The Contrarian: FanDuel Week 5

Identifying underexposed players to create roster uniqueness in tournaments.

Before getting into the action, I just want extend my best wishes to those of you dealing with Hurricane Matthew. Stay safe. Don’t temp the storm and relocate if needed or possible. Do what’s best for your family and friends.

Since this column is about fantasy football, I have to mention the storm as it relates to our fantasy football decisions. But none of what I have to say in the paragraphs that follow mean anything in the grand scheme of things. I won’t go as far as saying “it’s just a game”, because I don’t believe that for a second. But I sympathize with the hundreds of thousands of people that don’t get to enjoy a normal weekend. Also keep in mind that this massive storm obviously affects more than just Americans. Haiti has already experienced unthinkable damage. There are thousands of people out there that have lost everything. So I encourage you, if able, to do what you can to help. Perhaps consider matching whatever you’re playing in DFS this weekend and donating to a charity of your liking. Or skip DFS altogether and donate instead. It’s that important.

General Week 5 Thoughts

We have another great feature available for you this week that you recognize from last year. Austin Lee, of The Footballguys’ Daily Fantasy Hour and dubsmash fame, has released his normalized strength of schedule. It’s one of the most useful tools available.

The highest projected point totals of the week are, in order, are the Raiders vs. Chargers, Colts vs. Bears, Steelers vs. Jets, Packers vs. Giants, and Broncos vs. Falcons. I’ll have most of my action on the Steelers and Packers games, while avoiding the Colts/Bears and Broncos/Falcons.

As mentioned, Hurricane Matthew is major threat. Games in Baltimore, Miami and Charlotte are at most risk. I’m avoiding them completely, especially the Dolphins/Titans, which could be delayed and/or moved. The game in Baltimore is probably okay, but there aren’t many players in that matchup I’m in love with anyway (I see you, Terrance West).

Quarterbacks

Eli Manning - $7,700

At some point, touchdowns are going to happen. Manning ranks 11th in the league in pass attempts, eight in completions and fifth in yards, yet enters Week 5 as our QB22 on the season. Those numbers don’t paint a picture of a bad year. But he’s thrown just one touchdown since he threw three in Week 1. Where are the touchdowns? It’s not like the Giants have a premier rushing attack siphoning opportunities away from the quarterback. At some point, those touchdowns are coming. And I’m loading up my lineups with Manning with the assumption that they’re coming Sunday night.

The Packers enter Week 5 having allowed the fourth most points per game to quarterbacks and will once again be without their top corner. Every passer they’ve faced has scored at least 16 points, including Matthew Stafford, who bombed them for 385 yards and three scores. Their strength on defense rests solely on their ability to stop the rush. This sets up perfectly for Manning, whose team can’t seem to run the ball. He’s also a seven-point underdog on the road after a tough Monday night game. So I won’t blame you for sticking your nose up at this pick. But this game has all the makings of a shootout and Manning’s touchdown misfortune will come to an end.

The Broncos' Quarterback

I know I said in the intro that I’m avoiding this game due to so many uncertainties, but Trevor Siemian has looked great since Week 2, and Paxton Lynch looked like he’s been running the offense since day one when he took over last week. As of this writing, there’s no clarity as to who will get the start come Sunday, so this is risky business. I hope Siemian does get healthy… sometime next week. Lynch is only $6,800—a full $800 cheaper than Siemian—and would provide immediate tournament value, even if he has no experience. The Falcons’ defense is just a mess. They’ve given up most passing touchdowns (13) and the second most yards. The lowest point total they’ve allowed to a quarterback is 14.88, and that was to Derek Anderson who played for only nine minutes. Seriously. Look at these game logs:

Player

Week

Comp

Att

PassYd

PassTD

Int

Rsh

RshYD

RshTD

FantPt

Salary

Cam Newton 4 14 25 165 1 0 5 30 0 15.6 9300
Derek Anderson 4 17 23 172 2 2 0 0 0 14.88 5000
Drew Brees 3 36 54 376 3 1 2 9 0 26.94 9000
Derek Carr 2 34 45 299 3 0 2 10 0 24.96 8300
Jameis Winston 1 23 32 281 4 1 4 3 0 26.54 7500

The Falcons have allowed at least three passing touchdowns in every game, and an average of over 250 yards. I’ll gladly hook my wagon to Lynch. If it ends up being Siemian, I’ll lower my exposure due to concerns of an in-game setback.

