Greetings and welcome to Week 5 of 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.
- Jared Goff – playing out of his mind and a great pivot from Ryan/Roethlisberger.
- Russell Wilson – offense has struggled but a tasty matchup on tap.
- Aaron Rodgers – need to check health of receivers but always bet on talent when the crowd overlooks it.
- Kirk Cousins – ranks first in passing attempts, third in yards and touchdowns.
- Todd Gurley – always a solid play but running back value is plentiful this week.
- Melvin Gordon III – fade candidate as the chalkiest back of the week with unsustainable numbers and offensive line injuries.
- David Johnson – finally was involved in the passing game and logged 25 touches last week.
- James Conner – high-upside chalk-play with heavy involvement in the passing attack.
- T.J. Yeldon – great matchup and gets full reign on the backfield with Fournette out.
- Jay Ajayi – risky play but features multi-touchdown upside.
- Aaron Jones – great matchup and should get more work. Montgomery also in play with injuries to receivers.
- Derrick Henry – leads team in red zone opportunities and offense playing well. Great stacking mate with Titans defense.
- Adam Thielen – four straight 100-yard games and another one in the cards this week.
- Stefon Diggs – great GPP alternative to Thielen against a shaky secondary.
- Brandin Cooks – ranks second in receiving yards and the least popular Rams’ receiver.
- Doug Baldwin – drew seven targets and looked healthy last week.
- Dede Westbrook – set career highs and could surpass them this week in a big game.
- Jordy Nelson – has looked excellent even if most of his production came in one game.
- Marquez Valdes-Scantling – boasts elite speed and is the next man up with Packers injuries.
- Jared Cook – TE1 with an affordable salary but will be uber chalk.
- Zach Ertz – dominant target share and his salary forces unique roster builds.
- Nick Vannett – Seahawks target tight ends at the eighth highest rate. Potential safety net for Wilson.
Week 5 Notes
The Atlanta/Pittsburgh tilt will draw a lot of attention and figures to be the main play for most game stacks thanks to an over/under of 57.5 points. We certainly can’t ignore the upside both teams offer, but we also need to figure out ways to differentiate lineups. Thankfully, this week blesses us with three other games with over/unders in the 50s, and two more set at 49 points. So, it’s possible to build lineups away from the Falcons and Steelers and not get crushed because of it. Football, after all, has plenty of unpredictable elements and we’ve seen promising matchups end as major disappointments in the past.
With that in mind, consider pivoting to game stacks built around the Packers/Lions, Raiders/Chargers, and Seahawks/Rams. All of those games feature good-to-elite quarterbacks, excellent skill-position players, and healthy implied point totals. And don’t forget to pick a few off-the-board matchups to build lineups around. The Eagles hosting the Vikings, for example, has an over/under of only 46 points (which opened at 44.5 points). We could see a lot of defense, but both offenses have played well and feature a ton of talent. Chasing those types of situations lead to big Sundays win they hit.
Thoughts on Chalk
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, and be sure to check out Steve Buzzard’s percent rostered projections.
Steelers vs. Falcons
A matchup like this deserves its own section. Thanks to a grouping of elite offensive players, a pair of defenses that can’t stop anyone, and an over/under of 57.5 points, we’re staring at a fueled-up, chalky contest sure to draw a lot of the crowd. Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Calvin Ridley all figure to rank near the top in terms of roster percentages. Combinations of Ryan/Jones/Ridley/Brown or Roethlisberger/Brown/Smith-Schuster/Jones will be common builds in large tournaments. And for good reason. The Steelers have allowed the most FanDuel points to quarterbacks, while the Falcons rank fourth. The Steelers rank third in points allowed to wide receivers, while the Falcons rank seventh. Overall, the Falcons have permitted the third most FanDuel points per game, and the Steelers are right below them with the fourth most allowed on the season. Mix in a pair of offenses that rank top-10 in both points scored and yards gained, and we’re likely on our way to the highest-scoring—and chalkiest—matchup of the season.
