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NFL GPP Picks: DraftKings DFS Tournament Strategies and Slate Dynamics for Week 2

Matt Meiselman introduces some GPP concepts and strategies, focusing on NFL DFS for Week 2.

The NFL DFS landscape is full of analysis about targeting matchups, finding value and picking the best players. While all of those things are important components of winning at daily fantasy football, there’s unfortunately only limited discussion about game theory, lineup building strategies, contest selection and many other broader topics that also relate to constructing a winning game-plan each NFL Sunday. That’s what you’ll find here, as we take a look at some of those more nuanced strategic elements to prepare you for each week of the 2021 NFL season.

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What Happened to Raheem Mostert in Week 1?

If you’re reading this, you probably already know what “happened” to Raheem Mostert in the San Francisco 49ers’ first game of the season against the Detroit Lions. Mostert was injured after just two carries, and the subsequent knee surgery will force him to miss the remainder of the 2021 season. Mostert was 23.6% owned in DraftKings largest Week 1 contest, and he finished with just 2.0 DKFP as the second-highest owned player. This was obviously a big story, but there’s a larger story about Mostert and the reason he wound up being so popular, despite largely being touted as a “sleeper” pick throughout the week. The perceived 49ers game-plan heading into Week 1 was to use a committee approach at running back, but because Trey Sermon was announced as inactive on Sunday morning, Mostert was expected to be the beneficiary of a significant role increase.

Determining what the field will do is critical to gaining an edge in GPPs, and these sorts of last-minute situations make it difficult to assess what other DFS players are likely to do. It’s probably true that most people have already set their lineups by the time inactives are announced around noon on Sunday, but that truth can be highly variable depending on the stakes and the contest type you’re playing in. To illustrate that point, here’s an overview of Mostert’s popularity across different DraftKings contests on Sunday:

So what’s the takeaway here, that you should be better at knowing when players are going to get injured? Of course not. Football injuries are generally unpredictable, but the above information is telling when it comes to predicting reactions of the opponents you’re trying to beat in DFS. The key is to try to cultivate a sense for these situations and simply not react in the same way that everyone else is reacting. Whether or not Mostert deserved to be the chalk is it’s own question, but failing to consider that point in the first place is a clear path to failure.

Avoiding the Chalk “Build” in Week 2

Aside from the Mostert situation, perhaps the biggest storyline in Week 1 DFS was the cheap wide receiver. It enabled many lineups to spend up at multiple spots, while staying under the $50K salary cap by using a couple low-priced wide receivers, and/or Kyle Pitts at tight end. For Week 2, at least as of Friday, that doesn’t appear to be the case, as the chalk looks like it’ll come mostly from mid-range players rather than the “stars and scrubs” build that so many lineups employed in Week 1. Najee Harris ($6,300) and Chris Carson ($6,100) are both in great matchups, and their respective stocks are on the rise, as well. Harris wasn’t very productive in Week 1 — though he played every single snap of the game for the Steelers’ offense — and that figures to be a huge sign of encouragement to many DFS players. Carson, on the other hand, played well in Week 1, and his backup Rashaad Penny suffered a calf injury, which will likely help keep Carson’s workload high in Week 2.

Week 1 was probably somewhat of an anomaly with the aforementioned cheap wide receivers, as there’s inherently more chaos in a week where salaries have been live for months leading up to actual football. Week 2 lineups will likely be looking towards these medium-priced running backs, and also some medium-to-high priced receivers that could largely be coming from the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams. Both of those teams are in good spots, and Amari Cooper ($6,800) and CeeDee Lamb ($6,400) could see a target share boost with Michael Gallup getting hurt in last week’s game. As a result of all of this, you’ll likely be making a contrarian lineup simply by starting with two or more skill players that cost at least $7K, though it’ll obviously be important to find cheap players that make sense in those lineups, as well.

Leverage Points

Thinking about what types of lineups the field will make is one way to create a contrarian lineup of your own, but it’s an even more effective strategy when you can pair it with direct leverage opportunities. For example, if Najee Harris is going to be in a large chunk of the field’s lineups, you can attack that situation by stacking the Steelers passing game instead, capitalizing on an outcome where Ben Roethlisberger ($5,900) and his receivers outperform the running game. The reason this works in sports like football and basketball (compared to baseball and hockey) is because point-scoring opportunities are relatively fixed, which means that there’s functionally a finite number of opportunities to go around in each game. A touchdown by Dionate Johnson ($6,400), for example, means approximately one less touchdown opportunity for Harris.

The inverse of this is apparent in two Week 2 contests, as Jonathan Taylor ($7,200) and Ezekiel Elliot ($6,200) are both involved in games that will likely have some very popular wide receivers. In Elliot’s case, the receivers are on his own team, so it’s easier to see how a big game on his part could detract from guys like Cooper and Lamb. For Taylor, the expected chalkier players are actually on the opposing Rams, but Taylor having a strong rushing game and eating into the clock would take away some opportunities from the Rams pass catchers, as well. Taylor seems like an especially appealing option here due to his high Week 1 workload, despite the fact that the Colts trailed for the majority of that game against the Seahawks. Taylor shouldn’t garner much attention in a script where the Colts are underdogs and are facing a good defense, but his volume certainly gives him a significant degree of upside, even if you discount the leverage he provides against the Rams’ passing attack.

How Does this Help Me Win?

If the concepts outlined here are confusing, you’re not alone. Many DFS players put the majority of their attention into picking the best “values” without considering these more in-depth strategic elements. Nonetheless, the goal of what we’re talking about here is simple: If you’re trying to win a GPP, it’s important to know where those value plays are, but it’s perhaps more important to know how good and bad outcomes by teams and players will impact your lineup and the lineups of your opponents. Winning a DFS tournament isn’t actually just about scoring as many fantasy points as you can, it’s about scoring as many points as you can — relative to the other people in your contest.

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All views expressed are my own. I am an employee of DraftKings and am ineligible to play in public DFS or DKSB contests.

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