Acing Aces

A weekly guide to finding value in Fantasy Aces contests.

Welcome back to our FantasyAces feature article, wherein we identify value plays in both cash games and tournaments. The process we use starts with the statistical method described here, which results in a percentage that represents the likelihood a given player will achieve value based on his salary, his projection, and historical variation in scoring at his position. From there, we take a look at statistics related to his individual matchup, as well as any other situational factors that might affect his value likelihood (e.g., injuries, coaching tendencies, game scripts, ownership rates, etc.). This combination of stats and context allows us to narrow things down to a select group of players worth fully recommending.

Quarterbacks

Below are the quarterbacks with the highest (and lowest) probabilities of achieving value in cash games and GPPs:

MOST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Tom Brady NE 7500 24.5 63.4% Colin Kaepernick SF 4800 17.1 35.8%
Colin Kaepernick SF 4800 16.4 63.2% Alex Smith KC 6150 21.3 28.4%
Alex Smith KC 6150 20.2 61.5% Cam Newton CAR 7500 25.9 23.9%
Russell Wilson SEA 6750 21.1 55.7% Tom Brady NE 7500 25.8 23.4%
Carson Wentz PHI 6200 19.3 54.5% Russell Wilson SEA 6750 22.6 22.3%
Cam Newton CAR 7500 23.1 53.7% Dak Prescott DAL 6100 19.7 20.8%
Derek Carr OAK 6500 19.8 51.7% Tyrod Taylor BUF 6100 19.7 20.8%
LEAST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Kirk Cousins WAS 6250 16.6 35.2% Drew Brees NO 7700 22.9 8.6%
Matt Ryan ATL 6500 17.6 37.2% Aaron Rodgers GB 7400 21.8 8.9%
Joe Flacco BAL 6000 16.8 41.4% Matt Ryan ATL 6500 18.3 9.2%
Eli Manning NYG 6200 17.6 42.8% Kirk Cousins WAS 6250 17.9 11.0%
Matthew Stafford DET 6450 18.4 43.6% Ben Roethlisberger PIT 7450 23.0 12.0%
Aaron Rodgers GB 7400 21.3 43.7% Matthew Stafford DET 6450 19.3 13.1%
Drew Brees NO 7700 22.4 45.3% Blake Bortles JAX 6700 20.4 13.4%

Based on matchups, there are three value quarterbacks worthy of serious consideration from those listed at the top of the table. The first is Alex Smith, who faces a Raiders pass defense that ranks 29th in efficiency (per DVOA) and surrenders the most FantasyAces points to opposing quarterbacks. Oakland's given up at least 25 quarterback points in four of their five games, with the only exception being Marcus Mariota's turnover festival in Week 3. That shouldn't be an issue for Kansas City, as Smith is one of the least turnover-prone quarterbacks in the league.

The other two quarterbacks worth considering are more expensive than Smith, but represent high value nonetheless: Russell Wilson and Cam Newton. Regarding Wilson's matchup, Atlanta's offense has forced opposing offenses into passing the ball early and often to keep pace. And that game script has led to their pass defense allowing the second-most FantasyAces points to opposing quarterbacks. And even after adjusting for game situations, they still rank 24th in pass defense efficiency.

A nearly identical situation arises this week for Newton, whose Panthers are up against a Saints team that has been playing better pass offense at home for the past decade. And while trying to keep pace with said offense, Newton will be facing the 26th-ranked pass defense and 30th-ranked run defense. I usually don't bring up run defense in the quarterbacks section, but this is a special case for two reasons. First, Newton himself is the biggest threat at the position to score points from rushing. Second, and more importantly, the Panthers' offensive slump began when Jonathan Stewart got hurt, so having his return come against a bad run defense should act as a catalyst for the offense as a whole.

As is the case most weeks, ownership rates for FantasyAces quarterbacks is relatively flat, so you don't need to worry much about uniqueness at the position. That said, using some pairing of Smith, Wilson, and Newton means you'll be fading the two most-owned quarterbacks in tournaments.

