Tequila, Karaoke, and the Value of a Defense

Renee Miller — Dr. Renée Miller, that is — has been making waves in the world of DFS, with her academia-based insights and her ESPN distribution. DFS Expert Ricky Sanders sat down with her to dig a little deeper into what makes her tick, and how players can learn from her to improve their performance.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got your start in the fantasy industry….
I’m a neuroscientist by training and I hold a faculty position at the University of Rochester where I teach undergraduates all about neuroscience. I was doing that when I realized some of the ways our brains can trick us into thinking we’re making good decisions when really, we’re just being biased, lazy thinkers. I started learning more about cognitive biases (not my primary area of expertise) and thinking a lot about how they applied to fantasy sports. I wrote my thoughts down, published an eBook, and found that the topic was of interest to a lot of people looking to improve their fantasy management style. Chet Gresham of The Fake Football gave me my first opportunity to write for a fantasy website in the fall of 2011. That was right around the time I started playing daily fantasy sports (DFS), but I didn’t transition into writing mostly about DFS until the 2013 NBA season.

What do you think is the single most important piece of advice for a beginner either just starting or about to experiment with playing daily fantasy football?
First play in free contests for a few days (couple weeks of NFL), then play beginner only contests for money for as long as you can.

(Bonus) Justify every player you use in your lineup with at least two or three solid lines of reasoning.

From what you’ve seen, what is the biggest mistake new players make and what is the solution?
There are two big mistakes I see (and made when I started). The first is what I think of as doubling down on your fantasy investments. Most people play in season long leagues, are fans of the home team, etc. and intentionally or not, the players they’ve already invested in wind up on their DFS rosters far too often. The idea is nice… “well I have Demaryius Thomas on two redraft teams, I’ll use him for DFS too instead of Julio Jones because if DT does have a great game I’ll triple benefit!” but the fact is that your prior stake in a player has no place in  your DFS decision. Same thing with using your fandom as a tie-breaker between players—don’t do it! Convince yourself that a guy really is the best play for the week—because that’s the beauty of DFS; you get to take advantage of the hottest matchups each and every week. So don’t harness yourself to your favorite team or your season-long lineups when playing daily games.

The second mistake I see is people playing catch-up with last week’s fantasy news. Rostering players who scored way more fantasy points the week prior than they were projected for—with no real sustainable reason for it–is called chasing points. Don’t do it. The way to win in DFS is to be ahead of the trends, not following them. If the increased production was a result of increased usage, due to an injury or something, maybe you can continue to take advantage, but a blown coverage leading to a 90-yard TD reception is not something you scramble to get into your lineup the week after it happens.

Would you ever pay up for a defense in either daily or yearly fantasy football? Why/why not?
I attempt to identify all the players I want to or would use in my DFS lineups based on the stats and info I read before ever heading to a site and looking at salaries. Of course, I generally know what guys cost, but the point is that the primary process ignores price. That goes for defense too. I look for defenses in matchups that offer a stacked takeaway:giveaway ratio. Sometimes, usually even, that defense is not nearly the most expensive nor the highest owned option. In yearly, I draft the defense I want to use in Week 1 in the second to last round. This year I’m getting Arizona and Cincinnati who are also featured in my Week 1 DFS lineups.

For those who do not know (slash didn’t read her answer to the first question), Renee is a neuroscientist in her spare time when she is not providing fantasy content. How do you think your outside work relates to daily fantasy sports?
The biggest impact of studying the brain for a living is that I’m acutely aware of how I make decisions. The scientific training I’ve had has taught me to approach decisions logically, in an evidence-based manner. Science is all about supporting evidence, and the more lines of evidence you can accumulate the closer you come to the truth. I apply this approach to everything I write as well as how I play DFS.

If you were celebrating a gigantic fantasy victory, what would be your drink of choice and why is tequila so terrible (kind of an inside joke between us – she loves tequila and I, well, don’t)?
I’m pretty sure I convincingly applied the evidence-based approach outlined above to the argument of why tequila is so wonderful, but if I have to do it again Ricky, I will… The newest reason that tequila is so great is that it can be used to make the world’s best lime glazed tequila shot donut holes.

For a big fantasy victory, I might go with the chalk play and say champagne. But I’d definitely be a little contrarian and drink it rather than have it sprayed all over the place.

If we were going to perform a karaoke duet, what song would you choose and why? Follow-up question: when are we going to perform it?

Fun fact: I’ve drunk more tequila than any other person alive who has never performed karaoke. Somehow when all the other good decision making faculties are turned off, that one remains intact.

A quick google search of popular karaoke duets is above all else, weird. Most of the songs are ancient history, super sappy, or really angry. The one they all say not to even try because it’s so hard is my choice for this epic duet of ours that will never happen: Under Pressure by David Bowie and Freddie Mercury. It’s always good to be the best in fantasy, if not reality. And look, I brought it back to fantasy!

What’s your pick, Ricky?

I don’t think you can go wrong with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” but I think the song we’d steal the show with would most definitely be Destiny’s Child “Say My Name.” I could hit the high notes while you sing soprano. Standing ovation is all but guaranteed.

Anything else you feel the audience should know about you and where can we find your work?

I’m sure I’ve already revealed too much haha, but I do have a lot going on this fall. I’ll be writing two weekly articles on NFL DFS for ESPN, two for RotoWorld, and one for ProFootballFocus. All five have different angles or themes to help with the lineup construction process so feel free to read them all! I’ll also be co-hosting The Daily Slant show along with Josh Hayes for PFF. I’m on Twitter @reneemiller01.

Ricky Sanders

Ricky Sanders

Ricky Sanders is a fantasy sports expert with over 15 years of playing experience. After starting several freelance fantasy sports blogs, Ricky moved up in the fantasy industry when he joined Going9 Baseball. He wrote fantasy baseball content and had a weekly radio spot on the site’s SiriusXM Satellite Radio show. Shortly thereafter, in early 2013, Ricky joined RotoExperts as a three-sport fantasy contributor, eventually becoming one of the site’s lead basketball writers. While writing for RotoExperts, Ricky was introduced to daily fantasy sports and immediately fell in love. With help from some of his mentors, some of the best DFS players in the world, he honed his skills and became the daily fantasy expert he is today. When RotoExperts created a daily-focused website called DailyRoto.com, Ricky was brought on as one of the main contributors. He still makes frequent appearances on the RotoExperts SiriusXM Radio show and on the FNTSY Sports Television Network, talking daily fantasy sports. He also continues to write for a few DFS content sites: RotoCurve and The Fantasy Fix. Ricky is a proud and active member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He has agreed to be a writer and representative for the FantasyDraft brand and serves as an ambassador to the site. He has no more access to the site than the typical user. Don’t hesitate to contact Ricky with questions on Twitter @RSandersDFS.

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