Simply put: you’re going to want to check in here each week before setting your DraftKings lineups. That’s because I’ll be helping you sift through your DFS options without spinning my wheels talking fantasy scoring.
No, my goal will not be to opine to you on the highest scoring plays of the week’s slate; that’s a semi-fruitless task, and one you’re swarmed with on any other DFS advice site. Rather, I’m going to be reporting to you on the value of your options – their scoring abilities relative to their salaries. You’ll be filled in on the results of two weekly measures:
DK Points is the player’s DraftKings projection for the week, rooted in the offense’s and defense’s performances over the last three weeks. Please note that the goal of these projections is NOT to predict an exact point total; I’m not interested in supernaturally conjuring visions of Mike Evans' next 40-point explosion. Rather, I’m keeping a tight view of a player’s capabilities and seeking the likely outcome of his matchup – in a sense, I’m seeking out his probabilities of reaching a certain scoring level. As a result, these projections are generally geared toward cash contests, where conservative estimates of player floors, not ceilings, rule the roost.
H-value is an attempt to reconcile a player’s scoring projection with his per-dollar value. You can’t fill a lineup with exclusively high-salaried players, and you’d never load up on just cheap, low-ceiling options. H-value brings the two together, marrying a player’s projected scoring and salary to lay out his true meaning to a DFS roster. The formula is simple:
(DK Pts^1.73205 / DK Sal) * 2,000
Please note that H-value is calculated based on my projections, which are rooted in recent performance in similar games. Despite the conservative nature of my model, we often see surprising outliers, especially when a guy is projected based on just one or two games. As a result, my H-value numbers serve as a guideline to my rankings, as opposed to generating my final list all by itself. Context is key, which is why you may see H-value numbers that don’t match my priorities. For my purposes, H-value is a generalized mapping of the slate’s value, a starting point from which common sense asks me to deviate a little.On to my Week 17 DraftKings plays:
He’s probably all you need in cash this week. He’s Aaron Rodgers, for one, and his value benefits mightily from the lack of predictable game scripts on this slate. He’s the priciest option available, but solidity doesn’t come cheaply. And Rodgers’ blend of floor and ceiling, in addition to his high ownership projection, simply makes the most sense across your cash portfolio. You know what he’s capable of – he’s thrown 3+ touchdowns 7 times out this year – and you can be confident he’ll be ridden relentlessly in Sunday’s must-win. The Packers lack a run game of note, so their playoff hopes likely rest upon Rodgers’ arm. Since his floor projects to around 32 high-impact attempts, and his ceiling absolutely scrapes the sky, there’s no saner way to spend your QB dollar.
Smith automatically deserves attention as one of only a handful of QBs playing Sunday with a purpose, and the minimum salary is just far too low for his value appeal. He’s struggled mightily to reach cash value all year, but he’s always in play as a GPP rock star due to his occasional tendency to use his feet. It hasn’t been often this year, but he’s taken four rushes in each of his last three games and scored twice. If he manages to run for 25 yards and a touchdown Sunday, he would only need around 175 yards and a score through the air to land GPP value.
The results have been ugly of late, but the volume’s surely been there. He’s thrown 39+ balls in 4 of 5 games, but lacked any sort of fantasy efficiency whatsoever, with just 3 touchdown passes to show for it. That’s served to drive down his salary and ownership, and shrewd GPPers know to cash in on those traits against the Packers. Over the last two weeks they were scorched by passing game helmed by Matt Barkley and Sam Bradford, who combined to average 372 yards and throw 5 scores. Stafford is one of few QBs who will be throwing for their playoff lives Sunday, and as home underdogs it’s safe to expect a full four quarters’ worth of volume. Despite his weak recent history, tournament value is well within his wheelhouse.
Freeman shares his opportunity with Tevin Coleman, of course, and is no lockdown guarantee to utterly dominate his backfield. But he’s a dynamic fireball, one who contributes heavily in both aspects of the offense, and Sunday’s matchup should magnify that. Besides, coordinator Kyle Shanahan has made things a better easier for us to project their touchdowns of late. Freeman holds a solid 14-7 edge on dark zone carries-plus-targets over 5 games since Coleman’s return from injury, resulting in 7 touchdowns. That’s opportunity we can count on, especially against the Saints, in a matchup that Vegas projects to yield a whopping 56 points. Freeman’s 21-point marker is well within reach – he’s hit that spot in 3 of the last 5 games, a stretch that’s included much shakier matchups than this one.
Powell comes awfully expensively this week; his salary has swollen by 30% since this outstanding stretch began 3 weeks ago. And he’s no sure thing to be active in Sunday’s meaningless game after tweaking his knee against the Patriots. But in a week of sheer uncertainty, a suited-up Powell would make for one of the safest plays on the slate. He’s been a volume monster in Matt Forte’s absence, averaging 26.7 carries-plus-targets across just under 3 full starts. And he’s been mighty efficient (4.82 yards per rush), a trait that should be magnified by a date with the Bills’ atrocious run defense. Excluding the Browns’ pitiful ground game, Buffalo’s last 3 opposing lead backs have averaged a mind-blowing 175 rushing yards and 36.93 DraftKings points. Considering Powell’s volume dominance and recent production, we can’t blow that off as fluky.
