After 11 incredible weeks of football, the USFL season is coming to an end. Thankfully, we still have one DFS slate left before we enter the dark, cold, football-less period of mid-summer. And with $10k to first place in the big DraftKings GPP, we still have plenty of reasons to grind out edges in USFL DFS.
When making showdown teams, be sure to be maximizing the correlations between the players in your lineups, while also trying to target players who should be on the lower end of ownership. Basically, get creative! I highlight both correlations to target and some high-leverage ownership spots in the write-ups below.
The recommendations in this article are specific to the main ($15) USFL GPP. With that in mind, let’s get into the USFL plays.
The obvious plays at the captain position are, well, pretty obvious. We know both QBs will lead the way in captain ownership, followed by both Birmingham RBs, with Darnell Holland also in the mix depending on who is active in the Stars’ RB room. Our goal here is to uncover some players who could be the optimal captain, but won’t come close to having it reflected in their captain ownership.
Philadelphia Running Backs
Matthew Colburn unfortunately suffered what appeared to be a serious knee injury last week, and won’t play in the championship game. That leaves the 2nd-most valuable backfield in the USFL (by weighted opportunity) completely up for grabs.
Right now, it appears Darnell Holland ($5,800) is a lock to be active, and he would be the presumptive lead back if he were to only share the backfield with the recently signed Dexter Williams ($5,400). If this happens, Holland would almost certainly be treated as a bell cow, as Williams hasn’t played in a USFL game this season and likely lacks familiarity with Bart Andrus’ playbook. So, if only Holland and Williams are active in this Stars’ backfield, expect massive captain ownership for Holland. He may even wind up as the slate’s most popular captain given his glaring value in that scenario.
But it gets really interesting if Paul Terry ($5,200) is active. In only 6 games this season, Terry averaged a position-leading 4.2 targets per game, and ranked 7th of 21 RBs in weighted opportunity across the entire season. Holland, for reference, ranks 14th. And in Week 2, when only Holland and Terry were active in the Stars’ backfield, Terry dominated usage with 64% of snaps, 58% of routes, and 71% of backfield opportunities. It’s also worth noting that throughout the regular season, Holland was a semi-frequent healthy scratch and never exceeded a 50% snap share and never earned a weighted opportunity mark above 12.0 in any individual game. Paul Terry, on the other hand, exceeded a 50% snap share in half of his active games, and earned more than 12.0 weighted opportunity points in one third of his games. Terry has always commanded a more fantasy-friendly role than Holland, at least based on regular season usage.
It seems reasonable, at least to me, to project Terry for at least 40% of backfield usage in the event he is active. And at $5,200, 40% of backfield usage with the heavy receiving role we’ve seen from Terry this season could absolutely wind up putting up a big score. Plus, with Philadelphia likely playing from behind as 4.5-point underdogs, the main receiving back in this offense will surely have a big opportunity. Terry is one of my favorite contrarian captain options should he be active for the championship game.
Update: In an extremely surprising move, Darnell Holland was ruled inactive (healthy scratch), while Paul Terry is active. This makes Terry the top play of the slate by value, and a top-3 play by projected points. Dexter Williams is an interesting contrarian option, but is extremely risky given we haven’t seen him play this year. My best estimate is that Terry earns 50-60% of backfield rushing work and ~75% of backfield receiving work.
Birmingham Wide Receivers
Marlon Williams ($7,200) projects quite well relative to his salary, and should be the most popular captain option in the Birmingham receiving corps. But, we still have some appealing contrarian spots with these pass catchers.
For instance, we know Victor Bolden ($9,000) isn’t going to leave the field. Bolden logged an incredible 98% route share in his healthy regular season games, which tied with Isaiah Zuber for 1st in the USFL. But he’s far from just a cardio guy, as Bolden’s 27% target share ranked 2nd in the USFL, and is nearly 9% more than the likely higher-owned (but cheaper) Marlon Williams. On top of commanding a Davante Adams-esque target share, Bolden also returns kicks, and took one to the house last week against New Orleans – suggesting he should lead all non-RBs in this game in touches. That gives him as good of a ceiling as any player in Canton, but at roughly 5% captain ownership. You have to give up some value at the captain spot to roster Bolden, but it’s absolutely worth considering at single-digit ownership.
