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DFS Football 101: Lessons Learned for 2017

Michael Rathburn

Known as “Rath” in the Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) community, he has helped run operations for two prominent daily fantasy sports startups. Michael has taken his insider knowledge and expertise in daily fantasy sports to the content side. Rath won the 2016 FSWA "Baseball Article of the Year, Online" award and was a finalist for the FSWA Best Baseball Series in 2011.

With just about three months complete in the 2017 NFL Season, we have enough data to make some broad observations and understand how they should dictate the rest of the season.

Once Week 1 started and I saw so many defense/special teams hitting 20 points I knew it was going to be an issue. I mentioned it on Twitter too, that DST and K would have more of an impact on scoring this year because of the bad quarterback play, offensive line issues and injuries to key players. Well, each week as the season went on we continued to see key skill position players lost to injuries, which has impacted fantasy results in a significant way.

I looked at Weeks 1-12 from 2016 vs. 2017 by position and points per game to see how much of a difference each position has seen. I looked at the entire player pool on a points per game average basis. I even went so far as to look at the top 12 and top 24 at RB and WR. The results were just about the same as looking at the entire player pool.

FanDuel Position Scoring Weeks 1-12 2016 vs. 2017 (Points Per Game)

POS20162017DIFF
QB14.9914.02-7%
RB5.625.43-3%
WR6.065.40-11%
TE3.563.33-6%
K7.868.28+5%
D/ST6.737.61+14%

Offense is down, especially the passing game which is a direct correlation between the QB/WR/TE. WR saw the most drop at -11 percent. This makes sense because WR has been the most difficult position to predict this year. The number of receivers who have been consistent week to week you can name on one hand or more specifically one finger – DeAndre Hopkins. Even Antonio Brown has had four games of 9.5 points or fewer.

The biggest reason for the drop in production in the passing games is the lack of quality starting quarterbacks. At this time last season, nine quarterbacks averaged at least 20 points per game. The number this year is four, and we lost one of those (Deshaun Watson) to a season-ending injury. This was no more telling than a few weeks ago when seven of the top eight quarterbacks on the season (based on PPG) were not in the player pool for Sunday DFS. There were a number of reasons – injury, schedule (Thursday/Sunday night/Monday night), byes and drop in performance from a year ago.

When I realized early on what the season was going to entail, I gravitated toward two types of quarterbacks – the consistent machines (Carson Wentz, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott until losing Ezekiel Elliott) or the matchup winners (attacking the teams who allow the most passing yards, attempts, touchdowns and fewest interceptions).

When considering matchups, one of the most overlooked things is injuries. Look at the Texans defense after losing J.J. Watt, plus several other starters. The Giants started getting destroyed once they lost key starters to injuries and suspensions. The 49ers and Buccaneers have also been teams to target because of this.

On the flip side, defenses can improve as the season goes on based on the development of players and strong coaching. Both the Saints and Patriots were defenses to target early, but they made adjustments and now are defenses to avoid for the most part. The Saints have suffered some recent key injuries that make them worth evaluating again.

Then you have a team like the Denver Broncos. If you were just to look at fantasy points per game allowed, the Broncos are 20th with 20.1 PPG. But dig into the numbers and you will see they have allowed 22 touchdowns and have only four interceptions on what is supposed to be one of the best defenses and secondaries in the NFL. They have allowed seven QBs to score at least 20 PPG and don’t have a single interception since Week 4 vs. the Raiders. In comparison, the worst team against QBs, the Texans, have also allowed seven QBs to score at least 20 PPG.

So what gives? Bottom line the team quit after the horrible Sunday night loss to the Giants. That is not something that showed up in the box scores until Carson Wentz put up 26.8 against them. I can’t tell you how many weeks went by where I saw people recommend the Broncos D or fade QBs against them. I’ve been playing QBs against them since the Wentz game and taking advantage of the low ownership.

The takeaway is do not just look at fantasy points per game allowed when deciding on the quarterback matchups. Look at all the pertinent stats and not just for the entire season. Look at the last three and five games to see where a team is trending to gain an edge on the field.
The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Michael Rathburn plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: FanDuel: burnnotice, DraftKings: burnnotice, Yahoo: burnnotice, Fantasy Aces: burnnotice, FantasyDraft: burnnotice.