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Avoiding Rookie Mistakes on FanDuel

Seven things you do, or don't want to do when playing Daily Fantasy Football this year.

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Hi, I'm Aaron Rodgers, relax.
Hi, I'm Aaron Rodgers, relax.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Why are you not already playing NFL Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS)? Why not join the thousands of new players that will sign up and play on FanDuel this season? Ok, now that I've convinced you to play, avoid these rookie mistakes when getting started.

The basics

‘Daily' contests start fresh each week, so there is no being tied to a suspended or injured player for the year. These contests can be the full week's NFL slate, the early Sunday games, the late Sunday games plus prime time, etc.

For all of these contests, each contestant starts with the same salary cap. Contestants draft, or more appropriately buy, players to fill out their squad for the event. Then, the games are played. Just like traditional fantasy football, your players are rewarded points based on their performance (see FanDuel's scoring system for a complete breakdown). When the final game is done, the winners are paid and rejoice, while the losers are sent back to the drawing board.

The games

The two main types of contests on FanDuel (and other DFS sites) are generally called ‘cash games' and ‘tournaments'. We'll start with cash games.

Cash Games

Cash games are, in general, contests in which nearly half of the field will win money. The most common cash games are either 50/50s (fifty-fiftys), large entry fields where half the contestants will double their entry fee minus the house cut, or heads up contests in which you play against just one opponent. You have the best chance to finish in the money in these types of contests. The drawback to these games is that if you hit on your roster and finish with the top score in a giant 50/50, you'll win the same amount as the last person to cash. I highly recommend focusing on these types of contests while you get your feet wet in DFS.


A tournament, sometimes called ‘Guaranteed Prize Pool' or GPP, has a large player pool with a smaller percentage of players finishing in the money. These tournaments give players the opportunity to pay a relatively low entry fee, and if things break just right, in the bigger tournaments, become a millionaire. However, one must exercise caution when entering these types of contests. Even if you're constructing solid lineups, you can burn through your bankroll (the amount of money you've dedicated to playing DFS) quickly because a smaller percentage of contestants will finish in the money. Playing a lot of high dollar tournaments is the fastest way to get turned off of DFS. In general, I'll play most of my money for the week in cash games and take a few fliers in tournaments.

And now, a few quick pointers

Don't lose it if you can't afford to.

First and foremost, as with any contest with a fee, do not play with money you're not OK with losing. Anytime you're putting money on the line in a contest like this, you need to consider your bankroll as money that is already gone. This will ensure you're still able to pay your bills and eat, and it will help you cope with a losing streak. If you take this approach and win, well then, take that special someone out to a nice dinner courtesy of fantasy football.

Vegas knows more than you do.

When constructing your lineup, you should be familiar with what Vegas thinks will happen with the game. We're looking for high over/under totals first (except for that DST pick). You want players from games that are expected to be high scoring. When you're drafting your running backs, you want high over/under games that your back's team is projected to win. Running backs on teams that are projected to win are likely to get a good amount of work late in the game to run out the clock. The other side of the coin, if there is a receiver on a team that is expected to lose but the game has a high over/under, that receiver may post some great garbage time numbers.

Know your contest and draft accordingly.

To finish in the money in big tournaments, you may have to take a few shots on ‘contrarian' picks. A contrarian pick is a selection that you expect will not be popular on game day. Contrarian picks will ensure that you don't roster all the same guys as your competitors in the tournament. These contrarian picks will be the difference between cashing big and consistently finishing in the middle of the pack, and thus outside the money.

Alternatively, cash games are more conservative contests. When playing cash games you will take fewer shots on minimum or low salary guys; instead, you want to opt for players that may not have as high a ceiling, but have a safer floor.

For cash games you're looking to return ‘two times value' (two times value means that if you pay $5,000 for a player, you'll need 10 points from them). In tournaments, you're looking to return three times value (the same $5,000 player needs to get you 15 points for a good tournament play).

Don't go all in week 1.

Being patient is hard, but we know that going in to week 1 we'll have the least actionable information we'll have all year. While waiting can be tough, if you get aggressive and blow half your bankroll, you'll end up fighting to get back to level pegging for several weeks. This year, I'll likely play a couple of 50/50s and a tournament or two week 1, then ease in to season as we get more clarity from teams and coaches.

Good advice helps. Too much advice will drive you crazy.

There are countless outlets that provide great DFS advice. You should pick out a few analysts whose advice you trust, and use their analysis to help you choose your lineup. While being flexible is good, paralysis by analysis is a real thing. I'll be doing a weekly DFS write up for, so come check me out once the season starts.

Play a little MLB DFS to get your feet wet.

Take five bucks and play around with some MLB DFS. Find a good MLB DFS outlet like or tune in to a podcast like The Fantasy Insiders Daily Fantasy Podcast to help you build your lineup. The terminology and philosophies for MLB and NFL DFS are largely the same. Entering a few contests for a dollar can get you familiar with some of the finer points of DFS (you'll quickly see why the ‘two times', ‘three times values' targets exist, for example).

Sign up and recruit your friends!

DFS sites are growing, and they are heavily incentivizing peer to peer recruitment. There are some great deals out there for first time depositors, so when you make your initial deposit, ensure you're taking advantage of that sign up bonus!

FanDuel has several great offers throughout the season to encourage active players to recruit their friends. Keep an eye out for good referral deals, and get your friends to come play with you!

Follow me @NFLClark on Twitter for weekly NFL DFS advice once the season starts up.