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A General Roster Construction Foundation

JM Tohline (JMToWin)

JM Tohline (Tuh-lean) – DFS alias JMToWin – is a novelist and a DFS player who specializes in high-stakes MLB and NFL tourneys, with a strategy geared toward single-entry play in multi-entry tourneys. He joined the DFS scene at the beginning of the 2014 MLB season, and has since won five DFS championship seats and two separate trips to the Bahamas. His tendency to type a lot of words leads to a corresponding tendency to divulge all his DFS thoughts, strategies, and secrets…which is exactly what he does in his RotoGrinders articles and RotoAcademy courses. You can find JM on Twitter at JMToWin.

Wow, you’re still with me? Even after those caveats? Even after I told you that you’ll still have to learn things on your own, and that this course will be more effective if used in conjunction with my courses on picking players at each position? How about that. You must really have a desire to be a winning daily fantasy football player.

Hey — that’s a good thing. It’s a helluva good thing, in fact. Because, truly, daily fantasy sports can be a fun hobby — one that is either slightly profitable or slightly unprofitable — even without a ton of effort on your part. But if you want to turn DFS into a source of consistent profit — which is something you absolutely, 100 percent have the ability to do! — you need to be willing to work hard. You need to be willing to not only study this course, but also study other courses. You need to be willing to not only study other courses, but also study your own rosters, constantly looking to see where you can improve, what you can discard, and what you can carry with you as you move toward future DFS contests.

I used to do a lot of search engine optimization work for local businesses (no — I did not type that in the wrong document; this is going somewhere, I promise!). For those of you who don’t know: search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of causing a site to appeal to Google in order for this site to reach the top of Page 1 for specific, targeted search terms. So when you Google “Dentists in Cleveland,” the dental office paying for the best SEO work is likely to be the result you see at the top of Page 1.

What most local businesses have a hard time understanding, in regards to SEO, is that it is not a one-off piece of work. It’s not: “Okay, let’s work on this site for three months, get you to the top of Page 1 for these search terms, then leave the work alone.” Why not? Because every company that is in competition with this particular company is gunning for that top spot as well! Every other dental office in Cleveland, for example, is trying to displace the dental office that is currently at the top of Page 1. As soon as the site at the top stops actively pursuing positive SEO, other sites will begin to gain ground, and it won’t be long before these other sites pass the site that was previously at the top.

Daily fantasy sports is the same way. (See! I told you that was going somewhere.) No matter how good you are at DFS — no matter how good you become — others will always be adding to their store of knowledge and will be looking to pass you. Because of this, you should always aim to continue learning. You should always aim to continue improving. You should actively work to become the best DFS player you can become! And once you become that “best player you can become”? You should find a way to become even better.

If you purchased this course even after the caveats I presented, I’d say this is a pretty good indication that you are willing to work hard to become a great DFS player. I feel comfortable assuming you would love for DFS to be more than just a “fun hobby that is either slightly profitable or slightly unprofitable.” I figure there’s a pretty good chance you want to become a great DFS player. The existence of this desire is something few people have, and it is something that will send you far beyond the place most DFS players go.

Take a moment to pat yourself on the back if you’d like. Or, I guess, you could just allow my words to act as a virtual “pat on the back” (that’s probably better anyway; that way, you don’t look like some sort of strange bird as you reach behind you and start patting yourself on the back).

I’ll also say this (one final thing, and then we’ll get into the meat of this lesson — the meat of this course). If you already read the course on Picking Running Backs, you will notice some overlap between that course and this course. The reason? I got a bit carried away in that course, previewing some of the things we will be discussing in this course! If you have read that course, however, I want to encourage you to still read everything in this course closely, as we look at some new things, of course, and we also dig a lot deeper than we do in those last couple lessons of the course on running backs. (Also: If you have not yet read that course, you’re going to love reading it after this one, as those last couple lessons allow you to see a lot of the items from this course in action, which will go a long way toward helping you see the ways in which you can really put the information from this course to use yourself!)

This whole “lesson introduction” was really just a stopping point between Lesson 1 and the core components of Lesson 2. Let’s leave that stopping point. Let’s turn our attention to:

A General Roster Construction Foundation

Here’s the thing about roster construction — the thing about this course that I think is really pretty cool:

Most seasoned, successful DFS players have a clear and firm understanding of optimal roster construction strategies. Because there is never really any need for these players to frame these ideas and understandings inside of words, however — that is to say, because most DFS players simply need to know what they are doing, and never really need to “define” what they are doing — it would probably be difficult for most top-notch DFS players to really tell you what it is, exactly, that they aim to fulfill in terms of roster construction.

