With the NFL season starting this Thursday many bettors across North America will be depositing funds at FanDuel or DraftKings hoping for the chance to win a lot of money with a low outlay. As always there are 3 types of "tournaments" available at the sites – head to head, leagues and guaranteed prize payouts (GPP). While the real bettors will be concentrating on the head to head and leagues most of the action will still be on the GPP and for good reason – the huge payouts.
At DraftKings, for example, a $3 entry fee in their first GPP (for NFL games starting on Thursday) will yield $1 million in total prizes with $100,000 going to first place. There will be almost 400,000 entrants in that tournament but even those finishing in spot 84,950 will get some money back and 250 winners will get $100 or more. But the piece de resistance occurs on Sunday when a $20 fee will gain an entry into the $20 million tournament with $2 million going to the winner, $1 million to second and so forth. Mind you over 570,0000 people will enter the contest making it basically a lottery, but unlike the lottery there is some skill involved and prizes are paid to 22% of the contestants. It should be noted that FanDuel's top guaranteed prize payout is worth $5 million for the first week of the NFL season.
The real bettors will probably focus on the head to head tournaments, as a friend of mine has done since the onset of daily fantasy football (DFF), since it's effectively as betting should be – one on one with winner taking it all. And the fees aren't chicken feed. The top buy in for both sites for head to head DFF tournaments is $10,600 with $20,000 going to the winner. That means that 95% of the money is returned to the bettors which is actually better than most sportsbooks offshore or in Vegas.
With that in mind the question that most people new to daily fantasy football have is, "What are some good strategies?"
Since I'm not an expert on DFF nor have I ever really won anything playing fantasy sports, I asked that question to a couple of close friends who have excelled at DFF and asked them that precise question. They told me that they were happy to give some basics to newcomers although they wouldn't reveal everything they know for obvious reasons. For this article I'll refer to them by their initials "JG" and "MM". First however it's important to realize how the fantasy tournaments are scored:
There is a salary cap of $50,000 at DraftKings and $60,000 at FanDuel and it must be spread out accordingly at both sites - 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 DST (defense). At FanDuel you also choose a kicker while at DraftKings you choose a wildcard, i.e. extra RB, WR or TE. The sites use different methods for scoring although the majority of points are given for touchdowns scored, yards passing, yards receiving and yards rushing. On defense interceptions, sacks and touchdowns generate the most points. The complete scoring system is available for view on each site.
Strategies for Head to Head and small daily fantasy sports leagues:
JG: For the head to head and 50/50s you need to rack up points and you have to do it by taking the sure things. There are certain positions that you know will get you a ton of points and others that are just a guess. For that reason I put my money on the positions that I know will guarantee me points namely QB and WR. Defense is always a crapshoot and placekicker is even worse, so I try and get the cheapest ones I can but with some clear strategies. Tight End is also a tough position and the standouts are usually over-priced. You have to be smart though, too. I'm not going to pick say Atlanta vs. Seattle for my defense pick because it would be a sure poor result, but there will always be some value options. But to answer your question on strategy - I believe the key is to get players you know will rack up the points and for the others just find value plays that will keep you under the cap. For running back you need one star player but the other can be somewhat lesser. Running backs tend not to be as important as QB or wide receiver. And like poker you need to know your opponents. There are 2 people I always try and play with because I know they tend to overspend on positions like kicker and tight end and I beat them every time.
MM: For head to head, 50/50 and small leagues (I never play in any with more than 5 people) I spread my positions as follows: First I take a star QB which is usually in the top 3 in cost. You need QBs who will score TDs since that's worth more than passing yards, so I also look at the defense the QB is up against. I would rather take someone like Tony Romo vs. a bad pass defense than Aaron Rodgers against a good pass defense, even though Rodgers is a better QB. For wide receiver I want 2 stars and one good player. This is the most important position. Good wide receivers always rack up the yards and the scores. One strategy I also like to use is taking a good wide receiver on the same team as my QB choice. For running backs this is where I look for value. Because TDs are worth so much I like players who will score touchdowns even if they won't rack up a ton of yards. But if you can get both then you're in business. Unfortunately, they are also very expensive. That's why a Marshawn Lynch is worth so much. But you need to stay under the cap so you have to be smart and running backs are where I look for value plays. I like to also go a bit higher on defense. Many people say it's a waste of cap space but there's a lot of points for interceptions and sacks so why not take a team like Seattle and get those points. For tight end, kicker at FanDuel or the flex at DraftKings I just try and look for the best options to fit under my cap. And of course I also look at who I'm playing. I know certain people who I can always beat and I try to seek them out.
Strategies for Guaranteed Prize Payouts (GPP):
JG: I don't play these that much but I have to take a shot at a million dollar payout for a sawbuck. Hell, I even play the PowerBall when it's at a few hundred million, even though I know I don't stand a chance in hell at winning. For guaranteed payouts I try and look for value plays. I still try and keep the same strategy, but I'm also looking more for the diamond in the rough players who will get me a ton of points for a low salary. These are generally found at wide receiver, tight end and running backs. In better words, I look for someone who has the ability to run for 200 yards and 3 TDs just as easily as he will run for 5 yards. Those type of players are always undervalued because of their inconsistency. DeAngelo Williams is a prime example. I also like to have a higher salary at defense for GPPs since those points add up far more quickly than they do in head to heads. I don't care who they're playing I just want a defense that has the ability to cause turnovers and record sacks. One last thing I recommend is avoiding the pick everyone has. If Drew Brees has 40% of the people taking him then look for a better option. If he has a bad game then you're way ahead.
MM: I love playing these tournaments and I've actually cashed in all of them, although I've never won any big amounts. I really don't do anything different with the large tournaments than I do with the head to head, 50/50 or leagues but there are a few small strategy changes I make. First and foremost I try and avoid the players who are over taken. What I mean by that is when I see that 1/3 or more of the entrants have taken one player I avoid him. There's just no value taking that player. For one thing that player is always going to be the most expensive, but more importantly you're following the crowd. If he has a monster game then hopefully I'll make that up with my choices, but if he has a lousy game you're laughing. I remember one weekend about ½ the people took Peyton Manning and while I liked Manning I decided to take a couple of very good QBs instead. It was one of Manning's worst games I can recall and when I looked at the results after his game was over I was in the top 20%, mostly because I didn't take him. Sure there's risk, but it's smart risk. The other slight difference I make is that I look for more balance in my plays. While I concentrate on QB and wide receivers in head to heads, I try and get a team of good all-around players at each position and avoid the overpriced superstars. I noticed over time that those winning the GPPs aren't the ones taking the Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilsons, but rather someone who took a Philip Rivers in a good week. Similarly, it's not usually the ones paying through the nose for a Demarco Murray but rather those who took Jamaal Charles or Mark Ingram when they had a good week. But the key is clearly having a good all-around team and not settling for the junk at the end just because it fits under the cap.
One thing is certain, while players will enjoy this fairly new form of sports betting the real beneficiaries will be the websites themselves and the leagues who now benefit from the sponsorships with the sites. In 2014 FanDuel made $57 million, up from $14 million the prior year and DraftKings made about $30 million last year up from just $4 million the prior year. And when all fantasy sports including rotisserie leagues are taken into account, fantasy sports is a multi-billion dollar industry.