Daily fantasy sports is little more than a complex exercise in the art of evaluation. (That’s all?)
One must evaluate a player’s potential production, his odds of hitting his low, median, and high production outcomes, his salary vis-à-vis other players at his position and even players at different positions, and how competitors in the market will in turn evaluate that player.
When we pick players to put in our lineups, we have often devoted many hours to researching a large pool of candidates using a variety of analytical tools producing multiple data sets that we consider from a multitude of perspectives.
Such is the case with the 12 players presented here. Although in these weekly pieces I want to keep the numbers-oriented wonkiness to a level that everyone will understand, rest assured that these recommendations are the result of my having brought to bear every analytical tool I am capable of employing.
Of course, I’m also an idiot. I earned the nickname “The Dissenting Costanzan” the old-fashioned way: Dumbassery.
In this article, I give six recommended plays each for the 12 PM ET and 7 PM ET slate of Saturday games. Within the six recommendations for each slate, three are “Paying Up” plays (top-12 salary at their positions), and three are “Digging Deep” plays (outside top-12 salary at their positions). These are somewhat arbitrary cutoffs, but they serve our purpose.
Let’s get to it.
EARLY SLATE: 12 PM ET
Paying Up: Taysom Hill (Brigham Young) – $10,100
If one pays up for a quarterback, that guy needs to have a high floor, and Hill has maybe the highest floor at the position in all of college football on account of his outstanding rushing production. Last year, he averaged 32.6 fantasy points per game, and in his four full contests (before he suffered a season-ending leg fracture and ligament tear) his worst rushing performance was 72 yards and a TD. And his 2014 rushing production was not the result of some four-game fluke: In 2013, he rushed for an average of 103.4 yards and 0.8 TDs per game across 13 contests. At 6’2” and 234 lbs., he is basically his own RB — which is good, because BYU’s leading rusher from last year, Jamaal Williams, is no longer with the team, so Hill may have even more rushing opportunities than usual. And last season he completed 66 percent of his passes for 219 yards and 1.5 TDs per game in his four full contests, so Hill is not just a runner. Projected to score 28.3 points on the road as a seven-point underdog to Nebraska, which last year gave up 177.8 yards and 1.9 TDs rushing per game, BYU should utilize Hill for the entire contest. Hill could easily finish this game with 200 yards and a TD passing and 100 yards and two TDs rushing.
Digging Deep: Maty Mauk (Missouri) – $6,500
Mauk is an inconsistent thrower with a career 52.8 percent completion percentage, but he is an adequate runner with about 30 yards rushing per start. Cause for concern exists with Mauk: Within the last two years he has lost WRs Dorial Green-Beckham, L’Damian Washington, Marcus Lucas, and Bud Sasser (who will catch his passes?), and in 2014 against Power Five opponents he was subpar (only 13 TDs passing in 11 games) — but this game, at home against Southeastern Missouri State, features an overmatched opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision. In the last two years, Head Coach Gary Pinkel’s Tigers have played six non-Power Five opponents and scored an average of 43.7 points per game in those contests. In his three 2014 starts versus non-Power Five teams, Mauk averaged 215.7 yards and 4 TDs passing per game. A statistical bully when playing against double-digit underdogs, Mauk should be productive in this contest. FCS teams like SEMO exist to make quarterbacks like Mauk look good the first week of the season.
Paying Up: Alex Collins (Arkansas) – $9,200
Ordinarily an expensive running back should have a high floor bolstered by strong receiving production — and Collins has only 14 receptions for 72 yards in his college career — but, given that Arkansas is a 33-point favorite at home against Texas-El Paso and projected to score over 41 points, Collins will likely produce without needing to catch the ball. At 6’2” and 215 lbs., Collins has good size and rushed for over 1,000 yards in his first two collegiate campaigns while being in an even timeshare with Jonathan Williams, who know is out for the year with an injury. As a result, Collins is poised to produce this season at an extremely high level with the backfield to himself, and that production onslaught should start on Saturday against a UTEP defense that last year allowed 176.8 yards and 2.0 TDs rushing per game against teams much worse than Arkansas. Collins is not as expensive as Nick Chubb and James Connor, but this week his upside is comparable to theirs.
Digging Deep: Zach Langer (Tulsa) – $4,500
Last year, Langer in 10 games managed only 810 scrimmage yards and four all-purpose TDs — numbers that explain in part why his salary is so low. And yet in those games he also had 19.9 touches, easily led his team in rushing, and had more TDs than all of Tulsa’s other running backs put together. His raw production does not look good, but at 6’0” and 220 lbs. he is his team’s workhorse, and in this matchup verses Florida Atlantic that fact alone might be enough. This game features two of last season’s worst defenses and a 67.5-point over/under. Tulsa, a 6.5-point favorite at home and projected to score 37 points, should have plenty of scoring opportunities against an FAU defense that last year allowed 222 yards and 2.8 TDs rushing per game. In 2014, in the only victory in which he played, Langer had 33 carries for 167 yards. Against UTEP, he should get at least 20 touches, probably closer to 25, with which he will likely produce no less than 100 yards and a TD.
