LESSONS LEARNED FROM WEEK 7 MILLY WINNING ROSTER
The dynamic game of Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) requires much more than simply knowing the sport for which we’re entering contests to be successful. We must be adaptable, precise, and open to learning from previous endeavors, the latter of which will be the primary focus of this weekly written piece. Game Theoretic methodologies will allow us to analyze and dissect the previous week’s winner of the largest and most prestigious Guaranteed Prize Pool (GPP) tournament on DraftKings – the Millionaire Maker. These same tenets of Game Theory, which can most simply be explained as the development of decision-making processes given our own skill and knowledge, assumptions of the field based on the cumulative skill and knowledge of others playing the same game, and the rules and structure of the game itself, will allow us to further train our minds to see beyond the antiquated techniques of roster building being employed by a large portion of the field. Approaching improvement through these methods will give us insight into the anatomy of successful rosters and will help us develop repeatably profitable habit patterns for the coming weeks. We’ll start by looking at the previous week’s winning roster, extract any pertinent lessons for future utilization, and finish with a look ahead towards the coming main slate.
As we’ve alluded to before in this piece, chalk is getting proportionally sharper as the field gets sharper, meaning it is becoming more +EV to think through how to play chalk as opposed to simply considering whether or not to play the chalk. The three running backs with the highest expected ownership coming into the slate were Josh Jacobs, Kenneth Walker, and Austin Ekeler – all three of whom were on the Millionaire-winning roster. Let’s compare how those three looked on paper against the other piece of mega-chalk this weekend, CeeDee Lamb.
Josh Jacobs has seen his role grow this season compared to seasons past, responsible for a massive 84.0% team running back opportunity share, a 74.6% snap rate, and a solid 53.5% route participation rate. Those numbers last year? 68.5% opportunity share, 63.4% snap rate, and 46.2% route participation rate. Strip the name away to remove any biases and Josh Jacobs is a legitimate top-three NFL running back from a fantasy perspective, priced down amongst the backs with wider ranges of outcomes, who was playing the team allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing backfields. That’s a sharp profile to have interest in, regardless of ownership.
Austin Ekeler led the league in targets, weighted opportunities per game, and fantasy points per game at the running back position coming into Week 7 and was playing an opponent surrendering 30.0 fantasy points per game to opposing backfields. His team was missing its backup running back, two wide receivers, and a pass-catching tight end, and Keenen Allen was attempting to play through a hamstring injury and was expected to be either out or limited. That’s a sharp profile to have interest in, regardless of ownership.
Kenneth Walker was entering his second game as the unquestioned workhorse back in Seattle and held the third-highest breakaway run rate of all running backs in the league, with the sixth-highest yards created per touch value at the position. He was playing a Chargers defense surrendering the highest rate of breakaway runs heading into Week 7. Although a bit more fragile than the previous two, that’s a sharp profile to have interest in, regardless of ownership.
CeeDee Lamb led the league in team target market share and ranked fourth in targets per route run rate coming into the week. Both are positives; however, the field immediately assumed the Cowboys would shift to a more pass-heavy game plan with Dak Prescott back at the helm -- they had finished below league average in pass rate over expectation in every game to this point in the season. They were playing an opponent in the Lions that was likely to allow them to continue a ground-based attack, which ended up being the case. CeeDee Lamb‘s 9.8 aDOT and weak 2.8 average yards after catch per reception meant he would require volume and touchdowns to return a GPP-worthy score. Basically, whereas the running back chalk checked all the boxes for us, Lamb’s profile included assumptions, making him a solid leverage point on this slate.
The exercise here highlights the importance of breaking down the chalk pieces to better evaluate the underlying profiles. This will allow us to better plan for how to handle the chalk moving forward and gives us some potential leverage opportunities to consider.
Multiple Running Backs from Same Game
There is a stigma attached to playing multiple running backs from the same game, likely due to the primarily yardage and touchdown nature of most backs in the league. We touched on this idea earlier in the season, but simply because most running backs don’t add PPR floor does not mean they have a lower chance of putting up a GPP-worthy score, it simply means the route to ceiling is different. Whereas guys like Cooper Kupp and Tyreek Hill can “get there” on passing volume alone, the “new age” running back requires 100+ yards rushing and multiple trips to the end zone in order to provide a score worth rostering.
