Know Your Enemies
To place near the top of a large field GPP, your roster has to stand out from the crowd in some way. Knowing which players will command the highest ownership is a helpful first step, but without the context of how those players fit together under the salary cap, it’s difficult to project the type of lineups you’ll be up against most frequently.
Sometimes, the clearest path to creating a unique roster is to allocate more of your salary cap to the positions your opponents are not. To gain some insight into how most other entrants are likely to think as they construct their rosters, with the goal of building yours differently, consider these bullets:
- New Orleans and New England are heavy home favorites with Vegas-implied team totals near 29 points. Expect the crowd to flock to the key starters on both teams, especially Tom Brady ($7,200), Alvin Kamara ($8,500), and Rob Gronkowski ($6,900). Enough value has opened up since Week 1 pricing was released over a month ago, that the key pieces of both offenses can be stacked in the same lineup easily enough.
- Ownership will be spread out across the top-10 quarterbacks, with about 30 percent of the field using one of either Brady, Drew Brees, or Philip Rivers. Spending down at quarterback is often advantageous on DraftKings, but attractive cost-saving options are few and far between. Quarterbacks under $6,000 should be the exception this week.
- Besides Kamara, running back ownership shouldn’t be too top-heavy. Le’Veon Bell ($9,400) is out Sunday, David Johnson ($8,800) has been out of sight for too long, and Ezekiel Elliott ($7,700) has a perceived poor matchup. The studs will be fairly popular but more ownership will settle in the $5K-$7K range, with Christian McCaffrey leading the way. The preseason opened up several value-plays below $5,000 (James Conner, Peyton Barber, Rex Burkhead, Royce Freeman, Carlos Hyde, James White to name a few) making it likely we’ll either see less spending at RB2, lots of lineups with cheap running backs used in the flex, or both.
- Those running back values should lead to healthy spending at wide receiver, with top-tier plays in great matchups like Antonio Brown ($8,600), DeAndre Hopkins ($8,300), Michael Thomas ($7,800), and Keenan Allen ($7,500) leading the way. Many entrants will have room to use two expensive wideouts.
- Rob Gronkowski or punt tight end was a popular season-long strategy this year and will be again in Week 1 on DraftKings. Those who don’t plug in Gronkowski are likely to spend $4,000 or less at tight end, with a healthy Jordan Reed ($4,000) the most glaring value. There should be leverage opportunity in the upper-middle pricing tier.
- Ordinarily, team defense is a position where most people look to save salary. This week, however, more entrants will be able to find room for Baltimore as a big home favorites facing off against a pitiful quarterback.
Taking a Stand on the Chalk
These players are the odds-on favorites to score the most fantasy points. Fading them entirely for the sake of differentiating your lineups is rarely the best decision when multi-entering tournaments. Instead, decide how much exposure you are comfortable with for each player in comparison to their ownership projection. Some suggestions on how to treat this week’s most popular plays:
IMPORTANT: All roster percentages cited below are based on our Steve Buzzard’s projections. Initial projections are posted on Thursdays, refined throughout the week, and updated on Saturdays.
QB: Tom Brady (vs. HOU, $7,200, 13% rostered) - Not surprisingly about 60% of the tickets have come in on New England to cover as 6.5 point favorites in Foxborough. We can rest assured the public views Brady as the top quarterback option, especially considering he went off for 39.72 fantasy points when these teams played last September. While Brady is a fine play on a slate without Aaron Rodgers, it’s best not to go overboard. The Texans allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks last year, but that was with injuries taking out linebacker Whitney Mercilus and future Hall of Fame defensive end J.J. Watt for a large chunk of the season. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel resuming play-calling duties for the departed Mike Vrabel is also a factor. Crennel’s aggressive approach and exotic blitz packages were a large part of the reason Houston allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to enemy quarterbacks in 2016. Brady is facing a defense well-equipped to rattle him with one of the worst groups of receivers he’s ever played with (on paper). Don’t go heavier than the field.
RB: Alvin Kamara (vs. TB, $8,500, 37% rostered) - Kamara is likely to be the most popular player at any position on the main slate, which makes for a conundrum. On one hand, history shows us his 1.68 fantasy points per touch from 2017 is unsustainable over the long term. But on the other, his backfield-mate Mark Ingram II is suspended and he’s facing a Tampa Bay defense he torched for 280 total yards and four touchdowns (including a 106-yard kickoff return) in two games last season. If you consistently faded Kamara as a rookie due to workload and regression concerns, he made you a loser. Will Week 1 be any different? Kamara needs something close to 50 rushing yards, 80 receiving yards, and a touchdown to return 3x his salary, which is well within his range of possible outcomes. But at 37% ownership is he twice as likely to deliver 25 fantasy points than someone like David Johnson, who might touch the ball 30 times? The answer is no. Go lower than the field on your Kamara exposure, even if it's not significantly so.
