Week 5, And The "DraftKings Scandal" Non-Scandal
I had been traveling for 18 hours already. I was sitting in the airport in Abu Dhabi, waiting for my next flight (14 hours to Chicago), when an email from a friend came through.
“What do you think of this DraftKings scandal?”
I hopped online to see what I could find.
“DraftKings cheating scandal!”
“Insider trading scandal rocks the daily fantasy sports world!”
These were the sorts of headline-keywords that jumped off the screen and grabbed my attention and implored me to click and read.
Read that sentence again, if you’d like. I’d like to use that sentence to point out something important:
The purpose of news outlets is not to report the news.
I’m sure you know that yourself, but I’ll say it again anyway:
The purpose of news outlets is not to report the news.
The purpose of news outlets is to make money, and their chosen medium for making money is reporting the news. It is important, as consumers, that we recognize this, as any given news outlet is not “the only news outlet out there.” This means that each news outlet must find a way to compete against others – must figure out ways to gain more clicks or views or shares, or to create more conversation. This means that tepid, tame headlines do not draw traffic.
This means that sensationalism is one of the rules of the game.
People click on links about scandals. People click on links about cheating. People click on links about “insider trading.” People click on links that make daily fantasy sports look bad (as if the obnoxious over-saturation of the television market with DFS commercials is not doing enough to make daily fantasy sports look bad on its own).
The more I dove into these articles about the “DraftKings scandal,” however, the more surprised I became that this was much of a story at all. Here’s the thing, though: It is not simply a story because media outlets made it one; it is a story because the consumer public (which drives the decisions of the media outlets) decided to process this as a “story,” rather than dismissing it altogether, and this has given the story legs. And that “consumer public” includes DFS players.
I would have been content to ignore this “daily fantasy sports cheating scandal” and wait for it to blow over, but the simple fact that it has become a national story highlights the truth that many DFSers themselves feel this is a story. As such, I have decided to use this space this week to share my own thoughts. Maybe you will agree with me, maybe you won’t. Maybe you will agree on some points and not on others. But these are my thoughts – from a perspective of “being surprised this is much of a story at all.” Take these thoughts as you wish; do with them what you will.
THE PERFECT STORM
From my perspective, this seems like something of a perfect storm:
Firstly, you have DraftKings and FanDuel over-saturating the television market with mostly-obnoxious ads (although, admittedly, the DK ads narrated by Ed Norton are pretty slick – and, more importantly, they take the “advertising angle” these sites should be taking: DFS is insanely fun – way more fun than season-long fantasy football; this is a much better approach than saying, “You could be one of the .00001% of players who get filthy rich off DFS!”). I have been out of the country for the last six weeks, AND I don’t watch commercials if I can help it, and the barrage of advertising has still, successfully, managed to wear me out. Heck, I was trying to figure out what clothes I had for the return trip that were clean enough to wear, and when my wife said, “Why don’t you wear your DraftKings shirt?” I looked at her as if she had just turned into a wombat. “Their advertising annoys so many people right now, there is no way I’m traveling for 48 hours wearing that shirt.” I get it! People who do not play DFS kind of, sort of, hate DFS right now. And I honestly do not blame them at all.
Secondly, you have – again – DFS sites crowing about “how much money you can make playing DFS,” which has led to a handful of Congresspersons deciding they can build their political platform by tackling this “gambling masked as fantasy sports” problem. I would venture to guess that many of the politicians attacking DFS do not actually care about it in a fundamental sense; most of them, more than likely, just see this as a way to gain ground politically by opposing something the public is annoyed about to begin with.
Thirdly, you had everything line up in Week 3 just the wrong way, to where Ethan Haskell (a DraftKings employee – in case you do not know what this “scandal” is all about) accidentally published Millionaire Maker ownership percentages early…and then won $350,000 on FanDuel the same weekend. This made it easy for people to say he “had access to proprietary information,” and that this information helped him win on FanDuel (I have even seen plenty of articles that explicitly stated that “Haskell used insider information to win $350,000 on FanDuel”).