Ryan Fitzpatrick - $6,800

Say what? The dude has thrown nine interceptions over the last two games and you’re plugging him as a tournament play? He could get benched at any moment.

It’s true. This is not safe territory, friends. I’ll await your hate mail if you take my advice. Look, Fitzpatrick hasn’t been great. He’s been holding on to the ball too long. He’s been making bad decisions. But how does a guy throw six interceptions in one game, and then turn around and throw another three in the next, and still have a job? I wanted answers, so I watched the game again, and there’s something you should know about all those interceptions: they were all bad throws. No way to sugarcoat it. But you can make a case that at least four of them “weren’t his fault”. Three of them were tipped; either by a defender or bouncing off the hands his intended receivers. One of these three was a dart that should have easily been caught. Late in the game against the Chiefs with things well out of reach, Fitzpatrick threw a prayer to Brandon Marshall who was double-covered in the end zone.

And that’s another thing, there seemed to be a lot of miscommunication between Fitzpatrick and Marshall. He has been targeted 39 times—tied for 10th most among all players—yet has only 16 catches for 249 yards and one touchdown on the season. Four of those targets have resulted in an interception.  

Truthfully, there’s not a lot of excuses for a guy that has been picked off 10 times through four games. That’s just horrible. But in fairness, defenders also made some amazing plays that I don’t think are typical. Richard Sherman notwithstanding, there’s a lot of wide receivers out there that don’t make the catches the Chiefs defense made a couple of weeks ago.

So you can understand why Fitzgerald hasn’t lost his job yet. Now he travels to Pittsburgh where he’ll likely be forced into a high-volume passing attack. There’s good news though: the Steelers’ defense is quite bad. They’ve allowed the second most passing yards despite facing Alex Smith, Carson Wentz, Andy Dalton and Kirk Cousins. Not that those guys are bad. But they’re not winning Super Bowls anytime soon and with the exception of Cousins, they’ve all managed at least 18 FanDuel points. The Jets have a pair of good, pass-catching backs to exploit this defense with, and if he gets things worked out with Marshall, I could see this turning into a high-scoring game and a get-right week for Fitzpatrick (I’d like him a lot more if Eric Decker were healthy, but Quincy Enunwa is no slouch. There’s a Jets’ stack in play here).  

Running Backs

DeAndre Washington - $4,700 and Terrance West - $6,400

Neither of these guys are going to be contrarian plays if clarity isn’t added to their situations. But both will be great value if they’re announced as starters. Washington has slowly been earning more carries in what as otherwise been a muddy backfield. But make no mistake, he looks like the Raiders best running back. The Chargers have allowed the 11th most total yards and second most touchdowns to running backs. If Washington gets the role increase we expect, then he’ll have no trouble hitting tournament value.

The same goes for West, who finally got the start last week and rattled off 113 yards and a score on 21 touches. I mentioned the weather concerns regarding this game, so we’ll need to be careful. But his usage is a lot more concrete than Washington’s and his matchup is just as appealing. Only the saints have allowed more FanDuel points to running backs than the Ravens’ opponent, who have surrendered the sixth most per touch. West will be a popular play, but chalk is often chalk for a reason.

Bilal Powell - $5,100

Two Jets players in one article. This is shaping up to be a tough week for me. You know by now that I’m all about targeting the Steelers’ defense in DFS. And Powell has a great opportunity on Sunday. What about Matt Forte? Here’s a side-by-side comparison:

Player

Snaps

Carries

Rushing Yards

Targets

Receptions

Rec Yards

Total TDs

Fan Points

Matt Forte 190 22 288 17 11 83 3 60.6
Bilal Powell 99 13 99 22 15 103 0 25.7

Just staring those numbers would lead you to believe that there’s no contest here. But applying a bit of recency bias, if I may, to the situation, over the last two weeks Forte has 92 yards on 19 carries and has been all but stripped for the passing attack with just four catches on seven targets for 15 yards. Meanwhile Powell has 12 catches for 95 yards on 16 targets. And even though he only has eight carries during that span, he has made the most of them by averaging seven per rush on his way 56 yards. If your counting, that’s 107 total yards for Forte over the last two games, and 151 total yards for Powell. Wait, there’s more! Powell actually played more snaps last week than Forte. Is that because of injury, or is it because Powell is a better player at this stage in their careers?

