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Projecting the Pros

A guide to playing roster percentages like the pros.

Welcome to this new, weekly Draftkings feature on Footballguys. As the title suggests, the goal of this feature is to predict how DFS professionals will tweak their player exposures -- in either a bullish (or bearish) direction -- for the Sunday Main slate on Draftkings.

But who are the DFS professionals?

The pro roster percentages you will see in the tables below are based on a statistical algorithm that attempted to differentiate elite DFS players on Draftkings from the rest of the population. Based on a multitude of factors, this algorithm identified 205 "professionals" who play in low-to-mid stakes Guaranteed Prize Pool (GPP) tournaments. The primary characteristics that differentiated them were their percentage of max entry and their median top finish in a contest. Specifically, the vast majority of pros enter at least 90% of the entry maximum in a given GPP. If the contest allows for 150 lineups, they enter at least 135; if it allows for 20 lineups, they enter at least 18; etc. In addition, the vast majority of pros have their highest-finishing lineup end up in the Top 4% of entries in a given context.

In short, a low-to-mid stakes Draftkings GPP pro appears to be a player who plays the percentages more optimally than the rest. They apply a ton of volume, what's called "mass multi-entry" in a DFS context, and diversify their lineups enough to make it more likely than not that at least one entry finishes near the top of the standings -- where payouts are highest.

OK, but how can one possibly project the mass multi-entry roster percentages pros use to effect this profitable strategy?

Well, it turns out that, based on an analysis of historical contest entry data, pros reliably increase or decrease their exposures to players according to a small number of factors. The effects of these factors differ across positions, but a surprisingly short list gets you most of the way there:

  • Steve Buzzard's projected roster percentages. The higher Buzzard's projection, the higher a pro roster percentage will be for a given player.
  • This author's value probabilities. This system uses salaries and Footballguys' point projections to calculate the likelihood that players achieve the 4x GPP value threshold (e.g., a $4,000 player must score 16 points to achieve value). The higher the value probability, the higher a pro roster percentage will be for a given player.
  • Projected roster percentage for the opponent's defense. The lower Buzzard's projection for a defense, the higher a pro roster percentage will be for a given player facing that defense.
  • For quarterbacks and running backs, projected roster percentage for the same team's wide receivers. The higher Buzzard's projection for a wide receiver, the higher a pro roster percentage will be for his quarterback. The opposite is true for running backs.
  • For defenses, projected roster percentage for the opponent's quarterback. The lower Buzzard's projection for a quarterback, the higher a pro roster percentage will be for a given defense facing that quarterback.

If one were to step back and view these factors affecting pro roster percentages from 30,000 feet, one will notice the following: Pros gain their edge by exploiting inefficiencies in the interactions between positions. For example, they see a quarterback and their opposing defense both projected for a low roster percentage and realize that can't be correct. If the defense does well, the quarterback won't; and vice versa. One should be highly rostered and the other not. This observation is intuitive and not reflective of some wizardly wisdom. Rather, what sets the pros apart is that, by virtue of their mass multi-entry strategy, they're able to finely tune their exposures to the quarterback and defense in this example.

So with the methods of this madness explained, it's time to try to project the pros, one position at a time.

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quarterbacks

Below are the projections for quarterbacks. The "Overall" column is Steve Buzzard's projected roster percentage. The "Pros" column is the projection for professional, low-to-mid stakes GPP players on Draftkings. Finally, the "Diff Ratio" column is the difference between the "Pros" column and the "Overall" column, divided by the "Overall" column. It represents the proportional increase (or decrease) in pro roster percentage based on one or more factors listed in the introduction. So, for instance, Alex Smith's "+95.8%" means that various factors result in his pro roster percentage nearly doubling above and beyond Buzzard's projection.

