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:
- Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes are missing from the main slate. As a result, we should see quarterback ownership concentrate heavily on the Tampa Bay at Atlanta game and its 57.5-point over/under. Jameis Winston’s affordable salary ($5,800) compares favorably to Matt Ryan’s overall QB1 price tag ($6,800), which should make Winston the most heavily rostered quarterback in a week without many low-priced value-plays at other positions.
- Todd Gurley’s $10,000 cap number marks the seventh time a running back has reached a five-figure salary on DraftKings since 2014. While Gurley will still be fairly popular, trying to squeeze him into lineups is a chore, which should push more entrants towards Melvin Gordon III ($8,200) and Christian McCaffrey ($8,300) in the top running back tier. With a combined ~30% of the field using either Winston or Ryan stacks, however, many will be tempted to include both of their respective WR1s -- Mike Evans and Julio Jones -- in the same lineup. Spending on two high-priced wide receivers precludes the use of an expensive RB1 and figures to move significant ownership towards the middle-tier at the position, where T.J. Yeldon ($6,400), and David Johnson ($5,900) will be the usual suspects.
- Evans and Jones aren’t the only enticing high-priced wide receivers. Antonio Brown ($8,700), Adam Thielen ($8,500), and DeAndre Hopkins ($7,700) will command ownership as well, adding to the number of wide receiver-heavy lineups in play. We could see a rare week where emphasizing spending at running back qualifies as contrarian roster construction.
- If the choice for most people is whether to spend more at running back or wide receiver, there won’t be room for an expensive tight end in either of the most common lineup builds. Unfortunately, there’s not a great way to capitalize this week since Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and George Kittle don’t play on the main slate. Cameron Brate ($3,700) will be mega-chalk if O.J. Howard can’t make it back from a sprained MCL and Austin Hooper ($3,500) will be popular in his second consecutive great matchup. Spending above $4,000 at tight end will be the exception in most lineups.
- Roster percentages at team defense should remain flat. Most entrants will leave the position for last and fit in the most expensive option they can, which will most often be the Bears ($3,300) and Ravens ($2,800). Punting defense completely looks like the best way to differentiate your lineup this week (and most weeks considering the inherent volatility of the position).
TAKING A STAND ON THE CHALK
These players are the odds-on favorites to either score the most fantasy points or return the best value on their respective salaries. 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: Jameis Winston (vs. ATL, $5,800, 16% rostered) - Winston may challenge the highest roster percentage we’ve seen at quarterback this season. Atlanta has allowed four consecutive quarterbacks to pass for three touchdowns against them and Tampa Bay’s passing offense has been one of the league’s best under the direction of new offensive coordinator, Todd Monken. While Winston wasn’t sharp in relief of Ryan Fitzpatrick on the road in Chicago in Week 4, he clearly has a ceiling worth chasing in tournaments, especially at his bargain price (QB10). After returning from a three-week layoff due to an injury to his throwing shoulder, Winston led all quarterbacks in fantasy scoring over the final five weeks of 2017. But as enticing as playing Winston is, he isn’t nearly four times as likely to appear in a first-place lineup as quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins or Deshaun Watson, which is what his projected ownership implies. The correct move in tournaments is to roster less Winston than the field.
RB: T.J. Yeldon (@DAL, $6,400, 26% rostered) - Yeldon is coming off back-to-back games with at least 24 fantasy points and has the Jaguars backfield to himself with both Leonard Fournette and Corey Grant sidelined. His salary increased by $800 one week after he was surprisingly the highest-owned player in the Milly Maker, but he is not yet priced at his ceiling given his three-down plus goal-line role. The big worry surrounding Yeldon is the high likelihood Jaguars at Cowboys is an ugly game without much scoring. Vegas set the over/under at a slate-low 40.5 points. Dallas has held their opponent under 20 points in three-out-of-five games this season, and two of those opponents -- Carolina and Houston -- feature significantly higher-functioning offenses than Jacksonville’s. Yeldon fits more neatly under the cap than the top-tier running backs, but this isn’t a week to seek out heavy exposure to Jaguars players. Roster less Yeldon than the field.
