We’re at the point of the season where virtually everyone is playing through injury. Ben Roethlisberger (knee) should be back, T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) and Randall Cobb (hamstring) could be less than 100 percent if active, Ty Montgomery’s (sickle cell) situation is a bit muddled, Tyrell Williams/Travis Benjamin have knee issues and countless other guys are banged up. Figuring out exactly how these injuries will impact on-field performance will be the key this week – and many other weeks the rest of the way.
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 11 Sunday games.
SITUATIONS TO CAPITALIZE ON
1. Packers at Lambeau and Missing Their Run Game
It’s easy to joke about teams with bad running backs or offensive lines who can’t run the football effectively no matter how hard they try. But assuming James Starks (knee) is out again, the Packers literally have no one to run the football outside of FB Aaron Ripkowski and UDFA Don Jackson, who they have very little confidence in. It’s led to a situation where Aaron Rodgers has attempted a massive 45.3 passes per game over the last three weeks – for his career he averages just 32.4 passes per game.
That extra volume is good for Rodgers and great for his pass-catchers in DraftKings’ full-PPR format. If Ty Montgomery (sickle-cell trait) is active and at 100 percent, expect him to handle the RB/WR hybrid role that has resulted in a whopping 39 targets over the last three weeks. If Randall Cobb (game-time decision, hamstring) is ready, he’ll play the slot while Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams bookend. If Cobb can’t go, Nelson and Adams will see their market share rise even further against a Colts defense which ranks 29th DVOA vs. the pass and may not have top CB Vontae Davis (concussion). Furthermore, Rodgers has averaged 23.3 DK ppg at home over the last five seasons vs. 21.4 on the road.
2. Ben Roethlisberger and Sammie Coates Simultaneously Returning to Health
Sammie Coates was on the verge of fantasy stardom less than one month ago. Finally gaining confidence while playing the Martavis Bryant vertical role, he was on the field for 68.9 percent of Ben Roethlisberger’s dropbacks in Week 4 and 68.7 percent of them in Week 5. That resulted in a 6-79-0 line on eight targets and a 6-139-2 on 11 targets, respectively. Then Coates gashed his hand, broke a finger and Big Ben (knee) went down. Now they’re both back and ready to resume the deep shot-taking plan that is so valuable in fantasy. He’ll mostly avoid top Ravens CB Jimmy Smith this week. The return of Coates as a viable deep threat is also crucial to the outlook of both Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, who will find fewer safeties in their way. Note that Brown was $10,000 on DK when Big Ben got hurt and is now $8,900.
3. Eagles Turning More to Darren Sproles
Eagles coach Doug Pederson has been saying for a month now that Ryan Mathews is his lead back. He said it again Monday, even though Mathews played on just eight snaps in Week 8 compared to 62 for Darren Sproles. At this point, it’s easy to brush off Pederson’s comments as fictional. The reality is that Mathews has lost two critical fumbles and is averaging a poor 3.83 YPC. Rookie Wendell Smallwood fumbled on his second (and final) snap last week and Kenjon Barner has totaled 19 snaps over the last four games. It leaves Sproles as an extension of the run game through the air as a way to compensate for the loss of RT Lane Johnson (suspension) and the inability of Zach Ertz/Nelson Agholor/Jordan Matthews to get open. At just $3,900, Sproles has a 4-6 target floor and upside for more against the Giants.
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
1. Colin Kaepernick Against the Saints
Kaepernick has two negatives on his ledger this week: He’s bad at football (46.0 completion percentage in two games this year) and the 49ers have league-worst pass-catching weaponry. But he has far more positives on his side. First, he’s at home facing a Saints defense which has allowed an NFL-high 6.6 more DraftKings points than salary-based expectation to QBs over the last calendar year (via Fantasy Labs). Second, he’s operating a Chip Kelly offense which plays at the fastest pace in the league (23.95 seconds per play, via Football Outsiders). Third, that Kelly offense encourages him to run often from read-option plays, leading to a 17-150-0 rushing line over the last two weeks. Fourth, the Saints are coming off an upset home win over the Seahawks and now have to go on the road to face a Niners team off a bye. And finally, Kaepernick is priced at just $600 over the minimum. So while it’s often a mistake to roster players we know are bad at football, this is a near perfect-storm situation.
CONTRARIAN GPP STACKS
1. Ryan Tannehill, Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills
The Jets, Panthers and Bucs are three of my favorite funnel defenses to attack right now. That means they push enemy gameplans to the air thanks to elite run defenses coupled with extremely leaky secondaries. So while Jay Ajayi’s back-to-back 200-yard games before the bye were nice and all, he’s going to find far tougher sledding against a Jets rush defense which is third in DVOA rush defense this year and was first last year.
That means a chance for Ryan Tannehill to feast on one of the league’s least talented and broken back ends, a Jets unit that has been hit for at least 300 pass yards in five of their eight games so far. And with DeVante Parker (hamstring) less than 100 percent and continuing to frustrate coaches, Kenny Stills is both cheaper on DK by $900 and the preferred option here. His specialty is getting behind the last level of defense, as evidenced by his 19.8 YPC (fifth-best in NFL) and 18.6 average depth of target (third-deepest in NFL, via PFF). That’s exactly where the Jets struggle as they’re 25th in yards per catch allowed and 31st in DVOA pass defense. While Stills is the high-variance deep threat, Jarvis Landry is the reliable underneath target. He’s expected to match up with the corpse of Darrelle Revis, who is PFF’s No. 94 coverage CB among 112 qualifiers this season. In two meetings with the Jets last year, Landry turned 28 targets into a 17-205-1 line.
GPP LEVERAGE PLAYS
1. Melvin Gordon Against the Titans
There are a lot of very strong RB plays at the top of the pool this week in Ezekiel Elliot, Le’Veon Bell, DeMarco Murray and Devontae Booker. There are also viable options in the low-$6K range such as Jay Ajayi and Carlos Hyde (if healthy). There is also the widely-spread belief (truth?) that Melvin Gordon is so terrible in real-life that he’s also a terrible fantasy player. So I expect Gordon to have relatively low ownership despite playing in an ideal spot for a running back: Home as a favorite with a high team total.
As for Gordon’s specific outlook, his usage has been at elite levels since Danny Woodhead and Keenan Allen were lost for the season. Over the last seven weeks, Gordon has played on 83.2 percent of the snaps in a three-down plus goal-line role. He’s currently third in the NFL in touches, first in TDs, first in red-zone rushing attempts with 37 and has added five red-zone targets. It’s rarely pretty for Gordon, who averaged 3.55 YPC last year and is at 3.48 YPC this year. But it is effective in fantasy.
CASH GAME CONSIDERATIONS
(No particular order)
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Colin Kaepernick
RB: Ezekiel Elliot, Le’Veon Bell, Devontae Booker, Melvin Gordon, Charcandrick West (if Spencer Ware is out), Darren Sproles
WR: Antonio Brown, Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery, Donte Moncrief, Mike Wallace (if Steve Smith is out), Tyrell Williams (if healthy), Sammie Coates, Michael Thomas
TE: Travis Kelce, Delanie Walker (if healthy), Kyle Rudolph, Gary Barnidge, Antonio Gates
D: Vikings, Broncos, Chiefs, Cowboys, Chargers, Packers
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.