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:
- There are two games on Saturday this week, bringing the main slate back down to 11 games for the first time since Week 12. It’s projected to be an unusually low-scoring slate by 2018 standards, with only one game -- New England at Pittsburgh -- implied by Vegas to exceed 50 total points. As a result, we can expect the crowd to pile on Patriots and Steelers as core plays, particularly Ben Roethlisberger ($6,600), JuJu Smith-Schuster ($8,000), Tom Brady ($5,900), and Rob Gronkowski ($5,800).
- Outside of Roethlisberger and Brady, quarterback ownership will be flat as a board. In terms of raw projections, there is very little separating the third-highest priced option at the position (Andrew Luck) from the tenth (Aaron Rodgers). About three-quarters of the field will look to avoid the drop-off after Dak Prescott at $5,500, giving bargain quarterbacks more leverage than usual.
- The crowd’s first reflex will be to jam in Saquon Barkley ($9,400) and Ezekiel Elliott ($9,000) but a lack of value in the lower tiers at running back, wide receiver, and tight end will make it difficult (though not impossible). More entrants will favor a balanced approach at running back where Joe Mixon ($6,100), Dalvin Cook ($6,500), and Jaylen Samuels ($5,200) are each priced attractively in terrific matchups.
- Whether you use Mixon and Cook together or pair one with Barkley/Elliott, top-priced wide receivers aren’t exactly easy to squeeze into this week’s stock roster build. Smith-Schuster -- coming off his second 35+ point performance in the last three games -- should be the most sought-after receiver at $8,000 or above. But cap constraints dictate significant wide receiver ownership will concentrate on mid-priced players like Corey Davis ($5,600) and Tyler Boyd ($5,700), as well as sub-$5K options like Dante Pettis ($4,400) and even the Buffalo wide receivers in an appealing matchup against Detroit.
- Tight end looks about as top-heavy as it has all season. After George Kittle ($6,300), Eric Ebron ($5,900), Gronkowski, and Jared Cook ($5,600), the position all but dries up. Spending up at tight end will be the move for most, which makes fitting in the top two running backs -- Barkley and Elliott -- even more difficult.
- No defense is priced above Jacksonville at $3,400, which essentially means your opponents get to pick whichever defense they like most. The heaviest ownership should settle in the $3K tier where Baltimore ($3,000), Chicago ($2,900), Buffalo ($2,800), and Atlanta ($2,700) figure to lead the way.
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: Ben Roethlisberger (vs. NE, $6,600, 9% rostered) - While there may not be a consensus top play at quarterback this week, we can safely expect about 10% of the crowd to gravitate towards “Ben at home”. But Roethlisberger’s fabled home/road splits (which have been mostly debunked this year) are the last reason he warrants consideration this week. The high over/under in New England at Pittsburgh is justified. Both the Patriots and Steelers rank inside the top-10 in situation-neutral pace of play, which means Roethlisberger could flirt with 40+ pass attempts. Over the last five weeks, only Kansas City and the LA Rams have allowed more normalized fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks than the Patriots. The matchup screams high volume/high efficiency for Roethlisberger and is amplified by the fact Pittsburgh has no running game to speak of for as long as James Conner remains sidelined. Roethlisberger’s ceiling justifies his salary, and quarterback roster percentages barely matter this week. He is one of the quarterbacks you should build stacks around.
RB: Joe Mixon (vs. OAK, $6,100, 22% rostered) - It only takes a glance at this week’s salaries to spot the inefficiency in Mixon’s price. Cincinnati's offense has gone in the tank without A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, but it didn’t stop Mixon from dominating a strong Chargers front-seven on the road in Week 14 (31 touches, 138 total yards, 1 touchdown). It’s clear the Bengals will ride Mixon for as long as they have a puncher’s chance at a win, which should be the case this week at home vs. the 3-10 Raiders. Oakland may have stuffed Pittsburgh’s short-handed rushing attack last week, but they still employ the same plodding linebackers that have been shredded by Marlon Mack (25-132-2), Raheem Mostert (7-86-1), Melvin Gordon III (165 total yards and a touchdown), David Johnson (25-137-0), and Gus Edwards (23-118-0) since Week 8. His floor/ceiling combo might not be the highest due to the lack of offensive talent around him, but you’re simply not finding another running back with Mixon’s three-down plus goal-line role anywhere close to $6,100. The price is too good not to at least match the field’s exposure.
