For the uninitiated, playing daily games on DraftKings can be an enjoyable experience, but equally sobering is the fact that season-long knowledge does not always translate to success in the daily space. FootballGuys will bring you a series of value- and strategic-based selections from a number of seasoned daily veterans throughout the NFL season. Herein is another edition of “Tipandpick’s Tips and Picks,” where we will examine the salaries of players at each position on DraftKings and make value-based recommendations for both your cash games and tournaments.
Below you will find a list of recommended players for both formats. GPP players generally have high-upside, but are too risky for cash games; cash game players are consistent with high fantasy floors. In some instances, the value for a player is so strong, he may fall into both categories…let’s have a look.
In order to help you build winning rosters, let's walk through some of the observations that I have made while doing my research for DraftKings this week. As you build out your lineups on DraftKings, try to consider the following commentary, which revolves around game strategy and how we will want to take advantage of what the masses are doing when they construct their own lineups.
CASH GAME TIPS
SPEND AT QB: Outside of a small argument for LeSean McCoy ($9.0K) at home against the Dolphins, there are not many expensive and attractive options at running back for the first time in over a month. Both Ezekiel Elliott and Le'Veon Bell appear on the Sunday/Monday slate and David Johnson ($9.2K) will have to take on the league's 2nd ranked DVOA rush defense (Seattle) in their home stadium. At wide receiver, one could loosely justify a spot for Mike Evans ($8.5K) in cash games, but his recent string of poor performances does not make that an easy decision; Julio Jones ($8.1K) is making a return against the Panthers' suspect secondary, but he has not practiced in full in nearly three weeks, which makes him a risky proposition for cash games. With these pricey options at RB and WR in question, it makes the most sense to spend your salary at quarterback this weekend. Luckily, there are multiple options, the primary of whom are Drew Brees ($7.4K) and Andrew Luck ($7.0K); both are in plus matchups and are projected to amongst the league's top-scoring teams on the weekend. Tom Brady ($7.7K) is another option, but I am afraid that the Patriots will jump out to an early lead and minimize his involvement in the second half, particularly in light of the fact that he has been hobbled with a thigh injury as of late; if he is responsible for those early scores, you will probably be in good shape, but if LeGarrette Blount gets into the endzone early, Brady could disappoint at the highest QB salary on the board. Both Brees and Luck are projected to be in more competitive games, which makes them more appealing for cash games.
FREE PLAY: JORDAN HOWARD: I have outlined the reasons why you should be starting your cash game roster construction with Jordan Howard in the "Picks" section below, but suffice it to say that Howard is probably the "surest" thing in cash games this weekend. That statement could be the kiss of death for Howard, but he is going to be > 60% owned in cash games on DraftKings, which means that you just have to roster him and beat your opponents elsewhere. If he were to disappoint via an injury or otherwise, your roster will not immediately become a losing roster because of those high ownership levels; however, if he were to score 25+ fantasy points in this pristine matchup and you faded him for whatever reason, you are going to have a difficult time catching up to the field with the remaining players on your cash game roster(s). So plug him in and move on.
TRUSTING YOUR PROCESS: If you follow me on Twitter (and if you don't--why not?!), you surely know that I, along with fellow Footballguy Jeff Pasquino, competed in FanDuel's World Fantasy Football Championship in Ranchos Pallos Verdes last weekend. The 100-entry tournament allowed the winner to take home $1M, while the last place consolation prize was a respectable $10K. My roster peaked in the 8th position after the early games and was reliant upon a Trevor Siemian-Demaryius Thomas stack combined with Larry Fitzgerald against a punchless Saints' defense to help lock down a top ten finish. Instead, the Broncos scored a disappointing three points at home and Fitzgerald was one of the few players in that Saints-Cardinals game that did not find the endzone. The flight from LA to Philly gave me plenty of time to ponder where I went wrong and my eventual conclusion was that I did *not* go wrong. Looking over my roster, my players were all in situations that I projected, but they simply did not find the endzone. My quarterback, Trevor Siemian, finished the afternoon with nearly 300 yards passing due to a negative gamescript and a pass-susceptible Patriots defense; without a touchdown, however, Siemian finished the afternoon with a shade over 10 fantasy points. My running backs were both heavily-used, but only LeSean McCoy found paydirt (twice); Le'Veon Bell was targeted 31 times, but the Steeler offense stumbled in the redzone resulting in six Chris Boswell field goals. At wide receiver, Jordan Matthews was in a prime matchup against the Ravens and finished with a pedestrian 5.7 fantasy points, but was targeted 11 times; ditto Larry Fitzgerald and Demaryius Thomas, who combined for 20 targets, but were also unable to find the endzone. At tight end, I rostered Kyle Rudolph, who finished the day with a respectable 8/97/0 stat line on 10 targets, but (again) did not score a touchdown. Add in passable performances from my kicker, Kai Forbath (8 points) and the Bills defense (9 points), and I feel strongly that I built a winning lineup that scored only 112.88 points.
