Find Your Edge: Week 14 - Value of Cheap and Chalky RBs

Director of Data and Analytics, Kevin Cole, returns with a look at how past DFS slates can yield valuable insights to roster construction, decision making, and winning strategies for the coming slate of games. This is a big deal. We’ve collected a massive amount of data on past DFS slates, and Kevin is going to help you “find the edge” buried deep within them.

Week 14

Each week this column looks through the thousands of NFL contests and millions of historical entries in our ResultsDB to find nuggets of info that you can use in upcoming contests.

This week, we’re going to look deeper into the historical success rates of rostering dirt cheap, chalky running backs. I got the idea by glancing through our NFL LineupHQ and seeing that not one, but two running backs with price tags under $4K and projected ownerships for the DK main slate over 20%.

As of midday Thursday, we have Jalen Samuels ($3,700) projected for 35% ownership, the highest of the week. We also have Jeff Wilson ($3,800) projected for 22.5% ownership.

We spent some time in previous Find Your Edge articles looking at success rates and leverage for different positions by pricing tier, but this week we will go much more in-depth on running backs.

Historical cheap and chalky plays

I screened all of the biggest DK contests from each week 2016-present and found 25 running backs that fit the bill of cheap and chalky options. The exact parameters are salary of less than $4,500 and actual ownership over 20%.

Here are the results of the search listed in chronological order. The “Winners” column represents the ownership percentage for these players on the top 0.1% of entries for the respect contest that week. The “Leverage” column is simply winner ownership divided by field ownership represented as a percentage.

You’ll see Spencer Ware bracketing the list as the chalk play in Week 1 of 2016 and last week. Ware didn’t live up to his lofty 61.3% ownership last week, and neither did Gus Edwards the week before or Nick Chubb in Week 7.

But the recent run of disappointing results for cheap, chalky running backs isn’t representative of the whole sample. In fact, some of the biggest tournament hits have come from this cohort.

You can see that Ware in Week 1 of 2016 was an enormous winning play. You’ll also see Jordan Howard, Mark Ingram, Giovani Bernard, Jerick McKinnon and James Conner giving massive positive leverage in their respective turns as the cheap chalk.

The question is where Samuels and Wilson fall into the group above. Were the big hits in the past really seen as reliable options at the time? Is our memory of now established players like Howard and Conner influenced by the players they grew into after their breakout performances?

The numbers in aggregate

When we bring together all the numbers, we get a bigger picture of the average performances of the cheap and chalky group.

While there were more misses than hits in the group (44% hit rate, hit defined as leverage above 100%), the average numbers for the differential between winner and field ownership and leverage were both positive.

What this means is that these cheap and chalky running backs aren’t necessarily more likely to hit than not, but when they do hit they can provide an extremely valuable combination of production and salary relief that’s difficult to overcome.

About the Author

  • Kevin Cole (colekev)

  • Kevin Cole previously worked on Wall Street as an equity and credit analyst before transitioning to data-related sports analysis. For a number of years, Kevin has specialized in creating predictive sports models that includes published work at Pro Football Focus, Rotoworld, numberFire, and RotoViz. He is now the Director of Data and Analytics at RotoGrinders.


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