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DFS Football 101: How to Play on DraftKings

The advantage of playing on DraftKings is simple: the site's popularity allows it to host a wide variety of contests, including some with massive payouts at the top. The weekly NFL "millionaire maker" is the largest regularly running tournament in the DFS industry, typically containing a prize pool of more than $3 million, including a $1 million prize for first place.

Contest offerings have expanded to include a "Tiers" game and a "Showdown" mode, but the traditional salary-based game still accounts for the vast majority of their business. The setup here is pretty simple: we get $50,000 to fill out a nine-man roster with 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 FLEX (RB/WR/TE) and 1 D/ST. Player salaries generally land in the following ranges: $4,000-7,500 for QB; $3,000-10,000 for RB; $3,000-9,500 for WR; $2,500-7,500 for TE; $2,000-4,000 for D/ST.

Compared to other large DFS sites, player pricing on DraftKings tends to be a bit sharper, quickly responding to role changes in a way that limits the number of obvious bargains. On the other hand, huge price gaps between the top and bottom players can lead to some really stunning values when an injury to a starter initially goes unreported or occurs during a mid-week practice. This is particularly true at running back, where the gap between a starter and his backup can, in some cases, approach $6,000.

DraftKings will raise a backup's price for the next week if the starter in front of him gets injured during a Sunday afternoon game, but there's nothing the site can do if the injury isn't public information until after contests for the following week have opened. Given the otherwise sharp pricing, it's important to jump on these opportunities when they arise — particularly in cash games where you tend to target higher-owned players.

Cash Games vs. Tournaments (GPPs)

The term "cash game" covers a few different types of contests, including head-to-heads, double-ups and 50/50s. What all these games have in common is relatively good odds to make a small amount of money. The goal is simply to create a lineup with the highest mean projection — a.k.a. the one you expect to score the most points — without worrying too much about inter-player correlations or which players will be significantly under-owned by a majority of the field.

In a 50-50, for example, half the participants will receive a payout, with the highest-scoring lineup receiving the same amount of money as a lineup that finished in the 51st percentile. Each prize is a bit less than double the entry fee, as the site takes out a "rake" of 10-15 percent. A double-up contest does exactly what its name implies, but it only pays out 42-46 percent of the field to leave room for the rake.

For those chasing a bigger payday at slimmer odds, large-field tournaments — referred to as Guaranteed Prize Pools (GPPs) — are the way to go. These are the main attractions on DraftKings and most other daily fantasy sites, with descending prize structures that allow for huge rewards in the 99th percentile, though they only pay out to the top 20-25 percent of lineups.

Tournament strategy demands a more risk-tolerant approach, most notably encouraging the use of multiple players from a single real-life game (also known as "game stacking"). With no financial difference between a mediocre lineup and a lousy one, it almost always makes sense to use at least one pass catcher from the same team as your quarterback. There's also a good argument for using a wide receiver or tight end from the other side of that game, hoping to take advantage of a shootout that forces both teams to continue passing throughout the second half. Long story short, we're focused on the upside scenario without giving much thought to the downside if things don't work out.

There's also an element of game theory to tournament strategy, as the relative value of a huge individual performance isn't nearly as big if the player is in a high percentage of our opponents' lineups. While you may not think this is an integral part of the overall DFS strategy, it may be one of the most important aspects when it comes to large-field tournaments.

DraftKings Scoring System

DraftKings scoring is full PPR (point per reception), with 25/10 yardage and 4/6 touchdowns — basically the general standard across the fantasy football industry. However, there is one major difference in the form of three-point bonuses for 300+ passing yards, 100+ rushing yards or 100+ receiving yards. Between the PPR scoring and yardage bonuses, players can put up big point totals without scoring touchdowns. Generally speaking, the format encourages volume hunting over TD hunting, though in many cases those two goals are one and the same.

For example, an 8-110-0 receiving line is worth 22 points on DraftKings compared to 15 points on a half-PPR site without yardage bonuses like FanDuel. A 6-80-1 line would be more valuable on FanDuel (17 points), but it's actually less valuable than the first line on DraftKings (20 points). The relative de-emphasis on touchdowns encourages us to roster high-volume players in bad offenses for our DraftKings lineups, while we might favor a medium-volume player on a better team on FanDuel.

You might have noticed that D/ST scoring doesn't include yards allowed and doesn't account for much of a difference between yielding 14 points or 34. This isn't atypical, but it is a bit of a change for anyone who was weaned on ESPN standard scoring. As is the case on many other fantasy sites, we should focus on defenses with the best chance to pile up takeaways, rather than worrying about points or yards allowed. In practice, this would favor a team like the Rams or Browns over the Vikings or Titans.

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