Week 1 DraftKings Pricing: What Jumps Off the Page

Knee-jerk reactions from Phil Alexander's initial review of DraftKings' Week 1 pricing.

With 25 days to go between now and the start of the regular season, it’s way too early to begin crafting DFS lineups that will actually be playable come September. But Draftkings released Week 1 NFL pricing on Wednesday and if you’re anything like the crew here at Footballguys, you’ve spent most of the days since happily creating dozens of lineups, despite the certainty preseason fallout will blow up at least 80% of them before the real games start.

Just in case you happen across this article in the next few weeks while prepping for Week 1, allow me to state the obvious:

You’re about to read my first blush, knee-jerk reactions to DraftKings’ Week 1 pricing. As summer winds down, some of these takes are going to appear downright silly, but we need to begin exercising our DFS brains in preparation for the season and it's never too early to begin checking a site's pricing for inefficiencies.

Here is what jumped off the spreadsheet as I began tinkering with Week 1 lineups:

Rishard Matthews is the Top Wide Receiver Value

Rishard Matthews might seem like a better candidate for top wide receiver bore, but hear me out. Oakland at Tennessee currently has the highest over/under on the Week 1 slate (52 points), and with the Raiders favored by only one point on the road, Vegas sees this matchup going back and forth. Last season, Oakland games went over 50 total points nine times, while the Titans had seven games that combined for 50+ points. This game has shootout written all over it, meaning the big names from both teams -- Amari Cooper, Derek Carr, Michael Crabtree, Marcus Mariota, DeMarco Murray -- will be highly owned in tournaments.

But will the crowd be eager to click on Matthews, despite his way too low WR43 price tag (the same as Mohamed Sanu)? It remains to be seen, but my early guess is the Titans high profile additions of Corey Davis and Eric Decker will shade Matthews a bit, despite the following facts:

  • Davis is a rookie dealing with a significant hamstring injury. Even if he is ready to play by Week 1, we have to question how much playing time he can handle and how productive he can be after what’s shaping up as a multi-week absence.
  • Matthews is Mariota’s most trusted and familiar target. Last season, he didn’t just lead the Titans in receiving yards (965) and touchdowns (9), Matthews was extremely efficient with the 108 targets he received. His 14.5 yards per reception ranked 14th in the league (minimum 75 targets) and he scored a touchdown on 8.3% of his targets, which placed him inside the top-6.
  • Matthews scored seven of his nine touchdowns from inside the red zone in 2016. His 15 red zone targets were right there with DeMarco Murray (18) and Delanie Walker (17) for the team lead and Matthews’ 47% red zone touchdown conversion rate was second-best among wide receivers behind only Donte Moncrief. While his 2016 red zone success may scream regression to some, it’s important to remember Marcus Mariota has been historically efficient in the red zone over his brief career, completing 64% of his red zone passes for 33 touchdowns against zero interceptions. Decker and a healthy Davis will eat into Matthews’ red zone opportunity from a season long perspective, but with Davis looking unlikely to contribute much in Week 1, Vegas expecting a shootout, and the Raiders allowing a touchdown on 60% of their opponent’s red zone visits a season ago, Matthews has to be considered a coin flip bet for a touchdown in this one.

At only $4,200, Matthews represents the least expensive path to 6-8 quality targets in what could be the highest scoring game on the slate. If you want to jam in two top running backs, or a top running back and wide receiver, you’ll need to get salary relief from somewhere and Matthews only needs something in the range of a 5-50-1 receiving line to pay off his modest salary.

J.J. Nelson isn’t Far Behind

J.J. Nelson ($3,700) is $100 less than Will Fuller, who has zero chance of suiting up in Week 1. The DraftKings pricing algorithm seems to have overlooked the fact Nelson will start next to John Brown and Larry Fitzgerald in three wide receiver sets this year. It’s a dangerously small sample, but check out what Nelson accomplished in four games without Michael Floyd last year:

J.J. Nelson With Floyd Without Floyd
Games 10 4
Targets per game 3.2 10.5
Receptions per game 1.4 5
Receiving yards per game 24.4 81
Touchdowns per game 0.1 1
Fantasy points per game 5.9 19.1

With Floyd now in Minnesota, Nelson’s playing time is locked in. The Cardinals offensive line is healthy, Carson Palmer can still sling it downfield, and Nelson has already proven his blazing 4.28 40-yard speed makes him a dynamic big-play threat. As it pertains to Week 1 specifically, consider the following:

  • Arizona at Detroit figures to be another high scoring, back and forth game. Vegas pegs the over/under at 48.5, with the Lions favored by less than a field goal.
  • The Lions finished last season with the worst pass defense in the league per Football Outsiders DVOA metrics.
  • The Lions made a habit of selling out to stop explosive plays and were eaten up by short passes as a result. This might not bode well for Nelson on the surface, but Detroit knew they didn’t have the speed or talent in the back seven to stay with the opposition so they intentionally kept the offense in front of them. Their game plan could change this year with the free agent addition of former top-10 draft pick, D.J. Hayden (who has reportedly had an impressive camp), along with this year’s second round pick, Teez Tabor.
  • Nelson scored a touchdown in four of Arizona’s final five games last year. 
  • In the four games he played without Michael Floyd in the lineup (the only four in which he was on the field for at least 70% of the team’s offensive snaps), Nelson never received less than seven targets in a game.
  • While it’s difficult to tell if this is of any significance, it’s at least interesting Football Outsiders also had the Lions ranked 32nd specifically against the opposition’s WR3.

A touchdown would put Nelson completely over the top as an outstanding value, but his role without Floyd in the lineup last season suggests enough targets could be there (in a plus matchup) for Nelson to hit 4x value on yards and receptions alone.

Le’Veon Bell is the Chalk you Shouldn’t Fade

This is probably the least actionable advice I’ll provide all season, but just in case you think fading LeVeon Bell at the top salary and (probably) highest ownership on the slate is a good idea in tournaments, please reconsider. The case for auto-playing Bell against Cleveland practically makes itself, but here are a few bullets anyway:

  • Bell averaged a staggering 28 total touches per game last season -- nearly five full touches per game more than David Johnson.
  • Bell averaged 6.3 receptions per game in 2016. The only wide receivers to average more were Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green, and Stefon Diggs.
  • The Browns allowed 28% more fantasy points to opposing running backs than the league average last season.
  • Pittsburgh is favored by nine points, which implies a heavier than usual dose of Bell.
  • When Bell played Cleveland last year, it was like watching a lightsaber cut through a marshmallow. He finished with a 28-146-1 rushing line and added eight catches for another 55 yards.

Consider this a reminder the easiest answer is very often the correct one.

Carlos Hyde is Mispriced

It appears the beat writer speculation that tanked Carlos Hyde’s season-long ADP has also impacted his price on DraftKings. Running back value is fairly hard to come by at a glance, with only Todd Gurley ($6,000 vs. IND) and Lamar Miller ($5,100 vs. JAX) standing out in the $6K and under range. Hyde checks in at $4,600 -- just $100 more than Steelers backup, James Conner, who isn’t even guaranteed to touch the ball in Week 1.

There’s very little to like about Hyde’s matchup against the Panthers. Vegas has the 49ers as six point home underdogs, implied to score only 21 points. Carolina fields a tough run-stopping unit who limited opposing running backs to the sixth-fewest fantasy points last season. But priced in the same range as backups and receiving specialists, there is no doubt Hyde belongs on your radar:

  • Forget the nonsense about poor scheme fit. I’ve been beating this drum all off-season, but it bears mentioning again -- Hyde is the most talented offensive player on the 49ers roster and he’s playing with a head coach who has a history of maximizing running back fantasy production. 
  • Most DraftKings players will write off Hyde, assuming he’s a zilch in the receiving categories. It’s true last year’s modest 27 receptions were a career high, but this is where Hyde has the most room for improvement under Kyle Shanahan. Last season, Shanahan’s Falcons produced the second-most running back receiving yards (946). In 2015, they ranked 10th (775). Hyde’s performance last year (82% catch rate) suggests he has soft hands and has been underutilized as a receiver throughout his career. As the 49ers best back in pass protection, Hyde should see plenty of passing down work to go along with his early-down and goal line roles. If he’s able to add three or four receptions onto his typical rushing stat line (the game script implies he’ll have the opportunity), Hyde becomes far more likely to exceed value given the full PPR scoring format.
  • Carolina was susceptible to pass catchers out of the backfield last season. Their 101 receptions allowed were third-most to opposing running backs. Shanahan’s Falcons racked up 11 receptions and 80 receiving yards against Carolina in Week 16.
  • The volume will be there. Hyde averaged 18.8 total touches per game in 2016, placing him inside the top-12 running backs despite the lack of receptions. Is Conner ($4,500) going to touch the ball 18-20 times? Duke Johnson ($4,600)? Giovani Bernard ($4,500)?
  • This last bullet is pure narrative, but Hyde and the 49ers have a recent history of coming out HOT in their home opener. In 2015, Hyde stampeded the Vikings on his way to a 26-168-2 rushing line. And in last season’s home opener, Hyde once again scored two touchdowns (23-88-2) in a dominant win over the Rams. Carlos Hyde in Week 1 -- it's a real thing!

via GIPHY