Fading it outright would be unwise, but game theory suggests to carefully pick our exposure and look for angles into this matchup that give us underrated pieces of each offense. Mohamed Sanu, for example, had a solid game last week and might be the forgotten option among the masses. He offers a promising matchup against Steelers’ slot corner Cameron Sutton, who last week allowed six catches on six targets for 66 yards, one touchdown, and a passer rating of 152.1. Outside of last week’s six-catch, 111-yard performance, you won’t find many scintillating stats to carry Sanu into must-play territory. But he has drawn 16 targets over the last two games. For reference, Jones has drawn 18 and Ridley 14 over that same sample.
You could also consider Austin Hooper, who hasn’t had a busy season in the Falcons’ crowded offense, but he does rank ninth in receiving routes among tight ends per Pro Football Focus, and the Steelers’ have allowed the second most points to tight ends on the season. Additionally, if Devonte Freeman misses another game, Ito Smith becomes an interesting contrarian play. He saw a major jump in snaps last week and since Freeman’s injury, Smith’s 11 red-zone looks easily lead the team. Among running backs that have played at least 20% of snaps, he ranks 17th in FanDuel points per snap. That stat certainly grasps for straws, but he’s outplaying Coleman, and with a high-scoring matchup on tap, it makes sense to grab the guy who’s getting the most red zone opportunities. Unless, of course, Freeman makes his return. In that case, we should probably fade the entire Falcons’ backfield, but Smith proved he deserves more playing time. Don’t be surprised to see him in more red zone packages going forward.
For the Steelers, James Conner may go slightly overlooked while everyone chases the passing game. He sets up as an excellent play thanks to his overall usage and the fact that the Falcons have allowed the fifth most FanDuel points to running backs. Most of those points were delivered via the pass, which happens to play to Conner’s strengths. He ranks eighth in targets among running backs and it stands to reason he’ll be heavily involved in a pass-oriented game plan Sunday.
If you do chase the mega chalk players in this matchup, Brown has yet to blow up for a major game, but Jones makes more sense given his dominant target share in a more compressed offense. You could start both but doing so loads your lineup with chalk and forces some ugly builds. Smith-Schuster may be the best play of the three considering his price, his effectiveness, and his usage in the red zone (13 opportunities vs. 5 for Brown). He also projects to spend most of his afternoon against Falcons’ slot corner Brian Poole, who has allowed the seventh most yards among slot corners, along with three scores.
As for the quarterbacks, it’s best to chase the highest ceiling and that belongs to Roethlisberger. We’ve witnessed him blast weak secondaries for years, especially at home. Ryan is a great play as well, but his ridiculous touchdown rate over the last three games is unsustainable.
RB: Todd Gurley - $9,100
Gurley’s career season continued last week when he dropped 156 combined yards and a score against a solid Vikings’ defense. He’s now second in rushing yards and third in receiving yards among running backs and leads all players in touches with 94. On deck is a challenging matchup in Seattle, whose defense ranks 10th against the run per Football Outsiders’ DVOA. From a fantasy perspective, Seattle has allowed the 11th fewest points to running backs despite facing the likes of David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, and Jordan Howard.
Of course, those players haven’t been super effective, and matchups don’t matter when it comes to someone of Gurley’s caliber, especially when his quarterback is playing lights-out. But there is no shortage of viable tournament options this week who will save us a lot of salary and who also get a fair share of opportunities while playing soft defenses. Conner, David Johnson, Melvin Gordon III, Christian McCaffrey, and T.J. Yeldon all offer excellent alternatives. Granted, Gurley’s ceiling trumps them all, and he’s a threat to dominate the final standings once again. But it’s best to keep your exposure even or below that of the crowd’s and differentiate with cheaper options.
RB: Melvin Gordon III - $8,700
Gordon enters Week 5 ranked as the third-highest scoring running back. His price feels like a discount compared to what we’ve been paying for Gurley and Alvin Kamara, so he profiles to end up as the most popular player of the week. What’s interesting about Gordon’s season so far is that he has rushing totals of 64, 28, 80, and 104. Those numbers combined barely edge out Kamara as the seventh most rushing yards among running backs. His receiving numbers, thankfully, have bailed him out week after week. He already has 24 catches for 199 yards and three touchdowns through four games. For reference, last year he logged 58 catches for 476 yards and four touchdowns across 16 games. With the way Austin Ekeler has played, you have to wonder if Gordon’s receiving numbers eventually crater and we’re left with an inefficient running back.