Adrian Hardy ($3,600) averages 11.3 DraftKings points in his last 4 games – making him one of the best values at the captain spot for this slate. He should be moderately popular, but his floor is certainly lower than his game logs suggest, given he splits time at Birmingham’s WR3 with Osirus Mitchell ($7,800) and Michael Dereus ($2,200). Dereus can’t be recommended as a captain play as he hasn’t caught a pass since Week 7, but he will run some routes and is intriguing as an extremely low-owned flex. Mitchell is the only other WR here worthy of captain consideration, and he should pull close to 0% captain ownership given his poor projection relative to his rather expensive salary. In 11 total games, Mitchell has averaged 16.8 FPG in his best 4 games, but just 3.2 FPG in his other 7 games. He’s tremendously boom or bust, but I think his boom potential is seriously underrated relative to his likely nonexistent captain ownership. I like Mitchell as a unique captain on teams that otherwise get chalky in the flex.
Philadelphia Wide Receivers
Because of how spread out the Stars’ passing attack is, every Philadelphia pass catcher should be a semi-contrarian captain option. Devin Gray ($5,600), Jordan Suell ($8,600), and Bug Howard ($5,400) should be the most popular given their rather strong values, and I’m fairly neutral on all three as plays this week. But if forced to choose between the three, my preference would be Suell, as his higher price tag should lend itself to lower ownership, and he’s averaged a very healthy 5.2 targets per game and 12.2 FPG over the last 5 weeks – truly establishing himself as Philadelphia’s lead WR.
Maurice Alexander ($3,200) will pull some captain ownership, as he’s a pretty obvious value – returning kicks, punts, and averaging 4.0 targets per game over his last 4 games. It’s hard not to like Alexander as both a flex and captain option this week. I’ll have some exposure, but I think it’s fair to point out that he lacks much of a ceiling, failing to exceed double-digit fantasy points in every game but one this season. Granted, at $3,200, a 8- or 10-point performance could certainly get the job done.
Chris Rowland ($2,800) is extremely interesting, but he’s likely more of a flex play. Rowland is locked into a hybrid WR/RB role, and we’ve seen him average 2.5 targets and 1.5 carries per game over the last 4 weeks. That’s obviously not much, but if backup RB Paul Terry is inactive for this contest, we could see Rowland spell Darnell Holland more so than Dexter WIlliams. That would be a massive edge to whoever is willing to play Rowland in their captain spot. But maybe you don’t even have to do that, as Rowland’s flex ownership could hover around, or even below 10%. I’ll have most of my exposure to Rowland at the flex – where I will certainly try to be overweight compared to the field. Captain exposure here might be a bit too aggressive, so I’ll likely limit that to one or two teams at the most.
If you’ve watched the USFL this season, you’ve probably had the thought that all of the kickers are terrible. And broad strokes, you would be right. But, both of the kickers remaining in the USFL championship game are actually pretty good, and arguably the two best in the league.
Brandon Aubrey ($4,200) averages 7.9 FPG and is one of the most consistent kickers in the USFL, having only missed 4 of 24 FG attempts this season.
Luis Aguilar ($4,000) averages 7.6 FPG, but hasn’t been as consistent as Aubrey, making 10 of 13 field goals since he took over the kicking Job in Week 5. Aubrey has the slightly higher expectation here given he’s the more accurate kicker and his team is implied to win by 4.5-points (24.0 implied team total).
It’s tough to call either kicker a good play – they are lower-upside flex plays for the most part. But, in lower-scoring gamescripts, one of these kickers could be the optimal captain. And, most importantly, almost nobody is going to play them in the captain spot, and neither kicker should exceed 15% flex ownership. So, while they are difficult to love in a vacuum, there is some merit to these plays. They provide a solid floor, with the potential for a 15-point game at rather minuscule ownership. Hard to get excited about, but worthy of a flier (even in the captain spot) on showdown teams that plan for a low-scoring championship.
