Contrarian Strategies in Daily Fantasy Sports Lineups

A contrarian strategy means going against the grain when it comes to DFS player ownership. It is a high risk, high reward strategy.

Matt Brown
By Matt BrownPublished: April 29, 2024
Contrarian Strategies in Daily Fantasy Sports Lineups
Bryse Wilson might not be a star draft pick, but if the numbers point to him having a stellar night, he might be worth the pick.

DFS tournaments are notorious for their competitive nature and the extreme difficulty of coming out on top. Despite the challenge, the massive payouts draw thousands of players to every tournament.

Many players tend to follow popular strategies, picking athletes who are universally recognized for their strong stats and high-scoring probabilities. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; after all, you want to rack up as many fantasy points as possible to come out on top.

However, adopting a contrarian approach can significantly differentiate your lineup, giving you a unique advantage. That's because there's less of a chance of essentially sharing those points across the board. If everyone else is picking the same players, everyone gets the same points, and therefore, there is less of a chance for you to come out on top.

Understanding the Contrarian Approach

A contrarian strat in DFS involves selecting players who are anticipated to have low ownership in tournaments.

The main idea behind this approach is straightforward — when your low-owned players perform surprisingly well, you gain a massive edge over a large portion of the competition whose lineups are similar and centered around popular choices.

The uniqueness of your lineup can catapult you to the top of the leaderboards, especially in large-field tournaments on major DFS sites like FanDuel and DraftKings.

The Psychology of Going Contrarian

It's a tough play as it's counterintuitive, but it's worth it.

Playing contrarian isn't just about being different for the sake of it. It requires a deep understanding of the game, the players, and current sports dynamics.

Most importantly, it taps into our own psychological biases.

Many players avoid risks, preferring to follow the crowd by selecting well-known, consistently high-performing athletes. They see the potential FP on the board and want a piece that is totally understandable.

By zagging when others zig, a contrarian player exploits this herd mentality, banking on less obvious choices that could yield high returns.

You really have to go into the game with a different mindset. You have to know that you're going to pick unpopular players that you're hoping to have a career game.  While the DFS site is predicting a low value for the player, you're banking on them being hot because you did your research.

Identifying Sleeper and Undervalued Players

The cornerstone of a successful contrarian lineup is the ability to identify players who are undervalued by the majority but have the potential to produce significant points.

Analyzing Matchups and Conditions

One way to spot these players is by examining matchups and playing conditions that might favor an otherwise overlooked player.

For example, a running back facing a team that struggles against the run might be a prime candidate, especially if he's had recent underwhelming performances that might deter other DFS players from picking him. Take a look at the 2023 Arizona Cardinals. They had the worst run defense for the season allowing 2,434 rushing yards throughout the season. That's over 100 yards worse than the 2nd worst run defense. 

In this case, you'll want to use an RB that might not be a star. The coach of the Cards' opponent knows that their run defense is trash and will try to exploit that any way possible.

Leveraging Advanced Metrics

Advanced metrics can also provide insight that goes beyond basic stats like touchdowns, batting averages, or goals.

Metrics such as target share for receivers in football or usage rate in basketball can indicate potential high performers who aren't on every player's radar.

We like to look at the last few games for a player and deep dive into these less popular stat categories. This tells us if the player we're analyzing is heating up even though the predicted fantasy points isn't all that spectacular.

Strategies for Implementing a Contrarian Lineup

Simply choosing any player with low ownership won't automatically lead to success. The art of a contrarian lineup lies in intelligent, informed choices that balance risk with potential reward.

Finding the Players

The first thing you need to do is find players that aren't in high-demand. There really is no easy way of doing this as the fantasy sites don't show the ownership percentage until after you draft and then it's too late.

The best way to find these gems is by using a site like FantasyLabs that will use their own proprietary software to figure out how much a player is owned.

Once you find the low-ownership players, now it's time to analyze their stats and find out if they're going to boom or bust.

Balancing your Lineup

While it's tempting to fill your lineup with sleeper picks, a balanced approach often works best.

This means integrating a few low-owned players with a foundation of reliable athletes. This strategy mitigates risk while still allowing for the differentiation necessary to climb tournament standings.

In a perfect world, you could pick all sleepers and hidden gems and absolutely dominate the league, but that's not always the case. Remember, these sleepers don't regularly rack up the FP, but you're trying to find the few that will have a breakout game.

Timing your Contrarian Plays

Understanding when to employ a contrarian strategy can also affect its success. It's not something you will want to do for every tournament, as it doesn't always pan out.

For instance, in weeks where popular players have particularly advantageous matchups, going against the grain might be less beneficial. On the other hand, on a play slate where no clear favorites are present, contrarian choices might dominate.

If you're set on a contrarian play, and the matchups don't line up just right, then you might want to skip out on that tournament.

Potential Benefits and Risks

The benefits of a contrarian DFS strategy are fairly straightfoward — higher potential rewards and less competition for those rewards. However, the risks are equally significant. Betting on lower-owned players can lead to disappointing results if your analysis misses the mark.

High Risk, High Reward

The volatility of this approach can lead to both spectacular successes and notable failures. That's why we mentioned that you shouldn't put all of your eggs in this one basket.

As such, managing your bankroll and not overly relying on contrarian strategies in every tournament is a no-brainer. We recommend spreading out your risk and only leveraging the strat when all stats and metrics are pointing to your success.

Adapting to Changing Dynamics

A successful contrarian DFS player must also be adaptable and ready to adjust strategies based on the latest player news, injuries, and other factors that could impact player performance and ownership.

You're hunting after hidden gems, and these aren't always apparent (if they were, everyone would draft them). With that, even after you have that player added to your list of potential draft picks, keep an eye on their news for any changes.

Is the Contrarian DFS Strategy for you?

A contrarian strategy in DFS is not just about picking the least popular players; it's about making smart, well-informed decisions that capitalize on the overlooked value.

It requires a blend of psychological insight, thorough analysis, and strategic risk management.

For those willing to do their homework, have the stomach to make a counterintuitive pick, and think outside the box, the contrarian approach can be a powerful tool in DFS tournaments, leading to both exciting and profitable outcomes.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown

Head of DFS

Matt's deep-rooted enthusiasm for sports betting and daily fantasy sports infuses the EatWatchDraft team with valuable expertise in football, hockey, and baseball. His forward-thinking perspectives are grounded in a solid academic foundation, including a B.S. in Aeronautical Computer Science and an M.S. in Project Management. This combination of sports passion and technical knowledge fuels Matt's innovative input to the platform.