Perhaps that’s not in the cards against the Raiders this week, who’ve allowed the third most rushing yards and 10th most FanDuel points to running backs. The Chargers have been spotted five points by Vegas in what looks like a high-scoring game. But injuries to their offensive line bear consideration when rostering the week’s chalkiest player:
Lynn: I don’t expect RT Joe Barksdale (knee) back this week. Barksdale ran around the field today, but likely not ready yet. LT Russell Okung (groin) will probably be “a game-time decision.”— Sam Fortier (@Sam4TR) October 3, 2018
They could end up missing both tackles, which in theory hurts the passing game, which in more theory hurts the overall offense—Gordon included. We should also consider that his pace of 13.5 carries per game falls well behind last year’s pace of nearly 17 carries per game. Perhaps that will even out if his receiving numbers come down, but there’s enough evidence here to wonder if Gordon is overpriced. And to caveat, he has delivered on salary expectations in nearly every game this season. But for a player to be priced as the second most at their respective position, you’d like them to rank higher than 11th in market share of caries, seventh in opportunity percentage, and 10th in red zone opportunity percentage. He does have the third most red zone looks among running backs, which should protect his floor. We just need to acknowledge that the floor exists and could hit on any given Sunday.
TE: Jared Cook - $5,900
Cook is finally developing into the player many of us thought he’d be years ago. He leads all tight ends in yards, FanDuel points, and ranks fourth in routes run. Clearly, he’s a staple of the Raiders’ offense, and his usage in the red zone protects his floor every single week. The matchup against the Chargers provides an encouraging situation after they allowed George Kittle to burn them for an 82-yard touchdown last week. They’ve otherwise been tough on tight ends, with only 87 yards allowed to the position before last week, which included a fluky performance from Travis Kelce in Week 1. But this isn’t a matchup to fear, especially considering Cook’s usage. It is worth noting that most of his production was the result of two massive games. In Week 2 and Week 3, he combined nine receptions for 80 yards and only 12.5 total fantasy points, which included a matchup against the leaky Broncos. To change things up, consider alternative options from the top-tier players (Kelce or Zach Ertz), who automatically force unique roster builds, or punt the tight end position altogether and go with a cheap option like Nick Vannett or Jeff Heuerman.
Core players need no explanation: they are the meat and potatoes of lineups. Developing a list and building around them is DFS Strategy 101.
QB: Jared Goff - $8,000
Even though he’ll end up on a lot of rosters, Goff offers the perfect pivot away from Ryan and Roethlisberger. Over the last two weeks, he has obliterated a pair of decent defenses to the tune of 819 passing yards, eight touchdowns, and a ridiculous 79.7% completion rate. Those numbers are sure to regress, especially since Gurley is a threat to soak up rushing touchdowns on any given Sunday—effectively lowering Goff’s ceiling. But a road-tilt against the Seahawks promises another high-volume situation.
The Seahawks’ defense looks better on paper than it does on the field. They’ve allowed the sixth-fewest passing yards, eighth-fewest points to quarterbacks, and rank third in interceptions. But those numbers can be explained by their competition:
After surrendering 329 yards and three touchdowns to Keenum, Seattle clamped down against a trio of mediocre quarterbacks. Goff, of course, is light years better than those quarterbacks and should have no trouble cutting into Seahawks’ leaky secondary that just lost Earl Thomas. They’ll have no answers for the trio of Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp (not to mention Gurley). Vegas loves the Rams on the road, favoring them by a touchdown and pushing their implied team total to 28.5 points with the over/under set at over 50 points. On the other side of the ball, Russell Wilson finally has a healthy group of receivers and the Seahawks’ offense always provides blow-up potential. If they reach that potential, Goff will once again finish the week atop the standings.
