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.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers (AT ARI)
DK: 2.52X / FD: 2.08X
CMC (hamstring) was indeed eased back in yesterday. But still got 14 carries plus 5 targets:— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) November 8, 2021
* 29-of-59 snaps
* 77% of RB carries
* Only 13 routes on 38 Darnold dropbacks
* 41% of RB targets
* ARZ, WAS, MIA, ATL next
CMC is back! Or, well, at the very least back on the field. Carolina HC Matt Rhule has historically been rather conservative with injuries, and he showed that again in Week 9, with McCaffrey only logging a 49% snap share, but crucially - 18 total touches. And despite the limited snaps, those 18 touches still constituted a 75% backfield touch share. The Panthers coaches wanted to keep CMC fresh, but they also really wanted him to touch the ball.
Christian McCaffrey fantasy weekly finishes among RBs in his last 21 games— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) November 9, 2021
44 (hurt, 30% of snaps)
14 (first game back, 49% of snaps)
Prior to injury
Top-2: 9 of 19 (47%)
Top-6: 16 of 19 (84%)
Top-8: 18 of 19 (95%)
With another week of rest, CMC should get closer to the incredible 29.5 touches per game he saw in Weeks 1 and 2 before getting hurt. Will he see the full CMC treatment in Week 10? I lean no, but still, if his workload in Week 10 is just 80% of what we’ve grown accustomed to since 2019, then we are looking at 117.7 YFS per game, 20.5 touches per game, and 23.4 FPG. This season, those numbers rank 2nd, 4th, and 1st among slate-eligible RBs. And that’s not even his ceiling, because if CMC were to see a full workload (which is possible), he would be far and away the top RB play of the slate. On DraftKings, CMC has only been cheaper than this once since Week 12 of 2018, and that was this past week, when he was clearly going to be limited. And on Fanduel, McCaffrey hasn’t been this cheap since Week 3 of 2019. Anything resembling his previous historical workloads would make this the best ‘buy-low’ spot on CMC in a number of years, or maybe ever.
His matchup with Arizona is on the tougher end, as they’ve allowed -4.0 schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing RBs this season (6th-toughest) and the total is a rather low 45.0. Still, the Panthers situation is growing increasingly desperate - sitting at 4-5 and in last place in the NFC South, which could push them towards featuring McCaffrey in Week 10 against the 1st place Cardinals. And they are 10.5-point underdogs, which, at the very least, should mean ample passing volume for an offense that gave CMC a 22% target share in 2019. CMC is too risky for cash games with a decent amount of uncertainty as to what his Week 10 workload will look like. But, the unmatched upside of CMC potentially returning to his previous usage undoubtedly makes him the top tournament RB play of the slate - especially if he’s sub-10% owned (which I think he will be).
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts (VS. JAX)
DK: +$1386, 3.20X / FD: 2.30X
Taylor has turned into the bell cow we all hoped he would become, averaging 26.8 FPG, 18.8 touches per game, 43.2 snaps per game, and 17.7 XFP per game since Week 5. Over the full season, those numbers rank 1st (best among all players at all positions), 5th, 9th, and 7th (tie). Mid-range RB1 usage with the overall RB1 result. Should we be anticipating some negative regression here?
Well, I don’t think so. For starters, Taylor’s goal line usage is elite. He has 18 carries inside the 5 yard line, which is the most of any player, and 50% more than the next closest player (Damien Harris). His 5.1 red zone opportunities per game also leads all players at all positions.
Taylor’s also an incredible talent, out of 48 qualifying RBs he ranks 3rd in PFF rushing grades (87.0), 4th in yards after contact per attempt (3.63), 4th in missed tackles forced (29), tied for 1st in runs over 10 yards (22), 2nd in YPA (5.9), and 1st in EPA per attempt (0.14).
And when you combine an elite talent with an elite run blocking offensive line, usage expectations are often crushed. That’s exactly what we are seeing with the Colts, as their offensive line hadn’t played with their full complement of healthy starters until Week 8. But since Week 8, Indianapolis has led the league with 221 rushing yards before contact - 36% more than the next closest team (Philadelphia) and 99% more than the No. 6 team (Minnesota).
Scott Barrett pointed out in the Week 10 XFP Report that Taylor has also seen a reduction in his gamescript dependency and an improvement on his overall snap shares relative to last season, writing:
Taylor suffered an injury halfway through the second-quarter of last week’s game. Prior to that injury, Taylor had played on 20 of the team’s first 23 snaps (87%), totaling 18.2 fantasy points in just 1.5 quarters of play. He’d return to the game and end his day with 34.0 fantasy points and 200 YFS, his 6th straight game with at least 21.0 DraftKings fantasy points scored.
