With 27 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 Draftkings released Week 1 NFL pricing even earlier than usual this season, which means it’s past time to begin exercising our DFS brains by checking for salary inefficiencies and exploring ways to gain edges in tournaments.
One note of caution -- these are first-blush, EARLY reactions to DraftKings’ Week 1 pricing. As summer winds down, preseason fallout is likely to make one or more of these takes appear downright silly. If you’re reading this article for anything more than a first look at what jumps out on DraftKings pricing, you’re not using it as intended. Stay tuned to Footballguys as the preseason wraps up, and make sure you’re subscribed to our All-Pro Plan, for a well-informed guide to beating DraftKings contests in Week 1.
With that important caveat out of the way, here are five things that stood out most on a first pass through DraftKings pricing:
The Dalvin Cook Bandwagon will be Standing-Room-Only
Cook is still lasting past the first round of most season-long fantasy drafts, but if his surgically repaired knee looks good in preseason games, expect him to vault into the tier just below the top-five running backs by end of summer. Priced as the RB10 on DraftKings, Cook ($6,200) will almost certainly be part of the most common roster construction.
The likelihood Cook’s knee checks out during the preseason gets stronger every day. He was cleared to participate fully in training camp just 10 months following ACL surgery, and the steady drumbeat out of Vikings camp has grown too loud to miss:
“I didn’t see any signs that he was holding back or anything. He really looks like he is trusting that knee. He is explosive. I thought he’s done a great job in pass protection. I don’t see any hindrance out of him at all. We are continuing to monitor his reps and making sure that knee stays healthy and stays fresh throughout camp.” - Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo
"I’m going to go out there and play and be me. I know my knee is fixed. I know I’m healed up. Put the time in, go out there and play." - Dalvin Cook
Mike Zimmer said Dalvin Cook will likely get some reps in preseason games, but he's not sure how much or when just yet. Asked whether Cook will be ready for Week 1, Zimmer said the running back is ready now.— Courtney Cronin (@CourtneyRCronin) August 3, 2018
Anything resembling the Cook we saw last year is bad news for the 49ers defense in Week 1. San Francisco was efficient stopping the run in 2017 (3.8 yards per attempt against), but they still allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. The two times they faced running backs with Cook’s three-down plus goal-line role, the results were disastrous. Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott combined for 368 total yards and six touchdowns in two games against the 49ers.
If you’ve been playing DFS for any length of time, you’ve probably been conditioned to look for certain traits when choosing a running back. Cook possesses all of them all in Week 1:
- Plus (or at least neutral) matchup - See above.
- Big home favorite - The early line has the Vikings favored by 5.5 points at U.S. Bank Stadium.
- High implied team total - 26 implied points leaves room for a multi-touchdown performance from Cook.
- Bell cow - In his three full games last season, Cook’s 71 total touches trailed only Todd Gurley’s 76. He was also one of only eight running backs to handle at least 74% of his team’s backfield touches.
As with any chalky GPP play, the question isn’t whether or not to play Cook but rather how much to play him across your tournament lineups. If he breaks a few flashy preseason runs and starts rising up season-long draft boards, it wouldn’t be shocking to see 25-30% of large-field tournament entrants select him as their RB1 on DraftKings.
At that point, it would make sense to fade him relative to the field and gain more exposure to the Vikings offense via their passing game. San Francisco’s pass rush and defensive backfield were much bigger problems than their run-stopping last season, and both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs will have their ownership percentages cannibalized by each other, as well as the rest of the top-12 wide receivers.
Cheap Quarterbacks are Hard to Find
Searching for cheap upside at quarterback should be a goal when building GPP lineups most weeks. Earlier this summer, Adam Levitan revealed 45% of Fantasy Football Millionaire (Milly Maker) winners over the last two seasons spent $5,900 or less on a quarterback. On the other hand, only 23% of the total entries in Levitan’s sample spent less than $6,000 on a quarterback, emphasizing the edge to be gained by hitting on an undervalued signal caller.
Those stats are intriguing, but there’s a problem -- the quarterbacks available for less than $6K in Week 1. With few exceptions, they’re either on the road against tough defenses (Jimmy Garoppolo, Alex Smith, Dak Prescott), unlikely to make it to Week 1 in one piece (Sam Bradford), or just plain terrible (Ryan Tannehill, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning vs. Jacksonville). Only three viable options remain:
- Andy Dalton ($5,800) - The best of the bunch. Dalton faces Indianapolis on the road in a game that can easily go over Vegas’ 46-point implied total. If Andrew Luck’s encouraging preseason continues, Dalton will be forced to the air to keep pace with a potentially explosive Indianapolis offense. For his own part, Dalton should benefit from an improved offensive line and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s renewed emphasis on the vertical passing game. Indianapolis’ secondary will get a boost with the returns of safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers from injury, but A.J. Green ($7,300), John Ross ($3,900), and Tyler Eifert ($3,400 - if he makes it to Week 1) give Dalton plenty of high-ceiling stacking options. Make sure to throw T.Y. Hilton ($6,800) into your game stacks.
- Tyrod Taylor ($5,400) - You can always count on Taylor’s floor due to his rushing ability, but the only way he has a 4x salary multiplier in his range of possible outcomes in this matchup is if Josh Gordon suits up.
