DFS Early Look: Week 1

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DFS Early Look: Week 1

The NFL regular season is only 10 days away, which means we are just 10 days away from fantasy football. As my readers likely know, DFS is the best version of fantasy football, and since DraftKings and FanDuel have released their Week 1 prices, it’s time to track down the obvious values and best plays.

Here are the plays that jump out to me for Week 1 DFS.

Trey Lance, QB, San Francisco 49ers (@ CHI)

DraftKings: $6,000 (QB9) | FanDuel: $7,500 (QB8)

HC Kyle Shanahan coached Robert Griffin III to 21.5 FPG (QB4) and the offensive rookie of the year award in 2012, so why can’t he do the same thing with Trey Lance? Lance doesn’t just have outstanding rushing ability (60.0 rushing YPG in his 2 starts, 2nd-best among all QBs last year), he also has one of the best after-the-catch receiving corps ever assembled.

Over the last 3 seasons, we’ve seen CJ Beathard (19th), Nick Mullens (13th), and Jimmy Garoppolo (1st) all rank top-20 in yards per attempt. Lance should be faced with a season full of QB rush attempts and easy throws that lead to YAC – suggesting he will be a high-end fantasy QB regardless of his actual passing ability. Remember, 2011 Tim Tebow ranked top-12 in fantasy points per start, and Taysom Hill averages more FPG per QB start than Aaron Rodgers, in large part because the average QB rush attempt is 2.7X more valuable than the average QB pass attempt. Lance has one of the highest floors of any Week 1 QB, and at $6,000, I’d expect him to be the go-to in cash games on DraftKings for our first week of regular season DFS.

Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears (VS. SF)

DraftKings: $5,600 (QB14) | FanDuel: $6,900 (QB15)

Fields’ 2021 season got off to a brutal start, but by the end of the year he looked like a rather impressive fantasy contributor – averaging 7.4 rushing FPG and 19.7 FPG in his final 4 healthy games. For perspective, 7.4 rushing FPG is equivalent to 2021 Lamar Jackson (24th-most rushing FPG all-time by a QB), while 19.7 FPG would’ve bested Joe Burrow last season (~QB10). So, at least based on how Fields finished 2021, he appears to be a clear value on both sites.

As Scott Barrett pointed out here, the 2021 Chicago Bears offense did not put Fields in a position to succeed, as it was primarily built for a pocket passer (Andy Dalton), and not a player with Fields' skillset. 2022 should be a different story. Kevin Fishbain from the Athletic noted, “we can expect some RPOs, an outside-zone run scheme, and a vertical passing game, all things that should complement Fields’ skill set. That could lead to more rushing yards and an increase in big-play opportunities through the air.”

Of course, Fields is dealing with one of the worst offensive lines and WR groups in the NFL, but I’m not sure that matters. We know pressure has no correlation to QB fantasy points scored (at least for rushing QBs like Fields), and his rushing output should more than makeup for throwing to Byron Pringle. Plus, the Bears are 7-point underdogs, and Fields has been far more productive in negative gamescript thus far in his career. Last season, 27% of Fields’ total fantasy production came from rushes while trailing – suggesting we should be targeting the second year QB in games where the Bears are heavy underdogs.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Atlanta Falcons (VS. NO)

DraftKings: $5,200 (QB23) | FanDuel $6,500 (QB23)

In just one quarter of work in preseason Week 1, Mariota completed both of his passes for 36 yards while adding another 23 rushing yards and a rushing TD on three carries. In 2020, Mariota scored 25.8 fantasy points in his lone game on the back of 88 rushing yards and 1 rushing TD. I say all that to say this: Mariota has underrated rushing upside and is certainly capable of big fantasy performances in the right circumstances. He was a complete disaster the last time we saw him with HC Arthur Smith, sure, but the abysmal ending to Mariota’s time in Tennessee should keep his ownership in the low single digits. He’s an excellent QB to take a chance on in large-field GPPs given his recent willingness to use his legs.

