Is GPP Success All About Seeking Upside?


There’s little doubt that a high-variance approach is generally the preferred method for daily fantasy sports players in tournaments, and for good reason; only elite lineups win GPPs, so it makes sense to try to maximize your lineup’s ceiling.

But how much should we really be seeking upside? Should we take on as much risk as possible, at all costs? Does it ever make sense to roster a safe, high-floor player, even if we know he doesn’t have a really high ceiling?

I’m not sure there are definite answers to these questions, but I still believe we need to need think critically about this issue because it could have a really meaningful impact on how we construct tournament lineups.

High and Low

We all know how valuable it is to hit on the top-scoring player in a given week. If you can identify and roster the receiver who goes for 220 yards or the running back who makes his way into the end zone three times, it can turn an otherwise decent lineup into an elite one.

But just as important is not missing on any players; rarely do we see a winning GPP lineup with a very obvious miss, i.e. someone who doesn’t even come close to returning value.

Looking at DraftKings NFL results from last season, here’s the average high- and low-scoring players on lineups that won both head-to-head and GPP lineups.

The typical GPP winner saw the top player score 38.3 points, compared to 33.2 points for winning head-to-head teams. That gap of 5.1 points is significant, but not all that surprising.

But take a look at the low-scoring players on each lineup: 6.7 points for winning tournament lineups and 3.8 points for winning head-to-head teams. That difference isn’t as great as that between the high-scoring players in terms of bulk points, but it’s quite large in terms of the rate increase: 76 percent.

This doesn’t necessarily suggest that we should stop taking high-variance players with every pick, but it is definitely interesting that the typical winning GPP lineup requires consistency across every position.

The Probability of Hitting on Every Pick

The chances of seeing significant value out of every selection, winning GPP lineup or not, are extremely small. Those odds diminish significantly if we roster super high-variance players with really high ceilings, but also a very high probability of giving you next-to-nothing.

Suppose we’re deciding between two player trios, and we estimate the odds of each of them reaching a certain level of production as follows:

40 percent, 40 percent, 10 percent
30 percent, 30 percent, 30 percent

Which one is the better option? Well, the odds of all three players in the first group reaching their ceiling is 1.6 percent, while the probability of the second trio doing it is 2.7 percent. The second group is clearly better in terms of probability, despite not having either of the top two players. In this way, you can see that rostering a few truly high-variance players with really low floors can potentially be quite detrimental in a GPP.

The other thing to consider is that floor production is more predictable than ceiling production. We don’t really have a great grasp on when Calvin Johnson will completely light it up—there are signs, such as the matchup, but those truly elite games are more or less fluky—though we can predict with a decent level of accuracy when he’s more or less likely to provide a consistent stream of points.

Thus, even though the effect on raising a player’s floor is less significant than hitting on a high-variance player when he goes off, we can do it more often and with more consistency, so the total effect could be comparable.

Again, I still think we should generally be seeking volatility in tournaments, but perhaps not to as great of a degree as some believe. Specifically, it might make sense to generally target upside in tournaments, but not at the cost of taking on a really low floor. If you can manage to increase your lineup’s ceiling without stepping on any of those landmines that can really hurt your GPP efforts, you should find a lot more future tournament success.

About the Author

  • Jon Bales (JonBales)

  • Jonathan Bales is the founder of RotoAcademy and author of the Fantasy Sports for Smart People book series.


  • UofM1blue

    Nice read Jon. Definitely one of my favorite topics to discuss. Many players prefer the “first or last” mentality, so it’s interesting to see the stats here.

  • Wakefield49

    Good thoughts, Jon. I’m not sure the stats make a compelling case though, since the winning GPP lineups analyzed had beat 99% of opponent lineups, whereas H2H winners had only beaten 50% of opponents. I would therefore expect the H2H avg low-scoring player to have a lower score than the equivalent on a winning GPP team. Would be good to know what avg total score was for the winning GPP and H2H lineups analyzed.

  • JonBales

    RotoAcademy Lead Instructor

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      2015 DraftKings FFWC Finalist

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      2014 DraftKings FBWC Finalist

    Well we’d of course expect the high and low-scoring players to be better in the winning GPP…no doubt about that..but I showed these numbers more as a comparison between high and a comparison between low. I think that relationship is definitely interesting because of the DEGREE to which the best low-scoring player on a GPP exceeds the best low-scoring H2H player…I would have thought that difference would be much smaller, which I believe should have us at least question the value of increasing variance at all costs, even in a tournament.

  • CHICO713

    Hi Jon, great write up. I have been trying to roster a balanced high floor line up in GPPS but damn it, I get suckered into those nice pretty shiny things at the last minute. The “must plays” and “can’t miss” guys. Also, I am always worried about rostering guys with high ownership, and that usually steers me away from good point production.

