The Contrarian: FanDuel Week 1

Identifying underexposed players to create roster uniqueness in tournaments.

As you may have heard, FanDuel is no longer displaying ownership percentages until a player’s contest kicks off. What this mean is we won’t have charted data of those numbers like we did in the past. You can read my thoughts in detail on the sister article to this one called “The Fade”.

Without physical numbers to guide us, identifying contrarian plays just got a little bit harder. What this really means is there’s more strategy, which in turn gives us an advantage over the crowd. I think a lot of people blindly used the data to structure their rosters, particularly from a contrarian standpoint. Now, without that data, they’ll be guessing. We’ll be guessing too. But, and not to toot our own horn too much, we’re better guessers.

What that means for the purpose of this article is simple: I’ll analyze multiple players at each position that should have relatively low exposure to the crowd. Same as always. The goal is to build unique lineups without building unreliable lineups. Being contrarian doesn’t mean throwing darts. It means taking calculated risks the crowd won’t.

First, here are some thoughts I have on playing Week 1:

  • Be careful with your bankroll this early in the season. As trends develop we’ll be able to spot plays easier. But until then, play slow and low and gradually build.
  • It may not be a terrible idea to pay up for quarterbacks and running backs Week 1. Value plays always look good Sunday morning and terrible Tuesday morning.
  • Use the Interactive Value Chart to your advantage. It’s a great resource to help build lineups. But like ownership data, it’s meant as a guide; not a rule book.
  • You’ll see a lot of references to Vegas spreads and lines. Refer to John Lee’s Vegas Value Chart for more information.
  • GPPs are impossible to win. But also possible to win. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Have fun with them, but don’t go crazy.

Quarterbacks

Matthew Stafford - $7,400

I can’t believe I’m starting the year off by recommending Stafford. And it’s possible I’m wrong about the crowd; he could be a popular play on Sunday. Either way, you have to like his chances against a bad Colts defense that’s missing their top cornerback. No, Stafford won’t have Calvin Johnson to throw to. But the Lions added Marvin Jones to help fill the void. Stafford will also have a pair of great pass-catchers in the backfield, and a monster at tight end. And maybe it was the Jim Bob Cooter offense finally clicking, but from Week 12 on last year Stafford was the fifth highest scoring quarterback, throwing 17 touchdowns to one interception during that span. This game has one of the highest Vegas totals of the weekend with the Colts favored by five points, so while crowd huddles around Andrew Luck, Stafford is the mid-priced contrarian play who could easily hit tournament value.

Brock Osweiler- $7,100

In the eight games he played last year, Osweiler managed a top-12 finish only three times. Only once did he score more than 21.3 points—the number he’ll need this week to hit tournament value. I am a little surprise he’s priced as high as he is, considering there’s a chance he’s not good at football. But the matchup is one of the best on the board. The Bears gave up 31 touchdowns to eight interceptions last year, finishing as the seventh most friendly defense for quarterbacks. Now surrounded with more talent than ever, Osweiler not only has DeAndre Hopkins, but also Lamar Miller—pass catching specialist when used correctly. It’s not out of the question to expect 250 yards and a pair of scores. In fact, here’s our projections for him this week:

Week

Opp

Analyst

CMP

ATT

YD

TD

INT

RSH

YD

TD

Pts

1 vs CHI PROJ-Dodds 23 36 247 1.5 0.9 2 7 0.1 18.75
1 vs CHI PROJ-Tremblay 23 37 260 1.6 1 2 8 0.1 19.8
1 vs CHI PROJ-Bloom 19 28 228 1.6 0.7 2 7 0.1 18.4

Add a few scrambles and Osweiler is flirting with a 3x performance.

Kirk Cousins - $7,900

I’m listing Cousins as a contrarian play, even though he’ll probably have medium exposure. I’m hoping his cost will push the crowd away. He’s in the that sweet spot where the crowd will either just pay up to get a better quarterback, or go cheap, leaving Cousins in the void. The Steelers are a cake matchup. And I love getting a home quarterback as an underdog in a game that Vegas has set as one of the highest scoring. Washington’s offense is loaded with splash play types. From DeSean Jackson to Jordan Reed to Matt Jones, Cousins—who last year threw the 12th most touchdowns and finished as QB8—is surrounded by talent. This might be the cheapest he’ll be all season.

