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DraftKings Fantasy Football: Beginners Guide

Michael Rathburn

Michael Rathburn

Known as “Rath” in the Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) community, he has helped run operations for two prominent daily fantasy sports startups. Michael has taken his insider knowledge and expertise in daily fantasy sports to the content side. He was also nominated by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association for Best Baseball Series in 2011.


How to Start Playing Daily Fantasy Football

You have been playing season long fantasy sports for a while now, and have been hearing about these new daily leagues on sites like DraftKings. A lot of people are hesitant to play because they feel it might be too time consuming, afraid of losing or they simply don't have the tools to help them be a successful player. This article is designed to help you with both. We will give you the basics that you need to know about playing Daily Fantasy Football.

How to Get Started

1) Familiarize yourself with the scoring and roster formats -- DraftKings has one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one Flex (RB/WR/TE), one defense/special teams and one kicker.

2) Understand how the salaries work for DraftKings

  • What positions are priced the highest, lowest?
  • What positions have the lowest/highest variance?
  • What is the average price per player?
  • How many high-priced, mid-priced, and low-priced players do I need to build a winning roster?

  • 3) Finding value

  • Identifying players with favorable matchups (opposing defense points allowed by position)
  • Injuries that have led to a cheaper salary player now being in a favorable position.
  • Player is returning from injury and salary is low.
  • Trends in snaps, touches, targets that show a player's increased role in the offense.
  • Focus on players who are in games that are expected to be the highest scoring for the week.
  • Know which players perform extremely well at home or on the road (e.g. Drew Brees and Russell Wilson).
  • Know what the target scores should be on DraftKings based on the contest you are in (Heads-Up, 50/50, triple up, guaranteed prize pool/tournament).


  • TIP - Join free contests and start building lineups using different strategies. This will get you comfortable when you start entering contests for real.

    What contests should I play?

    I recommend that anyone who has not played daily fantasy sports before, play in free contests for at least 1-2 weeks to get a feel for how it works. There is nothing worse than jumping into contests, losing all of your money and then deciding that it's just not for you. Much like anything else, this does take practice, research and dedication to be successful, but it can be extremely fun as the daily excitement of fantasy sports is second to none!

    Free Contests

    Freerolls (Free Tournaments)

    Freerolls are free tournaments in which you can play and win a cash prize or voucher that can be used to enter a cash contest. These contests are great practice to see how the games work, however you are playing against several hundred people so just because you don't finish in the winning column, that doesn't mean you're not a good daily fantasy player.
    The best thing you can do in a freeroll is look at the rosters of the players that finish in the top 50 and take note of how they build their rosters. The strategy used is something you can use in the future contests.

    Strategy for looking at leaderboards in freerolls:

    What percentage of ownership is each player? Take a look at the players who were owned the most and their results.

    Who were the cheapest players that people owned the most? These are the most favored "value" plays that you want to see why they took them. It could be based on matchup or a player who inherited more playing time due to an injury.

    What lineups came in the top 10-20% of the field and how did they build their rosters?

    Head-to-Head or Multi-player

    You can enter these in the lobby or create your own head-to-head/multi-player league. The great thing about the free practice contests is there is no risk on your part and you can learn how to build lineups for any type of contest.

    Bankroll Management

    Let's say you are now ready to take the plunge and make a deposit! Ok, first things first, decide how much you are willing to deposit. DraftKings offers a nice first time deposit bonus that will offset their “rake” (fee collected to enter contest – prize pool). Take advantage of this promotion, as it will save you some money.

    Use bankroll management strategy so that you don't enter your entire amount in one night. There will be ups and downs, wins and losses. You need to be able to ride out the streaks. If you're working with a large amount of money, then your bankroll management can be a lot tighter and you can risk 5-10 percent each night, but if you're working with a smaller amount, it's not much fun to only have $5-$10 in play each week, so you can step up to having 15-25 percent in play at a given time. Just be aware that one bad streak could take you out, so adjust accordingly to what you feel most comfortable.

    Cash Contests

    Deciding which contests to play once you have made your 1st deposit is critical, because again, it's about bankroll management, not just your skill of building a winning lineup. Here's a list of the contests along with the expected win rate in each. I recommend playing some Salary Cap contests when you first start out, and mix up your lineups. Putting all of your eggs in one basket is one of the worst things you can do playing daily fantasy sports.

    Head-To-Head (Win Rate 50 percent)

    Heads-Up contests are the safest way to win in daily fantasy sports because you only have to beat one lineup; however you need to make sure that you're playing a variety of opponents in order to maximize this strategy. If you're playing the same opponent in multiple contests or only playing the top players, your bankroll could diminish quickly. Check out the leaderboards to see who has the most "wins" to make sure you have a variety of opponents.

    50/50 or Double Up (Win Rate 50 percent)

    These are also nice bankroll builders, as you just need to finish in the top 50 percent to cash. The downside is that there's no reward for a great lineup that finishes in 1st place, but if you're just starting out 50/50 contests are the best route to go. The larger the field, the better chance you have of cashing when your lineups don't have the best scores, so keep that in mind. You can also use 50/50 contests to offset your entries into large field tournaments or qualifiers.

    3-Man Leagues (Win Rate 33 percent)

    These work similar to head-to-head contests, except you have to beat two opponents instead of one, but the payout is higher. Again, you only have to beat two lineups, which make these contests popular, but perhaps under-appreciated by the public.

    Triple Up (Win Rate 33 percent)

    Much like a 50/50, you're going against at least 20 different lineups, so there isn't as low of a risk as a three-man league, but the larger the field, the better your chances.

    10-man Leagues (Win Rate 30 percent)

    You only have to beat seven lineups to place in the money, and if you happen to come in 1st the bump in winnings is nice.

    Example of a daily fantasy sports contest structure to enter with bankroll management:

  • $200 deposit/$50 in play week 1 (25 percent of bankroll) along with recommended contest amounts
  • Head-to-Head - $20 deposit, contest amounts ranging from $1-$5
  • 50/50 - $10 deposit, ranging from $1-$5
  • Three-Man League - $10 deposit, ranging from $1-$5
  • Triple Up - $5 deposit, ranging from $1-$2
  • 10-Man League - $5 deposit, ranging from $1-$2

  • Pay attention to your results in these contests and take note of the score it takes to cash in each contest. You can use these scores as benchmarks the following day or week when you play again.