Differentiating Yourself in Large Tournaments

I have yet to write about daily fantasy sports, so bear with me as I put down some thoughts to paper here…

When there a fewer games, as is the case in the playoffs, it is harder to create a unique lineup. But to succeed in a large tournament, it’s necessary to separate yourself from the masses. That can be especially difficult if you do not want to entirely fade the chalk plays. For example, in the Wild Card round Antonio Brown was owned by more than half of the field, but given the ugly slate of low scoring games, it was almost impossible not to play Brown. Let’s get into some of the ways you can give your team a different look.

Playing Two Tight Ends
This strategy was incredibly profitable last week. Anyone who rostered Jordan Reed and Travis Kelce had a significant leg up on the competition. Most players flex a running back or wide receiver, so by simply rostering a tight end, you separate yourself. The same type of roster construction could pay dividends this weekend, with both Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olsen available. Both players will probably be highly owned, Olsen more than Gronkowski I would bet, but the ownership of them together will be much smaller. 

Pivoting Within A Team
I’m not talking about pivoting from David Johnson to Jonathan Stewart. Instead, you pivot within the team. A couple of weeks ago, the chalk was all over Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Martavis Bryant as they matched up against a porous Baltimore secondary. But that week, it was DeAngelo Williams who exploded. It’s a little easier in that sort of situation, considering the pivot is from a top wide receiver to a top running back. It’s not like you are going to pivot from Adrian Peterson to Stefon Diggs. This week, most players will roster David Johnson and for good reason. He is the best running back by a wide margin. But all season long, Carson Palmer has shredded defenses through the air. Pivoting from David Johnson to a Palmer-Floyd stack or even a Palmer-Floyd-Brown triple stack could be a way to differentiate yourself in a way that makes sense.

Paying Up To Be Contrarian
This is a little counterintuitive, or at least it was for me when I first started playing. The goal of fantasy is to form the best possible team, and given the salary restrictions, you’re often searching for any possible value – saving $100 or $200 wherever you can. Sometimes, I think more so in small slates, it makes sense to abandon that approach. Of course you’re still searching for value, but most players are probably seeing value in the same spots you’re seeing value. And in daily fantasy, value is relative. What I mean by that is this: If 90% of the field rosters David Johnson, even at a price that you think is a discount, how much value is there really in playing him? That is a basic point and the essence of why you should be contrarian. I think everyone understands that.

Yet, when constructing their lineups this week, more players will roster Carson Palmer at $6,500 than Aaron Rodgers at $6,700. Palmer has been one of the top fantasy (and real life) QBs all season long, leading Arizona to the second most offensive touchdowns per game this season. Palmer is unquestionably underpriced this weekend, with Alex Smith and Peyton Manning being the only quarterbacks who are cheaper. Compare Palmer to Aaron Rodgers, whose Packers limped through the regular season. Rodgers only exceeded 300 yards three times season, which is also the same number of times he threw for at least three touchdowns. Palmer, meanwhile, threw for at least 300 yards nine times and had five games with three or more touchdowns. For those reasons, Palmer should be the most popular quarterback play this weekend.

Let’s play a little hypothetical. Say Palmer is on 40% of rosters this weekend and Rodgers is on just 15% of rosters. Even with Rodgers’ slightly higher price tag, there is more upside to playing Rodgers. If it was a cash game, I would play Palmer without a doubt. But in a large tournament, playing Rodgers is the type of risk you take, even if you think he only outscores Palmer one out of three times.

Complete Game Stack
This is an area I want to explore further that seems to be picking up steam. Several weeks ago, the Steelers faced the Broncos in a game most people expected to be  low scoring. After all, the Broncos had shut down almost every offense it played. Brock Osweiler had taken over the starting job in Denver looked like nothing more than a game manager in his first several weeks. On the other side of the ball, Antonio Brown, who is always one of the most popular plays, saw lighter ownership as he faced up against Denver’s elite secondary. Stacking the entire passing game would have worked out perfectly, as the game was much more high scoring than anticipated, 34-27.

A couple of things… Anytime you can get a player of Antonio Brown’s caliber at an ownership discount, it is worth considering. Also, the Steelers are one of the toughest teams against the run, but their secondary concedes plenty of fantasy points to receivers, so stacking Thomas and Sanders made sense from a matchup perspective. Lastly, stacking Thomas and Sanders was especially sharp, at least in hindsight, because they are responsible for an absurdly high percentage of the team’s targets. There is no real third receiver on the Broncos and the tight ends Owen Daniels and Vernon Davis don’t get many looks either.



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