A lack of NFL football, or football in general, is a terrible thing. Thankfully, football is still hanging around, thanks to the XFL! And since DraftKings is offering DFS tournaments, it’s time to discuss the top plays and contrarian options so we can bink some XFL tournaments.
I’ll be going position by position, highlighting my favorite plays for tournaments, with a TL;DR included for those who don’t want to read my reasoning and just want the top-value plays. I’ll also include teams’ implied totals directly below, to help readers get a sense of the offenses Vegas thinks will put the most points on the board.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jake Tribbey discussed his love for spring football on last week’s Two-Point Stance Podcast, while he and Chris Wecht will discuss the entire XFL slate Friday afternoon, including best bets, on the Fantasy Points XFL Breakdown on our YouTube channel.
XFL Projections are available to any Standard or Premium Fantasy Points subscriber.
Houston Roughnecks (23.25) @ Orlando Guardians (14.75)
San Antonio Brahmas (18.5) @ Seattle Sea Dragons (22.5)
Arlington Renegades (16.25) @ St. Louis Battlehawks (20.25)
Vegas Vipers (17.75) @ DC Defenders (24.25)
Justin Freeman from RunTheSims is kind enough to aggregate injury information for us here. That sheet is a great resource, and I would recommend bookmarking it for future reference.
In the TL;DR, I’ll list out the top plays in order of value (according to me). This isn’t super strict, it does not factor in ownership, and in some cases, it’s sort of arbitrary. It also doesn’t matter nearly as much as my readers think it does. What does matter is maximizing the correlations within your lineups, and making sure you include at least a few players on each tournament team who should be on the lower end of ownership (I highlight a few in my write-ups). Get creative!
Plays ranked in order, with tier 1 in bold, and assumes notable questionable players suit up…
QB: Ben DiNucci, Tyler Hundley, Brandon Silvers, AJ McCarron, Jack Coan, Jordan Ta’amu, Kyle Sloter
RB: Brian Hill, Max Borghi, Morgan Ellison, De’Veon Smith, Brycen Alleyne, Abram Smith, Ryquell Armstead, Kalen Ballage, Jacques Patrick, TJ Hammonds
WR/TE: Alize Mack, Lance Lenoir, Cody Latimer, Jahcour Pearson, Tyler Vaughns, Fred Brown, Hakeem Butler, Eli Rogers, Austin Proehl, Lucky Jackson, Sal Cannella, Jontre Kirklin, Blake Jackson, Jordan Veasy, Darrius Shepherd
Ben DiNucci ($10,800): We finally saw a high-end Ben DiNucci performance on Saturday, with the veteran QB throwing for a league-record 377 yards and 4 TDs on his way to 35.28 DraftKings points. DiNucci is averaging a positon-leading 24.2 DraftKings FPG despite converting just 14% of his team’s 3-point conversions – plays that are worth 75% as much as a passing TD. Seattle offers the league’s 2nd-highest pass rate (66%), the 3rd-highest implied total of Week 4 (22.5), and a QB throwing for 285.0 passing YPG and 2.3 passing TDs per game. DiNucci is once again the top QB play of the slate, agnostic of salary or ownership.
Brett Hundley ($10,000): Hundley started and played his first full game of the season in Week 3, scoring 31.6 DraftKings points on 224 passing yards, 2 passing TDs, 66 rushing yards, and a score. Hundley looked great as both a passer and runner, and it was clear from his lone start that he is easily one of the best QBs in the XFL.
For Week 4, Hundley profiles as a top-tier QB option, given his matchup with a DC defense that’s allowing a league-leading 216.0 passing YPG, 42.7 pass plays per game, and grades out as PFF’s worst pass rush (66.4 team pass rush grade). He’s a comparable play to Ben DiNucci in our projections, but expect ownership to reflect that.
Brandon Silvers ($9,700): Silvers posted his best game of the season in Week 3, throwing for 225 yards and 3 TDs (21.0 DraftKings points) in just one half of play against San Antonio before a slow 2nd-half limited him to just 24.02 DraftKings points. Silvers is much more appropriately priced now, but I still think the field will underestimate just how much upside he has – the former Troy QB was on pace for 42.0 DraftKings points on Sunday night.
There is an argument to be made that this matchup with Orlando isn’t the ideal spot to play Silvers. He scored just 16.88 DraftKings points in a 33-12 win when these teams played in Week 1. In another blowout, Houston could take their foot off the gas and ride Max Borghi. That’s absolutely a risk, but this is a pass-first offense. And the Orlando defense is terrible, allowing the most PPG (24.3), and the 2nd-most yards per pass attempt (7.1) on the season. Silvers should carry dramatically lower ownership than DiNucci, and I’d argue that’s a mistake by the field, given the upside we’ve seen from Silvers in more condensed periods of play.
this mf spittin pic.twitter.com/W9KAQqEDhL— Cody Main (@cmain7) February 19, 2023
Jack Coan ($8,200): Coan was a stone-cold disaster in Week 3, throwing for just 65 passing yards on 25 attempts. Still, he was the league’s most efficient passer through the first two weeks, leading the position in PFF passing grade (77.3), adjusted completion percentage (83.6%), big-time throws (5), and passer rating (100.3).
