2019 NFL DFS Cash Game Playbook and Strategy Guide

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If there’s one non-debatable truth that can be taken from the 2006 comedy smash “Talladega Nights – The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” it’s that if the Wonder Bread racer ever played DFS, he would be consistently shakin’ and bakin’ cash games on a regular basis.

No truer words have ever been spoken…

The NFL DFS landscape consists of two primary formats where contestants compete in hopes of ultimately upping their bankroll. Tournaments, otherwise referred to as “GPPs or Guaranteed Prize Pool tournaments”, are not for the faint of heart. Often times less than 20% of the entire field is given an opportunity to accrue on their entry fee. To make matters even bleaker for the average tournament player, minimum cash is often times not even double what those contestants paid to simply enter that tournament. Let’s bust out some numbers real quick..

Take the July 15th DraftKings MLB $250K Extra Inning Tournament for instance…

  • 29,411 total entries
  • 150 max entry per player
  • $10 entry fee
  • 5510 places paid (18.7% cash rate)
  • Top Prize: $25,000
  • Top 10 entries receive 22% of total prize pool

While the top of the payment structure is indeed lucrative, nearly 25% of the payout will go to the top 10 finishers in a 29,411 entrant field. Less attractive, is the $15 awarded for minimum cash (finishing between 3,116th and 5,510th place). For those of you who aren’t math prodigies (no worries, neither am I), these figures imply that if you manage to assemble a stellar line up that gets you to between the top 11-19% of entries, you’ll only be making 1.5x your entry fee. For the sake of this example, let’s say you threw 10 entries in the “Extra Inning”, with 4 of those rosters finishing in the top 50% of all entries, while your other 6 entries finish in the bottom 50%. With that said, only 10% of your total rosters (1 entry) surpassed the top 18% needed to result in profitability. As a tournament dominant player, you need to be prepared to trade just a few bits of glory throughout the year for many nights like that. You’ll also need to have quite a bit of cash saved up unless luck strikes in your favor early on. Luckily for everyone, both DraftKings and FanDuel offer the cash game format, which is a much more proven and sound way of accruing bankroll.

Here at DailyPlayAction.com we are adamant about evangelizing cash games as a staple in a profitable DFS strategy. Like most providers in the DFS industry, we recommend a ratio of 75-80% cash game play to 20-25% tournament play in order to sustain a healthy bankroll. Another recommended metric that many successful DFS players utilize (but is much harder to stay disciplined with) is to never play more than 10% of your bankroll on any individual DFS slate. Living by both of these guidelines will give you the best shot at consistent profitability in daily fantasy sports.

Now that we’ve touched on the volatility of tournament play, I want to dedicate the rest of this piece to highlighting how I’ve approached cash games since I started playing NFL daily fantasy. To begin with, DraftKings and FanDuel have an entry fee rake that collects about 7% of the total prize pool in cash games, thus giving you a 43.5% of doubling your entry fee. Cash games consist of head to heads (H2H), 50/50s, double ups and triple ups on both DraftKings and FanDuel. Due to the lack of a tiered payout structure, there is no need to build volatile or upside-centric rosters when approaching this format, as safety and consistency will be paramount to your success.

Rather than researching and implementing plays with high ceilings, we want to target players that deliver solid results consistently, thus establishing “a high floor.” On a site like DraftKings, slot receivers often serve as great cash game options. Pass catchers like Keenan Allen, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Tyler Boyd fit this mold due to their proximity to the line of scrimmage, and their propensity for targets coupled with potential yards after the catch (YAC). The amount of catches on short routes run by these receivers give DFS players a safe cushion in DraftKings PPR (point per reception) formats. Going into any NFL week, I’m certain that these types of receivers will yield a very safe return on investment, as they are generally always good for 7-8 receptions, with 75+ receiving yards and also possess a legit chance of finding the end zone. Now that we’ve started to dig in, let’s discuss some of the strategies I’ve used on a position by position basis to help me excel in this DFS format. For the sake of this breakdown, I’ll be referencing the DraftKings PPR format:

