DraftKings’ NFL Millionaire Maker contests are popular because any football fan or data cruncher has a shot to become a millionaire on any given Sunday. The odds are long but a seven-figure score is attainable if your players catch fire (and a lot of passes).
What can we learn from the 2016 Millionaire Maker winning lineups, as we gear up for the 2017 NFL season? There’s no exact recipe for taking down the top prize, but we can glean valuable information from examining those lineups.
DraftKings hosted 14 Millionaire Maker (MM) contests last year, spanning Weeks 1-13, plus Week 17 of the NFL regular season. In order to help determine the characteristics of a million-dollar lineup, I looked at all the winning lineups from 2016 and broke them down based on salary allocation per position, ownership percentage, whether they contained a stack, and points per position. Analyzing these lineups proved to be beneficial because there are some identifiable trends that run alongside the variance that accompanies winning a large field Guaranteed Prize Pool (GPP). Let’s begin by taking a look at salary allocation and where last year’s millionaires decided to pay up or punt based on position.
Salary Allocation by Position
In order to get an overall understanding of the numbers, I’ll list each position with their average salary over the 14 weeks, as well as the min/max salary each position grouping saw throughout the season. To distinguish between the two running backs and three wide receivers in each lineup, RB1 is the more expensive back of the two in the lineup, while WR1-WR3 follow the same format, with WR1 being the most expensive and WR3 being the least expensive. The flex position makes this tricky, but I just followed the lineup card and will hit on flex details further along.
The first thing we see here is that WR1 and RB1 had the highest average salary allocation throughout the season, which makes sense as that is where the most valuable fantasy players reside. David Johnson or Le’Veon Bell found their way into the RB1 slot in HALF of the MM lineups last season, illustrating that RB1 isn’t a position where you want to get cute. The lowest salary came from Spencer Ware in Week 1, where he posted his season high score of 35.90. After Ware, the next closest salary was $6,000, and nine of the 14 RB1s cost at least $7,000. WR1 follows a similar path as RB1, as four winning lineups in 2016 included Julio Jones, along with the likes of Antonio Brown who landed there twice. Golden Tate is responsible for the lowest salary for a winner at $4,400, when he exploded for 33.8 points in Week 6.
Throughout the season, however, only three WR1s were below the $7,400 mark, and all three of those teams had Le’Veon Bell or David Johnson as their RB1, making it clear that you need to spend up at one or both of the major skill positions.
— DraftKings (@DraftKings) November 28, 2016
The position I found the most interesting was quarterback, where Weeks 1-5 saw an average salary of $7,340, but no quarterback selected from Weeks 6-13 held a salary over $6,200. I couldn’t quite pinpoint any distinctions between these weeks, but my guess is that once we found out who the weaker pass defenses were after five weeks, it was easier to spot value at the QB position. Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, and Philip Rivers were replaced by guys like Kirk Cousins, Marcus Mariota, Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick once we hit Week 6. Therefore, you might want to pay up for the more reliable quarterbacks in the beginning of the season, and wait until defenses demonstrate their tendencies before going bargain hunting at the QB position.
Beyond the primetime positions, we see that millionaire winners were more willing to pay up for a WR2 than a RB2, indicating a high priced WR tandem led to victory more often than not in 2016. Eight of 14 WR2s carried a salary of at least $6,200, while only 4 of 14 RB2s had a salary over $5,200. WR3 becomes almost purely a punt position, as the average salary of $4,379 only tops D/ST. Terrelle Pryor was the most valuable WR3 on the season, making three appearances in MM lineups in that position.
When it comes to TE, Flex, and D/ST, it’s hard to pinpoint anything distinct in terms of salary trends. There’s about an equal number of punt plays, mid-tier guys and studs when you look at the distribution, so we’ll rely on our other measurements to help when it comes to picking those positions.