And that is the take-home message here: Sometimes you can build great lineups, but not yield the results you deserve. In the DFS circles, professionals are often overheard saying, "Trust your process," meaning that results are only half the story. If somebody had told me prior to lineup lock last week that my quarterback would throw for a hair under 300 yards, my running backs would touch the ball 50 times, and my receiving corps would garner 41 targets, I would have been ecstatic about my chances to win that tournament. In the end, the failure of my players to get into the endzone, a highly volatile event, proved to be the difference between my actual finish (39th place) and a potential top ten finish. When you have a disappointing week, always review what you did right, what you did wrong, and how you can incorporate what you did wrong into your weekly process. There is always room for improvement and the game is constantly evolving; if you are not actively looking to evolve with it, you will quickly become a losing player.
ATTACKING CHRISTMAS EVE GPP's: The marquee GPP on DraftKings in Week #16 is the annual $1,500 buy-in "Main Event Championship" that pays $1M to the winner in a short ~3,000 entry field; while that price point is probably out of the range of most "Tips and Picks" readers, DraftKings has two other multi-million dollar purse contests with a $50 and a $4 buy-in, respectively. At first glance, I was disappointed in this 12-game slate because there are only four games that are projected above 44 total points, but after doing my weekly analysis, I found that there are a lot of different directions that one can lean, which makes this a surprisingly attractive tournament slate. The three big games are TB-NO, ATL-CAR, and IND-OAK, all of which have 50+ point Vegas totals; for this reason, you can expect players from these games to be highly owned, making them somewhat less attractive for tournament play. That said, it would be folly to fade these games altogether; instead, grab your exposure to players who you like most (see below for those I prefer) and gain your player diversification at the remainder of your roster spots. After those games, the next-highest Vegas total is the WAS-CHI game that has crept upwards from 45.5 when it opened to 48.0 points on Friday; the obvious play here is Jordan Howard (see below), but a case could be made for Kirk Cousins, who is chasing Drew Brees for the league-lead in passing yards and/or Matt Barkley-to-Cameron Meredith, a combination that has been consistent since Barkley took the helm back in Week #12. The remainder of the games will be considered low-scoring by the masses, a fact that will result in players from those games being underowned; it is those games, I believe, that will be the difference between finishing above and below the payline in tournament play on Christmas Eve. As always, I have identified some of my favorite tournament options, across the entire slate, in the ensuing section--feel free to use any of them to take down one of these big Christmas Eve tournaments...but if you win the Milly, don't forget Uncle Tipandpick! ;)
Let's take a deeper look into some of the players who I will be targeting for my cash game and tournament rosters this weekend. There is little difference in terms of strength of selection between those players who have text to justify their appearance in this article versus those in the "also eligible" section; all are strong plays in their respective categories, but time and space restrictions do not allow for expansive written summaries of every player listed.
CASH GAME PICKS
Drew Brees (Cash and GPP formats, Salary: $7,400). Averaging 353 passing yards per game at home this season, Drew Brees is almost a shoo-in to collect the 3-point bonus for surpassing 300-yards on DraftKings. Brees will face a Buccaneers' secondary that has been impressive over their previous six games, allowing only ~ 14 DraftKings' points per game during that span, including a 7.48 point performance by Brees just two weeks ago. Ordinarily, that game might be enough to give us pause about going back to the well with Brees, but Vegas oddsmakers have pinned a ~ 28 point team total on the Saints in this matchup, which should be enough to quell any concerns about a repeat performance. The high team total is probably reasonable because Brees at home is as consistent as kids being excited on Christmas morning--it's gonna happen and his 28.3 fantasy point per game average supports that notion. It is difficult to envision Brees finishing this game with less than 300 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns, which would be good enough for 23 DraftKings points, although 30+ points are entirely within reach.
