The Sunday after Thanksgiving always feels a bit different. It’s almost as if we already had the main NFL slate of the week and this is the dessert. However, that’s not really the case as this 12-game main slate has a ton of interesting matchups. We’ll see Julio Jones against Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman against Mike Evans and Odell Beckham against Joe Haden. Happy belated Thanksgiving!
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. Thinning of the Seahawks RB Stable
The timing of Thomas Rawls’ return to health has been impeccable. Christine Michael was cut two weeks ago, C.J. Prosise suffered a fractured scapula last week and even intriguing Troymaine Pope (high ankle sprain) is expected to miss. That leaves Rawls, underwhelming fifth-round rookie Alex Collins and practice squad callup George Farmer in the Seattle backfield. So we can expect a very heavy workload for Rawls, who was arguably the most effective RB in the NFL last season.
Note that Rawls is #good. He ranked first in yards per carry (5.64) and third in yards after contact per attempt (3.1). On top of that, Rawls has expanded his pass-game abilities this season, proving it with nine catches on 10 targets in his meager 78 snaps this year. He caught just nine balls on 297 snaps last year. And although the Bucs are capable of playing strong run defense, they haven’t done it this year as they rank dead last in PFF’s run D grades and are 20th in DVOA.
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
1. Rashad Jennings vs. the Browns
We’ve seen this story before. Over the final four games of last year, the Giants decided to saddle up Rashad Jennings to the tune of 21.3 touches per game. He responded with 130.2 total yards per game and two touchdowns. Fast forward to this year and the Giants are finding their run game behind Jennings again. Since he got truly healthy two games ago, he’s gotten 18 and then 26 touches. During that span Paul Perkins has nine and six, and no other RB has a touch. So anytime we have workload clarity at the running back spot and a matchup with the Browns, we have to pounce. This expansion-caliber Browns defense has given up the second-most fantasy points to RBs, is 30th in yards per carry allowed, 28th in rush TDs allowed and 31st in rush yards per game. They’ve allowed at least 109 rush yards in five straight games.
2. Raiders Pass Game vs. Panthers Secondary
The Panthers never should have let Josh Norman go. It left them with a woefully inexperienced secondary, one that has been exploited to the tune of 19th DVOA, 25th in yards per attempts allowed, 23rd in pass TDs allowed and 27th in pass yards allowed. On top of that, their still stout front seven continues to play well and therefore funnels opposing gameplans to the air. They’ve faced the eighth-most pass attempts but the 5th-fewest rush attempts. So it’s an ideal spot for Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to get loose in a home game against this Panthers team. It helps that we have a narrow target concentration here. Over both the last four games and on the season Cooper/Crabtree have combined for 47.0 percent of Carr’s targets.
CONTRARIAN GPP STACKS
1. Tom Brady (if healthy) and Martellus Bennett (if Rob Gronkowski is out)
Projecting how an offense will attack a defense is extremely valuable. That’s especially true when it comes to the Patriots and Tom Brady. This is one of the weeks where it makes perfect sense for the Patriots to simply abandon their run game and instead employ an extremely pass-heavy approach – the Jets are No. 2 DVOA vs. the run and No. 30 vs. the pass. If we can project Brady for 40 pass attempts against washed-up Darrelle Revis and this inept Jets secondary, we can project massive fantasy points. One way to make Brady contrarian is to use the player that burned a large part of the field last week. Although Martellus Bennett only finished with one catch on two targets against the 49ers, he ran 34 pass routes and was asked to pass block 10 times. It’s not ideal usage, but it’s enough to make him very viable in this spot. Remember that after Martellus burned everyone Week 1 (3-14-0), he bounced back in Week 2 (5-114-1) while Gronk was still sidelined. If that’s the case again Sunday, Marty B has a shot at deja vu.
2. Josh McCown and Terrelle Pryor
It’s easy to brush off Josh McCown because he’s a 37-year-old journeyman backup who plays for the worst team in football. But we can’t deny that the dude puts up big fantasy numbers. In his nine full games for the Browns over the last two seasons, McCown has averaged a massive 295.6 passing yards and 1.77 pass TDs per game. A lot of that came last year when the Browns didn’t have Terrelle Pryor or Corey Coleman. Add in Duke Johnson plus Gary Barnidge and McCown is armed with some serious weaponry as the 0-11 Browns desperately claw for a win. In McCown’s two full games this year, 6’4/223 Terrelle Pryor has seen 10 and 13 targets. So whereas this athletic freak’s upside was previously capped by weak game-managing from Cody Kessler, it can be unleashed by McCown.
GPP LEVERAGE PLAYS
1. LeSean McCoy Against the Jaguars
I think David Johnson ($8,900) will be the most popular RB on the week and Jay Ajayi ($7,600) won’t be far behind. We can take some savings and go to LeSean McCoy ($7,300) while locking in another 20-plus touches – health permitting. McCoy was on his way to a huge day in Week 11 before he dislocated his thumb and was forced out of the game. That’s been repaired and as long as McCoy is able to catch the football, he’ll be ticketed for another big workload. That’s especially true with backup Mike Gillislee (hamstring) looking iffy at best. Meanwhile, the Jags have proven to be reasonably tough to throw against but weak against the run. We don’t have to ask Rex Ryan and the Bills to take a run-heavy gameplan – they rank 3rd in rush attempts and 2nd in run/pass ratio. Only the Cowboys have a more grounded run/pass ratio.
CASH GAME CONSIDERATIONS
(No particular order)
QB: Tom Brady (if healthy), Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr
RB: Jeremy Hill, David Johnson, Jay Ajayi, LeSean McCoy (if healthy), Thomas Rawls, Rashad Jennings, Melvin Gordon
WR: Tyler Boyd, Brandon LaFell, DeVante Parker, Doug Baldwin, Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Larry Fitzgerald, Amari Cooper, Odell Beckham
TE: Jimmy Graham, Delanie Walker, Antonio Gates, Travis Kelce, Gary Barnidge, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Will Tye
D: Saints, Titans, Ravens, Dolphins, Broncos, Bills, Giants
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.