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 games opened with an over/under of at least 50 points, including Rams at Saints, which is the first game to reach a 60-point total this season. Players from LA and New Orleans will be in high demand, along with plenty of Chiefs, Panthers, Vikings, and Lions.
- Cam Newton ($6,600) is next in line to feast on Tampa Bay’s dreadful pass defense. It would be surprising if he didn’t have the highest quarterback roster percentage by a wide margin. After Newton, ownership at the position should be fairly flat due to an overload of big names clustered in the $5,500-$6,200 price tier. Punt options at $5,000 or less should go largely ignored, as most entrants will find the cap space to get up to a name they trust.
- The choice at running back for most people will come down to using Todd Gurley ($9,500) and a low-to-mid range RB2 like Phillip Lindsay ($5,500), or fading Gurley and using the savings to roster two high-end running backs. Some combination of Christian McCaffrey ($7,800), Kareem Hunt ($7,700), and Alvin Kamara ($7,300) will appear most frequently in non-Gurley lineups.
- Pairing Newton with Gurley and one of McCaffrey, Hunt, or Kamara is possible with balanced spending at wide receiver, but the popularity of Adam Thielen ($8,900) and Michael Thomas ($7,600) makes it unlikely Newton and two stud running backs will appear in the most common roster construction. Playing Newton, Thielen/Thomas, and spending roughly 30% of the cap on running backs requires less spending at WR2 and flex. As a result, trade deadline winner Courtland Sutton ($3,900) should see elevated ownership and D.J. Moore ($4,300) will attract attention due to his low price, correlation with Newton, and last week’s mini-breakout. It’s a rare week in which the biggest names at wide receiver -- Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and DeAndre Hopkins -- are likely to go overlooked.
- Zach Ertz, Rob Gronkowski, and the Colts are missing from the main slate, leaving Travis Kelce ($6,600) as the only premium tight end option. Kelce should lead the position in ownership, but considering no other tight end is priced above $4,800, rostering him comes with a steep opportunity cost. Sub-$5K options like Greg Olsen (to stack with Newton) and David Njoku (great matchup) are more likely to appear in the most common lineup builds.
- The Chicago Bears ($4,100) are the Kelce of defense/special teams. Their matchup against Nathan Peterman is a dream, but with a salary 28% higher than the next closest defense, they’ll be a luxury most entrants can’t afford. Expect the masses to settle on a DST priced under $3,000, with the Chiefs ($2,700) leading the way in a matchup against the dysfunctional Browns.
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: Cam Newton (vs. TB, $6,600, 22% rostered) - Newton is coming off back-to-back games with at least 25 fantasy points against the Eagles and Ravens -- two of the toughest defenses in the league. Tampa Bay’s defense is anything but tough. The next time the Buccanneers stop an opposing quarterback from throwing multiple touchdowns will be the first since Week 2. Newton has thrown for multiple touchdowns in six straight games, and as usual, his floor and ceiling are boosted by his rushing ability. He leads the league in quarterback rush attempts (62), rushing yards (309) and rushing touchdowns (4), which should play especially well against Tampa Bay. In the two games they have played against a quarterback with any semblance of rushing ability, Baker Mayfield (43 yards) and Mitchell Trubisky (53 yards) each scored more than the equivalent of an extra passing touchdown with their legs. Carolina’s 30.5-point implied total is believable and their offense runs through Newton. 15% exposure is warranted.
RB: Kareem Hunt (@ CLE, $7,700, 18% rostered) - Todd Gurley and Christian McCaffrey will be more popular, but Hunt could challenge their roster percentages thanks to his matchup with Cleveland and correlation with the Chiefs defense. The Browns have allowed the third-most normalized fantasy points to opposing running backs over the last five weeks and have been annihilated each time a running back has surpassed the 20-touch mark against them. Between Cleveland’s struggles defending the run and the eight-point spread in Kansas City’s favor, it’s not a stretch to project Hunt to become the fifth running back to clear 20 total touches and 150 yards against the Browns. Hunt may not touch the ball quite as often as bell cows like Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, but the Chiefs’ offensive efficiency makes up most of the difference. He has at least one touchdown in every game since Week 3, has reached 30 fantasy points in three of his last five. If Hunt’s early-week roster percentage doesn’t spike on Saturday’s update, come in overweight on the field.
