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 fantasy 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 the Two-Point Stance Podcast, while he and Chris Wecht will discuss the entire XFL slate Thursday 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 (23.5) @ Seattle Sea Dragons (20.0)
DC Defenders (22.75) @ St. Louis Battlehawks (20.75)
Orlando Guardians (17.0) @ Vegas Vipers (24.5)
Arlington Renegades (15.75) @ San Antonio Brahmas (18.75)
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: Brandon Silvers, Ben DiNucci, AJ McCarron, Jordan Ta’amu, Brett Hundley, Paxton Lynch
RB: Brian Hill, Abram Smith, Devin Darrington, Max Borghi, Morgan Ellison, De’Veon Smith, John Lovett, Kenneth Farrow, Kalen Ballage, Ryquell Armstead
WR/TE: Lance Lenoir, Mathew Sexton, Darrius Shepherd, Lucky Jackson, Hakeem Butler, Travell Harris, Jahcour Pearson, Blake Jackson, Jeff Badet, Juwan Green, Jalen Tolliver, Fred Brown, Caleb Vander Esch, Cedric Byrd, Cinque Sweeting, Jontre Kirklin, Deontay Burnett, Austin Proehl, Chris Blair
Ben DiNucci ($11,300): We know who Ben DiNucci is: an upper-bound XFL QB (in terms of talent) who has guaranteed job security on an offense that throws at a 67% rate (1st). For DFS purposes, that’s a pretty good deal – DiNucci (21.6) ranks behind only AJ McCarron (22.4) in DraftKings FPG. But it’s led to astronomical ownership. After a down game from DiNucci (13.8 DraftKings points in Week 4) and what we’ve seen from AJ McCarron and Brandon Silvers, I think QB ownership will be a bit more condensed this week.
And maybe it’s for good reason, with DiNucci facing (probably) the league’s best defense in Houston. The Roughnecks rank 1st in PFF pass rush grades (91.6), 1st in PFF coverage grades (90.1), 1st in pressures (60), and 1st in PPG allowed (13.8). That last figure, 13.8, is 21% better than the next-closest defense (San Antonio) and 7.1 PPG better than the league average (20.9), sans Houston. This is a fantastic defense based on current numbers. But, they’ve played an incredibly weak schedule – Orlando twice, as well as San Antonio and Arlington – a collection of the league’s three worst offenses by PPG.
The Houston defense is definitely good, and maybe it’s really great. But we still aren’t sure. And I think the perception the Houston defense is infallible could be a big contributing factor to DiNucci’s ownership this week.
His underlying numbers are compelling (DiNucci ranks either 1st or 2nd in every notable passing volume stat), and we’ve seen elite upside here (his 35.3 DraftKings points in Week 3 is the highest score by an XFL QB this season). So, I like DiNucci as a higher-than-normal risk play if we assume McCarron and Silvers attract a bit more ownership this week.
Brandon Silvers ($10,200): Silvers led all passers in DraftKings points in Week 4 (23.46) – but I think the best has yet to come for the Roughnecks QB. He plays for a literal offense genius on the team that leads the league in scoring (30.5 PPG), while throwing at a league-high rate (69%) in neutral situations.
Despite these incredible advantages, Silvers hasn’t exceeded 24.1 DraftKings points in a contest this season. Haters will argue that’s because of an efficient ground game and Cole McDonald stealing red zone snaps at QB. And that’s probably true to some degree. But I still think Silvers has an underrated chance to lead the position in scoring. I plan on being overweight vis-a-vis the field here.
Weighted opportunity, snap/route shares, and raw opportunities through 4 weeks:
Weighted opportunity by week:
Max Borghi ($9,300): Borghi was a shocking inactive ahead of Week 4, but I think the coaching staff was just being cautious, given they were facing the league’s worst team in Orlando. At the very least, it’s encouraging for future weeks that Borghi saw a full practice last Thursday, and was listed as “probable” for Week 4. If they needed him, he almost certainly could’ve played. For Week 5, Borghi is listed as a starter and is not on the injury report in any capacity – granted, Houston hasn’t had the opportunity to practice this week due to cross-country travel.
And if we assume Borghi plays in his usual capacity, he’s a great option who shouldn’t attract a ton of ownership. Borghi is one of just two RBs (the other being De’Veon Smith) to see double-digit weighted opportunity in every contest. He’s earned 66% of backfield-weighted opportunity in his three games thus far (1st), and averages 4.7 targets per game (1st) on the league’s best offense (30.5 PPG). The big red Q tag next to his name on DraftKings will scare some people away, but not me. I’m riding the Borghi train in Week 5 with the assumption he is back to being a borderline bell cow.