The week prior, Taylor played on 74% of the team’s snaps last week, which was the 2nd-most of his career. Most impressively, this was a game Indianapolis lost. And Taylor’s prior-high in snap share, in a game Indianapolis lost, was just 58%.
The week before that, Taylor played on 69% of the team’s snaps (2nd-most of his career up to that point), and more impressively, 80% of the team’s snaps through three quarters (before the game was well out of reach).
And the week before that, in a lopsided (31-3) victory, Taylor played on 65% of the team’s snaps (4th-most of his career up to that point).
With Christian McCaffrey potentially limited again in Week 10, it’s absolutely reasonable to consider Taylor (who appears to finally be a bell cow) the overall RB1 for the Week 10 main slate. Yet, he’s priced as the RB3 on DraftKings and tied with Najee Harris for the RB1 on Fanduel. And his matchup with Jacksonville should lead to a litany of touches. The Jaguars rank middle of the pack in the important run defense metrics, but the Colts are 10.0-point favorites. Taylor basically won’t leave the field should the Colts control this game as expected, given that teammate Nyheim Hines earns the vast majority of his playing time in negative gamescript scenarios. Taylor is an outstanding play on both sites, but especially on DraftKings where he projects as our highest-value flex player.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys (VS. ATL)
DK: +$386, 2.46X / FD: 1.96X
Zeke has arguably the best combination of matchup and scoring environment of any RB on the Week 10 main slate. The over/under in this contest is 54.5, +1.5 points more than the next closest game, and the Cowboys are 9.5-point favorites. Elliott has historically crushed in these environments in his career, averaging 24.0 DraftKings FPG and 20.4 Fanduel FPG when the game total is 50.0 or more and the Cowboys are favored by 3.0-points or more (12 instances). If extrapolated out for the full season, both of those numbers would rank 1st among slate-eligible RBs.
And then there’s the matchup. Atlanta has allowed the 4th-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing RBs this season (+5.2) and the 6th-most receiving FPG to opposing RBs (13.0). Given that Elliott ranks 16th among RBs in targets per game over the last three weeks (4.5), this is obviously a favorable environment to be rostering the 6th-year RB.
There’s reasonable concern that Tony Pollard will steal some work from Zeke in this game, but it’s important to remember that Pollard is a non-factor near the goal line. Elliott has out-touched Pollard 14 to 2 inside the 10 yard line, and 9 to 1 inside the 5. And Zeke averages a slate-leading 0.9 XTD per game compared to just 0.2 for Pollard. The Dallas RB TD equity in this game essentially only belongs to Elliott, and it’s arguably the best TD equity on the slate given their slate-leading 32.0 implied team total.
With so many great RB options on this slate, Zeke is likely to clock in with middling ownership, and that makes him an ideal GPP play.
James Conner, RB, Arizona Cardinals (VS. CAR)
DK: 2.68X / FD: 2.24X
Tests today on Cardinals’ RB Chase Edmonds ankle revealed a high ankle sprain, per source. He now is expected to miss multiple games.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 8, 2021
So far this season, the Cardinals have the 7th-highest scoring backfield in fantasy football, averaging 27.3 FPG. Granted, that work was divided into a pretty annoying timeshare between Chase Edmonds and James Conner. Until Sunday, when Edmonds went down with an ankle injury, opening the door for Conner to dominate the backfield market share.
And he did exactly that, seeing a season-high 26 touches on a season-high 77% snap share and scoring a slate-breaking 40.3 fantasy points. So, with Edmonds out in Week 10, it’s reasonable to expect Conner to absorb around 70% of backfield FPG, with Eno Benjamin serving as the spell back to keep Conner fresh. 70% of current backfield production would be 19.1 FPG, which would rank 7th among all RBs this season. And the Cardinals are 10.5-point favorites, implying a decent likelihood of a run-heavy gamescrip.
Could Benjamin syphon off work from Conner? Sure. But Benjamin was on the team last year during Week 9 when Kenyan Drake didn’t play, and Chase Edmonds saw a 96% snap share and 28(!) total touches. And last week, Conner earned 82% of the backfield XFP after Edmonds went down, and he played on 94% of the first-half snaps in a game that was never really close. Based on that, it wouldn’t be hard to make an argument that our initial estimate of a 70% backfield share for Conner is too low.
D’Ernest Johnson, RB, Cleveland Browns (AT NE)
DK: +$889, 2.06X / FD: +$1188, 1.66X
Nick Chubb is on the COVID-19 list (with a chance to play Sunday), and Kareem Hunt is still on IR, which potentially leaves D’Ernest Johnson as the bell cow for Cleveland in Week 10. If that’s the case, Johnson is far and away the top value play of the Week 10 main slate, as he clocks in as the RB36 (by salary) on DraftKings and the RB38 on Fanduel.
