The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Introducing RotoAcademy: A Fantasy Football School

I’m very excited to announce that I just launched RotoAcademy. RotoAcademy is a fantasy football training school built around a monthly newsletter that helps owners become elite.

Each month, those who enroll in RotoAcademy will receive a book-length PDF containing written, video, and audio fantasy football lessons developed by the world’s top players. RotoAcademy is a must-have educational tool for any serious fantasy football owner. Based around a scientific, mathematical approach to fantasy football, RotoAcademy will fundamentally change the way you approach the game. Want to learn more?

Feel free to download four free RotoAcademy lessons right here. I’m really pumped about this site and I’m confident you’ll find it of incredible value. Enroll today for the best rate.

By Jonathan Bales

Fantasy Fix Podcast + Week 15 Values

I jumped on the RotoGrinders Fantasy Fix podcast with Dan Back, and we talked about my new daily fantasy book and some Week 15 values. Give it a listen right here.

At 4for4, I posted optimal values for DraftKings:

QB Kirk Cousins @ATL $5400

Is everyone on the entire site going to be playing Cousins? Maybe, but I’ll be one of them. If you’re playing multiple tournament lineups, you can diversify a bit just to hedge, but the idea that you need to go against the grain just for the sake of being contrarian is silly. You should bypass players you know will be highly owned only when there’s comparable value.

Cousins costs $100 less than Matt Flynn. He’s an unknown, but he’s been efficient in his limited NFL work and he has an enticing matchup. With Pierre Garcon as one of the top wide receiver values, the Cousins-Garcon connection makes for perhaps the top DraftKings stack, and one that will allow for plenty of flexibility elsewhere.

 

RB Le’Veon Bell vs. CIN $6200

Chris Ogabannaya is a popular choice right now, but I don’t think he’s going to see the necessary workload to give you a legitimate return. It’s difficult to find low-priced running backs with sizeable workloads when there aren’t injuries. We had Joique Bell and Marcel Reece last week, so keep an eye out for late-game scratches.

As of now, though, the most favorable price-workload combo player is probably Le’Veon Bell. At $6200, he’s a mid-tier option, not a bottom-dweller, but the other backs in that range either don’t have comparable projected workloads or they have much worse matchups.

Bell’s matchup isn’t ideal, but that’s priced into his salary. He’s been producing as a receiver lately with 12 catches in the Steelers’ past two games.

And for FanDuel:

WR Torrey Smith @DET $6000

I love Smith as a tournament play because of his big-play ability. Averaging 17.5 YPC this year, Smith is now finding the end zone with a touchdown in three of the past five games. He has four games with at least 10 targets and three with at least 12. Is he a risk? Yes. Don’t put him into your head-to-head leagues, but Smith is an awesome tournament play with a great matchup, especially at his FanDuel price tag.

 

TE Jimmy Graham @STL $8200

Sometimes, the best players to use in tournaments are studs with poor matchups. Players like Graham and Charles can go off no matter who they’re playing. But when they have unfavorable matchups, they aren’t as heavily owned as normal.

Graham is facing a Rams defense that 4for4 has rated as the fourth-stingiest against tight ends. Playing indoors, though, the potential for the Brees-Graham connection is other-worldly. Regardless of his cost—which isn’t unreasonable on FanDuel, which traditionally underprices elite players—you aren’t going to come close to matching Graham’s upside, especially with Rob Gronkowski out for the year.

In my Staking Bales Week 15 article, I looked at some high-floor plays:

QB Tony Romo vs. GB

If you’re going elite at quarterback, I don’t think you can get any safer than Matthew Stafford. That’s the direction I’d head—even over Drew Brees—in many head-to-head leagues. There’s value in his incredible consistency.

If you’re spending a little bit less on a quarterback, though, I think Romo is about as safe as anyone in his price range. It’s popular to argue that Romo is a volatile quarterback just waiting to blow up, but theCowboys have really changed their offensive philosophy this year such that Romo isn’t taking many chances. He has 27 touchdowns to only seven picks.

The downside is that he’s not necessarily the same high-upside play he used to be. His efficiency is down because he’s playing too conservatively—bad for the Cowboys, but good for you if you need a high-floor passer.

 

RB Matt Forte @CLE

Running back is a position at which you often need to pay up for a high floor since their production is so closely linked to their workload and low-priced backs rarely see many carries. The exception, as we saw last week with Marcel Reece and Joique Bell, is when there’s an injury to a starter. Those are highly advantageous situations you always need to monitor on game day.

Otherwise, I think you need to look for pass-catching backs in heads-up leagues. Backs who can contribute as receivers aren’t as susceptible to unfavorable game situations, so they’re less volatile on a week-to-week basis.

