We all think we know everything when it comes to football. It’s cute, it really is. The fact of the matter is we don’t know everything. On the aggregate, we know way less than we’d like to believe and at no time is that more true than on Week 1 of the regular season. Everyone, and by everyone I mean teams, players, and fantasy players alike, think that they have a chance at the Lombardi Trophy, championship ring, or giant fake check that Jason Robins has to sign before he hands it to you while they dump champagne on your head and eventually you end up on ESPN 300 times a day in 30 second intervals. It could be worse, right?. We all want to be there, and that’s why we’re here.
Part of the Week 1 struggle lies in understanding what data to apply to the analysis. How relevant is defensive data from last season? How safe do you feel trusting a player’s efficiency from one year to the next? I think there’s some gray in questions like that, and I’m going to help you weave your way through it. Once we get to Week 4 or 5, we’ll be able to apply more relevant information based on what has actually happened rather than relying on a mix of what happened last season and what we expected to happen this season. Make sense?
Thanks to amazing sites like ProFootballFocus, Football Outsiders and 4for4, there has been a tremendous wave of actionable analytics in football over the past few seasons. I’ll be introducing you to some of those stats this season, and I hope you find them helpful to your lineup building process. I’ll also be referencing the Expert Consensus Rankings from FantasyPros in order to understand how players are viewed each week, and then related it to their price here on DraftKings.
If you’re new to the daily fantasy community, welcome, you’re in for a whole lot of fun. If you have questions, please find me on Twitter, @RyNoonan.
Cream of the Crop
When comparing overall production from the running back position versus wide receivers, there’s a lot more predictability in how the running back will perform. In general, their touches (carries + catches) are easier to forecast, and are less dependent on someone accurately throwing the ball to them down field. That makes every-down backs like Matt Forte all the more valuable. Forte rarely comes off the field and is always featured heavily in the passing game, making him game script proof as well. Even if he sees a reduction in carries this week, which is likely since he and the Bears are 6.5-point underdogs, he’ll still stay on the field. He averaged 60 snaps a game last season, far and away the highest total of any running back. He’s my favorite cash game play this week because his floor is so high.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (@ San Francisco) -$7,700
This one will be fun to watch. Perhaps more than any matchup this week, there’s more unknown here than anywhere else. The off-season was not kind to the 49ers as their once formidable defense took a number of hits across the bow. Before everyone left town, the 49ers were still a bit underwhelming at times defensively last season, allowing the 12th most schedule-adjust fantasy points (also known as aFPA from 4for4) per game to running backs last season (22.2), while finishing 10th against the run according to FootballOutsiders Defensive-adjust Value Over Average (DVOA). We don’t have a great grasp on Peterson’s usage yet, but there’s no reason to think he won’t continue to be the cornerstone of Minnesota’s offense.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers (@ Chicago) -$7,500
Game flow appears to be in Eddie Lacy’s favor here, as the Packers are Sunday’s largest Vegas favorite right now at -6.5. Their implied team total is 28.3 points, something that’s important to consider along with the spread. Lacy is facing a revamped Bears’ defense that’s transitioning to a 3.-4 under new coaches John Fox and Vic Fangio, but expect it to be business as usually in Chicago. And by business I mean a lot of points for the opposition. Chicago was 24th in the league last season defensively, allowing 25.4 aFPA per game to full-point PPR running backs.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (@ Houston) -$7,900
Jamaal Charles is the highest priced back on the slate, and among the top tier backs he has the lowest team total on the board. Kansas City’s implied team total is just 19.5 right now, which could possibly limit Charles’ upside. Possibly. I wouldn’t say that Jamaal Charles is matchup proof, but his big-play ability makes him a tournament option every week, and I believe that’s the case again here. In tournaments you want to look for high-upside players who can score multiple touchdowns and will likely be owned less than their comparably priced peers. Of course, you shouldn’t be building a team full of high-risk WR3’s and passing-down backs, but having a player that’s under 10-15% play well is advantageous in tournaments. I’m not a fan of Charles in cash games though, because the Chiefs have shown that they’re capable of giving Charles 12-18 touches in some games (he saw 15 or fewer in his last 5 games last season), and that lowers the expected-point floor on Charles.
