In the world of large tournaments we prey on uncertainty and improbabilities. We must often fly in the face of reason when building lineups. Logical decision making as we know it—things like process over results and rosters with high floors—could very well leave our bankroll in ruins (and why you shouldn’t use GPPs as your main play if you intend to be profitable).
Last week Steve Smith turned seven receptions into 139 yards and two touchdowns. One of those touchdowns came off of tipped pass intended for Owen Daniels. In essence, it was a fluky 61-yard score that is likely to never to be repeated. But that doesn’t mean Smith was a bad tournament play. His salary was priced low enough to tempt 22.5 percent of the 57,471 people that played in the FanDuel $1.25M NFL Sunday Million.
Still, we have to at least clear our heads and zoom out of the situation to get a better view. Smith got lucky. As I’ve said over and over again, luck is the dark matter of fantasy football. It holds us together; it will tear us apart. Trying to avoid it is just as dangerous as trying to put it in your favor. But that’s exactly what we’re trying to do in crowded tournaments. We need to identify value not just from an economic standpoint, but from a contrarian standpoint, and put luck in our favor.
High exposure. Low scores. Can’t profit.
The return of the Broncos from a bye serves as a reminder that players coming back from a week off are often forgotten. Peyton Manning is an early fade appearing on only 3.4 percent of rosters. The Cardinals have been one of the best defensive units all season. But I wouldn’t be shy about taking one of the best fantasy players available when no one else is. He did, after all, hang 300-plus yards and a pair of touchdowns on the Seahawks (and one interception). He’s the second most expensive option so I don’t expect his ownership to grow much between now and Sunday.
Brother Eli returned to fantasy relevance as he routed Washington in another ugly Thursday game. This week he enjoys a home date against a bad Atlanta secondary. His salary of $7,300 is attractive but his exposure of 13.2 percent screams fade. There’s only one Giants player I want on my team and we’ll get to him later.
Ben Roethlisberger, as expected, is finding his way onto a lot of rosters (10%). The Steelers are traveling to Jacksonville to face a dumpster fire offense only dwarfed in comparison by its defense. I like Roethlisberger as a safe option but safety doesn’t win tournaments.
Checking into more discounted selections, Austin Davis has been anointed by Jeff Fisher as the starting quarterback for the Rams. His salary ($7,200) combined with his exposure (0.6%) and a matchup against a soft Philadelphia defense that’s allowed the second most passing touchdowns makes him an excellent against-the-grain play. The last time we saw Davis take the field he sliced through the Cowboys secondary for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Even with a couple interceptions he outplayed his salary and most other quarterback options in Week 3 finishing sixth best.
Playing on the theme of a bad Cowboys secondary we have Ryan Fitzpatrick traveling to Dallas in a surprise 3-1 showdown. It seems fair to think anything Davis can do Fitzpatrick can do better, or at least equally. Either way, his salary of $6,500 and exposure of just 0.7 percent makes him worth a risky tournament ticket. Stack him with Andre Johnson or DeAndre Hopkins. Or both.
If you’re looking for a bigger discount and subsequently more risk, Brian Hoyer is your man. I’m not afraid of the Titans’ defense, nor am I afraid to think perhaps Hoyer is playing well enough to earn a lottery ticket play in a big tournament. He’s the cheapest option of quarterbacks that are actually starting ($5,800) and his exposure of 1.3 percent won’t move much.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Fade Favorite Cam Newton. I’d be more confident if we had a little more information regarding his health. But he gets a leaky Chicago defense at home and should represent the majority of the Panthers rushing offense. He’s checking in on only one percent of rosters.
I mentioned earlier there was only one Giants player I want on my team this week and it should be no surprise that his name is Rashad Jennings. His plus matchup isn’t reflected in his $7,200 salary, but his exposure of 27.1 percent is. He represents our top loss leader of Week 5. The value is just too good to pass up.
