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NFL Rookie - Lesson 05 - Drafting Lineups for Different Game Types

When readers ask me for daily fantasy football advice, the first thing I tell them is to really think about what they want to get out of a lineup—what goals they have and where they have an edge—and then structure everything they do around those aims.…

When readers ask me for daily fantasy football advice, the first thing I tell them is to really think about what they want to get out of a lineup—what goals they have and where they have an edge—and then structure everything they do around those aims.

Fundamentally tied to this idea is the league in which you plan to enter a lineup. There are all types of leagues on DraftKings, but most can be sorted into one of two categories: cash game or tournament. A cash game is a league in which a high percentage of the field cashes—usually 33 percent or more—and includes leagues like head-to-heads, 50/50s, and three-man leagues. Tournaments are large-field leagues in which around 15-20 percent of the field typically gets paid, although the highest finishers often receive a large portion of the prizes.

Some people might argue that “value is value,” but the way you structure your cash game and tournament lineups should generally be quite different. Here’s some advice to help you along the way.

For up-to-the-minute news, analysis and lineups, download the DK Live app, as news, injury reports and betting lines can change throughout the day. Value also unexpectedly can open up due to late lineup changes and late injury news, making it important to stay up to the minute with the DK Live app or DK Live desktop until lineups lock.


In cash games, safety is the name of the game. You want players who have a high floor of production on which you can rely. Everything is based around narrowing the range of potential outcomes for your squad. Here are some tips to help you do that.

1. Pay up for quarterbacks and running backs.

The most consistent positions are the ones that touch the ball the most. Quarterback and running back production is thus much easier to predict than that for pass-catchers on a weekly basis. Quarterbacks, in particular, are very consistent, mostly because they’re naturally a bit independent of the game script; whereas running backs sometimes need their team to be leading to have quality production, quarterback production is less tied to a specific game flow.

Either way, the best cash game NFL lineups are those that often pay up for an elite quarterback and at least one top-tier runner, then go a bit cheaper at receiver and tight end. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but rather a general rule-of-thumb.

2. Seek week-to-week consistency at every position.

Even if you aren’t going big at receiver, you can still find players who are generally more consistent than others. This is where I like to break down players into “types.” For example, rushing quarterbacks and pass-catching running backs have proven to have less week-to-week volatility than other player types. That makes sense if you think about it since both player types have the ability to beat defenses in various ways, improving their floor.
For pass-catchers, I like to identify slot receivers who see a lot of short, high-percentage targets. Whereas a deep threat like Mike Wallace is often an all-or-nothing sort of play, someone like Julian Edelman has a ton of consistency when he’s set to see a high percentage of the Patriots’ targets.

3. Use a running back in the flex when possible.

One of my favorite aspects of daily fantasy football on DraftKings is managing the flex position, where I think there’s a big edge to be had. In cash games, I think you can improve your lineup’s floor by generally using a running back—preferably one who catches a lot of passes in the flex spot.


1. Stack your quarterback with at least one receiver.

It isn’t “stacking” in the same sense as a five-man stack of batters in MLB, but one popular—and successful—strategy in daily fantasy football tournaments is to use a quarterback with one or more of his receivers. The idea is that their play is correlated, if one does well, the other will probably perform well, too, which improves your team’s ceiling. That’s a positive for tournaments.

I like to look for other positive correlations, too, such as using the defense of one of my running backs or using a return man with his defense. In the latter scenario, I can double-up on points for a return touchdown.

2. Look for upside.

For tournaments, we want players who can score a ton of points in any given week. Someone like Edelman might be a wonderful choice for cash games but have less tournament value due to his lack of scoring upside.

That ability to get the ball into the end zone is really vital. To win a tournament, you’re going to need to score some touchdowns. A general rule I like to use is if a player can’t realistically score two touchdowns in a game, I don’t want to roster him.

3. Try to differentiate.

Whereas cash games are really just about value, tournaments are different; you need to be concerned about what the public thinks and how the rest of the field will behave. If you can identify a player who few others use and he does well, that’s more valuable to your lineup than if you use someone who is in 50 percent of lineups.

One tactic I like to employ is to pay for studs who are in perceived poor matchups. When someone like Le’Veon Bell plays a quality defense, their ownership will decrease. However, those types of players can go off against just about anyone, so I love to “overpay” a tad in those situations, forgoing value to help me differentiate my lineup in tournaments.

4. Use a pass-catcher in the flex when possible.

Finally, your approach to the flex position should change in tournaments, too. You can use a running back at times, especially if he’s a scorer and preferably catches a lot of passes, but wide receivers and certain tight ends typically have more upside for the price. Wide receiver production is just more volatile than running back production, which means their numbers come in bunches. Again, I want scoring ability here; not every pass-catcher is created equally.

I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is bales) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.