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DFS Tournament Strategy

Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Daily fantasy sports has swept the nation. Maybe a little too much, as evidenced by all the legal battles and kickback. Both FanDuel and DraftKings hammered us with ads at every television commercial break at this time last year, and in hindsight, it may have been a little too aggressive. But it worked, and it’s still available to play for much of the country. DFS continues to grow and is a way to put food on the table for many that make a full-time job out of it.


We had a very elementary DFS article in last year’s magazine. It explained the different game types and kept it simple since the vast majority of the readers had never played before. This time around, we’ll dive a little deeper and talk about some strategy for tournaments. Just to refresh any new players, cash games are head-to-heads and 50/50s (games where 50 percent of the field wins money). Tournaments are the large-field games with thousands of entrants and big payouts. In these contests, normally you have to finish in the top 18-20% to win.


The main difference between cash games and tournaments is in cash games we want safety, and in tournaments we want ceiling/upside. What do I mean by this? The thing I ask myself when making tournament lineups and looking at the running back, wide receiver and tight end positions is, “Can this player score two touchdowns?” If not, he has no business being in your lineups. When talking about safety, we want targets and touches. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are your ultimate cash-game plays because the Steelers’ weekly gameplan concentrates on these two and feeds them. The tournament play from Pittsburgh would have been Martavis Bryant last season. He didn’t receive the volume the other two did but could score from anywhere on the field.


Another name that comes to mind as the ultimate tournament play from last year is Tyler Eifert. He was 21st among tight ends in targets with 66, but he led the position in touchdowns. Eifert had four games with at least two touchdowns. Eifert’s teammate, Jeremy Hill, was the same way. Hill was the classic case of a “boom or bust” play. And these are specifically the types we want for tournaments. You’re not going to get to the top of the field by playing the same safe plays that everyone else is using. Something that’s always stuck with me for tournaments is that I want my lineup to be able to finish first, but there’s a chance it can also finish last. All my plays have the ability to hit big, but they also come with very low floors.


Being contrarian is very important. To put it simply, going contrarian means taking a player or correlation (QB-WR, QB-TE, RB-DEF-K) that will be low-owned. Preferably, that player or correlation will have less than 5-10 percent ownership. Obvious plays are going to emerge throughout the week leading up to Sunday. Let’s say Aaron Rodgers was going to be facing the Eagles. The Eagles allowed the third-most fantasy points to quarterbacks last season, so Rodgers likely is going to be a passer many flock to in a prime matchup. A way to pivot off Rodgers would be to pick a different quarterback in the same price range who comes with immense upside, like a Cam Newton in a tough spot against the Seahawks. Or when there is an injured running back and his backup is going to get the start much like Thomas Rawls last season. Rawls would be cheap and is seeing an uptick in workload as the starter. Most will immediately plug Rawls into their lineup, shooting his ownership percentage through the roof. A way to be contrarian off that is to pay up at running back for a stud and hope Rawls fails, eliminating a large chunk of the field. Now, the entire lineup doesn’t have to be made up of low-owned players. Guys like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell can still be successfully used, but if you’re using them in a prime spot against the Browns, it’s crucial to make sure some parts of your lineup are different.


Let’s talk correlation plays. Our buddy Joe Holka wrote a very interesting piece at back in April examining large-field tournament lineups that finished in the top-10 and looked at the top correlation plays from each of them. It was extremely interesting and informative. By far, the most successful correlation is a QB and WR from the same team, like Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton. Anybody can assume that to be the case. The WR depends on the QB, and if the two hook up for a touchdown, we’re getting points from both. Another profitable correlation that mostly goes overlooked is RB and D/ST. Adrian Peterson and the Vikings’ D/ST comes to mind. The Vikings play an extremely slow-paced, ball-control, run-heavy offense. Peterson is the focal point, and when it’s working, the other offense sits on the bench. When sitting on the bench, the Vikings’ defense doesn’t face as many plays, which lowers the chances of the other team scoring points. In turn, Peterson is guiding Minnesota to a lead and getting more carries and yards in clock-killing mode.


Understand that recency bias is a real thing. There are popular plays every week at each position. The masses jump on Rob Gronkowski against the Giants’ horrific tight end defense. But Gronkowski lays an egg and fails to score a touchdown at his expensive FanDuel price. A savvy tournament player ignores the recency bias the following week when everyone who used Gronkowski is still mad he didn’t produce monster numbers and refuses to use him again. I want Gronkowski that week because I know that he’s matchup-proof for the most part, and his ownership will be extremely low based on his talent/upside combination. Gronkowski’s ceiling is as high as anyone’s any given week.


The best way to gain an edge in NFL DFS is being able to predict game flow and matchups. Anybody can look at the Vegas over-under totals and cherry-pick players off the team with the highest projected score, but that’s not going to win us the loot in tourneys. Pinpointing a receiver on a team that might be playing from behind all day against a weak cornerback on the opposing defense is a way to take advantage of a plus individual matchup. Winning a tournament is insanely difficult, but using these nuggets of information can help improve your game and thought process on Sundays.

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