Go big or go cheap? That’s the question we have to answer when we design tournament rosters. Most notably, the quarterback and tight end positions force us to choose. For the most part the elite players salaries will remain static. Give or take a few hundred dollars we can pretty much count on the usual suspects to gobble up large chunks of our salary cap.
The key in this unforgiving environment is striking a balance between risk and reward. Risk, as far as tournaments are concerned, is the only way to put luck in our favor.
With that in consideration, should you risk plugging a super cheap, low floor quarterback into your lineup? Or should you risk 16-17 percent of your cap on a high floor quarterback? The answer evolves every week. Daily league strategy is malleable in the sense that we’re not tied to waivers and trades. We’re tied to an economy. Buying the luxurious quarterback limits the potential of the rest of our lineups. But taking a discount and loading the roster with elite wide receivers doesn’t necessarily guarantee profits either. Finding a perfect balance is the difference between cashing and crapping.
Long live the bias of recent fortune and all of the natural instincts that guide it. After a pair of games that saw Ben Roethlisberger toss 12 touchdowns his ownership spiked to levels of must-fade territory. I didn’t aggressively suggest fading him last week at this time. I just sort of hinted at it. This week he’s once again our highest exposed quarterback at 9.5 percent, which is a much more reasonable number. It also means that the crowd is piling their money onto a different position. To keep it simple. I have no interest in Roethlisberger’s road splits, especially as conditions offer a cold, wet and windy landscape here in Nashville on Monday night.
Our next highest suitor is Tom Brady. Las Vegas likes this game to score the most points with an over/under currently hovering at 57.5. For that reason can we ignore his ownership of 8.5 percent, a number I expect to grow, and justify an investment in the fourth most expensive option on FanDuel? If the answer is yes do you stack him with Rob Gronkowski, a 29.3 percent hit against the cap? I’ll answer this question later. For now, feel comfortable signing Brady to your daily franchise.
Remember last week when I pegged Mark Sanchez as the fade of the week? Me neither. I’ve always said hindsight is for losers. Foresight is for winners. It comes as no surprise that he’s challenging Brady for one of the highest exposed QB options as of Thursday night. Vegas loves this game to the tune of 55 points. You almost have to buy into the Chip Kelly’s offense against Green Bay. By sheer opportunity fantasy points will be delivered. Sanchez is cheaper than Alex Smith and Josh McCown. Value cannot be ignored.
In the top tier, Andrew Luck checks in with the lowest exposure at 4.3 percent. His salary is almost prohibitive. So too are the salaries of Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. This is where we can use exposure and Vegas as leverage in our lineups. Playing a top QB as a spotter in tournaments makes sense but obviously it comes with tradeoffs. Rodgers is a popular feature at 7.7 percent with Manning just behind him at 6.7. If you’re going to squeeze a $10,000 QB option into your lineup it might as well be the guy playing at home, in the highest over/under of the week, and with the lowest exposure. Even Luck’s running backs score their touchdowns by catching passes. He’s the best choice here.
Just south of their price rests Matthew Stafford. The crowd is very nervous about a matchup that could be low scoring and the fact that he will cost you a problematic $8,600. But how can we overlook a secondary that’s allowing the third most passing yards per game despite playing Derek Carr, Nick Foles, Brandon Weeden and Austin Davis in their last four contests? Furthermore, the best wide receiver in the business is finally healthy. At an exposure of just two percent, Stafford offers a premium cut against the grain play.
Robert Griffin has earned the attention of the crowd. His accommodating price tag and lure of a plus matchup against the passer-friendly Buccaneers make him a superb tournament option. Only two teams have allowed more passing touchdowns than Tampa Bay. I’m intrigued by a Washington stack even if his popularity (6.9%) has fade written all over it.
Digging deeper, I love both Matt Ryan and Andy Dalton. The latter is a tough sell. He excels at exactly nothing and his stats prove it. Ryan Fitzpatrick has scored more fantasy points. But I think this has a lot to do with a certain star wide receiver being sidelined for a good chunk of the season. The game script should play out perfectly as the Bengals travel to New Orleans with a tasty over/under of 50.5. Dalton is appearing on just 0.3 percent of early rosters. As always, when the crowd fades the player fade the crowd.
In the bargain bin we find Derek Carr. The last time he faced the Chargers he dumped 248 yards and four touchdowns on them. He’s managed only five touchdowns in the four games since. Last week he was awful until a meaningless garbage time drive where he found his tight end for a score in the closing minutes of a blowout. But as Jerry McDonald writes, perhaps Carr’s late touchdown drive wasn’t meaningless. Rookie quarterbacks are going to have rookie numbers at times. In tournaments, our profit margins rely on our ability to identify when we need to assume the risk and when we need to fade it. Since that four-touchdown performance Carr has sputtered. But the Chargers secondary remains a proven fantasy-friendly target having allowed seven touchdowns to quarterbacks in their last three contests. You won’t find a better option for the price.
