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Testing the Human Element in Daily Fantasy Football: A Randomized-Control Trial

Can three Turf writers beat a computer at Daily Fantasy Sports? We’re going to find out and we’re going to do it through SCIENCE.

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Testing the Human Element in Daily Fantasy Football: A Randomized-Control Trial


Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Background: Here at the Turf, we have attempted to use a combination of reasoning, statistics, and gut-feelings to find success in daily fantasy football. To put it simply, we think we know our stuff. But we aren’t going to take our own word for it, and neither should you. Therefore, we propose to measure our DFS prowess through a rigorous, scientifically-sound experiment, and answer a question that has baffled fantasy-sports scientists for decades: when it comes to daily fantasy football, does the human element provide any advantage over computers?

Methods: The Turf staff will conduct a 17-week randomized control trial. Each week, our most brilliant DFS minds will create a classic Sunday-slate lineup in DraftKings that we think will go to the moon and beyond. We will compare that lineup’s score to that of a lineup randomly generated by a computer, and see who comes out on top. To prevent the introduction of bias, or the ability to “gameplan”, we will choose their lineup prior to the creation of the randomly-generated lineup.

Endpoints: The primary endpoint of this trial will be the head-to-head season record of 17 weekly matchups between the study lineup (the Turf’s), and the control lineup (random generation). A secondary endpoint will be the total points accumulated across all 17 weeks for both the study and control lineups.

TL;DR: Three of us are trying to see if we can beat a computer at Daily Fantasy Sports, specifically Daily Fantasy Football on DraftKings.


Week 1 – Study Lineup and Rationale

QB – Lamar Jackson ($8,100) – Lamar Jackson is a tough challenge for any defense, let alone one that has had zero pre-season snaps against real opponents. Jackson could have a field day on an unprepared Cleveland defense.

RB – Zach Moss ($4,400) – He’s such a sleeper, Draft Kings doesn’t even have a picture of him up yet on their site.

RB – James White ($6,000) – Reliable receiver who will also see 5-10 carries a game, White is a safety-valve on an offense lacking other weapons. White also has the ability to be that outlet for Cam in the same way that McCaffrey was in Carolina.

WR – T.Y. Hilton ($5,800) – We like the price point here for a WR1 facing a very shaky Jacksonville secondary.

WR – Davante Parker ($6,000) – We expect Parker to be a low-ownership play among big-money WRs. Many players are probably scared off by the thought of a matchup with Stephon Gilmore, but Parker’s 8 receptions/137 yard stat line against New England in Week 17 last season gives us hope.

WR – Scotty Miller ($4,000)Tom Brady reportedly had a great rapport in camp with Miller, and Tom loves reliable route-runners in the slot. Good value here.

TE – Dan Arnold ($3,500) – Maybe the biggest sleeper in our lineup, but one that could be a steady option for Kyler Murray. He’s been better than Maxx Williams in the receiving department through training camp, and the San Francisco defense will have their hands full in covering DeAndre Hopkins and Larry Fitzgerald. Plus, ask yourself if you ever knew what this guy looks like… Now Google him… Were you close?

FLEX – Christian McCaffrey ($10,000) – See our rationale for Lamar Jackson. It should also be noted that in order to beat the best, you also have to be the best. Sleepers themselves do not a winning lineup make. You need to build around one or two studs. McCaffrey and Jackson are just that.

DST – WAS Football Team ($2,000) – This pick is more about the inconsistency we expect from the Eagles’ offense than the talent on defense for Washington. Seriously, can you consider the Eagles an elite offense? No, you can’t. So in this case, we’re going big with a defense that should have seriously low ownership.


Week 1 – Control Lineup

So here’s the interesting bit. Our control lineup is created by an online optimizer picked at random. However, due to DraftKings Terms of Service, we have to manually select two players to build around. So, we took the consensus picks for DFS Locks in week one. See if you can spot the two studs for yourself.

