JOHNNIE WALKER BLUE LABEL (TOP SHELF PLAYS)
Nick Foles ($7,700) - I’m fairly confident Andrew Luck will be this week’s top scoring QB, but building lineups around Luck at $10,000 is difficult. The same goes for Peyton Manning ($9,800) who may have to deal with 25 MPH wind gusts and freezing rain in New England on Sunday. I really like Russell Wilson, who has a great home matchup against the Raiders, but with Seattle opening as 15 point favorites, there’s risk the Seahawks take the air out of the ball in the second half. All of this leads me to Foles facing off with the Texans, who have allowed the second most passing yards in the NFL this season. Vegas sees just over 25 points in this game for Philly and 75% of their offensive TDs have come via the pass. Foles has scored under 15 points only once this season, giving him a high floor to go along with a reasonably high ceiling, given the matchup.
Colin Kaepernick ($7,000) - For $700 less than Foles, you can have Kaepernick, who dropped 32.4 fantasy points on the Rams just three weeks ago. You’ll recall St. Louis followed up that performance by allowing over 400 total yards and three TDs to Russell Wilson in Week 7. With the Niners coming off a bye, and facing a defense allowing the eighth most fantasy points to opposing QBs, it would be a surprise if Kapernick didn’t deliver at least the 21 points he needs to meet value this week.
Arian Foster ($9,900) - I won’t be committing 15% of my cap to a RB in many lineups this week, but if forced to choose between Foster and DeMarco Murray ($9,000) at this price point, I’d spend the extra coin on Foster. Murray draws the stingiest run defense in fantasy this week (Arizona), and Foster has exceeded value at this salary in three of his last four games. The matchup against Philadelphia is neutral, but it’s definitely one Foster is capable of exploiting in a potentially high scoring game.
Antonio Brown ($9,100) - Brown leads the NFL in receptions and has gone over 100 yards from scrimmage, or scored a TD in 75% of his games this season. We may not see him approach 40 points like he did last week, but I don’t see a safer bet at WR for 25-30. Baltimore has been allowing huge PPR games to WRs all season long, and that was before Jimmy Smith (the fourth rated CB at Pro Football Focus) went on the shelf.
Jeremy Maclin ($7,600) - While Maclin's 45.7 point Week 8 explosion resulted in a $2,100 salary increase, I still like the idea of a Foles-Maclin stack quite a bit. Maclin will match up primarily with Houston CB Johnathan Joseph this week. Joseph has let up more receptions than any CB in the league and trails only Tennessee’s Jason McCourty for most coverage yards allowed. Overall, Houston is ceding the sixth most fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers. Maclin costs $800 more than he has in any other week this season, but he’s appropriately priced given the plus matchup.
Rob Gronkowski ($7,600) - I may just pencil Gronk into this space regardless of price for the remainder of the season. Last week’s nuclear performance aside, Gronkowski’s 23.3% target share leads all tight ends, and is higher than stud WRs Brandon Marshall (22.07%) and T.Y. Hilton (22.67%) to name a few. Despite working his way into shape to start the year, Gronk’s seven top-12 PPR finishes lead all TEs. This week’s matchup against Denver certainly looks winnable after Antonio Gates put up a vintage performance against them last week (5-52-2).
49ers Defense ($3,200) - The Bengals, Chiefs, and Seahawks look like great plays for $3,300, but don’t forget San Francisco, who should be angry and refreshed coming off a bye week. Austin Davis is getting sacked more than three times per game. The last time these teams met, the Niners got to him five times and intercepted him once (a pick-six). San Fran is getting healthy (Patrick Willis and Glenn Dorsey return this week), and if this game goes according to script (SF -9.5), Davis will be forced to throw to try to keep up - a beautiful thing for the opposing defense.
JACK DANIELS (MODERATELY PRICED PLAYS)
Michael Vick ($6,600) - I’ll be the first to admit this is probably a really bad call. Kansas City has allowed multiple TD passes just once in their last six games (includes matchups against Philip Rivers and Tom Brady), and no team has given up less passing yards this season. Vick was rotten in relief of Geno Smith last week, completing only 50% of his passes and turning the ball over three times in three quarters. However, Vick did run the ball eight times for 69 yards, proving there’s plenty of juice left in his legs. As XN Sports’ C.D. Carter pointed out back in March, Vick has been every bit as effective a fantasy QB on a per drop back basis as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees since 2010. I wish his price was a little bit lower, but I’m willing to take a shot on Vick’s fantasy track record, regardless of matchup. At the very least, his rushing prowess makes him safe for cash games.
