I’m going to skip the usual niceties and jump right to what’s on everyone’s mind: Josh Gordon. In fact, let’s fire up the Twitter machine and take the temperature of our associates.
Don't expect 2013 Josh Gordon on Sunday. Pettine mentioned research done on higher injury rates after layoff, 80 days no contact, etc.— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) November 20, 2014
#Browns Pettine joked that Hoyer is like a kid with a new toy at Christmas: "Somehow every time Gordon was out there the ball went to him.''— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) November 20, 2014
Pettine has been volunteering way too much info about how they plan on using Gordon this week. My guess is they are very excited, hiding it— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) November 20, 2014
Joe Haden awfully confident in Josh Gordon: “it wouldn’t surprise me if he went out and got 250.”— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) November 20, 2014
Whichever way you go on Josh Gordon in DFS this week, you're going to be wrong.— Peter Christensen (@draftcheat) November 20, 2014
That last one sums it up best. As you can see, there are some mixed feelings out there regarding Gordon’s status for Sunday. If you’ve had him stashed in your season long leagues then you don’t really have much choice. You start him and you feel good about it. In daily, we have choices. Lots of them. On FanDuel he’s on the high side of the second tier wide receiver pricing (all puns are unintentional). There are a ton of unknown variables in this situation. Will he be eased back into action with the ever-suppressing pitch count? Will he be used as a decoy to deflect coverage? Will he struggle in his first game since December 29th of last year? Will he tear this league up?
Do any of these questions actually matter? The fact is 2013’s No. 1 wide receiver is back on the field for the first time all season. That’s the floor. Expecting him to come out and throw together a 200-yard, two-touchdown game is unreasonable. It’s also possible. If ever there were a good time to ignore the avalanche of information and coach speak piling up, it is now. The 6-4 Browns just got their best player back. Their quarterbacking situation might be in better shape than Gordon has ever seen. Their offense, despite its success on the ground, is mediocre and in obvious need of a red zone closer. You think there’s any way the coaches limit his ceiling when they’re only one game out of first place?
The answer is a resounding no. If you fade Gordon, don’t do it based on his alleged usage. A pitch count for a wide receiver? Give me a break. That means nothing. If you fade him do it because A) his salary prevents you from playing someone like Rob Gronkowski and B) the crowd isn’t fading him. He checks in as this week’s highest owned receiving option at 17.6 percent. I bet that number approaches 20 come Sunday.
I wish there was an easy to analyze this situation using past examples and data that points to a logical conclusion. Should you fade Gordon because of his exposure and cost? Yes, you should. Should you ignore all of that and plant him in your lineups with the understanding that he could immediately regain his spot as the top WR in the league? Yes, you should. For me, his price tag and corresponding risk push me into a corner. I’ll copout and label him as both the fade of the week, and the loss leader of the week. Daily fantasy sports, after all, is a choose your own adventure.
We are blessed with several good quarterback matchups this week and a fair amount of over/unders projected into the high 40s. All things being equal, finding value at this position is the best it has been in a few games.
Our most popular passer as of Thursday night is Aaron Rodgers. He’s also our second most expensive player on all of FanDuel. Obviously the crowd trusts him and there’s no reason to think he’ll fall short of 300 yards and three scores at Minnesota. The Packers are favored by 9.5 points in an over/under of 48.5, meaning they’ll be responsible for most of those points. I always recommend a Pack Stack but this week the budget just doesn’t allow for it. We can find similar value at a discount.
An example of that value is Colin Kaepernick. One of these days I’ll learn not to fill my lineups with him. But at home against a secondary that has given up more passing scores than 26 other teams, all for an accommodating $7,300, how can I say no? The crowd is wondering the same thing as he’s the third highest owned quarterback (8.5%). His exposure waters down his tournament flavor. So does his inconsistent offense. Kaepernick has thrown for more than 300 yards only three times in his career and only four times has he thrown more than two touchdowns. The matchup says he could do both this week but history suggests he won’t. I love the value. I worry that the results won’t live up.
Andrew Luck is the second highest exposed (9.3%) and most expensive ($10,300). No surprise here. He gets the highest Vegas over/under of Week 12 (50.5) and a great matchup at home against the Jaguars. But if I’m investing that much of my cap on a quarterback it’s going to be Rodgers.
