2023 Week 1 DraftKings Early Look

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2023 Week 1 DraftKings Early Look

The 2023 NFL regular season is only 38 days away, so we are just 912 hours away from fantasy football. As my readers likely know, DFS is the best version of fantasy football, and since DraftKings has released their 2023 Week 1 prices, it’s time to track down the obvious values and best plays.

Here are the plays that jump out to me for Week 1 DFS.

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins (@ LAC)

DraftKings: $6,700 (QB6)

I’d expect Tagovailoa to be one of the top-3 highest-owned QBs of the Week 1 DFS slate. His game environment is near-perfect, as this contest offers the highest total of the slate (50.0), with Miami listed as a 2.5-point underdog – a situation that should lead to plenty of passing for Miami.

In his nine games with at least 30 pass attempts last season, Tagovailoa averaged 23.1 DraftKings FPG (ranks 2nd-best among slate-eligible QBs over the full season), including a 43.9-point outing (the 32nd-best fantasy performance ever by a QB). You don’t need me to tell you his ceiling is among the best of the slate.

Some might point to the Chargers' defense as a tough matchup, citing their performance against Tagovailoa last season (145 passing yards and 1 TD allowed) or their intimidating 86.7 PFF pass coverage from 2022 (6th-best) as a reason to fade Tua. But that argument misses the point. On passes of 20 or more yards last season, the Chargers allowed the 4th-most receptions (30), the 3rd-most yards (1,012), and the 2nd-most TDs. This is one of the league’s weakest pass defenses against the deep ball. The offense that led the league in passing YPG on throws of 20 or more yards? The Miami Dolphins. If things line up, this game could result in a massive spike week for Tagovailoa and the passing offense on deep targets alone – making him an ideal tournament play.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Cleveland Browns (VS. CIN)

DraftKings: $6,000 (QB10)

Watson is a tough sell if we only look at last season (when he averaged a career-worst 15.1 FPG), but if he returns to pre-2022 form, he’s easily a top-3 QB play on this slate.

In the three seasons Watson has played at least 10 games, he’s averaged 22.3 FPG (QB5 last year), and has scored over 25.0 fantasy points in 38% of his games (4th-best over the last three seasons). He’s nothing short of a top-5 fantasy QB when he’s playing his best.

Obviously, we don’t know what version of Watson we will get. At the very least, we know his current DK price (QB10) is notably cheaper than his best ball ADP among slate-eligible QBs (QB7), and we know he’s playing in a contest with the 2nd-highest (tie) total of the slate. Watson has excelled in high-total games throughout his career, averaging 24.8 DraftKings FPG in games with a total of 45.0 or higher – and the eight highest-scoring fantasy outings of Watson’s career have all come in that split.

He’s high-risk (maybe he’s still as bad as last season), but the potential upside is awesome, making Watson an ideal Week 1 tournament play.

Anthony Richardson, QB, Indianapolis Colts (VS. JAX)

DraftKings: $5,600 (QB14)

We still don’t know if Richardson is the Week 1 starter for Indianapolis, but he’s an intriguing DFS option if we get that confirmation. Given Richardson’s athletic profile, his upside as a fantasy QB is difficult to fathom…

Richardson has been billed as a raw, developmental prospect. But Brett Whitefield disagreed, noting that outside of accuracy issues and a lack of experience, Richardson is a QB with “a pretty refined skillset.”

It’s easy to look at the recent history of fantasy rookie QBs and write off Richardson – after all, only four rookie QBs in the history of the NFL have averaged more than 20.0 FPG. But three of those seasons were from Robert Griffin, Cam Newton, and Deshaun Watson – a trio of players who collectively averaged 47.2 rushing YPG across their rookie seasons.

And when we look at the best single-game rookie QB fantasy performances of all time, we see that eight of the top 10 were performed by Konami QBs. Cam Newton dropped 34.7 fantasy points in his first-ever NFL game (the 26th-best fantasy outing by a rookie QB), and Richardson is one of just two QBs to post a better speed score than Newton since 2000. Richardson could absolutely post a tournament-winning score in his first NFL game.

The total (43.5) suggests a middling game environment, and that will prevent Richardson from getting steamed industry-wide. Regardless, his legendary athleticism is too much to pass up on at a QB14 price tag.

Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers (VS. MIA)

DraftKings: $8,400 (RB2)

Ekeler may not seem like a compelling value priced as the RB2 – the same price as his current best ball ADP. But he’s certainly discounted at $8,400 relative to his average DraftKings salary of nearly $9,000 in the final nine weeks of 2022. DraftKings has a habit of reducing the salaries of the highest-end fantasy players to start the season, and that’s a habit we should be trying to take advantage of as DFS players. This is likely the cheapest we get Ekeler all year.

