In this article I give six recommended plays each for the 12 PM ET and 7 PM ET slates 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).
EARLY SLATE: Noon PM ET
Paying Up: Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech) – $9,300
Despite being limited by a knee injury in Weeks 4-5, Mahomes is the slate’s most productive quarterback on a points-per-game basis and available at a slight discount with the slate’s second-highest quarterback salary. A strong passer and an underrated runner, Mahomes through six contests has never accounted for fewer than 300 total yards and three touchdowns in a game. On average, he passes for just over 375 yards and three touchdowns and rushes for over 30 yards and a touchdown per game.
Tech scores the second-most points of any team in the FBS and has the slate’s highest implied point total as a road favorite against Kansas, a winless team that allows the fourth-most points in the FBS. Mahomes should be able to accumulate 325 yards and three touchdowns easily against the Jayhawks, and he has 400-yard, five-touchdown upside.
Digging Deep: Thomas Woodson (Akron) – $6,800
The deeper into the season we get, the harder it is to find non-elite quarterbacks I would actually want to use in lineups, but Woodson is intriguing. Although on a points-per-game basis he might look uninspiring, the reality is that, although he has appeared in five games, he played only a few snaps in the season opener and didn’t take over as the team’s fulltime starter till Week 4. In his four games with at least 20 pass attempts, he has averaged 24.1 fantasy points per contest, which would make him one of the slate’s top-12 producers at the position. Additionally, in those four games, Akron scored 36.5 points and is now capable of performing at a level significantly higher than its seasonal averages.
In his four games as the primary quarterback, Woodson has passed for 224.5 yards and 1.75 touchdowns and rushed for 59.75 yards and 0.5 touchdowns. Playing in a high-scoring game against a Bowling Green State team that scores and gives up lots of points in a hurry, Woodson will likely have the ready opportunity to rack up the production, even if it comes in a loss. He has QB1 potential with 350 total yards and three touchdowns.
Paying Up: Jordan Canzeri (Iowa) – $6,200
I’ve recommended Canzeri a lot this season, and even as his salary has steadily increased he has remained a strong value play. Even now, with a top-12 salary, Canzeri is acquirable at a substantial discount to his 2015 production, given that he is the slate’s second-most productive running back. What is particularly remarkable about Canzeri is that, even though he was not Iowa’s true workhorse back until the last few games, he has scored touchdowns in five of six games and accumulated over 100 scrimmage yards in five of six games. With 22 carries and 2.7 receptions per game, Canzeri is a high-volume performer who can produce in a variety of ways.
Although Iowa’s matchup with Northwestern is expected to be a low-scoring game, Canzeri should still be able to produce. For one, Iowa is slightly favored on the road, and in that situation the Hawkeyes will likely give the ball frequently to their lead back in order to control the clock. Additionally, because Canzeri is so integral to his offense, he has an excellent chance of scoring a touchdown even if Iowa scores only 21 points. Finally, although Northwestern hasn’t allowed many points this year, the Wildcats haven’t face many teams with strong offenses and in Week 6 they were exposed by a Michigan team that committed itself to the run and scored three touchdowns rushing (and none passing) on the way to a 38-0 victory over the previously unbeaten team. Like Michigan last week, Iowa could run the ball all over Northwestern in this matchup. Canzeri has a strong chance of accumulating 100 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns.
Digging Deep: Chris Hairston (Eastern Carolina) – $5,200
Hairston doesn’t get much attention, in part because he struggled early in the season after opening his 2015 campaign with a big 154-yard, four-touchdown performance against Towson from the Football Championship Subdivision, but Hairston has been productive recently with 221 scrimmage yards, four receptions, and two touchdowns in the last two games. Given his role as the lead back in ECU’s offense, Hairston should continue to be productive as long as ECU’s offense isn’t awful in any given game.
In Week 7, Hairston and ECU should do well. Hosting Tulsa as a 13.5-point favorite, ECU has the slate’s third-highest implied point total and is participating in the game with the slate’s highest over/under. Hairston will likely be the beneficiary of advantageous game flow, receiving many carries throughout the game, especially in the second half as ECU builds its lead and controls the ball. Tulsa has a suspect defense, and despite his early-season struggles Hairston has never had fewer than 15 touches in any 2015 contest. He is averaging one touchdown and over 85 scrimmage yards and three receptions per game. With ECU’s implied point total and his role in the offense Hairston should be able to amass at least 80 scrimmage yards, a touchdown, and a couple receptions this week.
