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)
Andy Dalton CIN 6500 21.0 60.1% Cam Newton CAR 6950 24.0 25.6%
Cam Newton CAR 6950 22.1 58.4% Alex Smith KC 6100 20.3 23.9%
Russell Wilson SEA 6800 21.2 55.1% Josh McCown CLE 5350 17.3 23.9%
Tom Brady NE 7400 23.0 55.1% Tom Brady NE 7400 25.4 23.4%
Matthew Stafford DET 6500 20.2 54.9% Matthew Stafford DET 6500 21.6 22.3%
Matt Ryan ATL 7100 21.8 53.3% Andy Dalton CIN 6500 21.4 21.3%
Andrew Luck IND 7200 21.9 52.1% Matt Ryan ATL 7100 23.7 20.8%
LEAST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Philip Rivers SD 6700 15.9 23.5% Philip Rivers SD 6700 16.8 4.2%
Jay Cutler CHI 6000 13.9 24.0% Drew Brees NO 7600 21.6 6.4%
Carson Wentz PHI 5850 15.1 33.3% Ryan Fitzpatrick NYJ 6600 17.6 6.4%
Ryan Fitzpatrick NYJ 6600 17.4 34.0% Jay Cutler CHI 6000 15.7 7.6%
Trevor Siemian DEN 6000 15.9 35.7% Carson Palmer ARI 6700 19.3 9.7%
Drew Brees NO 7600 21.3 39.6% Sam Bradford MIN 6100 17.3 11.0%
Sam Bradford MIN 6100 16.8 39.9% Aaron Rodgers GB 7550 23.3 11.6%

Russell Wilson is the only cash game quarterback in the top half of the table that also has an inarguably great matchup: New Orleans' defense ranks 25th in FantasyAces points allowed to opposing quarterbacks and 28th in efficiency against the pass (per DVOA). And from a game script perspective, the Seahawks will be playing without two of their best defenders, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett. In combination with the Saints' absurd home-road split under Sean Payton, this injury development suggests the game will be more of a track meet than previously anticipated.

The only issue with using Wilson in cash games is that, as he's nursing multiple injuries himself, there's a non-negligible concern that he's knocked out of the game prematurely. With that boom-bust increase in variance, perhaps it's best to use him only in tournaments even though he doesn't show up on that side of the table. Why? First, with an eighth-ranked tournament value probability(18.4%) he was the odd man out in a seven-man list. Second, he has a low expected ownership rate (5 to 10 percent). 

Among the Top 7, there are two other quarterbacks offering good value with a favorable matchup. Alex Smith, who has a projected ownership rate of around only 5 percent, faces a Colts defense ranked 26th in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks and 28th in pass defense efficiency. Meanwhile, Josh McCown returns to Cleveland's starting lineup just in time to face the Jets, who rank 24th in quarterback points allowed and 31st in pass defense efficiency.

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)
Christine Michael SEA 4800 17.4 62.6% Devontae Booker DEN 3900 15.6 50.0%
Devonta Freeman ATL 5000 17.6 60.6% Christine Michael SEA 4800 18.2 46.4%
Devontae Booker DEN 3900 13.6 59.8% Spencer Ware KC 5100 19.2 45.9%
Spencer Ware KC 5100 16.9 56.5% Devonta Freeman ATL 5000 18.3 44.0%
David Johnson ARI 6300 20.2 54.3% Ezekiel Elliott DAL 5750 20.4 42.0%
Ezekiel Elliott DAL 5750 18.2 53.4% David Johnson ARI 6300 22.1 41.2%
Melvin Gordon III SD 5500 16.4 49.4% Frank Gore IND 4750 15.4 36.1%
Frank Gore IND 4750 14.1 49.4% Jacquizz Rodgers TB 4600 14.4 34.0%
Matt Asiata MIN 4300 12.5 47.8% Matt Asiata MIN 4300 13.2 32.7%
Jacquizz Rodgers TB 4600 13.0 45.9% Mike Gillislee BUF 3750 11.5 32.7%
LEAST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Jerick McKinnon MIN 4650 4.1 1.9% C.J. Prosise SEA 3900 5.1 3.0%
Charcandrick West KC 3800 3.7 3.0% Matt Jones WAS 4600 6.2 3.3%
C.J. Prosise SEA 3900 4.0 3.4% DeAndre Washington OAK 4000 5.6 3.8%
Travaris Cadet NO 3500 3.6 3.4% Jerick McKinnon MIN 4650 7.4 6.0%
Bilal Powell NYJ 4200 4.5 4.1% Robert Turbin IND 3500 5.9 7.2%
KaDeem Carey CHI 4000 4.6 5.1% Jeremy Langford CHI 4000 6.9 7.8%
Jeremy Langford CHI 4000 4.7 5.8% Patrick DiMarco ATL 3000 5.3 8.4%
Andy Janovich DEN 3000 3.7 6.5% Darren Sproles PHI 4250 7.6 8.7%
Peyton Barber TB 3000 3.8 7.3% Alfred Blue HOU 3300 6.0 9.2%
Robert Turbin IND 3500 4.6 8.2% Bilal Powell NYJ 4200 7.9 10.1%