Forte, who has at least 16 carries in the Bears’ past eight games with 38 catches over that stretch, is one of those players.

By Jonathan Bales

A bunch of fantasy football articles for you to read now

As I’ve mentioned, I recently released Fantasy Football (and Baseball) for Smart People: How to Turn Your Hobby into a Fortune. I’ve been doing a bunch of guest posts to promote it:

At the New York Times, I discussed some Week 15 flex plays:

Week 15 Flex Plays

With season-long owners now in the playoffs and likely to be facing head-to-head matchups, most should be coveting safety — high-floor players who will “guarantee” a certain level of production.

In daily leagues, you should be seeking low-variance players when in head-to-head games (or other small leagues that require safe play). The following are flex options who make for excellent season-long options and also offer value on DraftKings:

Running Back: Rashad Jennings (OAK) vs. Kansas City (DraftKings: $6,000;DraftStreet: $8,468; FanDuel: $7,000) — There are a lot of question marks surrounding Jennings right now. He didn’t play on Sunday, but the Raiders have already said he’ll be the starter in Week 15.

The bigger issue with Jennings is that the Raiders play the Chiefs. That sounds like a horrible matchup and will scare people away, but Kansas City’s run defense is not unbeatable. Actually, the Chiefs rank seventh-worst in yards-per-carry allowed.

Jennings might not be the best high-upside play, but his heavy projected workload in a matchup that’s of average difficulty makes him a surprisingly safe play.

Wide Receiver: Torrey Smith (BAL) vs. Detroit (DraftKings: $6,300; DraftStreet: $10,017; FanDuel: $6,000) — Smith had just one reception in a good matchup in Week 14, but the game was also played in poor weather. Smith thrives on big plays and the Ravens couldn’t generate any in the elements last week, but they play inside against the Lions in Week 15.

With 55 catches and 963 yards in 2013, Smith should have more than four touchdowns, especially because he’s big enough to be a relevant red zone player. In a friendly matchup, consider Smith a high-upside flex play this weekend.

Tight End: Vernon Davis (SF) vs. Tampa Bay (DraftKings: $5,100; DraftStreet: $9,944; FanDuel: $6,100) — In daily fantasy, you can start a tight end in the flex because they have cheap salaries. Spending on Jimmy Graham at tight end and then pairing him with Davis in the flex is a legitimate strategy. To give you an idea of Davis’s value, consider that his salary is less than Cordarrelle Patterson’s and Tavon Austin’s on DraftKings, and just $100 more than Aaron Dobson.

Again, the numbers suggest that tight ends might not be the best plays for safety over the long run, but a Graham-Davis combination could provide enough upside (and be cheap enough to allow for flexibility elsewhere) to win a big tournament in Week 15.

At Business Insider, I talked about the importance of “stacking” in daily fantasy tournaments:

In tournaments, a mediocre score isn’t going to do you much good. You need greatness, so median player projections are basically worthless. You must know each player’s ceiling — the maximum possible points he could score — and how likely he is to reach that ceiling.

One way to do that is to understand position and individual stat consistency numbers. If you know that there’s a more linear relationship between running back points and their salaries than there is between wide receiver points and their salaries, for example, that can be used in all different league types.

Unlike in head-to-head leagues, though, you actually want to seek volatility in tournaments. You want those boom-or-bust players in your lineup — the wide receiver who could give you next to nothing or could explode for 150 yards and two touchdowns.

If you examine the NFL consistency stats from the previous chapter, you’ll find that top wide receivers are far less consistent than running backs from week to week. That means wide receivers’ points tend to come in bunches — there’s a pretty big deviation between their best weeks and worst weeks — so they’ll typically have higher ceilings (relative to their average level of production) than the backs.

For tournaments, qualifiers, and other large-field leagues that pay out a relatively small portion of entrants, you should sacrifice stability and consistency for volatility. That means spending for elite wide receivers saving at running back.

Stacking the Deck

If upside is what you crave, the manner in which you structure your lineups will be of the utmost importance to you. Namely, you want to create dependent relationships within your lineup — situations through which the superiority of one player increases the probability of another player (or multiple players) producing for you.

When you enter a big tournament that pays out a small percentage of entrants, it doesn’t matter if you have a score in the 30th percentile — you need great, not just good — so your goal should really be to shoot for the moon. That will increase the ceiling of your team. The act of pairing teammates to increase upside is known as “stacking” in the world of daily fantasy sports.

When playing daily fantasy football, you can increase upside by pairing your quarterback with one of his receivers. If the quarterback has a big day, which is pretty much a prerequisite for taking down a tourney, it’s highly likely that your pass-catcher will produce as well.