Because I myself do so much DFS writing, however — and because I aim to use my writing to educate other players as much as I can — I am able to pass along this knowledge in a more clearly-defined manner than many other seasoned DFS players would be able to. That has nothing to do with “DFS skill,” and I do not say that to imply that I am somehow more knowledgeable or skilled than any other top DFS player you may be thinking of; what this was meant to illustrate, simply, was the fact that my seemingly continuous string of DFS writing assignments has led to my being able to share with you — in clearly-defined terms — the exact things I am looking for as I build my DFS rosters (which is something most DFS players would be unable to do, simply because they have no need to!).

So, that brings us to the question: what is my “clearly-defined” foundation for roster construction?

It’s as simple as this:

On every team I build — in any sport — there are two primary components I am looking for in every player I consider:

1) Safety

2) Upside

“Is this player a safe play — one with a relatively high floor for opportunity and points?”

This is the first question I like to ask.

“Does this player provide me with plenty of upside — the sort of upside that could conceivably lead to this player ‘winning me the week’ all on his own?”

This is the second question I like to ask.

Let me make this simple for you:

These are the two things I want every single player on my roster to have:

Safety.

Upside.

Remember that. Read it again if you have to.

Safety.

Upside.

Write it down on an index card and tape it on the wall beside your computer if this will help.

Safety.

Upside.

Every player you roster should provide you with these two elements. For my money: a player does not belong on your team if he does not provide you with safety and upside.

A definition of “safety”

Safety can be defined as the “floor” you can reasonably expect a player to reach. If a guy can generally be relied on to score seven or eight points per game, week in and week out, this is — in a rudimentary sense — where you can peg his floor. (“In a rudimentary sense?” Well, yeah. Because, you see, you also have to factor in a balance of talent, matchup, and opportunity in order to peg a player’s floor for each individual week. This is what my courses on picking players at each position cover — helping you understand the blend of talent, matchup, opportunity, and price for players at every position. For a simple definition of “safety,” however, it’s fair for us to simply assume a player’s normal “floor” will remain his floor on any given week.)

Will there be a few games each year in which a guy fails to reach his floor? Of course! But if you build an entire roster with players who have a high floor, it will never hurt you too much if one guy falls short of his floor, as the rest of your team is likely to still keep your overall floor high.

A definition of “upside”

Upside can be defined as the “ceiling” you can reasonably expect a player to reach. For example: you may be looking at a wide receiver who is relied on for high-percentage catches on underneath routes. You may be able to safely rely on this guy for seven or eight targets per game, which this guy may turn into five or six catches for 30 or 40 yards, week in and week out. On a site with point-per-reception scoring, this guy probably has a floor of around eight to ten points — a floor you can reasonably expect him to reach almost every single week. For many NFL DFSers, this guy would be considered a great cash-game play, as he has a very reliable floor. My take? I’m looking at his ceiling as well, and I am realizing that the very source of this guy’s “safety” (the high-percentage, underneath routes) ends up severely capping his upside.

On the other hand, you may have a receiver in the same price range who receives seven or eight lower-percentage targets, and who therefore has a slightly lower floor (we’ll say five to six points). The nature of the targets this guy receives, however, leads to a much higher ceiling, as he can generally be counted on to score 11 or 12 points in about half his games, and every once in a while he goes off for 15 to 20 points. Even though this guy has a slightly lower floor, his floor/ceiling combo makes him a better play to me.

And here’s the reason why: every week, even a team that is filled with “safe, high-floor guys” will end up with one or two players who fail to hit their floor. If you are not adding upside into your lineup, you basically need all of your “safe, high-floor” guys to hit their floor in order for your team to return profit!

A great way to understand this is with an illustration that brings in another sport: baseball. In daily fantasy baseball, pitchers are the safest source of points, and are also the best opportunity to capture a ton of points at once. The main way a pitcher captures points? Strikeouts. Because of this, almost all DFS players aim to roster pitchers who can rack up strikeouts. This makes sense, after all: even if this pitcher gives up some runs (and loses points as a result), he can gain those points back by adding to his strikeout total. A low-strikeout pitcher, on the other hand, pretty much has to perform perfectly in order to return value! If this low-strikeout pitcher gives up any runs at all, he will have a hard time gaining those points back, as he does not have the upside that strikeouts provide.

Although most MLB DFS players are very aware of this strategy — although most MLB DFS players search for strikeout upside whenever they can — many of these same players move over to the NFL season and choose to build cash-game teams that are the equivalent of a low-strikeout pitcher! In order for their team to make money, they need everyone on their roster to perform well; if two or three guys fail to reach their floor, the other players on the roster have no chance to make up for those lost points.

