Greetings and welcome to the 2018 NFL season! What follows is a weekly strategy guide covering the main slate of FanDuel guaranteed prize pools (GPPs). It will be available every Friday from now until the Super Bowl. Each section includes a short description, and to make things easier for those short on time, every player covered in this column will be listed directly below with full analysis found in their corresponding sections.
As you incorporate this information into your weekly decisions, keep in mind that winning large tournaments presents a difficult challenge. Chasing big payouts makes for fun Sundays, but if you want to be a profitable tournament player, you must branch out and play in smaller contests that have flatter payouts, even if the prize pool doesn’t have the same appeal.
For those that want nothing but the facts, here is every player covered in this column with a quick note on each. For those that want full analysis, keep reading.
- Tom Brady – potential fade candidate given his lack of receivers but the Patriots are expected to score a lot points per usual.
- Kirk Cousins – great option in a great situation both in terms of matchup and surrounding talent.
- Drew Brees – heaviest favorite of the week and could be overlooked as everyone chases Kamara.
- Andrew Luck – likely faded by the crowd until they see him play. Tough matchup but could be a high-volume situation. Always a threat to score with his legs.
- Alvin Kamara – fade candidate due to his price and exposure. Unlikely to repeat last year’s magic.
- David Johnson – recency bias should keep his exposure down. Ranks fourth in PPR points per game since 2015.
- James Conner – tough to fade even with massive exposure expected. Salary and situation too good to ignore.
- Alex Collins – potential bell-cow usage in a dream matchup and plays behind an elite offensive line.
- Carlos Hyde – the overlooked option on the Browns’ offense with multiple touchdown upside.
- DeAndre Hopkins – outstanding last year but the matchup isn’t as good as most think.
- Keenan Allen – facing a leaky secondary in what should be a high-scoring contest.
- Odell Beckham Jr Jr. – tough matchup but always bet on talent, especially when it comes at a huge discount.
- Adam Thielen – Cousins loves slot receivers and Thielen gets a cake draw against the 49ers.
- John Ross – needs only two or three catches to hit tournament value thanks to his speed, matchup, and salary.
- Danny Amendola – Tannehill loves slot receivers. Amendola in for a big workload with Parker potentially out.
- Rob Gronkowski – the best option Brady has. Almost a must-play regardless of salary and exposure.
- Delanie Walker – affordable and playing against a soft defense.
- David Njoku – huge season on tap. Multiple touchdown upside in Week 1.
- Ricky Seals-Jones – Bradford loves tight ends and may not have time to throw downfield. Cake matchup.
New for 2018
FanDuel made a major change for the 2018 season: they finally gave kickers the boot in favor of a flex position—a move that has long been called for by the DFS community at large. Make no mistake about it, kickers provided an edge for those that searched for it, but the flex position presents an opportunity for skilled payers to fully leverage their knowledge of the game against opponents.
How to Attack the Flex Spot
Initially, prioritizing opportunities (carries + targets) makes the most sense, which means loading up with three running backs each week as the season matures. After a few weeks target distribution becomes clearer and more predictable, and it will be easier to identify tendencies of quarterbacks based on matchups. Once we make that identification, cheap wide receivers in optimal situations will be an attractive strategy.
Until then, running backs provide comfort in terms of predictability and as such, usability. Going forward, plan on using the flex position to your advantage during bye weeks, injury uncertainty, committee attacks, and so on. There will be weeks where rolling with two tight ends seems like a good idea. Feel free to avoid that temptation.
Week 1 Notes
The NFL is a game of inches. It’s also a game of tiny sample sizes. Even after 12 weeks of play, the predictability of games only slightly increases. Week 1 provides a unique challenge in that our sample size is effectively last year, which, of course, doesn’t provide current data. This lack of information suggests DFS players should guard their bankrolls early in the season.
But there’s also room for aggression. Similar to playing best ball leagues in March, if you spot mispriced players and feel confident enough to be aggressive in Week 1, then you should attack that edge and elevate your bankroll accordingly. FanDuel released salaries weeks ago, which means whatever information they were using to develop prices is likely outdated. Some players will quickly get overpriced, and the market will eventually stabilize, so now is the time to take advantage of miscalculations made by the site.
As for the player analysis that follows, note that this article was written a full week before games kick off. There will be some edits made as news comes out and exposure projections are released.
Let’s get this profit party started…
Chalk and Fade Considerations
Even though creating roster uniqueness has long been the default strategy for GPPs, there’s a reason why certain players hold the confidence of the public. Remember that fading a player simply because he’s popular checks in as one of the worst processes. You wouldn’t build a lineup full of chalk; nor should you ignore a great situation in the name of contrarianism. With that said, this section will be dedicated to finding reasons why you might consider fading the players listed below. Keep in mind that all of these players are expected to have big games, so outright fades are never recommended.
