The Fade: FanDuel Week 1

Your weekly guide to identifying exposure and profiting in guaranteed prize pools.

Welcome to The Fade.

For the last two years we’ve discussed ownership percentages in this space, and leveraged our GPP strategies around what the crowd gave us. Unfortunately, those numbers won’t be available in 2016. If you haven’t heard, FanDuel is blocking ownership percentages until a player’s contest starts, which means no more sneak peaks from the Thursday night game.

And I’ll admit, I’m going to miss having that information (I’m also going to miss my pretty tables). It was nice to get a glimpse of what the crowd was thinking. It helped confirm if I was right on certain players and point out where I might be wrong on others. At the very least, the numbers served as a tiebreaker.

But I also believe not having them will make me a better player. Sometimes, the data served as nothing more than bias. It was easy to fall into the trap of avoiding or rostering a player just because of how much or how little he was owned. As helpful as ownership data can be, it also was more noise in the signal. More information to digest in an already overwhelming maze of DFS information.

There is upside to this change. For one, it gives us an advantage because the lack of data has added another layer of strategy. We now have to project ownership percentages. It also means that lowly owned players will stay lowly owned since the crowd won’t see it. I like that.

It also means a minor tweak in the format of this article. Going forward, I will analyze the players I believe will be the highest owned at each position, as well as players I’m just fading—regardless of their ownership potential. Which is really what this space has always been about. Now, instead of letting the numbers do the talking, we get to burrow into some good old-fashioned analog analysis.

It feels good to be back in the saddle. Before jumping in, here’s a few Week 1 thoughts:

  • 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

Dak Prescott - $5,000

I don’t think there’s any question that Prescott will be the highest owned quarterback to kick the season off. His mesmerizing performance in the preseason already had some folks hinting that he should replace Tony Romo (they were just kidding, I’m sure). Well, as fortune would have it, Romo broke another bone and Prescott is the starter by default.

If you didn’t watch any preseason games, just trust me when I tell you that what Prescott put on the field was fantastic. But I’m not going to share his stats here. Nor am I going to suggest an outright fade. Instead, be mindful of the fact that he is a raw rookie making his first ever NFL start against a much improved defense of a division rival. This is not going to be easy.

That said, he’s a dual-threat that can have a horrible day professionally but still hit value in fantasy. He’ll be a fifth of the way to 3x with 30 rushing yards. The Giants, by the way, gave up the sixth most rushing yards to quarterbacks last year. For his near minimum price, you can build a monster lineup, so I’ll definitely have some shares. I’ll also have a few lineups with the Giants defense to hedge.

Russell Wilson - $8,500

A big reason the Seahawks are favored by over 10 points and have the highest projected team total of Week 1 is because Wilson. That’s it. That’s the end of the sentence.

Oh, and their defense is hosting a Miami team that may never actually be good, despite their supposed talent. They also have to travel from one of the southern most points of the continental U.S. to one of the northern most—losing three hours along the way. I suppose if there’s a good time to do that it’s in Week 1.

Regardless, Wilson is a great play against the Dolphins’ defense and worth every bit of his $8,500 salary. But he will be one of the highest owned quarterbacks on Sunday, so you’ll need to be creative elsewhere if you choose his services.

Aaron Rodgers - $9,000

It’s hard to pinpoint how the crowd will measure Rodgers. He could be the highest owned quarterback. He could be the 10th highest owned quarterback. One way or the other, he will certainly be the most expensive quarterback, and I’m having a hard time justifying his salary.  

There’s a lot to be said for paying up for quarterbacks this early in the season when we have little statistic footing. Rodgers has just as a good of a shot as anybody to close the weekend as our highest scoring player. But unless that’s going to be a nuclear performance that blows away all other quarterbacks (certainly possible), I’m confident that I can save the cash and make up the points at other positions. Like, if you took a quarterback priced at $7,800 or less, and Rodgers outscored that quarterback by two touchdowns—we’ll call it 10 points—how hard would it be to cover your loss with the $1,200 in savings? $1,200 would be a major upgrade at multiple positions. Even so much as “downgrading” to Wilson so you can pump $500 into a better running back feels like a better play. It’s not like we’re getting an ownership discount with Rodgers.

