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:
- New Orleans at Tampa Bay (over/under 57) is the first game your opponents will attack this week. Drew Brees ($6,600), Alvin Kamara ($8,100), and Michael Thomas will be among the most popular plays at their respective positions. On the Buccaneers side, DraftKings has been slow to raise the prices of Jameis Winston ($6,200), Adam Humphries ($4,900), and Chris Godwin ($4,900) relative to their recent productivity. We’ll see plenty of affordable Winston stacks and full game stacks, as well as Tampa Bay’s bargain receivers used in non-stacked lineups to save salary.
- Pittsburgh is implied to score over 31 points on the road against the Raiders. Ben Roethlisberger ($6,800), Antonio Brown ($9,000), and JuJu Smith-Schuster (season-high $8,200) would ordinarily top many wish lists. DraftKings, however, has given the Steelers passing game the same treatment they gave Kansas City’s in Oakland last week, pricing them up to the point many entrants will hesitate. Running back Jaylen Samuels ($3,700) will be the highest-owned Pittsburgh player despite murkiness surrounding how the backfield work will be distributed in James Conner’s absence.
- The Chargers are favored by two touchdowns at home against the hapless Bengals. After the clinic Keenan Allen ($7,400) put on last Sunday night in Pittsburgh (19-14-148-1), we can expect him to get piled on by the crowd, especially since DraftKings didn’t get a chance to adjust his price. It will be interesting to see how the public reacts to Austin Ekeler’s ($6,200) Week 13 letdown and Justin Jackson’s ($3,800) second-half heroics in Pittsburgh. It’s likely there is significant leverage to be gained by focusing on LA’s backfield in this contest.
- The final team most entrants will target when building their lineup cores is Kansas City. Despite the difficult matchup against Baltimore, the Chiefs are 7.5-point favorites and implied to score over 30 points. Patrick Mahomes II ($7,000) is $600 less than last week and Tyreek Hill’s ($8,000) cap number dropped by $1,100. The threat of the Ravens defense should be enough to prevent the Mahomes-Hill stack from being too common but expect to see lots of Mahomes-Travis Kelce.
- Enough value has opened up on the slate for a combined ~40% of the field to find their way to either Brees, Mahomes, Roethlisberger, or Winston at quarterback. There are leverage plays in the sub-$6K range at the position where several less consistent have enticing matchups.
- Crowd exposure should be spread fairly evenly among the usual suspects in the top tier at running back. The goal for most will be to roster two of Christian McCaffrey ($9,300), Saquon Barkley ($8,900), Ezekiel Elliott ($8,600), or Alvin Kamara ($8,100). Along with Samuels, Jeff Wilson ($3,800) is another backup thrust into a starting role, whose low salary in the flex spot makes rostering two stud running backs easy enough.
- Running back isn’t the only position where injury attrition has opened up value. DeSean Jackson appears unlikely to play for a second straight week, raising the respective floors and ceilings of both Humphries and Godwin. And Emmanuel Sanders’ unfortunate Achilles tear in Wednesday’s practice opens the door for Courtland Sutton ($4,500) as he comes off a career-best performance in Week 13. Expect to see both Sutton and one of Tampa Bay’s secondary options in this week’s stock roster build.
- Common roster constructions are likely to diverge at tight end. Some will chase Travis Kelce’s season-best 42.7 fantasy points from last week (not a bad idea by any means), which necessitates a third wide receiver in the $5K range. Others will eyeball Eric Ebron’s 16 targets in his first game since Jack Doyle’s season-ending injury. Those who roster Ebron will end up with a WR1 like T.Y. Hilton ($6,300) or Amari Cooper ($6,600). The balance of the field will look to punt tight end and pay up to an elite WR1. There’s a steep cliff after Vance McDonald ($3,800), who draws the same Raiders matchup that propelled Kelce last week.
- As usual, the majority of our opponents will look to save at defense/special teams. Fortunately for them, Mark Sanchez is an NFL starting quarterback again and his opponent, the Giants, are only $2,500. Kansas City -- at $2,300 against a rookie quarterback making his second road start (Lamar Jackson) -- is another likely punt option. Spending up at defense to the Chargers ($3,400) or Broncos ($3,600) may actually provide a bit of leverage.