UPDATE: be sure to check out Steve Buzzard's projections of roster percentages found here.
QB: Tom Brady - $8,600
The last time Brady hocked horns with the Texans he blasted them for 378 yards and five touchdowns, despite being harassed by their pass rush all afternoon. That was in Week 3 of last year when the Patriots had a fully-stocked offense. They were favored by 13.5 points and edged out a 36-33 victory in one of the most entertaining games of the season.
The 2018 version of this matchup looks a lot different thanks to Julian Edelman’s suspension and Brandin Cooks’s departure. Regardless, the Patriots are again heavy favorites and open the season with an implied team total of 28.5 points and the highest over/under of the week. All signs point to Brady being one of the safest options for fantasy players in every format, especially GPPs.
If you’re concerned about how Brady will perform without Edelman, Cooks, and Danny Amendola look back to last year and focus on Weeks 10-17. Those games are relevant because they issued the same concerns. Edelman was on IR, Chris Hogan might as well have been, and everyone wondered how the Patriots’ offense could possibly function with nothing more than a deep threat and, of course, Rob Gronkowski. It mattered. Check out his game logs:
Half of his touchdowns came during those seven games (the majority of them during Weeks 10-12), but so did six of his eight interceptions. Despite three massive games against Denver, Oakland, and Miami, Brady’s average FanDuel points per contest dropped to 17.4—15th among quarterbacks over that stretch. Perhaps paying up for the most expensive, potentially the most popular, and definitely the oldest quarterback in the main slate isn’t the best idea. A total fade would also be unwise, but don’t be afraid to keep your exposure lower than the crowd. If you do play Brady, you might as well go full exposure and stack him with Hogan, who projects to be one of the most popular players of the week and has an attractive matchup against the Texans' secondary.
RB: Alvin Kamara - $8,700
There are two big questions that deserve answers before finalizing lineups: 1) can Kamara handle a full workload like a traditional bell-cow back, and 2) will the Saints give him a full workload like a traditional bell-cow back?
The answer to both questions is likely “no.” He has never had more than 19 touches in a game and averaged only 7.5 carries per game last year. But with Ingram unavailable, it’s more than reasonable to think that Kamara gets about 20 touches in the form of 14 or so carries and six or so catches. And given his skill set, that may be all he needs to turn in a monster afternoon.
But DFS is a game of value and Kamara doesn’t offer much of it. He’s the fourth most expensive player on the main slate, and nearly everyone agrees that his elite level of efficiency from last year is unsustainable. He needs over 26 points to hit tournament value—well above his per-game average of 17.5. The good news is that he scored at least 26 points four times last year and that was with Ingram in the lineup. So there’s room for that 3x salary dream. But when you combine his price with his popularity, he feels less like a GPP requirement and more like a GPP fade.
UPDATE 9/6 – RB: James Conner - $5,000
The biggest news of the week comes in the form of a man who beat cancer and now has a chance to make his first start in an NFL game. Conner had a solid preseason with 19 carries for 100 yards (5.3 average) and seven catches for 61 yards. He’s not Le’Veon Bell, but Conner is expected to carry the load and his price all but guarantees he will be the most popular player this week. His teammates have been on record showing their approval of the young player, and after they’ve shown their disapproval of Bell, it seems logical they’ll rally around Conner and push him to a big game.
The matchup, however, stymies expectations to a certain degree. The Browns were solid against the run last year and project to be solid again this year. It’s on their turf with rain and storms expected. So, ball security could quickly become an issue. Thankfully, the Steelers offensive line projects as one of the best and shouldn’t have too much trouble creating space for Conner. The problem is that he has very little experience and his overall athletic profile suggests he’ll need to be great at decision-making akin to his AWOL teammate.
All of that said, his price and bell-cow potential deserve attention. We have to assume his roster percentage will climb well past 50%. Come in under that, but don’t be afraid to take advantage of this wonderful gift of value.
UPDATE 9/8 - The weather situation in Cleveland has turned this game into an almost must-avoid for all offensive players. One local meteorologist said he has never seen worse weather for a Browns' football game in his 16 years at the station. That would normally not bother running backs. But with a low scoring situation on tap and a narrowed offensive playbook, this situation should be mostly avoided, especially considering Conner will still end up as one of the most popular players.
WR: DeAndre Hopkins - $8,800
Hopkins led the league in targets, receiving touchdowns, market share of targets, and was fourth in yards. He did most of that damage with Tom Savage and T.J. Yates throwing him the ball. The return of Deshaun Watson issues a lot of excitement. Thanks to his explosion, Hopkins logged 478 yards and six touchdowns on 31 catches from Week 3 to Week 8. Without a doubt, he will be one of the most popular players in Week 1 tournaments.