Peyton Manning’s stock has tumbled with the fear that he may be without two of his favorite targets. Only three percent of players invested in his services as of Thursday. I doubt that number grows much as I doubt Emmanuel Sanders and Julius Thomas play. But let’s not underestimate the Miami Dolphins’ offense and the fact that this game could be one of the highest scoring of the week. His price tag is prohibitive, just as it always is. But we once again get one of those rare occasions that features the best of the best as a contrarian play. I seem to recall writing about a similar situation back in Week 10 when Manning was coming off of a bad game and his history in doing so. He turned in 350 yards and five touchdowns in that performance. The Dolphins’ pass defense has been one of the best in the league. I won’t sell them short and suggest quality of opponent has a lot do with it. But I will cherry pick and note Rodgers managed 264 yards and three touchdowns. There is no shortage of play makers for the Broncos. Start Manning with confidence.
Tony Romo and Drew Brees check in with equal shares at 3.3 percent. Neither are cheap but both are solid plays. I especially love Romo even if the situation favors DeMarco Murray (14.6%). Brees is in an opposite situation. The Saints will struggle to run on the Ravens and struggle to stop them from scoring. Both of these games should coast past their respective overs and unlike the Patriots last week, I expect a lot of passing.
I mentioned we shouldn’t underestimate the Dolphins’ offense. The crowd is afraid as Ryan Tannehill appears on just 0.6 percent of rosters. It’s hard to blame them. His price tag of $8,100 makes him a tough fit if you’re fading the top tier options. But if you’re looking to cut the grain you won’t find a better alternative. Miami has scored the 11th most points per game and in last six weeks Tannehill checks in as the sixth highest scoring fantasy quarterback. The matchup could be better. To borrow from his Footballguys report:
“To date, the Denver pass D is ranked 18th in the NFL averaging 243.0 net yards given up per game, with 19 passing scores allowed vs. 10 interceptions (tied for 10th in the NFL) and 27 sacks (tied for eighth) generated. The Denver pass D is solid across the board, but tends to allow yardage/a garbage TD here and there after they build up a big lead. Tannehill and company have a tough draw this week traveling to partisan Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday.”
It’s true that the Broncos could easily control the line of scrimmage throughout the day and Tannehill will be forced to make throws on the run. But some of that actually plays to his strengths. He has the fourth most rushing yards of all quarterbacks. That doesn’t say a lot considering the way 2014 has shaped up in this area. But I like him to pick up some points with his legs while also spreading the ball around the Denver secondary. He is a solid tournament play.
In the bargain bin we have Brian Hoyer. Hoyer is going to be a popular play this week, already at six percent owned, with the return of Flash Gordon. I generally prefer to avoid the floors associated with cheap quarterbacks but I love this situation more than just about any other. Spending $7,000 for a signal caller can do wonders for the rest of your lineup.
Our usual search for cheap running backs leads us on a dangerous journey into a dark world of 3.3 yards-per-carry and plodding sub 4.4 forty times. Yes, Trent Richardson is one of the most popular options at running back this week. His price ($5,700) and opportunity come with the implied risk that he’s not good at football. He could stumble and pound his way into the back of his blockers as the Colts grind out a victory at home, picking up a few scores in the process. Or he could be the Richardson we’ve learned to avoid. For the price, I suppose it couldn’t hurt to gamble and hope for a few goal line touches. He is loss leader material.
For $200 less we have Isaiah Crowell. The release of Ben Tate gives a little bit more clarity in the Browns backfield. What we don’t have is a clear lead back or a contrarian option. The crowd is all over him at 13.4 percent. Compare that to Richardson’s 13.2 and the answer here is obvious. Go with the back playing at home for a great offense and has guaranteed volume.
Tate represents an interesting option. Recently signed by the Vikings, you have to wonder how much action he’ll see on such short notice. I’ll be avoiding him this week.
Next most expensive in terms of popularity is LeSean McCoy (10.1%). After seeing what Le’Veon Bell did to the Titans defense last week it’s very hard to ignore McCoy and his tolerable price tag of $7,700. I’ll use him as loss leader and make room for him in most of my lineups.
A comfortable $500 south is C.J. Anderson. He may be my favorite option of the week. The backfield is his and his alone. I’ve already pimped this as a contest we need to buy into. I like Anderson to pair a 20-plus carry day with four or five receptions. He has much lower exposure than the previously mentioned plodders at 6.9 percent and his cost of $7,200 is more than manageable.
