TipAndPick's: Tips and Picks, Conference Championships

Cash game and GPP selections for DraftKings

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.

TIPS...

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.

GAME SELECTION: GPPs. If you are a regular reader of this column or follow me on Twitter, you are well aware that I am a big advocate of playing DFS on the largest slate possible. A lesser number of games increases overlap because there are not enough player choices for lesser-skilled players to make mistakes. As a result, cash games are almost unwinnable over the long-term and I will never play (or advocate you playing) cash games on two-game slates. That leaves GPPs and, for lack of a better term, 'gimmick' games. Typically, I would advise you not to play DFS on a two-game slate for the same reasons I already explained for avoiding cash games; however, the NFL playoffs are a special time of year and I make an exception for Divisional Championship weekend because it is the last day of (NFL) DFS until September. My advice for this weekend is to find single-entry games on DraftKings by filtering on the "tournaments" tab on the left side of the homepage and subsequently entering "single" into the search bar (just above the 'tournaments' tab); from there, you should be able to choose from approximately eight different single-entry tournaments, ranging from a $1 buy-in up to $100 (if you are a high-dollar player, there are larger single-entry tournaments on the site, but they do not appear when one filters via the "tournaments" tab--alter your search accordingly). By focusing on single-entry tournaments, you are avoiding competing against other DFS players who cast a wider net by playing anywhere from 20 to 150 entries in the same tournament; on a two-game slate, it becomes prohibitively difficult to compete against those mass multi-entry players, which is what makes playing single-entry tournaments so attractive. From there, build your roster with the knowledge that you will need to hit on every player and that there will likely be a low-owned (< 15% in this case) player who scores and will be needed to win. Read below ("Picks" Section) to see who I will be targeting in these types of games.

GAME SELECTION: "GIMMICK" GAMES. The name I have given these games is probably not fair, but I am unsure how to otherwise bucket them into a category. The so-called "gimmick" games are those DFS contests that do not include the class QB-RB-RB-WR-WR-WR-TE-DEF roster composition. On DraftKings, they have recently introduced "Showdown" contests, whereby you select four offensive players from a single game and combine that roster with two defensive players from the same game; the scoring for the offensive players is the same as their classic contests, but the defensive player scoring is unique and heavily-skewed in favor of big plays (interceptions, defensive touchdowns, etc.) and/or heavy volume (tackles). Because these contests were recently introduced, my early experience has been that there is a fair degree of edge to be had when playing them; simply put, the subscription sites that support information for these contests have not yet caught up and people are playing them without a lot of external expert insight. As a result, they can be beaten (for now). Here on Footballguys, my buddy Devin Knotts has been covering these contests on your behalf and I would recommend that you read his advice prior to entering those contests. Here is the link to that article. Lastly, this is a DraftKings-focused article, but FanDuel has recently started offering "FanDuel Labs" contests that allow you to flex every position and receive 2x points on a player of your choice; my suspicion is that these contests could provide the most amount of skill-based edge on a weekend where it is limited due to the lack of player options.

...AND PICKS

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. A short summary follows each respective table to fill in the gaps that led to the respective recommendations; that text represents only an overview of the methodology and rationale that goes into each recommendation. 

QUARTERBACKS

 

