Preseason NFL DFS is its own unique animal. Not only do the slates vary wildly week to week, but each one requires its own level of in-depth research. Playing time projections, depth chart shuffling, injuries, and roster cuts are all moving puzzle pieces we need to sort out before lock.
In order for us to put ourselves in the best position to succeed with so many moving variables, we need to be willing to put in the time and effort to research. You can generally find how much a team’s starting unit is projected to play, you just need to dig deep enough and find the answer. Sifting through team websites, beat reporters timelines, and listening to coaches during interviews are an important part of the process.
The goal of this article is to help show you the path to becoming a successful preseason NFL DFS player. Follow these steps and guidelines and you’ll find yourself well prepared to take on any slate and turn it into a profitable one.
Playing Time is Integral
Each week is its own journey when researching a preseason slate. Teams are all looking to evaluate different players and different positions. Knowing who will see significant playing time is paramount to our research.
Remember, the preseason is when teams trim their rosters from 90 players down to 53. They want to make sure the first team looks sharp, but they also want to get as many looks and reps they can on film of their third stringers and backups. These are the guys that they are spending a good amount of time evaluating and determining whether or not they merit roster status on the final 53-man roster.
Not all teams follow this set of playing time strictly, but listed below is a loose guideline of what to expect throughout the five weeks of preseason.
The Hall of Fame Week
This week is special in that it’s not just the only game of the slate, it’s the only game of the week. We’ll typically see starters out for the first drive, but that’s about it. We might get a second drive if it’s a new offense being installed (new QB/new OC). The second team quickly comes onto the field and takes up the remainder of the first half. The third team then plays the entire second half.
Preseason Week 1
Weeks 1 through 4 often have the games spread out throughout the week, generally spanning Thursday to Sunday. Week 1 echoes the Hall of Fame game’s playing time. Expect limited usage of the first team (a drive or two) with the second team playing the remainder of the first half. Third team closes out second half.
Preseason Week 2
Week 2 will have the starters begin for a few drives, up to a full quarter. The second team will take over again to finish the first half with the third team taking over after halftime.
Preseason Week 3
The third week of preseason is typically referred to as the dress rehearsal week. This is where we’ll see the most time from our starters. The length of time that they play will often depend on how well they move the ball, how much experience the unit has, and whether or not the coach wants to try emphasizing a specific part of their game (rushing attack, hurry-up, red zone work, etc.). Starters will generally see at least the first quarter, with some teams continuing up until halftime. This is all team-specific, so make sure you do your due diligence and read what the coaches aim to get out of this game. Second- and third-teamers will split the remainder of the game.
Preseason Week 4
Week 4 is all about the final roster cuts. Starters won’t be playing this game, as the coaching staff utilizes this game to trim down the final cuts in order to declare their 53. This means a heavy dosage of No. 2 and No. 3 teams, emphasizing playing time for the latter. Identifying which players the coaches view as “roster bubble” material can be beneficial. These players are usually singled out with the intention of getting additional snaps on film so the staff can properly evaluate them.
Each week presents its own unique challenges here. We want to prioritize playing time in the preseason format. More snaps equal more opportunities. It’s as simple as that.
How do we do that?
Research my friend, research.
Research, Research, Research
Information is the name of the game here. I often say that preseason NFL DFS is a meritocracy-based sport. Spending time to research each and every slate is often rewarded with profitable lineups.
We want to find out whether or not Coach X is frustrated with the new starting quarterback he acquired over the offseason. He may try to get that quarterback — and the entire first team offense — additional snaps in preseason games to get them working in unison against an actual opponent. Additional first team reps can sometimes be more valuable than rostering another team’s second-team unit.
We want to find out if there’s a close battle at the RB2 position and what the coaching staff thinks about the two players battling. Perhaps they want to test out the smaller back in more goal line situations. Maybe they want to find out if the big bruiser can catch passes out of the backfield. Finding information on projected playing time is gold. Finding usage information is like finding diamonds.
