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)
Geno Smith NYJ 4900 16.8 64.3% Geno Smith NYJ 4900 17.9 38.4%
Colin Kaepernick SF 5500 18.4 62.8% Colin Kaepernick SF 5500 20.1 37.1%
Andy Dalton CIN 6450 20.9 60.4% Cody Kessler CLE 5100 17.5 30.8%
Tom Brady NE 7650 24.3 59.3% Joe Flacco BAL 5850 20.0 27.8%
Marcus Mariota TEN 6100 19.4 57.4% Marcus Mariota TEN 6100 20.5 25.0%
Matthew Stafford DET 6700 20.3 51.0% Andy Dalton CIN 6450 21.8 24.5%
Case Keenum LA 5150 15.6 50.9% Landry Jones PIT 5350 17.2 23.4%
LEAST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Carson Palmer ARI 6650 16.4 26.7% Carson Palmer ARI 6650 16.5 4.0%
Drew Brees NO 7750 20.7 32.6% Drew Brees NO 7750 22.1 6.2%
Ryan Tannehill MIA 5800 15.4 36.4% Andrew Luck IND 7000 21.1 11.6%
Philip Rivers SD 6800 19.0 40.1% Matt Ryan ATL 7400 22.8 12.0%
Eli Manning NYG 6300 17.9 43.2% Eli Manning NYG 6300 18.6 12.7%
Tyrod Taylor BUF 6250 17.9 44.3% Ryan Tannehill MIA 5800 16.7 13.1%
Derek Carr OAK 6550 18.9 44.5% Philip Rivers SD 6800 20.8 13.4%

Andy Dalton and Marcus Mariota have two of the best matchups among quarterbacks in the top half of the table, but their Top 5 ownership rates make them more conducive for cash games than tournaments.

The best value option to replace one of them in tournament lineups is Joe Flacco, who has made a late-week surge to actually play this week despite injury. The Jets rank dead last in pass defense efficiency (per DVOA) and have given up the fifth-most FantasyAces points to opposing quarterbacks. And because it's prudent to worry about a quarterback in Flacco's situation leaving the game early due to re-injury, there's solace in the fact that Baltimore's offensive line ranks 10th in Adjusted Sack Rate, while the Jets' front seven ranks 16th.

The best value option to replace Dalton and/or Mariota in cash games lineups is Blake Bortles. His opponent, Oakland, ranks 28th in pass defense efficiency and surrenders the fourth-most points to opposing quarterbacks. Another stat working in Bortles' favor regards his primary target, Allen Robinson. Namely, the Raiders rank 26th in pass defense efficiency against WR1s.

One final value option just misses the Top 7 table, but is nevertheless worth consideration in both contest formats. Probably because of his dud against the aforementioned Raiders last week, Alex Smith's ownership rate is only around 5 percent despite facing the Saints at home. You don't need me to tell you how bad New Orleans' defense is, but I will for the sake of completeness: No. 28 in pass defense efficiency and No. 25 in points allowed to opposing quarterbacks.

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)
Jacquizz Rodgers TB 4000 13.6 58.1% Mike Davis SF 3000 11.1 44.8%
DeMarco Murray TEN 5800 17.9 51.8% Jacquizz Rodgers TB 4000 14.4 42.9%
David Johnson ARI 6100 18.8 51.6% David Johnson ARI 6100 20.0 36.9%
Mike Davis SF 3000 9.1 50.9% DeMarco Murray TEN 5800 18.7 35.8%
Christine Michael SEA 5000 15.0 49.8% Christine Michael SEA 5000 16.0 35.3%
Giovani Bernard CIN 4800 13.2 44.3% Spencer Ware KC 5000 15.7 34.1%
James White NE 4100 11.3 44.0% Melvin Gordon III SD 5600 17.3 33.1%
Devonta Freeman ATL 5300 14.5 43.8% Mike Gillislee BUF 3500 10.8 33.1%
Todd Gurley LA 5250 14.2 43.1% Todd Gurley LA 5250 15.7 31.2%
Le'Veon Bell PIT 6250 16.9 43.1% Giovani Bernard CIN 4800 14.2 30.5%
LEAST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Arian Foster MIA 4400 6.9 13.5% Chris Ivory JAX 4600 7.9 7.7%
Chris Ivory JAX 4600 7.4 14.6% Ryan Mathews PHI 4600 8.4 9.3%
Ryan Mathews PHI 4600 7.6 15.8% DeAndre Washington OAK 4200 8.0 10.5%
Jalen Richard OAK 3900 7.6 17.9% Theo Riddick DET 4800 9.3 11.1%
Chris Thompson WAS 3900 7.1 20.1% Jalen Richard OAK 3900 7.6 11.2%
Matt Asiata MIN 4100 7.5 20.1% Duke Johnson Jr CLE 4300 9.2 14.5%
DeAndre Washington OAK 4200 7.7 20.2% Bilal Powell NYJ 4000 8.7 15.2%
Jeremy Hill CIN 5000 9.4 21.5% Matt Asiata MIN 4100 9.2 16.5%
Bilal Powell NYJ 4000 8.0 24.9% Rashad Jennings NYG 4400 10.1 17.4%
Duke Johnson Jr CLE 4300 8.8 25.7% Matt Forte NYJ 5000 11.5 17.5%

