My first few seasons playing DFS, I got crushed. Lineup after lineup, slate after slate, I just couldn’t do anything right. I was hemorrhaging my hard-earned money, and I really didn’t have much to spare. Just like those late-night infomercials, I had to find a better way!
I was making far too many mistakes to list them all here, but what I really needed then was a guiding hand, a voice (or an article perhaps?) that could, at the very least, help me understand who the best plays were, and more importantly - why?
This is that article.
Once I found FantasyPoints, and this article, everything changed. With a deeper understanding of which players are values (and why) I was able to make great strides in my own DFS play. And now, I’m writing this article.
Utilizing both Scott Barrett’s DFS SuperModel and our site projections, we can lock-in on the week’s top DFS values.
Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (VS. MIN)
DK: +$1386, 2.51X / FD: +$912, 2.16X
Mixon was one of our primary targets throughout the offseason, ranking 10th among running backs in our season-long projections (by FPG) — and seventh in Scott Barrett’s running back rankings — and yet he’s priced well below that on both sites, especially on DraftKings where he’s just the 15th most expensive RB in Week 1. Crucially, 2021 marks the first true bell cow opportunity of Mixon’s career.
Mixon has been seriously gamescript-dependent during his time in the NFL, averaging 25.2 FPG in wins but just 13.3 FPG in losses over the past three seasons. Giovani Bernard’s departure to Tampa Bay opens the door for Mixon to garner more receiving involvement, and that appears to be coming true in camp as Bengals beat writers have noted Mixon is lining up more as WR and should expect to see “the largest workload of his career” in 2021. Per The Athletic’s Paul Dehner, “Assuming health, this will be the largest workload of Joe Mixon’s career. Tag an extra 15-20 receptions to his previous totals… I think you’ll see him in the rarified air of the 80 percent snap rate and that should mean monster numbers…”
Increased receiving involvement will limit Mixon’s gamescript dependency — increasing both his floor and ceiling. Unlike previous seasons, Mixon will remain offensively involved even if the game gets out of hand. That’s certainly relevant this week, with the Bengals as 3-point underdogs and possessing the 9th-lowest team implied total in Week 1 (22.0).
Even if Mixon only manages to repeat what he did last year, he’s still a screaming value at $6,200 on DK and $7,200 on Fanduel, as he ranked 3rd in carries per game (19.8), 13th in targets per game (4.3), 9th in FPG (16.9) and 2nd in XFP per game (19.2) in 2020. Tack on an above-average matchup against Minnesota and it’s clear Mixon is one of, if not the, top values at the position.
Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos (AT NYG)
DK: +$494, 3.03X
Something interesting happened with Williams in the final week of the preseason: he didn’t play. While on a surface level, that seems #bad, it’s actually a great sign. Williams' healthy scratch in preseason Week 3, alongside HC Vic Fangio’s recent comments suggesting the Broncos have full confidence in the rookie RB means Williams is likely the starter heading into a Week 1 matchup with the Giants. And he’s not priced like he’s starting, especially on DraftKings, where Williams clocks in at the stone-minimum ($4,000). As 3-point favorites with ‘checkdown king’ Teddy Bridgewater under center, there’s absolutely a path to 15+ touches for Williams. That’s not to say this play isn’t without risk — we still have no idea how Denver will manage the rotation between Willaims and veteran Melvin Gordon. Still, Williams' touch potential relative to his price is borderline unmatched.
And let’s not forget that Williams was an absolute stud in college. He recorded the best full-season grade PFF has ever given to a college RB. He broke the PFF record for broken tackles forced per attempt at 0.48, and his 75 broken tackles led the country last season. Scott Barrett’s rookie RB model also loves Williams in the passing game, writing that “Among 94 qualifying 50-catch Power-5 RBs since 2014, he ranks between the top 8% and 13% of RBs in career YPT, career yards after the catch per reception, and career missed tackles forced per reception.” QB Teddy Bridgewater even compared Williams to Alvin Kamara. Yeah, the Alvin Kamara who is inarguably the most efficient RB of all-time. That’s a hefty comparison.