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. NO, $6,200, 10% rostered) - This is Winston’s third consecutive appearance in this space, though he didn’t end up very chalky in Weeks 12 and 13. It appears the threat of an in-game benching has made the crowd cautious, but this should finally be the week our opponents jump back in on the Buccanneers quarterback with both feet. The game environment for Winston couldn’t be better at home against the Saints. Vegas is calling for a shootout and New Orleans’ greatest deficiency on defense (stopping the pass) lines up perfectly with Tampa Bay’s greatest strength on offense (passing the ball). Last week’s solid 22.76-point output marked the first time this season Winston fell below 25 fantasy points in a game he both started and finished. At a middling $6,200, he is one of the highest projected point-per-dollar plays at any position and several of his stacking partners (Godwin, Humphries, Cameron Brate) are even more affordable. Make Winston one of your core quarterbacks, regardless of his ownership percentage. If the last two weeks are any indication, he may end up relatively low-owned anyway.
RB: Christian McCaffrey (@ CLE, $9,300, 17% rostered) - This is the first time we’ve seen McCaffrey’s price exceed $9K, but it will take more than that to stop the public from clicking on him. McCaffrey followed up his near-historic 52.7 fantasy point explosion in Week 12 with another slate-busting stat line last week (161 total yards, 9 receptions, 1 touchdown). On the heels of his fourth 30+-point outing in the last five games, McCaffrey draws the Browns defense in Week 14. Cleveland has allowed the fifth-most normalized fantasy points to opposing running backs over the last five weeks and been especially susceptible to pass-catchers out of the backfield. Since Week 8, James Conner, Spencer Ware, Kareem Hunt, and Joe Mixon have posted at least 50 receiving yards against the Browns. Even if the matchup weren’t enticing, McCaffrey’s big-play ability and reliable passing-game volume is too good to pass up. If you’re not at least even with the field, you’re setting yourself up for a lousy Sunday.
WR: Chris Godwin (vs. NO, $4,900, 26% rostered) - DeSean Jackson looks doubtful for this week (and the rest of the season), which means Godwin will be auto-play for many this week. NFL.com’s Graham Barfield makes the case for Godwin in two sentences:
And those numbers don’t account for the fact Godwin will be lined up across from Saints cornerback Eli Apple for the majority of this week’s game. Per Pro Football Focus, since joining the Saints in Week 8, only Philadelphia cornerback Rasul Douglas has allowed more yards per cover snap than Apple (minimum 100 snaps). Usually, when a sub-$5K wide receiver without much of a track record projects to be rostered by at least 25% of the field, fading them is an easy decision. But Jackson’s absence, Godwin’s talent, and the one-on-one coverage from Apple are all strong reasons to follow the crowd. Don’t dip below 20% exposure and consider coming in over the field.
TE: Travis Kelce (vs. BAL, $6,700, 19% rostered) - Kelce just delivered the second-best receiving line by a tight end this season (42.7 points), yet DraftKings dropped his salary by $300 to account for his perceived poor matchup against Baltimore. The pricing algorithm messed this one up. Over the last five weeks, only Oakland and Kansas City have allowed more normalized fantasy points to enemy tight ends than the Ravens. It makes sense. Baltimore’s secondary hasn’t allowed a single 100-yard game to a wide receiver this season. With their best options on the perimeter clamped down, teams have been forced to attack the Ravens over the middle, which suggests Kelce can keep his recent string of games with double-digit targets going. Tight ends have found the end zone against Baltimore in each of the last five games, which also raises his touchdown expectation. The only reason to come up short on Kelce this week is the availability of the league’s second-best tight end -- Zach Ertz -- for $300 less and about half the percent rostered. Don’t come up empty on Kelce lineups, but using more Ertz gains you leverage on the field.
DST: LA Chargers (vs. CIN, $3,500, 9% rostered) - The schedule isn’t doing Bengals quarterback Jeff Driskel any favors. After facing Denver’s fierce pass rush in his first NFL start last week, Driskel now has to travel to LA to face the Chargers seventh-ranked pass defense (DVOA). The Broncos were able to sack Driskel four times and force two turnovers. While LA’s pass rush doesn’t get after the quarterback nearly as well as Denver’s (even since star edge rusher Joey Bosa returned), they’re plenty capable of approximating the Broncos Week 13 counting stats. Assuming Philip Rivers and company can handle the Bengals injury-ravaged defense, the Chargers defenders will be able to pin their ears back and tee off on Driskel as he attempts to come from behind in his first career road start. LA is expensive but worthy of 15% exposure.
