The season is nearly upon us. That means fantasy football is almost all the way back. You've either already drafted your season-long redraft fantasy league, or it is on the horizon this weekend. Of course, we here at NFL Fantasy are excited about seasonal teams, as well. However, we are quite thrilled at the prospect of playing daily fantasy football once again this year.
Daily fantasy (DFS) brings a breath of fresh air to the industry, with an emphasis on the excitement of drafting a new team every week. We all know that the late summer drafts and the thrill of analyzing the weekly matchups are the best part of playing fantasy football. The daily game merges those two together to form the newest wave rocking the fantasy world.
Here in the weekly daily fantasy roundup column, we'll break down everything you need to know to pick the best plays on the site's weekend slate.
Top quarterback plays
The quarterback position can be one of the more predictable in daily fantasy. In general, it's often best to take one of the top players like Cam Newton because their production is so rock solid. However, you'll have to make major sacrifices to get players like that into your lineup. If you want your roster flush with high-end receivers and running backs or one of the top tight ends, you'll need to search for better value at quarterback.
When mining for those value quarterbacks, you're not so much looking at the individual player, but rather the projected game script. You want to pluck passers from the games that project as high-scoring affairs. Even if the value is slightly better, you don't want to pick your DFS quarterback from a game that might end up being a 17-14 contest. The Colts host the Lions in Week 1, and that could be the highest scoring game of the inaugural slate. So Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford are good quarterback targets.
There's also some merit in targeting quarterbacks on teams who will be playing catchup all game. You don't want the passers whose team projects to get blown out that week -- Jay Cutler annually leads people into that trap. Garbage-time volume can be a fluky dance partner. Rather, go for the quarterbacks in close games, but ones that feature plenty of scoring.
Top running back plays
Running back is another position where finding value is quite dependent on game flow. Opportunity is the most important variable to running back scoring, it drives the bus far more than talent.
We know that teams inherently run the ball more when they are winning to salt away the contest. If you aren't paying up for a workhorse, you want to target running backs on teams that project to come away with a victory that week. They'll get plenty of carries, and are the most likely to pop in for a touchdown or two. Lamar Miller, the Texans clear-cut workhorse, will be the lead back in a game Houston is projected to win at home against Chicago. He's an excellent Week 1 lineup anchoring play.
Opportunities to play in the passing game also boost a running backup, even if the site does not award a full point per reception. If a back isn't capable as a pass-catcher they'll lose snaps if their team falls behind. At the same time, a receiving back specialist like a Chris Thompson-type of player can be a value flier in projected shootouts.
Top wide receiver plays
Wide receiver may be the most important position in DFS, as you're often required to select three starters to fill your lineup. As such, this is where I typically like to target the most high-end players. The top wide receivers get peppered with targets and are often attached to good quarterbacks who help them convert the chances into fantasy points. Going after at least one but likely two of the players from the first two tiers at wide receiver can bring the big points.
When looking for value, a similar approach to the quarterback position is advised. You want receivers in high-scoring games, especially in tight shootouts. Matchups are also important to consider. There are always three or four secondaries that consistently allow big daily fantasy days to opposing wide receivers, such as the Steelers and Ravens last season. It makes sense to target ancillary receivers from the offenses facing those defenses.
All in all, your wide receiver targets depend largely on what you want to get out of your lineup. If you're looking for safety, and goals are just to finish in the top half or to best one other user, you want to chase players with a high target volume; think Jarvis Landry. If you thirst for upside to vault you to the top scoring players of the weekend, you may target the players with a bit more variance. You can place a premium on receivers like Tyler Lockett or DeSean Jackson, and roll with the downside hoping for an explosive touchdown.
Top tight end plays
Just as in redraft leagues, tight end is a bit of a mess in daily fantasy. Generally, I go with the famous "Gronk or bust" strategy. I don't mind starting off a lineup with Rob Gronkowski even if it calls for sacrifices at other positions. He has the undeniably rare combination of the highest floor and ceiling at his position. Of course, you can't construct 100 percent of your lineups around Gronk. Jordan Reed and Delanie Walker have the target volume and upside to merit weekly consideration from the second tier.
If you choose to eschew Gronk, the next best approach is grabbing a value tight end with high touchdown upside. Pay attention to the matchups here, as well. Last season, the Saints, Giants and Raiders allowed a flood of points every week to opposing tight ends. Going after athletic or red zone threats in good offenses at the tight end position facing these types of defenses is a good methodology for finding value. Jared Cook and Dwayne Allen will be favorite targets in this vein.
