Principles of Becoming the Best in DFS: Part 1

Have you ever wondered how the best in the business got that way? How the Staff members here churn out analysis, picks, and game-theory driven stacks in all sports day in and day out. Why some players consistently win over the course of a season. Most people assume DFS is either luck or these people have some innate talent that was given to them at birth. Some will argue “If my bankroll was the size of theirs, I would do that well too!” Spoiler alert, you wouldn’t. The truth is the difference between the top 1% of the DFS ecosystem and you is effort. We’re going to dig into some of the guiding principles of the differences between the top players in the industry and the general populous below.

These principles I’ll discuss below aren’t in any particular order. They’re all important and will help vault you to various levels of success depending on how, when, and if you implement them. Know that becoming a successful and profitable DFS player isn’t an easy task. It requires an immense amount of effort that most won’t bother with. It’s why some of us stay profitable year in and out across a multitude of sports.

A quick blerb about me: I’m not a DFS Pro. With a full time career and family, I do not have time to deploy enough effort to make a run at becoming a professional DFS player. I do however make regular withdrawals from multiple sites, been to a live final, and haven’t redeposited since my initial jump into DFS. I consider DFS a supplementary income stream that I take seriously. I believe given the time, I would have no issue making the transition to full time pro. You can take what I write with a grain of salt as it’s my own perspective on how to become a better fantasy player.

  1. Principle 1.0: 80/20 rule

If you’re not familiar with the 80/20 rule, here’s what it is. 80% of results come from 20% effort. The last 20% comes from 80% of your effort. In business we think of this as looking at the forest as opposed to the individual trees. That first 80% is the concept at large and having a solid understanding of what’s going on before putting in a lot of effort whereas the last 20% is the individual trees.

In DFS terms, the Army gives you that first 80% on a silver platter. We have the Domination Station, home grown projections, numerous staff members publishing articles, SIM models, sport specific tools like aDVP for NBA, Pod Casts, Slack Chat for real time advice/news, and a research station. It’s all in one place. The good news here is 80% of your research process is already done for you!

Pro Tip #1: Create a sustainable and repeatable process around this content to get the bulk of your research done for you in the quickest way possible. Using myself as an example, I spend ~ 10 minutes doing 80% of my research for a slate using a combination of all the tools above. Yes, 10 minutes. I spend the bulk of my time on the last 20% of the slate.

The Last 20%: What does this look like? For some people, it’s monitoring late breaking news for players that can break open a slate. For others, it could be diving into in depth research on a few players. It could be back testing your projection models and predicting ownership levels to figure out how you can leverage against the field’s opportunity cost. It could be combing Twitter feeds of beat writers about what’s going on before lock or looking back into a player’s Instagram account to see if he was out until 4am partying at a club. For a lot of us it’s bouncing off ideas, players, and concepts off one another in Slack.

Out of everything I listed above, where do you find yourself spending most of your time? Is there anything in that paragraph you’ve never even tried before or even thought of? Do you even know how to make your own projections, models, and how to back test them? If you haven’t, there’s good news: Everything in the paragraph above can be achieved through effort on your part. Seriously! You can teach yourself how to make projections. For example, if I multiply minutes expected to be played by 2 and that equals Fantasy Points, that’s a model. Simplistic, but it’s a projection model. Honestly that was my first NBA model I ever created. It wasn’t accurate of course, but it was a step in the right direction.

Principle 1.1: The last 1%, extrapolating the 80/20 rule. This is what differentiates the Pros from the Joes. It’s a concentrated, deliberate amount of effort into your process. It’s in this realm where effort and skill collide. I’m going to share part of my process is because in the end, most people won’t go to this extreme. I don’t expect 90% of the Army to even have read this far.

  • Model and algorithm comparisons: Every day of the week I go back and compare how my projections did vs. what actually happened. I ask myself what was different and why? Is there an underlying difference where I need to make a macro adjust to or was it a one off? Is a team or position trending in a certain direction and why? Then I download CSVs of Draft Kings contests and aggregate some of the best minds in the industry and compare it to my models. You might recognize these as the Shark Autopsy article I occasionally write. I actually do it every day, for multiple contests, at different dollar levels, across many sites. How was it different? How was it the same? Why did they choose to play <x> player at <y> percent of exposure? How does the contest size affect their models?

I’ll continue to compare my cash results to the rest of the field. Why were they overweight on player <x> vs player <y>? How did fitting in stud <z> effect line up construction overall and why? What did the top pros do when they trained in 150 LUs in to a cash contest? What adjustments do I need to make to my cash model going forward and how does it compare to their adjustments since the previous day?

