Explore the 2021 Beginner’s Guide to DFS

by Chase Vernon · DFS

This article is a Beginner’s Guide to DFS. If you’re new to it, this should help you dive into a world in which you might never look back. The ability to set a fresh roster, not have injuries harm you long term, and compete for cash each week is sexy and exhilarating, not to mention the bragging rights.  

Weighing the new free agent additions, guessing the rookie’s snap counts, validating training camp reports. Week 1 isn’t easy. Trying to sift through the storm before the dust settles is one of the most challenging things for Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS). Although it’s difficult, it can be an enriching start to the NFL season.

Although some people dominate these tournaments, there is always room for more and a lineup someone neglected to play. Don’t forget, everyone has to start somewhere. 

To understand DFS, you have to first break down the three types of contests: cash games, tournaments (GPP), or head-to-head. There is a significant difference between all three, so let’s start the Beginner’s Guide to DFS by breaking down the types and then dive into strategy.

Cash Games 

Cash games consist of half of the field splitting the pot evenly. For example, if you have 20 people with a $10 entry fee, the top 10 players in points will leave with $18 to $20 depending on what the house takes. Using cash games for new players allows you to float your entry fees to tournaments. Find a handful of lineups you fancy and enter them multiple times instead of using multiple different ones (also known as hedging). Start with a few players you’re bullish on and focus the lineups around them.  

Cash games are not about scoring more than everyone else, just more than half of the league. So high floors are essential. Safe players who produce each week, like Tennessee’s Derrick Henry and Atlanta’s Calvin Ridley, are good examples. You know the Titans will run, and you know the Falcons will pass, and with cash games, volume is key. Although they might not be as exciting as the tournaments, it’s a methodical way to build up your bank. 


Throw in nine bucks, win a million. What could be more exciting? Tournaments are based on getting the highest score. The higher you go, the more you win. So multipliers, the number showing the return on investment, are typically focused on while having a low rostership percentage.

A player with a high floor shouldn’t be considered as much as a player with the sky’s-the-limit-type ceiling. In 2020 Detroit’s Marvin Jones and Green Bay’s Aaron Jones helped win tournaments in multiple weeks. Don’t ignore players with high floors, as they help stabilize your roster, but chasing a guy like Kenyan Drake was a waste of time in tournaments outside of two weeks.

The big-time winners typically have a unique player who no one sees coming, combined with players who tend to explode. So playing Corey Davis along with Justin Jefferson in Week 13 had people cashing checks. Jefferson offered a high floor with a massive ceiling against the Jaguars. Meanwhile, Davis had to score because the Titans couldn’t stop anyone on the ground, and they were facing Cleveland’s run-heavy attack. 

There are endless strategies on how to win these tournaments, so let’s review the basics.

Beginners Guide to DFS Stacking

Stacks are when two players benefit from the other’s production. Quarterback and their wide receivers are the most popular DFS stack as you get points from both the throw and the reception. However, there are multiple other stacks you can use.

As previously discussed, Week 1 is a great starting point with an expensive combination of Kyler Murray at $7600 and DeAndre Hopkins at $7800. Although the stack feels like a lot as they are both top five at their positions, it’s still well short of their ceilings. Before Murray got banged up and suffered multiple minor injuries, he was priced at $8200 and Hopkins at $8500.

A quarterback with a pass-catching running back is a contrarian stack that can net you serious points. Game Script plays a significant part. If the team has a separate third-down back or pass catcher, they will see an increase in snaps if their team is down or if the game is high scoring. Shootouts are matchups you want to attack, and grabbing the pass-catching back could separate you from competitors targeting the same game.

In Week 7, Murray and Chase Edmonds combined for 62.6 points in a game against the Seahawks, where the two teams combined for 71 points. The Seahawks were No. 16 against running backs, but you could predict Edmonds to have a massive fantasy output by using the DOCE Score

Another usable stack is a defense with their running back.

For cash games, this stack is ideal. A defense that will be up late in the game and give you a solid 10 points is reliable and safe. Typically those have running backs who will wind the clock and get tons of volume. However, for GPPs, look for defenses facing teams who drop back and pass to create more scoring opportunities.


A few other ways to get creative with stacks: 

  • 1) Stacking a running back and receiver without the quarterback—the concept behind it being the receiver will go off. Still, the team is ultimately winning, so the running back gains yards towards the end of the game while the quarterback will lack volume, rendering his upside tournaments.
  • 2) Stacking a quarterback with a tight end, which highlights red zone opportunities. 
  • 3) Stacking a quarterback with a receiver and a defense like we saw in Week 1 with the Ravens defense stacked with Lamar Jackson and Marquise Brown, taking advantage of a blowout while racking up sacks, interceptions, and fumbles. 

Regardless of how you stack, it’s typically the best way to find yourself on top of the leaderboards in DFS.

Optimizing Your Stacks

Most people think stacking players can only be players from the same team. However, rostering players from the same game on separate teams can optimize your fantasy points. Although it increases volatility, correlating players from the same game can net premium fantasy production. 

Beginners Guide to DFS Week 6 2020 Milly Maker Winner

Atlanta Stack with Justin Jefferson runback

Figure out why you are playing specific stacks and find players on the opposing side who would benefit from said Game Script to maximize the lineup’s upside.


Beginners Guide to DFS Matchups

It’s probably not a good idea to start everyone from the same game each week with as many as 13 other games on the slate. In order to find other players to fill in empty spots, look to the matchups. Targeting the high-scoring games is one way, but the individual matchups are more critical. This is my favorite part of the Beginner’s Guide to DFS.

In Week 11, the Raiders faced off against the Buccaneers and against Sean Murphy-Bunting, Cooper Kupp was a premium target as he played 442 (No.11) Slot Snaps. Murphy-Bunting allowed the second-most touchdowns and a 126.9 passer rating while in the slot. The result of the matchup didn’t disappoint as Kupp finished with 28.5 fantasy points. 

The matchups to know aren’t just at receiver. Injuries play a big part in defending the run. In 2019 it was the Bears Akiem Hicks who comes to mind. For 2020, the Steelers Bud Dupree opened the flood gates for running backs in DFS. 

In the first 12 weeks, before the injury to Dupree, the Steelers only allowed three running backs to eclipse 15 fantasy points. Over the next six games, they allowed six.

There’s an abundance of different strategies and guidelines which will unravel in upcoming articles. There are also physical skills and traits, styles of play, and scheme advantages correlating with what’s already been discussed. Finding these key points to attack will be a priority as we focus on building up your bank for the 2021 season.

Don’t be shy. Share the Beginner’s Guide to DFS with your friends. Having people to bounce concepts and ideas off of while also attacking the same tournaments is half the fun! Looking forward to providing a weekly DFS series for Player Profiler!