At rotoViz, I discussed some of my favorite tournament plays this week:

QB Andy Dalton @PIT $6400

Coming off of a big performance in Week 14, you’d think Dalton’s salary would jump. At $6400, though, he’s just the 22nd-priciest quarterback on DraftKings. He also has a nice matchup in Pittsburgh (but just monitor the weather situation). Plus, the data suggests going low at quarterback in tournaments is the right move, assuming the value is there.

 

RB Rashad Jennings vs. KC $6000

Like quarterback, running back is a position at which bargain bin players have led to tournament success. Jennings isn’t unbelievably cheap, but he’s still priced as a low-end RB2. In that range, you’re not going to find many players with the same expected workload. The Raiders have said Jennings, who missed Week 14, will resume his normal duties.

If the matchup scares you away, look again. The Chiefs have the seventh-least efficient run defense in the NFL. The only worry is that Oakland will get down big early, but Jennings is versatile enough to still give you production as a receiver.

 

WR A.J. Green @PIT $8100

The data suggests that pairing an elite wide receiver with a low-priced quarterback on his team is the way to go in large-field leagues. Green is the fifth-priciest receiver on DraftKings.

Another QB-WR stack to jump on? Tony Romo to Dez Bryant.

 

TE Jimmy Graham @STL $7500

At $7,500, Graham costs 23.0 percent more than the second most expensive tight end. Over the long-run, though, I think he’ll more than make up for that difference in price. DraftKings typically underprices their elite players just a tad, especially at tight end. Go with either Graham or Vernon Davis in your GPPs and don’t look back.

More to come. You can buy the book in paperbackon Kindle, or as a PDF.

By Jonathan Bales

New Book Published on Amazon & Week 14 Values

My new book on daily fantasy sports, Fantasy Football (and Baseball) for Smart People, is now available on Amazon. You can buy it in paperback, on Kindle, or as a PDF on my site FantasyFootballDrafting.com.

At 4for4, I posted a sample from the book:

For the most part, daily fantasy players don’t pay much for kickers. Amateurs and pros alike understand that it’s usually senseless to pay top-dollar for a position that’s not consistent from week to week. It doesn’t matter how many points a player scores and it doesn’t matter how scarce those points are if you can’t predict his performance.

We all seem to intuitively know that we shouldn’t pay for kickers, but few people extend this argument to the other positions. In leagues in which safety is the name of the game, there should be a strong positive correlation between the percentage of cap space you’re willing to spend on a player and your ability to accurately project his performance.

It’s not like any of the skill positions are unpredictable in the same way as kickers, but there’s still varying degrees of predictability. Those should undoubtedly have an influence on your decision-making. All other things equal, you could maximize your team’s long-term floor by allocating a higher percentage of the cap to the safest players.

In my first book on daily fantasy, I calculated the consistency of each position. I’m going to use the same methodology here, but with updated results. To obtain the numbers, I looked at the top fantasy scorers over the past four years. They are the players who would typically cost the most money on daily fantasy sites.

I charted the number of “startable” weeks for the players at each position. A “startable” week was defined as finishing in the top 33 percent at the position (among the top 30 quarterbacks, tight ends, defenses, and kickers and the top 75 running backs and wide receivers).

You can see that running backs have been by far the most consistent position, with the best of the bunch giving you a top 10 performance 67.0 percent of the time. Quarterbacks aren’t far behind at 61.1 percent, but no other position is close.

When you think about it, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Consider the number of opportunities each position has per game. For quarterbacks, it might be 35 attempts. For top running backs, it’s in the range of 15 to 25 touches.

Meanwhile, wide receivers and tight ends might be lucky to see 10 targets in a game, and it’s often much fewer. Just based on those numbers alone, you’d expect quarterbacks and running backs to be more consistent, and thus more predictable. It’s like asking if a baseball player will come closer to hitting at his career average after five games or after 20 games; there’s just no contest.

Taking it a step further, I analyzed the percentage of “top-tier” weeks turned in by each position. I defined “top-tier” as a top two finish for quarterbacks, tight ends, kickers, and defenses or a top five finish for running backs and wide receivers (the top 6.7 percent for each position).

Again, no contest. Quarterbacks and running backs are just far more consistent on a week-to-week basis than all other positions. When you’re paying for reliability, you should start with the quarterback and running back positions.

I also did a Week 14 Google Hangout with Josh Moore.

