2016 Daily Fantasy Football: Can We See the Top DFS Performances Coming?
There is nothing worse than piecing together a daily fantasy football team, only to watch someone else win all the cash. You put some good time into researching and strategizing, and ultimately your DFS roster just wasn’t up to snuff.
Of course, there is often a good explanation as to why a team you liked on paper didn’t exactly translate in the daily fantasy sports realm.
For one, it could have been a rush job. You perhaps didn’t read the analytics or the matchups right. Or even worse, you didn’t go chalk when you probably should have.
Whatever the path you took may be, there is usually some stud performer in any given week you wish you had used. And maybe if you’d looked past all the noise, you would have used him.
That got us to thinking; is daily fantasy football really as random as it feels? Are the top weekly performers just dudes who come out of nowhere and crush our souls when we fade them?
Some week, that’s probably the case. Others, everything is how it should be and we probably should have bought into logic a bit more.
But we wanted some proof, so we went back through all 17 weeks of the 2015 NFL regular season and checked out the top-10 DFS performances. Of the five from each week, let’s assess which were random, and which ones we probably should have seen coming:
- Julio Jones, WR, Falcons (38.10)
- Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers (35.20)
- Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers (34.60)
- Tyler Eifert, TE, Bengals (34.40)
- DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans (32.80)
- Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots (32.40)
- Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs (31.60)
- Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers (31.60)
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Buccaneers (31)
- Matt Forte, RB, Bears (30.60)
Jones leading the way was never a surprise, as his team’s matchup with the Eagles was sure to produce a ton of passing and points. That was exactly the case, as Jones crushed it in this matchup and ended up being the #1 wide receiver and the top overall option at DraftKings to kick off the 2015 season.
This top-10 list really is short on jaw-dropping surprises, too. Allen, Eifert, Hopkins and Kelce were all somewhat surprising as top-10 contributors right away in week one, but all of these guys were stud talents looking at bigger roles going into 2016. It wasn’t insane if you didn’t roster them, but the evidence was there for you to use them with confidence.
Antonio Brown and The Gronk are clearly fantasy machines, too, while everyone who knows fantasy football knows Matt Forte is capable of huge DFS outings.
The only crazy performers here end up being Hyde (#2) and ASJ (#9). Hyde came out of nowhere to absolutely demolish the Vikings in a blowout win, while ASJ scored two touchdowns in a blowout loss for the Buccaneers.
Neither of these two guys came close to matching these performances the rest of the way, and were completely random DFS studs.
After looking back at week one, 8 of the top-10 options were either obvious calls or borderline obvious, meaning a low 20% of that week’s studs came off as truly random.
- Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals (40.20)
- Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers (39.50)
- Allen Robinson, WR, Jaguars (36.50)
- Travis Benjamin, WR, Browns (35.50)
- Julian Edelman, WR, Patriots (33.90)
- Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers (33.66)
- Tom Brady, QB, Patriots (32.24)
- Matt Jones, RB, Redskins (31.60)
- DeAngelo Williams, RB, Steelers (31.20)
- Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants (30.60)
Many felt Larry Fitzgerald was a regressing veteran even before 2015, so the aging receiver taking over as the top week two scorer was indeed a massive surprise. There were more surprises, too, with Robinson starting his 2015 blow-up campaign after doing virtually nothing the week prior, while guys like Travis Benjamin and Matt Jones also enjoyed huge weeks. That being said, Robinson was viewed as a big breakout candidate ahead of the season, so he was absolutely on the DFS radar going into this week.
The same can be said for DeAngelo Williams, who continued to have a big role in week two with regular starter Le’Veon Bell serving the second game of a two-game suspension. Still, not many pegged him for a massive day like this.
While there were some very real surprises in week two’s top-10, there were also a good amount of mainstays. Tom Brady, Big Ben, Julian Edelman, Antonio Brown and of course Odell Beckham Jr. were all viewed as elite or high-end intermediate options, so them going off wasn’t insane.
Looking back, there were only four borderline shocking performances in week two, and it’s pretty fair to say a lot of people were on Robinson and D-Will due to their enhanced roles. That leaves Jones and Benjamin as the two truly crazy DFS performances for week two.
For the second week in a row, a lot of the top-10 guys make a good amount of sense, and most were fairly chalky. We’re left with 8 of 10 logical plays here, giving us 20% of the week two studs feeling random.
