A lack of NFL football, or football in general, is a terrible thing. But 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 on all slates, with a main slate 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.
Arlington Renegades (17.25) @ Houston Roughnecks (23.75)
Seattle Sea Dragons (22.75) @ DC Defenders (25.75)
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!
Important note: The TL;DR is only for the two-game main slate. Don’t fret, I note plenty of showdown plays I like (or don’t like) in my write-ups.
Plays ranked in order, with tier 1 in bold, and assumes notable questionable players suit up…
QB: Ben DiNucci, Jordan Ta’amu, Brandon Silvers, Luis Perez
RB: Abram Smith, Max Borghi, Brycen Alleyne, TJ Hammonds, Leddie Brown, De’Veon Smith, (giant gap)… Phillip Lindsay
WR/TE: Tyler Vaughns, Jordan Veasy, Justin Smith, Josh Gordon, Juwan Green, Chris Blair, JaVonta Payton, Jahcour Pearson, Blake Jackson, Brandon Smith, Sal Cannella, Brandon Arconado, Travell Harris, Lucky Jackson, Josh Hammond, Deontay Burnett
Ben DiNucci ($11,200): There isn’t any way around it, Ben DiNucci is the top play of the slate at QB. He’s averaged 24.5 DraftKings FPG since Week 5, including 32.3 point performance the last time Seattle played DC. And he’s done a great job of cutting down turnovers since Week 7, posting just four turnover-worthy plays and leading the XFL with an 87.9 PFF passing grade.
We know the pass volume (league-leading 67% neutral pass rate) is awesome, but the matchup is just as good. DC is the league’s worst pass defense (278.4 passing YPG allowed) and is PFF’s worst-graded coverage unit among playoff teams (68.6 team coverage grade). So, it’s almost impossible to dislike DiNucci this week – at least before we discuss ownership.
DiNucci will be the most popular QB of the slate, and he should be near-100% owned in his respective showdown slate. I don’t think that’s wrong, but I also think you can get away from DiNucci in large contests on the two-game slate if you are concerned about his ownership.
Regardless, the bottom line is simple: he’s the top QB play of the slate.
Jordan Ta’amu ($10,000): Ta’amu serves as a nice middle between the safety and massive ownership of DiNucci, and the high-risk, low-ownership plays like Silvers and Luis Perez.
Ta’amu is PFF’s 2nd-highest graded QB (85.9) since Week 7, averaging an absurd 28.5 DraftKings FPG over that stretch. He’s fallen under 29.9 DraftKings points just once over his last four games – and that lone instance (Week 9) can be easily explained as D’Eriq King recorded 8.9 DraftKings points and played two full drives. Excluding Week 9, King has averaged just 8.0 snaps per game since Week 5, meaning we can safely assume he won’t eat into Ta’amu’s workload too heavily in the playoffs.
Combine that with a slate-high implied team total (25.75), and it’s easy to love Ta’amu – especially since he should come at an ownership discount relative to DiNucci. The only bear case for Ta’amu is the matchup, as Seattle allows just 201.5 passing YPG (toughest among playoff teams), and 6.4 YPA (toughest among all teams). But it’s hard to argue that’s a significant factor after Ta’amu dropped 30.0 DraftKings points the last time these teams played.
For tournaments, I’d consider Ta’amu my overall favorite play at the position, but only if we assume his ownership is notably lower than DiNucci’s (which I think is a safe assumption).
Brandon Silvers ($8,800): Silvers isn’t exactly trustworthy, having failed to exceed 12.0 DraftKings points in his last four games. And his poor PFF passing grade (54.6) and passer rating (78.6) don’t lend much hope. But we need to remember we are dealing with a two-game slate where QB ownership will massively concentrate on Jordan Ta’amu and Ben DiNucci (likely for good reason).
And if you are looking to get different at QB, I can’t think of a better way than Brandon Silvers. Silvers averaged a respectable 20.2 DraftKing FPG prior to his Week 5 shoulder injury. That mark is just 14% worse than playoff QB1 Ben DiNucci (23.2 DraftKings FPG), yet Silvers is 21% cheaper than DiNucci. Plus, Houston (64%) is the only playoff team to offer a comparable neutral-situation pass rate to Seattle (67%), and the Roughnecks (23.75) offer an implied team total that’s 1.0-point better this week.