Paying Up: Corey Coleman (Baylor) – $8,200
I’m basically to say what I said last week, and that’s because the circumstances are almost exactly the same — except better. Last week, Coleman was the slate’s most expensive receiver. This week he is the second-most expensive receiver, which means that relatively my recommendation to roster him is even stronger. He’s not just the best wide receiver in the slate. He’s the best wide receiver in the country. Even though Baylor had a bye in Week 3, Coleman still leads the FBS by a wide margin in total touchdowns receiving and is fifth in yards receiving. He is a big play machine with an FBS ninth-best 21.9 yards per reception.
His floor and ceiling are both incredibly high. Depending on your perspective, his worst game was either his 5-178-1 performance in Week 1 or his most recent 7-108-2 performance in Week 6. No other receiver has anything close to that blend of consistency and production. For instance, compare that to Roger Lewis of Bowling Green State, the slate’s most expensive receiver, who out of six contests has two games in which he has fewer than 50 yards and no touchdowns. Baylor is a big home favorite against West Virginia and has the slate’s second-highest implied point total. Coleman’s downside is 100 yards and a touchdown, and his upside is 200 yards and three touchdowns — every week, for the rest of the season.
Digging Deep: Shelton Gibson (West Virginia) – $4,700
Gibson might be the most noticeably undervalued player of this slate. On the season he is a high-end WR2 on a points-per-game basis and yet he has only the slate’s 32nd-highest receiver salary. For a guy who is the lead receiver on a team that scores over five touchdowns per game, that discount is pretty incredible, especially since he is averaging 89.6 yards and a touchdown receiving per game across five contests. In fact, in only one game this season has he not had at least 80 yards receiving and a touchdown, so he is incredibly consistent.
Playing against Baylor on the road as more than three-touchdown underdogs, WVU will almost certainly be throwing the ball from the first snap. In what is likely to become an utter shootout, Gibson will likely be targeted heavily in WVU’s attempt to keep pace with Baylor, and based on his role within WVU’s offense Gibson has a good chance of turning those targets into at least 75 yards receiving and a touchdown. For his salary, that would be outstanding value.
LATE SLATE: 7 PM ET
Paying Up: Trevone Boykin (Texas Christian) – $9,700
To say that this slate is slim pickings is to insult both slimness and the process of picking. With only 12 contests represented, this slate has marked stratification in the quality of players it offers. Fewer elite options can be found, and the difference between the existing elite options and everyone else is exaggerated. For the quarterback, Boykin is the slate’s only elite option, as evidenced by the fact that he is an enormous $1,400 more expensive than the second-most expensive quarterback. Still, despite that price gap, you have to roster Boykin in this slate. On a points-per-game basis, he is more than two touchdowns superior to the Marquise Williams of North Carolina, the slate’s second-best producer.
TCU is a 20.5-point road favorite against Iowa State, with both the slate’s highest over/under and implied point total. To get an idea of how superior TCU is to every other school in this slate, consider this: TCU is expected to have around 47 points. Arizona, with the second-highest implied point total, is expected to have 38 points. Boykin is averaging 350.5 yards and 3.5 touchdowns passing as well as 61 yards and 0.7 touchdowns rushing per game. He has scored fewer than four touchdowns in a game only once this season. In this matchup, Boykin truly has a 300-yard, three-touchdown floor. His upside is 400 yards and six touchdowns.
Digging Deep: Sefo Liufau (Colorado) – $5,800
If the gap from Boykin to Williams is more than two touchdowns, imagine the chasm that must exist between Boykin and all the quarterbacks in this slate who masquerade as average. And of all those quarterbacks, I think that Liafau might be the least awful. He is just about fairly valued, so that’s something. He averages 231.8 yards and a touchdown passing as well as 18.5 yards and 0.3 touchdowns rushing per game. On the surface, those numbers seem paltry — and they are — but they are comparable to the numbers that higher-priced quarterbacks like Cardale Jones, DeShone Kizer, Sam B. Richardson, and Christian Hackenberg have put up this season.
Playing at home, Colorado is expected to score 30 points against Arizona in the game with the slate’s second-highest over/under, which is the main thing that Liufau has going for him. If this game turns into a true shootout, he could potentially score a couple of touchdowns and rack up the yardage. The Buffaloes have only the 10th-highest implied point total in the slate, but of all the quarterbacks on teams with higher implied totals, they all had either top-12 salaries or a production profile that was even worse than Liufau’s. I don’t expect for Liufau in the extreme to do much better than 300 yards and two touchdowns, but if you want to go really cheap at the position he is probably your best option.
