The Pareto Principals Week 5: Step Into the Bad Side

by Jakob Sanderson · Strategy

Sometimes I hate writing this column on Thursday night.

As you know, this is the biggest reason I never give specific lineup recommendations. How can I build you a lineup when I don’t know with certainty who I’m playing until Sunday morning?

Well last week perfectly displayed the disconnect between a good play on Thursday and a good play on Sunday. Odell Beckham opened the week as an intriguing play with low ownership and an enticingly wide range in his projection. However, I was not alone in assessing this, and he became so popular he wound being as commonly played as Amari Cooper and D.J. Moore in small fields; the best projection per dollar mid-range receivers on the slate.

In this column we disavow results-oriented thinking. Beckham was not a ‘bad play’ because he snow-flaked your lineup. He would not have been a ‘good play’ if Baker Mayfield connected with him on his touchdown attempts. He was a poor play because in the same contest I played Beckham (at 21-percent ownership), Diontae Johnson was 5-percent, and projected similarly. Cooper – who was in several optimal projected lineups – was 13-percent rostered!

Beckham’s ownership in Week 5 is a representation of how impactful the DFS content industry can be, influencing ownership, and fundamentally changing the thesis of plays by the day. The DFS world is getting sharper, but at our core we’re mostly just excitable football fans. You watch this hype video (set to ‘Bad Side’ by Lil Wayne and Juelz Santana) and tell me you didn’t want to jam Beckham into 100-percent of your lineups.

It happens to the best of us, and we’re on to Week 5.

The Pareto Principals: Week 5

Welcome to another edition of The Pareto Principals. In today’s, I will briefly run through a review of last week’s slate but I’m anxious to get to the Week 5 contests. This is the kind of week I write this column for. I think there are a number of exciting opportunities to be contrarian while maintaining fundamentally strong lineups and I want to dive in.

As always, if this is your first envoy to my column; welcome! I encourage you to read this introductory piece that runs through the guiding principles I play by and discuss in this series.

The Pareto Principals: Guiding Principles For Limited Entry DFS

Week 4 Review

If you read this column last week, it would be nearly impossible to score as poorly as I did following my advice.

It was a bounce-back week in cash, but somehow – despite playing four Patrick MahomesTyreek Hill stacks out of 12 lineups – I couldn’t place a top-one-percent tournament entry.

My Chiefs-Eagles emphasis paid off, but none of my bring back option from Philadelphia found the end zone, and Travis Kelce handed us a complete dud.

I had other strong pieces to lineups this week, I’m disappointed I couldn’t capitalize on. Chase EdmondsVan Jefferson was my most played secondary correlation in the Rams-Cardinals game and it smashed at cost. However, this is a reminder of just how little your ‘value’ plays matter if you can’t make it work on the top end.

I ran similarly cold in the Falcons-Football team game. This was a priority game in full stacks and secondary correlations for me, but Cordarrelle Patterson monopolized all the scoring for Atlanta in a week I was heavy on Calvin Ridley and Mike Davis.

My regret at the macro-level last week was going too light on the best projected plays in Dallas-Carolina. I was heavy on Ezekiel Elliott but went light on D.J. Moore and Amari Cooper fearing heavy ownership. Both were popular, but not prohibitively so given how well they projected.

Moore wound up one of the highest scoring players on the slate, and we had every reason to expect it. If my ownership projections were sharper I would have been much heavier on Moore with Elliott across all my lineups.

Week 5 Macro-Strategy

This week has a much clearer structure than last week in my opinion. Two elements will drive ownership towards a consolidated build structure leaving us with more predictable opportunities to be contrarian than last week.

Theme 1: A Clear-Cut dominant Build

Back in the Week 3 article, I discussed the notion of a ‘dominant build.’ When a set of popular plays in a given price range or game consolidates the ownership, it has a knock-on effect for the manner in which players have to structure the remainder of their lineup. This week projects to follow that trajectory far more dramatically than either of the last two slates.

There are a plethora of attractive running backs in the $5000 range due to recent roll changes and injuries. Damien Williams is set for a three-down role in a great matchup. Leonard Fournette played a bell-cow role on Sunday night and figures to reprise it against one of the league’s worst rush defenses. Damien Harris takes on the Texans and managers may talk themselves into an increased pass-game ceiling after the loss of James White. Lastly, Samaje Perine could be in line for a spot-start for Cincinnatti.

Forging Your Own Path

The first instinct for tournament players will be to project whom among these rushers will be least-played and generate ‘price leverage.’ However, no matter which of these rushers you choose you’ll probably end up on the same general build. Teams may plug in one cheap running back to afford Derrick Henry  in the other slot, and free up space to space to afford multiple receivers in the mid-high price range. Alternatively, they will play two cheap running backs, probably spend up at a ‘onesie’ position and build the same lineup structure elsewhere.

I’m more inclined to flip this build entirely and get access to players who won’t pop up in the dominant build.

One way to do this is to run through the consequences of this build. If people are playing cheap running backs and expensive receivers, Davante Adams projects to be more popular than Aaron Jones. However, Cincinnati has been getting gashed by running backs all year, and Jones sets up as one of the lowest-owned players with an elite ceiling on the slate.

Aaron Jones provides a huge ceiling at a reasonable ownership

On a similar note to Jones, if everyone is playing Fournette this week, I’m more than willing to pivot to Tom Brady and any of his two pass catchers. Brady has a great chance to be the highest scoring quarterback on a weak slate, carrying four touchdown upside weekly.