I’m going to tackle my thoughts on that third point first, as this is obviously the area around which this entire “scandal” revolves.
After reading about this scandal the other day, I sent out a tweet that said, essentially, that you should be able to predict ownership percentages without any “insider” help at all, and if you cannot do this, you are probably losing money in DFS anyway. Some people agreed with my thoughts; others did not. To expound, however:
Let’s pretend that DraftKings’ internal investigation failed to uncover the truth (Ethan writes an article each week on DraftKings’ website that breaks down Millionaire Maker ownership percentages; as such, he is provided with this ownership data by DraftKings in order to write the article; as a DK employee, he is not allowed to play on DraftKings, and if he receives this information after the early games begin – which seems to be the way this is handled at DK each week – his lineup on FanDuel will have already locked before this information is in his hands). Let’s assume, however, that Ethan had access to Millionaire Maker ownership percentages a good hour before games even started. Let’s imagine he used this information to make educated guesses as to which players would be low-owned on FanDuel tournaments that weekend. I truly believe this was not the case at all, but you still have a working imagination, right? – so let’s pretend.
If this were the case, would Ethan have had any information that was unavailable to anyone else? He rostered Andy Dalton and LeGarrette Blount, right? – couldn’t you have looked at the viable DFS options in Week 3 and known without any help (or heavy mental lifting) that these two guys would be low-owned?
More importantly: You can find Sunday/Monday FanDuel ownership percentages from Thursday night contests! You don’t even have to play Thursday contests to get an idea of what ownership is likely to look like for Sunday/Monday players that weekend; all you need to do is visit RotoGrinders (or do a Google search) to find the ownership levels of Sunday/Monday players from the Thursday FanDuel slate. I’ll ask you this: What is a better predictor of Sunday/Monday FanDuel ownership? – actual FanDuel ownership from the Thursday contests, or ownership from a different site, with different pricing and different scoring? My point is: even if Ethan had access to this information early, it would not have given him any appreciable edge that anyone else in the entire country could not gain on their own.
Now, I don’t disagree that things need to be more fully regulated in regards to “DFS site employees playing on other sites.” This is a sticky situation for a number of reasons, but one side of this that DFSers should care about more than they seem to is this: the reason these DFS sites are quality products is because they are run by people who truly know, understand, and care about DFS. If DFS site employees are no longer allowed to play DFS at all, we will end up with a much more corporate atmosphere running the DFS sites (as these now-former DFS players will leave their DFS jobs in order to be able to keep playing DFS, and will be replaced by non-DFS players), which could eventually lead to a lesser product. On the flip side, of course, we have an integrity issue, where anyone with any information others do not possess should not be allowed to participate if this may impact the competitive balance. I honestly do not see a problem with, say, a DraftKings employee playing on FanDuel, or vice versa – especially because I want people who are passionate about daily fantasy sports to be running these sites – but I can certainly see the argument for restricting the play of these individuals.
The main point I want to make in regards to this side of things, however, is this:
I do not see these individuals gaining any appreciable edge through any information they are able to access. Seriously. And as it pertains to this particular situation, “ownership percentages on DraftKings” do not provide any edge on FanDuel that anyone in the country could not gain on their own.
The other two points in this “perfect storm,” I feel, tie into one another: the glut of obnoxious advertising, and the desire some in the political community have to “take down DFS.”
I guess the first point to look at here is the issue many in the political community seem to be using as the basis of their argument for putting an end to daily fantasy sports: That DFS is, really, just a form of legal sports betting.
I guess there are a few ways to look at this. On the one hand, sure, I can see the string of thinking that leads to that argument, as the performance of sports players impacts the investments we are making. On the other hand, however, daily fantasy sports is very, very different from sports betting, and is much more closely related to “playing the stock market.” On Wall Street and in daily fantasy sports alike, those who gather and properly assess more information than their competition are going to be profitable in the long run; those who do a poor job gathering and assessing information will lose money in the long run. We call it a “skill game,” because fantasy sports is a “ game,” but DFS is about more than just “predicting performance”; it is about balancing an understanding of “predicting performance” with an understanding of value, trends, and market behavior.