Quarterback Team Salary Overall Pros Diff Ratio
Ryan Fitzpatrick TB 5000 1.6% 3.3% +108.0%
Alex Smith WAS 5600 1.7% 3.3% +95.8%
Sam Bradford ARI 5200 1.8% 3.4% +88.5%
Joe Flacco BAL 4900 2.1% 3.8% +79.5%
Case Keenum DEN 5100 2.4% 4.0% +66.1%
Ryan Tannehill MIA 5300 2.1% 3.4% +63.3%
Blake Bortles JAX 5600 3.8% 5.7% +50.3%
Andy Dalton CIN 5800 3.2% 4.7% +48.3%
Jimmy Garoppolo SF 5700 1.6% 2.3% +44.6%
Dak Prescott DAL 5500 2.6% 3.1% +17.4%
Philip Rivers LAC 6400 9.8% 10.6% +7.9%
Russell Wilson SEA 6200 2.8% 2.8% +1.7%
Tyrod Taylor CLE 5400 3.8% 3.9% +1.4%
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 6600 6.3% 6.3% +0.7%
Patrick Mahomes II II KC 6000 3.0% 2.9% -3.1%
Marcus Mariota TEN 6300 2.7% 2.6% -4.2%
Kirk Cousins MIN 6500 6.9% 6.5% -5.3%
Drew Brees NO 6800 10.8% 9.8% -9.6%
Andrew Luck IND 6100 5.0% 4.3% -13.9%
Tom Brady NE 7200 11.7% 9.8% -16.5%
Cam Newton CAR 6900 5.1% 3.5% -30.8%
Deshaun Watson HOU 6700 7.7% 4.9% -35.9%


Alex Smith ($5,600, 1.7% Overall Roster Percentage, 3.3% Pro Roster Percentage)

Based on his salary and Draftkings point projection, Smith's probability of achieving 4x value is 27.5%, which ranks 6th of 26 quarterbacks in the Sunday Main slate. According to Steve Buzzard, Smith's opponent, the Arizona Cardinals defense, is only expected to be rostered in 1.7% of tournament lineups, which ranks 17th out of 24 defenses. Despite Smith's wide receivers only having an aggregate 3.7% roster projection, the aforementioned indicators nevertheless translate to Draftkings pros having nearly twice as much exposure to Smith as the overall public.

Philip rIVERS ($6,400, 9.8%, 10.6%)

Rivers' probability of achieving 4x value is 21.4%, which ranks 11th in the Sunday Main slate. The defense he's facing, Kansas City, is projected to be in only 1.0% of tournament lineups, which ranks 20th. Furthermore, Rivers' receivers rank second in aggregate projected roster percentage (28.0%), which ranks second behind only Pittsburgh's wide receiver corps (30.8%).

DeShaun Watson ($6,700, 7.7%, 4.9%)

Although Watson's wide receivers having a sixth-ranked 18.1% combined roster projection, Draftkings pros are likely to take a bearish position on him in Week 1. Watson's probability of achieving 4x value is a 19th-ranked 17.2%. In addition, the Patriots defense that he's facing ranks fourth in projected roster percentage.

cAM nEWTON ($6,900, 5.1%, 3.5%)

The only quarterbacks who rank lower than Newton in terms of 4x value probability are Week 1 backups Josh Allen and Josh Rosen. Meanwhile, only five quarterbacks in the Sunday Main slate rank lower than Newton with respect to the projected roster percentages for his wide receivers.

