The Contrarian: FanDuel Week 6

Identifying underexposed players to create roster uniqueness in tournaments.

 

Fantasy hint: if your reason for starting a player is based on how he performs in odd numbered weeks, then buy up all of my cash games please. 

Just kidding. I don’t play cash games.

There’s been a lot of debate between Footballguy staffers regarding split stats. Particularly home/road splits. Particularly Ben Roethlisberger’s home/road splits. He has been an absolute force at home, which was on display last week when he blasted the Jets secondary to the tune of 380 yards and four touchdowns (and would have had at least five touchdowns if not for a few notable drops). But on the road, things haven’t gone as smooth. Below are his home/road splits since 2010 including this year:

Split

G

Cmp

Att

CmpPct

Yards

YD/Game

YD/Att

TD

INT

FantPt

FantPt/G

Home 45 1025 1579 64.9 12917 287 8.18 103 29 1146.5 25.5
Road 44 1050 1624 64.7 12254 278.5 7.55 56 41 834.8 19

The numbers speak for themselves. His touchdown to interception ratio is alarming, with 103 to 29 at home versus 56 to 41 on the road. And a difference of 6.5 fantasy points per game seems to indicate that home/road splits have merit.

He’s not alone. Drew Brees might as well be the poster child for the “start at home, fade on the road” narrative. Since 2010 including this year:

Split

G

Cmp

Att

CmpPct

Yards

YD/Game

YD/Att

TD

INT

FantPt

FantPt/G

Home 50 1423 2055 69.2 16394 327.88 7.98 145 44 1496.3 29.9
Road 49 1361 2042 66.7 15132 308.8 7.41 91 54 1130.2 23.1

Again, a massive drop off in touchdowns on the road and a differential of 6.8 points per game.

How does one explain this? Can we just take the numbers at their word and only play these two quarterbacks when they have a home game?

I think not. It stands to reason that all quarterbacks should play better at home. What the split stats don’t tell us is anything about quality of opponent and game scripts. If anything, we should expect more fantasy points when a team is forced into high-volume passing, which is more likely when they are on the road. Per the charts above, Brees actually attempted fewer passes, and Roethlisberger attempted only 1.8 more pass attempts per game on the road than at home.

Something doesn’t add up. Perhaps home/road splits are fool’s gold and we’d be wise to start the players with the best chances scoring fantasy points and hitting value relative to salary. That much is obvious.

But we can’t outright ignore the numbers either. Some split stats are useful for predicting future performance. Footballguy Hall of Famer Chase Stuart said it best a few years ago:

“Obviously some splits are real, with reasonable explanations behind them, and they may give legitimate insight into future performance. A quarterback who was much more efficient when his star receiver was in the lineup is probably a split that means something. A running back who averages more yards per carry when a mobile quarterback is in the game is probably a real effect. A receiver who dealt with injuries in the second half of the season may play like he did in the first half the following year once he’s healthy.”

Splits do indeed happen. Just because Roethlisberger is on the road this week doesn’t mean you should automatically fade him. Fade him if there’s better value somewhere else (which I think there is this week). And the reason to play him last week had nothing to do with the Steelers being at home; it had everything to do with them facing the worst secondary in the league. Simple math: the best offense taking on the worst defense. Start the quarterback.

Perhaps the best process is to determine which split stats the crowd is most likely to use to confirm their bias (such as odd numbered weeks), and fade accordingly.

Quarterbacks

Russell Wilson - $8,400

It’s really not fair to list Wilson as a contrarian play because he should have decent exposure come Sunday. This is more of a “quarterback I love” pick than anything. And with Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and (maybe) Alex Smith being crowd favorites, there’s a chance Wilson slips through the cracks more than he should.

That’s really what this is all about; finding a player who should be higher owned than his projected ownership percentage suggest. My guess is that he ends up on about 10 to 11 percent of rosters when he should be on 25 percent. The Falcons defense is horrible and even if there’s a high probability of rain and wind in Seattle this weekend, Wilson will be as healthy as he has been since the first game of the season and will finally have some mobility. The bye week will also contribute to his popularity being lower than normal. Either way, feel free to ignore ownership projections and roll him out with confidence.

Tyrod Taylor - $7,800

Advanced stats will do you no favors when you look at Taylor’s history. Even basic stats don’t love him. He comes into the week quietly ranked as QB15 in FanDuel scoring, has thrown only six touchdowns to two interceptions, and has attempted the 25th fewest passes in the league. He also has the second most rushing yards among quarterbacks and is averaging 16.1 points per game despite scoring just 5.54 points in Week 1. You remove that game and he’s QB6 on the season with a healthy 18.8 points per game.

