NFL DFS Strategy: Chasing Peyton Manning and the top QBs is a fool’s game

peyton manning

That title doesn’t quite tell the whole story.  Daily fantasy football is largely a fool’s game, of course, going way beyond just Peyton Manning.  None of us can see the future, and as Week Nine proved, even the best-laid plans (and sexiest fantasy matchups) quite often go awry.  But varying degrees of success are there for the taking when we (a) construct our lineups based on close inspection and a smart process, and (b) exhibit patience.

Quite possibly the nastiest trap that new DFSers fall into is overpaying at the QB position, a fickle spot that costs us a boatload but produces uneven results.  Our weekly totals are often made or broken by our QB selection, so the initial instinct is often to spend mightily on Manning, Andrew Luck, or Aaron Rodgers – three absolute studs who typically command the top three salaries among DFS options.  Make no mistake, these three are outstanding QBs who post top-eight weekly numbers more often than not. But the season-long numbers show they’re rarely the smart option for your slot.  They’re not the top-three locks you think, and by the numbers, chasing a top-three QB isn’t nearly as easy as you think.  And it’s made way too costly by those guys’ salaries.

First, let’s examine the weekly output of QBs across the starting tiers.  I chose to look at the QB3, QB6, QB10 because they represent the bottom of each tier of starting-level QB: the lowest top-three option, the lowest mid-range option, and the lowest bottom-range option.  Also, note that these numbers are based on a standard scoring system of 1pt/20yd passing, a slight shift from the 1pt/25yd system used by most DFS sites. Here are the fantasy scores for each week’s QB3, QB6, and QB10:

Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11  Avg
QB3 30.4 27.3 29.4 31.9 29.7 34.3 26.8 30.6 31.1 24.5 24.2 29.1
QB6 22.7 20.7 24.2 28.6 24.6 28.6 25.0 28.1 25.7 21.3 22.6 24.7
QB10 20.5 19.5 21.8 25.2 22.2 23.8 23.7 23.9 21.0 17.8 19.1 21.7

Thus far, by the averages, fielding the week’s QB3 has netted players just 4.4 points more than “settling” for the QB6, and 7.4 points more than the QB10.  (Of course, those differences drop even lower when you account for the slight change in FanDuel and DraftKings scoring.)  I’m not saying that 4-7 points is nothing.  But I certainly don’t think that the potential for those 4-7 points is worth the risk and cost.  (Because it is all just potential, even when we’re talking about these three brutes.)  Look now at the weekly finishes for each of those top-three QBs:

Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Avg
A. Luck 3 7 1 2 8 8 9 3 2 bye 6 4.9
P. Manning 4 4 7 bye 2 10 2 7 7 5 9 5.7
A. Rodgers 30 1 27 3 13 6 3 4 bye 1 1 8.9

…then look at how often they’ve finished in each of those ranges:

Finish QB1-3 QB4-6 QB7-10  Season Avg Avg last 4gm
A. Luck 6 0 4 4.9 5.0
P. Manning 3 3 4 5.7 7.0
A. Rodgers 5 3 0 8.9 2.3


As you can see, there’s major variance among the QBs who attain those QB1-3 numbers.  None of the Big Three Salaries – Luck, Peytron, and Rodgers – has a season-long average within the top three, and it’s taken a fantastic four-game stretch from Rodgers to get him in over that span alone.  And we’ve seen top-three finishes from the likes of Kirk Cousins, Austin Davis, Joe Flacco, Ryan Tannehill, Ben Roethlisberger (twice), Mark Sanchez, and Andy Dalton.

That variance is even wider once we open our minds about our QB options.  Thus far, 26 different QBs have posted a QB6-or-better week, including the likes of Jake Locker, Cousins, Davis, Eli Manning, Flacco, Tannehill, Kyle Orton, Sanchez, Josh McCown, and Dalton.  And the outlook for QBs in the 7-10 range has been similarly wild.  To this point, 23 different QBs have landed in that groove, including matchup plays like Derek Anderson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Drew Stanton, Teddy Bridgewater, Alex Smith, Derek Carr, Michael Vick, and Zach Mettenberger.

So, the variance of passers with QB10 or better potential is clearly wider than a four-car garage.  Now examine the cost involved in trying to attain those exceptionally elusive QB1-3 finishes.  To chase the extra 4.4 points the QB3 is expected to provide over the QB6, you’re typically required to spend an extra 4% of your DraftKings cap (2.5% on FanDuel).  Based on last week’s salaries, that 4% is the same gap from Jamaal Charles to Darren Sproles on DraftKings or Frank Gore on FanDuel.  Quite a sacrifice to chase some fairly elusive QB numbers – numbers unlikely to make a grand difference in your weekly total.

To hunt the seven-point gap from QB3 to QB10, you’ll generally have to cough up an additional 6.4% of your DraftKings salary (3.3% on FanDuel).  Last week, that wa the difference between Antonio Brown and Malcom Floyd (DraftKings) or Reggie Wayne (FanDuel).  Ouch. On the other hand, the salary drop from QB6 to QB10 is much less pronounced.  This week on DraftKings, you can snatch up the QB7 (Russell Wilson) or one of the QB13 (like Philip Rivers) – both strong, consistent plays all year – with only a $1,000 variance.  That’s just a 2% gap.  The landscape is similar on FanDuel, where the QB8 (Wilson) and QB15 (Matt Ryan) are separated by just $900 (1.5%).  There’s just a lot more room to play with the mid-tier options than the top guys.

In other words, to chase down a top-three signal-caller for the week, you’re stuck paying a pretty massive premium for a statistically shaky gamble.  Luck, Peyton, and Rodgers certainly seem like ultra-strong bets to post top-three numbers week in and week out, but the season-long numbers don’t bear that out very well.  The bottom line is that you’re not all that likely to identify the top-three QBs for the week, and the smartest bets will seriously dent your wallet.  As I illustrated above, those “strong” top-three plays are a major hindrance in fielding a top-tier RB/WR/TE – which are markedly more predictable week-to-week than QBs.

No, your smartest play is to identify the mid-salaried guys with the best trends and matchups, then make a calculated choice based on your cap space.  Examine salaries 8-20 within the position and look for key indicators of a QB6 with a QB12 cost.  Who’s at home against a shaky secondary?  Whose game is projected by Vegas to generate a ton of scoring opportunities?  Who’s more likely to be involved in a competitive matchup and therefore throw the ball 35+ times?  Are any of these guys a calculable threat to tack on 5-10 rushing points?

Most importantly, who plays Atlanta this week?


Lead photo credit: By Jeffrey Beall [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


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