Pro Bowl NFL DFS: What You Need to Know
During the regular season, tight ends are a disease for fantasy football. If you're not paying up for guys like Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and George Kittle, you're blindly throwing darts and hoping just to hit the board. Anything beyond that is gravy.
This weekend, though, is the Pro Bowl. It's a whole new ballgame for our beleaguered brethren.
Instead of being pariahs, waiting to rip the heart out of a killer lineup, tight ends are your knights in shining armor. The rules for the game dictate that a tight end must be on the field at all times, and with just two tight ends on each roster, these guys are going to be on the field. That's more than can be said about other positions, especially quarterbacks and running backs.
There are a slew of factors at play for the Pro Bowl that we don't normally have to consider during the regular season. As such, if we're playing single-game lineups for daily fantasy on Sunday, we've got to look back at past Pro Bowls to decide which positions score points and which are unworthy of your attention.
Let's run through some things you should know before filling out lineups. For the purposes of this discussion, we'll be focusing on FanDuel's scoring rules and single-game format. There, you pick five players at any position for each roster, and one of your players (your MVP) will have his fantasy output multiplied by 1.5.
What do we need to know before this Sunday's exhibition? Let's check it out.
Pass-Catchers Are Strong MVP Selections
Your edict at MVP is clear: you just want the person you think will score the most points. There's decent odds that person will be either a wide receiver or a tight end.
Over the past five Pro Bowls (we're looking at just the past five as scoring has gone down in this stretch relative to what it was prior), the highest-scoring player has been a pass-catcher all five times. The season referenced below corresponds to the NFL season associated with that year's Pro Bowl.
Of the 10 highest-scoring players in this five-year sample, four have been wide receivers, and four have been tight ends. The other two were both quarterbacks.
Those two high-scoring games from quarterbacks rank third and fourth, respectively, in the highest point totals in our five-year sample. But in both seasons, those quarterbacks were outscored by a pass-catcher in the same game. Even when the quarterbacks do fare well -- which is a bit more rare than you'd hope -- it's likely they'll still be playing second fiddle.
As such, your MVP slot should be either a tight end or a wide receiver more often than not. You could make a case for putting a quarterback there, but it's just less likely to hit than at those two positions. Additionally, doing so would put a major dent in your floor at that ever-crucial spot. Speaking of which...
Pass-Catchers Also Have a Great Floor
For the MVP slot, we were looking at just the highest-scoring players in each game. But even when we loosen things up and look a bit lower, those players still grade out better than quarterbacks and running backs.
Let's go back to that five-year sample. In that time, there have been 38 players who have scored double-digit FanDuel points, 12 who have scored at least 15, and only 2 to hit 20 points. Here's the position those players have occupied.
|Position||Players to Score 10||Players to Score 15||Players to Score 20|
Whether you're looking at just the ceiling or players who will have a respectable output, pass-catchers are going to be your best bet.
It's also worth remembering that this five-year sample has included just 20 total tight ends on the rosters. The chart above shows us that half of those guys have hit double digits in FanDuel points. If you want a player with a high probability of getting you points, it's possible your best bet is at tight end.
Your Entire Roster Can Be Pass-Catchers
Given how much emphasis we've put on tight ends -- who are likely to be lower-salaried players on whichever site you prefer -- we can largely ignore the salary cap. Instead, let's focus just on finding the five players projected to score the most points.
The table below shows the position of the five highest-scoring players from each of the past five Pro Bowls. The "First" column corresponds with the highest-scoring player from that season's game, and so on.
In each of the past two Pro Bowls, the top-five scorers have included exclusively wide receivers and tight ends. If you're not drawn toward any of the quarterbacks or running backs, you're not obligated to use them.
One thing that should catch your eye is the two-tight end lineups. There have been multiple tight ends among the top five in scoring each of the past five years. Even in the one season where both a running back and a quarterback cracked the top five, there were still two tight ends compared to just one wide receiver. You don't have to use two tight ends in every lineup, but recent history says you should be willing to do so quite often.