- J. Green, WR, Bengals (47.70)
- Steve Smith Sr., WR, Ravens (46.60)
- Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons (45.30)
- Julio Jones, WR, Falcons (43.40)
- Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers (40.30)
- Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers (37.92)
- Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals (37.40)
- Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers (36.40)
- Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals (35.32)
- Randall Cobb, WR, Packers (35.30)
Green is not a shocking player to see atop a weekly scoring list, but week three gets a bit zany from there. An aging Steve Smith busted out for his second huge game of the season. He didn’t crack the top-10 in week two, but he still delivered a big performance. Some may have felt it was random and faded, but he handed in a career outing against the Bengals. Green connected with Andy Dalton a ton in that same game – a defensive battle turned into an epic shootout.
The biggest surprise of week three and ultimately the entire season was Devonta Freeman, of course. Freeman took over a huge role with Tevin Coleman getting hurt and really never looked back. His amazing 2015 run began with this insane three-score effort against the Dallas Cowboys.
Keenan Allen, Rodgers, Fitz, Olsen and Cobb weren’t really surprises, as all were either widely considered elite options or had popped up already in 2015 as worthwhile DFS options. That’s the case and then some for Julio Jones, who is the least surprising stud on this entire list.
Overall, we can probably say Smith, Freeman and maybe Andy Dalton were the biggest surprises here. That gave us three “random” DFS plays in week three, but a strong 70% ratio of chalky top-10 plays.
- Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons (37.90)
- Vincent Jackson, WR, Buccaneers (33.70)
- Allen Hurns, WR, Jaguars (31.60)
- Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers (31)
- Tavon Austin, WR, Rams (29.60)
- Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers (29.22)
- Jeremy Maclin, WR, Chiefs (28.80)
- Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers (28.30)
- Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins (27.70)
- DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans (27.70)
Okay, week four was pretty ridiculous. One glance at our top-10 shows you that, but this was also a week where Josh McCown, Duke Johnson and Leonard freaking Hankerson all cracked the top-20.
We’ll focus on the top-10, however, where Vincent Jackson turned back the clock, Allen Hurns proved he wasn’t the only dangerous Jacksonville receiver, Tavon Austin delivered one of his weird blow-up outings, Kirk Cousins made sure “we liked that” and Doug Martin decided to set out on a career year.
Freeman topped the league with yet another three-TD game and was on everyone’s radar already after a huge week three outing, Bell was highly owned in his 2015 debut, Nuk was already a DFS fan favorite and everyone knows Rivers is capable of big outings.
Maclin fits somewhere in the middle, as Alex Smith has kept the daily fantasy football brethren from fully trusting Chiefs receivers, but we all know the guy can fly.
All things considered, we were handed five true surprises in week four, giving us a shaky 50% reliability ratio. This was probably one of the crazier weeks of 2015, seeing a lot of the top shelf talent come up short or at least get out-played by seemingly inferior talent.
- Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers (39.80)
- Josh McCown, QB, Browns (38.48)
- Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons (35.70)
- Eli Manning, QB, Giants (32.74)
- Blake Bortles, QB, Jaguars (32.22)
- Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals (31.04)
- DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans (30.90)
- Gary Barnidge, TE, Browns (30.90)
- Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers (30.20)
- Justin Forsett, RB, Ravens (30)
A lot of these names feel shocking at first glance, but by week five most were very much on the DFS radar. Guys like McCown, Barnidge and Bortles had already delivered big numbers, even though all three land inside the top-10 for the first time here.
Matin and Freeman are mainstays at this point, we all know Manning, Dalton, Gates and Forsett can produce, as well.
Half of these guys were highly owned due to great prices and their upside, while a ton of people used Gates, who was debuting after a four-game ban. McCown and Barnidge were a fun stack, too, as they were quite cheap and had shown well earlier in the year.
Martin leading the way in fantasy points and McCown coming second were surely surprises, but they weren’t random DFS plays. Still, it’s fair to say not everyone anticipated massive outings by McCown, Barnidge and probably Forsett. Those three qualify as fairly random, giving week five a 70% score on reliable top-10 plays.
- DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans (39.80)
- Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons (38.60)
- Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions (37.90)
- Martavis Bryant, WR, Steelers (35.50)
- Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers (32.70)
- Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears (31.70)
- Benjamin Watson, TE, Saints (31.70)
- Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions (31.60)
- Chris Ivory, RB, Jets (31.60)
- John Brown, WR, Cardinals (31.60)
Week six provides a ton of chalk, as Nuk tops the list with Freeman, Bryant, Allen, Jeffery and Megatron all making sense as a potential top plays. Bryant would be the only random one, but everyone was on this deep threat in his 2015 debut. It was mildly surprising just how good he was in his first game last year, but he was so explosive he counts more as a chalk play than a random play.
