This is the 173rd installment of The Labyrinthian, a series dedicated to exploring random fields of knowledge to give you unordinary theoretical, philosophical, strategic, and/or often rambling guidance on daily fantasy sports. Consult the introductory piece to the series for further explanation.
In Week 14 we had outrageously high ownership projections in our Models for Bengals running back Giovani Bernard and Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon because evidently we love Ohio. Sure enough, on DraftKings they were the highest-owned players. Throughout the week people asked us about how we planned to handle the chalk in guaranteed prize pools, and questions like that tend to come up most weeks. Here are my general chalk thoughts for NFL GPPs. Also, this will be the shortest Labyrinthian ever. Maybe.
Quarterbacks don’t see the high ownership rates that chalky running backs and wide receivers do because only one passer can be rostered in each lineup. Plus, running backs and wide receivers in GPPs can often stand on their own, but in many cases quarterbacks should be stacked, which will drive down their ownership: Rarely (probably never) does the majority of the DFS community stack the same team. Also, even if a quarterback is chalky, he can be included in unique lineups by stacking him with contrarian teammates or by using singular combinations of players at other positions. For these reasons, I don’t mind rostering chalky quarterbacks in GPPs.
I also don’t mind rostering chalky running backs, although the fade is fine in many cases. It’s harder to justify rostering expensive backs who are popular, but so much depends on the combination of ownership projection, expected usage, and salary that it’s hard to speak definitively. What’s important to remember with running backs (in comparison to wide receivers and tight ends) is that their usage is easier to project, especially for the guys who can play on all three downs. Because of this relative predictability, it’s acceptable to invest in a popular back. For instance, Bernard — owned at 51.6 percent — was in the Week 14 DraftKings Millionaire Maker-winning lineup. He didn’t score a touchdown or earn the 100-yard bonus, but Bernard still had an overwhelmingly positive Plus/Minus with 130 total yards and six receptions for 19 DraftKings points. Even though Bernard was so popular, he was worth rostering because of his cheap $3,100 salary and the relative reliability of his projected usage as Cincinnati’s lead back.
As The Rolling Stones put it, “I’m gonna fade away on wide receivers.” Or something like that. Because target volume and also efficiency are volatile at the position, it makes a lot of sense to differentiate your lineups by fading the chalk and going a little more contrarian at wide receiver. Look at it this way: It’s relatively uncommon for a running back who isn’t projected for at least 12-15 touches to have a big game. It’s not rare, however, for a wide receiver who usually doesn’t get a lot of volume to have a big performance in any given game. For instance, in Week 14 Chargers wide receiver Tyrell Williams had only four targets, but he still managed four receptions for 132 yards and a touchdown. Every week there are random receivers who have GPP-winning performances. Since you need to get some contrarian production into your lineups, and since that production can be found at wide receiver, you might as well fade the chalk at that position.
Like quarterback, tight end has only one roster spot designated specifically for it so the position rarely has a player with exorbitant ownership, but tight end (like wide receiver) is also volatile in that volume can fluctuate wildly. On top of that, since most tight ends aren’t yardage accumulators, what we’re shooting for at the position are touchdowns, which aren’t easy to predict, so you’re almost always justified in fading a chalky tight end. At the same time, because of positional scarcity you’re almost always justified in rostering a tight end with an elevated chance of scoring. As a result, I think tight end comes down to roster construction. If you can fit a chalky tight end with high touchdown equity into your lineup, go for it. Just be sure to distinguish your lineup at another position.
Other People Know More Than I Do
Each week Peter Jennings (CSURAM88) does some premium videos. Check them out. He does Model Previews as well as Lineup Reviews, and he usually talks about chalk-aware strategies for particular slates. Whatever his thoughts are on how to play/fade chalk in GPPs, I’m sure they’re better than mine.
The Labyrinthian: 2017.78, 173
Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian. Previous installments of the series can be accessed via the series archive.