DFS: How To Get Started Playing Daily Fantasy Football

A beginner's guide to Daily Fantasy Sports

Bar none, daily fantasy sports is the fastest growing sector of the industry and shows no imminent signs of slowing down anytime soon. Eilers Research projects DFS to top $2.5 billion in annual revenue by 2020. This year FanDuel and DraftKings plan to payout over $1 billion. Each. The gold rush is on.

So congratulations!. You’re about to make a deposit and participate in the most exciting addition to fantasy football in years. You’re just a few lineups away from claiming a piece of that $2 billion pie.

But how do you get started? How do you turn a deposit into a profitable hobby?

As you’ve probably guessed, there’s a lot more to daily fantasy football than just deposit/set lineups/profit. Where you play, how you play and who you play is just as important as the athletes you select each week. From game selection to bankroll management, DFS is blend of skill and self-discipline. There’s a lot of money to be made, but there’s also a lot of obstacles in the way.

We’re here to help you overcome those obstacles. So when you enter that very first contest in Week 1 of the 2015 season, you’ll be prepped as if you’ve been playing your entire life. What follows is sort of a beginner’s guide to some things you should do and some things you shouldn’t. The game is won with fundamentals. That’s where we’ll start. 

First Things First

Use your resources. Your subscription with Footballguys buys you a lot of invaluable information and tools. One of those is the eBooks we wrote for DFS. We can’t stress enough how important it is that you read them and digest them thoroughly.

These books were a collaborative effort by our daily sports staff and you will not find a more informative strategy guide for years to come. Many of the contributors are high volume players with skin in the game in multiple sports. They were kind enough to pour their years of experience and donate their scheme on how they compete and win in DFS. When they talk, we listen.

You can download the FanDuel version here and the DraftKings version here. There is a lot of information to process. Best get started.

Our in-season features will apply that knowledge to a tangible strategy. From the interactive value charts, to projections, to in-depth articles breaking down salaries and matchups, you will have no shortage of tools and information at your fingertips.

Oh, and then there’s the Daily Crusher App which will be available very soon. Check out a sneak peak and feast your eyes on the future of the game.

In the meantime, the sections that follow will give you a cliff notes summary of how to get started.

HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU DEPOSIT?

Before making a deposit you have to set up an account and choose a username. Note that you never get to change it. So be sure to pick one you can live with.

Once that's done the next step is to make a deposit. How much does it take to get started? Nothing. All you actually need is an account. Sites will often offer freerolls that cost you zero dollars to play. These are a great way to get a little bit of risk-free experience.

Beyond that, how much you invest is entirely your decision. It should go without saying, but we’ll offer a simple reminder, that you should never deposit more than you can afford to lose. Forget not that this is fantasy football. Crazy things will happen that projections and rankings will never be able to predict. You can and will lose. Keep that in mind before dipping into your savings account.

If you’re looking for a hard figure on how much you should invest, know that FanDuel has a minimum deposit of $10, and DraftKings has a minimum deposit of $5. The rest is up to you. If you’re looking to get your feet wet and try out a few different contests, maybe consider $50 to $100. This will give you a big enough bankroll to play multiple low-cost games. Entry fees of $1 to $5 are very common. You should target those types of contests. The payouts may not be as appealing as some of the more expensive games, but you will surround yourself with similarly skilled players.

WHERE SHOULD YOU PLAY?

We’ve spent most of this time talking about FanDuel and DraftKings, but there are other sites with different salaries and rules. For beginners, however, we recommend one of the Big Two. The further you get from FanDuel and DraftKIngs, the more sharks you are likely to run into. Sharks, if you are unfamiliar, are the big bankroll players who throw down massive amounts of cash. You’ll want to avoid them the best you can. The smaller the site, the easier you are to spot.

Should you play on FanDuel or DraftKings? Our honest answer is both. Playing both is the only way to familiarize yourself with strategies and game selection. Each site has slightly different scoring rules and lineups.

FanDuel, for example, is a half-point PPR system, whereas DraftKings is a full-point. FanDuel has a basic lineup of one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker and one defense. DraftKings has the same lineup except they’ve substituted the kicker position for a flex (running back/wide receiver/tight end).

Just like you would with your redraft league or any fantasy game of any variation, it’s important to know the rules. Read them. You’ll see that one of the biggest differences between the two sites is the three-point bonus and the late swap offered by DraftKings. If your quarterback throws for 300 or more yards he is awarded an additional three points. If your running back rushes for 100 yards, or your wide receiver receives 100 or more yards, they are awarded an additional three points. The bonus rule adds another layer of strategy that you may or may not enjoy.

The late swap is also a key feature. It allows you to change your lineup for as long as the game your player is participating in hasn’t yet begun. For example, if you have a running back slated to start in the Monday night game, but has some questionability about whether or not he’s going to play, the late swap gives you the flexibility to bench him and go with someone else as necessary. On FanDuel, your entire roster locks once the first game is kicked off.

We won’t speak to which website requires more skill to be successful. The late swap can be just as much of a crutch as it is helpful. So even though it might divide your bankroll, we recommend suiting up on both sites and figure out for yourself which one you prefer (DraftKings does have a handy beginners tab that takes you to multiple low-entry contests). 

GAME SELECTION

Again, we’re going to defer you to our DFS eBooks where you can read about game selection, and its importance, in great detail. For the purpose of this space, let’s discuss the big three.

Head-to-Head

This type of game is exactly what it sounds like: a head-to-head matchup against one opponent, just like in a traditional fantasy league. You’ll find these contests at a cost of anywhere from $.25 to $10,000+. The standard rake is 10%, so when you win, you’ll profit approximately $.80 per dollar invested (to get a better understanding of rakes checkout the Site Commissions chapter in our eBooks).

