Scott Barrett’s daily fantasy focus: Top plays, strategy, and advice for Week 15
This article is long, so I’ll spare you a lengthy intro. Here’s everything you should need to know in order to dominate your Week 15 DFS tournaments and cash games.
All numbers in parentheses refer to a player’s salary rank on each site. We’re only looking at the main slate plays on DraftKings and FanDuel (Monday, Saturday, and Sunday night games are excluded.)
Injury, news, & notes to know
Odell Beckham Jr. is out this week. This should mean an even larger share of the volume for Saquon Barkley (DK: RB1, FD: RB1), who already leads the league in expected fantasy point market share. However, I think the bigger impact for DFS this week is what this means for Sterling Shepard (DK: WR27, FD: WR36). He “underwhelmed” last week (catching two of six targets for 17 yards and a score), but also only played 67% of the snaps in a blowout. With Beckham out last week, he was kicked out of the slot, running two-thirds of his routes from the outside. Tennessee, meanwhile, is giving up the sixth-most fantasy points per game to opposing outside wide receivers, and the fifth-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing WR1s.
DeSean Jackson is out this week, which should have a positive impact for all of Tampa Bay’s receivers. It’s a tough matchup for all of them, but much less so for TE Cameron Brate (DK: TE7, FD: TE11). Baltimore has given up 29% of their total receiving fantasy points allowed to tight ends, which is the highest rate in the league. Adam Humphries (DK: WR19, FD: WR19) ranks 10th among all wide receivers in fantasy points since Week 9 and has the best matchup of the wide receivers — Baltimore is giving up the 12th-most fantasy points per game to slot wide receivers, but the fourth-fewest to wide receivers on the outside. Chris Godwin (DK: WR21, FD: WR29) also makes sense as an anti-recency-bias play. I wrote in the Week 15 Actual Opportunity report, “in the five games Jackson or Mike Evans has missed over the past two years, Godwin averages 16.8 expected and 14.5 actual fantasy points per game. Across these five games, he’s also averaged 135.6 air yards, 8.8 targets, 1.4 end-zone targets, and 2.4 deep targets per game. Essentially, that’s good for low-end WR1 numbers.”
James Conner (DK: RB4, FD: RB3) is listed as questionable this week, to the unwelcome surprise of DFS players everywhere. If Conner is confirmed out before 1 p.m. EST lock, Jaylen Samuels (DK: RB14, FD: RB26) becomes a must-play option on FanDuel. I wrote elsewhere:
“Samuels played on 80% of the team’s snaps in Week 14, while drawing 81% of the team’s running back expected fantasy points. He ranked eighth in expected (17.9) and 16th in actual fantasy points (16.2) despite failing to find the end zone. 83% of his fantasy points came through the air and 80% came when Ben Roethlisberger was on the field (just 68% of the time). For the third straight season, New England ranks bottom-seven in receiving fantasy points per game surrendered to opposing running backs. In college, Samuels had more receptions than rushing attempts. As slight underdogs to the Patriots (2.5-points), if Conner is out, I expect Roethlisberger to lean heavy on Samuels through the air, using short passes as an extension of the running game.”
If Conner is a true game-time decision, and plays, he’s probably just a late-swap option, but a very good one.
Ryan Switzer (DK: WR58, FD: WR56) is questionable, which seems innocuous, but maybe is not. Through the first 11 weeks of the season, JuJu Smith-Schuster (DK: WR5, FD: WR7) ran 76% of his routes from the slot, while Switzer ran a route on just 23% of Ben Roethlisberger’s dropbacks. Over the last three weeks, Schuster has run only 34% of his routes from the slot, while Switzer has run a route on 59% of Roethlisberger’s dropbacks (and 88% of that coming in the slot). That’s especially notable this week, as New England has struggled against slot wide receivers for a number of years now. They’re giving up the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opposing slot wide receivers, after ranking worst in 2017, and fourth-worst in 2016. New England also has a storied history of selling out to stop an opposing offense’s top weapon. Does that mean an especially tough matchup for Antonio Brown (DK: WR2, FD: WR2), and softer coverage for Schuster? Schuster is our 14th-highest-graded wide receiver this year, while Brown ranks atypically low at just 31st overall. Perhaps Bill Belichick is now equally as concerned with Smith-Schuster as he is Brown. Maybe they bracket Smith-Schuster and put PFF’s top-graded cornerback Stephon Gilmore on Brown, similar to how they covered Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs earlier this year. If that’s the case, perhaps Vance McDonald or the running back is the better play. I honestly have no idea. Just note both wide receivers are risky and expensive but have massive upside.
