Cost Efficiency Breakdown: DraftKings Week 1

A look into the good and not-so-good DraftKings plays in terms of cost efficiency. Who provides the most bang for your buck?

Simply put: you’re going to want to check in here each week before setting your DraftKings lineups. That’s because I’ll be helping you sift through your DFS options without spinning my wheels talking fantasy scoring.

No, my goal will not be to opine to you on the highest scoring plays of the week’s slate; that’s a semi-fruitless task, and one you’re swarmed with on every other DFS advice site. Rather, I’m going to be reporting to you on the value of your options – their scoring abilities relative to their salaries. You’ll be filled in on the details of three weekly measures:

DK Points (DK Pts) is the player’s DraftKings projection for the week, rooted in the offense’s and defense’s performances over the last three weeks. (For the first few weeks, the model fills the gaps with my per-game projections for each player.) Please note that the goal of these projections is NOT to predict an exact point total; I’m not interested in supernaturally conjuring visions of Le’Veon Bell’s next 30-point explosion. Rather, I’m keeping a tight view of a player’s capabilities and seeking the likely outcome of his matchup – in a sense, I’m seeking out his probabilities of reaching a certain scoring level.

Points per thousand (Pts/$1K) divides the player’s projected DraftKings points by $1,000 to arrive at an efficiency statement on his projection. A number of 3.00 or better suggests a must-play option poised to soar beyond his salary, while one landing below 1.75 or so hints at an overpriced option.

H-Value (DK H-Val) is an attempt to reconcile a player’s scoring projection with his per-dollar value. You can’t fill a lineup with exclusively high-salaried players, and you’d never load up on just cheap, low-ceiling options. H-value brings the two together, marrying a player’s projected scoring and salary to lay out his true meaning to a DFS roster. The formula is simple:

(DK Pts^1.73205 / DK Sal) * 2,000

And from there, you’ll be analyzing your DFS options based on more than some subjective guess about scoring. Without further ado, let’s tackle Week 1 for the DraftKings Sunday-Monday slate:

QUARTERBACK


Cash Plays

I’ve got Ryan Tannehill ($7,400) captaining 79% of my cash lineups this week. He ranks as the week’s No. 2 QB in h-value (and No. 1 in projected scoring) for a handful of reasons, but most beneficial is his matchup. Washington’s talent-starved defense allowed a league-worst 35 touchdowns through the air in 2014 and lost two key pass rushers during the offseason. Making the matchup even sweeter is the fact that the Dolphins defense also closed 2014 on a horrendous note, gashed for 38 points per game over their final three. This game has the look of a shootout, and Tannehill has the weapons to turn it into a top-four QB line. Tannehill’s receivers (apart from Jarvis Landry) aren’t yet strong DFS plays – most are new, and their roles lack clarity. But the QB himself makes for a very shrewd play; he looks like a strong candidate to return the most value this week.

Aaron Rodgers ($8,600) sits as my No. 10 QB in h-value, which is a more positive indicator than you think; his massive salary almost guarantees he’ll slot a little lower than expected. His projections are also underwhelming to hedge the possibility of the Packers embracing a run-heavy gameplan minus Jordy Nelson. But Rodgers’ ability to maximize the value of every throw and every red zone appearance makes him a solid candidate to outperform these numbers. He’s costly, but he’s also the safest top-three play of the week.

Though my numbers don’t bear it out, I suggest solid QB1 output from Matt Ryan ($7,500). His matchup with Philadelphia boasts the week’s highest Vegas scoring projection, a major green light for QB production. And the Eagles’ fast-and-loose attack allows for increased opportunity on both sides of the ball. Where Ryan’s outlook struggles is in touchdown potential: Julio Jones has yet to perform like a red zone dominator, while Roddy White is again dinged by a nagging injury and no tight ends look poised to step up. That caps Ryan’s upside just enough to project him behind 5-8 other options. Still, Ryan should gobble up yardage on the way down the field, making him a decent bet for the 300-yard bonus.

GPP Plays

The No. 1 h-value play of the week is none other than Andy Dalton ($6,100), who faces a perpetually rebuilding Raiders defense that allowed 29 touchdowns through the air last season and didn’t add a cover man of note. There’s concern about game script, of course, as the Bengals are capable of earning a sizeable early lead and turning the game over to Jeremy Hill. But the numbers suggest Dalton’s arm will play a hefty role in building that lead. He projects to score as the QB6 for the week, and his value comes from his QB20 salary.

