Chapter 1: Research with Headchopper
At its core, daily fantasy football is about transforming research into quality lineups, and the best players find a way to research in the most efficient ways possible. To discuss the research aspect of daily fantasy sports, I spoke with Headchopperāwidely considered one of the gameās most elite players. Heās the 2013 DFBBC Champion, a three-time FFFC finalist, a two-time DFFC finalist, PFBC finalist, PFFC finalist, and DSBBC finalist. He was also the runner-up for 2012 Tournament Player of the Year.
Headchopper has been ranked near the top of the RotoGrinders leaderboards since 2009, as high as the No. 3 overall daily fantasy player in the world. Hereās a look at his current ranks in each sport.
Currently ranked as a top 20 NFL player in the world, Headchopper is more than qualified to dish out daily fantasy research advice.
What are your favorite sites to use when researching for daily fantasy football?
My favorite is probably RotoGrinders. They have so many awesome tools and everything is right there, man. I like to use the tools to check player values and see what some of the other experts are thinking. And I can check a lot of different stats right there tooātargets, red zone stats, stuff like that. Plus you get everything for free if you sign up for a site through their links.
Pro Football Focus also has some good information. Thatās really a nice blend of stats and film, and Iām just as much of a film guy for football as stats, so thatās helpful stuff. Itās nice to see the stuff you see on film quantified, and they have a lot of unique stats like air yards and yards before contact. I also check out Football Outsiders, which is a similar type of thing, although more stats-based.
But like I said, I really prefer to watch film whenever possible because sometimes NFL stats can be a little misleading, so I subscribe to NFL Game Rewind. That allows me to go back and watch any game, and you can also check out the coachesā film, which is nice. Thatās really the biggest thing for me. I really like to watch the footage; sometimes the stats can be really helpful but sometimes you just need to see whatās going on.
In terms of reading analysis and stuff like that, I donāt really do too much of it. My research is mainly just looking up different stats and watching the games. I have a few other players whose opinions I trust, so I consult with them and Iāll read their stuff from time to time if they write, but for the most part I kind of like to do my own thing.
Thereās so much information out there that everything gets so watered down. You can find different opinions on just about every player or game, so I try not to get affected by that stuff too much. Itās more about just doing my own research and drawing my own conclusions so that Iām not biased one way or the other from something I read.
How important is a routine to you?
A routine is extremely important for me, personally. Iāve made plenty of trips out to Vegas and L.A. and wherever to do the competitions for football, baseball, and basketball. Iām not using it as an excuse or anything, but itās extremely difficult for me to get out of my routine.
You go there and you might be on a different computer, you might be out doing stuff when youād normally be in researching in your normal groove. For me, I really rely on that normal everyday routine. I have everything on my desktop computer and my play can suffer when I get away from it. Thatās something I really want to try to fix as I travel, but for guys who are on the road a lot, thatās just an extra challenge thrown in there.
Do you start your research with site salaries or wait to look at those?
Yeah I donāt look at the salaries until really late in the process. I start off by looking at the matchups, just trying to find guys who I like and donāt like. I think thatās most important in football, because if I really like a guy, Iāll pretty much find a way to get him in there, and if Iām really down on a guy, it almost doesnāt even matter what his salary is. The value and stuff is important, but itās more important to just figure out who is going to play well, who isnāt, and then go from there.
Which stats do you value most in the NFL?
For quarterbacks, I actually prefer to look at numbers on the secondary before doing anything else. Quarterbacks are a little bit of a different breed, so Iām looking at secondary stats on Pro Football Focus and RotoGrinders. Itās pretty easy to know which quarterbacks are bestāitās not really hard to determine like it might be for another positionāso I like to first look at the defense and grade the matchup.
For running backs, I like yards-per-carry. I know some people donāt like that as much because it can get thrown off by long runs, but if a guyās YPC is inflated from long runs, that probably means heās explosive. And YPC in general is generally a pretty good indicator of offensive line strength.
For receivers, the number one thing for me is touchdowns. Thereās certain types of players who score a lot, and particular players just get way more chances to score a lot. Scoring from 30 or 40 yards out is a fluky sort of thing, so red zone targets is probably the most important stat for me.
If youāre seeing a ton of red zone looks, youāre going to have a much higher chance of scoring, and thatās gonna bump you up on my list quite a bit. Sometimes a receiver might be a little unlucky with how often heās converting those targets into touchdowns, but if itās a guy I know can score, I just care that heās getting the red zone looks and will keep getting āem.
How do you know when to trust the numbers and when to go with your gut?
Iād say on the range of subjectivity, Iām definitely more of an instinct player than someone who sits down with a spreadsheet and tries to work out matchups and stats. I definitely understand that aspect of it and I consider those stats in my research, but thatās not something that I personally do.
I think that ultimately you still need to have a feel for it and have some sort of instinct for it. I read a lot less expert stuff these days just because I think it can sort of cloud my own judgments. In the end, you need to figure it out for yourself.
One thing Iāll say is that even though itās about trusting your instincts, that doesnāt mean you canāt improve your āgutā by using stats or other objective means. That stuff can help shape you as a player and help you make better decisions. But if youāre just blindly following those numbers or listening to what a particular analyst says, thatās not going to help much in the long run.
How do you know when to trust or overlook player news? Do you use Twitter?