Chad Williams is questionable this week. If he’s out, this would make Larry Fitzgerald (DK: WR23, FD: WR21), who is vaguely in play, a slightly better option this week. He’s hard to trust, but did see nine targets last week, and Christian Kirk is also out. Atlanta has struggled against slot wide receivers throughout the Dan Quinn era. In each of the past three seasons, they’ve ranked bottom-six in fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers out of the slot, which is where Fitzgerald runs 76% of his routes.
Josh Doctson and Chris Thompson are legitimately questionable, while Jordan Reed is confirmed out. This means very little to me, other than making the Jacksonville defense (an ideal stack with Leonard Fournette) an even better play this week. Vernon Davis (DK: TE14, FD: TE12) is probably the best play on Washington but is still not someone I’m looking to target.
Bruce Ellington and Kerryon Johnson are out, and Matthew Stafford is questionable but likely to play this week. Like with Washington, all this means is I will be bumping up Buffalo’s defense this week. In a normal week, Kenny Golladay might be a top play, but not this week in shadow coverage against Tre’Davious White.
Matt Breida (DK: RB17, FD: RB22) is questionable, but likely to play. He’s not high on my radar, but if he’s ruled out, Jeff Wilson (DK: RB19, FD: RB18) becomes one of the better value plays. He totaled 13.5 expected fantasy points in Week 14, which ranked 20th at the position, but looks better in terms of market share. He played on 86% of the snaps and saw 85% of the team’s running back expected fantasy points. Breida and Wilson combined to drop 191 yards on Seattle in Week 13, and Seattle ranks second-worst in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing running over their last five games.
Rashaad Penny is out this week. Over his last four games, he averages 6.8 carries and zero receptions per game. Those missing carries will go to some combination of Chris Carson (DK: RB11, FD: RB13) and Mike Davis. Carson is our fifth-highest-graded running back this year and should be a lock for around 17 touches with good gamescript. He’s a fine but probably not great play.
T.Y. Hilton (DK: WR10, FD: WR6) is shaping up to be a true game-time decision this week. If he’s active, he’s still a top tournament option, averaging 11.0 targets and 25.2 fantasy points per game over his last four games. He runs 40% of his routes from Andrew Luck‘s right, while Dallas is giving up the seventh-most fantasy points per game to opposing right wide receivers.
Miami CB1 Xavien Howard is doubtful this week, raising the fantasy stock of Stefon Diggs (DK: WR7, FD: WR8), who otherwise would have seen him in shadow coverage. Good luck choosing between him and Adam Thielen (DK: WR7, FD: WR4) this week. Even with Howard playing in every game but one, Miami is giving up the 12th-most fantasy points per game to opposing outside wide receivers. Thielen has run 60% of his routes from the slot over the past three weeks, which is where Miami is giving up the eighth-most fantasy points per game. Since their Week 10 bye, Diggs ranks ninth in expected and 10th in actual fantasy points per game, while Thielen ranks 10th and 13th. Of the wide receivers on this slate, Thielen has the second-best and Diggs has the third-best cornerback matchup of the week. Like with Pittsburgh’s wide receivers, this is a tough call, but otherwise this feels like a massive get-right spot for Kirk Cousins. Over every team’s last five games, Miami ranks second-worst in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks (and seventh-worst to opposing wide receivers).
Top question this week
The top question this week is, “What do we do with the Patriots/Steelers game?” How much exposure do we want? Given that it has the highest over/under of the slate, the players in that game project to be highly owned. Are we better off fading them and looking elsewhere?
I think not. In terms of game theory at least, I suspect ownership isn’t going to be as high as the over/under warrants. Indeed, according to our ownership projections, a lot of these players project to be highly owned, but none are massively owned, or high enough to warrant a fade purely on ownership. Furthermore, not only is the over/under highest of the week, but it’s highest by a massive margin.
This game has an over/under of 52. The next-closest slate-eligible game (Cowboys @ Colts) has an over/under 5 points lower, at 47.0. To highlight just how large that discrepancy is, there are only two games on the slate with an over/under 5 points lower than Cowboys @ Colts.