By Jonathan Bales

Fantasy Football: Week 13 Values

At 4for4, I posted results from Staking Bales, and I also provided some Week 13 Thanksgiving value plays:

You guys wanna hear a funny story? I had Josh Gordon in 75 percent of my lineups on Sunday morning, then took him out of every single one before kickoff.

Because of the wind.

I’m doing some research on wind speeds for my book and I’ve found that when the wind approaches 20 mph, passing production drops to 82 percent of what it is when the wind is below 5 mph. So I did some research, uncovered what I thought was a competitive advantage, implemented it, and lost hundreds of dollars.

BUT, not really. See, the same reasoning that led me to fade Gordon got me off of Victor Cruz and Wes Welker. It also led me to target Josh McCownColin Kaepernick, and Anquan Boldin.

Because of that, I had a pretty poor week heads-up but a profitable week in tourneys. Here’s how it broke down by site.

Site Start Finish Net
FanDuel 1370.78 1345.58 -25.20
DraftKings 199.60 271.10 71.50
StarStreet 371.21 328.53 -42.68
DraftDay 148.54 157.22 8.68
+12.30

 

Week 13 DraftKings Values

QB Matthew Stafford vs. GB $9,400

Is Stafford great value at $9,400? Hell no, but you have six quarterbacks you can theoretically choose. In my opinion, the pool is really just two—Stafford or Tony Romo. Stafford is $1,700 more expensive, but he’s also safer with higher upside.

And if you read last week’s article on thinking probabilistically, you know Stafford is a favorite of mine. Take the sure points.

 

RB Le’Veon Bell @BAL $6,000

There are better values than Bell, including Rashad Jennings at $100 cheaper, but here’s the thing…if you’re playing a Thanksgiving tournament, you’re going to need to diversify your lineup from the pack in some way. Jennings and perhaps Eddie Lacy are going to be very highly owned, but that might not be the case for Bell.

First, he’s kind of a boring back right now. Second, he has a difficult matchup against a Ravens defense that has allowed the sixth-fewest points to running backs. But there’s no good reason to think that Bell won’t see 20 carries and catch at least three passes, so he’s a decent bet for 100 total yards and a touchdown.

By Jonathan Bales

Fantasy Football: Probabilistic Thinking and Week 12

At 4for4, I wrote about a new way to look at fantasy football value:

Every weekend, my brothers (who play daily fantasy) call me and ask who I think is going to have a big game that week, and I answer the same thing:

“Players X, Y, and Z, but just watch out for their salary. They only have value at a certain price.”

And that’s definitely true. Daily fantasy football—especially a heads-up league—is all about finding value. You want as many projected points as possible for each dollar that you spend.

But there’s also value in, you know, actually getting those points. It doesn’t do you much good if those projected points aren’t realized.

I’ve explained in the past that I think $/point, while useful, is a little misleading because a high-salary player who matches his projection is more valuable to you than a low-salary player doing the same. Same $/point, different worth to your lineup.

Even in head-to-head games, though, I think there’s something to be said for having high-upside players. When you stock your team with high-floor/low-ceiling players, you’re increasing the probability of each one of them individually reaching a certain threshold of points, but are you really doing the same for your entire team? If you need seven players to all score at least 12 points, that’s going to be really difficult, even if they’re all “safe” players who are likely to accomplish the feat on their own.

Further, I think there are true high-floor/high-ceiling players out there. I’ve been touting Antonio Brown as one of them all year, and he’s been in my lineup every week. Brown has at least five catches and 50 yards in every game, but he also has two games with at least 147 yards and two touchdowns. Due to the nature of his game and the Steelers’ offense, Brown is safe with high upside.

Because of that, I think a player like Brown (and there are others) offers value that isn’t reflected in $/point. There’s value in playing a guy like Brown in a head-to-head matchup because you can be relatively certain he’s going to reach a set level of production, but he can also make up for other players not doing the same. And that’s excessively valuable. In effect, Brown acts as a hedge against down performances from others.

But here’s the thing: his salary has risen after last week’s big game, dramatically so on some sites. By the numbers, Brown isn’t a quality $/point option. He’s ranked rather low on both the FanDuel and DraftKings Value Reports. He’s getting near the top of the second tier of receivers in terms of price, and if you’re looking at his mean projection, his value is rapidly disintegrating.

And I’m still going to own Brown this week. I’ll have more than just a little exposure to him because he offers you something outside of the traditional value calculation. When you view Brown as a range of probability—something I’m trying to do more and more as a daily fantasy player—I think his true value is more apparent.

I’ve proposed this idea in the past when analyzing bargain bin players. Yes, they offer $/point value, but what’s the probability that they and a high-priced player both reach a certain threshold? Probably not superior to a pair of second-tier players who have the same total salary and $/point value.

