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FanDuel DFS Diaries: Rich Hill Learns About Daily Fantasy Sports

SB Nation is working with FanDuel to offer a $1,000,000 fantasy football league. Our writer tries to learn what Daily Fantasy Sports actually are.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Editor's Note: FanDuel is running a $1,000,000 fantasy football league in week 1. The Top 46,000 teams win cash with $100,000 paid to first place. Join now!

I have an admission to make. I have no idea what I'm doing with fantasy sports. I'm not very good at them. I've never made the finals of my office fantasy league.

But I need your support because I'm about to embark on a journey into Daily Fantasy Sports, and I'm doing it for you.

I open this with a picture of Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis because I'm going to be staring hopelessly at the field for long stretches of the year- and I'm hoping to be successful enough that I don't get fired. He will be my model for this exercise.

Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) is an exercise in weekly finesse and understanding of the NFL as a whole. It's a ballet of the macro-performances by teams and players, as well as the minutiae of added value from weather, homefield advantage, and opposing defenses. Playing DFS means that I will be the general manager, the coach, and the fan.

But, again, I have no idea what I'm doing.

So before I embark on this season-long adventure, I decided to learn a little about DFS and how it's different- and kind of more fun- than the fantasy leagues you do with your friends.

To start, DFS is for those who love the high involvement in the process. If you would rather pick Matt Forte of the Bears in the first round of your draft, and then take your hands off the keyboard for the rest of the season, that's your very understandable prerogative. Everyone is different. If you'd rather keep up with the week-to-week storylines of the NFL across the entire league, maybe DFS is for you.

There are some basic points in DFS. Every week, you're provided a salary cap to fill up your roster. Every week, NFL players are provided different price points. Your job as general manager is to decide whether pairing the $10,000 quarterback and the $4,000 wide receiver is smarter than taking the $7,000 quarterback and receiver. FanDuel requires one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker, and one defense.

Here are the basic tips for each position that I've learned, if you know anything more feel free to add it in the comments section.

Quarterbacks: QBs offer little week-to-week variation in the sense that Aaron Rodgers is the smarter play than Andy Dalton every single week. When it comes to QBs, it's the little things that matter, like opposing defenses (people who stream QBs in standard fantasy understand this approach), temperature, weather, and location.

In fact, look at how quarterbacks differ when playing home versus playing away.

So my strategy when it comes to quarterbacks is to fill up by running back, receiver, and tight end spots, and then take the top quarterback with my remaining funds, based upon their opponent and the other smaller factors.

Running Backs: RBs with the most opportunities score the most points, and that's what stands true in any style of fantasy football. Rushers with additional snaps in the red zone receive a bonus value because touchdowns are huge in DFS.

Why? The New England Patriots scored 17 rushing touchdowns in 2014 (including playoffs). All 17 came from inside the red zone. Rushers who gain yards are fine for consistency in regular fantasy, but in DFS you want players who hit pay dirt.

To continue the Patriots example, LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley, and Jonas Gray combined for 287 carries, 1,202 yards, and 13 touchdowns. 24.3% of those carries came in the red zone. Compare that to a player like Shane Vereen (his 102 carries actually led the team in 2014), who only saw 15.7% of his snaps in the red zone, and the odds are much greater that the Blount/Ridley/Gray back will find the end zone.

Additionally, teams that win a lot (like the Patriots!) tend to run down the clock at the end of games. This isn't the time to address the false notion that "you need to run 25+ times to win the game!" Instead, it's taking advantage of the fact that teams that win will likely end up running 25+ times.

So my running backs will be high opportunity players on teams that have a chance to win the game.

Wide Receivers: WRs are similar to RBs in the sense that they are only as good as the opportunities they receive- but receivers have a little more volatility than running backs, so I might invest in RBs before WRs if I follow my Marvin Lewis notion of don't get fired.

A player like Julian Edelman, who sees roughly six thousand targets a game, is a better target than Aaron Dobson, who sees a target a game. That makes sense. But, just like running backs, you want receivers who will reach the end zone, which is why Edelman might not be the best play overall. We already know that taller receivers are more successful in the red zone, so I'll keep that in mind.

If I use RBs as the foundation of my team, I'm going to need my WRs to thrive in order to turn my franchise into a contender. I'm going to try and balance my three receivers with the following strategy: 1) A receiver with a high floor; 2) A receiver with a high ceiling; 3) A receiver stacked with my quarterback (or in other words, a receiver on the same team as my quarterback), so if my quarterback thrives, I'll get double points.

Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski

Kicke- oh, is that not enough? Alright, the Patriots tight end is head and shoulders above the rest of the competition when it comes to consistency and performance. He's going to be even better in 2015 than he was in 2014 due to the recovery timeframe of ACL injuries. He's got this league on lock.

With that said, if the Patriots are playing against a particularly feisty defense (say Tom Brady is suspended and Jimmy Garoppolo is facing the Bills), maybe I'll need a contingency plan. The Chiefs Travis Kelce shows promise, and the Panthers Greg Olsen is Carolina's only viable offensive weapon, so those are options.

But no player offers the same upside as Gronk. No player offers the same consistency as Gronk.

Gronk, Gronk, Gronk, Gronk.

Kicker: Since opportunities are inconsistent, I will be selecting kickers that are facing mid-tier defenses, and likely using CHFF's Bendability index, which implies few points, but a lot of yards. That means lots of field goal opportunities.

Defense: I'm going to pick the best defense that is playing the worst opposing quarterback playing on the road. I want turnovers, so I want a quarterback that is inaccurate and is sacked a lot.

Last year nine teams averaged in the bottom third of the league in sack rate and completion rate: Buccaneers, Jaguars, 49ers, Titans, Jets, Vikings, Panthers, Browns, and Lions. Four have new quarterbacks (TB, TEN, NYJ, CLE) and two have quarterbacks ready for a potential jump (JAX, MIN).

This leaves SF, CAR, and DET as potential spots for easy money. I'm going to pick against the 49ers all season. Sorry, San Francisco.


Those are my thoughts. If anyone wants to bestow upon me some brilliant information, please do so in the comments section. The fate of Marvin Lewis depends on you.

Editor's Note: FanDuel is running a $1,000,000 fantasy football league in week 1 that starts on 9/13 and ends on 9/14. Ironically, you won't be able to use any Patriots players in this round. Still, the Top 46,000 teams win cash with $100,000 paid to first place. Join now!