The major obstacle for Coan, though, has been San Antonio’s run-heavy nature. The Brahmas are running the ball at the league’s 2nd-lowest rate (48%), and posted a 43% pass rate in Week 3 despite trailing for ~80% of the game. So volume is a serious risk here. Still, I consider Coan to be a more compelling ‘pay down’ option at QB than Kyle Sloter, given Coan has shown more as a passer thus far in spring football.
Weighted opportunity, snap/route shares, and raw opportunities through 3 weeks:
Weighted opportunity by week:
Max Borghi ($9,300): Borghi is the league’s most expensive RB, but it makes perfect sense given his near-bell cow role (66% of backfield weighted opportunity, 3rd), in the league’s most valuable backfield by weighted opportunity (20.7 weighted opportunity points per game), on the league’s best offense (26.0 PPG). It’s a near-perfect setup. The only thing that isn’t perfect is Borghi’s price, which should keep his ownership lower than some of the cheaper options at the position.
Abram Smith ($8,400): Smith should be a popular option among those looking to pay up at RB, given he exploded for a position-leading 17.9 weighted opportunity points in Week 3. The role here is compelling, as Smith ranks 2nd among RBs in snap share (66%), 3rd in carries per game (11.7), 3rd in route share (51%), and 3rd in red zone opportunities per game (2.3). Faced with positive gamescript as a 6.0-point favorite, Smith should feast, right?
Well, maybe. Using the rationale highlighted above, I see how many DFS players regard Smith as a strong play. But I’m not sure I want anything to do with him if he’s going to be popular. Smith (4) has fewer inside the 10 carries than starting QB Jordan Ta’amu (5). He averaged just 6.2 weighted opportunity points in his first two games (and his role has not fundamentally changed). Our internal numbers (VGS +2.0) suggest that Vegas should keep this game much closer than the current spread implies. So, I hate Smith as a play if he’s going to be popular, as Max Borghi is simply a better option in every regard. And, quite frankly, I’d expect industry sentiment to shift away from Smith and toward Borghi after this article is published.
Morgan Ellison ($6,900): Ellison is questionable with a knee injury he suffered late in Week 3, but the fact he was able to practice in a limited fashion on Wednesday keeps me optimistic he will play in Week 4. And if Ellison plays, he’s easily a top-3 option at the position.
Ellison is clearly the most talented rusher in the XFL. He leads the position in YPC (6.2), yards after contact per attempt (4.9), PFF rushing grade (83.4), and runs of 10 or more yards (7). Compared to the next-closest RB in each category, Ellison’s numbers are 22% better, 29% better, 6% better, and 75% better. Just from watching the games, it’s glaringly obvious Ellison belongs on a 53-man NFL roster. The only issue is that the Seattle backfield is the 2nd-least valuable in the XFL, earning just 12.6 weighted opportunity points per game. Ellison is so good that he can overcome that, but it’s certainly a concern. Regardless, he’s a lock to go under-owned, given the questionable tag next to his name on DraftKings. People will be scared to click him. But that just doesn’t make sense, as pivoting off Ellison is as easy as can be (the pivot is Brian Hill, discussed below).
Note: Ellison is listed as officially questionable. If he sits, TJ Hammonds will project as a solid value play, comparable (but probably better) to Brycen Alleyne (discussed below). But my preferred pivot is Brian Hill.
Brian Hill ($6,600): Hill played his first full game in Week 3, resulting in a 77% snap share (1st), 60% route share (2nd), 4 targets (2nd), and 14.3 weighted opportunity points (3rd). Hill has played just 1.5 games this season, yet he’s earned 60% of his backfield’s weighted opportunity. What does that mean? Hill is right there as the league’s premier bell cow.
And he draws a favorable situation in Week 4, facing an Arlington team as a 4.0-point favorite. So, this should be the first time all season the Battlehawks are faced with positive gamescript for the majority of a game. Arlington is giving up a league-low 2.9 YPC, but I’m not overly concerned, given they’ve played two games against Orlando and Vegas – both disastrous rushing attacks. We have Hill as the clear top play of the slate at RB.
Brycen Alleyne ($3,400): Alleyne stepped up in Houston’s RB2 role after DeJoun Lee was ruled inactive without being listed on the injury report. Assuming that happens again in Week 4, we like Alleyne as the top salary-saving option at RB. Alleyne’s TD equity is borderline nonexistent, but we can still project him for 4 to 6 carries, and 2 to 3 targets should Lee be inactive. Eye-popping? Certainly not. But remember that Alleyne actually ranks 2nd among all RBs in YAC (62), despite just five targets. So he has the big play ability needed to counteract the small workload. And his price is just mouth-watering.
