Last time, we talked about rostering quarterbacks. Today, we’re going to talk about the rest of your offensive players (or most of them) – namely, your running backs, tight ends and wide receivers.
Everyone has their own strategy for building a fantasy football team. That’s how it should be. Sure, reviewing winning team owners’ draft selections under the microscope can provide insight into what works and what doesn’t. But there’s no way you’ll ever know the reasoning behind their draft selections. So don’t try to copy their approach.
Take whatever insight you can glean from their picks and develop your own.
To that end, there’s an art to creating a winning roster. Not only do you need to think about each player’s personal stats, but you also need to take into account match-ups, injuries and whether players are on ground-and-pound teams or teams that focus on passing.
And it gets even more complex when you bear salary in mind. How much is too much to pay when it comes to selecting productive RBs, TEs and WRs? If you would like to try out a new style of game without a salary cap, I recommend DraftPot. They were added to my ‘best fantasy football sites list‘ in NFL 2015 and so far have proven to be a breath of fresh air.
We’re going to go through each of those three positions below. We’ll take a look at how to pick players who increase your odds of cashing based on the type of contest you’re competing in – cash games versus tournaments. Along the way, I’ll point out several things to consider at each position.
Let’s start with running backs.
How To Pick Running Backs
When it comes to running backs, touches (or carries) are the currency of fantasy point production. You want players who touch the ball at least 15 to 20 times per game. The more the merrier.
Of course, it’s always great when one of your RBs manages to evade players on the opposing team and carry the rock 80 yards for a rushing TD. But that doesn’t happen very often. It’s more common for running backs to move the ball a few yards here and a few yards there. The average yards per carry (YPC) for a seasoned RB typically falls between 4 and 6.
Given that average, when it comes to carries, you need volume.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that touches near the end zone are crucial. Offensive teams that get within striking distance often give the ball to their running backs in the hope they’ll get it past the goal line. Every touch is an opportunity to add another TD to your fantasy score.
As a general rule, whether you’re playing in a 50/50 or GPP tournament, look for RBs who get a lot of carries per game.
Running Back Selection: Cash Games
The biggest difference between a cash game and a tournament is how the prize pool is distributed across the field. In a cash game, half of the entrants win. It doesn’t matter if there are 10 team owners or 100. Fifty percent of the field walks away with a piece of the prize pool.
The payout distribution in a tournament is much different. It’s top-heavy. For example, I’m currently looking at an NFL $400K Sunday Night Special at DraftKings. It’s open to 153,300 entrants, 34,355 of whom will earn a cash payout. That’s 22.4% of the field, a far cry from the 50% seen in cash games.
You’ll notice the same thing at FanDuel. Here’s a Week 3 $300K Monday NFL Rush that’s currently open to 68,965 entrants. Only 10,684 will receive a payout.
That’s only 15.5% of the field!
Let’s talk about what that disparity in payout distribution means when it comes to selecting running backs. First, cash games.
Since you only need to place in the top 50%, you want RBs with high floors. That doesn’t mean you have to draft studs. You just need to roster guys who have reasonable rushing stats and get a lot of touches during their games. That could mean adding a low-profile (and low-salary) backup RB to your lineup in the hopes that he gets time in the spotlight when his starter gets injured.
Remember, carries are crucial when it comes to RB selection. And it’s not always necessary to pay for elite players to get them, especially in 50/50s and head-to-heads.
You need to draft 3 running backs at both DraftKings and FanDuel. A common strategy is to draft 1 stud and fill the other 2 slots with value plays. You can actually get away with rostering 3 mid-tier starters if they have good match-ups. The advantage of doing so is that you’ll have more money to spend at quarterback.
Now, what about tournaments?
Running Back Selection: Large-Field Tournaments
In a guaranteed prize pool (GPP) tournament, you need to have a least one running back who consistently produces, game after game. He should have a high floor.
For the other two RB slots, pick guys with a ton of upside. Floor isn’t as important. You want players who have a lot of potential, even if they come with baggage. You’re looking for guys who might have unexpectedly-high production.
Most of them will be ignored by a majority of team owners. That’s good news. The lower their ownership percentages across the field, the better.
How To Pick Tight Ends
This position doesn’t have as big an influence on your lineup’s point production as your QB, RBs and receivers. Occasionally, you’ll see tight ends like New England’s Rob Gronkowski or Washington’s Jordan Reed posting big numbers. But they’re the exceptions. And more importantly, there’s a lot of variance in their production from game to game.
What does that mean when picking tight ends?
