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What Are “Chalk Plays” and How Do They Impact Overall Results? (Fantasy Football)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
May 26, 2019

Avoiding chalk plays, like Michael Thomas facing a weak secondary, can give you a scoring edge in GPPs

Chalk is an expression thrown around in daily fantasy football, and it’s borrowed and modified from sports betting. In sports betting, chalk is a favorite. In daily fantasy sports, chalk refers to players who project to have high ownership rates. Favorites in sports betting are teams expected to win for a variety of reasons, and the chalkier the line, the more reasons for expecting that team to win. The same idea applies to daily fantasy football.

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The chalkier the player, the more there is to like about them. A favorable matchup is one major contributing factor to a player’s projected high ownership rate. Whether it’s a favorable matchup for a mediocre player or a superstar, it’s going to bump up ownership when compared to a similarly talented player in a tougher matchup. Salary is also often a factor that drives ownership rate. Everyone loves bargain players who provide salary relief to spend on superstars elsewhere on the roster.

Backups Forced Into Starting Role

When a backup running back is forced into starting duties and an expanded role due to injury, that’s frequently a recipe for a player being a chalk play. That’s especially the case when the injury to the starting running back takes place or is revealed during the week. Sometimes, daily sites will increase the salary of a backup running back from what it typically is in anticipation of a starting role if/when the injury to the starter takes place in advance of player salaries being released for a week’s slate of games. In those instances, the salary is unlikely to be a total steal, though, it can still be considered a bargain relative to their projected scoring output for that week.

The same idea applies for quarterbacks, receivers, and tight ends, too. However, the drop off in talent from a starting quarterback to a reserve is usually stark, and even at a bargain salary, the backup’s skill level might be too low to warrant using, let alone making them a chalk selection. Running backs tend to be the most heavily impacted in terms of ownership as a result of injuries ahead of them, however, when a pass catcher with a large target share is out, the secondary and tertiary pieces on their club will often get a sizable ownership boost in that given week. All of the examples of backup players starting in place of injured players ahead of them on the depth chart are easy to identify chalk player situations.

Matchup-based Chalk Plays

Matchup-based chalk plays tend to be relatively easy to identify, too. Atlanta’s tendency to funnel passes to running backs often results in backs facing them — namely backs with strong receiving skills — getting a lift in ownership rate. Banged up secondaries — or simply bad secondaries — set to face a superstar receiver will usually drive up the ownership on said stud wideout. Intuitively, players in each of these matchup scenarios make sense to roster, thus, their high ownership rates shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Another scenario for creating chalk plays is a projected shootout. Games with high over/under totals on a slate will often feature some of the highest owned players of the week. Again, this intuitively makes sense. If there are likely to be a bunch of real-life points scored in a game, there should be fantasy points aplenty to go around to key players in that contest.

Consider Ownership: Cash vs. GPP

What should gamers do with the information of understanding who the chalk plays in a week are likely to be? In cash games, it usually behooves gamers to use chalk plays. You’re not looking to crush the field in cash games, you’re simply looking to finish in the top half. If a backup running back with a bargain salary projects to provide a hefty return on investment, there’s little reason to fade them in cash games. Instead, enjoy the juicy points-per-dollar value they provide and look for edges elsewhere on your roster.

Of course, there are exceptions. If your projection for the chalk player in question is much lower than the expectation of others, you can fade that player. Having said that, if the chalk player provides a big score to those rostering him, you’ll put yourself in a more challenging position to cash.

In GPPs, you can approach this information much differently. Of course, you can still roster some chalk plays in GPPs. They obviously have favorable factors driving their projected ownership up. However, pivoting off of the chalk to another player can create a huge edge.

For instance, let’s say the Saints are at home and Michael Thomas is facing a defense that’s yielded the most points to opposing wide receivers that season. Odell Beckham Jr.’s salary is similar, but he’s in a matchup that’s tougher on paper. Most gamers are going to roll with Thomas as a chalk play, and because both are top wideouts who have big salaries, rostering both is unlikely on most rosters. Most of the time under these specific circumstances, Thomas is going to outscore OBJ.

However, if Thomas left his game early due to injury, or merely put forth a good performance instead of a great one, and OBJ had a blow-up performance in his matchup, you’d have a huge point-scoring edge over the majority of other rosters by using OBJ. It’s also possible both score similarly and no edge is gained or lost.

The top GPP finishing rosters can look different from week to week. Sometimes, they’re filled with numerous chalk plays and just a few lower-owned players. Other times, the chalk plays fall well short of expectations, opening the door to a team filled with low-owned players surging to the top of a GPP.

With this in mind, there’s no golden rule for how to handle chalk plays in GPPs. Although, the chalkier the player, the more game theory suggests zigging when the field is zagging in the hopes of a major payout. In closing, chalk plays have a major impact on daily fantasy football results, but how to handle them differs between game types.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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