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.
We're actually going to do something different this week and examine the third-place roster. The roster that finished in third in the Milly Maker this week was put in play by none other than Alex Baker, aka Awesemo, and provides us with the opportunity to learn from one of the most profitable DFS players in today's game. The roster in question contained nuance, finesse, leverage, and deep level thought as opposed to some of the more recent rosters we've examined that have seemingly hit the lottery.
If you asked every person in the field to describe what the term “leverage” is, I guarantee the vast majority of responses you would get would describe a “pivot.” Something along the lines of “player X is expected to be highly owned, so I'll move over to player Y.” While not necessarily wrong, that simply scratches the surface of the Game Theoretic principle of leverage. The simplest way I have taught to think about leverage in the past is to utilize “if-then” statements, as are commonly found in computer programming, coding, and robotics. An if-then statement, when applied to NFL DFS, would more specifically address causal factors as opposed to unrelated bets. It goes something like this – “if player X fails, then it is more likely that player Y (or Z, or Y + Z) succeed based game environment, team tendencies, coaching tendencies, concentration of volume, etc.
Awesemo utilized two beautiful examples of one-source leverage, or if-then statements, through the utilization of Mike White + Garrett Wilson and Josh Jacobs. James Robinson was announced as inactive 90-minutes prior to the first wave of kickoffs, igniting a rush to jam in the Jets D/ST and Michael Carter. What was the clearest way for those two entities to fail on this slate (if Michael Carter and the Jets D/ST fail, then ______.)? The answer – if Michael Carter and the Jets D/ST fail, then it is likeliest the Jets are failing to generate turnovers on defense and Mike White and his primary pass-catcher (Garrett Wilson) likely have succeeded. This was a far more likely outcome than the Jets simply failing altogether against a Bears team with a bottom five defense and a one-dimensional offense with Justin Fields out.
As for Josh Jacobs, the concentration in Las Vegas with Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow out of the lineup has meant that the majority of the offensive production for the Raiders has flowed through just two players over the previous month of play – Josh Jacobs and Davante Adams. Furthermore, Kenneth Walker and Davante Adams were expected garner some of the highest ownership at their respective positions this weekend. So, what was the clearest way for those two entities to fail on this slate (if Kenneth Walker and Davante Adams fail, then ______.)? The answer – if Kenneth Walker and Davante Adams fail, then it is likeliest the game environment in the Las Vegas/Seattle game plays out differently than public perception, which was most likely to benefit Josh Jacobs. How quickly people forget that Jacobs has rattled off three consecutive games with more than 30 DK points earlier in the season. Furthermore, eight out of ten games this season that both Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs have been healthy (excluding the “Adams flu game”) have yielded a 30+ DK point game between the two.
Team Stack Amongst Concentration
The Bengals were to be without Ja'Marr Chase and Joe Mixon in Week 12, which left the offense expected to be highly concentrated amongst Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Hayden Hurst, and Samaje Perine. Tyler Boyd and Hayden Hurst hold low aDOT roles in the Cincinnati offense, meaning it is threading an extremely narrow needle for either of them to return a GPP-worthy score, as they would each require heavy volume, efficiency, and multiple scores in order to be viable. That left only Samaje Perine, in a workhorse running back role, and Tee Higgins as the players likeliest to succeed for the Bengals this week. The field already struggles with the premise of including a running back in a team stack with his quarterback and an additional pass-catcher, but can a running back and pass-catcher ever succeed without their quarterback? The answer is a resounding yes, with the caveat being the inclusion of the statement “under the right circumstances.” I would argue those circumstances were present for the Bengals this week. The same could have been said about the Raiders, as we discussed in last week's installment under the “Looking Ahead” section with the mention of Josh Jacobs + Davante Adams. It didn't hit the same way Perine + Higgins did, but this exact thought process is what led me to that recommendation.
Betting on Regression
The prime example of regression to the mean on this slate, and likely across the entire NFL, was Chris Godwin. Five of Godwin's previous seven games saw the veteran wide receiver surpass 10 targets, yet he had scored only one touchdown in that span and had not eclipsed 100 yards receiving a single time. Regression to the mean hit, and hit hard, as Godwin posted a tidy 12/110/1 line on 13 targets against the Browns. It's difficult for the human mind to look past results and project potential, which is one of the mental blocks that holds most DFS players back – and it's not our fault, that is simply a function of human psychology. Humans crave the known, the understood, and stability. It is how humans have evolved to survive. It's literally engrained in our DNA. It takes focused internal training to strip away those barriers. The good news is that the first step is identifying this leak, which we can then work to plug moving forward. I challenge you to start including this dedicated thought in your DFS process moving forward. One of the simplest ways to train the mind away from being results-oriented is to not even pull up the DraftKings app (or website) until your primary research has been complete for a given slate.
Kenny Pickett + Diontae Johnson + George Pickens (All Three Lessons Learned)
Pickett has attempted 38 or more passes in four of his five fully healthy games this season (played half of Week 4 and half of Week 6). Furthemore, the Steelers have run 73 or more offensive plays in each of those five games (for comparison, the NFL average is about 63 players per game, and the Cardinals lead the league with 68.6 plays per game) due to elevated pass rates and an elevated pace of play. Yet, Pickett has thrown for more than 300 yards only once this season and has yet to throw for multiple touchdowns. That dam is going to burst at some point, why can't it happen against the bottom five pass defense of the Falcons? Diontae Johnson holds the highest disparity between expected fantasy points and actual fantasy points amongst qualified wide receivers this season. Finally, Chase Claypool is no longer in town, condensing the expected dispersal of volume for the Pittsburgh pass-catchers. Feel free to bring it back with the primary pass game option from the Falcons, Drake London.
Josh Jacobs + Davante Adams (Team Stack Amongst Concentration)
The dynamic Las Vegas duo makes another appearance in this space, and they will continue to offer a path to immense upside until Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow return from the injured reserve. Waller and Renfrow are not eligible to be activated off injured reserve until Week 14 against the Rams, giving us one more opportunity to stack these two up in one of the top expected game environments of the week. Feel free to run them naked (without a correlated bring-back from the opposing team) or include one of Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, or Josh Palmer, dependent on the status of Mike Williams.
George Kittle (Betting on Regression)
Kittle currently sits at second in the league in snap share and fifth in the league in route participation rate, but just 17th in routes run amongst tight ends. The 49ers have not played a single shootout-style game while Kittle has been healthy, losing only three games since Week 3 (Week 3 11-10 loss to Denver, Week 6 14-28 loss to Atlanta, and Week 7 23-44 loss to Kansas City). In the latter two games, Kittle saw a combined 19 targets. Miami is one of the few teams that can push the 49ers into increased aerial aggression and their defense also blitzes at a top-eight rate, opening up susceptibility to opposing tight ends behind the blitz. Everything sets up for Kittle to see one of his highest volume games of the season, and we know what he can do when he sees volume.