Stafford hadn’t been very good to this point, so we’ll classify him as random as week six’s #3 play in daily fantasy football. Benjamin Watson absolutely was random here, while Chris Ivory and John Brown had been good, but not top-10 good. That leaves us with four truly random top-10 DFS performers (60%).
- Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins (41.60)
- Nate Washington, WR, Texans (36.70)
- Todd Gurley, RB, Rams (35.30)
- Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins (34.18)
- Y. Hilton, WR, Colts (34)
- Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers (33.40)
- Danny Woodhead, RB, Chargers (33.10)
- Tom Brady, QB, Patriots (32.70)
- Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots (30.80)
- Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers (30.44)
No one was surprised at Lamar Miller’s breakout potential, but there is no denying few saw this insane outing coming. He was absolutely a shocker as the #1 DFS play at DraftKings in week seven, while Nate Washington was arguably an even bigger surprise as the #2 play despite costing the bare minimum for wide receivers.
Gurley, Hilton, Evans, Brady, Gronk, Rivers and really even Cousins (he had blown up before) weren’t very shocking. All were either very contrarian, elite plays, or they were hot sleepers for the week.
Danny Woodhead can be thrown in with the surprises for the week, but it was common knowledge that he can be a PPR fiend. Still, top-10 production isn’t what he usually gets you. That gave us three huge shockers inside the top-10, but still delivered a strong 70% ratio for reliable plays.
- Drew Brees, QB, Saints (50.54)
- Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants (42)
- Eli Manning, QB, Giants (41)
- Julio Jones, WR, Falcons (36.20)
- Carson Palmer, QB, Cardinals (33.56)
- Tom Brady, QB, Patriots (33.34)
- Benjamin Watson, TE, Saints (32.70)
- Derek Carr, QB, Raiders (32.12)
- J. Green, WR, Bengals (31.80)
- Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears (30.60)
I stand corrected. This is the chalkiest week of the year to this point. Everyone was on the Saints/Giants game in week eight, which was bound to showcase no defense and all of the speed inside the Superdome. It’s mildly shocking just how explosive this game wound up being, but it was pegged as the top scoring game of the week. Suffice to say, no one should have been too shocked to see Brees, ODB, Eli or even Ben Watson crack the top-10.
The other big names all make sense here, too. If you want to get stingy, though, you could say Watson going off yet again was a shock and Derek Carr cracking the top-10 for the first time in 2015 was a mild surprise. We’ll set it at two random plays, giving us an elite 80% reliability rate for the week.
- Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers (49.60)
- DeAngelo Williams, RB, Steelers (41.50)
- Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers (36.96)
- Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans (36.34)
- Drew Brees, QB, Saints (35.38)
- Cole Beasley, WR, Cowboys (35.20)
- Cam Newton, QB, Panthers (34.58)
- Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills (33.80)
- Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins (33.10)
- Michael Crabtree, WR, Raiders (32.80)
The top three guys here are logical studs, while Brees, Newton, Watkins and Miller all make enough sense to get a pass.
Mariota did blow up in week one, but he was a rookie in 2015 and few probably banked on him posting the #4 numbers going into week nine. Beasley was easily the most ridiculous blow-up of the week and while Crabtree had been solid to this point, a top-10 finish was surely shocking.
The numbers equate to three truly random plays, but the 70% success rate for logical plays continues to show us, over halfway through 2015, that the top performers aren’t usually shockers.
- Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers (40.90)
- Jeremy Langford, RB, Bears (40.20)
- Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals (33.30)
- Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings (32.60)
- Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins (31.96)
- Martavis Bryant, WR, Steelers (31.80)
- Charcandrick West, RB, Chiefs (31.10)
- Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers (30.96)
- Matt Jones, RB, Redskins (30.70)
- Zach Miller, TE, Bears (30.70)
Week 10 was weird, as guys like Langford, Floyd, West, Jones and Miller were certainly all on the DFS radar as potential sleeper plays, it’s tough to say anyone expected them to do this well. Everyone else made perfectly good sense, though, giving us five arguably random plays (50% reliable) in the top-10.
- Thomas Rawls, RB, Seahawks (43.50)
- DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans (31.80)
- Cam Newton, QB, Panthers (31.44)
- Jameis Winston, QB, Buccaneers (29.84)
- Carson Palmer, QB, Cardinals (29.58)
- Julio Jones, WR, Falcons (28)
- James Jones, WR, Packers (27.90)
- J. Nelson, WR, Cardinals (27.20)
- Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers (26.50)
- Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals (26)
Rawls is the perfect example of a guy everyone was probably at least thinking about using in week 11, and ended up kicking themselves if they didn’t. As big of a sleeper as he was, it was still absolutely shocking to see him take the #1 spot with over 43 fantasy points.
