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:
- Quarterback ownership should be relatively flat compared to last week when Patrick Mahomes exceeded a 15% roster percentage. The majority of entrants will look for Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Deshaun Watson to stay hot. Philip Rivers will also draw some attention in a home game against San Francisco. All four options are priced above $6,000. Andy Dalton ($5,400) will be the top salary relief option.
- Ezekiel Elliott ($7,700) looks like the chalk at running back. He’s facing the Lions, who have allowed the most rushing yards in the league, and checks in cheaper than Alvin Kamara ($9,600) and Melvin Gordon III ($8,300) in the top pricing tier. Spending up for any two of the aforementioned running backs requires less spending at the WR2 and WR3 slots unless injuries open up more value later in the week. Expect to see lots of Tyler Boyd ($4,600), Calvin Ridley ($4,900) and Sterling Shepard ($4,900) in lineups that feature two high-priced running backs and one of the quarterbacks over $6,000.
- Odell Beckham Jr Jr and Michael Thomas will be at the top of many wide receiver wish lists, but lineups that feature any two receivers priced over $8,000 will be the exception this week. Stacking two expensive pass-catchers requires less spending at running back, a strategy most entrants will shy away from given Kamara’s efficiency, Elliott’s soft matchup, and Gordon’s projected game script. There are several running backs priced in the $5,000 range, however, who make this construction viable.
- Despite the every-week popularity of Rob Gronkowski, the most common roster construction is unlikely to include a tight end priced over $6,000. Eric Ebron ($3,600) disappointed as the chalk last week but will remain popular after commanding 11 targets in Jack Doyle’s absence. With A.J. Green banged up and Dalton likely to be a popular quarterback play, Tyler Eifert ($3,800) should command attention in a potential shootout with the Falcons.
- About 40% of the field will spend $3,500 or more on either the Packers, Chargers, or Jaguars defenses. Another ~15% will look to the Bears, who are curiously priced at $2,600 as home favorites against Tampa Bay, even though they have scored at least 13 fantasy points in every game this season.
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 ownership 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: Drew Brees (@ NYG, $6,600, 10% rostered) - Heading into Week 4 without some exposure to Brees seems ill-advised after he topped 34 fantasy points for the second time in three games. More specifically, exposure to the Brees-Kamara-Thomas stack has become a weekly GPP requirement. The trio has produced 5.3x, 2.7x, and 4.3x multiples of their combined salaries in each of the Saints respective games this season. The question to ask yourself this week is whether the Giants are capable of producing a game script that requires Brees to throw 40+ times. If you believe the answer is yes, go overweight on New Orleans stacks and make sure to include Beckham (easier said than done) and/or Shepard in the same lineups. But if you suspect New York won't put up much of a fight, using less Brees than the field is your play. The health of the Giants defense leading up to Sunday should help with your decision. If outside linebacker Olivier Vernon and cornerback Eli Apple are active for New York, a shootout becomes less likely. But if both scratch again, New Orleans could jump out to an early lead and force the Giants air it out against their depleted and struggling secondary. Make Brees one of the quarterbacks you build lineups around and be prepared to increase your exposure if the Giants defense remains shorthanded.
RB: Ezekiel Elliott (vs. DET, $7,700, 18% rostered) - The appeal in rostering Elliott this week is obvious -- he’s one of the best running backs in the league, a home favorite, and matched up against a team allowing 6.3 yards per attempt to opposing rushers. The knock on Elliott as a DraftKings play has always been his lack of production in the passing game, but opportunity hasn’t been the problem this season. Elliott has seen four, six, and eight targets respectively, in each of the Cowboys three games. Even if he continues failing to convert those looks into receiving production, it shouldn’t matter this week. The Lions have been trampled on the ground by the likes of Isaiah Crowell (10-102-2) and Matt Breida (11-138-1) this season. At a price that fits under the cap nicely in comparison to Kamara and Gordon, Elliott is worthy of his ownership projection in what is likely to be one of his best performances of the season.
WR: Odell Beckham Jr Jr. (vs. NO, $8,700, 19% rostered) - Beckham has reached at least 23 fantasy points in two-out-of-three games despite being held out of the end zone. His average target market share sits at a massive 32.4% on the young season and includes 41.7% of the team’s red zone targets. Trips to the end zone are an inevitability for Beckham given his target volume, and a matchup with New Orleans’ embattled secondary should help bring about regression to the mean. No team has allowed more yardage, touchdowns, or fantasy points to opposing wide receivers than the Saints, who have been burned downfield by DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans, Antonio Callaway, and Calvin Ridley this season. Beckham represents New Orleans’ stiffest test thus far by a wide margin. If it weren’t for the distinct possibility Eli Manning could ruin all the fun, heavy exposure would be recommended. But since we can’t trust the Giants after one decent showing against the Texans, it’s best to stay even with the field on Beckham.