He’s an awesome talent, and I’m certainly not missing what could be our only opportunity to roster him anywhere close to the minimum RB salary on DraftKings. Due to the unknowns with this committee, he’s not an advisable cash play, but I’m absolutely going to be playing Williams in GPPs.
Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons (VS. PHI)
DK: +$686, 2.20X
Kyle Pitts may never be this cheap again, at least not on DraftKings. He’s TE5 in our season-long projections, TE4 by ADP, but just 8th in salary on DK. He’s arguably the greatest TE prospect ever and probably would’ve been a Round 1 pick if he played WR. The Julio Jones trade means there are plenty of vacated targets for Pitts to take advantage of, and his Week 1 opponent, the Eagles, are the 7th-best matchup for opposing TEs. And this game has the 6th-highest total (48.0) of the Week 1 main slate, while Atlanta themselves offers the 7th-highest team total (25.5) of the slate. I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely not missing the chance to grab a future Hall of Fame TE at what may be the cheapest DK salary of his career in a good scoring environment. Pitts is the top value at the position, and should be played in both cash games and GPPs (assuming ownership doesn’t get out of hand) on DraftKings. He’s a viable cash game play on FanDuel, but his much higher salary there (TE3) should reduce ownership enough to make him an intriguing large-field GPP option.
Marquez Callaway, WR, New Orleans Saints (VS. GB)
DK: +$1146, 3.21X / FD: +$500, 2.10X
Callaway has been a preseason star, recording the best PFF receiving grade of any player (95.4), along with stellar marks in essentially every preseason receiving metric, ranking top-5 among preseason WRs in receiving yards (165), receiving TDs (2), and yards per route run (7.17). And he was one of two WRs with more than five targets to sustain a perfect passer rating when targeted (158.3) throughout the preseason.
All of that was done on just 36 total preseason snaps. This is completely ridiculous, but if we extrapolate Callaway’s preseason production out to a full regular season game (NO averaged 65.6 offensive snaps per game last season), he would average 52.9 fantasy points per four quarters. To some (myself included) that was both ridiculously and surprisingly impressive, but maybe it shouldn’t have been, given that Emmanuel Sanders told us Callaway would be a future star back in December.
Even without the strong preseason, Callaway has offered a strong camp, with plenty of media buzz suggesting he could be (or already is) the Saints WR1, especially given Tre’Quan Smith’s extended absence from practice and games during the preseason due to “an apparent leg injury”. Even with Smith ready to play this Sunday, Callaway may very well be locked into that WR1 role in New Orleans. That presents what’s likely the top WR value of Week 1.
Callaway is currently 31st in Scott Barrett’s season long rankings, 34th among WRs in our Week 1 DraftKings projections, and 33rd in our Week 1 Fanduel projections — yet he ranks as the 73rd-most expensive WR on DraftKings and the 53rd-most expensive on FanDuel. That’s obvious value, but the Saints also offer an ideal environment for gamescript purposes — as 4.5-point underdogs on the slate’s 3rd-highest total. And Jameis Winston has a penchant for throwing to outside WRs — a crucial note for Callaway given he ran 92% of his routes lined up outside this preseason.
Michael Thomas has averaged 23.4 DraftKings points and 17.8 Fanduel points per game over the last three seasons when New Orleans were underdogs and the total was higher than 48.0. While I don’t believe Callaway will put up those Thomas numbers in Week 1, the point is he could, especially with Winston under center (in an amazing scoring environment) as the team’s top WR. He’s an undeniable value anyway you look at it, with a safe target floor for cash games and GPP-winning upside. He’s a must-play in cash games on both sites (especially on DK), and should only be avoided in tournaments by those worried about astronomically high ownership levels.
Tee Higgins, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (VS MIN)
DK: +$1080, 2.33X / FD: +$672, 1.82X
Higgins had quite an impressive rookie season, leading Bengals WRs in receiving yards (908), YPRR (1.83), passer rating when targeted (106.4) and PFF receiving grade (79.0). He’s clearly a talented player, but his Week 1 value is largely a product of this game environment.
