HOW TO WIN AT AFL DFS
1. How to Increase Your Chance of Winning
2. Thinking in Value Rather Than Score
3. Player Ranges – Ceilings, Floors and Everything in Between
4. Player Exposure and Core Players
5. Profiting from Player Ownership – Zigging When the Field Zags
6. Stacking – the simplest yet most powerful DFS strategy
7. Weather – taking advantage of the rain
8. Using a Lineup Optimiser
This first chapter outlines two concepts you must understand before you can truly begin the journey towards long-term profitability. The contents of this course are built upon the knowledge in this chapter. While it can be difficult to acknowledge the importance of these principles, they are crucial DFS concepts that must be understood and employed before anyone can think about profiting long term.
You must play multiple-entries
And not just 10-lineups. Not even 20. In fact, while it’s not impossible, anything under 50 lineups is very tough to show a long term profit at. Entering 100+ lineups whenever and wherever your bankroll allows is the quickest way to grow your game and put you on the path to profitability.
- Playing 100+ entries gives you strategical flexibility you don’t have access to with lower amounts of entries.
- It also lessens the variance involved in each slate.
- It sets you on the path of becoming a profitable DFS player by opening your mind to the depths of strategy involved in Daily Fantasy.
Think of your combined DFS lineups as a portfolio
It’s true, playing 100+ lineups opens the door to a different way of conceptualising Daily Fantasy Sports.
One of the key concepts I’ve taught students in the past is to consider your group of lineups as a portfolio that maximises your chances of winning the most money possible on any given slate. Almost like you’re entering an exam looking for the highest grade possible.
Among your Daily Fantasy portfolio, you might have lineups that cater for a particular game-script occurring:
- You might have lineups that feature ruckman X with midfielder Y.
- You might have some lineups featuring 8 players from one team, in the hope of a flogging.
- You might have 2 Collingwood defenders stacked in your DEF positions together, in the hope of the chip-around game.
Each slate you enter is a chance to win money. And each portfolio you submit to the contest must be optimised to make money.
As DFS players, we’re striving to enter the perfect portfolio to maximise our returns on any given slate.
And this is exactly where the top professionals have a large gap on the rest of the playing field. They simply submit better, more balanced portfolios than their counterparts on a regular basis.
And while variance is a beast that can’t be tamed on a weekly basis, the best players will show steady profits over a big enough sample.
A rock-solid understanding of player value is the first building block of good DFS play. Moving away from thinking about a player’s score and thinking about their value is a key mindset shift.
Without a salary, a player’s projected score gives us no information on whether they are a good selection or not.
Let’s say Melbourne’s Christian Petracca has a projected score of 115 points. Without an accommodating salary, we can’t say if he’s worthy of inclusion in our portfolio.
At $10,000 he’s clearly an excellent selection for our lineups.
At $20,000 he’s a not-so-excellent selection for our lineups.
But what about Petracca at, say, $15,500?
This is where a ‘value’ figure must be introduced. Value can be found by applying the following simple equation:
Using this equation, we find that Petracca’s projected value is (115/15,500)*1000 = 7.42
*Tip. Eliminate the need to multiply by 1000 by simply speaking in terms of 1,000s when dealing with the player’s salary:
Petracca value = 115/15.5k = 7.42.
All good Daily Fantasy players apply this concept when analysing players both before and after a slate.
So avoid thinking in terms of a player’s absolute score and always think in terms of their value.
What’s a good value on Draftstars?
This question can be answered in lots of ways since no specific value return can be deemed ‘good’ or ‘bad’ without supporting information.
A $5,000 player returning a value of 10 occurs quite regularly and won’t necessarily win you a tournament.
A $20,000 player returning a value of 10.0 (meaning they have scored 200 fantasy points) almost never occurs and will likely win you a tournament.
So we can see that the effectiveness of a player’s value returned also depends on their salary. A $5,000 returning a value of 10 is not the same as a $20,000 player returning a value of 10.
Another factor in determining a player’s effectiveness is found when comparing their value to other players in the game.
Let’s say Patrick Cripps is priced at $15,000 and scores 120-points on a Friday night AFL game against the Bombers.
Using the equation above, we can calculate that Cripps has returned a value of of 8.0 (= 120/15).
For the example’s sake, let’s assume the following also occurs:
- Sam Walsh (MID, $16,500) scores 140-points at a value of 8.48
- Darcy Parish (MID, $17,200) scores 141 points at a value of 8.19
- Zach Merrett (MID, $14,000) scores 130 points at a value of 9.28
- Andrew McGrath (MID/DEF, $9,800) scores 100 points at a value of 10.2
- A debutant listed as a MID on Draftstars scores 70-points on debut at base price ($5,000), returning a value of 14.0.