Running Backs

Below are the running backs with the highest (and lowest) probabilities of achieving value in cash games and GPPs:

MOST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
LeSean McCoy BUF 5350 17.9 57.1% LeSean McCoy BUF 5350 19.0 42.0%
Le'Veon Bell PIT 6450 21.2 56.0% Christine Michael SEA 4950 17.3 41.0%
Christine Michael SEA 4950 16.1 55.5% Le'Veon Bell PIT 6450 22.4 40.6%
Theo Riddick DET 4600 13.4 48.1% Theo Riddick DET 4600 15.4 38.2%
Jordan Howard CHI 5200 14.9 46.8% Mark Ingram II NO 4950 15.6 34.4%
David Johnson ARI 6350 18.1 46.6% DeMarco Murray TEN 6100 19.0 33.6%
Todd Gurley LA 5550 15.7 46.0% Lamar Miller HOU 5150 15.6 31.9%
DeMarco Murray TEN 6100 17.2 45.6% David Johnson ARI 6350 18.8 30.6%
Mark Ingram II NO 4950 13.8 45.2% Jamaal Charles KC 4900 14.5 30.5%
Lamar Miller HOU 5150 14.3 44.7% Jordan Howard CHI 5200 15.3 30.2%
LEAST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Chris Ivory JAX 4750 5.9 6.8% Jay Ajayi MIA 4300 6.5 5.0%
Jay Ajayi MIA 4300 5.9 9.3% Fozzy Whittaker CAR 4350 7.2 6.8%
Fozzy Whittaker CAR 4350 6.1 9.8% Cameron Artis-Payne CAR 4100 7.0 7.5%
Chris Thompson WAS 3900 6.0 12.9% Spencer Ware KC 4900 9.0 9.4%
Jeremy Hill CIN 4800 7.8 15.0% Jeremy Hill CIN 4800 8.9 9.7%
Spencer Ware KC 4900 8.4 17.0% Eddie Lacy GB 4800 9.4 11.4%
Arian Foster MIA 4500 8.3 20.7% DeAndre Washington OAK 4200 8.6 12.9%
DeAndre Washington OAK 4200 8.0 22.3% Duke Johnson Jr CLE 4200 8.9 14.2%
Jonathan Stewart CAR 4800 9.6 24.4% James White NE 4100 8.9 15.1%
Darren Sproles PHI 4500 9.1 25.0% Matt Jones WAS 4550 10.2 16.4%

Ownership rates do affect lineup decisions at running back, as three of the best values this week are likely to be on at least 30 percent of lineups: LeSean McCoy, Christine Michael, and Lamar Miller. All three are worthy of spots in cash game lineups, but it's best to fade at least two of them in tournaments. Whether you choose zero or one of them, there are a couple of other value running backs worth pairing them with in tournaments: Jamaal Charles and Jordan Howard.

Charles is the far riskier of the two, as news reports suggest Andy Reid will be easing him back into the offense. It's definitely a boom or bust play, but that's what we want in tournaments, especially with Charles' 31 percent value likelihood dwarfing his 6 percent projected ownership rate. Furthermore, the "boom" part of the equation is in play against a Raiders defense that ranks 26th in points allowed to running backs and 21st in run defense efficiency (per DVOA). Not worth overlooking is the fact that Oakland also ranks 24th in pass defense efficiency on running back targets. Even if Charles has to split carries with Spencer Ware, his superior receiving skills warrant being on the field for most passing downs, which is when the Raiders are most vulnerable.

As for Howard, besides his value probability and ownership rate, he's worth rostering in tournaments for two reasons. First, because we're in the context of tournaments, he represents half of a particularly valuable stack with the Bears defense (more on them later). Second, although the Jaguars defense doesn't seem to be particularly susceptible against the run if we look at fantasy points allowed, it turns out that they're 29th in efficiency (i.e., after adjusting for opponent and game situation). Notably, Howard's breakout games the past two weeks came against Football Outsiders' 28th and 31st-ranked run defenses.

So, just to recap, the advice here is to use two of McCoy, Michael, and Miller in cash games. In tournaments, either pair Charles and Howard together or pair one of McCoy, Michael, and Miller -- preferrably not McCoy because of his near 50-percent ownership rate -- with one of Charles and Howard.