QB: Russell Wilson - $7,200
Staying on this game, Wilson’s season hasn’t offered the magic and fireworks we’ve been treated to throughout his career. But Doug Baldwin’s return can only help, and a suddenly successful rushing attack should open up the playbook. The Rams just lost cornerback Aqib Talib for the season and were subsequently torn apart by Kirk Cousins last week (442 passing yards, three touchdowns). Things look even worse for them this week with linebacker Dominique Easley hitting IR. For all the hype surrounding their defensive line, the Rams have major problems at linebacker, which at least limits their pass-rush (26th in adjusted sack rate) and invites throws to the middle of the field.
That’s great news for Wilson, who will decorate Baldwin with targets as they attack the slot. It also should help him find success when escaping the pocket and scrambling upfield. We do need to acknowledge that he has yet to top 300 passing yards in a game this season and he’s managed only seven touchdowns to three interceptions. He also ranks 19th among quarterbacks in rushing yards, which simultaneously lowers his vintage floor and ceiling. The good news is that his salary is now the lowest it has been since Week 15 of the 2012 season. And with the Seahawks’ defense banged up and a high-powered divisional foe coming to town, Wilson should be forced into volume against a shaky defense incapable of rushing the passer.
RB: David Johnson - $7,600
Still underpriced, Johnson enjoyed a massive bump in usage last week with 25 total touches, resulting in 112 total yards and a score. His efficiency suffered (again), but some of that was due to facing Seattle’s above-average run defense. This week, he visits another difficult run defense in San Francisco that thus far has allowed only 84.3 rushing yards per game. However, they’ve been leaky to pass-catching backs and tie the Dolphins with the fourth most receiving yards allowed to the position. Altogether, the 49ers have allowed the ninth most FanDuel points to running backs and were recently crushed by the Chargers’ backs to the tune of 215 total yards and two touchdowns—both of which came via the pass.
It’s wise to avoid games that project to fall into a slow-paced, offensive struggle between two teams with unproven quarterbacks. But C.J. Beathard showed promise in a near upset of the Chargers last week, suggesting the 49ers’ offense could survive without Jimmy Garoppolo. And Josh Rosen nearly pulled off an upset against the Seahawks in his first start. We shouldn’t go as far as thinking this matchup provides sneaky shootout potential, but considering that the 49ers pass defense has allowed three scores each game since Week 2 along with the 14th most passing yards and only one interception, Rosen might find a bit more success as he gets comfortable with the offense.
Add everything up and the case for Johnson is justifiable. He ran the 11th most receiving routes among running backs last week and logged a season-high in receiving yards. Hopefully, that sets the stage for more passing-down work and a chance to operate as the safety blanket for his rookie quarterback. And even though the offense has struggled, Johnson leads all players in percentage of team red zone opportunities, ranks second to Ezekiel Elliott in market share of opportunity, and ranks second to Conner in market share of carries. As always, bet on volume and talent, especially when it comes with an affordable cap-hit.
RB: James Conner - $7,800
Revisiting the chalkiest game of the week, there’s hope that Conner ends up with light-to-medium exposure while everyone chases the quarterbacks and wide receivers. Perhaps Conner’s inefficiency and infrequent end zone visits will help keep his exposure down. Either way, this is a great situation to chase. As mentioned under the “Thoughts on Chalk” section, the Falcons have allowed the fifth most FanDuel points to running backs this year. Most of those points have been delivered via the pass, which happens to play to Conner’s strengths. He ranks eighth in targets among running backs and he projects to handle a lot more in a pass-oriented game plan Sunday. He leads all backs in market share of carries, ranks third in percentage of snaps, and ranks eighth in opportunity percentage (carries + targets)—which says a lot about a player attached to an offense with plenty of mouths to feed. He’s a solid cash play and offers tournament-winning upside, regardless if he ends up as a crowd favorite.