Abram Smith ($8,800): Everyone seemed to think Smith would be hyper-popular in Week 4, but he wasn’t. I do think Smith’s ownership sees a notable jump in Week 5, given he’s averaged 18.8 weighted opportunity points over the last two weeks – 37% better than the next-closest RB (Borghi) over the full season. Smith is averaging 4.0 red zone opportunities per game (1st), a 69% snap share (1st), and had a league-high 8 red zone carries in Week 4. Outside of a non-existent receiving role (1.5 targets per game), Smith’s workload is quite compelling.
But, the field is clearly worried about Jordan Ta’amu (2nd) and D’Eriq King (4th) both ranking top-4 in inside the 10 carries. It pushes Smith’s TD upside from “easily the best of any XFL RB” to “top-3 among XFL RBs”. I like (but don’t love) Smith as a play for Week 5, and I’d expect ownership here to be around ~20%. If it’s notably lower, he’s a great play. And if it’s much higher, he’s closer to a bad play.
Kalen Ballage ($7,800) and De’Veon Smith ($7,500): I have a difficult time not considering both Ballage and Smith as the same guy – at least for fantasy purposes. Of the 13 RBs with at least 20 attempts, they rank 11th (Ballage) and 12th (Smith) in YPC, and 10th (Ballage) and 11th (Smith) in PFF rushing grades. Neither guy is very good. But, they also rank 2nd (Smtih) and 3rd (Ballage) in weighted opportunity, 2nd (Smith) and 4th (Ballage) in red zone opportunities per game, and 1st (Smith) and 4th (Ballage) in snap share. Basically, both RBs are top-4 by any volume metric, and bottom-4 by any efficiency metric. I’m not eager to play either guy in the lowest-total matchup (34.5) of the week, but both players could head for 20 opportunities and see the majority of their team’s goal line work – suggesting decent upside if only thanks to TD equity. If we assume lowish ownership for both guys, I don’t mind either (especially paired with their respective D/ST) in the hopes they can find the end zone multiple times.
Morgan Ellison ($7,000): Ellison played through a questionable designation in Week 4, resulting in a 62% snap share (3rd), 12.4 weighted opportunity points (3rd), 16 rushes (3rd), and 15.9 DraftKings points (3rd). Despite playing clearly hobbled in Week 4, Ellison still pops as the XFL’s most efficient RB, leading the league in YPC (5.5), PFF grade (84.1), and yards after contact per attempt (4.17). He’s really good, and deserving of an NFL opportunity.
And I’d expect Ellison to be pretty popular in Week 5, given his efficiency and 65% snap share over the last three weeks. But I do think it’s a high-risk play. Or, at least higher risk than normal. Ellison isn’t 100% healthy, and a reaggravation of his knee injury is a real risk given his questionable tag on the short week.
Darrius Shepherd ($8,000): Last week, I wrote up Shepherd as outstanding leverage on this St. Louis passing attack after we heard Marcell Ateman was placed on IR. The result? Shepherd earned 8 catches for 91 yards and a score, finishing with the 2nd-most fantasy points (23.1) of any Week 4 WR.
And the same logic applies this week, granted Shepherd’s price and ownership should account for his increased role in the absence of Ateman. No team has allowed more passing YPG (245.3) or a higher pass rate (69%) than the DC Defenders, so we can certainly argue Shepherd has one of the best matchups on the slate. I think Hakeem Butler will carry a bit more ownership, but Butler and Shepherd are neck and neck in our projections. So, Shepherd shapes up as my favorite option in tournaments among St. Louis pass catchers.
Jalen Tolliver ($6,600): Tolliver led all Week 4 pass catchers in targets (10) and earned an 89% route share in his first full game back from injury. And it’s tough not to like Tolliver in Week 5 given that Travis Jonsen (back) and TJ Vasher (shoulder) look questionable based on most recent injury reports.
Sure, we have a good deal of uncertainty with this offense. Jack Coan isn’t playing well (could get benched), and the team just demoted their OC. The game total (34.5) is disgustingly low, so I couldn’t blame anyone who wants to stay away. But Tolliver shouldn’t carry much ownership and could push for double-digit targets. He’s an exciting contrarian option.
Juwan Green ($3,700): Green wasn’t very involved in Weeks 1 and 2, posting a 2% target share and a 30% route share. But he’s grown into a much bigger role these last two weeks, earning a 12% target share and a 66% route share. Green has also recorded 9 targets (18th) and 91 air yards (22nd) these last two weeks – providing obvious value relative to his WR34 price tag on DraftKings.
Green is right there with Jahcour Pearson as our top value on the Seattle passing attack. Sure, the risk of a zero is real with Green, but his expanded role as of late is more than enough for me to pull the trigger in Seattle stacks. Plus, I doubt we see much ownership here.