WR: Keenan Allen (vs. KC, $7,500, 27% rostered) - The back end of Kansas City’s defense was off-the-rails bad in 2017 and their cornerback situation is now even worse after the departures of Marcus Peters and Terrance Mitchell. The median age of the Chiefs inexperienced cornerback group was 23-years-old prior to the signing of 31-year-old veteran Orlando Scandrick on August 19th. Pro Football Focus rated Scandrick -- who was cut by Washington the previous week -- bottom-12 in coverage last season, yet somehow he is projected to start when Kansas City has three cornerbacks on the field. Philip Rivers will be presented with mismatches all afternoon, but there is no question Allen is his most trusted target. Allen accounted for 31% of LA’s receiving yards last year (a top-7 market share), as well as a team-high 35% of their red zone targets. With upside equivalent to the three wide receivers priced ahead of him, Allen is a high exposure play regardless of his percent rostered.
TE: Jordan Reed (@ ARI, $4,000, 9% rostered) - The single greatest thing about DFS is only having to commit to Jordan Reed for one week. Reed’s injury history is well documented, but it won’t matter in Week 1 when he’ll presumably be at peak health. Only Gronkowski and Travis Kelce ($6,400) possess greater weekly upside at the tight end position, yet we’re getting a discount of at least $2,400 when paying down to Reed from the top-tier. The salary savings is too significant to ignore in a neutral matchup with the Cardinals. Alex Smith has no known rapport with Washington’s wide receivers but has made use of a dominant tight end at each of his previous career stops (Vernon Davis in San Francisco and Kelce in Kansas City). Look for Smith to develop chemistry with Reed quickly, particularly in the red zone. Reed is mispriced. Don’t overthink heavy exposure.
DEF: Baltimore Ravens (vs. BUF, $3,800, 20% rostered) - Nathan Peterman is not as bad as his 6-of-14, 66 yards, 0 touchdown, 5 interception stat line in a 54-24 loss to San Diego last year would suggest. But he’s still a quarterback with two NFL starts under his belt going on the road against a top-3 defense (DVOA) in their home opener. The Ravens were the best defense in the NFL when they were able to pressure the quarterback in 2017, and Peterman has been horrendous as a pro when his pass protection breaks down. Considering our Matt Bitonti lists Buffalo’s offensive line 30th in his latest rankings, Peterman will not have the luxury of throwing from many clean pockets on Sunday. This game has the makings of a blowout, with Peterman forced to throw for the entire game -- precisely the script we’re looking for when choosing a DFS defense. Despite defense being an easy position to differentiate your lineup with, don’t be afraid to pay up. The Ravens are worth big salary and high exposure.
More Chalk Plays
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Drew Brees||QB||TB||$6,800||11%||TB @ NO is a mismatch. Surprising if Saints score less than 30 points.|
|Christian McCaffrey||RB||DAL||$6,400||24%||O-line injuries throw some cold water on his outlook.|
|Rex Burkhead||RB||HOU||$4,200||18%||Multi-touchdown upside and high target projection shouldn't cost so little.|
|Stefon Diggs||WR||SF||$6,300||13%||Hot preseason fresh on everyone's mind. Should toy with 49ers CBs.|
|Keelan Cole||WR||@NYG||$3,800||23%||Projects as Jaguars clear WR1 against soft secondary.|
|Antonio Brown||WR||@CLE||$8,600||24%||Wheels up with no Bell if it weren't for the weather.|
|Rob Gronkowski||TE||HOU||$6,900||24%||Abundance of value-plays makes it possible to spend at TE.|
|New Orleans Saints||D/ST||TB||$3,600||6%||Not buying 6% ownership vs. Fitzpatrick, though many will pay up to BAL.|
Mid-Tier Core Plays
For the most part, you won’t be sneaking these players past your opponents. But their projected ownership percentage is lower than the probability they will score more fantasy points than their salary implies. If you are multi-entering tournaments, raise your exposure higher than their ownership projection.
QB: Kirk Cousins (vs. SF, $6,500, 5% rostered) - The 49ers fielded Football Outsiders’ 29th-ranked pass rush in 2017 and decided to stand pat on their defensive line personnel this off-season. In addition to not having anyone on the roster who can get after the quarterback consistently, San Francisco is dealing with injury and inexperience in their defensive backfield. Give Cousins enough time to throw and he’s going to uncork accurate deep passes. Last year, he was Pro Football Focus’ third-rated quarterback on attempts targeted 20 or more yards downfield, despite playing behind an offensive line decimated by injury. As a team, the 49ers average depth of target allowed was 8.7, which placed them in the bottom third of the league. Cousins couldn’t ask for a better set up in his first game as a Viking.