Wide Receivers

Below are the wide receivers with the highest (and lowest) probabilities of achieving value in cash games and GPPs:

MOST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Mike Wallace BAL 4250 12.6 49.1% Mike Wallace BAL 4250 14.3 38.5%
T.Y. Hilton IND 5450 15.8 47.6% Antonio Brown PIT 6500 21.5 37.4%
Antonio Brown PIT 6500 18.5 46.4% T.Y. Hilton IND 5450 17.4 35.2%
Larry Fitzgerald ARI 5100 14.3 45.6% Cameron Meredith CHI 4200 12.7 31.9%
Brandon Marshall NYJ 5100 14.3 45.4% Marvin Jones Jr DET 4800 14.5 31.8%
Marvin Jones Jr DET 4800 13.1 43.6% Brandon Marshall NYJ 5100 15.3 31.4%
Terrelle Pryor CLE 4500 12.1 42.4% Larry Fitzgerald ARI 5100 15.0 30.2%
Sammie Coates Jr PIT 4400 11.6 41.3% Terrelle Pryor CLE 4500 12.7 27.8%
Jarvis Landry MIA 5000 13.2 41.2% DeVante Parker MIA 4200 11.8 27.6%
A.J. Green CIN 6100 16.0 41.0% Michael Thomas NO 4450 12.5 27.6%
Michael Crabtree OAK 4950 12.9 40.7% A.J. Green CIN 6100 17.0 27.1%
Amari Cooper OAK 5200 13.4 39.7% Michael Crabtree OAK 4950 13.7 26.7%
Jeremy Maclin KC 4950 12.7 39.5% Julian Edelman NE 5200 14.3 26.4%
Alshon Jeffery CHI 4800 12.2 39.1% Sammie Coates Jr PIT 4400 12.1 26.4%
Cameron Meredith CHI 4200 10.6 38.7% Terrance Williams DAL 4000 10.9 25.9%
LEAST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Victor Cruz NYG 4200 7.4 18.4% Davante Adams GB 4300 8.5 11.7%
Tajae Sharpe TEN 4100 7.4 19.3% Tyler Lockett SEA 4350 8.6 11.7%
Jamison Crowder WAS 4150 7.7 20.6% Jamison Crowder WAS 4150 8.7 13.8%
Nelson Agholor PHI 3900 7.3 21.3% Nelson Agholor PHI 3900 8.2 13.9%
Chris Conley KC 3900 7.7 23.7% Sterling Shepard NYG 4650 10.0 14.8%
Davante Adams GB 4300 8.5 23.8% Brian Quick LA 3800 8.2 14.9%
Cole Beasley DAL 4300 8.6 24.5% Allen Hurns JAX 4700 10.2 15.1%
Pierre Garcon WAS 4200 8.5 25.1% Chris Conley KC 3900 8.5 15.3%
Allen Hurns JAX 4700 9.7 26.2% Brandon LaFell CIN 4300 9.6 16.3%
Sterling Shepard NYG 4650 9.6 26.2% Anquan Boldin DET 3900 8.9 17.2%
Golden Tate DET 4250 8.8 26.5% Robert Woods BUF 4350 10.1 18.0%
Chris Hogan NE 4100 8.5 26.8% Kenny Britt LA 4250 9.9 18.1%
Willie Snead IV NO 4850 10.1 26.9% Cole Beasley DAL 4300 10.1 18.5%
Anquan Boldin DET 3900 8.1 26.9% Golden Tate DET 4250 10.0 18.5%
Michael Floyd ARI 3900 8.2 27.6% Pierre Garcon WAS 4200 9.9 18.6%