WR: Julio Jones (vs. TB, $7,900, 22% rostered) - Jones was a mammoth flop in a perceived great matchup with Pittsburgh last week, but we can safely expect the crowd to have a short memory since Tampa Bay is visiting Atlanta. Only the Saints have allowed more normalized fantasy points per game to enemy wide receivers this season than the Buccaneers. Besides the excellent matchup, Jones’ ownership will be boosted (perhaps rightfully so) by the narrative he’s a Tampa Bay killer. Take a peek at Jones’ career game logs against the Buccaneers. In 12 career games vs. Tampa Bay, he has averaged 23.8 fantasy points vs. 18 fantasy points in all other games -- an increase of over 32%. His non-existent role in the red zone is worrisome for sure, but this profiles as a week where Jones will find the end zone from distance. At most, there are five wide receivers on the slate with a higher touchdown projection. Put the stink of last week behind you and make Jones one of your top wide receiver exposures.
TE: Cameron Brate (@ATL, $3,700, 17% rostered) - Tight end is a wasteland. Brate will be the most popular player at the position by far, provided O.J. Howard needs another week to get over his MCL sprain. Howard wore a brace on his injured knee when he returned to a limited practice Wednesday, so this will be a situation to monitor until inactives are declared. Assuming Howard scratches, it’s difficult to fade Brate within the context of this slate. He posted four top-5 weekly finishes last season, which trailed only four other tight ends. In his last two games, Brate has returned salary multiples of 4.76x and 4.57x. The only reason to consider a fade reared its head last week when Vance McDonald busted as the chalk. Tight end scoring is extremely volatile, making it an easy choice to fade the chalk at the position most weeks. Brate, however, comes with none of the timeshare and consistency concerns the crowd ignored when considering McDonald last week. If Howard sits, Brate belongs on at least 15% of your rosters.
DST: Chicago Bears (@MIA, $3,300, 8% rostered) - The Bears defense has shown remarkable consistency for a DST unit, scoring between 13 and 17 fantasy points in each of their first four games. Their opponent this week, Ryan Tannehill, has been awful recently, turning the ball over three times in each of his last two starts. Pro Football Focus ranks Tannehill as the fourth-worst quarterback when faced with pressure, which can’t possibly end well for the Dolphins considering Chicago leads the NFL with 4.5 sacks per game. The only way things go sideways is if Mitchell Trubisky is terrible and gives the Dolphins short fields to work with, but it’s not enough of a concern to fade the Bears, who had two weeks to prepare for this matchup. Make Chicago a staple in your lineups.
MORE CHALK PLAYS:
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Matt Ryan||QB||TB||$6,800||10%||TB over 330 passing yards allowed to every QB they've faced.|
|Todd Gurley||RB||@DEN||$10,000||15%||Lightly owned (for him). DEN rush defense trampled in last two.|
|Christian McCaffrey||RB||@WAS||$8,300||18%||Tread carefully with Olsen back.|
|Melvin Gordon III||RB||@CLE||$8,200||19%||All-purpose monster vs. vulnerable rush defense.|
|Antonio Brown||WR||@CIN||$8,700||18%||Bengals have historically had his number. Prefer JuJu.|
|Adam Thielen||WR||ARI||$8,500||16%||27+ fantasy points in each of last four. Avoids Peterson in slot.|
|Mike Evans||WR||@ATL||$8,100||14%||Obvious Winston stacking partner.|
|Austin Hooper||TE||TB||$3,500||15%||Fade at bloated % rostered despite great matchup.|
|Houston Texans||D/ST||BUF||$3,500||8%||Don't love the spot for HOU, but Allen is a gift to opposing DSTs.|
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. ARI, $6,700, 4% rostered) - The Vikings own the largest implied margin of victory on the slate (-10.5 points), which makes it strange their quarterback profiles as a borderline contrarian-play. Arizona is far easier to beat on the ground than through the air, but the Vikings can’t run the ball on anyone. Football Outsiders ranks Minnesota 28th in their adjusted line yards metric, which takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line. If Vegas has the Vikings 26.75-point implied team total correct, Cousins and the passing game should be in for productive days. His ceiling may get capped by Arizona's stagnant offense failing to put up a fight, but the Cardinals have at least shown improvement since Josh Rosen took over for Sam Bradford, and Minnesota’s defense has underwhelmed all season. The risk of a low-scoring game is mitigated by Cousins’ projected ownership. You can double the field’s exposure without putting him in too many lineups and still gain access to his proven 35+ point ceiling.