RB: Kenyan Drake (vs. TEN, $5,900, 6% rostered) - The continued ambiguity surrounding the Dolphins running back depth chart, along with a tough-to-fit salary in comparison to the overage of cheap RB2 options on the slate, should make Drake something close to a contrarian play at home against Tennessee. Frank Gore's presence will prevent Drake from handling 28-30 touches per game like he did in Weeks 13 and 14 last season, but his workload from Weeks 15-17 (17.3 total touches per game) can be sustained, given head coach Adam Gase’s stated desire to give Drake lead-back touches. Drake generated much of his value catching passes out of the backfield last season, a role that can only increase with Jarvis Landry no longer hogging short targets near the line of scrimmage. It just so happens the Titans led the league in receiving yards allowed to opposing running backs in 2017 and will be without starting linebacker Derrick Morgan to start the season. This is a sneaky-good matchup for Gase to exploit Drake’s speed and elusiveness as a runner and receiver.
WR: T.Y. Hilton (vs. CIN, $6,800, 7% rostered) - Fading Hilton completely is defensible. The Bengals allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers in 2017, Andrew Luck barely threw downfield in the preseason, and it doesn’t take much to pay up to a more expensive option with a better matchup like Allen. But placing some chips on Hilton this week is a bet on three likely outcomes -- we find out the Colts defense is the worst in the league, Luck’s targets will be heavily concentrated on his most trusted weapons, and Indianapolis’ subpar running backs will be unable to find running room. All three scenarios favor heavy usage for Hilton, who should see double-digit targets in this game. One or two of those passes are likely to result in a deep connection, which is all Hilton needs to finish the week near the top of the wide receiver leaderboard.
TE: Jack Doyle (vs. CIN, $3,600, 16% rostered) - Luck’s other trusted target is Doyle, who achieved close enough to a 4x multiple of his current salary in six separate games last year. Pairing Doyle with Hilton will work nicely if the Colts are forced to abandon the run. Regardless, if the tentative version of Luck we saw in the preseason is here to stay, it’s Doyle who stands the most to gain in PPR scoring on short passes over the middle. Bottom line -- Cincinnati at Indianapolis is primed to go over it’s implied 47-point total, making it a terrific non-public game to stack.
DEF: New England Patriots (vs. BUF, $2,400, 13% rostered) - The Patriots defense is curiously low-priced given their status as 6.5 point home favorites. Perhaps the public’s enthusiasm to draft Deshaun Watson early in redraft leagues affected DraftKings’ pricing algorithm, or maybe it was the 69 points (nice) these two teams combined for in last year’s meeting. In any event, Watson is inexperienced, was sacked 19 times in six starts last season, and got away with numerous passes that should have been intercepted. If Vegas has this spread right, New England is one of the better point-per-dollar values on the slate at any position.
More Core Plays
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Andy Dalton||QB||@IND||$5,800||8%||Vertical element has returned to CIN passing game. IND D is horrendous.|
|David Johnson||RB||WAS||$8,800||17%||Out of sight, out of mind. Could see 30 total touches. Unrivaled TD upside.|
|Melvin Gordon III||RB||KC||$6,800||23%||KC rush defense ranked 32nd in DVOA in 2017.|
|Larry Fitzgerald||WR||WAS||$6,600||8%||Johnson and Fitzgerald are the entire AZ offense.|
|JuJu Smith-Schuster||WR||@CLE||$5,900||9%||Checked every GPP box before 5 inches of rain and 40mph wind ruined it.|
|A.J. Green||WR||@IND||$7,300||21%||Too much for the Colts dismal cornerbacks to handle. Play Ross too.|
|Austin Seferian-Jenkins||TE||@NYG||$3,200||4%||TE vs. Giants linebackers alert! Keep an eye on his core injury.|
|LA Chargers||D/ST||KC||$2,800||9%||If awful KC defense forces Mahomes to air it out, INTs will ensue.|
Hitting on one or more of these players will gain you massive leverage on the field. Due to their low ownership, the better they perform, the faster your roster separates in the standings. Keep in mind, using a 5%-owned player in only 2-out-of-10 lineups gains you four times more exposure than the field. When multi-entering a GPP, make sure you have strong conviction on a contrarian play before over-investing in their low-probability outcome.
