This week is unique because we don’t have that “lock” cheap running back. From Charcandrick West (Week 9) to Devontae Booker (Week 8) to Jacquizz Rodgers (Week 7), we’ve seen injuries at the RB position create popular choices with massive ownership. So while David Johnson will be very popular this week, his fair price tag of $8,400 is far different than when a three-down plus goal-line RB is under $4K.
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 12 Sunday games.
SITUATIONS TO CAPITALIZE ON
1. Cardinals in the Best Possible Spot
I played basketball in high school and we didn’t have a lot of talent, size or speed. So it was a no-brainer decision for our coach to install a slow-paced scheme which emphasized shot selection and a physical defense. Fewer possessions for our opponents would mean fewer chances for our talent limitations to be exploited and lower total scoring meant more end-game variance. It’s not rocket science. Unfortunately for the Eagles last year and the 49ers this year, Chip Kelly can’t seem to grasp this concept. The 49ers rank first in pace (via Football Outsiders), 31st in plays allowed and 27th in yards per play allowed.
So the Cardinals come out of their bye with the best possible matchup for an offense in this year’s NFL: Home against the 49ers. I’m expecting David Johnson to be the most-owned player on DraftKings this week by a wide margin and with good reason. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald will be able to get whatever they want, as noted in this week’s target projection article. The slightly sneakier play is undersized speedster J.J Nelson, who has climbed into a starting role and has played on 87.3 percent of the snaps in the Cardinals’ last two games. With Bruce Arians never shy about running up the score, rostering multiple Cardinals in the same lineup is very much in play.
2. Ben Roethlisberger Healthy and at Home
Big Ben failed last week in a situation he’s flopped so many times before: On the road, in the division and coming off an injury. This week is a different story however, as he returns to Heinz Field for a non-division game and has been a full participant in practice every day. Note that over his last 35 games, Roethlisberger averages 28.05 DK points at home vs. 16.44 on the road. He’s also at least met salary-based expectation in 15 of his last 17 home games, via Fantasy Labs.
Dallas’ defense presents a challenge solely from a pace perspective, not a talent perspective. That’s especially true with SS Barry Church and CB Mo Claiborne sidelined once again. They’ve been able to hide that talent deficiency all year by hogging the ball to the tune of a league-leading 33:09 average time of possession. But the Cowboys haven’t exactly been tested often, facing Eli Manning, Kirk Cousins, Brian Hoyer, Blaine Gabbert, Andy Dalton, Carson Wentz and Cody Kessler in seven of their eight games. Roethlisberger presents a different challenge in this bounce-back spot where the Steelers have the third-highest implied team total on the week (26 points).
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
1. Darren Sproles Against the Falcons
On Monday, coach Doug Pederson came out and said Darren Sproles was his lead back and added that’s it’s simply hard for him to take the veteran off the field. We already knew that, though. I hit on Sproles in Leverage last week because of an increasing role which has seen him play on 112 snaps over the last two games while Ryan Mathews has been in for 16. The touch count during that span is 36-11 in favor of Sproles. Yes, Mathews is a threat to vulture at the goal-line and Sproles isn’t a 25-touch candidate given his size (190 pounds) and age (33). But he does excel in the pass game, will get 10-15 carries and the Falcons give up the second-most receptions to RBs in the league. At just $4,300 it will be hard for Sproles to fail given this kind of usage. He’s also the Eagles’ punt returner, meaning we can pair him with the D/ST to give us a double-dip opportunity.
1. Alshon Jeffery Against Vernon Hargreaves
As noted by ESPN’s Mike Clay, Alshon Jeffery is expected to run about half of his routes at Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves Sunday. Hargreaves has had a brutal rookie year, grading out as PFF’s No. 116 coverage CB among 117 qualifiers and getting targeted on a whopping 24 percent of the routes he’s covered. Of course, Jay Cutler doesn’t need any excuse to target Jeffery. Whereas Brian Hoyer leaned strongly toward the Kevin White/Cam Meredith position in the offense, Cutler rides or dies with Alshon. In their seven full games together last year, Jeffery never saw fewer than nine targets and averaged 12.0. Perhaps most importantly, the oft-injured Jeffery is coming off the bye and not on the injury report. With the Bucs playing stout run defense now that Gerald McCoy is back, expect a game plan which features Jeffery.
CONTRARIAN GPP STACKS
1. Chris Ivory and the Jaguars defense
I think the most common lineup construction this week will feature David Johnson and another high-priced RB. The easiest way to be contrarian is to pay down at running back with options such as Chris Ivory, Rob Kelley, the aforementioned Sproles or C.J. Prosise. Ivory remains in a timeshare with T.J. Yeldon, but it’s worth noting that Ivory set season-highs in snaps (34), touches (17) and yards (107) in Arrowhead last week. It’s not a coincidence that came in the first game with new OC Nathaniel Hackett, who promised a more balanced approach from the previously pass-happy Jags. The rugged and talented Ivory, who is annually among the league leaders in tackle breaking/yards after contact, is the goal-line back. Of course, he needs the Jags to have a lead in order to fully realize his ceiling, which means adding the D/ST to the stack. Any pick-6s of Brock Osweiler will be huge for Ivory’s volume expectation, as would simply holding the Texans off the scoreboard.
GPP LEVERAGE PLAYS
1. Devontae Booker Against the Saints
Yes, Kapri Bibbs broke off an outrageous 69-yard TD catch-and-run last week. Yes, he’s earned more work. But suggestions that he’s all of a sudden going to overtake Devontae Booker are unfounded. Booker out-snapped Bibbs 45-8 and out-touched him 11-3 last week, a massive split that won’t be turned on its head because of one good play. I’m still expecting Booker, whose shoulder injury appears behind him (not on injury report), to handle at least 70 percent of the RB touches. Once we can project that kind of workload against the Saints, we have to take notice. They rank 25th in rush defense DVOA, 21st in YPC allowed, 28th in rush TDs allowed and 19th in rush yards allowed per game. While Booker is not a cash-game play for me because of his bloated price ($7,000), he does serve as leverage against all the other high-priced in excellent spots. It’s a chance to get a three-down plus goal-line back against the Saints at miniscule ownership.
CASH GAME CONSIDERATIONS
(No particular order)
QB: Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Marcus Mariota, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers
RB: David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Melvin Gordon, Devonta Freeman (if Tevin Coleman is out), Darren Sproles, DeMarco Murray, Ezekiel Elliot
WR: Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Alshon Jeffery, Jordy Nelson, Stefon Diggs, Julian Edelman, Tyrell Williams, J.J. Nelson, Dontrelle Inman (if Travis Benjamin is out)
TE: Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Delanie Walker, Antonio Gates, Jordan Reed
D: Cardinals, Redskins, Jaguars, Jets, Broncos, Chargers
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.