Week 1 of the regular season will be the largest week to date in the history of DFS. Just a few short years ago a tournament that approached 10,000 entries would have been considered enormous. Flash forward to today and some of the larger tournaments are measuring entries in the hundreds of thousands. The explosive growth has led to gigantic prize pools being paid out on a weekly basis, including this Sunday’s NFL $10M Millionaire Maker over on DraftKings.
For tournaments of this size, we will need to make some difficult choices to help our lineups stand out from the pack. The consensus top plays and/or ‘must-starts’ can take up a roster spot or two, but a lineup constructed solely using those players will not make it very far up the leaderboard. We need to go against the grain a bit for some of our selections. Finding the week’s hidden gems can be the difference between barely cashing and taking home a nice payday.
We could try to cover all of the bases by entering as many combinations as we can afford without exceeding that tournament’s entry limits. In the interest of bankroll management and our own sanity, that may not be the best approach. Instead, let’s try to look past the week’s conventional wisdom and ask a few simple questions:
- Which players are in seemingly tough matchups that may not actually be so tough?
- Which of the projected lower-scoring games for the week have a solid chance to exceed scoring expectations?
- Is there a chance that any of the consensus ‘bad plays’ for the week might actually have a solid game in the right circumstances?
- Of the mid-priced and lower-cost options, which players have similar upside to the higher-priced players that will surely be highly owned?
Answering these questions can help point us to some picks that may be slightly off the beaten path, but sometimes the road less-traveled leads to greater rewards. Let’s take a look at some contrarian picks for this week’s games.
Drew Brees, $8,000
Drew Brees sometimes flies under the radar in relation to the attention paid to some of his top-tier quarterback brethren and this week should be no different. Consider the most expensive quarterback of the week as an example. Aaron Rodgers is priced at $8,600 for the Packers matchup with the Bears and widely regarded as one of the top quarterback plays of the week. I tend to agree, Rodgers makes a fine play this week – especially in cash games. But for GPPs, we need a little uniqueness to make some noise.
Looking at the over/unders for the respective games (GB @ CHI 49, NO @ AZ 48), we have two games that are projected to be relatively high-scoring and potentially good sources of fantasy points. However, glancing at the favorites tells us these games may take different avenues to reach similar totals. Green Bay is favored by 7 points, pointing to high-usage for Eddie Lacy and the running game late in the game. The Saints are a 2 ½ point underdog, indicating that the Saints may be coming from behind late in the game and continuing to air it out. Rodgers makes a fine play as he’ll certainly have a huge hand in building the Packers lead, but give me Brees at $600 less with the chance that he’ll be throwing all day.
Alex Smith, $6,200
The struggles of the Chiefs passing game in 2014 have been well documented. To recap, Alex Smith did not complete a touchdown pass to a wide receiver for the entire season. Not one. Armed with this knowledge, the masses will stay very far away from Smith this Sunday. Alas, this is not your 2014 Chiefs offense. The Chiefs signed Jeremy Maclin, veteran of the Andy Reid offense from their time together in Philadelphia. Maclin brings a whole new dynamic to the Chiefs offense and provides Smith with something he lacked all of last year: a true number one receiver with big-play ability.
Smith and Maclin spent the preseason working on their chemistry and it was on full display in Week 3 when the duo hooked up 7 times for 65 yards and a TD. The Chiefs offense will be improved in 2015. Defenses will still need to account for stopping the electric Jamaal Charles while Travis Kelce should take a leap forward and cement his status as one of the top young tight ends in the game. Maclin will find room to produce and receive a ton of targets, starting this week against the Texans.
Justin Forsett, $6,200
Justin Forsett and the Ravens travel to Denver to take on the Broncos in what projects to be a high-scoring contest. We have an over/under of 49 with the Broncos favored by 4 ½ points. Normally, we might focus more on the Ravens passing game and the Broncos running games as nice targets for DFS. But for the Ravens, we can confidently look to Forsett as he will be heavily involved in the passing game. Marc Trestman, the Ravens new offensive coordinator, likes to use the running back as a staple of the passing game. In Trestman’s previous stop as head coach of the Bears, Matt Forte had 14 games with at least five receptions en route to a 102-catch season. Forsett can produce on the ground as well, as evidenced by his 1,266 rushing yards in 2014. He shapes up to one of the more intriguing multi-purpose backs for Week 1 and will be an afterthought for most when they are constructing their lineups.
Lamar Miller, $5,500
Lamar Miller falls into the column of moderately-priced players that have similar upside to higher-priced players at their position for this week. The Dolphins are a 3 ½ point favorite over the Redskins in a game that may not be that close. Starting quarterback drama aside, the Redskins are not very good. Looking back to the final two games of 2014, they closed out the season by allowing lines of 31/134/1 and 27/174/2 to Eagles and Cowboys running backs respectively. To reach 3x value, Miller will need to score 16.5 points using DraftKings scoring. That mark is certainly within reach and Miller was able to reach at least 16 points on seven different occasions last season. Miller has a legitimate chance to be one of the higher scoring running backs of Week 1 at a price that is very budget-friendly.
