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:
- Five games on the main slate opened with an over/under above 50 points. Most entrants will look to the favorites in those games -- Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and the LA Rams -- when choosing their core players. The main offensive pieces for Green Bay will also command attention in a perceived shootout with LA.
- There isn’t much salary separating the QB1 (Patrick Mahomes II - $7,000) from the QB10 (Cam Newton - $5,800). With the top quarterbacks bunched together so closely in price, entrants more or less have their choice at the position. The top eight options -- Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Mitchell Trubisky, Jameis Winston, and Jared Goff -- should combine to account for about 65% of total quarterback ownership. Choosing just about any other quarterback looks like an easy way to differentiate your lineup.
- This week’s common roster construction hinges on how the crowd treats Todd Gurley ($9,800), whose price inexplicably remained static after his latest three-touchdown performance. If Week 7 was any indication, as much as half of the field could pay up for Gurley, which will usually necessitate pairing him with a reasonably priced RB2 (Marlon Mack and Kerryon Johnson are the usual suspects). Those who fade Gurley are likely to look to one or both of James Conner ($7,500) and Kareem Hunt ($7,100). Both backs are coming off consecutive 30+ point performances and have ideal matchups. In either case, lineups with less than one-third of the salary cap allocated to two running backs will be the exception.
- Antonio Brown ($8,500 vs. CLE) and A.J. Green ($8,000 vs. TB) are the two reasons most entrants will reserve a lineup spot for a high-priced wide receiver. Using one of them along with Gurley and Johnson at running back, and a quarterback over $6K will typically leave about $4,500 for each of the remaining wide receiver spots, as long as Travis Kelce ($6,800) doesn’t appear at tight end on the same roster. Jordy Nelson ($4,700) figures to be the most popular wide receiver in that price range.
- Kelce will be a fashionable luxury play in a rematch with the Broncos, who have struggled to defend opposing tight ends this season. But due to a significantly lower cap number and a highly-touted matchup against Pittsburgh, we can expect the tight end in this week’s standard roster build to be David Njoku ($4,600) for a second straight week. Choosing practically any other tight end besides Kelce and Njoku seems like a way to deviate from the crowd.
- Similar to the quarterback position, team defense pricing is tightly clustered, with only $900 separating options two through 12. The collective desire to spend up at running back will result in most entrants looking to defense for cap savings. Pittsburgh ($2,300) looks like the most obvious choice at home against Cleveland, though the Chiefs ($2,600) and Bengals ($2,500) are also big home favorites facing off against turnover-prone quarterbacks. Spending all the way up to the slumping Bears -- the only DST priced over $3,200 -- is desirable, but they’ll be too rich for the most common construction.
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: Patrick Mahomes II (vs. DEN, $7,000, 12% rostered) - Unless this is your first time playing fantasy football this season, you’re well aware Mahomes is tearing up the league. He leads all quarterbacks in cumulative DraftKings scoring by a 15.7% margin over the next closest player (Matt Ryan). Not surprisingly, he’s finished as a top-5 weekly scorer at the position four times, which also leads the league. When Mahomes faced Denver in Week 4, he scored 25.86 fantasy points -- a disappointing total by his standards -- but that was a road game in which Kareem Hunt did most of the damage. As a double-digit home favorite, this week’s game script for Kansas City is conducive to a third-straight 30+ performance from Mahomes. The only reasons to consider a fade are his QB1 price and projected ownership, but his upside warrants GPP exposure every week until further notice. Play Mahomes in at least 10% of your lineups.
RB: Todd Gurley (vs. GB, $9,800, 33% rostered) - Gurley appeared on 58% of rosters in last week’s Milly Maker, which was about 20% higher than we had seen any player reach all season. At such elevated ownership, a drastic fade was the correct move, but Gurley’s three touchdowns and 30.6 fantasy points serve as a warning that fading him carries significant risk. Though he didn’t appear on the winning lineup, he still found his way onto three of the top five rosters in the biggest tournament on DraftKings. None of this is to say we should be scared into following the crowd on Gurley this week. He won’t be quite as popular with Conner, Hunt, and Saquon Barkley back on the main slate, but his 25+ fantasy points in every game this season all but guarantee he’ll be the top-rostered player by a wide margin. There is nothing to dislike about his matchup or game script, but coming in underweight on Gurley gives you the opportunity to blow past ~40% of the field if this happens to be the week variance kicks in near the goal-line. 20-25% maximum exposure feels like the right number.