Winston, Nelson and Jones join Rawls as true surprises in the top-10. That being said, there was some logic behind Jones as one of Aaron Rodgers’ top targets, as well as Winston, who was battling a bad Eagles defense.
The end result is still four surprise plays here, but a 60% reliability ratio is still very solid.
- Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks (41.50)
- Jarvis Landry, WR, Dolphins (38.90)
- Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks (38.20)
- Markus Wheaton, WR, Steelers (38.10)
- Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions (37.78)
- Brandon Marshall, WR, Jets (37.10)
- Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills (36.80)
- Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings (35.70)
- Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions (35.30)
- J. Anderson, RB, Broncos (34.30)
Facing the Steelers probably put the Seahawks on the map in week 12, but no one really saw Doug Baldwin coming (three touchdowns). He went on a tear from this point on to close 2015, but this was his first massive game of the year and few saw it coming.
Wheaton and Landry are pretty shocking here as top-5 plays, too. Wheaton blowing up against the Seahawks is weird, while Landry makes a little more sense, as he was quite productive all year to this point. Still, Landy gets his first top-10 performance of 2015 and helps give us four truly shocking DFS performances for the week. The other one is Anderson, who to this point was a huge re-draft bust and absolutely crushed the Patriots. That’s four random plays, but another solid 60% reliability rating.
- Allen Robinson, WR, Jaguars (46.30)
- Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans (40.92)
- Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers (40.80)
- Cam Newton, QB, Panthers (40.14)
- Buck Allen, RB, Ravens (38)
- Tom Brady, QB, Patriots (37.78)
- Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers (36.86)
- Blake Bortles, QB, Jaguars (35.78)
- Brandon Marshall, WR, Jets (34.10)
- Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks (34.06)
Week 13 was quite chalky near the top, as most of these guys were very solid throughout 2015, if not elite. Buck Allen’s huge game was a big surprise, while Mariota producing the #2 DFS outing was also a shock, even though this gave him his third appearance in a weekly top-10.
That’s two random performances out of the week 13 top-10, giving us a sparkly 80% reliability rating for the best DFS performers.
- Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants (38.60)
- Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks (32.28)
- Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks (32.20)
- Isaiah Crowell, RB, Browns (31.40)
- Tyler Lockett, WR, Seahawks (31.40)
- Eli Manning, QB, Giants (31.28)
- Todd Gurley, RB, Rams (30.70)
- Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins (30)
- Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Panthers (20.50)
- Golden Tate, WR, Lions (28.50)
Odell Beckham Jr. takes the top spot for the first time in 2015, but he was a sensation, as always, so it’s not at all shocking. Wilson and Baldwin were staple plays at this point thanks to an insane tear, so they’re not shocks to creep back inside the top-10 year again.
Manning, Gurley and Jordan Reed also are not really surprises. Manning and Gurley had finished as top-10 performers in the past, while all three of these guys were awesome in 2015.
There were a good amount of surprises in week 14’s top-10 list, though, with Crowell probably taking the cake with over 31 fantasy points. Despite his offense crushing, finding Tyler Lockett inside the top-5 was odd, while Ted Ginn and Golden Tate also randomly went nuts.
Even with some weird performances, there were just four truly random plays here and week 14 kept a nice 60% reliability ratio.
- Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers (49.90)
- Cam Newton, QB, Panthers (48.60)
- David Johnson, RB, Cardinals (47.90)
- Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos (39.50)
- Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins (38.86)
- Danny Woodhead, RB, Chargers (36)
- Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders (33)
- Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Vikings (32.94)
- Jordan Matthews, WR, Eagles (32.90)
- Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints (31.40)
This is probably the first week we can add an asterisk to the top-10, as some playoff teams began resting their top players as they prepared for post-season play.
Antonio Brown still dominated, though, and we saw familiar faces in Cam Newton and Kirk Cousins.
The week was off the wall from there, though, as the other seven guys inside the week 15 top-10 felt like at least borderline surprises. David Johnson was being used a ton already, but he really blew up with a three-touchdown game.
You could say Emmanuel Sanders, Brandin Cooks, Danny Woodhead and Amari Cooper weren’t total shocks, either, but it’s fair to say they weren’t overly expected to produce huge top-10 performances going into this week. Teddy Bridgewater’s big game, of course, was the most unexpected of all.