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers (VS. CLE)

DraftKings: $8,500 (RB3) | FanDuel: $9,500 (RB3)

Since 2019, McCaffrey has been cheaper than $8,500 on DraftKings just once, and cheaper than $9,500 on FanDuel a meager 6 times (23% of games). And in the games he’s started and finished, he’s only dominated. CMC averaged 26.9 FPG in his last 39 healthy games, and has finished as a top-6 RB in 86% of his last 21 games. A big part of that is CMC’s legendary receiving role, as he’s averaged 8.1 targets per game since 2018 – a mark that bested WRs like Tee Higgins, Terry McLaurin, and Michael Pittman last year. So, not only does McCaffrey regularly post the highest-end production at the RB position, but he’s also locked into one of the best receiving roles at any position in the entire NFL.

The Panthers are 1.0-point favorites in Week 1, but regardless of gamescript, McCaffrey should produce, as he’s averaged 26.7 FPG in losses and 23.9 FPG in wins since 2018. And he’s the RB1 in Scott Barrett’s rankings and the RB1 in my personal best ball rankings, yet the RB3 in salary on both sites. McCaffrey is easily the best ‘expensive’ RB play on both sites, but especially on a full-PPR site like DraftKings.

D’Andre Swift, RB, Detroit Lions (VS. PHI)

DraftKings: $6,800 (RB9) | FanDuel: $7,600 (RB11)

Swift was approaching Christian McCaffrey levels of usage prior to his Week 12 shoulder injury, averaging 7.1 targets per game (1st), 18.9 XFP/G (4th), and 18.6 FPG (4th). He saw his snap share jump from 63% to 76% in his final seven games, while also exceeding 130 rushing yards in each of his final two games prior to injury. So, Swift is one of the more obvious RB values, at least based on his production and usage prior to injury relative to his Week 1 cost.

But, what makes Swift an especially appealing target in Week 1 is the game environment – the Lions are 4.0-point underdogs in the 3rd-highest total game of the slate (49.0). Last season, Swift averaged 18.9 DraftKings FPG (~RB5) and 15.8 FanDuel FPG (~RB7) in the 6 games he played with a total of 48.0 or higher. And, when looking at the best 8 fantasy performances of Swift’s career, it’s apparent that 75% of those performances came when Detroit was an underdog by 4.0-points or more – demonstrating how effective Swift is in negative gamescript.

Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (@ CIN)

DraftKings: $6,400 (RB12) | FanDuel: $8,200 (RB8)

Last season, Harris ranked 1st in weighted opportunity per game (19.2), 1st in snaps per game (53.3), 2nd in XFP/G (19.6), and 8th in FPG (17.8) – yet he ranks as the RB12 on DraftKings and the RB8 on FanDuel. And, that’s despite consistently being drafted as the RB6 in season-long leagues. Fantasy gamers expect a big season out of Harris, but his Week 1 DFS pricing doesn’t reflect that.

The game environment isn’t favorable, with the Steelers as 6.5-point underdogs. But even so, Harris still managed at least 21.0 DraftKings points in five of the 12 games last year where the Steelers were underdogs, so we could argue he’s still very capable of exceeding his salary-based expectation even in negative gamescript, largely due to his receiving role (5.5 targets per game last year, 5th). And that receiving role could further expand in 2022, given Mitch Trubisky’s known affinity for targeting RBs, and his general inability to throw an accurate ball downfield.

Harris hasn’t been this cheap on DraftKings since Week 2 of 2021, and that’s not a discount I plan on passing up. He’s a high-end value on DraftKings, but only a mediocre one on FanDuel in this likely negative gamescript.

Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers (@ MIN)

DraftKings: $6,700 (RB10) | FanDuel: $7,400 (RB12)

Jones has played 7 games without Davante Adams over the last 3 seasons, averaging 6.7 targets per game and 25.9 FPG in those contests – marks that would’ve easily led all 2021 RBs. But that’s far from the only bullish note for Jones in this contest, as he’s averaged 18.8 DraftKings FPG and 16.3 FanDuel FPG over the last 3 seasons when the Packers are favored (38 instances), and Green Bay is a 2.5-point favorite in Week 1. For perspective, 18.8 DraftKings FPG is better than 2021 Leonard Fournette (~RB5), while 16.3 FanDuel FPG would’ve ranked no worse than RB8 since 2019.

