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:
- Four teams are on bye and Chargers vs. Titans is being played in London at 9:30 am EST, leaving a season-low 10 games on the main slate. With fewer options to choose from, ownership could be slightly more concentrated than usual, particularly at the top tier. A contrarian approach to roster construction is essential to finishing in the top one percent of large-field tournaments regardless but takes on added importance this week.
- Chiefs, Falcons, Bengals, Steelers, Chargers, and Packers players are missing from the slate, which leaves only four teams with implied team totals above 26 points. Expect 49ers at Rams, Browns at Buccaneers, Saints at Ravens, and Patriots at Bears to be the games most people look to first when building their cores.
- Without any true marquee matchups, quarterback roster percentages should level out in comparison to last week when Jameis Winston and Matt Ryan combined to appear on about 30% of tournament rosters. Winston ($6,300) and Jared Goff ($6,600) will top the wish list for most entrants. Those who look to save salary at the position will probably look to Baker Mayfield ($5,800) first thanks to his matchup with Tampa Bay’s historically bad pass defense.
- At least one-third of your opponents will click Todd Gurley’s name first when setting their lineups. Slotting Gurley in along with Goff or Winston and their most logical stacking partners (Robert Woods and Mike Evans) will most often require punting at RB2. Expect a lot of Gurley lineups to include Nick Chubb ($3,600), who rises to the top of the running back pecking order in Cleveland thanks to Friday's late-breaking Carlos Hyde trade. Completing this type of roster build forces punt-plays at both WR3 and flex. Josh Reynolds ($3,500) is cheap and stacks neatly with Goff, while Jermaine Kearse ($4,100) could be the last wide receiver standing for the Jets. Both will be highly-rostered in Gurley-centric lineups.
- It’s possible to squeeze both Woods ($7,000) and Adam Thielen ($8,600) onto a roster with Goff, Gurley, Barber, Reynolds, and Kearse. While some entrants will opt to spend more at RB2 than WR1, we should still expect the crowd to pile on Thielen, who is on a tear and draws a great matchup against the Jets. If Thielen doesn’t fit the most common build, Jarvis Landry ($7,300) is the likeliest high-end option to appear in his place.
- David Njoku ($4,200) has scored double-digit fantasy points in each of his last three games, faces the best possible defensive matchup, and still has a palatable salary. It would be surprising if he wasn’t the chalk at tight end.
- Entrants will be bargain shopping for defenses this week with studs like Goff, Woods, Gurley, and Thielen all up in price. While the Colts defense ($3,300) will have plenty of fans, Detroit ($2,400 vs. Brock Osweiler) and Buffalo ($2,200 and playing very well) are easier to fit into this week’s standard lineup.
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: Jared Goff (vs. SF, $6,600, 11% rostered) - Goff is coming off his worst statistical output of the season (8.44 fantasy points), but it won’t matter since the Rams visit the 49ers, who are playing on a short week. Before facing the toothless Cardinals offense in Week 5, San Francisco allowed the last three quarterbacks they faced to throw for three touchdowns, and Aaron Rodgers just decimated them through the air on Monday Night Football. The Rams are averaging 33 points per game this season. There is no doubt stacking their offense is a viable tournament strategy every week. It’s nitpicky to worry about Goff in such a great matchup, but he’s missing his most trusted receiver (Cooper Kupp), his price is near a season-high, and Gurley is more than capable of hogging the touchdown production. Keep your exposure in line with the field.
RB: Todd Gurley (vs. SF, $9,800, 33% rostered) - Ordinarily, when a player approaches the massive ownership Gurley will generate this week, the best move in tournaments is to come in well underweight. But much like Julio Jones in Week 6, fading Gurley has the potential to put your team in a hole too deep to climb out of. The next time Gurley finishes a game with less than 25 fantasy points will be his first in 2018. Unless you believe the 49ers defense can get up for a division game on a short week after nearly upsetting Green Bay at Lambeau Field on Monday night, it’s best to put stock in the double-digit point spread Vegas set for this game. Anything less than 30 touches for Gurley would qualify as surprising given the implied game script, making him practically unfadeable. Still, if this happens to be the game he gets unlucky near the goal line, you’ll want to leave yourself with some outs. 25% maximum exposure to Gurley is ideal.
WR: Adam Thielen (@NYJ, $8,600, 20% rostered) - Thielen is the cumulative WR1 on DraftKings by a near-20% margin over the next closest receiver (Davante Adams). His lowest fantasy output over the last five games was 27.5 points. This week, he faces a Jets defense that has generally been annihilated by opposing slot receivers, including Golden Tate (15-7-79-1), Jarvis Landry (15-8-103-0), Dede Westbrook (13-9-130-0), Emmanuel Sanders (14-9-72-0), and Chester Rogers (10-4-55-1). Cornerback Buster Skrine has been the culprit in coverage, but he missed last week’s game with a concussion and still wasn’t practicing as of Thursday. Skrine’s backup -- Parry Nickerson -- has Pro Football Focus’ third-lowest coverage grade among cornerbacks expected to be active in Week 7. Injuries to cornerback Trumaine Johnson (quad) and safety Marcus Maye (thumb) will make it even more difficult for New York to contain both Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Everything about this matchup and the way Thielen is being used suggests he’s one of the best plays on the slate at any position. He warrants a spot in 15-20% of your lineups.
