Why Stacking is Critical for DFS Victory
NFL Week 1 - As the NFL season gets underway, now is as good a time as any to introduce myself on the Football Outsiders platform. For the past few years, I have been writing about daily and best ball fantasy football for other sites, but this season you'll find lots of my content here. My best ball mind is going into hibernation and it's back to the beautiful game that matters for one slate only, DFS (daily fantasy sports). If you're unfamiliar with my work, then I can best summarize it as a passion for stats intertwined with some dark humor and mirth.
On Tuesdays, you'll find a column outlining all of the fantasy impact of the previous game week, covering injuries, waivers, disappointments, stats that matter, and anything else that is important for you to be informed about as we approach the next game week.
Thursdays will bring you a DFS deep dive of the highest standard. From the moment the games end on Sundays, I'm obsessed with snap counts, trends, and upcoming games. The deep dive will cover not just the lay-up heavyweights you'll want for cash games, but also the bargain guys in that $3,000 range on DraftKings who can really blow a slate wide-open. If you are familiar with my work, you'll know I'm a big advocate of stacking in any format that will allow it, and DFS is no different. Each week we'll round out my deep dive with a couple of my Stacks of the Week that I'll be building around for DFS tournaments.
You'll also be able to find me on a weekly video stream and podcast with Ian O'Connor on Thursdays, where we'll talk all things DFS and betting to get you ready for the week ahead.
If you're playing DFS for the first time this year or deciding to play more than in previous years, then it's important to decide on an approach. DFS formats fall nicely into separate categories, and all of them require different mindsets. Before you begin, though, it's important to decide how much money you feel comfortable losing, because whilst I'm here to provide you with great plays each week, we have to be mindful that any paid contest brings with it an element of risk. Thankfully DFS platforms provide contests for all budgets and everyone should be able to find a level they enjoy playing at. Before starting to enter contests each week, we should consider how much we intend to risk and what contests are the best way to spread that money around.
Sometimes referred to as 50/50s, head-to-heads, or double-ups, cash games are typically where the top half of the entries will double their money whilst the bottom half of entrants lose theirs. As such, these are lower-risk games and don't require the same type of mindset that a large-field tournament would. In cash games, our focus should be on the best plays. If an elite running back is facing the league's worst rushing defense then we don't need to overthink it, we can take the chalky play and then build around it.
Some of the most successful DFS players balance their weekly spending between tournaments and cash games with the idea being that if you win your cash games, it can pay for your tournament entries. Stacking is also less essential here as we're not aiming for a ceiling outcome. We're just aiming to be better than 50% of the field, whether that's one person in a head-to-head matchup or 5,000 other people.
If you're new to DFS, this is an ideal place to get started and become comfortable with the format. Try to avoid posting head-to-heads in the lobby as they get swooped up by heavy-volume players. If you're eligible for the "casual" section, then start there as only users who have played less than 50 contests are eligible.
Lineup tip: Generally speaking, I lean towards a running back in the flex if it's affordable and looks good in cash games.
If you're hunting for the big prizes, then tournaments have all the upside you're looking for. Contests range in entries from 25 cents up to several thousand dollars, and so do the prize pools. DraftKings' most popular contest is the Milly Maker. Typically this contest is a $20 entry with a top prize of, you guessed it, one million dollars. Players can make up to 150 entries in this contest, so if you're thinking of putting in one single $20 entry, it's worth remembering you're not only up against the hundreds of thousands of other contestants, but you're also at a disadvantage to some of the other contestants from the off. However, there are contests to suit all types of players. Personally, I am a single entry or three-max type of player. To win the Milly Maker, you need a lineup that hits absolute gold at every single position, whereas in single-entry or three-max contests, you can get away with striking silver or bronze at a couple of spots and still win it all.
My favorite single-entry tournaments are the $27 Blind Side and $12 Fair Catch. If you're entering up to three teams, the $15 Screen Pass and $8 Engage Eight are both great contests. If you decide to play a little bit higher stakes, then the $100 Spy single-entry is a good contest. If you're looking for lower-entry contests, then try to find single-entry or three-max contests, and the smaller the total entries, the less perfect your team will need to be.
If you decide you would like to try your hand at max entering, then there are contests from 10 cents that allow up to 20 lineups per entrant. It's a good way to get used to creating a larger amount of entries.
When creating a tournament lineup, it's often best to think of a narrative you believe in for the week—i.e., "the Ravens are going to crush the Jets in Week 1, but I'm not very confident in their running backs." In this scenario, you could stack Lamar Jackson with Rashod Bateman and Mark Andrews, then consider whether in that scenario a Jets player might also rack up points. The likelihood is that the Jets wouldn't be running the ball heavily if they're behind, so you might want to opt for a pass-catcher instead.
Tournament lineups need to be mindful of how heavily rostered the players are. Cash game lineups can succeed by being very similar to others, but tournament teams must find differences from their opponents. Typically, this means finding one or two players that are overlooked by the field. In the above example, this might mean selecting Corey Davis, whom most people believe might see a reduced role this year, but until Week 1 we don't actually know that. If you can include them as part of a stack, even better. The winning Milly Maker teams in 2021 had an average of 5.1 players rostered below 10% and only 1.3 players above 20%. A big part of my articles will be finding the diamonds in the rough to help you achieve this.
Lineup tip: In tournaments, I want as many wide receivers as possible. Receivers are more volatile, but typically more likely to hit those huge spike weeks that get the bonuses on DraftKings.
The topic of stacking has become very popular in the last 18 months. Like many topics in fantasy football, it sometimes gets taken out of context, and people don't always take the time to understand the nuance of it. Simply put, if we believe a quarterback can achieve the ceiling we're hoping for, then it's very likely that his teammates will be productive too.
If you're playing in tournaments, particularly large-field contests, stacking is essential. To beat almost 1.2 million other people in the opening weekend Milly Maker, your lineup needs to be perfect, and that nearly always revolves around a stack. Where some players go wrong is not creating the right stack for the format. If you are playing a small-field contest with only a couple of hundred entrants, then one "onslaught" stack (where you target an individual game with players from both teams) can often be the right approach. For a contest more in line with the Milly Maker, lineups more often benefit from multiple correlations from multiple games. Successful stacks more often than not include a "bring-back" from the opposing team of our stack. The simple theory here is that if one team is scoring enough points to make them fantasy-worthy, then the opposition should be trying hard to score points too.
Each week I'll provide several stacks, along with bring-backs, that I like for different types of tournaments.
You can find me on Twitter @NFL_Tstrack, where I'm always happy to answer any questions, and on Sundays I'll frequently be hanging out in the new Football Outsiders Discord, where I'll be dropping any last-minute plays as the slate develops.