Remember, Ekeler led all RBs last season in XFP/G (19.9), FPG (22.1), and targets (123, 5th-most ever for an RB). Using fantasy Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Ekeler wasn’t just the most valuable RB last season; he was inarguably the most valuable player in all of fantasy football.

The best part? He’s playing in the best game environment on the slate (50.0 total, +2.0 points better than the next-highest total game) as a 2.5-point favorite. Over the past two seasons, Ekeler has averaged 23.3 DraftKings FPG as a favorite in games with a total over 48.0 (10 instances) – and he’s scored over 25.0 DraftKings points in 50% of those games.

This isn’t a slate where you need to pay up at RB, the players I’ve written about below clearly justify that. But grabbing a discounted Ekeler in the perfect game environment isn’t something that should go overlooked, regardless of the positional value available.

Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (@ CLE)

DraftKings: $6,800 (RB10)

Mixon finished as the RB6 last season (17.1 FPG). But, he ranked 2nd among all RBs in XFP/G (18.8), with that number nearly matching Austin Ekeler’s league-high 19.9 if we exclude the one game he left early due to injury (19.6).

Samaje Perine (8.1 XFP/G) is no longer with the team. And Cincinnati’s decision to wait until Round 5 to add another RB to the room means Mixon is only competing with Round 5 rookie Chase Brown, Trayveon Henderson (55 career touches in four seasons), and Chris Evans (most notable for being +1400 to date Kim Kardashian last offseason).

In other words, Mixon is locked into a top-5 workload at a low-end RB1 price tag. He’s a great value before we note the matchup, which is among the best on the slate. Last season, Cleveland gave up the 10th-most FPG to opposing RBs (24.5), the 4th-most rushing TDs (22), the 3rd-most missed tackles per attempt (0.23), the 8th-most yards after contact (1,363), and the 6th-highest rate of runs of 10 or more yards (13.5%). Mixon could have one of his most efficient rushing outings of 2023 in this matchup, and it’s easy to see why he’s a compelling play when you combine that with elite volume.

Cam Akers, RB, Los Angeles Rams (@ SEA)

DraftKings: $6,200 (RB16)

Akers was one of the top volume-earners among RBs in the final four weeks of 2022, ranking 2nd in snap share (83%), 9th in route share (49%), 4th in team XFP% (28%), 5th in FPG (19.5), and 14th in XFP/G (14.5). All of that demonstrates clear value relative to his RB16 price tag on DraftKings, especially since Akers’ only real competition for touches this season are Kyren Williams (44 career touches), Zach Evans (Round 6 rookie), and Royce Freeman (3.7 career YPC).

Akers was also encouragingly-efficient to end 2022, ranking top-10 in PFF rushing grade (85.8), missed tackles forced (19), YPC (5.2), and yards after contact (248) in his final five games of 2022. His 2021 Achilles tear seems to be behind him, which is somewhat unsurprising given how fast Akers returned to play, combined with his age (24).

And this is one of the best possible matchups for opposing rushers. Seattle allowed the 3rd-most rushing yards (2,554), the 7th-highest YPC (4.9), the 4th-highest explosive rush rate (35%), and the 4th-most yards after contact (1,458).

Akers has a clear path to 20 or more touches in one of the best matchups of the slate – expect him to be popular as a result.

Rachaad White, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@ MIN)

DraftKings: $5,500 (RB22)

We won’t know the full extent of White’s Week 1 role at this point in August, but there are reasons to speculate it could be among the best in the NFL.

Last year, Leonard Fournette suffered a hip pointer in Week 10 that caused him to miss the end of that game and Week 12. In those two contests, White earned 16.4 XFP/G, 15.2 FPG, a 78% snap share, and a 58% route share – marks that would have ranked 7th-best (ahead of Jonathan Taylor), 11th-best, 2nd-best, and 2nd-best over the full year. In other words, White was an RB1 without Forunette.

To be fair, it’s reasonable to discount his XFP and FPG this season after the loss of check-down king Tom Brady, a departure that will lower this backfield’s target share and tank the team’s scoring expectation.

But I don’t think we can discount that elite snap and route share. White is competing with Ke’Shawn Vaughn (91 career touches in three seasons), Chase Edmonds (68 carries for 3.6 YPC last year), Sean Tucker (a UDFA rookie), and Patrick Laird (a meme player) for playing time.

In other words, White looks like a mortal lock to be among the league’s top backs in snap and route share, barring notable improvement from one of the players behind him. He’s a screaming value on DK if he can simply siphon some pass game work in a contest that should see Tampa Bay playing from behind.

Brian Robinson, RB, Washington Commanders (VS. ARI)

DraftKings: $5,100 (RB31)

It’s easy to forget Brian Robinson had the 12th-most games of 20 or more touches (6) last season – the same number as Joe Mixon and Kenneth Walker. And five of those games came with Antonio Gibson active.