TE: David Njoku (@TAM, $4,200, 14% rostered) - Feast your eyes on Tampa Bay's performance against opposing tight ends this season. Things were already bad for the Buccaneers before starting safety Chris Conte was stiff-armed to injured reserve by Vance McDonald in Week 3. Since then, things have predictably gotten worse. Opposing tight ends have scored 81% more fantasy points than league average against Tampa Bay over their last three games. Njoku’s target volume is on the rise in the wake of Rashard Higgins’ knee injury. He’s received a combined 22 targets in the last two weeks, including 33% of the team’s red zone targets in Week 6. How much to invest in Njoku depends upon his roster percentage. If his early-week projection holds at sub-15%, it’s fine to go even with the field given his plush matchup. But if he ends up closer to 20% by Saturday’s update, you’ll want to dial it back a bit. Tight end scoring is volatile week-to-week and there are plenty of lower-owned options with higher ceilings than Njoku’s.
DST: Indianapolis Colts (vs. BUF, $3,300, 11% rostered) - The appeal here is clear enough. Indianapolis is favored by more than a touchdown at home against the Bills. 35-year-old Derek Anderson -- he of the 54% career completion rate -- will be starting his first game in two years for Buffalo. The deck is decidedly stacked against the Bills, but there are reasons to believe the Colts are bad chalk. For starters, they have one the of the least-talented defensive units in the league. Anderson doesn’t inspire much confidence, but he’s got to be considered an upgrade over Josh Allen and Nathan Peterman. He has experience in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s system from his days as a starter in Cleveland and did a mostly adequate job keeping Carolina in games when called upon to start in 2014 and 2016, respectively. The Bills defense is playing as well as any in the league and could set Anderson up with short fields. Play Buffalo’s DST instead at $1,100 less.
MORE CHALK PLAYS:
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Jameis Winston||QB||CLE||$6,300||11%||CLE not an awful matchup, but not Atlanta either.|
|Ezekiel Elliott||RB||@WAS||$8,100||24%||WAS rush defense ranked 30th (DVOA).|
|Nick Chubb||RB||@TAM||$3,600||15%||Explosive rookie now the top early-down option in CLE.|
|Robert Woods||RB||@SF||$7,000||22%||Looking at double-digit targets w/ Kupp out in great matchup.|
|Jarvis Landry||WR||@TAM||$7,300||16%||Love the opponent, hate the price.|
|Jermaine Kearse||WR||MIN||$4,100||6%||% rostered will triple if Pryor ruled out in addition to Enunwa.|
|Eric Ebron||TE||BUF||$5,400||11%||Hilton probably back but targets safe w/ Doyle and Grant out.|
|LA Rams||D/ST||@SF||$3,500||9%||C.J. Beathard being forced into catchup mode is inevitable.|
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: Carson Wentz (vs. CAR, $6,000, 5% rostered) - The over/under in Carolina at Philadelphia was set at a modest 45.5 points, but this game looks like a sneaky one to stack. Per TJ Hernandez on Twitter, Panthers opponents have gone over their implied point total in four-out-of-five games this season. It is easier to beat Carolina via the pass than the run, which is welcome news for Wentz and his pass-catchers since the Eagles running game has been middling with Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood sharing the load. Wentz has returned a 4x multiple of his current salary in each of his last three games, yet somehow he costs less this week than he did in his first game back from ACL surgery. As one of only three quarterbacks on the slate whose team is favored by more than a field goal at home, Wentz is both underpriced and going overlooked. Make him one of your top quarterback exposures.
RB: T.J. Yeldon (vs. HOU, $6,400, 12% rostered) - Yeldon appeared in last week’s column as a fade relative to his inflated ownership projection, but his circumstances have changed for the better in Week 7. The Jaguars are in a get-right spot, at home against the division rival Texans, after consecutive ugly losses on the road. Jacksonville’s defense, which still ranks fifth in overall DVOA despite getting burned by Kansas City and Dallas in their last two games, should set Yeldon up for a positive game script against the banged up, sack-prone Deshaun Watson. But even if Watson bounces back from a disappointing Week 6 performance, Yeldon still gets a boost from the projected pace of play. Both the Jaguars and Texans rank inside the top-6 in seconds per play, giving Yeldon an opportunity for increased touches. And while Houston’s rush defense has been stingy this season, they have allowed at least four catches to opposing running backs in five-out-of-six games, giving Yeldon yet another path to success if the game script goes sideways.