There’s no better time to roster Justin Forsett than right now. If the perceived knock on him is his diminutive size and inability to hold up as a lead back for 16 games, why not use him at his freshest point? New Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman is known to feature his running backs prominently in the passing game, and that fits Forsett’s skill set well. Look at Matt Forte, for example. Before Trestman arrived in Chicago, Matt Forte averaged 70.8 targets and 53.4 receptions per year. During Trestman’s two year run in Chicago, Forte averaged 112.5 targets and 88 receptions. Wowza. That is PPR Gold, folks. This elevates Forsett into the rarified air of running backs that are viable options regardless of expected game flow.
C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos (vs. Ravens) -$7,000
I’d love to see C.J. Anderson come out and take over, solidifying himself as the Broncos’ bellcow running back. We saw that at the end of last season and I hope it continues. My only pause is around the coaching change, but Gary Kubiak has shown a reliance on his lead tailback in the past, so I’m hoping that trend continues, as well. The Ravens struggled with injuries last season, allowing the 15th most aFPA to running backs last season. A healthy Ravens defense will fare much better this season, but the Broncos should continue to have one of the best, most well-rounded offenses in the league, leading to plenty of scoring opportunities for Anderson. The Broncos implied point total is 26.8 here, so they’re not fearful of that Ravens defense.
Middle of the Pack
Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals (@ Oakland Raiders) -$7,100
There’s a lot of preseason love for Jeremy Hill, and for the most part I believe it’s warranted. He made the most of his early season opportunities during his rookie campaign, and saw his role grow as the season progressed. He enters 2015 as the clear lead back in Cincinnati while his former competition for carries, Giovani Bernard, is fending off Rex Burkhead for backup running back duties. I believe Oakland’s defense has improved, but they allowed the 6th most aFPA to RB’s last season at 26.0 per game. The Bengals are -3.5-road favorites here, and if that holds up it’ll be a favorable game script for Hill. If it doesn’t, he’ll likely see a reduced workload and snaps, sapping a bit of his upside. That’s the reason I have him a notch below the other top tier backs this week. I believe that Hill is a better pass catching back than he’s given credit for, but if his team isn’t going to utilize his skill than I can’t bank on it.
Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins (@ Washington) -$5,500
If the Dolphins finally let go of the reins and let Lamar Miller sink or swim here in Week 1, then Miller will be a tremendous value at $5,500. Miami has an implied team total of 23.3 points and they’re 3.5-point favorites on the road in Washington. Both of those totals are setting Miller up for a strong workload here. To end last season he had 24 and 19 touches in Week 16 and 17 respectively, and scored 26+ fantasy points in both outings. The expert rankers over at FantasyPros, me included, have Miller as the 10th best running back this week, yet his salary comes in as the 19th highest.
This may be the lowest that DeMarco Murray is priced this season. He’s the clear #1 running back option in one of the league’s most explosive offenses, but the flashbacks I’m having around LeSean McCoy’s usage last year gives me a bit of pause. Chip Kelly and company handled him with kid gloves during OTA’s and the preseason, so we’ll see a fresh, well-rested Murray at the start of 2015. The fast pace in which the Eagles play at can be quite favorable to their skill players fantasy value, which is why I expect big things from Murray this season. The matchup is ripe for the picking as well, as Atlanta allowed the most schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to PPR running backs last season at 29.0 per game and were 30th in rush defense DVOA last season. Even if they’ve improved, the Eagles are a handful offensively. My only concern centers around how much Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles do we see, and will they regulate Murray to primary first and second downs?
Chris Ivory, New York Jets (vs. Cleveland) -$4,100
Chris Ivory is another example of tremendous value according to the Week 1 rankings at FantasyPros. Despite being the 36th most expensive back on the slate here at DraftKings, Chris Ivory is ranked 20th this week at FantasyPros, a huge discrepancy in Ivory’s value. I was encouraged to see the Jets feature Ivory more in the passing game this preseason, and if it’s a sign of things to come it’ll be great news for Ivory owners in Week 1. The Jets are a 3-point favorite at home against the Browns, but the game has just a 40 point total, one of the lowest of the weekend. Don’t let that detour you. With the rest of New York’s running back crew on the mend, Ivory is in position to handle a full day’s workload against a Browns team that was 31st in DVOA against the run last season. Even if the game script flips in Cleveland’s favor, I can’t see it getting out of hand and hurting Ivory too much.
Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks (@ St. Louis) -$7,300
It’s hard to sleep on Marshawn Lynch and I could be a fool for saying this, but I’m not on him this week. The Seahawks are 4-point favorites in St. Louis, but have an implied point total of just 22. The Seahawks recent addition of Fred Jackson will likely have little impact on Marshawn this season, but he’s the best passing down companion that Seattle has had during Lynch’s tenure in Seattle. If the game script flips here, we’re unlikely to see Lynch featured heavily in the passing game. The Rams front seven is strong. They were fourth in DVOA against the run last season and allowed the fifth fewest aFPA to PPR running backs last season.
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers (@ Jacksonville) -$5,800
Is this finally the year? As of now it appears Jonathan Stewart is both healthy and without strong competition for carries, two things that have rarely crossed paths for Stewart at the same time since he came in to the league. The Panthers are a 3-point favorite in Jacksonville, probably the only time Carolina will be a road favorite this season. It would behoove Carolina to lean on its running game a bit more this season, and Jacksonville, although improved, allowed the third most aFPA to PPR running backs last season (26.4).
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints (@ Arizona) -$5,600
At first glance the matchup doesn’t look great on paper, but if New Orleans is without both C.J. Spiller and Khiry Robinson this week (both of which seem likely at this point) you can slide Mr. Ingram right up this list. The Saints are slight dogs on the road in Arizona (+2.5) but have a strong implied team total of 23 points. The Saints solidified their offensive line this offseason and Ingram has pounded his chest and told the world that he’s an every-down back as often as possible this preseason. If he’s presented with that opportunity here in Week 1, consider Ingram a solid cash game option.
Rest of the Field
Dion Lewis, New England Patriots (vs. Pittsburgh) -$3,000
When opportunity knocks you better answer. It appears as though opportunity is running around Dion Lewis’ house with pots and pans and screaming for Week 1. With incumbent starter LeGarrette Blount suspended for the opener, and projected next in line starter Jonas Gray failing to make the final 53-man roster, Dion Lewis has been catapulted to the front of the line in New England. He’s likely to share the load with James White, but all reports have Lewis set to shoulder the lion’s share of early down snaps. At minimum price? That’s an easy decision if you’re looking to load up elsewhere.
Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions (@ San Diego) -$4,000
Lions’ rookie tailback Ameer Abdullah has his value tied to the health of Joique Bell this week. The recently released depth chart has Bell listed as the top back after coming off of the PUP list last week, but his status for Sunday is still up in the air. If he plays even a limited number of snaps, I believe it’ll be enough to hamper Abdullah’s value, even at $4,000. If Bell sits out, you can consider Abdullah an excellent option for both cash and tournaments, though he’ll likely be highly owned.
Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers (vs. Minnesota) -$5,300
I’m intrigued to see how San Francisco will use both Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush this season, and in Week 1 I’m looking to see whether it’s game script dependent or not. From a talent stand point, I believe Carlos Hyde can handle being a 3-down back in this league, but does his team? Perhaps, but by bringing noted pass-catcher and third down back Reggie Bush in to the mix, it’s not an especially big sign of confidence. Now, it’s wise to have a solid backup to contribute and fewer and fewer teams run their offense with just one lead back, but Hyde’s fantasy outlook may be completely tied to game script this season, and if that’s the case he’ll be difficult to roster.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Tennessee) -$4,500
If you believe in the Buccaneers as 3-point favorites against the Titans, then I present to you, Doug Martin. There’s little doubt that Martin’s value hinges on positive game script, but if things break in his favor he could approach 20 touches including any goal-line work the Buccaneers can muster up. The consensus at FantasyPros has Martin among the top-16 backs this week, yet his $4,500 price tag is behind 30 other backs here on DraftKings this week. Last season the Titans were the third worst run defense in the league according to DVOA ratings.
Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts (@ Buffalo) -$5,400
Frank Gore is an interesting case this week. Based on his expected workload and strong implied team total of 24.3, Gore is underpriced at $5,400. The problem is that he has one of the more difficult matchups for running backs, as he and the Colts are in Buffalo against the Bills. Buffalo allowed the third fewest aFPA to PPR running backs last season and the addition of defensive-minded head coach Rex Ryan leads me to believe that will continue to be a strength of theirs. Overall, I believe that there’s some tournament appeal with Gore, but he’s not a safe cash game play in Buffalo.
*Third-down backs like Reggie Bush, Roy Helu and Danny Woodhead are always appealing punt plays in tournaments. If the game script doesn’t go as planned, they go from 3-5 touches to upwards of 10, and they’ll cost you near-minimum salary.
Good luck! Let’s take down that $2 Million!