Every week of the NFL season last year, you could potentially win $1,000,000 off about a $20 buy-in on DraftKings. Of course, you had to compete with nearly 300,000 lineups per week to take down the top prize, but still: a MILLION dollars! Not bad for a lazy Fall Sunday.

It’s obviously very hard to win the Milly Maker, but our tools at FantasyLabs, and especially our Contests Dashboard, can help you become a smarter DFS player and increase your expected value for each lineup. On the Contests Dashboard tool, you can track DFS ownership levels of your own lineups, compare those to top DFS players, plus view lineup trends in a variety of different NFL contests. It’s perhaps my favorite tool on the site.

On that note, I’m going to break down some notable trends from the 17 Milly Makers last season and how to optimize your lineups to have a chance to take home some life-changing cash.

Let’s start with a bird’s-eye view.

How Much of the Salary Cap to Use

On DraftKings, you can use up to $50,000 in salary dollars to create your lineup, and the data suggests a huge portion of the field does just that. Over the 17 weeks, on average 44.4% of the field used the full $50k limit:

That is a shockingly high number, especially considering how top-heavy the Milly Maker is. Take the upcoming Milly Maker this week: 20% of the entire $5 million prize pool is given to the first-place team. That means a duplicate lineup severely lowers your expected value, and the easiest way to create a duplicate lineup is to use the full $50k cap.

Especially in a sport such as football, which has a high degree of variance from week to week, the $100 or $200 difference in lineups often doesn’t equate to much in terms of expected fantasy output. That means perhaps the best way, independent of player analysis, to raise each lineup’s EV is to simply not use the full $50k cap.

Stack, and Then Stack Some More

The best way to increase your lineup’s upside is to embrace correlations among players. This is obvious to longtime DFS players, but when a quarterback throws a touchdown pass to one of his wide receivers and you have rostered both, you benefit from both sides of the event. In order to win a Milly Maker, you have to nail every single position, and stacking lowers the odds of you missing on any of those.

Say you have a lineup with each player from a different game. Sure, all of those players could score 30 DraftKings points and you win a Milly Maker, but it’s unlikely you’ll correctly identify all of the random 30-point scorers across the huge pool of players each week. By stacking — and even stacking a ton (a game stack) — you decrease your need to be right on a bunch of high-variance events. If you stack a quarterback and his top-two wide receivers, in order to jump up the leaderboards, you have to be right about just a single game instead of three separate ones.

And that’s shown in winning Milly Maker lineups. All 17 of the winning lineups last year stacked, and a whopping 11 of them stacked multiple situations. In Week 13, for example, the winning lineup had three separate stacks:

  • QB-WR-TE
  • RB-Defense
  • WR-WR

Instead of having to be right on nine different events (there are nine lineup spots on DraftKings), this user just had to nail five — the three stacks above plus an extra running back and the FLEX spot. That’s much more manageable.

Fourteen of the 17 weeks saw a quarterback stacked with one of his teammates, and in four of them, a user stacked three players from the same offense — typically a quarterback with his top-two wide receivers.

Again, stack. And then stack some more.


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Flex On ‘Em

Last year, winning lineups mostly used running backs in their FLEX spots:

  • RB: 10 of 17 (59%)
  • WR: 5 of 17 (29%)
  • TE: 2 of 17 (12%)

Here’s how that compared to overall FLEX usage across all Milly Maker lineups:

A lot of people use three running backs in cash games because of the predictability of the position, and while that trend still holds true in the Milly Maker, it’s possible users are still underrating running back upside. Only two winning lineups used a tight end in the FLEX, and while it could hold merit in specific weeks — for example, if there’s a very cheap tight end in a good spot (think Trey Burton at like $2,500 last season) and you can pair him with Rob Gronkowski — in general tight ends just don’t carry enough upside to warrant two roster spots in Milly Maker lineups.

Lineup Trends

Here’s the average salary and ownership for each position of Milly Maker winning lineups:

Personally I think this type of analysis is more descriptive than predictive, but perhaps there are still things we can tease out.

Let’s look at how many top-five players from each position were used on average. For reference, here’s that salary tier for this upcoming Week 1 slate:

  • QB: $6,700 and up
  • RB: $7,700 and up
  • WR: $7,600 and up
  • TE: $4,900 and up
  • Defense: $3,500 and up

And how many players in those tiers used in Milly lineups last year (percentage is players divided by lineup spots — 17 for quarterbacks/tight ends, 34 for running backs, 51 for wide receivers):

Again, probably more descriptive than predictive — but the data suggests winning lineups paid up for top-tier running backs far more than any other position.

Ownership

Most DFS users are correctly worried about ownership (although for some reason not worried about lineup overlap due to using the full $50k cap). And while it’s important to get some low-owned players in your lineup, you don’t have to create a super contrarian lineup where everyone is below 10%:

In fact, all but two winning lineups used at least one player over 20% owned, and 11 of the winning lineups had at least two players over 20%.

This highlights a tactic I believe is optimal called the barbell strategy: Using highly owned players combined with very low-owned players. Think about the difference in lineups despite the same average ownership in the following examples:

  • Player 1: 30%, Player 2: 2%, Average Ownership: 16%
  • Player 1: 18%, Player 2: 14%, Average Ownership: 16%

Both of those lineups can win, but 1) the second lineup is more likely to be duplicated, and 2) the 30% player has high ownership for a reason. That level is usually reserved for the best value players — think a backup running back who is getting a spot-start at $4,000 because of an injury — which means you’re eschewing value by fading them.

You can still create a unique lineup by combining the safest players — the best values and those with predictable outcomes — with highly volatile options with upside and low ownership.

These Milly Maker trends are but a small piece of the puzzle; go research yourself and win some money this year.

Photo credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Pictured: Todd Gurley