TE: Rob Gronkowski (vs. MIA, $7,000, 15% rostered) - The Dolphins linebackers presented an exploitable matchup for opposing tight ends last season, but have yet to give up a big game to the position in 2018. Perhaps the improvement has more to do with the quality of their opponents -- Delanie Walker (suffered a season-ending injury in-game), Chris Herndon/Eric Tomlinson, and Jared Cook -- than any actual improvements they’ve made? Gronkowski burned the Dolphins for a multi-touchdown performance in his only game against them last year and the Patriots seem poised to bounce back after an ugly road loss to the Lions on Sunday Night Football. The problem on the surface with Gronkowski is fitting his salary under a tight cap, but when you consider he’s priced equivalent to the WR11, his cost becomes less of an indictment and more of a reason to play him. With Travis Kelce unavailable on the main slate, the potential edge Gronkowski provides over a weak tight end field is amplified. Push your exposure slightly higher than his percent rostered projection.
DST: Chicago Bears (vs. TB, $2,600, 16% rostered) - How is this unit only $2,600 after recording 14 sacks and forcing eight turnovers through three games? Ryan Fitzpatrick has played out of his mind thus far, but his three interceptions last week were a reminder of how mistake-prone he can be. Despite scoring 34 points per game, Tampa Bay has allowed 7.7 fantasy points per game to opposing defenses, which is tied for the ninth-highest rate in the league. Look for Chicago to become the first team to derail the Buccaneers offense on their way to an easy home win. The Bears are clearly mispriced -- don’t come away with less than the field.
MORE CHALK PLAYS:
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Matt Ryan||QB||CIN||$6,100||10%||Comes in on a heater. CIN struggled to contain Luck, Flacco, Newton.|
|Deshaun Watson||QB||@IND||$6,300||8%||Airing it out and running the ball. Worthy of every-week exposure.|
|Alvin Kamara||RB||@NYG||$9,600||32%||Last game with backfield to himself. Fit him if you can.|
|Melvin Gordon III||RB||SF||$8,300||18%||Game flow all-star. LAC favored by 10.5 with 29-point implied total.|
|Giovani Bernard||RB||@ATL||$6,300||28%||Falcons getting destroyed by pass-catching RBs.|
|Tyler Boyd||WR||@ATL||$4,600||26%||Fade relative to the field at elevated ownership.|
|Michael Thomas||WR||@NYG||$9,100||17%||42 targets tied for league-lead entering Thursday night.|
|Sterling Shepard||WR||NO||$4,900||25%||Great matchup vs. depleted NO secondary. Price is right.|
|Eric Ebron||TE||HOU||$3,600||16%||Target volume will be there at a discount once again.|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||D/ST||NYJ||$4,100||10%||Best defense in the league vs. youngest QB in the league.|
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: Aaron Rodgers (vs. BUF, $6,800, 5% rostered) - The Packers are double-digit home favorites, implied to score over 27 points, and won’t get caught sleeping after watching division rival Minnesota get boat raced by the Bills in Week 3. Despite the great setup, Rodgers will go under-owned for three reasons:
- Price - Rodgers costs $200 more than Brees and $700 more than Ryan.
- Recent production - He’s been held under 20 fantasy points in each of his last two games.
- Injury concerns - It’s clear to anyone watching Rodgers play, he’s severely hampered by the knee injury he sustained in Week 1.
Outside of last week’s wonky result in Minnesota, we have no reason to believe Vegas has this game script wrong. If the Packers exceed 25 points in a dominant win, it’s unlikely to be on the strength of their running game. So far this season, Green Bay running backs have combined to produce the fourth-fewest fantasy points in the NFL. Even playing at far less than 100%, Rodgers is capable of a three-touchdown game in this spot, and his knee should presumably be getting better as the weeks pass. If you believe Rodgers is too hurt to be effective, his running backs are clear leverage plays. The problem is picking which one out of Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, and Ty Montgomery after all three saw at least 25% of the backfield snaps in Week 3.
RB: James White (vs. MIA, $5,400, 8% rostered) - White has maintained his ~50% share of New England’s running back snaps since Sony Michel was reintroduced to the lineup, and his role as the team’s primary back in passing situations was cemented after Rex Burkhead was placed on injured reserve. Gronkowski isn’t the only player who should get over on the Dolphins linebackers. Miami ranks 25th in both pass success rate and yards per pass attempt allowed to opposing running backs. Michel will lead the Patriots rushing attack and is also worthy of higher exposure than his current ownership projection, but this matchup gives White the potential for 5-8 receptions and he has proven multi-touchdown upside.