WR: A.J. Green (vs. TB, $8,000, 21% rostered) - Tampa Bay has allowed 26.5% more fantasy points than league average to opposing wide receivers over the last five weeks. They simply do not employ a cornerback who can make things difficult for Green. While there’s no question he’s a fine play given the juicy matchup, we’re looking for about 30 fantasy points from Green to justify his salary/ownership profile. He has approached that threshold only once this season, giving him a 14% chance to deliver value, if we were looking only at his season-to-date production. Think about it this way -- is Green nearly three times as likely to score 25-30 fantasy points as someone like JuJu Smith-Schuster ($7,400) whose early week roster projection was only about 8%? The answer, based on seven weeks of evidence, is a hard no, making Green a fade relative to his percent rostered.
TE: David Njoku (@PIT, $4,600, 10% rostered) - Kelce is the tight end everyone will want, but Njoku is the one more people are likely to settle on once they start building rosters. Since Baker Mayfield took over as Cleveland’s starter in Week 4, Njoku has scored between 10.2 and 18.5 DraftKings points in every game, providing impressive consistency at a typically volatile position. The Steelers have struggled to defend enemy tight ends since linebacker Ryan Shazier was injured last season. Austin Lee’s Normalized Strength of Schedule shows Pittsburgh has allowed the third-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points to tight ends over the last five weeks. Given his usual 7-10 targets, Njoku should have little trouble exploiting the matchup. If his early-week roster projection holds through Saturday’s update, it’s safe to go overweight.
DST: Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. CLE, $2,300, 12% rostered) - Njoku’s matchup notwithstanding, DraftKings failed to price the Steelers correctly. Not only has their defense been rounding into form recently, but they’re also favored by more than a touchdown at home against the Browns, who gift fantasy points to opposing defenses. Mayfield has been sacked exactly five times in each of his last three games and averages three interceptable passes per game. Unfortunately, their way-too-low price will shine a spotlight on Pittsburgh and they may merit a fade if their ownership projection creeps up much further. For now, consider ~15% exposure.
MORE CHALK PLAYS:
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Aaron Rodgers||QB||@LAR||$6,400||11%||At his healthiest since Week 1. 30+ pts. in last two before bye.|
|James Conner||RB||CLE||$7,500||21%||192 total yards, 2 TDs vs. Browns in last meeting.|
|Kareem Hunt||RB||DEN||$7,100||20%||Playing as well as any RB not named Todd Gurley.|
|Robert Woods||RB||GB||$6,800||21%||Coming off down week but Goff only threw 24 times.|
|Antonio Brown||WR||CLE||$8,500||17%||The week you need him to win is coming. This could be it.|
|Davante Adams||WR||@LAR||$7,900||13%||Quietly trails only Thielen in WR fantasy points per game.|
|Travis Kelce||TE||DEN||$6,800||16%||Squeeze him in where you can. DEN vulnerable to TEs.|
|Chicago Bears||D/ST||NYJ||$4,100||10%||Excellent pass rush vs. rookie QB on the road.|
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: Jameis Winston (@CIN, $6,000, 7% rostered) - Tampa Bay’s absentee running game, horrific defense, and talented group of pass-catchers have created the perfect storm for quarterback fantasy value. Even Winston’s own poor play in Week 7 couldn’t prevent him from returning a 4x multiple of his salary on DraftKings. Despite back-to-back games with more than 25 fantasy points, Winston’s price has dropped $300 headed into a matchup with the Bengals, who have have been smoked by every non-Ryan Tannehill quarterback they’ve faced. Nothing about this week’s game script points to an upcoming faceplant for Winston. In fact, both Tampa Bay and Cincinnati rank inside the top-12 teams in situation-neutral pace of play, which should result in added opportunities to rack up yardage and touchdowns. As an extra bonus, Winston has added rushing to his fantasy repertoire, with a combined 84 yards on 15 carries since returning from suspension.
RB: Saquon Barkley (vs. WAS, $8,800, 16% rostered) - In the last five weeks, Washington has allowed 35% fewer fantasy points than league average to running backs despite meetings with Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, and Mark Ingram II. The matchup is clearly not in Barkley’s favor, but when has it been? New York’s rotten offensive line play and general ineptitude have threatened to doom Barkley every week, yet all he’s done is produce thanks to his explosiveness and 22% team target market share (fourth-highest among running backs). On most slates, he would be the clear overall RB2, but Gurley’s dominance, the perceived great matchups for Conner and Hunt, and a 42-point over/under, will combine to shade Barkley from the crowd. This is a rare slate in which you can safely double the field’s exposure to Barkley without putting half your weekly investment at risk.