For starters, Minnesota gave up the most fantasy points per throw to outside WRs last year (2.18) — a crucial note given Higgins played 71.5% of his snaps outside in his rookie year. As Wes Huber astutely pointed out in his Week 1 advanced matchups column, Minnesota is expected to be a man coverage-heavy defense this season, presenting a strong opportunity for Joe Burrow to do what he did best in college and his rookie season: light up man coverage. Higgins shouldn’t have any trouble generating separation, as he ranked 13th of 76th qualifiers last year in PFF receiving grade vs man coverage (85.2) - impressively finishing just below Amari Cooper (85.6) and just above Tyreek Hill (84.9). And the Bengals are 3-point underdogs, so gamescript could easily dictate a pass-heavy approach for this offense.
Uncertainty over Burrow’s ACL recovery makes me hesitant to recommend Higgins as a cash play, but he’s absolutely a high-end option in tournaments, presenting GPP winning-upside if Burrow and this offense light up the scoreboard. James Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (AT HOU)
DK: +$549, 2.32X / FD: +$1759, 2.52X
Note: This James Robinson write-up was written by Scott Barrett for the Slate Breakdown that will be published Saturday.
Robinson is probably not a bell cow. He probably doesn’t come close to the workload he saw last year. In fact, there’s good reason to think he’s not even significantly more valuable than Carlos Hyde. Afterall, this preseason, Robinson only barely out-snapped Hyde with the first-team offense (33 to 28).
But then again, maybe that’s wrong. Maybe Robinson is closer to who he was last year, averaging 17.9 FPG (RB5) on a 1-win team. Maybe, even, he’s one of the best RBs in football — his 17.9 FPG as a rookie last year ranks 9th-best since 2000, on a top-10 list that includes Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Clinton Portis, Matt Forte, and Adrian Peterson.
At the very least, it’s hard not to play those odds at Robinson’s depressed salary and in a dream matchup. The Texans are blatantly tanking, and they gave up a league-high +7.8 schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing RBs last year. He’s mildly risky, but a strong value nonetheless.
Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington Football Team (VS. LAC)
DK: +$563, 2.06X / FD: +$694, 1.91X
McLaurin hasn’t been cheaper than this ($6900) on Fanduel since Week 6 of last season, and he hasn’t been cheaper than $6400 on Draftkings since Week 7 of last season. He now has Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing him passes, which is a huge improvement in both accuracy and aggressiveness compared to McLaurin’s 2020 QB duo of Dwayne Haskins and Alex Smith.
Just how bad was the Haskins and Smith duo for McLaurin? Over the past three seasons, Smith and Haskins combined to throw just 23% of their targets to outside WRs. And just last year, if treated as one player the QB duo of Smith and Haskins combined for a 77.8% catchable target rate (31st of 44 qualifiers) and a 6.2 aDOT (the lowest of any QB with more than 40 attempts).
Ryan Fitzpatrick fixes this.
A naturally aggressive thrower, Fitzpatrick has finished in the top-10 in QB aDOT in 4 of the last 5 seasons, and did so under four different offensive coordinators. McLaurin should be seeing more total targets given Fitzpatrick’s 31.4% outside WR target rate over the last three seasons, and those targets should be more accurate, as Fitz finished 10th among QBs in catchable target rate (81.6%) last year.
And, did I mention McLaurin played through TWO high ankle sprains last year and averaged 17.7 FPG prior to injury?
In my opinion, McLaurin is an overall WR1 season just waiting to happen, and there’s no reason it can’t happen this year.
