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. This week, fellow FootballGuy Phil Alexander outlined how this strategy played out in Wild-Card weekend in DraftKings' Millionaire Maker on our CrackingDraftKings blog. 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 David Johnson and Rob Gronkowski. 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
Carson Palmer (Salary: $6500). When the playoffs roll around, the mismatches are tough to come by and (low) Vegas implied team totals generally reflect that trend. This week, however, the Arizona Cardinals' team total is over 28 points and is, by far, the highest on the entire slate. Carson Palmer will lead the Cardinals' offense at home against the Packers, who allowed the far less-talented Kirk Cousins to throw for 329 yards a week ago; with two weeks to prepare and a stable of healthy receivers, Palmer should have little problem moving the ball against the Packers' secondary, even if Sam Shields is able to return for Green Bay. David Johnson is a key play (see below), but Palmer has immense upside in this game, which has the highest Vegas total on the Divisional Playoff slate.
Peyton Manning (Salary: $6000). Only one starting quarterback has a lower salary than Peyton Manning this weekend, but salaries are largely irrelevant with only eight teams playing. Manning appears here because the Steelers are stingy against the run (5th in the leauge via FootballOutsiders' DVOA metric), but allowed the third most passing yards per game (271.9) during the regular season, besting only the lowly New York Giants and New Orleans Saints. For that reason, we could see the Broncos lean a bit more heavily on Manning than they have for most of the season. The Broncos' team total is in the neighborhood of the other three favorites not named Arizona, which confers as much upside to Manning as Cam Newton and/or Tom Brady...but he will see the weakest secondary of the bunch.
David Johnson (Salary: $6000). The chalk play of the weekend in DFS circles, David Johnson, will be owned at rates higher than 70% across most game types. As stated above, the Cardinals have the highest implied team total on the entire Divisional Playoff slate and they are also touchdown favorites against the Packers; assuming the game plays out according to Vegas' predictions, Johnson should see ~ 20 touches against a Packers defense that allowed nearly 5.0 yards per carry to Redskins' ball carriers last week and was FootballOutsiders' 19th ranked rush defense on the season. When these same two teams met in Week 16, Johnson touched the ball 12 times and picked up 127 yards and a touchdown for 21.7 DraftKings points--we should expect a similar stat line on Saturday night for the young running back.
Fitzgerald Toussaint (Salary: $4200). Quite a few factors point towards Fitzgerald Toussaint having a heavy workload against the Broncos on Sunday afternoon. First, DeAngelo Williams will miss another game a foot injury. Likewise, target-monster Antonio Brown has been announced as 'inactive' with a concussion suffered against the Bengals last weekend. To make matters worse, Ben Roethlisberger's throwing range will likely be affected by a shoulder injury sustained on Wild-Card Weekend. All of these injuries should give Toussaint additional opportunity in the Steelers' offense, particularly as a pass-catching running back. Toussaint is not a highly-talented running back, but his implied volume and reasonable salary puts him squarely in contention on a small game slate weekend, particularly on a full PPR site, like DraftKings. If Toussaint can find the endzone, he will almost assuredly finish the day with 15+ fantasy points and will be on the winning Millionaire Maker roster.
Also eligible: Steven Jackson ($3300)
Demaryius Thomas (Salary: $7000). Both Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are in play against the Steelers' suspect secondary on Sunday, but Thomas appears here because he is still the WR1 in the Broncos offense. Sanders deserves attention because he should run at least 40% of his routes against Antwon Blake, who is ProFootballFocus' worst-rated coverage cornerback for 2015; however, Thomas will see Blake in ~ 30% of his routes and is the receiver more likely to see double-digit targets. Because the Steelers defense tends to funnel action through the passing game, stacks consisting of Peyton Manning and either Sanders or Thomas are highly-recommended.