With that said, the risk with Jones is that he continues to cede goalline work to AJ Dillon, which would obviously cap his ceiling. Scott Barrett argues here (and I’m inclined to agree) that Jones' reduction in goal line usage in the 2nd-half of 2021 was primarily due to his Week 10 knee injury. If that’s true, and Jones returns to his old red zone ‘bell cow’ role, then he’s easily one of the best RB plays on the slate. But, we don’t know if that’s true, and of course, it’s possible the Packers just want Dillon to be their goalline back.

So, we have some unanswered questions in regard to Jones' role. But if there’s one thing we know he has, it’s an immense ceiling. Jones has the 4th-most games of 30 or more fantasy points (5) since 2019 – showcasing his slate-breaking potential in DFS tournaments. It’s unwise to consider him a cash game play given the questions about his overall role, but he’s more than worth the risk in GPPs.

Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants (@ TEN)

DraftKings: $6,100 (RB15) | FanDuel: $6,800 (RB15)

Barkley is RB8 by ADP, RB7 in my personal best ball rankings, and RB7 according to Scott Barrett’s season-long rankings – yet he is priced as the RB15 on both DFS sites. Last year, Barkley managed just 2 full practices and was clearly not 100%, although he did seem to approach full health in Weeks 2, 3, and 4. In those 3 games, Barkley averaged an 84% snap share, 16.8 XFP/G, 18.3 touches per game, and 20.0 FPG. Over the full season, those numbers would’ve ranked 1st, 9th, 11th, and 4th – showcasing what an immense value Barkley is (at current prices) given he’s the undisputed bell cow in this backfield (who could also see an expanded pass game role this year). The only major knock on Barkley ahead of Week 1 is Tennessee being a 6.5-point favorite, as Barkley has performed substantially worse in losses (17.6 FPG) than wins (25.8 FPG) in his career. Even so, Barkley averages a respectable 14.9 FanDuel FPG (~RB10) and 17.8 DraftKings FPG (~RB9) in his 34 career healthy games where the Giants were underdogs, so he’s still a clear value at cost despite the unfavorable spread.

Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston Texans (VS. IND)

DraftKings: $4,800 (RB48) | FanDuel: $5,400 (RB41)

The Pierce hype train hasn’t just left the station, it’s become a full-blown runaway locomotive.

Pierce has had a stellar camp and preseason and appears locked into starting early down duties in Houston. He’s catapulted to the RB28 on Underdog, and the RB27 in our season-long projections – clearly presenting value relative to his RB41 and RB48 salaries on FanDuel and DraftKings, respectfully.

Now, the obvious problem for Pierce in Week 1 is the Texans being 8.0-point underdogs, especially since Pierce will likely cede pass game work to Rex Burkhead. That leaves him a relatively narrow avenue for success – a run-heavy script where the Texans either keep the game close or win outright (26% implied win probability, per Vegas). It’s not difficult to argue that Pierce should be faded just based on gamescript concerns (especially at double-digit ownership), but he’s still going to project as one of the stronger RB values of the slate, and should be the centerpiece in lineups that anticipate a Texans victory.

Expensive WRs (Primarily on DraftKings)

Both DFS sites (but mainly DraftKings) inflate the salaries of high-end players (mostly WRs) as the season progresses. For Week 1 (on DK), Ja’Marr Chase is $1,200 cheaper than he was in Week 18 of 2021. Davante Adams is $1,300 cheaper. Tee Higgins is $1,100 cheaper. Keenan Allen is $500 cheaper. Can you spot the trend?

Almost all high-end WRs, despite returning to the same (or a similar) role as last season, are offered up at a substantial discount relative to Week 18 of 2021. The lesson here is simple: be more willing to pay up at WR early in the season (especially on DraftKings), because the top-end WRs will only get more expensive as we move deeper into the year.