Truth be told, this week doesn't offer much in the way of "true" tournament value, as the four running backs with favorable matchups rank among the Top 5 in projected ownership: Christine Michael, Spencer Ware, and Jacquizz Rodgers all face defenses ranked in the Bottom 8 of FantasyAces points allowed to running backs, run defense efficiency (per DVOA) and pass defense efficiency on running back targets. Unfortunately, they're also expected to be owned in about 40 percent of tournament lineups. Meanwhile, although San Diego ranks 29th in points allowed to running backs, DeVontae Booker's projected ownership rate is prohibitively astronomical (around 70 percent).

If you ignore these four running backs and move down the tournament value side of the table, your first stop is Devonta Freeman. But guess what? He's the fifth member of the five-most owned, at around 30 percent. What's worse, like the remainder of the table's Top 10, Freeman's opponent doesn't rank in the Bottom 8 in any of the three matchup stats I use.

So what to do? Well, it's clearly OK to go with two of Michael, Ware, Rodgers, and Booker in cash games. In tournaments, what I'm wont to do in these situations is to directly compare the player's value to his ownership percentage. Doing so in this case leads to the following line of reasoning. Booker has a 50.0% percent likelihood of achieving value, but his 70 percent (i.e., higher) ownership rate will cut into that value, so I won't use him. Similarly, Rodgers has a 34.0% percent chance of achieving value, but a higher ownership rate, so I also won't use him. That leaves Michael and Ware, who both have value probabilities that are higher than their (around 40 percent) ownership rates, so I will use them.

Otherwise, if you want to completely avoid the massively owned running backs when fishing for value, then the best matchups in the remainder of the table belong to Elliott and Frank Gore. Elliott's opponent, Philadelphia, ranks in the bottom half of the league according to both fantasy points allowed to running backs (17th) and pass defense efficiency on running back targets (23rd). Gore's opponent, Kansas City, is also a bottom-half defense in two of three categories; this time points allowed (19th) and run defense efficiency (19th).