Ownership Percentage by Position
Ownership percentage has to be one of the most frequently discussed topics when it comes to GPPs in DFS. It’s the ultimate game theory question of “Who is everyone else going to play?” and “Is it worth playing Le’Veon Bell against the Browns at 30+% ownership?” It’s hard to come to conclusions sometimes when building lineups, and trying to take down a GPP can make you overthink things. Hopefully the next few paragraphs will help to calm your fears and remain confident when building GPP lineups this season.
Let’s start by getting an overview of ownership by position:
What stands out most to me in this table is the maximum column, where we see that the secret to winning a large GPP isn’t just to select players that nobody else will be on, as seven of the nine positions saw ownership above 30% at a given position, and four won with ownership over 40%! This really surprised me, as I thought being contrarian was one of the most important parts of winning GPPs, but at the end of the day you have to worry a little less about ownership and a little more about the points each player can provide.
Right off the bat we see that lower-owned quarterbacks led to more Millionaire Maker winners last season. We only saw three winning lineups contain a quarterback over 10% owned, and half of the winning lineups had a quarterback less than 5% owned. The average at 6.24% along with our average salary indicates a quarterback that’s middle priced and not highly owned is the best way to take down a GPP.
The RB1 position also stands out prominently, as 8 of 14 winning lineups had an RB1 at over 25%, and two saw backs come in at over 40% ownership. If we discard LeSean McCoy’s 1.8% ownership against the Cardinals in Week 3, every RB1 had more than 10% ownership. Don’t get cute when picking your RB1 this season. Your deviations can be made elsewhere.
RB2 is definitely more of a crapshoot, as 7 of 14 lineups had an RB2 with less than 8% ownership, while five lineups had one with more than 17%, including two over 35%. The consistency among RB2s comes more with their skill set, as Theo Riddick finds himself on this list twice, as well as pass catching backs in C.J. Prosise and Shane Vereen. A great avenue to value is to find cheap RBs who can rack up catches in DraftKings’ PPR format.
Diving into the WRs, we see the WR1 and WR2 options will likely see decent ownership, as 20 of the 28 WRs saw ownership above 10%, and only four were below 5% ownership. This doesn’t seem like the place to go completely contrarian either, as the most notable receivers are littered throughout the winning lineups. WR3 is definitely the place where the big money is won. We only see two WR3s with ownership above 10.3% and 9 of 14 registered below 6% owned. With the lowest average salary and second lowest average percentage owned, the WR3 position is the toughest to select, but is likely the decision that will lead you to the promised land.
The TE position helps us a little more in this section than in salary allocation, as least for its consistency. Every TE was 15%-owned or lower, and half ranged between 10-15%, while the other half were below 10%. Tight ends are always my least favorite position to pick, because it’s almost always a touchdown-dependent result, which is inherently difficult to predict.
The most variance in any position comes from the Flex, as we have ownership percentages of 0.3% and 0.4% represented, as well as a 35.7% and 65.5%. But, we do see that 10 of 14 Flex players came in below 10% owned, showing it’s another good position to differentiate since it offers the most options. Throughout the season we saw 7 RBs, 6 WRs, and 1 TE make their way into the flex position, so this spot is really all up to you and dependent on how you want to differentiate your lineup.
Lastly, we see a slight leaning towards lower-owned D/STs, as 10 of 14 selections fell below 11% ownership. However, the chalk can still bring home a winner, as the Vikings, Rams, and Cardinals delivered MM winners at over 21% ownership.
Should I Stack Within My Lineups?
Player/team stacking is one of the most common ways to win baseball GPPs, but is it viable in NFL DFS? And if so, what positions should I be stacking?
When looking at the Millionaire Maker results from 2016, the answer is a resounding yes. Ten of the 14 winning lineups contained a stack involving the QB, with 8 of those 10 using a QB-WR combo, and the outliers coming from a Marcus Mariota-Delanie Walker stack as well as a Kirk Cousins-Jamison Crowder-Jordan Reed stack in Week 11. Five of those winning stacks contained a QB-WR1 combo, three with a QB-WR2 combo, and two with a QB-WR3 combo. The flex is included in two of these stacks, as Robert Kelley completes the Washington four-man stack in Week 11, and Dennis Pitta paired up with Joe Flacco and Mike Wallace in Week 13.