WR: JuJu Smith-Schuster (vs. CLE, $7,400, 8% rostered) - With at least 20 fantasy points in four games out of six and an established 30+ point ceiling, it’s clear Smith-Schuster is going overlooked in comparison to his more popular teammates, Antonio Brown and James Conner. When the Steelers and Browns met in Week 1, Smith-Schuster posted an 8-5-119-0 receiving line, which doesn’t feel too far off from a baseline projection with Pittsburgh at home this time and favored by eight points. Smith-Schuster is also a candidate for positive touchdown regression. His 16 red zone targets lead the NFL, yet he’s scored only twice this season.
TE: O.J. Howard (@CIN, $3,900, 4% rostered) - The general misconception Howard is stuck in a timeshare with Cameron Brate continues to be a situation we can exploit in tournaments. With the exception of Week 4 when he left early with a knee sprain, Howard out-snapped Brate by at least 20% in every game and has commanded more than twice as many targets on the season. Howard’s targets are usually of the fantasy-friendly variety too. His 12.0-yard average depth of target trails only Rob Gronkowski among tight ends (minimum 20 targets), and per Pro Football Focus, Howard’s 2.56 yards per route run leads the entire position. The Bengals rank 26th in normalized fantasy points allowed to tight ends and they’ll likely be without linebacker Vontaze Burfict in this game. Howard needs about 15 fantasy points to return a 4x multiple of his salary, which is well within his range of possible outcomes. As one of a few tight ends who can score from anywhere on the field, there is also upside for more.
DST: Arizona Cardinals (vs. SF, $3,200, 7% rostered) - While the matchup against San Francisco is the main draw, the Cardinals defense was playing well prior to Week 7 when their offense hung them out to dry. In their previous two games against the Vikings and this same 49ers team, they scored 14 and 21 fantasy points, respectively. With 10 days to prepare, we should expect Arizona to come out inspired to avenge last Thursday’s ugly loss in front of their home crowd. San Francisco has allowed the most fantasy points to opposing defenses this season. C.J. Beathard has looked good in spurts but is coming off a blowout loss to the Rams in which he was sacked seven times and had four turnovers. Arizona’s pass-rush and head coach Steve Wilks’ exotic blitz packages can easily make it another long afternoon for Beathard.
MORE CORE PLAYS
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Jared Goff||QB||GB||$6,000||11%||Gurley leverage. 2 bad games in a row should shade % rostered a bit.|
|Ben Roethlisberger||QB||CLE||$6,100||7%||Ben at home. Steelers super-stacks back in play.|
|Joe Mixon||RB||TAM||$7,300||15%||TB's loss of LB Alexander a boon for Mixon's receiving outlook.|
|Nick Chubb||RB||@PIT||$4,700||9%||A bet on big-play ability outweighing tough matchup & no catches.|
|Mike Evans||WR||@CIN||$7,800||6%||Air yards profile suggets huge game is coming soon.|
|Golden Tate||WR||SEA||$6,000||13%||The type of player revenge narratives matter for.|
|Doug Baldwin||WR||@DET||$5,500||9%||Bye week should help injuries. Ready to hog targets.|
|Greg Olsen||TE||@BAL||$4,200||4%||TE is the one position that gets over on BAL D.|
|Washington||D/ST||@NYG||$2,700||5%||Giants have officially waved the surrender flag.|
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: Derek Carr (vs. IND, $5,200, 3% rostered) - Our initial percent rostered projections list Jordy Nelson at 11% (look for that one to climb), Jared Cook at 13%, Jalen Richard at 16%, and Carr all the way down at 3%. If the field is right about targeting the Raiders pass-catchers, they’re missing the boat badly on Carr, even if his projection rises by a few percentage points on Buzzard’s Saturday update. The narratives swirling around the Raiders in the wake of the Amari Cooper trade will largely keep the crowd off Carr in a fantastic matchup. Opponents are completing 72% of their passes against the Colts, the second-highest rate in the league. Before facing Derek Anderson in Week 7, Deshaun Watson (375-2-1), Tom Brady (341-3-2), and Sam Darnold (280-2-1) had their way with the Indianapolis pass defense. If you think Oakland can win, Carr warrants about triple his current percent rostered projection (it’s worth noting Vegas opened betting at a pick ‘em). In 29 career wins, he averages 279 yards, 2.2 touchdowns, and 0.3 interceptions per game, compared to 215 yards, 1.2 touchdowns, and 1.1 interceptions per game in his 39 losses.