WR: Adam Thielen (vs. DET, $8,900, 16% rostered) - There’s not much to say about Thielen the national media hasn’t already covered. With over 100 receiving yards in every game this season and a touchdown in all but two, he’s essentially the wide receiver position’s Todd Gurley, which is to say he’s unfadeable. Thielen’s Week 9 value is further amplified by his matchup against the Lions. Some combination of Nevin Lawson and Teez Tabor will be tasked with covering Thielen. Per Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks have a 106.2 passer rating when targeting Lawson and a perfect 158.3 rating when throwing into Tabor’s coverage. Stefon Diggs, Latavius Murray, and Kyle Rudolph all provide leverage if Thielen finally disappoints, but fading his consistency with the matchup so clearly in his favor is likely a bad idea. Matching the field, or coming in slightly under, feels like the right exposure.
TE: Travis Kelce (@ CLE, $6,600, 22% rostered) - The case for Kelce is simple -- he’s the only tight end on the slate with a double-digit floor, 30-point ceiling, and matchup against the Browns. Cleveland hasn’t been quite as bad defending tight ends as they have been in recent years, but they’re still being beaten by big, athletic, heavily-targeted tight ends, as evidenced by Jared Cook in Week 4 (13-8-102-2) and O.J. Howard in Week 7 (9-5-67-0). If the Chiefs go into Cleveland and put up 30 points, as expected, it’s a safe bet Kelce will be one of the primary reasons why. The fact fitting his salary requires you to allocate your cap space differently than most of your opponents is a welcome benefit in GPPs. If Kelce has a ceiling game, it’s going to be a difficult week to make up the points with another tight end. This isn’t the week to fade him.
DST: Chicago Bears (@ BUF, $4,100, 13% rostered) - The fact Buffalo’s starting quarterback -- Nathan Peterman -- costs $4,000 at home should tell you everything you need to know about why the Bears are this week’s chalk. Peterman is the owner of nine career interceptions against three touchdowns in seven career starts. His outlook is particularly bleak against Chicago’s defensive line. The Bears rank seventh in Football Outsiders adjusted sack rate metric, which accounts for down, distance, opponent, and intentional grounding penalties. The floor is undoubtedly high for Chicago, but their price, heavy ownership, and the volatility inherent to the defense/special teams position create a clear opportunity to differentiate from the crowd. Top out at about 10% exposure to the Bears.
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Jared Goff||QB||@NO||$6,000||15%||Much easier to pass on Saints than run. Too cheap.|
|Todd Gurley||RB||@NO||$9,500||30%||Not sure what he has to do for DK to up his price.|
|Christian McCaffrey||RB||TB||$7,800||20%||Absence of TB LB Alexander was big for Mixon last week.|
|Michael Thomas||RB||LAR||$7,600||24%||Hurt by lack of passing lately. Won't be the case this week.|
|Robert Woods||WR||@NO||$7,000||13%||More difficult for bad secondary to defend with Kupp back.|
|Courtland Sutton||WR||HOU||$3,900||31%||Love the potential but he's a hard pass at elevated % rostered.|
|Greg Olsen||TE||TB||$4,700||12%||If he can't find the end zone, you'll be sorry you played him.|
|Kansas City Chiefs||D/ST||@CLE||$2,700||12%||Mayfield a near-lock for multiple sacks and a turnover or two.|
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: Patrick Mahomes II (@CLE, $7,100, 9% rostered) - It sounds strange, but the most-hyped quarterback on planet earth (and most expensive option at the position) might qualify as a leverage play this week. With Newton, Goff, and Drew Brees likely to command the most quarterback ownership, and Hunt and the Chiefs defense popular options on Kansas City, Mahomes should go somewhat overlooked. Cleveland has generally been a difficult matchup for opposing quarterbacks, but they’re in a state of disarray and Mahomes is a buzz saw. He hasn’t been held under 300 passing yards since Week 2 and has at least three passing touchdowns in six-out-of-eight games this season. If we buy his current roster projection, the question is whether or not Mahomes has a greater than 9% chance to hit 25-30 fantasy points. Based solely on his season-to-date results, the probability is close to 90%.