Now, I’m deconstructing (<— no idea if that’s the right word, but I like it) that argument to apply solely to the individual. You should care about $/point, yes, but think about the range of possibilities surrounding each player in a given week. Consider game flow—how the various courses of the game could affect certain players, and the probability of each occurring. Think about players’ ceiling and floors in all league types, not just one for heads-up and one for tournaments. In effect, consider not only the mean projection for each player relative to his salary, but also ponder the odds that he provides you certain levels of points.

Also did another Google Hangout and talked Week 12. . .

By Jonathan Bales

Fantasy Football: Predicting WR Breakouts and Week 12 Analysis

At RotoWire, I published the correlation between wide receiver stats and fantasy rank:

The Numbers

So with that said, let’s take a look at the correlation between a few stats and final wide receiver fantasy rank over the past four seasons. Note all the correlations are negative because as each increase, final wide receiver rank decreases (meaning it improves).


It’s a little surprising to me that the wide receivers who’ve put up the most yards have been more valuable than those with the most touchdowns. Yards account for a greater percentage of points, but there’s more deviation in touchdowns.

I’ve actually built my wide receiver corps around red-zone ability in recent years – which I’ll likely continue to do since it’s such a consistent stat from year to year – but the receivers with the most points are more likely to lead the league in yards than touchdowns.

At 4for4, I’m still running the “Staking Bales” series:

It was around a month into the season when I told you guys that I’d be taking some shots in this staking series, hoping to “pay for” my tournament entries with head-to-head and 50/50 winnings. Well, here are the results of that endeavor.

Tournaments are relatively volatile, so you just need to stay in the game long enough to cash in on a big payday. Well, I’ve stayed in the game, currently sitting at $2,090.13 on the year. Here are screenshots of each account balance up to this point.

I also published optimal plays for DraftKings:

WR Pierre Garcon vs. SF $6,300

Garcon has a difficult matchup this week, but he’s also priced to reflect that. With that in mind, it’s difficult to pass on a player who already has 109 targets this year, including at least 10 in all but two games. Garcon also has five catches in every game, so he’s a relatively safe option, even against the Niners.

TE Jordan Cameron vs. PIT $3,900

This is me going out on a limb: I think Cameron will have a big game on Sunday. He hasn’t scored in a month and he has only 33 combined yards in his past two games. But he’s so cheap that he’ll give you lots of flexibility elsewhere in your lineup, and he’s so athletic that his upside is outstanding. The quarterback situation is awful, but it’s been that way all year. If you’re going cheap at tight end, might as well use someone with elite athletic ability.

And optimal plays for FanDuel with a little aside on randomness:

If you aren’t a regular reader of AdvancedNFLStats.com, I highly recommend it. If you enjoy the analytical approach to fantasy football here at 4for4, you’ll probably like the same approach to NFL decision-making.

In this week’s ANS Podcast, Brian Burke—the site’s creator—was discussing randomness and had a cool story about a college professor who split his class into two groups, telling one to flip a coin and mark down “heads” or “tails” and the other to recreate a series of “heads” or “tails” just by guessing what the sequence might look like.

After excusing himself from the class for this exercise, the professor came back and instantly recognized the non-random sequence. If you ask someone you know to do this same task (have them start with trying to reproduce a random sequence), you should be able to recognize the random series as well.

Why? Because humans suck at identifying and replicating randomness. We’re built to detect patterns, so we naturally create them. Most people equate “random” to “alternating,” creating a series that might look something like HTHTHHTTHT, regardless of how long the sequence extends. In reality, long stretches of either heads or tails are common—expected, even.

If you flip a coin 100 times, you’ll almost certainly get a run of five straight heads or tails at some point. So imagine if someone who’s never seen a coin (Bill Gates hasn’t) were to watch our hypothetical coin-flipper and the first thing he saw were a stretch of six straight heads. What do you think he’d guess for the next flip?

I bring this up because, at this point in the season, we’ve seen some long stretches of outstanding and awful play. Some of this is due to repeatable factors, such as a change in scheme or personnel. But some of it is just noise, and we can obtain an advantage by recognizing which stretches of poor play are likely to improve in the future. That’s really all we’re doing in the world of daily fantasy sports—predicting regression.

By Jonathan Bales

Fantasy Football: Predicting RB Breakouts and Week 11 Analysis

At RotoWire, I broke down the correlation between running back measurables and NFL success:

Check out the strength of those relationships. Note that there’s a negative correlation for every measurable except for the broad jump. That just means the longer a running back’s broad jump, the greater his NFL production. Meanwhile, the lower the back’s weight, 40 time, vertical, short shuttle, three-come, and draft round, the better his production.


