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:
- After a predictably low-scoring Week 15, we’re once again faced with a slate containing only a single game -- Pittsburgh at New Orleans -- with an over/under above 50 points (53). We can expect the crowd to chase a few key players from the Steelers and Saints, but unlike last week, there are other respectable offenses in exploitable matchups. Many of your opponents will also look to Dallas and Indianapolis when building their cores. Each team is implied to score at least 27 points and expected to win handily. New England and LA (Rams) also have high team totals but have underperformed in recent weeks. Players from the Patriots and Rams project to provide leverage on the field due to recency bias.
- Andrew Luck ($6,200) stands out as the most appealing option in the top-pricing tier at quarterback, with Dak Prescott’s ($5,700) matchup against Tampa Bay inflating his ownership in the mid-tier. Collectively, they should tie up about 25% of ownership at the position. Those who don’t spend up to Luck or Prescott will most often punt with Nick Foles ($4,700) at home against Houston. The substantial savings Foles provides in a great on-paper matchup will cause common roster construction to diverge.
- Running back roster rates will be close at the top, as usual. The public will want plenty of Ezekiel Elliott ($9,000), Christian McCaffrey ($8,800), and Todd Gurley ($9,200), all of whom have favorable matchups. Perhaps McCaffrey and Gurley slip a bit due to concerns about the former’s replacement quarterback and the latter’s knee injury, but it’s unlikely unless we receive news ahead of lock they’re due to play limited snaps. We can add Saquon Barkley ($7,900) to this group as well after DraftKings overcorrected his price following just his second sub-20 fantasy point game of the season.
- Squeezing in two of the top four running backs is difficult without spending down to Foles at quarterback. Lineups with Luck and Prescott will require more balance due to the high prices of their stacking partners. Those who spend over $6K at quarterback will be eyeing Nick Chubb ($7,300), Joe Mixon ($7,100), and Dalvin Cook ($6,900) in the upper-middle tier or coming down to Jamaal Williams ($5,400), Tevin Coleman ($4,800), or Elijah McGuire ($4,700) at lower salaries to leave room for a top wide receiver.
- The most sought-after option above $8K at receiver should be DeAndre Hopkins ($8,600), who is coming off a 42-point explosion and faces Philadelphia’s injury-decimated secondary. He’ll share significant ownership at the top with Michael Thomas ($8,100), JuJu Smith-Schuster ($8,000), Amari Cooper ($7,500), and T.Y. Hilton ($7,100).
- Regardless of which route the masses take at RB1 and RB2, common roster construction dictates saving cap space on at least two wide receivers. Robby Anderson’s price ($4,500) has been slow to adjust following consecutive games with 17+ fantasy points. He’ll be chalky along with Alshon Jeffery ($5,300), who showed out last week (27 fantasy points) in Foles’ return to the starting lineup.
- We’re coming off one of the worst weeks for tight end fantasy scoring in recent memory, which means entrants will pay a premium for a “safe” option at the position. Zach Ertz ($5,900) and Eric Ebron ($5,700) pair neatly with two of this week’s most popular quarterbacks, which all but locks an expensive tight end into this week’s stock roster build. Starting your lineup with a tight end below $4K is an easy way to differentiate your lineup from the pack.
- Only $1,000 separates the top-10 options at defense/special teams.Ownership will be flat as a result, with most entrants picking on the worst offense they can find. The LA Rams ($3,200), Browns ($3,000), and Dolphins ($2,700) all fit the bill, making it a good week to either spend way up or way down at defense to stray from the masses.
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: Andrew Luck (vs. NYG, $6,200, 12% rostered) - Luck’s price is down $200 from last week thanks to his first single-digit fantasy game of the season in a blowout win over Dallas. The crowd will be quick to forgive him for the slip-up thanks to his affordability in comparison to other top-tier quarterbacks like Drew Brees ($6,500) and Deshaun Watson ($6,600). The visiting Giants are a welcome matchup for Luck as he looks to rebound. New York looks like a middling opponent for quarterbacks on paper, but have faced a slew of mediocre signal-callers this season. Luck hasn’t been very matchup dependent anyway. Besides last week’s poor outing, he has finished with less than 22 fantasy points in only one other game since Week 4. With a 20+ point floor, Luck is probably the safest option on the board and the Colts status as nine-point home favorites suggests he can hit his 30-point ceiling. While Luck is a fine play, this is a rare week where other high-end quarterbacks can provide significant ownership leverage. Get some exposure, but fade him as the top-owned quarterback.