All of a sudden the top 10 lineups on the Draftstars leaderboard don’t even feature Cripps in their MID positions. Instead, they all have a combination of the 5 players mentioned above. And although a value return of 8.0 for a player at $15,000 is exceptional on a normal night, it’s actually sub-par here because of the high-scoring nature of this matchup.
The magical 130 rule.
As seen above, the effectiveness of a player’s value depends on their salary and the circumstances of the slate.
However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t use guidelines when analysing a player before a slate.
The rule is this:
When analysing a player, simply get their salary and divide it by 130. Use the resulting number as a ‘breakeven’ point.
- Tom Mitchell is $17,500. He needs roughly (17,500/130 =) 134.6 points to break even at that salary.
- Matt Rowell is $11,200. He needs roughly (11,200/130 =) 86.2 points to break even at that salary.
- A debutant is $5,000. He needs roughly (5,000/130 =) 38.4 points to break even at that salary.
Remember, these figures are just guidelines and become redundant when circumstances of a slate change.
Ceiling and floors – a better way to analyse expected performance
When analysing players before a slate it’s important to note that each player, or asset, has its own mathematical aspects. Treating each player as a mathematical asset in your portfolio allows you to remove any emotion from the selection and massage them into your lineups according to their mathematical characteristics.
“Pretend these guys are out there running around in morph suits. No faces. No character. Just big, floating mathematical assets that you either want in your lineups or you don’t want them” – me explaining the concept to Tbetta in 2018.
And while a projected score is a decent way to analyse a player’s upcoming performance, we need to know more about the selection’s scoring characteristics than a singular floating number.
A better way to conceptualise a player’s likely output is through something called Player Ranges.
Using the example in the previous chapter, Christian Petracca was projected to score 115 points. Theoretically speaking, Petracca could score anywhere between 0 and, say, 200 points.
After looking at Petracca’s 2021 scores (*using DFSAustralia’s ‘Fantasy Points’ tool):
We might conclude something like, “Petracca is likely to score between 90 and 130 points today”
In Daily Fantasy, we call his lowest likely outcome his ‘floor’. And his highest likely outcome his ‘ceiling’.
I.e. in the example above, Petracca’s floor is 90 points and his ceiling is 130 points. His range is 90-130.
- A player’s FLOOR refers to the estimation of the lowest plausible score they may achieve in an upcoming match
- A player’s CEILING refers to the estimation of the highest plausible score they may achieve in an upcoming match
- A player’s RANGE is an expression using a player’s floor and ceiling in conjunction to estimate a probable output for an upcoming match
Expected scores only offer a single figured estimation, whereas ranges offer a distribution of possibilities. Thinking in terms of a player’s range rather than their projected score will hold your AFL DFS in good stead.
Using match-day information to assign ranges
Assigning accurate ranges is one of the most important skills in AFL DFS.
And luckily for the football lover, intuition plays a massive part in accurately assigning player ranges.
But why is that? It’s because:
Upcoming, or ‘match-day’ information often exceeds the importance of historical information.
In the previous section, we relied solely on Christian Petracca’s scoring history to assign a range of 90-130. While this is a good way to arrive at a range, it doesn’t take into account all the variables required to accurately predict a scoring range.
Assume Petracca is up against Greater Western Sydney, who plan to send Matt ‘The ‘Human Glove’ De Boer his way in an attempt to nullify Petracca’s influence on the game.
Now, we’ve seen Matt De Boer reduce star players’ outputs to almost 50% of their normal production. This factor is more important than Petracca’s 2021 season.
Now let’s say Melbourne’s coach, Simon Goodwin, has come out and said:
“If Petracca gets tagged by De Boer, we’re sending him straight to full forward”
All of a sudden Petracca’s range goes from “probably 90-130” to something like 60-90 in a flash.
This example clearly illustrates that when assessing a player’s scoring range:
Certain match-day information can greatly outweigh the importance of a player’s historical output.
Another clear example of match-day information bearing more weight than historical output can be seen in the fantasy production of key forwards. Someone like Jeremy Cameron can see a 40% slash in his projected score if the weatherman predicts rain.
And this is why there’s always room for intuition in AFL DFS – keeping up to date with news stories, injury reports, weather, etc. is often more important than crunching data.
Match-day information to consider when estimating a player’s range:
- Has this player had a role change or injury recently?
- Is it going to rain? Is it going to be humid and slippery (like it is at the GABBA)?
- What venue are they playing at?
- Which team is he playing against?
- Who is his opposing player?
