THE SHARP REPORT
One of the most proficient gamblers that sportsbooks have ever seen, Haralabos Voulgaris, is on record saying the main reason he retired from professional gambling is that he was gradually losing his edge against the sportsbooks. Voulgaris explains that every time he placed a bet, he gave the sportsbook a metaphoric piece to the puzzle that, once solved, would completely erase his edge to the point where he would no longer be a profitable bettor. The same way sportsbooks learned from Voulgaris’ bets and eroded his edge, daily fantasy sports players can learn from their top competitors and eat away at their edge. These top competitors, known as sharps, typically play DFS at a much higher level and for much more money than others. These players normally have very advanced and accurate projection systems that give them their edge over the field. Fortunately, every time they enter a contest the sharp players’ lineups are available to the public to be broken down, analyzed and learned from. The Sharp Report will be a weekly article that uses all available and applicable data to draw conclusions regarding how the industry’s smartest decision makers and their projections systems come to their final conclusions when building lineups. Over the course of the entire season, The Sharp Report’s goal will be to project what the best players in the industry will do in upcoming contests and, in turn, figure out what it is that gives these high-level players their edge over the field.
Throughout each week, more and better information regarding things like player availability, individual matchups, and depth charts will become available. The section of this article projecting which player is likely to be rostered by most of the sharp players next week will be updated by Saturday afternoon each week after all applicable information has become available. If enough data reveals itself that a completely new player is deemed worthy of being mentioned as Next Week's Sharp Play, the original section will appear in red font and the new section will appear in green font. If all available information leads to the same conclusion made earlier in the week, the original section will be changed from black font to green font.
The players analyzed in this article consistently play, and win, in high-stakes contests and are also ranked in the top ten percent in RotoGrinders’ super heavyweight division of DFS players. Players’ names will be omitted from the article, but all lineups analyzed are from the BIG NFL $1,065 20-Man 50/50 on FanDuel.
In Week 16, a handful of plays stood out above the rest as the sharpest cash-game options on the slate. However, there is one notable absence from the list of sharp plays that needs to be addressed, as it bucks the trends of previous editions of The Sharp Report, and for good reason.
Following the season-ending injury to Green Bay’s other viable running back, Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams was forced into a much larger role than he had played at any point in the season. Against the New York Jets in Week 16, Williams’ collision of opportunity, matchup, and price made for an elite cash-game play.
Aaron Jones had emerged over the course of the season as Green Bay’s most talented running back and he began to command the lion’s share of snaps and carries in the Packers offense in recent weeks. Unfortunately, Jones went down with a knee injury that landed him on the IR for the remainder of the season. This injury has forced the Packers’ hand and Williams had to be the team’s bell-cow running back out of necessity. Once again this year a backup running back was slated for a full workload at an unadjusted price. Jamaal Williams checked in at just $5,800 in Week 16 below other running backs clearly set up for a partial workload (i.e.- Jordan Howard for $6,000.) The expected workload for Williams at just $5,800 coupled with a matchup against the NFL’s 25th-ranked rush defense in DVOA made the Green Bay running back too good to pass up on. The sharps did not miss out on this one, as he made his way into 75 percent of lineups in the BIG $1,065 50/50.
Nick Chubb often gets lost in the shuffle of Cleveland’s emerging young stars because of the shadow cast by the performances of Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward, but he has been no disappointment. Going up against a decimated Bengals defense, 85 percent of sharps identified Chubb as one of the elite options at running back as the season winds down.
In Week 16, the Cleveland Browns played host to the Cincinnati Bengals as 9.5-point favorites. As such a hefty home-favorite, the rushing game was certainly going to play a role in securing a much-desired win over Hue Jackson’s new employer. The Bengals sport the NFL’s fifth-worst run defense (according to DVOA) in the entire league, and the team has shown no signs of improving. The combination of sheer volume expected for Cleveland’s run-game and the elite matchup with Cincinnati’s weakened front-seven led Nick Chubb towards the top of running back-rankings across the board in Week 16. At $7,900, Chubb was not a cheap option, but it was more than justified given Chubb’s role in Cleveland’s offense and this intradivisional matchup with Cincinnati’s struggling defense.
