The Art of the Fade in NFL

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When I very luckily qualified for DraftKings Fantasy Baseball Championship, I did it by fading some obvious stacks in favor of the A’s in what was perceived as a difficult matchup. I knew Oakland had a ton of power, but their usage would be low in that particular scenario.

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I think studying utilization rates and trying to incorporate them into lineup building is very important in MLB – probably more vital than most other players believe it to be – primarily because stacking is so popular and there’s a ton of lineup overlap. That makes certain situations – such as when the Rockies play at home – obvious ones to consider fading.

We see the same sort of high usage in NBA. When a talented min-priced player gets a spot start, it’s not unusual to see 60 or 70 percent usage. With that sort of utilization, you need to at least consider the merits of fading particular players, even if they offer a lot of value.

But NFL is a different beast in that, even when a player seems like a “must-play,” it’s pretty rare to see players exceed 30 percent usage.

DraftKings NFL Usage

I charted the average number of players in various buckets of DraftKings usage over a five-week period.

No position averages even one player per week at 30+ percent usage. The most common is running back at 0.8 per week. In a given week, only two positions are likely to see a player with 30 percent usage: running back and wide receiver (barely).
Running backs also dominate the 20-29 percent bracket, with just under 2.5 per week. No other position averages more than one player per week at that usage level.

It shouldn’t be surprising that running backs are consistently the most popular players on DraftKings. The position is super workload-dependent, so it’s not uncommon for backups or min-priced players to return a ton of value if they’re going to see lots of carries. When a starter goes down and the backup is in line for a bunch of touches, he’s going to see heavy usage on DraftKings – heavier than backups who get spot starts at other positions.

The most interesting piece of information here, to me, is that quarterbacks almost never see even 20 percent usage; during the time period I studied, none cracked that level of utilization. Quarterbacks are priced pretty accurately on DraftKings and there’s fewer of them from which to choose. Because of that, there’s just one quarterback above 10 percent usage in the typical week. ONE!

5 Tips for Fading in NFL

Using the numbers I collected and a hint of cat-like intuition, here are my five best tips for fading when playing daily fantasy football.

1. You better have some inside info to fade obvious running back values.

Backup running backs who get starter touches are highly popular for a reason. There’s so much value there that, in most cases, it doesn’t make sense to fade them. There’s a huge advantage to be gained if you fade them and they stink it up, but it’s just so easy for a player like that to return a ton of value.

There are certainly times to get away from those situations, particularly if the back’s workload is in question.

2. Start the best quarterbacks in GPPs.

Quarterbacks rarely see high usage, plain and simple. I don’t worry about usage when selecting quarterbacks, except in the most extreme of situations.

3. Consider fading pass-catchers who you think will be high-usage.

The reason that it’s risky to fade running backs who are obvious values is because their play is fairly predictable based on their workload and the opponent. Wide receivers and tight ends have so much more week-to-week volatility, however, which means that it makes more sense to bypass players who you think will be really popular if they aren’t extremely obvious values.

4. Don’t worry about defense utilization.

I personally find it very difficult to predict how heavily defenses will be owned. If you can predict defense usage, then definitely consider fading the top ones since there’s so much week-to-week variance. If you’re like me, though, there’s no sense in fading a defense you like if you don’t even know if it will be popular or not.

5. Fade the Thursday-night players, for the most part.

The players who are in the Thursday games see such a ridiculous spike in usage that, in my opinion, it almost never makes sense to play them in GPPs. There are certain situations to get away from – such as when Peyton Manning plays on Thursday night and you just can’t fade him – but otherwise, I love playing Thursday leagues without actually using players from that night’s game.

And since DraftKings has late swap, you don’t need to have all of your research complete on Thursdays (nor do you need to take on any needless risk) to enter a league.

About the Author

  • Jon Bales (JonBales)

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

  • HeadlineTN

    Enjoyed and I bought your book as a xmas present for friend who has been dappling get in DFS

  • donkosaurus

    • 930

      RG Overall Ranking

    • 2019 DraftKings FFWC Finalist

    • x3

      2018 DraftKings FFWC Finalist

    All about the Thursday night fade. The lineups with 5-6 players used on TNF blow my mind.

  • Wakefield49

    I think the relative lack of >15% QB usage is due to: A) Only 1 roster spot for QB, B) Higher min salary for QB ($5k vs $3k for RB/WR). With regards to the latter, other sites like Victiv have lower min salary levels (but same cap) and this led to 77% ownership of Stedman Bailey at min $2k salary in a GPP this week.

  • chaffy

    Well if you faded Murray this past Thursday you were in instant trouble. Since he was used even higher than normal you are even further behind. So fading can work both ways.

  • SteveAvery

    Nice article JB. I think AlSmizzle put it best in one of his GrindersLive shows. If you believe the chances of a player exceeding salary are going to exceed his ownership level then play him, otherwise fade. So if a player is 30% owned and you project he only makes salary (or perhaps goes off for a GPP) 20% of the time, then fade him.

    I’d add that if you don’t want to take things to such an extreme and are entering multiple LU’s then you can tailor your usage on players based on the same principle to reduce variance. Reducing usage where you project the player to meet salary less than his % owned and vice versa.

  • motownmauler

    Are you the former pitcher?

  • DankKungFu

    Wrong guy to put on the cover image. Everyone was supposed to fade Nelson and jump on Cobb. Oops.

  • jslacker06

    Sorry noob here. Where did you find info on the usage rates which you used in the table above?

  • dekew19

    What does fading mean sorry new to all the slang here

  • ChelliBones

    Fade: To avoid a particular player or game, i.e. “I’m fading the Patriots game because there are 30 MPH winds.”

    There is a glossary of terms on this site for future reference. Good luck this weekend.

  • VChair23

    Interesting article. Next year and for the rest of this I need to fade WR more often. Ive been burned 3-4 weeks this year off the most popular WR of the week.

  • ChelliBones

    One of the best deals out there is Jon’s weekly RotoAcademy. In it there is more information than you could possibly digest in one week. RotoGrinders in the best website for DFS I’ve found but RotoAcademy is a perfect complement.

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