DraftKings Plays: Week 1
The growing popularity of daily fantasy sports (DFS) has increased demand for analysis of various games offered by DraftKings and FanDuel, among others. Each Friday this column will offer a lineup tailored for play in cash games offered by DraftKings (Head-to-Head, or 50/50 contests), followed by some thoughts on higher-variance upside shots for use in tournaments (GPP).
The players in the cash games lineup are chosen primarily with strong salary value, significant projected touch volume, and favorable matchups that occur in games with a high Vegas over/under. While not every single selection will come from games with large totals, most will – with the quest for a high statistical floor a common theme.
Don’t forget to check out our customizable Daily Fantasy Tool, available to Gold subscribers through a link on the weekly projections page. It quickly combines PFF Fantasy’s weekly projections with DraftKings and FanDuel pricing to give a head start when setting your lineups.
Cash Games Lineup
QB: Drew Brees ($9,700) at Atlanta Falcons (over/under: 51.5)
Brees completed 74 percent of his 35 attempts for 357 yards, two scores, and a pick during Week 1 against the Falcons last season. Like many passers he fared far worse against pressure (76% completions vs. 48%; 29-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio vs. 10-to-6), but his offensive line is now shored-up at the formerly leaky left tackle spot, and this Atlanta defense has no pass rush to speak of. Brees’ salary is well worth paying up for.
RB: Frank Gore ($5,200) at Dallas Cowboys (51.5)
The 2013 Cowboys defense was pathetic, especially against the run. They’re even worse now. The 49ers ran the ball at the highest rate last year (52.5%), face a strong offense in a game with the third-highest over/under, and have a weakened defense that they’ll protect by running often. Gore was rolling last year until fullback Bruce Miller broke his shoulder. He averaged twice as many touchdowns and 60 percent more yards per game when Miller played. Fading Gore in cash games is a bad idea, since nearly everyone will use him.
RB: Ben Tate ($5,200) at Pittsburgh Steelers (41.5)
With a dearth of viable alternatives both in the passing game and backfield, Tate is going to be a three-down workhorse who catches more passes than commonly assumed. The Steelers (PFF’s eighth-worst 2013 run defense) are a shadow of their once fearsome selves, and did little to upgrade their run force. They face a strong offensive line, and even though it was the preseason, spent the last month watching their starting front seven get shredded. Tate is a high-floor, high-volume, high-value play.
WR: Marques Colston ($5,900) at Atlanta Falcons (51.5)
Last December’s sixth-best PPR wideout, a fully healthy Colston (6’05”) will see plenty of time in the slot (56% of 2013 snaps) against either Josh Wilson (5’09”) or Robert McClain (5’09”) – two of the absolute worst slot corners in the league. Don’t worry about rookie Brandin Cooks eating into his slot snaps, as former Saint Lance Moore regularly registered healthy slot percentages and Colston’s never dipped below 50 percent. Paired with Brees, this doubles our exposure to a projected shootout with premium weapons.
WR: Kendall Wright ($5,700) at Kansas City Chiefs (43)
In 2013 Wright saw the second-most slot targets, the 15th-most overall, and placed seventh in receptions. His 1.88 yards per slot route run ranked seventh even though he registered a low average depth of target (aDOT; 7.6 yards). Although Tennessee has appeared more willing to take downfield shots with him this preseason, he remains a PPR asset. Wright offers a high floor at an affordable price, and faces a Chiefs secondary that struggled to defend slot receivers and had a quiet offseason.
WR: Emmanuel Sanders ($4,800) vs. Indianapolis Colts (55.5)
Sanders will be in a lot of lineups due to buzz stemming from events that took place since his low price was set, but diversification isn’t a primary goal in cash games. Sanders will feast on targets in a likely shootout upon which Vegas has placed the week’s highest over/under (55.5). Peyton Manning beat on Colts slot corner Darius Butler like a drum last year, and from an admittedly qualitative angle, has a propensity for building his receivers’ confidence through target distribution. Feeding Sanders in his Denver debut fits that bill.