The bearish case for Silvers is easy. He either sucks (most likely), or the Roughnecks decide to go run-heavy after the success they had in Week 10 (fairly likely)…
Rushing YPG against Arlington— Jake Tribbey (@JakeTribbey) April 26, 2023
All other teams: 71.5
Pass rate against Arlington
All other teams: 62%
I won’t touch Silvers in smaller field contests or cash games, but for the main $15 tournament, he’s a solid leverage play if we assume his ownership is the lowest among QBs. And I think that’s a fairly safe assumption, given Silvers has struggled massively as of late and hasn’t exceeded 12.0 DraftKings points since Week 4. Maybe getting Week 10 off is what he needed to get his shoulder back to 100%? I’m not sure, but I’m fine taking some chances in large-field tournaments.
Weighted opportunity, snap/route shares, and raw opportunities through 10 weeks:
Weighted opportunity by week:
Abram Smith ($9,800): Smith is easy to love with Ryquell Armstead now cut, given he’s averaged a 93% snap share, 78% route share, and 100% of backfield-weighted opportunity in his two games without Armstead.
So he’s a lock-button play in all formats, right? Well, I don’t think it’s anywhere close to that easy. Smith’s two games sans Armstead resulted in just 12.3 weighted opportunity points per game. For perspective, that’s only 8% better than Max Borghi – who has been capped at a ~50% snap share all season. That said, it’s easy to argue Smith’s true median outcome is much higher, as the DC backfield has averaged 17.2 weighted opportunity points per game. Assuming Smith gets 100% of backfield work (which is a near-lock), then somewhere around 17 DraftKings points is a reasonable expectation. And that would make Smith one of the best plays of the slate at any position, even with his expensive salary. Our projections reflect this absurdly-high anticipated usage.
But our projections don’t reflect Smith’s rock-bottom floor (at least relative to similarly-priced flex players). Smith played 96% of snaps last week and finished with 5.4 DraftKings points. How can this be? It all comes down to TD equity, as both Jordan Ta’amu (12) and D’Eriq King (7) rank top-9 among all players in inside the 10 carries. Collectively, these two QBs have just two fewer inside the 10 carries than Smith himself (21), and they have two more inside the five carries (11 total) than Smith (9).
So, there is a real chance Smith could play every snap, but not post a great DraftKings score simply because King and Ta’amu vulture every potential TD. And since Smith averaged just 1.6 targets per game during the regular season, we really can’t argue for a strong floor barring an incredible rushing performance (Smith has exceeded 100 rushing yards twice this season).
I like Smith as a play. I’ve never seen a spring football RB with this kind of usage before. He’s locked into every backfield touch barring injury. And that’s awesome.
But I don’t love Smith as a play – at least for large-field tournaments. He’s probably going to be right there with Ben DiNucci as the highest-owned player of the slate. And despite the legendary snap share, we know his floor isn’t as strong as his median projection. It’s unreasonable to fully fade Smith (unless you are addicted to RB leverage), but I will end up underweight relative to the field.
De’Veon Smith ($7,700): Smith (surprisingly) finished the season with the best workload (by weighted opportunity) in the XFL, alongside the most consistent workload in the XFL. He’s the only player to exceed double-digit weighted opportunity points in 100% of his games this year. And he just got Week 10 off, which could set him up for a big workload in the playoffs.
It’s easy to argue both sides for Smith. He’s had plenty of dud games, having scored better than 2X his salary just once this year. But he’s also been fairly consistent as of late, recording at least 11.5 DraftKings points in each of his last five games (and the 15.4 FPG he’s averaged over this stretch would be right there with Abram Smith for the season-long lead at RB).
But Smith’s value really just comes down to touchdowns. He hasn’t earned more than 61 yards or 4 receptions in a game this season. He’s entirely TD dependent.
Arlington’s implied team total (17.75) doesn’t suggest much scoring, and that means Smith won’t project very well industry-wide, which nearly always leads to low ownership. He could fall into the end zone multiple times and lead the week in RB scoring. Or, Arlington could drop dead offensively; after all, they’ve averaged 11.5 PPG in their two prior games against Houston.
Truthfully, I don’t have a strong take here. But my lean is that Smith goes under-owned on the two-game slate, but over-owned in showdown. I’ll have pieces of him in both slates, but it should be obvious where I want most of that exposure.
Max Borghi ($7,600): Borghi’s workload has been good, but not great, all season. He’s permanently capped at ~50% of his team’s snaps, and he’s consistently losing about 35% of backfield-weighted opportunity to scatback Brycen Alleyne.