RB: T.J. Yeldon - $6,500
Leonard Fournette was ruled out early this week, which sets up Yeldon with an opportunity to chew into one of the league’s worst defenses. The Chiefs have allowed the most FanDuel points per touch to running backs, the second most total yards, the third most touchdowns, and second most points per game. They’re particularly vulnerable to receiving backs, having allowed the most receiving yards to the position, which blends perfectly with the predicted game script and Yeldon’s talents as a receiver.
After taking over as the lead back last week, he parlayed 21 touches into 100 total yards and two touchdowns. When Fournette missed three games last year, Yeldon managed 241 combined yards on 35 touches while splitting time with Chris Ivory. Ivory is gone, and even though Corey Grant could cut into the backfield pie, Yeldon projects to handle most touches and should be heavily involved in the passing attack as the Jaguars attempt to keep pace with Patrick Mahomes and Co. Of course, given his price and situation, he will likely end up as uber chalk. But this qualifies as a situation where we might be wise to ignore roster percentages.
Since the start of the season, Adam Thielen has destroyed opposing defenses. He now has four straight 100-yards games, ranks first in targets, second in receptions, and sixth in air yards. He’s a solid play again this week simply based on volume and the fact that the Vikings can’t run the ball.
But Diggs also deserves consideration as a GPP option in a game that has shootout potential. He led the team in targets last week and now ranks 10th among wide receivers with 44 targets on the season. And as good as the Eagles’ defense looks on paper, they’ve been blasted by wide receivers through four games:
Jones, Evans, Jackson, and Davis combined for 542 yards and three touchdowns against this unit. Diggs plays all over the formation so he should have plenty of opportunities to log a healthy box score against Jalen Mills—who has allowed the sixth most yards among cornerbacks, or Ronald Darby—who has allowed the fourth most yards, or even Sidney Jones—who gave up 40 yards and a score last week to the Titans. This matchup favors a positive script, and if Thielen and Diggs weren’t so expensive, rostering both players with Kirk Cousins in a Vikings’ power stack would be tempting. Doing so at least pushes your lineup away from the crowd and forces unique roster constructions.
WR: Brandin Cooks - $7,800
Cooks ranks second in receiving yards on only 33 targets, while also ranking sixth in red zone opportunities among wide receivers. The Rams have what’s shaping up to be the best trio of wide receivers in the league, and with Goff playing out of his mind, all three have consistently logged usable stat lines. They should find plenty of room against the Seahawks’ shaky secondary that just lost their best safety. Last week, against a much better defense, Cooks, Woods, and Kupp combined for 379 yards and four touchdowns on 21 catches. Heading into Week 5, Cooks figures to have a sweet draw against Tre Flowers, who grades out as one of the worst cornerbacks so far this season. And even though both Kupp and Woods draw equal or better matchups, Cooks offers the highest upside and the lowest exposure with the crowd chasing his teammates’ production. As it stands, he ranks second in team targets and makes for a nice game stack with Wilson and Baldwin.
WR: Doug Baldwin - $6,700
Baldwin returned to the lineup in Week 4 and logged 76% of snaps. Afterward, Pete Carroll indicated that Baldwin is expected to “play a ton this week.” He does face a decent challenge against one of the league’s top slot cornerbacks in Nickell Robey-Coleman, so it’s worth questioning whether he’ll provide enough upside to win tournaments. Helping that upside is his price and the fact that he drew seven targets in his first game back. He also appeared healthy and suffered no setbacks. With the Seahawks forced to throw against a defense that’s banged up and can’t rush the passer, Wilson/Baldwin stacks could end up being highly profitable while the crowd completely ignores them.
WR: Dede Westbrook - $5,900
Westbrook is the epitome of “only as good as his quarterback,” at least where fantasy points are concerned. In the two games where Bortles attempted at least 38 passes, Westbrook logged a combined 13 catches for 213 yards and one touchdown. In the other two games where Bortles attempted 34 passes or fewer, Westbrook logged eight catches for 82 yards and zero touchdowns. We can bet on the former version assuming Mahomes pushes this matchup into a pass-heavy affair.
