Last week, we spent some time discussing groupthink when it comes to weekly DFS selections. There’s clear signals on which way the winds are blowing each week in terms of ownership percentages, and we can drill further into those specific players to see if they make sense for our rosters. The ones we are not particularly sold on point us to great spots to employ some contrarian thinking, but can those same chalk-type selections also point us to the contrarian selections themselves?
Yes, they can - especially at the quarterback position. A quick perusal of the projected totals as per Vegas odds on a weekly basis is a super quick way to find the chalk quarterbacks of the week. Games with high projected totals will attract a ton of interest, and you can be fairly certain that signal callers from those games will be on the collective DFS radar. Drilling down even further, we’ll see that some teams from games with high projected totals are also pretty big favorites. That will point the majority of players in the direction of the favored signal caller, but that’s a great opportunity to look at the opposite sideline.
Many seasoned DFS players are already well-versed in this concept: look for a solid signal caller that’s projected to be coming from behind in a high-scoring matchup. That points to the possibility that the offense coming from behind will be filling the air with footballs in a bid to catch-up, and that can translate into a healthy amount of fantasy points, regardless of what the actual final score may turn out to be. That exact scenario played out in Week 3. The Lions traveled to Green Bay to take on the Packers, who happened to be a seven-point favorite in a game with a projected total of 47.5 points.
The Packers jumped out to a huge 31-10 halftime lead on the strength of four touchdown passes from Aaron Rodgers (one of the week’s chalk quarterbacks), and Matthew Stafford had his work cut out for him to make a game of it after halftime. Stafford was up to the task, and he finished up with 385 passing yards, three touchdowns and a pick. Final score: Packers 34-27. Of course, things don’t always play out so neatly, but savvy owners that were on Stafford that week likely finished up with a nice return, and an even better one if they were prescient enough to stack him with Marvin Jones, who finished with a monstrous line of 6/205/2.
That scenario was potentially in play again for last week’s matchup between the Falcons and Panthers. In short, the Panthers were a big favorite, everyone was on Cam Newton, and few found Matt Ryan appealing. That game didn’t follow the script as the Falcons jumped out to a huge lead behind a stellar performance from Ryan and Julio Jones, while the chalky selection of Newton left a lot to be desired at the end of the day. So why did that game go off script, and how can we use that to our advantage for contrarian selections?
To expand on the concept of solid signal callers coming from behind, I add a personal touch to my search: which of these games feature one of the consensus top quarterbacks in the game? Using the above two games as an example, Rodgers and Newton certainly fit the ball. With that question out of the way, we need to ask another questions: is the opposing signal caller - on their best day - someone that we would consider a next-level quarterback (not quite elite, but definitely capable of getting the job done)? In the case of Stafford and Ryan, the answer is yes and yes.
Athletes are competitive by nature, and it’s not unusual to see them step up their game when they’re facing off with the best of the best. While it’s impossible to get inside of an athlete’s head, I’m automatically intrigued by quarterbacks opposing the elite ones on a weekly basis. If they also check off the boxes of a favorable game script, a relatively productive offense, and a decent matchup on an opposing defensive basis, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll make their way to my personal short list for the week.
Let’s take a look at this week’s selections to keep on your radar, starting with the quarterback position.
Matt Ryan, $7,100
As a general rule of thumb, a quarterback that’s off to a blazing hot start and coming in off of a monster game will not find his way into this column, but there’s an exception to the rule this week. The Falcons have an imposing matchup on the docket when they head to Denver to take on the Broncos, and it’s pretty easy to see tepid interest in Ryan this week. While he’ll still have his share of supporters, it’ll be far less than it would be with a less imposing matchup ahead. As for his prospects to produce, the Broncos have clearly held opposing signal callers in check, but the Falcons may be better than anticipated this year. While the chances of him matching last week’s otherworldly production are much closer to none than slim, it’s not out of the question for him to return value at a relatively low ownership percentage.