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Drew Brees||QB||@TB||$6,600||9%||Should be able to put last Thurs. behind him vs. vulnerable pass D.|
|Ezekiel Elliott||RB||PHI||$8,600||22%||PHI allowing 47% more fantasy pts. to RBs than league avg. in last 5.|
|Saquon Barkley||RB||@WAS||$8,900||18%||Stacks nicely with Giants D vs. Sanchez.|
|Jeff Wilson||RB||DEN||$3,800||19%||Best $ per projected touch value on the slate by wide margin.|
|Jaylen Samuels||RB||@OAK||$3,700||33%||More bust potential than Ware last week. Fade relative to field.|
|Michael Thomas||WR||@TB||$8,600||18%||42 fantasy points when these teams met in the opener.|
|Keenan Allen||WR||CIN||$7,400||23%||Won't repeat Week 13 volume but may not matter vs. CIN D.|
|Julio Jones||WR||@GB||$7,900||16%||Price vs. shaky GB pass defense is absurdly low.|
|Courtland Sutton||WR||@SF||$4,500||22%||Easy fade at elevated ownership. DEN offense worse w/ no Sanders.|
|Eric Ebron||TE||@HOU||$5,700||17%||Best TE play this side of Kelce and Ertz. HOU struggling vs. TEs.|
|New York Giants||DST||@WAS||$2,500||5%||The defense playing against Mark Sanchez costs less than $3K?|
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. ATL, $6,000, 6% rostered) - Last week’s result at Lambeau Field -- Rodgers throwing the ball 50 times, scoring only 15 fantasy points, and losing to the lowly Cardinals -- has to be a bottom-one-percent outcome. Some of Rodgers’ struggles have been his own fault. He’s missing intermediate throws he never has in the past and shown sloppy mechanics at times. But we have to be willing to write off those concerns for an all-time great quarterback in a classic get-right spot and Vegas seems to agree. Green Bay is favored by six over visiting Atlanta and implied to score over 27 points. Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Jamies Winston, Baker Mayfield, and Drew Brees (again) have each thrown for at least three touchdowns vs. the Falcons this year. Any dome team traveling to Wisconsin in December is fighting an uphill battle, but Atlanta’s 31st-ranked pass defense (DVOA) is looking especially flammable against Rodgers, who theoretically has something to prove after the team just fired their head coach of 12 years. To top it off, we’re getting him close to his season-low price and his recent box scores will shade his ownership.
RB: Nick Chubb (vs CAR, $6,700, 7% rostered) - Since Hue Jackson was ousted in Cleveland, Chubb is one of eight running backs to exceed a 75% market share of his team's total backfield touches. The fact he is operating as the Browns workhorse is not surprising, but Chubb’s involvement as a receiver under new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens is a welcome development. Over the past three weeks, Chubb has run 24 pass routes to Duke Johnson Jr’s 25. And while Johnson has averaged a meager 1.4 yards per route run, Chubb has at least three receptions and 30 yards in each game. Those extra six-to-seven points per game provide a boost to Chubb’s floor as well as his ceiling entering this week’s matchup against Carolina. The Panthers field a solid rush defense but have allowed at least 24 actual points in four of their previous five games. If this contest shoots out (over/under 47), Chubb can easily be in store for multiple touchdowns. Since Week 11, he has handled all of Cleveland’s carries from inside the opponent’s five-yard-line and is tied for the team lead in red zone targets as a pass-catcher.
WR: JuJu Smith-Schuster (@ OAK, $8,200, 7% rostered) - DraftKings overdid it on Smith-Schuster’s salary increase due to his matchup with the Raiders, which is the only reason his ownership isn’t at least double its current projection. While it seems ludicrous to browse the player pool and see Smith-Schuster priced ahead of Tyreek Hill, Julio Jones, and DeAndre Hopkins, that is precisely the reason he makes for a great -- if extremely risky -- core tournament play. At his elevated price, it will take 30+ fantasy points for Smith-Schuster to warrant a spot in your lineup. He has scored 30 points or more in two games this season, which doesn’t sound impressive, but at 17% of his total games played, is more than double his projected percent owned. Smith-Schuster will enjoy favorable coverage from cornerback Nick Nelson when lined up in the slot and Daryl Worley on his perimeter routes. Despite the struggles of both corners, Oakland has done a respectable job limiting yards-after-the-catch (YAC), but Smith-Schuster leads the NFL in that category and the Raiders haven’t faced many elite YAC threats this season.
