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Author’s Note: Every week, millions of people play DFS (daily fantasy sports) in hopes of hitting a big payout. The quickest way to do that is by playing in guaranteed prize pool (GPP) contests, also known simply as DFS “tournaments.” These tournaments mostly pay out top-heavy prize amounts to a handful of players who finish with the highest scores. While there are countless tournaments with different payout structures, the goal remains the same:
Create the perfect lineup.
Or at least something close to it…
Each week we'll take a closer look at some of the top winning DraftKings tournament lineups, and their strategies used to help them finish near the top of their respective leaderboards. We'll also compare winning lineups across tournaments of different field sizes and entry fees on DraftKings. This should give us a solid dea of the top trends and takeaways to implement.
I personally play both tournaments and cash games. Cash games are contests which pay out roughly half of a given field, rather than the top-heavy payout structure in tournaments which we noted above. I usually play between 50-70% of my weekly bankroll on cash games, and in doing so I also generally try to stick to the $5 to $25 single-entry double-ups (the larger the field the better, for me), as well as $1 to $5 head-to-head matchups. These are the cash games that I’ve found to be generally the easiest to win, and it’s where I believe I have the biggest edge, as these smaller-type cash games typically have the most casual (and easier to beat) DFS players.
For my DraftKings tournaments, on the other hand, I tend to stick to the $1 to $12 entry fee range for both single-entry contests and three-max entry contests. Most of these contests contain anywhere from 1,500 people up to sometimes more than 20,000. All in all, I usually between $200-400 per week total combing both cash games and tournaments on DraftKings.
As a quick reminder, there will be plenty of terms that we use throughout this article, so make sure to check out the DFS Glossary of Terms at the bottom of this post for more info on them.
The Week 14 "Perfect Lineup"
First off, let’s compare Week 14’s “Perfect Lineup” to other winning tournament lineups:
When looking at this week’s “perfect lineup,” we see a Trevor Lawrence to Evan Engram “single stack” with no “bring back” player from the Jaguars’ opponent, the Titans. Lawrence and Engram were in a great game environment where the Titans are an extreme pass funnel in that they stop the run very well but can’t stop the pass. They turned out to be great plays because of it. Neither was heavily rostered and both provided a lot of salary relief to be able to jam in a couple of super studs.
The only other correlation came between Jerick McKinnon and Jerry Jeudy. McKinnon was an “out-of-nowhere” play rostered on less than 2% of lineups. Jeudy was more popular but wasn’t chalky by any means. He was stepping into a bigger role with Courtland Sutton out with an injury and the Denver Broncos being huge underdogs.
Playing all of Justin Jefferson, Christian McCaffrey, and the Chiefs D/ST was tough to do in Week 14 tournaments due to their combined cost, but this lineup above made it work by having a very cheap Jerick McKinnon and also salary relief with Chris Moore and Evan Engram. Most winning tournament lineups - and “perfect lineups” for that matter - will typically have more correlation on a given week, but this week was all about paying down at certain positions in order to pay up for the top-scoring WR (Jefferson) and top-scoring D/ST (Chiefs) and the second-highest scoring RB (McCaffrey).
This week, the winning “Milly Maker” DraftKings contest lineup (see above) had six overlapping players with the perfect lineup we referenced and was only 15 points less than perfect. The winning “Slant”, “Huddle”, “Spy” and “Play-Action” contest lineups were a little less “perfect” as they had between three and four overlapping players with the perfect lineup.
To determine how much ownership we should aim for our lineups to have on a given week, we will look at this week’s “cumulative ownership percentages” below from some of the main DraftKings Tournament lineups on this slate.
As the field gets larger (in each tournament), you should aim to get a lower cumulative ownership percentage. This number will give you an idea of how unique your lineup is compared to your opponents, and how you can separate from them in a given week if your lineup does well. When lower-owned players in your lineup (which we often call “leverage” plays) do well, and the chalk played by the majority of your opponents does not do well, these are the weeks when you have a legitimate chance to springboard to the top of the leaderboard of a given contest. Certain lower-owned plays can sometimes be the key to winning a GPP:
The $3 Play-Action (440,392 entries) - 94.1%
The $20 Milly Maker (207,215 entries) - 87.8%
The $9 Slant (26,143 entries) - 119.1%
The $5 Huddle (23,781 entries) - 125.6%
The $100 Spy (4,444 entries) - 81.6%
This week, all of the cumulative ownership dropped compared to last week except for the winning Slant lineup. That one jumped up from 106.7% last week to 119.1% this week. It still wasn’t enough to be above the yearly average as all five winning lineups checked in below their yearly averages. This makes sense since a lot of the chalk busted this week, especially compared to last week.