WR: JuJu Smith-Schuster (vs. NE, $8,000, 17% rostered) - Like last week, Smith-Schuster’s elevated salary is hard to swallow. But also like last week, the odds he’s able to deliver 30+ fantasy points are greater than his current ownership projection. Smith-Schuster’s big-play ability makes him exactly the type of player you want significant exposure to in tournaments every week, but with a league-leading 48 targets since Week 11, he’s so much more than just a home-run hitter. If we’re working under the assumption Roethlisberger has to pass 40+ times to beat the Patriots, the volume will be there once again for Smith-Schuster, who should see favorable coverage as Bill Belichick schemes to keep Antonio Brown in check. At $500 less than Brown, and with a higher demonstrated ceiling in 2018, Smith-Schuster is the preferred Pittsburgh wide receiver for Roethlisberger stacks, though it’s probably best to split your exposure evenly between the Steelers top wideouts.
TE: Rob Gronkowski (@ PIT, $5,800, 14% rostered) - Gronkowski proved he can still get over on weaker opponents by hanging eight catches, 107 yards, and a touchdown on Miami in Week 14. The Steelers have allowed 28% more fantasy points than league average to enemy tight ends this season -- most recently a combined 10 catches, 148 receiving yards, and 3 touchdowns to Jared Cook, Lee Smith, and Derek Carrier in last week’s game against Oakland. It’s safe to say Pittsburgh is vulnerable to tight end fantasy production, as well as to Gronkowski specifically. In six career games against the Steelers, he averaged 6.5 catches, 111 receiving yards, and 1.3 touchdowns per game. Whether or not to exceed the crowd’s exposure on Gronkowski will come down to his final ownership projections. If his disappointing season-to-date production keeps him less popular than Indianapolis touchdown-magnet Eric Ebron and Week 14 super-hero George Kittle, it’s safe to go heavier on Gronkowski. But if brand recognition and the glamour surrounding the Patriots-Steelers matchup make him the most popular tight end (or close to it), take your chances fading him relative to the field.
DST: Baltimore Ravens (vs. TB, $3,000, 13% rostered) - The crowd isn’t buying Jameis Winston’s three straight weeks of near-mistake-free football now that he’s on the road in Baltimore. While it is fair to expect regression from Winston in this spot, there are also reasons to believe the field is overrating the Ravens. For starters, they’re coming off a crushing loss to Kansas City last week and may have trouble getting up for this non-conference game against an inferior opponent. Winston is playing well (65% completions, 8:2 TD:INT rate over his last four games) and it wouldn’t be shocking if he caught Baltimore sleeping early. Even if he doesn’t get off to a good start, the fast pace of play both teams favor should afford Winston plenty of opportunities to put points on the board throughout. Baltimore’s defense has reached double-digit fantasy points four times this year. The opposing quarterbacks in those games were Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, the injured version of Marcus Mariota, Derek Carr, and Matt Ryan. Buyer beware.
