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Neil Orfield’s NFL DFS Showdown Strategy: Mixon an Elite Stud for Bengals vs. Dolphins Week 4 TNF (September 29)

Neil Orfield

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For nearly a year now, I’ve been hosting the High Stakes podcast for Stokastic, interviewing DFS pros on a range of topics. There have been a lot of recurring themes on the show, but the most relevant for this article: DFS pros love NFL DFS Showdown.

That’s because a lot of casual NFL fans enter the Showdown fray as a way to have some action on island games. As a result, DraftKings and FanDuel offer enormous contests with generous prize pools. The contests become more difficult to win, too, when there are hundreds of thousands of entrants, but with a large portion of the new players being casual, the increase in difficulty pales in comparison to the increase in prize pools. It’s a tradeoff DFS pros will gladly make.

My goal with these Showdown articles — which I’ll be writing for each Thursday Night Football and Monday Night Football NFL DFS slate this season — is to help you attack the largest field DraftKings GPP like a pro. There are three main components to discuss when it comes to Showdown, and I’ll break them down accordingly: Projection, Correlation and Differentiation.

Before reading this piece, you may find it helpful to read my evergreen piece about how to attack NFL Showdown GPPs more generally: https://www.stokastic.com/nfl/draftkings-showdown-simplified-tips-tricks-making-big-money-nfl-dfs-island-games-2022/

Week 4 NFL DFS Showdown: Bengals vs. Dolphins TNF

Projection

The goal in DFS is to make the lineup that puts up the most points and a natural starting point is looking at individual players who are likely to put up high scores or high point-per-dollar scores. Some pros run simulations or create their own projections to achieve this. Many others, like myself, rely on the Stokastic projections and tools to determine which players should be core pieces of our lineups. I primarily look at the base projections and the “Top Showdown Plays” Tool, which publishes results of 10,000 advanced simulations run by the Stokastic team.

Studs

These are simply the top projected players on the slate. I’d recommend having at least two, and preferably three, of these players in just about every lineup you make tonight, either as captain or in a flex spot. There is a wide projection gap between these seven and the next group of players.

  • Joe Burrow ($9,600) is the highest projected player on the slate by more than two points at just the fourth highest salary.
  • Tua Tagovailoa ($9,400) is the second-highest projected player on the slate at the fifth-highest salary.
  • Ja’Marr Chase ($11,000) is the most expensive player on the slate and has the third-highest projection.
  • Tyreek Hill ($10,800) is the second most expensive player on the slate and has the fourth-highest projection.
  • Joe Mixon ($9,000) has the fifth highest projection on the slate at the sixth highest salary.
  • Tee Higgins ($8,200) has the sixth-highest projection on the slate at the seventh-highest salary.
  • Jaylen Waddle ($10,200) has the seventh-highest projection on the slate at the third-highest salary.

Point-Per-Dollar Plays

These are just a few players who will be featured throughout my lineups due to their high projected points per dollar. At the same time, because I’ll typically have at least three studs in each lineup, the top points-per-dollar plays are often players I’ll be pivoting away from in some spots in favor of players who project a bit worse but will also garner lower ownership. I’m also excluding any player with a projection below three fantasy points from this list.

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  • Trent Sherfield ($1,400) has been targeted just five times through three games, but his 45 routes run are a full half of what Hill has run. Sherfield also played 63% of the Dolphins’ snaps in Week 3 after playing 35% in each of the first two weeks.
  • Evan McPherson ($3,600) is less expensive than Jason Sanders ($3,800) but projects nearly two points higher. Both kickers are solid point-per-dollar players, though McPherson is the higher priority.
  • Bengals Defense ($3,200) and Dolphins Defense ($4,000) are both strong point-per-dollar options.
  • Raheem Mostert ($4,400) played 56% of the Dolphins’ snaps in Week 3 and carried the ball four times.
  • Hayden Hurst ($5,400) has run 111 routes through three games, fourth of all Bengals players, and has been targeted 15 times.

Correlation

In NFL DFS, correlations are endless, both positive and negative. Some are obvious — QBs have positive correlation with the WRs on their team. Some need a bit more research — how do kickers fare when a team’s backup running back exceeds his projection? Some correlations I like in this game:

  • Joe Burrow at captain with at least one, and preferably two, Bengals pass catchers. I think it’s possible, though unlikely, for Burrow to be the optimal captain tonight with just one pass catcher in a flex spot. He didn’t run much last year, but through Week 3 Burrow has rushed 15 times for 73 yards, on pace for far more rushes and yards than either of his previous seasons. If Burrow has a spike rushing week, he may not need more than one pass catcher to be the optimal captain. But given the scoring dynamics – pass catchers scoring more points on each passing play than the quarterback – it is more likely that for Burrow to be optimal at captain, at least two Bengals pass catchers will also be optimal in the flex.
  • Tua Tagovailoa at captain with at least two Dolphins pass catchers. Tagovailoa has rushed just four times through three weeks and has not shown a ton of rushing upside in past years. Most likely, if Tagovailoa is the optimal captain, at least two Dolphins pass catchers will be in flex spots.

