Think back (or forward, depending on your basketball tastes) to March Madness for a moment, when we hear the term “chalk” tossed around as we watch analysts and friends fill their brackets. As you probably know, going “chalk” refers here to investing in dependable, heavy favorites with high downsides and no frightening narratives, as in, “erasing very little chalk from the board.”
Obviously, you want some chalk, in both cash and GPP plays. Your sleepers won’t hit as often as you expect them to, so the Julio Joneses and Le’Veon Bells play a huge role in constructing your lineup. But you won’t place well in any contest without identifying at least 1-2 successful sleeper picks. This is especially true in GPP matchups, of course, but plenty useful in putting together cash lineups.
Here’s a rundown of where your cost efficiency hides for DraftKings’ Week 5 slate:
Tom Brady ($7,800)
He’s on fire, having notched 26+ DraftKings points in all three games, and looks to be walking into a semi-shootout. Vegas expects 50 points from this matchup, the highest total of the last two weeks, and my projection model spits out a dazzling 334-yard, three-touchdown line. But the great thing about rostering Brady is his relative immunity to negative game script. I wrote last week on the Patriots’ tendency to keep throwing with a big lead, meaning that Brady typically makes for a high-scoring play even when game flow projections tell us he shouldn’t. He’ll be owned everywhere, so prepare to pay up or face a lot of Brady lineups without him.
Here are two guys who project very similarly, and either would fit solidly into a cash lineup. Both face mediocre-to-poor pass defenses and project near 300 yards, with above-average red zone outlooks. If pressed, I’d probably opt for Rivers. His offense is more one-dimensional, and his team is more likely to struggle and rely upon the passing game for more game time. And the $400 of salary relief could net you something major elsewhere.
Marcus Mariota ($6,000)
Mariota has indeed returned the low-end QB1 value I’d expected in the offseason, but with his arm rather than his legs. Instead of running his wheels off (just five rushes thus far?!), Ken Whisenhunt has kept his prized rookie harnessed within the pocket – and throwing the ball more than almost anyone in the red zone. Mariota’s already thrown seven touchdowns from inside the 20, tied for second-most in the league. This week’s matchup isn’t picture-perfect, but it’s a home tilt with a defense that’s allowed 297+ yards passing in two of its last three games, and more TD passes than anyone season-wide. This one is likely to remain close and be decided by big plays; I like Mariota’s chances to keep extending drives and capping them with short touchdowns. Not to mention, the Titans' Week 4 bye could very well push him out of sight, out of mind for your competitors. A lightly owned Mariota could do wonders at this price tag.
Jay Cutler ($5,300)
Laugh all you want, but the beleaguered Bears QB is set up to challenge 4x value this week. In Kansas City, he faces an opponent that’s allowed nine touchdown passes over its last three games. If Alshon Jeffery returns as expected, the two should have four quarters of downfield football to accumulate numbers: the 0-4 Bears have trailed by 2+ scores in the fourth quarters of three of four games. Enjoy the savings and hope for the preferred game flow, a relatively easy Kansas City win in which the Bears fall far enough behind to throw wildly, but not enough to bench Cutler and/or rest Jeffery. To me, that actually looks like the most probable script.
Josh McCown ($5,100)
His general crappiness as an NFL QB gives us pause, of course. But familiarize yourself with his recent numbers and reconsider. McCown is a high-volume thrower (out of necessity) who’s thrown for 341 and 356 yards, with four touchdowns, in two games back in the lineup. He isn’t much to look at, but probably presents the week’s best potential to produce 4x value.
Le’Veon Bell ($8,500)
He’s the obvious plug-and-play for the week. Serving as nearly the entire offense while Michael Vick manages the game, Bell is a near-mortal lock to hover atop the touch, target, and yardage leaderboard this week. The Chargers’ floundering run defense only boosts his case; you’ll be facing him in most of your cash games, so adapt or perish.
Todd Gurley ($4,300)
It looks like all of the excitement is manifesting already. Gurley’s more-than-impressive Week 4 breakout will likely land him on a lot of Week 5 rosters, so you won’t be getting the jump on much of the field. But the phenom has already entered the weekly cash-game discussion. A guy as gifted as this is more matchup-immune than many of his peers, with the ability to extend poorly-blocked runs and turn low-volume games into manageable cash lines. His price will inflate before long, so enjoy the discount against a run defense that’s allowing 4.84 yards per rush.