Ezekiel Elliott (DK: RB2, FD: RB2)
Over the last five weeks of the season, Elliott has 119 carries and 40 targets. That’s more rushing attempts than all but 30 running backs have all year and more targets than Elliott had in all of 2016 or 2017. Over this span, he ranks seventh among all players in receptions and has 47 more touches than the next-closest player. That increase in volume through the air is going to be especially important this week, up against a Colts defense that is giving up the third-most receiving fantasy points per game to enemy running backs. Over this span, he also leads all players in expected fantasy points per game, with 24.3. For perspective, the full-season record this past decade was set by David Johnson in 2016, with 22.6. Production has been just as good as his volume, leading all slate-eligible players in fantasy points per game over this stretch (30.4). He’s a lock for me on both sites.
Saquon Barkley (DK: RB1, FD: RB1)
The winning strategy in DFS this year has been to pay up for the elite do-everything bell cow running backs if you can afford it. This week, that would mean paying up for Elliott and Barkley, as Christian McCaffrey, Todd Gurley, and Melvin Gordon are off the main slate, and James Conner is more likely to sit than not. Barkley leads all slate-eligible players (at all positions) in both expected (20.3) and actual fantasy points per game (20.5). He averages 159.3 yards and 28.9 fantasy points per game over his last four games. He should get a slight bump in usage with Odell Beckham Jr. out (he already leads all players in expected fantasy point market share) and does perform better with negativegamescript (the Giants are slight underdogs). By all measures this looks like a difficult matchup, but matchups have also been wholly irrelevant for Barkley all year.
Leonard Fournette (DK: RB3, FD: RB4)
As I mentioned in the Week 15 Actual Opportunity report, Fournette might have the best guaranteed workload of any player this year. I wrote:
“Fournette has been below average in efficiency this year but might be seeing the best volume of any player, if adjusted for lost quarters due to injury and suspension. Fournette has played in only 19 quarters this season (and only 16 full quarters). Across those 19 quarters he totals 97.0 expected fantasy points, or 20.4 expected points per four quarters. For perspective, Todd Gurley currently leads all players in expected fantasy points per game with 20.8.”
Volume should be great and efficiency should be better this week, with good gamescript, favored by seven points against a Washington defense that’s, since Week 9, given up 30.5 fantasy points per game and 5.34 yards per carry to enemy backs.
Joe Mixon (DK: RB9, FD: RB5)
Mixon has been hit-or-miss all year, but is coming off a monster Week 14, where he saw 26 carries and six targets, good for 24.8 fantasy points. Cincinnati would be wise to lean heavily on Mixon again (and not backup quarterback Jeff Driskel). The Bengals are favored and against an Oakland defense that ranks fourth-worst in yards allowed per carry (4.98) and fourth-worst in rushing fantasy points per game allowed to opposing running backs. He’s mispriced on DraftKings as just the ninth-highest priced running back on the slate.
Dalvin Cook (DK: RB7, FD: RB17)
Despite battling through various injuries, Cook has played well this year, ranking third-best of 50 running backs in missed tackles forced per touch (0.24). Now, he appears to be nearing full health, and volume has never been better. Over the past two weeks, Cook averages 19.4 expected fantasy points per game (sixth-best) while playing on 82% of the snaps and drawing 88% of the team’s running back expected fantasy points. There’s a concern this is mostly related to negative gamescript, and Latavius Murray is still a threat to vulture touchdowns, but Cook does have a good matchup this week. Miami is giving up the seventh-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. He’s glaringly mispriced on FanDuel as just the 17th-highest-priced running back on the slate.
Other: David Johnson (DK: RB5, FD: RB7) has been a colossal bust this year (at least relative to expectations) but is coming off of a 15-carry, 10-target game. On paper, he has an ideal matchup this week, up against an Atlanta defense that is giving up the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs, and has surrendered the most receptions to opposing running backs in every year of Dan Quinn’s tenure. … It feels gross, but I suppose Peyton Barber (DK: RB48, FD: RB26) is in play a punt option on DraftKings, based on price and expected volume. That said, the matchup is tough, Barber has been one of the least-efficient and worst-graded running backs all year, and if he goes off and I don’t have exposure, I’m sure I won’t take it personally.