WR: Julius Thomas ($5,800) vs. Indianapolis Colts (55.5)
Staying with the same projected points powder keg, there are few tight ends this week that mix Thomas’ relative affordability and dual high-floor/ceiling. With double exposure to the second-highest over/under of the week (Saints), plugging in Orange Julius gains more exposure to the game with the highest total. Alternatively, grabbing Antonio Gates against Arizona’s poor tight end defense would gain $2,400 while risking target cannibalization by teammate Ladarius Green.
FLEX: Fred Jackson ($4,400) at Chicago Bears (47)
Our Daily Fantasy Tool has Jackson pegged for the fourth-cheapest salary per projected point (Cost/Pt: $349.2). Chicago’s run defense gave wet paper bags a bad name last year, and although moves were made to shore-up its edges, they remain soft in the middle. Jackson is also tabbed for goal line work and a pass-catching role. The Bills handed off more than anyone last year, and one look at the guy doing the handing explains why they’ll try to do it again.
DST: Detroit Lions ($3,300) vs. New York Giants (47)
New York’s offensive line has a whiff of flaming dumpster to it, and they face a rabid Lions defensive front. Eli Manning, to be kind, stinks when under pressure. He completed 47.7 percent of his passes and threw 10 interceptions while facing a pass rush last year – not that he was any good without pressure either (27 total picks). The Giants appear to still be in the embryonic phases of implementing Ben McAdoo’s new scheme, and nowhere near ready for primetime in Detroit.
Total Salary: $50,000
Gore and Sanders will be in a ton of lineups. They’re cheap and should go off, making them well-suited for more than just cash games. Despite the desire for lineup diversification in GPPs, ignoring one or both of them completely in tournament play can put you in an unrecoverable position. There are many ways to make your lineups different than everyone else’s this week, even if you use Gore and/or Sanders as a foundation. Along those lines, here are a few ideas:
The Titans at Chiefs over/under of 43.5 might be a little low, as this one has sneaky points potential. Tennessee’s transition to a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Ray Horton is in its infancy, and some early-season leakage is to be expected. They regularly gave up fantasy points to tight ends even last year (9th-most), and an Alex Smith/Travis Kelce stack isn’t a crazy idea. Smith’s Cost/Pt ranks 11th among quarterbacks this week ($376.3), and Kelce’s is seventh-cheapest ($390.2). At a combined salary of just $10,200 you will have plenty of cap room to work with when filling out the balance of your roster with studs.
On the other side of the field, Jake Locker pilots an offense with a strong line, dangerous receiving weapons, and a work-in-progress running game. The Kansas City’s pass defense can be beat if opposing passers are given time. Justin Hunter is a big-bodied downfield threat that Locker, who had the 5th-deepest aDOT last year (9.9 yards), can take advantage of both long and in the red zone. Locker’s Cost/Pt is $331.5 (4th-cheapest), and Hunter’s $3,800 salary is very affordable considering his potential in a game that may be more wide open than assumed at first glance.
Greed Amidst Fear
Speaking of wide open, for as many games as there are with 50-plus over/unders this week (4), there are more games that will be largely avoided because they shape up as defensive struggles. Minnesota at St. Louis, Cleveland at Pittsburgh, Oakland at the Jets, Cincinnati at Baltimore, and Carolina at Tampa Bay remove nearly a third of the teams in action from common consideration. Due to this, and because lineup diversification is a goal in tournament play, it can be profitable to dive into a potentially high-scoring game that most are not touching simply because of clouded expectations.
That game is Washington at Houston (o/u: 46.5). If you dare to toss a Robert Griffin/DeSean Jackson stack out there, rest assured that you will be lonely on your little island. Neither is especially cheap, or the potential bargains they’d be if prices were set after the preseason. However, Jackson is $1,100 cheaper than his teammate Pierre Garcon, has more big play potential, and should test Houston’s new free safety Kendrick Lewis – whose PFF coverage grades have gone in the tank of late. Jonathan Joseph is hobbled and Kareem Jackson is a below average coverage corner. Griffin, to be frank, looked like garbage this preseason. Yet you will find no quarterback/receiver combo with as much upside and room on their bandwagon.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman