For the uninitiated, playing daily games on DraftKings can be an enjoyable experience, but equally sobering is the fact that season-long knowledge does not always translate to success in the daily space. FootballGuys will bring you a series of value- and strategic-based selections from a number of seasoned daily veterans throughout the NFL season. Herein is another edition of “Tipandpick’s Tips and Picks,” where we will examine the salaries of players at each position on DraftKings and make value-based recommendations for both your cash games and tournaments.
Below you will find a list of recommended players for both formats. GPP players generally have high-upside, but are too risky for cash games; cash game players are consistent with high fantasy floors. In some instances, the value for a player is so strong, he may fall into both categories…let’s have a look.
On weekends where there are limited game slates, a different approach to DFS should be taken to maximize one's return on investment. There are multiple schools of thought, but here are a few 'tips' to ensure that you are being responsible with the money you have won playing DFS through the first 17 weeks of the season:
1) Limit your overall volume. My recommendation is that you play less than 40% of your normal volume, in terms of dollars invested. For example, if you typically play $100 on a weekend, do not play more than $40 this week due to the limited game slate. Why? ...because, with a smaller player pool, the edge that a sharp player creates through good analysis and projections is limited--identifying strong, value-based DFS plays becomes less difficult for the masses when there are less choices.
2) Be careful with cash games. I do not play cash games on game slates with less than five or six games and for that reason, I will not play cash games during the playoffs. The rationale for that mentality is similar to Point #1 (above), in that smaller player pools generally create excessive ownership overlap across cash games, where some players will be 75% owned or greater; when multiple players are owned at such high rates, your outcome will often distill down to the results of your one or two more unique players, who you may or may not have loved, but chose because of the limited player pool. For these reasons, I recommend shifting the majority of your volume to GPP's on playoff-based game slates.
3) Assume the contrarian role to win. If you want to win a GPP this weekend, you WILL need to have that one player, who is less than 10% owned, but achieves 5X value. Everybody is going to roster Antonio Brown, and for good reason, but because 80% of people will have Antonio Brown, he is not going to win a GPP for anybody...but he could lose it for 80% of people if he has a dud of game. Use game strategy to try to find that one or two sleeper(s) who have high upside, but will be overshadowed by the likes of Antonio Brown and Jordan Reed. I try to identify a few candidates in the 'picks' section below.
4) Do not spend your entire salary. Ordinarily, you would want to spend as much of your allotted $50,000 salary on DraftKings, but it is entirely unnecessary on more limited game slates. Why? Simply put: Game Strategy. Less sharp players will be looking to maximize their output by rostering more expensive players to round out their lineups, which is an endorsed practice on double-digit game slates...but with limited games available, you can achieve roster uniqueness (Point #3 above) by just spending less than the masses. Do not overthink it--roster the players you like and if you are leaving $5,000 on the table this week, it is entirely acceptable.
5) Be responsible. This one is straightforward--if you've read this column for 17 consecutive weeks, you likely have finished in the black on the DFS season. Congrats! As we wind down NFL DFS, do not make the mistake of overexposing yourself on a playoff slate because, for the reasons outlined above, you could conceivably put a major dent into the hard work you have done to this point in the season. Enjoy the fruits of your labor, throw a dart or two into a GPP, and you will not have any regrets on Sunday night.
... and PICKS
Ben Roethlisberger (Salary: $7200). With DeAngelo Williams officially inactive for Saturday's game against the Bengals, the Steelers will roll out Fitzgerald Toussaint, an undrafted free agent signee who was cut by the Ravens earlier this season and spent most of the year on the Steelers' practice squad; Toussaint suffered a serious leg injury in his junior year of college and was never the same thereafter...in the NFL, he struggled to excel, averaging 2.3 yards per carry during limited action and only playing when his teams were under duress. Because I believe the Steelers' ground game will be, well, grounded, Coach Mike Tomlin will lean on his veteran quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger to do the heavy-lifting in Cincinnati on Saturday night. Despite strong seasons from both LeVeon Bell and DeAngelo Williams rushing the ball, Roethlisberger still assembled an impressive 2015 campaign, averaging 22.3 fantasy points per game. He will face a strong Bengals' secondary that is FootballOutsiders' 8th ranked pass defense (DVOA metric) and has allowed the 2nd fewest points against the quarterback position over the past five weeks, but if the Steelers are to advance, it will almost assuredly be on the arm of Roethlisberger. After falling backwards into the playoffs, expect the Steelers to enter this weekend's game with a renewed sense of urgency with Roethlisberger leading the way. It would not be surprising to see him finish this game with 40+ pass attempts, the type of volume that makes him DFS-relevant on a limited game slate.