First-time starter Tyrod Taylor ($5,000) is dicey, but a generally strong gamble due to his rushing potential. I covered Taylor's expectations as the No. 4 value QB yesterday on the Cracking DraftKings blog. 

The battle of rookie QBs Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota ($6,000 each) has the potential to produce more passing numbers than you might think. Neither offense boasts the kind of steady, dependable running game to effectively hide a rookie passer, and the leaky defenses look poised to allow big plays down the field. Both make for solid plays considering their low salaries and scoring potential, but I prefer Mariota. His rushing potential makes him a true weekly x-factor, and he looked significantly further along as an anticipatory NFL passer during the preseason.

Fades

My projection model hates Carson Palmer ($6,500) this week, despite the high Vegas projection for scoring in his matchup. He’s not necessarily a fade due to the Cardinals’ high scoring ceiling, but there are less volatile options in play than the aging, just-recovered Palmer.

Peyton Manning’s ($8,100) salary puts him out of consideration for the week. He comes in 23rd among the top 24 QB options in h-value in a matchup with a Ravens defense likely to improve in 2015. Baltimore boasted the second-best red zone scoring defense in football last year, so even Manning’s touchdown potential is too murky to pay this cost.


RUNNING BACK


Cash Plays

We know the Packers are going to score points, with or without Jordy Nelson. But how will they come about? Good news for Eddie Lacy’s ($7,500) stock: he’s likely to see a noticeable boost to his already solid red zone production. Green Bay ran the ball 37 times from inside the 10 last year, tied for 11th in the league. Without red zone extraordinaire Jordy Nelson, who’s scored 14 touchdowns from that range since 2011, it’s fair to expect the team to shift even more run-heavy near the goal line. Lacy takes on a soft-as-cheese Bears defense with usage potential and game script firmly on his side; he’s totally worthy of his RB5 salary.

All hand-wringing aside, the Saints offense (for the most part) remains the Saints offense. The Sean Payton/Drew Brees combination has never finished outside the top 12 teams in scoring, and actually finished ninth during 2014’s shaky campaign. We virtually have to project their running game to see gobs of fantasy scoring opportunities. Last year, Mark Ingram ($5,600) saw 20 rushes from inside the five, the most in the league. And with Jimmy Graham out of town and no apparent red zone dominator in place, it’s wise to expect the Saints to lean on the run near the goal line. He’s the No. 2 h-value RB this week, and he brings all of this to the table at a $5,600 salary.

Any DraftKings player has to at least consider Alfred Blue ($3,600), the likely starter on a furiously run-heavy offense with a near-minimum salary. The problem with Blue is a lack of relative talent. Coming off a rookie season that “featured” a 3.1 yards-per-carry mark and just two runs of 20+ yards, he doesn’t look likely to convert that starter’s share into interesting fantasy totals. Still, Blue looks like a safe projection to 15-20 touches, which is outstanding value for a $3,600 cash-game RB2/3. Just don’t expect fireworks, and be sure your lineup has the dynamism elsewhere to account for a likely ho-hum line.

GPP Plays

Your No. 1 RB play by h-value is none other than Chris Ivory ($4,100), the Jets’ clear feature back. With retread Zac Stacy firmly entrenched in a backup role and Bilal Powell a marginal NFL talent, Ivory projects to 53% of the team’s rushing load. That makes for serious scoring potential against 2014’s worst run defense, one that allowed 142 rush yards per game and 19 touchdowns. Ivory is an unquestioned starter who costs less than shaky part-timers from poor offenses (Bishop Sankey and Isaiah Crowell), unproven rookies in unclear time shares (Tevin Coleman), and even the supremely inefficient and unreliable (Darren McFadden).

DraftKings’ full-PPR format makes Danny Woodhead ($3,700) a shrewd play. The preseason indicated that Melvin Gordon is likely a passing game liability, and that Woodhead remains the leading checkdown option. He’ll see hefty snaps and should catch a baseline of 3-4 passes per week, PPR gold at a $3,700 price tag.

Falcons RBs are cloudy propositions right now, and DraftKings is pricing both Tevin Coleman ($4,800) and Devonta Freeman ($4,300) as mid-level RB3 options. But the production has to go somewhere. You may not be a believer in the rushing potential behind this front line, but don’t forget that Falcons RBs have averaged 105 receptions over the last three years. In that vein, I prefer Freeman in GPPs at the moment, assuming he’s fully cleared for the game. He’s far more established in the passing game and could catch several passes a week.