There's a bevy of value wide receivers with favorable statistical matchups this week, with only one of them, Cameron Meredith, having a prohibitively high ownership rate. (That means still use him; just in cash games only.) Among the rest, Larry Fitzgerald is the only one with a great matchup based on multiple stats, so we'll start with him. With Carson Palmer back from injury, Fitzgerald faces a Jets pass defense that ranks 30th in efficiency (per DVOA) and allows the 5th-most FantasyAces points to opposing wide receivers. Now, despite their own grades, which give Fitzgerald a sizeable advantage, Pro Football Focus suggests that Buster Skrine represents a tough individual matchup in the slot. Here's the thing: PFF's grades don't adjust for opponents, and the Jets have only faced one team -- Seattle last week -- with anything other than dreck at slot wide receiver. Fitzgerald has a career's worth of evidence -- even into his later years -- that he can beat all-comers one-on-one. Taking all of the above into account, there's enough evidence to use Fitzgerald in cash games. And ranking outside the Top 3 in ownership rates means he's viable for tournaments as well.

Before getting back to wideouts that fit the more-conventional definition of value, let's take a quick detour. This week offers a rare opportunity in which a 24-karat gold wideout has a value probability that ranks among the Top 15 at the position: Antonio Brown. Brown faces a Dolphins pass defense that gives up the 2nd-most points to opposing wide receivers and ranks 30th in efficiency on targets to No. 1 wide receivers. Furthermore, whether it be against Tony Lippett or Byron Maxwell on a given play, Brown's individual matchup on the outside is highly in his favor according to Pro Football Focus. And here's one last thing for tournament purposes: His projected ownership rate is only around 5 percent.

Returning to cheaper options, the best value of the bunch is Brown's teammate, Sammie Coates Jr, ostensibly for the same matchup-related reasons. Although his projected ownership rate (10 percent) is slightler higher than Brown's, that doesn't mean Coates is better suited for cash games. So far in their careers, Brown is like a sunrise, while Coates is like a supernova. The latter are for tournaments; the former for cash games.

A few other wide receivers in the top half of the table are also worth a look due to favorable statistical matchups. It's just that, in their cases, the stats are by no means unanimous. For instance, Jeremy Maclin has a great matchup in the aggregate against Oakland's porous pass defense, but he'll be running around 30 percent of his routes against emerging cornerback David Amerson. Meanwhile, T.Y. Hilton's in the opposite scenario: Houston's pass defense is well above average, but he happens to have a great individual matchup against the far-inferior Kareem Jackson.

Finally, the most scizophrenic stat matchup of all unfortunaly belongs to the most valuable wide receiver of all. Mike Wallace faces a Giants pass defense that ranks 26th in fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers and 31st in efficiency on targets to the opponent's No. 2 wideout, but they're 16th in overall efficiency. In addition, Wallace's individual matchup against Janoris Jenkins is neutral at best. And of course, let's not forget that he has a long, sordid history of faring poorly when filling the role of No. 1 wide receiver, which will be the case this week with Steve Smith doubtful.

Tight Ends

Below are the tight ends with the highest (and lowest) probabilities of achieving value in cash games and GPPs:

MOST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Greg Olsen CAR 5200 14.4 42.6% Greg Olsen CAR 5200 16.0 27.2%
Martellus Bennett NE 4550 11.1 31.8% Martellus Bennett NE 4550 12.7 20.3%
Delanie Walker TEN 4750 11.4 30.0% Delanie Walker TEN 4750 12.5 16.7%
Rob Gronkowski NE 5750 13.6 28.9% Travis Kelce KC 4850 12.1 13.8%
Travis Kelce KC 4850 11.4 28.6% Rob Gronkowski NE 5750 13.9 12.3%
LEAST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Richard Rodgers GB 3900 5.6 4.6% Richard Rodgers GB 3900 6.4 2.0%
Jordan Reed WAS 5000 7.4 5.2% Jesse James PIT 4350 7.3 2.2%
Jesse James PIT 4350 6.7 6.3% Zach Ertz PHI 4500 8.3 3.7%
C.J. Uzomah CIN 3350 5.2 6.4% Dwayne Allen IND 4150 7.7 3.8%
Zach Ertz PHI 4500 7.6 9.4% Coby Fleener NO 4600 8.6 4.0%

This week's matchups and ownership rates dictate using Delanie Walker as a value tight end in cash games, while favoring Kelce in tournaments. Walker is one of only two tight ends likely to be rostered in at least 20 percent of tournament lineups (Greg Olsen is the other). To put that in perspective, Kelce is projected to be the 4th-most owned, but at only 7 percent use. Tournament game theory aside, Walker's got about as favorable of a matchup as is humanly possible among tight ends this week: The Browns rank dead last in FantasyAces points allowed to tight ends, 27th in pass defense efficiency (per DVOA), and 30th in efficiency on tight end targets.