I just don’t know. One thing is absolutely conclusive: the Steelers have allowed more receiving yards to running backs than any other team, and their five total touchdowns permitted ties them with three other teams for fifth most. One of these players is going to have a huge day. Maybe both of them. Right now, my money is on Powell, who is the clear passing down back. The Jets will be losing in this game. And they will be throwing. I usually like to avoid committees, especially in DFS, but even with Forte practicing in full (which really just keeps Powell’s ownership in check), I like Powell to continue his pace and find the end zone for the first time this season, which is all he needs to hit tournament value.

Todd Gurley - $7,600

It has not been a good season for Gurley, but you already know that. You also know that finding a running back who has the backfield all to himself is a rare in today’s climate. Gurley is one of the few. So far, that backfield has not be fruitful. He is barely averaging 2.6 yards per carry and has found the end zone just twice—both times in Week 3. But even though he comes into Week 5 ranked 23rd in scoring among running backs, there are a number of reasons optimism.

The first is that he finally got involved in the passing attack last week. He was targeted five times and had a career high five catches for a career high 49 yards. He can be a receiver; he just needs to be used as such. Should that become a regular thing, his ceiling is tops.

The offense is playing better. Case Keenum is almost worth a look this week as a contrarian play. His salary gives us lots of options, but the upside just isn’t there. Either way, he hasn’t been a complete disaster and the Rams are now 3-1, despite getting shutout in Week 1.

The Bills are coming to town. Only three teams have allowed more rushing touchdowns, and only eight have allowed more points per attempt. It’s not the dreamiest of matchups, but how many running backs with a salary in his price range have a complete monopoly on the backfield? LeSean McCoy and Lamar Miller are about it. Three if you count Melvin Gordon III. So there are safer plays, to be sure. But let’s not forget that Gurley is still pound for pound one of the best backs in the league. If anyone has multi-touchdown upside while also playing nearly 75 percent of snaps, it’s him. Take advantage his salary and exposure while they’re down.

Wide Receivers

Odell Beckham Jr Jr. - $8,500

We talked about this last week when mentioning Julio Jones, who was coming off of a bad game and had a tough matchup. Targeting elite players when their ownership is down is how you win tournaments. Jones ended up being on about 13.9 percent of lineups in the Fandeul Sunday Million, which was a lot more than I expected, but the process was correct. Enter Beckham, who has gone five games without a touchdown dating back to last season. He has been a head-case since Week 1 and now ranks 30th among receivers.

But Sunday night will be the night things change. Here’s a fun fact: the Packers have allowed opposing wide receivers to score .58 FanDuel points per target. Which is a bit misleading because they’ve only been targeted 65 times in three games, but it’s excellent news for a guy that is tied for the 10th most targets in the league. More good news is that the Packers will be without their top cornerback and were already allowing the second most passing yards per game. He may not be a contrarian play in the true sense of the word, but I’ll have a lot more exposure to him than the crowd.

Randall Cobb - $7,100

Yes, I’m in love with the Giants/Packers game. I’m sure many of you are. But how many of you are considering starting Cobb over Jordy Nelson? Probably not very many. I’m not suggesting you do that. In fact, a Packers’ power stack looks tempting this week (Rodgers/Nelson/Cobb). But why Cobb?

Without question, he has been a major disappointment. He saw only three targets and caught one of them for 33 yards in his last time out. He now has a paltry 132 yards on the season, and has gone nine games without a touchdown. Am I allowed to just end my analysis right here with “he’s due”?

