Ladies and gentlemen, football is back! Which means fantasy football is back. Which means DFS is back. Which means I get to go back to ignoring all of your start/sit questions and spending all of my time (literally every waking moment) working on this column.
What is this column? Each way I’ll be listing the best and most-interesting plays of the week, grouped by position, and ranked and tiered in some sort of descending order. Keep in mind, we’re looking only at the players available on the main slate for both DraftKings and FanDuel.
This article is long. It’s going to be long every week. Ideally, it’s all you should need to know to be able to profit playing DFS in any given week.
Be sure to also watch our DFS Preview livestream every Thursday Night at 7PM EST. Be sure to get in our Discord – if you’re not already in there, you’re missing out on a lot of important news updates as well as personal guidance and advice from our experts. And, most importantly, be sure to check back on Sunday mornings for the “Sunday Morning Update” – basically a TLDR version of this piece along with any injury-related updates we might need.
Anyway, let’s dive in…
Note: This week was sort of unique in the sense that it was Week 1 and the company’s first Week 1 ever. As such, I was bogged down by some back-of-house stuff which kept me from publishing this as early as I typically would. We were also a little late to get ownership projections up on the site though they’re there now, so that played less of a role in the analysis here than might be typical. Sorry for all that!
Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens (v. CLE)
[DK: QB1 by salary, FD: QB1 by salary]
The question every week last season was “To Lamar, or Not to Lamar”. And the answer was usually “Should have played him.” That’s the same question we ask ourselves this week. And the answer, “Probably.”
Jackson is the highest-priced QB on the slate, but still a top value. If he’s just as productive as he was last year, he’d be far-and-away the best value at the position, providing 3.69X value on DK and a 3.00X value on FD. In Week 1, he could be a slate-buster – this is the healthiest his receivers have ever been, while Cleveland is fielding second- and third-stringers in the secondary. He’s the quarterback I’m gravitating towards for cash (on both sites), and he’ll probably be my highest-own QB for GPPs as well.
Stacking: Because Jackson is so effective on the ground, you don’t actually ever need to stack him. But, at the same time, because Baltimore’s passing game is so highly concentrated between Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews (two players we love this week and this year), you can always feel good about a stack. And even a double-stack (though typically ill-advised) if you’re looking for an extra-unique tournament lineup. If you’re looking to run it back for a full game-stack, Odell Beckham Jr. is the obvious choice (most upside / Landry isn’t yet close to full health).
Gardner Minshew, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars (v. IND)
[DK: QB15, FD: QB21]
For cash games on DraftKings, I’m either looking to pay all the way up (Jackson) or nearly all the way down. Minshew is my preferred option when paying down. Yes, over Tyrod Taylor, whose rushing expectation actually isn’t significantly higher than Minshew’s (36.0 rushing yards per start vs. 27.5). Minshew – who was hyped up quite a bit by our typically tempered Greg Cosell for much of the offseason – draws a Colts defense he carved up in Week 17 last year (295-3-1). He’ll be forced to lean massively pass-heavy as 8.0-point underdogs suffering from a seriously depleted backfield.
Stacking: Although more of a cash game play, he’s still one of the better tournament options this week. The obvious stack here is DJ Chark.
Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers / Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
For maybe 5-6 weeks now, I had every intention of writing up Brady as my “all-in” QB-play of the week. I don’t think I would have advised you to go all in. But I was certainly planning on playing something like 70% Brady / 30% Brees on damn near all of my tournament (but not cash) lineups.
My reasoning being: The ultimate chip-on-the-shoulder QB in the ultimate prove-it football game. Season-long drafters overlooked a serious second-half injury to Brady (tennis elbow) as well as a number of other injuries to an already pathetic receiving corps. He now has maybe the best receiving corps in the league in an offense we know generates fantasy points at the QB position. New Orleans’ defense is massively underrated, but this game sets up perfectly as a potential slate-buster – a fast-paced high-scoring pass-heavy shootout in the Coors Field of football, with the league’s two biggest pass funnel defenses and two elite QBs facing off. Yes those elite QBs are old, but this is the strongest their arms are going to be all year.