Driving that popularity, aside from the obvious Watson/Hopkins connection, is a tasty matchup with the Patriots secondary. They allowed 15 touchdowns to wide receivers, the third most yards, and the fifth most receptions. Those numbers, however, seem unlikely to occur again in 2018. The Patriots, for whatever reason, allowed Malcolm Butler to walk and replaced him with Jason McCourty from the Browns. McCourty had a good season in Cleveland despite, and this is a quote directly pulled from the Football Outsiders’ 2018 Almanac, “the Browns leaving him on an island all year by playing their deep safety in rural Canada.” The Patriots also brought in Danny Shelton and Adrian Clayborn, whose additions give the team an underrated pass-rush entering 2018.
None of this, of course, means Hopkins should be avoided in tournaments, especially since the Texans offense has little to offer outside of Hopkins, Watson, and Lamar Miller (with some love to Will Fuller V). But there’s reason to believe this game will fail to hit the over, especially when you consider historical trends regarding over/under results from the first week of the season:
Was listening to the pod today and heard the guys asking if Week 1 is notoriously low or high scoring. Since 2008, it's the lowest scoring week of the year. Full list... @ThePME @gfienberg17 @timanderson87 pic.twitter.com/pIKau7msYu— Rick Gehman (@DFSonDemand) August 28, 2018
Combine that with a pair of teams that feature mediocre-to-bad offensive lines and good-to-great pass rushes, and maybe Hopkins isn’t as good of a play as his salary and popularity suggests. Log some shares just in case this game does go nuclear but consider pivoting to other top-priced wide receivers as well.
TE: Rob Gronkowski - $7,900
Per usual, Gronkowski is priced like an elite wide receiver because he is an elite wide receiver. His $7,900 salary would rank as WR6 just above Odell Beckham Jr Jr. and just bellow Keenan Allen. What’s interesting about that is Gronkowski ranked sixth in FanDuel points per game among all wide receivers and tight ends last year. Even better yet, this is the cheapest his salary has been since Week 12 of 2017. His price was over $8,200 on average and dropped below $7,900 only twice last year.
That sets us up with two important facts: this is the healthiest he will be all season, and this is likely the cheapest he will be all season. It’s also important to note that the Patriots have 200 targets to replace after both Cooks and Amendola signed with other teams, and Edelman won’t be around to help out until Week 5. Everything about this situation suggests that Gronkowski is set up for a monster first quarter of the season, starting with the Texans.
The Texans, of course, will attempt to neutralize him and take him out of the game, but that’s the same strategy every team employs, and it rarely works. It will be especially difficult for Houston considering they allowed the sixth most yards, fifth most touchdowns, and fourth most points per target to tight ends in 2017. Perhaps the addition of Tyrann Mathieu will change things. But they will still have to contend with Brady’s receivers and the Patriots’ dynamic mix of running backs. Gronkowski scored nearly 19 FanDuel points against this team in Week 3 of last year, and that was when the Patriots’ offense included Cooks, Amendola, and Dion Lewis. Despite losing those players and not having Edelman in the lineup, the Patriots are still six-point favorites and boast the second highest team total with 28.5. Feel free to auto-draft Gronkowski and his multiple touchdown upside while ignoring his projected exposure.
Core players need no introduction: they are the meat and potatoes of lineups. Developing a list and building around them is DFS Strategy 101.
QB: Kirk Cousins - $7,600
Over the last three seasons Cousins ranks fourth in passing yards, sixth in attempts, third in completion percentage (second if you remove Sam Bradford) and eighth in touchdowns. During that stretch, only Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, and Brady have scored more FanDuel points. It’s fair to say that each of those quarterbacks benefits from either having superior rushing ability or elite offensive systems with great receivers. Cousins enjoyed none of those benefits yet here he is, nearly edging out Brady as the fourth highest scoring quarterback since 2015.
There are subjective components to that statement, such as what constitutes elite offensive systems with great receivers. What’s not subjective is the fact that Cousins is now surrounded by the best group of players in his career, including a defense capable of producing short fields and positive games scripts. Mix all of that with a potentially elite running game, and you have the makings of an every-week DFS option.
Whether or not that option checks all the GPP boxes depends on two things: price and matchup. For Week 1, Cousins benefits from both. He gets to host a 49ers’ defense that last year surrendered the fourth most FanDuel points and the eighth most passing touchdowns to quarterbacks. They attempted to address this issue by scooping up Richard Sherman, but it remains to be seen whether he will ever return to his dominant level of play after rupturing his Achilles early last November and undergoing surgery as a result. The 49ers will also be without Reuben Foster, who is suspended for the first two weeks of this season, which once again makes their pass-rush look anemic.