Quarterbacks

Choosing a QB is seldom my top priority when assembling a cash game roster. The reason being that there are generally always value options available while it is usually more difficult to get the same bang for your buck at other positions. At the QB position, we want to strive for hitting 3.5x the player’s salary in fantasy points, and generally we can do so at a lesser cost than at most other positions. Finding QBs with rushing upside presents a very nice value add as well, seeing as rushing yards are weighted more heavily than passing yards on the majority of DFS sites. A perfect example of player that fits this mold is Ravens QB, Lamar Jackson. While managing a miniscule amount of passing attempts per game compared with other NFL QBs, Jackson averaged 17 rushing attempts through his first 7 starts which is nearing bell-cow status territory for a typical starting running back. Couple that in with his 20+ passing attempts, and you’ve got yourself a STUD DFS QB that could have been had for less than $6,000 (DK) on most weeks for the better part of the 2018 NFL season.

When evaluating “safe” options, I always place a major emphasis on leveraging the linemakers in Las Vegas to effectively map out the flow or “script” of each game. A QB that is a home favorite, with an implied Vegas total of 25+ points scored by their respective team, is what I search for when evaluating O/U and spreads. This is a consistent trend you’ll be seeing from position to position throughout my process. Games with high over/unders (north of 52 points, let’s say) and close spreads (when the favorite is pegged to win by no more than 3 points) are indicative of a QB friendly stat environment. If the matchup’s implied total is in that range, there is a good possibility of a QB shootout taking place as both teams also possess high team totals, and are gunning to maintain pace with each other throughout all phases of the game. Last year’s Week 3 shootout between the Rams and Falcons was a perfect example of a QB friendly atmosphere that ended in a total of 80 points scored. Vegas had this game pegged with a higher than average Over/Under set at 53 points, and were projecting the Falcons as 3 point home favorites. The end result was a 43-37 Saints win, where both quarterbacks thrived. Here were their final stats:

ATL | Matt Ryan:

C/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKSQBRRTG
26/3537410.7503-15 yards93.0148.1

NO | Drew Brees:

C/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKSQBRRTG
39/493968.1301-591.4120.7

This particular example speaks to just how important it is to leverage Vegas when making decisions in the realm of DFS – particularly so for quarterback play.

Running Backs

When evaluating the running back position, the first thing I search for is players projected for situations in positive game script. By leveraging halfbacks on teams that are heavy favorites (the higher the spread the better), we get stock in teams that will be looking to ground and pound the football as they wean down the clock while nursing big leads. These running backs are usually running over a lackluster and tired defense, and can lead to excessive amounts of fantasy points. In recent years, emphasis has been placed on getting RBs involved in the short passing game. Players like Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley have revolutionized the way offenses operate with their pass catching prowess quite possibly becoming their most dominant traits. Targeting players with high opportunity rates, whether that’s consistently 20+ carries with little threat to their workload, or versatile RB-WR hybrids like Kamara that can attract 10+ targets in conjunction with several carries are integral to my approach.

In recent years, the 3 RB approach (two in RB slots, one in FLEX) has become a cash game staple. Last year however, things were different in a somewhat strange year for NFL DFS. 2018 saw WRs playing bigger roles in shark roster construction down the stretch while some bell-cows RBs were rendered inconsistent. Regardless of last year’s trend, its difficult to argue with allocating a large portion of your salary to at least one of your RB roster spots. These players are most highly correlated with work in the red zone and near the goal line, thus presenting the best opportunity for return on investment. Target home favorites who aren’t playing injured, with large workloads in the red zone, and with little threat to their touches for your best chance at premium output here.