But with Mike Evans doubtful (hamstring) and maybe also Chris Godwin hurt (mystery), I feel far less confident and way less excited to play Brady. Brees is a bit more compelling in comparison, as Tampa Bay is by far the biggest pass funnel defense (amazing against the run, bad against the pass) in the league. He’s also easier to stack – Michael Thomas and maybe also Alvin Kamara. But a bet on Brees is also a bet on Brady keeping this game close.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks / Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Similarly, this is another game with massive shootout potential on paper…. But maybe only on paper.
Thanks to our own personal NFL Insider Adam Caplan (by the way, how cool is that?), we know Seattle is not going to be #LettingRussCook any time soon. The only way that happens is if their defense collapses (like it did in 2017), their opposition starts putting points on the board, and Seattle has no choice but to abandon the run. With the spread within 3.0, that’s possible, but, as I see it, not likely. Instead, I think Seattle wins in a blowout (and will be placing bets implying as such), buoyed by a dominant Jamal Adams-led Cover-3 defense and a capable run game.
Cam Newton, QB, New England Patriots (v. MIA)
[DK: QB11, FD: QB11]
Newton isn’t in play for cash, but he is a decent value. For tournaments, he’s a strong boom-or-bust high-upside play. Here’s what I wrote earlier in the week:
Is he healthy? Will he run? What type of offense will this be? Does New England have any viable passing game weapons beyond Julian Edelman? There’s a lot of questions we’re asking today that we won’t get our answer to until the game is played. But I will say, I do think Newton runs quite a bit in this contest. That is a vulnerability of New England’s man-heavy defense which has its defensive backs turn their backs to the opposing quarterback. Since 2011 opposing quarterbacks average +6.0 more FPG when rushing five or more times against New England. Newton isn’t playing New England, but he is playing just about the same defense, against Belichick disciple and former Patriots DC Brian Flores. And who knows that defense’s strengths and weaknesses better than Belichick?
Stacking: Maybe Julian Edelman. Maybe. Probably no one.
Wes Huber made a compelling argument for Joe Burrow picking apart Los Angeles’ Derwin James-less zone-heavy defense and taking the league by storm on Day 1. That’s the only other QB I’m really looking at… Tyrod Taylor will draw heavy ownership, but Johnny effectively sold me on Minshew as the superior option…
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers (v. LVR)
[DK: RB1, FD: RB1]
Everything we said for Lamar Jackson applies to McCaffrey this week. He’s $10,000 on both sites, which is expensive. But also exceedingly cheap if you’re the second-coming of LaDainian Tomlinson, which McCaffrey undoubtedly is. There’s really not a lot of additional analysis necessary here – my inclination is just to play him everywhere I can.
Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders (@ CAR)
[DK: RB6, FD: RB4]
Jacobs would be appropriately priced if he had the exact same role he had last year, game script was neutral, and the matchup was neutral. Except, there’s a good chance he finally starts seeing usage in the passing game. Projected game script is a little bit better than neutral as 2.5-point favorites. And in an easy top-three matchup. He’s glaringly one of the most mispriced players on DraftKings this week.
Note: As Johnny brought up on the livestream, playing two running backs in the same game is massively negatively correlated. He’s right, of course. But in this particular instance, I think that only applies for cash games. For tournaments it might actually be exactly what we want – Jacobs is more productive in victories, McCaffrey is more productive in losses.
Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington Football Team (vs. PHI)
[DK: RB52, FD: RB58]
Gibson is inarguably one of the top values on the slate. And, in my estimation – and yes, despite not even being listed as the top running back on the depth chart – one of the best plays of the slate.
Gibson was one of our primary targets throughout a large portion of the offseason, who then catapulted up our rankings following the release of Derrius Guice, and then again after the release of Adrian Peterson, and then again after this series of tweets from Josina Anderson [1,2,3,4]. Basically, the biggest boom-or-bust player in dynasty rookie drafts looks far more boom than bust. In fact, Gibson – perhaps the closest thing to David Johnson since 2016 David Johnson – is looking like a potential bell cow now paired with the offensive playcaller who oversaw Christian McCaffrey’s historic 1,000/1,000 season.