Julian Edelman (DK: WR9, FD: WR11)
Among active and slate-eligible wide receivers, Edelman ranks eighth in both expected (15.7) and actual fantasy points per game (16.7). He’s also seen the best volume of the receivers on his team – leading in expected fantasy points – in eight of nine games since returning from suspension. Josh Gordon is expected to draw Joe Haden in shadow coverage this week. Haden has shadowed in five games this year, holding the combination of Julio Jones, A. J. Green, John Brown, Devin Funchess, and Keenan Allen to just 136 yards and a score. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has been much more vulnerable to the slot, where Edelman runs 68% of his routes, and where they’re giving up the fourth-most fantasy points per game.
Amari Cooper (DK: WR8, FD: WR16)
Through the first six weeks of the season (with Oakland), Cooper ranked outside of the top-50 wide receivers in expected (8.9) and actual fantasy points per game (9.5). Then he had two straight bye weeks before playing his first game with Dallas in Week 9. Over the last six weeks of the season, Cooper ranks 16th in expected (14.6) and second among wide receivers in fantasy points per game (23.0). This implies he’s due for a statistical regression, and I think that’s true, but he’s still a borderline must-start on FanDuel, where he ranks as only the 16th-highest-priced wide receiver on the slate. Nothing about the matchup stands out, but it will be hard to ignore Cooper’s slate-busting upside.
Kenny Stills (DK: WR31, FD: WR23)
Following a Week 12 loss to the Colts, Stills said, “I couldn’t tell you exactly why I’m not getting more targets. I can tell you I’m getting open… I can’t throw the ball to myself.” Up to that point, Stills ranked just 104th among wide receivers in expected fantasy points per game (6.3). In the two games since, he ranks 22nd (14.5), with good efficiency, averaging 20.6 actual fantasy points per game (third-most). Last week, he ran 46% of his routes from the slot, and we’re expecting Xavier Rhodes to shadow DeVante Parker, meaning he’ll have (at worst) a neutral matchup this week.
Other: Tyler Boyd (DK: WR14, FD: WR14) is in play this week, despite Jeff Driskel starting. He has our No. 1 cornerback matchup of the week, up against Nick Nelson for about 75% of his routes. He’s averaging 8.3 targets per game over his last four games. … Dante Pettis (DK: WR27, FD: WR26) is banged up but ranks sixth in fantasy points per game over the last three weeks (20.4). Volume hasn’t been as good (ranking 40th in expected fantasy points per game), implying a regression, but he’s still a decent value. … Allen Robinson (DK: WR16, FD: WR17) is also banged up and has been underwhelming, but does average 7.4 targets per game over his last five games and gets a Green Bay defense that ranks sixth-worst in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing WR1s. … Randall Cobb (DK: WR27, FD: WR36) is vaguely in play, up against a Bears defense that just lost their starting slot cornerback. He’s seen 11 targets over the past two weeks, and Chicago presents a much tougher matchup for Davante Adams (third-toughest defense for WR1s). … Another “in play” name I likely won’t play is Michael Gallup (DK: WR53, FD: WR34). He ranks 14th in expected fantasy points per game over the last two weeks and has seen 10 deep targets over his last four games. Though the production hasn’t been there, really, at any point for him this season, I could see him hauling in a deep target and hitting pay dirt.
Premium tight ends
Much like with the running back position, you’ve been better off paying up at the tight end position in recent weeks. As I tried to outline here, there’s a massive gap between the top-five tight ends — Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, George Kittle (DK: TE1, FD: TE1), Eric Ebron (DK: TE2, FD: TE3), and Jared Cook (DK: TE4, FD: TE4) — and everyone else. Meaning, on this slate, we’re left to choose between the latter three.
All three tight ends rank top-15 among receivers in DraftKings fantasy points per game, and all three are at or below that in terms of salary rank this week. On FanDuel, Kittle isn’t as strong of a value (13th in fantasy points per game, 10th in salary rank), but Ebron (15 vs. 19) and Cook are (18 vs. 21). When factoring in positional advantage — how abominable the tight end has been minus these names (and Ertz and Kelce who are off the main slate) — they all look like even better values.
Kittle is on pace to break the single-season yardage record for a tight end. He averages 17.5 fantasy points per game with Marquise Goodwin in the lineup, which would rank 13th among all wide receivers.
