The Butterfly Effect:
One of the more difficult aspects of succeeding in GPP’s is finding low owned players that can return at least a multiple of four on their salary. This means if a player costs $4,500, in order for that player to hit value, he must score at least 18 points. With their being so much coverage in the industry, there is little chance of having an obvious sleeper fall through the cracks. In fact, in many cases it becomes a detriment to roster these players, because at best you are keeping pace with 30-50% of the field, and at worst, your team is sunk. My solution to the problem of finding these players is to embrace the theory of The Butterfly Effect.
The Butterfly Effect is a theory that believes “small causes can have larger effects”. To take it one step further though, it is really how a single occurrence can cause several different layers of effects. For DFS purposes, think of an injury to a star running back. Now right off the bat, the backup running back is the most obvious beneficiary, as he will inherit the #1 spot and become an instant source of value. What most people fail to realize though, is that the star running back may have a different skill set that causes the entire offense (and defense) to be affected. Perhaps the backup running back is of smaller stature which precludes him from being an effective red zone option. That would add value to the wide receivers and tight ends who will now see more targets in the red zone. This is a very basic example, but one that happens often.
In addition to injuries, The Butterfly Effect can also be applied to coaching changes, scheme changes and trades. Anytime a significant event or change occurs, this article will be your guide to finding how value has shifted, both positively and negatively.
Key Losses: Ezekiel Elliot (suspension), Tyron Smith (injury)
I have to start this column off right, which of course means discussing the prospects of the Dallas Cowboys offense without Ezekiel Elliot. If the suspension had begun in week 1, Darren McFadden probably would have been looking at the lion’s share of the carries, however, now he finds himself third on the depth chart behind Alfred Morris and Rod Smith. Smith is there for his pass catching ability and will stay as the #2 Cowboys running back irrespective of whether it is Morris or McFadden starting. For now, Morris is the lead runner and ran well against Atlanta (4.8 yards per carry). He took 11 of the teams 15 carries, so his role is fairly secure. His limitations as a pass catcher hurt his value tremendously though, as he will need to score a touchdown each week in order to reach tournament value. Those limitations open up the rest of the Cowboys’ offense for value though, specifically for Dak Prescott, Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley and Jason Witten. Ezekiel Elliot averaged 26.2 touches per game, and there is no way that Morris, Smith and McFadden are matching that type of volume, even in tandem. Dak Prescott is averaging 21.3 fantasy points per game, despite the fact that he has yet to throw for 300 yards in a game this season. Of all the Cowboys offensive players, Prescott has the most to gain from Elliot’s absence. Now the biggest problem is that offensive tackle Tyron Smith is injured and not practicing this week. The Cowboys are hopeful that he will play on Sunday, but is it still very much in question whether he suits up. Without Smith, the Cowboys offense is trouble. They were sacked eight times by the Falcons and had trouble getting into a sort of flow because they were constantly faced with long conversions on second and third down. If Smith is unable to go, the Cowboys will have to go to a quick short-passing game that is beneficial to Cole Beasley. Jason Witten could be asked to block more in that case, which would open up some options for Rod Smith. Smith caught four of his six targets for 15 yards against Atlanta. His six targets were third on the Cowboys, only trailing Dez Bryant (eight) and Jason Witten (seven). From week to week, Smith has the higher floor while Morris has the higher ceiling. When I was asked by my colleague Phil Alexander last week, “What’s your exposure to Alfred Morris?” My response was “There is only one option in the Cowboys Dak-field”, which sums up my thoughts on their current running back situation in GPP’s.
Who I’m playing: Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley are all worth investing in this week against Philadelphia. Due to their problems at left tackle, Dak Prescott was never able to get the offense going against Atlanta. The Cowboys will have all week to game plan and given the Eagles problems in the secondary, Bryant and Witten look especially good to me with their salaries depressed. Beasley is more of a GPP dart, but he has a consistent role in the offense, and if the game turns into a shootout, Beasley could be very active.
