The top contrarian plays for Week 14 in DFS
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. – Mark Twain
Hello, and welcome to PFF’s DFS contrarian plays article. Also, happy Free Content Week.
For the first time in 34 installments of this article, it is free to the public. I’m very excited for the increase in readership, and to show you just what kind of awesome content you’ve been missing out on.
Typically, I start these articles off with some whimsical half-related anecdote that leads us into something particular to that weekend’s slate or about the DFS contrarian strategy in general. I could start off this article with something similar, but I also know that’s not why you’ve come here. You’re here for the industry-leading stats and recommendations.
So I’ll keep the intro short this week. Here are some of my favorites over the past two seasons, if you’re interested. Here’s my primer for the column that goes in-depth on the strategy as a whole and how it works.
Looking at Fantasy Aces’ Week 14 ownership percentages from the $3 Quick Slant Thursday-Monday GPP contest provided to us by TwoQBs.com, this week, the following players are projected to be the chalk (most highly owned): David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Jordan Howard, Andrew Luck, Kirk Cousins, Tyrell Williams, Mike Evans, T.Y. Hilton and Tyler Eifert.
As is typical, we’ll be fading the above players on the majority of our lineups and will instead be looking at the following leverage plays (players who would benefit the most if the chalk underperforms) and contrarian plays (players under 10 percent owned) this week.
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Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (3% owned)
Seemingly every week, there’s at least one stud player who goes low-owned after disappointing the previous week at a high ownership. These are the easiest players to write up because their ownership typically has more to do with recency bias, and less to do with raw projections and upside.
Fantasy football is a volatile game, and sometimes, things just don’t make sense. This was certainly the case last week with Brees’ poor performance against Detroit. Heading into the week, Brees led the league in passer rating, and was playing at home against the defense that was allowing the highest opposing passer rating for the season. All available data was indicating that he would have a monster game. Inexplicably, he posted his fourth-worst passer rating in seven years.
Still, there’s good reason why we were all on him. Prior to last week, over his previous four games, he had been averaging 305 yards, three touchdowns and 25.2 fantasy points per game. As I’m sure we’re all aware, Brees has been far less effective on the road than at home over his career. Brees, unfortunately, isn’t playing at home this week, but he will be playing against a Tampa Bay defense that gave up the highest-scoring fantasy QB week of the season to Derek Carr and the Raiders at home. They also gave up the 25th-highest-scoring fantasy QB week of the season to Matt Ryan and the Falcons, also at home. For the year, they’re allowing the ninth-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks. In a close game (+2.5), with the highest over/under of the week, I like Brees’ chances for a bounce-back game.
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (5%)
Like Brees, Manning is in a projected close game (+3.5) with a high over/under (third-highest of the week). Unlike Brees, Manning has the benefit of playing at home, where he’s performed much better this season. Manning averages 307.5 passing yards and 2.2 touchdowns per game at home, as opposed to 208.7 passing yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game on the road. Manning has also quietly been on a tear over the past five weeks. His 14 passing touchdowns over that span is two more than any other quarterback.
This week, he’ll be up against a Dallas defense than ranks fourth-worst in opposing passer rating (101.2). The Giants rank ninth-worst in running back rushing yards per game (76.3), and Dallas is allowing the fourth-fewest running back rushing yards per game (71.8). If the Giants are going to do anything against Dallas, as Vegas suspects they will, it will likely mostly all be through the air. It also seems likely that the Giants will be getting back their left guard, Justin Pugh, who was our overall third-highest-graded offensive lineman before going down with an injury in Week 9. Odell Beckham Jr. (5%) is the easy stack here. He has eight touchdowns over his last eight games, and is averaging 10.8 targets per game over that stretch.
Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks (5%)
Prior to last week, the most rushing yards any running back has totaled against Carolina was Jacquizz Rodgers’ 101 yards on 30 carries. Last week, Rawls topped that, rushing for 106 yards (and two touchdowns) on only 15 carries. His day may have been even bigger had he not missed a few series when getting checked for a concussion.
This is my first time writing up Rawls in this article, but I’ve been a huge fan of his since his breakout rookie season. Here are some of the reasons why.
Excluding a Week 12 game against the Eagles (without Ryan Mathews), the Packers have allowed 555 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, on 114 carries (4.9 yards per attempt). Over this span, they faced Atlanta (Terron Ward was the leading rusher with Devonta Freeman dealing with a hip pointer injury), Indianapolis, Tennessee, Washington and Houston (Lamar Miller suffered a rib injury, Jonathan Grimes was Houston’s leading rusher). What was once viewed as one of the toughest fantasy matchups of the season, now seems far less imposing.
Rawls won’t have much competition for carries and seems significantly underpriced on FanDuel, as only the 18th-highest-priced running back this week. On a week where there’s expected to be three to five inches of snow in Green Bay, I expect Seattle to lean heavy on the ground game.
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams (9%)
Yes, Gurley tanked your season-long team. Yes, he’s busted every week you’ve played him in DFS. Still, and as gross as it may feel, Gurley is a strong play this week. Rams’ running back Benny Cunningham, who typically plays about 30 percent of the snaps and is good for a couple of targets each week, has recently been ruled doubtful to play this week.