Marshawn Lynch ($6,100) - I’ve been burned by Lynch in this column in each of the last two weeks, but how can he not finish near the top of the RB leader board at home vs.the Raiders? With Seattle favored by more than two TDs, the game script favors Lynch getting back to 20+ carries (something that hasn’t happened in the last four games). Only the Falcons let up more fantasy points per game to opposing RBs than Oakland.
Andre Ellington ($5,900) - So much for the preseason workload concerns. Ellington has handled 48.4% of his team’s total touches in his starts this season, ranking him behind only DeMarco Murray(54.1%) and Matt Forte (48.7%). Since the Cardinals came off their bye in Week 5, Ellington is the PPR RB4, and the matchup against Dallas shouldn’t scare anyone. The Cowboys success at limiting RB fantasy scoring has been mostly due to dominating time of possession. With Tony Romo’s availability a question mark, and the Arizona defense presenting a tougher than usual test for DeMarco Murray, Ellington should have plenty of opportunity to expose a defense allowing 5.10 YPA to RBs on the year.
LeSean McCoy ($5,200) - You won’t see Shady this cheap again this season, so enjoy it while you can. The Eagles should get back Jason Kelce this week, which is absolutely huge for the their running game (Kelce ranked as PFF’s third best run blocking center last season). Despite a down year to this point (PPR RB20), McCoy’s workload isn’t in question. He’s handled 42.3% of his team’s total touches (sixth best at RB) and has shown signs of life recently, averaging 104.3 rushing yards over his past three games. Houston has stiffened up against the run, but Rashad Jennings, DeMarco Murray, and Le’Veon Bell have all gone for 20 plus PPR points against them this season.
Steve Smith ($5,600) - Smith has cooled down considerably over the last two games (combined six catches for 102 yards), so the crowd should be off him this week. Despite the dip in production, Smith remains heavily targeted (nine last week). His 25.37% target share is over 10% better than the next closest Raven (Torrey Smith - 15.07%). This week, he gets an excellent one-on-one matchup with Steelers’ CB Cortez Allen. Allen has let up the third most yards in coverage, and his five TDs allowed ties him for the league lead.
DeAndre Hopkins ($5,400) - While a matchup with the Eagles’ awful secondary didn’t go as planned for last week’s Kings for a Day coverboy, I’m extremely confident Nuk will make Bradley Fletcher and/or Cary Williams look silly on a few deep balls. Hopkins is being thrown to 20 or more yards down the field on a solid 23% of his targets. He’s caught all seven catchable deep passes thrown his way (at an average of 37 yards per completion), including two that went for TDs. Hopkins has also quietly been one of the most consistent WRs in the league, finishing inside the position’s top-24 five times this season, which is more than Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, and Brandon Marshall to name a few.
Clay Harbor ($4,200) - It never feels great plugging Clay Harbor into a DFS lineup, but it does work out on occasion. I like his chances of exceeding value against the Bengals, who let up the third most fantasy points per game to TEs. Before “shutting down” something called Crockett Gilmore last week, Cincinnati had let up four touchdowns to TEs in their previous three games - and now they’ll be playing without their top two linebackers. Vegas has the Bengals as 11 point favorites, so Harbor should also soak up some of Jacksonville’s trademark garbage time targets.
Travis Kelce ($4,100) - The Jets rank right behind the Bengals in fantasy PPG allowed to tight ends, which makes Kelce worth a look, despite Andy Reid’s maddening insistence on getting as little production as possible out of the best weapon in his passing game. Kelce is a verifiable stud according to just about every advanced metric - his 9.5 yards/target is second to only Niles Paul among TEs with at least 30 targets, and his 2.69 yards per route run places him squarely in Gronk territory (2.85). Kelce averages one red zone target per game, which should be all that he needs to find the end zone against the Jets, who have let up over one TD per game to TEs this season.
LIMOUSINE LIQUOR (DIRT CHEAP PLAYS)
Blake Bortles ($5,400) - There’s a crowd of usable QBs available in the $5,200-$5,700 range this week (Teddy Bridgewater, Brian Hoyer, Alex Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick), but I see Bortles as having a higher ceiling than all of them. Since taking over for Chad Henne in Week 3, Bortles ranks 8th in the NFL in pass attempts. This isn’t by design of course - the combination of the Jags’ lousy defense and Bortles’ propensity for turnovers, keeps the Jacksonville offense in perpetual comeback mode. With the Bengals favored by 11 at home, we should see plenty of volume late in the game for Bortles again this week. It makes for a solid setup against a banged up defense that’s been a plus matchup for opposing QBs this season. As an added bonus, Bortles has averaged 41 rushing yards per game in his last three, and the Bengals have allowed a league worst 218 rushing yards to QBs.