  • daveinchi1975

    2012 DSBC Finalist

    Excellent analysis. A few comments and thoughts I’d like to toss in. Winning a gpp is such a crapshoot that I think any analysis of winners will come back with one hard conclusion – the guy was REALLY lucky. Any tournament grinder should be more interested in what sort of lineup variance (i.e. suppose you put 20 entries into a $12 mass-field tournament) is more likely to yield a profit for the day, than a loss. In particular, when there is a sure-thing pick who you think will be 30% plus owned (think Oliver-SD this weekend), should you roster him across the board and then employ variance at other positions? Or, should you fade him across the board and hope he busts (ala Williams-NYG – another highly owned low tier RB), thereby gaining a huge advantage over the field? I think in a gpp, the right move would be one or the other, while the bad move would be to roster him on only a couple of your lineups. I don’t play as much as I would like, but when I approach those big DK tournaments in the $12 and $27, I’m not simply looking to pick a single lineup to field in the tourney, but I’m trying to vary lineups over 10-20 entries (depending upon my weekend gambling finances) – I’m not trying to win a tourney, instead, I’m trying to place enough entries to yield a profit, so I don’t waste entries on QB-WR combos who are not in gravy matchups, but instead, want to identify 4-5 offenses that I will take on 4-5 entries each, varying my picks around them – for example, I took Rodgers-Cobb-Nelson this weekend with 4 entries in 1 tournament, and then varied my selections around them (so, I went Oliver as an RB on 1, Williams on another, Bell on a 3rd, etc.) – I did the same with 3-4 entries of Manning-Thomas-Thomas. When Rodgers-Cobb-Nelson all play well (as they did this weekend), the entries with Oliver and Bell are an easy cash, while the Williams entry is on the outside looking in. Same for the Manning-Thomas-Thomas. Because these 6 players are going to be highly owned, I’m not likely to win a gpp with them, since there are 1000 other entries with Manning-Thomas-Thomas on them. I find that this approach can allow a tournament grinder like myself to make modest profits each week (as long as I don’t completely swing and miss) and when there is a weekend where no high volume player that I faded scores 3-4 TD’s, I can make a solid profit and have a couple of really strong cashes. BTW – I did NOT target Flacco-Smith-Smith this weekend, so I ended up with minor cashes this week and lost a few bucks, but typically, I’ll bet 400-500 over a weekend and bring back 800-1000, without having a $500 cash in anything.

  • daveinchi1975

    2012 DSBC Finalist

    Of course, I could have used those 20 entries to “cover” the QB-WR-WR or QB-WR-TE combos on 20 different NFL teams (assuring me of having at least 1 Flacco-Smith-Smith entry this past weekend), but such an approach is more dangerous to a grinder, since your Manning-Thomas-Thomas entry MUST have definite hits at both RB slots to cash.

    That said, I would be interested to hear what sort of success people are having who drop 20 entries into these mass-field gpp’s and pick 20 different team offense combos each week. Did Flacco-Smith-Smith guarantee you a large cash, or were you lucky with a couple of your secondary picks as well?

  • whateverworks_187

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    It’s also worth noting that those 20 entries could blow up in your face as well. I think the general message is that there is no truly safe thing, and its about finding the correct balance.

    I thought I was playing it “safe” with a high upside by picking Matt Ryan & Julio Jones… Whoops…

    While it’s smart to fade a lot of popular plays to increase the chance of separating from the pack. It is also risky. Forte was in 40% of many of the fields. Fade him, and chances of cashing would drop drastically, but fade Andre Williams, and your the genius.

  • ronnijo

    Nice article. I tend to do a little of both. One thing I have always been curious about is the success rate of GPP players who roster like 10 entries of the same lineup. I have never tried it, because it doesn’t seem like a logical approach.That’s a really big hit or miss proposition given the propensity for players to have random bad days.

  • FatMike

    From Captain Hindsight:
    If you take a look at this past weekend’s winning Millionaire lineup, it really wasn’t that crazy or off the wall… The plays made sense. In hindsight they kind of made you say, “well duh, why didn’t I roster that guy”… They had maybe one “long shot” that had a good day, but that was about it for the risk/volatility factor… Granted, nobody knew Flacco was going to huck five fucking TDs in the first half this past Sunday – but the play still made sense. He was playing Tampa Bay, a bottom of the barrel defense who has given up 250+ yards and multiple TDs (v QBs) in 5 of their 6 games. While everyone was pushing the lesser Manning (Eli) at QB (vs Eagles), he went with Flacco and it paid off… Big time… Overall, he only had one “risky” guy at the $3k price point (Andre Holmes)… And it wasn’t like Holmes was totally off the radar… No Streater was going to lead to more targets in an AFC West rivalry game.

    Let’s look at the rest:

    Lamar Miller vs the horrendous run D of GB

    Oliver vs a HORRID Raiders run D

    Jordy Nelson, Rodgers’ fav target

    Steve Smith Sr., Flacco’s fav target

    Julius Thomas, match-up proof

    Mohamed Sanu, no AJ =more targets

    Broncos DST vs NYJ = No-Brainer

    Of course, hindsight is 20/20

    -Captain Hindsight

  • boltonscott79

    Picking players is like playing the lottery. Only thing is this is fun

  • zachd2323

    I’m in agreement with Dave. I think the goal isn’t necessarily to take down a top finish (although nice) but rather to grind consistent earnings. I also believe you can easily construct multiple lineups where you aren’t subjecting yourself to a ton of risk. People talk about tournaments as if they are completely boom or bust and so variable from week to week, but I don’t think that’s really true if you go about it the right way.

  • DreSmithGaming

    good stuff bales

  • ChrisGimino

    • 918

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    • 2015 DraftKings FFWC Finalist

    • 2016 DraftKings FBWC Finalist

    Very interesting

  • barro

    I think we focus too much on WINNING a GPP vs cashing. I absolutely think that you need to go high risk/upside to win a GPP or contrarian. I also think if you want to just cash in a GPP play a steady LU can payoff. so many entries will be filled with risky high upside guys it’s easy to gain ground when these guys miss and your steady plays keep coming up roses.

  • raddler

    In all honesty, when I see the mily maker winning LU’s I’m usually thinking, duh, why didn’t I do that. It makes sense. Except for Flacco….!

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