RB: Aaron Jones (@ LAR, $4,100, 3% rostered) - It’s obvious we want exposure to the 56-point game total in Green Bay at LA, but equally obvious it will be the game with the most combined ownership. No one is looking at Green Bay’s rushing attack for leverage in this game, which makes sense. Jones is the only running back on the Packers roster playing well (5.9 yards per attempt), but head coach Mike McCarthy has thus far refused to play him on more than ~25% of the team’s snaps. With a bye week to think it over, maybe McCarthy finally had time to reach the same conclusion every fantasy owner did back in Week 3 -- Jones deserves to lead the Packers committee. Is there a strong chance this is the week Jones is unleashed? Probably not. But is there a 7% chance it happens? Perhaps. And since 7% is all it takes to double the field’s exposure, it's a risk worth taking to get ahead of the curve on Jones’ breakout game.
WR: Josh Reynolds (vs. GB, $3,600, 4% rostered) - Reynolds is the other sneaky way to buy up cheap shares of the potential shootout between the Rams and Packers. Although he flopped as a highly-touted play last week, Reynolds led all LA receivers in snap-rate while filling in for Cooper Kupp and would have had a touchdown on his only reception had he not been tackled at the one-yard line. It’s also important to put Reynolds’ troubling one-target game in perspective. The entire Rams passing attack under-performed because Jared Goff only needed to throw the ball 24 times in a blowout win over the 49ers. Despite the 9.5-point spread in LA’s favor this week, it would be surprising if Aaron Rodgers couldn’t keep this game close. Five high-quality targets are not out of the question for Reynolds, who is capable of filling in admirably for Kupp in the red zone thanks to his 6’3’’ frame and 87th percentile catch radius.
TE: Vance McDonald (vs. CLE, $3,700, 5% rostered) - Once upon a time in the not-so-distant past, tight ends were an auto-play against the Browns. This year’s data suggests Cleveland’s linebackers and safeties are defending the position fairly well. But big, athletic, heavily-targeted tight ends are still getting over on the Browns, as evidenced by Jared Cook in Week 4 (13-8-102-2) and O.J. Howard last week (9-5-67-0). McDonald is cut from the same size/speed mismatch mold as both Cook and Howard and is in the perfect game environment for tight end fantasy production. Maybe his low price and Pittsburgh’s crowded pass-catching corps make McDonald a better fit in cash game lineups, but the upside is there for GPPs. He has at least one 25-yard reception in three out of his four games this season.
DST: Cincinnati Bengals (vs. TB, $2,500, 6% rostered) - The Bengals look like the ideal price pivot off the more popular Steelers. Jameis Winston showed last week he is capable of generating big numbers for both himself and the opposing defense at the same time. Even if Winston goes over 300 passing yards with multiple touchdowns, chances are it will come along with at least two turnovers and a couple of sacks. Cincinnati's defense has been all or nothing this season, with three games of double-digit fantasy points and four games of zero or less. The Bengals are a high-variance play (even by DST standards), but possess the ceiling we’re looking for in tournaments.
MORE CONTRARIAN PLAYS
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Russell Wilson||QB||@DET||$5,900||2%||Greater than 2% choice he goes off, even in current offense.|
|Adrian Peterson||RB||@NYG||$4,900||6%||Needs touchdowns but Giants run D depleted after Snacks trade.|
|Doug Martin||RB||IND||$4,400||3%||More leverage on Raiders pass-catchers.|
|Taylor Gabriel||WR||NYJ||$5,100||5%||Bad game last week was due to NE scheme.|
|Christian Kirk||WR||SF||$4,500||4%||Rosen's favorite target smoked SF secondary in last meeting.|
|Randall Cobb||WR||@LAR||$4,900||5%||Out of sight, out of mind. 9 targets per game when healthy.|
|Jimmy Graham||TE||@LAR||$4,700||3%||More competition for targets but winnable matchup.|
|New York Jets||DST||@CHI||$2,200||5%||Are we sure Mitchell Trubisky isn't terrible?|