WATCH: RB DEBATE – David Johnson v. Le’Veon Bell
David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell are truly unique players in a full-PPR fantasy format. I can’t remember the last time we had two players that were such high-floor, high-ceiling plays regardless of matchup. Of course, DraftKings has finally caught up to their special skill sets and role, pricing DJ at $9,500 and Le’Veon at $9,200. The biggest task of this week is creating a quality roster with both of them. If that’s not possible, we need to do it with one of them. And if that’s not possible (gasp!), perhaps we can’t have either of them. Deciding how to handle this elite RB duo is the question of the week.
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 games.
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
1. David Johnson Against the Redskins
There are an amazing amount of strong plays this week. The Lions/Saints game projects as one of the highest-scoring and most fantasy-friendly of the season. Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Mike Evans are very difficult to separate at the top of the pricing. But the one player that stands above all else in this extraordinarily deep week is David Johnson. Carson Palmer is clearly in his steep decline phase, Larry Fitzgerald (knee) is slowing down, John Brown (sickle cell trait) unfortunately continues to struggle and Michael Floyd (hamstring) has had a nightmare season. The entire offense is Johnson, who has an outrageous 85.3 percent of the Cardinals rush attempts over the last month and has seen 21.8 percent of their targets.
So we know DJ is an amazing play every week, but this week’s home game against the Redskins is extra special. The Cardinals are at home with an implied team total of 26 points, tied for fifth-highest on the week. They’re facing a Redskins defense which is dead last DVOA vs. the run, 31st in yards per carry allowed and dead last in rush TDs allowed. If I could only roster one of the Le’Veon Bell, DJ, Mike Evans, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown tier this week, it would be Johnson.
2. Jimmy Graham Against the Panthers
With all those expensive plays in great spots, the natural roster construction will take people toward the cheap tight ends. It’s a mistake to overlook Jimmy Graham at $5,500 against a Luke Kuechly-less Panthers defense. This is already a funnel defense, one that has faced the 26th-most pass attempts but the seventh-fewest rush attempts. They’ve especially struggled against tight ends, ranking 20th DVOA vs. the position and facing the 4th-most tight end targets per game (h/t Graham Barfield). So it’s a nice spot for Graham as his knee isn’t an issue (practicing fully), he’s at home where he’s scored all four of his TDs this year, and is in an ideal matchup. Most importantly, Graham has a realistic 100-yard, 2-TD ceiling we need to be a threat in GPPs whereas punt TEs such as Eric Ebron, Vernon Davis and Coby Fleener would need a big fluke to get there.
SITUATIONS TO CAPITALIZE ON
1. Marquess Wilson’s Big Chance
Wilson is not some random, talent-deficient journeyman off the street. He’s 6’4/206 and has stuck with the Bears for four years because of NFL-caliber talent. Wilson flashed it as a true sophomore at Washington State back in 2011 when he put an 82-1,388-12 line on the Pac-12. So now that Kevin White is on IR, Alshon Jeffery is suspended and Eddie Royal (toe) is hobbled, Wilson is finally getting his big chance. He capitalized in a big way against the Titans last week, turning 11 targets into an 8-125-1 line while playing on just 58 percent of the snaps.
If the Bears coaches watched the Titans game, they’ll feature Wilson more this week as the talent gap between him and Josh Bellamy/Deonte Thompson is massive. And of course, a home game against the 49ers is one of the best possible spots for a wide receiver. The Niners are 24th DVOA vs. the pass and 31st in pass TDs allowed. Over the last 12 months, they’ve allowed more DraftKings points per game than salary-based expectation to both wideouts and quarterbacks than anyone in the league.
Editor’s Note: Marvin Jones is a “longshot” to play against the Saints today, per Ian Rapoport. Be sure to check his status before game time.
2. Marvin Jones’ Sinking Price (If healthy)
It’s very rare for a player on DraftKings to have his price sink by $3,200 in two months without an injury or change in role. So it’s impossible to not take notice of Marvin Jones, who was $7,600 in Week 5 and is priced at $4,400 this week. He’s played at least 86 percent of the snaps in every game this season and has been in on 94.6 percent over the last four games. Of course, Jones’ production has been scant as he’s failed to top 13.7 DK points in a single game since Week 3. But he’s had a brutal run of matchups including the Vikings (twice), a quietly good Jags secondary, the Texans, Josh Norman and the Redskins, the Rams and an Eagles secondary that was playing at an elite level at the time.
Jones finally gets back on the good side of the matchup table this week against an improving but still exploitable Saints defense which ranks dead last in pass yards allowed per game. Most importantly, this game is in the Superdome aka the Coors Field of NFL DFS which means the Lions will have to play aggressive offensively. Quarterbacks visiting New Orleans are averaging a whopping 20.5 DK points per game over the last calendar year.
CONTRARIAN GPP STACKS
1. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones
This is an extremely difficult spot for the Chiefs. They won a very emotional overtime game in Denver in Week 12 on Sunday Night Football. They have to play a huge Thursday Night Football game in Week 14 against Oakland, another division rival. Sandwiched in between there is a relatively unimportant non-conference game against Atlanta this week. I expect the Falcons top-three offense to ring up a ton of points in this spot. So while Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick are likely to be higher owned, Matt Ryan will again fly under the radar. It’s an eruption spot for Julio Jones as he tees off against Phillip Gaines (PFF’s No. 118 CB among 120 qualifiers) and Steven Nelson (No. 85). Note that top wideouts have been biting up the Chiefs all year, as evidenced by their 21st DVOA rankings vs. WR1s. Sharp OC Kyle Shanahan would be silly to run Julio at Marcus Peters’ side of the field much at all.
GPP LEVERAGE PLAYS
1. Doug Martin and Carlos Hyde
The easiest way to be contrarian this week is to avoid one or both of David Johnson/Le’Veon Bell. I’m not sure that’s optimal, but it’s a high-risk move that’s viable because there are plenty of other running backs in good spots. Jordan Howard, Melvin Gordon and LeSean McCoy all come with big workloads at a significant discount. Locking up volume for an even cheaper pricetag is also possible with Doug Martin and Carlos Hyde, two workhorse backs in plus matchups priced in the $5K range. A now-healthy Martin is averaging 26.0 touches per game over his last two, a number that will dip slightly but not severely with Jacquizz Rodgers (foot) expected back. Meanwhile, Hyde’s previously shaky TD expectation is enhanced by the white-hot Colin Kaepernick and a matchup with a decimated Bears defense. Both starting inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman (suspension) and Danny Trevathan (knee) are out.
CASH GAME CONSIDERATIONS
(No particular order)
QB: Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford
RB: David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Jeremy Hill, Carlos Hyde, Doug Martin, Theo Riddick, Melvin Gordon, Jordan Howard, Tim Hightower (if Mark Ingram is out)
WR: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Julian Edelman, Willie Snead, Marvin Jones (if healthy), Tyreek Hill (if Jeremy Maclin is out), Marquess Wilson, Michael Thomas, Jordy Nelson
TE: Vernon Davis, Travis Kelce, Eric Ebron, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham
D: Ravens, Cardinals, Jaguars (if Paxton Lynch starts), Seahawks, Broncos
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.