Really bad. What box score chasers won’t remember, however, is Flacco suffered a back injury last preseason that lingered throughout 2017. With the obvious caveat preseason results should be taken with a grain of salt, Flacco averaged 8.9 yards per attempt in this year’s exhibition contests and has clearly developed chemistry with field stretcher, John Brown, who also looks healthy for the first time in a long time. The crowd is all over Baltimore’s defense vs. Peterman and will assume Alex Collins (at an affordable $5,600) is the obvious correlation play. But what if Vegas’ seven-point spread in favor of the Ravens and their 24-point implied team total is correct, but they get there off the strength of Flacco and the passing game? There is clear leverage in using a Flacco-Crabtree or Flacco-Brown stack.
RB: LeSean McCoy (@ BAL, $6,000, 6% rostered) - McCoy is a terrible play on paper. Peterman is unlikely to help the Bills sustain drives and Baltimore’s top-10 rush defense (DVOA) didn’t allow a single running back to clear 72 yards after Week 7 last season. At some point, though, opportunity matters. McCoy is the least expensive running back who can be projected to receive 20 total touches as a baseline. If the Bills fall behind, he’ll remain involved as a pass-catcher, especially if Peterman is forced to get the ball out of his hands quickly, as expected. A handful of receptions and one explosive play from McCoy, whose 16 rushes of 15+ yards ranked second in the NFL last season, can push him past 3x his salary at what is likely to be his lowest percent rostered all season.
WR: Kenny Stills (vs. TEN, $4,700, 8% rostered) - Stills’ ownership is likely to climb out of full-contrarian territory now that DeVante Parker has been ruled out for Week 1, but regardless, not too many people will be eager to play Dolphins pass-catchers. With Parker sidelined and Jarvis Landry playing in Miami, a double-digit target game for Stills may be more likely than not. At just $4,700, he leaps past Landry and Larry Fitzgerald as the top dollar-per-projected-target play on the slate. Tennessee’s 24th-ranked pass defense (DVOA) was burned frequently enough by the opposition’s top outside target in 2017 that a 4x return on Stills’ salary (something in the range of a 5-90-1 receiving line), is not even his ceiling. Danny Amendola ($4,200) and Albert Wilson ($3,700) can also be considered here.
TE: Greg Olsen (vs. DAL, $5,400, 3% rostered) - Olsen is priced in tight end no man’s land, which will keep the crowd far away in a decent matchup against Dallas. We have to give Olsen a mulligan for 2017 after he broke his foot in Week 2. The year prior, he was the cumulative TE2 on DraftKings and had four top-5 weekly finishes, which tied him for second-most at the position. Unless you expect D.J. Moore to command a significant target share in his first professional game (you shouldn’t), Olsen will have enough opportunity to post a 100-yard receiving game. When he returned last year, still hobbled from the foot injury, he was able to command nearly eight targets per game, sharing the field with Christian McCaffrey and Devin Funchess. 9/8 Update: If you were planning on being part of the 3% to roster Olsen, you may want to scratch those plans. He was a late addition to the injury report Saturday with a bad back.
DEF: Arizona Cardinals (vs. WAS, $2,800, 2% rostered) - Due to the volatility of scoring at the position, team defense is usually a great place to differentiate your lineup. Barely anyone will look to Arizona this week due to Alex Smith’s propensity to limit turnovers, but there are reasons to believe the Cardinals can win their home opener on the strength of their defense. New head coach Steve Wilks and defensive coordinator Al Holcomb have shifted to a 4-3 alignment with fantastic results this preseason. The team forced a staggering 16 turnovers through their first three preseason games. Exhibition results aside, the Cardinals third-ranked overall defense (DVOA) returns most of its key players, including studs in the secondary (Patrick Peterson) and on the defensive line (Chandler Jones). They’ll be a tough out at home all season, including this week, with Alex Smith still getting acclimated to his teammates.
More Contrarian Plays
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Blake Bortles||QB||@NYG||$5,600||3%||4 games with at least 27.5 DraftKings points last year. NYG D is in transition.|
|Matt Breida||RB||@MIN||$4,600||1%||Shielded by other value plays. Athletic passing down back playing from behind.|
|Dalvin Cook||RB||SF||$6,200||7%||Vikings were just keeping him in bubble wrap. Best possible game script.|
|Tyler Boyd||WR||@IND||$3,100||1%||Everyone on Green and Ross, but Boyd can destroy Kenny Moore II from the slot.|
|Tyrell Williams||WR||KC||$4,200||4%||Keenan Allen leverage. Benjamin and Mike Williams also in play.|
|Odell Beckham Jr Jr.||WR||JAX||$7,000||8%||Better than an 8% chance at a huge game regardless of opponent. Good price.|
|Ben Watson||TE||TB||$3,100||3%||Cheapest way to get a piece of Saints offense.|
|Cincinnati Bengals||D/ST||@IND||$2,700||2%||Colts starting o-line dealing with injuries, had trouble protecting Luck in preseason.|
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