The last time Johnson had this backfield to himself, he totaled 168 YFS and 24.8 FPG on 24 total touches. That really shouldn't have been surprising, as Cleveland’s backfield is the most valuable in fantasy football, averaging 35.1 FPG across the season. And this is one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in football, as Cleveland ranks 3rd best in PFF run-blocking grades (83.5), and 3rd-best in Football Outsiders adjusted line yards (5.05). So, basically any NFL RB would have to be considered an RB1 should they lead the backfield. And maybe Johnson is far better than the average NFL RB - he’s forced a ridiculous 10 missed tackles on just 37 rush attempts - but even if he’s not, it likely doesn’t matter given his projected touch count, offensive line, and his obscenely low DFS price tag. This play is dependent on the status of Nick Chubb, but if he misses Week 10, Johnson is a free square in all formats.
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints (AT TEN)
DK: 2.49X / FD: 1.81X
Kamara played on 68% of the team’s snaps last week, and Ingram still walked away with 10 carries and 5 targets, totaling 64 YFS and 11.4 fantasy points (no touchdowns).
And well, now, it’s looking like Kamara is going to play zero snaps this week. Per Saints beat writer Nick Underhill, he’s “probably doubtful” to play this week.
And, remember, earlier in the season, I was touting Tony Jones as the most undervalued handcuff in fantasy. And that’s because, historically, when one of Payton’s two starting RBs are out, the other RB is deployed as a full-on bell cow and to great fantasy success.
Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray both sat out in Week 17 in 2020. Ty Montgomery, who had a total of -4 rushing yards through the first 16 weeks of the season, totaled 105 rushing yards on 18 carries in their absence.
Alvin Kamara missed two other games in 2020. What happened in those two games? Latavius Murray handled 91% of the team’s touches out of the backfield, averaging 24.0 carries, 9.0 targets, 153.5 yards, 2.0 touchdowns, and an astounding 34.4 fantasy points per game.
Mark Ingram missed the first four games of the 2018 season (due to a suspension). Over that span, Kamara averaged 34.0 FPG. But he averaged only 19.8 FPG after Ingram’s return.
Although 19.8 to 34.4 fantasy points feels like too lofty of a goal for the 31-year-old RB — Kamara is “only” averaging 19.8 FPG this year, despite easily seeing the best usage of his career, no doubt missing Drew Brees who always targeted RBs at the league’s highest rate — he only needs 13.5 fantasy points to hit 3X value on DraftKings, priced just $500 off the site minimum salary.
That said, the matchup is fairly tricky. Tennessee ranks 10th-worst in YPC allowed to opposing RBs (4.51), but top-12 in rushing- and receiving FPG allowed, and schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing RBs. But, still, I think he’s a near-lock-button play if Kamara can’t suit up (and Nick Chubb can).
Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers (VS. SEA)
DK: +$323, 1.87X / FD: 1.36X
In his last 21 games with Aaron Rodgers under center, Adams has averaged 10.5 targets per game, 100.9 receiving yards per game, 2.9 red zone targets per game, and 23.9 FPG. This season, among slate-eligible WRs, those numbers rank 1st, 1st, 1st, and 1st. Adams should be regarded as the WR1 on the Week 10 slate by a wide margin, and yet he’s available at a relative discount. His Week 10 salary of $7,900 on DraftKings is $511 cheaper than his average DK salary this season, and his $8,700 Fanduel Salary is 8.7% more than the WR2 (D.K. Metcalf), despite the fact Adams has been 13.7% more productive this season. And he’s the only slate-eligible WR who ranks in the top-7 by FPG
Adams should have no problem continuing his dominance against a Seattle coverage unit that ranks 7th-worst in PFF team coverage grades (50.9), and has no CBs with a PFF coverage grade over 64.8. Plus this game is expected to be a shootout, boasting the 3rd-highest total of the Week 10 main slate. Since 2017, Adams has averaged 26.5 DraftKings FPG and 20.2 Fanduel FPG when the game total is higher than 50.0 (20 instances).
Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (AT WAS)
DK: +$280, 2.62X / FD: +$428, 2.11X
Antonio Brown is still in a walking boot while Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski didn’t practice on Thursday. That means we could be headed towards a scenario where Mike Evans is the only healthy Bucs starting WR - and that would obviously translate to outstanding usage.
But even if Godwin plays, I’m still going to dial in on Evans as my top Bucs WR play of Week 10. Why? Well, it all revolves around his usage, and this matchup.
Since Brady joined the Bucs, Evans leads the team with 20 end targets and an absurd 60 red zone targets. On a per game basis, those numbers would rank 21st and 1st among all WRs this season. And as most DFS players know, that kind of red zone and end zone usage can easily lead to the ceiling TD performances that win GPPs.
