Between articles, podcasts, videos, and staff collaborations, Footballguys offers nearly 40 pieces of unique DFS content every week to help set you up with the best plays and strategies. This feature is one of those pieces, but unlike typical DFS articles, the goal of this series is not just to spoon feed you the week’s top plays.
Don’t worry. You’ll get a few of my top plays too of course, but rather than just listing players I’m going heavy on each week, I intend to show you exactly how I arrived at those players using one of the many DFS research tools you may or may not realize is currently included at no extra charge with your Insider Pro subscription. My hope is the use cases shown in this series will encourage you to get hands-on with these tools and begin doing more of your own research.
In short, I don’t just want to give you a fish. I want to teach you to fish. Yes, it will take more time. And yes, it will sometimes feel more like work than playing your favorite game. But DFS is similar to most moneymaking endeavors life has to offer -- the more work you put in, the more profit you’ll eventually take out.
Each week, I’ll show you how a different Footballguys tool can be used to gain an edge in DFS, though at some point later in the year I’ll likely circle back and start incorporating multiple tools per week. One quick disclaimer -- I’m primarily a tournament player (usually anywhere from 75%-90% of my weekly entries) for the reasons our BJ Vanderwoude lays out here. As a result, you can assume the players I’m highlighting are best deployed in mid-large field GPPs, unless stated otherwise.
The Data Dominator
The first DFS research tool we’ll cover this year is a long-time favorite of mine, the Data Dominator. I’m not going to show you exactly how to use it because, well, I just did that about a month ago. Going forward, if there’s a tool I haven’t illustrated in the past, you can expect a snappy instructional video to go along with the article.
Where I’ve found the Dominator most useful for DFS purposes is analyzing opportunity stats -- carries and receptions for running backs and targets for wide receivers and tight ends. There’s plenty of places on the web to find this data of course, but what makes the Dominator unique is it allows you to see where on the field these opportunities occur, when in games they’re happening most, and so much more that can be used to augment projections, spot outliers, and cut against narratives. Case in point:
Amari Cooper is Not Invisible to Derek Carr in the Red Zone
There seems to be a consensus in the fantasy community Amari Cooper isn’t a threat to catch short touchdowns. Skeptics point to Cooper’s six touchdowns as a rookie (four of which came from 25+ yards out) and the fact he was out-targeted in the red zone by teammate Michael Crabtree as evidence. But the Data Dominator tells us Cooper’s lack of involvement when the Raiders got within striking distance wasn’t a season-long trend. It’s true Cooper was targeted only once from inside the 20-yard line in the first eight weeks of 2015, but here’s how Oakland’s red zone looks were divvied up over the second half of the season via the Data Dominator:
Seven red zone targets in eight weeks isn’t any great shakes, but it’s at least encouraging Cooper had essentially the same red zone role as Crabtree down the stretch. And there’s no reason to think Cooper’s touchdown total won’t spike in 2016, especially if you believe him when he says he wasn’t himself as a rookie due to a nagging plantar fascia injury. Cooper is still the player who caught 16 touchdowns during his senior season at Alabama, where his abilities to create separation, track the ball in the air, and catch with his hands made him unstoppable on goal line fade routes.
The Raiders draw the Saints in Week 1. New Orleans, you may remember, ranked dead last in Football Outsiders’ pass defense DVOA metric last season (29th against opposing WR1s) and were a bottom three unit in at least four more relevant pass defense categories -- opponent yards per pass attempt, completion percentage, passing touchdown percentage, and pass plays of 20+ yards allowed. They also allowed the seventh-most plays to opponents in the red zone last year.
Of course, the rest of the field will remember New Orleans defensive struggles too and note Raiders at Saints has the highest over/under on the slate (51 points). You won’t be sneaking him past anyone in tournaments (think 20% ownership or more), so there’s certainly value in playing Crabtree as a leverage play. But Cooper has 100+ yard, multi-touchdown upside at a palatable mid-range WR2 price tag across the industry. I’m not fading him in tournaments or cash games.
Randall Cobb is a 5-Foot-10 Red Zone Giant
If you guessed Cobb was the Packers leading red zone receiver last year with Jordy Nelson sidelined, you’d be correct. But Cobb’s 21 red zone targets were not a direct result of Nelson’s injury. Back in 2014, with Nelson on the field for all 16 games, Cobb had 27 red zone targets -- good for fourth-most in the league and only one less than Nelson’s 28.
Here are the top-10 players in combined red zone targets over the last two seasons via the Data Dominator:
|Odell Beckham Jr||wr||2014--2015||45||30||235||7.8333||14||107.5|
It’s surprising to see the diminutive Cobb third on that list. What maybe isn’t so surprising since he plays with Aaron Rodgers (who the Dominator tells us has converted the second-highest percentage of his red zone passes into touchdowns since 2002 - minimum 300 attempts), is that Cobb has converted his ample red zone opportunities into scores at a 31% clip, well above the league average of 25% since 2014.
Cobb is positioned as a worthy contrarian tournament play in Week 1. The Packers take on the Jaguars in Jacksonville, where Vegas has Green Bay pegged for a healthy 26.25 points (second-highest implied total on the slate). Jordy Nelson will be “full-bore” against the Jags, which means the Packers once again have an outside threat to draw coverage away from Cobb in the slot. Cobb will match up primarily against rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey, a top-flight prospect to be sure, but also a player with precisely zero regular season experience.