Don’t expect to make a ton of points off them. The only time they REALLY produce – and again, it’s hit and miss – is when their teams are within striking distance of the opposing team’s end zone. They’re often the ones who are given the rock to make the TDs.
Tight End Selection: Cash Games
The problem with drafting tight ends for 50/50s and head-to-heads is that the position lacks the 2 critical components you’re looking for: a high floor and low variance.
One way to deal that problem is by picking a tight end who is owned by a large percentage of the field. In other words, follow the pack.
Here’s the logic behind that approach:
The biggest risk in selecting a TE with low ownership is that the variance inherent in that position may put your squad’s fantasy production behind that of other team owners. The likelihood of that happening is relatively high due to the inconsistency at that position.
Why take the chance?
Instead, draft the tight end other team owners are likely to draft. If he has an off night or doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to score, you won’t have to worry about falling behind. Everyone else, or at least a large portion of the field, will be in the same boat.
Tight End Selection: Large-Field Tournaments
There are two things to keep in mind when picking a tight end for a GPP:
First, you need someone with a lot of upside.
Second, some defensive lines have trouble defending against tight ends.
You’re already familiar with the concept of upside in daily fantasy football. Upside reflects how well a player will perform if the stars are in perfect alignment. In other words, what is the greatest number of points he’ll score? What is his ceiling?
The more often a tight end gets his hands on the ball in the red zone, the greater number of opportunities he’ll have to score. That’s critical.
The second point, that certain defensive lines struggle against the tight end position, is also important. Here’s how to use it to your advantage:
Suppose the Giants are playing the Cowboys. The Giants have a dismal track record defending against TEs. That being the case, it might pay off to roster Jason Witten, tight end for the Cowboys. He’s likely to have a productive night against New York.
When rostering tight ends for tournaments, don’t just follow the herd as you might in a cash game. You need an edge, someone who might break out and score a ton of points. Try to find TEs who are favorably matched against their opposing teams and likely to get a lot of red-zone opportunities.
How To Pick Wide Receivers
In terms of variance, this position is almost a polar opposite of the tight end position. Wide receivers tend to post consistent numbers from game to game. As a result, their fantasy point production is highly predictable.
Receptions and touchdowns are the bread and butter of this position. That means a quarterback who prefers to play a ground game is going to hamper his receivers’ point production. If the ball stays in the air for a majority of the game, the receivers will have more opportunities to make receptions and TDs.
Both DraftKings and FanDuel require you to pick 3 receivers for your lineups. As you’d expect, your picks should vary based on whether you’re competing in cash games or tournaments.
Wide Receiver Selection: Cash Games
In a 50/50 or head-to-head, it’s a good idea to fill 2 of your 3 WR slots with studs. With the exception of your quarterback, your receivers will be the ones generating most of your fantasy points. This isn’t the area to pinch pennies.
Assume that other team owners are going to draft at least one elite receiver – players like Antonio Brown, Julio Jones or Larry Fitzgerald. You need a stud who can match their production. Having TWO studs in your lineup will give you an edge over team owners who spent big at other positions and consequently lack the cash to roster a second elite receiver.
Your two cream-of-the-crop pass-catchers will form a high floor at the WR position. Fill the third slot with a lower-salary receiver who is matched favorably with the opposing team’s cornerback. If he doesn’t perform, it won’t matter too much since you already have a high floor at WR thanks to your 2 studs. If he DOES perform, he’ll help you leapfrog over other team owners and finish in the top 50% of the field.
That’s good enough to cash.
Wide Receiver Selection: Large-Field Tournaments
As I mentioned, having a high floor isn’t as important in GPPs. Rostering players with high upside is much more important. How do you do that at this position? By identifying receivers whose quarterbacks are likely to target them throughout the game.
When it comes to drafting receivers, the strategy used for cash games is similar to the one that works in tournaments: pick 2 studs and fill the third slot with a value play.
The difference is in the “quality” of the third pick. Ideally, the player you select will have a mildly-erratic track record – for example, he posts big numbers in some games and barely registers in others. You’re looking for a boom-or-bust player. He should have huge breakout potential, even if his past record is littered with uneven performances.
That’s the kind of inconsistency that wins GPPs.
Fantasy football lineup construction can be as complicated as you want it to be. After all, there’s no shortage of data you can use to make draft picks.
Personally, I like to keep things as simple as possible. I recommend you start with the suggestions above and enter several low-stakes contests. Then, review your results and make changes as needed.
Above all, remember, if you’re not having fun, you’re taking the wrong approach. It’s possible to have a blast playing daily fantasy while learning how to boost your chances of winning cash payouts!