Hilow’s End Around: Game Theory Training for DFS Play
Mark “Hilow” Garcia
This slate is going to cause fits for a good chunk of the field. Why will this slate trip a good portion of the field up, you ask? This is the first week of the season where pricing is legitimately tight. After three weeks, the DraftKings pricing algorithm has enough data (takes prior ownership, production, and pricing into account) to shift things around enough to create an environment where concessions must be made. Where is the field likeliest to make those concessions this week? Floor. In a vacuum, DFS pricing equates to floor, meaning the higher the salary, the higher the floor. Now that pricing is tighter, floor is harder to come by.
The way you have seen this idea presented throughout the site this week is through the word “uncertainty.” Uncertainty is simply another way of saying “yo, dudes and dudettes, pricing is tight and floor is going to be hard to come by for your rosters as a whole.” Take a minute and think through the “value” plays (I emphasize “value” as I did to drive home the difference between a player being a true value – they are priced too low – and a player being called a “value” by the industry – priced below $6,000 at the quarterback position, $4,000 at the wide receiver position, $5,000 at the running back position or $4000 at the tight end position) being thrown around this week. Guys like Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Quez Watkins, Matt Ryan, Zach Wilson, Anthony Firkser, Van Jefferson, Jr., Curtis Samuel, and Kadarius Toney have generated some level of buzz. That said, I need to be very clear here: these players are not terrible plays, just realize what you’re getting, and, more importantly, what you’re sacrificing when you place them on rosters.
The big picture of this intro is meant to drive home the basics. You could have largely skated by up to this point with poor fundamentals. How do we manage variance, elevate a roster’s floor, and reduce the number of variables that have to fall in our favor? Stacks and attacking game environments!
Restrictive chalk. The modest increase to pass game involvement pads his floor ever so slightly, which could turn into more this week in the absence of both starting wide receivers.
Restrictive chalk. Leads the NFL in fantasy points at the wide receiver position, playing in the highest game total on the slate.
Neither restrictive chalk nor expansive chalk. Will he be shadowed by Trevon Diggs or not? (My answer is in the SE/3-Max channel on Discord!)
Restrictive chalk. Coming off an 18-target game on one of the highest Vegas implied team totals on the slate.
Restrictive chalk. Poor on-paper matchup, but matchups don’t really apply to Cheetah.
Restrictive chalk. Great on-paper matchup on a team with a Vegas implied team total of almost 31 points.
Neither restrictive chalk nor expansive chalk. Matt Nagy relinquished play-calling duties, huzzah!
Restrictive chalk. Should have both volume and game flow in his favor.
Expansive chalk. Uhhhh, come again? Enough said.
The chalk build is much harder to figure out this week after three weeks of being able to fit most anything you wanted onto rosters. Let’s again allow our exploration of the prevailing chalk pieces to guide us here. What do you notice? The vast majority of the expected chalk pieces this week are restrictive in nature, meaning they restrict the amount of salary you have left for the remaining roster spots. When that is the case, we know a good chunk of rosters are going to be forced to hunt for perceived value. The problem with that train of thought this week is that we’re really only presented with true value at the wide receiver position, so we can be all but certain a solid portion of the rosters in play will carry one pay-down wide receiver. Furthermore, since we can safely assume the field is unlikely to play many double-pay-down WR lineups, we arrive at the conclusion that most rosters in play will contain one pay-up WR, one mid-range WR, and one pay-down WR. Think of this week like this: it’s “justify min-price WR” week for the field. This also highlights the enigma that is a chalky Lions defense, as people will be fighting for ways to save salary. Put everything together and we’re left with one of the highest variance positions as the main roster funnel.
Think through the macro makeup of each slate so far. In Week 1, balanced rosters were chalk because we had tight-range-of-outcome players with solid ceilings priced in the mid-range. Same story for Week 2. In Week 3, wide receivers had not been aggressively priced up yet and we were presented with numerous value pieces at the running back position, leading to balanced rosters. This week, the wide receiver position has been aggressively priced up and we have a lower number of viable sub-$6,500 running back plays. This is going to force those concessions we talked about earlier, which will make people hunt for “value” wide receivers. People have also grown accustomed to being able to fit the “best-WR-plays-in-a-vacuum” easily, which creates a psychological desire to continue to play those players even after they’ve been priced up to a level that matches their floor. The outcome of that psychological pressure is likely to lead people away from balanced rosters this week, creating an interesting leverage piece. You might have noticed I kept using the word “people.” That was done on purpose to highlight the fact that we’re playing against other human beings in DFS and not the house, bringing that psychological aspect into play.
Although both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce fall loosely into the chalk category this week, the idea of “chalk” must be viewed objectively and relatively. In other words, even though they are both expected to be amongst the highest-owned players on the slate, we’re only talking about 12-15% ownership based on current projections. At the beginning of the season, if I told you there were going to be only three to four weeks where both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce fell below 15% ownership on the same week in 2021, you’d want to play them in those weeks, right? Patrick Mahomes is checking in around 10% expected ownership. What about the Eagles? Jalen Hurts: 4-5% ownership. Miles Sanders: 2-3% ownership. Every Eagle wide receiver: sub 1% ownership. What is the easiest path to ceiling games from the Chiefs? For the Eagles to force them into continued aggression. The proverbial stars are aligning for this game to be played incorrectly by the field, something we should be looking to capitalize on this week.
Check this out, no, really, it’s totally cool. Six Rams players are currently projected to carry more ownership than the top Cardinals player. All of Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Darrell Henderson, Matthew Stafford, Tyler Higbee, and DeSean freaking Jackson are currently projected for more ownership than Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, and co. That’s kind of silly, no? For the simple act of correlated pairings to be considered not only viable but massive leverage this far into the season is egregious. So, go ahead and play your Rams, just do so with the game environment in mind!
The Titans have allowed 28.0 points per game and the Jets’ first three opponents this season are three of the top five defenses in the league through three weeks. Let’s not jump to any overarching conclusions about this offense just yet. The likeliest scenario lands Wilson in the 35-40 pass attempt range, with an injury-thinned pass-catching corps that should feature Corey Davis and Jamison Crowder heavily (Wilson has targeted wide receivers on 72% of his passes this season). The trio costs a combined salary of $14,600 and 5x on that salary is not out of the question, at ridiculously low ownership to boot.
What ownership that does flow through the Bills is highly likely to be naked or one pass-catcher paired with Allen, meaning a great deal of leverage can be generated by loading up here. A bring-back doesn’t feel necessary, but Brandin Cooks can be added for correlated rosters than play to the game environment.
Keep an eye on the statuses of both George Kittle and Elijah Mitchell. The offense loses a massive chunk of its run game should both miss, and nobody would be on a likely heavily concentrated pass offense flowing primarily through Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Stack ‘em up with Jimmy Garoppolo for a leveraged upside stack and include your favorite Seahawk, as expected increased pass volume from the Niners would mean more fantasy goodness for all!