Eli Manning, $6,000
Manning checks off a good deal of the boxes we outlined above. The Giants are a big underdog facing off against an elite quarterback, and Manning is certainly someone that can get the job done - i.e. a next level quarterback. Whether he’s elite or not is a topic for another day, but let’s just say that there’s few teams in the league for which he wouldn’t immediately be handed the starting gig. The biggest concern from this matchup is the slow start for the Giants offense, but a trip to Green Bay could be just the elixir needed to kick it into high gear. The Packers have given up six touchdowns through the air so far in 2016, and it’s not hard to envision that total increasing by at least two for this matchup.
Sam Bradford, $5,100
Bradford and the Vikings have been one of the bigger surprises of the early part of 2016, but the salary makers at DraftKings aren’t enamored with his prospects this week. While the Vikings look like a playoff-bound team at this early juncture, that hasn’t translated into a ton of fantasy points for Bradford thus far. Add in the fact that this week’s opponent, the Houston Texans, have held opposing quarterbacks in check, and we can understand the slight on Bradford’s price. However, it’s simply so low that it doesn’t take much for him to deliver a nice return. We’ll count on him coming through on that end, and use the salary savings to beef up at other positions.
DeMarco Murray, $7,200
We have three running backs at $7,000 or above this week: LeVeon Bell, Melvin Gordon, and Murray. Anytime Bell is on the slate, we can be confident he’ll have a healthy ownership percentage. Gordon has had a fantastic nose for the end zone in the early part of the season, and the Chargers have another potentially fruitful matchup up ahead against the Raiders. That points to Gordon have an ownership percentage in the same range as Bell’s, and Murray is left there sticking out like a sore thumb with potentially low interest. As his price indicates, he’s off to a stellar start. In fact, his lowest output of the season is 21.5 points per DraftKings scoring. Add in a matchup against a Dolphins squad that’s had a challenging start to to the season, and Murray has a great shot at continuing his streak of 20+ point games.
Note: Monitor the weather on the Dolphins-Titans game as it could be moved due to Hurricane Matthew.
Devonta Freeman, $5,000
Freeman is another name that many will quickly bypass due to the matchup with the Broncos, and in this case it’s even more justified than automatically looking past Ryan. The Broncos can easily shut down an opposing running game, and a Falcons team that’s coming from behind will likely not be employing a ground and pound offense. However, we can make two points for looking Freeman’s way: pass-catching upside, and the possibility of a healthy workload. Freeman will be a factor in the game plan whether the Falcons are coming from behind or not, and there’s a chance that backfield-mate Tevin Coleman will see a reduced workload due to health concerns that could be impacted by the high altitude in Denver. That all points to Freeman being a potential steal at $5,000, but there is plenty of risk with this selection.
DeAndre Washington, $3,400
We’ll have to wait and see if Latavius Murray is able to suit up or not this week, but Washington becomes a near must-start in his absence. Interest will increase in him if Murray is in fact ruled out, but we’ll count on it being lower than it should be due to him being relatively unknown. In short, the fifth-round pick out of Texas Tech has a clear role in the Raiders backfield of the future in front of him, and this a prime opportunity for him to make his case for accelerating the timeline. He’s already generated 184 yards on 29 total touches so far this season, so it’ll be pretty intriguing to see what he can do with a heavier workload. Bottom line, if Murray’s out, Washington needs to be on your shortlist. If signs point to Murray having his normal workload, keep the name Washington in your back pocket as the season moves along.
Sterling Shepard, $5,500
Those looking to play Manning this week will automatically look to pair him up with Odell Beckham Jr., and that’s certainly a viable route to take. The game looks to be a prime opportunity for Beckham to finally deliver the return we know he’s capable of, and that fact is not going unnoticed by the DFS community. Beckham certainly deserves consideration this week, but we can also look Shepard’s way for some sneaky upside. The opportunity is there for the Giants offense to get back on track this week, and Shepard can deliver a nice return on a reasonable price.
Quincy Enunwa, $4,600
Based on what we saw from both the Steelers and Jets last week, it’s hard not to see the Steelers scoring a fair share of points in this matchup. The Jets secondary looks completely lost, and that’s not something you want to be dealing with when a date with Antonio Brown is next up on the schedule. There’s a pretty good chance the Jets will be coming from behind, and also a fair chance that Eric Decker misses a second consecutive game. Either way, Enunwa has carved out a role in the offense, as evidenced by his 32 targets thus far. We’ll look for him to easily return value if this game goes according to script.