Michael Thomas and the Saints hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in one of Week 16’s most important matchups with regards to playoff implications. The Saints needed a win (and some help) to stay in contention for the number-one overall seed in the NFC, while the Steelers needed a win to stay in control of their own destiny this season.
The Steelers’ secondary has been dominated by top-end wide receivers all season long. Last week, Julian Edelman went for 7 receptions and 90 yards out of the slot in one of the season’s most surprising defensive battles. Two weeks prior, Keenan Allen dominated the Pittsburgh linebackers and defensive backs to the tune of 14 catches, 148 yards, and 1 touchdown. Schematically, the Steelers’ defense has struggled to properly align against dominant receivers playing out of the slot. Both Edelman and Allen were consistently matched up against linebackers, and their stat lines accurately represent the mismatch at hand. Michael Thomas has excelled in the slot for the Saints all season long, and in Week 16’s game with the highest total (53.5 points) there was no reason to expect his role to diminish whatsoever. Given the salary-saving options elsewhere, paying up for Thomas at $8,300 was not overly difficult and still allowed the sharps the build strong lineups around him. Ultimately, 40 percent of players in the BIG $1,065 50/50 on FanDuel included Michael Thomas in their lineups as their top wide receiver.
Why no Alfred Blue?
Throughout the season, there has been one overwhelming theme: the sharps flock towards backup running backs (or running backs typically in time-shares) that are poised to see a significantly increased workload in their respective team’s backfield. This week it was Jamaal Williams, two weeks ago it was Jaylen Samuels, and before then, it was Spencer Ware.
This week, however, Alfred Blue was also primed for a dramatically increased workload and snap count in Houston’s offense as Lamar Miller did not make the trip to Philadelphia with the team. Alfred Blue was not rostered by a single player in Week 16’s BIG $1,065 50/50 even at just $5,300. Why was Alfred Blue an exception to the rule in Week 16?
There are certainly various factors involved, but the primary learning points are likely: the massive disadvantage in the trenches for Houston, the salary-saving options elsewhere on the slate, and the expected return of D’Onta Foreman.
Philadelphia’s defensive line, featuring the dominating presence of Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and company, forecasted to dominate the matchup against the Houston offensive line. Running back performances are frequently a byproduct of the offensive line’s performance and with such a significant mismatch favoring the defense, Alfred Blue’s efficiency was sure to take a massive hit.
While a starting running back for $5,300 is always enticing, it becomes far less special in the context of a slate like that of Week 16. At quarterback, the two overwhelmingly popular options were Nick Foles at $6,000 and last week’s projected sharp play, Dak Prescott, at $7,300. Right out of the gate, 85 percent of sharps had already saved money at the quarterback position. Then, with another value play at running back, Jamaal Williams, there was little need for a third bargain-bin option in cash lineups. Especially if this value play came with a significantly higher amount of risk.
Finally, D’Onta Foreman was activated from the IR for the first time this season following an Achilles injury last season. Foreman was drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft and the Texans are heavily invested in him as the future of their backfield. His return, while it was brief (just 7 carries,) certainly played a role in avoiding Alfred Blue, even at such a low price.
Next Week’s Sharp Play
Between now and kickoff Sunday afternoon there will surely be news regarding who is and is not playing in the final week of the regular season. Some teams have already decided the fate of their season over the course of the first 16 weeks, while a handful of teams have their season hanging in the balance. Teams whose fate has been decided may take a big-picture approach to Week 17 and opt to rest critical players, while some teams have already made that decision over the course of the weeks leading up the finale. As news comes in, this will be updated, but at this point, there is very little information coming directly from teams. Thankfully, FootballGuys’ own Phil Alexander has compiled all relevant information on one page over at the Week 17 Motivation Tracker to help with this issue.
Without further adieu, Royce Freeman at just $4,700 projects to be Week 17’s most popular salary-saving option on the entire slate. Phillip Lindsay went down with a hand/wrist injury in Week 16’s loss to Oakland, and he will be unavailable for Week 17 against the Chargers. The Broncos’ other rookie, Royce Freeman, should slot in as the team’s number one running back and at $4,700 he is impossible to ignore against the Los Angeles Chargers. As Phil notes in the Motivation Tracker, the Chargers may end up pulling their starters early if the cards do not fall their way in Kansas City. This favors Freeman in what would have been a suboptimal matchup against an otherwise solid run defense. Without any drastic news regarding Vance Joseph’s plan of attack in the backfield, Freeman should be poised for approximately 20 touches, and at such a low price he will certainly demand the attention of sharps across the board in cash-games.