Cousin’s QB7 price tag might place him in a sort of no man's land of too expensive to be a value but affordable enough to allow for plenty of upside at other positions. Perhaps he’s best reserved for cash games. But for reference, his average salary last year was $7,762, and his average value based on salary expectations was 2.3x. This week he needs 22.8 points to hit the coveted 3x tournament requirement. He scored at least that many in six games last year or 37.5% of the time.
There are, of course, reasons to wonder if this matchup is a trap for fantasy players. One being the Vikings’ rushing attack. Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray might benefit from this matchup more than any other player. Which would, in theory, cut into Cousins’ touchdown potential and subsequent upside. But concerns about his ceiling should be ignored. Only three players logged more 300-yard games than Cousins’ five last year, and he failed to surpass at least 220 yards only four times, all while dealing with a taped together offensive line. In fact, since 2015, Brees and Philip Rivers are the only two players to have more 300-yard games (23 and 20 respectively) than Cousins (19). And now he’s teamed with two wide receivers that together combined for 155 receptions, 2,126 yards, and 12 touchdowns with Bradford and Case Keenum under center. One might be tempted to call that the best wide receiver combo in the league.
The Vikings are 5-point home favorites earning them the fifth highest implied team total (26 points). Note, that among active head coaches, Mike Zimmer’s 44-23 record (.657) against the point spread is the best in the league (per Football Outsiders). We should expect a healthy amount of scoring in this game and as such, make Cousins a staple in lineups.
QB: Drew Brees - $8,400
Thanks to the Saints’ dominant rushing attack, Brees’s fantasy ceiling dropped to its lowest point since he joined the team 2006. Last year was a completely different story than the previous eight years where he averaged over 630 pass attempts, nearly 310 yards per game, and 35 touchdowns per season. In 2017, those numbers dropped to 537 pass attempts, 270.9 yards per game, and only 23 touchdowns. That might explain why his season-long draft stock tumbled to the sixth round.
But assuming the Saints will match their historical performance from 2017 seems illogical. Until last year, no team in NFL history had fielded a pair of running backs with at least 1,500 yards from scrimmage each. Mark Ingram II and Kamara combined for 3,094 yards and 25 touchdowns on 490 touches. Forgive the cliché, but those numbers reek of regression.
That moves us to Week 1 where Brees checks in as the second most expensive quarterback. His salary might help keep his exposure down while the crowd chases cheaper options and likely puts their faith in Kamara. Regardless of his popularity, Brees deserves your attention thanks to a home date with the Buccaneers, who fielded one of the most passer-friendly defenses last year. Only the Patriots allowed more passing yards per game and only three other teams allowed a higher completion rate. The Saints open as the biggest favorite of the week with a 9.5-point spread in a matchup Vegas expects to produce a lot of scoring (49.5-point over/under). Roughly 30 of those points filter to the Saints’ implied team total, which is the highest of all teams in Week 1. That sets up a lot of expectations for their offense, particularly the quarterback. Because as good as Kamara was last season, it would be naive to think Sean Payton and Co. plan on force-feeding him 20+ touches, especially as a traditional runner. He rarely handled double-digit carries and averaged only 7.5 per game. The Saints know they need to manage his workload in order to keep him productive for an entire season, and they know they don’t need to ride him to beat the Bucs. And even if they do give him the bell-cow treatment, it’s a safe bet that most of his production will come via the passing attack. In other words, we should expect Brees’s numbers to regress towards his career average beginning in Week 1.
RB: David Johnson - $8,600
This seems like the perfect time to take advantage of Johnson, who could end up being overlooked as everyone chases other expensive running backs. He gives us two distinct advantages: 1) he’s an elite player and possibly the most talented running back in the league, and 2) the crowds’ recency bias thanks to his long absence and questionable offense should keep his exposure in check.
Forget not that Johnson was on his way to another typical Johnson game log in Week 1 last year. Detroit stymied the Cardinals’ rushing attack, but they had no answer for him as a receiver. He logged six catches on nine targets for 68 yards before a wrist injury pulled him from the game and ended his season. Despite missing 15 games in 2017, Johnson still ranks fourth in PPR points per game since 2015 among running backs, which is rather amazing when you consider he didn’t even start a game until Week 13 of his rookie season.
His Week 1 matchup looks more daunting than what last year’s numbers might suggest. Washington allowed the third most rushing yards and fifth most FanDuel points to running backs. But part of that was due to injuries and negative game scripts. We can’t count on either of those in Arizona, where the Cardinals field a questionable offense at best. But we can ignore most of it because Johnson is immune to game scripts and projects to be the focal point of the team.