RB: Mark Ingram II (vs. LAR, $5,000, 14% rostered) - One of the Saints running backs is going to have a big game against the Rams 25th-ranked rush defense (DVOA). Buzzard’s early roster projections have Alvin Kamara, who costs $2,300 more than Ingram, commanding over twice as much tournament ownership. Kamara may have the higher ceiling, but is he really two times more likely than Ingram to appear in a first-place lineup? Since Kamara joined the Saints in 2017, Ingram has averaged 21.3 PPR points and 1.1 touchdowns per game in nine home games vs. 13.2 PPR points and 0.4 touchdowns in 10 games on the road. If Sean Payton is smart (he is), he'll try to keep the Rams offense off the field as much as possible, which favors an increased workload for Ingram in an exploitable matchup. With 6x upside at his way-too-low salary, this is a spot to double the field’s exposure to Ingram if he’s still projected near 10% rostered by the weekend update.
WR: Cooper Kupp (@ NO, $6,000, 17% rostered) - Kupp returned to practice Wednesday following a two-week layoff due to a sprained knee. Provided the news on his return remains positive through Friday’ practice, he is the Rams wide receiver you want the most shares of. Kupp is less expensive than Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks, likely to be lower-owned, and has the best one-on-one cornerback matchup. The Saints shored up their right corner position by trading for Eli Apple to pair with Marshon Lattimore on the outside. But despite being named the NFC’s best defensive player in Week 8, P.J. Williams has been a disaster as the team's nickel corner. Williams has Pro Football Focus' eight-worst coverage grade among cornerbacks with at least 200 snaps and has given up five touchdowns -- second-most in the league. Prior to getting hurt, Kupp racked up 19 receptions and four touchdowns in his previous three games. Nearly all the main players in Rams at Saints have multi-touchdown upside this week, but none more so than Kupp.
TE: O.J Howard (vs. CAR, $4,300, 10% rostered) - Howard has been good for a 3x-4x multiple of his current salary in five-out-of-six healthy games this season. His opponent this week, the Panthers, have quietly become the best matchup for opposing tight ends. After getting obliterated by Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert in Week 7 (combined 16-13-181-1), Carolina was also outmatched by Baltimore’s less impressive tight end platoon of Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, and Mark Andrews in Week 8 (combined 11-7-67-1). Opponents are targeting tight ends against the Panthers on 25% of their attempts -- the highest rate in the league -- and their 63% pass success rate allowed to the position ranks third-highest. Howard is locked into ~60% of Tampa Bay’s snaps, five-to-seven targets per game, and continues to dominate in the efficiency categories. Don't be scared by the switch to Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. Howard had his best game of the season (18.6 DraftKings points) in Week 2 with Fitzpatrick at the helm.
DST: Denver Broncos (vs. HOU, $2,300, 22% rostered) - The price is right for the Broncos in a home matchup with the Texans. Deshaun Watson can make any game he’s involved in a high-scoring affair while also gifting fantasy points to the opposing defense in the process. Denver’s defensive line ranks third in adjusted sack rate, while Houston’s offensive line allows the fourth-highest adjusted sack rate. In other words, the matchup fits like a glove for the Broncos, who should be able to force pressure on Watson with relative ease. Per Pro Football Focus, four of Watson’s seven interceptions this season have come while under pressure.
MORE CORE PLAYS
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Kirk Cousins||QB||DET||$6,200||6%||30 point upside at home in great matchup.|
|Isaiah Crowell||RB||@MIA||$4,200||5%||Pick on Miami linebackers every week.|
|Latavius Murray||RB||DET||$5,100||10%||Will elevate to chalk play if Cook is ruled out again.|
|Brandin Cooks||WR||@NO||$6,700||12%||Highest-upside LAR receiver, on the fast track, in revenge spot.|
|Julio Jones||WR||WAS||$7,900||10%||Won't see roster % this low all season.|
|DeAndre Hopkins||WR||@DEN||$8,300||8%||Those spending over $8K at WR will look to Thielen, Evans.|
|John Brown||WR||PIT||$5,800||4%||Smoked PIT in last meeting for 7-116-1 receiving line.|
|Jordan Reed||TE||ATL||$4,800||7%||Targets on the rise lately. Plus matchup.|
|Carolina Panthers||D/ST||TB||$3,200||3%||Fitzpatrick is a great story but can implode at any time.|
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: Alex Smith (vs. ATL, $5,000, 2% rostered) - Smith is probably a better choice for cash games due to his non-existent ceiling, but he’s both incredibly cheap and a home favorite quarterback in the best passing matchup this side of Tampa Bay. Vegas’ 47-point over/under suggests the possibility of a shootout at least exists, even if it isn’t the most likely outcome. Five of Atlanta’s seven games have produced game totals of 55 points or more this season and Matt Ryan is the best passer Washington has faced since Drew Brees torched them for a 363-3-0 passing line in Week 5. On the chance the Falcons awful defense and solid offense force this game to go back and forth, it’s worth a contrarian game stack or two. Smith, all of his pass-catchers (save for maybe Jordan Reed), Ryan (at only $5,700), and Julio Jones will all be grossly under-owned.