Here's how the two Championship teams stacked up on defense this season 👀🔒
Which team is going to allow the fewest points on Sunday? pic.twitter.com/tDk10ipuzR
— USFL (@USFL) June 30, 2022
The Birmingham D/ST ($4,200) is the objectively better defense in this contest, having allowed 77.0 fewer YPG and 5.4 fewer PPG – both marks that place them in the top-2 of all USFL teams.
Philadelphia’s D/ST ($3,800) has certainly struggled more defensively, ranking dead last in YPG allowed (345.8), yards per pass attempt (6.8), and YPC (4.4) among all teams across the entire season.
But, interestingly, the Stars have actually been the best team in the USFL at forcing turnovers, with 22 on the season (6 more than Birmingham). And, by strictly fantasy output, the Stallions have only been 11% better than the Stars defensively, averaging 9.2 FPG, compared to 8.2 FPG for Philadelphia.
Both defenses are above-average flex plays and contrarian captains. But I think the field is going to greatly prefer the Birmingham defense in both spots, which could make the Stars’ defense one of the best contrarian plays of the slate in both the captain and the flex.
QB-WR correlations are pretty obvious. We want to pair passers and pass catcher. But what about everything else? Let’s dive in:
On the Birmingham side, CJ Marable ($6,600) offers a -0.21 correlation with the Stallions’ D/ST, while Bo Scarbrough ($7,000) offers a slight positive correlation of 0.11. These RBs also offer a pretty extreme negative correlation of -0.57 when paired together, so it’s best to only play one Stallions’ RB on each lineup unless you are trying to get very different.
For Philadelphia, Paul Terry offers an abysmal -0.65 correlation with the Stars’ D/ST, which is fairly unsurprising given he’s shined in negative gamescripts. Darnell Holland offers a rather neutral 0.06 correlation with the Philadelphia defense, so he would be the guy to target if you want to stack a Stars’ RB with their defense. Together, the duo of Holland and Terry have only shared the field for 1 game, so while we would assume a negative correlation between the two, we don’t have enough data to prove it.
We saw 3 return TDs in just 2 games last weekend, and in a single-game slate, pairing a returner with their D/ST is an especially underrated correlation that I would not expect the field to take advantage of.
Victor Bolden offers a reasonable 0.16 correlation with the Birmingham D/ST. Maurice Alexander’s correlation with the Philadelphia D/ST is -0.06. Not what we want, but also not fully reflective of the upside of a punt or kick return TD for Philly.
I will be making sure to have some pairings of both returners plus their respective defenses on roughly 10% of my teams.
If using an optimizer, the best way to handle the interconnectedness of a returner and D/ST is to use a ‘boost’ feature, if available. For example, you tell the optimizer to increase Alexander’s projection by 15% in lineups that include the Philadelphia D/ST, or vice versa.
Because return TDs are so unpredictable, the worst thing you can do is anchor your lineups to the unlikely event there will be a return TD by creating a group that forces returner plus D/ST in every lineup. This is something we should only be doing on a small portion of our teams (hence, the boost) if creating a significant number of lineups.
After running through every possible correlation I could think of, there were very few meaningful findings beyond what I discussed above.
J’Mar Smith ($10,400) negatively correlates with both Bo Scarbrough (-0.19) and CJ Marable (-0.06). I have a hard time putting much stock into this, as over the last 3 weeks, both RBs receiving roles have been nearly identical, with Scarbrough earning 7 targets and Marable earning 8. Both are fine plays with Smith, but since Marable has run 6% more routes over the full season (and offers the slightly better correlation), I suppose we can give a very slight lean to him when deciding which RB to pair with the Stallions’ QB.
Case Cookus ($11,000) has an abysmal -0.8 correlation with Darnell Holland, and a neutral 0.02 correlation with Paul Terry. The sample size here is minuscule for both RBs, so I wouldn’t put a ton of weight on this. But since Terry is clearly the better receiver (with the far superior receiving role), he would be the guy to pair with Cookus, assuming Terry plays, of course.