DeMarco Murray is an absolute must-play this week, as he faces a Colts defense that ranks 31st in FantasyAces points allowed to opposing running backs, 32nd in run defense efficiency (per DVOA), and 32nd in pass defense efficiency on running back targets. The only issue is that he'll be rostered in about 50 percent of tournament lineups, which is one of the highest ownership rates we've seen all season.

A running back with a nearly identical matchup but a much lower projected ownership rate is Spencer Ware. Because the Saints pass defense is so spectacularly bad, their run defense's awfulness tends to fly under the radar. To wit, they currently rank 30th in efficiency and allow the most points to opposing running backs. Add in the fact that their pass defense is particularly inefficient on running back targets (31st), and Ware easily becomes the best alternative to Murray in tournaments.

A similar situation arises with respect to the two other running backs with highly favorable matchups. Jacquizz Rodgers plays the role of Murray here, facing a Bottom 5 run defense in terms of both efficiency and points allowed, but also having a projected ownership rate around 50 percent. Meanwhile, Melvin Gordon III plays the role of Ware. Gordon's expected to be owned in only around 5 percent of tournament lineups despite facing a Falcons defense that allows the eighth-most points to opposing running backs and ranks 28th in efficiency on running back targets. They also rank 22nd in run defense efficiency. But with San Diego having to keep up with Atlanta's high-octane offense, and with Gordon getting the lion's share of targets since Danny Woodhead got hurt, he figures to benefit more from those first two rankings than the third.

Going back to Rodgers for one moment before moving on, it's worth pointing out that San Francisco's dismal run defense rankings are slightly misleading because they've faced (arguably) the most talented collection of runners that any defense could have possibly faced so far this season: Todd Gurley, Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart, Russell Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Tyrod Taylor, and LeSean McCoy. Now, Stewart got hurt early in that Week 2 affair, and yet they still gave up 100 yards to unheralded backup, Fozzy Whitaker; which seems similar to the unheralded Rodgers replacing an injured Doug Martin (and Charles Sims). But there's a big difference: Carolina's run offense ranked (and still ranks) among the best in the NFL; Tampa Bay's run offense currently ranks 28th. That's primarily due to their disparate offensive lines: Carolina's ranks 4th in run-blocking; Tampa Bay's ranks 27th.

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 Evans TB 5300 17.1 54.9% Mike Evans TB 5300 20.1 46.4%
T.Y. Hilton IND 5000 15.7 53.0% T.Y. Hilton IND 5000 16.8 38.4%
Marvin Jones Jr DET 4700 13.4 46.3% Brandon Marshall NYJ 5250 17.2 36.8%
Brandon Marshall NYJ 5250 14.6 44.8% Anquan Boldin DET 4000 12.1 31.9%
Amari Cooper OAK 5350 14.5 43.3% Marvin Jones Jr DET 4700 13.8 30.1%
Jarvis Landry MIA 4950 12.9 40.6% Amari Cooper OAK 5350 15.1 27.8%
Larry Fitzgerald ARI 5000 12.8 39.2% Demaryius Thomas DEN 5000 14.0 27.4%
Mike Wallace BAL 4350 11.0 38.8% Pierre Garcon WAS 4300 12.0 27.2%
Tyrell Williams SD 4200 10.6 38.3% Golden Tate DET 4500 12.5 26.9%
Anquan Boldin DET 4000 9.9 37.4% Jarvis Landry MIA 4950 13.6 26.3%
DeSean Jackson WAS 4350 10.7 37.0% DeVante Parker MIA 4150 11.4 26.3%
Odell Beckham Jr Jr NYG 6150 15.2 37.0% Mike Wallace BAL 4350 11.6 24.7%
Pierre Garcon WAS 4300 10.6 37.0% Michael Thomas NO 4400 11.6 24.1%
A.J. Green CIN 6200 15.3 36.9% Larry Fitzgerald ARI 5000 13.1 23.8%
Michael Crabtree OAK 4850 11.8 36.0% Emmanuel Sanders DEN 5000 13.1 23.8%
LEAST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Sammie Coates Jr PIT 4300 7.5 18.0% DeAndre Hopkins HOU 5800 10.7 9.6%
Mohamed Sanu ATL 4300 7.5 18.0% Quincy Enunwa NYJ 4650 8.7 10.0%
Will Fuller V HOU 4550 8.0 18.2% Will Fuller V HOU 4550 8.8 11.0%
Victor Cruz NYG 4100 7.2 18.5% Jordan Matthews PHI 4800 9.8 12.8%
DeAndre Hopkins HOU 5800 10.5 19.7% Sterling Shepard NYG 4400 9.0 12.9%
Quincy Enunwa NYJ 4650 8.4 19.8% Sammie Coates Jr PIT 4300 8.8 12.9%
Chris Conley KC 3900 7.2 20.4% Brandon LaFell CIN 4450 9.5 14.5%
Jamison Crowder WAS 4250 7.9 21.1% Jeremy Kerley SF 4000 8.6 14.8%
Chris Hogan NE 4100 7.7 21.2% Allen Hurns JAX 4550 9.8 14.8%
Jeremy Kerley SF 4000 7.7 22.5% Julian Edelman NE 4900 10.8 15.7%
Brian Quick LA 3950 7.8 23.8% Adam Thielen MIN 3800 8.4 15.9%
Brandon LaFell CIN 4450 8.8 24.3% Marqise Lee JAX 4000 8.9 16.1%
Adam Thielen MIN 3800 7.6 24.4% Kendall Wright TEN 4200 9.5 16.8%
Sterling Shepard NYG 4400 8.8 24.5% Antonio Brown PIT 6400 14.5 16.9%
Marqise Lee JAX 4000 8.0 24.7% Robert Woods BUF 4400 10.0 17.0%