Justin Forsett ($5,800)
The lack of receptions was mildly annoying, but Forsett genuinely exploded against an underrated Steelers run defense and again looks like a borderline RB1. But his salary remains very manageable, and squaring off with Cleveland’s turnstile defense, he’s a solid bet to quadruple his value.
LeGarrette Blount ($4,500)
You want in on this matchup, of course, and Blount represents the cheapest way to buy into it with any sort of confidence. He’s not quite as cheap as I’d like to see, but the gamble is sound: nearly every conceivable game script would lead us to a fourth-quarter Patriots lead peppered with red zone trips along the way. In his debut two weeks ago, Blount served as the cut-and-dried closer for the Patriots’ high-octane offense, a role that suits his skillset and manifests with RB1/2 numbers here and there.
As always, DraftKings’ pricing structure and full-PPR scoring afford us several good stabs at cheap passing-down backs. The goal here is to land a third-down type who sees good usage and sees the right script, one that affords him 6+ receptions and big-play opportunities. These four top the list, with three competing in highly projected games and the fourth (Bernard) playing a bigger red zone role than many think. I’d rank them in the above order, as Spiller was dynamite last week and the Saints need to re-examine their flailing run game. Lewis could win you a contest or two if the Cowboys stay within shouting distance of his Patriots, and Bernard has shown with 14 red zone rushes that he carries stronger touchdown potential than 10-15 higher-salaried backs. Thompson is the real wild card; he’s electric and clearly a real part of the Washington backfield, but actually saw his snaps and touches decrease after that Week 3 breakout.
Antonio Andrews ($3,500)
The banger isn’t as gifted as Bishop Sankey, but looks like the strongest bet to provide the effective ball-control run game that Ken Whisenhunt wants. Andrews paced the backfield in the Titans’ last game and found the end zone, and this price point is more than attractive for a likely rushing leader, even one facing a stout defense.
These two PPR monsters have great Week 5 outlooks and affordable salaries for their clear top-five abilities. Both have drawn more than 31% of targets from their respective passing games (both notably high-volumed), and both have caught more than 71% of those throws. Either can slot comfortably into your WR1 slot without losing much upside from the more expensive guys, but I’m rostering Allen a little more this week. The Chargers run game is improving, but still not ready to be featured, so Philip Rivers should be especially busy on Monday against a pitiful Steelers secondary. Edelman is nothing to sneeze at, of course, but there are conceivable game scripts in which his production day ends early. Allen carries no such concerns whatsoever.
Jeremy Maclin ($6,000)
Maclin has brought out the best in Alex Smith. The two have already hooked up for seven completions of 20+ yards, more than ballyhooed combinations Andy Dalton-A.J. Green or Matt Ryan-Julio Jones. And most importantly for our purposes, Maclin has already drawn six targets from inside the 20, suggesting that at least some touchdown spike is coming. On a searing hot streak and facing little competition for looks, Maclin projects very well (7 catches, 94 yards) against a thoroughly burnable Bears secondary.
Pierre Garcon ($5,300)
It hasn’t been pretty, but Garcon has been a PPR stud in DeSean Jackson’s absence. Drawing 35 targets through four games, he’s hauled in 24 of them (68.6%), topping 13 DraftKings points in three of his four matchups. He’s even being used near the goal line, bucking his touchdown-averse history and boosting an already-solid floor. And both floor and ceiling appear to raise this week: Jackson remains limited in practice, and Jordan Reed is extremely unlikely to suit up. It’s hard to see many targets going elsewhere in a likely shootout with the Falcons. There’s limited yardage potential here, but Garcon has a real shot at 8+ receptions and is better than 50/50 to find the end zone.
Assuming he suits up – and he’s still classified as a limited practice participant – Jeffery projects as strongly as just about anyone. In his only game alongside Jay Cutler thus far, he drew a team-high 11 of 36 targets (30.6%), And the Bears’ pitiful WR production without him suggests Jeffery will slip comfortably back into the clear No. 1 role, and he couldn’t pick a much better week to do so. Kansas City has been gutted by all four great receivers it’s faced thus far, and of Acceptable Jay Cutler shows up Sunday, Jeffery is talented enough to chew up shaky coverage and maximize opportunity. Priced notably below that top-eight outlook, he makes for a great contrarian play.