As far as the wide receivers go, there were three receivers among the top five in 2017 and 2016, two in 2015 and 2013, and one in 2014. This seems to say you're going to want at least two of them in each lineup, and you can sometimes go three. But overall, ignoring wide receiver seems to be a risky approach.
If you do decide to dabble in the other two positions, you should do so cautiously. The 2014 rendition was the only Pro Bowl to included both a running back and a quarterback, and there haven't been less than three pass-catchers in any optimal five in this span. In the lineups where you pick a quarterback, you should be less inclined to go with a running back, and vice versa.
Running Backs Must Catch Passes
There are going to be lineups in which you decide to use a running back. They're not great, but they're also not the worst thing on the planet. When you do land on a back, you must ensure they're capable of catching passes.
As you saw in the earlier table, only six running backs have scored double-digit FanDuel points in our five-year sample. Of those six, three scored a receiving touchdown, and the other three all had at least five receptions. None of the players with double-digit points had more than seven rush attempts, and only one scored a rushing touchdown.
In general, you just shouldn't expect rushing volume, whether it be attempts, yardage, or touchdowns. Mark Ingram is the only player with more than nine carries in a Pro Bowl the past five years, and he is also the only guy with more than 50 rushing yards. But because he failed to do much in the passing game, he still failed to score double-digit FanDuel points.
This five-year sample has included just three rushing touchdowns, two by running backs and one by Cam Newton. There's a reason all the pass-catchers are the ones scoring points, and running backs must fit that mold, too, if they want to succeed.
Quarterback Scoring Has Been Low Recently
In the past two Pro Bowls, the total points scored by the two sides has been 33 and 47, respectively. The average output in the three prior years was 62.3 points. Quarterbacks are the ones who have felt the biggest effects.
Of the 10 highest scores for quarterbacks in our five-year sample, precisely zero have come within the past two contests. The maximum output in that time came from Alex Smith last year when he scored 8.24 FanDuel points. That's why they were absent from our list of the top five scorers from both games.
The big reasoning here is a lack of touchdowns. Passing touchdowns have accounted for 49.7% of quarterback scoring output in this five-year sample, and with fewer touchdowns being scored recently, quarterbacks aren't able to accumulate many points.
This makes it pretty easy for you to decide how you want to handle the position. If you think scoring will go back up, then quarterbacks are a pretty decent option for DFS. But if you think the past two years are the start of a longer-term trend, then it's likely wise to look more at other positions.
As of right now, there is no total for the game, so we can't say definitively whether the bookmakers are expecting a resurgence in scoring. But with quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and Russell Wilson in town, things do look a bit rosier than they've been in recent years. Quarterbacks are certainly in play for DFS; just don't go overboard at the expense of extra pass-catchers.
Based on how things have transpired the past few years, it's pretty clear our strategies need to revolve around wide receivers and tight ends. It's about as different from regular season DFS as you could possibly get.
This is true both for the MVP slot and for our four other regular positions. The pass-catchers have both a solid floor and the best ceiling on the board, and we shouldn't be afraid of having them occupy potentially our entire roster.
As a consequence of that, we need to be willing to leave salary on the table. If we fill out a lineup that uses up all the salary available to us, it's probably going to be sub-optimal in one way or another. This is likely the one instance in which we should actively ignore the salary cap and simply pick the players we think are best positioned to play snaps and score points.
Quarterbacks and running backs can be acceptable in certain conditions. Quarterbacks work if you expect the game to feature a resurgence in touchdowns, and running backs can get the job done if they can get action in the passing game. It's a bit more of a gamble, but those two spots can still pay off.
More than anything, we just want players who are going to be on the field. If you can find a way to predict that, then your lineups are going to look a whole lot spicier as a result. The alignment and roster rules are such that predicting playing time will be much easier for players at those two positions. But if you believe you have insights about who will play a bunch elsewhere, it's an advantage you should be looking to exploit.