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Columns - Magazine

Introduction to DFS

by Nick Mensio
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Daily fantasy sports — or DFS — isn’t a new phenomenon. There are players that have been on the DFS grind for nearly a decade. But the truth is that though some of you may be experienced DFS players, it’s very likely that the majority of you have yet to dip your toes into the water. It can be for various reasons, but some of you are too stubborn to abandon your season-long leagues. Understandable. Our very own Patrick Daugherty — or RotoPat as many of you know him — is a season-longer to his core. That’s fine. It’s been tough to get him to play DFS with the rest of us, but he’s slowly coming around. Anyway, here we’ll keep this rather elementary and give an introduction to DFS for the newbies out there and also talk a little bit of strategy 101.


First off. MONEY! Who doesn’t like money? And who doesn’t like getting that money in their pockets as quickly as possible? While season-long fantasy football leagues have buy-ins and cash as the prize, that money is tied up for months. You pay in August, but the winner doesn’t get the loot until December. In NFL DFS, leagues are weekly or even daily depending whether you want to limit the league to Sunday’s games. Fill your lineup out Sunday (or Thursday). Get paid that week. Simple. And buy-ins are as cheap as 50 cents or as expensive as over $1,000. The most common leagues are in the $1-$25 buy-in range.


When talking in season-long terms, we often speak in 12-team-league lingo. In DFS, leagues can range anywhere from two teams — you versus another player head-to-head — to well over 100,000 in one “league.” We like to call those large-field leagues GPPs (Guaranteed Prize Pools) or tournaments where payouts are into the thousands and sometimes even the millions of dollars.


There are several different types of DFS contests.




This is you versus another contestant. Or a “cash” game, as it’s often called, because your win probability is 50 percent. For example, each contestant pays $5 and the winner takes roughly $10. You can create your own head-to-head league and play against a friend or play against a random contestant who wants to play at the same price point as you.


50/50 and Double-Up


These are also considered “cash” games because of the roughly 50 percent win probability. The difference from a head-to-head is that the playing field is larger. For example, a 50/50 or double-up league can have a little more than 200 entries at $5 each and the top-100 scorers collect $10.




Triple- and Quintuple-Ups are basically the same idea as Double-Ups. In Triple-Ups, the top-50 in a 150-entry league would triple their $5 into $15 while the other 200 lose their $5. It’s the same idea for Quintuple-Ups. The top-20 in a 100-entry league would turn their $5 into $25.


Qualifiers / Satellites


These contests give you a chance to win “tickets” or free entries into future contests. For example, you could win a $5 qualifier and receive an entry into a future $25 tournament or win a spot in a future live tournament at the Playboy mansion.


Large-Field Tournaments


This contest type attracts thousands, or in some instances, over 100,000 entrants. The entry fee is small in proportion to the amount you can potentially win. Only the top 18 percent or so finishers win money, while the No. 1 overall winner can take home $10,000 on a $5 entry fee.


In season-long, a standard starting lineup is QB-RB-RB-WR-WR-WR-TE-K-DEF. It’s the same in DFS. But in DFS, you get a salary cap, and each player has their own price. Let’s say the salary cap is $60,000. Elite quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers typically cost around 16-20 percent of the cap. You need to “draft” your nine-player team without going over that $60,000 limit. You can use any player in the NFL that is playing that week. Your draft is independent of everyone else, so there’s a chance you could draft the exact same team as someone else. Understanding how salaries work on each specific DFS site is essential. Quarterbacks are typically priced the highest, while kickers and defenses are cheapest. Finding value is also key to winning your DFS league.


Here’s where we’ll get into a bit of strategy. Matchups are important in season-long leagues, but they are EVERYTHING in DFS. We want to identify players with favorable matchups. Flashing back to the 2014 season, we liked to target running backs against the Giants, Titans and Falcons because those teams hemorrhaged fantasy points to opposing runners. The Falcons were similarly bad against the pass, and the Redskins couldn’t cover anyone on the back end. Quarterbacks facing Atlanta and Washington were the “chalk” — or easy plays of the day, as in everyone was using them. Wide receivers running most of their routes against the David Amersons, Ike Taylors and Bradley Fletchers of the world were the receivers we wanted on our teams that week. In some cases — i.e. Rob Gronkowski — players were matchup-proof. Plug in Gronkowski at tight end and move on.


Looking at trends and injuries is also extremely important in DFS. You have to be on top of the injury report and inactive list every week. Taking a “zero” from a player in your lineup spells death much like it would in season-long leagues. To go a bit deeper, let’s say Aaron Rodgers pulled his calf and has to miss Week 6. The Jets are in town visiting Lambeau. Rodgers’ absence would make the Jets one of the top defenses to own that week. A bit of a “contrarian” play would be to use Rodgers’ replacement, Scott Tolzien, as your quarterback because you looked at the numbers and see that while New York is a top-10 defense, they really struggle on the road. Tolzien would also be extremely cheap salary-wise, allowing you to spend up at running back and wide receiver.


Vegas lines and over-unders are also huge in DFS. Obviously, you want to roster players from teams that are going to score points. “Stacking” players from those teams is big in the DFS world, especially if you want to win a large-field tournament or qualifier. Indianapolis vs. Denver, for example’s sake, would be a projected high-scoring game. Stacking players from those offenses, let’s say Andrew Luck-T.Y. Hilton-Coby Fleener from the Colts and C.J. Anderson-Demaryius Thomas from the Broncos, would be a good idea in order to maximize your fantasy scoring potential.


We’ve covered most of the basics of DFS. When getting started, it’s recommended to start small. Play single-entry games on the cheap and work your way up. You’re going to lose. Remember that. Even the biggest sharks in DFS lose on occasion. But it’s important to trust your research. There is so much information out there. You can find numbers on anything and anyone. Personally, I like to keep my circle small and not read too much so that I don’t overload my brain with contradictory information. I like to use the “set it and forget it” method. I do my research and then set my lineups. I trust that research and don’t make last-minute changes because of gut feelings. Good luck.

Nick Mensio

Nick Mensio has been covering the NFL for NBC Sports Edge since 2012. He can be found on Twitter at @NickMensio.