Running Backs

Running Back Team Salary Overall Pros Diff Ratio
Devontae Booker DEN 4600 0.7% 3.2% +359.9%
Mike Gillislee NO 3400 0.9% 3.5% +291.6%
Marlon Mack IND 4800 1.0% 3.0% +201.4%
Chris Carson SEA 4500 1.6% 4.0% +152.1%
Latavius Murray MIN 4800 1.2% 3.0% +149.6%
Chris Thompson WAS 4700 1.7% 4.2% +144.6%
Sony Michel NE 5100 1.2% 2.8% +136.8%
Dion Lewis TEN 4900 2.0% 4.2% +110.3%
Matt Breida SF 4600 2.1% 4.2% +101.5%
Royce Freeman DEN 4500 3.1% 5.7% +84.3%
Kalen Ballage MIA 3500 1.8% 3.3% +82.7%
Carlos Hyde CLE 4500 2.8% 4.9% +76.4%
Derrick Henry TEN 5400 2.4% 4.0% +67.8%
James White NE 4000 3.9% 6.3% +61.8%
LeSean McCoy BUF 6000 2.9% 4.4% +52.0%
Jordan Wilkins IND 3700 3.5% 5.3% +50.6%
Peyton Barber TB 4100 4.0% 5.8% +44.2%
Lamar Miller HOU 5200 4.5% 5.9% +32.1%
Adrian Peterson WAS 4700 3.6% 4.7% +31.6%
Rex Burkhead NE 4200 9.7% 11.5% +18.4%
Alvin Kamara NO 8500 23.2% 27.2% +17.2%
Saquon Barkley NYG 6700 5.9% 6.3% +6.3%
Alex Collins BAL 5600 11.5% 11.7% +1.6%
Christian McCaffrey CAR 6400 13.9% 14.0% +0.5%
Kenyan Drake MIA 5900 5.8% 5.7% -0.9%
Kareem Hunt KC 6900 5.9% 5.8% -2.3%
Dalvin Cook MIN 6200 5.6% 5.3% -4.8%
Melvin Gordon III LAC 6800 15.1% 14.0% -7.6%
Joe Mixon CIN 6100 6.4% 5.7% -10.8%
Ezekiel Elliott DAL 7700 10.0% 8.8% -12.0%
David Johnson ARI 8800 12.7% 11.2% -12.1%
Leonard Fournette JAX 7100 9.5% 7.2% -24.2%
Ronald Jones II TB 4900 8.3% 6.0% -27.5%

Chris Thompson ($4,700, 1.7% Overall, 4.2% Pros)

Thompson's 11.4% probability of achieving 4x value may only rank 18th (of 83) among running backs in the Sunday Main slate, but Buzzard projects his opponent's defense to be rostered in only 1.7% of lineups. Even more importantly, Washington's wide receivers are only projected to be on 3.7% rosters in the aggregate. In other words, Draftkings pros are likely to exploit the fact that someone has to catch passes against an underwhelming Cardinals defense.

mIKE gILLISLEE ($3,400, 0.9% Overall, 3.5% Pros)

Similarly, Gillislee's 12.1% value probability ranks 16th this week, but the Buccaneers defense is one of only four with an expected roster percentage of zero according to Buzzard. To boot, it's worth noting that these stats provide a welcome complement to the more subjective analysis of Sean Payton erring towards limiting Alvin Kamara's workload in the running game, especially around the goal line -- which New Orleans figures to be in proximity of frequently.

Leonard Fournette ($7,100, 9.5% Overall, 7.2% Pros)

Although his opponent's defense, the New York Giants, has a nonexistent projected roster percentage, which bodes well for Fournette, the third-ranked 27.2% aggregate roster projection for Jacksonville's wide receivers bodes ill. If Keelan Cole and company perform as expected, it will be difficult to Fournette to earn enough points per reception to justify his salary in Draftkings tournaments.

Melvin Gordon III ($6,800, 15.1% Overall, 14.0% Pros)

Similarly, at 28.0% aggregate ownership, San Diego's wide receivers rank second in aggregate roster percentage according to Buzzard. This is enough to offset Gordon's more-favorable stats, which include the sixth-highest value probability among running backs (19.6%) and the fifth-lowest opponent roster percentage projection (1.0%).