Digging deep into the bargain bin of tournament prayers we find Devonta Freeman priced as a mediocre kicker. It’s not surprising he barely hits the radar of most players (0.1%). I’m sure that will change should the illness that has been keeping Steven Jackson out of practice limit his ability in any way come Sunday. Either way, with Antone Smith on IR, Freeman has a firm hold as the No. 2 and gets a home date against the one of the worst rushing defenses in the league. If you pay up for a QB and load up on receivers, you’ll need Freeman to round out your roster and put luck in your favor.
The highest scoring receiver in PPR leagues, Antonio Brown, is on a bye this week and the fourth highest scoring, Sanders, is likely out with a concussion. Their absence means the crowd is piling onto other options, Gordon being the most popular. The most expensive are Demaryius Thomas and Jordy Nelson.
Nelson comes with his usual touchdown guarantee and his usual exposure of 12.5 percent. He’s a fine loss leader every week but I might try to find a bit more value.
I expected the action on Thomas to be a bit higher than it currently sits (6.6%). I suppose people are worried about the direction of the Broncos offense after a horrible game in which they lost two great players. I love the Manning/Thomas stack this week now that they look a lot more like a normal offense with just one top wide receiver option and a bunch of role players. Fear the Dolphins secondary if you must. I do not.
Mike Evans is the second most exposed receiver behind Gordon. Since Week 8 he is the second highest scoring wide out and the fourth highest since Week 6. In fact, if I were to get caught up in the moment I might be as bold to say that he is the best rookie of this class. But that doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters in our world is what is he going to do on Sunday and how much is it going to cost me? The answer is not nearly as much as he did last Sunday but more. Meaning, it’s unreasonable to expect 200 yards and two touchdowns again and his price ballooned $900. I suppose this could be filed as a revenge game with Josh McCown traveling back to Chicago. And I suppose the matchup, on paper, suggests Evans should shred his way to justifying his cost once again. But I don’t like that 15.2 percent of my opponents feel the same way. By Sunday that number will be closer to 18 or even 20 percent. For me it boils down like this: I’m not getting a contrarian play. I’m not capitalizing on dollars-per-point. I’m not guaranteed the weather won’t wash out the Buccaneers’ offense. And Flash Gordon is $600 cheaper. (Side note, I think it’s entirely possible that Evans is the eventual best WR in football)
For $400 more we find Calvin Johnson and yet another opportunity to fade the crowd. Johnson will be slow at practice all week and the general public is going to be slow to pay his salary given the tough matchup in front of him. The Patriots are now home to one of the best cornerbacks we’ve seen over the last several years, Darrelle Revis. What we don’t know is if Revis will focus solely on Johnson. In their two previous meetings he held Johnson to a combined five catches for 74 yards. This will be a great matchup to watch if you like real football. If you’re trying to profit, this is a tough situation to predict. When you pay top dollar for a receiver you’d like to be guaranteed a pair of scores and all the yards that come in between. I won’t promise much for yards. But I can confidently say Megatron will rule the end zone as the Lions smash their way with the running game. He was found on only 1.1 percent of Thursday lineups. That should climb a bit but not much. When the crowd fades the player, fade the crowd. Johnson is always worth the sticker price.
A quick rundown in his same price range gives us Dez Bryant (6.7%), Randall Cobb (6.1%) and Jeremy Maclin (3.1%). That’s the exact order I’d rank them in. Bryant will have no trouble finding room against the Giants secondary in a Sunday night affair that is sure to flirt with a combined score in the high 50s. The Cowboys have a way of making these games interesting. Cobb is only $200 cheaper than Nelson. Whenever there is a coin flip and cash involved I generally avoid the situation. Maclin is hard to trust.
He’s hard to trust because of Jordan Matthews. Since Mark Sanchez took over Matthews has seen 17 targets and collected 12 of them for 245 yards and three touchdowns. If you’re keeping track at home that makes him the second highest scoring receiver in all of fantasy over the last two weeks just behind Evans. His exposure (10.6%) and price ($7,700) don’t scare me at all.
Odell Beckham Jr Jr. is one the highest exposed at 12.8 percent. You might remember the last time he faced the Cowboys defense in which he scored a pair of touchdowns. We’ll see if Beckham’s production can continue even while his offense continues to be unproductive. But I get the attraction to this matchup. Still, given his popularity and uncertainty—not to mention price ($7,500)—I’ll move my money elsewhere.