Andrew Luck (Cash and GPP formats, Salary: $7,000). A week after dissecting a very talented Vikings' secondary, Andrew Luck will head to Oakland to take on the Raiders, where they have allowed an average of 26.9 points to opposing offenses; meanwhile, the Colts are averaging 30.0 points on the road (2nd in NFL) this season. Both teams should be motivated in this contest, as it has playoff implications for both parties, a key plus as we head into the last few weeks of the season where some teams are incentivized to play, while others tend to go through the motions. This is an excellent matchup for Luck because the Colts will return Donte Moncrief and run out their full gauntlet of receivers for the first time in three weeks; T.Y. Hilton (see below) is the type of receiver that has given the Raider defensive backfield fits all season and the Raiders should keep their foot on the gas, forcing Luck to keep airing it out throughout this matchup.
Also eligible: Russell Wilson ($6,300)
Jordan Howard (Cash and GPP formats, Salary: $6,300). With 100+ all-purpose yards in six of his previous seven games (the outlier was 99 yards), Jordan Howard is arguably one of the most consistent running backs in the league closing out the 2016 season. The red-hot rookie gets a pristine matchup against the Redskins, who allow the 6th most fantasy points to opposing running backs and are fresh off a Monday night game that saw them yield a season-high 132 rushing yards to Jonathan Stewart. Howard will continue to be heavily used by John Fox, not just because of his effectiveness, but also because Fox does not want to put the ball into the turnover-prone Matt Barkley's hands too often. Look for Howard to get 20+ touches, regardless of gamescript, including multiple redzone carries, which makes his modest $6.3K price point a bargain on a week where higher-priced running backs come with more risk.
Kenneth Farrow (Cash and GPP formats, Salary: $5,000). It might feel uneasy clicking on Kenneth Farrow's name for your cash game lineups this weekend, particularly after he fumbled twice as the Chargers' feature back last Sunday, but the matchup and salary are too good to ignore. Farrow will face-off against the Cleveland Browns, who are allowing 155.7 rushing yards (31st in NFL) and 28.8 DraftKings points per game (31st in NFL) to opposing running backs this season. Despite his missteps last Sunday, Farrow led the Chargers' running backs with 75% of the offensive snaps versus only 23% for Ronnie Hillman; this week should yield similar usage, as Hillman is on the team merely as backup at this point and the Chargers are going to keep feeding to know what they have in Farrow entering the off-season. With 16-20 touches against this defense, Farrow should easily surpass 80 yards and has a high probability for a touchdown against this Browns defense that yielded four touchdowns to the position over their previous pair of outings.
Michael Crabtree (Cash and GPP formats, Salary: $6,100). DraftKings continues to underprice Michael Crabtree despite him posting 18+ point performances in three of his previous four games. He needs exactly 18 points to justify his spot in your cash game rosters this week and the likelihood of him reaching that threshold against the league's 27th ranked DVOA pass defense is high, particularly when one considers the Raiders' lofty 28.5 point implied team total. Since the Raiders' Week #10 bye, Michael Crabtree has been targeted 46 times versus only 29 for Amari Cooper, implying that Derek Carr has developed some additional chemistry with Crabtree in the second half of this season. While Cooper is probably the better GPP play due to likely low ownership levels, the more consistent Crabtree is certainly the cash game play in this matchup.
Marqise Lee (Cash and GPP formats, Salary: $4,300). Coming off a week that saw him catch zero of three targets for zero yards, there is a legitimate reason to have some reluctance to slot in Marqise Lee as a cash game play on DraftKings, but last week's debacle was more of a reflection of Blake Bortles than Lee. Bortles finished with a season-low 92 passing yards against the Texans last week, which hurt all of his receivers, including Lee. This week should be different as Bortles will square off against a Titans' secondary that has allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for multiple touchdowns in more than half of their games this season; furthermore, no team in the league has allowed more fantasy production to the wide receiver than the Titans. Both Lee and Allen Robinson are in play this Christmas Eve, but Lee's consistency lands him in the 'cash game' section, whereas Robinson's volatility and upside merit a spot in the 'GPP' section (below).