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Tom Brady||QB||@PIT||$5,900||6%||Roster % should rise. Cheap, playing in national spotlight.|
|Ezekiel Elliott||RB||@IND||$9,000||32%||Expect a lot of passing-game production vs. IND.|
|Saquon Barkley||RB||TEN||$9,400||29%||DK made him tough to squeeze but you have to find a way.|
|David Johnson||RB||@ATL||$7,100||17%||The last two weeks were the ones to play him at low ownership.|
|T.Y. Hilton||WR||DAL||$6,800||24%||Held together by scotch tape but ceiling as high as any WR if he plays.|
|Amari Cooper||WR||@IND||$7,500||23%||Don't chase points on the road against sneaky IND pass defense.|
|Stefon Diggs||WR||MIA||$7,600||15%||No CB Xavien Howard for MIA makes it a matchup to target.|
|George Kittle||TE||SEA||$6,300||16%||Volume warrants high price but expect closer to floor than ceiling.|
|Eric Ebron||TE||DAL||$5,900||21%||8-12 targets locked in. Dallas has struggled to cover tight ends.|
|Chicago Bears||DST||GB||$2,900||9%||Best pass rush in league vs. banged up o-line.|
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: Mitchell Trubisky (vs. GB, $6,000, 10% rostered) - Trubisky is coming off a 7.7-point, three-interception stinker in his return from a shoulder injury last week. While he profiles as a top point-per-dollar value at quarterback and came in higher than expected on our initial ownership projections, it’s difficult to see the crowd getting too excited about him now that it’s been a month since his last useful game. Green Bay’s defense should help Trubisky get back on track. The Packers have allowed at least 24 points in all six of their road contests this season and the Bears are implied to score a solid 25.5 points. In the 11 games Trubisky has played, he has been involved in 72% of the team’s offensive touchdowns, making at least two touchdowns more likely than not if the game stays on script. If he can also crack 40 rushing yards for the sixth time this season, a 4x salary multiple isn’t far off a median-range outcome.
RB: Dalvin Cook (vs. MIA, $6,500, 14% rostered) - It’s taken all season, but it appears Dalvin Cook is finally healthy. Cook ran hard against Seattle last week on his way to 83 total yards and a touchdown, and more importantly, took back full control of the Vikings backfield. Cook was in on 77% of Minnesota’s offensive plays and handled 86% of the team’s total backfield touches. He couldn’t have resumed his role as a three-down workhorse at a more ideal time. Miami has been a punching bag for enemy running backs all season. With Minnesota favored by more than a touchdown at home, the game script is there for Cook to get somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 carries to go along with his customary three-to-five catches. 20+ touches and goal-line work is more than enough for any running back -- let alone one with Cook’s talent -- to tear through Miami’s defense. Don’t let the last two box scores fool you -- this is the same Dolphins team that has allowed over 130 rushing yards to a running back in three games since Week 7.
WR: Davante Adams (@ CHI, $7,900, 8% rostered) - Put a gold star next to Adams’ name on your notes. If he’s still projected for less than 10% ownership on Sunday morning, triple the field’s exposure to this season’s cumulative WR3. Nothing seems to make a difference for Adams. Give him poor matchups, a struggling Aaron Rodgers, no competent wide receivers on the team to help draw coverage away, and all he does is produce. Adams hasn’t dipped below 16 fantasy points in a single game this season and has topped 30 three times. If the Bears defense has a weak spot, it’s out on the perimeter. Chicago ranks bottom-eight in yards allowed to opposing wide receivers and has struggled to contain WR1s in several games this season. Even if Rodgers continues to produce at 75% of his normal rate, it’s more than enough to support ~25 points for Adams, who at the very least, is unlikely to wreck your lineups.
TE: Jared Cook (@ CIN, $5,600, 9% rostered) - Since Week 10, Cook has outscored Kittle and Gronkowski and has two less PPR points than Ebron. Yet despite his elite production and matchup against Cincinnati's suspect linebackers, Cook will be the lowest-owned of the top-4 tight ends. Cook has assumed the role of WR1 for the Raiders with a 20% overall target market share, including 18% of the team’s red zone targets this season. His recent production -- back to back games with 20+ fantasy points -- makes his $5,600 cap hit looks like a bargain in comparison to the wide receivers priced below $6,400, let alone the field below him at tight end. The Bengals allow the third-highest pass success rate to opposing tight ends and were getting flamed by the position week-after-week before “shutting down” the ancient Antonio Gates and nondescript Matt Lacosse in the last two games. The baseline projections for the top-4 tight ends this week are extremely similar, so it makes sense to use more of Cook -- the one who provides the most leverage on the field.