This game having the slate’s fourth-lowest total (45.0) prevents McLaurin from being a cash game lock. But he’s my favorite WR play in tournaments, because I really don’t expect significant ownership here. With Fitzpatrick under center, I anticipate slate-breaking performances from McLaurin to become the rule rather than the exception.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Washington Football Team (VS. LAC)
FD: +$622, 3.31X
Since 2018, Ryan Fitzpatrick has averaged 19.1 fantasy points in the 27 games he’s started. That would’ve ranked 12th among QBs last year, yet Fitz is just 22nd in QB salary. And in the 23 games he’s started and finished (playing on at least 90% of his team’s snaps), he averages 22.6 FPG. For perspective, only two QBs average more FPG over this span — Patrick Mahomes (24.5) and Lamar Jackson (24.2). Unlike the past three seasons, Fitzpatrick faces minimal risk of being benched if he performs poorly, which further helps secure his floor. In a neutral-at-worst matchup vs LAC, Fitzpatrick’s $6,600 salary offers a 2.9-3.4X value if he performs in line with his average as a starter from the past three seasons.
This game’s low total (45.0) and Fitzpatrick’s historical volatility makes this play a bit too risky for cash, but I’ll be playing him in tournaments on both sites, because while that volatility makes Fitz a sketchy cash game play, it also gives him GPP winning upside.
Elijah Moore, WR, New York Jets (AT CAR)
DK: +$1049, 3.32X
Moore has been simply incredible this offseason, and all reports out of Jets’ camp back that up. HC Robert Saleh said Moore is “already ahead of the game” in regards to his development in the Jets offense while beat writer DJ Bien-Aime stated that Moore “has been unstoppable” through his first week of training camp.
I think the craziest thing about Elijah Moore is every day I come here saying I’m going to focus on someone else. Then he makes that impossible #Jets— Connor Hughes (@Connor_J_Hughes) August 4, 2021
This isn’t an aberration, as Moore was also an outstanding player at Ole Miss. Both Scott Barrett and Wes Huber dive deeper into this in their own breakdowns of Moore, but his 2020 college production is as good as it gets. Scott notes his most impressive feat, averaging 157.1 yards from scrimmage per game over the 2020 season, which is “the most by any WR since at least 2000, and maybe ever.” That was in his age 20 season, which makes it the 2nd-best age-adjusted receiving YPG season for a power-5 WR since 2002.
So yeah, Moore is really, really good. And he didn’t play in the preseason due a quad issue. The hype has died down significantly over the last few weeks. His ownership will likely be depressed as a result — creating an awesome leverage opportunity in large-field GPPs. (Keep in mind he might be on a higher percentage of rosters now that Jamison Crowder has been ruled out.)
It’s very rare in fantasy football that I can speak on things with certainty. This, however, is one of those moments: Moore will never be this cheap again, and if he somehow is, his ownership will be astronomical. He’s going to be a premier talent in the NFL for years to come. He’s the definition of an elite-tier value and should be heavily considered for every single lineup we make this week.
Rondale Moore, WR, Arizona Cardinals (AT TEN)
DK: +$937, 3.13X
WR leaders in screens per game (2019-2020):— Jake Tribbey (@JakeTribbey) July 27, 2021
Deebo Samuel (Age 24/25): 1.62
Robert Woods (Age 28/29): 1.52
Davante Adams (Age 27/28): 1.46
Larry Fitzgerald (Age 36/37): 1.17
Chris Godwin (Age 24/25): 1.15
WTF is Kliff Kingsbury doing lmao
Larry Fitzgerald earned the 11th-most slot targets in 2019 (90) and the 23rd-most last season (67). Not to mention he’s (shockingly) been one of the most used players in the screen game over the past two years. While the borderline boomer in Fitzgerald never turned those targets into much from a fantasy perspective, the Cardinals Round 2 pick in Rondale Moore is a YAC monster. Moore’s 892 yards after the catch during his true freshman season in 2018 ranks 2nd-best among all college WRs since 2015, behind only DeVonta Smith’s Heisman winning season in 2020.
Moore’s encouraging preseason playing time and touch volume in Weeks 1 and 2 alongside Kliff Kingsbury’s post-draft quotes suggest he’s going to be a high-usage player in this offense, with PPR cheat code potential in year one. And did I mention this game has the 2nd-highest total (52.0) of the week? In a shootout environment, you want to roster the players who will touch the ball the most. Based on all the offseason evidence, Rondale Moore is going to be one of those players.