Ownership percentage -- as it applies to constructing tournament lineups -- is one of the most misunderstood concepts in DFS. While plenty of evidence exists to suggest winning GPP rosters must include at least one uncommonly owned, high performing player (and perhaps as many as three), be careful not to overrate players simply because they won’t appear in many of your opponents’ lineups. As Footballguys’ Jeff Pasquino put it in our Cracking DraftKings e-Book, “rostering a unique player who performs poorly will uniquely hurt your team.”
It should seem obvious, but the goal of constructing a tournament lineup is to score more points than the rest of the field. Automatically fading a player who is in line for a big game just because they’re likely to be high-owned will lower your roster’s ceiling, and potentially give a large portion of your opponents a significant edge over your team.
How to properly factor ownership percentage into your tournament lineup construction was best summed up by another Footballguy, John ‘TipAndPick’ Lee:
“If a guy is 30% owned at $5000 on DraftKings, you have to ask yourself if you think he could get 20 points (4x value for GPP) at least 30% of the time. If the answer is ‘yes,’ then you roster him and forget about the percent owned.
To illustrate the value in rostering lesser-owned players, suppose a guy like Ben Roethlisberger is 1% rostered at $5800, meaning he’d need about 23 points to reach value. In that case, Roethlisberger is a GREAT play because, over the course of 100 games, he would assuredly score 23 points more than once (1%).
It’s kind of like poker in that way. You keep making calls/bets based on the pot/implied odds. If you push chips in the middle and end up on the wrong side of variance this time, it doesn’t matter because you’ll win over the long haul, as long as your calculations are correct. With football, you’re looking to find those low-owned gems with upside because they will separate you from the pack at a rate higher than their ownership.”
John’s advice is spot on, and simple enough to understand. The problem is DraftKings doesn’t reveal ownership percentages for any player until after their respective game has kicked off, leaving you to guess at whether a player’s value proposition exceeds their percent owned -- until now.
Footballguys’ developers have created algorithms that project ownership percentages for all the major DFS sites, DraftKings included. Projected ownership percentages for every player, on every slate, can be found on our FREE Daily Crusher Mobile App this season.
Each week, I will sort through the heavy lifting being done by the algorithms and identify players in each ownership tier who warrant your consideration in GPPs. Week 1 comes with a caveat. Without actual data from previous 2015 tournaments to look back on, the algorithms are not quite ready for prime time. To project the ownership ranges shown below, I was able to use the algorithms as a guide in some cases, but I’m mostly making educated guesses based on industry research.
After this week, the ownership ranges in this space will be computer generated approximations based on previous history, projected scoring, and player salary. They are only meant to be used as guidelines. Ownership percentages in your actual contests will vary, and I would caution that will especially be the case this week.
5% Ownership and Under
Leonard Hankerson - $3,000 vs. PHI
You want as much exposure to Atlanta vs. Philadelphia as you can get (55 point over/under), and Hankerson is the cheapest way to get in on the action. The former third round pick (2011) is coming off a great training camp, where he easily locked down the Falcons third wide receiver job. He has a nice blend of size (6’2’’, 210 lbs.) and speed (4.43 forty), is familiar with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s scheme from their time together in Washington, and seems poised to play a big role for the Falcons this year. Minimum salary players aren’t as enticing this week with such an abundance of value plays, and Roddy White returned to practice on Tuesday. Those two factors should be enough to keep the crowd off Hankerson in a nice spot. Atlanta is at home, and expected to score 26 points. Which is more likely - Atlanta runs the ball effectively behind their terrible offensive line against Philadelphia’s strong front seven, or they get their points through the air against a vulnerable, banged-up Eagles secondary, who will have their hands full trying to contain Julio Jones? Hankerson’s ceiling is somewhere around 7x his salary in this matchup.