Again: should it be more closely regulated? Well, I think the community of DFS sites does a great job regulating things on its own, but it certainly would not be injurious to the DFS experience for the sites to have oversight from a third party. But should DFS go away entirely? No – at least, not any more than the stock market should go away entirely.
Another element that is frequently overlooked by outsiders is that the DFS economy largely regulates itself. I have friends who have played in season-long fantasy leagues with “league dues” as high as $500…and these same guys have been hesitant to deposit more than $100 into their DFS accounts. People point to the fact that the majority of money won on these sites is won by a small percentage of players, and they call this a “bad thing.” What this really means, however, is that the “losses” are spread out. Most people who lose on DFS sites are losing a small amount of money throughout the course of their DFS career. They try DFS, pump some money into the long-term prize pool, can’t quite figure it out, and quit.
Unlike the stock market, where you need a large amount of capital just to get started, you can get started in DFS with very little. For example: I have been saying for months that my buddy Collinman005 (who just so happens to have won RotoGrinders’ Blog of the Month award this last month for his weekly breakdown of the winning Millionaire Maker lineup) will not be micro-grinding for long, as he is a very talented DFS player. He started with an initial deposit of $25, and he has won close to $1000 over the last year, all without any major tournament wins. You see? The people playing at the high buy-in levels (including those who ultimately end up losing at the high buy-in levels) are almost always those who started at lower stakes, raised their bankroll and knowledge over time, and continued to graduate buy-in levels. Collin has not gained $1000 in bankroll because someone else lost $1000; instead, he has gained $1000 because scores of other people lost $2 here and $3 there. Essentially, DFS provides an excellent setup, as the losses are spread out amongst a vast number of players who are losing small amounts, and the only people losing large amounts are those who are now losing profits they picked up early on.
Of course, this brings me to my final point: these ads (and articles) that highlight the handful of people who have “struck it rich” in DFS are, I feel, extremely detrimental to the legitimacy of DFS as a whole, and are the completely wrong approach to take in the first place. I have probably 15 or 20 friends who lost anywhere from $20 to $100 apiece across the course of the 2014 NFL season, and all of them were excited to play DFS again this NFL season – not because they thought they were going to get rich, but because (along with their season-long teams) it’s another fun way to have a rooting interest in the players playing across a variety of games each Sunday. And sure, the allure is there of “one big weekend could bring in a ton of money out of nowhere,” but the real reason they play is because it is just plain fun (furthermore, if the advertising took this approach, you would not only get more small-level players taking this approach…but more importantly, the sites would bring in more new players! – after all, most people are smart enough to be skeptical of something that says, “You can win tons of money while spending hardly anything,” but far fewer people are skeptical of something that says, “This is tons of fun…and hey, you could potentially even pick up some extra money along the way”).
Consider this an appeal to Jason Robins and Nigel Eccles (the CEOs of DraftKings and FanDuel, respectively) to adjust the advertising approach. Highlight the fact that daily fantasy is just plain fun, and that’s the real reason to play it; this is not only more accurate, but it is also – I believe – a great way to appeal to more people, while alienating far fewer people.
I don’t really have a conclusive way to wrap this up. I honestly don’t really have any truly conclusive thoughts on all this yet. But I wanted to present to you the thoughts I have at the moment and let you do with them what you wish.
In all honestly, I love DFS. I love the community, I love the competition, and I love the companies that run the DFS sites on which we play. I think so much about DFS is great, and so little about DFS is not-great. I think the minds behind the sites should always be looking for ways to improve their product and the user experience, but I also think that DFS is largely, consistently on the right track.
I think we as a DFS community should be standing behind DFS, and should be looking for ways in which we can constructively improve the DFS experience and reputation, rather than latching onto sensational headlines with no basis in fact.
Most importantly, I think we should keep grinding. We should keep focusing. And we should each keep aiming to be the best DFS player we have the capacity to be.
With that, let’s move onto this week’s picks.