Greg Olsen (Cash and GPP formats, Salary: $5,200). Without question, the most consistent (and most talented) receiver on the Panthers is Greg Olsen, who leads the team in targets (113) and targets per game (8.1) this season. If Olsen were playing with wide receiver eligibility this week against the Falcons, his salary would be at least $1.5K more than it is currently at the tight end position; for that reason, alone, Olsen is a steal for cash games. Outside of Olsen, Cam Newton has to choose from Ted Ginn Jr and/or Kelvin Benjamin, the former of whom is strictly a deep play receiver, the latter of whom has been terrible since the opening stages of 2016. That bodes well for Olsen, who gets a great matchup against the Falcons because they allow the 7th most fantasy points to the tight end position this season, particularly because of his high usage in this offense (7 or more targets in six of his previous seven starts) and redzone prowess.
Cameron Brate (Cash and GPP formats, Salary: $3,900). The chalk play at the tight end position this week, Cameron Brate will likely be 30+% owned across cash and GPP formats. Brate will enjoy an excellent matchup against the Saints in a game that Vegas oddsmakers project will be high-scoring. While Mike Evans has struggled over the past three weeks, Brate has enamored DFS players with an average stat line of 7.3/69.7/0.7 (15.9 DraftKings points per game). Brate is particularly attractive because of his redzone usage; despite playing over 150 less snaps than Mike Evans, a redzone monster, Brate has only one less redzone target than Evans this season. Going back to his days at Florida State, Jameis Winston has always liked to look to his tight end and the chemistry that is building between Winston and Brate as we head into the final weeks of the season is undeniable.
Also eligible: Vernon Davis ($3,000)
Seahawks (Cash and GPP formats, Salary: $3,700). The Seahawks are undefeated at home this season, having allowed an average of only 14.6 points per game on the season. They will play host to the Cardinals, who have lost four of their previous five contests and are coming off a 48-41 home loss to the Saints last week. Carson Palmer has put up solid yardage numbers this season, largely due to David Johnson's role in the passing game, but there is not much to like from the Cardinals' side of the ball here. Expect to see Seattle and their "12th man" put the lockdown on Arizona in this matchup, which could result in desperation play (i.e., forced passes, etc.) from Palmer late; if/when that happens, turnovers and defensive scores often result.
Patriots (Cash and GPP formats, Salary: $3,600). The chalk play of the weekend, the Patriots will also play not-so-welcoming host to a team whose season is effectively over. In this case, that team is the Jets, who outside of an overtime win against the equally-putrid 49'ers in Week #14, have lost seven consecutive games. The Jets will roll out Bryce Petty at quarterback again and will be without their best running back, Matt Forte, who will miss this game due to a meniscus tear; that will leave the likes of Bilal Powell and Robby Anderson to move the ball against this Bill Belichick defense, which simply is not going to happen. The implied team total for the Jets in this matchup is sitting at only 13.5 points, which is the lowest of the week; do not be surprised if the Jets cannot break double-digits, as the Patriots put pressure on this rookie quarterback who enters this matchup with twice as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns (three).
Cam Newton (Salary: $6,600). After killing many season-long fantasy teams with a lackluster series of games leading into the playoffs, Cam Newton appeared renewed against the Washington Redskins this past Monday night when he led the Panthers to an impressive 26-15 road win against an incentivized Redskins team. The matchup on Christmas Eve is even better, as Cam will get the home crowd to rile him up against NFC South foes, the Atlanta Falcons. When these teams met earlier in the season in Atlanta, it was an 81-point slugfest headlined by Cam Newton leaving the game early due to a concussion suffered on a two-point conversion. Make no mistake: The Falcons are leading this division based on the strength of their offense (33.5 points per game; 1st in NFL), not their defense (25.6 points allowed per game; 26th in NFL). Atlanta has allowed more fantasy points to the quarterback position than any team in the league, despite having played against quite a few terrible quarterbacks this season (Paxton Lynch, Jared Goff, Colin Kaepernick, etc.). This is an ideal spot for the Panthers to stay hot, win their third game in a row, and play the role of spoiler at home against a suspect defense that has made lesser quarterbacks into fantasy stars this season.