There are three wide receivers offering both high value and favorable matchups regardless of the format. That's a good thing because the most valuable receiver of all has a projected ownership rate of around 35 percent...and his name is John Cena. Just kidding, it's Mike Evans.

Per DVOA, Jacksonville has the No. 8 pass defense in the NFL. But that stat's misleading in the context of Amari Cooper's matchup for a couple of reasons. First, that lofty status is buttressed by being the fifth-most efficient pass defense on tight end targets and second-most efficient on running back targets. In contrast, Jacksonville's ranked 21st on WR1 targets, 26th on WR2 targets, and 25th on WR3 targets. This explains why, despite ranking much higher in FantasyAces points allowed to quarterbacks, running backs, and tight ends, the Jaguars rank 26th in points allowed to opposing wide receivers. Second, as per Pro Football Focus, Cooper will run most of his routes against Jalen Ramsey. No doubt, the Top 5 pick is talented. And it's impressive that Jaguars coaches have anointed him with "shadow cornerback" status this early in his career. That said, even elite rookie cornerbacks take a year to come into their own; a historical phenomenon that seems to be being borne out as per Pro Football Focus's per-route stats. Ramsey may be shadowing, but he's giving up heaps of fantasy points while doing so.

Brandon Marshall's situation is similarly complicated. Overall, Baltimore's pass defense ranks in the middle of the pack efficiency-wise, whereas they rank dead last in points allowed to opposing wide receivers. Why? It's because they're No. 25 against WR1s, which describes Marshall to a tee. (See also Beckham, Odell, Jr. last week.) And while he won't be getting shadowed by any particular Raven, both of their outside cornerbacks -- Jimmy Smith and Will Davis -- are giving up gobs of fantasy points per route. Of course, there's the added complication of having to catch passes from Geno Smith. But that just means shading towards using Marshall as a high-variance tournament play.

The least complicated of this week's non-Evans value trio is Pierre Garcon. He's facing a Lions pass defense ranked 31st in efficiency and 28th in points allowed to opposing wide receivers. He's Washington's most-targeted wideout and Detroit ranks 31st in efficiency against WR1s. Given the trend so far this season, the Lions don't figure to use Darius Slay as a shadow cornerback against Washington, so Garcon is likely to be running most of his routes against the inferior Nevin Lawson.

Finally, here's one more value play at WR1 in both formats, but only if you're playing a slate involving the Sunday morning London game: Odell Beckham Jr, Jr. (Note: At No. 16, he just missed being on the tournament side of the Top 15 table. That a distinction without a difference if there ever was one.) Los Angeles gives up the third-most points to opposing wide receivers. And although they're ranked 13th in efficiency on WR1 targets, their best cornerback, Trumaine Johnson, is out. In his stead is Troy Hill, who, according to Pro Football Focus, has given up over a half-point per route in coverage and has the lowest 2016 grade among all Week 7 cornerbacks. As if that isn't enough, the Rams' other outside cornerback, E.J. Gaines, is mediocre at best according to those same stats.

