The start of the year has been interesting in that each week there have been some very extreme plays that have tilted the slate pretty much every week. This happens quite a lot in NFL DFS but this year has been a bit extreme. If you had the right plays you crushed and if you didn’t you had a tough time. In more cases than not those places have been paying up for defenses like the Patriots or running backs like Christian McCaffrey. To go along with them its been some cheaper wide receivers like Sammy Watkins, Chris Godwin, and Demarcus Robinson that have had bigger games. We haven’t seen quite the explosive games from some of the higher wide receivers like DeAndre Hopkins, Adam Thielen, or Odell Beckham Jr. What that will likely do is drive some of the ownership off the top end wide receivers. If that happens you should take advantage as there is typically no higher upside than a top-end wide receiver. If we can get them at lower than normal ownership all the better.
One of the biggest decisions each week is how to handle the chalk on the slate. The chalkiest players are typically the ‘best’ plays on the slate if you are trying to maximize your total points produced. However, if you are looking to win a big tournament you can gain a lot of ground on your competition if you choose a player that outperforms there. If that player is in a lot of lineups you can pass a lot at one time. Balancing scoring the most points and playing against your competition is the toughest part of DFS. In this section, we talk about how to handle the toughest decision of the week. What to do with the chalk:
Deshaun Watson appears to be the chalk at quarterback which is somewhat interesting given his slow start to the season as he has only surpassed 300 yards once and is coming off a 160-yard performance against the Panthers that lost his supporters' money last week. Of course, the biggest reason he is the chalkiest play is the game’s high Vegas total which is sitting at 50, several points higher than the next highest. Patrick Mahomes II, Jared Goff, and Russell Wilson are all off this main which helps as well.
The Falcons aren’t getting especially blown up in the passing game either having allowed only one 300 yard passer. But the main reason the Falcons passing defense has looked good is they have played Marcus Mariota, Jacoby Brissett, Carson Wentz on a week all his receivers were out to injury, and Kirk Cousins. There isn’t much of a softer set of QBs you can face. In fact, with Austin Lee’s normalized strength of schedule, you can see that the Falcons are actually allowing 5% more points to QB than average despite looking so tough.
But does all this mean that you should play a chalky Watson that is priced up when he hasn’t performed great and the opposing defense isn’t Giants levels of awful? Right now I am leaning towards a slide fade so I can take some chances with other quarterbacks that have slightly lower ownership. If you are building 10 lineups maybe play him in one.
The biggest chalk at running back is the previously mentioned Christian McCaffrey. There isn’t much to say about McCaffrey that isn’t already known. He is the best running back in the league right now. He’s scored a touchdown AND surpassed 100 total yards in 3 of 4 games thus far. He also has 10 receptions in 2 of 4 games.
The problem for McCaffrey lies within his price and ownership. In building lineups, cost and uniqueness are the two major costs to points. Can McCaffrey’s points offset those costs? At first glance, it appears that would be the case. However, as mentioned above we also should be considering some of the higher-priced receivers as well which starts making building lineups a bit tougher. I am not completely fading McCaffrey but unless some major cost savings open up I suggest being under the field on him and taking a shot at some of the other high priced receiving options.
The chalky wide receiver seems to be more site-dependent but one that will certainly be up there is the ageless wonder, Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald started the year on fire with over 100 yards in each of his first two games but has tailed off since then failing to top 50 yards since then. His target share has dropped from 26% to 16% from those first two to the last two as well. So hopefully he isn’t dealing with an undisclosed injury or age is finally starting to catch up. What really makes Fitzgerald pop is that the team is likely going to be missing Damiere Byrd and Christian Kirk. The Cardinals play as much 4 wide receiver sets as anyone in the league and with Fitzgerald’s biggest competitors for targets out, he is left fighting against the likes of KeeSean Johnson, Trent Sherfield, Andy Isabella, and Pharoh Cooper. While all of those guys make fine contrarian plays Fitzgerald has to be the favorite to be targeted often. Of course, this spot feels a lot like Keenan Allen last week with a shortage of pass catchers to compete against but I will take a shot on the talent winning out every time and plugging Fitzgerald into my lineups even at high ownership.
One of the chalkier tight ends is Tyler Eifert. The reason being that tight ends have absolutely killed the Cardinals so far this year. Again according to Austin’s normalized strength of schedule tight ends are scoring 69% more against the Cardinals than they would against an average team. That includes the following stat lines from the most recent first. Will Dissly 7-57-1, Greg Olsen 6-75-2, Mark Andrews 8-112-1, T.J. Hockenson 6-131-1. If this was the Eifert from a few years ago I would sign him up for one of these big games as well. But he isn’t like the other tight ends on this list. He is only playing 42% of the Bengals snaps this year and hasn’t gotten higher than 49% in any single game. He is still recovering from his broken ankle last year that kept him out for the final 12 games of the season. If there is a spot for Eifert to get right quick this is it but at this ownership, you won’t gain enough on the competition to make it worth it. If you really want to attack this Cardinals defense, I would prefer C.J. Uzomah at lower ownership playing nearly the same amount of snaps.
If you play too many chalky players you will be competing against too many people to win first place and the odds will be stacked against you. If you play too many contrarian players you won’t score enough points. Remember, the plays are contrarian because most likely there is something wrong with that player. In general, the public is very smart. Finding that right mix is the second hardest thing to do in DFS. In this section, I will try to point you to some of the most contrarian options on the slate.
At quarterback and wide receiver, an easy way to get contrarian is to go with Kyle Allen and pair him with Curtis Samuel or D.J. Moore. All three players are priced competitively due to a perceived difficult matchup with the Jaguars. However, Jalen Ramsey will miss another game. Without Ramsey the last two games they have allowed Marcus Mariota and Joe Flacco to throw for 304 and 303 yards, respectively. Allen didn’t look good in his second start of the year but I don’t think it’s a stretch to think he can put up numbers similar to Mariota and Flacco.
If Allen does put up 300 yards he is likely going to do it by throwing to Samuel and/or Moore. At their price points, it won’t take a huge game for them to be a key part of your GPP strategy. In those last two games Adam Humphries 6-93, Tajae Sharp 2-70, Emmanuel Sanders 5-104, Courtland Sutton 5-104-2, and DaeSean Hamilton 3-57 all exceeded expectations. I like those odds.
One running back that is going overlooked is Carlos Hyde at about 4% across the industry. I’ve talked about it a couple of times this year already but one of the best ways to leverage against the field is taking a player that doesn’t correlate as well with the chalk. In this case, it’s playing Hyde while everyone is playing Watson. So far, the Texans only have three rushes inside the 5 but all three of those carries have gone to Hyde. In what looks to be a high scoring game it wouldn’t be surprising to see Hyde run one or more in and when your opponents are disappointed about Watson not scoring you can pass them by with the cheaper Hyde.