The biggest concern is his offensive line. The Cardinals lost their starting center for the season a few weeks ago and were already a major weakness before that. Thankfully, Johnson’s talents allow him to overcome his offense’s weaknesses. There’s little doubt that his usage will pick up right where it left off, especially with Bradford looking for quick check-downs as the Washington pass-rush spends all afternoon in his backyard. Johnson is expensive, but he offers massive upside as both a rusher and a receiver, and if the crowd is off of him, you should be on him. #AlwaysBetOnTalent
RB: Alex Collins - $6,700
You won’t separate your lineup from the crowd much by rostering Collins. In fact, pairing him with Kamara makes a great deal of sense given that one back provides salary relief to help pay for the other one, and both backs offer massive upside thanks to their projected usage and soft matchups.
Regardless, Collins’ touchdown potential against a run defense that surrendered a league-high 20 last year to running backs is too much to ignore. The Bills couldn’t stop any team they faced and were consistently smashed on the ground to the tune of 1,796 yards, which tied the Chargers for the most in the league. And now that the Bills’ offense looks even worse, chances are teams will once again have no trouble scoring early and then successfully riding running backs to kill clocks.
Last year, the Ravens provided the fourth most opportunities in the red zone, 53.5% of which went to running backs, and their offensive line ranked sixth in adjusted line yards and fourth in pass protection. This was possible despite Joe Flacco struggling through injuries and the offense struggling along with him. They were able to ride an excellent defense and special teams unit to nine wins and should pick up right where they left off but with a stronger offense, which means shorter fields and more scoring opportunities.
Collins stands to benefit the most in this situation. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry last year on his way to a top-20 finish in FanDuel scoring. From Week 11 on, no player scored more rushing touchdowns, only six handled more carries, and only 10 rushed for more yards. Collins finished ninth in FanDuel points during that stretch with an average of 15.2 points per contest. That average might feel a bit low for a tournament play, but it included a pair of duds (vs. the Browns and Colts) where he had multiple chances to score and was met in the backfield by defenders early and often. He managed only 15.8 total fantasy points across those contests. Things look much brighter against the Bills. Collins won’t be much of a factor in the passing game, which certainly limits his upside in tournaments, but he is a good bet for multiple touchdowns in a game-script happy environment.
WR: Keenan Allen - $8,000
We finally saw a glimpse of what a full season looks like for Allen, who played all 16 games for the first time in his career. The results? He ranked third among all receivers in FanDuel points (fourth in points per game), fifth among all players in targets, and fourth in receptions. Only Antonio Brown and Julio Jones ended the year with more receiving yards, and only six other players earned a higher percentage of team targets.
The worst part about Allen’s season was his production in the red zone. He scored only six touchdowns all year despite ranking third in red zone targets and fourth in targets from inside the five-yard line. The good news is that touchdown rates tend to fluctuate and Allen still finished as a top-three wide receiver despite his lack of end zone visits. We should expect more touchdowns this year with Hunter Henry out indefinitely, even though the Chargers signed Antonio Gates.
Last year the Chiefs’ defense couldn’t keep wide receivers out of the end zone nor could they pressure quarterbacks. They allowed the second most FanDuel points to wide receivers, the second most yards, the third most touchdowns, and the third most receptions. 2018 sets up for more of the same. The Chiefs’ traded one of the league’s best cornerbacks, Marcus Peters, and replaced him with Kendall Fuller. Fuller was an excellent slot receiver for Washington last year but expecting him to play outside against team’s No. 1 wide receivers seems unwise. At least they’ll get Eric Berry back after he was lost all year thanks to an Achilles tear in Week 1. But his return only looks good on paper since we have no idea how he will respond after such a difficult injury.
All told, the Chiefs’ pass-rush barely exists outside of Justin Houston, and their secondary has to replace over 60 percent of last year’s team snaps with new players. That’s great news for Philip Rivers and Co. Even though Rivers was terrible against this team in both meetings last year, Week 1 sets him up with a dream matchup that Vegas expects to produce a lot of points. The over/under of 47.5 points is the third highest of the slate, and the Chargers implied team total of 25.25 ranks sixth. Allen, and to a lesser extent Rivers, deserve to make regular appearances in tournament lineups. In fact, it may not be so crazy to pair Allen with Melvin Gordon III and take full advantage of this offense even though stacking a running back with a wide receiver from the same team should generally be avoided.
UPDATE 9/6 - Allen currently projects to end up on the highest percentage of rosters among wide receivers. That’s no surprise and is subject to change. But there’s also been a lot of chatter regarding his poor performances vs. the Chiefs. Indeed, across six games Allen has managed only 449 yards (74.8 per) on 36 catches. The good news is that he averaged nine targets per game and the Chiefs no longer have Peters. They're also likely to be without Berry in Week 1. Berry was out all of last season too, so his absence doesn’t mean a sudden explosion for Allen, but let’s hope his history of bad statistical performances tames exposure percentages. He’s a solid play either way.