Again, Week 17 requires us to tweak our perception of what’s a safe play and what isn’t. It’s anyone’s guess as to how much work Williams will see Sunday. He’s easing back into the backup job from a knee injury, and the Steelers’ Week 17 meeting with the Browns is playoff-worthless. But he absolutely deserves your consideration due to the sheer ceiling he offers. The Steelers don’t hedge their backfield distribution; their starter, be it LeVeon Bell or Williams, will utterly dominate the backfield over a full game. He’ll handle both the ground and air aspects, and he’ll see gobs of goal line opportunity as well. Bell will almost certainly sit Sunday, and we can’t be too confident that Williams will play more than a quarter or two. But that could be all he needs – the Browns allow the league’s second-most DraftKings points to RBs – and the upside of a full workhorse game is extremely sexy for this fair price tag.
Readers of mine know of my Zenner fascination, which still looks reasonable to me. After producing 3 straight 2,000-yard seasons at South Dakota State, he simply broke the 2015 Combine with a 6.88 three-cone drill and an astounding 99.13 adjusted explosiveness mark. His NFL career has snagged in a cluttered, inefficient Lions run game, but Week 16 showed us he’s capable of strong lines when the bodies clear out. Zenner’s value will be tied to Theo Riddick’s health, which can be inscrutable; he’s been out since Week 13 and his status is rarely known prior to Sunday morning. If he sits, and we can again pencil in Zenner for 60% or more of the workload, he’ll be well worth this measly price tag. He profiles as a solid dual threat and a touchdown machine, and he could again see ample scoring opportunity in a must-win matchup that Vegas projects to 48 points.
He’s no great shakes, but who can you trust in Week 17? With Carlos Hyde on IR, Draughn should again dominate the 49ers backfield against the Seahawks, and he’s a very sneaky contrarian play from near the RB minimum. He’s caught 50 passes over 21 games as a 49er, including 6 last week. As the mail-carrier, he’d be in line for even more opportunity than that mark suggests. Zenner probably carries more upside from the bottom of the salary bin, but Draughn would deliver easy GPP value with another 5-6 catches.
The clear Comeback Player of the Year keeps chugging on, defying shutdown matchups left and right as the true engine of the Packers’ pass-catching corps. There’s ball-hogging volume at play – an average of 10.6 targets over the last 9 weeks, comfortably leading the team. There’s classic Nelson dynamism in the mix – he’s produced a scintillating 13.2 yards per look over his last 2 games. And of course, there’s the must-win status of Sunday’s date with the Lions; it would be shocking to see the Packers lean mightily on Aaron Rodgers’ arm. Many DFSers scoff at the idea of paying $8,100 for a wideout matched up with a shadow cornerback like Darius Slay, but Nelson has shredded such challengers throughout the year. He totaled 227 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2 meetings with Xavier Rhodes and the Vikings, 8 for 118 and a TD against the Texans, and caught a pair of scores against Richard Sherman’s Seahawks a few weeks back. Oh, and he worked over this very Lions secondary for 101 and 2 scores in Week 3. Nelson is the safest and the most eruptive of the top-dollar wideouts this week, and his 24-point cash marker looks more than fair. Fire him up with confidence, regardless of your contest’s format.
With Cameron Brate stashed on IR, I’m finally on board with Evans as a high-dollar cash play. Evans has only topped 20 DraftKings points once in 4 weeks, leaving some fantastic matchups unfulfilled along the way. And his volume is slipping, with a target average that’s dipped from 12.0 over his first 11 games to 7.5 since. Still, he looms as arguably the safest play among the top-salaried guys, especially from a matchup perspective. Nelson will draw gobs of attention from Darius Slay, which could ding his ceiling, while Evans faces an overmatched Panthers secondary that rarely holds No. 1 wideouts under 60-70 yards. Give him 6 catches and a touchdown – very reasonable numbers for a target hog and premier playmaker in a must-win game – and Evans has a perfectly clear path to his 24-point cash marker.
Astoundingly, Hill has returned 2.2x and 2.6x DraftKings value in his past 2 games despite not catching a pass. (He’s failed to corral any of his eight targets over that span.) Now imagine what he can do when mean progression comes to the table; Hill had caught an eye-popping 82.3% of his targets entering that stretch, and few fireballs do more with their touches. He’s also been woven into the running game (163 yards and 2 scores over those 2 games) and could see that extended even further if Spencer Ware is limited Sunday. Kansas City has the AFC West crown to play for and won’t know of Oakland’s results when they lace up, so there’s no real concern over a rest week or a muted gameplan. Hill will be deployed as usual, and we can confidently add receiving production to his projected output this week.