Overall, this was by far the worst week for chalk plays and DFS reliability, as just 30% of the top-10 performers were logical studs before week 15 arrived.
- Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins (36.90)
- DeAngelo Williams, RB, Steelers (36.30)
- Julio Jones, WR, Falcons (35.80)
- Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins (35.20)
- Tim Hightower, RB, Saints (34.90)
- Brandon Marshall, WR, Jets (34.50)
- Blake Bortles, QB, Jaguars (34.22)
- Allen Hurns, WR, Jaguars (33.60)
- Arizona Cardinals Defense (33)
- Drew Brees, QB, Saints (31.18)
Most of the week 16 top-10 plays were mainstays, with the only odd standouts being Tim Hightower and the Cardinals defense. Arizona was an insane play for the week, as they completely embarrassed the Green Bay Packers and became the first top-10 defense in a week on the year.
Hightower was just as crazy, as he went nuts for the Saints in a game against the Jaguars. Seemingly washed up and not at all explosive, Hightower came out of nowhere for 169 total yards and two scores. Arizona probably takes the cake here, though, as you probably needed them to take down a big GPP, given the lack of elite top-end scoring in week 16.
Overall, it was still a strong week in terms of top shelf reliability, with 80% of the elite plays making plenty of good sense.
- Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers (39.70)
- Cam Newton, QB, Panthers (32.72)
- Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions (32.70)
- Brandon Marshall, WR, Jets (29.60)
- Kellen Moore, QB, Cowboys (29.40)
- Houston Texans Defense (29)
- Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers (28.76)
- Rashad Jennings, RB, Giants (28.60)
- Terrance Williams, WR, Cowboys (28.30)
- Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills (27.60)
The final week of the 2015 NFL regular season was a bit wacky, but for the most part things were tame in daily fantasy football. Just one guy topped 33 fantasy points and we got only four true surprises in our top-10 list.
They were big ones, though, as Kellen Moore isn’t even a remotely passable quarterback and he nearly dropped 30 fantasy points on the DFS realm, Houston became just the second team defense to crack our elite list and both Rashad Jennings and Terrance Williams capped subpar seasons with beastly performances.
Despite some randomness to close out the final normal week, we still had 60% of the top-10 producing reliable top-shelf numbers.
Drew Brees recorded the biggest DFS NFL performance of the entire season in week eight against the Giants. This was a widely targeted game by DFS gamers, showing just how reliable the top shelf options can be.
Cam Newton finished as the best fantasy quarterback across season long fantasy football leagues and was just as good in daily fantasy football, owning three of the 10 best passing performances of 2015.
Of the 10 best DFS performances by quarterbacks in 2015, just two were truly random: Kirk Cousins and Marcus Mariota.
As amazing as David Johnson’s 47.90-fantasy point performance was in week 15, it still registered as the 5th best DFS outing in 2015.
Running back offered arguably the most randomness of all the positions, giving way to arguably 10 surprise outings inside the top-20 at the position in 2015.
Wide receiver was by far the most reliable position at DraftKings, which makes sense since players are awarded one point per reception. Five of the season’s top-10 performances belong to the wide receiver position, which isn’t at all shocking.
This is a spot where the elite players dominate, as well, with just 8 of the best 25 performances at the position seeming even remotely random.
There were some weird findings at tight end, as well. As great as Rob Gronkowski was in 2015, he owned the #1 tight end score just two times in the position’s top-10 performances.
The top tight end performance went to Jordan Reed, yet that DFS score was only good for 48th on the entire year. Reed, not surprisingly, was also arguably the most dominant tight end from a blow-up perspective, as he produced five of the season’s top-25 performances at the tight end position. Rob Gronkowski was second with four.
We set out to show daily fantasy football gamers whether or not the studs you look at each week really live up to their billing, or if daily fantasy football is more often than not simply random.
This data doesn’t tell the entire story, but it does tell you that when looking at the elite portion of the weekly DFS production, most of the time the guys that finish inside the top-10 aren’t random, completely lucky plays.
They’re also not always truly elite options like Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson, Odell Beckham Jr. and Rob Gronkowski, either. But most of the time the guys finishing inside the top-10 are largely reliable options you’d strongly consider using to begin with.
Hopefully this helps you see that daily fantasy football isn’t always random, and that you should be able to trust the elite options a little bit more. What we do know, of course, is you need to take advantage of the top sleepers, the obvious match-ups and also know when (and when not) to pay up for the best, most expensive studs at DraftKings.