While invoking the names of McCaffrey and Johnson (the 2016 version) is borderline-sacrilege, and nowhere near the rookie’s Week 1 expectation, he’s still basically mispriced by at least $1,000+ on both sites. Just last week he was being drafted as a fringe RB2 in PPR leagues, but he ranks outside of the top-50 running backs in salary on both sites. ESPN beat John Keimprojected 15 touches for his Week 1 debut. My instinct here is just to put him in every lineup and not look back.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings (v. GB)
[DK: RB2, FD: RB2]
We all want to play McCaffrey in as many lineups as we can, but sometimes that’s easier said than done, and Dalvin Cook is a tremendous play in his own right and $2,100 cheaper on DraftKings. (Again, McCaffrey feels like a must-play on FanDuel, while that extra salary relief goes a bit farther on DraftKings.)
In a uniquely weird offseason, without a preseason and with limited practice reps tackling… One in which Minnesota traded away their star WR and replaced him with a rookie slot WR who doesn’t totally fit the offense… I firmly expect Minnesota to give Cook somewhere between (according to my projections) 900 and 10,000 carries this week.
That’s about the extent of my analysis here. I think the Vikings lean on Cook hard, and in this neutral-to-good matchup, I think all that volume goes a long way for the guy who ranked behind only McCaffrey in FPG prior to his Week 15 injury.
James Robinson / Chris Thompson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. IND)
Within $500 of minimum price on both sites, it’s hard to argue against Jacksonville’s only two healthy running backs as glaring values. That said neither are plays on Gibson’s level. Rookie WR Laviska Shenault averaged 3.5 rushing fantasy points per game over his final two seasons at Colorado, and will likely eat into backfield work. Thompson is the better play of the two (as 8.0-point underdogs, game script lends itself more towards the scatback), but he’s still not very exciting. It’s been nearly two years since the last time he’s reached even 15.0 fantasy points, and he averages just 7.9 fantasy points per game over that span (with the majority of those games being losses with ideal game script).
Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers (@ CIN)
[DK: RB4, FD: RB6]
One of the biggest questions of the offseason – one that I spent quite a bit of time debating here – was what would Ekeler’s usage look like in 2020 with Melvin Gordon now in Denver. Will he be who he was during Gordon’s 2019 holdout (the second-most valuable player in fantasy)? The boom-or-bust committee back he was following Gordon’s return? Or something in between? That’s the same question we ask ourselves this week.
I do believe OC Shane Steichen when he says he wants a committee backfield in 2020. (Ken Whisenhunt was the OC during Ekeler’s breakout, but was later fired and relieved by Steichen in Week 9.) But I also don’t know how much of a committee backfield we’ll see in Week 1 with Justin Jackson banged up and Joshua Kelley being an inexperienced rookie.
That said, maybe he’s a little mispriced, but I’m not nearly as high on him as Johnny and Graham were on the livestream.
Todd Gurley, RB, Atlanta Falcons (v. SEA)
[DK: RB12, FD: RB10]
Gurley is a super gross play, but that’s also part of the allure. Week 1 is the healthiest he’ll be all year, he's exceedingly cheap relative to expected volume, and absolutely no one wants to play him against Seattle’s feeble front seven. Therefore, he’s an interesting contrarian play (6-10% projected ownership) for tournaments.
All of this was laid out beautifully by Johnny on our podcast. My big concern, however, is expected game script (+2.5) coupled with the fact that Gurley was historically inefficient as a route runner last year. Seriously, it was really bad.
My initial instinct was to plant a flag and place a high number of chips on Kenyan Drake in Week 1. He ranks ninth in salary on DraftKings and 14th on FanDuel, but say at No. 8 in my season-long rankings for much of the summer. It’s a bottom-5 matchup, but we were drafting him in the late-first-round because we expected him to be somewhat matchup-proof or at least matchup-resistant. The concern now is poor air quality due to the West Coast wildfires. This is something I’ll have to have figured out by tomorrow’s update, but I’m not totally sure what to do right now… I think Alvin Kamara is a fine contrarian play for tournaments. He’s pretty cheap, and this is legitimately the worst matchup he could draw, but he’s been super matchup-proof throughout his career and “tough” routinely become “soft” or “average” matchups shifting from Week 17 to Week 1… I was high on Chris Carson earlier in the week (given how I think that game will go), but recent beat reports indicating a significantly diminished workload (thanks to the arrival of Carlos Hyde) have me worried… If Miles Sanders sits out, Boston Scott would probably be the best value play on the slate rivaling Gibson…
Marquise Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens (v. CLE)
[DK: WR32, FD: WR29]
If you’re a Fantasy Points subscriber, you should know by now that we’re all in on Brown in redraft and dynasty leagues. What did I say in June and every week since? “Draft Marquise Brown in every draft. Every. Single. One.” What I do? Exactly that.
