Paddy Power’s guide to NFL Daily Fantasy tournaments

Tournament play can be cruel. That's why Paddy's here to guide you through it.


That noted college football player, ping-pong master, seafood magnate and sage Forrest Gump once compared life to a box of chocolates, but I prefer to think of it as a fried egg and soldiers – sometimes you’re going to get a punctured yoke of despair, but the pristine seal of uncooked yolky goodness when it goes right makes it all worthwhile.

And even if it goes wrong there’s the consolation of shovelling hash browns down your gullet to ease your sorrow.

Playing daily fantasy tournaments can be a lot like that. The golden, gooey highs of watching your score shoot up, seeing your name ascend the rankings, and feeling that extra dinero in your pocket one week followed by the and the overdone, congealed lows of half your team laying proverbial eggs the next. It happens.

You’re not going to hit those heights without bringing a little bit of risk into your life.

Tournaments, unlike cash games, reward risk-taking more. These are competitions where you can win big – hundreds of thousands if you pick the right team – but the majority of entries lose their lot every week. In cash games and head-to-head contests, you can be surer of a return, but you’ll never nab a big prize.

Here, we’re going to run through a basic overview of what you should be considering when you’re filling out a roster for a tournament, in which only a small percentage of the entrants get paid. When you need to beat over 80% of your competition, things are bit different than they are when you only need to top 50 percent. Here is how I try to combat that when I fill out my rosters.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – AUGUST 08: Valentine Holmes #39 of the New York Jets is tackled by Kenny Ladler #33 of the New York Giants during a preseason matchup at MetLife Stadium on August 08, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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Favor Ceiling over Floor

If you read our break down on how to assemble a cash game roster, it’s essentially just emphasizing the importance of finding players with elevated floor projections. While we do still want to focus on floor when filling out our tournament rosters, we should be giving preference to players with explosive ceilings.

Let’s take a look at some projections from Week 9 of 2015 (because the fine peeps in numberFire’s projections department are cool enough to actually give you projection intervals with floors and ceilings. They’re the real MVPs.).

Prior to that week’s slate of games, Antonio Brown had a floor projection of 5.37 points. Brandon Marshall’s floor was actually higher than Brown’s at 6.81. Additionally, Marshall came at a price of £8,100 as opposed to £8,700 for Brown. This should lead us to favour Marshall, right?

In a tourney, Brown was very much the superior option. He entered the week with the highest ceiling projection of any receiver at 25.83. Marshall was still respectable, but his ceiling was 19.51. That 25.83-point ceiling would be enough to make Brown appealing – even with his lower floor and higher price – in a cash game, but he’s undoubtedly the go-to for a tournament roster.

In a cash game, I give 75% preference to floor with 25% to ceiling. That’s flipped in a tourney so that you can maximize your upside and give yourself a chance to finish high on those leaderboards.

GLENDALE, ARIZONA – AUGUST 08: The Arizona Cardinals warm-up during the NFL preseason game at State Farm Stadium on August 08, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Chargers 17-13. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Tournament Roster Construction

The biggest difference for me between my cash game rosters and the ones I use in tourneys is roster construction. If I’m trying to maximize my team’s overall upside, there are a few important tweaks I make with regards to which positions I’ll emphasize most.

The biggest change for me is my valuation of wide receivers. In cash games, I’m willing to focus my spending on highly-targeted receivers who sit in the middle of the salary range. Not in tournaments. There, I’m looking to pay up and get as many studs as I can possibly afford.

The main reason for this is volatility. In a cash game, volatility is frightening, as it robs you of a dependable floor. However, in a tourney, it’s your best friend. You can’t have those high-output games with regularity without a little bit of volatility. Because they touch the ball on fewer occasions, wide receivers are the most volatile of the top three positions, and you can use that to your advantage.

The chart below breaks down some of the highest-scoring fantasy games over the past three and a half years. This shows how many players at each position topped various thresholds in scoring from 2012 through Week 8 of 2015. While the analysis shouldn’t stop here, it should show that wide receivers are intriguing in tournaments.