QB – Lamar Jackson ($8,100) – Hey it’s the first consensus must-play, mortal lock of Week 1. Of course, it’s going to be Lamar Jackson. The Ravens QB was an absolute stud in 2019, and there are no signs that he’ll slow down in 2020. Add that to a Week 1 matchup against division rival Cleveland, and you have yourself a recipe for explosive action.

RB – Christian McCaffrey ($10,000)And just like that, we’ve got consensus must-play, mortal lock of Week 1, Numero Dos. McCaffrey is primed to pick up where he left off in 2020, and that starts Week 1 against the Las Vegas Raiders and their middle-of-the-league defense.

RB – Alvin Kamara ($7,200) – Okay. Okay. Okay. I see where this is going. We’re going big studs at the mega point positions, and smaller at the WR2, TE, and FLEX positions. I see you. That being said, I don’t like Kamara against the Bucs defense. No way. And for that kind of money, you could’ve had Austin Ekeler, Aaron Jones, and Josh Jacobs and a better matchup. Weird. But that’s a random lineup for you.

WR – DK Metcalf ($5,800) – So we’re both going with Wideouts that have initials for first names. Sick. Atlanta also gives Metcalf and the Seahawks a slightly better matchup, but DK has to compete with the likes of Tyler Lockett for attention. Could be a toss-up.

WR – Marquise Brown ($5,100) – The mini-stack play with Jackson is solid, but is Brown the right Raven? Could be. Especially with the slim options at TE, and the serious money spent already, opting for Brown over a guy like Mark Andrews might be a sneaky move.

WR – Parris Campbell (3,900) – Interesting. Will Phil Rivers spread the ball around in his first game as a Colt? Will Parris Campbell factor in enough to make a splash in game one? That’s a risk you’ve got to be willing to take against a middle-of-the-road Jacksonville defense.

TE – Jack Doyle ($3,600) – Seriously? At this point just pick Phil Rivers and get it over with. Is there something we missed? Has Jacksonville just decided to forfeit early and send in the practice squad? Are they leaning hard into another tanked season for the hopes of a rebuild? Is it Trevor Lawrence time in Jacksonville? Is that why there are so many Colts in this lineup?

FLEX – Chris Herndon ($3,300) – Huh… A Tight-End at the Flex? Chris Herndon? One catch in 2019-20 for seven yards, Chris Herndon? That’s one catch for seven yards more than anyone of us had last year. This is a deep sleeper pick. And frankly… it seems like a hail mary, which is something Chris Herndon has not caught in his career.

The computer also kind of boxed themselves into this pick. The FLEX options at the $3,300 level are slim, but they go against the computer’s motives. Quintez Cephus is a DEEP SLEEP option, but a solid play if Golladay is out for Detroit. There’s also Nick Boyle, who’d be another part of the Ravens mini-stack, but he’s playing behind Mark Andrews… so why would you do that? Leaving Herndon and their other option, Tyler Eifert, as the best possible options. But Eifert plays for JACKSONVILLE, and guess who the computer picked for a defense…

DST – IND Indianapolis Colts ($3,000) – Okay, so there it is. Go HARD against the Jaguars because they’re trash. Got it.


Can we beat the computer? Does the human element provide any advantage over computers? Are we too stupid to even compete? There’s no way to know, but we’re willing to find out.


Do you know someone who thinks they’re Bill Belichick when it comes to Fantasy Football, but in reality, they’re Lane Kiffin? Let them know! Send them a TurfBurn!

Turf Burns are a way to buy real estate in your league’s heads the old fashioned way: The United States Postal Service.

Want to embarrass someone on a weekday? Send them a Turf Burn to their office.

Want their spouse and family to know how badly you annihilated their roster last week? Send them one at home!

Want to send one every week, as your calling card? Guess what?! Turf Burns can do that.

Turf Burns. It’s a touchdown celebration sent through the mail!

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