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The Fade: Week 15

Your weekly guide to identifying exposure and profiting in guaranteed prize pools.

I don’t think you could sum up daily fantasy sports in 140 characters or less any better than that.  It’s a trying hobby and most certainly a stressful and exciting career. There are millions of dollars exchanging hands every weekend. With every lineup we create, with every last minute swap, we put ourselves into position to gain immediate life-changing returns. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. But we always have the great fortune of next week, for as long as there is football.

Unfortunately, the season is running short and our opportunities are running out. I got caught up in that sentiment this week and accidentally designed 30 nearly unique rosters in a 28,736 max entry Thursday GPP on FanDuel. Doing so exposed me to over 100 players and their subsequent ownership percentages.

By now you know the drill. Exposure data gives us two distinct advantages. A) it maps out the flow of the crowd and serves as tiebreakers between similarly priced players with similar projections. And B) it opens our eyes to options we may have been blind to before analyzing the groupthink of our degenerate underground. There is no end-all be-all to this conversation. It’s simply market research in the DFS economy.

Quarterbacks

Quarterbacks % Owned QB Price Quarterbacks % Owned QB Price
Johnny Manziel 14.3 $6700 Tom Brady 1.7 $9600
Derek Anderson 13.5 $5000 Alex Smith 1.6 $7200
Ben Roethlisberger 9.7 $8700 Tony Romo 1.4 $8400
Matt Ryan 7.7 $7900 Philip Rivers 1.2 $8200
Eli Manning 7.3 $7500 Jake Locker 0.8 $6700
Mark Sanchez 4.6 $7500 Josh McCown 0.6 $7100
Matthew Stafford 4.5 $8500 Kyle Orton 0.5 $7600
Joe Flacco 4.4 $8100 Andy Dalton 0.4 $8200
Jay Cutler 3.5 $8600 Derek Carr 0.4 $6900
Drew Brees 3.4 $9200 Geno Smith 0.4 $6600
Andrew Luck 3.2 $10100 Ryan Tannehill 0.2 $8000
Aaron Rodgers 2.6 $10200 Teddy Bridgewater 0.2 $7400
Russell Wilson 2.5 $8800 Colin Kaepernick 0.2 $6800
Peyton Manning 2.2 $9700 Robert Griffin III 0.2 $6600
Ryan Fitzpatrick 1.8 $7000 Blake Bortles 0.2 $6400

Confession: I got a little carried away in the philosophy of late round quarterbacking and ended up with Geno Smith in one (or maybe more) of my redraft leagues. The results aren’t relevant here but looking back through the pure lens of hindsight did make me think about the cheap QB vs. expensive QB argument that rages through every roster in guaranteed prize pools. There is no perfect solution every week as every week we’ll have one or two cheap options explode and one or two top options deflate. Through 14 weeks I’m confident that paying up is generally more rewarding than the opposite. But if you can identify a discounted option poised to bring top return, then you’ll position yourself to profit. Seems plenty obvious, right?

What makes the quarterback position different is you have only one chance to get it right. The same goes for tight ends, kickers and defenses. But you’ll never pay $10,000 for a tight end, kicker or defense. The most you’ll pay is $8,000. Even this week the most expensive option outside of the big three (QB, RB, WR) is $7,600. Therefore, the investment in a top QB hinges our rosters on a top-five performance. Conversely, going cheap means we need to be perfect through at least five other positions. Meaning, if our cheap quarterback lives up to his reputation (Kaepernick) we need our running backs and wide receivers to hit. And not just double or triple their salary, we’re asking for a quadruple return on investment, or maybe even more.

I bring this up in response to the two highest owned quarterbacks as of Thursday night. I literally laughed out loud when I saw Johnny Manziel as the most popular selection. The crowd has been waiting for this moment all season and what better week than when the Browns are hosting the Bengals and fighting for a playoff spot? Oh, and the opposing head coach called him a midget. Not that he needed more motivation. For clarity on the subject, let’s turn to Twitter and one of our favorite Manziel supporters:

I can’t say that I disagree with Mattek’s projections. Manziel has had our attention for years and we finally get to see what he’s worth. I’ll throw out a few “what the heck” rosters that include a Browns stack.

Derek Anderson is the next most popular. He gets the start in Week 15 for freakish reasons that could have been much, much worse. He’ll face the same team he played Week 1 when he completed 24 of his 34 pass attempts for 230 yards and two touchdowns. That’s a fine projection for Sunday. Should he achieve those stats again he’ll triple his rock bottom salary all while giving us plenty of room to pimp out our rosters.