Update (Friday, 10/19, 4 pm) - The Jaguars traded a fifth-round draft pick for running back Carlos Hyde. It's doubtful Hyde plays a significant role for Jacksonville on Sunday, but the news should ding Yeldon's ownership, potentially making him an even stronger play in GPPs. Unless we get news on Sunday morning the Jaguars plan on involving Hyde after little-to-no practice time with the team, hold tight on your Yeldon shares and think about increasing them slightly.
WR: Alshon Jeffery (vs. CAR, $6,300, 7% rostered) - Jeffery will see shadow coverage from cornerback James Bradberry, who had success limiting Julio Jones (9-5-64-0) and A.J. Green (8-5-68) earlier this season. Despite the potentially difficult matchup, the Eagles targets have become too concentrated to ignore. Since Jeffery returned to the lineup in Week 4, he and Zach Ertz have combined to command 54% of Wentz’s aimed throws. Many of Jeffery’s opportunities have been of the fantasy-friendly variety. He has six targets of 20+ yards since returning, which ranks sixth in the league over the last three weeks, and he owns a 35% market share of the team’s air yards. Carolina allows 4.2 pass plays of 20+ yards per game (eighth-highest average in the league). Their opponents’ catch rate on passes that travel 25 yards through the air is roughly 25% higher than league average. Jeffery’s increased opportunity to rack up chunk yardage on deep passes combined with his team-leading seven red zone targets over the last three games makes him a favorite to top 100 yards and a touchdown at a moderate salary.
TE: Jordan Reed (vs. DAL, $4,800, 7% rostered) - Lost in last week’s second consecutive yawn-inducing stat line were Reed’s season-high nine targets and 67% snap rate. If his strong usage continues, a home matchup with the Cowboys should help Reed post a vintage stat line. Austin Lee’s Normalized Strength of Schedule shows no team has a greater disparity between normalized (schedule-adjusted) fantasy points allowed and actual fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends than Dallas. Priced in a range where most entrants will either spend up to Eric Ebron or down to Njoku, Reed profiles as a solid lineup differentiator, who still possesses multi-touchdown upside in any given game, even if he hasn’t shown it yet this season.
DST: Detroit Lions (@MIA, $2,400, 7% rostered) - What you’re about to read is not a typo or a mad-lib -- Brock Osweiler’s 31 fantasy points swung last week’s Milly Maker. We can choose to believe soaking in the Miami sun for a few months has helped Osweiler reach his potential, or rely on his 14-game sample as a starter for the Texans in 2016. You’ll remember 2016 as the season in which Osweiler threw more interceptions than touchdowns, completed under 60% of his passes, and was sacked 27 times. The Lions defense is one of the league’s worst, but they’ve reached at least eight fantasy points in three-out-of-five games, and unlike the Bears last week, they have a full week to prepare for Osweiler. They may not have the highest ceiling on the road, especially if the heat index in Miami is over 100 again, but 10 points for Detroit is both obtainable and palatable considering how much their low salary helps you spend at other positions.
MORE CORE PLAYS
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Tom Brady||QB||@CHI||$6,100||6%||Game will go back and forth if Pats can withstand pass rush.|
|Cam Newton||QB||@PHI||$5,900||6%||Great price in potential shootout.|
|Alvin Kamara||RB||@BAL||$8,500||10%||Finally not the chalk. Still has highest ceiling this side of Gurley.|
|Christian McCaffrey||RB||@PHI||$7,700||15%||PHI D a pass funnel. CMC benefits if Eagles build a lead.|
|Josh Gordon||WR||@CHI||$5,600||8%||Last time we'll see him sub-$6K if Week 6 playing time is new norm.|
|Marquise Goodwin||WR||LAR||$4,600||9%||Finally healthy. Just needs to slip past LAR DBs once.|
|Stefon Diggs||WR||@NYJ||$7,200||9%||Thielen leverage at half the percent rostered.|
|Zach Ertz||TE||CAR||$7,100||10%||At least 9 targets in every game this year. Price will scare people.|
|Buffalo Bills||D/ST||@IND||$2,300||7%||12+ fantasty points in three of last four games. Too cheap.|
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 you multi-enter a tournament. Be careful not to over-invest in these players, but you’ll need at least two from this ownership tier in your lineup for a shot at first place in most mid-to-large field GPPs.
