Before we get into the details, I just wanted to extend a big “THANKS” to all of you who are not only Footballguys, but also supporters of the content that I produce every week. There is literally nothing better about this job than hearing success stories where I (or one of my colleagues) may have steered you in a direction to land a big payday in a DFS contest. Last weekend, when Latavius Murray and Marvin Jones Jr did well at < 5% ownership, I received multiple emails, tweets, and even personal acknowledgments at the Draft Party in Nashville...as I am about to put together this Thanksgiving Day version of “Tips and Picks,” I feel obliged to thank you for all of the sincere support you provide over the NFL season each year.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!
GAME STRATEGY: As I said on the Thanksgiving Edition of the PowerGrid, you will need to employ game strategy and combine it with a bit of luck to find yourself at the top of the leaderboards when the tryptophan starts to settle in on Thursday evening. There are three pieces of game strategy that you can think about employing:
Should you roster Melvin Gordon III at 70+% ownership? Melvin Gordon III is the only high-priced running back on the Thanksgiving Day slate and, for that reason alone, most people will not even think twice about inserting him into their lineups. My suspicion is that he will be viewed as a ‘free square’ on a Bingo board because he probably has the highest floor out of all the running back options on this short bill. That said, there is a real argument to be made for fading Gordon at that lofty ownership level simply because he is capable of having a poor showing, as we have observed on multiple occasions this season; as recent as last week, Gordon had a dream matchup against Buffalo and finished with only 14.0 DraftKings points, a number that would not substantiate his salary or ownership on this slate. If he were to disappoint via injury, usage, or simple dumb luck, those rosters without Gordon would catapult to the top of the leaderboards. It is a risky proposition, but one that would yield a +ROI over the long-term.
Pick your poison. In order to win a GPP on Thanksgiving, you are going to need at least one, possibly two, players who do well, but are also less than 10% owned. Because of the limited player pool, there will be a dozen players or more who are owned in the double-digit levels, which means that the overlap is going to be immense; the only way to differentiate your roster from the masses is to take a chance on a player you believe to be low-owned and in a situation to perform well. A few of my favorite options can be found in the “Picks” section below.
Do not spend all of your salary. Part of the above advice (“Pick your poison”) is to purposefully build diversity into your lineups using players with perceived low ownership. Another way to achieve this goal is to leave a bit of salary on the table; do not be afraid to leave ~ 10-15% ($5,000 to $7,500) of your allocated salary unspent if you like your roster enough. Doing so will ensure that you have a unique roster that is capable of finishing atop a GPP roster. This bit of advice, of course, assumes that the rosters we are describing have enough upside to actually finish at the top of a tournament--do not leave money on the table just to start players who are seeing < 50% of the teams’ offensive snaps.
On a limited slate such as this, you are probably not going to like your resultant rosters because there just are not enough quality options in the player pool to build out a solid team. Instead, you should be thinking about building a core of key players and then supplementing around those players with secondary options, who you perceive to be in plus situations. For GPP lineups, you might drop to a tertiary threshold, whereby you add an element of consideration to ownership for those players who have upside relative to their respective salaries. The following section will briefly summarize those situations for the most relevant players on Thursday, which is followed up by a table that outlines those takes in a concise fashion. Best of luck!
QUARTERBACKS: The Vikings’ last loss was at the beginning of October against the Detroit Lions, who will play host to Minnesota in a battle of the top two teams in the NFC North. Case Keenum ($5.3K) will lead the way for Minnesota and is an unexciting option against a Detroit squad that held him to a ~ 50% completion percentage, 219 passing yards, and no scores in their first matchup. On the opposite side of the field, Matthew Stafford ($6.1K) enters this game red-hot, having scored ~ 20 or more fantasy points in five consecutive games. The sledding will not be so easy against the league’s 4th stingiest defense to opposing quarterbacks; the Vikings have not allowed more than two passing touchdowns in a game all season and no quarterback has passed for multiple touchdowns in over two months, both troubling indicators of Stafford’s upside in this matchup. In the second game of the afternoon, Dak Prescott ($6.7K) is yet another quarterback who may have difficulty reaching fantasy relevancy on this short slate; he faces the NFL’s 7th DVOA pass defense and is coming off the worst game of his career last Sunday night against the Eagles. The anticipated return of Tyron Smith is encouraging, but solid perimeter cornerback play (Casey Hayward/Trevor Williams) and the likes of pass-rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III should limit Prescott’s ability to thrive in Dallas on Thursday. Philip Rivers ($6.1K), however, is an intriguing DFS option because of the depth of talent within his receiving corps and a Cowboys secondary that has allowed multiple passing touchdowns in 70% of their games this season. Rivers’ ownership might be skewed somewhat low because of the expected (high) ownership of Melvin Gordon III, but Gordon is targeted on 15.5% of Rivers’ throws which is sufficient to merit owning both players, if you assume they can score 28+ points. In the late game, Kirk Cousins ($7.1K) is the chalk play of the day against a Giants defense that is allowing the 2nd most DraftKings points to the position. Last week, the Giants appear to have slowed down Alex Smith after allowing 20+ fantasy points to 6 consecutive quarterbacks, but it was the 20+ MPH sustained winds that did the trick...something that is not in the forecast for Thursday night in Washington, D.C. Opposite Cousins, Eli Manning ($5.1K) will likely be playing catchup throughout the contest, but will have to try to keep pace without Sterling Shepard who is expected to miss yet another game with migraine headaches. Thus, the gamescript is perfect for garbage time from Manning, but his limited receiving options temper enthusiasm about his upside.
