This article is part of our DraftKings AFL series.
The Australian Football League offers a combination of basketball-like point totals and rugby-like physicality unlike just about anything else in the sports world. As it's brand new to DFS, everyone gets to start on a roughly level playing field in terms of knowing what kinds of players to target, what salaries may be strong values, etc. Those insights should come into focus as the season progresses, but for now, we'll offer our best guesses on how to assemble a winning roster.
DK's format features a starting lineup of nine players – one ruck, two forwards, two defenders and four midfielders – and a scoring system that rewards points on the board (+6 for a goal, +1 for a behind) as well as possession and defensive stats (+4 for a tackle, +3 for a kick, +3 for a mark, +2 for a handball, +1 for a free kick, +1 for a hitout). Conceding a free kick gets a player docked -3 points as well. If you have no idea what rucks, behinds, and marks are, this is a good place to start, although note that the length of each quarter has been reduced to 16 minutes from 20 for the 2020 season. Also, check out some of our other tools to help you compile a lineup.
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Melbourne (-4.5) vs. Western, o/u 131.5 pts.: The huge implied 68-64 score in this one is stunning but not that surprising, as both teams are averaging better than 60 points a game and the Bulldogs have been rather indifferent to playing defense, allowing the third-most points per game in the AFL (only the Roos and Crows have been worse). That should give you some options if you don't want to load your roster up with players from the two projected blowouts below. This game could also end up having major Finals implications; the Demons have surged up to eighth place on the ladder, while the Bulldogs are one of the teams chasing them for that last spot. Western also get a number of players back from minor injuries, but Melbourne, who have won their last three matches by an average of almost 55 points a game including a 100-44 drubbing of Collingwood in Round 12 even as Max Gawn has gone down with a shoulder injury, have made no changes to their starting 18.
Hawthorne vs. Port Adelaide (-28.5), o/u 118.5 pts.: The Power head into the one with the highest implied total on the slate at 74 points, just ahead of the Tigers and the two teams above. Port Adelaide remains tied atop the ladder with Brisbane at nine wins, while Hawthorn languishes near the bottom, so the chances of an upset here appear bleak – especially considering the Power will be smarting from a Round 12 thrashing at the hands of the Cats. They do have a couple of depth players suspended for this one, but when you have veteran players the quality of Brad Ebert and Justin Westhoff who can sub in, there's not likely to be any disruption. The Hawks have made six changes, but the big addition is Daniel Howe, who will be making his 2020 debut after recovering from plantar fasciitis.
Richmond (-25.5) vs. Essendon, o/u 118.5 pts.: The annual Dreamtime match, part of the AFL's celebration of indigenous culture, moves to Darwin this year. The Tigers are on a roll, having won three of their last four (with the loss coming against the league-leading Power), while the Bombers haven't won since Round 8, when they embarrassingly only beat the Crows by three points. Richmond also gets a big boost from the return of star defender Bachar Houli, who left the team for the birth of his third child after Round 5 and has now completed his quarantine. Essendon have made a whopping seven changes to their lineup as they try to find a spark, and while getting Jake Stringer back is certainly good news, it's not clear if the four-time 30-goal scorer is quite at 100 percent yet.
Sydney vs. Fremantle (-9.5), o/u 103.5 pts.: This game is likely to be the most overlooked on the slate due to its pedestrian 57-47 implied score. The Dockers and Swans are both basically just playing out the string, sitting 14th and 15th on the ladder respectively with four wins apiece. Josh P. Kennedy does check back in for Sydney after recovering from a knee injury that's kept him sidelined since Round 6, however, and he'll be key to any chance the team has of making a late climb up the standings. Fremantle counters with Liam Henry, the ninth overall pick in the 2019 draft, as he makes his AFL debut a week shy of his 19th birthday.
Scott Lycett, Power ($6,300): Peter Ladhams, Port Adelaide's No. 2 ruck, is suspended for this one, which should mean a bigger workload for Lycett. The 27-year-old hasn't produced huge numbers the last couple weeks since returning from a knee injury, but he was looking very good before getting hurt, topping 30 hitouts twice and reeling off five straight games with double-digit disposals. The upside is there if Lycett's had a chance to round back into form, and the matchup is good as the Hawks' usual starting ruck, Jonathon Ceglar, remains out with a toe injury.
Darcy Parish, Bombers ($6,000): Christian Petracca is going to be on a lot of rosters given his extremely consistent production – he's delivered at least 85 fantasy points in seven straight matches – and juicy matchup, but at $7,900 a high floor isn't enough, and he's actually returned value at that salary only twice during that seven-game stretch. Most of the other pricey forwards have question marks too, which brings me to Parish. He doesn't have a favorable matchup but he is on a roll, having hit for a season-high 29 disposals against another strong opponent in St. Kilda last week after delivering a season-high 93 fantasy points the week before against Gold Coast. The 23-year-old had averaged over 20 disposals a game every year he'd been in the league coming into 2020, and if Jake Stringer makes an immediate splash in his return, Parish should be one of the main players feeding him the ball up front.
Lachlan Hunter, Bulldogs ($7,700): The 25-year-old had to deal with some off-field issues this season, but the club stood by him and he returned to the lineup last week without missing a beat, producing 29 disposals and 99 fantasy points. Those kind of numbers are nothing new for Hunter, who topped 600 disposals in each of the last two campaigns. His salary still hasn't quite caught up to his talent, and if the match against the Demons turns into the wild back-and-forth affair it's projected to be, he's got an easy triple-digit ceiling for fantasy points.