In Week 5, the only game Cunningham sat out, Gurley saw a season-high in snaps, total yardage and fantasy points. It was also the second-most carries and the second-most targets he’s seen in any game this season. I don’t expect Gurley to be efficient by any means, but I do expect him to exceed value. A depleted backfield means more volume for the starter, which is the most important thing for fantasy running backs. This goes back to my work during the offseason on bell-cow games. Beyond all that, Gurley is up against an Atlanta defense that is surrendering the second-most fantasy points per game to running backs, and he’s only the 21st-highest-priced running back on DraftKings this week.
DeSean Jackson, Washington Redskins (7%)
Philadelphia is allowing 16.8 fantasy points per game to wide receivers lined up to their quarterback’s right, which ranks highest in the league. Jackson leads Washington’s wide receivers in percentage of routes run from the right (43 percent). This is also where Eagles’ corner Leodis McKelvin spends 92 percent of his routes in coverage. McKelvin is allowing the most fantasy points per snap, the most fantasy points per snap in coverage, and the third-most fantasy points per target of any of 102-qualifying cornerbacks.
McKelvin has also routinely been burnt deep this season. No defender has given up more plays of 30-plus yards (or 40-plus yards) this season. This bodes well for Jackson, who leads the league in percentage of targets to go for 30 or more yards (12.7 percent). Among receivers, only T.Y. Hilton has recorded more total plays of 30 or more yards. Jackson didn’t do much in his last contest against Philadelphia, but McKelvin also didn’t play in this game.
Prior to last week, in a tough matchup against Patrick Peterson and the Arizona Cardinals, DeSean Jackson averaged 7.5 targets per game over his previous six games. Jackson is the 30th-highest-priced wide receiver on DraftKings and the 38th-highest-priced wide receiver on FanDuel.
Julian Edelman, New England Patriots (4%)
Rob Gronkowski sat out in Week 11, played just seven snaps in Week 12, and sat out in Week 13. He’s out for the rest of the season. It’s likely not unrelated that Edelman’s three most-targeted games have come during this span (17, 10 and 11). He leads the league in targets over this stretch (four more than the next-closest wide receiver), and has eight catches and more than 75 yards in each of them.
Edelman runs roughly 52 percent of his routes from the slot and should spend the majority of his day against Baltimore’s slot cornerback, Jerraud Powers. Powers grades out negatively for the season, and is being targeted on 18.9 percent of his routes in coverage, which ranks 15th-highest among 101 qualifying corners. Although Edelman hasn’t flexed much of a ceiling this year, mostly because he has only two touchdowns for the season, he’s due for some positive regression in that regard. He leads the team in targets inside the 20-yard-line, targets inside the 10-yard-line, and in end-zone targets.
New England has the third-highest implied point total of the week and is up against a Baltimore defense that is allowing 3.4 rushing yards per carry (second-best), and has allowed just three rushing touchdowns to running backs all year. If the Patriots meet their Vegas total, it will likely come through the air – and Edelman will be the most-likely recipient.
Note: Antonio Brown was only two percent owned on Fantasy Aces this week. I highly doubt that he goes that low-owned this weekend, but will be increasing my exposure just in case. He has four touchdowns over his last two games, has a great matchup, and makes for a sharp leverage play off of Le’Veon Bell, who projects to be very highly owned.
Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans (1%)
With everyone else jumping all over Tyler Eifert in an admittedly great spot, I prefer rolling with Walker. He ranks third at the position from a fantasy points per game perspective, ranking behind only Jordan Reed and Travis Kelce. Kelce played Thursday night. Reed will either miss this week’s game with a shoulder injury, or will be playing hurt against the Eagles, who are allowing the second-fewest fantasy points per game to tight ends. I have Eifert highest in my projections this week, but I’m also projecting him to be, by far, the highest-owned tight end of the week. Due to this, I’d much prefer to pivot to Walker, who I suspect to be much less highly owned, and have only a few points shy of Eifert’s projection.
Walker is up against a Denver defense that is allowing 25 percent of their total receiving fantasy production to tight ends, which ranks tied for fourth-highest in the league. Denver is allowing the fifth-most targets to tight ends, while allowing the third-fewest targets and the fewest fantasy points per game to wide receivers. So, if Tennessee were to attack Denver through the air, logically, the first place Marcus Mariota were to look, would likely be his star tight end, Walker. Walker is a good bet to lead his team in targets and has a chance for a big day in fantasy.
Coby Fleener, New Orleans Saints (2%)
Since Week 7, Fleener has been outsnapped by Josh Hill 302 to 230. Over that span, he ranks 27th in targets per game. Over the first six weeks of the season, Fleener outsnapped all other Saints tight ends 253 to 101. Over that span, he ranked sixth at the position in targets per game.
In Fleener’s first five games, he out-targeted all other Saints tight ends 33 to 4. In the seven games following, he has had only 30 targets to Josh Hill’s 15. Hill has certainly cut in to Fleener’s upside. With Hill going down with a broken fibula last week, Fleener saw his highest target total and most receiving yards since Week 3. Hill is out for the rest of the season, which boosts Fleener’s upside this week.
The only other tight end on the roster is John Phillips, who has 81 receptions in 95 career games, and was playing for Denver as of two months ago. Despite his inefficiencies when on the field, Hill’s absence thrusts Fleener back into the TE1 range, though his price and ownership don’t reflect that in an (at the very least) neutral matchup.