Eli Manning - $7,200

You’ll probably hear a lot of Manning talk leading into Sunday morning’s DFS frenzy, and there’s some merit to his matchup and friendly $7,200 price tag. There’s also some merit to this being one of those awkward, potentially lopsided, Cowboys/Giants games where a lot of fantasy points go to the wrong players. If Prescott flops, it’s all Giants defense and maybe Rashad Jennings (a favorite play of mine). Manning will likely have medium ownership (somewhere around 7%).

Ben Roethlisberger - $8,500

I hate fading Roethlisberger because every time I do, I have this feeling that he’s going uncap a five-score night and I’ll be headed for the showers for a sob. But he’s the same price as Wilson and missing a pair of serious weapons (not to mention Heath Miller, for whatever that’s worth). Only eight teams allowed more passing touchdowns than Washington last year, but they did add Josh Norman this offseason. By the way, here are Roethlisberger’s home/road splits in 2015:

Split

Games

W

L

Cmp

Att

Inc

Cmp%

Yds

TD

Int

Rate

Home 6 5 1 159 243 84 65.43 2088 16 7 102.4
Road 6 3 3 160 226 66 70.8 1850 5 9 86

His touchdown-to-interception ratio on the road of .56 was the worst in the league (minimum 150 attempts). And though it’s extreme, it’s not an outlier. Over the last five seasons, for quarterbacks with at least 500 attempts, Roethlisberger has the 10th worst road touchdown-to-interception ratio (1.31).

But I do love the over/under of 50 points in this game; I’d just rather bet on the home-team quarterback and save $700.

Running Backs

Spencer Ware - $5,400

Of the 23 running backs that had at least seven rushing attempts inside the five-yard line, Ware’s touchdown conversation rate was the best in the league. Now all but guaranteed to be the starter, his matchup, opportunity, past performance and current price tag will be more than enough to make him the highest owned running back, if not the highest owned player.

One of the things to remember about ownership percentages is that they shouldn’t be the only reason you fade a player. Right now, it’s the only reason I can come up with. I can cast doubts. I can tell you that the Chargers signed Brandon Mebane of Seahawks’ fame in March to turn around their run defense. I can tell you that Charcandrick West routinely out-snapped, and occasionally outplayed Ware. I can even tell you that unless Jamaal Charles is officially ruled out, there’s a chance he will play the entire game.

None of those things matter. Ware is the loss leader of the week. Meaning, ignore his ownership and expose at least a few of your lineups. The Chiefs are a touchdown favorite and he’s the goal line back.

Todd Gurley - $8,900

Gurley is everyone’s top running back. His price is tough on rosters, but he is one of the few backs that is completely spared of a committee backfield, and has a great matchup against the 49ers—a team that was crushed by running backs last year and have carried that momentum into 2016. It would be surprising if he didn’t finish as a top-five back this week. You can pair him with Ware and load this position with major upside and still have an average of $6,500 left per position ($7,300 with a cheap kicker and defense). But doing so means you have to get creative elsewhere.  

DeAngelo Williams - $7,100

It feels like we’ve been here before. Le’Veon Bell is suspended to begin the season for the second year in a row, leaving Williams as the starter. The difference this time around is Williams is actually cheaper this weekend than he was at this time last year. He’ll also be a lot more popular. And for good reason. He finished as RB5 in FanDuel scoring, looking more like a 25-year-old running back than a 32-year-old running back. With the Steelers offense missing key players, he’s figures to get a lot of work against Washington.