There is a confidence factor tied to drafting expensive signal callers. Andrew Luck is the highest scoring player in all of fantasy football. He has 10 games of at least 300 yards and 12 multi-touchdown games. He is the definition of high ceiling/high floor. Paying his salary at home against a hungry division rival is wise. I have no doubt this contest will surpass the over/under of 49 points. I especially like it when he finds his way onto only 3.2 percent of rosters.

Sticking with the theme of over/under, San Diego is a beautiful place to play in mid December where the temperature is a friendly 65 degrees and there is no wind. The Broncos are favored by four points on the road and have three weeks to seal up home field advantage. Since moving to Denver Peyton Manning has averaged 269.8 yards and three touchdowns per game when facing the Chargers. That would be a conservative projection for Sunday. As always, anytime we can get the best quarterback in the game for less than $9,800 while the crowd fades him, we are obligated to pay for his services. A Broncos stack is a must.

Opposite Manning is Philip Rivers. Since Manning moved to Denver Rivers has averaged 227.2 yards and two touchdowns against the Broncos. He has also managed 8 interceptions. But I love him to take full advantage of a secondary that has allowed more passing touchdowns than all but five other teams. His cost isn’t prohibitive and the crowd is shy. He’s a great tournament option.

When the Cowboys hosted the Eagles on Thanksgiving we saw something not common of Jason Garrett led teams: they committed to the run. And it cost them the game. In fact, they failed to take advantage of the weakest part of the Eagles defense: their secondary. Tony Romo failed to throw a touchdown in that game and has failed to surpass 300 yards in all but one game this season. I think we see an entirely different game plan Sunday night featuring the passing attack synonymous with Garrett’s offense of the past. Stack your Cowboys and take advantage of the highest over/under of the week (tied with Pittsburgh/Atlanta).

Running Backs

Running Backs % Owned RB Price Running Backs % Owned RB Price
Le'Veon Bell 29.3 $9600 Eddie Lacy 1.9 $8400
Justin Forsett 19 $7700 Jeremy Hill 1.7 $7100
Matt Forte 14.1 $9000 Andre Williams 1.6 $6900
Jonathan Stewart 9.9 $6700 Lamar Miller 1.5 $6700
Chris Johnson 9.8 $5300 James Starks 1.5 $5300
Joique Bell 8.6 $7500 Steven Jackson 1.3 $6600
CJ Anderson 8.2 $8000 Knile Davis 1 $5300
Latavius Murray 7 $6500 Matt Asiata 0.9 $5800
LeGarrette Blount 6.7 $6500 Shane Vereen 0.9 $5700
DeMarco Murray 6.5 $9300 Giovani Bernard 0.8 $6900
Christopher Ivory 6.4 $5200 Doug Martin 0.8 $5300
LeSean McCoy 6.2 $8100 Reggie Bush 0.7 $5700
Arian Foster 5.4 $8900 Frank Gore 0.7 $5300
Isaiah Crowell 4.7 $6500 Pierre Thomas 0.6 $5700
Mark Ingram 4.5 $7400 Terrance West 0.6 $5200
Dan Herron 3.6 $6300 Trent Richardson 0.3 $5300
Jamaal Charles 3.5 $9200 Ryan Mathews 0.2 $7600
Alfred Morris 3.3 $7000 Marcel Reece 0.2 $5600
Marshawn Lynch 3.1 $8700 Juwan Thompson 0.2 $5200
Fred Jackson 3.1 $6600 Toby Gerhart 0.2 $4600
Rashad Jennings 2.5 $7200 Alfred Blue 0.1 $5400
Darren Sproles 2.1 $5300 Bernard Pierce 0.1 $5200

Over the last three weeks no team has attempted to run the ball more than the New York Jets. In fact, only two other teams, the Seahawks and Texans, have more rushing attempts all season. The Jets are second in rushing yards and fifth in yards per attempt. The only downside is their below average rank in rushing touchdowns with nine, which is a perfect and discouraging reflection of Gang Green’s overall offense. Only two other teams have scored fewer total points. The good news is they travel to Nashville on Sunday to take on an abysmal Titans squad.

Let’s compare the Titans rushing defense in our witch-hunt for cheap running backs. In opponent rushing attempts per game the Titans are first. In opponent rushing yards per game the Titans are first. In opponent rushing first downs per game the Titans are first. In fantasy points allowed to running backs only the Falcons are worse. Over their last six contests the Titans have allowed 1,072 yards and 10 touchdowns to ball carriers. It goes without saying that this is the team to target when building lineups.