RUNNING BACKS: At running back, there is one premier play and that is Melvin Gordon III ($8.1K). Gordon has an excellent matchup against a Cowboys’ front seven that will be without their best linebacker and run-stopper, Sean Lee (hamstring). Outside of a Week #2 anomaly against the Broncos, the Cowboys have held every team to less than 100 rushing yards with Sean Lee on the field; in the four games that Lee has missed, opposing teams are averaging 142 rushing yards per game (5.41 yards per carry) plus another 38.5 receiving yards per game to the position. For these reasons, it is difficult to recommend fading Gordon despite his likely ownership. As mentioned previously, the Cowboys will return Tyron Smith to the field, which should shore up their offensive line for this matchup against the league’s 27th ranked DVOA rush defensive unit that has allowed the 3rd most fantasy points to opposing running backs (behind only San Francisco and Buffalo). Expect to see Alfred Morris ($4.8K) get the first opportunity to exploit the Chargers defense, but if the Cowboys fall behind, we would see plenty of Rod Smith ($3.4K) in the passing game; it is not out of the question to roster both of these players to soak up the entire Cowboys’ running game for only $8.2K, particularly when we can expect their perimeter receivers (Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams) to be negated by strong cornerback play. In the early game, Latavius Murray ($4.9K) is coming off his best game of the season, a two-touchdown performance against the Rams; he continues to see plentiful action in the Minnesota offense (16+ touches in 5 consecutive games) and is still intriguing against the league’s 4th friendliest defense to opposing running backs (fantasy points per game). Behind Murray is Jerick McKinnon ($5.2K), who represents a possible GPP dart against the Lions, as his ownership will fall after Murray’s recent success. Supporting this notion, it is worth noting that McKinnon’s usage did not wane last week, as evidenced by his 62% snap count and 19 touches (versus 16 for Murray). For the Lions, Ameer Abdullah ($3.9K) and Theo Riddick ($3.6K) are not enticing against the Vikings, who have allowed the 2nd least number of fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. Both have attractive price points, but only Riddick merits minor consideration as a GPP dart due to his ability to catch the ball while trailing, as the Lions are expected to do in this game. In the late game, Samaje Perine ($5.0K) will get another start with both Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson sidelined with injuries. In his first start against the Saints last Sunday, Perine was impressive, compiling 117 yards on 23 carries and picking up a score along the way. There is talk that former Oregon Duck standout, Byron Marshall ($3.2K), will absorb the third-down role previously held by Thompson, but his involvement remains conjecture until we see him on the field. As such, he’s a GPP-only flyer despite the bargain price point. Lastly, Orleans Darkwa ($4.6K) has entrenched himself as the RB1 in New York, but the gamescript does not suit his skill set, as the Giants tend to bring Shane Vereen ($3.0K) into the mix when trailing; as 7.5-point underdogs with an implied team total of only 18.5-points, Darkwa is a less-than-thrilling option, while Vereen is intriguing for GPP purposes only.