Let’s take these one at a time.

Weight: There’s a very weak relationship between weight and pro stats, likely because lighter running backs can run faster. Weight itself isn’t inherently disadvantageous, it seems, but it becomes a problem when it slows a running back down. More to come on this.

40-Yard Dash: Not really a surprise here. The 40-yard dash is the second-most predictive trait for running backs, behind the round in which they were drafted.

Vertical: The negative correlation is surprising and obviously just noise. If a lower vertical jump actually helped players perform better, I’d be in the NFL. However, I think the data definitely suggests something I’ve had a hunch is true; the vertical jump doesn’t matter. It doesn’t capture true explosiveness, which is what’s important for running backs.

Broad Jump: The broad jump is the most underrated physical test out there. Most NFL teams seem to care more about a player’s vertical than his broad jump, but I’ve found that there’s an extremely strong correlation between broad jump and 40-yard dash time. Both measure explosiveness in a way that the other tests can’t.

Check out the rest at RotoWire.

At 4for4, I posted value plays for DraftDay and for FanDuel. On FanDuel:

I’m in the midst of adding a fourth book to the Fantasy Football for Smart People series—a daily fantasy football book that I’m hoping to release within a month—and I just began writing the chapter on creating values.

In my first daily fantasy book, I discussed the value of $/point—the system we use in the 4for4 Value Reports. It’s definitely a valuable foundation for creating lineups—it would be senseless to not understand how much each player costs relative to his expected production—but I also think that it would be a mistake to blindly follow $/point.

One reason is that it’s a somewhat fragile system. If you look at our FanDuel quarterback values, for example, you’ll see that the second-ranked quarterback, Case Keenum ($356 per point) costs only $56 less per point than the 17th-ranked quarterback, Russell Wilson ($412 per point).

A lot of daily fantasy players might never use Wilson, which is fine, but he costs just over 15 percent more than Keenum on a per-point basis. But don’t forget that the values are based completely on (relatively) subjective projections, so they’re far from flawless.

To be sure that Keenum offers better value than Wilson, we’d need to be confident in our ability to consistently differentiate between 15 percent changes in expected production. Can you do that? I can’t.

So in addition to other issues I’ve had with $/point as a standalone value tool, the biggest is just that it’s a fragile system; small changes in projections, which could result just from studying X data instead of Y, can create big deviations in value.

Again, I don’t think that $/point is worthless—I use it to create my own lineups—but be careful not to follow it so closely that you miss out on a truly optimized lineup.

 

Week 11 Value Plays

QB Josh McCown vs. BAL $5400

McCown is by far the top quarterback value on FanDuel this week. I’ve been going with some higher-priced passers lately and I’ve warned about the dangers of overvaluing cheap players, but I think McCown has a great chance to return lots of value in Week 11.

The most important aspect of McCown’s play thus far is that he’s been efficient. He’s averaged 7.7 YPA on 70 throws this year—not a massive sample but good enough that we know he’s at least capable of putting up numbers. He’s also got four touchdowns and no picks.

If McCown can get into the 40-attempt area, he’s basically a guarantee to provide a good ROI. He’ll also give you a couple points on the ground.

 

RB Marshawn Lynch vs. MIN $9000

I normally prefer pass-catching running backs because they’re safer from week to week; Lynch is admittedly a little situation-dependent. But it’s unlikely that Seattle will get down big to Minnesota, so Lynch makes for a safe play. He’s a better option on FanDuel (0.5 PPR) than the other full PPR sites out there.

By Jonathan Bales

Want to read some fantasy football articles?

Cause I got ‘em.

First, check out this story I did on the growth of daily fantasy sports over at Business Insider:

“I’ve had a couple back-to-back five-figure weeks. I’ve been a contrarian lately and I was pretty bullish on some underperforming guys, so I had a lot of exposure to a few values that ended up working out in my favor.”

Those are the words of Peter Jennings, a Colorado native who used to make his living as a stock trader. He still practices the trader lingo, but these days, Peter is buying and selling stocks of a different sort—professional athletes.

Peter is one of a handful of individuals making a living in the daily fantasy sports industry. The concept is simple: working within the confines of a salary cap, users build a team of players, all of whom have “salaries” set by particular fantasy sites, and accumulate points as they play in real games.

Unlike traditional season-long fantasy sports leagues, though, most daily fantasy sports leagues end in less than 24 hours. Competing against others in real cash games—a legal endeavor since the United States government astutely considers fantasy sports a game of skill—one can put as much or as little time into the games as they’d like. Most newcomers to the daily fantasy sites fill out lineups in a matter of minutes and hope for the best.