The Washington pass defense is making a push for the worst in the NFL, allowing the 4th-most FPG to opposing outside WRs (25.6), the most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing WRs (+8.3), ranking 2nd-worst in Football Outsiders pass defense DVOA (31.0%), and 3rd-worst in PFF team coverage grades (37.6). And they rank 3rd-worst in FPG allowed on deep passes (10.9), great news for Evans given 29% of his fantasy production has come on passes of 20 or more yards. His upside against this defense is just ridiculous, and that makes him a stellar GPP play if we assume ownership doesn't get out of hand (which it could). But should Godwin sit out, Evans becomes a lock-button play in all formats, so be sure to keep an eye on the Bucs’ injury reports.
Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (VS. DET)
DK: +$274, 2.26X / FD: +$261, 1.71X
Toughest Schedules to Date— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) November 3, 2021
Dak Prescott (-2.2)
Derek Carr (-2.0)
Chris Carson (-3.9)
Dalvin Cook (-2.3)
Nick Chubb (-2.3)
Raiders WRs (-2.9)
Dallas WRs (-2.7)
Diontae Johnson (-2.6)
Deebo Samuel (-2.6)
Chiefs WRs (-2.4)
Robert Tonyan (-2.9)
Darren Waller (-1.5)
Every week Diontae Johnson is priced too low. He leads slate-eligible WRs in XFP per game (21.2), and is tied with Cooper Kupp for 2nd in targets per game (11.8). Despite this, he’s the WR10 (by salary) on DraftKings and the WR12 on Fanduel.
That discrepancy could be due to Johnson’s inefficiency, as his 18.0 FPG (-3.3 PAR) makes him the WR10 on the season. Granted, his difficult schedule accounts for roughly 80% of that inefficiency, so I’m doubtful he’ll consistently underachieve going forward. And if Johnson was just league-average in efficiency, he would be the WR4 on the season (by FPG), 0.6 FPG ahead of Davante Adams, and just 1.2 FPG behind Tyreek Hill. That’s elite company.
The Lions aren’t exactly a plus matchup for Johnson, as they’ve allowed 20.8 FPG to outside WRs (12th-toughest). Detroit has, however, been incredibly vulnerable to the deep ball this season, allowing 82.9 YPG (most) and 11.9 FPG (2nd-most) on throws of 20 or more yards. That’s a crucial note for Johnson, who leads the team and ranks 5th in the NFL with 2.3 deep targets per game. And Chase Claypool — who is averaging 2.0 deep targets and 8.5 targets per game — is questionable for this contest with a toe injury. Should he miss Week 10, Johnson could be headed towards his highest-target outing of the season, with the boost of additional deep targets against one of the league's worst deep ball defenses. He’s an outstanding GPP play this week and is cash game viable should Claypool sit out Week 10.
Jerry Jeudy, WR, Denver Broncos (VS. PHI)
DK:+$257, 2.66X / FD: +$383, 1.83X
Jeudy hasn’t had his breakout performance yet, but it’s absolutely coming, and it could come this week against an Eagles defense that’s allowed the highest passer rating (135.1) to opposing slot WRs this season and was just shredded by Chargers slot man Keenan Allen for 12/104.
The ankle sprain that held Jeudy out of Weeks 2-7 is clearly in the rearview mirror, as Jeudy has run a route on 77% of the Broncos pass plays since returning from injury. And last week, in a blowout of the Cowboys, Jeudy easily led the team with a 29% target share (8% more than the next closest player) and likely would have had his best game of the season had the Broncos not taken their foot off the gas. While I’m not typically a CB matchup guy, it’s hard to deny that Darius Slay’s shadow coverage on Courtland Sutton will have an impact, and could easily push further targets in Jeudy’s direction this week. Slay ranks top-15 of 100-qualifying CBs in yards allowed per snap in coverage. And he’s shadowed four times thus far, holding D.J. Moore, Mike Evans, Henry Ruggs, and Mike Williams to an average of 7.1 FPG, allowing just 8.8 fantasy points in his worst game (to Moore).
An elite talent like Jeudy should never go overlooked in DFS tournaments, and this week is no different as he should be playing in a much closer contest against the Eagles.
Dan Arnold, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars (AT IND)
DK: +$329, 2.46X / FD: +$361, 1.34X
Arnold has reached 60 receiving yards and led the team in receiving yards 3 of his last 4 games. Over this span, he ranks 5th in targets per game (8.3), 6th in XFP per game (13.0), 8th in YPG (54.8), and 9th in FPG (10.5). So, he was already a mid-TE1 by volume and a low-end-TE1 by production (despite not yet finding the end zone). And now he gets a best-possible matchup against a Colts defense which ranks worst in schedule-adjusted FPG, worth in real terms a +5.5-point boost to Arnold’s per game average.