WEEK 5 PICKS
As always, my approach to my picks in this article varies a bit from week to week. This week, in keeping with the idea that “low ownership” is easy to predict even without “inside information,” I am going to look at a few players at each position who have a quality blend of talent, matchup, opportunity, and price, and who will – for one reason or another – be lower-owned than they should be this weekend. These are mostly tournament plays; it is these types of plays that may fail to work out…but that will have the potential to give you a big edge in tournaments if they do work out.
After all, in Week 3, Ethan Haskell could not have said with absolute certainty that LeGarrette Blount and Andy Dalton would have big games. What he could have said, however – what any of us could have said, even without “inside information” – is that those guys would be low-owned, and would provide a big edge on the field if they went off. Here are some of the guys who could fill that role this week.
You ready? Let’s go!
Peyton Manning at Raiders: Ownership at quarterback this week is going to be heavy on Tom Brady, with Sam Bradford and Drew Brees probably coming in high as well, and with Aaron Rodgers being a solid ownership staple too. Peyton Manning, however, will be overlooked, in spite of a juicy matchup with the Raiders secondary. Manning has thrown five interceptions in four games, and has only topped 260 yards a single time this season. He also, however, has some of the best receiving weapons in football, and is facing a secondary that will be unable to cover these guys. Although Peyton’s arm strength and deep-ball accuracy leave much to be desired at the moment, he should have no problem notching a strong game against the Raiders, and the fact that this game is in Oakland (which may help the Raiders keep things somewhat close) means that there is upside here for Manning to have a huge game. This is not a play for cash games, but it is the type of play that will give you a big boost in tourneys if Manning happens to put up the best QB score of the weekend (something that is certainly possible in this matchup).
Carson Palmer at Lions: It is going to be tough for Palmer to be truly “under-owned,” with how well he has been playing, but his relatively disappointing outing last weekend combined with the “obvious plays” of Brady and the Saints-Eagles game mean that Palmer will be lower-owned than he really should be against what has been one of the worst secondaries in football. We have seen several times already this year that Palmer can put up a Top-3 QB score, and that he has a high floor even if he fails to reach this level. He won’t be “low-owned,” but he’ll be far lower-owned than he should be this weekend.
Philip Rivers v Steelers: Twice this year, Rivers has gone over 350 yards. In three of his four games, he has thrown for at least two touchdown passes. He is facing one of the worst secondaries in the NFL, he gets Antonio Gates back this week, and the “initial impression” when looking at Rivers among the available quarterback plays this weekend is something along the lines of, “Eh, I can do better than that.” In cash games, you can certainly provide yourself a higher floor than Rivers, but in tournaments, it is tough to top the ceiling he gives you – especially when you consider how low-owned he is likely to be.
Jay Cutler at Chiefs: We all know the reasons for not using Cutler: his affinity for turnovers, his inconsistency, and his smug face. This weekend, however, he is facing a Chiefs secondary that has made a habit this year of gifting big games to quarterbacks. Furthermore, Cutler is sure to be playing from behind and passing plenty. If he gets Alshon Jeffery back this weekend – in a game in which he is likely to be trailing, against a very beatable secondary – he could put up one of the top scores of the weekend. He is generally cheap across the industry this week, and he has the ability to put up a monster game at very low ownership. Remember: an “inconsistent” quarterback in tournaments is not such a bad play at all; inconsistency, after all, leads to lower ownership, which leads to a huge edge on the field if you roster that player on a weekend in which he goes off.
Justin Forsett v Browns: As with Carson Palmer, this is more of a “lower ownership than it should be” pick than a true, straight-up, “low ownership” pick. With the inconsistency Forsett has shown so far this season, and with the mess that the Ravens’ offense has been as a whole, a lot of people will identify Forsett as a strong play…but will stay away from him anyway. This gives us an opportunity to roster a solid running back who is playing A) at home, B) against an awful run defense, C) in a game in which his team is likely to have a lead, and D) on a team missing its top receiver. This game sets up perfectly for Forsett to receive plenty of work, and for this work to have a lot of value, and his ownership ought to be much higher than it ultimately will be.