WR: Odell Beckham Jr Jr. - $7,800
We’re getting a discount on the league’s highest-paid wide receiver. Beckham’s salary rarely falls below $9,000 and hasn’t been less than $8,000 since Week 12 of 2014. There are several factors at play here. The biggest one is his brutal matchup against the Jaguars’ dominant secondary. They allowed only 1,768 yards to wide receivers, only nine touchdowns, and a league-low 49.5% catch rate. No matter where Beckham lines up, he’s going to be challenged by two of the league’s best cornerbacks in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.
But keep in mind that even as daunting as this matchup is on paper, the Jaguar’s secondary isn’t invincible. Their stats look fantastic partially thanks to playing the AFC South twice a year. And it’s not like their 2017 matchups against the AFC East and AFC North provided a ton of competition either (outside of the obvious names). Check out these game logs where they played notably good quarterbacks or elite wide receivers:
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Antonio Brown||19||7||132||2||28.7||9000|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Martavis Bryant||19||2||78||1||14.8||6700|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||JuJu Smith-Schuster||19||3||5||1||8||7000|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Eli Rogers||19||5||42||0||6.7||5400|
|Houston Texans||DeAndre Hopkins||15||4||80||1||16||8200|
|Houston Texans||Will Fuller V||15||5||44||0||6.9||5600|
|Seattle Seahawks||Tyler Lockett||14||4||90||1||18||5200|
|Seattle Seahawks||Doug Baldwin||14||3||78||1||15.3||7400|
|Seattle Seahawks||Paul Richardson Jr Jr||14||3||72||1||14.7||5900|
|L.A. Chargers||Keenan Allen||10||4||48||0||7.4||7300|
|L.A. Chargers||Tyrell Williams||10||2||49||0||5.9||5300|
|L.A. Chargers||Mike Williams||10||2||24||0||3.4||4800|
|L.A. Chargers||Travis Benjamin||10||0||0||0||1.3||5400|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Brandon LaFell||9||2||28||0||3.8||4900|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Josh Malone||9||1||13||0||1.8||4700|
|Cincinnati Bengals||A.J. Green||9||1||6||0||1.1||8200|
|L.A. Rams||Robert Woods||6||5||70||0||7.5||5600|
|L.A. Rams||Cooper Kupp||6||2||35||0||4.5||5900|
|L.A. Rams||Sammy Watkins||6||1||11||0||1.6||6700|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Antonio Brown||5||10||157||0||20.7||8800|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||JuJu Smith-Schuster||5||4||58||0||7.8||5400|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Martavis Bryant||5||5||21||0||5.9||5700|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Justin Hunter||5||1||6||0||1.1||4500|
|Houston Texans||DeAndre Hopkins||1||7||55||1||15||7100|
Antonio Brown absolutely crushed this unit. Twice. Hopkins logged a combined 11 catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns, despite not having Watson in Week 15 and only having Watson for two quarters in Week 1. And all of the Seattle wide receivers found the end zone while combining for 240 yards. Yes, the Jaguars shut down both Allen and A.J. Green. And not pictured is T.Y. Hilton who, like Green, struggled to produce thanks to awful quarterback play. We may be grasping at straws here, but this list at least suggests Beckham has a chance at a big day on Sunday given his talents.
What makes him particularly intriguing is his price, which is the lowest it will be all season, his popularity, which could be the lowest all season, and his offense, which looks better than it has in several seasons. The Giants are set up to exploit the biggest weakness of the Jaguars’ defense: defending the run. Jacksonville allowed the seventh most yards per carry and ranked 28th in adjusted line yards according to Football Outsiders. The Giants drafted Saquon Barkley second overall last April which immediately puts their rushing attack back into the discussion of being elite, so long as their offensive line allows for it. Barkley’s abilities as a receiver should help, and with Evan Engram and Sterling Shephard giving the Jaguars plenty to be concerned about, Beckham won’t have trouble dealing with one-on-one coverage even if it’s against elite cornerbacks. Take advantage of this situation while the crowd remains shy and his salary provides tons of upside.
WR: Adam Thielen - $7,600
Choosing between Thielen and Stefon Diggs, so long as they are healthy, will be a challenging decision to make week in and week out. If they were separated a bit more regarding price, the decision would come easier. But Week 1 has them only $200 apart, which is negligible. If you need to squeeze that amount out of your salary cap, then Diggs is an easy pivot, but that’s also where the crowd might end up even if they believe he’ll find Sherman in coverage often.
Thielen profiles as a much better fit from what we’ve seen of Cousins’ style of play. In Washington, he targeted slot receivers nearly 54% of the time. Thielen played over half of his snaps from the slot last year, and if that continues in Week 1, he’ll enjoy a productive day against the 49ers slot corner K'Waun Williams, who allowed the 13th most yards to slot receivers last year and a nearly 77% completion rate. In 2017, Thielen was held to under five catches in only three games, ranked fourth in yards, and 10th in FanDuel points, all while the Vikings’ offensive line was in shambles. He gets to open the season with the best quarterback he’s ever played with against a team that allowed the sixth most yards and seventh most fantasy points to wide receivers. Stacking him with Cousins makes a ton of sense. And if you’re feeling courageous, a Cousins/Thielen/Diggs power stack could be profitable.
