DFS Football 101: A Winner's Guide to NFL DFS

DFS Football 101: A Winner's Guide to NFL DFS

This article is part of our DFS Football 101 series.

One-week fantasy football has grown in popularity the last few years, especially with the large-prize live finals offering $1 million to the winner. It has grown to the point where DraftKings awarded $1 million to the winner in its Millionaire Maker almost every week.

The two main one-week fantasy football sites are FanDuel and DraftKings. Each offers a unique game in a salary cap format. The great thing about one-week fantasy football is getting to draft a new team every week and not having to worry about injured players, draft busts or executing a bad trade.



Salary Cap: $60,000
Roster: QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, TE, K, D
Unique Wrinkles: 0.5 points per reception, kickers


Salary Cap: $50,000
Roster: QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, TE, D, Flex
Unique Wrinkles: 1 point per reception, 3 points for 300 yards passing, 3 points for 100 yards rushing/receiving, flex position, no kickers, ability to late swap players in/out until their games start

But how do you win?

Here's a breakdown of scores to target for heads-up, double-ups and tournaments. Later, we'll look at individual strategies to implement on both FanDuel and DraftKings based on each site's unique scoring system and roster format.

Tournaments (top 20% cash)150180
Tournaments (1st place)180200


There are two types of "cash" contests in one-week fantasy football – heads-up and double-ups (50/50s are similar in strategy to double-ups). In heads-up, you play one opponent; in double-ups, you play a larger field of opponents and the top 50 percent win double their entry free.

These are referred to as cash games because the win rate is 50 percent and they're the best way to build your bankroll. Tournaments are different than cash games in that they have 100-plus entrants and less than 25 percent of the field is paid.

Because there are only 16 games per team in an NFL season, the sample sizes we have to work with are not large, but we can still draw conclusions as to the best players.

The best measure is found by applying the standard deviation to fantasy points per game. This can be done simply in Excel by using weekly player point totals. Standard deviation then measures how spread out those numbers are.

For example, last season on FanDuel, Drew Brees averaged 20.03 points per game, with a high of 30.28 and a low of 12.64. His standard deviation was 5.64, which is extremely low.

For cash games, target players, like Brees last year, who are consistent week in and week out with a steady floor of points. The key to winning these contests is compiling a balanced roster to hit the target points (120 on FanDuel, 150 on DraftKings, see above).

We can compare this to Ben Roethlisberger, who was the best tournament quarterback in 2014 based on his point-per-game average and standard deviation. His average score was 19.69, with a high of 44.78 and a low of 7.68 for a standard deviation of 9.88.

Why is this important? Well, in a tournament you want players with the highest ceiling (potential score).

After crunching the 2014 numbers, these were the best players for cash games (steady floor) and tournaments (highest ceilings) last year:


Drew BreesDeMarco MurrayMike WallaceDwayne AllenTexansMatt Prater
Tony RomoLamar MillerRoddy WhiteGreg OlsenRavensCaleb Sturgis
Carson PalmerMark IngramRandall CobbMartellus BennettCowboysShaun Suisham
Jay CutlerAhmad BradshawAlshon Jeffery
Matt RyanAlfred MorrisAnquan Boldin
Justin ForsettGolden Tate


Ben RoethlisbergerC.J. AndersonCalvin JohnsonJulius ThomasRamsConnor Barth
Russell WilsonLe'Veon BellOdell Beckham Jr.Antonio GatesPackersJosh Brown
Tom BradyMarshawn LynchDemaryius ThomasJimmy GrahamPanthersMatt Bryant
Andrew LuckMatt AsiataJeremy Maclin
Cam NewtonJamaal CharlesJulio Jones
Tre MasonDeAndre Hopkins


TOP 20%
QB 202630

TOP 20%

Average Points Per Game and Standard Deviation by Position

K 8.04.4



Based on points per game and standard deviation, it makes sense to pay up for QB, RB, WR on FanDuel and look for the best values at TE, D, K.

The average scores for each position show how QB is more important on FanDuel and less important on DraftKings. Also, the one point-per-reception and yardage bonuses on DraftKings play a huge factor in spending more on WR and using a WR as a flex.

DraftKings has more of a spread between its low and high prices at each position, meaning value plays should be more emphasized to allow you to squeeze those higher-priced players under the salary cap.

Salary Ranges by Position

QB$4,700 - 10,400$5,000 - 10,100
RB$4,500 - 9,800$3,000 - 10,100
WR$4,500 - 9,400$3,000 - 9,600
TE$4,500 - 8,600$3,000 - 8,000
DEF$4,500 - 5,800$1,500 - 4,400
K$4,500 - 5,600


Cash Games

1. Pay the higher price for quarterbacks and running backs; target elite players at each position

2. Target running backs who catch passes

3. Spend up on at least one running back and look for a value running back who gets volume

4. Use a running back or wide receiver as the flex (DraftKings)

5. Target value at tight end, defense and kicker

6. Spread risk by picking only one player per team and no more than two players per game

7. Use wide receivers who see volume, especially on DraftKings because of 1-point per reception

8. Look to distribute salary cap as evenly as possible for wide receivers; i.e. three receivers in the $7,000-$8,000 range on FanDuel

9. Target a defense at home, favored by at least seven points, with a projected game total of fewer than 44 points

10. Target a kicker in a game where the point spread is three or less with the highest total on the board; i.e., a close game where field-goal attempts will be higher


1. Target value at quarterback and running back

2. Spend up at wide receiver because the position has the highest ceiling

3. Pair a quarterback with at least one wide receiver or tight end

4. Look to pair one wide receiver from the same game on both teams; e.g., Dez Bryant/Julio Jones when the Cowboys play the Falcons

5. Use a wide receiver as the flex (DraftKings)

6. Target value by taking the cheapest players against teams with the most fantasy points allowed by position; e.g., bargain TE vs. Cardinals last year

7. Spend up for a star player coming off a bad week due to matchup

8. Take the cheapest defense facing a bad quarterback

9. Lean toward players at home and indoors

10. Take the cheapest kicker facing a tough defense for more field-goal opportunities

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Michael Rathburn plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: FanDuel: burnnotice, DraftKings: burnnotice, Yahoo: burnnotice, Fantasy Aces: burnnotice, FantasyDraft: burnnotice.
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Michael Rathburn
Known as “Rath” in the Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) community, he has helped run operations for two prominent daily fantasy sports startups. Michael has taken his insider knowledge and expertise in daily fantasy sports to the content side. Rath won the 2016 FSWA "Baseball Article of the Year, Online" award and was a finalist for the FSWA Best Baseball Series in 2011.
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