WATCH: Levitan’s Leverage — Week 9
Thursday’s stunning Deshaun Watson injury turned this fantasy football slate on its head. Instead of figuring out if it’s worth paying extravagant prices for Houston Texans players such as Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, they’re now pushed to the back of our minds as Tom Savage takes over at quarterback.
The slate again flipped Friday morning when news broke that Ezekiel Elliott can play Sunday after the latest turn in his suspension saga. This has been one of the wildest NFL weeks in recent memory when we also factor in the Jay Ajayi and Kelvin Benjamin trades.
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’m only discussing the DraftKings main slate, aka the 10 Sunday day games.
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
1. Ezekiel Elliott Against The Chiefs
Given the dearth of quality cheapies this week, fitting Elliott into lineups at $9,000 this week isn’t easy. That doesn’t mean he’ll fail to be a strong play.
Once again granted a stay against his six-game suspension, Elliott will have a home game against one of the league’s worst defenses. The Kansas City Chiefs are 31st in run defense DVOA and 29th in yards per carry allowed. They allowed 29-158-1 to Denver Broncos running backs last week, 32-179-1 to Le’Veon Bell in Week 6 and 19-108-0 to Lamar Miller/D’Onta Foreman in Week 5.
The Dallas Cowboys know they need to win every game that Elliott is in uniform for, unleashing him for 29.3 carries per game over the last three. Whereas Kareem Hunt plays on just 69 percent of his team’s snaps and Leonard Fournette 58 percent, Elliott is up to 84 percent on the season. His 11.4 percent target share is slightly better than Fournette’s (10.0 percent) and only slightly worse than Hunt’s (12.3 percent).
2. Jared Goff Against The Giants
The Los Angeles Rams come off a bye to face a reeling New York Giants team that has fallen off the rails. The latest saga is a suspension to dominant shadow cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who already shut down Dez Bryant and Mike Evans this season to follow up his breakout 2016 campaign in which he finished as Pro Football Focus’ No. 7 corner among 120 qualifiers. The Giants also again will be without $85 million defensive end Olivier Vernon (ankle). Note that even with Jenkins this season, the Giants rank 22nd in pass-defense DVOA, 19th in yards per attempt allowed and tied for 25th in touchdown passes allowed.
Meanwhile, the Rams play at the fastest neutral-situation pace in the NFL, and Jared Goff has fared very well in plus matchups. He hit the Indianapolis Colts for 19.44 DK points, the San Francisco 49ers for 23.58, the Cowboys for 18.1 and the Arizona Cardinals for 19.7. Expected bad games against the Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars can be thrown out, so in a week where fantasy football players desperately need savings, Goff is at least worth considering.
SITUATIONS TO CAPITALIZE ON
1. T.Y. Hilton’s Price Slash
Hilton’s price has sunk to $4,900 — his cheapest since 2013 — and it makes sense, considering the Colts’ No. 1 wideout has been held to 6.0 DK points or fewer in four of his last five games. But if we look closer at this barren stretch, Hilton has dealt with three of the NFL’s toughest defenses on perimeter wideouts in Jacksonville, Seattle and Cincinnati. This week, he’ll face a Texans defense that will play without injured pass rushers J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus and has secondary talent questions after losing top cornerback A.J. Bouye in free agency over the summer. They’re just 14th in pass-defense DVOA, and are allowing the ninth-most 20-plus-yard pass plays per game, the most 40-plus-yard pass plays per game and the most yards per target to wide receivers.
Of course, those long plays are Hilton’s specialty, and his speed will be accentuated on NRG Stadium’s turf. On top of all that, the Colts openly discussed this week their need to scheme Hilton free as he’s easily being jammed at the line too often.
2. Doug Baldwin In A Bounce-Back Spot
Russell Wilson threw for 452 yards with four TDs last week, and Baldwin somehow finished with just a 6-54-0 line. It was a bottom-of-the-range outcome, especially when we consider he led the Seahawks in targets with 10. The good news is while the price tags of Seattle teammates Tyler Lockett ($4,600) and Paul Richardson ($4,700) have risen, Baldwin’s tag has stayed put at $6,900.
This week, Baldwin has the best matchup among Seahawks wideouts, as the slot man won’t see much of Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman. With Seattle’s run game historically inept (41.3 rush yards per game in the three games since running back Chris Carson’s injury), we know the offense will be on Wilson’s shoulders. Baldwin is at 10.0 targets per game during that Carson-less stretch.
GPP LEVERAGE PLAYS
1. Injuries Breaking Right For Vernon Davis
Jack Doyle likely will garner a ton of the tight end ownership as he comes off an outrageous 12-121-1 massacre of the Bengals. Vernon Davis represents a similarly priced pivot off Doyle as injuries are breaking his way. Redskins teammates Jordan Reed (hamstring), Jamison Crowder (hamstring) and Niles Paul (concussion) and Seahawks safety Earl Thomas (hamstring) all were questionable at best as of Friday morning.
In the last five games Reed has missed, Davis has averaged 11.14 DK points per game while playing more than 90 percent of the Redskins’ snaps. Still showing incredible athleticism at age 33, Davis has racked up a 17-312-1 line this season despite running just 18.7 pass routes per game. He projects to run at least 30 routes Sunday, and his target share will be increased, thanks to the aforementioned injuries. Crowder’s absence opens up the middle of the field — the best spot to attack the Seahawks’ defense anyway. And the absence of all-world Thomas, PFF’s No. 5 safety in terms of coverage this season, can’t hurt either.
CONTRARIAN GPP STACKS
1. Cam Newton And Christian McCaffery
Newton again disappointed owners last week by throwing for just 154 yards and one touchdown. But sustained winds around 20 mph in Tampa, plus an inept Bucs offense, ensured Newton never had a real chance.
In Week 7, Newton faced weather, plus an underrated Chicago Bears defense, and in Week 6, he had one of the league’s toughest matchups against the Philadelphia Eagles. So at last fantasy players get a strong spot for Newton this week in a home game against an Atlanta Falcons unit that generates no pass rush and ranks 25th in pass defense DVOA.
Perhaps most importantly, Newton has resumed his running ways by averaging 9.2 rushes per game over the last five weeks and generating 6.58 DK points per game simply by running during that span. That provides a big floor at just $6,300 — the cheapest Newton has been since Week 4.
By trading away Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers will field a more diversified offense. Instead of two redundant skill sets with Benjamin and Devin Funchess, they’ll have one big-bodied physical receiver and a speed guy opposite him in Curtis Samuel or Russell Shepard. It’s not unreasonable to think the trade actually will help Newton.
Either way, Benjamin’s absence certainly opens up even more targets for Christian McCaffrey, who’s already at 8.3 per game. He began losing carries to Cameron Artis-Payne last week, which isn’t a big blow because McCaffrey’s rushing efficiency was so dreadfully poor anyway. From a matchup perspective, it doesn’t get much better for McCaffrey, as the Falcons allowed the most running back receptions in the league last season and again are on pace to be among the worst in that category. Their defensive scheme funnels targets to backs.
(No particular order)
QB: Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Dak Prescott, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, Jared Goff
RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette, Todd Gurley, Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Lamar Miller
WR: Michael Thomas, Doug Baldwin, Dez Bryant, Devin Funchess, T.Y. Hilton, Corey Davis, Aldrick Robinson
TE: Travis Kelce, Evan Engram, Jimmy Graham, Jack Doyle, Vernon Davis
DST: Texans, Seahawks, Eagles, Rams, Bengals, 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. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.