Earlier in the week, Tom Brady injured his hand during practice, an injury that reportedly bled heavily, required four stitches, and kept him from practicing in full for the remainder of the week. The other three quarterback options on this slate are Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, and Nick Foles, none of whose names exude upside in fantasy circles. Therein lies the conundrum: Are you comfortable paying a hefty premium for Brady ($7.7K) against the league's 2nd-ranked overall DVOA defense when it is unclear if he will be 100% healthy? It will be a difficult decision to fade Brady in favor of one of the other options, but it may be the shark decision because he will likely be the highest-owned quarterback on the short slate and his salary can handcuff your player selections elsewhere. It is entirely possible that Bill Belichick decides to minimize Brady's involvement to get him 100% healthy for the Super Bowl; if Brady is asked to sit in the pocket to let routes develop, he runs the risk of being taken down and re-injured by the Jaguars' impressive trio of sack collectors, Yannick Ngakoue (12.0 sacks), Calais Campbell (14.5 sacks), and Dante Fowler Jr Jr (8.0 sacks). Instead, it might make more sense for Belichick to try to exploit this Jacksonville defense with the Patriots' trio of complementary running backs (Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, and James White), while mixing in short passing routes to Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, and Rob Gronkowski to move the chains on passing downs. All of this is to say that it might be worthwhile to consider names other than Tom Brady this Sunday. Of those names, Blake Bortles and/or Case Keenum top the list. Bortles' offensive projections are currently the highest points per dollar on the slate and the implied gamescript sets up for above-average volume. Working against Bortles is the fact that Doug Marrone will do everything he can to win this game on the ground with Leonard Fournette; if the Jags can keep it close, Bortles will play the role of game manager and let a combination of Fournette and the Jags defense keep them in the game (as they did the previous two weeks). That leaves Case Keenum as my top option against the Eagles' 6th-ranked DVOA pass defense. Keenum is somewhat pricey at $6.6K, particularly in light of the fact that he has surpassed 20 DraftKings points in only 23.5% of his starts this season, but he has a series of personnel matchups that favor solid fantasy output against the Eagles. First, Philadelphia allowed only one 100-yard rusher all season and that was a 103-yard, non-scoring performance to Ezekiel Elliott in Week #17, a week where many of the Birds' starters were rested--that does not bode well for Latavius Murray (more on Murray below) and the Minnesota running game, which could result in more volume for Keenum and the Vikings receivers. Last week, Adam Thielen ran a season-high 71% of his routes on the perimeter, many of which were against elite shadow coverage from Marshon Lattimore; on the other side of the field, Stefon Diggs had an excellent 6/137/1 game that was capped with a game-winning touchdown. These perimeter receivers have excellent personnel matchups against shaky Philadelphia cornerbacks (more below), which should boost Case Keenum's fantasy output on Sunday. 

VERDICT: Case Keenum is the top play at quarterback, but a case could be made for Blake Bortles if you believe the Jags fall behind early to the Pats. Tom Brady is always in play, but his salary, likely ownership, and recent injury make him the third option. Fade Nick Foles, who will continue to be hidden by Doug Pederson as much as possible.

RUNNING BACKS 

 

As touchdown-favorites over the visiting Jaguars, the Patriots' running backs are the most attractive options at the position this weekend. That said, choosing between them could prove to be difficult, as Dion Lewis has been the volume option for some time, but his $8.1K salary is well-above any other option on the two-game slate; likewise, Lewis is expected to lose action to the return of Rex Burkhead, who scored six touchdowns in four games prior to his knee injury in Week #15. Add in a background role for James White, who found paydirt last weekend, and the prospect of paying a premium for Lewis feels risky. After Lewis comes Leonard Fournette, whose $7.1K salary is entirely reasonable considering that Doug Marrone will do everything within his power to feed Fournette until he can no longer do so; last week, Fournette scored three times and touched the ball on 27 occasions despite missing most of the second quarter with an ankle injury. The fact is that Marrone knows his best chance of winning this game is by controlling the time of possession and feeding Fournette as much as possible against the league's last-ranked DVOA rush defense--if you think the Jaguars can keep the game within 10 points, Fournette should be on your roster. Because this game features the two worst rush defenses on the slate (NE: 32nd DVOA, JAX: 29th DVOA), it is necessary to discuss the secondary running back options, including Rex Burkhead ($5.4K), James White ($4.9K), and T.J. Yeldon ($4.2K). Simply put: All of these options have the ability to score on Sunday, but Burkhead is the most likely candidate to find the endzone...however, both his salary and ownership will reflect it. White, who was touted in this column last week at a lower price, should be expected to be third in line in the New England pecking order, which tempers enthusiasm about his fantasy prospects a week after delivering 5x value. Yeldon becomes interesting if you think the Patriots build an early double-digit lead because of his role in the passing game; he will be low-owned and is intriguing, assuming you like the hometown Pats to put up points early. The later game features two of the league's best rush defenses (PHI: 5th DVOA, MIN: 4th DVOA), which makes it difficult to recommend any specific running back from either team. Minnesota features Latavius Murray, who has 20+ touches in 4 straight games, but he yields significant action to Jerick McKinnon (double-digit touches in three of his last four games) which limits his upside, particularly when one considers that he rarely catches passes out of the backfield. Both options have respectable floors, but their scoring ceilings are likely capped by the combination of their implied volume and difficult matchup. The Eagles backfield is arguably even worse, from a fantasy perspective, as they continue to divide action three ways between Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement. Ajayi is receiving about half of the looks out of the backfield, which is not enough considering his $5.2K salary against this stout Minnesota defensive front; Blount's volume is less and his $3.7K salary reflects it, but he has failed to reach double-digit fantasy points since Week #8 against the 49ers, where it took him 17 touches to do so. Lastly, Corey Clement is a wild-card, salary-saving option at $3.1K, who has GPP value only in full-PPR scoring formats; if the Birds fall behind early and/or are forced to play catchup late in the game, Clement would be the primary beneficiary of Nick Foles under center and could feasibly return 3x (or more) on his salary simply by catching dump-off passes from Foles to move the sticks.