Primary Beneficiaries: Marqise Lee, TJ Yeldon
Secondary Beneficiaries: Keenan Cole, Chris Ivory
After missing week the Jaguars week nine game for disciplinary reasons, Leonard Fournette injured his ankle in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s game, and he is currently listed as questionable to play on Sunday. Typically, the injury would not seem like too much of a concern for Fournette, however the current forecast in Cleveland is calling for rain and snow, which should make things quite slippery on the field and tougher for a running back coming off an ankle injury. Conventional thinking would be to have Fournette active on Sunday, but only reason use him as needed, which would then open things up tremendously for TJ Yeldon. Yeldon passed Chris Ivory on the depth chart this past week, although that points to Yeldon’s receiving ability being more important to the Jaguars when Fournette is active. If Fournette is not active, then Ivory will likely a 65-35 split in his favor, while Yeldon would also see the action on all passing downs. If you had to choose one, I would lean towards Yeldon. This is compounded by the fact that Jacksonville missed both Parnell and Omameh last week and went from being the leagues #1 rushing team, to gaining 98 yards total on the day. It was even worse than it sounds because fourth string running back Corey Grant ripped off a 56 yard touchdown run on his only carry. The running game will likely continue to suffer without two starting offensive lineman, giving Yeldon an even larger share of the run/pass split.
The injuries to Fournette, Parnell, Omameh and Hurns have given Marqise Lee the opportunity he needed to ascend to the top of the Jaguars depth chart at wide receiver. In week’s nine and 10, Lee combined for 14 catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns. The 23 targets Lee saw were the most he’s had in two games over the course of his career. The Jaguars are deep at running back but very thin at wide receiver (after starting out deep at the position to start the season), so Lee will continue to be peppered with a high volume of targets. Keelan Cole is a name to keep an eye on, as the Jaguars are down to four healthy wide receivers, and that is if you include Dede Westbrook, who would be making his NFL debut. Cole has caught eight passes for 152 yards in his last three games, but more importantly, he has catches of 36, 28 and 52 yards, respectively, in each of those games. The Jaguars desperately need big plays in the passing game, and Cole should see heavy playing time against Cleveland. The weather could keep the passing games in check, so Cole may be someone you want to take a shot in future weeks, as opposed to this week against Cleveland.
Who I’m playing: The injury situation with Fournette will very much dictate how heavily I invest in the Jaguars offense this Sunday. I will definitely want their starting running back, but TJ Yeldon presents a buy-low situation with enough upside to give you a 5x return in GPP’s. Lee is someone I will have heavy exposure to in the future, but his price has increased and there are other games with more advantageous weather situations to take advantage of this week. If Fournette is inactive, I will have minor exposure to Ivory (5%), but other than that he is not on my radar from week to week.
Key Losses: Devonta Freeman
Secondary Beneficiaries: Mohammed Sanu, Austin Hooper, Tevon Ward
Devonta Freeman sustained a concussion in last week’s game against the Cowboys, and has yet to practice this week, and has not been cleared through the NFL concussion protocol. It looks as though he will not play on Monday, making Tevin Coleman one of the best value plays of the week. Coleman had already carved out a consistent role in the Falcons backfield, averaging a little over 10 touches for 66.6 total yards per game. Now those numbers should double, and Coleman will also see a larger role in the red zone, making him one of the few running backs in the NFL that will see action on all three downs and in the red zone. The others? Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliot, David Johnson, Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy. That is elite company to be in.
