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How Do I Research CFL DFS?
Chris Kay
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How Do I Research CFL DFS?

It’s week three of the CFL season and if you haven’t gotten into this new DFS sport by now then you’re probably struggling to jump in and test the water in this pool. Have no fear. At this point in the season we are getting enough data to highlight tendencies each team is has offensively, making it easier to put together Fantasy lineups.

I wanted to take a moment here to help those who want to play CFL DFS, but need help with their research process. It’s much simpler than you think and in some ways is much easier than researching for college football. If you’re brand new to the CFL then of course you’re going to struggle with new names and strategy, but there are more than a few ways to even up the playing field.

Depth Charts

One of the best things about the CFL is the release of depth charts 24 hours before the game. It is a league-mandated rule that each team releases their depth chart 24 hours before the game. In many cases, we see these depth charts 36 to 48 hours before the game with ample time to react to any injury decisions or changes in lineups.

Sites like CFLPass and ResearchFantasy provide these depth charts for us when they are released and they can always be found on Twitter by searching for each team specific lineup.

How to Read Depth Charts

Now that you know who is starting, how do you know who to plug into your lineups? In the CFL, there is a lot of strategy to how teams put together their starting lineup. There are 12 players on the field from each team and seven have to be Canadians, so there is definitely some strategy to how these teams use “International” players in their lineups. Allow me to explain…

Quarterbacks and running backs are easy to figure out. Generally speaking, if you’re starting at those two positions then you are going to see good snaps and touches (pending offensive strategies). At the receiver position however, we see plenty of confusion. Each offense will post five starters among receivers, but that doesn’t make them all valuable assets to your team. For instance, Jake Harty and Marco Iannuzzi have both started for their teams as a wide out, yet netted seven total targets after week one. This position is different than the slot back (slot receiver) position, as many of the best receivers in the league play the slot back position. The wide out position can be “tainted” because some teams will put a Canadian at receiver at this position and let them be the far side receiver, where the quarterback would have to throw a 30-40 yard pass just to complete a 10-yard pass due to the bigger dimensions in the CFL. It’s basically a position that is used to space out the defense and act as a decoy.

Instead, depth charts should be used as ways to figure out who is injured enough to be out or for players who have been replaced in the lineup. Once you find out who is starting then you can figure out who will be a factor within the offense. The depth chart is a great start, but you must factor in targets and receptions before locking in this position.

Where to Find Target Numbers

DraftKings will give you an up-to-date look at each player’s stats, but one stat that is tough to find is Targets. There is one site that provides these numbers for us and that is CFL Stats.

While it’s great to have the total number of targets for each player, it’s even more important to know when they come and why. I’m currently in the process of putting together an Excel spreadsheet that breaks down week-to-week targets and any notes that could impact these numbers. Be on the look out for this.

How to Construct Your Lineup

The CFL is a passing league and that should be evident by the receivers running towards the line of scrimmage at the snap, defensive lineman having to give one yard of cushion at the line of scrimmage, and you only have three plays to get the first down. Because of this, quarterbacks are a pivotal position to get correct. I never fear spending up at the position because it is – generally speaking – the absolute most important to get right.

Running back is another position I don’t mind paying above average prices for. You are almost forced into this because there are only a few great running backs in the league (Andrew Harris and John White to name a few), so you either pay up for them, pay just a little less for a second or third tier running back, or punt the position knowing you’re going to get very little production (I wouldn’t recommend doing this).

The receiver position is quite simple. This is where you can find cheap options that will open up cap for stars and this is also where you pay up for the stars. When it comes to guys like Chris Williams, Derel Walker, Adarius Bowman and Duron Carter, you know what kind of production you’re going to get from them. They are going to produce each and every week. Paying up for them is almost always a safe move. Using cheap options like Shawn Gore (16.2 Fantasy points per game) and Joe West (10.2 Fantasy points per game) will provide you enough salary to fit these stars into your lineup.

The 6-8k receivers can be a gold mine, but they can also be where you hurt yourself. Receivers like Vidal Hazelton, Naaman Roosevelt, Chad Owens and Ernest Jackson have been great through two games, but are not locks to perform. It hasn’t happened to those names yet, but inconsistency has shown from receivers like Greg Ellingson, Ryan Smith, Tori Gurley and Marquay McDaniel. Your best way to avoid these duds are by looking at your target numbers, understanding which players run what routes, and by recognizing weak defensive backfields.

One rule of thumb for running backs and receivers is that if they return punts and kicks then you can expect them to provide a few more points and give themselves a better floor. I talked about when to use these kinds of players here.

When considering the flex position (you get two of them), you’re typically going to want to use receivers. Using an extra running back works great in cash games (common thought is to use just one running back) because the best running backs typically see 15+ touches. Running backs like Andrew Harris (18 touches per game), John White (16) and Travon Van (15.5) have seen high touches to start the season due to their use in the passing game as well as their effectiveness in the running game. Compare this to the top receivers, Chris Williams (8.5 catches per game), Adarius Bowman (9) and Derel Walker (7) and you see that even the top receivers don’t come close to these high totals.

The Best Way to Get Better

At the end of the day, the best way to make yourself better is by actually watching the games. There are only four games per week, spanning two to three days typically, so there is no reason not to watch the games or at least find the reruns of the games on YouTube. By doing this, you can understand why players performed the way they did. Did Toronto’s passing attack really struggle against Saskatchewan or were they in control of the game and didn’t need to force the ball down the field like they did in game one? Duron Carter put up a nice stat line in week two (6/43/1), but did you know he was thrown out of the game early in the third quarter? It’s these bits of detail that will help you win that a box score can’t tell you. Watching the games will always give you a better idea of how each offense works.