I was all-in for season-long. Of course I’m all in this week in DFS, with Brown priced as just the 32nd and 29th-highest-priced WR of the slate in an absolute joke of a matchup.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (@WAS)
[DK: WR37, FD: WR33]
Like Brown, Jackson is another player we might typically view as a GPP-only type of player. But nope. Not this week. All in. Very little has changed from where we were exactly one year ago. Jackson is egregiously mispriced. He’s the team’s clear WR1. He draws an A+ cornerback matchup against Washington’s porous and banged-up secondary. And I’m all in. What happened last time? Jackson caught eight balls for 154 yards and two scores. What happens this time? I don’t know, but I’m not going to wait to find out – he’s going to be in all of my lineups.
And, just to clarify… Jalen Reagor’s status change (going from doubtful to probable) is actually good news. This barely puts a dent into his Week 1 projection (it’ll matter quite a bit more later in the season), but it means we’re going to get him at even lower ownership this week.
Marvin Jones, WR, Detroit Lions (v. CLE)
[DK: WR27, FD: WR23]
Over the past two seasons, Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones have played 22 games together. In those games, Golladay barely out-targeted Jones (154 to 153) and barely out-scored him (15.3 to 14.1). Although he was actually less productive in the nine games without Jones, he did average +2.0 more targets per game (7.0 to 9.0).
Although their ADP was six rounds apart all offseason, this really always was a WR1A/WR1B situation. But now, with Golladay out for Week 1, Jones is the clear WR1. Staring at a 9-12 target expectation but priced as a borderline WR2/WR3, he’s an unavoidable value. The only reason not to go all in would be for reasons relating to ownership.
Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers (@ MIN) / Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints (v. TB)
Adams isn’t cheap, but he is a value. By both my model and our projections, he’s one of the top-five WR values on both sites. Adams offers a sky-high ceiling – up against a porous Vikings secondary that ranked bottom-three against outside WRs and bottom-seven against opposing WR1s last year – as well as an unrivaled floor. Adams averages 20.5 FPG across his last 35 games, reaching at least 16.0 fantasy points in 86% of these games. Those stats rank (respectively) second (behind Michael Thomas’ 21.3) and first (well ahead of Thomas’ 69%). If you’re paying up at WR, those are your two best options.
Adams is the better value and the better play, but that could flip for tournaments if Adams turns into chalk and Thomas goes overlooked. Thomas has legitimate slate-busting potential this week up against a sieve-like Tampa Bay secondary he historically owns, averaging 33.9 DK FPG in his last four games against them. As we mentioned earlier, the Buccaneers are the ultimate pass funnel defense. They shut down Christian McCaffrey twice last year – the only team to do so even once – and Alvin Kamara twice last year. New Orleans’ offense runs through two players and two players only – Thomas and Kamara, so this matchup once again sets up nicely for Thomas.
Again, Adams is probably the better play at cost, but Thomas could break the slate.