Last week, Westbrook spiked career-highs in targets, receptions, and yards. And while we don’t necessarily want to chase career games a week after they occur, the Chiefs offer an enticing matchup that works perfectly with his salary-saving price. Note, however, that the Chiefs, despite the prevailing wisdom of their defense, have been rather efficient against wide receivers. Only four teams have allowed fewer FanDuel points per target and only 10 have allowed fewer yards. Back-to-back games against Beathard and Case Keenum help explain those numbers, but if you’re chasing this matchup, just be aware that it’s not a must-play, smash-spot for Jaguars’ receivers. That said, Westbrook ranks fourth in average separation per Next Gen Stats and now leads the team in targets. His price fits nicely and he certainly has the speed whip inconsistent slot corner, Kendall Fuller.
TE: Zach Ertz - $7,500
Dumping 12.5% of your cap into the tight end position and not ending up with Kelce or Rob Gronkowski seems unwise. But this week, doing so gives you an elite option while also providing a path to a unique roster since it’ll force you away from a lineup full of top-priced, chalky wide receivers.
Ertz enters Week 5 ranked eighth among all players in market share of targets and second in receiving yards among tight ends. Over two games with Carson Wentz under center, Ertz has converted 10 and 14 targets into five and 10 receptions for a total of 185 yards. This week’s matchup looks intimidating, but the Vikings have been scorched by quality tight ends this year. Jimmy Graham knocked them for six catches and 95 yards in Week 2, and George Kittle hit them with five catches for 90 yards in Week 1. Since then, the Vikings have faced the Bills and Rams—teams that don’t feature tight ends and don’t boast much talent at the position. Ertz is a lock for nearly double-digit targets again and may luck into a touchdown if this game ends up featuring a lot of scoring.
Tennessee Titans - $3,900
Without many great options at defense this week, the Titans jump off the page as a salary-saver and will likely draw the most attention from the crowd. They travel to Buffalo to face an offense that last week allowed seven sacks to the Packers, who had six in three games before that. Both the Bills and the Titans rank as bottom-seven offenses regarding points scored and yards gained. And after last week’s massacre, the Bills now lead the league in sacks allowed. Conversely, the Titans defense ranks seventh in sacks acquired. Their cornerbacks have struggled on the year but their pass defense still ranks 14th in DVOA, and with a low-scoring game on tap, it’s not a terrible idea to side with the crowd and take advantage of the Titans’ affordable salary.
Buffalo Bills - $3,500
On the hand, if the entire crowd is rostering the Titans, it makes sense to fade them and roster the home-field Bills for $400 less. The Titans’ offense moves at snail’s pace and comes into Week 5 owning the seventh fewest points scored, and the ninth fewest yards gained. They protect the passer and ball well, but we witnessed this Bills’ defense dominate the Vikings’ offense a few weeks ago, and they didn’t look terrible against the Packers last week. In a matchup that Vegas suggests will be the lowest scoring of the week and has the makings of a defensive struggle, both defenses are in play.
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: Aaron Rodgers - $8,400
It feels like blasphemy listing Rodgers as a contrarian play but a lousy start to the season likely pushes the crowd away from his price tag because “might as well play Ryan or Roethlisberger instead.” Rodgers has, in fact, looked rather ordinary. He currently ranks 15th in FanDuel points, 14th in passing yards, and 15th in touchdowns. Those numbers aren’t bad, but they’re well below the standards we’ve set for a quarterback of his caliber.
Enter the Lions, who rattled Tom Brady a couple of weeks ago and head to Green Bay having allowed the fifth fewest points to quarterbacks. Only Jacksonville and Washington have allowed fewer passing yards, and only the Bears have sacked quarterbacks at a higher rate. Stack those numbers against the Packers struggling, banged-up offense and you can see why the crowd is off Rodgers. But context, as always, deserves a shout. Aside from Brady, the Lions faced a rookie making his first start in Week 1, then faced a struggling and beat up 49ers’ offense, and last traveled to Dallas to face Dak Prescott and the Cowboys predictable offense. No wonder why their pass defense boasts solid volume stats yet ranks 28th per Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
Something doesn’t quite add up. Either Football Outsiders is way off, or the Lions’ numbers are a product of their opponents. Put your chips on the latter part of that equation and lock Rodgers into a few Packers’ stacks, especially if Geronimo Allison clears out of concussion protocol. This game has a 51-point over/under, features an ample amount of offensive talent on both teams, and it seems no one is paying attention to it.