Wide Receivers

Only two words of advice that really matter here, and those are targets and receptions. Evaluate both of these statistics closely and also keep an eye on yards after the catch, as this can be indicative of whether a player sees big spikes in production (GPP) or consistent yardage totals (Cash). Opportunity is king in the land of NFL DFS, so making sure that your WR is in an offense that is projected to either be in negative game script, on even just situated on a pass heavy team, should yield plenty of targets (and receptions) for your wideout. Individual matchup is also more important at the WR position than at others, and presents a good method of determining which player has a dominant matchup (if you’re not a DPA Premium Member) you can subscribe for access to the NFL Playbook Cheat Sheet which lists every WR/CB matchup worth taking advantage of on every NFL Main slate.

Contrary to the RB position, WRs have seen a slight bump in production when listed as underdogs (negative game script). Choosing pass catchers likely to be trailing should lead to an increase in red zone targets, as desperate QBs look to make up ground and get their teams on the scoreboard while also preserving clock. Another strategy that I like to implement (but maybe a little more-so in tournaments) is to play a WR2 if a WR1 draws a shutdown corner. Doing so can create a pass funnel for a WR2, that you can also usually insert into your roster at a discount. I’d advise to be careful simply inserting a WR2 into a WR1 role if say the WR1 is injured and can’t play. That same WR2 will usually draw the opposition’s top cornerback, and could have himself a putrid performance if the matchup is poor despite the individual bump in opportunity. Again, make sure to prioritize individual WR/CB matchups when deciding on your WRs, and also be sure to picture how you see the game unfolding. As a final word of advice, if you’re going to pay up at WR in the cash format, make sure your player has been a consistent performer from week to week, or run the risk of getting blown away by entries with the three headed monster approach at the RB/FLEX positions.

Tight Ends

Tight ends generally present a much more volatile proposition than other NFL DFS roster positions. The general rule of thumb is to pay down here, and put aside this salary for other positions. I’d tend to agree in the cash game format, unless someone like Travis Kelce and the Chiefs are heavily favored and playing against a team with a pathetic LB in coverage. When choosing my tight end, I’m looking for a player with a high propensity for red zone targets. Finding paydirt is the key at the TE position, and I want a big target that can gets ample looks inside the 20. In most cases, the TE is where I dig the bargain bin for value, and try to find a talented rookie that has seen an increase in snaps and appears to be on the fringe of breaking out (this works particularly well for GPPs). If there is a risk that I’m going to take in cash games, it’s more than likely going to be at the TE position. Emphasize value, red zone targets, home favorites, and volume at Tight End, and you’ll be on the right track in your 50/50’s and double ups.

Defense / Special Teams

D/ST is often one of the more difficult spots to nail down in a DFS roster when you don’t want to pay top dollar. Targeting defenses that will faceoff against offenses with high turnover rates, incompletion rates, and sack rates is always a good starting point. Making sure your D/ST is playing against opposition with a low implied team total will also serve as a good rule of thumb generally. On the contrary, if the defense you’re evaluating also creates a lot of turnovers or generates many sacks, you could be on to a solid upcoming DFS showing. Finding teams with dynamic special teams players (example: Tyreek Hill) can provide a little kick to your D/ST, but KR/PR for touchdowns are both rare and unpredictable. To make matters worse, there is no advantage to KR/PR yards accrued, so it’s TD or bust in that department. Lastly, evaluating ASR (Adjusted Sack Rate) will give you a read on how a team’s offensive line will match up with the opposing team’s defense. Make sure to leverage this if you’re considering a defense with dangerous pass rushers.

After recapping my strategy for cash games, I sincerely hope that you got something out of this strategy guide. No-one is more excited for the NFL DFS season than I am, and I can’t wait to help out all of you on DPA Premium with loads of content on the way for this upcoming season. If you’re not yet a member, please consider giving us a shot via our Free 30 Day Trial to gain access to our five sports of DFS content and advice! Follow us at @AlexKrallDFS or on the DPA twitter account at @dailyplayaction for more great Free/Premium daily fantasy sports content!