The most important thing to consider when entering head-to-head matchups is who you’re playing against. On FanDuel, you can click on an opponent’s name and see their stats. You’ll want to avoid someone that has a lot of wins, especially across multiple sports.

There are a lot of players out there like that. They make a living playing daily sports. You don’t. So steer clear the best you can. Once the season gets rolling there will plenty of head-to-head games on the board. Just sort by entry and select someone with minimum experience.  

You can also set up your own games and name your price. But doing so opens up your vulnerability, as any one player can sweep your contests. The whole concept behind playing multiple head-to-head games against multiple opponents is to put variance in your favor. Playing against the same person, ipso facto, the same lineup, effectively ruins the strategy.

DraftKings offers a matchup blocker option. Simply click on account settings and go to preferences and you’ll see this screen:

We’re not ones to call out accounts that you should avoid or block. We’re confident that our tools and projections will sufficiently arm anyone interested in taking on the DFS world. But it doesn’t hurt to protect your bankroll from the pros when you’re just getting your footing.

50/50s

There may be no better way to maximize your bankroll than with 50/50s. These contests vary in size and price. They’re sort of like large head-to-head games with several other players, where the top 50% of lineups double their entry fee minus the rake, and the bottom 50% lose their entry fee. For example, in a 10 team 50/50 with an entry fee of $1, the five best lineups will win $1.80. The other five lose their entry.

We recommend 50/50s since they are relatively safe investment. You can play a ton of volume without worry of being swept by the same players as you would in head-to-head formats.

There are also contests called double-ups. These are similar to 50/50s except the winners double their money and get a 100% return on investment. The key difference is that they don’t pay 50% of the field. That number is lowered to between 44% and 45% to make up for the rake.

Guaranteed Prize Pools

No doubt, guaranteed prize pools, or GPPs, are a big reason why we all love DFS. These contests are large tournaments that have a guaranteed payout structure. The cash will be paid even if the tournament doesn’t fill.

The size and payout can be astronomical. DraftKings recently revealed their Week 1 $10M Millionaire Maker in which they are paying out $10 million with $2 million going to first place. The entry fee is $20. As a new player, the temptation might be to just dump your entire bankroll with multiple lineups in a risky “make me rich or make me poor” proposition. We don’t recommend this approach. This massive tournament is allowing 572,500 entries—the most in the history of DFS. To read about the specifics of what that means, and how to handle it, go here.

FanDuel is also hosting a mega tournament in Week 1. Their $5M NFL Sunday Million has an entry fee of $25 and pays first place $1 million. The tournament is capped at 229,885 entries. Again, the payout structure and the potential for life-changing results are alluring. But we recommend discipline with tournaments of this size. Your odds of cashing are very low. As fun as they may be, these contests inherently create negative expected value.

That’s not to say you should avoid GPPs altogether. Just downsize your investment (and probably your expectations). There are several $1 to $5 GPPs that still have handsome rewards. The $1 Million Sun NFL Rush on FanDuel is only a $5 commitment with first place winning $100,000. Similarly, the DraftKings’ NFL 1M Play-Action is awarding first place $100,000 for an entry fee of $3.  We recommend dedicating some of your bankroll to GPPs of this nature since it sets up a low-risk, high-reward scenario.

IN SUMMARY: THE DO’S AND DON’TS OF DFS

Again, congratulations on joining an exciting community of daily fantasy sports. It’s going to be a wild season in the NFL and we couldn’t be more thrilled about the growth the industry has seen over the last few years. It’s a great time to be a Footballguy.

DO: Have fun! If you’ve never played in a salary cap type of league before, be prepared to fall completely in love. It’s a unique format that removes all the pressure typical of redrafts and auctions. The fact that we can win money playing it is just the icing.

DON’T: Over commit financially. Losing in fantasy football is not fun. Losing in fantasy football along with your paycheck is the worst.. Only play with what you can afford to lose and don’t take a defeat too seriously. Keep a positive outlook and a disciplined approach to bankroll management.

DO: Your research. Use your resources. Read our eBooks. Get a Twitter account and follow along. Here’s a handy guide to following the NFL on Twitter put together by our own Jeff Haseley. Sunday mornings are the most exciting part of the weekend and that guide is an invaluable resource.

DON’T: Be afraid to ask for help. This goes right along with a presence on social media. Our staff is reachable and happy to offer lineup advice. But don’t just use one resource. Analysts will disagree about a lot of stuff a lot of the time. This is a good thing. It’s advantageous to study both sides of an argument and draw your own conclusion.

DO: Play mostly head-to-head and 50/50s. Think of yourself as a business. Businesses make a profit with volume and low-risk investments. Contests with small entry fees, especially 50/50s, are the best way to position yourself with positive expected value.

DON’T: Carelessly throw out a bunch of lineups, or buy up a bunch of lineups without checking out your opponent. Again, anyone can win, anyone can lose, but seeking out players with little experience is your best bet to succeed. There’s no reason to take on the pros when you don’t have to.

DO: Play guaranteed prize pools. Talk to anyone that plays a lot of daily fantasy sports and they’ll tell you GPPs are their favorite game. The attraction of taking down a giant pot makes a boring Monday night game the most exciting few hours you might ever experience watching TV. All it takes is that one perfect lineup….

DON’T: Commit much of your bankroll to the mega tournaments (or to tournaments in general). The amount of things that need to go right in order for you to secure those elusive monster paydays is incalculable. Nothing drains a bankroll faster than chasing a perfect lineup.