Blake Bortles (Salary: $5,000). Coming off a 92-passing yard performance against the lowly Houston Texans last Sunday, there is no reason that Blake Bortles should be more than 5% owned in tournaments this week. The matchup against the Titans, however, suggests that maybe we should be giving Bortles a second look as a minimum-priced tournament play; Tennessee has allowed the 5th most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in a pedestrian schedule that has seen the likes of Shaun Hill, Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler, Matt Barkley, Trevor Siemian, and Alex Smith. When they faced the Jaguars back in Week #8, Blake Bortles gutted the Titans for 337 yards and 3 touchdowns; we have not seen that Bortles in some time, but the personnel on the Jags' side of the ball are the same and the Tennessee secondary is arguably worse than that previous matchup. Pairing Bortles with Allen Robinson or Marqise Lee (or both?) is super cheap and affords extensive roster flexibility elsewhere, including high-end running backs and receivers.
Todd Gurley (Salary: $6,500). The pinnacle of GPP plays, Todd Gurley enters Week #15 without a single 100+ rushing yard game all season, yet his salary jumped $2.0K from last week to this week. Why? Because Gurley was facing the league's 2nd ranked DVOA rush defense last week (Seattle) and will square off against the league's 30th ranked DVOA rush defense (San Francisco) on Christmas Eve. The Niners have bled yardage on the ground this season at epically poor levels; their 176.3 rushing yards allowed per game is 13% higher than the dreadful Browns and 63% higher than the league average. Lest we forget that the Niners have allowed a league-leading 22 rushing touchdowns, which also bolsters a case for Gurley in this matchup. With interim coach John Fassel at the helm, who was previously a special teams coach, we should probably expect to see a fairly vanilla offensive scheme for this matchup that would include a heavy dose of Gurley, especially inside the redzone.
LeGarrette Blount (Salary: $5,600). Making his second appearance in this spot in as many weeks, LeGarrette Blount could be in line for some monstrous volume as 17-point home favorites over the Jets on Saturday. Blount has 17 or more carries in seven of the Pats' previous eight games and has put up some serious fantasy points when the Pats are home favorites this season; in those games, Blount is averaging 17.9 DraftKings points, but has surpassed 20 fantasy points on three (out of seven) different occasions. Earlier in the season, the Jets were stingy against the rush, but have demonstrated chinks in the armor as of late, allowing 4.7 yards per carry to opposing running backs over their previous six games. Losers of six in a row, the Jets have packed it in and these teams are headed in opposite directions; expect Bill Belichick to lean heavily on Blount in the second half, where multiple touchdowns are not out of the question.
T.Y. Hilton (Salary: $7,800). No team in the NFL has yielded more 40+ yard passing plays than the Oakland Raiders, a fact that bodes well for T.Y. Hilton, a big play receiver, who should give the Raiders' oversized defensive backs fits on Christmas Eve. Hilton is averaging 8.8 targets per game since the Colts' Week #10 bye and has posted 100+ yard games in two of his previous three outings. His 5'9" frame aligns with the type of receiver the Raiders' defensive backs have demonstrated that they cannot cover this season, such as Tyreek Hill (Week #14, 18.8 fantasy points) and Ted Ginn Jr (Week #12, 25.8 fantasy points). Outside of playing for playoff contention, Hilton is also vying for the league receiving title against Julio Jones, which should further incentivize him to leave everything on the field on Saturday afternoon; he will need 25+ DraftKings to validate his occupancy in your tournament lineups, a hefty number that he has achieved in a third of his starts this season.
