Each week, we walk through the various chalk selections and provide some insight on which ones we should pull the trigger on, as well as the ones that it may make sense to take a pass on. As we’ve pointed out, there’s room for chalk plays on all but the most against the grain lineups imaginable. But how much chalk is simply too much to have on one lineup? While answers will vary to that question, there’s two simple roster construction approaches you can look towards to point you in the right direction.
My two favorite spots to look for uniqueness are at quarterback and defense. Finding the high-upside plays at these two positions that also happen to have tepid interest for the week can leave you pretty well covered on the differentiation front. That affords you the flexibility to add chalk selections at the skill positions essentially at will, without having to worry that your roster is simply way too chalky to make some noise. Of course, if you also have a hidden gem in mind at one of these positions - especially a high-volume, low-priced wideout or a low-priced back that’s in line for a substantial workload boost - feel free to add them as well to mix things up even more.
Alternatively, if you’re completely sold on the chalk quarterbacks and defenses of the week, that’s a good time to mix things up on the skill position player front. That doesn’t mean that they all need to be outside the box selections. An against the grain running back plus an off the radar wide receiver can do the trick, and you can also pivot from the popular tight ends to make it stand out even more.
In short, two contrarian picks regardless of position provides a good starting point for those looking to employ a little contrarian thinking. From that point, you really have to look at the week as a whole to determine the makeup for the rest of your roster. Is it a chalk-heavy week? Are there a ton of potentially viable value plays? Is pricing really tight this week? Take a step back, take a breather and answer those questions, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly the preferred strategy for the week’s roster makeup will open up in front of you.
Let’s take a look at the two games that are popping up on everyone’s radar.
New York Jets @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Generally, the matchups that pop up on everyone’s radar are due to the fact that there’s appealing options from both sides. While there’s certainly playable options on the Jets side of the ledger, the options on the Steelers side is what’s capturing the fancy of DFSers. The Steelers are coming in off a primetime matchup in which their offense was firing on all cylinders. That offense will welcome a Jets team to town that features a secondary that has been employing a three blind mice defense.
Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and company have to be licking their chops, and it’s hard to envision a scenario in which they both don’t achieve value. In Brown’s case, that’s saying a lot for the most expensive player of the week. We can find quarterbacks with similar upside to Roethlisberger that will be less popular this week, but there’s few wideouts that have the upside of Brown on a weekly basis. While there’s no guarantee he erupts against the Jets, it’s important to be comfortable with the potential you’re leaving on the table if you bypass him.
LeVeon Bell will have plenty of supporters as well, but the Jets remain strong against the run. That being said, they’re not holding Bell completely in check, plus he brings pass catching upside to the table. We wouldn’t argue with pivoting away from Bell, but there’s also no reason to talk yourself into it if you’re sold on him. One other option worth mentioning comes in at a bargain basement price, and that player is Sammie Coates. He’s earning the trust of the quarterback and carving out a role in the offense. Coates looks awfully appealing for $3,600, and he’s an intriguing way to gain exposure to the Steelers offense without paying up for Brown.
For the Jets, the game script points to them coming from behind. That quickly piques our interest from a signal caller perspective, but then we look and see that it’s Ryan Fitzpatrick we’re getting excited about. Our excitement quickly levels out. Quite simply, he’s been a turnover machine this season, and those turnovers can eat into fantasy production in a hurry. If we could rewind to last season - prior to the season-ending debacle against the Bills - I’d sign up for Fitzpatrick in this spot in a heartbeat.
Therein lies the problem for Fitzpatrick: he simply hasn’t looked right this season. It’s possible that the collapse against the Bills is still in his head, or perhaps he’s still peeved at the prolonged contract negotiations with the Jets in the offseason. Regardless of the reason, we’ll consider a turnover free game a blessing at this point. Consider him a contrarian selection for DFS purposes that’s worthy of a spot if playing multiple lineups, but don’t place all of your eggs in the Fitzpatrick basket unless you find the prospects of ending your Sunday angry an appealing prospect.
There’s still value to be had at the wideout position for the Jets this week. While Brandon Marshall’s price is a little steep based on his production to this point in the season, he’s still on the radar for a game that the Jets will likely be coming from behind in. If Eric Decker is out again, we can fire up Quincy Enunwa with confidence. He comes in at a reasonable price, and he’s carved out a nice role in the offense. If Decker suits up we’re a little less enthusiastic, but we still wouldn’t completely rule him out. For Decker, he’s a risky proposition on a week-to-week basis due to injury reaggravation possibilities.
Finally, the Jets running game has gone from being crystal clear to slightly muddy. Matt Forte was the clear workhorse through two weeks, but Bilal Powell has been handed more of a role the past two games. Perhaps the wisdom of running Forte into the ground before the calendar turns to November has become a talking point around Jets HQ, but it looks like the backfield is falling more in line with preseason expectations. Powell comes in at a nice price for the week with sneaky pass-catching upside, while Forte’s price may need to come down a tad if he’s going to continue losing reps.
San Diego Chargers @ Oakland Raiders
The Chargers head to Oakland to take on the Raiders after suffering an absolutely brutal home loss against the Saints. As they placed on full display in last Sunday’s late afternoon window of games, no lead is safe in the NFL. Lo and behold, they find themselves in another chalk matchup this week, and we can expect interest to be through the roof for several players.