Should you fade him? That depends on if you think Kirk Cousins is going to tear apart the Steelers’ awful secondary and force a negative game script. As mentioned, I’m off Roethlisberger. It’s worth noting Williams was our highest scoring running back from Week 9 on last year. It’s hard to say no to his salary.

Ezekiel Elliott - $7,900

For a brief moment, it looked like Elliott was trending to be the highest owned player in Week 1. As mentioned, that crown belongs to Ware. Regardless of Elliott’s exposure, he won’t be in any of my lineups. It’s likely the Cowboys will rely on their running game and hide Prescott as much as possible. The offensive line is capable of such things. But relying on the running game and force-feeding Elliott are two completely different things. If this game goes south on Prescott and Co., do you think the Cowboys will leave their future all-star running back out there? And even if it’s close, do you think Alfred Morris is going to be just a role player? There are a lot of things at play here. The Cowboys offense has neither safety nor upside this week.

Adrian Peterson - $8,200

Peterson’s quarterback situation has never mattered. So losing Teddy Bridgewater and replacing him with maybe Shaun Hill or maybe Sam Bradford for Week 1 also doesn’t matter. What does matter is the team the Vikings are traveling to face. The Titans allowed the fifth fewest points to running backs last season. Their offense is on the rise with promising young quarterback and a gaggle of young receivers and running backs. Regardless, the Vikings are one of six road teams favored to win. But I’ll gladly take the home team and shelter my bankroll from this game completely.

Wide Receivers

Antonio Brown - $9,300

Opening the season as the most expensive player on the board, Brown will likely find a home on a quarter of rosters, if not a third. I doubt his price scares anyone off. Maybe his matchup with Josh Norman will. But there’s no guarantee he’ll be shadowed by Norman. Even if that’s the case, Brown is matchup proof and has a great one Monday night. Washington allowed the sixth most fantasy points to wide receivers last year, including 23 touchdowns despite allowing fewer receptions than the league average. Fading Brown is a tough proposition. But you can justify it when you consider his cost, his exposure, and the fact that Washington will double him on every play until one of the other Steelers receivers step up.

DeAndre Hopkins - $8,400

I love Hopkins this week. And, well, so does everyone else thanks to tweets like this:

The Bears secondary was quite difficult for fantasy performances last year. They gave up the fourth fewest yards to wide receivers and the seventh fewest overall FanDuel points. But it’s hard not to love Hopkins against a bunch of no-names if Silva’s tweet proves to be true. $8,400 means Hopkins will need over 25 points to hit the elusive tournament value. Here’s his weekly finishes from last year:

Week

Oppt

FD points

FD salary

Week Rank

1 kan 28.3 7800 1
2 car 7.8 8100 49
3 tam 20.1 7800 12
4 atl 20.2 7900 5
5 ind 22.4 8000 3
6 jac 31.8 8500 1
7 mia 8 9200 38
8 ten 19.4 9000 13
10 cin 14.2 8900 13
11 nyj 26.3 8900 1
12 nor 6.1 9400 56
13 buf 17.3 8900 13
14 nwe 6.7 8700 53
15 ind 13.4 8700 29
16 ten 21.2 8500 7
17 jac 12.4 9000 23

Basically, 25 points is a lot to ask of any receiver. Hopkins has scored that many only four times in his short career, including three times last year. Add in the fact that he has Brock Osweiler throwing to him, who may or may not be an upgrade, and you have plenty of reasons to look elsewhere. I also love Lamar Miller. He wasn’t mentioned earlier but he’ll likely be a one of the highest owned running backs. If I were to choose between the two (realizing that both will be highly owned), I prefer Miller.