RB: Ezekiel Elliott (vs. TB, $9,000, 35% rostered) - What we saw last week from Elliott (19.8 fantasy points) feels like a bottom-10% outcome considering the Cowboys were shut out and dominated from the opening whistle. Prior to Week 15, Elliott had scored between 25 and 39 points in each of his last five games (which coincides with Amari Cooper’s integration into Dallas’ offense). If there were ever a matchup to help Elliott get back to his 40-point ceiling, Tampa Bay is the one. The Buccaneers have allowed 30% more fantasy points than league average to opposing running backs over the last five weeks, including blow-up games to fellow elite backs Saquon Barkley (152 total yards and three touchdowns) and Christian McCaffrey (161 total yards and a touchdown). In a game the Cowboys are expected to win by more than a touchdown on their home field, Elliott can conceivably touch the ball over 30 times (including 5+ catches) and rack up yardage with his usual efficiency. There are many ways to go at running back this week, but it should pay to follow the crowd on your exposure to Elliott.
WR: Robby Anderson (vs. GB, $4,500, 26% rostered) - Anderson’s recent production is more in line with wide receivers priced in the $6,500 range, making him a screaming bargain few entrants are likely to overlook. He’ll attempt to extend his hot streak (at least 17.6 fantasy points in back-to-back games) in a one-on-one matchup against struggling Green Bay cornerback Jaire Alexander. Per Pro Football Focus, Alexander is one of only six cornerbacks on this week’s slate allowing more than two yards per route covered this season. Qunicy Enunwa will remain sidelined for this game, so it appears Anderson is once again safe for at least seven targets from Sam Darnold, who is coming off his best two-game stretch as a pro. There is no doubt DraftKings has Anderson’s price wrong, but as the potential highest-owned wide receiver on the slate, he’s a clear fade. If you’re joining the crowd in piling on a cheap wide receiver, it’s best not to make it one who plays for the Jets.
TE: Eric Ebron (vs. NYG, $5,700, 14% rostered) - With T.Y. Hilton playing banged up and the Giants next on the schedule, there is a strong chance Ebron will be the crowd’s preferred stacking partner for Luck. Like all Colts not named Marlon Mack, Ebron is coming off a disappointing game, but if it hadn’t been for a near miss in the end zone and a 38-yard catch called back by penalty, no one would be hesitating to use him this week. New York has long been susceptible to tight end fantasy production, but haven’t faced many offenses that feature the position in the passing game this season. In matchups against Zach Ertz (7-43-1), George Kittle (9-83-0), O.J. Howard (5-78-0), and Ertz again (7-91-1), tight ends have performed just fine against the Giants. We want to target tight ends when they’re at home, favored to win comfortably, and their team is implied to score at least 24 points. Ebron checks off all those boxes and the matchup is gravy. The only reasons not to raise your exposure above his projected ownership are the tight end position’s inherent volatility and how easy it is to differentiate your lineup by choosing an inexpensive tight end this week.
DST: LA Rams (@ ARI, $3,200, 10% rostered) - Without going back to look, it’s a safe bet the defense facing the Cardinals has appeared in this column every week since Josh Rosen took over at quarterback. After a Week 15 performance that included two interceptions, a lost fumble, seven sacks, and his second pick-six in the last three games, now is not the time to deviate from the strategy. It would be comforting if the Rams were at home rather than in Arizona, but its best not to overthink this one. Defensive end Aaron Donald is capable of single-handedly turning this game into a nightmare for Rosen. There are several other defenses in great spots, who will come at lower ownership, but there is a reason LA has the second-highest H-Value of any DST on the slate. Consider 15% exposure.