Fades

Rashad Jennings ($5,100) enters the season a 30-year-old who’s never recorded a 170-carry season, and whose offense has added two complementary backs in two years. It’s hard to see the appeal; Jennings battled injuries (as usual) and lost time to Andre Williams down the 2014 stretch, and his true role going forward isn’t crystal clear. Even as the lead back, he wouldn’t warrant a $5,100 salary.

I don’t have many issues with Latavius Murray’s ($5,700) season-long outlook, but I don’t love this matchup. The Bengals defense strengthened down the stretch last year, and Murray will always face an uphill battle in terms of game script. This probably isn’t the week to chase big runs at a high-end RB2 cost.


WIDE RECEIVER


Cash Plays

Top-shelf options Odell Beckham, Jr. ($9,200) and Dez Bryant ($8,700) look like solid bets to return on their heavy investments. That said, there’s a similar projection available at a 15% discount from Beckham. A.J. Green ($7,800) looks to dominate the Bengals passing game, as always; his 30% projected target rate leads all WR options this week. And his matchup – a Raiders secondary that’s annually ravaged by opposing pass games – gives him a very studly projection. As a result, he’s the week’s No. 2 h-value option at his absurdly manageable salary.

Jarvis Landry ($5,600) may be a relatively unexciting talent, but he fits beautifully into a PPR lineup. Short-ball specialist Ryan Tannehill saturated Landry with attention down the 2014 stretch, resulting in 52 receptions over the final eight games. That carried over into this preseason, where Landry looked firmly established as Tannehill’s go-to target amidst a sea of unproven, unfamiliar teammates. In a matchup the projects Tannehill to throw a league-high 37.5 passes, his preferred underneath target looks like PPR gold. It’s easy to expect Landry to catch at least 6-7 balls and serve as a primary target in the red zone, where QBs tend to favor their proven targets.

The week’s heavy hitter in terms of sheer value is, of course, new Packers starter Davante Adams ($4,400). He’s a polarizing guy – absurdly productive and often dominant in college, yet raw and athletically limited as a high-volume NFL target. But there’s no debate over the massive value he holds with a $4,400 salary set prior to Jordy Nelson’s injury. Projected to see more than 20% of Aaron Rodgers’ looks, and with the profile of a successful red zone threat, Adams actually looks like a strong bet to triple up his salary.

GPP Plays

The instability of his QBs is certainly a concern, but DeAndre Hopkins ($7,400) has a lot going for him as a likely target hog in an offense that will trail a lot. Hopkins looks poised to dominate targets as the Texans’ most dynamic option by a mile; even as the QBs struggle to place the ball, Hopkins likely can’t help posting high-ceiling WR2 lines. And given the unattractive offense around him, he’ll carry low ownership totals over the first few weeks.

With Michael Floyd in the lineup, John Brown ($4,500) was an intriguing weekly GPP consideration. With Floyd’s status murky due to broken fingers, Brown is a T.Y. Hilton-esque breakout candidate whose weekly ceiling is squarely within WR2 range. He’s spent the offseason at Carson Palmer’s side and is a true no-brainer without Floyd.

Two veteran slot weapons, Steve Johnson ($3,500) and Eddie Royal ($3,900), debut for their new teams this week. Both enjoyed promising preseasons that seemed to establish high-volume roles in their offenses. Most intriguingly, both carry absurdly low salaries this week, considering their high-level PPR floors and eight-reception ceilings. Work one into your full-PPR DraftKings lineup.

Fades

It’s no secret I don’t care for Andre Johnson’s ($6,100) prospects this year. With his experience as an upper-tier possession target, there’s certainly a chance he develops a strong rapport with Andrew Luck and threatens 75 receptions. But that’s such a crowded corps of weapons in Indianapolis, and Luck is far more downfield-oriented than most of Johnson’s past QBs. Besides, Johnson’s never been much of a downfield gamebreaker or touchdown scorer, projecting to just 12.5 yards per catch and the fifth-lowest TD projection of DraftKings’ top 60 options.

I’m a huge fan of Alshon Jeffery’s ($8,300) talent, but he just carries too many red flags for that salary right now. Not only is he heading a semi-dysfunctional offense, he’s also racing back from a calf strain that cost him much of the preseason. Assuming he plays, he projects to a solid WR2 line, but that’s not enough return on that WR1 cost.