The question is do we pay a little more for Chris Johnson and gamble that Rex Ryan is going to bless him (and us) with “revenge game” type of touches, or do we invest in the safety of Chris Ivory given his generic starter status? It’s pretty clear Ivory has been the more effective runner. But lately Johnson has been just as involved. At a position where volume matters most there’s no clear answer here, which is why I’m suggesting you roster both of them. For a mere $10,500 you can fill your running back spot and still manage to achieve that 3x salary point threshold we need to justify price. It’s a queasy sight when you look at your final lineup and see a double-down of Jets, but this week it will payoff in every sense imaginable. Just a couple weeks ago we saw the Jets travel to Detroit and run the ball 49 times against Miami. It almost gave them a victory. I can see Ryan repeating that strategy with one key difference: touchdowns. Take a stroll down narrative street with me and stack your Jets.

It’s no shock that the most popular player in the land is Le’Veon Bell. In PPR leagues only Luck has scored more fantasy points. Over his last three games Bell has totaled 711 yards and five touchdowns, easily making him the highest scoring player in that timeframe. As much as I preach paying up for quarterbacks, if we were to zoom out and take a bird’s eye view of the 20 highest scoring players, we find 40 percent of them to be quarterbacks, 40 percent of them to be wide receivers and the remaining 20 percent to be running backs. What this tells us is paying up for running backs might be more valuable than any other position. Owning one of the top three options, especially when they face a ghost defense, can separate you from the pack. In the case of Bell we have our loss leader of the week.

Our next most coveted back is Justin Forsett. I always want a part of heavily favored offenses that host really bad defenses, especially if it’s only going to cost me 12.8 percent of my cap. Forsett is the eighth highest scoring PPR back through 14 weeks. There is no reason to fade him in this contest, though I’ll want to see the final injury report before committing.

Outside of a pair of Jets, Matt Forte is my favorite running back of the week. As hard as it is to trust the Bears offense, especially if the field conditions become unfriendly, Forte is impervious to game script. He will get the ball one way or the other and is a lock to score against a Saints team that is allowing the third most fantasy points to ball carriers. 

Covering our bases, DeMarco Murray is a fade for me in Week 15. I’ve already suggested the Cowboys will upgrade their game plan and attack the Eagles via Romo. That may mean plenty of check-downs for Murray throughout the night, but the potential for him to reach his 24.6 average carries per game is low. His price tag of $9,300 would go a long way at a different position.

Priced just right and sure to benefit from Johnny Football is Isaiah Crowell. The last time these two teams met it was unclear which Browns runner—between Terrance West, Crowell, and Ben Tate—would emerge as the lead back. All three scored touchdowns in that game. With Tate now in a witness protection program, and West watching from the sideline as the Browns near the goal line, we have a clearer picture of which back offers the most profit. I like Crowell to find the end zone against a Bengals defense that is allowing more points to running backs than everyone except the Falcons.

I started with the bargain bin so I’ll finish here too. Doug Martin is proving to be the only back that matters in Tampa Bay. I’d feel a lot more comfortable about his Week 15 situation if it were at home, but the Panthers offense was already bad and I don’t see Anderson making them better. Their run defense has allowed 13 touchdowns, tied for seventh, and should Martin get extra carries in a tight game, it’s not unreasonable to think he could score both on the ground and through the air. Last week he got only five carries even though the game within reach. I doubt the Bucs make that same mistake twice. He is the ultimate swing for the fences tournament play.