- Blake Bortles ($5,600) - Joke all you want about Bortles, but he had four games with at least 27.5 DraftKings points last year. The Giants have a new blitz-happy scheme and added talent on the defensive line, but also allowed the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks last season and may take time to gel as a unit.
Stack the Ravens...but not their Passing Game
Vegas has Baltimore as 5.5 point favorites hosting Buffalo in Week 1, which gives the Bills too much credit. Whoever wins the starting quarterback job for Buffalo -- Nathan Peterman, Josh Allen, or AJ McCarron -- will be an inexperienced starter facing a tough road matchup against a top-5 defense (DVOA). The Ravens should create short fields for their offense by forcing multiple turnovers and dominate time of possession.
Joe Flacco ($4,900) looked terrific in Thursday night’s preseason game and may owe his dismal 2017 to playing through a back injury. If he continues his strong play in the next two exhibition games, he could earn a spot on the list of recommended GPP quarterbacks priced below $6K (see above).
While it won’t have the same low ownership as a Flacco-Ravens wide receiver stack, the game script here sets up perfectly to stack Alex Collins ($5,600) with Baltimore’s defense. A year after coming out of nowhere to rush for nearly 1,000 yards, Collins has been running as the team’s clear starter all off-season. His ceiling may be capped somewhat by the presence of Javorious Allen on passing downs, but Collins isn’t necessarily a zilch as a receiver. Over the last three games of 2017, he saw at least four targets in every game (and as many as eight). Besides, even if he doesn’t provide receiving stats, Collins’ multi-touchdown upside in this game more than makes up the difference.
Baltimore’s defense is the most expensive on the main slate ($3,800). While entrants will be eager to get a piece of the unit facing off against one of the aforementioned Bills quarterbacks, it’s rare the highest-priced defense is also the most popular due to the salary cap (though this trend may be mitigated in Week 1 by injuries opening up more skill position value in the preseason games). Regardless, the Ravens are appropriately priced given their floor/upside combo in this matchup and their dominance should help boost Collins to more than 20 fantasy points.
Rex Burkhead ($4,200) costs less than D’Onta Foreman, who may not be on his team’s active roster to start the season. He also costs less than guys like James Conner and Rod Smith, who won’t combine for five touches in Week 1 barring a catastrophic injury to either Le’Veon Bell or Ezekiel Elliott. Burkhead was way too cheap BEFORE we learned Sony Michel’s Week 1 status is murky due to a knee injury. Unless Michel returns in advance of Week 1, or Jeremy Hill continues his strong preseason, don’t be surprised if Burkhead is an auto-pick for over 30% of tournament entrants.
Burkhead’s healthiest stretch in 2017 was Weeks 8-14. Over that span, he scored between 15 and 25 DraftKings points in six out of seven games and handled 75% of New England’s carries from inside the five-yard line. With Dion Lewis now in Tennessee and Michel’s status up in the air, Burkhead is set up to resume goal-line duties for the Patriots -- the most lucrative role in fantasy football. Since Bill Belichick took over as head coach, New England leads the league in touchdowns from inside the 5-yard line by 13% over the next closest team. Burkhead will also benefit from Julian Edelman’s suspension by absorbing vacated slot targets, which is a feather in his cap on a full-PPR scoring site like DraftKings.
What’s the best way to treat Burkhead if he ends up one of the most popular players on the slate? The case to fade him is strong, especially in huge, top-heavy GPPs like the Milly Maker. But in terms of overall exposure across all your tournament lineups, you shouldn’t drop too far below the field. Sometimes a player’s price is just wrong and it appears to be the case with Burkhead -- the de facto touchdown maker on the team Vegas has pegged to score the most points in Week 1.
There is Zero Reason to Spend more than $4,000 at Tight End
The best way to approach tight end in Week 1 is the same way to treat it in season-long leagues. Pay up for Rob Gronkowski (priced on-brand at $6,900) or punt the position. Why spend $5,400 on someone like Greg Olsen, when you can get Collins or Jarvis Landry ($5,500) for roughly the same price and approximate Olsen’s production by using one of several tight ends under $4K?
- Jordan Reed ($4,000) - The highest ceiling of any non-Gronk tight end and reportedly ramping up to full speed following last year’s toe surgery. The beauty of DFS - we only need him healthy for Week 1.
- Jack Doyle ($3,600) - Achieved close enough to a 4x multiple of his current salary in six games last year -- without Andrew Luck. Doyle will still be used extensively over the middle despite the presence of Eric Ebron ($3,300), who is also in play.
- Vance McDonald ($3,200) - When we last saw him in the playoffs, he hung a PPR tight end performance for the ages on the Jaguars (16-10-112-0). McDonald gets the Browns in Week 1, who allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends last year.
- Ben Watson ($3,100) - The cheapest way to get a viable piece of the Saints’ offense and their 29.5-point implied team total.
- Ricky Seals-Jones ($3,000) - Could easily be the third-pass catching option in Arizona behind Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson.
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins ($3,200) - The Giants gave up more fantasy points to opposing tight ends than any team last season, and if the first preseason game was any indication, the addition of Alec Ogletree is not going to help matters.