In Advanced Targets we’re going under the hood and using all of the advanced stats generated by the Pro Football Focus game-charters to find the best DraftKings plays this season. I’m also providing the weekly projections from the award-winning minds at PFF Fantasy and occasionally presenting contrarian plays where the advanced stats suggest upside far beyond the official projection.
This is a good week to pay up for the top QBs. Newton, Russell Wilson, and Carson Palmer all have excellent matchups which give them high ceilings to go with their very safe floors. Their salaries are tricky but not prohibitive, especially with the wealth of inexpensive but high-usage players available at RB. Moreover, the top cheap plays at the position carry serious dud risk. Derek Carr, Phillip Rivers and Matthew Stafford are our top three projected QBs in terms of points-per-salary, but all three sport big red flags. Amari Cooper is far from 100 percent, leaving Carr with the inefficient and overrated Michael Crabtree as his main target. The litany of problems in San Diego hardly requires mention, while Stafford has seen his play collapse again in recent weeks after a momentary uptick following the dismissal of Joe Lombardi.
Meanwhile, Newton faces a Giants defense allowing almost 30 passing yards more than any other team. New York and Carolina both face more than 40 pass attempts per game, albeit for different reasons, and this promises to be a shootout. Newton holds an almost 20 percent edge on Wilson for the lead in fantasy points per drop back and should continue to capitalize on his opportunities.
Projected Points: 24.4
You don’t need me to tell you how amazing Wilson has been over the last month, but the numbers are still staggering even if you’ve watched it happen. He’s completed 75 percent of his passes for a gaudy 9.9 yards per attempt, and he’s done that despite having another 8 percent of his passes dropped. (To put those drops in context, that’s twice as high as his full season number and higher than any QB’s season long drop percentage other than Tom Brady.) He’s also thrown for 16 TDs against zero picks. Wilson has faced a relatively easy stretch of opposing pass defenses, and it won’t get any more difficult this week. Cleveland only averages 32 pass attempts against, in part because they rank dead last in PFF’s run defense grades – thus incentivizing the run – and in part because teams generally do not require a lot of fourth quarter pass attempts to beat them. When teams do pass, they have great success, averaging 8.1 yards against. Only New Orleans is worse on a per play basis.
Projected Points: 24.1
While Robinson is first and foremost a touches-to-salary play, he’s also been quite a bit better than T.J. Yeldon this season, besting him in yards per carry, yards per reception, and fantasy points per opportunity. Of course, the 2015 sample is small enough to not be particularly meaningful. But Robinson was also better in 2014, with an even bigger gap in fantasy points per opportunity even though Jacksonville’s offense provided a far less favorable scoring environment last season. Assuming Yeldon is inactive with the MCL injury, Robinson is set up for a big workload against a collapsing Falcons squad. Atlanta has been solid against the run this year on a per play basis, but only Detroit has allowed more than their 17 rushing touchdowns.
Projected Points: 15.8
Speaking of Detroit, Hightower is positioned to see a monster workload against a Lions team that allows 116 rushing yards a game. It’s probably fluky that Hightower’s 28 rushing attempts in Week 14 were more than Mark Ingram saw all season, but the scenario sets up nicely for another big game. Unlike Ingram who spent a good chunk of the season splitting carries with Khiry Robinson or languishing in games the Saints trailed by multiple scores, Hightower has no competition for touches and gets a lousy opponent that looks ill-equipped to exploit New Orleans’ historically bad defense. By way of caution, Hightower may be better than C.J. Spiller, but he did nothing to dispel the “street free agent” label in averaging 3.3 yards per carry against Tampa’s atrocious run defense.
Projected Points: 15.7
Kansas City leads the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns, and it looks like elite goal line back Spencer Ware will be out or severely limited this weekend. That leaves a hefty workload for West. In the three-game stretch following Jamaal Charles’ season-ending injury and prior to West’s own knee sprain, the Chiefs backup averaged almost 25 points and outscored every RB except Lamar Miller on a per game basis. The Baltimore run defense has been stiff even in a lost season, but that isn’t a deal breaker in a game Kansas City is expected to win by more than a touchdown. The Chiefs are also seeing a big improvement in run-blocking behind the emergence of young linemen Mitch Morse and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. LDT has a +4.0 run block grade in the last two weeks after struggling earlier in the season.
Projected Points: 18.5
Johnson has been one of this year’s biggest statistical disappointments, but he still ranks No. 5 in the PFF grades, ahead of players like Allen Robinson, DeAndre Hopkins, and Brandon Marshall. Megatron also holds the No. 1 matchup grade this week as he takes on Brandon Browner. Only five players have given up more than the 713 yards allowed by Browner, and that’s the case even though Delvin Breaux spent a good chunk of the year shadowing opposing No. 1s. Breaux has not been called on to shadow since Week 8, and the coverage tendencies are clear enough that you should feel confident Johnson will be the beneficiary of Browner’s struggles.
Projected Points: 20.1
Jeffery owns a balanced route profile, running 32 percent of his routes on the left, 27 percent from the slot, and 41 percent on the right. He won’t be stopped by Xavier Rhodes or slot corner Captain Munnerlyn, both of whom are allowing 1.3 yards per coverage snap. It probably upgrades his matchup to see LCB Terrance Newman (+8.6) likely moving to safety with rookie Trae Waynes (-0.1) taking over, although Jeffery will remain the defensive focal point. Jeffery continues to lead the NFL with 3.03 yards per route and has 88 targets on only 264 routes.
Projected Points: 19.7
Maclin’s receiving profile is almost perfectly balanced between left, slot, and right, and he should have his way with Jimmy Smith, Shareece Wright, and Ladarius Webb. All three corners are allowing an opposing passer rating north of 100 and all have allowed at least 4 touchdowns. No corner has been credited with more touchdowns allowed than Webb’s 7, and Smith follows closely behind with 6. Despite the preseason concerns that Alex Smith would crush his fantasy value, Maclin is averaging more yards per route than Demaryius Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Allen Robinson, and many others. Volume has not been a problem of late as he’s averaged 10 targets per game over the last three. He’s caught 24 of those passes for 3 touchdowns.
Projected Points: 16.7
Walker is an almost weekly recommendation in this space, but there simply aren’t any similarly valuable players on the tight end landscape. Marcus Mariota’s favorite target is averaging just over 10 targets and 7 receptions per game over the last month. Last week’s 7-71-0 line was his worst over that span. With Kendall Wright likely absent again, Dexter McCluster out for the season, and New England expected to score 30 points and win by two touchdowns, it wouldn’t be a shock if Walker saw 15-plus targets this week.
Projected Points: 15