RB: Ezekiel Elliott (vs. JAX, $7,000, 16% rostered) - DraftKings overcorrected Elliott’s price by dropping him $1,300 from Week 5. Despite Dallas being offensively challenged and in a poor matchup, Elliott is all but guaranteed 20+ carries and the Cowboys have finally made good on their promise to get him more involved as a pass-catcher. Only five running backs have averaged a higher percentage of their team’s total targets than Elliott this season, giving him a solid weekly floor to go with his 35+ point ceiling. Jacksonville has been stout against the run since trading for Marcell Dareus last season, but it’s worth noting both running backs who touched the ball at least 20 times against them this year -- Saquon Barkley and Kareem Hunt -- scored a touchdown and ran for at least 85 yards. The odds Elliott ends up with 100 total yards, five catches, and two touchdowns aren’t much lower than his projected percent rostered.
WR: John Brown (@TEN, $5,500, 6% rostered) - Lost in Brown’s quiet Week 5 performance (4-58-0) was a season-high 14 targets that combined to travel a league-leading 209 yards through the air. Per airyards.com, he now leads the entire NFL in total air yards this season, which has unsurprisingly resulted in six catches of 20+ yards, also tops in the league. Prior to last week, Brown enjoyed a three-game stretch in which he posted at least 86 receiving yards in every game and scored two touchdowns. His primary individual matchup with Tennessee cornerback Adoree' Jackson is less than favorable, but Brown’s deep threat/red zone role in Baltimore’s fast-paced, pass-happy offense is one you should have some GPP exposure to every week, regardless of opponent.
TE: Kyle Rudolph (vs. ARI, $4,400, 4% rostered) - The last time Rudolph was featured as a core-play in this space was in Week 3 when he returned a solid 3.9x salary multiple. While he didn’t accumulate those fantasy points exactly as planned in the Vikings shocking blowout loss to the Bills, the process was (and remains) sound. The pie is bigger for the entire Minnesota offense as double-digit home favorites, Rudolph is a perennial red zone target-hog, and he’s flying below the collective radar because he’s simply not very exciting. At $700 and $900 less than the respective chalk-plays at the position (Brate and Hooper), Rudolph forces your roster builds in a different direction from the masses without sacrificing projected fantasy points.
DST: Buffalo Bills (@HOU, $2,200, 7% rostered) - Buffalo will be more popular than most 10-point road underdogs due mostly to their silly-low price, but they’re actually playing well too. The Bills have recorded multiple sacks and turnovers in consecutive games against the Vikings, Packers, and Titans. Despite his ability to put points on the board, Deshaun Watson’s tendency to hold the ball too long has given opposing defenses a high floor against Houston. Watson has been sacked at least three times in four-out-of-five games this season and turned the ball over at least once in every contest. Would it really be shocking to see the Bills defense lead them to victory this week? The point spread in this game is off. Houston shouldn’t be favored by more than a touchdown against any NFL team, let alone one with an identical 2-3 record.
MORE CORE PLAYS
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Jared Goff||QB||@DEN||$6,000||11%||Only if forecast cooperates. Cold and snow is possible.|
|Joe Mixon||RB||@CIN||$7,500||16%||Poised for 20-25 high-quality touches. Too much for PIT LBs.|
|David Johnson||RB||@MIN||$5,900||16%||Best dollar per touch value on the slate.|
|A.J. Green||WR||PIT||$8,000||11%||Has beaten shadow corner Haden deep 6 times on 14 career chances.|
|Emmanuel Sanders||WR||LAR||$6,700||4%||14 targets last week in similar projected game script.|
|JuJu Smith-Schuster||WR||@CIN||$7,300||12%||Will make Bengals pay if they sell out to stop Brown.|
|C.J. Uzomah||TE||PIT||$3,000||5%||Kroft in walking boot. PIT crushed by TEs since Shazier injury.|
|LA Rams||D/ST||@DEN||$3,100||6%||Keenum way worse than last week's stat line. 7 INTs in five games.|
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 in a tournament. When multi-entering, make sure you have a strong conviction on a contrarian play before over-investing in their low-probability outcome.
QB: Josh Allen (@HOU, $4,700, 2% rostered) - Allen is a horrendous quarterback at this stage in his development and does not have the look of an eventual franchise savior. Fortunately for us, we only need to be concerned with his Week 6 results. Austin Lee’s Normalized Strength of Schedule shows Houston has the largest differential between actual fantasy points and normalized fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks, which suggests their 25th-ranked pass defense (DVOA) may be even worse than it seems. The plus matchup helps, yet we can still be fairly confident Allen isn’t going to throw the ball more than 35 times or complete more than 55% of his passes. Not great. But 30 yards and a touchdown on the ground (well within his range of outcomes) gets him halfway to a 4x salary multiple. Another 150 yards and a touchdown through the air would be enough to finish the job. The problem in tournaments is Allen’s lack of an obvious stacking partner. If you believe Buffalo can beat the Texans outright, go completely off the board and pair him with the Bills defense. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Buffalo pulls the upset without a big game from their defense/special teams units.
