With 36 days to go between now and the start of the regular season, it’s way too early to begin crafting DFS lineups that will actually be playable come September. But Fanduel released Week 1 NFL pricing Sunday night and if you’re anything like the crew here at Footballguys, you spent most of your Monday happily creating dozens of lineups, despite the certainty training camp fallout will blow up at least 80% of them before the season starts.
Just in case you happen across this article next month while prepping for Week 1, allow me to state the obvious:
You’re about to read my first blush, knee-jerk reactions to Fanduel’s Week 1 pricing. As summer winds down, some of these takes are going to appear downright silly, but we need to begin exercising our DFS brains in preparation for the season and it's never too early to begin checking a site's pricing for inefficiencies.
Here are some noteworthy items that jumped off the spreadsheet on my first pass through FanDuel's pricing:
Ryan Mathews is my Favorite Running Back Value Play
Things couldn’t be going much worse for Ryan Mathews in his first training camp under new head coach Doug Pederson. First, beat writer Jimmy Kempski referred to Mathews as “the Sam Bradford of running backs”, while postulating Mathews is not a good fit in Pederson’s offense. It got worse for Mathews when he injured his ankle and started camp on the NFI list -- reminding everyone he is the same player who presumably still has 12 metal screws attaching his shoulders to the rest of his body.
It’s plain enough to see why Mathews checks in as the RB29 on Fanduel ($6,100), which isn’t far removed from his current RB26 redraft ADP. But whereas in a season-long league, it might be fair to worry about Wendell Smallwood eventually siphoning carries or Darren Sproles stealing all the work on passing downs, our only concern in DFS is Week 1 and Mathews couldn’t be in a better spot as the Eagles default early down and goal line back.
The Eagles are 6.5 point favorites at home against the Browns, which is currently the second largest point spread on the Week 1 slate. The implied game script suggests Philadelphia will be in a position to run the ball at will, and the Cleveland defense figures to oblige. The Browns allowed 128.4 rushing yards per game and 4.5 yards per attempt last season, which placed them bottom-four in both categories. While Cleveland addressed their defensive line in the draft and free agency, it remains to be seen if the changes are enough to make them anything more than a middling run defense in 2016.
All the negative press swirling around Mathews masks the fact he’s coming off a great first season with the Eagles. Last year, Mathews was one of only two running backs with less than 35 receptions to average more than a PPR fantasy point per touch (minimum 100 touches). Provided Mathews receives the heavy workload the game script implies in Week 1, his rushing efficiency is exactly what we’re looking for on Fanduel where receptions are more loosely correlated with fantasy scoring. Plus, Mathews is also the Eagles best option at the goal line, where he scored on four out of six carries from inside the five-yard line last year. Philadelphia’s implied team total sits at a healthy 25.5 points, which hints at potential touchdown opportunity for Mathews.
Maybe it’s true Pederson prefers backs like Sproles and Smallwood who excel in space, but it shouldn’t matter in Week 1. Philadelphia will need a back who can wear down the Browns defense in this game, and there are no better options on the roster than Mathews.
If You Don’t Like Mathews, Don’t Worry
I totally get it if you don’t share my enthusiasm for Mathews, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay a premium to fill your running back slots. Taking nothing away from the top backs like Todd Gurley ($8,900), Adrian Peterson ($8,200), Ezekiel Elliott (($7,900), Lamar Miller ($7,600), and even Mark Ingram II ($7,400) who all appear to be in great spots, there are no shortage of quality running back options in the $6,000 range to choose from.
Carlos Hyde ($6,200) is playing at home, faces a neutral game script (LA is favored by two points), and figures to see plenty of opportunity as Chip Kelly’s primary back. Frank Gore’s ($6,200) 33-year-old legs are as fresh as they’ll get all season entering a matchup with the Lions in Indianapolis, where Vegas has the Colts projected to score a healthy 27 points. Pittsburgh at Washington is tied for the highest over-under of the week (50.5 points) and there doesn’t appear to be any threat to Matt Jones’ ($6,000) carries on Washington's roster. Rashad Jennings ($6,000) averaged nearly 20 carries per game over the Giants last four contests in 2015 and should see the bulk of the work against a questionable Dallas defense, in a game Vegas likes for almost 50 total points. And finally, Giovani Bernard ($5,600) is the RB39, which just seems low given his RB26 ADP in non-PPR leagues.
Michael Thomas: Brace Yourself for Ownership Percentage Gone Wild
Training camp reports like this one and Vines like the one below have become the norm early in camp for the Saints second round pick out of OSU.
The hype train is picking up steam for good reasons. Michael Thomas is by all accounts ready to contribute as a rookie and he’s stepping into of the league’s best passing offenses. A few big plays in the preseason and the crowd won’t be able to resist Thomas at only $4,900 (WR88 - the same price as Terrelle Pryor), matched up against the Raiders in a game Vegas projects to go over 50 points.
If my hunch on Thomas’ ownership is right, I’d rather pass on the lure of the unknown in Week 1 GPPs, even if it means foregoing significant salary cap flexibility. Let Davante Adams’ 41% Week 1 ownership (and subsequent 7.9 point dud) from last year serve as a cautionary tale against mob mentality when it comes to unproven players. Besides, Thomas may not even present the best point per dollar value in the Raiders-Saints game. Willie Snead IV costs a reasonable $6,400 (WR33), while both Michael Crabtree ($6,100 - WR40) and Coby Fleener ($5,400 - TE13) are terribly underpriced given their anticipated target projections.