All of these factors used in conjunction with historical scores will provide all you need to assign strong player ranges.
Assigning player exposure
When deciding on your core players’ exposures, one of Broady4_’s philosophies springs to mind:
“Estimate how likely the player is to feature in the winning lineup and assign your exposure based off that.
Say someone like Hawthorn’s Jai Newcombe is debuting in the midfield, as he did in 2021, and has a projected score of 80-points. Often a debutant will be base-priced on Draftstars. So Newcombe would be expected to return an exceptional value here, and is extremely likely to feature in the winning lineup. And given that his floor is probably somewhere around the 60-point range, even that is a great return at the $5,000 mark.
Using Broady’s philosophy, we might conclude something like:
“Even when Newcombe hits his floor here, he still may feature in lineups on the leaderboard. That’s good enough for me to put this guy in 80% of my lineups”
His scoring range means that even if he produces his worst expected outcome, he’s still a good chance to feature in the top 10 lineups. Clearly, Newcombe is a great selection in this situation and is probably somewhere around 80% likely to feature in the winning lineup, warranting a very high exposure in your portfolio.
Some rules of thumb for assigning player exposure:
- Avoid playing 100% of a player as much as possible
- High variance forwards should rarely be owned in larger than 40% of your lineups
- Ruckmen have excellent floors due to scoring through hitouts, and can be owned in higher percentages than other positions
- Midfielders are consistent and worthy of higher exposure since they accrue fantasy scores from a variety of statistics.
- Backmen are unique. They can’t be expected to produce as regularly as midfielders or ruckmen as they often require control of the ball to score well. However, they have excellent ceilings as a result of the possession game that often occurs when a team looks to control the ball
- Every single player requires a different thought process – no two situations are the same. Remember, mathematical assets with different characteristics
Picking ‘core’ players
You’ve probably noticed a lot of the tip-top DFS’ers selecting 2 or 3 players in the majority of their lineups and rotating different players around these 2 or 3 ‘core picks’ – a common DFS strategy employed by the big winners.
But how do we choose these core players? And should we play them in all of our lineups? Half of our lineups? 80%? 30?
While there are no set-in-stone rules to follow, here are a few you should consider when selecting core players:
- Pick players who have high expected returns in value
- Pick players who have high floors relative to their salary
- Pick players with lower salaries, since their poor performances are less damaging than a premium faring badly
- Pick players who ‘fill the stats sheet’ in a variety of ways
- Pick players in favourable matchups where their side is expected to score heavily
- Avoid players with high-variance roles. This includes key forwards, small forwards, or any midfielders who might be assigned a defensive player from the opposing team (a ‘tagger’). Playing one of these guys in a large chunk of your portfolio is a recipe for disaster
“Zigging when the field zags” is one of the great expressions of the English language for sure.
But how do we zig when the field zags in DFS and allow such zigging to fill our pockets with money?
Adopting the KEEP-IT-SIMPLE principle, it can be broken down into 2 overarching decisions:
- How much of the field do you think will own Player X?
- What’s better – playing under the field or over?
Estimating field ownership
Just like assigning ranges with precision is one of the most important DFS strategies, estimating the field % of a player is right up there too.
Accurately predicting the field ownership of a player is a strong strategic advantage.
- If you know that the field is likely to overestimate a player’s likely output, you can happily avoid that player and hope he fares poorly.
- If you have a pick that the field is likely to forget about, you are at a great advantage by featuring him in your lineups should he fare well.
Chad Wingard is priced at $12,100 and has a previous 3-game average of 130 points with a recent move into the midfield.
You, being a seasoned fantasy man, understand that Wingard often has periods of excellence like this. And they’re often followed by a poor performance or two.
And after careful analysis, you conclude that Wingard will likely be owned by ~40% of the field.
So now the equation becomes:
- I decide to play less than 40% of Wingard in my lineups and hope he plays poorly, leaving me ahead of 40% of the field.
- I decide to play more than 40% of Wingard and hope he continues to return excellent value, leaving me ahead of the field since I own more than 40% of him.
Things to consider when estimating a player’s ownership:
- Projected value. If he’s projected to return a very high value, he will obviously feature in a lot of lineups.
- 3-game average (since it’s a statistic shown directly on Draftstars when clicking on the player)
- Media attention. Has the been word of him ‘tearing up the track’?
- Positional scarcity – how many other value picks are there in this player’s position?
Tying exposure and field ownership together
While Newcombe certainly represents extreme value in the example above, it’s not necessarily the optimal move to play him in large amounts of our lineups.
This is where something poker players call ‘Game Theory’ comes into play.
Because Newcombe is so underpriced, he’s likely to feature in 80%+ of the field’s lineups.