NOTE: All three of the Packers starting wide receivers have failed to practice this week and may end up missing the game. In that case, it makes sense to avoid Rodgers and maybe even play the Lions defense.
QB: Kirk Cousins - $7,700
Cousins ranks first in pass attempts per game, third in passing yards, third in passing touchdowns, and comes into Week 5 as the sixth highest scoring quarterback per FanDuel scoring. Both Thielen and Diggs are in play as solid tournament options, so it only makes sense that we give some consideration to Cousins as well, who last week logged his second 400-yard game of the season. The matchup, as mentioned, seems like one to avoid given the Eagles’ pass-rush and the Vikings’ soft offensive line. Still, we can’t ignore the box scores Cousins has consistently put together despite an awful line and almost no running game, and we can’t ignore the fact that the Eagles have been generous to opposing quarterbacks. Just last week Mariota managed nearly 350 passing yards, a pair of passing touchdowns, along with a rushing score on his way to an unexpected QB7 finish. Cousins is far better and gets the benefit of sharing the field with two excellent wide receivers that challenge every caliber defense.
Vegas is bearish on these offenses as indicated by the somewhat low over/under of 46 points. They’re probably betting that both defenses have underperformed so far and will get things figured out this Sunday. Or maybe Vegas is hedging all the bullish point totals they’ve set across the league. Regardless, the Vikings and Eagles provide a sneaky way to build tournament lineups with elite players while the crowd looks elsewhere. Roster a few game stacks centered around both offenses, spearheaded by Cousins.
RB: Jay Ajayi - $6,300
Priced as an RB3, Ajayi returned to action last week and parlayed 18 touches into 81 yards. He did split snaps with Wendell Smallwood to the tune of 53% vs. 46%, so concerns of playing time continue. But that’s probably a measure of the coaches ensuring Ajayi doesn’t aggravate his back injury.
He’ll need a healthy back and a healthy bit of luck to make good on salary expectations—the Vikings field a solid line capable of removing opposing offense’s rushing attacks. But they’ve show vulnerabilities over the last two games with Ivory racking up 126 total yards and Gurley clocking them for 156 yards. Both backs found most of their success through the air, which suggests Smallwood deserves some consideration as a GPP-dart. The good news is that Ajayi was targeted four times last week while running 20 routes (Smallwood ran 27). Passing will likely be featured from both teams no matter what, which leads to added red zone opportunities for running backs—an area that plays to Ajayi’s strengths. He requires only 10.5% of the cap and plays behind one of the league’s best offensive lines, at home, in what shapes up as a positive game script—be sure to sprinkle him into a few lineups.
RB: Aaron Jones - $6,100
Jones makes back-to-back appearances in this space and has an even better chance in Week 5 to make good on his salary before it blows up. The Lions, as everyone knows, take the top spot as the league’s worst run defense. The only thing preventing Jones from taking the top spot in terms of roster percentage is the Packers’ stubborn use of a three-way attack at running back. Jones, however, did see a healthy increase in snaps—going from 17 to 29—and made good on them by rolling 12 touches into 85 combined yards and a score. Unfortunately, Jamaal Williams logged the same amount of carries in a positive game script, and Ty Montgomery drew the most targets. So, this backfield hasn’t been totally decided yet. But it’s only a matter of time before Jones lays claim to a massive workload and we best take advantage of his salary and his exposure while both are mispriced.