WR: John Ross - $5,100
The majority of people will filter their trust to A.J. Green in what sets up as a terrific matchup for the Bengals’ passing attack. He’s an excellent play and has top-five upside at his position. But don’t forget about Ross, who is one of the fastest players in the NFL. He demonstrated that speed and some fancy footwork a few weeks ago during a preseason game against the Bills:
His rookie season was a total waste. He fumbled his first NFL touch in Week 2, got injured in practice the following week and missed most of the season. His 2017 ended with only two targets and zero receptions in three appearances. So even though it’s typical to cast aside preseason performances as meaningless, keep in mind that Ross brought a lot of hype to a team that desperately needed someone to stretch the field opposite Green. The release Brandon LaFell signifies that Ross has the trust of coaches and could finally have an opportunity to put his speed to work. The situation in Week 1 couldn’t be a better place to start thanks to the Colts terrible secondary and a fast track in Indianapolis. A player like him only needs two or three catches to hit tournament value. His combination of speed, matchup, salary, and overall upside makes him an appealing flex play.
TE: Delanie Walker - $6,100
Walker will likely be a popular option for those that choose to pass on Gronkowski’s price tag. He gets a great matchup against a Dolphins’ defense that last year allowed the most receptions, the second most yards, and the second most touchdowns to tight ends. Walker has logged at least 800 yards in every season since 2014 and has finished as a top-six tight end in FanDuel scoring over the last three years. The Titans group of wide receivers looks talented and should eventually render Walker an ancillary option. But until that happens, for as long as he’s healthy, he makes for a fine tournament play, especially given his Week 1 matchup and price.
TE: David Njoku - $5,300
If the preseason means anything, it’s that the Browns plan to use Njoku a ton in 2018:
Through three preseason games, David Njoku has been in on 62-of-72 first-string snaps (86%). Run 36 routes vs. 9 pass-blocks, via PFF.— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) August 24, 2018
He wasn’t a reliable fantasy starter in 2017 but showed flashes of his abilities that earned him a first-round selection that same year. Expectations are higher than ever thanks to the Browns acquiring Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry, and the assumed return of Josh Gordon. On paper, Njoku’s offense looks dynamic, and it should pave the way for him to flirt with top-five numbers. The Steelers present a tough test as they allowed only 753 yards and two touchdowns to the position in 2017. But their game logs tell a mixed story: Gronkowski lit them up for 168 yards, Walker gained 92 yards, Eric Ebron managed 58 yards, but both Travis Kelce and Kyle Rudolph got shut down. All of this adds up to a potentially difficult matchup, though not one to shy away from. Njoku has plenty of upside at an affordable cost.
Baltimore Ravens - $4,800
If you roster Collins, it makes perfect sense to pair him with the Ravens’ defense. They’ll be popular, but this isn’t the place to worry about diversification. The Ravens led the league in turnovers last year and ranked second in both sacks and FanDuel points. They will have no trouble harassing the Bills’ offense, regardless of who gets the start at quarterback.
New Orleans Saints - $4,600
The Buccaneers will be riding Ryan Fitzpatrick for the first four weeks while Jameis Winston serves his suspension. That’s good news for the Saints, who scored a combined 32 FanDuel points when facing Tampa Bay last year (18 in Week 9 and 14 in Week 17). A positive game script suggests the Saints’ defense will earn a lot of opportunities for sacks, turnovers, and by extension, touchdowns.
Similar to sleepers, contrarian players are those the crowd has completely mispriced and undervalued. In some cases, it’s a player coming off an injury or facing a difficult matchup but still carries a heavy price tag. In other cases, it could be a player that has struggled recently and therefore deemed untrustworthy. In all cases, guard your exposure to players listed in this section but get them in at least a few lineups.
QB: Andrew Luck- $7,300
Luck profiles as a GPP option because the crowd will likely want to take a wait-and-see approach with him before regaining faith in his abilities as a passer. The matchup should also provide some hesitation due to a Bengals’ defense that was tough on quarterbacks last year and looks even better this year. Still, a healthy Luck is one we want to target, especially while the crowd is off him. From 2012 to 2016, he ranked fifth in fantasy points per game and eighth in passing yards per game. During his last healthy season (2016), he completed over 63% of his 545 pass attempts for 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns. The concerns about his health haven’t gone away, but all signs point to him being full-go in Week 1. His matchup looks difficult. The game-flow, on the other hand, should force him into a high-volume situation given the Colts’ awful secondary, and Luck is always a threat to score with his legs. One caveat: if his projected exposure ends up being high, this is great spot to fade Luck and pivot to Andy Dalton, whose matchup might be the best on the board and his price tag ($6,800) allows for some interesting roster construction.
