How to Win Playing Daily Fantasy Football, Part 3: The 2014 Season

With the start of the football season just a day away, the daily fantasy football series comes to a close after looking at the 2014 season's landscape.

Tomorrow. Fantasy Football starts tomorrow.

After weeks of research, you’re probably more than ready to fill out your Week 1 daily fantasy football lineups. (On, too, right?) And if you’ve read the first two parts of this “How to Win Playing Daily Fantasy Football” series, I’m certain you’ve probably had a lineup or two already completed. But let’s dig into things one last time before we go on our season-long daily fantasy football adventure.

If you’ve missed things so far, our partners over at sent over some data from last season’s set of daily fantasy football games. And by “set”, I mean “thousands.” Two weeks ago, I presented the first bit of data, showing how to allocate your pretend salary across your lineup. We found that it’s not always advantageous to spend on quarterbacks, and that teams who paid up at wide receiver generally won at a higher rate.

Last week was tournament week, and we found that stacking may be slightly overrated, punting positions works, and making cash-money in tourneys is a lot easier than you might think.

Today’s part of the series is somewhat of a recap, but we’ll look at how all of this information translates directly to the 2014 season. I’ve separated everything into five headlines, so hopefully it’ll make for an easy-to-digest read.

Let’s get at it.

1. Know Your Quarterback’s Ceiling

In the first article of this series, I presented a list of the top-10 quarterbacks on DraftKings last year in terms of win-loss ratio. That is, the group of passers were the ones who landed on winning daily fantasy football teams most often.

It was a very boom or bust list. You had Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, but you also had Kyle Orton, Josh McCown and Kirk Cousins.

We all know why Manning and Brees were on the list – they’re capable of big games each week, and will almost always live up to their cost. In 2014, you can add a healthy Aaron Rodgers to that group as well.

The backup signal-callers made the list because they were cheap. Dirt cheap. Josh McCown just happened to play like a stud, while Cousins and Orton, when they did start, performed admirably.

The other players listed were some of the most volatile in the game a season ago. Andy Dalton was the poster child of this notion, having secured just six top-12 weekly performances at the position last year despite finishing as fantasy’s number five overall quarterback. Colin Kaepernick, Terrelle Pryor, Michael Vick – all passers who can use their legs to gain fantasy points, but when they don’t, their performances suffer.

If you’re not paying up for a stud, spend on volatility at the position. Typically that means spending less, too, which allows you to build elsewhere.

2. Volume Wins for Pass-Catchers

When it comes to spending at wide receiver, look for targets. Within the list, Julio Jones, Reggie Wayne, Danny Amendola, Nate Burleson and Justin Blackmon weren’t able to finish their seasons in 2013. That leaves us with 15 receivers. Among these 15, only Kenbrell Thompkins ranked outside of the top 23 in wide receiver targets.

That was from Part 1 of this series, noting the importance of volume at wide receiver in daily fantasy football. And you could argue it means a lot at the tight end position as well.

Among the top eight players in win-loss ratio a season ago at tight end, seven finished in the top-20 in targets per game. The only one who didn’t, Ryan Griffin, saw opportunity as a legitimate starter for only a short period of time, and daily fantasy footballers took advantage of it. If not for him, we’d be talking about all eight finishing in the top 20.

Banking on low-volume players is a difficult task. And that’s why you may want to consider someone like Antonio Gates before you jump on the Ladarius Green bandwagon. There are a lot of young tight ends ready to break out, but make sure they’re seeing enough targets before plugging them into your lineup.

3. Running Backs are Different

What’s interesting is that this isn’t necessarily the case at running back. We looked at the bottom-of-the-barrel players that ranked high in terms of win-loss ratio, noting that running back injuries are indeed your best friend in daily fantasy football. Of course LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte and Jamaal Charles won plenty of games, but because DraftKings runs on a point-per-reception format, everyday backups like Danny Woodhead, Joique Bell, Bilal Powell and Jacquizz Rodgers were still valuable.

But part of the reason we saw random running backs with such high winning percentages last year had to do with the lack of differentiation at the position. What I mean by this is that daily fantasy football players were using the same running backs each and every week, and they weren’t getting desirable results.

Perhaps no example is better here than Eddie Lacy. Due to his low cost all season long, Lacy was used more than any other running back on DraftKings in 2014. But among running backs who were used more than 5,000 times last season – 57 of them – Lacy ranked 28th in win-loss ratio. He was essentially a middle-of-the-road daily fantasy running back.

Among the 20 highest used players last year, we saw 14 running backs, 6 wide receivers, 4 tight ends and 1 quarterback. To put this another way, there’s a high turnover rate week to week in terms of individual quarterbacks being used, and not a whole lot at running back. If you truly want to differentiate your lineup – and win – you may want to get a little more creative at the running back position in 2014.

4. Remove Your Season-Long Feelings

In season-long fantasy football, old running backs tend to fall in drafts. Why would you trust a 31-year-old Steven Jackson on one hamstring to carry the load across an entire season?

This is kind of why daily fantasy football is so awesome. If Steven Jackson decides to suit up and play a game against the 2013 Chicago Bears, it doesn’t matter if he has zero hamstrings intact. You’re starting him. In a season-long league, you don’t always have that benefit, because you shied away from him during your August draft.

This is merely a reminder to remove your season-long fantasy football feelings from your daily fantasy football decisions. Just because you may not trust Frank Gore across the entire season doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start him Week 1 versus Dallas (spoiler alert: you probably should). Even though Fred Jackson could be your dad, it doesn’t mean you shouldn't use him in a favorable matchup.

It's a weekly game, not a yearly one.

5. Enter More Tournaments

Perhaps the most notable piece of data sent over to us from DraftKings was the fact that you actually need fewer points to get paid out in a tournament versus the other two coin-flip contest types. Below is a chart showing this.

All Winners125129129
First-Place Winners155170142

This final piece of advice is pretty straightforward: Don't forget to play in more tournaments this year. And when you do, make sure you reference last week's strategy article.

Good luck in 2014, everyone.