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Nick Foles||QB||HOU||$4,700||10%||Upside questionable even in great matchup. Reserve for cash games.|
|Christian McCaffrey||RB||ATL||$8,800||15%||Heinicke adds risk but CMC should be dump-off machine in perfect matchup.|
|Saquon Barkley||RB||@IND||$7,900||26%||Price down $1,500 from last week for no apparent reason.|
|Tevin Coleman||RB||@CAR||$4,800||16%||Still priced like a backup with Ito Smith on IR.|
|DeAndre Hopkins||WR||@PHI||$8,600||15%||Best WR in NFL vs. scrub cornerbacks.|
|Amari Cooper||WR||TB||$7,500||12%||TB no longer a punching bag but Cooper's massive games come at home.|
|Michael Thomas||WR||PIT||$8,100||14%||Target hog on heavy favorite with high implied team total.|
|Alshon Jeffery||WR||HOU||$5,300||15%||Foles' preferred target makes for a cheap stacking partner.|
|Zach Ertz||TE||HOU||$5,900||19%||One of Ertz or Jeffery likely to bust. Prefer Ebron for $200 less.|
|Dallas Cowboys||DST||TB||$2,600||13%||TB no longer a plus matchup for opposing DSTs. MIA only $100 more.|
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: Drew Brees (vs. PIT, $6,500, 6% rostered) - Brees’ projected roster percentage is either a mistake (our Steve Buzzard has made very few of those this year on his way to winning the two most prestigious tournaments in all of DFS) or the crowd has it wrong. Sure, Brees has been a trap in each of the last three games, which include two single-digit fantasy point performances. But let’s examine some facts:
- Brees is currently completing a career-high 74.9% of his pass attempts.
- His 8.1 yards per pass attempt is the third-highest average in his 12 years as a starter.
- 6.9% of his pass attempts have resulted in a touchdown, the second-highest rate of his career.
- The Saints are favored by six points in the game with the highest over/under on the slate.
- Pittsburgh couldn’t stop Derek Carr from passing for 322 yards and two touchdowns in their last road game.
Are people actually willing to pass up this spot for Brees -- an all-time great quarterback having one of the best seasons in his Hall of Fame career -- because of a couple of down games? Let’s hope so.
RB: Nick Chubb (vs. CIN, $7,300, 13% rostered) - Do you want a running back with Ezekiel Elliott’s ceiling at a 19% price savings? Chubb is your guy, which makes it a small wonder more people aren’t expected to jump on him this week. When the Browns traveled to Cincinnati in Week 12 (Andy Dalton’s last game of the season), Chubb rolled to 128 total yards and two touchdowns. Now Cleveland is at home, favored by nine points, and their defense gets to tee off on Jeff Driskel for all four quarters. Whether or not last week’s Duke Johnson Jr mini-revival was situational or here to stay, the game script favors 25+ rushing attempts and at least one touchdown for Chubb, who had a five-game scoring streak snapped last week. The Bengals were successful stopping Doug Martin in a negative game script in Week 15 but have been shredded on the ground by every other starting running back they’ve faced since Week 6. Chubb is a clear core play and warrants consideration as one of your highest exposures at any position.
Edit: Chubb's roster percentage projection was upped to 19% on Friday's update, so it appears he's not going overlooked. Coming in overweight on the crowd still seems like the right idea.
WR: Davante Adams (@NYJ, $8,500, 11% rostered) - Are we really doing this again? Last week, in this very space, we made the case for Adams being a core play any time he’s befuddlingly projected near single-digit ownership. He went on to score 24.9 fantasy points, which was the best performance by any wide receiver on the main slate. Perhaps the crowd’s trepidation is due to the ambiguity surrounding Aaron Rodgers’ groin injury, but Rodgers has been a full participant in practice since Wednesday and has said he’s playing all along. Adams has shown a remarkable floor/ceiling combination this season, scoring between 16 and 38 fantasy points in every game. The Jets have allowed 45% more fantasy points than league average to wide receivers over the last five games, including DeAndre Hopkins’ 11-10-170-2 line in last week’s game. Our opponents are leaving us with little choice but to triple their exposure to Adams for a second-straight week.
