TipAndPick's: Tips and Picks, Thanksgiving Edition

An in-depth analysis of DraftKings' player selections for the Thanksgiving Day Slate

Before we get into the details, I just wanted to extend a big “THANKS” to all of you who are not only Footballguys, but also supporters of the content that I produce every week. As I fire up another Thanksgiving Day edition of “Tips and Picks,” I feel obliged to thank you for all of the sincere support you provide over the NFL season each year.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

TIPS...

*These tips are taken directly from last year's edition of Tips and Picks because they still hold true for this Thanksgiving Day slate. They have been modified slightly, but the general advice remains the same this year.*

GAME STRATEGY: As I said on the Thanksgiving Edition of the PowerGrid, you will need to employ game strategy and combine it with a bit of luck to find yourself at the top of the leaderboards when the tryptophan starts to settle in on Thursday evening. There are three pieces of game strategy that you can think about employing:

Should you fade Ezekiel Elliott and/or Alvin Kamara at ~ 70% ownership? Any time a player is rostered in 70% of lineups, there is a case to be made to avoid putting that player into your tournament lineup. If the player is injured, gets vultured at the goalline, or just has a generally disappointing performance, you can jump 70% of the field by not having that individual on your respective roster. This year, both Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara are looking like they will appear in close to 70% of lineups on DraftKings on Thanksgiving. So...should you fade them or just roll with the masses and try to beat them elsewhere? The answer is contingent on how many lineups you plan on playing--if you are a single-entry player, my recommendation is to pick your favorite of the two (see mine below) and build around that player. The reason I don't think you want to roster both is because doing so will force you to gravitate towards the same low-dollar options at other positions, which will make your roster too similar to thousands of other lineups; when you spend 33% of your entire salary on two running backs, there is only so much you can do at the other positions. By rostering your favorite, your lineup will immediately be different than 50% of your opponents because I would approximate that 50% of tournament lineups on Thursday will have the combination of these players (70% x 70% = 49%). And because GPPs are so top-heavy, you are shooting for the top 1% of lineups, not the top 20%...the goal is to win, not simply cash. This is a reality that too many players often forget when playing in DFS tournaments.

Now, if you are entering multiple lineups, you can do a little bit of everything (i.e., fade both, roster both, one-in/one-out) and hope that you hit on the correct combination.

Pick your poison. In order to win a GPP on Thanksgiving, you are going to need at least one, possibly two, players who do well, but are also less than 10% owned. Because of the limited player pool, there will be a dozen players or more who are owned in the double-digit levels, which means that the overlap is going to be immense; the only way to differentiate your roster from the masses is to take a chance on a player you believe to be low-owned and in a situation to perform well. A few of my favorite options can be found in the “Picks” section below--they are highlighted in each of the tables. Please note that you need only one, possibly two, of these players to differentiate your rosters. Do not feel compelled to play more than one or two in any given roster.

Do not spend all of your salary. Part of the above advice (“Pick your poison”) is to purposefully build diversity into your lineups using players with perceived low ownership. Another way to achieve this goal is to leave a bit of salary on the table; do not be afraid to leave ~ 10-15% ($5,000 to $7,500) of your allocated salary unspent if you like your roster enough. Doing so will ensure that you have a unique roster that is capable of finishing atop a GPP roster. This bit of advice, of course, assumes that the rosters we are describing have enough upside to actually finish at the top of a tournament--do not leave money on the table just to start players who are seeing < 50% of the teams’ offensive snaps.

...AND PICKS

>On a limited slate such as this, you are probably not going to like your resultant rosters because there just are not enough quality options in the player pool to build out a solid team. Instead, you should be thinking about building a core of key players and then supplementing around those players with secondary options, who you perceive to be in plus situations. For GPP lineups, you might drop to a tertiary threshold, whereby you add an element of consideration to ownership for those players who have upside relative to their respective salaries. The following section will briefly summarize those situations for the most relevant players on Thursday, which is followed up by a table that outlines those takes in a concise fashion. Best of luck!

