Are Negative Correlations the Way to Go?

Negative correlations refer to players on the same team that typically interfere with one another’s production. For example, common sense would tell us that if a team’s running back (RB) dominates on the ground, then it will be difficult for a wide receiver (WR) to also dominate on the same day… especially if we’re talking about a team not projected to score a top-five point total that day. Typically, the strategy of using two players who will likely eat into each other’s production is not recommended, however it’s a trend that seems to be winning tournaments recently.

Extensive research has been done on the topic by minds smarter than I, but let me simplify it for the purpose of this article: there is a negative correlation between RBs and WRs, as well as between RBs and tight ends (TEs), and on certain occasions quarterbacks (QBs) and RBs (if the back is not a pass-catching back). All of these make sense, right? Most teams only score two to three TDs during the course of a game, so if a RB scores three of them there is less production available for the other positions. So why has this seemingly hurtful strategy for daily fantasy football been succeeding in recent weeks?

There are outliers to every rule and sharp (or maybe “crazy,” depending on how you look at it) DFS players are taking advantage. Every week there is an offense that blows up completely and the team drops 35-plus points. When a team scores that many points, it allows for a greater accumulative fantasy point totals, therefore more possibility of spreading the wealth. When this situation occurs, and it appears to be occurring every week, the risk pays off. Let’s start with the first example that goes all the way back to week three:

sep27

Both Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones were rostered by the winning team, but let’s conceptualize this: Atlanta is essentially a two-man show on offense. Sure, role players slide in and out, but their scheme every week is to get the ball into the hands of Freeman and Jones. It’s similar to Pittsburgh with a a healthy Ben Roethlisberger – they deploy Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown heavily on a weekly basis. In a PPR scoring system, both of these players can work as long as they’re catching passes and finding the end zone. Both Freeman and Bell are among the best pass-catching backs, and Jones/Brown are among the best in terms of overall receptions. Those type of multi-star offenses make sense to stack because if/when the offense busts out, we more than likely know who the culprits will be. But these types of teams are not the only ones with the potential to win a tournament…

Oct3

In week four, a Bears stack won user “BKRUNK” the Run and Gun with the combination of Matt Forte and TE Martellus Bennett. Notice Forte caught four passes and Bennett hauled in 11 to make this work. This contrarian thought process is only recommended in potentially fast-paced games, because the reception potential certainly needs to be there. Not many offenses have this potential, as the only teams off the top of my head that possess RB/TE duos that I’d feel comfortable relying on in this way are New England, Cincinnati, San Diego and Kansas City. It’s risky.

Oct13

Finally, week five saw a winner set an old-fashioned positive correlation lineup (Blake Bortles/Allen Robinson connection) that ended up winning big. I will say that this user made the interesting move of using both Emmanuel Sanders and the Denver Broncos Defense. Essentially, you’re hoping for a blowout or a close, low-scoring game in this scenario, where the main focus of the offense is one player. It’s the least crazy of the strategies we’ve seen employed to this point.

Oct20

The winning lineup in the Run and Gun for week six was boring. Another positive correlation with the Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson connection and no other players in the same games (aside from Alshon Jeffery, who faced the Lions). The user predicted a shootout and he got it. He managed to select the perfect players in the matchup and he got it done. But overall, there’s nothing to see here…

Oct26

Which brings us to my week seven lineup, into which I incorporated my observations from previous weeks. What we’re looking at is actually the lineup I went with in cash that possessed the negative correlation of a QB and RB (Ryan Tannehill/Lamar Miller). My thinking for this was that these two players struck me as the best values according to their price, so I didn’t hesitate to play for a safe fantasy-point floor. Nevertheless, I always plug my cash lineup into tournaments, just in case it happens to hit the jackpot, which it very nearly did this week. Above is a picture of the lineup, which was entered into the Run and Gun, heading into Monday Night Football. As you’ll note, I decided to go with the QB/RB correlation, which works much better if the back is a pass-catcher. Guess what? The one outcome that could catapult the lineup in the blink on an eye occurred. Tannehill threw a screen pass to Miller and he took it 50-plus yards to the house. It was a low-probability outcome, but the odds of both players having a productive day were separately high. Sometimes taking the long shot pays off, and week after week unconventional lineups are rising to the top.

Does this mean they’re the way to go every week? In fantasy sports, there’s no such thing as an absolute. It’s up to you to decide how you’ll approach week eight.

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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2 Responses

  1. June 24, 2016

    […] to switch up roster construction. Last season, I wrote an article for FantasyDraft examining the recent trend of “negative correlations” winning tournaments. Negative correlations refer to players on the same team that typically interfere with one […]

  2. June 30, 2016

    […] amount of scenarios that can be invented where this strategy could pay off which just shows why strange lineup constructions finished first more often than not in NFL GPPs in […]

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