Michael Thomas (Salary: $6,000). All Saints receivers are in play as tournament options against the Buccaneers on Saturday, but Michael Thomas stands out as an elite option for a number of reasons. First, he should be underowned coming off a game that saw Brandin Cooks go for 170+ yards and a pair of touchdowns while Thomas quietly returned from an injury but compiled a respectable 7/52/1 stat line on 10 targets. Next, Thomas will enjoy a 5-inch height advantage over his primary coverage cornerback, Vernon Hargreaves, who has allowed more receiving yards than any cornerback in the league this season; when the Saints get inside the redzone, that height advantage is going to pay dividends, especially considering that both Willie Snead IV and Brandin Cooks clock in at less than 6'0" (and Coby Fleener is falling out of favor). Lastly, this game has all the makings of a fast-paced, back-and-forth slugfest and getting Michael Thomas at his lowest salary since Week #9 feels a bit like stealing.
Antonio Gates (Salary: $4,400). One would have to live under a rock to not know about the looming touchdown record that stands between Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez. The end of the season is rapidly approaching and Gates has not scored in over a month; that said, Gates is still the team leader in redzone targets, although Hunter Henry's recent redzone usage has been troubling for Gates' prospects. One thing we all know: Antonio Gates is going to finish his career with the record for receiving touchdowns by a tight end. The question is whether he will exit 2016 with that record or if he will be forced to return in 2017 to collect it? With the negative recency bias associated with Gates, I am willing to give him one more week against the league's worst defenders of the tight end position; the Browns allow 17.6 DraftKings points per game to tight ends and have yielded almost a touchdown per game to the position. In other words, the risk is not with rostering a tight end on the Chargers--the risk is paying $900 more for Gates when Hunter Henry is the most consistent option entering this matchup...and that is precisely why Gates is the stronger GPP play of the two.
Jack Doyle (Salary: $2,800). The contrarian move at tight end this week is to try to save salary. With David Johnson in a tough matchup on the road against the Seahawks and Le'Veon Bell/Ezekiel Elliott on different slates, there are not a lot of options to safely spend money at other positions; for that reason, many DFS players are going to be extravagant at a position where they normally look to pinch pennies: tight end. Last week, Jack Doyle was recommended in this same article and he came close to reaching cash game value, but underperformed for where I expected him to finish the afternoon; that underwhelming performance was largely due to the out-of-nowhere appearance by Erick Swoope, who "stole" 3 targets, 50 yards, and a touchdown that I had pegged on Doyle. Of the Colts' tight ends, Doyle led them all in offensive snaps and pass routes, which argues that he is still the most relevant fantasy tight end on this team despite Swoope's touchdown last week and Dwayne Allen's 3-touchdown performance on Monday Night Football a few weeks ago. If you like Andrew Luck to put up decent fantasy numbers against the Raiders, a "super stack" with Luck-Hilton-Doyle makes a lot of sense and will serve to differentiate you in large-field tournaments.
Also eligible: Dion Sims (Salary: $2,600).
Titans (Salary: $3,400). Strictly a GPP play, the Titans are interesting tournament fodder because they will be extremely underowned due to their reputation as a bad defense. That said, they are playing against Blake Bortles, who has been atrocious for most of this season and who has thrown a pick-six in just under 25% of his NFL starts. If we also consider that the Titans are still firmly in playoff contention in the AFC South, while the Jags' season has been over for several weeks, we could see a situation where one team shows up to play, while the other just puts it on auto-drive. At $3.4K, most people are just going to spend an additional $200 to grab the Patriots' defense, which is going to make the Titans' ownership less than 5% despite them possessing nearly as much upside against a sloppy quarterback in Bortles.
Packers (Salary: $3,300). In a home game against one of the league's worst DVOA defenses last week, the Vikings were only able to muster a pair of field goals. Outside of a 25-point performance against the lowly Jaguars in Week #14, the Vikings have not scored more than 20 points in over a month; their redzone efficiency is dreadful and they will have to face the red-hot Packers at Lambeau on Saturday. The Packers do not boast a stellar defense, but they have shored up some deficiencies from earlier in the season, which has led to four consecutive wins, three of which held opponents to 13 points or less. The Vikings will try to beat the Packers without Adrian Peterson, whose return to Minnesota last week was quickly stymied with knee and groin injuries that will keep him out of this contest. That leaves Sam Bradford, Jerick McKinnon, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph to keep pace with Aaron Rodgers and his stable of skill players; this game has the makings of a blowout (Vegas agrees), which can often lead to desperation play, turnovers, and defensive scores.
Also eligible: Chargers ($3,400), Bills (Salary: $3,100).