Football is back! Which means the gift and the curse of DFS is back. Which means that you’re either celebrating on Sunday night or you want to pull your hair out.
NFL DFS is a constant balancing act. Knowing the “right” plays only gets you so far. To become a good tournament player, you have to analyze your rosters from two different perspectives: 1) Is this lineup good enough to compete? (i.e. finish inside of the cash line and double my money) and 2) Is this lineup good enough to win the whole damn thing? (i.e. win $100,000). Those are two very, very separate ideas.
There is literally nothing wrong with being a cash player and just doubling your money every season. But to win at tournaments, you have to have a different mindset.
So how do we achieve that ultimate goal?
All of these ideas flow together, but in broad terms, these are my three principles that I live by in DFS:
— Keep an open mind to sacrificing a few projected points for a significantly lower-owned player that can give me massive leverage over the field if the higher-owned player fails.
— Construct your roster in a way that is naturally contrarian and then mix in the good chalk (i.e. the best plays). This is usually done by identifying a game or two that has shoutout potential, but our opponents are under-valuing said game(s) for any number of reasons.
— Contest selection is key. Your probability of flopping the nuts and winning a large-field, 100,000 entry tournament with a max entry of 150 lineups is 0.0015%. On the other hand, your probability of winning a 500 entry tournament that only allows 3 entries maximum is 0.006%. Which is still low! But your likelihood of winning that 500 entry tournament compared to the 100,000 is still four times better.
The art of being a good tournament player is balancing being contrarian without being stupid. That’s what this article is all about. Let’s make smart, low-owned bets that have massive leverage over our opponents. And not be stupid.
While this article will focus on ownership, please understand that these projections are not perfect at all. They are ballpark projections to get an idea of where the public is at.
Ok, Week 1. Onward.
Note: The ownership projections referenced in this article are from our dashboard, which is powered by FanShare. These are updated constantly throughout the weekend.
Overlooked Stacks / Games
(These are QB-receiver stacks or games that have high-scoring potential, but are going to be under-owned.)
The most popular Week 1 games that the field will pick players from is Steelers-Bills, Cardinals-Titans, and Chiefs-Browns. And to a lesser extent, Seahawks-Colts.
Vikings at Bengals
Especially now that Irv Smith is out for the season, the Vikings have the most condensed target tree in football. Last year, Jefferson and Thielen combined for a whopping 52% of Cousins’ targets and 74% (!) of his air yards. We know exactly where the ball is going here. If you want to get weird, the other way to stack up the Vikings passing is by punting tight end and playing Tyler Conklin ($2900 DK | $4400 FD) with Cousins and one of Jefferson/Thielen.
Now, the Bengals did make a concerted effort to improve their depth on defense this offseason, but they are going to be heading into this game down their best cornerback in Trae Waynes (hamstring). The Bengals gave up the 10th-most fantasy points per pass attempt (0.488) last season and, historically speaking, Cousins has feasted in layup matchups in his Viking career. Over the previous three seasons, Cousins has averaged 19.6 FPG against bottom-12 passing defenses and just 15.2 FPG in all of his other matchups.
If Cousins, Jefferson, and Thielen are going to have GPP winning scores, we need the Bengals and Joe Burrow to score to keep up the pace and turn this game into a shootout. Because a Cousins/Jefferson/Thielen pairing is so naturally contrarian in terms of roster construction, I like the idea of running a game stack back with Joe Mixon who is going to be popular, but is one of the best running back plays on DraftKings this weekend as Scott Barrett laid out in his epic breakdown. Play this out in your head… if the Vikings passing game is going to crush, it’s going to be because the Bengals are either leading or keeping the game very close. That type of game script is perfect for Mixon.
Tee Higgins is an excellent play, too. He’s just a massive, unavoidable value on DraftKings.
I love this game overall. Burrow is going to have to be sharp in his first game back for this game to go nuts, but Vegas is fairly confident a shootout is in the range of outcomes. The over/under is set at 47, which is one point behind Steelers-Bills (48).
(If ownership is grouping on to a few plays, it may leave similarly priced players lower owned than they should be. These are those guys at RB / WR / TE.)