Jordan Cameron - $3,800 @ WAS
Cameron’s ownership percentage is a tough one to project. On one hand, he’s a relatively cheap option (TE9) with proven tournament upside, which should make him attractive to the rest of the field. On the other, he’s coming off a lost season and we’ve never seen him play a game in a Dolphins uniform. Ultimately, I see the crowd paying up to get guys like Greg Olsen and Martellus Bennett, which should leave Cameron under-owned. The Redskins ranked bottom five at defending the tight end last season, and Cameron seems primed for a big role in the red zone, where the Dolphins ran the second most plays in the NFL in 2014. The two players who led Miami in red zone targets last season -- Mike Wallace and tight end Charles Clay -- both play for different teams, freeing up 2.5 red zone targets per game. High touchdown potential is a requisite for a GPP tight end and Cameron has it this week.
Larry Fitzgerald - $5,500 vs. NO
John Brown has generated all the buzz this preseason, leaving everyone to forget about boring, old Larry Fitzgerald. Our algorithms like Brown to appear on about 11% of teams in large field GPPs, and I’d guess it ends up closer to 15%-18%. The Brown hype may very well be warranted, but Fitzgerald has a similar opportunity to exploit a Saints pass defense that will be missing its best cornerback, Keenan Lewis. In Carson Palmer’s five and a half games played last season, Fitzgerald exceeded 21 fantasy points three times. A high tournament ceiling still exists for the veteran, and a home game featuring the fifth highest Vegas point total (over/under 47.5) is just the setting for him to reach it.
Matt Forte - $7,800 vs. GB
This is your weekly reminder that low-owned and low-priced mean two different things in DFS. Forte has the second highest running back salary on DraftKings, which I expect to scare people off now that he’s without pass-happy head coach Marc Trestman, and everyone’s last memory of the Bears is Jay Cutler going down in flames. Forte usually brings it against Green Bay. He’s averaged 25 fantasy points per game in his last four games against the Packers, including two 30+ point performances. I don’t put much stock into player vs. team stats in football, but I’ll make an exception here because the Packers are one of the most stable franchises in the league, and haven’t had much coaching or personnel turnover in the last two seasons. Despite Green Bay being favored by 6.5 on the road, Forte should be immune to negative game script due to his involvement as a receiver. Don’t overrate the loss of Trestman - new Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase passed to his running backs plenty in Denver, and Forte was an elite receiving back before Trestman came along. Many will reserve Forte for cash games or fade him altogether, but he has a documented history of high upside in this matchup.
DeAndre Hopkins - $7,400 vs. Kansas City
A.J. Green and T.Y. Hilton are available for just a few hundred dollars more. Jordan Matthews and Brandin Cooks are available for just a few hundred dollars less. The crowd has every reason to fade Hopkins in a game featuring the second lowest point total of the week (40.5). It makes him the perfect high-end wide receiver pivot in GPPs. This one’s admittedly risky considering he’ll be facing tough coverage, but Vegas is telling us the Texans should score 21 points and win at home against the Chiefs. How are they going to score those points? They can’t all come from J.J. Watt and the Texans’ defense (I don’t think). And I doubt they’ll be coming from Alfred Blue against a Chiefs defense that let up a league-low four touchdowns to running backs last season. If Houston is going to win this game, or keep it close as Vegas is predicting, their offense will have to run through its best player -- and that’s Hopkins by a wide margin.
Rueben Randle - $5,100 @ Dallas
Randle flashed his tantalizing upside down the stretch last season, scoring 28.2 fantasy points in Week 16 and 24.8 in Week 17. His ownership percentage may climb out of this tier once Victor Cruz is inevitably declared inactive, but it shouldn't be by much. Value receivers are plentiful with John Brown at $4,500, Davante Adams at $4,400, and Charles Johnson at $4,900. All of those guys are not only cheaper than Randle, but they’ve been generating way more preseason buzz. Randle has a great matchup this week to go along with his low ownership and high ceiling. Dallas’ best cornerback -- Orlando Scandrick -- is out for the year. Brandon Carr was terrible in coverage last season, and will be tasked with containing Odell Beckham Jr. That should leave Randle to feast on Morris Claiborne, who has been either injured or ineffective his entire career. In a game with the week’s second highest over/under (51 points), Randle has a strong shot at 5x value.