Let’s say you forgot Newcombe was playing, excluding him altogether from your lineups. You proceed to get very lucky, as he limps off with a hamstring injury in the 1st quarter.
You’re now streets ahead of 80% of the field and are a big chance of winning a lot of money. Only 1 in 5 lineups has a chance to compete with you now since you avoided playing Newcombe.
And while you certainly got lucky in this instance, the example illustrates the effectiveness of correctly fading (avoiding) popular picks. The odds are so strongly in your favour when you’re on the right side of a play like this.
This is the art of ‘zigging when the field zags’ and is where the best DFS players shine.
Stacking is the most effective strategy in all of AFL DFS. If you’re low on time before a slate and want to enter lineups with minimal effort, this strategy is your best bet.
Single-game slates involving two teams allow for a maximum of 8 players from any team in a given lineup. You’ll often see the top professionals playing many lineups that involve 8-1 splits. As in, 8 players from one team and only a single player from the opposing team.
This strategy captures the upside involved in the scenario where a team performs much better than expected.
Not only that, but it also captures the upside involved in the scenario where a team wins by a considerable margin or possesses the ball much more than their opponent.
A simple, yet extremely effective strategy in single-game slates.
Multi-game slates are slightly different when it comes to stacking. The maximum number of players from any team is limited to 5 per lineup on Saturday and Sunday slates.
Funnily enough, this rule was only introduced in the 3rd year of Australian DFS to prevent professionals from abusing the effects of stacking.
It was all-too-easy to stack 100 lineups with 8 players from a match where a team was a 60-point favourite and bank on one of the combinations achieving a monstrous score. Hence, Draftstars made the wise decision to cut the maximum amount of players from one team to 5 on Saturdays and Sundays.
So, how can we take advantage of this?
We’re looking to take advantage of a given team performing exceedingly well. Remember, you only win tournaments by achieving monstrous total scores with a lineup. And you can only do this consistently when you use the effects of correlation to your advantage. You certainly can just stack 5 players from the biggest favourite of the day, and fill the remaining 4 spots of your lineup with solid value picks. A simple, solid strategy with a great ROI when employed with care.
You can also just take the two biggest favourites of the day and play 5 players from one team and 4 players from the other. Another solid, simple strategy with a good long term return.
This is where you choose to load a position, be it the MID, DEF or FWD spots, with players from one specific team.
- Geelong are 55-point favourites against Gold Coast. Stacking your 2x FWD spots with 2 Geelong players is a good play.
- Your analysis tells you that Collingwood concede 10% extra to opposing defenders. You decide to play two opposing defenders in your DEF positions and hope they chip the ball around.
- It’s raining at the M.C.G in a Hawthorn/Essendon match. You decide to stack tackling midfielders in this game to take advantage of it.
Stacking takes advantage of a beautiful thing known as correlation. Correlation occurs in AFL games in many different forms and is the backbone of achieving scores high enough to win DFS tournaments.
Mastering the elements of the weather in AFL games is of the utmost importance for anyone in pursuit of DFS success.
Weather comes in all shapes and sizes and affects fantasy scoring differently across different sports. For example, the wind plays a major factor in determining golf scores. Whereas something as innocuous as humidity can affect cricket matches through increased swing of the ball for bowlers. Even something like temperature levels in tennis matches at the Australian Open often swings results in an underdog’s favour, and a little precipitation can change everything at a NASCAR event.
AFL DFS tip: rain is the clear factor that changes players’ fantasy scores.
Things to look out for
When showers are expected, the trends are surprisingly simple to predict.
You can expect the following when it rains:
- Contested possessions typically go up
- Stoppages (AKA ‘ball-ups’) typically go up
- Tackles almost always go up
- Marks almost always go down
When analysed from a positional perspective, these generalisations can be summarised like so:
- Inside midfielders almost always increase their fantasy output
- Rucks typically increase their fantasy output
- Outside midfielders typically decrease their fantasy output
- Forwards almost always decrease their fantasy output
- Defenders typically decrease their fantasy output
Sometimes DFS really is a simple game. And this is a basic concept that, when employed with care, can boost your bottom line through the roof.
It’s virtually impossible to win without the use of a lineup optimiser.
Initially, you may struggle and feel like you’re going backwards with your DFS growth. But within a few slates, you’ll realise it’s absolutely essential and is a wonderful piece of technology that you can’t live without in the DFS world.
The Lineup Genius is a great tool for anyone looking to boost their DFS skills and move towards sustainable profits at high entries. Check out our ‘How to Operate the Genius’ guide and begin the process of tweaking those lineups into profitable DFS portfolios.