DFS Strategy: Short-Slate Lineups

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Should you put Jordan Reed into your DFS lineups?

The NFL Wildcard round presents a unique puzzle when it comes to the DFS landscape: a card of only 4 games, comprising 8 teams all good enough to qualify for the post-season. Due to the vastly reduced number of players in the pool, a winning tourney team will have to have at least one player who goes off at very low ownership.

The first thing we need to do in attacking a 4-game slate is to re-evaluate what it means to be a low ownership player. For argument’s sake, let’s assume there are 4 teams on a bye, as well as a Thursday night game already in the can. In this common instance, we are left with 13 games, or 26 teams. If we deem 25% of the starting quarterbacks unplayable due to poor matchups, bad weather, or any other reason, the playable pool is a rounded off 20 quarterbacks.

By extension, if all are played exactly an equal number of times, we will have 5% ownership across the board. A QB topping 10% ownership on a typical Sunday would fall onto the higher-owned side of the ledger.

With a 4 game slate, we have a pool of only 8 QBs. Knocking it down to 6 by performing the same 25% unplayable exercise as on a full card leaves us with 16.67% ownership across the board if split equally, with a highly-owned QB breaking the 20% barrier.

Due to our need to be contrarian, the QB is an excellent spot to consider taking that first against-the-grain stance for a couple of reasons. Even the worst QB has a decent floor. They are out there for every offensive snap and are the player you can roster that is guaranteed to touch the ball.

Secondly, you can usually make a safe assumption that a quarterback on a playoff team is a solid player and if that isn’t enough, consider that on the 2 major DFS sites a passing TD is only worth 4 points, not the 6 on the game scoreboard. The difference between a QB having a so-so game versus one having a pretty good game is very few points. As an added bonus, a good deal of your competition will favor the flashy arms over the guys who will tuck it away and scramble; good for you that rushing TDs are worth 6 points in DFS.

When it comes to running backs, you can still be rewarded for a stance that is against-the-grain, but keep in mind that the floor is lower than it is at QB for the simple fact that not a single touch is guaranteed. If you can save a few dollars by going to the RB who comes in on passing downs to replace the starter, especially on a full point PPR site such as DraftKings, then it could serve you well.

Plugging in the third string RB with the thought that if the starter gets injured you’d be all alone with #3, then you are really grasping at straws. This would be the difference between a good contrarian play and poor percentage stab in the dark. Same as with a starting RB who doesn’t have the huge numbers of the best guys; in a playoff setting, a RB who gets snaps will be a valuable source of points should his team bounce out to a multi-score lead.

When the competition is as solid as it is across a playoff slate, your team who just recovered a fumble after scoring themselves is very likely to take interest in getting the ground game up and running, so to speak.

Now we turn to the wide receivers. Rostering 3 (or 4 if flexing on DraftKings) WRs, this is the place to mix and match with an eye on taking at least one stab outside the box. Last season’s Wild Card round edition of the FanDuel $600K NFL Rush featured a leaderboard where every one of the top 10 teams rostered Dallas WR Terrance Williams, who was only 7% owned overall. He caught only 3 passes on the night, but 2 landed him in the end zone, showing how a lightly-targeted WR2 can be the huge difference maker.

His owners on the leaderboard used his cheap price to pair him with the Antonio Browns and Calvin Johnsons of the world, who both provided unspectacular results but high enough floors as WR studs to carry their owners over the top in tandem with T-Will.

All but the top few Tight Ends in the league are completely dependent on getting into the end zone in order to provide any value due to how rarely they are targeted and the fact that, unlike a WR, there is essentially zero chance of a handoff at any point in the day.

I am sure Jordan Reed will be the standout TE choice this weekend and would be the easiest of automatic calls in a head-to-head DFS contest. The call gets trickier in a large GPP, as a 6/114/2 TD line at massive ownership sinks the teams without him, but the payoff of fading the ownership if he throws in a dud is pretty large. I usually like to play 2 teams without a short-slate TE standout for every team I have him.

Kicker is a tough call. Here is a spot where you want to try to find a legit excuse to pivot off just plugging in the biggest favorite with in the highest Over/Under game, as most teams on a short playoff slate will be projected to score between 20 and 26 points, making it very difficult to narrow down a solid favorite kicker. Use weather, but be realistic about how ‘bad’ it might be.

In a 4-game playoff slate, I usually find a reason to roster the defenses I think will be lowest owned due to the high variance of defense scoring combined with the fact that the ‘worst’ defense on a playoff card is still going to be opportunistic enough to put up the highest total.

Best of luck this weekend.

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