The loss of Devonta Freeman is the perfect example of how the Butterfly Effects truly works. Coleman is without a doubt the main beneficiary and gains about as much value as you possible can from one week to the next. Now the flipside of that coin is that Coleman cannot possibly account for the cumulative touches that he and Freeman would see as a tandem. The Falcons also have Tevon Ward--who saw nine carries last week--but they were also beating the Cowboys and opted to slow down the pace of the game in the second half and stick to the run. This week though, they have to travel to Seattle and take on a Seahawks team that should force them to throw the ball much more. Julio Jones is averaging only 8.6 targets per game in 2017, which is the least amount of targets he’s seen per game since 2012. Part of that has been the entire offense struggling with a Super Bowl hangover, while the Atlanta coaching staff’s is also more willing to run the ball. Combine that with Matt Ryan spreading the ball around to Mohammed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper more (in addition to Coleman and Freeman), and there has been a sharp decrease in Jones’s target volume. That could change with Freeman’s injury, especially if it turns out to be one where he misses multiple weeks. Jones is as big a mismatch as there is in the NFL at wide receiver, and without Freeman, Ryan will have to turn to his #1 playmaker. Jones has a tough matchup this week against the Seahawks, but they are not the invincible secondary they have been in year’s past. In fact, in the two games he’s played against Seattle in his career, Jones has 18 receptions for 266 yards and a touchdown. Mohammed Sanu has 10 receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown in his two games against Seattle as well, so there is no reason to be scared off from the matchup. Austin Hooper has started to come as of late and had another very good game last week against Dallas, catching six passes (on six targets) for 49 yards and a touchdown. He is able to create mismatches in the middle of the field and will continue to excel as the Falcons throw the ball more. This of course all comes back to Matt Ryan, who is having a down year after winning the MVP last season. After throwing for multiple touchdowns only once in his first six games, Ryan has thrown at least two touchdowns in three straight games. His price has come way down across the industry, and now becomes someone you can play in GPP’s. Freeman’s injury will increase Ryan’s passing volume, and at the very least give him the opportunity to have a 300 yard, three touchdown game.
Who I’m playing: I will have heavy exposure to Tevin Coleman (25%) and Julio Jones (20%), and would have more in Jones if the pricing at wide receiver was not extremely loose this week. I also like Austin Hooper as the Seahawks have had trouble containing faster tight ends (Evan Engram caught six passes for 60 yards, Vernon Davis had six catches for 72 yards and Tyler Higbee had four catches for 98 yards) this season, and Hooper’s role will continue to expand. Mohammed Sanu lacks the ceiling to be a true GPP threat, but if you are looking for floor over ceiling, then he is certainly someone to consider. Tevon Ward is best to wait on this week, as he will have a small role but it is uncertain just how heavy Tevin Coleman’s volume will be.
New Orleans Saints
Key Losses: The Passing Game (Drew Brees)
Secondary Beneficiaries: Ted Ginn Jr Jr.
This example of the Butterfly Effect comes more in the way of the Saints weekly game plan, rather than a particular player. Since trading Adrian Peterson in week 6, the Saints have primarily become a running team, which cannot be criticized considering they are unbeaten in that stretch. Drew Brees averages 37.5 attempts and 284 passing yards per game over his career, while the last five games he is averaging 25 attempts and 232 passing yards per game.
Over that span, Mark Ingram II and Alvin Kamara have combined for 884 rushing yards (176 yards per game) on 149 carries (5.9 yards per carry) and 289 receiving yards on 35 catches, to go along with 11 total touchdowns. Whether it is the perfect way that Kamara and Ingram complement each other, or defenses still have not adjusted to the Saints not throwing the ball all the time, it is clear that the two running backs are the main playmakers on this year’s Saints team. So much so that Michael Thomas is really the only Saints receiver you can have confidence in week to week, and even he has only eclipsed 100 yards receiving once on the season. His value is stable because he sees around 27% of all of passing targets, but his ceiling has diminished along with Brees’s volume. Ted Ginn Jr Jr. has certainly benefitted from the Saints success running the ball, as when he is seeing one on one coverage with little safety help when the Saints utilize play action. That is a silver lining though, because the #2 wide receiver does not have nearly the value it had in year’s past.
Who I’m playing: Despite their salaries continue to rise across the industry, there should be serious consideration paid to playing both Kamara and Ingram together in your lineups. The feeling is that the time to get in and see value has passed, but every week I continued to be surprised by the volume that the Saints are involving their running backs. It’s not just that though, they are combining for 44.2 DraftKings points per game over their last five games, and a whopping 112 fantasy points over the last two weeks. I will have heavy exposure to both Kamara and Ingram (20%), and several of those lineups will feature them as a tandem. Michael Thomas can be played week to week, but there is so much value in the lower-top tier at wide receiver, there are quite a few who I think are better point per dollar values. It is really hard to sit Drew Brees, but at this point his salary has not dropped equally alongside his production. Unless Sean Payton is really trying to pull the wool over our eyes, the Saints will continue to run the ball like they have been and Drew Brees just doesn't pass the ball enough to return a minimum of a 4x multiple on his salary.
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