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DFS Strategy: Don’t Buy Into Early-Season Results (Fantasy Football)

by Isaiah Sirois | @is_sirois | Featured Writer
Mar 1, 2020

Every year, a handful of players break out in Week 1. And every year, DFS players get burned by those same players in Week 2. While some guys can maintain their early-season breakouts, not every player can do the same. Offenses can change as the year progresses, and some guys play more significant roles at the start of the year than they will by the end. Also, some teams can start the year with easy matchups and implode once they start playing against tougher defenses.

For instance, let’s take a look at the first four weeks of Sammy Watkins’ 2019 season:

Game Receptions Targets Yards Yards/Rec Touchdowns
Week 1 (at JAC) 9 11 198 22 3
Week 2 (at OAK) 6 13 49 8.2 0
Week 3 (vs. BAL) 5 8 64 12.8 0
Week 4 (at DET) 3 6 54 18 0

 
As you can see, Week 1 was not predictive of Watkins’ future performance. He put up 29.4 percent of his total yards on the year — and 100 percent of his total touchdowns — just in Week 1! These numbers make a bit more sense when you realize that Jacksonville finished 29th in weighted defensive efficiency, according to Football Outsiders. In retrospect, it’s apparent that Watkins faced a perfect storm in Week 1, and Tyreek Hill’s injury kept his target share high enough in Week 2 for DFS players to consider him another week.

So how do you distinguish between a one-and-done bust and an actual DFS stud? There’s a lot of luck involved, but I’ve got some tips that can point you in the right direction.

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1. Poor defensive play is a red flag.
If the guy you want to fire up in Week 2 just took down a bottom-six secondary, well, that’s not a whole lot to write home about. The strength of NFL defenses varies a lot year-to-year, so it’s hard to gauge where teams are at in Week 1. That said, if you’re going to invest in a guy early in the year in DFS, you should do your homework. Watch his tape from the games he’s played so far. If his big plays are a product of defensive mistakes, pump the brakes. Your guy might not have those same opportunities when he’s in your lineup. And if you don’t have time to watch game film, look at the grades ProFootballFocus gives to the defensive players your player just took on.

Matchups are the lynchpin of DFS. You’ve probably been considering the quality of an opposing team’s secondary before picking your receivers, and I expect you’ve been studying their front seven when choosing a running back. When it’s early in the season, always look at a player’s previous performances through that same lens. It means a lot less to beat up on a bad team than it does to play well against a good one.

2. If they’re a running back, look at their snap count percentages.
FantasyPros has a handy snap count tool that allows you to compare how much work running backs are getting in their offense. While some coaches will emphasize different rushers based on their opponents, a player’s usage in one week is generally predictive of their usage in the next.

Let’s look at Week 1 of 2019 again. Of the 10 guys to earn the highest percentage of their team’s snaps (74 percent and above), all but two carried comparable workloads in Week 2 (Leonard Fournette and Josh Jacobs being the exceptions).

So if your Week 1 stud has earned the bulk of his team’s carries, there’s a good chance he can do so again. If, however, he made the most out of few opportunities, you can find safer options elsewhere.

3. If they’re a wide receiver, look at their target share.
FantasyPros also has a page that logs a player’s targets per game. Like with snap counts, this tool will help you gauge how involved a receiver is within their offense.

However, Week 1 of 2019 was kind of an outlier. Lots of guys who earned massive workloads in Week 1 failed to maintain what they started. Jamison Crowder, Robert Woods, and Danny Amendola all earned 13 or more targets that week, yet the three of them were only targeted just nine times as a group in Week 2.

But that doesn’t disprove the importance of targets. The five other guys to earn more than 13 targets in Week 1 all drew at least seven looks in Week 2, which is good enough to return solid fantasy value. Also, every player to earn 13 or more targets in Week 1 of 2018 got at least seven looks in Week 2. So while Crowder, Woods, and Amendola are reminders that volume stats can’t predict the future, they are still a reliable tool when evaluating early-season results.

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Isaiah Sirois is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Isaiah, check out his archive and follow him @is_sirois.

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