How to dominate at daily fantasy

DFS games break down into two general categories, and Mike Tagliere runs through the approach to each.

| 10 months ago
(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

How to dominate at daily fantasy

I remember the time when I used to play in one fantasy football league, with nine of my closest friends, and we had nine players in the starting lineups. I remember when the flex spot was locked in for running backs only, simply because there were 25-30 wide receivers who you knew would produce, but after that, it was a mess. Forget tight ends, they were just someone you had to throw in lineups. Unless you had Jason Witten or Antonio Gates, you were just throwing darts at the wall. These were simple times.

That time I’m referring to was just eight short years ago. The game has changed, tight ends have changed, and even that league I referred to has changed. We couldn’t add more teams due to it being a keeper league, but we’ve now added three more spots to the starting rosters to accommodate more skill and less risk.

But that is just part of the change to fantasy football. We now also have daily fantasy sports to add to the mix. There’s a massive difference between cash and tournament play in DFS, and today I’ll be discussing the strategies on how to dominate whichever one you choose to play. In season, we’ll be there every step of the way, discussing who you should be looking to play, no matter the format.

(For the best DFS advice and data, include our expert lineup optimizer, subscribe to DFS Pro or get it included in All Access.)

Cash games

For those who haven’t played much DFS, cash games are the ones where you need to be better than half of the field, and you win. For instance, 50/50’s are designed to accommodate up to tens of thousands of players, and the top 50 percent of players win. You also have the head-to-heads, where you are playing just one other person. There are pros and cons to this. Let’s discuss general cash game strategy.

It’s simple – you aren’t trying to score the most points in the game. Your objective is to find the safest, highest-floor type players. That’s where you want to spend the majority of your bankroll. The players who often fall into this category are: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., Adrian Peterson, etc.

Often, the way you’re able to fit a few of these players into your lineup is by finding value at the running back position. And that leads us to the biggest area of exploitation in DFS — injuries. When a running back is a game-time decision, it needs to affect everything you do. You need a plan for if he’s in the lineup, and you need one for if he is out of the lineup. The best-case scenario for the savvy player, though, is if he is out of the lineup.

The salaries are released on Mondays, which means the game-makers have no idea whether or not a banged-up-but-questionable player will play. They set the prices as if they will, leaving the backup running back priced near the minimum salary. This is where winners are made, and not just in cash-game lineups, but also in tournaments.

There were multiple times last season where this scenario played out. Whether it be Demarco Murray being ruled inactive an hour before the Week 3 game against the Jets, or Marshawn Lynch being expected to play in Week 11, but being ruled out right before gametime against the 49ers. In those games, their backups Ryan Mathews and Thomas Rawls, who were priced ridiculously low, made a lot of smart people a lot of money.

In that particular game, Mathews had more than 120 yards from scrimmage, while in his outing, Rawls had one of the best games of the entire 2015 season, tallying 255 total yards and two touchdowns, virtually guaranteeing his DFS owners a payout.

These plays worked out in tournament lineups, but the reason they were made for cash-game lineups was due to their extremely high floor in those games. The starter was out and the backups were all but guaranteed a lot of work. Volume is what you want out of your running backs in a cash-game lineup. By going with the low-cost options at running back with tons of volume, you’re free to spend up on the wide receivers who should have big numbers themselves.

Spending a lot of money on wide receivers is a good strategy to employ, especially those who are playing in a game where there’s a lot of points expected. There are also options like Eric Decker, who fit the cash-game mold to a T. He finished as a top-10 wide receiver last year, but didn’t have a single top-10 performance all year. He managed that because of his consistency. He had just one game with more than 20 PPR points, but he has zero with less than 11.7 PPR points. Pairing Decker with a few high-priced guys like Jones and Beckham, and you’ll typically have a decent amount of money left for your quarterback and tight end.

Just like in your home leagues, you don’t need to spend a ton at the quarterback position in order to succeed. It’s more of a luxury, where the only time you should be spending up for Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck is when you’ve found so much value at cheaper options, or that you want to diversify your lineups. Outside of that, stick with a high-floor option, like Carson Palmer was last year. He had just one game with more than 26 points, but also just one game where he scored less than 14.

