Playing NFL Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) is like going to an amusement park. It's fun and can be a thrilling ride, but each DFS site is a different roller coaster, offering unique twists and turns as well as speeds and drops. Most people have their favorite. DFS is no different. And whether you are a first-time rider or an experienced veteran, there is a DFS site for you.
One of the biggest differences between regular fantasy football and DFS is the period of play. Standard fantasy football is often referred to as "seasonal fantasy" because it starts with Week 1 and typically goes through Week 16 or 17 of the NFL season. With DFS, one week, a specific set of games (the 4 p.m. Sunday matchup, for example) or a single game can be the entire start and end point, and DFS goes into the playoffs as well. In DFS, you're also competing against thousands of players in one contest instead of a handful of friends from home or work.
The key to winning a significant amount of money in a DFS contest is optimizing roster construction. Rosters are built by selecting players who have been assigned a pre-set salary (determined by the specific DFS site) while adhering to specified restrictions and rules, including a salary cap.
One of the most appealing things about DFS is that you aren't limited by what players you can put on your roster. In a seasonal league, the owner who ends up with the No. 1 overall pick will likely be the only one who gets Christian McCaffrey. However, the challenge with DFS is this: Are you going to spend 25 percent of your salary cap on McCaffrey, which forces you to be more economical with the rest of your lineup? Studs are great and can pay out, but quarterbacks aren't cheap, and they're pretty important too.
While DFS strategy is pretty similar across the sites, that doesn't mean every site is the same. We've got you covered, breaking down the main DFS sites to help you find the one that is right for you and won't leave you emptying your wallet.
The Big Two: DraftKings and FanDuel
Any discussion of DFS sites must begin with the Coke and Pepsi of the DFS world, DraftKings and FanDuel. Combined, they represent more than 90 percent of the market (which is a reason the FTC blocked their merger not long ago).
FanDuel was the first on the DFS map. Founded in 2009, the company grew quickly and reached a billion-dollar valuation in just six years. FanDuel has won multiple awards, highlighted by a Best Industries award from Inc. Magazine and two Webby Awards, for Best Sports App and Best Mobile Sports App. Based on entry fees and user entries, however, FanDuel is now the second-largest DFS service behind its younger brother, DraftKings.
DraftKings was founded in 2011 and acquired DraftStreet in '14. That also was the same year DraftKings added NFL DFS to its offerings and really began to take off. DraftKings recently made some noise again with its IPO in April that had Wall Street buzzing.
While we're not sure how either site's NFL offerings will look or function this coming season with so much uncertainty surrounding professional sports, it's safe to assume that based upon past history, DraftKings and FanDuel figure to be pretty similar. The two sites' differences often come down to personal preference.
For example, how much credit (points) do you think players should get for receptions? Both sites have nearly identical scoring, but FanDuel rewards half a point per catch, while DraftKings has full PPR scoring.
Another big difference is that DraftKings has basically eliminated the kicker from most of its fantasy games. FanDuel has lessened the use of the position as well but still includes it in many of its games.
Another difference is often the focus on the actual slates. Both sites will include the games that go Thursday through Monday as well as contests that focus on more specific aspects of a given week, such as early Sunday games or just "Monday Night Football." However, FanDuel tends to cater more towards individual games, while DraftKings focuses on a week in its entirety. So if you are looking to play three entries (or games) for all 14 games on a Sunday, DraftKings is often the better option. But if you want to play one entry in the Sunday night game, one entry in the early Sunday window, and another from the later afternoon matchups, FanDuel is often the better option. And again, both sites offer many options, but the number and variety often fall as detailed above.
And in the battle for market share, DraftKings' and FanDuel's promotional efforts are pretty prevalent, with both sites offering a variety of promotions, including referral deals. These special offers aren't just for new customers, either. Both sites will offer deals like "Play Game X this week and we'll give you a free entry for Game Y next week." Both sites also offer contests with bonus pots for specific achievements, such as fielding a defense that scores a TD, a QB who scores the most fantasy points that day, a RB or WR who goes for more than 200 yards, etc.
DraftKings and FanDuel will typically offer "freebies" as well, a great way to get your feet wet when first starting DFS. These are games that are free to play and typically pay out the top few hundred spots. But before you dive into freebies or a freebie-only policy, keep this in mind: They often have upwards of a million entries. So let's just assume it is a "smaller" one with around 200,000 entries. And even if the particular freebie pays out the top 200 spots, only the top 0.1 percent get a payout, and the top spots might not even net you a Jackson.
One other big difference between the two is their loyalty programs. FanDuel's is much simpler. If you play a certain amount of paid entries, you earn a certain level for that month as well as that level's rewards, which are typically similar to the freebies described above but with better payouts and fewer entries. DraftKings' loyalty program is a little more complicated, often requiring you to log in every day and claim that day's reward for the particular level you achieved based not just upon the amount of paid entries you played but also having reached other achievements and or completion of "missions."
If you are new to DFS, DraftKings or FanDuel offer a fine introduction. But if you're looking for something different, there are other options. Here are three others, starting with the site that is making up ground in terms of market share.
Yahoo! entered the DFS game late but was able to use its size and familiarity to become the distant No. 3 player fairly quickly. In many ways Yahoo! is similar to the two big boys in options and formats, minus the constant promotion and heavy advertising.
However, what Yahoo! does offer is a free "league" every football season. That league offers end-of-season payouts to the top 37,000, including $10,000 to the winner. It also offers smaller weekly prizes to those league entries that finish in the top 2,025 with first place winning a grand. Winning north of four figures is a Herculean feat, but any given week you could win yourself a buck or two. Not bad for a zero-dollar investment!
Here's one other widespread opinion that sets Yahoo! apart from DraftKings and FanDuel: The top-salaried options often are ridiculously overpriced, so conversely you can identify and roster "sleepers" at a rock-bottom cost. This is subjective, of course, and can vary week to week.
FantasyDraft made major inroads this year as the first in the industry to offer "rake-free" contests. Many have resisted DFS because the sites take a casino-like percentage of the pots. But for those who hate routinely giving up a percentage, FantasyDraft is for you. Depending on how much you want to play, you can pay "upfront" charges for the right to be rake-free.
FantasyDraft offers a seven-day free trial of their "Starter" membership (normally $5.99/month) and allows you to enter up to $1,000 per month in contests. There are seven total levels of membership, maxing out at their "Hall of Fame" tier for $999.99 per month that has no limit for high-volume players. You can change your membership level from one month to the next, and new players would be smart to start with a lower tier and move up once you get your feet wet.
True beginners can take advantage of FantasyDrafts' free membership option that limits the total amount you can enter to $100 or less a month. Regardless of your membership level, a couple of major victories untouched by the rake make the upfront costs worth your while.
There's a lot to like about FantasyDraft, but since it's "rake-free," you will not find overlay opportunities. Overlay is when a contest doesn't fill and the resulting payout shares are greater than the number of entrants. Overlays are becoming increasingly rare on the other sites, but they are now extinct on FantasyDraft, which can sometimes cause contests to cancel at the last minute.
It can be very frustrating when you enter a contest that has 25 slots with a lineup you love as perhaps the 23rd entry. To your dismay, you are the last one to join, and the contest doesn't run. Yes, your money is returned, but you lost an opportunity to win some cash with your golden lineup.
Fanball has its fair share of freebies, including its "Crush Charch" contest, where you can win entries for future contests if you beat its resident expert, Paul Charchian. And whether you beat Charch or not, cash payments are typically rewarded for the top entries as well.
But what really separates Fanball from some of the other DFS sites is that it typically has what is known as "Superflex" contests, which offer the ability to play two quarterbacks every week.