Enter the San Francisco 49ers, who are coming to town with an awful secondary and an even worse run defense. Their inability to stop the run will be a key factor in this game as most of the crowd is going to jump all over LeSean McCoy. And they’re right to do so. Running backs have destroyed this defense. Even Fozzy Whittaker managed 131 total yards and 6.25 yards per carry. So if you’d rather plug in McCoy, I won’t blame you. I suggest playing both and taking full advantage of a positive matchup. The Bills, by the way, rank 15th in points per game despite scoring only seven in Week 1. They have the third highest projected total of Week 6.

Marcus Mariota - $7,600

I promise this isn’t a kneejerk reaction to Mariota finally having a decent game. He was our QB1 last week thanks to 60 rushing yards and one rushing score to match three passing touchdowns. Truthfully, we’ve had opportunities to take advantage of his matchups before. Particularly against the Raiders in Week 3. He managed only 6.76 points in that contest… at home. So it’s possible his somewhat high salary is a trap. But he has another sweetheart of a matchup against the Browns this week.

You remember the Browns, of course:

Player

Week

Comp

Att

PassYd

PassTD

Int

Rsh

RshYD

RshTD

FantPt

Salary

Tom Brady 5 28 40 406 3 0 2 14 0 29.64 8700
Jimmy Garoppolo 5 0 1 0 0 0 2 -3 0 -0.3 6000
Kirk Cousins 4 21 27 183 3 1 0 0 0 18.32 7600
Ryan Tannehill 3 25 39 319 3 2 1 2 0 20.96 7400
Joe Flacco 2 25 45 302 2 2 1 1 0 18.18 7400
Carson Wentz 1 22 37 278 2 0 2 1 0 19.22 5000

Only four other teams have allowed more FanDuel points per game to quarterbacks. Meanwhile, Mariota has slowly climbed up the ranks and currently sits at QB14. I doubt he scores 30 points this week. But 18 or so is not out of the question, which would be just shy of 3x value. It helps that the Browns will likely sellout to stop DeMarco Murray—the second highest scoring running back so far this season. It also helps that 40 percent of Murray’s points have come via the pass. Like Taylor, this is another great opportunity to stack a quarterback with his running back and take advantage of a horrible defense, while also building a totally unique roster.

Running Backs

Christine Michael - $7,400

This, again, may not work out as a contrarian play. There’s a good chance most of the crowd will chase Le'Veon Bell, McCoy and Murray. Meanwhile, Michael will cost us significantly less and has a decent enough matchup to warrant tournament considerations. The Falcons 743 total yards allowed to running backs is the fifth most, and only the Steelers and Chargers have allowed more receiving yards to the position. A healthy Wilson, or at as healthy as he’s been in weeks, means great things from a perennially excellent offense.

In the two games without Thomas Rawls, Michael has 38 carries for 164 yards, seven catches for 37 yards, and three total touchdowns. Basically he’s the 11th highest scoring running back since Week 3, even though he didn’t play last week. I’m having a hard time not fitting him in all of my lineups.   

Jamaal Charles - $7,100

Charles made his debut in Week 4 and carried the ball two times for seven yards. After last week’s bye he says he’s 110 percent and “the training wheels are coming off”.

Hmm. Maybe the Chiefs are being overly cautious because they believe Charles isn’t ready to take on a workhorse role yet. Maybe they have that much faith in Spencer Ware and we’re looking at a timeshare from this point forward (FYI, Ware has fumbled in three straight games including once at the goal line). Or maybe, just maybe, the Chiefs are playing a little poker with Raiders and they have every intention of unleashing a 110 percent Charles—who has been practicing in full all week.

One thing is for certain, his ownership will be down and his salary is likely going up after this week. If he gets a full workload, those brave enough to use him will have a profitable weekend.

Ryan Mathews - $6,500 and Darren Sproles - $5,300

Does one Mathews plus one Sproles equal one DeAngelo Williams?

Let’s come back to that question in a minute. The Eagles’ running backs have a stellar matchup this week. Washington has allowed the most combined yards to the position of all teams, the third most combined touchdowns, and the third most fantasy points per game. They’ve been gashed by traditional rushers, suggesting that Mathews is the superior play. But Sproles has played more snaps in every single game for the Eagles, and has nearly as many fantasy points per contest (10.8 to 10.2). He’s also $1,200 cheaper.

One of these backs could be a tournament winner. Choosing which one means choosing which game script you believe in the most. If you believe the Eagles’ defense will live up to expectations and hold down the NFL’s 16th highest scoring offense, then you go with the traditional back in Mathews. If you think the Eagles fall behind in a tough divisional game on the road, then you go with the pass-catching back in Sproles.

