 entrants. Some tournaments push for an 18+% rake which is high. This one comes in around 17%. With $5,000 up top to first, this contest has a solid payout structure and almost 23% of the field get paid.
NFL $50K Blind Side (Single Entry) – Another single entry contest with decent rake at around 16%. This one costs $27 to enter, again allowing DFS players to level up if their bankroll allows. About 23% of the field gets paid, and there’s a really nice $5,000 to first place. Given that the field is just over 2,000 entrants, this is one for those who are overwhelmed by trying to beat almost thousands and thousands of opponents.
Small Field Tournaments
The criteria for a contest to be considered ‘small field’ for me is generally under 1,000 entrants. In general, these contests tend to be higher in entry fee, but they’re lower in rake.
NFL $40K Goal Line (3 Entry Max) – This contest costs much more to enter with an entry costing $75, but the rake here is great with the rake coming in at under 14%. In addition, unlike the large field tournaments above, over 25% of the field gets paid. If you’ve got the bankroll, this check the boxes we’re looking for – lower rake and a high payout structure. It’s got $4,000 up top to first with about 600 entrants.
NFL $50K Spy (Single Entry) – Another contest for those who have the bankroll to afford it. This one costs $100, but given that there are only 555 entrants and an 11% rake, it’s much more user-friendly. Over 21% of the field gets paid, and there’s $5,000 to first place.
NFL $5K Mini Hail Mary (14 Entry Max) – This is a small field contest with only 490 entrants with a $12 entry fee. First place gets $500, it’s not the contest you’re looking for if you’re hoping to hit it big, but because we have 14 entries at our disposal, there’s a good chance we’ll hit the cash line, thus helping to mitigate variance. Over 23% of the field gets paid.
Of course, DraftKings offers many contests that fit a variety of goals for each player. Finding those contests is a critical part of being a successful DFS player. If these specific contests aren’t for you, focus on these core concepts:
- Seek out low rake contests
- Search for overlay
- Regardless of the contest, make sure your lineup matches the contest you’re playing
- Understand payout structure – the more top-heavy the payout, the fewer the number of entrants get paid out. This will invite more variance, and thus, more losing weeks. Depending on your experience level, this can be frustrating. If you’re not able to take losing consistently as a GPP player, search for flatter payout structures.
- Find small field contests the day of – often times after the large field contests fill, DraftKings will release smaller field contests a few hours before lock. This is a great spot to not only find softer opponents but also a great place to find overlay. Note – I can’t list those contests in this article given that they aren’t yet available but if you keep your eyes on the lobby, you’ll find them on Sunday mornings.
Hopefully you found this article helpful as you prep for your NFL DFS season. If you’re looking for more on contest selection, be sure to check out the DFS Podcast or find me in the #DFS Discord channel. Best of luck!