In general, there are three things we factor into our selection of ball carriers: price, opportunity and matchup. Exposure comes with the cost of admission. It goes without saying that popularity follows volume and is largely tied to the quality of opponent. For that reason, it’s no surprise that Alfred Morris checks in as the crowd favorite. He is priced just right at $7,300 and faces a defense that has allowed 10 touchdowns over the course of the season. But when I see his ownership percentage rocket up to 19.6 percent, I’m immediately concerned about my prospects of swinging a tournament in my favor. I’ll fearlessly proclaim him as the co-fade of the week.
Our next most expensive option in terms of exposure is Mark Ingram II (15.3%). As I laid out last week, the home team is always where we should put our money when it comes to running backs. There is no better situation than a dome and a defense that’s allowed the fourth most points to running backs. With virtually no threat to his volume it’s impossible to fade his situation. So use him as a loss leader if you must. I don’t doubt he’ll have decent numbers in a game that favors the Saints by a touchdown. But it’s my fiduciary duty to at least warn if you’re going to sink $8,000 into a player with high exposure, it should be at a position not so susceptible to game script.
Shane Vereen desperately relies on receptions to balloon his box score. This week we find him on 13.8 percent of rosters with a mild price tag and a high volume matchup. I expect his exposure to grow between now and Sunday. But if there’s one thing we know about fantasy football, it’s Bill Belichick’s running backs can’t be trusted. One fumble is all it takes to separate double-digit numbers from a frustrating ride on the bench. That said, for $6,500, he’s worth the risk.
Similar to Vereen is Ahmad Bradshaw. The matchup sets up perfectly for pass-catching running backs and Bradshaw has excelled in that area checking in as the seventh highest scorer in PPR leagues. The Patriots have allowed more receiving touchdowns than rushing touchdowns and check in as the fifth friendliest defense for opposing backfields He’ll cost you $500 less than Ingram and his exposure is much more reasonable (9.6%). As always, take the volume running back at home in a high scoring affair.
As much as I’d like to paint C.J. Anderson as this week’s Jeremy Hill, the news of Montee Ball practicing in full has me reluctant to make a Broncos investment outside of Manning and his receivers. Anderson’s early exposure of 12.5 percent may level off should news of Ball’s playing status be confirmed. But as it stands, this is a low floor situation that should be avoided.
Speaking of Hill, I’d like to introduce you to the fade of the week. Under no circumstances do I trust the Bengals to rely on their run game in a situation that begs them to pass, especially if the crowd favors him to the tune of 10.6 percent. The Saints have allowed only one 100-yard game all season (DeMarco Murray). Even if Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde found their way into the end zone last week, I’m not so confident Hill will find similar success. There are more affordable and more reliable options.
One of those affordable options is Ryan Mathews. Missing games is just a part of Mathew’s ticket price in redraft leagues. It’s not new territory. Thanks to that his salary has fallen to the range of compromise. He comes with the implied risk of being immediately removed due to injury, but we all know talent has never been an issue. The Chargers’ ability to open holes this season has been. But for $6,200, even at an exposure of 6.8 percent and likely growing, I’m willing to invest in a healthy Mathews at home against a defense that is getting gashed by running backs of all shapes and sizes. The Raiders have allowed the third most points to ball carriers and there’s no reason to think they’ll be better on Sunday.
In the bargain bin we find the teammate of a guy I labeled as the co-fade of the week. Roy Helu, as you might guess, is on only 0.2 percent rosters and his price tag opens up a world of opportunity at other positions. When you spend just $5,100 on a running back you immediately assume the risk that is implied with the price. You get what you pay for, to be obvious. But with the return of Griffin came five targets and four receptions for 42 yards. We’ll need more than that to turn risk into profit, and we’re asking for a bit of luck in this situation, but it’s not inconceivable to see Helu either get a lot of work on passing downs because Washington is trailing, or get a lot of work because they’ve already blown out the Buccaneers. Either way, we’re asking for favors and either way, five to six receptions for a good chunk of yardage isn’t out of the question. We just need one of those receptions to go for six.
I hate to double-down on an Eagles fade but when Jordan Matthews registers as the most exposed option coming out of Thursday night I can’t help but be cautious. Obviously, pricing and recent performance has a lot to do with it. For $5,500 there is no better way to staple your lineup with talent and opportunity. If you go big at quarterback you almost have no choice. Just be aware that his exposure of nearly 25 percent is only going to grow.
Kelvin Benjamin is the next highest price in terms of popularity. Both the price and matchup are enticing. What’s not enticing is a quarterback obviously injured and/or not interested in playing for his coach. Maybe my eyes deceive me but sometimes it seems like Cam Newton almost wants to throw interceptions. Still, Benjamin benefits from a large market share of targets, two of which converted he for a pair of touchdowns in garbage time last week. His pricing bracket isn’t luxurious but it is accommodating. His situation is a red flag.