Tyreek Hill, WR, Miami Dolphins (VS. NE)

DraftKings: $6,800 (WR6) | FanDuel: $7,700 (WR5)

Last season, Hill’s average DraftKings salary was $8,294, while his average FanDuel salary was $8,470. Or, in other words, Week 1 Tyreek Hill is 19% cheaper than his average 2021 DraftKings salary, and 9% cheaper than his average 2021 FanDuel salary. Now, from a median projection perspective, that’s likely correct. Hill faces an obvious QB downgrade this season, and should be playing in a more run-heavy offense. But, he’s still Tyreek Hill – the WR with the best ceiling in fantasy football.

Hill is responsible for the 1st-, 6th-, 13th-, 19th-, and 31st-best single-game PPR performances by a WR since 2018. We don’t know how Miami will use Hill, making him far too risky of a play in small field tournaments or cash games. But we know Mike McDaniel’s offense will revolve around maximizing yardage after the catch, and Hill ranks 4th in YAC since entering the league in 2017. Hill’s all-time great upside can’t be ignored in tournaments, especially at a massive relative salary discount to previous seasons.

Michael Pittman, WR, Indianapolis Colts (@ HOU)

DraftKings: $5,500 (WR23)

I don’t necessarily believe the tweet above, but I do believe that Pittman is in for a career year. Season-long markets seem to agree, with Pittman currently being drafted as the WR12 on Underdog, and landing as the WR9 in Scott Barrett’s rankings. With Matt Ryan at the helm, Pittman pops as one of the stronger WR values on DraftKings given Ryan’s history of targeting his WR1.

Over the last five seasons, Ryan’s WR1 has averaged 17.6 FPG – a mark that ranks no worse than WR7 since 2019. And, at least for Week 1, Pittman has the advantage of going up against PFF’s worst-ranked secondary for 2022 – a unit that allowed the 8th-most FPG to outside WRs last season (22.7). The only obvious negative for Pittman in this game is the Colts’ being 8.0-point favorites, which could keep the offense in the hands of Jonathan Taylor and the Colts’ ground game. He will project as one of the top WR values on DraftKings, but this DFS article helps shed light on the ideal way to roster Pittman in Week 1 – on teams fading the (likely) extremely chalky Jonathan Taylor.

Elijah Moore, WR, New York Jets (VS. BAL)

DraftKings: $5,100 (WR29) | FanDuel: $6,000 (WR26)

Joe Flacco appears likely to be the starter for New York in Week 1 as Zach Wilson recovers from knee surgery. And if there is one thing Joe Flacco knows, it’s how to get the ball to Elijah Moore – as Moore recorded 48% of Flacco’s total passing yards (141) and 33% of Flacco’s total completions (8) in Flacco’s lone 2021 start (Week 11), totaling a season-high 29.6 fantasy points in that contest. The Jets being 7.0-point underdogs also sets up nicely for Moore, given he averaged 16.4 DraftKings FPG (~WR14) and 13.7 FanDuel FPG (~WR12) in the 8 games last year where the Jets were 4.0-point underdogs or worse. Moore is an elite upside play at cost.

Kadarius Toney, WR, New York Giants (@ TEN)

DraftKings: $4,100 (WR62) | FanDuel: $5,300 (WR48)

Toney dealt with knee issues all offseason and now appears to be having some hamstring trouble, which has surely limited his offseason hype. But, we know that when healthy, Toney is arguably one of the NFL’s most talented pass catchers. Last season, Toney posted a 2.14 YPRR (tied with Tyreek Hill), led all WRs in missed tackles forced per reception (0.31), had the 6th-most receiving yards in any 2021 game (189), and led all WRs in TPRR (0.37) from Week 4 onward – despite being on the injury report in 14 of 17 weeks. And while the current questions over Toney’s health are certainly valid, he does appear to be headed in the right direction after burning Sauce Gardner on an underneath route during joint practices on August 25th. If we assume he plays in Week 1, he’s aggressively underpriced (especially on DraftKings), as he ranks as the WR41 by ADP, the WR45 in Scott Barrett’s rankings, and the WR39 according to our season-long FPG projections. Toney isn’t just an obvious value; he’s a tremendously talented WR with massive upside (see his 189-yard performance in Week 5). Assuming he plays Week 1, he’s easily one of the most mispriced players on the slate.