Cobb is slightly more expensive across the industry than more popular plays like Cooper and T.Y Hilton. I don’t see much more than 5% of the crowd paying up to roster him with his disappointing 2015 still visible in the rear view. The same could be said of Aaron Rodgers and especially Jordy Nelson, making the Green Bay offense one to target in GPPs.
The Field Will Be Off Jordan Matthews -- You Shouldn’t Be
Sticking with the theme of under-owned wide receivers, Jordan Matthews is coming off a bone bruise that caused him to miss most of training camp and now he’s saddled with a rookie quarterback who probably has no business starting this early in the season. Matthews’ price point on both sites makes it likely the majority of entrants will either pay up to more popular plays like Cooper, or down to better point per dollar values like Donte Moncrief (another chalky wide receiver I’m not fading in GPPs).
But particularly on full PPR sites, Matthews warrants consideration as a potential target hog. He led the Eagles with 128 targets last season and while some analysts think Zach Ertz will get a bump from Wentz since rookie quarterbacks tend to lean on their tight ends (a myth that has been wholly debunked), it’s more likely Matthews is targeted heavily on short routes out of the slot when Wentz needs to get the ball out quickly. Matthews will line up against some combination of Cleveland cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Tramon Williams on Sunday. Taylor had the third-worst coverage grade of any cornerback on the slate in 2015 according to Pro Football Focus, while Williams was just moved to nickel corner from the outside after losing his starting job to the awful Taylor. Matthews has at least three inches and 17 pounds on either player.
Philadelphia’s implied team total sits at a moderate 22.75 points, down 2.75 since Sam Bradford was traded to the Vikings. It seems likely they’ll lean run-heavy in an effort to insulate Wentz, who was admittedly awful in the preseason:
Wentz only threw 24 passes this preseason. He completed 12, w/ a 3.7 YPA. He completed 3 of 12 when under pressure w/ an INT & 4.9 QB Rating— Pat Thorman (@Pat_Thorman) September 5, 2016
But with the lack of other viable pass catching options in Philadelphia, it’s likely Matthews can meet his 2015 season average of eight targets in this game. The implied point total is high enough (and the opposing defense porous enough) to expect at least one passing touchdown from Wentz. The Data Dominator tells us there’s very few places that touchdown will land if the Eagles move the ball into the red zone:
Matthews’ 33% red zone target market share was 11th highest in the NFL last season. In order for it to matter in Week 1, Wentz might have to surprise a bit, but DFS players are underestimating just how terrible Cleveland’s defense is. In addition to their deficiencies in the secondary, the Browns projected front-seven starters have combined for just 22 career sacks. The two players who led the team in sacks last year -- Desmond Bryant and Armonty Bryant -- will both miss this game. I’m not sure the opponent could be more favorable for a rookie quarterback making his first start.
Matthews has a scary-low floor, so be careful not to overexpose yourself. If you’re making multiple GPP lineups, use him selectively as a low-owned pivot off more popular wide receiver plays in his price range.
Christine Michael’s Awakening is Real (For this Week Anyway)
Exactly how the Seahawks plan to split up their backfield workload in Week 1 is still a developing story, but here’s what we know:
In terms of on-field production and praise from teammates and coaches, Christine Michael had a preseason for the ages. He ran for 157 yards on 26 carries (6.04 yards per carry) over Seattle’s four exhibition games.
Incumbent starter Thomas Rawls is recovering from a severe ankle injury that kept him out of nearly the entire offseason program and limited him to just two preseason carries.
Pete Carroll’s recent quotes regarding Rawls don’t sound promising for his Week 1 usage. “"He's ready in the next couple weeks to get back in where he can start a game, take a game over and do all of the things that he can do," Carroll said. "It's still time to take care of him as we get him back. He only carried the ball a couple times so far. We’re just making progress with him. You don’t want to rush him. This is his second preseason game in a sense, as far as relative to the other guys. So we’ll see how he does. I’d love for him to carry the ball quite a bit in this game, and then we’ll know where we stand going into the next week. It’s just really bringing him along properly and carefully. We want to make sure we take care of him."
The only positive signs for Rawls being heavily involved in Week 1 came from a beat writer’s speculation Rawls would start and outcarry Michael 15 to seven. It was published before the above quotes from Carroll.
Michael is listed as the first string running back on Seattle’s initial depth chart.
And here’s what we can surmise:
Seattle hosts Miami as a 10.5 point favorite. Why would Carroll risk a heavy workload for Rawls -- who had the highest rushing success rate in the NFL last year -- in the first game of the season against such an inferior opponent (especially if the Seahawks put the game out of reach early)?
Miami fielded a bottom-third rush defense last year (per DVOA) and their starting unit was up and down against the run in the preseason. This is a plus matchup for Seahawks running backs.
The implied game script based on the point spread suggests substantially more rushing attempts for Seattle running backs than the 22 proposed by ESPN beat writer Sheil Kapadia earlier this week. The Data Dominator shows us the Seahawks were second in the NFL in fourth quarter rushing attempts last season:
In fact, in Seattle’s 10 wins last season, their running backs combined for 27.3 carries per game. And their total rushing attempts by running backs increased to 28.5 in the eight games they won by double digits. If you believe Vegas has the line right, there are enough touches for Michael to return tournament value in this matchup, even in the event Rawls receives 10-12 carries (which seems like a fair ceiling based on the information currently available). Give Michael a slight bump on sites that don’t use full PPR scoring, but his price across the industry is low enough to use him in all scoring formats. With any luck, we won’t get much more clarity on Seattle’s backfield leading up to game time, so Michael stays fairly low-owned in tournaments.