Andre Ellington - $6,400 vs. NO
If Twitter taught me anything this summer it’s that fantasy owners either love Andre Ellington or they hate him. There should be enough people out there who want nothing to do with Ellington to keep him low-owned in a great matchup with the Saints. You probably already know New Orleans was one of the best matchups for opposing running backs last year, but hidden in their cumulative fantasy points against the position, is the fact they let up more receiving yards to running backs than any team in the league. Ellington is going to be heavily involved in Bruce Arians’ game plan in this home matchup (especially as a receiver), and has the potential to go nuclear if the game turns into a shootout. I don’t usually roster a quarterback and running back from the same team in tournament lineups, but I’m confident pairing Carson Palmer with Ellington has a positive correlation.
Randall Cobb - $8,000 @CHI
With Davante Adams priced at $4,400, the majority of Aaron Rodgers stacks will not include Randall Cobb this week. Throw in his price (WR7) and high profile preseason shoulder injury (which he seems recovered from), and there’s a chance Cobb ends up criminally low-owned in tournaments. The Bears let up 4.4 red zone scoring attempts per game last year, the most in the league by a 13% margin. Cobb finished only one red zone target behind Jordy Nelson for the team lead in 2014. His floor in this game is 20 fantasy points, and he has the ceiling to finish as this week’s top wide receiver.
Jimmy Graham - $5,600 @ STL
There’s not much to like about Graham this week. He’s the highest priced tight end on the slate, he’s no longer guaranteed high target volume, and the match-up with St. Louis was one of the toughest for tight ends last season. Those inclined to pay up or a tight end will be looking elsewhere, which makes Graham an ideal GPP play. Since 2011, the only player in the NFL with more touchdown catches than Graham’s 46 is Dez Bryant (50). No matter what jersey he has on, Graham’s scoring potential is nearly unrivaled. Any time you can get the player with the highest ceiling at his position at low ownership in a tournament, you have to consider it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense - $2,800 vs. TEN
Maybe I’m not giving Marcus Mariota enough credit, but let’s not overthink this. Tampa Bay is favored and playing against a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start on the road. Even if the Bucs didn’t have a stud like Gerald McCoy to make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks, their defense would be one of my top plays.
11% to 15% Ownership
Carson Palmer - $6,500 vs. Saints
Palmer had between 17 and 25 fantasy points in each of the games he finished last season. It’s hard not to like his chances at home, against a banged up Saints’ secondary that ranked bottom five in opponent yards per pass attempt last year. Arizona is projected by Vegas to score 25 points, and last year 71% of the touchdowns they scored in home games came via the pass. I’m expecting the Palmer-John Brown stack to be a fairly common one, but at a combined cost of just $11,000, it opens up some exciting possibilities for the rest of your lineup.
Ameer Abdullah - $4,000 @ San Diego
I’m probably underestimating the crowd’s affection for one of the preseason’s buzziest rookies (especially since he’s so cheap), but there should be enough fear of the unknown to keep Abdullah’s ownership percentage reasonable. Joique Bell came off the PUP list less than two weeks ago, making it fair to wonder if he’s in game shape. Even if Bell plays his usual number of snaps, Abdullah stands to inherit Reggie Bush’s role in the Lions’ offense (which you’ll recall includes lots of receptions). Assuming 13-15 total touches in what should be a fairly high scoring game (over/under 46), Abdullah is capable of returning 4x value, and his big play ability provides upside for more.
C.J. Anderson - $7,000 vs. BAL
I’m not entirely confident projecting Anderson to be this low-owned, but something tells me casual players are going to balk at his perceived poor match-up. It’s true the Ravens were one of the toughest teams to run on in 2014, but they’ll be without the anchor of their defensive front for the last nine years after trading away Haloti Ngata in the offseason. Ngata’s fill-in, Timmy Jernigan, hurt his knee in the third preseason game and is looking iffy for Week 1. The game script sets up nicely for Anderson. Denver has the fourth highest projected point total this week, and they’re favored by 4.5 points at home. Expect large doses of Anderson, especially late in the game as the Broncos try to run out the clock.
