The dynamic game of Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) requires much more than simply knowing the sport for which we're entering contests to be successful. We must be adaptable, precise, and open to learning from previous endeavors, the latter of which will be the primary focus of this weekly written piece. Game Theoretic methodologies will allow us to analyze and dissect the previous week's winner of the largest and most prestigious Guaranteed Prize Pool (GPP) tournament on DraftKings – the Millionaire Maker. These same tenets of Game Theory, which can most simply be explained as the development of decision-making processes given our own skill and knowledge, assumptions of the field based on the cumulative skill and knowledge of others playing the same game, and the rules and structure of the game itself, will allow us to further train our minds to see beyond the antiquated techniques of roster building being employed by a large portion of the field. Approaching improvement through these methods will give us insight into the anatomy of successful rosters and will help us develop repeatably profitable habit patterns for the coming weeks. We'll start by looking at the previous week's winning roster, extract any pertinent lessons for future utilization, and finish with a look ahead towards the coming main slate.
Roster Construction and Salary Allocation
In my Game Theoretic teachings this offseason, I talked about the theoretical concept of Nash equilibrium (named after famed American mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr.), which can most easily be described as a state of balance where one player in a game can't generate expected value over any other player by any means of deviation. I contend that the field is rapidly approaching Nash equilibrium regarding player evaluation and selection, in that the edge of simply identifying the best plays on a given slate is no longer what it used to be. As such, we have to be ahead of the field in identifying different ways to generate expected value through our actions – salary allocation and roster construction are a couple of those ways. Heading into the weekend, the field was telling us (through projected ownership numbers and the composition of the slate) that they were attempting to capture certainty through the running back position on a slate that was more fragile (and riddled with variance) than any other slate this season. That meant that the majority of rosters in play were expected to carry at least one pay-up running back, with most of those likely to hold two pay-up options at the position. The fact that DK user saugust19 utilized multiple options from the mid-range of player pricing at the position fundamentally altered the composition of his or her roster from a salary allocation standpoint, which shrunk the portion of the field they would have to contend with on their way to the top of the leaderboard. That one, simple act gave them access to two of the top three overall point producers on the slate in Tony Pollard and Amari Cooper at extremely low ownership. Finding these unique ways to generate leverage without introducing suboptimal plays is one of the most proven ways to increase our chances of remaining profitable as the field continues to increase their understanding of the game.
Concentration of Touches
One of the most well-known ways to capture top-end ranges of outcomes in DFS is to hunt for teams with a high concentration of expected touches. The most pertinent example of that this week was with the Bengals offense, who were once again playing without their top option in Ja'Marr Chase. Last week, we saw that concentration of touches focus itself onto Joe Mixon, who ended up scoring five touchdowns in what would become the third highest fantasy score of all time. This week, against a Steelers opponent that should be considered one of the most pass-funnel opponents in the league, that concentration manifested itself through Tee Higgins and the pass game. Higgins went on to produce the most receiving yards on the slate on the backs of nine receptions. Another example of a player on this slate not present on the winning roster was Davante Adams in Las Vegas, who ended up overcoming a difficult on-paper matchup on his way to the top overall fantasy score at the wide receiver position, primarily due to the elite concentration of the Raiders' offense.
The primary stack selection of Jacoby Brissett and Amari Cooper ended up becoming the difference maker for saugust19. Instead of immediately writing off that stack as suboptimal variance, were there any indicators that this stack might carry enough upside for GPP viability? I would contend that the answer was a resounding “yes!” Their second half pace of play ranked seventh fastest and their pace of play when trailing by seven or more points ranked third in the league coming into Week 11, which indicates a willingness to open up their offense as they attempt to stay afloat in the AFC until Deshaun Watson returns from suspension. Considering their opponent in the Bills, who were highly likely to control the game environment with their offense, that provided a path for the Browns to increase the aerial aggression to levels higher than their season norms – something that ended up transpiring as they attempted a late comeback in Detroit. Furthermore, no less than six defensive starters were out for the Bills' defense, tying the proverbial bow on everything we look for when identifying potential for fantasy goodness (talent, opportunity, and cost).
Josh Jacobs + Davante Adams (Concentration of Touches // Roster Construction and Salary Allocation)
We've seen this Raiders offense remain extremely concentrated in the absence of both tight end Darren Waller and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, which should continue into Week 12 for a matchup with the Seahawks. Seattle has allowed 24.1 points per game this season and we can capture the majority of the expected fantasy production and touchdown production through the utilization of both Jacobs and Adams. Not only that, but the high combined salary needed to play these two together means we should expect the pairing to come with low combinatorial ownership. Finally, this game opened with the highest game total on a slate largely lacking top-end expected game environments.
Joe Burrow + (Primary Stack // Concentration of Touches)
Cincinnati somewhat quietly ranks third in the league in points per game at 26.5, behind only the Chiefs and Bills. Although their opponent, the Titans, plays at an extremely slow pace with elevated rush rates, they are also one of the most pass-funnel defenses in the league this season (first in DVOA against the run but allow middle of the pack numbers in opponent completion rate, opponent yards per pass attempt, and opponent yards per completion). The matchup combines with the increased concentration of the Bengals' offense to provide an opportunity to gain access to one of the top expected pass offenses on the slate in ways the field is unlikely to utilize based on the modest Vegas game total. All of Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and tight end Hayden Hurst can be considered as viable stacking partners.
Tua Tagovailoa + Tyreek Hill + Jaylen Waddle (Primary Stack // Concentration of Touches)
The Dolphins remain the most concentrated pass offense in the league, yet the field seems to be neglecting that fact through recent ownership numbers. That provides us the opportunity to continue playing one of the top stacks in the league at “lower than should be” ownership, generating intrinsic leverage along the way. Also, I get the feeling that the low overall pass game production allowed by the Texans this season will serve to hold the combined ownership of this stack further in check, but the fact of the matter is the Texans are simply not a good defense from top to bottom. The low overall pass game production allowed isn't a function of their pass defense being above average, it's a function of the Texans facing the most rush attempts against this season. Houston's defense ranks 31st in DVOA against the run and cede the third most yards per carry this season, but also ranks 25th against the pass and allows the third most yards per completion. Since we know the Dolphins are a pass-first team (seventh in pass rate over expectation and 11th in overall pass rate this year), we can be fairly confident that they won't suddenly shift the design of their offense simply because most teams choose to run heavily on the Texans. Finally, Miami ranks sixth in the league in points scored per game at 25.2.
State of the Slate
I alluded to the fact that Week 11's slate was one filled with variance and uncertainty earlier. Looking ahead to Week 12 gives the same macro sense, in that none of the eleven games on the slate currently have a game total over 47.5 points. Furthermore, there are a massive five games with game totals of 43.0 or fewer (typically we only see two to three on a given main slate). That is likely to lead to another slate where the field is forced to hunt for certainty (remember, humans crave stability and the known – we don't like finding ourselves in uncertain situations). As such, we're likely to see more fragile chalk similar to Week 11, meaning we should be open to embracing more variance than the field is likely to be comfortable with. Ask yourself these questions:
- Where are the spots the field is likeliest to look for certainty this week?
- What spots can I be different in that search?
- Can I embrace additional variance in any spots and pay less attention to floor?
- Are there any players that carry extremely wide ranges of outcomes that can put the slate out of reach at low ownership?