Alternatively, if one or more of the Packers starting wide receivers misses this game, Montgomery makes for a super interesting play:
McCarthy on says Ty Montgomery is a "multiple-position player" who could move around with #Packers WR group banged up. On offensive backfield: "You definitely have three guys that you want to keep involved in the primary focus."— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) October 4, 2018
RB: Derrick Henry - $5,700
Henry has done exactly squat despite an almost equal timeshare with Dion Lewis. Both backs offer intriguing value against the Bills, whose defense might be overperforming a tad. Lewis has the obvious passing-down role and leads the team in touches. Henry has the obvious game-closing, short-yardage role and leads the team in carries. Both of those situations tip the offense’s hand to the defense and set up obvious game scripts. Regardless, Henry leads the team in red zone opportunities with 11, including four last week and four the week before. Unfortunately, he hasn’t made good on those opportunities because of the obvious nature of the offense. They’re at least scoring points and moving the ball well, which should eventually trickle down into the running game and prop Henry up with a multi-score afternoon. If you’re rostering the chalky Titans’ defense, it makes perfect GPP-sense to stack them with Henry.
WR: Jordy Nelson - $5,600
Nelson’s 16 targets over the last two weeks have yielded 216 yards and two touchdowns and a WR16 rank in FanDuel scoring. Most of that yardage came via a massive 173-yard performance against Miami. But his steady involvement in the offense has us seeing days of Nelson’s past when he was a perennial headache for opposing defenses. He has cemented himself as the WR2 in an offense that ranks sixth in passing attempts per game and should be forced into more passing against the Chargers, who have allowed the third most passing touchdowns and the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers. Most of those points were made possible by the likes of Goff and Mahomes, but Nelson moves all over the formation and benefits from mismatches as opposing defenses key on Amari Cooper and Cook. The Raiders walk into L.A. as 5-point underdogs and a decent 24.25 implied total. His situation fosters a positive outlook and his salary provides a ton of relief to help build dominant lineups.
WR: Marquez Valdes-Scantling - $4,800
Packers’ HC Mike McCarthy said Davante Adams won’t practice today due to a calf injury and neither will Randall Cobb (hamstring) and Geronimo Allison (concussion). So Packers down their top three WRs today and maybe beyond.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 4, 2018
Both Cobb and Allison seem unlikely to play, and now Adams has a calf injury? Someone has to catch passes and that someone could be Valdes-Scantling, who filled in for Cobb last week. He logged only once catch on three targets despite playing 71% of snaps. But it was an impressive 38-yarder that put his skills on display. If you’ve never heard of him, what you need to know about Valdes-Scantling is that he’s 6’4” and runs a 4.3 40-yard dash and boasts an elite speed score. If he gets an opportunity to play meaningful snaps in a Rodgers-led offense, watch out. Check the practice reports Saturday to see if Cobb and Allision participate. If they don’t, Valdes-Scantling profiles as the ultimate long-shot GPP play.
TE: Nick Vannett – $4,300
We’ve thoroughly covered the Rams’ issues on defense and how those problems could leave holes in the middle of the field. Even before injuries, the Rams were crushed in Week 1 by Jared Cook, who turned nine catches into 180 yards. They managed to hold Kyle Rudolph to a mediocre stat line last week, but Cousins was forced into throwing down the field just to keep pace. That could happen to the Seahawks as well. The obvious difference is that Wilson doesn’t have the quality of receivers like Cousins, so he’ll need to lean on his tight ends quite a bit more. After Will Dissly’s injury last week, Vannett played 88% of snaps. He didn’t log much production from a fantasy standpoint, but the Seattle offense has targeted tight ends at the eighth highest rate in the league, so Vannett will see some action this Sunday. He’s a great way to punt the tight end position and still reel in some upside.
Pittsburgh Steelers Defense - $3,400
As bad as the Steelers’ pass defense has been on the year, they currently rank ninth in adjusted sack rate and are tied for sixth in total turnovers. Conversely, the Falcons have been one of the best offenses in terms of protecting both the ball and the passer, so the matchup doesn’t make much sense to chase. But with everyone loading up on offensive players from this game, taking a defense that will be rostered by fewer than 1% of lineups and has proven it can get to the quarterback qualifies as GPP Strategy 101. In fact, this exact strategy is how Footballguys staffer Steve Buzzard won well over a million dollars a few weeks ago. Take a page out of his playbook and sprinkle in some Conner/Steelers DST stacks.
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