Wide Receivers

Wide Receivers % Owned WR Price Wide Receivers % Owned WR Price
Odell Beckham, Jr 26.1 $8500 A.J. Green 2.3 $9000
Antonio Brown 17 $9100 Pierre Garcon 2.3 $6000
Kenny Stills 15.2 $6100 Demaryius Thomas 2.2 $9000
Alshon Jeffery 13.2 $8400 Keenan Allen 2.2 $7400
Martavis Bryant 12.3 $6800 Marqise Lee 2.2 $5800
Steve Smith 11.8 $6800 Randall Cobb 1.7 $8400
T.Y. Hilton 10.5 $8800 Harry Douglas 1.6 $5800
Marquess Wilson 10.1 $4500 Riley Cooper 1.5 $5000
Josh Gordon 9.1 $7800 Andrew Hawkins 1.4 $5800
Jordan Matthews 8.6 $7000 Jarvis Landry 1.3 $6900
Calvin Johnson 7.7 $9400 Eddie Royal 1.3 $5900
DeAndre Hopkins 7 $7300 Jermaine Kearse 1.3 $4700
Kelvin Benjamin 6.9 $7600 Robert Woods 1.2 $5800
Donte Moncrief 6.8 $5700 Davante Adams 1.1 $5900
Dez Bryant 6.5 $8500 James Jones 1.1 $5200
Jordy Nelson 6.3 $8900 Mike Wallace 1 $6700
Julian Edelman 5.8 $7000 Reggie Wayne 0.9 $6200
Mike Evans 5.6 $8200 Allen Hurns 0.9 $5600
Sammy Watkins 5.5 $7200 Nate Washington 0.8 $6500
Jeremy Maclin 5.3 $8000 Torrey Smith 0.7 $6600
Golden Tate 4.6 $7500 Rueben Randle 0.7 $5800
Malcom Floyd 4.3 $5600 Terrance Williams 0.7 $4500
Cole Beasley 3.9 $5700 Percy Harvin 0.6 $6800
Julio Jones 3.6 $8700 Chris Hogan 0.6 $5900
Emmanuel Sanders 3.6 $8600 Cecil Shorts 0.6 $5300
Roddy White 3.6 $7000 Anquan Boldin 0.5 $6900
Marques Colston 3.2 $6100 Greg Jennings 0.5 $6200
Doug Baldwin 3.1 $6300 Michael Crabtree 0.4 $6400
Brandon LaFell 3 $7000 Kendall Wright 0.3 $6400
Mohamed Sanu 3 $6300 Cordarrelle Patterson 0.3 $4900
Vincent Jackson 2.7 $6900 Andre Johnson 0.2 $6400
Charles Johnson 2.6 $6600 DeSean Jackson 0.1 $7300
Eric Decker 2.5 $6000      

I don’t like to get political when it comes to fantasy football or real football or even real life, but every time I see a replay of that forever-famous Odell Beckham catch I wonder if it would have been possible if not for the gloves he was wearing. I’m sort of kidding. A three-finger catch while in the air leaning backwards is nothing short of amazing. Just so the jury knows that even this guy is pretty confident in gripping the ball with three and even two fingers.

Gloves notwithstanding, or ownership for that matter, OBJ will be on nearly every one of my rosters. He’s our second highest popular player and there’s no end to the list that justifies it. Start him everywhere.

Next up in terms of exposure is Antonio Brown. I suggested fading him last week and he ended up with his usual 100+ yards and nine catches. That’s not a bad day at the office unless, of course, you spent 15.5 percent of your cap on him. This week that number drops slightly to 15.1 percent. Through the process of expected value, buoyed by a matchup that cannot be ignored, Brown finds his way onto 17 percent of rosters. I expect that number to be closer to 20 come Sunday. Additionally, I find it impressive that so many players are willing to spend that much of their cap on the 10th most expensive option on the board. It says a lot about the Falcons defense, or at least the perception of the Falcons defense. In reality they’ve given up only 13 touchdowns to wide receivers, which ranks 17th. As much as Brown is a PPR god, 15 other teams have allowed more receptions to wide receivers than the Falcons. I’m not going to come out and say they’ll erase Brown from relevance, but given his price and popularity, paired with the fact that the Steelers may just lean on Bell, we have to consider him the fade of the week.

By comparison, Dez Bryant faces an Eagles secondary that has allowed 20 touchdowns, the same amount of receptions, and nearly as many yards as the Falcons, yet he’s $600 cheaper. Did I mention that the Cowboys are likely to abandon the run and throw 40 times or more? Furthermore, injuries to Julio Jones and Roddy White might just ground the possibility of any chance the Steelers and Falcons reach their over/under of 55 points. All the more reason to put your trust in Bell and play Bryant over Brown (that and he’s a better receiver).

Kenny Stills is our third most popular option and for $6,100 why wouldn’t he be? The Bears are an easy target defensively and the Saints are an angry squad looking to assert their offensive dominance. For the price you won’t find a better option. He’s basically in the bargain bin at this point but gets elite volume paired with an elite quarterback. The crowd is right.

It’s unfortunate Brandon Marshall won’t be available to us for the remainder of the season. But the silver lining is we get to see if Alshon Jeffery is able to be a No. 1 wide receiver without the assistance of a No. 1 wide receiver pulling coverage away from him. We saw some of that last year but not enough to make a definitive conclusion. Truth told, there are only two Bears I want on my team this weekend and neither of them fit under this category.

When the Houston Texans come out and say they are going to focus on taking T.Y. Hilton out of the game, I actually believe them. I believe they will be successful in limiting what Hilton can do with physicality and forcing him out of his routes. So I’m fine with excusing him from most of my lineups and in turn not taking the cap hit. In his place I love Donte Moncrief to find the leftover vacancy the Texans secondary offers. They’ve allowed more points to wide receivers than any other teams including 18 touchdowns. Eight of those touchdowns went to receivers that weren’t the No. 1 passing option.