Quarterbacks

PLAYER OPPONENT SALARY RANK NOTES
Drew Brees ATL $6700 1 Safest QB on the slate. Crowd favorite.
Dak Prescott WAS $5100 2 Attractive price. Decent matchup.
Matt Ryan @NO $6100 3 Best implied gamescript for position.
Matthew Stafford CHI $5300 4 May have to carry offense on shoulders.

On a slate where 33% of the quarterbacks have not started an NFL game in over 2 years, the options at the position feel somewhat limited on Thanksgiving. Colt McCoy gets the nod for the Redskins after Alex Smith broke his leg last Sunday and Chase Daniel will go under center for the Bears while Mitchell Trubisky recovers from a shoulder injury. In both cases, you have to think that their respective coaches will do everything possible to minimize the number of times they pass on Thursday. The case for McCoy is made worse by the Redskins' lack of receiving talent and their abysmal 16-point implied team total. Daniel is in a better situation with a 24.5-point implied team total, but you have to think the Bears will lean heavily on Jordan Howard in this matchup to keep Daniel from throwing an errant pass into the hands of a defender. Thus, the DFS world will be looking at the remainder of quarterbacks on this slate and the most popular option should be Drew Brees at home against the Falcons. Earlier this season, Brees thrashed this Falcons defense for nearly 400 passing yards and 5 total touchdowns (3 passing, 2 rushing) en route to his best performance of the season (43.54 points). At home against the Falcons' 29th-ranked DVOA pass defense, Brees will have no issues piling up similar numbers on Thursday evening and will be rostered accordingly. Opposite Brees is Matt Ryan, who is averaging 50% less fantasy points per game on the road this season. Ryan should be asked to get air under the ball early in this contest, which makes him an alluring tournament option, but his salary is second-highest on the site and the Saints have quietly held three of their previous four opponents to 20 points or less (the exception being the high-scoring Rams). Elsewhere, you could consider Dak Prescott at home against the Redskins or Matthew Stafford at home against the Bears. Prescott is an intriguing tournament option because his price is reasonable at $5.1K and because the Cowboys are a run-first offense that has the ability to move the ball through the air, as needed; the downside is that Ezekiel Elliott could feasibly run the ball 25 times and minimize the entire Dallas passing attack if the Redskins are not able to keep the game close. Lastly, Matthew Stafford is a tough sell because of the strength of the Bears defense (1st overall DVOA); only three quarterbacks all season have surpassed 20 DraftKings points against the Bears, which makes Stafford a tough sell at $5.3K, especially without Golden Tate (traded) and Marvin Jones Jr (knee).

Running Backs

PLAYER OPPONENT SALARY RANK NOTES
Ezekiel Elliott WAS $8600 1 Top play at position. Plus gamescript.
Alvin Kamara ATL $8300 2 ATL cannot handle pass-catching RBs.
Mark Ingram II ATL $6100 3 Best NO GPP RB due to relative popularity.
Jordan Howard @DET $4100 4 Efficiency is terrible, but volume is still there.
Theo Riddick CHI $4500 5 Wasteland of DET receivers helps chances.
LeGarrette Blount CHI $3400 6 No Kerryon means increased volume.
Tevin Coleman @NO $5200 7 Unfavorable gamescript. Needs receptions.
Ito Smith @NO $3400 8 Favorable gamescript. Needs snaps.
Adrian Peterson @DAL $5100 9 Old man still looks the part. Low team total.
Tarik Cohen @DET $5300 10 Will have to break one to pay off salary.