UPDATE 9/6 - Early projections show Luck indeed falling out of the crowd's eye. So he fits the bill as a GPP play. But Dalton will be even less popular and has better receivers, a better matchup, and a better price. It never feels comfortable rostering him in big tournaments, or any format, but if you're looking for a discount quarterback, he might have the highest ceiling of all the sub-$7,000 guys.
RB: Carlos Hyde - $5,900
The Browns’ backfield is congested, but Hyde should still earn double-digit touches, at least until Nick Chubb gets up to NFL speed. Hyde projects to be the early-down option while Duke Johnson Jr gets his usual passing-down work, which could make him a solid GPP candidate as well. But Hyde projects to be the goal-line option. It helps to have Taylor under center and a great supporting cast of receivers. The Browns are underdogs in their own stadium, so rostering Hyde flies in the face of the typical DFS strategy recommendations. But their offense looks great on paper, and their defense looks rather solid as well. The Steelers allowed more points per touch to running backs than any other team and gave up 12 rushing touchdowns—tied with five other teams for the sixth most.
UPDATE 9/8 - The weather situation in Cleveland has turned this game into an almost must-avoid for all offensive players. One local meteorologist said he has never seen worse weather for a Browns' football game in his 16 years at the station. That would normally not bother running backs. But with a low scoring situation on tap and a narrowed offensive playbook, this situation should be mostly avoided.
WR: Danny Amendola - $5,100
There’s nothing exciting about a small, old, slot receiver that will now have Ryan Tannehill as his quarterback instead of Brady. The good news is that we know how much Tannehill loves targeting his slot receivers, and with DeVante Parker still dealing with a finger injury that may hold him out of the opener, Amendola has an opportunity for a huge role in Week 1. He’s a decent route runner and has demonstrated excellent hands with a career reception rate of over 70%. He projects to take on Titans’ slot corner Logan Ryan, who last year allowed an NFL passer rating of 107.8, the eighth highest among corners that played at least 50% of snaps. The Titans’ overall secondary looks a lot better this year, but this is a good spot for Amendola soak up a ton of targets. He needs just over 15 points to lock up tournament value, which is well within his reach.
UPDATE 9/6 - Parker is not expected to play. Amendola is a much better option in full PPR formats, but still worth chasing on FanDuel thanks to his price.
TE: Ricky Seals-Jones - $4,600
The porous offensive line in Arizona could lead to one of two situations: Seals-Jones spending a lot of his time blocking, or Seals-Jones receiving a lot of dump offs as Bradford finds no time to throw downfield. The latter of which is what makes his Week 1 outlook intriguing as a GPP option. Washington was a weekly target for tight tends last year when they allowed an average of 60.6 yards to the position along with eight touchdowns. The last time Bradford was healthy (2016), he targeted Kyle Rudolph 124 times and connected with him 79 times for 775 yards and seven touchdowns. Rudolph finished the season as the second highest scoring tight end. It’s not too early to wonder if Seals-Jones will get the same treatment. He offers decent upside for little investment.
Def: Cleveland Browns - $3,000
If you’ve exhausted your salary and need some relief, the Browns have you covered. Per Football Outsiders, the Browns ranked 16th in overall DVOA and fourth against the run. They only produced 34 sacks and a measly seven interceptions, but Myles Garrett showed plenty of promise while missing time due to injuries, and they added Denzel Ward to the secondary via the fourth overall selection in the 2018 draft. All told, this defense looks quite a bit different than last season when they ranked 14th in yards allowed and surrendered the second most points. It’s not a great matchup on paper, but there is some hpe that this team holds there own offensively and occasionally makes a splash on defense. Even if they score only six FanDuel points—their projection for Week 1 and a threshold they reached 60% of the time with Garrett in the lineup—you’ll be in good shape (assuming the allocation of the rest of your salary makes up for the rest).
UPDATE 9/6 - Bell's absence makes the Steelers offense weaker, regardless of what Conner offers as a player. Even better, wind and rain is expected with thunderstorms in the area Sunday afternoon.
UPDATE 9/8 - The weather situation in Cleveland has turned this game into an almost must-avoid for all offensive players. One local meteorologist said he has never seen worse weather for a Browns' football game in his 16 years at the station. This matchup opened with a 47.5-point over/under and a seven-point spread. The over/under is now down to 41 points and the spread is down to 4.5 points. Everything about this situation screams target defenses and the Browns, at site minimum, are almost a must-play. Unfortunately, whatever edge we had from an exposure standpoint likely just went out the window, as the entire crowd will now be all over it.
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