The DFF DFS Primer

This season, I will be giving you DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) for every Sunday’s main slate. With that being said, it would be difficult to write it every week if I had to derive all this stuff from first principles before I could even touch the individual week at hand. If you are referencing this article for a particular term that you are unaware of, please scroll to the bottom of this article for an appendix of commonly used DFS terms. If there is a term in a future article that you do not understand, please reach out to me on Twitter.

My two favorite forms of fantasy football are so different. Being here at DFF, I love Dynasty. It was my first true love in the fantasy space. Over the years though my passion for DFS has grown. I enjoy how Dynasty is the big picture of the league over the long term while DFS is zoomed in on just what is happening in this one game/day/slate. Instead of drafting players like normal, in Daily Fantasy, we are given a budget, and every player a price. You attempt to build the best roster you can to score the most fantasy points. While there is much more to it than that, at the core, that is all it is. The Sunday main slate is a Classic slate, with a $50,000 budget to build a roster of QB/RB/RB/WR/WR/WR/TE/FLEX/DST. It includes every Sunday game excluding any early game in Europe and the Sunday Night game. 

Bankroll Management

Before we discuss anything further, understand that DFS is a violative form of gambling. I have had weeks where I have gotten 80 times my buy-in and I’ve had months where I was only profitable a handful of times. Even the best players in the world have stretches of losing. So to play for the long term, you have to have good bankroll management skills. I will give you a small primer for it here but I recommend doing more research on this topic. There are a ton of great articles that are only about this subject. 

The rule for beginners is usually some variation of 80/20/10. Where 80% of your buy-in for a slate is dedicated to low-risk cash games (we will explain contest selection soon), 20% for large field tournaments with high upside, and 10% of your total bankroll is used in a given slate/day. For example, if I had a $100 bankroll, I would do $8 in cash games and $2 in large field tournaments. This is just a rule for beginners and a great starting place. I also have to manage my gambling bankroll so I combine them but it means there is more strain on my bankroll. I have found my bankroll usage to be a 50/25/25/5 where I do 50% Head to Heads, 25% DoubleUps or 50/50s, 25% on large field tournaments and use only 5% of my bankroll. You will tweak these numbers to your liking over time, but just be smart and practical unless you want to consistently be putting in more money.

Contest Selection and Strategy

While discussing bankroll management, you have seen me mention things like Head to Heads, DoubleUps, and tournaments. These are different types of contests you can enter your lineups into. Let’s just start with the basics: cash games. Cash Games are not sexy and rarely make you rich unless you have a massive bankroll. If you do a great job making cash lineups, you will keep your bankroll growing even if you have bricked on tournaments for weeks. Cash games also help teach good lineup building for DFS, which is useful for beginning players. Many high-end DFS professionals move away from cash games because high-stakes cash has so many dupes (duplicated lineups) making them frequently a break-even proposition. Still, they are a great way to build your bankroll early in your DFS career. Head to Heads are exactly what they sound like. You build a lineup against another player and whoever scores more points receives 1.8x their buy-in. The 10% taken off the top is referred to as the rake. 50/50s and DoubleUps are fundamentally the same with only minor differences. In a 50/50, you just need your lineup in the top 50% of lineups and you receive 1.8x your buy-in while a DoubleUp requires a higher placing but returns a 2x winning. I prefer 50/50s from a game theory perspective but Draft Kings offers a much better selection of DoubleUp tournaments.

In cash games, you just want to play the obvious good plays on the slate. We refer to these as chalk. They will likely be in a ton of your opposing lineups in cash games but that is okay because you can effectively block them if that player goes off and if they don’t, well everyone else is playing him too. Taking safe, high-volume players is usually the best course of action. High-risk but high-upside players should be avoided in cash games. There is sometimes an exception if a player has too low of a price point. If you want to do well in cash games, find a site or a content creator that gives accurate projections and start looking at which players have the best-projected points per dollar on the slate. Typically a 2.5x of points per $1,000 cost of the player is a good line to look for with 3x being usually considered a smash play.

Now we can talk about the fun part of DFS. Tournament play, commonly referred to as GPPs (Guaranteed Prize Pools), are the tournaments where the big money is won. Prepare yourself though, even good players usually do not cash these. The payout structure in the larger field GPPs is so top-heavy that it requires a unique sort of lineup build. While chalk is something you can use in these tournaments, you need to find ways to make your lineup different in other ways. Also, understand if the chalk you played doesn’t hit, you are completely sunk for the most part. 

In GPP play, we begin to worry about concepts such as field size, ownership, leverage, and correlation. These topics are all different but they are tied together. The first thing you should look at in a GPP is field size. If the field is under 1,000 people, you can play more chalk with a bit of correlation. If a field is 250,000 entries then you need to be finding ways to make your lineup unique and utilize things like low ownership and leverage to give your lineup a chance. Ownership percentage is a great way to make your lineup unique. Simply playing a guy that other players are not. Maybe it’s a QB versus a tough defense or a tight end that nobody is on and he catches a couple of red zone touchdowns to be a massive payoff at his salary. Another way to fight the field is through leverage. There are several different ways to define leverage but the best way to think about it is that you are playing something other than the chalk to specifically combat the people playing said chalk. If everyone is playing sub $6,000 RBs because of the value and you play a $9,800 Derrick Henry and he goes off while the others have just an okay game, you have gained massive leverage. In that same example you could also just play a less popular sub $6,000 RB. Another example can be within the same game. If Everyone is playing Joe Burrow with Ja’Marr Chase and you play Joe Mixon and Mixon scores three rushing touchdowns resulting in Chase and Burrow scoring pedestrian numbers, you now have leverage on the Burrow/Chase stacks.

