How To Master The Salary Cap In Daily Fantasy Football Contests
You already know how a salary cap works in daily fantasy sports. (If not, read this quick salary cap tutorial.) What you may not fully realize it that there’s a lot of skill involved with making it work for you.
That’s especially true when it comes to daily fantasy football. There’s a lot riding on each position, so you have to be smart about where you spend your money.
You obviously want to maximize point production. But doing so takes finesse. It also takes a certain aptitude. You need to understand the type of contest you’re playing and have insight into how each position will influence your lineup’s final score.
We’ll flesh out these concepts below. We’ll start by looking at draft strategy for both small and large-field events. Then, we’ll break down the draft by position for both types of contests.
Crushing The Daily Fantasy NFL Draft For Small-Field Events
Small-field events include 50/50s, head-to-heads, 10-player leagues, and basically any contest with fewer than 100 entrants. (There’s a lot of wiggle room in that definition, but it’ll suffice for this tutorial.) Your draft strategy in these contests should differ from the one you use in larger events.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: lock in points that you can count on. This isn’t the time to bet on long shots. Instead, you want to draft players who are “sure things.” Barring major injuries or an uncharacteristically bad night, they’ll generate a predictable number of points.
Why is it so important to lock in points when you’re playing small fantasy football contests? Because a big chunk of the field is going to get paid. In addition, certain formats – for example, 50/50s (i.e. double-ups) – use a relatively flat payout schedule. You’ll get paid the same whether you finish in first place or just above the halfway point (for example, 25th in a 50-player contest).
Here’s the takeaway: in small-field events, you just need to generate enough points to land in a cash position. That being the case, focus on putting together a stable lineup you can bank on for point production.
Where To Focus Your Draft Budget In Large-Field Events
Large-field fantasy football contests generally involve more than 100 entrants (and usually a lot more). We’re usually talking about guaranteed prize pool (GPP) tournaments. Hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of people competing for large cash prizes. A good example is the NFL Sunday Million at DraftKings. More than 5,500 people can enter for a chance to win a piece of a $1 million prize pool.
Here’s a good rule of thumb for tournaments: you need a quarterback who will score more points than you can reasonably expect him to score. Why? Because a stable lineup that performs well in a 50/50 is unlikely to put you in a high enough position to cash in a GPP.
The most important thing to remember about large daily fantasy NFL tournaments is that the payout schedule is lopsided. It’s top-heavy with most of the cash going to the top-ranked players. For example, take a look at the payout schedule for DraftKings’ NFL Sunday Million:
1st place – $100,000
2nd place – $50,000
3rd place – $25,000
4th place – $15,000
5th place – $12,500
6th through 10th place – $10,000
Now $10,000 is a fair chunk of change. But assuming the contest fills to capacity (5,555 entrants), you’d need to finish in the top 0.2% of the field to earn it.
You can still cash by finishing in 1,000th place. But you’d only receive $400, exactly double the contest’s entry fee ($200). And even then, you’d need to outscore approximately 80% of the field to get paid.
That’s the reason you need a QB who logs a ton of points. Without those points, it’s going to be tough to cash.
Daily Fantasy Football Draft Tips By Position
Now that we’ve talked about basic draft strategies for daily fantasy football from a bird’s-eye level, let’s focus on each position in your lineup. Below, you’ll find tips for drafting players in both small and large-field contests.
- Quarterback – If you’re playing in a double-up or small league, you need a productive QB you can count on to deliver. That means drafting a star like Manning, Brees, or Stafford. They come with high salaries, so you may be tempted to pick a less costly alternative. Don’t. Your competition is almost guaranteed to add one of these QBs to their rosters. Do the same. This isn’t the time to be a contrarian.
If you’re competing in a GPP, you’ll need to take a bigger risk. Draft a quarterback who has a respectable track record, but lacks the star status and huge salaries of Brees and Manning. Essentially, you’re hoping to pick up a value play who overproduces.
You only get to draft one QB for your roster. Make your pick count.
- Running Back – As a rule, your running backs are going to score more points than your wide receivers. Whether they’re rushing, catching passes, or making touchdowns, they’re producing.
Both DraftKings and FanDuel give you two RB slots to fill. In a small contest, fill one slot with a “guaranteed” point machine. Fill the other slot with a riskier and less costly choice, someone who has been less productive during the season, but might have a phenomenal night. You’ll depend on the first running back to produce. You’ll hope the second running back does the same.
This approach also works well in tournaments. Draft one point-producing machine and one value play. With the latter, look for an RB who’s scheduled to play against a particularly weak defense. With luck, he’ll blow up and score a significant stack of points.
- Wide Receiver – Your receivers are workhorses. They score points by catching passes, running yards, and making touchdowns. Along with your quarterback, a productive WR can form the backbone of your entire lineup. It’s not unusual to see guys like Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, and Josh Gordon catch pass after pass, racking up points with each completion.
You have three WR slots to fill in your daily fantasy football lineup. If you’re playing in a 50/50 or head-to-head, pick at least one receiver who consistently scores a large number of points in each game. Proven talent doesn’t come cheap. Expect to pay a premium for him.
Fill the second slot with a value play. Choose someone like Terrance Williams or Jarrett Boykin. Both guys are young and primed to explode. Both also come with lower salaries than the studs. If they fail to produce, at least you won’t have wasted a lot of money.
Fill the third slot with a receiver who has been a asset to his team in the past, but for whatever reason has been discounted (i.e. has a low salary). You’re basically hoping that he’ll turn in a surprisingly good performance.
If you’re competing in a large-field tournament, fill two of your three WR slots with point machines. You need receivers who are going to produce. Fill the third slot with someone who has an uneven track record – and thus, a relatively low salary – but has occasionally delivered a terrific performance. You’re hoping to buy “cheap” points.
- Tight End – Tight ends are sort of an anomaly. They serve as both receivers and blockers. At first, you might think to yourself, “Great! Versatility means more opportunities to score points.”
But not so fast.
It’s difficult to forecast how tight ends will perform on any given night. First, they suffer a lot of injuries. Second, they seldom log a huge number of points compared to your QB, running backs, and receivers. That’s not to say that your TE won’t blow up. But you don’t want to count on that happening.
You only have one TE slot to fill. If you’re competing in a small-field fantasy football contest, fill it with a low-salary player who comes with a reasonably good track record. Charles Clay is a good example.
If you’re playing in a tournament, look for a sleeper. You want a low-salary player who is “off the radar,” but could blow up at any time. At the moment, Garrett Graham and Ladarius Green look promising.
- Kicker – DraftKings no longer has a kicker on the line-up requirements, FanDuel does. One of the reasons I’ve left him for last is because he’s less important than your other players with regard to point production. It’s virtually impossible to predict the number of points your kicker will score on a given night. That being the case, it’s hard to justify paying a huge salary for him.
Whether you’re competing in a 50/50 or GPP, be frugal when you draft a kicker. If your offensive players get pummeled to the point that they’re limited to field goals, even a mediocre kicker should do reasonably well. There’s no point in spending good money on a position where talent is overpriced.
Think of the draft strategies outlined above as guidelines. They’re not rules. You’ll find that there are plenty of exceptions to every suggestion. The most important thing is to have fun while coming up with a strategy that works for you. That takes experience.