DST: Atlanta Falcons (vs. ARI, $2,700, 6% rostered) - Another week, another opportunity to go overweight on the defense playing against Josh Rosen and the league-worst Cardinals offense. Last week marked just the third time all season Rosen was able to complete over 60% of his passes. But despite the improved accuracy, Rosen was still sacked three times and threw a pick-six (his 10th interception since Week 6) against the toothless Lions defense in Arizona. The Falcons are abysmal on defense but proved as recently as Week 13 they remain capable of making a rookie quarterback pay for his mistakes. If we’re to believe the Falcons will win by the nine points Vegas is calling for, sacks and turnovers will be part of the equation.
MORE CORE PLAYS
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Kirk Cousins||QB||MIA||$6,200||6%||Matchup should make new MIN OC look good in 1st game.|
|Derrick Henry||RB||@NYG||$5,000||11%||50 points isn't happening again but NYG can be steamrolled by big backs.|
|Jaylen Samuels||RB||NE||$5,200||18%||We saw his floor last week. Game environment will unlock ceiling.|
|Chris Godwin||WR||@BAL||$4,900||8%||Busted as chalk last week. Buy-low on 10 targets.|
|Kenny Stills||WR||@MIN||$4,300||6%||Involvement has spiked since complaining about targets. Avoids CB Rhodes.|
|Allen Robinson||WR||GB||$3,200||9%||Stack with Trubisky. Should roast CB Jaire Alexander.|
|Vernon Davis||TE||@JAX||$3,200||6%||Bad QB's best friend on high percentage routes and still gets downfield.|
|Buffalo Bills||DST||DET||$2,800||13%||Stafford sacked 17 times across last three road 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 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: Jeff Driskel (vs. OAK, $5,100, 2% rostered) - Driskel has yet to even sniff cash game value in his two games as a starter, but the schedule hasn’t done him in any favors. With tough matchups against the Broncos and Chargers now behind him and the Raiders up next, it’s time to focus on the positives. Despite the quality defenses he’s faced, Driskel has completed a respectable 67% of his passes (albeit for only 6.3 yards per attempt) and thrown a touchdown in each game. He also has yet to tap into his rushing ability, which was his calling card in college. Oakland has allowed 41% more fantasy production to opposing quarterbacks than league average over the last three games and their season-to-date ranking against the position would look worse if teams weren’t always running up the score on them. Vegas sees a close game between Cincinnati and Oakland (Bengals -3), so Driskel won’t have the luxury of taking his foot off the gas. The Raiders also allowed a combined 123 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries to Patrick Mahomes II and Lamar Jackson in Weeks 12 and 13, which suggests Driskel’s rushing upside may finally be unlocked. Stacking him with Tyler Boyd provides massive leverage on Mixon’s high-ownership.
RB: Nyheim Hines (vs. DAL, $3,800, 1% rostered) - If Hines is only going to be on 1% of tournament rosters, it’s not a bad idea to put him on 5% of yours. Dallas at Indianapolis has the slate’s second-highest total (47 points), so rostering cheap pieces of this game is a sound strategy. The case for Hines has more to do with the Cowboys defense than anything the rookie running back has accomplished on the field lately. If Dallas continues to have success with their pass-rush, Andrew Luck will be forced to check the ball down more frequently. When a similar scenario unfolded in Week 13 at Jacksonville, Hines caught nine passes for 50 yards. The more opportunities Hines gets to touch the ball, the more likely he’s finally able to deliver the types of splash-plays that made him so exciting coming out of North Carolina State. And even if he fails to rip off long runs, Hines can still reach a 4x multiple on his affordable salary by compiling short catches in the event Dallas doesn’t give Luck enough time to throw downfield.
