Week 1 is finally upon us, and with that comes our first chance to play daily fantasy for the 2016 NFL season. DraftKings has assembled a lobby full of games for us to choose from, and there are some absolutely massive guaranteed prize pool tournaments on the table for the opening weekend. Among the offerings are the Fantasy Football Millionaire, which offers up the chance at a $1 million top prize for an entry fee of $3, and the Sunday Special, which has a $20 entry fee for a chance at the first-place prize of $250,000.
Those prize pools are certainly more than enough to make you stop and pay attention, but the field sizes also look pretty daunting at first glance. To really have a fighting chance to do better than simply finishing in the money, we’ll have to employ some tried and true strategies. One strategy that has stood the test of time is to use a little contrarian thinking as a way to separate your lineups from the pack. Contrarian thinking doesn’t mean that your entire roster needs to be littered with outside of the box selections, but rather that your solid base roster of high-ceiling plays can be complemented by some high-upside plays that may not on the radar of the majority of players for a given week.
Finding those plays on a weekly basis can be challenging, and that’s where this column will come in extremely handy throughout the season. We’ll outline some of the projected lesser-owned players by position at differing price points, and also provide you with the reasoning behind those selections so that you can make an informed decision. There are games and players that are on everyone’s radar in a given week. This column will point you to the ones that have similar upside and appear to be receiving little attention. Nailing a few of those selections each week can be the difference between simply cashing or having a week for the record books.
On to this week’s selections.
Matt Ryan, $7,100. Games that check in with the highest over/under’s of the week are always front and center in the mind of DFSers, but there’s one for this week that’s simply not getting as much love as the others. That game will see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons, and there’s plenty of ways we can attack it from a fantasy perspective. Matt Ryan offers us an under the radar way to take advantage of the upside, and a stack of him with top target Julio Jones - who checks in at $9.400 this week - could provide you with a substantial base of points to build off of.
Alex Smith, $6,500. When the name Alex Smith is brought up, the phrase game manager will quickly find it’s way into the conversation. That may be an accurate assessment of Smith’s role in the Kansas City Chiefs offense, but that doesn’t mean he can’t offer some nice upside from time to time. Week 1 looks like one of the week’s in which that may come to fruition, as the Chiefs offense looked pretty dialed in throughout the preseason. There’s a good chance that’ll carry over into the early part of the season, and pairing up Smith with either Jeremy Maclin ($6,500) or Travis Kelce ($5,000) could return some nice dividends in Week 1.
Robert Griffin III, $5,600. Some offenses and teams are summarily dismissed by the DFS community on a weekly basis, and that’s certainly the case with the Cleveland Browns this week. When that happens, contrarian thinking says we should take a closer look to see if we can zig while everyone else is zagging. One of Robert Griffin III’s strengths is the throwing of the deep ball, and the Browns took steps to address who will be on the receiving end of them in this year’s draft. Among the plethora of wide receivers the Browns selected was Corey Coleman ($5,100), a speedy receiver out of Baylor that’s also flying under the radar. Can this risky combo combine for a long touchdown against a Philadelphia Eagles team that’s employing a new head coach and defensive scheme? Contrarian thinking says that it’s worth considering, and those playing multiple rosters should consider this under the radar combo for one of them.
LeSean McCoy, $6,400. There are several players at the top of the running back salary scale that have made their way onto everyone’s radar for Week 1, and there’s also a large number of value plays in comparison to a normal week. In the middle, we have players like LeSean McCoy, who offers similar upside to his more expensive running back brethren. McCoy should see a heavy workload this season in the Buffalo Bills offense, and he offers the added bonus of pass catching ability to boot.
DeMarco Murray, $5,300. Whether we’re talking about employment choices in the world of football or out in the real world, bad fits happen sometimes. That was the case with DeMarco Murray and the Philadelphia Eagles last season, and it sounds like he’s pretty excited to have moved on to the Tennessee Titans. Head coach Mike Mularkey has indicated that he wants to employ what he referred to as an “exotic smashmouth” type of offense, and it looks like Murray will be a centerpiece of that.
Christine Michael, $3,700. This is a tricky situation that we’ll have to keep a close eye on as the game gets closer, but it looks like Christine Michael will be receiving the bulk of the work in the Seattle Seahawks backfield in Week 1. If that comes to fruition, Michael would easily be one of the top value plays of the week. Michael looked pretty solid throughout the preseason, and he would have a tremendous opportunity in front of him to insure himself a large role in the Seahawks offense in 2016.