Markus Wheaton (Salary: $4300). On a weekend where the Steelers' potent offense is projected to score only 16 points, the oft-overlooked Markus Wheaton could be a sneaky, underowned GPP play. Wheaton came on strong to close out the 2015 campaign, including scoring touchdowns in over half of the Steelers games that followed their Week 11 bye. Before a 3.3 clunker against the Bengals last week, Wheaton had double-digit fantasy numbers in five of his last six appearances; without Antonio Brown and/or DeAngelo Williams to steal Ben Roethlisberger's attention, Wheaton should be in store for plentiful action against a solid Broncos secondary. With Roethlisberger nursing a shoulder injury that will limit his ability to throw deep, the Steelers will game plan to throw a lot of short passes to move the ball on Sunday, which should benefit players like Markus Wheaton and Heath Miller far more than deeper threats like Martavis Bryant and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Chris Conley (Salary: $3000). The Chiefs' WR1, Jeremy Maclin, did not practice all week due to an ankle injury suffered against the Texans last Saturday. With Maclin questionable and likely not to be a major contributor against the Patriots in Foxborough on Saturday, we need to consider the Chiefs receivers most likely to benefit; the majority of DFS players will look towards star tight end, Travis Kelce, but Kelce will be extremely overowned because he posted a 100-yard receiving game last weekend and recency bias will be in full effect. Fading Kelce is admittedly risky, but I am suggesting rolling out either Chris Conley or Albert Wilson because they will be far lower-owned, but have similar upside to Kelce in this Chiefs offense. Conley gets the nod here because he is a full six inches taller than Wilson and is freakishly fast and athletic. When Maclin missed a full game back in Week 7, Conley and Wilson experienced similar snap counts (85% and 91%, respectively) and targets (six and seven, respectively), but Conley has higher upside and since this is a weekend where you should be playing primarily GPP's, he is the smarter play.
Rob Gronkowski (Salary: $7500). After missing practice for much of the week, ESPN's Ian Rapoport reported that Rob Gronkowski will play on Saturday, albeit in a limited fashion. Gronk was used in a similar role to start off the 2014 season for four games, where he saw most of his action on third down situations and in the redzone. In those games, Gronkowski played 51.1% of snaps and averaged 11.4 DraftKings points, including scoring a touchdown in three out of four games. Those numbers are not striking, particularly for a player of Gronkowski's caliber, but on a limited game slate, getting 12 to 15 fantasy points from a tight end might be as much as we can reasonably expect. If you are not excited about the notion of paying $7,500 for Gronkowski, knowing that his snaps will be limited, Greg Olsen is a great alternative who has a similar floor and upside against a Seahawks' defense that has struggled against top-end tight ends in 2015.
Heath Miller (Salary: $3200). As discussed above, Ben Roethlisberger will be without his two best weapons on a weekend where his injured shoulder could limit the number of downfield throws he makes. Furthermore, Big Ben will face a Broncos defense that ranks in the top five of every defensive metric on ProFootballFocus (rush defense, pass rush, and pass coverage), which could further limit his ability to find an open wide receiver. All of these takes point towards a big day for Heath Miller, who alongside Fitzgerald Toussaint, will become Roethlisberger's de facto dump-off receiver when under pressure from Von Miller and company. If the Broncos have a weakness on defense, it is defending the tight end position. Miller's salary is modest and his likelihood of scoring is scant, but he could see a lot of volume and a double-digit fantasy point day is reasonable given the likely gamescript and matchup.
Also eligible: Greg Olsen ($6900)
Broncos (Salary: $3900). Choosing a team defense on Divisional Playoff is not straightforward because there are so many good offenses that make it to this point in the season. That said, I am recommending two defenses that enter the weekend with an extra week of rest and preparation. The first is the Denver Broncos defense that allowed the fewest total yards during the regular season and yielded only 18.5 points per game along the way. The Broncos All-Pro secondary will match up against the likes of Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, and Darrius Heyward-Bey, none of whom present a significant challenge, particularly when one considers Ben Roethlisberger's ailing shoulder. Up front, no team has sacked the quarterback more than the Broncos, which will limit Roethlisberger's time to find open wide receivers and force a lot of underneath routes to Fitzgerald Toussaint and Heath Miller. If the Broncos are able to get a few hits on Roethlisberger, it would not be surprising to see him leave the game, forcing Landry Jones to take over...and that could be an ugly scenario for Steelers' fans, but a boon to the Broncos' team defense fantasy prospects.
Patriots (Salary: $3500). The New England Patriots also enjoyed an extra week of rest heading into the playoffs due to their seeding in the AFC. While most attention will be focused on their receiving crew, who are dealing with injury upon injury, the defense will be asked to contain a Chiefs offense that scored 30 points in Houston last week against a decent Texans defense. Bill Belichick will have his team ready for this game and, perhaps more importantly, Jeremy Maclin is likely going to be more of a decoy than a threat, which will dramatically hinder the Chiefs' upside in this matchup. The Patriots have scored double-digit fantasy points in five of their regular-season games this season and will be underowned on a weekend where Denver is the obvious play; if you want to go contrarian at the team defense position, pivot away from the Broncos to the Patriots.