2016 Draft Kit

Fantasy football daily games: Picking a winning lineup at FanDuel

Know your roster requirements. Know your scoring. At Chinstrap Ninjas, we chant those things during the fantasy football draft season.

The same holds true at daily fantasy sites like FanDuel. But there are a few more nuances when picking a team based on salary cap compared to standard leagues.

Daily fantasy players get to choose any player who will be on the field that week. Their restriction is a salary cap that forces difficult decisions. You end up with lineups that are slightly stronger than standard league lineups, but that resemble them in a lot of ways.

A team with four studs on it is going to have a lot of sleepers elsewhere. But before we get to studs, duds, sleepers and weepers, let’s talk about those boring – but important – scoring and roster rules.

Rosters and scoring

Rosters: 1 quarterback, 2 running backs, 3 wide recievers, 1 tight end, 1 kicker and 1 defense/special teams.

Scoring: Relatively standard with two items that may be different than you are used to: Players receive .5 for each reception and there are bonus points for long field goals (4 pts for field goals 40-49 and 5 pts for 50+).

While it’s only a .5 PPR, I still treat it like a 1-point PPR because that bonus is there. When competing against 3,000 or 5,000 other lineups, an extra .5 can be huge.

Game type

It’s also important to keep in mind what kind of game you are playing. A 200-entry double up game, where about half the players double their money, is a little different than a tournament where only the top 11 percent of 11,000 people get payouts. (Check out my introduction to FanDuel if you aren’t sure what these games are.)

In a double up or 50/50 contest you need to have a good lineup. If you score 95 to 100 points, you are likely to finish in the money. In larger tournaments you’re going to need at least 110-115 points, but more than likely 120 or 130.

The difference between a 120-point game and a 95-point game, based on a 9-player roster, is only 2.8 points per player. But that’s short-selling it. The total is 25 points, which is a lot of fantasy points to gain. Bigger tournaments offer bigger rewards but also force you to take bigger risks.

That’s not to say a solid lineup is going to do poorly in large formats, but a solid lineup is rarely going to finish No. 1. If there is any one rule in FanDuel, other than starting whichever defense is facing the Giants that week, it’s that you need to hit on a PowerBall player if you aspire to win a big payout.

5 basic rules

1. Play in multiple low-cost games to start – You want to maximize your chance of hitting on a PowerBall play, a big day from your quarterback and the right defense that Sunday. The shotgun approach works. Play in a $25 or $100 game after you have everything figured out, or if you have more money than you know what to do with.

2. Play in a couple 50/50s if you can – Double ups and 50/50s provide the best chance of winning each week. The payouts are not as exciting, but they are a better investment.

3. Don’t spend more than you can afford – Make a budget. Stick to it. While fantasy football isn’t gambling technically, it has the same addiction triggers, especially on daily sites like FanDuel.

4. Track your performance – What gets measured gets managed — and improved.

5. Cash out after every big win – This is part of the reason why I recommend using PayPal as your go-between with FanDuel — easy transfer of funds. It also helps keep No. 3 in check.

Now with the introduction out of the way, let’s talk about the different kinds of lineup tactics I like to employ:

Start with a quarterback

  • What it is: Just as it sounds, start with a quarterback you think has a good matchup and fill in around him. I put this tactic in after I did the rest, which is odd because I would say 75% of my lineups are built from the quarterback down. There are only 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Three of those are sure (expensive) things. Another 8-12 are solid plays (a mix of under- and over-valued plays). Then there are maybe 5-10 sleepers and then a list of deep sleepers. Tight ends, kickers and defenses have the same kind of hierarchy, but quarterbacks are more likely to put up a 40-point game than any tight end, kicker or defense not named Jimmy Graham.
  • Best for: All formats
  • But: If you build a team around one player and he Eli Manning’s it out there on Sunday you’re toast.
  • I recommend: Build a handful of $1 teams with multiple quarterbacks.

Studs and duds

  • What it is: This title is cribbed from an auction draft strategy. In this format you put players like A.J. Green, Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson on the same team and fill in around them as best as possible, using matchups to try to pick up a PowerBall play or two.
  • Best for: Larger Formats
  • But: The biggest issue with this style is that even if you hit on a Powerball play your lineup may not be able to make up the difference if you get a mediocre performance from one of your studs.
  • I recommend: Build lots of lineups. But if you can only build one make your studs running backs. It is much easier to find a PowerBall play in the WR or QB ranks.


  • What it is: Simple. Select good players with good matchups who are perceived values that week at FanDuel. It’s Week 4 of the 2013 season and looking at the tight ends list, Jason Witten is among the top five most expensive, but at $6,300 he is more than $2,000 cheaper than Jimmy Graham and the Cowboys play San Diego which gave up 299 yards through the air to Jake Locker in Week 3.
  • Best for: 50/50s, double ups and triple ups – but it can be strong in all formats.
  • But: You’re unlikely to get a 160-point game. To do that you need 17.8 points from each player, which probably means you’ll need a couple 30s to balance out a 10 or two. In other words, you need PowerBall players. With this kind of lineup you’re not going to be forced into rostering a what-the-heck running back or wide receiver.
  • I recommend: Start building these teams in the lower end of the upper-tier players. Guys like DeMarco Murray and Reggie Wayne go here. You’d be surprised how many times you’ll have enough cap space at the end to swap Pierre Garcon for Dez Bryant or Brandon Marshall.

Start with sleeper(s)

  • What it is: This style can morph into any of the others. The difference is that I start with a player, usually a quarterback, who I think has an opportunity to have a massive game at a huge discount. Starting with a sleeper allows you to upgrade roster spots in both balanced and studs/duds lineups. Starting with a couple sleepers is like building a studs/duds team from the bottom up. However, you’ll be surprised how the perspective shift changes your lineups.
  • Best for: Larger formats
  • But: Building around a sleeper is risky because sleepers have a pretty good chance of staying asleep.
  • I recommend: I’ll say it again, play multiple lineups each week. Try to build as many start-with-sleepers as you do studs-and-duds. Note the similarities and differences, then track your performance to see which lineup you’re better at building.

Defense and kicker

  • What it is: While I tell people to wait on kickers and defenses in standard drafts, daily games are different. In this style of game you don’t have to necessarily pick the most expensive kicker or defense, but you do have to start there first and build your team around those selections. Like the studs/duds style, this one is likely to force you to make some tough decisions, and hopefully get one of those PowerBall players in your lineup … while giving you the best chance to get big performances out of two positions often considered as afterthoughts.
  • Best for: Larger formats, but it encourages balance so it’s good for all formats.
  • But: The difference between the super-value Ks and Ds is about $700. So if you take the top K and D at the extra $1,400 it’s only costing 2.3% of your $60,000 salary cap. Sometimes though, you need just $100 more to roster the player you want and spending it on K and D feels wrong.
  • I recommend: Build at least one lineup with the most expensive defense. It’s like using betting lines from Las Vegas in pick’em leagues. There’s a reason why Seattle is so expensive. I started Chicago and Seattle on a lot of FanDuel teams last year and they paid off just as much as whatever team was playing Jacksonville.

That’s it for now. I’m sure there are more tactics to discuss. Do you have any tips or recommendations? Leave them in the comments below or contact me on Twitter: @epCN.

Other posts in this series

How to turn a 1,000 percent profit at FanDuel in one fantasy football season

FanDuel basics – How to play

How I turned $50 into $500 at FanDuel in 2012

Picking a winning lineup

Divining the PowerBall pick of the week

More advanced FanDuel tips and tricks

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