But if we assume relatively low ownership for Borghi (ideally sub-20%), I actually love him as a play this week.
Week 10 saw RB3 Jeremy Cox record 120 rushing yards and a score on 20 carries, finishing the week with 21.0 DraftKings points (2nd-most) and 14.6 weighted opportunity points (2nd-most). So far this season, Houston has dominated Arlington (a normally elite run defense) on the ground…
Rushing YPG against Arlington— Jake Tribbey (@JakeTribbey) April 26, 2023
All other teams: 71.5
Pass rate against Arlington
All other teams: 62%
It’s easy to argue that’s a cherry-picked sample. Houston has blown out Arlington in both games, and Houston played all backups in their Week 10 matchup. But I actually think we’ve seen a total phase change in this offense.
Since Week 7, Houston has averaged a league-leading 120.5 rushing YPG (eclipsing 140 yards in three of four games), on a meager 54% pass rate (3rd-lowest). In their first six games, they posted a 65% pass rate (tied for 1st) and 78.9 rushing YPG (3rd-fewest).
Digging deeper, Houston has been even more aggressive running the ball in the red zone these last four weeks (30% pass rate), relative to their first six games (40% pass rate). For perspective, DC’s season-long red zone pass rate (43%) was the 2nd-lowest among all teams this season, and it still doesn’t get close to the red zone pass rate Houston has posted as of late.
This makes perfect sense. Houston’s QB play has been abysmal since Week 5, and running the ball roughly ~10% more often has proven to be a perfect cure – especially in high-leverage spots.
Sure, Borghi is probably still capped at 55% of backfield snaps, and 65% of backfield weighted opportunity. But backfield opportunities have been plentiful for Houston as of late, and being 6.5-point favorites suggests they have no reason to get away from their ground game in the semifinals.
I love Borghi in tournaments. And backfield teammate Brycen Alleyne (whom the team deemed so important that he played just two offensive snaps in Week 10) is a similarly great tournament play, granted I’d expect mid-tier ownership for Alleyne as he’s strong salary relief.
But I should entertain the bear case for these rushers. The most realistic way these RBs fail is if Brandon Silvers is consistently turning the ball over, and the offense as a whole never gets anything going. Or, maybe RB3 Jeremy Cox worked himself into the committee this week after a monster Week 10 performance. I don’t lend much credit to the latter, as Houston’s RB3 hasn’t recorded more than 13% of snaps since Week 2. But the former is still a risk, and one we should be aware of when building lineups.
But those bearish cases don’t phase me. I’ll let it rip with both Houston RBs this week in GPPs on all slates.
Leddie Brown ($4,700): Brown averaged 8.7 weighted opportunity points per game and a 47% snap share in his three games where De’Veon Smith was fully healthy. That’s above-average usage relative to Brown’s main slate price, but it’s important to remember his TD equity is near-zero.
Brown averaged 2.0 red zone touches per game with healthy De’Veon Smith (4th among playoff RBs), but he recorded zero inside-the-five touches and just one inside-the-10 touch in those contests. De’Veon Smith dominates the goal-line role.
Because Brown has basically no TD equity, his upside is pretty terrible in games with a healthy De’Veon Smith. He projects fine, but I’d consider him a below-average tournament play (especially in larger fields) because he can’t find the end zone.
TJ Hammonds ($4,000): The Seattle backfield is gross and almost isn’t worth writing up because it’s so gross. But TJ Hammonds’ price tag and recent usage suggest he has some viability on the two-game main slate.
Over his last four games, Hammonds is tied for the team lead with 23 carries, earning a respectable 25% of red zone carries, and averaging 5.9 weighted opportunity points per game and 6.6 DraftKings FPG. Those are not great numbers, but he did show a decent ceiling in Week 9 (14.2 DraftKings points), which makes me slightly more optimistic about Hammonds in tournaments than I am about similarly-priced Leddie Brown.
That said, you are playing with fire if you heavily target any Seattle RB. Hammonds is hard capped at ~35% of team snaps and ~45% of backfield-weighted opportunity in the league’s 2nd-least valuable backfield. He’s really just a leveraged bet on both Leddie Brown and Brycen Alleyne failing as salary relief at RB. I’m fine with it if we presume low ownership (a safe assumption), but I wouldn’t bet the farm on a big game from Hammonds.