TE: David Njoku (vs. CIN, $3,800, 6% rostered) - Earlier, it was mentioned spending less than $4K at tight end is an easy way to begin allocating your cap space differently than the crowd. Njoku is one of a precious few tight ends who actually makes the strategy viable. He hasn’t flashed much of a ceiling since Hue Jackson and Todd Haley got canned in Week 8, but encouragingly, the one game in which Njoku succeeded under the Browns new coaching regime came against Cincinnati in Week 12. The Bengals allow the fourth-highest pass success rate to enemy tight ends and the eight touchdowns they’ve let up to the position are only one behind the league-lead. Like Ebron, Njoku checks off the game script boxes we’re looking for in a tight end -- the Bengals are favored by nine points at home and implied to score 26 points. Get him in about 15% of your lineups.
DST: Miami Dolphins (vs. JAX, $2,700, 6% rostered) - The Dolphins are at home and fighting for their playoff lives while the listless Jaguars are playing out the string. Jacksonville has scored a combined 28 points since Cody Kessler took over as their starting quarterback in Week 13. He’s taken a total of 13 sacks over that span, fumbled in every game, and thrown one interception. After failing to complete 60% of his passes in each of the last two weeks, it wouldn’t be surprising if Kessler began turning the ball over with even greater frequency. The defense playing against Kessler has ranked 10th, 8th, and 4th in weekly fantasy scoring in his three starts in place of Blake Bortles. At the very least, Miami offers as high a floor as you’ll find at the position this week, and at best, this is the game Kessler’s dismal completion percentage catches up with him and results in multiple turnovers.
MORE CORE PLAYS
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Jared Goff||QB||@ARI||$6,400||4%||sub-5% ownership for QB with highest implied team total?|
|David Johnson||RB||LAR||$6,200||5%||LAR unable to stop Jordan Howard and Wendell Smallwood in last two.|
|Dalvin Cook||RB||@DET||$6,900||11%||DET rush defense has improved but is banged up. Cook back to workhorse.|
|Brandin Cooks||WR||@ARI||$6,500||7%||Production lacking recently but still most upside of any LAR WR.|
|John Ross||WR||@CLE||$3,800||6%||Return of CB Ward hurts but should see target bump without Boyd.|
|JuJu Smith-Schuster||WR||@NO||$8,000||10%||Watch late week practice injury. Otherwise, Saints CBs can't stop him.|
|Evan Engram||TE||@IND||$4,600||10%||Assuming OBJ sits, Engram locked into heavy volume role.|
|Cleveland Browns||DST||CIN||$3,000||9%||Driskel just completed 42% of passes at home vs. OAK defense.|
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: Sam Darnold (vs. GB, $4,900, 4% rostered) - Darnold is your Nick Foles price pivot with similar upside. Green Bay has no reason to get up for this road game, while Darnold is playing like he has something to prove. He may have been boosted by Houston’s struggling pass defense last week en route to a career-best 21.62 fantasy points, but he’ll get a similar opportunity this week against the Packers. Green Bay has allowed the fourth-most normalized fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks over the last five weeks. Darnold has been extending plays and attempting more passes downfield since returning from injury two games ago. Per Pro Football Focus, the rookie was excellent on throws that traveled between 10 and 20 yards in Week 15, going eight-for-11 for 137 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. It’s probably best to stop short of projecting a shootout between New York and Green Bay, but the possibility does exist. The Packers are short road favorites (-3) and the implied game total (47) is tied for third-highest on the main slate. In lineups where you choose to swallow the chalk with Robby Anderson, stacking him with Darnold is an inexpensive way to create uniqueness.
RB: Kalen Ballage (vs. JAX, $3,700, 5% rostered) - Frank Gore sprained his foot early last week and Dolphins head coach Adam Gase still only gave Kenyan Drake his usual ~50% of the team’s offensive snaps. It was Ballage picking up most of Gore’s early-down work in the loss to Minnesota, and the rookie made good on his impressive measureables with a 75-yard touchdown run. If we believe Miami’s defense beats up on Cody Kessler in a must-win game (we do), then Ballage becomes an ideal stacking partner. The combination costs less than 13% of the salary cap and possesses easy 5x potential despite the seemingly difficult matchup against the Jaguars. The public is working under the misconception Jacksonville is impossible to run on. While they’re not exactly a soft matchup, they have struggled against running backs on the road all season. You might recall their inability to tackle Derrick Henry during his absurd 238-yard, four touchdown breakout game in Week 14. Ballage might not be the inside runner Henry is, but he’s big (6’2’’, 228 lbs.), fast (4.46 40-yard dash), has fresh legs, and should benefit from a positive game flow. 100+ yards and a touchdown for the second-straight week are very much in play.