WR: Jarvis Landry (@ OAK, $7,400, 9% rostered) - Landry was on the receiving end of 39% of Baker Mayfield’s pass attempts in last Thursday’s come-from-behind win over the Jets. While his price is up $1,600 since Week 1, Landry’s target volume warrants the increase, especially headed into a matchup with the Raiders. Oakland is one of three teams to allow over 600 combined yards to enemy wide receivers over their first three games. Per Airyards.com, they’ve been especially susceptible to giving up catches on passes targeted between 10 and 20 yards downfield, which is where Landry (11.2 aDOT) has been operating in Todd Haley’s offense. Antonio Callaway ($4,300) is also in play as a punt option after he saw 10 targets and 185 air yards last week.
TE: Trey Burton (vs. TB, $3,900, 5% rostered) - Expect Burton’s percent rostered to climb as we get closer to Sunday due to frequent mentions in articles and on podcasts around the industry. After getting smoked by Zach Ertz (13-11-94-0) and Vance McDonald (5-4-112-1) in back-to-back games, Tampa Bay is the only team in the NFL to allow over 300 combined receiving yards to opposing tight ends. Things are now worse for the Buccaneers’ secondary after their below-average starting safety, Chris Conte (last seen getting stiff-armed to death by McDonald), was placed on IR with a knee injury. If there were ever a defense capable of making a Mitchell Trubisky-led passing game an attractive option, it’s Tampa Bay traveling to Chicago on a short week. Burton’s production has been spotty thus far, but five targets (his season average) is enough volume to exceed his salary-based scoring expectation in this matchup.
DST: Green Bay Packers (vs. BUF, $3,500, 10% rostered) - Josh Allen’s overt athleticism gives the Bills a better chance of avoiding embarrassment on a weekly basis than Nathan Peterman ever could, but let’s not get carried away after Buffalo's surprise win in Minnesota. Allen has been sacked 11 times in two starts, completed just 55% of his passes, and turned the ball over twice. If not for some fortunate bounces in last week’s game, he could easily have twice as many giveaways. Lambeau Field is a tough place for any rookie quarterback to play, especially one with Allen’s peripherals. The Packers may end up borderline chalk but should be one of a handful of defenses you look to this weekend.
MORE CORE PLAYS
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Philip Rivers||QB||SF||$6,500||6%||SF more vulnerable to pass than run. Leverage play on Gordon.|
|Carlos Hyde||RB||@OAK||$5,500||6%||Quietly averaging 21.7 touches per game and hogging RZ work.|
|Tevin Coleman||RB||CIN||$5,900||12%||Priced too low if Freeman isn't ready to come back. Bernard $ pivot.|
|Sony Michel||RB||MIA||$4,500||16%||Michel and Chris Carson are best $/touch values on the slate.|
|Amari Cooper||WR||CLE||$5,600||6%||Great price. WR1s getting over on CLE.|
|Keenan Allen||WR||SF||$8,300||8%||Both Tate and Thielen went over 100 yds. from slot vs. SF.|
|Will Fuller V||WR||@IND||$6,800||13%||Nearing his price ceiling but not quite there yet.|
|Austin Hooper||TE||CIN||$2,900||4%||Great game script, CIN allowing 5th-most FF pts. to TEs.|
|Indianapolis Colts||D/ST||HOU||$2,200||9%||Too cheap considering Watson has been sacked 10 times.|
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 a strong conviction on a contrarian play before over-investing in their low-probability outcome.
QB: Tom Brady (vs. MIA, $6,700, 4% rostered) - The national audience just witnessed Brady’s worst game in recent memory on Sunday Night Football and have spent the week listening to the talking heads on their televisions wonder whether or not he’s finally fallen off the age cliff. With Brees, Ryan, and Watson all cheaper and entering the week hot, now is the time to triple the field on your exposure to Brady in tournaments. New England is back home, coming off a loss (welcome back Angry Tom narrative), favored by a touchdown, and implied to score 27 points. Miami’s top-8 defensive efficiency ranking (DVOA) has been achieved in games against Marcus Mariota/Blaine Gabbert, Sam Darnold, and Derek Carr. A Brady-White-Gronkowski stack allows you to play chalk at every other position and still end up with a lineup with enough uniqueness and upside for a first-place finish.