Josh Gordon ($9,600): I expect Gordon to be one of the highest-owned WRs of the slate, but it’s for great reason. He’s a full-time player again, posting a 76% route share since Week 8, and a 91% route share in Week 10. He leads all playoff pass catchers in target share (24%) since Week 8, with five more targets (25 total) than the next-closest player over that stretch.
How can we not love Gordon now that he’s out of the dog house in a matchup with a DC defense that’s allowed a league-worst 278.4 passing YPG, and an even more extreme 315.5 passing YPG since Week 7? This is the league’s worst pass defense, and we know Seattle has the passing offense needed to take advantage. Factor in Seattle being listed as underdogs in one of the highest-total games in spring football history, and Gordon has nearly all the stars aligning for a monster performance.
Chris Blair ($7,800): Since Week 6, it’s been Chris Blair – not Lucky Jackson or Josh Hammond – leading the Defenders in targets (31), yards (391), YPPR (3.25), air yards (368.2), and deep targets (5). If Lucky Jackson hadn’t turned an absurd 83% of his red zone targets into TDs, then Blair would also lead the DC pass catchers in FPG (15.5) in the 2nd-half of the season.
Blair has flashed an awesome ceiling, with scores of 28.8 and 32.1 DraftKings points over his last four games. But there’s a problem: he’s objectively overpriced at $7,800 on the main slate, meaning he won’t project particularly well. That might be a blessing, as I’d be surprised if Blair’s ownership cracks 20%, as most DFS players would (likely) rather pay up for Lucky Jackson. And, arguably, Blair is a straight-up better play than Jackson this week, agnostic of price.
If my assumption of low ownership holds, I’ll have plenty of Blair in both Ta’amu stacks and as a one-off play on both slates. But I’ll still be mixing in plenty of Lucky Jackson and Josh Hammond as well.
Jordan Veasy ($5,300): Veasy ranks 11th among playoff WRs in targets since Week 6 (21), which doesn’t make him immediately pop as a value when compared to his WR12 DraftKings salary. But, Veasy ranks 1st in red zone targets (7), 5th in air yards (356), and 2nd in deep targets (8) over that stretch – meaning he sees an elite number of high-leverage targets which more than makes up for his middling volume.
We already know the DC pass defense sucks (see previous blurbs on DiNucci and Gordon), so a plus matchup is another note in Veasy’s favor. And he just posted his best route share of the season (98%) in Week 10, so maybe he’s ready for a bigger offensive role (granted, that bump could have also been due to Juwan Green and Damion Willis playing through injury – but Willis is listed as doubtful this week).
Veasy is, at worst, a solid play on both slates this week, given how he projects relative to his price. At best, he’s the top-value play of the slate. I’ll be overweight the field, but I’m anticipating Veasy is one of the eight or so highest-owned WRs of the slate.
Tyler Vaughns ($4,700): Predicting and projecting these Arlington WRs has proven to be one of the toughest tasks in spring football. But Vaughns looks to be the Renegades clear WR1, leading the team with 20 targets and 17 catches since Week 7, while averaging 9.1 DraftKings FPG – a mark that ranks 9th-best among playoff WRs. So, Vaughns’ WR13 price tag makes him a clear value, granted there is some obvious risk.
Vaughns hasn’t scored more than 7.3 DraftKings points in two games against Houston – who also happen to be the league’s best coverage unit (88.8 PFF coverage grade) and the league’s best pass rush (88.9 pass rush grade). Arlington’s 17.75 implied team total illustrates this perfectly; nobody really expects Arlington to put points on the board in this game. Thankfully, the Renegades don’t need a huge game for the reasonably-priced Vaughns to pay off his price tag. And if they do put points on the board, Vaughns’ recent volume suggests he will be one of the main beneficiaries. He is one of my favorite cheap WRs this week.
Justin Smith ($4,400): The argument for Justin Smith is pretty simple: he runs every route (95% route share since Week 6) in an offense that’s shown great promise passing the ball at various points this season. The only problem is that Houston has been less willing to throw as of late (54% pass rate since Week 7), and they’ve been especially unwilling to throw against Arlington.
So, I think Smith probably goes over-owned on both slates if Houston comes out run-heavy (which is my lean). And that probably means he’s best used in lineups that anticipate Arlington staying competitive. I imagine I’ll end up with lower ownership than the field, but I still like Smith, given he’s a strong projected value.