— DraftKings (@DraftKings) November 21, 2016
Of the 10 total stacks, seven were just a two-player stack, plus one QB-WR2-WR3 stack, one QB-RB1-WR1 stack, and one four player stack that consisted of a QB-WR2-TE-FLEX (RB). Initially we see that it’s rare to find a running back in a stack, as Devonta Freeman is the only RB1 or RB2 to make one, as games are usually tilted one way or the other when it comes to run or pass. Freeman hauled in five passes for 81 yards that week and only carried the ball 12 times, so we can understand why this is an outlier.
— DraftKings (@DraftKings) January 2, 2017
The clear best option when it comes to stacking is to fire up the QB and WR1 together. That occurred in 5 of the 10 stacks. WR1s averaged 35.7 points when paired with their QB, which obviously impacts how well the quarterback does in that given week. Overall, QB-WR stacks should be favored more than any other, as a QB-TE only took down just one stack by itself, and no QB-RB stack won without the help of a WR or TE.
Point Breakdown by Position
This table is perfect to look at right after the stacking section, as it indicates that the QB-WR1 choices are the most important when constructing a GPP lineup, backing up what we just learned.
The numbers indicate how important it is to get at least 30 points when choosing a QB, as only three quarterbacks below 30 found themselves in the winning lineup. Also, four of the five top QB scores were found in a QB-WR stack, showing just how potent those can be.
The running back positions really stand out to me here, as RB1s averaged just one point more than RB2s despite bringing 10% more ownership and over $2,000 more in salary, on average. Therefore, even though it’s a good move to go with chalk at RB1, finding a low-owned RB2 that performs well is just as important when it comes to scoring.
Wide receivers represent a more natural waterfall effect based on position, but the numbers continue to underscore how important it is to nail your WR1; they come in with a lower average ownership percentage than WR2s, but are responsible for six more points on average. Also, the difference between WR2 and WR3 is smaller than the salary numbers would indicate, as the average price drops down by $1,700 for WR3s, yet they’re responsible for just two points fewer than WR2s.
Tight ends just haven’t given us much to go off of so far, and it doesn’t change here. Once again, this will be my least favorite position to choose in DFS.
Ah, here is where the Flex position rears its head and demands our attention. We haven’t discerned thus far, but the 31.14 average points from the position really jumps off the page. I would have never guessed the Flex would be responsible for the third most points, especially when the salary numbers heavily favor RB1s and WR1s. Once again, though, the flex position stands out as the place to really differentiate your lineup and get the most bang for your buck.
Defense and Special Teams is the ultimate wildcard, and should definitely rank low on your priority list when building GPP lineups. Six D/STs scored 10 points or fewer in route to taking down the MM, so make sure to prioritize every other position before choosing a defense.
So, what does all of this mean?
When looking at all of this data, there’s five takeaways to consider when building GPP lineups this upcoming fall:
- Choose QBs you can rely on early in the season, and bargain hunt once defenses reveal their true nature. Also, shoot for 30+ points out of QB.
- Stack QBs and WRs. It’s the most common path to becoming a millionaire. QB-WR1 and QB-WR2 were found in 8 of 14 winning lineups.
- Look for the most value and “boom” potential in your flex position, as it provides the most differentiation from competing lineups and contained the most value in 2016 winning lineups.
- Don’t be afraid of chalky RB1s: the average ownership was 24.06% in 2016.
- D/ST is the least important factor in building winning lineups. Save it for last.
The saying goes that past is prologue. Let’s find out if that applies to Millionaire Maker results in 2017.
Mark Dankenbring (affectionately known as Dank) graduated from Miami University (OH) with degrees in Sports Management and Business Analytics. He’s been playing fantasy sports for nearly 10 years and has started to invest much of his time playing DFS since his graduation in May of 2017. He’s a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan and currently lives in Cincinnati, OH. Follow him on Twitter @MarkDank.