QB: Blake Bortles (vs. HOU, $5,200, 5% owned) - Bortles is appealing for many of the same reasons as Yeldon -- he’s a home favorite quarterback, the game will be played at a fast pace, and his dominant defense could set him up with favorable field position. Unlike Yeldon, the matchup for Bortles is superb. Houston ranks second against the run but 21st against the pass (DVOA). They haven’t ceded a ton of fantasy points to quarterbacks, but games against Blaine Gabbert, Dak Prescott, and last week’s Josh Allen/Nathan Peterman pupu platter mask how terribly the Texans pass defense has performed. It’s not easy choosing a stacking partner for Bortles, but the league-wide abundance of scoring via the pass this season has bent the rules a bit. Last week saw several first-place tournament lineups that passed on stacking altogether, including the FanDuel Sunday Million winner.
RB: Corey Clement (vs. CAR, $4,700, 5% owned) - The matchup isn’t perfect for Clement, nor is his unfavorable Week 6 snap rate (37%) in comparison to Wendell Smallwood’s (62%). But Clement touched the ball on over 50% of his snaps, drew more targets than Smallwood with less playing time, and scored on a goal-line carry against the Giants. On the season, Clement’s 12 red zone touches are only two behind Smallwood for the team lead, even though he left early in Week 3 and missed Weeks 4 and 5 entirely. His role as Philadelphia’s primary receiver out of the backfield and preferred red-zone option give Clement a legitimate 20-point ceiling, even as a part-timer. Stacking him with Wentz will have a positive correlation if the two connect for a big play, and at worst, gives you a strong chance of capturing all of the Eagles offensive touchdowns in your lineup.
WR: Antonio Callaway (@TAM, $4,300, 5% owned) - There is no sugar-coating how awful Callaway has played this season. His 38% catch rate, which was already dismal, has dropped to 33% in Baker Mayfield’s three starts. Last week, in a blowout loss to the Chargers, Mayfield put a would-be 40-yard touchdown pass precisely where it needed to be, but Callaway failed to track the ball and couldn’t come down with the catch. Despite his struggles, injuries to Rashard Higgins and Derrick Willies leave the Browns with little choice but to stick with Callaway. Head coach Hue Jackson acknowledged as much when speaking to reporters on Thursday. “Oh, we need them,” Jackson said, referring to Callaway and Jarvis Landry. “We need them. Like we needed them yesterday. They have to play well, and we have to keep giving them opportunities and chances to make plays as a football team.” There you have it -- Callaway’s role isn’t going to change against Tampa Bay’s league-worst pass defense. It hasn’t resulted in fantasy production yet, but Callaway leads the Browns in air yards by a wide margin since Mayfield took over. Given the matchup, the odds Callaway corrals a deep pass and winds up on a first-place GPP lineup are greater than his 5% roster projection.
TE: Chris Herndon (vs. MIN, $2,600, 1% owned) - Quincy Enunwa (ankle) is sidelined and Terrelle Pryor (groin) wasn’t spotted at practice Thursday. Jermaine Kearse is likely to lead the Jets in targets from the slot, but there will be a handful of extra looks up for grabs in New York. Herndon hasn’t put much of a dent in the box score as a rookie but leads the team’s tight ends in average snap rate (58%). Last week against the Colts, he caught both of his targets for 56 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown. The Vikings defense makes Herndon more intriguing than his limited involvement implies. Minnesota ranks as a bottom-five unit in most tight end defense metrics, including target rate, pass success rate, yards per pass attempt, and normalized fantasy points. Props to friend of Footballguys, Rumford Johnny, for planting this seed on Twitter.
DST: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. CLE, $2,300, 3% owned) - While most entrants are focused on rostering the players who oppose Tampa Bay’s dreadful defense, no one is considering the quality of the offense their DST unit is facing. The Browns are banged up and have generally been gifting fantasy points to opposing defenses. Mayfield has been sacked five times in each of his last two games and turned the ball over a combined seven times in his three starts. If the Raiders flaccid defense can reach double-digit fantasy points against Cleveland while also giving up 42 actual points, the Buccaneers are very much in play at their low salary and ownership.
MORE CONTRARIAN PLAYS
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Drew Brees||QB||@BAL||$5,700||4%||Price overcorrected due to matchup. O/U still over 50 pts.|
|Duke Johnson Jr||RB||@TAM||$4,000||1%||Listed here at 1% pre-Hyde trade. Roster % will skyrocket.|
|LeSean McCoy||RB||@IND||$5,600||8%||Veteran QB Anderson can't be a downgrade for offense.|
|Keelan Cole||WR||HOU||$4,600||5%||Fits the profile of WRs who have burned HOU this year.|
|Dede Westbrook||WR||HOU||$4,800||5%||Flip a coin between Dede and Cole for Bortles stacks.|
|D.J. Moore||WR||@PHI||$3,900||1%||Playing more recently. YAC ability a problem for PHI DBs.|
|O.J. Howard||TE||CLE||$3,600||5%||At least 13 fantasy points in each of last 3 healthy games.|
|New Orleans Saints||DST||@BAL||$2,200||2%||Two weeks to prepare for Joe Flacco.|