For the game with the highest projected total of the week, we know that interest in both quarterbacks will be high. That interest is well warranted, and you can feel free to pull the trigger on either Philip Rivers or Derek Carr. As we discussed above, we can mix it up elsewhere for uniqueness, so don’t simply bypass a signal caller you have your heart set on for the sake of shaking things up.
There’s been plenty of debate about whether or not Melvin Gordon is a quality NFL runner or not. That will work itself out as the season moves along, but he certainly seems to have a nose for the end zone at the moment. The Chargers seem to like what they see, so we’ll go with their perspective and enjoy the fantasy output while it lasts. If Gordon was flat-out not producing in any way, we’d lend more credence to his poor yards per carry pointing to impending doom, but perhaps that’s also simply a sign that teams are realizing the need to focus on containing him.
He’ll be highly owned this week, and he remains a viable play until further notice.
For the Raiders backfield, the news that Latavius Murray could potentially miss the game has opened up an intriguing possibility. DeAndre Washington would step in to handle the bulk of the carries, and the fifth-round draft choice would have a great opportunity to stake his claim to an increased workload moving forward. He checks in at a bargain basement price of $3,400, and it wouldn’t take much to return some nice value. While not quite a must-start in the absence of Murray, we could easily be talked into finding a spot for him on our rosters.
At wide receiver, it’s a safe bet that Michael Crabtree’s three touchdown performance from last week will lead to some increased interest. He’s reasonably priced, highly targeted and playing well. In short, he looks like a great play, but we can also take that as a sign that maybe this is finally the week that Amari Cooper gets going. Cooper hasn’t taken the giant leap that many were expecting in 2016 thus far, but perhaps the continued emergence of Crabtree will further open things up for him.
For the Chargers, Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams are receiving plenty of targets, and Dontrelle Inman worked his way into the mix in a big way last week. While it’s not quite a guessing game, it can be pretty challenging to figure out which one will break out on a weekly basis. Benjamin seems to have the best rapport with Rivers, so we’ll look to him as the top choice. Hunter Henry remains a viable and inexpensive tight end option in the absence of Antonio Gates. The rookie’s been targeted 12 times over the past two weeks, and he found the end zone last week to boot.
Let’s take a look at some of this week’s other chalk selections, as well as some options that make sense if we’re looking to shake things up.
QB Tom Brady, $7,500
There’s certain times during the course of a season when you just know a particular player will be incredibly highly-owned. This is one of those times. Brady’s ownership percentage will be through the roof, and unless he became close friends with Father Time during his time off, signs point to a strong offensive showing from the Patriots. This is one of those situations where we’ll say let it rip, but just know you’ll need some uniqueness elsewhere in your lineup.
For pivots, we can stay in the same salary range and look to Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck. Rodgers will likely be pretty popular with a potentially high-scoring game on tap against the Giants, while interest in Luck will likely be middling due to the early season struggles of the Colts. You could also look to save some coin at quarterback, and head down the salary scale towards Joe Flacco or Eli Manning.
RB Jerick McKinnon, $4,000
McKinnon’s price has not caught up to his workload as of yet, and he’s also coming in off of a solid performance in a primetime game. That points to a pretty high ownership percentage, but it wouldn’t destroy our rosters to look elsewhere. There’s plenty of ways to skin the cat at running back this week. Other low-priced options include the aforementioned Washington, as well as Jordan Howard, Devonta Freeman and Theo Riddick.
WR Jordy Nelson, $7,900
Nelson has found the endzone four times this season, and he’s in a good spot to increase that total in a possible shootout against the Giants. He’s more reasonably priced than the top four wideouts on the salary chart, and that could lead many DFSers to click the plus sign next to his name. A Rodgers-Nelson stack is hard to argue against, especially when we consider that it’s a home date in front of a primetime audience. For other options, we could look towards T.Y. Hilton or Demaryius Thomas for a little salary savings.
TE Jordan Reed, $6,600
Reed’s coming off of a two touchdown game, and there’s plenty of salary cap flexibility to be had elsewhere. Those two points will lead many to go with what they view as a sure thing at tight end, and of the tight ends over $4,000, that points to Reed. While we certainly won’t completely bypass him without consideration, this is another week where there’s far too many cheaper options that look attractive. Kyle Rudolph and Zach Ertz are two of the names that jump off the page in that regard. If you’re completely sold on Reed, pull the trigger and look to save money elsewhere, otherwise pivot down to one of the cheaper ones and use the savings to balance out your roster.
D Minnesota Vikings, $3,400
The Vikings defense has looked awfully impressive to start the season, and even though they didn’t deliver a stellar return last week, interest will be high after a strong showing during a Monday Night affair. They’re facing off with a Texans team that has had it’s struggles this season, so this could be a good spot to go with the herd. Alternatively, there are other defenses in good spots this week at reasonable prices. The Rams and Bills face off this week, and both are viable options depending on which way you think the game will shake out.
Thanks for reading The Chalk for Week 5. Enjoy the games this weekend, and best of luck with your lineups. Feel free to hit me up anytime on Twitter - @cm_feery - or email - firstname.lastname@example.org - with questions or comments.