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)
Rob Gronkowski NE 5800 14.5 33.6% Rob Gronkowski NE 5800 15.3 16.8%
Gary Barnidge CLE 4300 9.5 23.9% Jimmy Graham SEA 5100 13.3 16.2%
Jimmy Graham SEA 5100 11.0 22.5% Gary Barnidge CLE 4300 10.9 14.6%
Kyle Rudolph MIN 4500 9.7 22.0% Jack Doyle IND 4000 10.1 14.4%
Martellus Bennett NE 4600 9.8 21.2% Charles Clay BUF 4150 10.0 12.1%
LEAST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Jordan Reed WAS 4950 5.6 1.3% Tyler Eifert CIN 4650 7.2 1.4%
Tyler Eifert CIN 4650 5.7 1.9% Antonio Gates SD 3800 6.5 2.5%
Zach Ertz PHI 4300 5.9 3.5% Julius Thomas JAX 4200 7.2 2.5%
Antonio Gates SD 3800 5.7 5.5% Lance Kendricks LA 3750 6.5 2.7%
Julius Thomas JAX 4200 6.9 8.2% Jordan Reed WAS 4950 8.6 2.7%

Once again, there's hardly any value at tight end this week. That's a constant refrain in this article, but I haven't mentioned why since the beginning of the season. Remember, these probabilities tell you the likelihood that a player will achieve 3x value in a cash game or 4x in a tournament. Therefore, by definition, what we're looking for are the players with cash game probabilities of at least 33.3% (i.e., 1/3x) or tournament probabilities of at least 25.0% (i.e., 1/4x). If we compare the above table with those of other positions, we see that tight end has by far the fewest players that meet those thresholds. For tournaments, it's often the case that none of them do.

With that in mind, the best cash game strategy this week -- and most weeks -- is to either pay up for Rob Gronkowski or go as cheap as possible. And because Gronkowski has an ownership rate of around 25 percent, going cheap is practically mandatory in tournaments. To that end, the treasure in Week 7's bargain bin is Gary Barnidge, who figures to be a target vaccuum in Terrelle Pryor's absence. Into this vaccuum, we add a Bengals pass defense that ranks 28th in efficiency on tight end targets (per DVOA) and gives up the seventh-most FantasyAces points to opposing tight ends.

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)
Denver Broncos DEN 3200 12.9 74.8% Denver Broncos DEN 3200 12.9 50.8%
New England Patriots NE 2950 11.2 68.2% Cincinnati Bengals CIN 3000 11.4 45.1%
Cincinnati Bengals CIN 3000 11.2 67.1% New England Patriots NE 2950 11.2 45.1%
Baltimore Ravens BAL 2800 10.3 65.2% Baltimore Ravens BAL 2800 10.3 42.6%
NY Giants NYG 2800 10.2 64.0% NY Jets NYJ 2900 10.7 42.6%
LEAST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Atlanta Falcons ATL 2750 8.2 49.5% Minnesota Vikings MIN 3400 10.8 28.2%
Tennessee Titans TEN 2850 8.7 51.2% Tennessee Titans TEN 2850 8.7 28.9%
Detroit Lions DET 2650 8.2 52.0% Atlanta Falcons ATL 2750 8.3 28.9%
Oakland Raiders OAK 2700 8.4 52.4% Seattle Seahawks SEA 2950 9.3 30.3%
Philadelphia Eagles PHI 2900 9.1 52.8% Detroit Lions DET 2650 8.2 31.0%

Denver's the most likely defense to achieve value in both formats, but the Broncos' hefty price tag and nearly 30 percent ownership rate mean you should look elsewhere, especially in tournaments. Luckily, there are at least three other viable options in the table. Baltimore is in the top half of defenses in FantasyAces scoring and faces a Jets offense that allows the second-most FantasyAces points to opposing defenses. The Jets also rank 30th in offensive efficiency (per DVOA). Granted, these abysmal stats were "achieved" with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. But wasn't Geno Smith's spectacular failure in two seasons as a starter the very reason that New York signed Fitzpatrick in the first place? Didn't Smith fumble and throw an interception on consecutive plays in mop-up duty just last week? Also, let's not forget that the Jets' nosedive on offense coincided with Eric Decker's injury. And like Larry Bird, Decker's not walking through that door. Could Smith end up breathing life into the unit? Perhaps. But, remember, we're playing percentages in this article, and the percentages favor Baltimore's defense.

The other two non-Denver defenses worth considering for value are the Patriots and the Bengals, as both are playing against teams that are likely be missing the straws that stir their offensive drinks. Even with Terrelle Pryor, the Browns have produced the eighth-worst offense in the league and allowed the eighth-most points to opposing defenses. Without him, their likely to go from bad to worse, which Cincinnati, playing at home, is bound to benefit from. Meanwhile, New England is facing a Steelers offense led by Landry Jones rather than Ben Roethlisberger. As it did when Jones spot-started last season, this likely means a heavy dose of the running game. That turns out to be a double whammy because the Patriots rank seventh in run defense DVOA.


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