Note: This section is about correlations, not player suggestions. These are recommendations for correlations if you have either QB in your captain spot, not necessarily suggestions that they’re the first place you should go.

Differentiation

Making highly projected lineups with smart correlations will separate you from the lowest level Showdown players, but there are many very smart casual players as well. Differentiation is the last step to separating pros from Joes.

In just about any DFS GPP, finding low-owned gems is key because lower ownership reduces the field of lineups you’re competing against when the player has a 99th-percentile outcome. Taking it to the extreme, just as a thought exercise, let’s say that Mixon scores 100 fantasy points tonight. You’re not just going to need him, you’ll need him in the captain spot (150 fantasy points). If 20,000 lineups in your contest have Mixon in the captain spot, you’ve essentially reduced the field of lineups you’re competing with to 20,000. If only 200 lineups have Mixon at captain? Now we’re talking.

On NFL Showdown slates there is an additional factor for large field GPPs. We don’t just want to find seldomly used players; we want to find seldomly used LINEUPS. Why? Well, I’ll give you two examples from last year:

  • On September 20, 2021, DraftKings had a Milly Maker for the Packers vs. Lions tilt, but the top lineup was duplicated 231 times. Rather than winning a million dollars, the users who entered those 231 lineups had to split the top 231 prizes, for just a bit over $6,000 each. That’s despite having everything go their way, which requires an extreme amount of luck.
  • On October 11, 2021, we saw the other end of the spectrum: user rcoho1984 played a unique lineup in the Ravens vs. Colts Milly Maker, taking home not just a million dollars but a ticket to the Tournament of Champions.

If you’re going to win — which takes a lot of luck, regardless of how well your lineup projects — I’d suggest making it count. I’m not necessarily concerned with making an entirely unique lineup like rcoho1984 did every single time, but I aim to be a lot closer to their unique lineup than those that were duplicated 231 times.

Some Easy Tricks

Low-owned players. Yup, even if you’re using other tricks to get unique, it’s still a good idea to play a few players who won’t be getting much ownership. Some low-owned players to consider:

  • Alec Ingold ($1,200) has run 27 routes and been targeted five times through three weeks. He also has carried the ball just once in each week of the season so far. Likely a touchdown or bust type of player, but at relatively low ownership he’s an interesting play.
  • Durham Smythe ($2,800) has run 39 routes and has been targeted six times through three weeks. Another touchdown or bust type of play.
  • Mike Gesicki ($5,000) has taken a large step back in terms of opportunities for production this year. After being targeted 112 times last year, he has been targeted just six times on 54 routes run this year. Still, the talent is there – all six targets have been caught, for a total of 48 yards and a touchdown – and at low projected ownership, Gesicki is a priority on this single-game slate.
  • Cedrick Wilson ($1,800) has run 39 routes and been targeted three times through three weeks. He could put up a zero, but at this salary, a single splash play could be good enough to make the optimal.
  • Tyler Boyd ($7,000) and Chase Edmonds ($6,200) are both players who don’t fit perfectly as studs, point-per-dollar plays or low-owned plays, but they both come in at nice ownership discounts relative to the studs and have the potential to pay off their mid-range salaries.

Embrace lineups missing some correlation pieces or even with some negative correlation. Generally, highly correlated lineups will be over-owned, whereas the field will avoid negative correlation at all costs. If you want to read my reasoning, check out the evergreen piece I linked near the top of this page. In some of my lineups, I like to see the following:

  • Quarterback against opposing Defense.
  • Pass Catcher at Captain without including the QB at Flex.
  • Multiple Running Backs from the same team in a lineup.

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Leave salary on the table. I kind of buried the lede here. This is the easiest way to lower your duplicates. Casual players assume that if they have salary left over, they should upgrade. The problem with this approach is that it almost inevitably leads to highly duplicated lineups. How much salary should you leave on the table? That’s up to you. If it’s less than $600 and you haven’t gotten extremely unique with player selections and weird correlations, it’s likely you’ll have to split any winnings with many other entries.

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Neil Orfield has been playing DFS regularly since 2013, but his success really started taking off in 2019 when he had a six figure payday with a hand built NFL lineup. The next day, he signed up for a Stokastic+ subscription with FantasyCruncher. Since then he has won an NFL milly and added six figure wins in XFL, MLB, and NBA. He has recently excelled at NFL Showdown, with many five- and six-figure wins since 2021.

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