You expect Rodger’s receivers to be popular plays every week considering they both register as top-eight wide-outs. Jordy Nelson, third best, finds a comfy 13.3 percent of lineups and is good for a score every week. What’s interesting is Randall Cobb has more touchdowns than him, in fact the most of all receivers, but finds his way onto only 5.1 percent of lineups. He’s also $200 cheaper than Nelson. I can almost hear my future self chuckling as Eddie Lacy pounds in a pair touchdowns and John Kuhn gets the other. Still, DFSmaniacs, say your prayers, take your vitamins and stack your Packers.
The obvious names bubble to the surface of medium-to-high exposure. Julio Jones (8.9%) represents a safe option for a reasonable price and could steal the show on any Sunday. Antonio Brown suffocated a lot of lineups last week and recycled some cash in the process. Regardless, the crowd is not afraid (9.1%). My bet is Jones will outscore Brown at an $800 discount.
A recent addition to the middle-grade wide receiver madness is Brandon LaFell (9.4%). In the five weeks leading to his bye LaFell was the 9th highest scoring wide out in PPR leagues. What’s equally beautiful and maddening about this situation is he’s the same price as Julian Edelman. A Patriots stack is absolutely recommended but it doesn’t include Edelman. Unless, of course, you believe LaFell will be shutdown but Vontae Davis.
If you’re curious, and you should be, Demaryius Thomas is featured on 7.9 percent of rosters and Emmanuel Sanders is one of the highest exposed at 10.3. This is going to be the first week in a long time that I don’t recommend a Broncos stack. For the price, you’re better off with Green Bay or New England.
Before heading to the bargain bin let’s return to where we left off with Stafford. Fear of game flow is one thing; disrespectful ownership is another. Perhaps I still see flashes of 50-yard touchdowns over undersized cornerbacks and it blinds me from reality, but Calvin Johnson is invisible to all but five percent of owners. The injury really scared folks. My guess is the sting of losing a first round draft pick for six out of nine weeks—including a bye and two decoys—leaves potential suitors angry and volatile. Let’s take advantage of that situation even if it costs us top dollar. It’s not as if he has an imposing matchup, per usual. The Cardinals are a premium run defense so even if the Lions build a lead they’ll still struggle to grind out the clock. The over/under is an unsexy 41 points, down a few from where it opened. That doesn’t mean Megatron won’t account for most of them.
Like always, I’ll seek underexposed talent in tournaments. I mentioned Dalton could be an interesting option even if science and math disagree. His main guy, A.J. Green, is finding just 2.6 percent of lineups. It’s terrifying to think but stacking the Bengals this week might be a tournament winner.
For $6,200 you can nab Keenan Allen in a game that I expect him to see double-digit targets. The crowd is sort of on board at 6.2 percent. He’s a good roster filler.
In that same price range we find Pierre Garcon. At this point it’s hard to know what to expect from Washington’s offense. The return of Griffin, in theory, bodes well for Garcon. His exposure was below four percent coming out of Thursday night. The risk is implied but I like him to find a score and a decent share of targets.
Speaking of risk, any guesses as to who registers in the top-15 in targets yet is on only 0.9 percent of rosters? None other than the ultimate tournament play, Rueben Randle. The Giants’ offense is horrible but in their last three home games they’ve averaged 28 points. Randle makes for a fine filler if you’re going big at quarterback and tight end.
The supremacy of the top three tight end options makes it almost impossible to take a discount at this position. Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas and Gronkowski are threats to score multiple touchdowns every week. I’ll pay up for one of these guys over a top wide receiver and free up some salary cap in the process.
Gronkowski is especially important to cashing in tournaments. I mentioned a New England stack earlier. Over their last five games, Brady, LaFell and Gronkowksi have combined for an average of 71 points. This week they are on the road in what should be one of the highest scoring contests of the year. Pay the $8,100 fee and get him in your lineup even if 16.5 percent of the field does the same.
Our next most exposed option is Antonio Gates (13.6%). At a cost of $6,700 I’ll fade the crowd. In fact, going big or going cheap is the only way to treat tight ends this week. For $600 less than Gates we find Dwayne Allen (8.4%) in a much more favorable situation.
As always, stacking a QB with his tight end is something I’ll recommend every week. My intrigue of a Washington stack pairs nicely with Jordan Reed, who comes in as one of the cheapest options ($5,200). He was invisible despite the return of Griffin in Week 9. I think he shows up on Sunday.
Even though I want to fade Matthews due to his extreme exposure, it’s simply impossible to find a better option in that price range. The Packers/Eagles game is going to have a ton of action from an ownership standpoint so we at least need to get a piece of it.
As much as I love Jerick McKinnon (6%), the Bears run defense has been quite good. Further, Matt Asiata pretty much eliminates his touchdown potential. In his place you could elect more risk, lesser ownership, and go with Bishop Sankey (2.7%). Last week he grabbed 16 carries and three receptions for 64 yards. We’ll need a lot more than that but at home against a Steelers defense that at least offers a neutral matchup, I’m willing to risk the $5,300 and bet he gets his second (and third?) touchdown of the year.