But maybe there’s a case for starting both of them in an unconventional stack to end all unconventional stacks.

Here’s how the two have done together if we were to fuse them into one Frankenstein back:

Week

Points

Salary

Value

Week 1 18.3 11700 1.5x
Week 2 21.8 11700 1.9x
Week 3 21.2 11800 1.8x
Week 5 22.8 11700 1.9x

Not terrific, but not terrible. That’s basically the equivalent of one David Johnson but much more expensive. So this idea is probably a bad one. The combination of Mathews and Sproles will cost us $11,800. We’ll need 35.4 points to hit 3x. Or 17.7 points each, which is quite a bit above their average per game (roughly 10.5 points).

Here’s another way to look at it. If you took the two chalk plays with Bell and McCoy—which I think will be a popular combo on Sunday—you’ll need them to score a combined 52.5 points, or 26.3 points each—also well above their average per game, even more so than Mathews and Sproles (17.5 for McCoy and 20.1 for Bell). McCoy and Bell will cost you over 29 percent of the salary cap. The Eagles’ backs will cost you under 20 percent.   

This, of course, is all just funny money and playing with dollars per point values. What really matters is usage, diversity, and matchups. We only get one element of that trio with our Frankenstein running back. The value of McCoy and/or Bell hitting 3x is much higher than Mathews and Sproles. But it’s worth thinking about, especially with the roster freedom you have with a pair that would cost you just 19.6 percent of the cap. Here, by the way, are how running backs have fared against Washington:

Player

Week

Rsh

RshYD

RshTD

Rec

RecYd

RecTD

FantPt

Salary

Terrance West 5 11 95 0 2 -6 0 9.9 6400
Kyle Juszczyk 5 0 0 0 3 20 0 3.5 4500
Javorius Allen 5 4 18 0 1 0 0 2.3 5600
Kenneth Dixon 5 3 -1 0 1 6 0 1 5800
Isaiah Crowell 4 16 120 1 3 22 0 21.7 6600
Duke Johnson Jr 4 8 45 0 6 31 0 8.6 5400
Shane Vereen 3 11 67 1 2 28 0 14.5 5200
Orleans Darkwa 3 10 53 1 1 9 0 12.7 4500
Bobby Rainey 3 0 0 0 1 24 0 2.9 4500
Ezekiel Elliott 2 21 83 1 2 4 0 13.7 7900
Alfred Morris 2 5 7 1 0 0 0 6.7 5300
Lance Dunbar 2 3 6 0 2 26 0 4.2 4800
DeAngelo Williams 1 26 143 2 6 28 0 32.1 7100
Fitzgerald Toussaint 1 3 6 0 0 0 0 0.6 4600

Last week, the Ravens fired their offensive coordinator, presumably because he failed to take advantage of the fact that West was killing Washington’s defense. But this is where things get interesting. Crowell and Johnson combined for 30.3 points. Vereen and Darkwa combined for 27.2 points. And in Week 1, Williams set the tone with 32.1 points all by himself.

It’s not unthinkable that Mathews and Sproles combine for 130 total yards, eight catches and two touchdowns. That would put them right in line with the average number of points Washington is allowing per game to running backs (29), and just below 3x value. Play the savings right and you have one of the most unique rosters out there.   

So let’s go back to the original question. Does one Mathews plus one Sproles equal one Williams?

Wide Receivers

Jeremy Maclin - $6,900

It’s hard to say if the crowd will flock to Maclin given his price and matchup. Or if they’ll ignore him because he’s a Chief. I don’t actually care what his ownership ends up being. Maclin has one of the best matchups on the board. The Raiders have been blasted by wide receivers this season. They’ve allowed the most yards, the fourth most receptions and the fourth most touchdowns (tied with five other teams). All this adds up to allowing the most FanDuel points per game on average.

Maclin is the clear cut WR1 for the Chiefs. He’s played 95 percent of snaps and leads the team in targets and yards. But here’s where he makes me nervous: Maclin has faced three of the worst pass defenses in the league (Chargers, Jets, Steelers). Yet he has just 20 catches for 244 yards and one touchdown. If you want to go crazy with a deep shot on a cheap player, you could fade Maclin and start Chris Conley instead. He caught six of his seven targets for 70 yards last week—his best fantasy output on the season yet his price dropped $200. For nearly the site minimum ($4,600), he might be worth throwing out as a prayer. But in truth, we might be best off swallowing ownership and starting Travis Kelce over both of them.