Others spend countless hours creating projections, tweaking models, watching film, and constructing lineups. And for Peter and others like him—the industry’s elite players known as “sharks”—the end result is quite lucrative.

In the daily fantasy sports world, Peter is the prototype. Affectionately known by his fantasy sports username “CSURAM88” within the fantasy sports community, Peter once made a living playing poker professionally. When the poker industry collapsed, he worked his way into trading before setting his sights on what he considers the best investment opportunity available right now.

“I pretty much knew I wanted to get out of stock trading and into daily fantasy sports right away. I was set to make that move as a player when StarStreet.com (a daily fantasy sports site) asked me to come work for them. And when I won the FFFC in late-2012, it was a nice little incentive to make me feel like I made the right decision.”

The “FFFC” is the championship tournament hosted by FanDuel—the industry’s largest site—and their “nice little incentive” was a $150,000 grand prize. Competing against 23 others in Las Vegas, Peter won daily fantasy sports’ largest single payout in a matter of hours on a single Sunday. He qualified at a buy-in level of just $10.

When you’re competing against thousands of other players in a single tournament, part of the outcome—perhaps even most of it—is controlled by luck. But by shifting the odds in their favor, Peter and the other sharks can continually dominate a game that, like poker, is heavily influenced by randomness.

“There’s lots of variance, obviously,” Peter told me, “but I’m usually profitable around 75 percent of weeks in NFL. And football is the most difficult sport just because the typical user knows so much, so it’s a lot easier to profit in NBA or MLB.”

And how does this poker player turned stock trader turned daily fantasy sports guru shift the percentages in his favor?

“It’s like any investment, really. You’re basically just looking to find value where players’ salaries are too low relative to their expected production. So obviously there’s a lot of math involved with that. I use the Vegas lines a lot in my projections, so that’s a really big part of my models.”

All of the work—think two full-time jobs worth of it—is paying off. RotoGrinders.com—a site dedicated solely to daily fantasy sports analysis—currently has Peter ranked as the 10th-best player in the world, including No. 7 in NFL and No. 4 in NBA.

Read more.

At 4for4, I did another Google Hangout with Josh Moore.

I also gave a bunch of Week 10 advice. Here are seven tips for the week:

Tip No. 1: Start Robert Griffin III and Pierre Garcon in your time travel leagues.

I accidentally got them in some tournaments yesterday before the game started, so I’m off to a good start there.

 

Tip No. 2: Consider Eli Manning on every site, especially FanDuel.

At $6400 on FanDuel, I’ll be all over Manning again this week. You’d think I’d just be right about him one week out of luck, but let’s see how long he can keep his I’m-going-to-bankrupt-you streak alive.

 

Tip No. 3: Become a Bush supporter.

I didn’t vote for George W. Bush because (insert any reason at all that you prefer) and I didn’t vote for his dad because they don’t let three-year old kids vote, so this week will be my chance to make up for that.

Reggie Bush has a matchup against the Bears that suddenly looks enticing. Because of his workload, he’s become a very high-ceiling/high-floor player who offers something that most backs in his price range can’t match.

 

Tip No. 4: Save on wide receivers.

I’m in the midst of working on a new daily fantasy sports book, and I’m doing more work on week-to-week consistency.

Quarterbacks and running backs have been overwhelmingly more consistent than the other positions the past few years, i.e you get what you pay for.

“The Top Six” wide receivers from earlier this season were in a class of their own, but that’s sort of changed. Calvin Johnson costs an arm and a leg, Dez Bryant is banged up, and Julio Jones is out. That leaves Brandon MarshallA.J. Green, and Demaryius Thomas.

It’s difficult to justify paying top dollar for Thomas when his teammates are so much cheaper. Why would I pay $8300 for Thomas when I can have Eric Decker, who probably has just a slightly lower chance of posting huge numbers, costs only $6200?

If you want to spend big on a receiver this week, I think Marshall should be your man. Otherwise, save the cash.

Also check out my DraftKings optimal plays:

QB Robert Griffin III @MIN $8100

RGIII is the 10th-best value at quarterback in the DraftKings Value Report, but no one ahead of him costs more than $6600. The question is whether or not Griffin is a legitimate threat to post huge numbers, and I think he is. He was actually extremely efficient last week with 9.1 YPA, but he was just unlucky to not score when the Redskins got close to the goal line.

RGIII had only 24 combined rushing yards in the past two games, but he also had 161 in the two before that. For the price, you’re getting value on a player who has a really good chance to improve in one of two really important categories—quarterback rushing yards and passing touchdowns.