This is why I prefer to target players who provide both safety and upside — taking a small hit on the “safety” side of things if I have to, in order to gain a bit more upside. Every week, you are likely to have one or two players on your roster who underperform. If you have built a team that requires everyone to do their part in order for it to be successful, you’ll be in deep trouble already! But if you have instead built a team on which every single guy has the potential for a big game, you significantly increase your chances of one of these other guys making up for the points you lost from the underperforming player(s).

Factoring in “Price”

Let’s take a look at two different running backs you can choose from for your roster.

RB1 generally receives 22 to 25 carries per game, including goal line carries. He’s not a particularly talented back, but this opportunity alone leads to him having a floor of around 10 points most weeks, and every once in a while he drops a 20-point game on his owners.

RB2 is on the fatter end of a time share on his team, and he usually receives 15 to 18 carries, including some goal line carries. He’s talented enough to make the most of his opportunities, which enables him to notch an 18 point game every once in a while, but his floor suffers a bit from the lower usage, as he sometimes clocks in at only eight points.

In this example, RB1 has a higher floor than RB2, and RB1 has a higher ceiling as well. RB1, then, is the clearly superior play — right?

Maybe.

The truth is, we do not yet have enough information to say.

If these two backs are priced the same, RB1 is obviously the better play. But what if RB1 is priced at $6,000, and RB2 is priced at $4,000?

If this were the case, RB1’s “floor” would be around 1.7x his price (his “floor” of 10 points, divided by his price of “$6,000” = 1.67, which we can round up to 1.7). RB1’s “ceiling” is around 3.3x his price (his “ceiling” of 20 points, divided by his price of “$6,000” = 3.33333).

RB2? His “floor” would be around 2x his price (a “floor” of eight points, and a price of $4,000), and his “ceiling” would be around 4.5x his price (a “ceiling” of 18 points, divided by his price of $4,000).

Now, there is a reason why I put “floor” and “ceiling” in quotations throughout that: These are not actual calculations I ever run, as a player’s actual “floor” and “ceiling” are always a bit less clearly-defined than we are pretending for the purpose of this example (again: you can find more information on uncovering a player’s “floor” and “ceiling” on any given week in the courses on Picking Quarterbacks, Running Backs, and Wide Receivers/Tight Ends). But the point is simply this:

Price matters!

You are not just comparing two players to see which is likelier to perform better. Instead, you are comparing players at different price points based on which player has a higher points-per-dollar floor, and which player has a higher points-per-dollar ceiling! A player who is expected to be lower-scoring than another player can still be the superior play — provided this “lower-scoring player” is actually looking at a higher points-per-dollar floor and ceiling than the higher-priced player.

In other words? “Safety” and “Upside” should always be viewed through the lens of a player’s price!

Factoring in Matchup (Plus)

This is an element that is explored in much greater depth in the three positional courses I have written, but basically, realize that a player’s matchup (including the amount of “opportunity” a player can be expected to receive in his matchup and the likely effectiveness of these opportunities) plays a huge role in a player’s expected “safety” and “upside” for the week. Once you learn how to properly assess a player’s likely “floor” and “ceiling” for a week, it will be far easier for you to truly and fully determine which players are overpriced and which players can instead be expected to have both a high floor and ceiling relative to their price.

Tournaments Versus Cash Games?

The big question some of you will be wondering at this point is, “Are you talking about cash games, or are you talking about tournaments?”

My answer?

Yes.

We’ll get to this more fully in Lessons 6 and 7, but for now, realize: I am looking for “safety” and “upside” in each type of contest.

You were thinking about cash games as you read all this? Great! You were on the right page.

You were thinking about tournaments as you read all this? Also great! You were on the right page, too.

And now, let’s turn the page. Let’s look at the two most common roster construction mistakes.

About the Author

  • JM Tohline (JMToWin)

  • JM Tohline (Tuh-lean) – DFS alias JMToWin – is a novelist and a DFS player who specializes in high-stakes MLB and NFL tourneys, with a strategy geared toward single-entry play in multi-entry tourneys. He joined the DFS scene at the beginning of the 2014 MLB season, and has since won five DFS championship seats and two separate trips to the Bahamas. His tendency to type a lot of words leads to a corresponding tendency to divulge all his DFS thoughts, strategies, and secrets…which is exactly what he does in his RotoGrinders articles and RotoAcademy courses. You can find JM on Twitter at JMToWin.

RotoGrinders.com is the home of the daily fantasy sports community. Our content, rankings, member blogs, promotions and forum discussion all cater to the players that like to create a new fantasy team every day of the week. Our goal is to help all of our members make more money playing daily fantasy sports!

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