The Pricing Algorithm Broke on the Colts Wide Receivers
Andrew Luck is priced as the QB2 ($8,700), yet T.Y. Hilton is WR23 ($6,800 -- $100 more than Steve Smith Sr. for goodness sake), Donte Moncrief is WR37 ($6,200), and Phillip Dorsett is WR59 ($5,400). Dwayne Allen as the TE11 ($5,500) looks like the only appropriately priced piece of the Colts passing game. Either Fanduel expects Luck to run in three touchdowns or there’s a clear inefficiency in their pricing. I’m expecting a Luck-Hilton-Moncrief super stack to be a very popular tournament combo in a home game for Indianapolis that has an over/under pushing 50 points. Despite the presumed high ownership, I’m not sure I’d fade the Colts passing game in Week 1. Their opponent -- the Lions -- ranked in the bottom third of the league in opponent yards per pass attempt last season, suggesting Luck should connect on a few big plays.
Gronk will be Low-Owned in Tournaments
If there were ever a week to use Rob Gronkowski in tournaments, you’re looking at it. Gronk’s $8,700 price tag would place him as the WR4. He costs nearly 18% more than the next highest-priced tight end (Jordan Reed - $7,400), which doesn’t feel right when you consider Tom Brady will not be throwing him passes in Week 1. Based on these factors, I’m expecting Gronk to check in around 5% owned or less, which begs the question -- would he deliver the 26 fantasy points we’re aiming for at his price in GPPs more than once if New England and Arizona played this game 20 times? Jimmy Garoppolo or not, I’m taking the over on that proposition when we’re talking about a player who has scored a ridiculous 65 touchdowns in 80 career games.
Travis Benjamin is Your WR3 for GPPs
Travis Benjamin has been a favorite target of mine all summer in the middle rounds of best ball drafts and he’s even more enticing on Fanduel as a tournament play, priced at just $5,600 (WR50). Benjamin ranked as the cumulative WR29 on Fanduel last season with Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel, and Austin Davis throwing him passes as a member of the Browns. Now that he’s guaranteed starter snaps in San Diego (and possibly a few additional targets with Stevie Johnson on the shelf), I’m confident Benjamin’s blend of top-end speed and savvy route running will make him a favorite of Philip Rivers on downfield throws. The Chiefs defense will scare some people off Benjamin in Week 1, but Kansas City’s 2015 game logs are riddled with big performances allowed to outside receivers. A 100+ yard, multi-touchdown performance will be within Benjamin’s range of possible outcomes in many games this season, Week 1 included.
Jamaal Charles is a Great Tournament Pivot off the Top-5 Running Backs
As long as we don’t see the Chiefs use Jamaal Charles much this preseason (which would only make sense for both team and player), there should be enough uncertainty surrounding his recovery from ACL surgery for most entrants to avoid him as one of only six running backs priced above $8,000. But Charles has always been the engine that makes the Chiefs offense go and our glimpses of his rehab have been encouraging. Assuming he suffers no setbacks, Charles gets the Chargers at home, in a game the Chiefs are expected to win by a touchdown. San Diego, you may remember, fielded one of the worst rush defenses in the league (by any metric) last season. Given the juicy home matchup, I'm not willing to dismiss the possibility of a vintage Charles stat line 90% of entrants won't see coming.
The Tyrod Taylor Revenge Game
Most folks shopping for a bargain at quarterback are likely (and correctly) going to roster Eli Manning vs. Dallas (QB19 - $7,200). Manning’s low price in yet another game with an over/under nearing 50 total points will shade Tyrod Taylor (also $7,200) from the crowd in what could be a nice spot.
Vegas isn’t predicting fireworks for Buffalo at Baltimore (O/U 43), but the Ravens secondary struggled mightily last season and will have to prove the addition of Eric Weddle, Ladarius Webb's move to safety, and the anticipated growth of some younger players are enough to fix their problems. With Sammy Watkins nearing a return to the practice field, it appears Taylor and the Bills will be in a position to put Baltimore’s revamped secondary to the test.
It should go without saying no quarterback outside of Cam Newton is a bigger threat to accumulate fantasy points with his legs than Taylor, giving him a floor high enough for cash games and a ceiling plenty high for tournaments, especially if the Ravens secondary remains suspect. And of course, rostering Taylor allows you to take the always pleasant stroll down #NarrativeStreet for the first time this season, as he looks to show up his former team.
Fanduel Hasn’t Gotten Rid of the Kicker Yet
What could be worse than Week 1 DFS advice in the first week of August? DFS kicker advice in the first week of August! Sadly, Fanduel has not dropped kicker from their starting lineup requirements, which means the position still requires our attention. I rarely pay up for a kicker regardless of the contest type and instead focus on mid-low priced options on decent offenses with a habit of stalling in the red zone. The Falcons ranked a middling 18th in red zone scoring percentage last year and face off with Tampa Bay, at home, in a game with a fairly high 47.5 point over/under. Provided the aging Matt Bryant can hold off rookie Nick Rose, I like him in the Georgia Dome at the minimum price ($4,500). For what it’s worth, Tampa Bay allowed the third-most points to kickers last season adjusted for strength of schedule.