Next up we have Le’Veon Bell. Currently he’s the second highest owned running back at 21.6 percent. Unlike Jennings, his salary reflects his skillset and matchup. The Jaguars are getting a little bit of home love from Vegas as they’re expected to lose by only six points. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make a game out of it. Still, even as the game script favors running backs of Pittsburgh, I think we can do better for our money. I will be fading Bell.
Then again, Week 5 isn’t friendly for running backs in general. There aren’t a ton of good bargains available, so even if I recommend discounting this position as much as possible, this is a good week to pay up.
In doing so, you should pay up for skill and opportunity. Bell represents both but he offers little upside in terms of exposure. Jamaal Charles is not only $200 cheaper, he’s much more talented and there should be little concern about his usage. The matchup, of course, is a nightmare. The 49ers have been top-five against the run. Hence, we have Charles showing up on just 3.8 percent of rosters. But this is a great opportunity to use the fear of the DFS crowd against them. He’ll be the focal point of the offense and defense, as usual.
But if you’re afraid of the Chiefs’ offense, which is understandable, then save yourself another $100 and grab LeSean McCoy. He gets the third worst defense in terms of yards-per-game allowed to rushers all while enjoying middle-of-the-road exposure (6%). That number will move up by Sunday but not enough to shake off contrarians. He is an elite play this weekend.
Returning to our regular strategy already in progress, we want to identify bargains that will open up our rosters without sacrificing our floors. The first guy on the list is Justin Forsett. The Colts and Ravens should provide a high-scoring game and keep pass-catching backs in play. The backfield of Baltimore is hard for me to trust but Forsett has been as reliable as anyone checking in as the 12th highest scoring running back in PPR leagues. The Colts defense has struggled against the run, particularly to backs that excel in the passing game. Forsett is a bargain at $6,000 and his exposure of 5.3 percent only amplifies his value.
Bishop Sankey is an interesting option this week. He’s trending towards more snaps and gets a Browns defense that has allowed the fourth most yards-per-game to opposing rushers. He’ll cost us just $5,900 and so far is being rostered by 3.2 percent of teams.
The Saints return to the dome after a horrible Sunday night game in which they couldn’t find any room against a supposedly bad Cowboys defense. The Buccaneers are a supposedly good defense but they’ve allowed four rushing scores through four games. I like what I’ve seen from Khiry Robinson ($5,800, 6.2%.) He’s getting the majority of touches making use o f them. This is last call as Mark Ingram II is expected back after their Week 6 bye.
If you want to go against the grain, Pierre Thomas could have a friendlier salary ($6400), but his exposure of 0.9 percent makes him a nice contrarian play with implied risk.
Lastly, we have everyone’s favorite, LeGarrette Blount. He is the reason we can fade Bell but still get action against one of the worst defenses in the league. Blount is a game-script running back and if the Steelers/Jaguars matchup proves to be a blowout, he will get enough opportunities to find a touchdown. For $4,600 he’s not only available on the cheap, he’s being ignored by all but 1.3 percent of rosters.
Sticking with the Steelers we have this week’s highest priced wide receiver, Antonio Brown. Through four games Brown is the number one receiver in all of fantasy and it’s no surprise he’s found atop the exposure ranks at 23.6 percent. His salary of $9,000 and a favorable matchup set him up as a loss leader. But I’m inclined to let others pay and search for value elsewhere.
Instead of shelling out $9k for Brown, you could save $100 and snag Dez Bryant. In the process you’ll get one the game’s best end zone receivers and an elite player attached to an elite offense that’s owned on just two percent of teams. The Cowboys have indicated they plan to run and run a lot. Perhaps that will work out for them but history suggests it won’t.
We opened with Steve Smith whose exposure in Week 4 made him anything but contrarian. He did however live up to his loss leader status just as Jeff Pasquino plugged in this space last week. Some values just can’t be ignored.