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)
Ty Montgomery GB 4400 14.8 57.7% Ty Montgomery GB 4400 15.7 42.4%
Mike Evans TB 5650 18.2 54.7% Mike Evans TB 5650 19.9 41.5%
Larry Fitzgerald ARI 5150 15.3 49.3% Randall Cobb GB 5250 17.3 37.2%
Amari Cooper OAK 4950 14.4 47.9% Brandon Marshall NYJ 5300 16.9 35.1%
Julio Jones ATL 6500 18.4 46.0% Julio Jones ATL 6500 20.7 35.0%
T.Y. Hilton IND 5300 14.9 45.6% Larry Fitzgerald ARI 5150 16.3 34.7%
Brandon Marshall NYJ 5300 14.5 43.8% Amari Cooper OAK 4950 15.5 34.0%
Alshon Jeffery CHI 4650 12.5 42.4% T.Y. Hilton IND 5300 15.5 29.9%
A.J. Green CIN 6250 16.7 42.3% A.J. Green CIN 6250 18.2 29.6%
Michael Crabtree OAK 5000 13.1 40.7% Doug Baldwin SEA 5150 14.8 28.9%
Doug Baldwin SEA 5150 13.4 40.5% Alshon Jeffery CHI 4650 13.1 27.7%
Marvin Jones Jr DET 4800 12.0 38.0% Donte Moncrief IND 3900 10.9 27.3%
Davante Adams GB 4750 11.5 35.6% Davante Adams GB 4750 13.2 27.0%
Michael Thomas NO 4650 11.1 34.8% Michael Floyd ARI 4100 11.2 26.0%
Stefon Diggs MIN 4500 10.6 34.3% Michael Crabtree OAK 5000 13.3 24.6%
LEAST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Donte Moncrief IND 3900 6.3 14.6% Terrance Williams DAL 4000 7.1 8.5%
Robert Woods BUF 4300 7.0 15.3% Tyler Lockett SEA 4150 7.5 9.0%
Tyler Lockett SEA 4150 6.8 15.4% Ted Ginn Jr CAR 3900 7.6 11.3%
Chris Conley KC 3900 6.4 15.6% Mohamed Sanu ATL 4200 8.2 11.3%
John Brown ARI 4350 7.4 16.9% Quincy Enunwa NYJ 4800 9.4 11.4%
Chris Hogan NE 4000 6.9 17.7% Jermaine Kearse SEA 4100 8.3 12.5%
Terrance Williams DAL 4000 7.0 18.1% Adam Thielen MIN 3800 7.7 12.6%
Jermaine Kearse SEA 4100 7.3 18.7% Andrew Hawkins CLE 3500 7.1 12.6%
Quincy Enunwa NYJ 4800 8.5 18.8% Seth Roberts OAK 3500 7.3 13.6%
J.J. Nelson ARI 3600 6.5 19.3% Jordan Matthews PHI 4650 9.8 14.0%
Cole Beasley DAL 4300 7.8 19.6% John Brown ARI 4350 9.2 14.1%
Adam Thielen MIN 3800 7.0 20.7% Justin Hunter BUF 3500 7.5 14.6%
Mohamed Sanu ATL 4200 7.8 21.1% Anquan Boldin DET 4000 8.6 14.8%
Michael Floyd ARI 4100 7.8 22.3% Robert Woods BUF 4300 9.3 15.0%
Cordarrelle Patterson MIN 4100 7.9 22.5% Jeremy Maclin KC 4850 10.5 15.0%

Based on their matchups, four wide receivers stand out among the value options in the table: Mike Evans, Doug Baldwin, Larry Fitzgerald, and T.Y. Hilton. Evans and Baldwin hit the rare superfecta of facing Bottom 8 defenses in all three team-level stat categories I use, as well as also having a plus individual matchup according to Pro Football Focus's stats. Fitzgerald and Hilton are close behind, having highly favorable matchups in three of the four stats.

Obviously, use all four in cash games. For tounaments, however, we have to consider that Evans projects to be the highest-owned wide receiver of the week (around 50 percent) and that Hilton's third (around 25 percent). Meanwhile, Fitzgerald and Baldwin are projected in the much-more-modest 5-10 percent range. To decide between the four, I'll use the same procedure I used for running backs in the last section. Evans' projected ownership rate is higher than his value probability, so I'll avoid him. Hilton, Fitzgerald, and Baldwin, however, have ownership rates that are lower than their value probabilities, so I'll use them.

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 4750 13.0 41.7% Jimmy Graham SEA 5150 14.7 21.8%
Jimmy Graham SEA 5150 12.7 32.7% Greg Olsen CAR 4750 13.5 21.5%
Rob Gronkowski NE 5700 13.7 30.4% Rob Gronkowski NE 5700 15.3 17.9%
Gary Barnidge CLE 4250 10.1 29.5% Gary Barnidge CLE 4250 11.2 16.8%
Kyle Rudolph MIN 4550 10.7 28.6% C.J. Fiedorowicz HOU 4000 10.1 14.4%
LEAST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Zach Ertz PHI 4200 5.9 4.1% Jacob Tamme ATL 4150 6.7 1.8%
Eric Ebron DET 4000 5.8 4.8% Hunter Henry SD 4300 7.2 2.2%
Hunter Henry SD 4300 6.3 5.0% Zach Miller CHI 4200 7.7 3.6%
Tyler Eifert CIN 4500 7.6 9.2% Eric Ebron DET 4000 7.6 4.3%
Zach Miller CHI 4200 7.3 10.3% Cameron Brate TB 4200 8.4 5.5%

As always, the lack of value at tight end means setting it and forgetting it with the chalk. Of these options this week, Jimmy Graham has the best combination of "value" and matchup. Specifically, the Saints pass defense ranks 28th in overall efficiency and 26th on tight end targets (per DVOA). Graham is viable in both formats. But given the potential for Russell Wilson to aggravate his multiple existing injuries, I lean slightly towards slightly more tournament usage for variance purposes.