Speaking of moving elsewhere, the Jets/Bills game has officially been relocated to the comfort of Ford Field in Detroit. Let’s not forget that the Jets have given up more passing touchdowns than any other team. I can’t wait to see what Sammy Watkins can do on a fast track. As of Thursday his exposure was at just 5.1 percent. I’m sure that’ll grow. But to put all of the stats into perspective, the Jets have allowed 25 passing touchdowns, which, as mentioned, is more than any other team. Only 11 of those have gone to wide receivers. The rest belong to tight ends and a few running backs. Regardless, the last time these two teams met Watkins dumped 157 yards and a score on them. Feel free to pay his $7,500 fee.
A.J. Green is an excellent underexposed option (4.8%). The Texans have been plenty friendly allowing the most points to fantasy wide receivers including four touchdowns over their last two contests. There’s no reason to think Andy Dalton and Green can’t connect for at least one plus the 100 or so yards that accompany it.
Note the comparable. The Broncos are banged up on offense and will need to replace the 146 targets Thomas and Sanders have accounted for (13.2 per game). Not all of them can be Demaryius’s. The only thing standing in his way are an aging and ineffective Wes Welker, and a less talented Andre Caldwell. For $4,900 you can snag a potential stud that clears up enough space so you can pimp out the rest of your lineup. If you don’t stack Manning with Thomas, stack him with Latimer.
Sticking with the theme of fast, strong and big wide receivers—the type that can score three touchdowns on any given Sunday, we have Charles Johnson.
Eat indeed. The Packers secondary is tough on opposing receivers and they may very well eat a rookie quarterback long before he has a chance to connect with Johnson down the field. But for $5,200 and a guy finding his way onto only 0.4 percent of rosters, we have premium tournament material.
This week’s most popular player is a guy that wasn’t even on most redraft teams up until a few weeks ago. Coby Fleener, whose opportunity was brought to you by Dwayne Allen’s ankle, has found his way onto a remarkable 30.6 percent of rosters. Check this little nugget from fellow Footballguys staffer Phil Alexander:
49% of Andrew Luck's RZ passes have gone to either Bradshaw, Allen, or Fleener this season. Only one of those guys is playing this week.— Phil Alexander (@PhilTWR) November 20, 2014
Look, value is value and it would be irresponsible of us to ignore it. Both Fleener and Allen caught a touchdown the last time the Colts faced the Jaguars. I won’t recommend fading the crowd. I will recommend playing Gronkowski instead.
Speaking of, Gronkowski is the second most popular at 8.8. There’s a reason his salary continues to cost you the equivalent of WR1. Fit him into your lineup anyway possible.
Jimmy Graham has plenty of action at 6.7 percent. With Brandin Cooks out for the season I see a lot of attention shadowing Graham from a defensive perspective and I’m not even a little bit worried. That said, if I’m paying $7,500 for him I likely could shave off $400 somewhere else and upgrade to Gronkowski.
It’s tough to search for bargains in the tight end market because it’s so controlled by the top couple of options. Thomas being out hurts a lot and it pushes more players towards Gronkowski and Graham. The best bargain we can find is Owen Daniels. The more I study this game the more I like almost every player involved. Even Torrey Smith is showing up on 10 percent of rosters. If you can’t make room for the best Daniels offers an affordable option without totally sacrificing your floor. His exposure hovers right around a reasonable 1.6 percent. The matchup is horrible as the Saints have allowed only three touchdowns to tight ends all year—two of which came by fluke to Jermaine Gresham last week—but for every lineup of mine that doesn’t have Gronkowski or Graham, I’ll have Daniels.
Or I’ll stick with the theme of never learning and plug in Vernon Davis (2.2%) everywhere. The Washington defense is vulnerable at this position having allowed seven touchdowns to tight ends. Davis continues to get plenty of targets and there’s no questioning that he is one of the most athletic players the 49ers have on offense. For $5,000 he gives us a lot of options elsewhere.
I present this lineup with the usual warning that the floors is so low it barely exists. I’ve paid up for running backs which is something I typically warn against. And I have two wide receivers that may combine for 10 points. In other words, it’s the ultimate tournament roster. It’ll either win a lot of money or no money at all.
Should Sanders play, and it sounds like he will, my lineup might look like the following. It wouldn't be hard to sub out Crabtree in favor of Watkins by downgrading Forte to McCoy.