Robert Woods, $3,900
Don’t look now, but Woods is a viable fantasy option in the absence of Sammy Watkins. He’s been targeted 18 times over the past two games, with 10 of them coming last week against the Patriots. While the Bills passing offense will not strike fear in the hearts of opponents anytime soon, a plethora of targets can translate into points in a hurry. The Rams held opposing wideouts in check over the first two games of 2016, but that wasn’t the case over the last two weeks. We’ll look to Woods as an under the radar play, and also as one of the week’s more promising value plays.
Martellus Bennett, $3,700
Just in case you haven’t heard, Tom Brady is back this week. It’s safe to say that there will be a ton of interest in acquiring his services for DFS purposes, and the signs are pointing to a solid offensive outing from the Patriots when they face off against the Browns. The club is coming in off of an embarrassing home loss against the Bills, and this week has all the makings of a game in which Bill Belichick practically puts the gas pedal through the floorboard. In short, points are in the forecast for the Patriots, and we’ll want to get our fair share. Bennett’s been hit or miss over the past four weeks, but he offers nice upside as long as Rob Gronkowski remains limited. If things go as planned, that upside may even continue when Gronkowski’s up to full speed, as the Patriots will be in position to run their desired two tight end sets. For now, we’ll see if we can catch Bennett under the radar, and look for the upside of Brady looking his way in the red zone a time or two.
Jacob Tamme, $3,000
If we’re looking to roster Ryan this week, we may as well look towards pairing him up with someone. While Jones is the unquestioned top target, he’s pricey this week while facing off against a secondary that can hold him in check. If Jones is blanketed as expected, the targets need to head somewhere, and a good portion of them will head Tamme’s way. He’s second on the team in targets thus far, and he’s found the end zone a pair of times to boot. While upside is not the first thought that comes to mind when thinking about Tamme, it doesn’t take much for him to deliver a nice return at a price of $3,000.
Ryan Griffin, $2,500
There’s a lot of risk here with a matchup against the Vikings on tap, but Griffin is the most viable option from the bargain bin tight ends this week. His low price affords a ton of salary cap flexibility, and he also happens to have received his fair share of targets over the past two weeks. Griffin has been targeted 15 times over that span, and if we assume the Vikings will focus their efforts on stopping DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller, it’s safe to assume he’ll receive a decent amount again this week.
Buffalo Bills, $3,100
The Bills defense has delivered back-to-back solid outings, but there’s a good chance they still fly under the radar this week. The salary cap flexibility on DraftKings makes it pretty easy to pay up for one of the more expensive defenses, and this also happens to be a week in which one of the league’s stronger defenses is very reasonably priced. The Vikings check in with a price tag of $3,400, and interest in them will be high. That leaves us to look for upside elsewhere, and a potentially peaking Bills defense facing off against a Rams offense that can’t get out of its own way at times looks like an intriguing place to look.
Philadelphia Eagles, $2,900
After watching the Eagles have their way with the Steelers, questions abounded as to whether or not the Eagles are for real or not. After watching those same Steelers turn around and shellac a tough Chiefs squad, many people are leaning that way. While there’s still time for that to sort itself out, this is a good spot to jump on an Eagles defense that has been playing fantastic football. They’re coming in off of a bye week and facing off with a Lions team that is no stranger to turnovers, which makes them one of the more intriguing squads this week.
Chicago Bears, $2,200
The young season has already headed into the realm of a challenging one for the Colts, and a good portion of their struggles can be pinpointed to problems along the offensive line. When you hear the phrase ‘problems along the offensive line,’ that’s a good time to add the defense of their opponents to your short list for the week. While the Bears have not set the world on fire defensively, they did deliver a decent outing on that front against the Lions last week. Perhaps that’s a sign that the John Fox system is finally falling into place. We’ll look for the Bears to deliver a solid return against a struggling Colts club.
Thanks for reading The Contrarian 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.