As far as player news, I really donāt pay much attention to that stuff. The only thing I really care about is the injury stuff. If thereās an injury concern, then Iāll try to dig through that information and figure out whatās likely to happen with him. You have to dig a lot sometimes because the reporters are wrong a lot, or else theyāre getting bad information because teams arenāt that willing to disclose injury news.
But as far as generic player news like if a guy is expected to do well, I donāt care about that stuff, man. Like I said, I really donāt follow the analysis type of stuff. There are so many differing opinions out there that you can find whatever you want. And even in terms of injury stuff, I just want straight reporting instead of any type of predictions. The āthis guy is battling through an injuryā stuff isnāt helpful to me. If youāre healthy enough to be in the lineup, then Iām going to play you if youāre ready to go.
In terms of Twitter, I really donāt use it a whole lot for NFL stuff, to be honest. I donāt even have anyone specific I follow for NFL news on there. Thatās more important for basketball and baseball.
When doing research, are you looking more at a specific player/team, or do you care more about matchups?
Well let me put it like this: in baseball, itās 99 percent matchup stuff. Itās basically all matchup-based. In basketball, itās the opposite end of the spectrum; itās completely value-based. I know who the great players are in a given night, matchups donāt matter as much, and Iām just looking to see how much value I can get out of you.
I think football is a mix of those two sports. You want the value in terms of the salary, you know, but you also need to consider the matchup. Itās just a unique situation because neither one should be the only thing you consider, or even close.
Sometimes you can kind of disregard a poor matchup if the value is there, and other times a guy might have a juicy matchup and you might be a little more hesitant because of his salary. But you canāt just load up on one or the other. If youāre purely value-based, you might not have the best team just in terms of putting up a whole lot of points. Some guys might be poor values but can just go for 200 yards in any game.
If youāre strictly matchup-based, youāre ignoring a big part of puzzle. If we just stuck to matchups, everyone would have pretty much the same lineup. You canāt just plug in a running back whoās playing the worst run defense or something like that. But Iāve seen plenty of times when good offenses just explode on great defenses and not a lot of people used players from the game because it was considered a bad matchup.
Actually, that sort of thing happens every week in the NFL and a big part of playing daily fantasy football is figuring out when itās going to happen. If you can identify a situation where a team is going to maybe perform a little bit better than the matchup suggests or when a single player might bust out even though he doesnāt appear to offer value, thatās a big advantage.
So I care about matchups and value, but not to the extent that either one by itself defines who Iām going to play. Itās a mix.
Headchopper mentioned NFL Game Rewind and I really canāt emphasize enough how useful that is for daily fantasy football. Thanks to NFL Game Rewind, Iām able to watch every play from every game every week. Football is a sport that canāt be completely explained with data, at least not at this point, so thereās value in studying the film.
The coachesā film is particularly useful because you can key in on certain players really easilyāwide receivers or cornerbacks especially. Iām obviously still a data-driven player and I donāt think thereās a substitute for the analytics, but it helps to understand the foundation for those numbers, which watching tape can do.
Thereās also a ton of value in a daily routine, which headchopper touched on. For me, that means getting in leagues early so I donāt have the stress of doing it all at the last minute, finishing all of the research that I can before injury reports come out, and so on. I like to monitor the activity of the Vegas lines, too. Doing all of that stuff at a set time is important; as you improve that process, you can really make it more efficient so that you can ultimately do more research and make better lineups.
A final thing that I want to note is that I actually create a lineup right after games have ended from the previous week. So on Monday night or Tuesday morning, Iāll make a lineup before doing any sort of researchājust my gut feel.
Once I do all of my research for the week, I come back to that lineup once the weekend rolls around and I look at what I initially liked about those players. When my research coincides with my gut, Iāll definitely target those players. When it doesnāt, Iāll examine it more to see why I either liked a player who the numbers suggest isnāt a good play, or why I didnāt like a player who maybe I should have been on.
I donāt simply trust my gut and I typically side with the numbers, but I think I can make good natural decisions and I have a decent feel for players and situations, so I always prefer my hunches to match up with the data. Making a lineup at the start of the week makes sure itās all about āfeelā instead of being pulled one way or the other by the numbers.
Headchopper is one of the best NFL players out there, and he makes a lot of good points here. One of my favorite is that he searches for touchdown-scoring ability in receivers. Touchdowns are far less replaceable than yards and first downs, and we see the same type of receivers continually dominate near the goal line.
Hereās a look at wide receiver and tight end red zone efficiencyāthe percentage of red zone targets converted into scoresābroken down by weight.
Iāve done more research on touchdown-scoring ability than anything else in fantasy football, and weight is the biggest predictor of touchdowns for receivers. Itās actually amazing how closely the two are linkedāeven more so than height. NFL offenses continually undervalue the role of tight ends and big receivers near the goal line (even though they use them, it should be even more).
In terms of actionable advice, I think it makes sense to target receivers who are 1) going to see a lot of red zone targets and 2) likely to convert those into touchdowns. Thatās especially true in tournaments when you want as much upside as possible.
Slot receivers who see a high volume of targets can be useful in certain leagues on PPR sites, but they still donāt possess elite upside if they canāt score on a consistent basis. Ideally, your wide receivers should weight 210-plus (and preferably more) and have a history of red zone success.