TE: Zach Ertz (@ DAL, $6,400, 11% rostered) - You probably got the gist after reading the Travis Kelce blurb, but it bears repeating: Kelce and Ertz are both great plays this week, but their ceilings are similar and Ertz is the one who provides more leverage over your opponents. When the Eagles met the Cowboys back in Week 10, Ertz delivered the best tight end fantasy line of 2018 with 43.5 points. This isn’t to say we should pencil Ertz in for 40+ again, but the matchup against Dallas is cause for optimism. Since losing linebacker Sean Lee in Week 9, Jonnu Smith (2-33-1), Ertz, Vernon Davis (2-73-1), and Jordan Reed (6-75-0) have gotten over on the Cowboys defense. All told, Dallas has allowed over 65% more fantasy points to opposing tight ends than league average since Lee went down. In a must-win game for the Eagles, it would make sense for Carson Wentz to lean on his most trusted target.
DST: Denver Broncos (@ SF, $3,600, 5% rostered) - The Broncos defense has regained its dominant form with 13 sacks and nine forced turnovers over the previous four games. It’s bad news for Nick Mullens, who was a fun story for a moment but has predictably begun to play like the undrafted free agent he is. Mullens has been sacked seven times and thrown five interceptions over his last three games. Like most young quarterbacks, he has struggled when faced with pressure. Per Pro Football Focus, Mullens ranks 33rd in quarterback rating while under pressure since he took over as San Francisco’s starter in Week 9. On the road and priced $200 higher than Chargers DST, Denver should go somewhat overlooked.
MORE CORE PLAYS
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Patrick Mahomes II||QB||BAL||$7,000||8%||The right play way more often than not.|
|Aaron Jones||RB||ATL||$7,200||13%||Let us pray the coaching malpractice ended with McCarthy.|
|Austin Ekeler||RB||CIN||$6,200||13%||60/40 timeshare leader on 14-pt. favorite vs. CIN LBs + catches passes.|
|Alvin Kamara||RB||@TB||$8,100||14%||Seems to always save his best for Tampa Bay.|
|Davante Adams||WR||ATL||$8,400||14%||If we're playing Aaron Rodgers, we're playing Davante Adams.|
|T.Y. Hilton||WR||@HOU||$6,300||15%||13 targets in tough matchup last week. Too cheap.|
|Vance McDonald||TE||@OAK||$3,800||6%||Not a coincidence Kelce's big game came against this Oakland D.|
|Buffalo Bills||DST||NYJ||$3,200||7%||Home favorite vs. rusty, mistake-prone rookie QB.|
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: Baker Mayfield (vs. CAR, $5,800, 3% rostered) - Mayfield has scored at least ~19 fantasy points in each of his last four games, making it unlikely he’ll sink your lineup even if he doesn’t get you the 25+ you’re hoping for. As mentioned in the Nick Chubb blurb, Carolina’s defense has struggled mightily in recent weeks and it has resulted in useful games (or better) for Ben Roethlisberger (328-5-0), Russell Wilson (339-2-0), and Jameis Winston (249-2-0 and 48 rushing yards). Per airyards.com, the Panthers defense ranks seventh in total air yards against and allows a higher completion rate on targets 25-30 yards downfield than league average. If Antonio Callaway (19.7 yards per catch since Jackson’s firing) is up to the task, the recipe for chunk plays through the air exists for Cleveland this week. A Mayfield-Chubb-Callaway stack possesses the requisite upside and uniqueness to fill the rest of the lineup around it with chalk-plays and still have a realistic chance at a first-place finish.