If you prefer to go with cheaper tight ends on general principle, then two stand out as value options. Gary Barnidge will benefit both from Josh McCown returning as starter and a matchup against a Jets pass defense ranked 31st in efficiency. Whereas Barnidge is valuable in cash games and tournaments, C.J. Fiedorowicz's has more value in the latter format. Number one, he's the cheapest option among tight ends at the top of the table. Number two, his matchup is the easiest as well. Detroit's pass defense ranks dead last in overall efficiency. And against tight ends specifically, they rank 27th in efficiency and allow the third-most FantasyAces points per game.

The only problem with using Fiedorowicz is that he projects as the highest-owned tight end of the week. Of course, because ownership percentages are flatter at tight end than at other positions (esp., running back and wide receiver), this shouldn't be that much of a concern.

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)
Minnesota Vikings MIN 3400 12.1 65.2% Cleveland Browns CLE 2400 8.9 44.3%
Dallas Cowboys DAL 2800 10.0 62.5% Dallas Cowboys DAL 2800 10.1 41.0%
Cleveland Browns CLE 2400 8.6 61.3% Minnesota Vikings MIN 3400 12.2 38.6%
Denver Broncos DEN 3100 10.6 60.5% Denver Broncos DEN 3100 10.9 37.9%
NY Jets NYJ 3200 10.3 55.7% Chicago Bears CHI 2500 8.2 35.5%
LEAST LIKELY TO ACHIEVE VALUE
NAME TM SALARY AVG P(CASH) NAME TM SALARY MAX P(GPP)
Philadelphia Eagles PHI 3000 7.7 39.0% Arizona Cardinals ARI 3200 8.3 17.7%
Arizona Cardinals ARI 3200 8.3 39.4% Philadelphia Eagles PHI 3000 7.9 19.9%
New Orleans Saints NO 2500 7.3 47.9% Kansas City Chiefs KC 2900 8.7 27.5%
Kansas City Chiefs KC 2900 8.5 48.3% Washington Redskins WAS 2600 7.7 28.9%
Seattle Seahawks SEA 3000 8.9 49.1% Cincinnati Bengals CIN 2900 9.0 29.6%

Although it's never tough to find value at defense on FantasyAces (i.e., high probabilities across the board), it's tough this week to find great matchups among the Top 5 values in either format. The only one that qualifies according to my usual criteria is Cleveland, as they face a Jets offense -- especially with Ryan Fitzpatrick -- that allows the most FantasyAces points to opposing defenses and ranks 28th in offensive efficiency (per DVOA). Another thing working in the Browns' favor is that No. 1 Joe Haden is on track to return from injury on Sunday. And although he likely won't be shadowing Brandon Marshall, Haden's projected to be covering Marshall on at least half of his routes.

Of course, the problem with using Cleveland's defense is that, well, they're Cleveland's defense. Statistically, they themselves rank 21st in fantasy points scored and 30th in defensive efficiency, including 30th against both passes and runs. Therefore, if you're skittish, it's advisable to reserve them for tournament use, especially with a projected ownership rate of around 5 percent.

In cash games, one of Minnesota or Denver is preferred for a couple of related easons. First, with so much value at running back this week, the salary cap can accommdate paying up for an expensive defense. Second, although they're not "value" plays from a traditional perspective, my probabilistic perspective suggests that this week provides an infrequent opportunity to use a great defense that's also a 3-to-2 favorite to achieve 3x.

As far as which one to choose goes, it's really a toss-up based on how the $300 salary difference applies to lineup-fitting. Denver's at home against a Chargers offense that allows the seventh-most points to opposing defenses. On the other hand, San Diego ranks ninth in offensive efficiency and only allowed 6 points to Denver's defense a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, Minnesota's on the road against a Bears offense that doesn't rank near the bottom in fantasy points allowed or efficiency. But on the other hand, that's largely due to improving in Jay Cutler's absence. Cutler is no longer absent.

Like I said, it's a toss-up.


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