Running Backs

LeSean McCoy - $6,900

Since so much of the crowd is going to be on value plays like Spencer Ware and DeAngelo Williams, it’s likely McCoy—one of the best values on the board—gets overlooked. Only Matt Forte has scored more PPR points than McCoy since 2010. He’s been fantastic nearly every season, with a protected floor thanks to his ability as a receiver. The matchup isn’t too spectacular—the Ravens allowed only four rushing touchdowns on their home turf last year. And this game doesn’t shape up to be all that high scoring, with an over/under total of 43 points (the Bills projected to score 20 of them). But McCoy has no competition for carries and might be the second best receiver on their team. For $6,900, he’s worth chasing; 120 total yards and a touchdown gets him close to tournament value. Even if the matchup isn’t pretty, his promising workload is:

Latavius Murray - $6,600

There was a lot of noise in the preseason regarding Murray’s job and whether he was “the guy” in Oakland. Noise being the keyword. Murray is the unquestioned man of a promising Raiders’ offense. And he was one of the best matchups on the board this weekend. The Saints defense is still awful. They are so bad that despite Drew Brees playing at home, they’re favored by only one point—a toss-up. The Raiders have the third highest projected total of road teams (24.75 points). It’s not crazy to think they get a lead and attempt to hold it by running the ball into a soft defense (we have their offensive line ranked 11th). I like Murray as an off-the-radar tournament play.

Rashad Jennings - $6,000

The game script could favor the Giants as they travel to Dallas to meet a rookie quarterback and a terrible defense. The Cowboys are favored but their defensive line is a mess, their quarterback has never played a real game, and the Giants defense is much better than it was last year. Jennings finished as RB21 last year, but from Week 14 through Week 17, he put together 521 total yards and two touchdowns—good enough to rank as RB4 during that stretch. We’ll see if he can pick up where he left off. The good news is Andre Williams was (finally) released, reserving all goal line carries for Jennings.

Shaun Draughn - $4,800

Okay, bear with me here. I know what you’re thinking. Why would I recommend a backup running back for a horrible offense playing against a dangerous defensive line? Consider this a punt play of the position. Draughn is the receiving back of Chip Kelly’s offense. It just so happens that the Rams, while tough against the run, gave up the most receiving yards and fourth most receptions to running backs last year. The game script will push the 49ers into hurry-up, pass-first mode. Draughn will be the beneficiary, especially if there is some doubt to Carlos Hyde’s health. I’m not going to plant my flag, but if Draughn even so much as sneaks into the end zone—a long shot, to be sure--he’ll be excellent value.

Wide Receivers

DeSean Jackson - $6,600

I’ve already professed my love for Cousins. Now it’s time to profess my love for one of my favorite stacks of the week. Jackson missed a lot of games last year but put things together from Week 11 on, finishing as WR23 during that stretch. He has a nice matchup against a Steelers’ secondary that gave up more FanDuel points to wide receivers than any other team. This game is going to be shootout, which means Jackson might be unloaded with a number of deep shots. A splash play or two is not out of the question. Despite having a great preseason, Jackson is off the crowd’s radar.

Doug Baldwin - $6,700

Baldwin finished the season as our eighth highest scoring receiver, mostly thanks to his otherworldly performance from Week 10 on. He and Wilson hooked up for 47 receptions, 724 yards and 12 touchdowns during that stretch. Expecting them to pick up where they left off would be foolish. But Baldwin is underpriced and has sweetheart of a matchup against the Dolphins ball-gawking secondary. It’s hard to say how the crowd will handle this situation, but a Wilson/Baldwin stack looks like a winner, even if it isn’t totally contrarian.

Randall Cobb - $7,200

Let’s bet on recency bias keeping Cobb’s ownership down. He’s the cheapest way to buy into the Packers/Jaguars tilt and still have a high floor, where the Packers are the most favored road team of the week. Even though I don’t particularly love Rodgers at his price, Cobb is a nice value play and stands to see a lot of targets with defenses adjusting to the return of Jordy Nelson. And if this offense returns to 2014 form, the Packers power stack of Rodgers/Nelson/Cobb might be a tournament winner. But for Week 1, I like a healthy Cobb to come close to tournament value despite not having the easiest matchup.