Follow well-established beat reporters on Twitter. They often can provide valuable insights before kickoff. Which players they’ve seen getting additional targets in practice can often translate to on the field usage. They can also help save you from starting a player that’s a late scratch by noticing them not warming up with their positional group. NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling has compiled one of the best Twitter Lists to help you here. These people follow their respective teams continuously, and their Twitter feeds are often great places to unearth fantasy-relevant pieces of information.
Listen to coach interviews. They’ll often contain very little information we can use for preseason DFS, but every now and then they reveal some important nuggets regarding playing time or usage. Even reading through a synopsis of an interview can provide some useful information.
While researching, you’ll often uncover injury notes and tidbits. We are prioritizing snaps and touches in preseason football, and when there’s one less player available on a team’s depth chart due to injury, we can reallocate the touches. Let’s take the running back position as an example. If we have multiple injured players on a depth chart — think the RB2 and RB3 — the coaching staff isn’t going to default to the RB1 to make them up. They need that RB1, more than ever, to escape preseason healthy. They’ll just reallocate the touches to the RB4 and RB5, giving them heavy snaps and fewer touches to be distributed around the backfield. These players that are in for an uptick in play volume due to injury can be preseason gamechangers.
Finally, make sure to pay attention to news close to lock. Unlike the regular season, inactives are reported in a less formal manner. Being around Twitter is extremely helpful to find out which players have been ruled out. Even just one running back sitting can have big changes to splitting the workload among the remaining backs. Pay attention prior to lock or you could miss out on important pivots.
I’m old school in my approach here, but it’s worked well for me over the years, so I’ll share it with my #EliteMafia fam. Here’s how I approach each slate:
Start by building a player pool at each position. Sort this pool by tiering players that project to have similar playing time, then rank inside the tier based on volume/talent/matchup. This information is gathered during the research period where you’re looking over depth charts, injuries, and beat reporter notes. The key thing is to prioritize playing time and projected volume. From there, it’s mixing and matching top plays and building lineups. Salary isn’t a concern in this format, so it’s simply creating the best combinations of players based on rankings.
This method can apply to a single cash lineup, 20-man’s, or even 150-max entry tournaments. Build your player pool then trim by prioritizing opportunity and playing time.
A few, quick hitters on roster construction and strategy:
- Volume remains our primary target. Flexing a third running back who is in line for a significant number of touches can swing slates.
- A third-stringer in line for a dozen touches is far more valuable than a starter seeing just one series.
- Burners can put up points in a hurry. Players that have extreme athleticism can become mismatches against undisciplined third-stringers. Wide receivers with speed just need one long ball to go right for them to pick up points in a hurry.
- Defense selection is very important. Not only do you select a Team DST that plays every snap of the game, they’re often playing against inferior quarterbacks. Turnover potential is high and so is sack potential against mobile quarterbacks. They are key plays on Showdown slates, often meriting Captain status. Including the DST on both teams in the same lineup is a common strategy.
- Ownership is less of a concern in this format, but don’t be afraid to add some contrarian thinking in roster building. Flexing a second tight end is a very contrarian move, but the juice can be worth the squeeze when it hits.
- Utilize previous preseason data. A player that excelled in the preseason the previous year (and is still with the same team) often repeats in terms of outperforming backups. A quarterback that routinely throws for touchdowns against last year’s backups will probably do the same against this year’s backups. History tends to repeat itself when coaching staffs and depth charts stay relatively intact.
Overall, there’s plenty of different ways to be a successful preseason NFL DFS player. Spend the time to do the research. Find out which players are projected for both playing time and volume. You’re not going to see many slates that ever approach a normal regular season week in terms of scoring. Heck, some slates you’ll be lucky just to break 70 points. Every point matters in preseason football which is why it’s so important to leave no stone unturned.
Spend the time reading beat reporters articles and tweets. Watch coach interviews and post-game reports.
When you’re standing at the top of a GPP leaderboard, it’ll all be worth it.