Brandin Cooks, $7,100
The perfect wide receiver to stack with our contrarian choice of Drew Brees at quarterback, Brandin Cooks is firmly entrenched at the top of the Saints depth chart as the WR1. Cooks had a solid rookie campaign that ended early due to thumb surgery, catching 53 passes for 550 yards and 3 TDs in ten games of action. The Saints were comfortable enough with what they have in Cooks that they were willing to move on from both Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, their top two receiving options in 2014. Cooks looked explosive throughout the preseason, including a 4/117/1 outing against the Patriots that earned praise from Bill Belichick. For this week’s game against the Cardinals, we have the top receiving option for a team that is expected to be behind in a potentially high-scoring affair. Cooks will receive plenty of targets and is a pretty safe bet to find the end zone on Sunday.
Jeremy Maclin, $6.900
Continuing with our contrarian stack theme for this week, we have a moderately-priced wide receiver that will be the top receiving option in the Chiefs offense. We’ve outlined what Maclin brings to the table for the offense as a whole, let’s take a look at his production on an individual basis. Maclin had 85 receptions for 1,318 yards and 10 TDs last season as a member of the Eagles. Twenty-one of his receptions were for 20+ yards, tied for sixth-best in the league. A different offense of course, but Maclin has a familiarity with the Andy Reid offense and may be the factor they have been missing to execute it correctly. For fantasy purposes, Maclin had seven games of at least 18.6 points on DraftKings in 2014. Expect Maclin to be highly targeted by Alex Smith this season and for their burgeoning chemistry to take another leap forward this Sunday.
Larry Donnell, $3,200
Rostering Larry Donnell will accomplish a few things for our lineups. First, we gain exposure to the game between the Giants and Cowboys with its 51-point over/under at a bargain-basement price. Second, we have tight end that produced double-digit points on six different occasions last year. Finally, Donnell is facing a Cowboys defense that allowed the sixth-most points per game to opposing tight ends in 2014. A simple line of 3 catches for 30 yards and a touchdown will produce 12 points on DraftKings, just a shade under 4x value. At a salary of $3,200, Donnell presents comparable upside to several higher-priced tight ends.
Crockett Gillmore, $2,500
Crockett Gillmore begins the season at the top of the depth chart for the Ravens. A simple glance at his stats from last season – 10/121/1 – does not inspire a lot of confidence for DFS purposes. But when we consider that we have a new offensive coordinator in former Bears head coach Marc Trestman that likes to feature the tight end in their offense, my ears begin to perk up. In 2014, the Bears targeted Martellus Bennett in the passing game 129 times – third most on the team behind Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte. With targets comes opportunity and Bennett took full advantage of it, finishing the year at 90/916/6. I’m not suggesting that Gillmore will approach Bennett’s production in 2015, but I do believe he will receive plenty of targets – starting this week against the Broncos. Gillmore is not only contrarian, he’s completely off the radar for the masses.
Indianapolis Colts, $2,900
One area where you can really differentiate your lineup for tournaments is by zeroing in on a lower-cost defense with a good chance to produce. The Jets and Seahawks should be the two highest-owned defenses on Sunday. Both defenses are in pretty good spots and will most likely produce, but there are thousands of entrants that are aware of this and will select them for their rosters. For a little uniqueness, let’s consider the Colts. A team known for their offensive prowess, the Colts defense had eight games of double-digit fantasy points in 2014. They visit the Bills on Sunday, a team featuring a new quarterback and projecting to be offensively challenged this season. The Bills top threat, LeSean McCoy, has been banged up but should be good to go on Sunday. Containing McCoy and forcing an inexperienced quarterback to air it out could be a recipe for fantasy goodness.
Jacksonville Jaguars, $2,700
If I told you that you could roster a defense that posted double-digit points on six occasions last season and is facing a team with serious issues at the wide receiver position for $2,700, would you do it? That is the situation the Jaguars find themselves in this weekend and they qualify as a sneaky under the radar play for Week 1. The Panthers top three wide receivers consist of Corey Brown, Ted Ginn Jr and rookie Devin Funchess. Brown struggled with drops throughout the preseason, Ginn rarely produces and Funchess was unable to capitalize on his opportunity to be the WR1 to open the season. The Jaguars are facing a team that may have trouble advancing the ball on Sunday and could hawk an INT or two from this group of receivers.
The sheer size of GPPs requires some non-conventional thinking to separate our rosters from the pack. By answering a few simple questions, we can find some under the radar plays that can add some uniqueness to our lineups and hopefully set us apart. Best of luck this weekend!