Miami Dolphins Defense - $3,000 @ Washington
On this week’s episode of The Audible Podcast, Sigmund Bloom offered this comparison for what Ndamukong Suh is going to do to Kirk Cousins. I have nothing to add.
Once we’re able to plug some actual 2015 data into our algorithms, I’ll probably include one or two more ownership tiers. For this week, I’ll end it here. The following players will be commonly owned in tournaments, but fade at your own risk. They have the most potential to bury you in the standings if they're not on your rosters.
Matt Ryan - $7,500 vs. PHI
Hopefully I established in the Leonard Hankerson blurb the only chance Atlanta has to hang with Philadelphia is to attack their secondary. Ryan is playing at home (where he produced 10% more fantasy points per game than he did on the road last year), and should see a ton of volume in what projects as a Monday night shootout. Oh, and he gets to throw to this guy…
Julio Jones - $9,300 vs. PHI
If I were a betting man, I’d place a chip on Jones being the second highest owned player on the slate. He’s going to erupt and everyone knows it. A Ryan-Julio stack is a great foundation for your lineup, just know you won’t be sneaking it past anyone.
DeMarco Murray - $6,700 @ ATL
Murray is my choice to lead all scorers at running back this week in a great matchup with the Falcons, yet he’s strangely underpriced as the RB9. One of the reasons I don’t have Sam Bradford listed in this section is because I expect the Eagles to do most of their damage on the ground. Atlanta let up the second most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs last year, their first string defense didn’t look much better in the preseason, and now they’re without starting middle linebacker Brooks Reed. I don’t hate the idea of awkwardly filling my running back slots with the combo of Murray and Ryan Mathews in GPPs.
Odell Beckham Jr. - $9,200 vs. DAL
No one has forgotten Beckham’s legendary performance in the second half of 2014, so expect him to be around 20% owned. Everything I wrote about Rueben Randle’s match-up applies to Beckham times infinity. The Cowboys simply have no one who can cover him. Beckham scored two touchdowns in each of his games against Dallas last year, highlighted by a 10-146-2 receiving line last November. I see no reason he can’t repeat that performance in this game.
Jordan Matthews - $7,200 @ ATL
The masses will be eager to roster Falcons and Eagles players, and Matthews is Chip Kelly’s most well-known receiver. The game script sets up nicely for Matthews and he gets a great one-on-one matchup in the slot with Atlanta cornerback Robert Alford to boot. Matthews will be peppered with high percentage targets and is the most likely Philadelphia receiver to find the end zone. He led the Eagles in both red zone targets and red zone touchdown conversion rate as a rookie.
Davante Adams - $4,400 @ CHI
There’s no question in my mind Adams will be the most widely-owned player in all of Week 1 DFS. For that reason alone, there’s merit in fading him. But outside of an early-game injury, I can’t envision a scenario where Adams doesn’t return at least 4x value. Aaron Rodgers is too good and the Chicago defense too bad for anything less than a 6-75-1 type of day from Adams. A multi-TD performance is well within the possible range of outcomes as well, and that’s not the type of output you want to see on 35% of your opponents’ rosters from a $4,400 player.
Greg Olsen - $5,300 @ JAX
Even casual fantasy players are aware Kelvin Benjamin is out for the year and the Panthers don’t have another reliable receiver. Olsen’s 24.85% target market share led all tight ends in 2014 and should only increase with Benjamin sidelined. He has the highest floor at the position, but because target volume is so closely correlated with tight end fantasy scoring, his ceiling is plenty high too. Olsen’s eight top-5 finishes at the position were the same number Rob Gronkowski had last year. With Gronk playing on Thursday and so much uncertainty surrounding Jimmy Graham, it’s easy to imagine Olsen finishing as the weekend’s top tight end.
The following players who figure to be 20% owned or more, won’t be in my tournament lineups. While they all have their merits, they don’t possess high enough ceilings to justify their percent owned.
Tyrod Taylor, New York Jets Defense, Doug Martin, Steve Johnson, Eddie Royal, Benny Cunningham (assuming Tre Mason sits out)