Now consider how that folds into the stigma of playing multiple backs from the same game and we’re left with a potential leverage opportunity by betting on the way in which the touchdowns are scored from a potentially top game environment. We knew going into the weekend that the Seahawks/Chargers game was one of the top expected game environments on the slate, with the running back on each team expected to be a large part of their respective team’s offense. Why not capture bulk upside by playing them together? This won’t always be the case, but we’re doing ourselves a disservice by eliminating the option to play multiple backs from the same game.
Quarterback/Tight End Correlation
Let’s take a little journey into the state of the tight end position from a fantasy perspective. There are legitimately only three tight ends that can put up a score that will put the slate out of reach at the position (as in, tight ends that can separate from the field at the position) – Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, and George Kittle (don’t get me started on Kittle – he has the same per-touch upside he always has had, and his underlying metrics remain consistent for his career norms this year – yea, he’s going to break a slate or two this season). When you place one of those three on a roster in DFS, you’re making the bet that they will put the slate out of reach and give you a differentiator score at the position. By selecting any other tight end, you’re making a simultaneous bet on one of those three not putting the slate out of reach AND a bet on touchdown variance amongst one of the remaining players.
That’s a lot to get right for one roster spot, no? If we know that the rest of the tight ends in the league (outside of Kelce, Andrews, and Kittle) rely on touchdowns for the vast majority of their fantasy utility, it would stand to reason that an optimal way of approaching the position is to correlate that scoring with their quarterback (if a tight end is scoring multiple times, it is highly likely their quarterback is putting up a respectable fantasy score in the process). This is one of the most underutilized leverage spots in today’s NFL DFS landscape. I liken it to second base and catcher inclusion in MLB stacks. It’s a way to get multiple positions right through a single act. Side note – look back at the top recommended leverage opportunity in last week’s DFS Turnaround article and you’ll see the inclusion of Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle. We’ve come full circle on that learning point!
Henry now gets the distinct pleasure of taking on a Houston team that has surrendered the most fantasy points per game to opposing backfields (the same spot we attacked last week with Josh Jacobs), so his inclusion is easy. As for Pierce, his situation mirrors Jacobs’ more than is likely to be talked about as well. After taking over as the unquestioned lead back in Houston in Week 3, Pierce has seen opportunity counts of 22, 20, 31, and 24, good for an average of 24.25 running back opportunities per game. Over Jacobs’ last four games, he has averaged 25.5 running back opportunities per game. Jacobs’ 20 targets over that timeframe (after he took on a greater share of the backfield following the injury to Bolden). It’s not talked about much, but Pierce has seen 15 targets over his previous four games. As in, he receives a small bump to a yardage and touchdown role, reducing the number of touchdowns he has to score over a full season to return RB1 numbers.
We know enough about the poor run defense of the Seahawks, and we know enough about Saquon Barkley to understand the spot he finds himself in this week. But what about Walker? What is likely going to go largely overlooked in Kenneth Walker‘s matchup is the fact that the Giants’ run defense has surrendered the third most yards on the ground and third worst expected fantasy points added through run defense, but they rank near league average in fantasy points per game allowed to opposing backfields due to only allowing three rushing scores through seven games. Both backs should be considered top plays at the position this week.
The Vikings have scored 24 to 29 points in each of their last four games, yet Cousins has yet to surpass 300 yards passing or throw for more than two touchdowns in a single game this season. That’s with the Vikings carrying a pass rate expectation at or above league average in all six of their games. Something is going to give at some point here, and what better way to gain exposure to that situation than to stack him up with his tight end? Finally, the Cardinals have locked down opposing WR1s throughout the season through the usage of semi-shadow coverage from Byron Murphy plus strong side safety help. Adam Thielen has played almost every offensive snap this season for the Vikings, running the ninth most routes amongst all wide receivers.
Jalen Hurts (The Chalk)
Hurts has six rushing scores this season, yet only two games with more than 30 fantasy points. I lead with that to highlight his fantasy profile, one that features an inflated floor and lower-than-perception chance at ceiling. That is notable due to the state of the slate for Week 8, where Hurts and Kyler Murray are the only quarterbacks priced above just $6,600 on DraftKings. As such, we can expect Hurts to garner some hefty ownership leading into the weekend. I challenge you to evaluate his fantasy profile on your own this week and determine how you would classify that profile against other chalk on the slate.