Kelce's matchup isn't quite that great, but it's close, which you can probably deduce from the numerous times I've already mentioned Oakland's pass defense in this article. The two things worth adding specific to Kelce are that the Raiders a) rank 28th in points allowed to tight ends, and b) rank 24th in efficiency on tight end targets.

Beyond Kelce's favorable matchup and ownership rate, one final reason to use Kelce is something else you can probably deduce. Namely, he offers a valuable, low-owned stacking opportunity when paired with Alex Smith. Or how about a Smith-Charles-Kelce value superstack?

Defenses

Below are the defenses with the highest (and lowest) probabilities of achieving value in cash games and GPPs:

MOST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Arizona Cardinals ARI 3000 11.5 69.6% NY Giants NYG 2700 10.8 50.0%
Chicago Bears CHI 2500 9.4 64.8% Chicago Bears CHI 2500 9.8 48.4%
NY Giants NYG 2700 10.0 64.8% Arizona Cardinals ARI 3000 11.6 46.7%
Pittsburgh Steelers PIT 3000 10.9 64.8% Pittsburgh Steelers PIT 3000 11.3 44.3%
Detroit Lions DET 2700 9.9 64.0% Oakland Raiders OAK 2500 9.3 44.3%
LEAST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Kansas City Chiefs KC 2950 8.1 43.4% Kansas City Chiefs KC 2950 8.1 22.3%
Carolina Panthers CAR 2950 8.5 47.1% Carolina Panthers CAR 2950 8.6 25.5%
Washington Redskins WAS 2700 7.9 47.9% Los Angeles Rams LA 2900 8.5 26.1%
Los Angeles Rams LA 2900 8.5 48.3% Baltimore Ravens BAL 2850 8.8 29.6%
Baltimore Ravens BAL 2850 8.6 50.3% Green Bay Packers GB 2900 9.1 30.3%

Of the defenses most likely to achieve value this week, there are three that stand out from the rest: Arizona, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. At a $3,000 salary and projected to be the highest-owned defense, Arizona is strictly a cash game play despite matching up against a Jets offense that ranks 24th in efficiency (per DVOA) and allows the third-most FantasyAces points to opposing defenses. In addition to the above, they also don't work well as a tournament option because the Jets rank 3rd in run defense efficiency, meaning that you can do better than a Cardinals running-back-plus-defense stack.

As I alluded to earlier, the same can't be said about the Bears. Pairing their defense with Jordan Howard represents the most valuable such stack of the week; and at reasonable ownership rates to boot. Of course, Chicago's also a good value option in cash games if you're willing to scour the bargain bin in that format. Jacksonville's offense may rank in the middle of the pack with respect to fantasy points allowed, but they're far worse according to more advanced metrics. Namely, they rank 28th in efficiency, and their offensive line rankings are 27th in Adjusted Sack Rate (i.e., pass protection) and 32nd in Adjusted Line Yards (i.e., run-blocking). That last stat is particularly important from a matchup perspective because Chicago's statistical weakness on defense is in the running game (25th per DVOA). So it appears unlikely that the Jaguars will be able to exploit it.

Finally, the Steelers offer good value in both formats, but I'd be more inclined to use them in tournaments than in cash games despite a highly favorable matchup against the freefalling Dolphins offense. Why? Well, although ownership rates at defense are only important at the extremes (like Arizona this week), the Steelers offer a slight edge over Chicago at 4 percent (vs. 8 percent). More importantly, though, the return of Arian Foster may signal the end of Miami's freefall, as one can trace the genesis of said freefall to Week 3, i.e., his first game out.


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