RB: Mark Ingram II (@ TB, $5,700, 9% rostered) - There aren’t too many roster constructions that lend themselves to a $5,700 running back, which should leave Ingram under 10% owned despite a fantastic matchup against the Buccaneers. Five of the last six starting running backs to face Tampa Bay either rushed for over 100 yards, scored two touchdowns, or both. A scenario exists where Winston struggles with turnovers, the Saints get out to an early lead, and the game script favors a heavier-than-usual workload for Ingram. While he may not qualify as a true contrarian play, he’s listed here because of the substantial edge he provides if he takes advantage of the easy matchup and any combination of Brees, Thomas, or Kamara falls short of expectations.
WR: Michael Gallup (vs. PHI, $3,700, 1% rostered) - If Gallup is only making it onto one percent of your opponents’ rosters, it makes sense to have him on five-to-seven percent of yours. While there is clear bust potential here, Gallup is cheap, in the best possible matchup, and his usage is trending in the right direction. With Samuels and Wilson available as flex options at the same price, it’s understandable why no one is looking at Gallup. But the Eagles secondary has been ravaged by injuries and Gallup will be running more than half his routes against cornerback Rasul Butler, who has allowed more yards-per-cover-snap than any cornerback since Week 8. Gallup has at least five targets in each of the last three games, topping out at a season-high seven last week against the Saints (7-5-76-0). The Eagles beleaguered secondary will have their hands full containing Amari Cooper, which should open things up for Gallup to make at least one big play downfield. If he can replicate something close to last week’s output and add a touchdown this time, Gallup is likely to appear on a high percentage of winning tournament lineups.
TE: Mark Andrews (@ KC, $2,800, 1% rostered) - Playing Andrews is a bit thin, but like Gallup, you should consider using him as a differentiator in a few lineups. People love to punt tight end, but as mentioned earlier, the drop-off after Vance McDonald at $3,800 is steep this week. Rostering Andrews at close to the site minimum price will get you building in a different direction than your opponents and also offers a bit of upside. Since Lamar Jackson took over at quarterback for Baltimore three weeks ago, Andrews leads the team in receiving yards (140) by more than double over the next-closest Ravens pass catcher -- a feat made more impressive by the fact he ranks sixth on the team in targets over that span. Betting on such monstrous per-target efficiency to continue is not usually the smart move, but a matchup against Kansas City means we can press our luck for one more week. The Chiefs have been blown up by tight ends Gerald Everett (3-49-2) and Jared Cook (7-100-1) in each of their last two games and trail only Oakland in normalized fantasy points allowed to the position over the last five weeks.
DST: Detroit Lions (@ARI, $2,900, 4% rostered) - Don’t think of it as playing the Lions defense on the road. Think of it as playing the defense going up against Josh Rosen and you’ll feel much better. Despite managing a win in Green Bay last week, Rosen completed a dismal 42% of his pass attempts. On the season, he’s eclipsed a 60% completion rate just twice in nine starts. Not by coincidence, Rosen’s shaky accuracy -- especially when pressured -- has resulted in bunches of interceptions for opposing defenses. While he did avoid turnovers last week, Rosen had been picked off at least once in each of his previous six games. The Cardinals 1.8 giveaways per game rank fifth-worst in the league, giving Detroit as good a chance as any team to score the defensive touchdown we’re after in GPPs.
MORE CONTRARIAN PLAYS
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Andrew Luck||QB||@HOU||$5,900||4%||3 TDs in eight straight before last week.|
|David Johnson||RB||@DET||$6,500||6%||Legitimate 25-touch projection at low price and % owned.|
|Justin Jackson||RB||CIN||$3,800||5%||If LA is up big (they should be), Jackson is the 2nd half hammer.|
|Antonio Callaway||WR||CAR||$3,900||1%||See Baker Mayfield blurb above.|
|DaeSean Hamilton||WR||@SF||$3,000||5%||New slot guy in Denver worth more than min price vs. 49ers.|
|DeVante Parker||WR||NE||$4,300||4%||29%+ target share in 2 of 3 games since Tannehill's return.|
|Josh Gordon||WR||@MIA||$6,000||4%||CB Howard out for Dolphins. Ownership should come up.|
|Jared Cook||TE||PIT||$5,200||4%||Focal point of Raiders pass offense in pass-happy game script.|
|Green Bay Packers||DST||ATL||$2,100||5%||Cold weather team at home vs. dome team in December|