Of course not. There’s a lot to like about how the Packers matchup with the Giants. Especially for Cobb. Here’s how the Giants have fared against receivers so far this year:

Player

Week

Rsh

RshYD

RshTD

Rec

RecYd

RecTD

FantPt

Salary

Charles Johnson 4 0 0 0 2 70 0 8 4700
Stefon Diggs 4 1 -1 0 5 47 0 7.1 7100
Cordarrelle Patterson 4 1 2 0 5 38 0 6.5 4700
Adam Thielen 4 0 0 0 2 21 0 3.1 4900
DeSean Jackson 3 0 0 0 5 96 1 18.1 6800
Jamison Crowder 3 0 0 0 4 78 1 15.8 5000
Pierre Garcon 3 0 0 0 5 59 0 8.4 6100
Willie Snead IV 2 0 0 0 5 54 1 13.9 7200
Brandin Cooks 2 0 0 0 7 68 0 10.3 8400
Michael Thomas 2 0 0 0 4 56 0 7.6 5000
Brandon Coleman 2 0 0 0 2 15 0 2.5 4500
TommyLee Lewis 2 0 0 0 1 -1 0 0.4 0
Cole Beasley 1 0 0 0 8 65 0 10.5 5000
Terrance Williams 1 0 0 0 3 34 0 4.9 5300
Brice Butler 1 0 0 0 1 16 0 2.1 4700
Dez Bryant 1 0 0 0 1 8 0 1.3 8000

There’s a notable presence of slot receivers on this list. Particularly Snead and Beasley, who dinged this defense for a combined for 119 yards and a score on 13 catches. Not exactly world-beating, but I don’t expect Cobb to beat the world. I expect him to have low ownership while also presenting a cheap way to buy into the Packers’ offense.

Jordan Matthews - $7,000

The best thing about bye weeks is sometimes the general public forgets about certain players. Matthews could be that player this week. He managed to save his day in Week 3 with a touchdown, but had just two catches on three targets for 19 yards. Where we can find optimism is how he began the season. His 13 catches for 185 yards and one touchdown were good enough for WR16 during that stretch. Now we just need this offense to prove that they can continue to be successful with a rookie quarterback. The Lions are a perfect barometer for that. They’ve allowed more FanDuel points per game to receivers than all but four other teams. Over the last two weeks alone they’ve allowed nearly 400 yards and four of their six touchdowns. This is a bad secondary outside of Darius slay. Hopefully the Eagles give Matthews more work in the slot to avoid Slay. There’s no guarantee of that, so I’m a little leery of how this game plays out. But Matthews should see plenty of targets. Unless, of course, the Lions offense totally falters and the Eagles’ are able to grind this game out. For that reason, Ryan Mathews should be considered a risky contrarian play with tournament-swinging upside.

Tight Ends

There aren’t a lot of tight ends I’m in love with this week. The shortlist includes Dennis Pitta ($5,500) who will be overlooked after Steve Smith’s explosion the last couple of weeks. Washington’s defense is vulnerable just about everywhere, and so far they’ve allowed the ninth most yards to tight ends. Pitta ranks fourth among tight ends in targets, and even if his usage in the passing game has declined, I like him to finally find the end zone on Sunday.

If Tyler Eifert plays, I’m all over him. If he doesn’t, we have to consider C.J. Uzomah ($5,100) as a near punt option. The Cowboys have allowed the third most yards and fourth most touchdowns to tight ends. They’ll do their best to take A.J. Green out of the picture, leaving the middle of the field wide open.

Then, of course, there’s Zach Ertz ($5,600), who isn’t going to do us any favors in the salary department. But his matchup is the best on the board. The Lions have yet to prevent a tight end from scoring a touchdown in any game this season. The yards haven’t’ been there, but if your tight end doesn’t score, your lineup doesn’t win a tournament.

Kickers and Defenses

I’m a big fan of Mike Nugent ($4,600) this Sunday against the Cowboys. He has attempted the most field goals in the league and has missed only one all season. He currently ranks third among kickers and his salary is $100 above minimum.

For the first time all season, the Denver Broncos ($5,100) might be under owned. They get a tough matchup against the Falcons so I won’t blame the crowd for staying away. It’s not like the salary is particularly friendly, being the highest of all defenses. But let’s see that Matt Ryan interception machine come out now that he finally has to face a rugged defense.

If you can’t afford the Broncos, I don’t mind taking a chance on the Dolphins ($4,600). The Titans have the lowest scoring offense in the league, and if the Dolphins, who have a better run defense that meets the eye, can contain DeMarco Murray, they’ll shut this game down quickly.



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