This week Smith’s early ownership is 17 percent. I expect that to grow and surpass Week 4 as casual fans stare down the stat lines posted by the Colts’ passing defense. Myself, I’ll be passing on the Raven in favor bigger wide receivers with better quarterbacks. Vegas likes this game to be high scoring with an over/under of 48.5. But Smith’s fluky scores make me a little bearish. Still, he’s one of the most targeted receivers in the early stretch and his salary, though $1,100 more than last week, isn’t discouraging.
As mentioned with Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas seems to be forgotten after taking a week off. Again, this is a matchup that is less than reassuring. Through three games Thomas has been a major disappointment. But we may not find his salary cheaper than it is right now at $8,600. As of Thursday he was on just 2.6 percent of teams. When the crowd fades the player, fade the crowd. This is a fine time to toss up a Manning/Thomas stack at an accommodating price, relatively speaking.
Going deeper, we find Brian Quick with a great matchup at a bargain of $6,000. The crowd is wise to it however, as he’s being plugged into 9.9 percent of rosters. I still encourage a Davis/Quick stack.
Switching back to the Broncos, they’ll host the Cardinals and an over/under of 48.5. Naturally, Manning and company are favored to win by 7.5. This suggests the likes of Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald will be busy in the passing game. They both check in at $6,400. Fitzgerald is the least exposed as all but 0.9 percent of teams have given up on him. Floyd is a potentially elite option yet owned by only four percent of players.
Calvin Johnson was a decoy in more ways than one last week. He played but didn’t really play. The sting of two catches for 12 yards has caused a site-wide fade as he appears on just 2.7 percent of rosters. A week-long absence from practice may have a lot to do with his exposure, but monitor his status Sunday morning. If he’s on the field for pregame, get him in your lineup and enjoy a rare occasion of being one of the few players to draft him.
There are no more secrets about Travis Kelce. His salary hasn’t caught up to his usage and skillset, but his exposure has. Last week he found his way onto only 6.4 percent of rosters. Coming out of Thursday he’s already represented on 16.9 percent of teams. In other words, fade.
Julius Thomas, like his teammates, is seeing an unusually low ownership percentage (3.1%). I can’t help but get excited about a Manning/Thomas/Thomas stack.
Jimmy Graham is also enjoying a lower than normal amount of action, but still on a healthy 7.8 percent of rosters. I like his salary of $7,900, which is the lowest it has been all season (or possibly ever).
As you might have guessed, Larry Donnell is the early leader in tight end exposure at 17.1 percent. A monster three touchdown game tends to have that effect. Still, there’s only one Giants player I want on my team.
Our bargain comes in the form of the ultimate risk, even in the face of a great matchup. Jacksonville’s Clay Harbor will set you back just $5,000 and he’s flying under the radar at just two percent owned. Last week he secured all eight of his targets for 69 yards. This week he gets a defense that’s allowed the sixth most fantasy points to tight ends.
As always, I reserve the right to tinker until kickoff. What I love about this lineup is the low exposure I’m getting at just about every position, yet I’m awarded elite talent and opportunity in most cases (and then there’s Fitzpatrick). Note that you could easily swap out Blount in favor of Robinson.
There’s also $200 left in the budget so should Johnson look iffy come Sunday morning, there’s room to plug in Antonio Brown. Blount is the major question mark. Our basic prayer here is that he finds the end zone at least once in a blowout. I’m also getting an elite defense that, though highly owned, could have a monster Monday night. I generally don’t like to pay up for defenses but it worked this week.
As a reminder these percentages are based on a Thursday GPP and are subject to change. But the trends are obvious.
- QB – Ryan Fitzpatrick ($6,500, 0.7%)
- RB – Rashad Jennings ($7,200, 27.1%)
- RB – LeGarrette Blount ($4,600, 1.3%)
- WR – Dez Bryant ($8,900, 2%)
- WR – Calvin Johnson ($8,900, 2.7%)
- WR – Demaryius Thomas ($8,600, 2.6%)
- TE – Clay Harbor ($5,000, 2%)
- K – Robbie Gould ($4,600, 10.5%)
- D/ST – Seattle Seahawks ($5,500, 12.6%)