Paying Up: Artavis Scott (Clemson) – $7,800
When paying up for a wide receiver, especially in a point-per-reception format, one should invest in a player whose regular volume of targets and receptions will provide a high floor in the event of a shortcoming in yardage and scoring. Scott is such a wide receiver. Despite being overshadowed on his team by the bigger, older, and now draft-eligible Mike Williams, the slot receiver Scott (5’11” and 190 lbs.) led Clemson — as a freshman — with 76 receptions and eight TDs, and his 965 yards were second only to Williams’ 1,030. Last year, Scott scored 20.3 fantasy points per game, while Williams scored 18.2. He is basically his team’s secret No. 1 receiver, especially since Williams has been battling a hamsting injury for the last month. In this matchup, Clemson plays at home against Wofford from the FCS. Over the last four years, Head Coach Dabo Sweeney’s Tigers have played against FCS opponents once per season, and his offense has averaged 27.3 receptions for 341 yards and three TDs (and Clemson has averaged 50 points) in those games. Last year, versus South Carolina State in Week 2, Scott led the team in all receiving categories with a 6-164-2 stat line — and his second TD came in the fourth quarter to put Clemson up 65-0. Even if Clemson gets a big lead, Scott could still play for most of the game. One way or another, Scott probably has a floor of about 20 fantasy points.
Digging Deep: Jordan Payton (California-Los Angeles) – $4,700
Payton led UCLA in 2014 with 67 receptions for 954 yards and seven TDs receiving in 13 games. That raw production, though not elite, is good enough to suggest that Payton can exploit a matchup in which UCLA is a 19.5-point favorite at home and projected to score 36 points against Virginia, which last year gave up an average of two TDs receiving per game in double-digit losses. At 6’1” and 212 lbs., Payton makes for a solid red zone target, and he should have some opportunities to score. The only question is whether true freshman starting quarterback Josh Rosen — the top pro-style QB of the 2015 recruiting class — will be competent enough to move the offense down the field in his first college game. Of course, given that UVA’s offense struggles in its own rite and lacks any proven players, UCLA’s offense should get the ball enough so that, even if Rosen lacks efficiency, he will still be effective enough for Payton to score a TD.
LATE SLATE: 7 PM ET
Paying Up: Vernon Adams, Jr. (Oregon) – $8,400
A graduate transfer from Eastern Washington’s elite FCS program, Adams is one of the most prolific small school quarterbacks of the last decade. As a three-year starter for EWU, Adams led the Eagles to three straight Big Sky championships and ran Head Coach Beau Baldwin’s wide-open offense to perfection, completing 64.8 percent of his career passes for 10,438 yards and 110 TDs against only 31 INTs and rushing for 1,232 yards and 11 TDs in 37 games. Last year, against Washington, in his one contest against an opponent from the Football Bowl Subdivision, Adams played the game of his life, completing 31 passes (67.4 percent of his attempts) for 475 yards and seven TDs. Although he is only 5’11” and 201 lbs., Adams is a natural fit in Oregon’s offensive system. Marcus Mariota was a generational college quarterback — but Darron Thomas, Jeremiah Masoli, and Dennis Dixon in the last decade have also been good college quarterbacks at Oregon, and nothing suggests that Adams cannot be at least as good as a combination of those guys. Oregon is playing at home — against Eastern Washington — the coaches of which publicly expressed their displeasure with Adams after he announced his intention to transfer. Last year against FCS-opponent South Dakota, Mariota had 267 yards and three TDs passing and 43 yards and one TD rushing in a big win that saw him sit out most of the second half of the season opener. That’s a fair projection for what Adams could do in this revenge game.