Mathew Sexton ($3,600): Geronimo Allison was a healthy scratch in Week 4, which led to Sexton leading all Vegas WRs with a 100% route share. Allison’s status will be the final determining factor here, but if he sits, it’s hard not to love Sexton as a value play against the league’s worst defense in Orlando (29.3 PPG allowed). The field will drift towards Cinque Sweeting after he scored twice last week, but his 41% route is massively concerning (to me). I think the team prefers Sexton, perhaps significantly more than Sweeting. And if that’s the case, and ownership won’t reflect it, then it’s easy to regard Sexton as an elite value play for tournaments. But I’m probably avoiding both guys entirely if Allison plays.
Lance Lenoir ($3,300): Lenoir had a (very minor) breakout in Week 4, leading Orlando WRs in route share (100%), and ranking behind only Cody Latimer in target share (18%). So, it’s safe to assume Lenoir is the top WR for Orlando for the remainder of the season. Sure, QB play is hurting the efficiency of every Orlando pass catcher, but the volume is there because Orlando always plays from behind – they rank 4th in passing YPG (217.5) and 2nd in raw pass rate (63%). That should continue into Week 5, with the Guardians listed as 7.5-point underdogs to Vegas.
And remember, Lenoir led the USFL in targets (78), air yards (816), and target share (28%). He’s just good at ball. I’m more than happy to take my chances here at a near-minimum price tag.
Justin Smith ($3,000) is easily my favorite galaxy-brain play this week. His route share (29%) and target share (7%) climbed to a season-high in Week 4, and OC AJ Smith is clamoring to get him more involved. The Week 4 broadcast crew further acknowledged that AJ loves Justin Smith, effectively saying his breakout would only take a matter of time. From my own personal eye test, Smith looks like the real deal as a player on an extremely limited sample of touches. Plus, his aDOT is a team-leading 21.8, so it may only take one reception for him to be one of the top values at his position.
In Week 4, we saw what would have been a 68-yard TD (13.8 DK points) fall through Smith’s hands. Had that pass been caught, Smith would’ve finished Week 4 with 16.6 DraftKings points (WR6). It’s high-risk for sure, but I’ll keep writing up Smith until the breakout comes.
Devin Darrington ($3,000) is the top RB salary-saving option of the week, but be careful. Darrington (9.6) smoked Jah-Maine Martin (3.4) in weighted opportunity last week, but neither player exceeded a 33% snap share. Plus, this backfield has almost no juice for fantasy, averaging just 9.6 weighted opportunity points per game – 67% worse than the 2nd-least valuable backfield (Vegas). He’s fine in a pinch, but don’t go overboard with exposure here.
Jordan Ta’amu ($9,000) is my preference if you are trying to get incredibly creative at QB. He has more inside the 10 carries than every player not-named Abram Smith, and is capable of getting hot enough as a passer to generate big plays through the air. D’Eriq King with steal snaps in the red zone, but that’s the risk you’ll need to take if you want to play a QB at 2% ownership. Again, it’s thin, but might be worth considering for DFS players making a ton of lineups.
Brian Hill ($8,000) is a great play again this week, and I don’t think his underlying metrics from Week 4 (70% snap share and 2nd in weighted opportunity) do him justice. Kareem Walker stole six snaps at the end of the game (Walker didn’t play an offensive snap in Week 3), and Hill missed additional snaps throughout the contest due to getting his hand stepped on (ouch) and a minor knee aggravation. I think he pushes for an 80% snap share in close games for the remainder of the season, barring injury.
Jeff Badet ($9,800) could go slightly overlooked if Vegas is without Martavis Bryant and/or Geronimo Allison. The QB and OC uncertainty is tough, but his matchup against the league’s worst defense in Orlando is great, and his volume (26% target share) is borderline league-leading. To be fair, the field may recognize this, and he may be one of the highest-owned players on the slate. But it’s possible to argue he’s the top high-priced WR of the slate, given how much he’s dominated targets to this point, with the added bonus of Bryant and Allison potentially sitting this game out. Chances are he’s pretty dang popular, though.
Lucky Jackson ($5,400) recorded 65 yards on 4 catches in the first half of DC’s Week 4 contest against Vegas, scoring 10.5 DraftKings points. He didn’t see any looks in the 2nd half, and I’m not sure what happened – even after rewatching the game. But he’s healthy, and is the top WR on a relatively efficient passing attack. I think St. Louis is one of the few teams that could push DC to throw more, and Jackson is my favorite way to attack that if we assume he won’t catch much ownership. That said, he projects well industry-wide, so he may be popular. If that’s the case, Chris Blair ($4,500) makes sense as a pivot.