Marvin Jones - $5,500

We’ll let the preseason hype roll right into our lineups. Checking in with super value, Jones is the big-body for Stafford and projects to be the top red zone target. Since 2010, Jones has converted his 30 red zone targets into 12 touchdowns—the eight best conversion rate of players with at least 30 targets, which includes tight ends:

Player

Targets

Recs

Rec %

TDs

TD %

Rob Gronkowski 107 72 67.28 51 47.66
Julius Thomas 43 32 74.41 20 46.51
Visanthe Shiancoe 39 25 64.1 18 46.15
Kyle Rudolph 37 25 67.56 16 43.24
Dez Bryant 82 47 57.31 34 41.46
Todd Heap 44 25 56.81 18 40.9
Vernon Davis 84 53 63.09 34 40.47
Marvin Jones 30 21 70 12 40
Jimmy Graham 105 60 57.14 41 39.04
Antonio Gates 155 84 54.19 59 38.06

He’ll get to rip into a soft Colts secondary missing its top cornerback. His salary is almost too good to be true. Feel free to launch the Lions stack this weekend.  

Terrelle Pryor - $4,900

One of the more interesting stacks of the week, pairing Pryor with Robert Griffin III is full of risk but has major upside. On the road against an Eagles secondary that gave up the fourth most touchdowns and third most FanDuel point to wide receivers, Pryor is the lone deep threat and RG3 is a deep-threat specialist. Whether or not this offense even scores points is certainly worth a concern. But I’m fine being in the minority and leaning towards picking the Browns to win this game. The floor is terrifying, but all he needs is one big catch to hit value.

Tight Ends

Jason Witten - $5,500

I hate to immediately reach for the cliché “safety valve” narrative with Witten and his rookie quarterback, but it’s cliché because it’s true. Old-man Witten is still one of the best in the league and knows how to operate with less-than-ideal quarterbacks. He won’t be needed to block thanks to the Cowboys top-ranked offensive line, which means he’s free to run short routes and be there to bail out a raw Dak Prescott. The Giants feature a good pass rush, but they gave up the second most points to tight ends last season. I like Witten to be under owned while he finds the end zone.

Clive Walford - $4,700

He may be an afterthought given the Raiders long list of offensive weapons, but he’s got sleeper material written all over him this season starting Week 1. Only the Lions gave up more touchdowns to tight ends than the Saints last year. While most of the defensive focus will filter to Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree (who’s also a decent contrarian play), Walford shapes up to be one of the top targets in the red zone. I’m not as confident in him as I am in Witten, but $4,700 is a fine price to pay for a the top tight end in what looks to be a high-scoring game.

Jesse James - $4,500

Who knows if the crowd has their eyes open for James. At minimum price, he’s a great deal. Ben Roethlisberger and Co. are headed for a shootout in Washington Monday night, and James is the top tight end option. The six-foot-seven American Outlaw enters his second season as the unquestioned starter thanks to the departure of Heath Miller and the health of Ladarius Green. One of the few favorites, no road team is projected to score more points than the Steelers (27.5). I like James as the underneath target and red zone weapon.

Kickers and Defenses

Sebastian Janikowski ($4,600) and Nick Novak ($4,500) are tied to teams that should have no trouble moving the ball, but might have trouble closing the deal leading to added field goal chances. Either one should get the job done with Novak likely having low ownership.

For defenses, David Dodd’s loves him some Eagles. It’s a smart move. RG3 is a turnover machine, so even if the Browns somehow score points, the potential for multiple defensive touchdowns exists.

The same can be said for the Giants defense, who take on a raw rookie, as mentioned earlier, and are much improved along the defensive line. With a lot of the crowd loading up their lineups with Prescott, the New York Football Giants could be the ultimate contrarian play for just $4,400.

It’ll be interesting to see who ends up starting for the Vikings, but in one of the lowest projected point totals of the week, I like the Titans home defense ($4,100) as a cheap contrarian play that could return nice value. The Vikings gave up the ninth most sacks last year and still haven’t announced who their quarterback will be after losing Teddy Bridgewater.