Super Bowl LV will be our last chance to play NFL DFS until September, and the biggest prize pools will be on DraftKings. In this article I’ll dive into some of the high-level stats of winning Showdown lineups and NFL DFS picks from the past two seasons to find trends on how to create these lineups with an eye on the Super Bowl. All of the winning lineup data can be found here.
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How to Win DraftKings NFL DFS Showdown: Super Bowl LV Strategy
DraftKings NFL DFS Picks: Captain Selection
The first thing you’ll be looking at doing when creating a lineup is picking a Captain. Captains score 1.5 times the points as the rest of your players, but they also cost more. They don’t cost more on other sites, which is one of the reasons the DraftKings Showdown format has more strategy embedded in it than other formats. Over the past two regular seasons, here is the breakdown of Captain usage by position, accompanied by the cumulative ownership of that position in the Captain spot for the Super Bowl based on our projections:
|Winning Lineup Usage||SB Ownership|
Starting with just the winning lineups, running backs and receivers dominate the optimal Captain spot to a surprising extent. These players simply have far higher ceilings. Of the top 20 fantasy performances in the regular season, only two came from quarterbacks. Overall, whenever a quarterback throws a handful of touchdowns, there is a solid chance one of their receivers is propelled ahead of them. Even when they don’t succeed, a receiver with a high target share can overcome their quarterback’s lackluster play. Running backs simply get more 6-point scoring opportunities than any other play on the field.
Kickers and defenses don’t need much explaining. As it turns out, they don’t score a lot of points. Tight ends don’t see enough volume to crack the Captain spot often, but we have one exception to that rule in this game. Without factoring in his multiple playoff booms, Kelce accounts for nearly half of all tight end Captained lineups in the past two seasons.
Looking at the discrepancies, quarterback looks like the easy fade based on their modest odds of hitting relative to the field’s inclination to play them. This value likely presents itself at wide receiver. Despite this game featuring some of the league’s best wide receivers on teams that do not care to establish the run, they are still coming in less owned than their season-long average as a position.
DraftKings Flex Usage
Roster Construction of Winning Lineups
When referring to roster construction in NFL DFS, we’ll format it like this: X-Y where X is the number of players on the same team as the roster’s Captain and Y is the number of players rostered from the opposing team. Over the past two regular seasons, this is what that roster build has looked like for the winners:
- 1-5 – 1.1%
- 2-4 – 9.5%
- 3-3 – 42.1%
- 4-2 – 27.3%
- 5-1 – 20%
The optimal roster construction sticks out as 3-3, but it’s a little more complicated than that from a game-theory perspective. That type of roster build is likely to be the most popular, so you’ll be fighting an uphill battle to create unique and high-leverage lineups. A 3-3 build also features the most possible combinations of players. A 5-1 or a 1-5 construction has fewer ways to be made, so on the slates where that is the optimal approach, getting the best lineup of those builds is easier than the days when 3-3’s pull of the win. It looks like correlating teammates with your Captain is pretty much a must. The rate that the 1-5 and 2-4 builds hit seems to make them not worth chasing.
Full-team onslaughts are successful at a shockingly high rate. In these lineups, quarterback usage in Captain saw an uptick to 37.5% with running backs and receivers splitting the rest of the winning lineups evenly. Because the Chiefs are going to be massively popular on the Super Bowl slate, going way overboard with a 5-1 of them is one of the best ways to be unique without fading the good plays.
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Onesie Positions for DraftKings Showdown
With defenses, kickers, and quarterbacks all coming in as reasonable fades at Captain, it’s important to double-back and check on them as Flex options. Here are the average number of each position in winning lineups:
- Defense – .39
- Kicker – .33
- Quarterback – 1.3
Kickers and defenses are simply rare answers in any fashion. Our ownership protections have the field using .36 kickers per lineup and just .23 defenses per lineup. This doesn’t set up as a game to use defenses in but both options are at least going to be unique. Of the winning lineups, only 9.5% did not feature a single quarterback.
We’ll get into trends of games that look like the Super Bowl soon but one to point out here is that all but one of the zero-QB lineups had a total under 50 points. Setting a rule of at least one quarterback seems reasonable. Two quarterbacks were used in 34.7% of winning lineups but that will also be exceedingly popular in all contests. Using both Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes makes loads of sense in low-entry contests where duplicated lineups aren’t a major issue. In large-field contests, it’s worth considering only playing one.
Salary in NFL DFS Contests
The approach to salary should vary wildly depending on contest size. Salary is essentially a proxy for a player’s projection. If DraftKings managed to create perfect salaries for every player, it would not matter who you played because every lineup you made using the full salary would project the same. They don’t make perfect salaries but viewing it as such makes the game-theory easier to understand.
The more salary we leave on the table, the less our lineup projects to score. However, this doesn’t mean it can’t out-score the $50,000 lineups, it just means the lineup is less likely to do so. On the other hand, we get increasingly low ownership on our lineups the more salary we leave. That means your boosting your odds of building a unique lineup go up based on how much salary you leave (and other factors). Here’s a good visual of how likely our opponents to use each dollar amount:
Quick look at how important salary has been to being unique in showdown slates. Lineups that finish in the top 1% are duped on avg 16.4x, we should be aiming for that sub-10 range whenever possible: pic.twitter.com/jexgpZiLn0
— Cody Main (@cmain7) January 3, 2021
Eliminating the top two salary levels is a good start for low-entry contests. Capping salary at $49,600 or even $49,400 in the largest contests is a good starting point.
High-Total Trends for NFL DFS
Lastly, let’s look at some general trends for games with high totals. The Super Bowl features a total of around 56 points depending on your book. We’ll look at totals over 50 to give us more data to work with. Wide receiver usage in the Captain spot of this subset of winning lineups jumps to a whopping 37.5%. This looks like the clear position to chase for the Super Bowl and we can group in Travis Kelce with the receivers because he doesn’t score like a typical tight end.
Quarterback and running back success rates nearly flip in these games with quarterbacks coming in as the optimal play in a quarter of lineups and running backs dropping to 29.2%. That second rate is still far higher than the ownership we can expect in the Super Bowl but none of the running backs are awfully appealing. Using Leonard Fournette as part of a contrarian Bucs stack makes sense.
Roster construction looks surprisingly similar in high-total games. The 4-2 builds are 7.3% less prevalent but 5-1 builds don’t change in hit rate and 3-3’s are practically the same as well. We can likely chalk up the differences in 4-2 usage to randomness.
Usage of the onesie positions shifts away from defenses primarily while kickers seem unaffected:
- Defense – .17
- Kicker – .29
- Quarterback – 1.29
The biggest surprise is that quarterbacks aren’t meaningfully more useful in shootouts. Using just one passer is looking even better as a contrarian approach.
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