Raheem Mostert (9% DK | 7% FD) — Let’s call a spade a spade: The 49ers have massive advantages on both sides of the ball over the Lions. With Jimmy Garoppolo starting and Trey Lance likely mixing in on certain packages and against an over-matched Lions defense, HC Kyle Shanahan will likely dial up an extremely run-centric game-plan on Opening Day. The Lions had a sub-par run defense last year — they allowed 96.9 YPG on the ground to RBs (fifth-most) — and are relying on former ram Michael Brockers and rookie NT Alim McNeil to bolster their defensive line this season. It remains to be seen how this backfield split shakes out between Mostert and Trey Sermon, but at least for Week 1, Mostert is the “1A.” Mostert got starter treatment all preseason (by resting) and then got the start in the 49ers final preseason game before being put in bubble wrap after one drive. Mostert looked electric on that one drive, too. As massive 7.5-point road favorites, we have Mostert projected to touch the rock 16.5 times and he provides leverage on popular running backs on both DraftKings (Mixon / Gibson) and FanDuel (Harris / Robinson). Pair him up with 49ers D/ST.
Terry McLaurin (9% DK | 7% FD) — Everyone, myself included, was excited to draft all the McLaurin in the early third-round of drafts. Now in Week 1, very few want to play him. Ok, some of that is because there are roughly a billion playable, cheap wide receivers that have decent ceilings in their range of outcomes and that is leaving a lot of the mid-range WRs under-owned. McLaurin is the best of that bunch. He saw a massive 27% target share last season, gets a massive QB upgrade this season, and his matchup isn’t one to worry about (H/T Wes Huber). I’m a single-entry player and there is a 100% chance McLaurin will be in my lineup.
Chase Claypool (2% DK | 5% FD) — Claypool is another receiver going overlooked in the mid-range because of the dearth of value. With the Bills (6-point favorites) likely to lead the whole way over the Steelers, we’re going to see Pittsburgh have to throw to keep up. Very few receivers carry the TD upside Claypool has every week, and in what should be a very pass-heavy game-script, that is especially true on Opening Day. Claypool is my choice as the preferred game stack option if you’re playing Josh Allen + Bills WRs.
Jaylen Waddle (5% DK | N/A FD) — Want to be contrarian with your cheap receiver selections this week? Just play the other guys. Marquez Callaway, Elijah Moore, Rondale Moore, and Marvin Jones all project to carry between 15-30% ownership this week, which is going to leave other cheap wideouts lower-owned. Waddle (5% projected ownership) fits that bill. Will Fuller (suspension) isn’t eligible to play this week, Stephon Gillmore is on the “PUP list” (he’s holding out), and the Dolphins are field goal underdogs which means they might have to throw a bit more than they want. Also, Waddle is just good at the game. He was the best receiver in the 2021 WR draft class after the catch and was out-producing Devonta Smith in Alabama’s first four games before he hurt his ankle. If Waddle is 5-8% owned, he is excellent leverage off of the other cheap wideouts everyone is on.
Note: If Emmanuel Sanders (foot) or Odell Beckham (knee) are out, Gabe Davis and Donovan Peoples-Jones are also excellent leverage plays off of the chalk cheap wide receivers. Davis is a pretty decent play even if Sanders suits up.
Zach Ertz (4% DK | 2% FD) — Like it or not, Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert are the 1A / 1B starters in some order. In Jalen Hurts’ three full starts last year, Ertz saw 17 targets… and so did Goedert. DeVonta Smith is going to be the lead dog here, but Ertz’s target projection is in the 4-7 range on Opening Day. That’s about all you can ask for if you’re playing a non-Kelce or Waller tight end. This will be the healthiest the veteran Ertz is all season and is arguably the best matchup he’ll get all season. Last year, Atlanta coughed up 59.5 yards per game to TEs (fourth-most) and a league-high 76% catch rate to the position. Stacking Jalen Hurts with Ertz is a good way to differentiate your rosters.
Robert Tonyan (3% DK | 2% FD) — Kyle Pitts is probably the best tight end play on DraftKings and everyone knows it. Our ownership projections have Pitts pegged at 19% on DK and just below that on FanDuel. A slightly lower priced Tonyan offers high-upside leverage off of Pitts. Last year, Tonyan was a dominant scorer. He scored 11 TDs on just 59 targets as 37% of his fantasy points came from touchdowns alone, which was the highest rate among the top-24 scoring TEs. Amazingly, Tonyan is the first tight end to finish top-5 at the position with fewer than 60 targets dating back to 2000. However, Tonyan can overcome the likely dip in TDs with more targets, which is something HC Matt LaFleur alluded to this offseason. Tonyan’s matchup is pristine, too (H/T Wes Huber).
Favorite Plays at Low Ownership
The Vikings-Bengals game is going overlooked. I love a full-on stack with Cousins / Jefferson / Thielen (or Conklin) + Mixon or Higgins.
Terry McLaurin has slate-breaking upside at sub-10% ownership.
The way to be contrarian in GPPs this week is to just not play the chalk cheap wideouts. Marvin Jones and Marquez Callaway are my two favorites, but there are a number of ways to get off of their lofty ownership percentages (hello, Jaylen Waddle).