Deontay Burnett ($9,300): I wrote up Burnett last week as the ownership pivot off of Jontre Kirklin, and, admittedly, I was wrong given the near-identical ownership between the duo. But, the points I made last week regarding ownership hold merit for Week 4.
Through three weeks, Burnett has a 21% target share, 26% of team air yards (279.5), and 29% of team red zone targets (5). Kirklin has a 20% target share, 28% of team air yards (296.3), and 18% of team red zone targets (18%). In our projections, Kirklin (15.9) projects for just 1.5 more DraftKings points than Burnett (14.4). After a monster performance in Week 3, Kirklin should carry more ownership (potentially twice as much ownership) as Burnett – despite both players offering comparable upside. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll want pieces of both WRs against an Orlando defense that hasn’t been able to stop anyone through 3 weeks (24.3 PPG allowed, last). But I prefer Burnett for tournaments, assuming we get a solid ownership discount.
Darrius Shepherd ($6,900): Marcell Ateman was placed on the reserve list, meaning he will not play in Week 4. Obviously, the masses will be clamoring to play Hakeem Butler – who is a great play. But I don’t think Darrius Shepard will be nearly as popular.
Shepherd ranked 2nd on the team in both targets (8) and air yards (42) on Sunday, while Ateman was limited to 16 routes. It’s not an earth-shattering stat line, but Shepherd had just 6 targets and 29 air yards in his first two games, where Ateman was featured in a much more prominent role. Given both Ateman and Shepherd play outside for roughly 80% of their routes, Shepherd looks to be an underrated winner of Ateman being inactive in Week 4 based on the usage patterns from last Sunday relative to previous weeks. He’s a great GPP play.
Jalen Tolliver ($6,200): Tolliver was active in Week 3 after being limited all week in practice, yet he played just four snaps while TJ Vasher took over as the lead WR in an abysmal performance by the San Antonio passing offense. However, things are a lot different in Week 4, with Vasher now ruled out and Tolliver listed as probable after multiple full practices. Despite playing only two full games, Tolliver leads San Antonio WRs in receiving yards (91) and passer rating when targeted (145.8) – suggesting he’s right there with Alize Mack (our top projected value at WR/TE) as the top receiving option on the team.
It’s difficult to make a very strong argument for Tolliver. He’s a good play and decent value. But what makes him stand out to me is the non-existent ownership. Tolliver is a lock to be sub-5% owned, and I’ll end up overweight the field, given San Antonio should be forced into a more pass-heavy approach as 4.0-point underdogs.
Lance Lenoir ($3,000): Lenoir joined Orlando roughly two weeks ago and has just one reception and 3.2 fantasy points in two games. Not great, but we have seen some encouraging signs. Lenoir tied for the most routes run by an Orlando WR on Sunday (29), and is listed as a starter on their official depth chart. At a bare minimum, we know he will be on the field running a route on nearly every dropback – an appealing trait of a minimum-salary player.
And remember, Lenoir led the USFL in targets (78), air yards (816), and target share (28%). He’s just good at ball. Of course, Orlando touts awful QB play and league-low team total (14.75) – so there is significant risk. But the team leader in targets (Cody Latimer) was a late addition to the injury report, and Lenoir is only $3,000. I’m fine with the vomit-inducing offense given Lenoir’s price, talent, playing time, and the risk Latimer could miss this game.
Ryquell Armstead ($4,300) fumbled twice last week, but his underlying metrics and price make him an intriguing pivot off Abram Smith in GPPs. Armstead is averaging 9.7 carries per game (just 2.0 less than Smith), a 42% snap share, and has 25% of red zone carries through three weeks. It’s thin, sure, but I think for the largest GPPs it could make sense to have limited exposure to Armstead if you plan on fading Smith (like me).
Kalen Ballage ($8,100) is super gross, but shouldn’t be very popular because of it. Among RBs, he ranks 3rd in weighted opportunity (12.9), 4th in snap share (58%), 2nd in route share (53%), and 3rd in red zone touches per game (2.3). Your hope is that he falls into the end zone a time or two, which is certainly possible.
Justin Smith ($3,000) is the min-priced galaxy brain play of the week. He’s run just 15 routes in two weeks, but his three targets have resulted in an aDOT of 29.0, so he could catch a long bomb. Plus, OC AJ Smith loves him.
Jordan Ta’amu ($9,200) and Paxton Lynch ($8,400) are both a little intriguing for their respective two-game slates. We’ve seen both of these guys go under-owned in prior two-game slates, given the uncertainty over their situations. Both players will see at least 75% of their team’s snaps – barring disaster – and have the rushing ability for a big game.
Martavis Bryant ($7,700) and Geronimo Allison ($7,900) haven’t done anything yet, but their NFL pedigree suggests they should have a strong fantasy performance soon. Both players offer route shares of around 90% – and they are playing with one of the league’s best QBs in Brett Hundley. I’ll play shares of both guys weekly in my Hundley lineups until we see an upside performance.