RB: Matt Breida (@ LAC, $5,800, 3% rostered) - Breida returned to a full practice Thursday, clearing the way for him to play against the Chargers after a scary non-contact knee injury caused him to miss part of last week’s game. Few entrants will want a piece of Breida, or any San Francisco player, in the wake of Jimmy Garoppolo’s season-ending ACL injury, but a look back at C.J. Beathard’s starts from last year show some interesting splits. 50 of Beathard’s 224 pass attempts went to former 49ers lead-back Carlos Hyde. For context, only 18 wide receivers finished with a better market share of their team’s targets in 2017. Breida has been splitting snaps evenly with Alfred Morris, who has never caught more than 17 passes in a season. Kyle Shanahan is capable of adjusting his scheme to suit the strengths of his players and has to know Breida is the more natural fit alongside Beathard. If this is the week Breida touches the ball more than 15 times, it will pay to be a step ahead of the crowd. His 8.4 yards per touch ranks second among all relevant running backs.
Saturday Update: Breida is a game-time decision. If he misses, feel free to ignore the San Francisco backfield.
WR: Randall Cobb (vs. BUF, $5,100, 5% rostered) - Consecutive games with seven or fewer fantasy points combined with last week’s drop-filled debacle at Washington should put the crowd off Cobb’s scent. But if we like Rodgers for leverage on the high-priced quarterbacks, we’ll need to stack him with someone and Davante Adams isn’t the guy. Buffalo cornerback Tre’Davious White is emerging as one of the best cornerbacks in the league. He shadowed Keenan Allen in Week 2, holding the Chargers star to a 6-67-0 receiving line and followed it up by limiting Stefon Diggs to four catches and 17 yards on 10 targets last week. White’s dominance on the perimeter has funneled targets and fantasy production to opposing slot receivers. The Bills have allowed at least six catches or a touchdown to the other team’s primary slot option in all three of their games. Cobb, who has run nearly 80% of his routes from the slot, popped up on the injury report with a limited practice Thursday, so you’ll have to keep an eye on reports leading up to game time. Assuming he’s fine to play, Cobb is an affordable, high-upside stacking partner for Rodgers.
Saturday Update: Cobb missed practice Friday and head coach Mike McCarthy didn't sound confident in his status. If he's out, all of the Packers pass-catchers see a bump in targets, with Jimmy Graham best positioned to take advantage of the matchup.
TE: O.J. Howard (vs. CIN, $3,500, 4% rostered) - Howard’s price didn’t budge after last week’s 13.2-point performance because the Buccaneers played on Monday night, after pricing for the Week 4 slate was released. The 4.1x return he provided on his salary came on the heels of a 5.8x salary multiple in Week 2, yet he’s still being glossed over by the crowd. Perhaps there are still concerns about a timeshare with Cameron Brate, but Howard has played an average of 70% of Tampa Bay’s offensive snaps compared to just 34% for Brate. Per Pro Football Focus, he’s also running five more pass routes per game, and Howard’s 3.31 yards per route run is by far the most of any tight end who has seen at least 10 targets this season. The Bears represent a fairly neutral matchup for Howard, but they have given up touchdowns to Will Dissly and Ricky Seals-Jones in back-to-back games. If you’re looking for a price pivot off the perennially disappointing Ebron, Howard is your guy.
DST: Tennessee Titans (vs. PHI, $2,300, 2% rostered) - The Titans owe their 2-1 start entirely to their defense. They draw Philadelphia this week, which looks tough at a glance, but Carson Wentz is clearly still knocking off the rust as he makes his way back from knee surgery. The Colts defense, regarded by many as the least talented unit in the league entering the season, sacked Wentz five times and forced a pair of turnovers in Week 3. Wentz’s supporting cast isn’t healthy enough to do him any favors in a tough road matchup that has the look of a low-scoring, defensive slugfest. Stepping down in salary at defense will be the exception this week, and using Tennessee allows added room to balance your roster or squeeze in more high-priced studs.
MORE CONTRARIAN PLAYS
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Andrew Luck||QB||HOU||$5,500||4%||Should have had more TDs last week. Capable of beating HOU defense.|
|Lamar Miller||RB||@IND||$5,000||6%||IND getting burned by RBs out of backfield. Sneaky PPR upside.|
|Austin Ekeler||RB||SF||$4,200||4%||Could see more time in blowout and won't kill you if he doesn't.|
|Tyler Lockett||WR||@ARI||$5,100||5%||Return of Doug Baldwin should actually help him.|
|Chris Hogan||WR||MIA||$5,800||4%||Every-week TD threat. Gronk leverage.|
|Albert Wilson||WR||@NE||$3,700||2%||Wilson and Jakeem Grant have speed to cause trouble for NE D.|
|George Kittle||TE||@LAC||$4,200||3%||Let's see if the college QB narrative works better this year.|