Full slate on a Saturday?!? Full slate on a Saturday. Thanks to the holidays, the NFL has bumped our lives up a day this week. That alone makes it a strange week, but the schedule is also a bit odd as many of fantasy’s most reliable players aren’t even on the main slate (Odell Beckham Jr., Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Ezekiel Elliot). Others such as David Johnson have a tough matchup. We have to recalibrate our normal routine in a couple of different ways this 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 12 Saturday games.
SITUATIONS TO CAPITALIZE ON
1. Bilal Powell Emerging as the Feature Back
Matt Forte is dealing with a torn meniscus in his knee plus nerve damage in his shoulder. Last week, he played just 13 snaps of garbage time and got five touches. Meanwhile, Bilal Powell played 64 snaps and got 27 touches. I’m expecting Forte to be inactive Saturday, but even if he’s active we can safely expect Powell to be the feature back. That immediately makes him a very strong play in DK’s full-PPR format because Powell is essentially a running back and wide receiver in one. Despite limited playing time for much of the year, he has six games with at least five catches and also averaged 4.3 catches per game last year. On top of that, the Patriots have allowed the second-most receiving yards to running backs this season. And finally, Powell is #good. He’s PFF’s No. 8 rated RB, ranks fourth in yards after contact per attempt and is third in their Elusive Rating metric.
2. DeAndre Hopkins Finally Playing with an Aggressive Quarterback
Brock Osweiler was a year-long thorn in the side of DeAndre Hopkins’ value as the quarterback’s lack of confidence led to a pathetically conservative pass game. That won’t be the case with Tom Savage. An aggressive downfield thrower with a plus NFL arm, the 6’4/230 Savage led all 2016 preseason quarterbacks in completions of 20+ yards and has compiled an 8:1 TD-to-INT ratio over the last two #preseasons. It’s worth noting that he was in Bill O’Brien’s first draft class as an NFL head coach and has been in this BOB system for three years now. Mastery of the playbook and plus skills will allow him to be aggressive.
Of course, this is all good news for Hopkins, who had just one 100-yard day and only two games with more than five catches with Osweiler. That caused his price to sink down to $5,200 after opening the year at $8,800 and being at $7,400 as recently as Week 9. Note that Savage came off the bench and targeted Hopkins 13 times in just 37 drop backs last week, resulting in an 8-87-0 line from the duo. This week’s matchup with Bengals CBs Pacman Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick is difficult, but the talent/price/volume combination is too difficult to ignore.
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
1. Michael Thomas Against the Bucs
It’s a home run spot for Thomas, one of the league’s most impressive rookies. He’s in the Superdome, where Drew Brees has averaged 25.83 DK points over the last three seasons vs. 20.1 on the road. Thomas will see a lot of Bucs’ rookie CB Vernon Hargreaves, who has allowed the most receptions, yards and fantasy points in the league (via ESPN’s Mike Clay). The physical Thomas is also an elite tackle-avoider, breaking the 4th-most among WRs while Hargreaves has missed the 2nd-most among CBs (via PFF’s Pat Thorman). We also know that the 6’3/212 Thomas is a preferred red-zone threat for Brees, where he’s seen 13 targets in and scored a team-high six TDs.
CONTRARIAN GPP STACKS
1. Matt Barkley, Cam Meredith and/or Alshon Jeffery
Believe it or not, Barkley is quietly playing at an elite level. He’s averaging 270.5 pass yards, 1.5 pass TDs and 16.9 DK points in his four starts – numbers that include the ridiculous drop-fest against the Titans and the borderline unplayable snow game against the 49ers. Over the last four weeks, only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have a better PFF grade at the quarterback position. However, Barkley remains minimum-priced on DraftKings and is set up to eat in a home matchup with the Redskins. The weather forecast is ideal and this Redskins secondary is floundering badly. Over the last seven weeks, they’ve allowed Cam Newton, Carson Wentz, Carson Palmer, Dak Prescott, Aaron Rodgers, Sam Bradford and Andy Dalton to average 23.6 DK points while giving up at least 21 DK points to all except Wentz.
The return of Alshon Jeffery last week cleared up the target totem pole a bit as Josh Bellamy was squeezed out. Jeffery logged 61-of-66 snaps, slot man Cam Meredith was in for 57 and Deonte Thompson played 47. Pairing Barkley with a red-zone dominator in Alshon and his receiver with the best matchup (Meredith vs. inept slot CB Kendall Fuller) leaves a higher ceiling/floor combo than most realize – and it’s very cheap.
GPP LEVERAGE PLAYS
1. Julio Jones Against the Panthers
Julio has missed the last two weeks due to a sprained toe, but practiced each day this week and was not listed on the final injury report. He will play against a Carolina team he’s smashed in their last three meetings for 12-300-1, 9-178-1 and 7-88-0. I am not worried about Julio being used as a decoy here because they’ve gotten such strong play out of Aldrick Robinson and Taylor Gabriel – there’s no reason to put a hobbled Julio out there just two weeks before the playoffs. So if we have a healthy Julio at just $8,100 (cheapest he’s been all year on DK), we have to at least consider him regardless of matchup. Yes, the Panthers secondary has improved as James Bradberry has come on, but this remains a front seven that is difficult to run against. They’re 8th DVOA vs. the run, third in rush yards allowed and fourth in YPC allowed. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Julio’s ownership will likely be reduced due to the toe fears and that Matt Ryan won’t have his foot on the gas. The only reason Ryan’s box scores haven’t been massive the last two weeks is because the Falcons’ leaky defense couldn’t be exploited by Jared Goff and Colin Kaepernick.
2. Davante Adams Against the Vikings
I expect a lot of people to be on Ty Montgomery after his Week 15 eruption and elevation to feature back status. I also expect many to be on Jordy Nelson, whose consistent dominance and chemistry with Aaron Rodgers shouldn’t be ignored. So the forgotten man will be Davante Adams, who wouldn’t be forgotten if he didn’t drop two passes in the end zone last week. But the Packers and Rodgers will not give up on him as they’ve shown repeatedly before, sticking with Adams even after his epically bad 2015 season. Note that his game log shows a weekly seesaw of bounce-backs: 41 yards in Week 9, 156 in Week 10, 42 in Week 11, 113 in Week 12, 17 in Week 13, 104 in Week 14 and then last week’s 25-yard disaster. Adams will also have the better matchup as Xavier Rhodes is likely to shadow Jordy.
CASH GAME CONSIDERATIONS
(No particular order)
QB: Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Barkley, Andrew Luck
RB: LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray, Jordan Howard, Bilal Powell, Ty Montgomery, David Johnson
WR: Julio Jones, T.Y. Hilton, Jordy Nelson, Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Pierre Garcon (if Jordan Reed is out), Robby Anderson, Cam Meredith
TE: Greg Olsen, Kyle Rudolph, Delanie Walker, Cam Brate, Vernon Davis (if Jordan Reed is out)
D: Seahawks, Patriots, Chargers, Packers, Bills
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.