Odell Beckham Jr. - $9,100

Thanks to discounts provided by Ware and a few other running backs, it’s possible to build lineups that include Brown, Hopkins and Beckham/Julio Jones. I don’t recommend that strategy simply because you expose your entire wide receiver core to the highest possible ownership. It’s not unique. Using Beckham to anchor your wide receivers is a fine play. As is Julio Jones. Of the two, Jones will likely have less ownership and gets to host a team that allowed the fifth most touchdowns to wide receivers last year. The Cowboys were rather stingy in that department, having allowed 14 touchdowns and the 10th fewest FanDuel points overall. But they were also one of the least targeted teams thanks to their soft pass rush and even softer run defense. Things aren’t any different to open 2016. Manning will see no pass rush and the Giants should have no trouble running their offense. That doesn’t necessarily translate to a big game for Beckham. In a way, it says we should put our money on Brown, Hopkins or Jones instead.

Amari Cooper - $7,100

I putting Cooper here not because I think you should fade him, but because I think he’ll be one of the highest owned receivers this Sunday. Priced as WR20, he has WR10 upside in a game that has high potential to turn into a shootout. In fact, Vegas has pinned this one with the highest over/under of the week at 50.5 points. The spread of one point is negligible, meaning Vegas expects both teams to score at least three touchdowns. Add everything up and you have plenty of reasons to roster Cooper. Just be aware that everyone else is also rostering him. You might want to consider his teammate—the one that saw more snaps, targets and red zone looks last year (I’m referring to Michael Crabtree, if you weren’t sure. Cooper’s role should grow, however).

Mike Evans – $7,900

Only four receivers managed a 100-yard game or better against the Falcons last year. In fact, only the Broncos allowed fewer yards, only the Seahawks fewer touchdowns, and no team allowed fewer points overall than the Falcons. Evans will have his hands full if he runs into Desmond Trufant’s coverage—who is developing into a tremendous cover corner and ready to shadow receivers if he’s called on to do so. Who knows where the crowd will land with Evans. I doubt he sees a high ownership but there are better matchups to exploit in his price range.

Tight Ends

Rob Gronkowski - $8,700

I’d expect Gronkowski’s ownership to be quite low given the uncertainty with his health (again), his quarterback and his matchup. There’s nothing to sugarcoat here: his price is prohibitive as always, but this time we don’t have Touchdown Tom to throw touchdowns. That said, stacking Gronk with Garoppolo will be a rare pairing.

Jordan Reed - $7,400

Likely to be the most owned tight end, Reed played fewer games than Gronkowski last year and came up 19 points short of beating him in the final standings for points scored. He will open the season Monday night against the Steelers, who were only marginally better at covering tight ends than wide receivers. I don’t mind his price or exposure, considering you’re basically getting the No. 1 receiver of a pass-happy team, playing at home against a pass-crappy defense, for just $7,400. But I prefer to save money at this position and bulk up elsewhere. Clearly, there’s not statistical reason to fade him. Just pure game theory.

Coby Fleener - $5,400

If Reed isn’t the highest owned tight end Week 1, Fleener will be. When FanDuel released salaries and contests, nearly every roster I built included him. Over the preseason, there have been drops and rumors about his understanding of the offense (or lack thereof). The truth is, we don’t have a lot of evidence that he’s going to be an integral part of the offense with all the other weapons Drew Brees has at his disposal. And if the offensive line struggles in protection, which is very possible considering their current injuries and matchup against a rather solid Raiders’ defensive line, Fleener might be more blocking and less check-down.

Kickers and Defenses

I’m not going to belabor the point with kickers. Stephen Gostkowski ($5,000), Steve Hauschka ($4,800), and Adam Vinatieri ($4,800) are going to be the most popular, with Chandler Catanzaro ($4,900) also near the top. The one I’m avoiding is Gostkowski.

On defense, the crowd is going to be all over the Seahawks ($5,000), Chiefs ($5,000), and Rams ($4,500), with the Cardinals ($5,000) and Bengals ($4,600) also getting action. Call me crazy but I think the world is underestimating the Chargers, who are a touchdown underdog against Alex Smith and Co. I’ll fade the Chiefs’ defense and will have a lot of exposure to the Rams.