Ebron draws a Dallas defense that is giving up eighth-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends and has seen ridiculous volume with Jack Doyle out of the lineup. In those games, he’s averaging 18.6 expected fantasy points, 15.9 actual fantasy points, 100.3 air yards, 10.1 targets, and 1.29 end-zone targets per game. Among all receivers that ranks fourth, 24th, 17th, fifth, and sixth, respectively. Or, among tight ends, best (by 2.1), third-best, best (by 20.1), best (by 0.3), and best (by 0.29). He’s my favorite play at the position this week, slightly ahead of Kittle.
Cook has found the end zone in three of his last four games and has posted back-to-back seven-catch, 100-yard games. He’s been less productive and less reliable than the other names we’re discussing here but is also the cheapest.
Rob Gronkowski (DK: TE3, FD: TE2) deserves consideration too. In Week 14 Gronkowski posted his best game since Week 1, catching all eight of his targets for 107 yards and a score. It’s too early to know for sure if the old Gronk is officially back, and he is risky, but he also has the best matchup this week. Pittsburgh is giving up the fifth-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, and Gronk averages 26.7 fantasy points per game across his last four games against the Steelers.
Other: C.J. Uzomah (DK: TE12, FD: TE15) makes sense given the matchup – by every measure, Oakland has been the top “flowchart” defense for tight ends this year – and recent volume, drawing 22 targets over his last three games (7.3 per game). … Vance McDonald (DK: TE9, FD: TE12) is still just a part-time player but makes some sense for reasons outlined earlier. … Austin Hooper (DK: TE5, FD: TE7) is a top volume-related value at the position on both sites but is still hard to get too excited about. Since Week 5, he ranks fifth at the position in targets and fantasy points (ahead of Cook and Gronkowski). Arizona is a tough matchup, but he should be in line for more targets with Julio Jones in shadow coverage against Patrick Peterson. (Hooper is banged up, so check his status.)
Much like last week, I’m considering the quarterback position last. There’s less quarterbacks in play this time around, but almost no one I’m excited to play. I say almost, because there is one I like quite a bit when I can afford him:
Ben Roethlisberger (DK: QB2, FD: QB1)
Perhaps somewhat quietly, Roethlisberger ranks behind only Patrick Mahomes in fantasy points per game (22.7). Since 2014 (including the postseason), Roethlisberger averages 23.9 fantasy points per game at home and only 15.6 fantasy points per game on the road. That might be the craziest stat in all of fantasy football, and significant too, over a whopping 77-game sample. Sure, he’s banged up (dealing with a rib injury), but that has never really mattered for Roethlisberger before, who has also shown a propensity to play through even the most serious injuries. Over this span, he averages 25.7 fantasy points per game when listed on the injury report (six games). On top of this, the matchup could hardly be better – New England ranks second-worst in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game allowed to opposing quarterbacks.
Other: After Roethlisberger, things get tricky. I like Tom Brady (DK: QB7, FD: QB6) less than Roethlisberger, but he too is one of the better plays of the slate. On paper, the matchup is a good deal tougher for him and he’s been far less productive, but his best offensive playmakers seem to matchup well against where Pittsburgh is most vulnerable. Despite ranking just 23rd at the position in fantasy points, he still grades highly (fifth overall). … Josh Allen (DK: QB9, FD: QB10) and Lamar Jackson (DK: QB7, FD: QB9) make sense given recent volume and production, but the matchups have me a little nervous. Their opposition (Tampa Bay and Detroit) has struggled through the air (much less so for Tampa Bay in recent weeks — though those were all home games, and the team allows 30.7 points per game on the road) but have been stout against opposing quarterbacks on the ground. Detroit in particular is giving up the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks on the ground, despite facing a number of the more mobile quarterbacks. … Dak Prescott (DK: QB12, FD: QB12) is one of the better values of the slate. He ranks fourth in fantasy points per game since the Amari Cooper trade (21.0). Indianapolis ranks eighth-worst in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks. … Kirk Cousins (DK: QB4, FD: QB8) makes sense as a contrarian GPP play. He’s been atrocious in recent weeks but has an ideal matchup this week. You can stack him with either or both of Diggs and Thielen. … Nick Mullens (DK: QB20, FD: QB18) also deserves consideration. He’s cheap and has three QB1 finishes in five starts this year. That said, even with a few injuries to Seattle’s starters on defense, it’s probably a below-average matchup. … There are few other names I’m considering, but really, it’s another tough week at the quarterback position, and I don’t feel as though I have a good read on the position (unlike the other three positions).