DFS NFL Strategy for How to Pick Tight Ends, Kickers, and Defenses for Cash Games

Posted on September 22, 2016

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The NFL season is finally here, and that means Daily Fantasy Football is back. Saahil Sud, formerly Maxdalury, has created a strategy on how to approach selecting each position for your lineups, in both cash games and tournaments. Over the past few weeks, we have been going over these strategies in detail. In our final lesson, we will discuss Saahil’s strategy for how to pick tight ends, kickers, and defenses for cash games.

Tight End Selection

There are several key stats you look into before choosing your tight end, and you will notice that they are very similar to the stats you should look into for selecting your wide receivers. First up is targets. Tight ends will only score points by catching passes, and so you want to choose a tight end that will have plenty of opportunities. If a player averages only four targets per game, then this is not someone you want to have in your lineup. The more targets, the better. Yards per catch is also important for choosing tight ends. Certain tight ends are going to be check-downs, such as Jason Witten. These guys are likely to catch a lot of short passes for minimal yardage. On the other hands, there are tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce who can stretch the field a bit more and catch passes further down the field. You want a tight end with a higher YpC. As we have seen with a lot of the other positions, play call distribution is vital. You want to choose players from offenses that throw the ball more when deciding on your tight end.

Defense vs. position is yet another stat that you must research before finalizing your lineup. This stat can be very interesting when it comes to tight ends, as there is a lot more variance in the way teams guard against the tight end in the NFL. Once you get past the first three or four tight ends, there isn’t much talent at the position. So if you find a matchup where a team is playing against a defense that is awful at guarding the tight end, this might be a situation you would want to take advantage of, especially if the tight end is one of the lower priced players at the position. Salaries are obviously another very important statistic. The salaries for tight ends are going to be a lot lower on average, which comes as no surprise. Value is another key metric, as it measures fantasy points / salary.

You must also look at the same Vegas stats that we have gone through with the other positions. Game flow is the first one to look at. You want to target teams that are going to be throwing the ball more often than not. These teams are more likely to put up a lot of fantasy points than teams that don’t throw the ball that often. Snap count is also very important for tight ends. Certain tight ends are going to be blocking more than they will go out for a pass, so you should look into how many actual routes run a tight end has, rather than just his snap count. That would be a good indicator of how a tight end will perform, even better than snap count. Red zone targets are also very important. Tight ends are generally bigger than wide receivers, thus they serve as bigger targets for quarterbacks. This is what quarterbacks look for in the red zone, and so tight ends are going to have disproportionally more red zone targets. Looking at the tight ends that get a lot of red zone targets is going to allow you to figure out which tight ends may hit value in a certain week.

Tight ends have a lot more coefficient of variation than other positions, even more so than wide receivers. This is because tight ends are a lot more dependent on touchdowns than wide receivers, who get a bulk of their points from yards. Outside of the top three or four tight ends, you are very rarely going to find a tight end getting five or more receptions for 60+ yards. So a large portion of their fantasy performance is going to come from whether or not they can catch the red zone touchdown.

For tight ends priced less than $4K on DraftKings, they are generally appropriately priced. Over 60% of these tight ends hit their expected fantasy output, while almost 40% double their expected fantasy output (although this is generally because the tight end happened to catch a touchdown). On the other hand, about 35% of these tight ends don’t score as many fantasy points as they are expected to score. What this shows us is that there is not too much to gain from starting a tight end priced lower than $4K, but in certain situations, you want to look at them and consider choosing them, even though they may have a hit-or-miss performance.

Looking at the plus/minus for big spread games, we can see that tight ends are going to fall in the negative, since they are reliant on pass catching, just as we saw with wide receivers. This is a situation where the tight end on the favorite is actually more negative than the tight end on the underdog. Overall, what we can learn from this is that you want to avoid tight ends playing in games with huge spreads, as they are likely to have less of a fantasy impact than if it were a closer game.

Kicker Selection

There are several factors to look at when choosing your kickers for your lineup on FanDuel (DraftKings does not have a kicker slot in their lineups). A big deciding factor is the weather. You do not want a kicker playing in a game with very high winds, as this will greatly deter the kicker’s accuracy. Snow or rain is also very difficult to kick in, and will reduce the number of attempts the kicker will take, so you want to try to stay away from those conditions as well. The team’s projected points is another big one. You want to target kickers that are on teams that are projected to score a lot of points. Teams that will score touchdowns and be able to move the ball relatively easily are the ones you want to target.

Pace is also important to look at when choosing your kicker. The more plays a team runs, the more opportunities they will have to score and kick field goals. Unlike the other positions, red zone inefficiency is a big one for kickers. Teams that cannot score in the red zone are going to kick more field goals. Make sure you look into why the team isn’t scoring in the red zone though. Is it because they cannot run the ball, or have they just been getting unlucky? In terms of salary, you generally always want to look for a cheap kicker. Normally there are a lot of solid kickers that are decently priced. Finally, you have to look at value. You want to try to get the best fantasy points per salary as possible, so the minimally priced kicker that’s going to score you the most fantasy points.

The coefficient of variation for kickers is the second lowest, trailing only quarterbacks. This means that kickers are generally pretty consistent fantasy players. Most of the variance comes from the length of the field goals. A kicker will get roughly the same amount of field goal attempts in each games, but the distance of the field goals is what is going to cause a lot of the variance. That is why you want to target kickers playing in high altitudes such as Denver, as it is easier to kick the ball farther in higher altitude.

Defense Selection

Again we want to look at the weather before choosing our defense. Bad playing conditions can boost a defense’s fantasy ceiling. Wet conditions can lead to a lot of ball insecurity, meaning more turnovers, which is great for fantasy defenses. The opposing matchup and opposing sack rate are both also very important. Sack rates are one of the most consistent events on defense, and are easier to predict than interceptions, fumbles, and touchdowns. You really want to focus on the opposing team’s quarterback and offensive line. If a QB has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long, or has a weak offensive line, he is going to get sacked a lot. You want to target defenses playing teams with quarterbacks that get sacked often.

Turnovers and opponent turnovers are also significant when deciding who to choose as your defense, but you have to take that data with a grain of salt, since those things are more difficult to predict, and can even be meaningless towards the beginning of the season. Finally we have value. Most of the time, you will see that you can get really good value for defenses. Certain defenses can be a little more steady, like the Seahawks or Broncos who will probably have a slightly higher salary. But you can generally get good value for defenses in the lower price range.

Vegas stats are also necessary to look at before selecting your defense. A team’s projected points against is the number of points Vegas thinks the defense is going to allow, which directly affects the number of fantasy points they will score. The spread, over/under, and the game flow are all also going to contribute to that, too.

Defenses’ coefficient of variation is the highest of any position in fantasy football, and that is because a defensive touchdown is going to be a huge boost to their value. A touchdown will almost double an average’s defense’s fantasy score, so take it with a grain of salt if a defense has been outperforming expectations at the beginning of the season.

As we can see in Saahil’s NFL cash game TE and defense strategy video, double digit spreads are pretty valuable for favorites. That is no surprise. When a team is favored by double digits, the team its playing against normally has a low projected points, which is going to allow you to maximize your points allowed. Teams that are big underdogs are likely to throw the ball a lot more, which will lead to more sacks and possible interceptions for the defense. You don’t want to target defenses that are underdogs by double digits.

NFL Cash Game Lineup Example

In this cash game lineup example, you can see that at tight end is Scott Chandler of the New England Patriots. In this week, the starting New England tight end, Rob Gronkowski, was out with an injury, making Chandler the starter. This made Chandler a great play, as he caught four passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. While his ownership was very high at 57.3%, his salary was low, making him a good bargain play.

At defense, this lineup has the Washington Redskins. The Redskins were playing a Dallas Cowboys team without their starting quarterback Tony Romo. With a backup quarterback starting, the Redskins projected points against dropped a good amount. With a low salary and a low projected points against, the Redskins were a solid play, and although they didn’t have an amazing performance (only eight fantasy points), it was good enough to not negatively affect your lineup.

More Daily Fantasy Research from RotoQL

RotoQL offers numerous different resources to help increase your chances at winning in Daily Fantasy Sports. You can check out our video tutorials on how to use RotoQL at the Zen Desk (rotoql.zendesk.com). If you have any specific questions, feel free to email us at support@rotoql.com. Finally if you are new to DFS or just need a refresher on some of the fundamentals, visit RotoU (/university). We hope you learned from Saahil’s strategy for how to pick tight ends and defenses for cash games!

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