Chris Ivory ($4,500) - With Chris Johnson (3 carries, 16/85 snaps last week) an afterthought, it’s safe to trust Ivory as a feature back on a team that wants to run the ball. At first blush, the Chiefs are a tough opponent, ranking 29th in fantasy PPG allowed to RBs. However, there’s some luck involved in their favorable ranking - KC has let up 5.22 YPA to RBs, but have somehow not given up a rushing TD all season. Ivory is doing his usual tough running, averaging nearly three yards after contact per attempt, but the real reason I like him this week is the Michael Vick bump. Since 2002, the starting RBs on Vick’s Atlanta and Philadelphia teams averaged 11.31 standard fantasy PPG in Vick’s 102 starts. In the 35 games he missed, those same RBs saw their production dip to 8.51 PPG - a decrease of nearly 25%.
Jeremy Hill ($4,000) - I liked Hill as a RB punt play against Jacksonville when it only seemed like Giovanni Bernard was a little banged up. Now that Bernard has failed to practice all week, and those close to the team are speculating he’ll be out, Hill represents the best $/Point value on DraftKings. If Bernard can’t go, you may want to fade Hill in tourneys, where he’ll likely be the most heavily owned commodity in the game, but I don’t see how you can pass him up at this price for your cash game lineups.
Andrew Hawkins ($4,900) - Hawkins has exploited great matchups against the Jaguars (5-112-0) and Raiders (7-88-1) in each of the last two weeks, yet his price has only risen $200 for this week’s home game against Tampa Bay. Hawkins’ 27.73% target share ranks him up there with the big boys, and he should be even more heavily involved with Jordan Cameron expected to be out. In the Week 2 game Cameron missed earlier this season, Hawkins saw 12 targets against the Saints. Even if TDs continue to prove elusive for Baby Hawk, he should have no problem returning value against the most generous defense to WRs.
Vincent Jackson ($4,500) - According to Football Outsiders, Cleveland ranks 30th at defending opposing WR1s. Despite a disappointing one catch, 13 yard performance last week, and the coaching staff’s publicly stated desire to get Mike Evans more involved, there’s no doubting V-Jax is still Tampa Bay’s top wideout (his 27.78% target share ranks seventh best in the NFL). Joe Haden usually covers Mike Evans’ side of the field, which should leave CB Justin Gilbert on Jackson for the majority of snaps. QBs have a 104.4 QBR when throwing at Gilbert this season.
Michael Floyd ($3,800) - Someday soon I’ll probably come to grips with the fact Michael Floyd is simply not seeing enough targets to warrant our attention each week. Today is not that day. Rather than focus on Floyd being the fourth most targeted player on his own team since the Cardinals came out of their bye, I’ll instead look to exploit the $1,100 drop in his cap number. The two deep passes Floyd dropped last week, were the first two catchable targets of 20+ yards he’s dropped since the start of last season. He may not be seeing the volume we’d like, but eventually those deep balls are going to connect, and we’re going to see the polar opposite of last week’s donut. It could happen as soon as this week, with Floyd lined up against Dallas CB Brandon Carr, who’s let up 15.9 yards per completion and two TDs in coverage. Prior to last week’s disaster, Floyd either had 100 receiving yards, or scored a TD in each of Carson Palmer’s other three starts. You won’t find another WR with Floyd’s pedigree, or ceiling for $3,800, making him an ideal tournament play.
Jason Witten ($3,200) - Antonio Gates (6-81), Larry Donnell (7-81), Julius Thomas (6-66-2), and Jordan Reed (8-92) have all had big PPR games against the Cardinals this year. In fact, the only tight ends Arizona has held completely in check are Derek Carrier, and Mychal Rivera. Witten isn’t what he used to be, but he’s coming off season highs in targets (8), receptions (5), and he’s scored in two of his last three games.
RUBBING ALCOHOL (MINIMUM PLAYS)
Stedman Bailey ($3,000) - Bailey’s nothing more than a tournament prayer, but I like him to grab the starter’s share of snaps opposite Kenny Britt, now that Brian Quick is lost for the year. The second year WR out of West Virgina has great hands, a similar athletic profile to Antonio Brown, and the Rams have been targeting him downfield (20.0 aDOT) in a limited role. It was only a few months ago that Bailey was generating significant buzz during training camp.
Jermaine Gresham ($3,000) - Gresham is tied for third in TE targets (23) over the last three games, and the matchup with Jacksonville is a good one for opposing TEs. Ideally you can fit Witten into your lineup for $200 more, but if you’re in a pinch, Gresham should see enough action to return 3x his minimum salary.