Jordan Matthews is our 10th most popular option and offers a friendly price of just $7,000. He caught four passes for 54 yards and a score against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving and I think he easily surpasses those numbers on Sunday night. I’ll have him in most lineups.

Much like his quarterback, Demaryius Thomas is an overlooked commodity falling to just 2.2 percent of rosters. The ankle injury and few bad outings has most players scared to pay his price tag. Meanwhile, Emmanuel Sanders is $400 cheaper but appearing on just 3.6 percent of rosters. All of this has the makings of stacking a trio of Broncos and banking against the fear of the crowd. As I always say, when the crowd fades the player, fade the crowd. It’s rare we get to do it with this much talent.

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed but the Packers secondary is bad. Jones obviously proved it with his 11 catches for 259 yards last week, but in their past 8 games they’ve allowed 18 touchdowns to wide receivers to go along with 1,412 yards. And that includes duds from the Patriots, Vikings and Panthers. What this information suggests is when pushed, the Packers defense is vulnerable even if the quarterback is less than stellar. Enter Kyle Orton and Sammy Watkins. I’m not so hip on selecting Orton to win me a tournament but Watkins could very well flirt with Jones type numbers in Buffalo. The weather won’t be factor and I’m not shy about his $7,200 tax. Watkins is going to have the best game of his career this Sunday.

Tight Ends

Tight Ends % Owned TE Price Tight Ends % Owned TE Price
Martellus Bennett 16.1 $6200 Heath Miller 1.9 $5400
Antonio Gates 8.2 $5500 Mychal Rivera 1.7 $5600
Delanie Walker 7.4 $5300 Jordan Reed 1.6 $5200
Rob Gronkowski 7.1 $7600 Dwayne Allen 1.2 $5400
Travis Kelce 7 $5400 Owen Daniels 1.1 $5100
Larry Donnell 5.7 $5200 Zach Ertz 1 $5100
Jimmy Graham 5.6 $6900 Jermaine Gresham 0.5 $5300
Jordan Cameron 4.6 $5100 Vernon Davis 0.5 $4800
Julius Thomas 3.9 $6300 Kyle Rudolph 0.4 $5100
Greg Olsen 2.5 $6700 Charles Clay 0.3 $5100
Jason Witten 2.3 $5300 Tony Moeaki 0.2 $4900
Coby Fleener 2.1 $6300      

The strategy with tight ends is probably less obvious than any other. You can’t necessarily just rely on target data or end zone targets because once you get past the first three or four options a lot of the numbers look the same. For that reason I will always recommend paying up for a tight end and paring him with his quarterback no matter the cost.

This week it’s a little trickier and the crowd is all over Martellus Bennett who, in the absence of Marshall, should see a natural filter of targets in his direction. But if I’m paying $6,200 for this position, I might see if I can squeeze out another $100 and take a shot on Julius Thomas. Reportedly healthy, Thomas still leads all tight ends in touchdowns with 12 and is sixth overall in points despite missing three games. 

Rob Gronkowski is recommended every week. I’ll spare you the stats and just simply remind you that he is one of the best players in the entire league and a focal point of one of the best offenses in the entire league. Paying $7,600 for his services is like getting a top-tier wide receiver for free.

The second most popular option is Antonio Gates. Truth told, I miss Ladarius Green and the hope he used to give us. Gates is showing signs of his age and I don’t have confidence he’ll justify his salary between the 20s.

The rule for tight ends is go big or go home. Another words, pay up or punt the position altogether. The Bears have allowed more points to tight ends than all but one other team. Jimmy Graham was a first round draft pick in basically every league. He comes into Week 15 as the seventh most popular option. The crowd is afraid of his shoulder injury and the subsequent lack of production. It only makes sense that he scores two touchdowns at Soldier Field.

In the bargain bin we find Zach Ertz who faces a Cowboys team complete with inadequate cornerbacks and undersized linebackers. The fact of the matter is Dallas was labeled as a bad defense to start the season and they’re ending the season a notch below expectations. They’ve allowed more points than any other team to tight ends and even if that didn’t show up on Thanksgiving, I like Ertz to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Sample Lineup

As a bonus I’m throwing out two lineups this week. It goes without saying that these will change come Sunday and each have inherent risk. The one thing I’ll warn that I haven’t yet mentioned is that if Jamaal Charles were to have any level of question mark, Knile Davis takes the throne over every running back. The good news is that most players won’t adjust their rosters so ownership will remain static. I’ll gladly sub out either of my Jets or Martin should that be the case.