Kendall Wright ($5,400)
Wright has to love running Marcus Mariota’s spread scheme. It’s allowed him to not only find separation, but also to make plays after the catch; Wright’s 16.4 yards per reception are the highest of his career by a mile. He’s sharing ownership of the passing game attention with Delanie Walker, and both have benefited from the Titans’ pass-happy red zone offense. Wright comes as a bargain and a solid candidate to approach 4x value. He’ll operate mostly from the slot against a Bills defense that’s been gutted by slotmen from Julian Edelman and Jarvis Landry to little-used Dwayne Harris. Harris had been catchless on one target prior to posting a 5-51-1 line against Buffalo last week.
Travis Benjamin ($4,500)
Diminutive, impactless before this season, and headlining a truly talent-deprived offense, Benjamin may not be "for real" in the Julio Jones sense of the word. But he's been the Browns' top playmaker by far, excelling down the field with both Cleveland quarterbacks. He's already caught three touchdowns from beyond the 20, more than anyone else in football, and will bring those talents into a tasty matchup. The Ravens have been scorched downfield by the likes of Derek Carr and Andy Dalton; McCown isn't as good as either of those guys, but the Browns will be at home and Benjamin clearly doesn't need strong quarterbacking to contribute. As a GPP option, he's very strong. There's a very sexy Josh McCown-Benjamin stack at play this week, one I'll throw into at least one or two GPP contests.
(As usual, Rob Gronkowski, a universal no-brainer in any format, won’t be mentioned here. Google the guy.)
Martellus Bennett ($5,000)
That 11-catch outburst wasn’t merely a byproduct of the Raiders’ toothless tight end defense. When Jay Cutler is under center, Bennett is a weekly top-five play as a dynamic security blanket who sporadically shines in the red zone. If you’re paying up for the position but shying away from Rob Gronkowski prices, Bennett offers the week’s best combination of ceiling and floor.
Delanie Walker ($3,800)
Walker continues to play a sizeable role in Marcus Mariota’s offense. He’s essentially tied with Kendall Wright for the team lead in target share; his 20% mark beats out all but four TEs playing this week. And with the Titans’ propensity to throw near the goal line, Walker carries as strong a touchdown outlook as anyone not named Gronkowski. The fact that he’s priced alongside underachievers and situational part-timers makes him arguably the sexiest play of the week in any format.
Owen Daniels ($2,700)
You’ve already pieced together the mega-boost that TEs tend to get from a matchup with the Raiders. But Daniels doesn’t quite fit that profile – he’s a very situational contributor, rarely used outside the red zone. And unlike Gary Barnidge and Martellus Bennett, he lines up alongside some exceptionally talented wideouts that steer the passing game weekly. All told, Daniels is a poor bet to see the box score explosion those guys did, but that red zone usage makes him an intriguing DFS flier. After all, the Raiders matchup didn’t impress DraftKing’s pricing gun one bit.
Derek Carrier ($2,500)
A short primer on Carrier, who will almost certainly replace Jordan Reed on all three downs Sunday: he’s athletic (a 4.50 40-yard dash and a scorching 6.65 three-cone drill at his 2013 pro day), he climbed the 49ers depth chart in a hurry, and Washington liked him enough to trade for him this offseason. Most importantly for our DFS purposes, Kirk Cousins looks to have very little to throw to on Sunday. With Reed and DeSean Jackson both likely to sit, Carrier should bring situational value to your GPP lineup. Don’t expect more than 4-5 catches as a maximum, but his talent could turn that into 60 yards and a very palatable tournament statline.
Green Bay ($3,100)
This matchup isn’t quite cherry, but the Packers defense is rolling and will host a punchless downfield offense. They’re getting pressure and sacks from all over the lineup, and while their turnover numbers are unimpressive, it’s worth noting that Foles has already fumbled three times across just 13 opportunities to do so (sacks plus rushing attempts). They’re not expensive, but they do cost enough to scare plenty of your GPP competitors away.
N.Y. Giants ($2,900)
Make no mistake: this is not a good defense, at least not against the pass. But the Giants are defensively efficient, allowing just 50% of red zone trips to reach the end zone. I don’t think Colin Kaepernick and this trainwreck of a passing game are going to challenge that. What helps greatly are the sorry state of the 49ers’ pass protection and Kaepernick’s pocket presenece; he’s been sacked 14 times already.
This gradually improving unit matches up very well against Tyrod Taylor’s Bills. The Titans currently sit No. 5 in the NFL for sack percentage, and Buffalo’s front line is shaky at best. And with Sammy Watkins looking doubtful and special teams plodder Anthony Dixon likely to handle Buffalo’s backfield duties, the Titans will be facing relatively little dynamism.