Top defense plays
Similar to what we look for when streaming defenses, we're paying attention to teams we expect to gain a lead and play at home preferably against subpar quarterbacks. When a defense forces an offense into a catchup situation, they increase their chances to get sacks and interceptions which could lead to return touchdowns. Most 10-plus point fantasy defense outings come in situations like that rather than a team who shuts down the opposing offense in a low-scoring affair.
Stack(s) of the week
Stacking is when you play both a quarterback and at least one of his offensive counterparts in the same daily lineup. The objective is to exploit good matchups and favorable passing game scripts and maximize the points scored. If a quarterback projects to score a high amount of fantasy points against a poor secondary in a shootout-type game, his receivers (especially the No. 1 target) will be the mutual beneficiary.
Finding the optimal stack for a given week can vault you to the ranks of top scoring lineups. Every week in the roundup, we'll look at the top combination of a quarterback and wide receiver with a favorable game script and matchup. However, something new we will explore this year comes courtesy of one of the best daily fantasy analyst, Chris Raybon and his Definitive Guide to Stacking where he finds that while stacking a quarterback with his top wide receiver is the most optimal, "the RB1 tends to be the second-best position to pair with a QB because this potentially exposes you to all of an offense's touchdowns in a given game." Intuitively, this makes plenty of sense; you will score the most DFS points if you manage to hoard all of the touchdowns accumulated by a team that explodes offensively in a given week. We'll be on the lookout for any possible applications of Raybon's findings all season in addition to traditional QB1/WR1 stacks. Another aspect we'll look to exploit is "game stacks" where we pluck multiple players from two passing games that face-off that weekend. There's a high correlation between the scoring off opposing quarterbacks and the overall output of their offenses.
Best contrarian plays
Unlike your typical leagues, when competing on a daily fantasy site you go against thousands of other teams. As such, there's some merit to differentiating your lineups from the rest of the field, if your goal is to finish near the top. There are always a few players that the crowd is overlooking for DFS, whether because of their reputation, a narrative or a recent dip in production. Being a contrarian and putting a player like this in your lineup can give you a massive advantage over the field if he hits.
Every week, we'll try to estimate where the field is headed in order to identify some under the radar or overlooked players, and decipher if any proves a good contrarian play.
Best obvious plays
While the strategy is merited, sometimes daily fantasy players can get caught up with being too contrarian. They'll take a player with such small odds of hitting value and eschew a proven commodity who has just as good a chance to put up similar points. Trying to find the hidden value can often lead daily fantasy owners astray from an obvious play.
In the DFS roundup, we'll take a sobering approach to the values of known commodities. We'll look at the guys who are properly valued, but the public is just off of, for one reason or another. Sometimes overthinking can be the death knell to fantasy players, especially those in daily. We spend too much time looking for the hot sleeper and varying up our lineups that we miss on the glaring star staring you in the face. Sometimes Drew Brees at home against the Raiders in Week 1 is the clear best play, rather than scoring the bottom of the available player list. But no more spoilers.
Player to fade
Just like we are always looking for unique plays that others are overlooking, there's also wisdom in identifying players to "fade" aka not use in your lineup that the rest of the public is high on. Perhaps it's a running back like Adrian Peterson who doesn't have a big role in the passing game when the Vikings look like they might get into a negative, play-from-behind game script. Maybe it's a popular receiver who plays against a defense that could take him out schematically like Brandin Cooks against the physical press corners in Oakland. Either way, fading these players will give us a chance to not only diversify our lineups but also avoid potential traps.
My near 100 percent exposure player
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Every week I'll pick one player I'm willing to put in almost all of my DFS lineups that week. This player could be a high-end stud that is in a spot too good to not go all-in on or perhaps a sleeper valued way below what his production projects out as.
Cheat code of the week
We know about value, and sticking with your stars, but every daily fantasy player is dying to know who the one player is that can tilt your lineup. Sometimes it's a well-known player who is absolutely going to explode. On the other hand, it may be a player listed at or near the minimum to bring wild value. When you find those players, you can earn a big advantage by either having the top-scorer of the week or a minimum player that allows you to stock the other positions with elite players. In daily fantasy, we need these metaphorical "cheat codes" to win.