After a string of tight 10-game slates, we’re back to the bloated 13-game variety. This immediately will introduce far more plays into the mix and make pivoting off popular plays easier. There are simply more guys capable of going for 30 fantasy points, particularly when we have both the Rams and Chiefs on the slate.
The point of this column is to use the news, snap counts, usage, matchups and trends to both be a little contrarian and avoid whiffs. Note that I am discussing the DraftKings main slate only, aka the 13 Sunday day games.
SITUATIONS TO CAPITALIZE ON
Patrick Mahomes against no pass rushMahomes’ eye-opening $7,600 tag should keep his ownership in check. After all, he’s $1,000 more than Cam Newton against the Bucs and $2,000 more than very capable quarterbacks such as Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins. The price gap reminds of the way DraftKings structured QB pricing in previous seasons.
But we still could make a strong case Mahomes is underpriced for this matchup against the decrepit Raiders. Mahomes is the quarterback most negatively affected by pressure in the entire league this season (via SportsInfoSolutions). Meanwhile, the Raiders have generated an NFL-low 73 pressures all season, 23 fewer than the 31st-ranked Dolphins. The Chiefs might not have to throw the ball in the fourth quarter of this one, but Mahomes is very likely to rack up a full game’s worth of stats in the first three quarters. He’s had 30+ DK points in five of his past six games, even blowouts against the Browns and Bengals.
Aaron Jones surging to front of backfieldIt took more than two months, but Jones finally has been freed. He’s handled 28 of the Packers’ 30 running back carries (93 percent) and all 11 of the running back targets over the past two games. Now comes his best spot yet. The Packers are home against a Cardinals team allowing opponents to run the fourth-most plays and one that has faced the most rushing attempts in the league. So we can project Jones to push closer to the 20-carry mark with even more red-zone opportunities than usual. His $6,700 price tag has not adjusted to this role even though he’s scored at least 18.3 DK points in three straight games.
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
Adam Thielen against the PatriotsSudden and shifty Stefon Diggs historically has struggled mightily to produce when nicked up. This week, he’s missed multiple practices due to a knee injury and is likely to draw shadow coverage from top CB Stephon Gilmore. Meanwhile, the best place to attack this Patriots defense is over the middle with slot receivers and tight ends.
Enter Thielen ($8,000), who leads the entire league in receptions out of the slot (55) and is fourth in yards (588). Only JuJu Smith-Schuster, Tyler Boyd and Tyreek Hill have gained more yards when lined up in the slot. Add it up and we have a great setup for Kirk Cousins to lock onto Thielen, who has averaged only 8.7 targets per game over the last month. He was at 13.1 targets per game in the first six weeks of the season and is likely to push back towards that number Sunday. It certainly helps the Patriots allow opponents to run the sixth-most plays per game.
Josh Reynolds against the LionsThe Lions quietly are devolving into a pass funnel defense since the acquisition of Damon Harrison. It’s not that they’re now elite against the run — it’s that they are mediocre up front yet so painfully untalented behind Darius Slay in the secondary. Overall the Lions are 31st in pass defense DVOA and 30th in yards per pass attempt allowed. With Slay likely to see a lot of Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Reynolds project to be the ones running free. Reynolds is overpriced a bit at $4,900 and therefore likely will have lower ownership than Woods ($6,900), but Reynolds’ role is rock solid. He played on 78-of-80 snaps in his most recent game, was in the slot for 30 of them and saw a solid 17 percent target share. In Reynolds’ past two full games, he saw an eye-opening five red-zone targets.
CONTRARIAN GPP STACKS
Matt Ryan to Julio JonesRyan is fantasy’s No. 2 quarterback on the season and Jones is the No. 4 wideout. Ryan has averaged 2.68 more DK points per game at home vs. the road over the past five seasons and Julio nets 1.56 more. Yet Ryan is priced at a season-low $5,600 and Julio is at a season-low $7,700 for only one reason: Matchup.
Yes, the Ravens have the league’s best pass defense in virtually every category. But given the rules of today’s NFL and sheer talent on Atlanta’s side, Ryan and Jones still have a big ceiling. The key to this play is the price has adjusted for the matchup but the ownership will as well. In other words, the Ryan/Julio stack will have similar ownership at the discounted combined $13,300 tag vs. if DK didn’t adjust the salaries for matchup. So we gain leverage in two important ways — depressed ownership and depressed salaries.
GPP LEVERAGE PLAYS
Chris Carson against the 49ersCarson ($5,200) is almost always going to fall into the GPP-only category because he’s reliant on an if/then statement. If the Seahawks play well and get a nice lead, then he’ll have a clear path to a big box score. Much like the Adrian Petersons and LeGarrette Blounts of the world, Carson is game-flow dependent because Mike Davis takes pass-down duties.
That said, Sunday’s home game against Nick Mullens and the 49ers projects as one where the Seahawks likely can control the game with their extreme preference toward the run. They’re the only team in the league to have more runs than passes this season, leading to Carson getting 16+ carries in five of his past seven games. When Carson has been active this season, he’s seen four carries from inside the 5-yard line compared to a combined zero for Rashaad Penny and Davis.
CASH GAME CONSIDERATIONS(No particular order)
QB: Patrick Mahomes, Cam Newton, Jared Goff, Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston
RB: Todd Gurley, Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley,
Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, Aaron Jones, Phillip Lindsay, Carlos Hyde
WR: Adam Thielen, Robert Woods, Kenny Golladay, Emmanuel Sanders, D.J. Moore, Chris Conley (if Sammy Watkins is out), Chris Godwin, Bruce Ellington
TE: Travis Kelce, Eric Ebron, David Njoku, Kyle Rudolph, Matt Lacosse
D: Seahawks, Packers, Texans, Rams, Chiefs, Browns
EDITOR’S NOTE: Kareem Hunt was released by the Chiefs
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is adamlevitan) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.