It’s clear that wide receivers and quarterbacks are the two positions that will top 30 points most often. However, because quarterback is so matchup-dependent, you get a load of weird names on that list. Nick Foles, Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Matt Schaub all ranked in the top 10 in individual scoring games over that span. Tom Brady did not. His largest game was 34.2 points, ranking 28th on that list. McCown had two games in the top 21.

This isn’t to say that Brady is a bad quarterback, nor that he’s bad in fantasy. He was great over this span because of his consistent floor. It’s just to show that you can find bad quarterbacks who will have great games in fantasy if they’re in the right matchup. Those bad quarterbacks are bound to cost less, which is why I (almost always) pay down at the position in tourneys.

Aaron Rodgers

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I have no problem with paying up for a guy like Brady or Aaron Rodgers in a cash game because their floor in good matchups is phenomenal. However, I’m not emphasizing floor as much when I’m filling out a tourney lineup. Mediocre quarterbacks have fantasy ceilings that are equal to those of the league’s best. As such, I prefer to snatch a mid-to-lower-priced quarterback, giving myself more flexibility to pay big elsewhere.

Referencing the chart above, I’m also not overly enthusiastic about running backs. While they have great floors of production in most instances, you’re not as likely to get a huge game from a running back as a receiver. So, when I’m deciding between a running back and a wide receiver priced at £8,900 on Paddy Power Fantasy, I’m going to choose the receiver 95% of the time.

When I’m choosing a running back, I’m looking mostly in the mid-priced range again. If I can find a running back who is generally just an all right play, but he is facing a bad defence, I’ll be all in. A replacement running back on a good offence? Absolutely. But very rarely will I take one of the highest-priced running backs in a tournament as it restricts my abilities to pay up elsewhere.

The one spot where my strategy really doesn’t change is at defence and special teams. Here, I’m really not willing to deviate from looking for teams that are favoured and at home. I will differentiate at times from lineup to lineup, but my strategy doesn’t change much. Because I’m not paying up regardless, I see no reason to change that strategy when I’m playing in a tournament.

PITTSBURGH, PA – AUGUST 09: Antony Auclair #82 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cannot make a catch while being defended by Robert Spillane #49 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half of a preseason game at Heinz Field on August 9, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

A Note of Caution on Floor

As noted throughout this piece, your main emphasis should be on obtaining a high ceiling in your tournament rosters. That, however, does not mean – by any stretch of the imagination – that you should disregard floor.

I’m not opposed to using a super-cheap “punt” option in a tournament. However, in order for me to do so, I need to know that this player is going to have a role in the offence.

If I’m praying that some running back who sees eight carries per game breaks a long one, I’m going to fail more often than not.

The same goes for wide receivers. Unless there is a drastic change in role, there is almost never a situation in which you should roster a guy seeing fewer than five targets per game. If there is an injury to someone above him on the depth chart or the coaches have said they are moving him up the totem pole, maybe. You’re just asking to take a goose egg, and that can kill any tourney lineup, no matter how well the rest of the squad does.

With quarterbacks, the phrase I try to remember is, “Don’t force it.” If a bad quarterback is facing a good or even mediocre defence, then there’s really no need to bring that potentially horrendous floor into your life. If they’re going up against a defence that is struggling, though, I’m all in. You might as well take the gamble and see if they can achieve one of those high-output games discussed above.

This may make it difficult to figure out what you’re looking for in a tourney roster. In reality, though, it’s not. Because you have a player pool of the entire NFL from which to choose, you can often find players with acceptable floors at a low price. If they bring that high upside, too, then you can bet they’ll find their way onto my rosters.

When you first get cooking with tournament rosters, you’re going to have your fair share of duds. It happens. Emphasizing ceiling comes at a cost, and you’re going to end up breaking the yoke sometimes. But when you hit those values with the high ceiling, savour that feeling, brudduhs and sistahs, because there is nothing more blissful than that.

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