Parris Campbell, WR, Indianapolis Colts (@ HOU)

DraftKings: $3,300 (WR91)

The oft-injured Campbell is finally healthy, and appears to be the Colts’ WR2 ahead of Week 1 after a strong training camp. It’s difficult (or, maybe impossible) to argue Campbell has slate-breaking upside – he’s never scored more than 14.0 DraftKings points, and has exceeded double-digit DK points just 3 times in his 3-year career. Still, Campbell, as a full-time starter, is easily in line for more work than his current salary implies. Our own season-long projections have Campbell as the WR58 by FPG, and I would assume industry-wide projections will promote Campbell as one of the top projected point-per-salary values of the slate on DraftKings. I doubt anyone will love this play, but a 5X return on salary here is certainly within reason, and Campbell is worth some exposure because of it.

Wan’Dale Robinson, WR, New York Giants (@ TEN)

DraftKings: $3,000 (WR104) | FanDuel: $4,700 (WR102)

Robinson is shaping up as a full-time starter for New York, at least based on his preseason usage. And, given he would presumably play the vast majority of his snaps in the slot, Robinson certainly has PPR cheat code potential, as Sterling Shepard has shown during his time as New York’s starting slot.

Now, Shepard was recently activated from the PUP list and has resumed practicing, so there is no guarantee that the Giants slot job would belong to Robinson in Week 1. But, given the questions over the health of Kadarius Toney, and the will to succeed of Kenny Golladay, there is always the chance a healthy Shepard could be bumped to the outside so the Giants can keep all of their best WRs on the field.

And, just relative to current industry sentiment, Robinson is obviously mispriced, as he is the WR71 on Underdog, the WR48 in Scott Barrett’s rankings, and the WR55 by FPG in our season-long projections. He’s a high-end salary-saving option on both sites, barring news that Sterling Shepard will man the slot in Week 1.

Hayden Hurst, TE, Cincinnati Bengals (VS. PIT)

DraftKings: $3,300 (TE22) | FanDuel: $4,900 (TE19)

Scott Barrett highlights here why punting TE is typically an optimal approach in GPPs. And, Hayden Hurst is one of the best ways to do just that in Week 1. Bengals’ beat writer Geoff Hobson noted that during joint practices with the Rams, “Hurst was all over the yard. In the slot, in the flat, seemingly always being available for Burrow when the rush began to seep in.”

Last season, C.J. Uzomah averaged a pedestrian 8.0 FPG (TE22), but, crucial for DFS, Uzomah managed to finish as the overall TE1 in Week 4 (26.5 FPs) and Week 7 (24.1), while adding another strong fantasy performance (18.4 FPs) in the Wild Card round game against Las Vegas. So, while the Bengals’ TE role doesn’t offer consistent opportunity for high-end production, there is an opportunity for high-end production, at least in a given week. Hurst is one of my favorite avenues to punt TE in Week 1.

Daniel Bellinger, TE, New York Giants (@ TEN)

DraftKings: $2,500 (TE47) | FanDuel: $4,100 (TE68)

Bellinger is currently recovering from a concussion, but appears to have a good chance to play in Week 1 as New York’s starting TE. Last season, Giant’s TE1 Evan Engram averaged a rather pitiful 6.8 FPG, but he still would’ve 4Xed a $2,500 DraftKings salary in 33% of his total games.

And, with Brian Daboll at the helm, we could argue that Engram’s 6.8 FPG is closer to the ‘worst-case scenario’ for Bellinger rather than a realistic base case. If Bellinger recreates even 80% of Dawson Knox’s 2021 production (~8.7 FPG), then he would easily be the most undervalued TE (by salary) on both sites, given 8.7 FPG was good for TE19 last year. We love punting TE in GPPs here at FantasyPoints dot com, and Bellinger is likely the optimal way to do so if he suits up in Week 1.

Jake Tribbey is a recent college graduate and lifelong football fan obsessed with extracting every edge possible from NFL DFS, Best Ball, and player props/futures.

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