WR: Robert Foster (vs. DET, $4,300, 10% rostered) - It’s a small wonder Foster isn’t getting more love in fantasy circles after his third game with at least 94 receiving yards in the last four weeks. While he may be an undrafted rookie tied to Buffalo’s woeful passing offense, Foster’s talent is undeniable. He was the No. 2 wide receiver recruit in the country coming out of high school in 2013, but never got a real chance at Alabama due to injuries and the players in front of him on the depth chart. Foster has elite speed (4.41 40-yard dash) and fast-twitch athleticism to go with his sturdy 6’1’’, 196-pound frame. Before Andre Holmes and Kelvin Benjamin were cut by the Bills, Foster was entirely reliant on the deep ball to score fantasy points, but there was a huge shift last week. In his first game without Holmes and Benjamin, Foster led the team with a 96% snap-share (up from 40-60% in the last three games). He was targeted eight times by Josh Allen, which doubled his previous career-high. This week, Foster will be covered primarily by Lions cornerback Mike Smith, a fellow undrafted rookie free-agent, who was elevated from the practice squad in November. Per Pro Football Focus, Ford has allowed more yards per route covered than any cornerback playing this week. Don’t be shocked to see Foster’s name on winning GPP lineups.
TE: Kyle Rudolph (vs. MIA, $3,500, 3% rostered) - Targeting running backs and tight ends against Miami has been a mainstay in this column all season. Rudolph is the next man up vs. the Dolphins, who were partially responsible for rejuvenating Gronkowski’s fantasy season in last week’s game. Miami has now allowed 63.2% more fantasy points to opposing tight ends than league average over the last five weeks. While Rudolph’s involvement in the Vikings offense leaves something to be desired, perhaps new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski can encourage Kirk Cousins to exploit the mismatch when the Dolphins try to cover Rudolph with one of their struggling linebackers. On a slate without many attractive low-priced tight ends, Rudolph at least has the matchup in his favor.
DST: Seattle Seahawks (@ SF, $3,300, 4% rostered) - Those interested in paying up at defense are likely to find the extra $100 to get up to Jacksonville vs. Josh Johnson, leaving Seattle as a contrarian option despite a date with Nick Mullens. When the Seahawks played the 49ers in Week 13, they recorded three sacks, forced three turnovers, and scored a defensive touchdown. That game was in Seattle, but the fact remains Mullens gifts fantasy points to opposing defenses. Over the last four games, Mullens has thrown six interceptions, lost two fumbles, and been sacked seven times. In a division game the Seahawks need to win, expect them to make life miserable for Mullens all afternoon and pay off their relatively high salary.
MORE CONTRARIAN PLAYS
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Marcus Mariota||QB||@NYG||$5,100||3%||Was on a roll before he wasn't needed last week vs. JAX.|
|Aaron Jones||RB||@CHI||$6,600||4%||Can do damage in passing game w/ Rodgers getting ball out quickly.|
|Marlon Mack||RB||DAL||$4,500||4%||Leverage play on Luck, Hilton, Ebron. Starter priced as backup.|
|Doug Martin||RB||CIN||$4,700||2%||CIN allowing 63% more fantasy pts. to RBs than league avg. in last 5.|
|Tyler Lockett||WR||@SF||$6,200||5%||Can burn SF corners with or without Baldwin active.|
|Michael Gallup||WR||@IND||$3,600||4%||Errant throws kept him from big game last week. Targets rising.|
|Dede Westbrook||WR||WAS||$4,500||5%||Kessler's WR1 will avoid CB Josh Norman.|
|Cameron Brate||TE||@BAL||$4,000||2%||Keep picking on Baltimore DEF vs. TEs.|
|Detroit Lions||DST||@BUF||$2,500||5%||DST vs. Josh Allen always in play.|