Digging Deep: Skyler Howard (West Virginia) – $6,800
As the starter for WVU’s last three 2014 games, Howard was effective even if he was inefficient, completing 56 passes (51.9 percent of his attempts) for 829 yards and eight TDs against no INTs, and he also rushed for 118 yards. Now Howard is the opening day starter for Head Coach Dana Holgorsen, who has had a hand in turning Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Kevin White, Kliff Kingsbury, Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree, Danny Amendola, Wes Welker, Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden, and Justin Blackmon into college passing game superstars over the last decade at four different schools. Howard, at 6’0” and 202 lbs., is neither an elite athlete nor passer, but in Holgorsen’s system he does not need to be. Playing at home as a 19.5-point favorite over Georgia Southern and projected to score almost 38 points, WVU should see its quarterback have a productive game. In the post Smith-era, Holgorsen’s Mountaineers teams have played three games against non-Power Five opponents. In those games, WVU averaged 39.7 points and an assortment of nondescript quarterbacks averaged 317 yards and two TDs passing and 0.7 TDs rushing. And one of those three opponents was Georgia Southern. As long as Holgorson is starting a quarterback with an arm — an actual arm — against an overmatched opponent, start that quarterback. Howard has an arm.
Paying Up: Matt Breida (Georgia Southern) – $7,600
Last year, Breida was one of the most productive runners in the country with 24.4 fantasy points per game on 171 carries for 1,494 yards and 17 TDs in 12 games. And, although his raw receiving numbers are unimpressive, when his team does throw he gets the ball a decent amount for a running back with 9 percent of his team’s 2014 receptions and 11 percent of its receiving production. If GSU gets behind in this matchup, and the Eagles decide to throw the ball, he will probably get a couple of receptions — and GSU almost certainly will get behind in this game, being a 19.5-point underdog to WVU on the road. And with GSU projected to score around 18 points, many people will probably avoid Breida this week — but Vegas has shifted its position on this game, as originally WVU was a 38-point favorite. Additionally, not once in 2014 — in its first year playing at the FBS level — was GSU held to fewer than 19 points, and last year WVU allowed 27.6 points per game. WVU will likely win big, but that does not preclude the likelihood of Breida having a big game. GSU lost all three games it played last year against Power Five and Independent opponents (and won all of its other games), and in those contests GSU averaged 26.7 points and its lead back averaged 136 yards and 1.7 TDs rushing plus 1.7 receptions for 21 yards. Even in a loss, Breida should produce.
Digging Deep: Joel Bouagnon (Northern Illinois) – $5,000
Who? Bouagnon is the presumptive new lead back for NIU, a team that likes to run and this weekend is projected to score almost 43 points as a 23-point favorite at home against Nevana-Las Vegas. At 6’2” and 226 lbs., Bouagnon should have little trouble running through a UNLV defense that last year allowed an average of 52.1 rushes for 293.8 yards and 2.8 TDs per game. The 2014 lead back, Cameron Stingily, is comparable to Bouagnon (6’1” and 235 lbs.), and in the six double-digit victories in which he participated last year NIU averaged 40.7 points and Stingily averaged 16.7 rushes for 98.8 yards and 1.7 TDs per game. NIU Head Coach Rod Carey joined the team in 2011 first as the offensive line coach and eventually worked his way up the ranks — but he still has the OL coach mentality. When the Huskies get ahead they punish their opponents with the run, and Bouagnon is the guy ready to benefit.
Paying Up: De’Runnya Wilson (Mississippi State) – $7,800
This guy just de’runs cornerbacks all over the field. Get it? MSU’s lead receiver as a true sophomore despite missing one game, Wilson is a former star basketball player who uses his size (6’5” and 215 lbs.) and “my ball” mentality to outmuscle defenders. Wilson is raw, as he returned to the football field as a senior in high school after taking a couple of years off, but with Dak Prescott as his quarterback he is poised to have a final-season production explosion à la Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin in 2013 before leaving college early for the NFL — and that starts this game. MSU is a 21-point favorite projected to score 41 points against Southern Mississippi, and in the four 2014 games in which Wilson participated with a margin of victory of at least 14 points MSU averaged 45 points and Wilson averaged 3.5 receptions for 59.8 yards and one TD per game. In the season opener last year — against SoMiss — Wilson had 4 receptions for 65 yards and two TDs in a 49-0 victory. As Wilson refines his game and becomes a bigger focal point in the offense, his production should only increase.
Digging Deep: Speedy Noil (Texas A&M) – $4,700
Last year as a true freshman, Noil had a 46-583-5 stat line as the team’s No. 3 wide receiver, and this year he projects to be the team’s No. 2 receiver behind Josh Reynolds. A couple of other young wide receivers in Ricky Seals-Jones and Edward Pope are also behind him, and all of them are likely to get regular action throughout the season and in this game, in particular, with A&M projected to score about 38 points in a shootout against Arizona State with a 70-point over/under. With a limited running game, A&M will likely look to outpace Arizona State through the air. Even if A&M does establish a presence on the ground in this contest, a number of TDs are expected to come via the passing game, and Reynolds is highly likely to catch one TD but rather unlikely to catch multiple TDs. With his increased role in the offense, Noils has a good chance of being on the receiving end of a Kyle Allen scoring strike.