LeGarrette Blount at Cowboys: Expect Blount to be under 5% owned yet again this weekend. While everyone is talking about this Pats-Cowboys game as if the ‘Boys will get blown out of the stadium, very few people are talking about Blount as a viable play. He is the short-yardage back on the Pats, and is the between-the-tackles back. Ultimately, we could end up seeing him get 20+ carries (for all we know, the Pats may even use him more than Dion Lewis early in the game), and he should have at least one or two opportunities to punch in a short score. We saw in Week 3 the sort of game Blount is capable of putting together; if you are willing to take the risk and chase this upside with very low ownership alongside you, you could end up benefitting in a very big way.
Todd Gurley at Packers: We all love the talent/potential of Gurley, and this alone will garner him some attention this weekend. We also, however, are all aware of just how good the Packers’ offense is at home, which leads to concerns about game flow for Gurley, which will lead to much lower ownership than his talent dictates. Let me be clear: this is not a “safe play,” and is not one you want to go toward in cash games. This is, however, the type of play that could pay off big dividends if the Rams are somehow able to keep this game close, making Gurley a strong tournament option.
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders at Raiders: We all know how talented these two are. We also know that Demaryius Thomas currently boasts the most consistent “high target usage” in football (double-digit targets each game, with a target low of 11 back in Week 1). And yet, the ownership percentages for these two have been declining each week. This is a game in which either one of these guys (and possibly even both of these guys) could bust out for monster fantasy days – and with their ownership percentages shrinking each week, this is the perfect time to buy.
Keenan Allen v Steelers: Much like Rivers, Allen is going to be lower-owned than he should be – in this instance, due largely to Allen’s inconsistency. This makes sense, of course…in cash games, as Allen had only seven targets in Week 4 and four targets in Week 2. In his other two games, however, Allen had target totals of 17 and 18 – the type of absolutely monstrous workload that can lead to a tournament-winning day. Allen should have no problem getting open against the Steelers’ secondary, and if he tops 15 targets this week, he could be a major difference-maker in the way tournaments shake out.
Nelson Agholor v Saints: I sincerely think there is a big chance this is the week in which Nelson Agholor breaks out. He has been a huge part of the Eagles’ offense so far, in terms of “time on the field,” and it is only a matter of time before his usage spikes as well. This game should quickly turn into a shootout, with each team possessing a poor pass defense and a good run defense (and with each team boasting solid passing weapons to take advantage of the opponent’s defensive weakness), and this could lead to seven or eight high-quality targets for Agholor, and to the sort of game 99% of the field will regret that they missed out on.
Jared Cook at Packers: Ultimately, there are a lot of “chalk” options at tight end, and these options all make more sense than the “off-the-board” plays. I would advise sticking with Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates, or Owen Daniels over Jared Cook (or any other “overlooked tight end” you might be thinking of) – rolling with the guys likeliest to have a big game, and creating differentiation elsewhere. With that said, however, Cook’s inconsistency (and the way in which he has disappointed those who rostered him the last couple weeks) will lead to very low ownership, and if the Rams fall behind – as they are expected to do – Cook will probably see seven or eight targets. As inconsistent as he is, he has the talent to turn a heavy target load into a big game on any given Sunday, and he could end up being a tournament difference-maker if this happens to be one of the (rare) weekends on which he goes off.
Buccaneers Defense v Jaguars: Yes, you read that correctly: Buccaneers. The Bucs are playing at home, as a favorite, against a turnover-prone quarterback in Blake Bortles. They are also very cheap. They provide a much higher floor than you can usually get from a cheap defense, and they have the upside to put up a very solid day. It won’t feel good to lock them onto your roster…but it may end up feeling good when the weekend ends and they have helped you rake in tournament profits.
I’ll end things there.
Use the comments (or Twitter – the link to my Twitter profile is in my RotoGrinders bio below), to let me know your thoughts on this “scandal,” as well as your thoughts on the thoughts I presented. And more importantly: let me know your thoughts on this weekend’s slate!
Focus this weekend (don’t allow yourself to be distracted by everything else going on!). Build the best team(s) you can build. And I’ll meet up with you at the top of the leaderboards on Monday night, before we turn the page to next weekend and start all over again.