RB: Nick Chubb (vs. KC, $4,500, 16% rostered) - Calling Chubb a contrarian play might be stretching the definition, but the perception he’ll get game-scripted out of a blowout loss to Kansas City masks the fact he’s the best dollar-per-projected-touch value on the slate. Since the Carlos Hyde trade, Chubb has seen at least 18 touches in each game (including an uncharacteristic two receptions on three targets last week), yet he is still priced as a backup ($4,500). While things can admittedly go sideways against the Chiefs in a hurry, Chubb’s explosiveness shouldn’t be discounted against Kansas City’s 32nd-ranked rush defense (DVOA). The odds he’s able to rip a long touchdown run before the game gets out of hand are near-equal to his early percent rostered projection.
WR: Danny Amendola (vs. NYJ, $4,700, 3% rostered) - Like Smith, Amendola has a questionable ceiling for tournaments, though he did return a 4x multiple of his current salary as recently as Week 7. He owed that 20.7-point outburst to a great matchup against Detroit’s pitiful slot corners -- a situation Amendola finds himself in again this week. Jets nickel corner, Buster Skrine, has been a punching bag for enemy wide receivers in the slot. Per Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks have a 126.6 passer rating when throwing into Skrine’s coverage. Since Brock Osweiler began filling in for the injured Ryan Tannehill, Amendola has run 74% of his routes from the slot and is averaging eight targets and 16.24 fantasy points per game. Even tournament rosters can use a PPR glue guy and Amendola remains just cheap enough for our consideration.
TE: Kyle Rudolph (vs. DET, $3,600, 7% rostered) - Rudolph has it all going in his favor this week:
- Game environment - Minnesota opened as five-point home favorites against Detroit, with an implied team total of 28 points.
- Matchup - The Lions allow the fourth-highest target rate, highest pass success rate, and seventh-highest average yards per pass attempt to opposing tight ends. Over the last five weeks, Detroit has ceded over 40% more fantasy points to the position than league average.
- No one is looking at him - Over 70% of tight end ownership will be concentrated on players who cost $4,000 and up. Choosing any bargain tight end this week is a good way to differentiate your lineup, and Rudolph -- whose historical red zone dominance gives him multi-touchdown potential in any game -- stands out as the best option.
DST: Seattle Seahawks (vs. LAC, $2,500, 3% rostered) - Seattle enters this game hot, with a combined nine sacks and five forced turnovers in their last two games, which came on the road against Oakland and Detroit, respectively. Philip Rivers poses a stiffer challenge than Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford, but he has underwhelmed in his last two road starts at Cleveland and LA (Rams). If Russell Wilson continues his efficient play (77% completion rate, 11.8 yards per attempt, six touchdowns over his last two games), and Melvin Gordon III is still banged up, Rivers might be forced to take too many chances against an opportunistic Seahawks secondary that ranks fourth in the league with 10 interceptions.
MORE CONTRARIAN PLAYS
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Brock Osweiler||QB||NYJ||$4,900||2%||31 and 17.76 fantasy points in two home starts.|
|Kenyan Drake||RB||NYJ||$5,300||4%||Low floor but long TDs are becoming the norm.|
|Jordan Howard||RB||@BUF||$4,700||6%||22 carries last week in what should be similar game script.|
|Tre'Quan Smith||WR||LAR||$4,200||9%||Proven 30 point upside in full time role.|
|Paul Richardson Jr||WR||ATL||$3,800||2%||Split low exposure between P-Rich and Josh Doctson.|
|Antonio Brown||WR||@BAL||$8,400||6%||Why be scared of matchups for Antonio Brown?|
|Vance McDonald||TE||@BAL||$3,700||5%||TE the one position getting over on BAL defense.|
|Minnesota Vikings||DST||DET||$2,900||3%||Home favorites of more than a FG hard to come by this week.|