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DFS Football 101: Analyzing Cash-Game Contests

Michael Rathburn

Known as ďRathĒ 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. Rath won the 2016 FSWA "Baseball Article of the Year, Online" award and was a finalist for the FSWA Best Baseball Series in 2011.

The last two weeks, I discussed my "Cash Game System," which consisted of guidelines for each position and how to approach them in cash games. This week, I review how to look at your cash game contests after they are completed and what you can learn from them.

I took a 100-man, 50/50 contest from Week 2 on FanDuel to review. You have to do this manually on FanDuel, but on DraftKings you can download the CSV file in the contest and get it automatically. One of the things you will notice on the ownership percentages is that there are only about three players at each position that collectively cover the majority. This goes into the strategy I went over in that you want to create a cheat sheet using my system and have a very limited player pool to select from when building lineups.

How do you know the players that will be heavily owned each week? Who will be the "chalk?" Well, Vegas totals will drive a big piece of it, so looking at the totals for the game and the implied team totals will tell you that. Also, any backup player that is now in a starting role will automatically become a favored play because it allows you to pay up for the more known commodities. Lastly, the opposing team defense versus the position will also determine who are the highest-owned players in a given week. For example, the Falcons have been scorched by opposing running backs who catch the ball, so a player like Theo Riddick would have a lot more interest in Week 3.

Letís look at the percentages owned by position:

QUARTERBACK

PLAYERTEAM% OWNEDSALARYSCOREVALUE
Matt Ryan ATL 34 8200 14.9 1.8
Tom Brady NE 23 9200 30.8 3.3
Aaron Rodgers GB 12 9100 19.5 2.1
Jameis Winston TB 6 7800 12.5 1.6
Philip Rivers LAC 5 7000 17.2 2.5
Derek Carr OAK 5 8300 21.2 2.6
Carson Palmer ARI 3 7500 16.9 2.3
DeShone Kizer CLE 2 6800 4.9 0.7
Cam Newton CAR 2 7800 11.8 1.5
Russell Wilson SEA 2 8100 15.3 1.9
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 2 8000 17.5 2.2
Case Keenum MIN 1 6000 6.7 1.1
Dak Prescott DAL 1 7700 17.9 2.3
Drew Brees NO 1 8700 22.2 2.6
Sam Bradford MIN 1 7100 ó ó

Three quarterbacks made up the chalk in Week 2 (69%) Ė Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers. Ryan and Rodgers were in the same game, but Rodgers was dealing with the offensive line injuries which I think impacted his lower ownership. Tom Brady was in New Orleans in one of the highest projected scoring games of the week. The reason Ryan was higher than Brady was the $1,000 difference in price. It is a lot harder to build a cash-game lineup with a $9,200 quarterback. Brady was on the majority of the winning rosters and helped carry those teams.

You will find some players that swear paying down at quarterback is the right move in cash games on FanDuel. Iím not one of them. Iím going to gravitate to the top tier unless there is just one player that is in the mid-tier and significantly mispriced, but I usually never go below $7,500.

RUNNING BACK

PLAYERTEAM% OWNEDSALARYSCOREVALUE
Melvin Gordon LAC 68 7600 17.3 2.3
Ty Montgomery GB 67 6500 26.0 4.0
Marshawn Lynch OAK 9 7200 11.4 1.6
Ezekiel Elliott DAL 8 8700 4.2 0.5
Kareem Hunt KC 8 7800 24.4 3.1
Le'Veon Bell PIT 7 9000 11.1 1.2
Leonard Fournette JAC 5 7600 13.1 1.7
Mike Gillislee NE 4 6700 12.9 1.9
Tarik Cohen CHI 4 5400 8.8 1.6
Todd Gurley LAR 3 8900 25.1 2.8
Dalvin Cook MIN 3 6700 7.4 1.1
LeSean McCoy BUF 2 8600 7.3 0.8
Jacquizz Rodgers TB 2 6600 12.7 1.9
LeGarrette Blount PHI 2 6300 0.5 0.1
Rob Kelley WAS 2 5600 7.8 1.4
Jay Ajayi MIA 1 7900 13.6 1.7
Bilal Powell NYJ 1 6400 1.3 0.2
Mark Ingram NO 1 6200 9.6 1.5
Kerwynn Williams ARI 1 6100 2.2 0.4
James White NE 1 5700 13.6 2.4
Terrance West BAL 1 6600 11.5 1.7