Let's start at the top with Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara. Elliott is the preferred choice in a game where he should touch the ball 25 times and be the focal point of the offense. In the Cowboys' 5 wins this season, Elliott has touched the ball no less than 22 times and is averaging 26.2 touches per game in those efforts; as 7.5-point home favorites, he appears to be in line for significant action again on Thursday. Kamara is an excellent alternative at a similar price point to Elliott, but he will share touches out of the backfield with Mark Ingram II, which confers a slight advantage to Elliott. Speaking of Ingram, early ownership projections appear to have Kamara situated on twice as many tournament rosters as Ingram; if that comes to fruition, Ingram is the shark play that will save you over $2K in salary while providing similar upside out of that run-heavy backfield (Saints are the 3rd-highest run/pass ratio in the league). The game in Detroit is intriguing at the running back position for a number of reasons. First, on the Detroit side of the field, Kerryon Johnson (knee) will be inactive, which means that LeGarrette Blount and Theo Riddick will share duties out of the Lions backfield. Blount would appear to be the early-down back whereas Riddick would spell him on passing down situations. Both are intriguing at their respective prices, but the matchup against the Bears' #1-ranked DVOA rush defense is less than desirable. For Chicago, Jordan Howard is probably too cheap against an improving, but still susceptible, Lions' defensive front; with the untested Chase Daniel under center, look for Matt Nagy to lean a bit more on Howard to bring home this win as short road favorites. Elsewhere, possible tournament options include Tevin Coleman and/or Ito Smith against the Saints and Adrian Peterson against the Cowboys; of these options, Smith has the optimal implied gamescript and a salary that is permissive to paying up elsewhere.

Wide Receivers

PLAYER OPPONENT SALARY RANK NOTES
Bruce Ellington CHI $3200 1 Salary-saver with upside.
Michael Thomas ATL $8900 2 Massive marketshare on offense.
Mohamed Sanu @NO $4500 3 Plush matchup with overflow targets.
Michael Gallup WAS $3500 4 GPP dart with great personnel matchup.
Julio Jones @NO $8300 5 Lattimore shadow has not hurt him thus far.
Kenny Golladay CHI $6400 6 Stafford's fave WR. Tough matchup vs. Fuller.
Taylor Gabriel DET $3700 7 Speedster can reach value after catch.
Tre'Quan Smith ATL $4700 8 Coming off big game. Can he repeat?
Amari Cooper WAS $5700 9 Disappointed in last. Upside is there.
Calvin Ridley @NO $5400 10 Leverage pivot away from Julio. Plus gamescript.
Allen Robinson @DET $5500 11 Slay shadow and Daniel at QB = tough sell.
Keith Kirkwood ATL $3200 12 Creeping rookie could be a differentiator.

The luxury items at wide receiver are both playing in New Orleans: Julio Jones ($8.3K) and Michael Thomas ($8.9K) will each appear in over 50% of lineups on DraftKings because of their marketshare on their respective teams. Jones will get shadow coverage from Marshon Lattimore, but that should not be enough to dissuade you from considering Julio, as he enters this game with a 5-game streak of 100+ receiving yards and has not been shut down by Lattimore to this point in his career. That said, an enticing pivot play away from Jones' massive ownership is Mohamed Sanu, who is continuously ignored by the DFS community despite bringing GPP upside to the table; at only $4.5K, Sanu gets a solid personnel matchup against the weakest of the Saints cornerbacks in P.J. Williams, who ranks 105th out of 118 qualifying coverage cornerbacks on ProFootballFocus this season. Two rookies, Calvin Ridley and Tre'Quan Smith, should also be mentioned in this contest because they have exhibited upside at different times this season, but both are dealing with injuries that are minimizing their practice participation and should be monitored until game time on Thursday. In Dallas, Amari Cooper will be popular for the second week in a row, but you might consider Michael Gallup as a "pick your poison" differentiator for only $3.5K. The rookie lost a brother due to suicide this week, but is expected to play against the Redskins on Thanksgiving; it would not be surprising to see the Cowboys try to turn that tragedy into a feel-good story for Gallup, a la Torrey Smith in 2012. Gallup gets a perfect personnel matchup against Danny Johnson, an undrafted free agent rookie who has looked dreadful in coverage to this point in the season. For the Redskins, there is not a whole lot to like on their receiving corps. First, Colt McCoy will get his first start in forever and will be without the Redskins' two best receivers in Paul Richardson Jr (IR) and Jamison Crowder (ankle), which means that he will be throwing to some combination of Maurice Harris, Trey Quinn, and Josh Doctson; all are moderately priced, but none carries significant upside in a slow-paced game with McCoy throwing the ball. In the early game, there is not much to like for the Bears largely because Chase Daniel will get the start. We should expect to see him make short, ball-control passes that likely will not convert into big plays; this minimizes expectations for Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller, but makes Taylor Gabriel intriguing because of his after-the-catch playmaking speed. Again, none are particularly appealing, but they merit consideration because of the limited player pool and the Bears' moderate implied team total. For Detroit, Kenny Golladay should get plenty of attention again this week without Marvin Jones Jr. On the opposite side, do not sleep on Bruce Ellington, a five-year veteran who knows his way around a football field and could sneak into the endzone on a $3.2K salary.