WIDE RECEIVERS: With some excellent coverage cornerbacks in the early game, there is not a whole lot to like at the wide receiver position. Darius Slay will lock horns with Stefon Diggs ($6.3K) in a shadow role, which should be enough to minimize Diggs’ output, especially in the context of his sizeable salary. Opposite Diggs will be Adam Thielen ($7.6K), whose salary and implied matchup against ProFootballFocus’ 12th ranked coverage cornerback, Quandre Diggs, will be enough to scare some people away; however, Quandre Diggs has allowed the 5th most yards after the catch this season and Thielen enters this contest with the 4th most yards after the catch of all NFL wide receivers; for GPP purposes, you could do far worse than Thielen. In silver and blue, Marvin Jones Jr ($5.7K) is likely to get shadow coverage from Xavier Rhodes, who held Jones to a single catch for four yards earlier this season. That leaves Golden Tate ($6.2K), T.J. Jones ($3.3K), and Kenny Golladay ($3.8K) to pick up the slack in the Lions’ aerial attack. Of these, Tate is the best option for success, as he is a consistent target for Matthew Stafford (75 targets leads the team in 2017), whereas Jones and Golladay are both role players with limited opportunity and are low-exposure tournament plays, at best. In Dallas, there is very little upside for Cowboys receivers against the Chargers secondary; Dez Bryant ($6.4K) will get shadow coverage from Casey Hayward, who has allowed 4 receptions for 52 yards since Week #7, while picking up 3 interceptions during that time. Terrance Williams ($3.7K) simply is not talented enough to find space against Trevor Williams on the opposite side and Cole Beasley ($3.6K), despite having a plus matchup against nickel corner, Desmond King, is a touchdown-dependent GPP play who has not surpassed 40 receiving yards all season. For the Chargers, Keenan Allen ($7.3K) stands out as an excellent play facing Orlando Scandrick, who ranks in the bottom 10% of coverage cornerbacks since Week #7. Both Mike and Tyrell Williams ($3.1K and $3.4K, respectively) are low-priced tournament options due to their respective snap counts, opportunity, and 6+ inch height advantage(s) over the Cowboys’ more diminutive cornerbacks. In the nightcap, Jamison Crowder ($5.4K) will be a crowd favorite, but could represent fool’s gold against Dominique Rodgers Cromartie, who continues to stifle slot receivers in 2017. You might see Kirk Cousins elect to go to the perimeter of the field, where the Giants have been lit up as of late; both Josh Doctson ($4.7) and Ryan Grant ($3.7K) will fill those roles and will line up across from Janoris Jenkins, who has appeared to mail it in during the latter half of this season and Eli Apple, who was a healthy scratch last week. Of those options, Doctson is most attractive due to his implied role and general skill set. On the Giants, there is very little to get excited about inside their receiving corps. Sterling Shepard is expected to miss this game, which leaves Tavarres King ($3.2K), Roger Lewis ($3.3K), and Travis Rudolph ($3.0K) as the wide receiver options for Eli Manning. All are nothing more than GPP flyers, but a personal favorite would be Rudolph due to his slot position that helps him avoid Josh Norman and an underrated Bashaud Breeland on the flanks.
TIGHT ENDS: In Detroit, it is difficult to get excited about Eric Ebron ($3.1K) against the Vikings, who have allowed more than 40 yards receiving to a tight end only twice this season; add in Ebron’s limited touchdown upside (3 touchdowns in previous 23 games) and he is a weak GPP candidate at best. Kyle Rudolph ($4.1K), however, is a model of consistency at a position where consistency is the exception, not the norm. Rudolph has had seven or more targets in each of his previous six games and has finished each of those contests with no less than 8.7 points; at $4.1K, he is fairly priced and certainly in play on a limited three-game slate. In the mid-afternoon game, we have a series of tight ends whose role is enigmatic at this juncture. Jason Witten ($4.4K) is a shadow of his former self and is completely touchdown-dependent for hitting double-digit fantasy numbers due to his total lack of after-the-catch speed. Meanwhile, Hunter Henry ($3.3K) has not surpassed two catches in a month and is barely out-targeting Antonio Gates ($2.5K) despite playing nearly 3x the number of snaps as the future Hall-of-Famer. In the nightcap, Evan Engram ($6.1K) represents the play of the day at the position; he will again benefit from the lack of skilled wide receivers and a plus gamescript. Some will see his 1/9/0 statline from last week and balk at his price tag, but do not forget the conditions last week when you make that decision; prior to that windstruck game, Engram caught a touchdown pass and score 15+ points in four consecutive games. On the other side of the gridiron, Vernon Davis ($5.5K) is also tempting against one of the league’s friendliest defenses to the tight end position. Davis is expected to fill the role of Jordan Reed once again, a role that has garnered him an average of 8.7 targets per game since Reed was sidelined. The matchup against the Giants could not be better; until last week’s wind tunnel game, they had allowed a touchdown to opposing tight ends in every game this season...last week, they “held” Travis Kelce scoreless, but he still finished with 8 receptions for 109 yards.
TEAM DEFENSES: There is no specific team defense that is expected to be extremely chalky on the Thanksgiving Day slate, but there are several you can probably ignore: Dallas ($2.5K) and the NY Giants ($2.2K) both are generally unattractive options due to either matchup, injuries, or a combination of the two. That leaves both defenses in the early game (Detroit: $2.7K; Minnesota, $3.3K), the Chargers ($2.8K), and the Redskins ($3.6K) in the late game. Of these latter options, the Redskins will likely be the most popular defense because they are projected to lead by the most points, which can sometimes result in an opposing quarterback trying to force plays late in the game; given the receivers Eli Manning has to choose from on Thursday, that is not an unrealistic expectation. The Chargers are intriguing options because they roster multiple playmakers capable of creating turnovers and possible defensive scores on any play; Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram III, and Casey Hayward each fall into this category. In the early game, both quarterbacks tend to play possession-first football, which could limit turnovers, but this game feels like a slow-paced, ball-control game that should be relatively safe for both defenses; a slight advantage goes towards Minnesota, whose overall defensive unit is superior.
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