Aaron Rodgers (Salary: $6400). After opening the season with three consecutive 20+ fantasy point performances, Aaron Rodgers only assembled three additional 20+ fantasy point games over the Packers' remaining 13 games. In fact, Rodgers has not had a 300-yard passing game since Week 10 (versus Detroit) and has looked downright pedestrian over the past month. Some of the blame for Rodgers' lack of productivity can be placed elsewhere--his offensive line has allowed the 7th most sacks in the league (43) and his two primary receivers (Randall Cobb and Davante Adams) have combined to drop nearly 10% of their collective targets this season (20 drops in 211 targets). That said, Rodgers has been in the playoffs before and it arguably the most talented quarterback playing this weekend. Rodgers has the skill set and a great matchup against the NFL's 22nd ranked pass defense (FootballOutsiders' DVOA metric) that has allowed either 300+ passing yards or multiple passing touchdowns in every game, except one, since their Week 8 bye. When the playoffs come around, we can generally trust those players who have been there before and Rodgers has 11 games' worth of playoff experience.
Marshawn Lynch **Lynch did NOT make the trip to Minnesota--get him OUT of your lineups! Christine Michael ($4,400) will get the majority of the carries out of the Seattle backfield.** (Salary: $6500). Jonathan Bales, my friend and author of multiple DFS titles, has retrospectively analyzed the effect of cold weather on passing efficiency in the NFL and discovered that extremely cold games cause an average dropoff of 10% (or more) in yards per attempt. Why is this important? The weather in Minnesota this weekend is supposed to be approaching sub-zero temperatures, which will dramatically affect both Russell Wilson and Teddy Bridgewater; both teams boasts top-tier running backs, but it is Marshawn Lynch who gets the nod here because his matchup against the Vikings' 18th ranked rush defense (FootballOutsiders) far exceeds Adrian Peterson's matchup against the Seahawks' 3rd ranked unit. There is, however, some question about Lynch's volume and health headed into wild-card weekend after an eight-week hiatus due to a sports hernia; that said, Head Coach Pete Carroll has stated that Lynch is a "full go" this weekend and that should mean 20+ touches for the bellcow running back, particularly if the Seahawks jump to an early lead, as Vegas expects.
Alfred Morris (Salary: $3700). As the weekend approaches, it is becoming more and more evident that the Redskins will be without standout rookie running back, Matt Jones, who continues to deal with a hip injury. If Jones misses his game against the Packers, Alfred Morris should get plenty of work alongside Pierre Thomas, who will spell Morris on passing down situations. For his part, Morris has been solid as of late, averaging 17+ touches per game and 4.7 yards per carry over his past three games; a similar performance against the Packers 19th ranked rush defense (FootballOutsiders' DVOA) could put him in the neighborhood of 8-10 fantasy points without scoring a touchdown...if Morris were to find paydirt, something that has eluded him this season due to Matt Jones (and Kirk Cousins) stealing redzone carries, he would easily achieve 5x value or greater at likely low ownership.
Also eligible: Eddie Lacy ($4500)
Antonio Brown (Salary: $9600). There is not much to say here...Antonio Brown is the league's best DFS receiver because of his targets (193 on the season), his reception percentage (70.5%), and his usage in his respective offense. Without DeAngelo Williams on the field, Antonio Brown could be targeted by Ben Roethlisberger even more often this Saturday night, as the Steelers are not likely to put their Super Bowl hopes upon the shoulders of Fitzgerald Toussaint. Brown will have his hands full running ~ 50% of his routes towards Adam Jones, but the other ~ 50% will go against Dre Kirkpatrick, who has been beaten for some serious yardage (742) while in coverage this season. Last thing: the only reason to fade Brown is to play the role of contrarian because he should be 75% owned (or higher) this weekend...if you are entering multiple GPP rosters, my recommendation is to have between 60-80% exposure to Brown, which should keep you in the 'sweet spot' of exposure where you still have a chance to win those tournaments, regardless of what he does against the Bengals.
James Jones (Salary: $4100). As discussed above, Aaron Rodgers has been victimized by dropped passes for much of the season and his allegiance towards Davante Adams and even Randall Cobb has wained, as those receivers are averaging six and seven targets per game over the past month, respectively; meanwhile, James Jones has taken over as Rodgers' primary target in Green Bay, averaging nearly 8.5 targets per game over the Packers' previous five games, including six redzone targets over that same span. Jones should run over half of his routes towards undrafted free agent rookie, Quinton Dunbar, who has been serviceable since earning a starting gig late in the season, but Dunbar has not yet proven himself against a quarterback of Rodgers' stature. The Redskins have given up the 8th most fantasy points to the wide receiver position this season and the 10th most over the past five weeks, all of which bodes well for James Jones at a modest $4,100 salary entering wild-card weekend.
