A lack of NFL football, or football in general, is a terrible thing. But football is still hanging around, thanks to the USFL! And since DraftKings is offering DFS fantasy tournaments, it’s time to discuss the top plays and contrarian options so we can bink some USFL 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.
Pittsburgh Maulers (19.25) @ Michigan Panthers (22.75)
Houston Gamblers (21.75) @ Birmingham Stallions (26.25)
New Jersey Generals (24.75) @ Philadelphia Stars (18.75)
Memphis Showboats (20.25) @ New Orleans Breakers (27.75)
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: De’Andre Johnson, Alex McGough, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Troy Williams, Cole Kelly, Case Cookus
RB: Wes Hills (Hills is a lock button play), Kerrith Whyte, Mark Thompson, Garrett, Groshek, Zaquandre White, Darius Victor, Reggie Corbin, CJ Marable, Trey Williams
WR/TE: Diondre Overton, Sage Surratt, Bailey Gaither, Justin Hall, Dee Anderson, Isiah Hennie, Corey Coleman, Davion Davis, Derrick Dillon, Cam Echols-Luper, Devin Gray, Deon Cain, Randy Satterfield
Alex McGough ($11,600): I’m fairly confident McGough will be the highest-owned QB of Week 5, but it’s for good reason. He hasn’t fallen under 17.2 DraftKings points in his three starts this season, averaging a solid 23.5 DraftKings FPG. Birmingham isn’t Philadelphia, but they are still throwing the ball 61% of the time (4th), and (importantly) 58% of the time in the red zone (2nd-highest). So, McGough has passing TD equity that can only be matched by Case Cookus, on top of solid rushing ability (at least 32 rushing yards in three games this season).
I’m much more privy to McGough as a play in smaller field tournaments, but he’s more than fine in every format. The only real concern is ownership, and while I don’t expect McGough’s ownership to be massive, it’s enough of a concern that I outright prefer some other QBs in the main $12 GPP.
De’Andre Johnson ($8,600): Johnson has earned 100% of snaps in back-to-back games, likely solidifying his role as the Generals QB for every snap, regardless of gamescript. And that’s pretty huge, given Johnson averaged 21.8 DraftKings FPG per 4 quarters last season and has averaged 21.9 DraftKings FPG in his three full starts over the last two seasons. Among USFL QBs this year, 21.9 DraftKings FPG would rank just barely behind Alex McGough (22.1 DraftKings FPG) and is 3.4 FPG better than the 3rd-place QB (McLeod Bethel-Thompson).
And almost all that fantasy juice comes from Johnson’s rushing. He ranks 6th (among all players) in total rushing yards (185) thanks to remarkable efficiency (7.1 YPC) in an offense that leads the league in rush rate (49%). He probably has the best floor of any QB (especially relative to price), and his passing efficiency has been strong enough (7.5 YPA and 56% completion percentage) that he appears to be safe from benching risk, even in surefire passing situations.
I think Johnson is the best fantasy QB in the USFL if he’s locked into a starting role. And it may not be close. But the last two weeks (30.0 and 12.3 DraftKings points) don’t necessarily indicate that, and I know the field will be slow to adjust. I view Johnson as the clear top QB play of the week, given his price and rushing upside – but I don’t see that being reflected in ownership. He’s a fantastic tournament play.
Weighted Opportunity through 4 weeks:
Wes Hills ($10,600): Wes Hills is the greatest spring football RB ever. I’m not exaggerating, as over the last three weeks, Hills has earned the best, 2nd-best, and 4th-best usage by any spring football RB in a single week (measured by weighted opportunity). He’s averaging 9.7 red zone opportunities per game, which is 125% more than the entire San Antonio Brahmas backfield averaged during the XFL regular season, and San Antonio was the most valuable spring football backfield ever (to date).
And he is almost never coming off the field. Hills logged a 100% snap share in Week 3, and ceded just two touches to backup RB Anthony Jones in Week 4 on a 96% snap share. If all that isn’t enough, Hills also plays for the league’s best offense by PPG (31.3) and YPG (384.3). And that very offense is favored by 7.0-points this week, setting Hills up with perfect gamescript.
You can look for reasons to fade Hills. I have been too, as a certified GPP bro. But his ownership in Week 4 (61% in the main $12) indicates the field isn’t locking him in (for some reason). So, I think the real leverage with Wes Hills comes from playing him in every lineup, even if we assume his ownership hits 75%. He’s the best RB play I’ve ever seen.
Darius Victor ($9,600): RB is tough, as nearly every RB over $8,000 borders on unplayable, with Wes Hills earning the greatest spring football RB usage of all time. But I remain optimistic about Darius Victor as a contrarian option, as he offers outstanding TD equity at sub-10% ownership.
Last season, Victor had 27 inside the 10 carries – 11 more than the next-closest RB. He has a near-monopoly over backfield goal line work, even with Trey Williams back in the lineup. And that’s a fairly notable point this week, as New Jersey should see plenty of scoring opportunities with the league’s 3rd-highest implied team total (24.75).
He’s not a great play, and it’s debatable if he’s even a good play, given Wes Hills is so much better than every similarly-priced RB. But I think Victor is a great way to keep otherwise chalky lineups unique, and he has the TD equity needed to pay off his price tag.