With David Johnson injured and LeíVeon Bell both expensive and coming off a bad week, the chalk gravitated to two players that were in the mid-tier pricing. Gordon and Montgomery were in good spots but also projected to get at least 20 touches. Once Jordy Nelson went down, Montgomery got a ton of work in the passing game. Both hit value and if you did not have them, you probably lost. The only other backs that hit value were Kareem Hunt and Todd Gurley.

WIDE RECEIVER

PLAYERTEAM% OWNEDSALARYSCOREVALUE
Julio Jones ATL 61 8800 13.3 1.5
Larry Fitzgerald ARI 48 6600 3.6 0.5
Brandin Cooks NE 27 7900 5.3 0.7
Chris Hogan NE 21 6200 16.3 2.6
Tyreek Hill KC 17 7200 6.9 1.0
Keenan Allen LAC 13 7100 14.5 2.0
Jordy Nelson GB 13 8100 0 0
Adam Thielen MIN 11 5800 4.9 0.8
Antonio Brown PIT 9 9400 8.7 0.9
Amari Cooper OAK 8 7900 5.3 0.7
Terrelle Pryor WAS 8 6800 4.1 0.6
Randall Cobb GB 8 6300 10.0 1.6
Cooper Kupp LAR 7 6500 4.8 0.7
J.J. Nelson ARI 7 5300 20.5 3.9
Davante Adams GB 6 6700 19.9 3.0
Stefon Diggs MIN 6 6500 4.1 0.6
Doug Baldwin SEA 5 7600 7.4 1.0
Mike Evans TB 4 8500 18.8 2.2
Kelvin Benjamin CAR 4 6600 10.7 1.6
DeSean Jackson TB 3 6700 5.4 0.8
Michael Crabtree OAK 2 7300 29.0 4.0
Paul Richardson SEA 2 5200 8.9 1.7
Marqise Lee JAC 2 5900 11.1 1.9
Sammy Watkins LAR 1 7600 4.0 0.5
Dez Bryant DAL 1 7600 15.4 2.0
Jeremy Maclin BAL 1 6300 11.1 1.8
Martavis Bryant PIT 1 6200 17.3 2.8
Nelson Agholor PHI 1 5500 7.4 1.3
DeVante Parker MIA 1 6400 10.5 1.6
Demaryius Thomas DEN 1 7000 10.1 1.4

The chalk got destroyed again at the wide receiver position. I rarely spend up for the top tier receivers because they are not as consistent as we saw a couple years ago. There was a point where Antonio Brown was a lock, but no longer. On FanDuel, the sweet spot of receiver has been $6,500-$7,500. It allows you to miss on a player without it killing your whole lineup.

The majority of the 21 percent of teams that had Chris Hogan paired him with Tom Brady, which paid off huge. Also, if you had J.J. Nelson in your lineup, thereís a good chance you finished in the top half.