Jarvis Landry - $6,900

Among wide receivers that have at least 40 targets, not one of them comes close to Landry’s 70.8 reception percentage. Only three players have more catches and only eight have more targets. That might explain why his yards per reception stand at an abysmal 11.9. The good news is that his yards after the catch rank fourth among receivers and he comes into Week 6 with the ninth most—ranked as WR15 on the season. He gets a Pittsburgh defense that is tied for the most receptions allowed, albeit on the third most targets. Their offense will force Miami into a pass-heavy attack.

As bad as the Dolphins offense has been, a lot of it has to do with their poor offensive line play. Football Outsiders ranks them as the worst pass-blocking crew, which shows up on the stat sheet. They’ve allowed 17 sacks on 156 pass attempts—the highest sack percentage in the league. But the Steelers have only eight sacks on the season—the 27th lowest sack percentage (though it’s worth noting that seven of those have come in the last two games).

Regardless of how poorly the offensive line has played, and the entire offense by extension, Landry has been producing in nearly every game. For $6,900, you’re guaranteed double digit targets. He just needs that elusive touchdown to hit 3x.

DeAndre Hopkins - $8,100

The crowd is off Hopkins for obvious reasons. There are better receivers to pay up for, especially with how horrible the Texans’ quarterback has been. You add a potential date with Vontae Davis, and Hopkins will be overlooked by the majority of DFSers this weekend.

We’ll see if the Colts shadow Hopkins and let Will Fuller V run wild. They also have to contend with Lamar Miller catching passes underneath. Truthfully, neither of these defenses are very good, which explains the 48.5-point over/under—second highest of the week. The Texans projected team total matches that of Seattle and Green Bay, so there could be a lot of points in this contest. Oh, and let’s check out some split stats. Here’s how Hopkins has fared against the Colts in his career:

Player

Year

Week

Loc

Targ

Rec

RecYd

TD

FantPt

DeAndre Hopkins 2015 5 Home 14 11 169 0 22.4
DeAndre Hopkins 2015 15 Road 11 8 94 0 13.4
DeAndre Hopkins 2014 6 Home 2 1 12 0 1.7
DeAndre Hopkins 2014 15 Road 13 5 77 0 10.2
DeAndre Hopkins 2013 9 Home 6 3 54 0 6.9
DeAndre Hopkins 2013 15 Road 5 3 52 0 6.7

Ignoring his rookie season, there’s notable lack of touchdowns. The yards and targets and receptions are all there, but without touchdowns, we’re looking at a seriously capped upside. The Colts have allowed only three touchdowns to wide receivers this year. They’ve also allowed the fourth most receiving yards. They recently gave up 14 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown to Cameron Meredith and Alshon Jeffery. In fact, all three of the Colts’ touchdowns were allowed over their last two games. Forget Davis; Hopkins is in for a big Sunday.

Tight Ends

Travis Kelce - $6,400

Okay, Kelce is not a contrarian play. But I’m listing him here because he’s going to have lower ownership than Greg Olsen, Rob Gronkowski, Delanie Walker, and maybe even Martellus Bennett. Kelce will cost you less than all of those players, and has eight red zone targets on the season—the fifth most of all players. As mentioned, the Raiders are bad at defending the pass. And that includes tight ends. They’ve allowed the third most yards and fifth most points to the position. If you’re starting Alex Smith this weekend, pairing him with Kelce is wise.

Jesse James - $5,400

While the crowd chases Bell and Brown, we can get James for a fraction of the cost. His volume is not guaranteed, but he has three touchdowns over the last four games and is third in team targets. He has also played nearly 98 percent of snaps so far this season. The return of Eli Rogers might be bad news, but it likely hurts Sammie Coates Jr more than anyone. The Dolphins will have their hands full trying to defend Bell and Brown. But they’ve also struggled against tight ends. They’ve allowed the eight most yards and 11th most FanDuel points to the position. There are better matchups to exploit but James should have a solid Sunday.

Defenses

The Titans ($4,700) do not have a good defense, but as I mentioned in The Fade, they have this weird dynamic where, since their offense is so bad, their defense isn’t pushed into high volume situations (it helps to have played some crap offenses like the Dolphins, Texans, and Lions), and therefore have allowed the 11th fewest points per game. They also have the third highest interception rate, with six interceptions on 163 attempts. Now they get the winless Browns. It’s possible this game turns into higher scoring than most think, but I’ll take the home team and hope for a defensive score.

The Eagles are also an intriguing play for $4,500. They come into Week 6 as the sixth highest scoring fantasy defense. They have 14 sacks on the season and even though they’re on the road against the 16th highest scoring offense—one that hasn’t turned the ball over much—we can still count on Kirk Cousins and Co. making a few mistakes. It’s a good week to plug in a top-five defense while the crowd chases other options.



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