He’s clearly grabbed the reins in the wake of A.J. Green’s injury. Atop a sad depth chart, LaFell has pulled a team-high 50 targets (22.9%) over the past 6 weeks, good for a tie at 15th among all NFL players. He’s also drawn five dark zone targets over that span, and his touchdown outlook should swell even further with Tyler Eifert shut down. The only real game in town, LaFell is primed to drastically outperform his $4,500 Week 17 salary. The Ravens’ pass defense is top-notch, but LaFell needs to merely find the end zone once among 5-7 receptions to deliver tournament value.
It’s been a rough year for season-long owners and DFS devotees of Robinson (see: me). Blake Bortles’ implosion and his own inefficiency have held him back mightily, and he’s produced 4x value just twice all year. But DraftKings’ pricing system has taken notice, and his Week 17 salary sits at just 66% of his Week 1 cost. The Jaguars are, of course, playing on Sunday just for fun and a paycheck, but Robinson still drips with value. He’s still a volume kingpin, both in and out of the dark zone, and an efficient day should easily produce 5-6 high-impact receptions. He doesn’t necessarily need to find the end zone or match last week’s 9-catch, 147-yard line to bring home GPP value – and there’s probably no better Week 17 dice roll to threaten 5x scoring.
He’s facing the Broncos, yes, and he’ll be catching passes from a backup. But Crabtree is in position to turn a deflated salary and exceptionally low ownership into a strong GPP showing. He’s easily pacing Amari Cooper in recent target share, and this may be #NarrativeStreet talking, but he better fits the mold of a backup passer’s best friend. The prospects of heavy quarterback attention and garbage-time volume make Crabtree a perfectly viable differentiation play in deep GPPs.
These are really the only two options to concern yourself with for cash play; they’re high-volume to the point of just about dominating team targets. Most importantly, the clustering of DraftKings’ TE pricing makes both perfectly affordable. Kelce needs just 15 points to cash, a mark he’s been destroying of late, with 18+ in 4 of his last 5 games. He actually makes for an intriguing power-stack with Tyreek Hill, as the pair carries a strong chance of absorbing 45-50% of Alex Smith’s targets. Kansas City wants to come out of Sunday with a win and the division crown, so it’s easy to expect them to feed their playmakers robustly against the Chargers’ weak defense.
Rudolph doesn’t carry the same upside as Kelce, but who does? He may not boast the same yardage outlook, but he actually sits ahead of all TEs – Kelce included – in targets since Week 12. It’s really no surprise: Rudolph’s reliable short game is a dream match for Sam Bradford’s pop-gun arm, so the two are averaging 6.6 hookups over that span. Kelce is the guy you want, boasting both ceiling and floor, but Rudolph offers the same baseline expectation in terms of volume and comes at a $400 discount.
All signs are pointing to Reed suiting up for Sunday’s must-win, so GPPers need to take advantage of his lowest salary in over a calendar year. He checks in at just a $5,100 price tag, despite carrying by far the most upside of the entire slate. You know about Reed’s capabilities: with no Rob Gronkowski in play, he carries the league’s top blend of volume and dynamism at the position. Assuming he’s cleared for 4 full quarters, this 20-point GPP marker is laughable for a guy of Reed’s profile. He’s hit that target in 6 of his last 13 full games.
His price tag has absolutely plummeted, down 30% from its Week 11 high. It makes sense, as the position remains rich in value and Matt Cassel is a walking nightmare. But Walker remains the Titans’ top receiving talent, and he’s produced usable (occasionally stout) volume across multiple quarterback regimes. And while his 2016 has tapered off a bit, don’t forget that he’s still reached 50 yards and/or found the end zone in 8 of his last 11 games. That floor, coupled with his easy GPP-value upside, makes him a strong contrarian play.
The Cardinals haven’t hit double digits since Week 6, but this is a criminally low price tag for a Rams opponent. We always look first at the quarterback a unit is facing, and Jared Goff has been a godsend to DFS defenses. All 6 of his opponents have notched 7+ DraftKings points, and 3 have managed double digits, feasting on a steady diet of sacks (3.2 per game) and interceptions (1.2). From a value standpoint, this one looks too easy; Arizona will be the D/ST in at least 75% of my cash lineups.
This one is generally easy as well. The Browns struggle mightily to score – their 20 points last Sunday was the first time they’d hit the mark since Week 8 – and they’ve allowed an astounding 32 sacks over their last 5 games. I’m not in on Pittsburgh in cash simply because of the unpredictable nature of this game; the Steelers will limit their key players’ exposure, and a 24-16 Browns win is absolutely in play. Still, when you’re looking to diversify a set of lineups away from the Cardinals, this needs to be your first stop.
They’re an up-and-down group for sure, and they do allow points, but they fit the mold of a GPP defense perfectly: cheap, aggressive, takeaway-prone, and facing an offense unlikely to create fireworks. The Giants are locked firmly into the NFC’s No. 5 seed, so we’re unlikely to see a full complement of Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr., and company. Washington, on the other hand, is playing for its postseason lives, so we’re more likely than usual to see a pull-out-all-the-stops gameplan. Giants scoring should check in fairly low, and splash plays should be squarely on the table if Ryan Nassib and the backups see extensive time.