TIGHT END

PLAYERTEAM% OWNEDSALARYSCOREVALUE
Coby Fleener NO 40 5300 10.8 2.0
Rob Gronkowski NE 9 8100 20.6 2.5
Zach Ertz PHI 8 6100 12.2 2.0
Kyle Rudolph MIN 7 5500 6.5 1.2
Charles Clay BUF 6 5200 3.8 0.7
Jimmy Graham SEA 4 6300 0.6 0.1
Martellus Bennett GB 4 5800 7.2 1.2
Austin Hooper ATL 4 5500 1.7 0.3
Cameron Brate TB 3 5300 3.4 0.6
Travis Kelce KC 3 6700 20.3 3.0
Jesse James PIT 2 5400 4.7 0.9
Jared Cook OAK 2 5100 4.5 0.9
Jordan Reed WAS 2 6400 7.8 1.2
Zach Miller CHI 2 4500 7.2 1.6
Jason Witten DAL 1 5400 20.7 3.8
Delanie Walker TEN 1 6200 14.2 2.3
Greg Olsen CAR 1 6500 1.5 0.2
Antonio Gates LAC 1 5300 8.1 1.5

At tight end, it was pretty much one guy last week, Coby Fleener. With Willie Snead out and Fleener being mispriced, he became the chalk play and paid off just barely at 2x value. Some teams that went with Brady also stacked with Rob Gronkowski, who had a big game.

KICKER

PLAYERTEAM% OWNEDSALARYSCOREVALUE
Giorgio Tavecchio OAK 19 4700 9.0 1.9
Phil Dawson ARI 18 4500 11.0 2.4
Stephen Gostkowski NE 11 5100 12.0 2.4
Wil Lutz NO 11 4700 9.0 1.9
Blair Walsh SEA 8 4600 6.0 1.3
Justin Tucker BAL 7 5200 6.0 1.2
Matt Bryant ATL 6 5000 14.0 2.8
Mason Crosby GB 4 4900 5.0 1.0
Cairo Santos KC 4 4600 9.0 2.0
Dan Bailey DAL 3 4800 7.0 1.5
Kai Forbath MIN 3 4500 4.0 0.9
Dustin Hopkins WAS 1 4700 10.0 2.1
Adam Vinatieri IND 1 4700 8.0 1.7
Brandon McManus DEN 1 4700 6.0 1.3
Nick Folk TB 1 4600 14.0 3.0
Jason Myers JAC 1 4600 5.0 1.1
Connor Barth CHI 1 4500 1.0 0.2

I have one strategy at kicker on FanDuel. Pay down in the $4,500-$4,700 range and look for the best matchup. I want a close game preferably, but a huge home favorite is OK, too. But a closer game with an accurate kicker in that price range is my target. After Week One, it was obvious that Giorgio Tavecchio was going to get a lot of action. Unfortunately, when you have a team that was a 14-point favorite, they end up scoring a lot of touchdowns, so he just didnít get the chance to attempt field goals. Phil Dawson was in a great spot as a seven-point road favorite against the Colts and only $4,500. He was my top kicker on the board in Week 2. Also, you have Gostkowski and Lutz who were in the same game.

D/ST

PLAYER% OWNEDSALARYSCOREVALUE
Ravens 49 4700 17.0 3.6
Cardinals 11 5000 10.0 2.0
Buccaneers 10 4500 19.0 4.2
Chargers 9 4300 3.0 0.7
Steelers 6 4700 8.0 1.7
Raiders 4 5300 9.0 1.7
Panthers 2 5100 10.0 2.0
Cowboys 1 4800 2.0 0.4
Chiefs 1 4500 11.0 2.4
Jaguars 1 4300 -1.0 -0.2
Patriots 1 4300 2.0 0.5
Bears 1 4200 4.0 1.0
Browns 1 4100 6.0 1.5
Seahawks 1 5400 8.0 1.5
Falcons 1 4300 13.0 3.0
Rams 1 4900 2.0 0.4

Much like tight end, D/ST had some major chalk with the Ravens at almost half the field against the Browns. They came through with a big week, so if you didnít have them it was a tough road.

The Cardinals and Bucs hit at least 2x value and paid off. Those three teams accounted for 70 percent of the D/ST ownership.
The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Michael Rathburn plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: FanDuel: burnnotice, DraftKings: burnnotice, Yahoo: burnnotice, Fantasy Aces: burnnotice, FantasyDraft: burnnotice.