Wide Receivers

Wide Receiver Team Salary Overall Pros Diff Ratio
Laquon Treadwell MIN 3400 1.3% 3.5% +169.5%
D.J. Moore CAR 4100 1.2% 3.2% +163.5%
Danny Amendola MIA 4200 2.0% 5.2% +159.5%
Sterling Shepard NYG 4500 1.5% 3.5% +130.8%
Tyrell Williams LAC 4200 1.6% 3.6% +127.4%
Donte Moncrief JAX 4000 1.8% 4.1% +127.0%
Ryan Grant IND 3900 1.4% 3.1% +121.1%
Pierre Garcon SF 4900 1.4% 2.9% +110.0%
Sammy Watkins KC 5100 1.4% 2.9% +106.3%
Michael Gallup DAL 4000 1.4% 2.9% +106.2%
John Brown BAL 3700 2.9% 5.9% +103.5%
DeSean Jackson TB 4600 1.3% 2.6% +102.8%
Phillip Dorsett NE 3700 2.1% 4.1% +97.0%
Tyler Lockett SEA 4300 2.2% 4.2% +90.7%
Marquise Goodwin SF 4600 2.3% 4.2% +81.6%
Allen Hurns DAL 4700 1.7% 3.1% +81.4%
Doug Baldwin SEA 6200 1.7% 3.0% +76.0%
Cameron Meredith NO 4400 1.8% 3.0% +66.5%
Josh Gordon CLE 5800 1.5% 2.5% +65.8%
Rishard Matthews TEN 4800 1.9% 3.1% +63.7%
Dede Westbrook JAX 3900 2.9% 4.4% +52.7%
Mike Williams LAC 3900 3.4% 5.1% +50.0%
Keelan Cole JAX 3800 22.5% 32.4% +44.0%
Kenny Stills MIA 4700 5.3% 7.3% +38.1%
Kelvin Benjamin BUF 5000 1.7% 2.2% +31.7%
Chris Godwin TB 4100 2.5% 3.1% +25.4%
Jamison Crowder WAS 5000 3.7% 4.4% +19.4%
Keenan Allen LAC 7500 23.0% 26.1% +13.4%
Demaryius Thomas DEN 5700 4.3% 4.9% +13.0%
Devin Funchess CAR 5200 3.4% 3.8% +11.4%
John Ross CIN 3900 5.6% 6.0% +7.7%
Antonio Brown PIT 8600 20.3% 21.6% +6.3%
Michael Crabtree BAL 5400 5.0% 5.1% +1.2%
Corey Davis TEN 5600 3.8% 3.8% -0.1%
A.J. Green CIN 7300 12.8% 11.4% -10.6%
T.Y. Hilton IND 6800 5.8% 5.1% -12.0%
Odell Beckham Jr Jr NYG 7000 6.4% 5.6% -12.9%
Jarvis Landry CLE 5500 6.8% 5.9% -13.6%
Emmanuel Sanders DEN 5000 7.9% 6.8% -13.7%
Chris Hogan NE 6100 15.2% 13.0% -14.7%
Stefon Diggs MIN 6300 10.9% 9.3% -15.0%
Michael Thomas NO 7800 15.0% 12.7% -15.2%
Will Fuller V HOU 5100 4.9% 4.2% -15.2%
JuJu Smith-Schuster PIT 5900 10.5% 8.8% -15.7%
Tyreek Hill KC 6500 7.0% 5.7% -17.9%
Mike Evans TB 6700 4.9% 4.0% -19.2%
Larry Fitzgerald ARI 6600 10.5% 8.5% -19.4%
Adam Thielen MIN 6900 10.2% 8.1% -21.0%
DeAndre Hopkins HOU 8300 13.2% 8.7% -33.9%

Keelan Cole ($3,800, 22.5% Overall, 32.4% Pros)

At 26.9%, Cole has the second-highest probability of achieving 4x value this week. And with Buzzard projecting the New York Giants defense to be on zero percent of rosters (with inentional rounding), Draftkings pros are likely to take a long position on Cole.

dANNY aMENDOLA ($4,200, 2.0% Overall, 5.2% Pros)

Amendola's 25.5% value probability ranks fourth in the Sunday Main slate, and the Titans defense is projected to appear in only 1.9% of GPP lineups according to Buzzard. If you wish, one can add in the narrative of playing at home while occupying a position that's averaged nearly 10 targets per game under Adam Gase.

DeAndre Hopkins ($8,300, 13.2% Overall, 8.7% Pros)

In contrast, Hopkins' 7.4% value probability ranks 46th among wide receivers, and his opponent's defense is projected to be the third-most rostered on Sunday (8.7%).

Mike Evans ($6,700, 4.9% Overall, 4.0% Pros)

Subjective considerations already render Evans a likely fade in tournaments. That said, the objective numbers agree, as his value probability is even lower than Hopkins' (5.9%), and the Saints defense -- playing at home, to boot -- is projected to be the seventh-highest rostered (6.0%).

