This article is part of our DFS Football 101 series.
In a DFS 101 installment earlier this summer, my esteemed colleague Kevin Payne provided a comprehensive and indispensable foundation for getting started with NFL DFS, touching on pertinent elements such as contest types, roster construction and lineup building strategies. We'll begin delving into many of these topics in greater detail in forthcoming installments, but will kick things off with a look at some of the unique aspects of playing NFL DFS on DraftKings.
DraftKings offers a $50,000 salary cap that is used to create a nine-player roster, and their scoring system can be found here. Both of these components have some nuances that separate the site's contests from FanDuel. In the process, these differences also prompt some strategic maneuverings that are unique to DraftKings' structure. We'll examine these further, beginning with a roster spot that those trying out DK's NFL product for the first time after playing exclusively on FanDuel may not be used to: the flex position.
Replacing a Kicker with Some "Flex Appeal"
FanDuel and DraftKings, along with most other DFS sites, share a lot of similarities. Both of the industry leaders' rosters for NFL feature a quarterback, two running backs, three receivers, a tight end and a team defense. The two sites diverge in one area, however, and this difference has strategic implications when setting your daily fantasy football lineups.
Unlike FanDuel, DraftKings doesn't employ a kicker as part of its roster, instead offering a "flex" position that can be filled by either a running back, wide receiver or tight end. This eliminates the uncertainty and variance inherent in a kicker whose opportunities to garner fantasy points largely depends on a multitude of factors outside of his control, and replaces it with one who's going to typically have a greater degree of involvement in a game and a chance at some consistent touches.
There's a variety of reasoning as to the best position of the three (WR, RB, TE) to target for a flex spot when making daily fantasy football lineup decisions. Some DFS pros are known to go with either a receiver or pass-catching running back in this spot, while others will actually lean heavily towards working in a second, target-heavy tight end, a la the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski or the Redskins' Jordan Reed. Of course, many will evaluate this position on a week-to-week basis, and factor in matchups, weather and other elements to determine how best it might be deployed in any given week.
A review of past data with respect to the use of the flex in different contest types reveals some interesting data as well. DFS author and player Jonathan Bales writes that your choice might best be predicated on what contest you're involved in; while using a running back at the flex position yielded the highest win probability in cash games, such as head-to-head contests, utilizing a tight end (whose production can be much harder to predict week-to-week) was what worked optimally for tournaments, where volatility can actually work in one's favor.
Keepin' It 100 = More Fantasy Points
DraftKings also appeals to our incessant need for more fantasy points by implementing benchmark bonuses for quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs. Quarterbacks who throw for at least 300 yards receive a three-point bonus, while receivers and running backs who match or surpass the 100-yard mark are rewarded equally.
While the three-point boost may not sound like much on the surface, it can certainly make a difference in all types of daily fantasy football contests, particularly considering the increasing amount of parity that there appears to be in DFS. A well-constructed lineup that has a 300-yard passer and 100-yard receiving teammate, for example, will reap the benefits of six additional points, the equivalent of an extra touchdown and successful two-point conversion.
Likewise, a lineup that houses a pair of running backs that exceeds the 100-yard threshold benefits from the same scoring boost. And for those who really like to dream big, keep in mind that pass-catching running backs, such as the Steelers' LeVeon Bell, also offer the exceedingly rare – but nevertheless possible – opportunity for a double bonus if they can eclipse the century mark through the air and ground.
Targets = Extra Fantasy Points
Another important distinction in DraftKings scoring is that they award one point per reception. This is yet another seemingly modest source of fantasy scoring that can be deceivingly important to your team's bottom line. It unquestionably adds a strategic dimension to NFL DFS roster construction, particularly when choosing among different running backs.
The point-per-reception (PPR) model particularly enhances the value of high-target wide receivers and tight ends, even potentially rendering possession-types such as the Patriots' Julian Edelman or the Dolphins' Jarvis Landry just as, if not more, valuable than explosive studs such as the Giants' Odell Beckham and the Bengals' A.J. Green in any given week.
Naturally, you always have your elite wideouts that offer the best of the both worlds and are therefore often priced stratospherically –- the Antonio Browns and Julio Joneses. With both players having easily eclipsed 100 catches last season, they provided those who rostered them with a nice supplementary haul of fantasy points week-to-week based on their receptions alone.
The PPR format also gives an even bigger boost to the already significant fantasy value of backs such as Bell, Arian Foster (when healthy), the Jets' Matt Forte and the Bills' LeSean McCoy, to name a few. All are frequent targets through the air in addition to the workload they receive in the ground game, which also usually keeps them as viable fantasy options for all four quarters.
The Unique Element of Late Swap
One final aspect of DraftKings' game play for NFL DFS is their late swap feature. Late swap allows you the flexibility of still making changes to your daily fantasy football lineup as long as the player you're removing and his replacement are playing in games that haven't started yet. With the multi-tiered days and start times of games in a typical NFL week – and the frequent uncertainty about players' health statuses until shortly before kickoff – this feature often proves indispensable throughout the course of a season. This holds particularly true for those who enjoy playing larger slates that encompass the Thursday night game all the way through Monday Night Football, or even one that encompasses all Sunday contests.
Late swap allows you to make last-minute modifications based on key changes to expected workload, starting roles, injuries, weather and a host of other factors that could conceivably dim one player's prospects while significantly brightening those of another. It allows savvy DFS players who stay on top of Twitter and other breaking-news sources to gain an edge on a large portion of the field who may not necessarily be monitoring last-minute information about, say, a late afternoon game where a key player unexpectedly gets hurt in warmups.
Finally, the late swap feature also dovetails nicely with the existence of the flex position. With the ability to switch out a player before the start time of their game, it's usually recommended that the flex position be filled with the qualifying player on your roster whose game has the latest start time/date of the week. In this manner, you'll have optimal positional "flex"ibility in replacing that player with another available option if circumstances dictate.