Wes Huber covered Tyler Boyd, Jamison Crowder, and Anthony Miller here. I thought the analysis was terrific and I do agree with him (in that order)… Terry McLaurin is egregiously mispriced on DraftKings, but he’s also likely to get clamped down by Darius Slay in shadow coverage. I’ll have less exposure relative to the field, though I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s able to beat Slay once or twice for a big gain… Last season DJ Chark picked up a bad ankle sprain late in the season, keeping him off the field in Week 15, and then sapping him of his typical effectiveness in Weeks 16 and 17. Before that, however, he ranked 8th in FPG (16.5). And yet, he ranks just 13th (DK) and 16th (FD) in salary in a top-10 matchup where Minshew is going to be needing to throw all day… With Mike Evans questionably doubtful or doubtfully questionable, many will gravitate towards Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller. I’m not so sure what to do. ESPN beat reporter Jenna Laine isn’t even sure Miller would out-snap Justin Watson. And I don’t know that Godwin is healthy. O.J. Howard and Rob Gronkowski become more interesting but I’m not sure how much I want to play them either… T.Y. Hilton, Odell Beckham Jr., Stefon Diggs, and Allen Robinson are good but not amazing on-paper plays, and are going a bit underdiscussed for tournaments… Parris Campbell, Laviska Shenault Jr., Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards, and Trent Taylor are all vaguely in play…
Mark Andrews, TE, Baltimore Ravens (v. CLE)
[DK: TE2, FD: TE2]
As a sophomore, Andrews broke the PFF record for YPRR while finishing top-five at the position in FPG. And, in my estimation, we haven’t even seen his real breakout yet. Andrews was hurt for well over half of the season, spending seven games on the injury report listed as questionable dealing with shoulder, foot, knee, and ankle injuries. And, he was playing on just 44% of the team’s snaps in games active. Expect that number to skyrocket with Hayden Hurst no longer in the picture.
If paying up for a TE, it should be Andrews. But, that being said, he’s on very few of my non-Lamar Jackson teams just because there’s so much value elsewhere at the position. And then on my actual Lamar teams, he’s still not on the majority of them (due to my Hollywood Brown love).
Hayden Hurst, TE, Atlanta Falcons (v. SEA)
[DK: TE10, FD: TE13]
Although I might have been the lone detractor at times, no site was higher on Hurst this offseason than us. He ranks sixth in our season-long projections, so of course we also like him this week as only the 10th- and 12th-highest-priced TE on the slate. And of course, we especially like him in this particular matchup – against a Seahawks defense that gave up the second-most FPG to opposing TEs last year. He’s a lock-button play on FanDuel and probably the best play at the position on DraftKings.
Irv Smith, TE, Minnesota Vikings / Chris Herndon, TE, New York Jets
On DraftKings, there’s always credence to playing a ~$2,500 priced TE, even if he only has a ~4 target expectation. If he scores 7.5 fantasy points, you’re happy. If he scores 2.5 fantasy points, he still doesn’t really hurt you. You’re not playing him for what he can do, you’re playing him for the salary cap relief he provides. Although Robert Tonyan could be that player this week (as Johnny argued on our livestream), I’d rather pay the extra $600 for Smith or $800 for Herndon.
These are two TEs I hyped up quite a bit all offseason. Just like I explained in “My Guys”, Smith is the far more volatile of the two (in other words, more of a GPP play). A bet on him is a bet on an entirely different role – jumping out of Kyle Rudolph’s shadow to a more featured role as the No. 2 or No. 3 pass-catcher in Gary Kubiak’s TE-friendly offense. Just like I said in that article, Herndon is much safer and with a much higher projection, and that’s also true this week. He has a bottom-three matchup but is likely to be force-fed targets all game. He’s one of the best values on the slate, but I don’t know that he’s a better play than Hurst.
I don’t think T.J. Hockenson is a better play than Hayden Hurst or Marvin Jones, but he could be for large field tournaments depending on what his and their ownership looks like… George Kittle is a demigod, but I’m also just about never paying $7,000+ for a TE on DK. Especially one who is hurt and is having his matchup massively overrated (Isaiah Simmons will go a long way in solving Arizona's TE issues)… Jack Doyle is drawing some hype, but I don’t know that I see the argument for him. “Trey Burton is hurt.” I get that, but he also didn’t have Trey Burton last year and he was unusable in DFS… Austin Hooper isn’t a value, but he is an intriguing contrarian bet that Marlon Humphrey shuts down Odell Beckham Jr. and that Hooper continues to improve on the rapport he’s established with Baker Mayfield. That rapport has been the talk of Browns camp just about all summer. But really, it’s a bet that Odell Beckham Jr. is basically washed… Jordan Reed is another very sneaky contrarian play for tournaments…