VERDICT: Try to focus on options from the New England-Jacksonville game, as those defenses are most susceptible to opposing runners. Both Dion Lewis and Leonard Fournette are at the top of the list, but do not sleep on names like Rex Burkhead and T.J. Yeldon, who could play unique roles depending on how the game plays out. In the later game, all options are risky due to the quality of the defenses and the manner in which each offense distributes opportunity out of the backfield; Corey Clement is a GPP distinction opportunity, if you believe the Eagles lose the game (as I do).

 

WIDE RECEIVERS

 

Brandin Cooks will be one of the higher-owned wide receiver options on this weekend's slate simply because he is the Patriots' number one option from the position, but there is good reason to fade him altogether. First, Cooks tends to run deeper routes, as evidenced by his 15.4-yard average depth of target (ADoT) (7th-highest amongst WRs with 50+ targets); if Tom Brady's injury causes accuracy and/or depth issues, Cooks' fantasy output could be hampered despite being the third-highest priced wide receiver on the slate. Next, Cooks will encounter a combination of A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey, both of whom were beaten by a much more technical receiver (Antonio Brown) last week; to expect a repeat performance from Cooks would be folly. After Cooks, some will look to Danny Amendola, coming off a surprise 11/112/0 performance last week, but this looks to be an ideal spot to fade him because his salary jumped 35% and his matchup is terrible against the league's 4th stingiest team against slot receivers. Chris Hogan should see more action this week than last (4 targets, 1 reception for 4 yards and a touchdown), but his matchup against a combination of  the aforementioned A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey should limit his upside, particularly at a $5.0K price point. On the other side of the field, the Jaguars will feature four wide receivers, all of whom receive appreciable snaps in the offense; of these receivers, Marqise Lee and Dede Westbrook are arguably the top options because they have been experiencing more opportunity (151 total snaps; 17 targets) than Allen Hurns and Keelan Cole (103 total snaps; 6 targets). Because none of the Jacksonville receivers are priced above $4.4K, they are all in play in tournament formats, but Allen Hurns could be sneaky out of the slot (versus Eric Rowe), where New England was most susceptible this season. In Philadelphia, all eyes will be on the Vikings' receivers, who performed well against an underrated Saints' defensive backfield last week. Of course, Stefon Diggs caught a touchdown pass (now dubbed the "Minnesota Miracle") as time expired to send the Vikings to the Conference Championship, but it was Thielen's 6/74/0 stat line that went largely unnoticed that deserves more attention. Why? Because Thielen was expected to avoid shadow coverage from Marshon Lattimore by staying in the slot, yet Pat Shurmur mysteriously decided to send Thielen to the exterior in most packages and run Jarius Wright out of the slot. In retrospect, it might have been a fortuitous plan, as the Eagles boast one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the game (Patrick Robinson), whose skill set could be largely wasted on Wright, while Thielen and Diggs run their routes at the beatable combination of Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby; matching up against Mills is particularly attractive, as he allowed nine touchdowns while in coverage this season (most in the NFL). For Philadelphia, they will try to win this game on the ground, as Doug Pederson has displayed very little faith in putting the ball in Nick Foles' hands to bring home victories since he took over in Week #15. In last week's first playoff game against Atlanta, Foles threw the ball 30 times, many of them high-percentage throws (8 of his 23 completions were to running backs) and his longest completion of the day came to Jay Ajayi on a 32-yard swing pass. All of this bodes poorly for Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, the former of whom will have to deal with shadow coverage from Xavier Rhodes, the latter of whom runs deep routes that are outside of Foles' ability (or Pederson's comfort zone). This leaves Nelson Agholor (and Zach Ertz, below) as a lukewarm option for DFS play because he would appear to be the most logical wide receiver to see action, but his matchup against Terence Newman is unappealing because the Vikings allowed the 3rd-fewest fantasy points to slot receivers this season.