Tom Rockliff, Power ($7,400): It's basically a coin toss whether Rockliff or Travis Boak ($7,600) will be the Port Adelaide midfielder to come up big in any particular game. Lately it's been Boak's show, as he has 55 disposals and 190 fantasy points over the last two games, but Rockliff had performances of 123 and 102 fantasy points the two games before that as he racked up a massive 25 combined tackles. The pendulum may be due to swing back his way against a Hawthorne side that has sometimes had trouble building through the middle, making them the kind of opponent Rockliff can feast against. The matchup against the Hawks could also provide fertile enough ground for both midfielders to deliver big numbers.
Josh P. Kennedy, Swans ($6,800): Kennedy was in absolutely terrific form following the restart, and he'd hit for 95 fantasy points in consecutive games before getting hurt in Round 6. That's a huge ceiling for this salary, and the 32-year-old's track record is just as enticing – coming into this season, he hadn't averaged fewer than 25 disposals a game since 2011. You're banking on there being no rust if you roster him, but the matchup against the Dockers isn't a daunting one if he's at 100 percent right out of the gate.
Bachar Houli, Tigers ($7,000): The veteran defender started the year with a 100-point performance back in Round 1 before the league shut down, and then came back from the break firing on all cylinders with back-to-back 85-point efforts. Houli's also coming off the best campaign of his career in 2019, posting personal bests in disposals (612) and marks (141) through 22 games. In a very high-profile match against a very exploitable opponent, look for him to celebrate the birth of his son in style.
Braydon Preuss, Demons ($5,000): He's no Max Gawn, but the 25-year-old Preuss acquitted himself well in his first action of the year against Collingwood in Round 12, collecting 24 hitouts and 12 disposals. He does get a tough matchup on paper against Timothy English, but the Bulldogs ruck suffered a minor ankle injury last week and may not be quite at 100 percent, and English is known more for putting up big numbers himself rather than slowing down his opposite number anyway.
Josh Bruce, Bulldogs ($3,800): Bruce is the ultimate high-risk, high-reward option for large tournaments. His six goals in Round 5 against the Roos remains one of the season's most notable performances, but he's only scored six other goals total all year. At this salary, he doesn't need to do much to return value, but even reaching a modest 45 fantasy points has been a struggle at times in his first campaign for Western. The 28-year-old had been a fairly steady contributor for St. Kilda prior to switching squads, however, so there's reason to believe he just needed an adjustment period before getting comfortable in the Bulldogs' system, and he could begin to click more frequently any time now.
Irving Mosquito, Bombers ($2,600): The other high-profile prospect making his AFL debut on this slate, the 19-year-old Mosquito (he turns 20 in just a few days) lives up to his name as a small, speedy forward who can harass larger opponents and make an impact up front. Unlike Fremantle's Liam Henry, who's listed on the bench for his debut, Essendon is throwing Mosquito right into the fire in the starting 18, making him the better gamble if you're looking for a bargain option at forward – which may not be a bad idea given the issues I mentioned earlier with the more expensive alternatives at the position.
Sam Powell-Pepper, Power ($5,200): A tongue twister waiting to happen, the Power's Powell-Pepper popped a pretty pair of performances in Rounds 9 and 10, topping 70 fantasy points in each, although he hasn't been quite as productive since. The 22-year-old has been a strong secondary contributor ever since he entered the league, averaging in the high teens in disposals, and in a game Port Adelaide is expected to win handily, he could be a key part of any stack.
Jack Graham, Tigers ($4,900): The 22-year-old seems to be coming into his own, delivering at least 15 disposals and 70-plus fantasy points in three of his last four games. His secret weapon has been his ability to bring down opponents – Graham has recorded at least six tackles in each of those four games, averaging 7.5 over that stretch, and he could be due for some positive regression on the attack as well as he has yet to score a goal through seven games after booting 19 in 39 games through his first three seasons. If Richmond dominates as expected, it could provide younger players like Graham with a golden opportunity to step up.
Daniel Howe, Hawks ($4,100): Howe makes his 2020 debut after working his way through a plantar fascia issue, and if the 23-year-old is fit, reaching value at this salary should be a breeze. He topped 300 disposals in 2017 and 2018 while averaging better than nine combined marks and tackles a game each year, and that skill set should come in handy as he transitions into a more defensive role.
Hayden Crozier, Bulldogs ($4,500): Crozier returns to action after recovering from a toe injury that's sidelined him since Round 10. Prior to getting hurt, the 26-year-old had been remarkably consistent on the back end for the Bulldogs, posting double-digit disposals in every game (even the one in which he got hurt) and multiple marks in every game but one. His floor seems to be about 50 fantasy points, but his ceiling is up in the 75-80 range, and in a game with this kind of projected total he seems far more likely to hit on the latter than the former.
Michael Hartley, Hawks ($2,900): Another Hawthorne player making his 2020 debut, Hartley will also be making his Hawks debut after plying his trade for the Bombers the last four years. Essendon barely used him the last two seasons, but he was productive when he got his chances, delivering double-digit disposals and strong mark totals just about every time out. With a chance to win a regular spot in the starting 18 on the table, Hartley should come through with his best effort here and blow past value if he can match those kinds of numbers.