With the NFL season slowly sneaking up I started to get a little bit of a degenerate tickle as NFL DFS contests were posted for the first time. We have a lot of awesome things in store for this coming NFL season that will be announced in the coming weeks, but to tide us over I figured I’d start with a little Preseason NFL Primer. How do we go about making DraftKings and Fanduel preseason picks? While the days of 50% of people starting with dead money by rostering a guy like Tom Brady in Week 1 are over for DFS, there is still edge to be found by identifying the right news sources and things to look for. Namely, snap count.
Snap count is no doubt the most important thing you can have in preseason as your guys need to be on the field to produce fantasy points. I broke this down for you leveraging last year’s data at the following positions:
- Quarterback is the most predictable preseason position given there is typically good reporting on playing time and a higher volume of attempts at this position. While there may be more double-digit fantasy scores at other positions the ones at QB will be the easiest to identify. Do yourself a favor and don’t get too cute at this position. Pass attempts, driven by snap count, had a 0.8 correlation to DK points this past preseason. Don’t put too much of an emphasis on contrarian plays at QB.
- Wide Receiver and Tight End positions also benefit tremendously from being on the field, to receive targets and especially on DraftKings rack up PPR points. Unfortunately, wide receiver information isn’t always as easy to come across, but the best we can do is try to decipher playing time. Snap count has a 0.63 correlation with DK performance for wide receivers. Given the extremely low volume of targets I think you can take contrarian stands if you are uncertain about the source of news in the preseason. Ownership will congregate on some of the most “touted” plays and your comfort with eating preseason chalk should be driven by how reliable you think the news source is. Quotes directly from coaches should carry more weight than fan-driven blogs.
- Running backs had a really strong higher correlation between snap count and production, with a 0.78 correlation between preseason snaps and fantasy performance. Running backs won’t have the same volume of touches as the QBs but it still is important for us to focus in on playing time. Additionally, in the preseason a disproportionate percentage of fantasy points will come through touchdowns. We want to be paying extra close attention to goal-line work particularly as the preseason wears and we have a more narrow pool of players running in the top 3rd of the depth chart.
You could do a hell of a lot worse than trying to project nothing but snap count in the preseason.
So now that we are doing nothing but trying to project snap count and maybe some talent (because it is fun?), and a little bit of goal-line work, we need to try to figure out how the best sources of projecting snap count. The first place to start looking for snap count projections is by understanding which teams have thin positional depth charts. Thin positional depth charts are Preseason NFL DFS gold.
Realistically the quarterback position is covered in enough depth that we might actually have good information on who exactly is playing and for how long, but given lack of that data to the depth charts we go. Again as mentioned above because of better-reported information we can feel better about projecting QB performance and therefore I am less likely to go off the board. A perfect example of this would be my New England Patriots depth chart. Tom Brady hasn’t played a Week 1 preseason snap the past two seasons and the Patriots depth chart has just Hoyer and rookie QB Danny Etling behind Brady. If the snaps are split, both QBs will be viable, and if the Patriots decide to leverage Hoyer to get more of a look at their WR depth than he could stand out.
Buffalo, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Jacksonville, New England, NY Jets, Oakland, Seattle, Tennessee and Washington all have just 3 QBs on their roster and many will rest their starters to open up the preseason.
The positional depth info must, of course, be combined with a depth chart – you can reference something like ourlads.com for this. Teams aren’t diligent about actually keeping the published depth chart order accurate so my recommendation is to combine this with research from beat writers and the team’s website themselves. The Green Bay Packers offer interesting positional depth at the Running Back position. The Packers return three starters from last year in Ty Montgomery, Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams but beyond that have just Devante Mays (injury) and Joel Bouagnon. With Aaron Jones suspended for the first two games the Packers will likely need to keep a fourth RB on their roster at least temporarily. Will they use this opportunity to get an extended like at Bouagnon while Mays recovers? These are the types of situations we want to monitor with local beat writers.
Positional depth chart and team sources can shrink the player pool.
Week 1 Basics – Normal starters and veterans are irrelevant except in the thinnest of depth. If they see more than a series it still won’t matter. The lone exception here is a positional battle or unproven rookie. Last year’s highest scoring QBs Week 1 were Trevon Boykin, Jimmy Garrapolo and Jeff Driskel. Of the six highest scoring QBs, all except Garrappolo ran for 24+ yards.
Week 2 Basics – Starters become much more relevant but playing time is still uncertain. The best targets are high-quality backups or starters who are on teams with thin positional depth. Last week’s highest scoring QBs included Blaine Gabbert, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, and Deshone Kizer.
Week 3 Basics – The highest scoring fantasy producers are likely to be starters, particularly at QB, but young players in key positional battles will often get a look with starters and 2nd team. This is the closest thing you will get to a dress rehearsal for a quarter or half of play. Last year’s highest scoring QBs included Bryce Petty, Brian Hoyer, Tom Brady, Matt Stafford, Derek Carr and Case Keenum.
Week 4 Basics – Start building your regular season NFL teams instead. Just kidding. Sort of. If you must play, know that Jacoby Brissett, David Fales and Joshua Dobbs were the best fantasy quarterbacks during Week 4 of the preseason last year!
At DailyRoto, we consider ourselves a quantitatively driven company. That said, preseason is definitely a unique beast and is very driven by qualitative information. While we’re unlikely to get much sure fire information there will certainly be stuff varying from reliable to purely speculative both by the NFL community and DFS writers. Because of that I am definitely in favor of making a slightly – projected play if we have a strong + on the reliability of the info. I am also more likely to homer it up with teams that I follow closely and have a better pulse on the situation.
And of course a cautionary tale on preseason – we’ve got a lot of big things in store for this NFL season so be diligent about managing your bankroll until that comes!