VERDICT: Both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs top the list of eligible wide receivers for tournament play this weekend. Pair them with your favorite low-cost Jacksonville receiver (Allen Hurns and Dede Westbrook top my list) and give minor consideration to Nelson Agholor or Chris Hogan. The masses will chase Brandin Cooks at a bargain $6.1K salary, but there are multiple reasons to fade him (as outlined above).

 

TIGHT ENDS

 

While there are not many thrilling wide receiver options on this limited two-game slate, there are surprisingly multiple ways to go at the tight end position. At the top of the list is Rob Gronkowski, who represents the Patriots' best chance of scoring in the passing game. The Jags were stingy against opposing tight ends for most of the season, but Vance McDonald finished with a 10/112/0 stat line against them just a week ago. The Jags will surely look to shore up that aspect of their defense knowing that Gronk is next in line, but there is not much they can do to prepare for the dominant force that is Rob Gronkowski--if you can afford him, he should be in your lineups regardless of implied ownership. After Gronkowski, a strong case could be made for Zach Ertz, who would appear to be the most logical way to attack the Vikings through the air given the matchups described in the "Wide Receiver" section (above). The Vikings field the league's 3rd-rated DVOA defense against tight ends, but they have not been challenged by a quality tight end all season and Ertz' 7.8 ADoT represents the lowest of the team's primary receivers; if we assume that Pederson will continue to employ Foles only in high-percentage situations, Ertz feels like the safest receiver to capitalize on that offensive approach. The remaining option at tight end is Kyle Rudolph against the Eagles' 17th-ranked DVOA defense against tight ends; the Eagles have allowed big games to elite tight ends (Evan Engram: 18.1 points, Jordan Reed: 26.2 points, Travis Kelce: 27.3 points), while keeping average tight ends in check. Here, Rudolph is definitely in play as a low-owned leverage play away from Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, both of whom will be owned at nearly twice the rate as Rudolph. 

VERDICT: Rob Gronkowski is the most likely candidate to excel in the Patriots' passing game, as is Zach Ertz for the Eagles. Of these two options, Gronk has the higher upside, but that upside comes at a $2.6K premium over Ertz...so make your decisions based on salary availability and/or play both. At a lower price point, Kyle Rudolph is worth considering as a leverage play against the masses of people who will roster Minnesota stacks consisting of Case Keenum with either Adam Thielen and/or Stefon Diggs at much higher ownership.

TEAM DEFENSES 

 

There is no must-have defense on this slate. The play-making Jaguars will be the lowest-owned defense on Sunday because of the Patriots' implied team total, but that is probably a mistake; the Jags field two of the best defensive backs in the league, both of whom are capable of a pick-six (even against Tom Brady) at any point. Likewise, there is no bigger mismatch between a defensive line and offensive line than Jacksonville versus New England; the Pats have struggled to protect Brady this season (35 sacks allowed; 13th in NFL) and you can bet the Jaguars talented pass rushers will be looking to get Brady out of the game, if at all possible. On the other side of the ball, New England's defense is not a juggernaut, but Blake Bortles has a history of throwing pick-sixes and given the implied gamescript, it would not be surprising to see history repeat itself on Sunday. In Philadelphia, we have two of the best defenses in the league pitted against two of the more conservative offenses in the league, so turnovers would appear to be limited. Given the likelihood for the Eagles to try to grind this game out on the ground, there is reason to fade the Vikings defense, particularly since it is expected to be the highest-owned defense on the short slate. Rostering Philadelphia's defense is not a ridiculous premise, but you would only do so if you expect them to pull out the upset victory at home (which I do not).

VERDICT: For upside, you probably should look at one of the two defenses in the early game at Foxborough. No team defense is a complete fade, so build your rosters with players first and back-fill with a team defense that fits your remaining salary and proposed gamescript.