RB: Bilal Powell (vs. IND, $4,500, 3% rostered) - If Isaiah Crowell can’t make it back to practice Friday, Powell will likely become the most popular player on the slate. But for now (as of Friday morning), Powell is both mispriced and under-owned. Chris Carson is the only other running back who touched the ball 20 times last week available at $4,500 or less. Our Steve Buzzard projects Carson to reach double-digit ownership, yet hardly anyone wants Powell despite his winnable matchup against the Colts and their injury-riddled defense. While Powell has only found the end zone once this season (compared to five times for Crowell), the two are splitting red zone work right down the middle, so the touchdown disparity could be attributed to variance. Indianapolis has allowed the second-most receptions and fourth-most receiving yards to opposing running backs this season, which favors Powell’s skill-set, even if Crowell shows no ill effects from his ankle injury.
WR: Amari Cooper (vs. SEA, $5,200, 4% rostered) - Cooper has alternated terrible performances with eruption games this season, leading the public to believe he’s impossible to project. The truth is, Derek Carr (or maybe Jon Gruden) has shied away from Cooper against tougher cornerbacks. Cooper’s duds have come in matchups with Aqib Talib, Xavien Howard, and Casey Hayward, while his great games have come against Cleveland and Denver, who have talented but beatable secondaries. The notion Cooper is playing poorly is false. NFL Next Gen stats show Cooper is creating 3.7 yards of separation per route run, which ranks fifth among wide receivers with at least 20 targets. With no cornerback on Seattle’s roster to fear, Cooper is back in play at a reduced salary and ownership level. In general, this feels like a good spot to load up on the Raiders against a Seattle team that could come out flat in London after last week's emotional division loss to the Rams.
TE: Niles Paul (@DAL, $2,600, 2% rostered) - Veteran fantasy players will remember Paul from his days with Washington, especially towards the end of 2014 when he delivered TE1 production in Jordan Reed’s absence. Paul has resurfaced in Jacksonville just in time for Austin Seferian-Jenkins to go on injured reserve. He’ll share snaps with James O'Shaughnessy, but Paul -- a rare athlete for his size -- ran 33 pass routes last week, which was the ninth-most of any tight end, despite playing just 42% of the team’s snaps. With Sean Lee sidelined for the Cowboys in Week 5, Texans tight end Ryan Griffin enjoyed season-highs of nine targets and 65 receiving yards. Paul may not catch seven passes as he did in catch-up mode against Kansas City, but four catches and 50 yards are fine at his price, and he’ll smash value if one of those grabs goes for a touchdown.
DST: LA Chargers (@CLE, $2,700, 3% rostered) - The Chargers defense woke up last week with three sacks and two turnovers against the Raiders. Their pass rush is still hurting with Joey Bosa still sidelined, but they could have similar success this week at Cleveland. Browns quarterbacks have been sacked 4.2 times per game, giving LA a reasonable floor, and as good as Baker Mayfield has looked thus far, he’s still an inexperienced quarterback prone to making questionable decisions with the football. If the Chargers offense can force Mayfield into a pass-heavy game script, their defense (particularly the secondary) is capable of creating multiple turnovers.
MORE CONTRARIAN PLAYS
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Derek Carr||QB||SEA||$5,100||3%||Racking up yardage, should have more touchdowns.|
|Carlos Hyde||RB||LAC||$4,900||2%||Cheap source of 20 touches vs. beatable rush defense.|
|Jordan Howard||RB||@MIA||$6,500||5%||26 touches as recently as Week 3. Cohen in play too.|
|Ronald Jones II||RB||@ATL||$3,900||1%||Leap of faith leverage play. More work after bye?|
|Courtland Sutton||WR||LAR||$7,100||3%||Rams CB Peters giving up frequent TDs.|
|Chris Godwin||WR||@ATL||$5,400||4%||The TB pass-catcher no one is looking at.|
|Keenan Allen||WR||@CLE||$4,200||7%||WR1s have gotten over on Browns.|
|Antonio Callaway||WR||LAC||$4,000||3%||No Higgins could lead to double-digit targets.|
|Trey Burton||TE||@MIA||$3,000||5%||Play RBs and TEs vs. Dolphins linebackers.|
|Oakland Raiders||DST||SEA||$2,100||1%||Catching SEA in letdown spot after close division loss.|