Kerrith Whyte ($4,900): Whyte saw awesome usage in Week 4 with Alex Collins inactive, totaling 22 opportunities and 24.5 weighted opportunity points on a 65% snap share. If, and only if, Collins is inactive in Week 5, then White would be right behind Wes Hills as one of the top RB plays of the slate.
Memphis is a 7.0-point underdog, so gamescript won’t be in Whyte’s favor – but his seven targets in Week 4 indicate he’s the preferred pass-catching back. And that’s fairly notable given Memphis is targeting RBs at the 2nd-highest rate in the USFL (22%). And if Memphis can put points on the board, Whyte should smash after earning 100% of backfield red zone touches last week. He’s an amazing value, but only if Alex Collins is inactive.
Garrett Groshek ($3,300): It’s hard to consider Groshek a good play, but he’s objectively underpriced. He’s averaging 8.0 weighted opportunity points per game, which would make him the 3rd-best usage-based value of the slate. And (based on my eye test), the Pittsburgh offense has recently come alive with Troy Williams at QB, increasing their pass rate to 63% over the last two weeks. Sure, that might hurt Groshek’s total touches, but it will increase the scoring pop of the league’s worst offense. He’s one of the best ways to save salary at any position this week, but I will limit my exposure as I have doubt’s about Groshek’s ceiling, given Pittsburgh’s scoring issues thus far.
Corey Coleman ($9,700): Coleman was a total dud in Week 4, scoring a season-low 4.7 DraftKings points. But, his struggles were a larger side effect of the ineptitude of the Philadelphia offense, rather than an issue with playing time or injury. And that makes Coleman an excellent ‘flop lag’ candidate in Week 5.
Prior to Week 4, Coleman had averaged 9.3 targets per game, 70.3 receiving YPG, and 15.5 FPG – all top-5 numbers at his position. And we know passing volume won’t be an issue; Philadelphia is throwing at an absurd 75% rate and is a 6.5-point underdog to New Jersey. Coleman should get peppered with targets, and his ownership should be much more reasonable this week after the brutal Week 4 performance.
Bailey Gaither ($7,900): The Maulers posted an eye-popping 74% pass rate in Week 4, and Bailey Gaither appeared to be the main beneficiary after earning 10 targets (2nd-most), 2 deep targets (3rd-most), and 4 red zone targets (most).
If Pittsburgh is no longer a run-first team (all signs point to this), then Gaither is a top-5 value at the WR position this week. Michigan’s pass defense isn’t one to shy away from, allowing 6.8 YPA (4th-most) and a 56% early-down pass rate (3rd-most). Gaither should see excellent volume in a largely neutral matchup at ~10% ownership. He’s one of the strongest tournament plays of the week.
Justin Hall ($6,800): Hall didn’t produce much in Week 4, earning just 6.0 DraftKings points on 5 targets. But that was largely due to the incredible effectiveness of the Houston rushing attack (223 rushing yards and 3 TDs), alongside there being no reason for Houston to pass beyond the first half of play (the Gamblers won by 35).
But Week 5 looks a lot different for Hall. Houston is expected to play from behind as 4.5-point underdogs, and Birmingham is an outstanding matchup, allowing the 3rd-most passing YPG (231.0) and the most passing YPA (8.5). This could be a high-volume, efficient outing for the Houston passing attack.
Hall’s poor Week 4 performance should limit his ownership (similar to Corey Coleman), making him a much more compelling play in Week 5.
Isiah Hennie ($6,200): Pittsburgh WRs are a captivating target this week now that the Maulers are a pass-first offense (74% pass rate last week) with a competent QB. And Isiah Hennie is arguably the most economical way to target this passing game, as he ranks 5th among WRs in targets (26), 8th in receptions (15), 10th in red zone targets (3), and 12th in DraftKings FPG (8.9), despite being priced as the WR15 (by DraftKings salary).
Pittsburgh will have no reason to abandon the pass this week as a 3.5-point underdog, setting Hennie (and teammate Bailey Gaither) up for some of the best volume in the USFL. Most DFS players will likely want to shy away from a Pittsburgh offense that’s been nothing but incompetent since the return of spring football, but I think this team has turned a corner offensively. I love targeting this passing attack in GPPs.
Diondre Overton ($4,000): Chris Rowland has been transferred to the reserve list, further condensing the Philadelphia Stars target tree. And if there is one thing we know about the Stars, it's that they are going to throw the ball regardless of gamescript. Philadelphia leads the USFL in pass rate (75%), early-down pass rate (73%), red zone pass rate (68%), and neutral-situation pass rate (70%).
So, Diondre Overton profiles as an obvious target given his absurdly low price in the league’s most pass-heavy offense, as we know he will run every route with no Rowland. He’s clearly the best salary-saving option of Week 5, but I’d expect decent ownership here.
Derrick Dillon ($3,600): I’ve written up Dillon almost every week this season, and his tale remains the same for Week 5: he’s an excellent value who won’t catch any ownership because he hasn’t exceeded 6.4 DraftKings points in a game this season. But the volume is great relative to his rock-bottom price (WR25 by salary); Dillon is 13th in targets (18) and 7th in deep targets (6) despite playing just three games.
Sure, Memphis has a real issue with QB play, but they are still averaging a respectable 199.0 passing YPG and offer a 20.25 implied team total in a game where they should be forced to throw as 7.0-point underdogs. The matchup is tough (New Orleans is allowing a league-low 174.8 passing YPG), but not tough enough to make me fade a top-12 WR (by volume) at ~5% ownership.