TIGHT END


Cash Plays

Flip a coin on Greg Olsen ($5,300) and Travis Kelce ($4,800); the two top-tier options project to score No. 1 and 2 at the positions this week. Olsen has the brightest outlook as the best (only?) intriguing option in the Panthers passing game, while Kelce carries the week’s best touchdown projection at TE. The difference here probably lies in Kelce’s small discount, checking in $500 cheaper. Olsen is the week’s top overall play, but if that salary gap makes a noticeable difference elsewhere in your lineup, have confidence in Kelce.

Martellus Bennett ($4,300) projects to score just a hair below Olsen and Kelce, but he possesses very similar upside. He already proved a PPR monster in 2014, with and without Brandon Marshall in the lineup. With the team’s top four wideouts either ruled out or limited this week by injury, Bennett’s prognosis remains rosy, especially in a high-scoring game in which the Bears will likely trail throughout. Fire him up just as quickly as the top two options.

GPP Plays

The week’s top h-value play is none other than Jordan Reed ($3,300), whose full-time role was cemented by offseason TE injuries in Washington. Amidst his typical injury storm, Reed was remarkably efficient in 2014, catching 77% of his targets from a motley crew of QBs. And he has the sheer athleticism to blend some downfield dynamism with that efficiency. A healthy Reed will remain a stout DFS play until his price tag catches up with that TE1 upside.

It’s been a rocky offseason for Josh Hill ($3,400), who failed to jump ancient Ben Watson ($2,600) and command the Saints’ No. 1 TE role. But the ultra-athletic youngster will still play plenty, particularly in the red zone, where he turned five targets into four TDs last year behind Jimmy Graham. And for his part, Watson is no DFS slouch; he comes even cheaper and will see far more snaps than Hill. I’m using Watson in a tournament lineup or two, for that enormous hunk of salary relief and the decent odds of a short touchdown catch.

In the same vein, Richard Rodgers ($2,500) looks like a solid punting option. He’s a very average athlete who didn’t set the world ablaze as a rookie, but his role looks certain to increase after Jordy Nelson’s injury – particularly near the goal line. Last year, Aaron Rodgers sent nine passes to TEs from inside the 10 last year, making Richard a shrewd stab at a low-cost touchdown from a hard-to-fill DFS position.

Fades

I hate to doubt Jimmy Graham ($5,600) excessively, but I’m waiting a week or two before paying up. Graham is the third big-named target the Seahawks have added to their passing game over the last five years, and neither of the first two were woven deeply into the offense. Seattle seems more interested in blending high-upside situational threats into their already-successful offense, rather than rewriting the playbook to feed Graham 100+ targets. Until I see a massive weekly role, I won’t be chasing Graham in any format.

The numbers favor Delanie Walker ($3,400) very, very strongly this week, projecting him to score No. 5 at the position. Walker’s a fine player, and his salary is probably too low for a guy with such success over the last two years. But he enters 2015 with a new QB in place; Walker maximizes his ability, but he’s not the type of size/speed mismatch that we can project to a huge offensive role in just any system. Until we know how Walker fits into Mariota’s and Ken Whisenhunt’s plans, he’s jumbled amongst a pile of 8-10 TE2s with similar outlooks and salaries. Walker’s not a bad DFS play, just an uncertain one with limited upside.


DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS


Cash Plays

Here’s an easy call: Todd Bowles’ aggressive N.Y. Jets ($2,900) unit against a Josh McCown-led Browns offense that lacks weapons. Expect a thunderstorm of sacks and turnover opportunities.

If you believe that quarterback play matters, and that an underwhelming signal-caller makes for a strong defensive target, then consider Kansas City ($3,000) in any format. With ultra-shaky Brian Hoyer at the helm, Kansas City’s sack-happy unit looks poised to rival even the Jets in value this week.

GPP Plays

Many view the Indianapolis ($2,900) defense as soft and unexciting. It’s been much more disruptive than you might think, and the matchup against Tyrod Taylor and a questionable LeSean McCoy is just cherry.

Baltimore’s offense isn’t bad (yet), and it’s not necessarily target-worthy when scouting a defense. But Denver ($2,800) boasts an attacking, sack-happy unit than can feast on Joe Flacco’s lack of receiving weapons. They’re more of a big-play target than one likely to hold an offense down.