WR: Demaryius Thomas (@ PHI, $4,700, 3% rostered) - Thomas hasn’t lit the world on fire since joining the Texans, but he typically sees between five and eight targets per game. It’s enough opportunity to make him an interesting price pivot off Robby Anderson in a matchup with Philadelphia’s bottom-rung secondary. The Eagles are down to street free agents in their defensive backfield and are going to have their hands full covering DeAndre Hopkins. Per Pro Football Focus, Thomas will spend most of his time lined up opposite cornerback De'Vante Bausby on Sunday. Bausby was an undrafted free agent in 2015, wasn’t on the active roster a month ago, and was released from the practice squad earlier this season. Not surprisingly, Bausby has allowed more fantasy points per route defended than any cornerback expected to be active this week. If Thomas can’t get the best of this matchup, it’s officially time to exclude him from your rankings moving forward.
TE: Blake Jarwin (vs. TB, $3,000, 3% rostered) - Earlier this week, Adam Levitan made a useful observation on a shift in Jarwin’s role for the Cowboys:
Role change for Blake Jarwin last two weeks. Has run a route on 71 of Dak's 99 dropbacks, seen 15% target share.— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) December 19, 2018
Jarwin’s increased usage has resulted in salary multiples of 5.0x and 3.1x in his last two games, respectively. Maybe a 12-point ceiling isn’t enough to land him in a winning GPP lineup, but considering the dearth of attractive options at tight end and the fact Jarwin has returned value without finding the end-zone to this point, maybe there’s more here than he’s shown so far. Tampa Bay has improved against tight ends (and pass-catchers in general) since changing defensive coordinators, but they’re still not a pass defense we should seek to avoid. Jarwin also fits this week’s theme at the position -- Dallas is a big home favorite (-7) with a high-implied team total (26.75), which suggests there should be increased opportunity for a tight end to factor into the passing game.
DST: Philadelphia Eagles (vs. HOU, $2,100, 4% rostered) - Worries about containing DeAndre Hopkins aside, the Eagles have an unusually high floor for a defense priced $100 above the site minimum. Deshaun Watson’s ability to extend plays sometimes extends them into sacks for the opposing defense. Watson has been sacked a staggering 19 times over his previous four games, yet he’s somehow avoided a single turnover over that span. The Eagles defensive line isn’t nearly the dominant unit they were during last year’s Super Bowl run but they got after Jared Goff last week, sacking him twice, forcing two fumbles and an interception. If their spirited Week 15 performance against the Rams is any indication, Philadelphia will be playing their hearts out in front of their home crowd as they attempt to keep their playoff hopes alive. This is a spot to side with the home underdog, who will need their defense to play a critical role to have any chance at a win.
MORE CONTRARIAN PLAYS
|Player||Pos||Opponent||Salary||Proj. Own %||Comment|
|Jameis Winston||QB||@DAL||$5,500||3%||Matchup is tough but volume, rushing ability can pay off.|
|Alfred Blue||RB||@PHI||$4,500||1%||If Miller sits, any RB vs. PHI D is worth more than 1% exposure.|
|Sony Michel||RB||BUF||$4,900||4%||Candidate for 20 carries, goal-line work in potential blowout.|
|Antonio Callaway||WR||CIN||$3,900||3%||Double-digit fantasy points in three of last four games.|
|Mike Evans||WR||@DAL||$6,800||5%||If Dallas offense lives up to expectations, Evans is correlation play.|
|Allen Robinson||WR||@SF||$5,400||4%||Uncertain role week-to-week but upside vs. non-Sherman SF CBs.|
|Chris Herndon||TE||GB||$3,100||8%||GB has allowed most normalized fantasy points to TEs over last 5.|
|New Orleans Saints||DST||PIT||$2,300||2%||Can do worse for $2.3K than big home favorite.|