As you can see, there is an art on how to build a cash-game lineup, and there certain players who are known as staples in them, because they are never among the highest-priced but generally have the highest floors. The biggest tip that I can give you is to aim for volume at running back, among the lower-cost options. While there will be some weeks where that is easier to do than others, you have the strategy to succeed.


This is where things get a little dicey, because there are some similarities on how you should approach tournaments, but there are other factors that you need to figure in order to succeed. Tournaments are often referred to as Guaranteed Prize Pools games, and require some luck in addition with skill. You’re playing against thousands of people in most of these, and only a tiny percentage of those players can make money, so you’re going to need to go outside of the consensus.

There are plenty of DFS optimizers out there, including the best one — ours. It’s easy to go to one of those optimizers, generate a lineup, and play that lineup in your tournament. So easy, in fact, that there are likely dozens of other DFS players out there who have done the exact same thing. But that’s where your own creativity comes into play.

Using PFF’s new DFS Pro tool, you’re able to customize your lineups based on matchup strength, a player’s historical return on investment (salary), a player’s value, and PFF projections. It’s really helpful for a players of all formats, GPP or cash games.

When constructing a GPP lineup, you must look at players who are expected to have a high ownership rate compared to those who don’t, as it will give you an advantage if your player hits. Now, you do want to have some of the chalk (players who are can’t miss that week — for example, Antonio Brown vs. the Saints), but there is no place for mid-tier guys like Eric Decker.

As we discussed earlier, low-cost running backs are a way to spend elsewhere, but just know that there are a lot of other sharks out there employing this exact strategy. So in order to combat this, we must enter multiple lineups into GPPs, because the goal is to have enough exposure to the chalk and low-cost RBs, but also spread out your wild cards.

Your wild cards are the players who cost the minimum, but you know have the potential to explode on a weekly basis. Think about players like Ted Ginn and Doug Baldwin from last year, who were both near the minimum WR cost before everyone started to catch on. Unlike cash games, you need players who have high ceilings and low floors in GPPs. You want to start players others don’t want to. For the start of the 2016 season, there are some players that come to mind that fit this mold, guys like Devin Funchess, Mike Wallace and Travis Benjamin.

While the biggest advice on cash games was to save on the running backs and their backups, the biggest piece of advice in tournaments is to stack players in your lineups. If you’re betting on Tyrod Taylor to have a massive week against the Saints, you want to bet on one of his wide receivers, and we know Sammy Watkins is that guy. Or you can be creative about it — if you are playing Jay Cutler, instead of pairing him with Alshon Jeffery, pair him with Kevin White, who will be less owned and has arguably just as much upside.

Of the stacks that worked the most for tournament winners last year, QB/WR was No. 1 with 43.8 percent of the DraftKings winners having one. On FanDuel, that number wasn’t as high, but still No. 1 at 40.6 percent. The next-closest stack on these sites was RB/WR, but both of them were sub 24 percent.

And then, lastly, pay attention to the over/unders set by Vegas, as they do matter. Between the two major DFS sites, quarterbacks who were on teams projected to have the top-10 team weekly scoring totals accounted for 76.5 percent of the tournament winners. On top of that, running backs who were on top-10 weekly projected teams accounted for 50 percent of tournament winners. As you can see, it matters. In Week 1, the 10 highest projected teams are (in order): Cowboys, Colts, Cardinals, Steelers, Eagles, Seahawks, Saints, Falcons, Packers and Chiefs.

Bottom line: Know your contest

In cash-game lineups, you don’t care about who owns who. All you want to do is make sure that you are playing the guys who have the most guaranteed work. In GPPs, you don’t want the consistent guys who offer little to no upside, like Decker, because you’ll just wind up in the middle of the tournament — not where you want to be.

In my experience, it’s good to start out as a cash player, learning the dos and don’ts of DFS. This should help be a guideline of where to begin. Specific Week 1 advice will be coming soon, but this is a good primer as you get ready for a big season of DFS.

(For the best DFS advice and data, include our expert lineup optimizer, subscribe to DFS Pro or get it included in All Access.)

  • Ron

    I started out with tournaments and very little advice. I pick players based on research and intuition. I never play cash games. My win to loss ratio is terrible but I’ve profited massively.