Jeremy Maclin, $6,500. As mentioned in the comments about Alex Smith, the Chiefs offense looked extremely efficient in the preseason. That was crystal clear every time the first team unit was on the field, and the chemistry between Smith and Jeremy Maclin was readily apparent. Because of the team’s reputation of being a dink-and-dunk type of offense that leans towards the run, Maclin tends to fly under the radar most weeks. That offers up an outstanding opportunity for fantasy purposes, as Maclin is a legitimate home run threat nearly every time he touches the ball.
Mohamed Sanu, $5,100. We touched on Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense earlier, and the selection of Mohamed Sanu is another under the radar way to gain some exposure to it. While there’s no question that the Falcons offense revolves around Julio Jones, the bulk of the targets that are not headed in his direction need to head somewhere else. That’s what the Falcons signed Sanu for in the offseason, and he could be a pleasant surprise for your Week 1 rosters.
Mike Wallace, $4,200. Stints in Miami and Minnesota didn’t work out too well for Mike Wallace, and he moved on to join the Baltimore Ravens this past offseason. There’s a lot of mixed feelings around whether or not he’ll be able to recapture some of his former glory, but we’ll err towards siding with the quarterback that will be slinging the rock in his direction. Joe Flacco ($6,700) praised Wallace numerous times throughout the summer, and it’s become pretty clear that they have a burgeoning connection. We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out over the course of the season, but Week 1 looks like a great spot to take advantage of the potential upside.
Julius Thomas, $3,800. The game between the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars is attracting lots of attention for DFS purposes, and it’s one that you’ll definitely want to consider having some exposure to. The majority of the interest will head in the direction of the quarterbacks or high-profile wide receivers, but a solid move may be to pivot to one of the other targets in the passing game. Julius Thomas fits the profile, and there were several rumblings this summer that he’ll be seeing a plethora of red zone looks in 2016.
Charles Clay, $3,400. While we may see a decent amount of Tyrod Taylor ($6,900) and Sammy Watkins ($6,900) stacks in Week 1, Taylor’s second option in the passing game will fly under the radar. The pair showed some nice chemistry at times in 2015, and that should only improve in the upcoming season. While preseason results should be taken with a grain of salt, the duo did hook up for a pretty 59-yard gain against the New York Giants. No promises that we see something similar in Week 1, but Clay should see enough targets to pay off his low price - and the upside is there for a big play or two.
Jared Cook, $2,900. For another under the radar way to attack the Packers-Jaguars game, we can look to a tight end from the other side. The Packers are typically not big players in free agency, so when they pull the trigger on an acquisition, it’s a pretty good idea to pay attention to it. While Aaron Rodgers ($8,500) has a wealth of targets at his disposal, Cook could slide into a safety blanket role and receive a healthy amount of targets this season. Week 1 is a great opportunity to take advantage of that possibility before it becomes common knowledge.
New York Jets, $3,400. There are two big favorites on the board this week - Seahawks ($3,900) and Chiefs ($3,600) - that should have some healthy ownership percentages. While they both make fine choices this week, finding the under the radar defense of the week that has the potential to go off is a fantastic way to differentiate your lineups. The Jets are one of the possibilities for Week 1, as they’ll be facing off with a Cincinnati Bengals team that has plenty of question marks in the passing game outside of A.J. Green.
Buffalo Bills, $2,900. There have been numerous reports that head coach Rex Ryan is facing a playoffs or bust mandate in Buffalo, and there’s a pretty good chance that he’ll at least go down swinging. What better way for him to do that than to lean heavily on his preferred style of play? We’ll look for an aggressive Bills defense in 2016 that just may rack up the turnovers and sacks, and look for that to begin in Week 1 at his old stomping grounds in Baltimore.
Note: Those that are intrigued by the contrarian selection of Mike Wallace at wide receiver should look elsewhere for their defense. Wallace certainly has a chance to break a long one, but we wouldn’t want to roster negatively-correlated selections.
Cleveland Browns, $2,300. It looks like it’s going to be a pretty challenging season for the Philadelphia Eagles, and a team that just jettisoned its starting quarterback clearly has some changes afoot. Week 1 will see the debut of rookie Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. While he may turn out to be a fine pro in the long run, he’s being handed the reins under some trying circumstances. Add in the fact that he’s coming in after just healing up from a painful rib injury, and there could be some turnovers in the forecast for Philadelphia.
That takes care of The Contrarian for Week 1. Remember - we don’t need to fill our lineups with lottery tickets and hope for the best to make some noise, but hitting on a few well-thought out contrarian selections can make a world of difference for your standing on the leaderboards.