Extra (potential) sharp play
JuJu Smith-Schuster for the Pittsburgh Steelers has had one of his most difficult weeks in recent memory. He battled through a nagging groin injury to play for the Steelers last week in New Orleans. While his performance was neither exceptional, nor particularly disappointing, unfortunately the day ended in devastation. During Pittsburgh's fourth quarter comeback, Smith-Schuster fumbled the ball away to seal Pittsburgh's fate and take the team's playoff fate out of its own hands. This week, however, is a brand new week and Pittsburgh's star wide receiver Antonio Brown is questionable for the team's must-win game against Cincinnati. If he is unable to go, Smith-Schuster should immediately slot into lineups in all formats. Fortunately for DFS players, while this news is not expected until after lock, late swap is enabled on both FanDuel and DraftKings to allow necessary alterations to be made to lineups across the board. Lock in Smith-Schuster if Antonio Brown is unable to suit up in Week 17.
PREVIOUSLY PROJECTED SHARP PLAYS
Week 2: Christian McCaffrey- 20.9 FanDuel points (2.8x value)/30.9 DraftKings points (4.4x value)
0.0 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 3: Corey Clement- 9.0 FanDuel points (1.6x value)/10.5 DraftKings points (2.4x value)
16.7 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 4: Giovani Bernard- 23.6 FanDuel points (3.7x value)/25.6 DraftKings points (4.1x value)
86.1 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 5: T.J. Yeldon- 22.2 FanDuel points (3.42x value)/26.2 DraftKings points (4.7x value)
33.3 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 6: Jameis Winston- 32.9 FanDuel 0oints (4.45x value)/35.9 DraftKings points (6.19x value)
- 86.7 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 7: Todd Gurley- 28.6 FanDuel points (2.80x value)/30.6 DraftKings points (3.12x value)
- 85.3 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 8: Tyler Boyd- 24.1 FanDuel points (3.54x value)/31.6 DraftKings points (4.72x value)
- 20 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 9: Kenny Golladay- 6.9 FanDuel points (1.11x value)/8.4 DraftKings points (1.52x value)
- 53.3 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 9: Cam Newton- 21.18 FanDuel points (2.46x value)/21.18 DraftKings points (2.31x value)
- 66.7 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 10: Melvin Gordon III III- 25 FanDuel points (2.8x value)/27.50 DraftKings points (3.1x value)
- 84.6 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 10: Ryan Fitzpatrick- 15.74 FanDuel points (2.1x value)/19.74 DraftKings points (3.3x value)
- 76.9 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 11: Dion Lewis- 3.7 FanDuel points (0.6x value)/4.2 DraftKings points (0.9x value)
- 29.2 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 11: Saquon Barkley- 34.2 FanDuel points (3.9x value)/38.2 DraftKings points (4.4x value)
- 66.7 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 12: Jameis Winston- 22.88 FanDuel points (3.1x value)/25.88 DraftKings points (4.3x value)
- 23.3 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 12: Gus Edwards- 11.8 FanDuel points (2.2x value)/14.8 DraftKings points (3.4x value)
- 63.3 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 13: Jameis Winston- 22.76 FanDuel points (3x value)/22.76 DraftKings points (3.8x value)
- 70 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 14: Jaylen Samuels- 12.70 FanDuel points (2.8x value)/16.20 DraftKings points (4.4x value)
- 83.3 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 15: JuJu Smith-Schuster- 6.0 FanDuel points (0.8x value)/8.0 DraftKings points (1.0x value)
- 63 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Week 16: Dak Prescott- 16.64 FanDuel Points (2.3x value)/16.64 DraftKings points (2.9x value)
- 35 percent rostered in BIG $1,065 50/50
Thanks all, and if you have any feedback or recommendations for future versions of The Sharp Report feel free to send me your thoughts and follow me on twitter @ThaGreatZambino!
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