JaVonta Payton ($3,000): Payton has seen his playing time slowly tick up since joining the Renegades, culminating in a 52% route share over his last two games. Not impressive for any other team, but earning even half the routes on Arlington semi-consistently is a major accomplishment. The target ceiling is brutal (no more than 3 targets in a game this season), but he’s earned at least 2 targets in every game since Week 5. He’s a solid floor play this week – you could do a lot worse for the minimum price on the two game slate. And he’s probably the 2nd-best min-priced play in his respective showdown slate (after a player I highlight below).
Quick Hits and Bonus Showdown Notes
Important note: If you are looking for spring football-specific showdown advice, our Week 6 show with Justin Freeman covered exactly that. I’ve linked and timestamped that discussion right here. It’s a quick discussion that’s absolutely worth a watch.
Cole McDonald ($9,000) can’t be touched on the main slate, but he’s pretty interesting for showdown. Since Brandon Silvers injured his shoulder (Week 5), McDonald has averaged 6.7 DraftKings FPG, 9.3 snaps per game, and 0.75 inside the 10 carries per game. Not great, I get it. But we know McDonald has excellent TD equity given how much he rotates in at the goal line. And with Houston running at the league’s highest rate in the red zone (30% red zone pass rate last four weeks) – McDonald may have more opportunities to find the end zone. He’s a solid piece to work into showdown lineups this week, and I’d expect sub-10% ownership as he’s a bit overpriced.
Brandon Smith ($3,700) isn’t a guy I’ll be playing on the main slate, but he has some juice for showdown. Smith has averaged a 40% route share over the last three weeks, while seeing at least two targets in each of his last four games. He won’t see great volume relative to his price, but he will see consistent volume relative to his price. He’s one of the better ways to save salary in his respective showdown slate.
Damion Willis ($3,300) is formally listed as doubtful. Assuming he sits, both Josh Gordon and Jordan Veasy are excellent plays. Fire them up with confidence.
Meanwhile, Blake Jackson ($8,300) is listed as questionable. I think he’s quite likely to play, but what if he sits? In that case, Kelvin McKnight ($3,000) would be a top-3 play on the main slate, and pretty easily the best value play on his respective showdown slate. McKnight manned the slot role in Week 1 while Jahcour Pearson was checked for a concussion, earning 4 catches on 21 routes. Long story short, the team views McKnight as the direct backup to Pearson and Jackson. TJ Hammonds would also see a modest boost to his projection in the event Jackson can’t go.
All of the Defenders’ TEs are in play for showdown, but Ethan Wolf ($1,600) is probably my favorite. He was their TE1 to start the season, got hurt, and has slowly clawed his way back to (what I think is) TE1 status after he led DC TEs in route share (51%) and target share (9%) these last two weeks. The margins are super thin between Wolf, Alex Ellis, and Briley Moore-McKinney – but Wolf will be my highest-owned of the three.
Brenden Knox (who isn’t in the player pool) is back on the Seattle depth chart for the first time since Week 2. I’m not sure if he will be active this week, but if he is, I don’t think you can touch Phillip Lindsay ($6,600), as Lindsay has been limited to a 25% snap share since joining the team, and a 16% snap share in Week 10. Lindsay’s lone advantage is his near-monopoly on red zone carries (73% of backfield red zone carries since joining the team), but Knox (3 red zone carries in his two games) is the kind of RB that would eat into Lindsay’s only valuable work. If Knox sits, you can really only justify Lindsay if you assume he scores multiple times (which is possible).
Keep an eye on the status of Michael Bandy ($3,200), who has missed the last two games with a hip injury and has been officially listed as questionable this week. If Bandy plays, Cedric Byrd ($6,300) is probably complete dust, as Bandy earned a 26% target share on a 66% route share in Week 8, compared to a 6% target share for Byrd. Even if Bandy sits, I think Byrd is over-owned and over-priced, so I won’t have much exposure there. Assuming Bandy can go, he’s a sneaky way to save salary on both slates.
This might sound silly, but I actually really like kicker Taylor Russolino ($1,000) as a showdown play. He’s tied for the league lead in attempts (19), and has missed just once from inside of 40 yards while going 2 for 3 from 50 or more yards. I’m not anticipating vintage Adam Vinatieri, but I do think the 6.2 DraftKings FPG Russolino has averaged since Week 6 makes him worth rostering if you plan on making five or more showdown teams.