  • Triangular consensus: When I’m making decisions on players based on my own unbiased research, I look to see if that person is also showing up in at least two other places for confirmation. If I don’t find at least two other sources, I question why. What in my research put me on this player that he hasn’t been mentioned in other’s research? I always assume I am wrong until proven otherwise because of my own personal bias in reading anecdotal evidence as fact. Often times, this is where I’ll use Slack to help out.

Pro Tip #2: Become a better fantasy player by asking better questions. You might not even know you’re asking bad questions in slack. If you find yourself being ignored, most times it’s because your question isn’t worth looking at. Sorry, not sorry. Here’s an example of a bad question:

Westbrook or Harden?

Here’s an example of a good question:

I’m considering playing Westbrook over Harden tonight because OKC’s implied total is 109 vs. Houston’s 101. WB’s usage rate is lower than Hardens by 4%, but he has a .112 aDVP advantage and is playing in a higher paced game, which makes me think WB has a higher opportunity to exceed value vs. Harden. Do you think fading Harden makes sense in this case?

In this second example, you can have a logical debate about the two players that will help not only you make an informed decision, but everyone else around you. If it’s 10-15 minutes before lock, you’ve already lost the long game regardless, even if you win that night.

Back to triangular consensus. A major component of this concept is having a group of people/experts you believe have the authority to speak on their chosen focus. As example in the Army Kevin the Football Geek on NFL and MMA. When you’re attempting to validate your research, you want to make sure your source of truth is solid and worthy of your time. You can make any decision or consensus make sense if you trust any source. So how do you find a source of truth to bounce your ideas/research off of in DFS? I look for two things when I’m considering someone’s opinion every night:

Track Record: Are they a consistent winning player

Their approach: How did they come to their conclusions

Generally speaking I’m looking for people that are as different as possible from me to help give a perspective on a player that I wouldn’t have thought of. One of my own weaknesses is that I don’t actually watch any of the games. I’m up at 4am to exercise, out the door to catch the train by 5:30am, back home with son in tow at 5:30pm, family responsibilities until 8pm. Then I’m doing my daily research into models, algorithms, and back testing until I go to bed. For this reason, I look to experts that do watch the games for their opinions, since it’s a vantage point I don’t have. It’s important to associate with experts that think differently than you because if you’re all thinking along the same path, eventually you’ll get blindsided by a player, game, slate, or line up tactic that you otherwise shouldn’t be surprised about.


  1. Principle 2.0: Reading

If you don’t like to read, too bad. You’re an adult. Just like eating vegetables, you need to grow up and just do it. One trait of literally all hyper-successful people in the world is that they read nearly every day. I’m talking about people like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Tom Bilyeu, Tony Robbins, and Tim Ferriss. There is so much information out there that provides compound effects to more than just DFS that you could be capturing. Through the power of the internet, you can literally learn any skill if you put the effort towards it. We live in amazing times of information and I know most of you reading this don’t take advantage of it.

Principle 2.1: Who you give your attention to matters

Can you believe that cliff hanger in the last Game of Thrones episode? Or do you believe how they ended Breaking Bad? What about that last season of Black Mirror! I can’t because I haven’t watched any of these. Actually I only own one TV and I don’t get normal channels or cable. I have NetFlix and Amazon Prime for my wife and son, but in general I don’t have time to watch TV because I’m giving my attention to items I feel are more important that help move me towards my goals. If you’re not hustling, you’re wasting your time with this beyond entertainment purposes. It’s the truth. Getting better at anything requires sacrifice. That hour of watching TV for mindless entertainment could be spent reading, researching, writing, working on ancillary skills, or any other myriad of tasks that help you move towards whatever your goal is. In this article, it’s becoming a better fantasy player. You have to put in the work, and a massive amount, before you can be good. The elite players in DFS got there by first putting in the time in their process. You’re only seeing the end results and their best foot forward on twitter, Instagram, interviews, etc. While this all sounds extreme, its one path to greatness anyone reading this can achieve.  Extreme effort and getting comfortable being uncomfortable is required to get there. It’s also why so many won’t become a better fantasy player, ever.

Pro Tip #3: Read what matters. If you don’t know what to read beyond articles posted on our website or other resources, here’s a good starting point / Don’t have time to read? Get audio books. Can’t afford it? Go to the library, get a library card, download their software (overdrive) and rent audio books for free. Other great free audio options on You Tube are Joe Rogan’s podcasts, Impact Theory, and TED talks.