Tight Ends

PLAYER OPPONENT SALARY RANK NOTES
Austin Hooper @NO $4200 1 Most consistent TE on the short slate.
Trey Burton @DET $4000 2 Short routes could align with Daniel's skillset.
Jordan Reed @DAL $4700 3 Elevated price and low team total hurt value.
Josh Hill ATL $2500 4 Sneaky, salary-saving GPP flyer.

There is nothing to embrace at tight end on Thanksgiving, so take solace in knowing that anybody playing this slate feels the same uneasiness that you feel when you build your lineup(s). With eight or more targets in four of the Falcons' last six games, Austin Hooper will be the chalk tight end next to Jordan Reed, who enters this game fresh off his best performance of the season. Of the two, a slight preference goes toward Hooper, who fields the better quarterback and has the higher implied team total. Elsewhere, Trey Burton is interesting GPP fodder because of his ability to get into the endzone (5 touchdowns in 10 games) and because we might expect Chase Daniel to look to him as a security blanket if the pressure gets to be a bit much. Lastly, as a GPP flyer, Josh Hill is the type of player who can win you a GPP on Thursday because he will be overlooked by the masses, but he is priced at the site-minimum and has been out-snapping Ben Watson, whose snap counts have been on the decline for three consecutive weeks now. If Hill can get into the endzone against the Falcons, your roster would certainly be differentiated from the masses and shoot to the top of the leaderboards; his ultra-low salary will allow you to superstack him with Michael Thomas and Drew Brees, if you so desire.

Team Defenses

PLAYER OPPONENT SALARY RANK NOTES
Cowboys WAS $3200 1 Underrated defense at home against Colt McCoy.
Bears @DET $2900 2 Best defense on slate. Ability is there.
Saints ATL $2300 3 Quietly improving. ATL team total is low.
Lions CHI $2400 4 Cheap home defense against unproven QB.

At the top end of the team defense options, you will have to choose between the Cowboys at home against Colt McCoy or the Bears on the road against the Lions beleaguered offense. The Cowboys field an underrated defense that has held 5 of their previous 6 opponents to 20 points or less and will face Colt McCoy, who has not started an NFL game since Week 8 of 2014; in front of a home-field crowd with a renewed chance of making the playoffs, the Cowboys are intriguing at $3.2K. There is little doubt that the Bears field a stronger defense, but they are playing on the road, which can sometimes result in disappointment. Below those two options, it is a decent jump to New Orleans ($2.3K) at home against the Falcons and/or the Lions ($2.4K) at home against the Bears. The Saints have put together several solid defensive performances together of late and appear to be trending upwards; their $2.3K salary is attractive for tournament formats, particularly in light of the fact that the crowds see this game as a shootout. Lastly, if the Lions are to win their game, it will likely be on the back of their defense because of the multitude of injuries they have on their offense combined with the strength of the Bears defense. Given that they will be matched up against Chase Daniel who has thrown for one touchdown across nine NFL seasons, it is not unreasonable to think that the Lions could make something happen with their defense to keep them in contention.


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