The winning Spy (see below) lineup was especially contrarian, as it came in about 52% lower than the yearly average. This was (by far) the furthest away from the yearly average among all five winning lineups.
One of the biggest takeaways of this Week 14 slate was that Evan Engram was basically a week winner. He scored 42.20 points and the next closest tight end was David Njoku with 18.70 points. That’s such a huge gap and Engram had such a low roster rate that if you had Engram in a lineup, it’s likely that lineup made at least some money. You could still win a tournament lineup without him, however, due to that low roster rate and that’s why we didn’t see him in all five tournament-winning lineups.
Along with Engram, Miles Sanders and Jerry Jeudy were in four of the five winning lineups. Neither of them was very chalky but both were in the 7-11% roster range. They both were in the perfect lineup as well and were in the mid-range for salary as well which provided a bit of salary relief to use towards studs like Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase.
Speaking of Jefferson and Chase, the former LSU teammates joined Trevor Lawrence, Derrick Henry, and D.J. Chark Jr. as the group of players that were overlapping across three of the winning lineups.
One of the most interesting things that stuck out to me was the fact that Chris Moore didn’t wind up on any of the five winning lineups. He ended up being one of the chalkier salary-saving options on the slate and responded by smashing for 25.4 DraftKings points. He was even in the perfect lineup so it’s extremely surprising to me that he wasn’t in any of the five winning lineups.
The same point can be made for Christian McCaffrey although he was much pricier so it makes a little more sense that people shied away and even those that did may not have played the correct salary-saving pieces along with him to get there in tournaments.
Just like last week, there was only one overlapping quarterback. It turned out to be Trevor Lawrence. This week, however, he was the highest-scoring quarterback on the week and he was only $5,700. He is also correlated to Evan Engram so it made a ton of sense to see him across so many tournament-winning lineups. Despite all this, Lawrence was still only on three of the tournament-winning lineups when realistically he had all the makings of likely being on all five.
This all goes to show that on many weeks, building your lineups around the best wide receiver and best running back plays - and also correlating your stacks around those players - can be the true key to winning.
One of the best ways to play tight end continues to be to either correlate the position into your main stack (i.e. “stacking” Engram with Lawrence), or simply play the best “point per dollar” tight end that best fits after building out the core of your lineup. As previously mentioned, Engram was so much further ahead than all other tight ends so that was a huge key this week.
The other winning lineup had T.J. Hockenson as a standalone play which goes to the point of playing the best point-per-dollar guy that fits into the lineup. He wasn’t a part of any stack or “bring back” so there was no correlation. Hockenson was simply a good play in a great game environment that fit into the build.
Another interesting thing to note is that all five tournament-winning lineups had different DSTs. Not only that, but they were all from different salary ranges as well. Last week we saw the Browns' DST overlap across multiple lineups but that was only because they had a true outlier performance. This week was a more typical DST scoring week which saw DSTs from the high, mid, and low salary levels all be successful.
This point just goes to show what I continue to urge every week: DST should be the last (or least important) piece you fill into your lineup on a weekly basis. Build your lineups around your running back and wide receiver stacks and fill in a DST that fits and makes sense from a point-per-dollar and cumulative ownership perspective while avoiding negative correlation.
DFS Glossary of Terms
Chalk: The most popular plays of the week
Stacking: The process of pairing players from the same team/game
Bring Back: A player from the opposite team of a certain stack in your lineup
Triple Stack: Stacking a quarterback with exactly three of his teammates
Double Stack: Stacking a quarterback with exactly two of his teammates
Skinny Stack: Stacking a quarterback with just one of his teammates
Mini Stack: playing two non-QBs together, either from the same team or opposite teams
Leverage: The players that are directly negatively correlated to the chalk players
Correlation: Players whose outcomes are tied to each other (whether good or bad)
Bankroll: The amount of money you can invest each week in DFS
Fade: To avoid a player (or at least play them less than most people will)
Over/Under Weight: To be more/less heavily invested in a player compared to public
Cash Games: Any contest where the payout is not escalating (double-ups, H2Hs, etc)
GPPs - Guaranteed Prize Pool. These are tournaments with escalating payouts
Cumulative Ownership: The sum of each player’s ownership percentage in a lineup
Product Ownership - The product of each player’s ownership percentage in a lineup
Point Per Dollar: Found by dividing points by salary. Goal is to be at least 3x or higher
By Rob Norton
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