DFS would be easy and boring if you were able to roster the best players at every position on one lineup. The fun and the challenge comes in figuring out the best way to allocate your resources. Luckily, we have the constraint of the salary cap to add that extra element of skill. The fact that we have a salary cap poses the question of how best to allocate our resources to various players when we build our rosters. We can try to allocate it evenly and create a balanced team of solid players at every position. We could also choose to pay up for some superstars and hope to round out our rosters with some cheap guys who can perform well enough to help us keep pace. That would allow the high priced stars to help us win if they can put up the big numbers they are more likely to produce. What we want to know as players is whether one strategy yields better results than the other?
In order to answer this question, we have to look at it by position, as well as how those positions fit into our overall roster construction strategy. Cheap options almost universally outscore more expensive players on a points per dollar basis, but they also universally underscore the higher priced option in terms of raw points scored. Points per dollar is a big part of our overall equation when comparing players, but we are not going to take a team full of minimum priced guys and leave $20K in salary on the table. That minimum priced player may be more likely to reach three times his salary, but that three times salary may only add up to a total of nine or ten fantasy points. Antonio Brown may fall short of that three times value mark, but falling short at his price still likely means twenty-five fantasy points and a much better raw score than the minimum priced guy who did hit that three times mark. It is silly to leave money on the table in cash if you can upgrade to a guy with a higher raw score potential even if he has a lower points per dollar projection than a cheaper option.
Raw Data Points
The raw data paints a vivid picture of the optimal salary cap allocation for each position, so that is the first thing we will look at. The average points per dollar at the low end of the quarterback position and the potential ceiling of those cheaper guys offer the smallest margin of difference from the high end of any position. Although not to the same extent, running back is also a position where the cheaper options tend to outperform the higher priced ones on a point per dollar basis. This means that the second closest margin of raw points between the average high end option and the average mid tier option is at the running back position. Therefore, a cheaper quarterback and a balanced mid tier running back ($4,000-$6,000 range on DraftKings) are more likely to produce a higher point per dollar game than those you have to pay up for or scrape the bottom of the barrell.
Every rule has exceptions and we saw the very high end guys bust through this grouping for two main reasons in 2017: (1) the pricing was softer; and (2) the sheer volume of catches some of these top end RBs had. David Johnson was 21st overall in receptions, which makes him a crazy good PPR play. He also finished 37th in receiving yards. To put his numbers in perspective, even if he did not carry the football at all, he had the same range of catches and yards as guys like Stefon Diggs, Allen Robinson and a few less yards, but a few more catches, than DeAndre Hopkins. Le’Veon Bell was slightly behind him, but he missed a few games last year too. When you add the rushing yards to what these guys did receiving, they were very often in line with the best point per dollar plays on any slate, even at the sky high prices.
The relationship takes a strange turn when you look at both the raw scores and the points per dollar numbers at the tight end and wide receiver positions. The distribution of points at both of these positions is shaped more like a barbell. The highest priced options at both of those positions tend to outperform the middle tier and cheap options by a wide margin in raw points. Those top priced options are averaging 20-25 points a game and putting up more of the monster 30+ fantasy point performances than any other price point. They are head and shoulders above the mid-range priced options at their positions in both raw points and points per dollar. The strange thing is the raw points from the cheaper options are not far behind the middle tier, and therefore, the average points per dollar on the low end trump mid tier options. That means the optimal strategy when selecting a tight end or wide receiver is to pay up for the top talent or drop all the way down to the low priced options. The traditional pass catching positions are ones where the stars and scrubs approach makes a lot more sense and this is backed up by the numbers. You will not be able to fit three high priced wide receivers with a high priced tight end to round out all of those needed positions. What the numbers say you should do is pay top dollar for a few of them and drop all the way down to the lower end to round out the other empty spots. I am not saying a guy in the mid-range can not have a good game, but it is less likely to happen based on the averages. In order to put the odds of success in your favor, this is the optimal strategy for the position.
As you can see here, the question is not one we can easily answer with a definitive game plan. Each week presents it’s own unique set of questions and options. What we can say definitively, based on the data, is the optimal allocation in 2015 was to go down towards the bottom of the tier at quarterback, stick with the middle to lower tier of running backs, and then go stars and scrubs with a combination of top priced elite talent at wide receiver and tight end while mixing in some of the bottom priced options at those positions to round out a roster. In 2016, we were better off spending up for at least one of those elite pass catching running backs, then saving a little more at WR. The high end of the WR spectrum underperformed in 2016 compared to 2015. The range right below them and the bottom range were where most of the top point per dollar scores came from. In order to fit in the high end RB, we were forced to do more punting and thankfully DK lowered the TE prices to allow us to do just that. The QB price was also lower across the board, so it was easier to spend up at the position and still get yourself a good return. Long gone are the days of 60% owned backup QBs at min price, since they adjusted all the top end guys down in 2016. It makes me wonder what pricing adjustments get made this year and how they will again change our roster construction model.
There is an argument to be made about going away from this thinking in tournaments, based on the ownership percentages, but I prefer to stick to the rules here and use less popular options that are not the chalk in those price ranges as my way to differentiate my rosters. In cash games, I never deviate from the rules set forth above, as the numbers clearly illustrate that building your lineups this way gives you the highest average projected score. I also never mind taking all the chalk in cash. I prefer to let others make the mistake of fading the highest probable scorer when his fantasy point floor is so obviously high. This does not mean it will be the optimal strategy every single week, but it is the best way to build rosters over the course of the season to have a positive return on investment.