RB Reggie Bush @CHI $7100

Quietly, Bush has at least 20 carries in each of the past two games and 13 or more in every game except one this year. He’s also been targeted at least six times in all but one contest.

With his play-making ability and versatility, Bush is an excellent choice in both tournaments and heads-up leagues. The Bears’ defense doesn’t intimidate offenses anymore, and I could have more exposure to Bush than any other running back this week.

And FanDuel optimal plays:

WR Antonio Brown vs. BUF $6900

I’ve talked about why I like Brown in heads-up leagues; he sees a lot of targets, many of which are screens and other short, safe passes, so he has a really high floor each game.

You’d like to see more scores from Brown, but how about this for consistency: he has at least five catches and 50 yards in every single game this year. He’s also seen at least 11 targets in four contests. Brown should be a staple of pretty much all of your heads-up lineups because he’s so safe.

 

TE Jimmy Graham vs. DAL $8700

You might want to fade Graham in heads-up just because of his price, but it will be tough to say no in tournaments. There’s a good chance that Graham just destroys Dallas this week, giving him the potential to be a must-start for all winning tournament lineups.

Right now, Graham is on pace for 98 catches, 1,492 yards, and 20 touchdowns. That’s an okay season for a tight end, right?

Last, check out this article on predicting running back breakouts at RotoWire.

Let’s take a look at carries versus final rank:


Here, you can see a much stronger relationship. Outside of a handful of outliers (I’m looking at you Darren Sproles), all of the running backs fall within a pretty narrow range. The strength of this correlation is .71. That’s more than twice as strong as the relationship between YPC and running back success.

By Jonathan Bales

Fantasy Football: Week 9 Values and Daily Fantasy Hangout

 

At 4for4, I posted a bunch of Week 9 values. First, some for FanDuel:

QB Robert Griffin III vs. SD $8200

I have a feeling that RGIII is quickly turning into the new Eli Manning for me. I had more exposure to Griffin than any other player in Week 8, hence the losses.

I’m betting that Week 8 was a fluke for Griffin, who seems to have his legs back under him. He should be able to pass and run his way to 20 points this week. RGIII was the fifth-priciest quarterback on FanDuel last week, but now he’s down to No. 9 with a matchup that’s about the same.

RB Eddie Lacy vs. CHI $6800

This is kind of a no-brainer pick. Lacy had at least 82 rushing yards in his past four games, including two touchdowns. He even has nine catches over the past two weeks, adding a little extra value (FanDuel is 0.5 PPR).

The matchup with the Bears will scare away some players, but Chicago actually ranks in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards allowed. With Jay Cutler out, there’s an even better chance that Green Bay will be handing off the ball to Lacy lots in the fourth quarter.

And for DraftKings:

WR Dez Bryant vs. MIN $8900

Terrance Williams might have the best head-to-head matchup in all of football this week against cornerback Josh Robinson, but that doesn’t mean that Bryant can’t go off. After last week’s episode, it seems like Tony Romo is going to do everything he can to get the ball in Bryant’s hands.

Bryant is the top-priced player in a week without a lot of elite options at wide receiver. For reference,Jordy Nelson is the second-priciest receiver, just $700 less than Bryant.

TE Rob Gronkowski vs. PIT $6800

If you’re paying up for a tight end, it has to be Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham. Gronk’s stock is down, but he costs $800 less than Graham and it’s not like Tom Brady isn’t throwing to him. Regardless of how or who they’re playing, the Brady-Gronkowski connection is always capable of a three-touchdown outing. Some lower-priced tight ends might make better heads-up plays, but Gronk is a quality tournament option.

I also posted some advice on bargain bin players:

I own wide receiver Eric Decker in quite a few season-long leagues, but I have no exposure to teammateWes Welker. The reason is that I believed the Broncos’ wide receiver situation to still be a little cloudy in the preseason. I wanted in on it, but without knowing how everything would shake it out, it was smartest to just go cheap, i.e. draft Decker because of his plummeting ADP.

Everyone likes a bargain. When you can acquire quality production from a low-priced player in daily fantasy, that’s incredibly valuable to your team. All other things the same, cheaper is better.

Not all points are created equally, though; a 15-point week from Zac Stacy is worth more to you than a 15-point week from Adrian Peterson because of the opportunity cost associated with each player. Namely, Stacy affords you more opportunities elsewhere.

But shopping in the bargain bin isn’t valuable for its own sake. One of the problems with low-priced players is that they don’t need to produce much to offer value in terms of $/point. That might seem like a positive, but we always need to analyze our lineups as a whole.

Low-priced players can offer value, but what is the effect on total points?