Jermaine Kearse (Salary: $3300). After a slow start, Jermaine Kearse has finished the season strong with positive scores on ProFootballFocus in five of his past six games (the lone exception being a 38-7 trouncing of the Vikings, where Kearse saw limited action). Kearse has been quietly effective over the past month, averaging six targets (versus 6.2 for Tyler Lockett and 8.0 for Doug Baldwin) and 15 DraftKings points per game. Kearse will be largely overshadowed (and underowned) by the red-hot Baldwin (11 touchdowns in the past 6 games) and Lockett, who will be used heavily as a Seattle Defense correlation play. Due to frigid cold temperatures, passing in this game will likely be limited to some degree, which is why I might argue that Kearse is the best option of the Seahawk receivers--both Baldwin and Lockett would have to do a lot with their touches to achieve value, while Kearse's salary is low enough to merit consideration and he will be, by far, the lowest-owned Seattle receiver [not to mention that he remains the biggest redzone receiver at 6'1" (both Baldwin and Lockett at 5'10")].
Jordan Reed (Salary: $6300). Jordan Reed is arguably the best fantasy tight end entering the playoffs. Reed has averaged over 25 fantasy points per game over the past month, has more targets than any other receiver on the Redskins, and is catching an incredible 93.5% of his targets during that time. Simply put, Reed is a target monster at a position where consistent volume is tough to find and, for that reason alone, he is the top tight end play on wild-card weekend. His matchup against the Packers appears to be average, at best, as the Packers rank near the middle (14th) of defenses against the tight end position (fantasy points allowed), but on the rare occasion that they have played a tight end of Reed's caliber, they have yielded significant fantasy points, including a 9/95/0 stat line to Antonio Gates and a 4/65/1 stat line to Greg Olsen. No matter how this game transpires (Packers win or Redskins win), it is difficult to see Jordan Reed not playing a significant role.
Tyler Eifert (Salary: $5000). The shiny new toy at the tight end position is Jordan Reed and his ownership numbers will reflect it--do not be surprised to see Reed at ownership levels north of 60% this weekend. If you can stomach fading Reed, you should give serious consideration to Tyler Eifert, who trails only Doug Baldwin, Brandon Marshall, and Allen Robinson in receiving touchdowns, despite missing almost a quarter of the season with a concussion. Eifert gets a plum matchup against the Steelers, who have allowed the 7th most fantasy points to the tight end position in 2015. Looking at Eifert's game logs, one might conclude that his production subsided as the season closed, but Eifert still has not played a full game's worth of snaps since returning from his concussion injury; prior to his concussion, Eifert was averaging almost 100% of the Bengals' offensive snaps, but he has only played 63.7% of snaps since his return. With a 20+ additional offensive snaps this week and the matchup against a porous defense, Eifert could very well put together a solid game at relatively low ownership (due to Jordan Reed's excessive ownership).
Also eligible: Richard Rodgers ($4000)
Seahawks (Salary: $4100). All four games this weekend have visiting, low-spread favorites, which is generally not the type of defense that we want to target for DFS purposes. Of those four, Seattle appears to be the safest option against a Vikings offense that has excelled against lesser defensive units, but stumbled when they have faced top-end defenses. Just a month ago, these two teams matched up in Minnesota and the Seahawks embarrassed the Vikings with a 38-7 trouncing; in that effort, the Vikings managed only 149 total yards of offense and Adrian Peterson was all but eliminated from the gamescript. Expect the Seahawks to run out a similar defensive strategy this weekend and they will do so in sub-arctic temperatures that will limit field goal attempts and the passing game to some degree. This should be a low-scoring affair and the Seahawks should come out on top.
Texans (Salary: $3900). If you want to get away from the Seahawks to maximize upside, the Texans are a nice alternative. The Chiefs' offensive line has allowed the 6th most sacks in the league this season and the Texans boast a defensive front that finished the season with the 5th most sacks, which could mean that Alex Smith could be scrambling for his life with J.J. Watt hot on his heels. The Texans defense ranks in the top ten of every team defense category (rush defense, pass rush, pass coverage) on ProFootballFocus and has averaged over 20 fantasy points in their past three matchups...this is a hot team playing as a home underdog, which is a great spot for a defense with nothing to lose.