Nick Chubb is another of my preferred options in the mid-range this week. Chargers’ coach Brandon Staley has spoken publicly about his defensive philosophy to limit explosive pass plays, and this willingly allows softer fronts against the run. Cleveland may be willing to let Chubb exploit the Chargers’ weakness and he is finally priced in-line with his role at $6700 this week. Chubb won’t fit the common build this week and he’s been out-scored by his backfield mate in back to back games. The stars are aligning to give Chubb asymmetrical upside in tournaments this week.

The Return of the Vomit Stack

“Vomit stacking” is a term describing typically unappealing quarterback and pass catcher parings which have low ownership and salary. The idea is to accept a lower ceiling in your stack, bet on a low-scoring week across the slate and gain access to more elite plays in the rest of your lineup than anyone else can match.

Due to the increase of rushing quarterbacks and higher scoring across the NFL, this strategy has fallen out of favour. However, this week most of the top quarterbacks are off the main-slate, and ‘vomit-stacking’ is available in a number of games with totals comparable to the top-played contests on the slate.

It may not get more vomit-inducing the Lions-Vikings contest. Each team is coming off a performance more offensive to the eye than the opponent. Nevertheless, both teams have suspect defenses, and condensed target trees. I prefer playing Kirk Cousins, but would even consider Jared Goff as a deep option in large-field tournaments.

Kirk Cousins has been highly efficient this year until Week 4

Employing this approach in Week 5 allows you access to this mid-range of running backs without making major sacrifices in your wide receiver pool. This leads into theme two of the week, and some of my favourite games to target with low dollar stacks.

Theme 2: It’s a Bad Week for Scott Hanson

The first thing that jumps out when you look at the main slate is the lack of high total games. Five of the league’s highest scoring teams; Kansas City, Baltimore, Buffalo, Seattle, and the Rams are all off the main slate. This leaves just two games; Arizona-San Francisco and Dallas-New York Giants with a total above 50.

Scott Hanson may be hard-pressed to deliver us top-tier entertainment on Red Zone this week.

One of the benefits of a week like this is DFS players’ emerging comfort in going back to certain lineup structures. People are now used to how to handle the Cowboys; either play Dak Prescott with the pass catchers and a bring back or play Elliott. Players have been rewarded by Kyler Murray and his pass catchers this year and should be excited to play both sides of this game if Trey Lance makes his debut.

With ownership flocking to these high-total, high-profile games, you can arbitrage this with similar game environments that are less appealing on the surface.

Step (Back) Into the Bad Side

My favourite game is Browns-Chargers. After getting steamed into oblivion last week, I doubt players will be excited to go back to the Browns after their Week 4 flop coupled with news of a torn labrum in Baker Mayfields non-throwing shoulder.

We saw late last year that Cleveland is willing to play a higher-pace, pass-first style if drawn into it by a high-octane opponent and the Chargers could be that team. The Chargers are among the fastest-paced, most pass-heavy teams in the league this year and concentrate targets heavily between four players. I’m willing to stack the Cleveland side of this game with Mayfield, Beckham and Austin Hooper, or to roll out a Chargers stack with Chubb.

I’m also quite interested in Mike Williams as a contrarian tournament option. There’s no basis for him to be priced $700 above Keenan Allen this week; especially following a dud on Monday night. This should force ownership heavily toward Allen’s side, and in a week with plenty of savings options I’m content to take the shot on Big Mike.

Mike Williams’ breakout year may get back on track this week

Trust the Total

Another under the radar game this week could be Packers-Bengals. This game sports the third highest total on the slate, but multiple content sites are recommending a fade due to slow projected pace.

While I share these pace concerns, my recommendation would be to bet the under if you’re so confident the total is wrong. If we’re playing DFS, I’m inclined to roll with Vegas and take advantage of inefficient ownership. As mentioned earlier I’m very bullish on Aaron Jones as a tournament play this week, and there are plenty of options to pair him with.

With the Bengals potentially losing Joe Mixon this week, I expect Cincinnati to build on their progression last week and turn in their most pass-heavy game-plan of 2021. All three Bengals wideouts are under $6000 and I will be playing each. I expect the lowest owned to be Ja’Marr Chase given the highest price ($5800), although its possible Tee Higgins comes in under his ownership projection in his first game back from injury. At just $5000 he’s one of the best values on the slate.

Trust the Cats vs. The Big Dog

With A.J. Brown returning, it’s our first opportunity to revive 2020’s most profitable leverage plays. As explained prior, Derrick Henry is set up to receive plenty of justified ownership this week, and the classic pivot is to play Ryan Tannehill with Brown assuming a pass-first script.

We saw Jeremy McNichols emerge as the preferred pass-game running back for Tennessee last week, making this even more viable than usual. A run-back with James Robinson at $6000 makes a lot of structural sense and doubles down on the game-script assumption against Henry.

I am cautious of this pivot getting buzzed to the point it loses its appeal given the popularity of this strategy last year. I still think this is a strong game environment and I’m equally comfortable pivoting entirely to the Jacksonville side of this game. Trevor Lawrence had his best game as a passer and rusher in week 4, and now has a more concentrated set of pass catchers after losing D.J. Chark. I expect to play Lawrence-centered game stacks as well in a game with two of the NFL’s worst defenses.


The Final Word

Slates with clear structures and a dearth of attractive options create the most opportunities for cerebral player to find opportunities for leverage. This is the slate I’m been most excited to play thus far in 2021 and I’m hopeful for a return to the one-percent in week 5.