Paying Up: Tyler Ervin (San Jose State) – $8,800
Ervin was my late slate “Paying Up” play last week. Despite his team’s having an unimpressive implied point total in a game projected to be close, Ervin had 147 scrimmage yards, two scrimmage touchdowns, and eight receptions. I’m going back to the well this week, and I expect the water to be just as sweet. As great as uber-stud Leonard Fournette is — and he is both this slate’s most productive and most expensive running back — Ervin trails him by only 2.56 fantasy points per week. Ervin leads the FBS in total touches and scrimmage yards. He is averaging 182.7 yards and 2.2 touchdowns per contest, and in all six of his games he has reached 120 scrimmage yards and scored a touchdown. In only one game has he failed to score two touchdowns. Accounting for an incredible 54.2 percent of SJSt’s offensive touchdowns, Ervin essentially is the Spartans’ offense.
SJSt is a 2.5-point road favorite at home against San Diego State and projected to score 25.25 points. That point total is low for a team that is favored, but a low-scoring and relatively close game should ensure that Ervin will have plenty of touches, and he has been highly productive in other games with comparable outcomes and game flow. At worse, Ervin should have 100 scrimmage yards and a touchdown. At his best, he has 250-yard, three-touchdown upside.
Digging Deep: Dwayne Washington (Washington) – $3,500
Dwayne Washington is basically Marcel Reece if Reece had been the player at UW that he is now in the NFL. Oozing with versatility, Washington led the Huskies last year in scrimmage yards and touchdowns, doing most of his damage as a runner. He’s back at it this year, once again leading the team in yards and touchdowns with 393 yards and five scores in five games — but now he is contributing firstly as a pass catcher, leading the team in all receiving categories with 19 receptions for 240 yards and two touchdowns to which he has added 153 yards and three scores as the team’s second-leading rusher. He has at least two receptions in every game, and has either a touchdown or at least 60 scrimmage yards in four of five contests, giving him a very solid and respectable floor for his salary. Also, he has either two touchdowns or 100 scrimmage yards in three games, so his ceiling is also high. Best of all, Washington is not cheap — he’s also the lowest-salaried option who still has high-end RB2 production to date. He’s not just discounted. He is the discount.
This week, UW is a three-point home favorite against an Oregon team with an offense in decline and a defense in disarray. This game has a respectable 60-point over/under, and UW has a good implied total. Given the matchup and Washington’s vital and game flow-independent role on his offense, he has a strong chance of finishing Week 7 with at least 80 yards and a touchdown, and he has 120-yard, two-touchdown upside.
Paying Up: Josh Doctson (Texas Christian) – $8,400
What Boykin is to this slate’s quarterbacks, Doctson is to the wide receivers. He is $1,400 more expensive than JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is the slate’s second receiver in terms of production and price — and the difference between Doctson and JJSS is more than a touchdown per game. This season, Doctson has been on an absolute tear. After last year having maybe the greatest receiving season in TCU history with a 65-1,018-11 campaign in 13 games, this year Doctson has a 50-877-10 stat line in only six games. Only in one game this year has Doctson failed to catch a touchdown, and that was in a game in which Doctson played little because TCU won 70-7. In his three Big 12 matchups to date, Doctson is averaging 11 receptions for 183.7 yards and 2.3 touchdowns per game. He’s not Corey Coleman, but Doctson is elite.
With TCU’s advantageous matchup against Iowa State, Doctson has an excellent chance of reaching 1,000 yards on the season in Week 7. A 100-yard, one-touchdown performance is likely Doctson’s absolute floor against the Cyclones, and he has true 200-yard, three-touchdown upside. If you can somehow afford to put a Boykin-Doctson stack in your lineup, those two guys on their own have a real chance of winning the week for you.
Digging Deep: Johnny Jackson (Arizona) – $3,700
Jackson has been a favorite “Digging Deep” play of mine throughout the season, and all he has done is produce his way into the No. 1 WR position in Arizona’s offense. Gone are the early weeks of the season when Jackson was available for minimum salary — but he is still undervalued. The Rodney Dangerfield of the Wildcats wide receivers, Jackson gets no respect. Although Arizona spreads the ball around a lot, Jackson leads or is tied for the lead in all major receiving categories with a 22-328-4 stat line through six games. Those numbers on their own don’t look impressive, but Jackson has either 90 yards or a touchdown in five of six games played. Phrased differently, 83.3 percent of the time that someone has invested in him this year in a cash game lineup, he has returned value because he has been (and still is) so discounted.
Given the potency of AZ’s offense, its advantageous matchup against Colorado, and Jackson’s role on the team, he has a good chance of finishing Week 7 with 60 yards and a touchdown. At his salary, that more than makes him a viable option, especially for those looking to go cheap so that they can afford to roster more studs. I don’t know how many more weeks Jackson will be available at a salary so out of line with his production, so be sure to get the getting while the getting’s good.