Innovation in football is often high-risk, and the only way to find out what works is to try it. That seems to be the attitude that daily fantasy sports powerhouses DraftKings and FanDuel are taking as we close in on the start of football season. Both are shaking up their offerings and throwing their fair share of flea-flickers at the wall to see what sticks.
Here’s a look at everything that’s brand new, kinda new, extremely different, or slightly tweaked on both DFS sites heading into the first snap of the season:
Kickers get the boot
If you’ve ever played fantasy football on FanDuel, you’ve probably felt the frustration of putting together that lineup where everything clicks except your kicker. In a way, that’s an accurate reflection of real football, a game in which muscled-up mega-athletes and 350-pound behemoths bang shoulderpads for 59 minutes and 59 seconds and then a 140-pound specialist comes in and decides the whole game with one swing of his leg. Still, the randomness of the kicker’s fantasy fortunes can suck a lot of the fun (and skill) out of playing DFS.
So this season, FanDuel has ditched the kicker. In standard DFS football contests, FD has replaced the “K” position with a “FLEX,” which can be either a third running back, fourth wide receiver, or second tight end. The kicker era on FanDuel is over.
Except where it isn’t.
In addition to its standard “Full Roster” contests, FD offers “Single Game” contests and a new experimental format called “QuickPick Kickers.” In the former, you can put kickers into your “AnyFLEX” positions; in the latter you must play kickers in at least four of your six roster spots.
Apparently, some habits are hard to … uh … kick.
Need a little help?
FanDuel has a history of seeking to be accommodating to new players, most notably by offering beginners-only contests for the past two-plus years. Now the DFS site is lending a helping hand in two new ways:
- Guru is a new research tool that guides players through the lineup selection process and simplifies decisions for those users who are perhaps new and uncomfortable with the overwhelming number of options at each position. Guru recommends three players at each position that fit your remaining salary needs and offers advice on lineup-building strategies.
- FanDuel is offering what it called in a press release “enhanced research and scoring,” which includes “expert opinions and analysis from a wide range of trusted media outlets, including numberFire and Rotogrinders.” Users can also track the scoring of players not in their lineups and will have access to complete box scores from every game.
Free to enter and not at all DFS-ish
Everybody loves a freeroll, and FanDuel is offering two of them this NFL season. But they have nothing at all to do with DFS. These free-to-play contests center around picking winning teams in actual NFL games, a task that has much more in common with sports betting than with DFS.
- One is a standard season-long Survivor contest, in which players pick a different team to win each week and everyone left standing after Week 17 gets a piece of the $250K prize pool.
- The other is a weekly Pick’em, in which a $10K prize pool is divvied up each week among everyone who predicts the winners (no point spreads) of every NFL game on the Sunday/Monday slate correctly.
And one last change at FD before we walk across the street to see what DK’s been up to: After a two-year absence, FanDuel has re-entered the Texas market after previously expressing uncertainty about the legality of its offerings in the Lone Star State. This brings to 37 the number of states in which most or all DFS operators are active.
Going back to college
DK has gone full Thornton Melon, returning to college after ceasing offering CFB DFS in 2016 due to, one presumes, pressure from the NCAA. But note that college football DFS isn’t currently available in every DFS-friendly state — DraftKings is currently only offering it in 26 states.
And CFB lineups now consist of a “Flex” (RB or WR) and a “Super Flex” (QB, RB, or WR). There are no tight ends to be found (insert your own off-color joke here about nervously sweating your lineup), and you don’t need to pick a team defense either. It’s just a QB, two RBs, three WRs, and that Flex and Super Flex.
And of course, you don’t have to wait as long as you do for the NFL regular season to start. College football contests go live this Thursday night.
Single and ready to mingle
We noted earlier FanDuel’s single-game contests. Let’s take a closer look here, as this is the first full year of DraftKings’ NFL “Single Game Showdowns.”
Prior to the advent of this format, the DFS sites were following the rule that every contest had to consist of multiple games, leading to ridiculous offerings like the ol’ Pro Bowl/Super Bowl combo that stretched across a full week.
“It wasn’t a good product when you had to sign up for a two- or three-game slate that was going to be over multiple days, and you had to be picking players before lineups even came out,” DraftKings CEO Jason Robins told Dan Back in a SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio interview last week. “It’s not as good a product as being able to sit down, ‘I’m going to follow this game or watch this game now and I’m going to play this fantasy game now and at the end of the game it’s going to be over.’”
Single Game Showdowns started with the Super Bowl in February and were used during NBA season as well on DK. The first one of this football season is next Thursday’s $2.5M Kickoff with $1 million to first place, where only players on the Eagles and Falcons are available to be rostered.
Lineup building is decidedly different from the way it is in “classic” DFS. You have to fill six positions, all of which are of the “Flex” variety, with one of them being your “Captain.” The “Captain” costs 1.5x his normal salary and has his fantasy points inflated by a 1.5x multiplier. And in a somewhat ironic twist given FanDuel’s overdue removal of the kicker from standard contests, DraftKings does include kickers in these Showdowns.
DraftKings hasn’t been shy about its leap into sports betting, and soon after in-game betting became available on DK Sportsbook in New Jersey, the company announced Flash Draft — essentially the in-game betting of DFS.
Flash Draft won’t go live until mid-season, and it’s a mobile-app-only game — no laptops allowed. We discussed the variant on the most recent episode of the Gamble On podcast (starting at the 22:17 mark), and the bottom line is that it provides action-seekers a way to keep playing DFS after lineups lock.
Flash Draft is a form of single-game fantasy that starts at the end of the first quarter. Between quarters or at halftime, you can draft a team for a single quarter or for the second half, with little time to think. Entrants quickly draft a player in each of five rounds, each from a list of three options, with no salaries.
And there’s a big, potentially game-changing twist on payouts. In addition to the guaranteed prize pool amount, there’s a bonus prize pool that grows as the tournament goes beyond its GPP size. (So you can’t get locked out of a Flash Draft game because it filled up.)
That presents a major change to the long-standing rules of DFS, and continues to blur the line between daily fantasy and sports betting. And Robins isn’t ruling out the possibility that a bonus prize pool will become part of the standard-format fantasy landscape in the future.