Speaking of stacks, now we get into correlation. There are a lot of different types of correlations and stacking is the act of putting positively correlated players into a lineup together. The most obvious is QB/WR, but there are more. You can do an RB with their DST, a WR with an opposing WR (which implies a high-scoring game), and more. There are also negative correlations to watch out for, especially if you are playing in a large field tournament. A QB and his RB typically have a negative correlation. There are exceptions such as pass-catching RBs. Sometimes breaking correlation rules can cause you to have a different lineup. On smaller slates, (less than five games) I will sometimes break the “rules” and play a QB against the opposing DST to make my lineup unique. 

For most of my GPP builds, I stick to a formula of the “double stack with a bring back” technique. I am always willing to be flexible on any given slate but this is a good starting place. Take a QB, add two pass catchers of his, then another pass catcher on the other team. If you happen to have the highest-scoring QB on the slate, there is a very good chance that two of his pass catchers also went bananas. Consider that case for a moment though, the highest-scoring games from QBs aren’t from blowouts, they come with the other team providing some scoring as well to force that QB to keep throwing. Looking for high total games is a great starting point but sometimes those stacks are the most popular so be sure to try to find a way to make your build unique. 

I am going to touch on entry limits briefly as well as exposure and MMEs (Mass Multi Entry). These strategies and concepts get extremely detailed and often are for experts only and beyond the scope of what we are discussing today. Typically you should find tournaments with lower entry limits unless you are maxing out and playing with a very large bankroll. You have the highest chance of spiking a tournament with more lineups so you typically want to enter the maximum number of lineups you can for a field. Unless you are using a lineup builder with set rules, the mental load of building even 20 lineups is extremely taxing. If you are playing those types of tournaments though, you will want to take stances on players and have them be a part of a certain percentage of your lineups. This is referred to as your exposure to that player, similar to your Dynasty shares of a player. This is sometimes another form of leverage if you decide to be overweight on a player and that player is part of the optimal build (the build with the maximum points scored on a slate) then you are more likely to have the correct combination of other pieces to reach the top of the leader board and have a massive win. All of this being said, if throwing $15 into the Milli-Maker tournament is exciting and fun for you, by all means, go for it. Understand you may be doing your bankroll a disservice in a lot of cases but fantasy football is supposed to be fun at the end of the day. I find joy in shooting for high EV but I am not you, so you will need to decide what is right for you.

Final Notes

This article has mostly been written for the strategy of a Classic slate from a Draft Kings perspective. Much of this can apply to FanDuel NFL odds and Yahoo as well as Showdown slates with just some more differences. DraftKings is full PPR and has bonuses while FanDuel and Yahoo are half-point PPR with no bonuses. We could talk more and more about that and I am happy to talk about DFS strategy any day of the week. For those in the DFF Discord, please @ me on Sunday mornings if you want any last-minute advice for the upcoming slate. My office hours will be from about an hour before kickoff to 30 minutes before. For those not in the Discord, please sign up for an annual DFF Membership and join us there. You will have access to all the brilliant minds that work for our website and at only $19.99 it is worth every penny. Below I have added more definitions that I may not have discussed in this article but are useful terms in your DFS dictionary. 


Bankroll: The defined amount of cash that is used explicitly for Daily Fantasy, money you could lose.

Bonus: On DraftKings, players receive a bonus of 3 points at any of the following, 100 yards rushing, 100 yards receiving, 300 yards passing. Players can receive multiple bonuses if they reach the threshold in multiple statistics. A QB throwing for 300 yards and rushing for 100 yards for example.

Cash Game: These are your Head-to-Heads, 50/50s, DoubleUps. Contests that you want to maximize projection and have no concern over ownership.

Cash Line: The lowest placing in a field where you receive a payout.

Chalk: The best but also most popular plays of the slates. Great in cash games, to be used selectively in GPPs.

Contrarian: Using a player or stack that is unpopular on the slate to gain leverage or make your lineup unique.

Correlation: Positive correlation implies player A scoring more fantasy points results in player B scoring more fantasy points. For example, a WR and his QB. A negative correlation means player A scoring more fantasy points usually results in player B scoring fewer. For example, a DST scoring a lot of points is usually bad for the opposing QB.

DoubleUps, 50/50s: Fundamentally similar, the difference is the cash line and payout. In a 50/50, the cash line is finishing in the top half but you only receive 1.8x your buy-in. A DoubleUp with give you 2x your buy-in but only the cash line is higher than the normal top 50%. 

Dups (Duplicated Lineups): When other entries in the tournament match your exact lineups. Weeks with obvious chalk plays sometimes are referred to as heavy-dup weeks.

Entry Limit: The number of entries you are allowed to place in a particular tournament.

GPP: Guaranteed Prize Pool. These are typically large field tournaments with payouts weighted heavily near the top.

Late Swap: Strategy of changing out players in the late window. Typically used as a hail mary for lineups that struggled in the early window. 

Leverage: Using players and/or lineup construction to counter popular plays and stacks. 

MME (Mass-Multi Entry): GPPs with the highest entry limits, typically your largest field tournaments.

Punt: Cheap play at a position to allow you to spend up at other positions

Rake: The house cut of the buy-ins by all players.

Slate: The set of games that DFS contests are working with. For example, the Sunday main slate is all the games on Sunday minus the Sunday Night Football game. 

Stacks/Stacking: Stacking players is putting together a lineup of players with positive correlations.

Thanks so much for reading, If you want to discuss more reach me on Twitter, find me @DougHarrelson on there. Also don’t forget to sign up for our Dynasty Football Factory Membership to get all things Dynasty, Redraft, Devy, and IDP. Annual Subscribers also get access to our discord server where you can get access to our entire staff!

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