I get the question a lot. How much should I spend on X position?
My answer is always the same: it depends. The first rule of Fight Club is that you do not talk about Fight Club, and the first rule of DFS salary cap allocation is you do not talk about DFS salary cap allocation, there are no everlasting rules when it comes to DFS salary cap allocation.
Every day is different. Sometimes it makes sense to pay up for a quarterback, and other times not. Sometimes you should put four top-priced receivers into your lineup (one in the flex), and other times not. Football really is a situation-specific sport.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t long-term trends, though. Even though every situation is different, you should still find yourself falling close to the overarching numbers over the long run. If you’re continually punting the quarterback position on a weekly basis, for example, you’re going to be in trouble.
Related to this idea is how much randomness and consistency is inherent to football and each position. In a random environment, it does make sense to side with the long-term numbers to a stronger degree. Football isn’t random, but it’s probably a bit more random than most people think, which is why I’m a proponent of understanding and exploiting aggregate data. If you aren’t sure if you should pay up for or punt the quarterback position in a given week, chances are you should do the former because that’s what has historically led to the most success over the long run.
The quarterback and running back positions are the most consistent in football on a weekly basis, which has everything to do with the sample size of relevant plays they see. While a quarterback might throw the ball 35 times and a top running back touches it 20 times, even some of the best wide receivers struggle to see 10 targets in a game. That position consistency is important in determining optimal salary cap allocation.
Even though team defenses are on the field for dozens of plays, the sample size of plays that are relevant for fantasy purposes is pretty small. Defenses lose points for giving up scores and gain points with takeaways and sacks. Well, takeaways and sacks aren’t really all that common.
Because of that, predicting defensive output is really, really difficult. A defense could be in a really poor matchup and get a pick-six followed by a punt return touchdown to give you elite fantasy production. It’s just really challenging to predict how defenses will perform week to week from a fantasy perspective.
For that reason, it typically makes sense to save money on defenses. You can generally find a defense with decent upside for a cheap price almost every week. As long as you’re emphasizing the right things — namely the ability to generate pressure on the quarterback to create sacks and takeaways — you should be fine saving money at the position.
WHEN TO PAY UP
There are times when I will pay up for a defense, however. While I almost always try to save money in cash games, paying for an elite defense can make some sense in GPPs. In addition to increased upside, the main reason is to find reduced ownership. Most daily fantasy players tend to punt defense in their lineups; they know it’s difficult to predict, and most would prefer to spend money on an elite position player. Because of that, we often see certain top-tier defenses in few lineups. That can be a big advantage in tournaments.
If I’m paying for a top defense in any format, I want them to be strong in pretty much every area, capable of getting pressure on the quarterback and probably having an elite return game. One thing I always want is for my defense to be the favorite in a game. Almost all defensive points come when the opponent is forced to pass the ball, particularly in low-upside situations, which happens near the end of games when they’re losing.
One last note on defense selection strategy: one trick I like to use is to pair a top defense with a skill player who also returns punts/kickoffs. I do that in tournaments to increase my lineup’s ceiling because you can get a 2-for-1 situation if that player returns a punt or kickoff for a touchdown.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is Bales) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.