Tight Ends

Tight End Team Salary Overall Pros Diff Ratio
Cameron Brate TB 3000 1.2% 3.3% +177.3%
Ricky Seals-Jones ARI 3000 1.5% 4.0% +169.9%
Ben Watson NO 3100 2.4% 4.4% +81.6%
Eric Ebron IND 3300 2.3% 3.8% +63.7%
George Kittle SF 3300 2.3% 3.6% +56.9%
Tyler Eifert CIN 3400 3.8% 5.1% +34.3%
Rob Gronkowski NE 6900 20.0% 24.9% +24.7%
David Njoku CLE 3400 4.1% 4.7% +14.5%
Jack Doyle IND 3600 13.1% 14.8% +12.7%
Jordan Reed WAS 4000 10.1% 10.8% +7.0%
Evan Engram NYG 4700 3.4% 3.5% +3.9%
Vance McDonald PIT 3200 2.9% 3.0% +3.2%
Charles Clay BUF 3500 2.4% 2.4% +0.9%
Kyle Rudolph MIN 4500 5.3% 5.1% -3.0%
Austin Seferian-Jenkins JAX 3200 4.0% 3.6% -9.5%
Travis Kelce KC 6400 7.2% 6.2% -14.5%
Delanie Walker TEN 4900 6.7% 5.3% -21.5%
Greg Olsen CAR 5400 5.2% 4.1% -21.6%

Ricky Seals-Jones ($3,000, 1.5% Overall, 4.0% Pros)

At 1.7%, Washington's defense has the eighth-lowest projected roster percentage of the Sunday Main slate. And at 22.9%, Seals-Jones himself ranks third in likelihood of achieving 4x value.

Delanie Walker ($4,900, 6.7% Overall, 5.3% Pros)

In contrast, the much higher-priced Walker has both a lower value probability (10.1%; ranked 21st), and a much higher projected roster percentage for his opponent's defense (4.1%; ranked ninth).

Defenses

Defense Team Salary Overall Pros Diff Ratio
Kansas City Chiefs KC 2300 1.0% 2.5% +151.9%
Indianapolis Colts IND 2400 1.5% 3.3% +117.0%
Arizona Cardinals ARI 2500 1.7% 3.5% +108.7%
Buffalo Bills BUF 3000 1.5% 3.0% +100.7%
Tennessee Titans TEN 2900 1.9% 3.4% +81.0%
Baltimore Ravens BAL 3800 23.1% 38.8% +67.9%
Washington Redskins WAS 2800 2.1% 3.5% +65.9%
Carolina Panthers CAR 3200 2.0% 3.2% +59.8%
Dallas Cowboys DAL 2300 2.6% 3.7% +42.7%
Cincinnati Bengals CIN 2700 2.2% 3.0% +37.5%
Cleveland Browns CLE 2000 2.7% 3.5% +30.7%
Seattle Seahawks SEA 3100 2.8% 3.6% +27.0%
Miami Dolphins MIA 2400 4.1% 4.6% +12.9%
Denver Broncos DEN 3300 4.7% 4.5% -3.4%
Los Angeles Chargers LAC 2800 6.2% 5.7% -8.4%
Jacksonville Jaguars JAX 3700 9.8% 8.8% -9.9%
New Orleans Saints NO 3600 6.0% 5.3% -12.2%
Minnesota Vikings MIN 3500 6.5% 5.7% -13.1%
New England Patriots NE 2400 8.7% 7.4% -14.5%
Pittsburgh Steelers PIT 3400 6.4% 5.2% -19.2%

Baltimore Ravens ($3,800, 23.1% Overall, 38.8% Pros)

Baltimore's defense checks all the boxes. They're a heavy home favorite, so their likelihood of achieving 4x value is still 20.5% despite their exorbitant salary. Most importantly, however, is the fact that Buzzard projects Nathan Peterman to be persona non grata in GPP lineups.

Pittsburgh Steelers ($3,400, 6.4% Overall, 5.2% Pros)

In contrast, the similarly priced Steelers defense has a 16.4% value probability, which ranks second-lowest in the Sunday Main slate; not despite their salary but because of it. And surprisingly perhaps, Tyrod Taylor ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of projected roster percentage, which furthers suppresses the likelihood that pros will roster Pittsburgh at a level commensurate with their salary and perceived matchup.