That gives Robinson the best touch floor of the slate relative to his price, but it’s still difficult to pull the trigger on a player who averaged 1.0 targets per game last season on a full-PPR site like DraftKings. While I’m not optimistic about Robinson’s pass-catching outlook this season, he won’t need receiving work to be successful as a 6.0-point favorite against Arizona.

Robinson averaged 14.0 DraftKings FPG in games Washington won by 5 points or more last season, a mark that would’ve made him the RB13 among slate-eligible RBs last year. As long as Washington can stay in control (which odds makers suggest is likely), Robinson is an awesome value.

And the overall matchup is certainly a positive. Arizona gave up the 4th-highest percentage of explosive runs last year (7.4%), alongside the 5th-most rushing TDs (21), and the 3rd-most FPG to opposing RBs (28.3).

I’ll take my chances on great touch volume in a plus matchup, especially on an RB who clearly didn’t perform at his best last season…

Expensive WRs

DraftKings inflates the prices of high-end players (mostly WRs) as the season progresses. For Week 1, Tyreek Hill is $800 cheaper than he was in Week 17 of 2022. AJ Brown is $700 cheaper. Christian Watson is $1,600 cheaper. Can you spot the trend?

Almost all high-end WRs, despite returning to the same (or a similar) role as last season, are offered up at a substantial discount relative to Week 17 of 2022. The lesson here is simple: be more willing to pay up at WR early in the season because the top-end WRs will only get more expensive as we move deeper into the year. The ~10% discount we get on the league’s best pass catchers shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints (VS. TEN)

DraftKings: $6,500 (WR15)

Last season, Olave led New Orleans in routes (419), targets (112, 39 more than his next-closest teammate), receiving yards per game (69.5), end zone targets (5), 1st read share (32%), and XFP per route run (0.5). In nearly every measurable way, Olave was immediately New Orleans’ most impactful offensive skill player. Among rookie WRs all time, Olave earned the 20th-most receiving yards (1,042), 26th-most targets, and the 3rd-most receiving YPG. Olave wasn’t just great for New Orleans; he was historically great for a rookie WR.

His efficiency numbers back this up. Olave’s 82.9 PFF receiving grade and his 2.42 YPRR were the 5th-best and 3rd-best marks by a rookie WR since 2015. The only players who beat him out in both stats? Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase.

And now, almost unbelievably, we get the historically great Olave at a WR15 price tag (if pricing were based on DraftKings' best ball draft ADP, he would be the WR8). Relative to an actually liquid market (DraftKings best ball), Olave is one of the most mispriced players of the slate at any position.

The matchup is pretty great too. Tennessee gave up the most receiving yards (4,935), 3rd-most YAC (2,235), and the most deep receiving yards (1,314) of any pass defense last season. Olave – who earned the 8th-most targets of 20 or more yards last season – should have a field day running behind this Tennessee secondary.

Christian Watson, WR, Green Bay Packers (@ CHI)

DraftKings: $6,000 (WR21)

There is no shortage of stats that suggest Watson was truly special as a rookie, but this chart perfectly encapsulates (almost) all of them…

Watson was the league’s most efficient fantasy player on a per-route basis last season and earned more expected fantasy points per route run (0.53) than Justin Jefferson, AJ Brown, Travis Kelce, and Ja’Marr Chase. And we have the opportunity to play him at a DraftKings salary ($6,000) that’s 21% cheaper than his DK price in Week 17 of 2022.

QB play is a legitimate concern – going from Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love doesn’t help anyone’s fantasy prospects. But Watson was so good last season that I’m willing to take the risk of betting on a Jordan Love offense. At the very least, the chances Love is bad will almost certainly be priced into Watson’s ownership. And for what it’s worth, Love has looked good in camp so far…

Deebo Samuel & Brandon Aiyuk, WRs, San Francisco 49ers (@ PIT)

DraftKings: $5,500 (WR15) & $4,900 (WR24)

Samuel is $500 cheaper, and Aiyuk is $1,400 (!) cheaper than their Week 17 DraftKings salaries from 2022. And both players are elite values relative to their current best ball ADP – ranking among the top-5 most mispriced WRs of the slate.

We could argue that this offense is going to be too spread out, thus limiting the ceilings of the 49ers stars. And maybe that argument has some merit. But this is almost certainly the cheapest we will get Samuel and Aiyuk this season. I’m more than willing to take chances on elite talents at rock-bottom prices (see below: Moore, Elijah).

The biggest concern? Brock Purdy’s Week 1 health. If we get word Trey Lance is the Week 1 starter, both Aiyuk and Samuel can be safely removed from tournament consideration. But it’s encouraging to see Purdy slinging the ball in camp…

Assuming Purdy (or even Sam Darnold) is under center in Week 1, I’ll have plenty of exposure to both 49ers WRs. But my preference would be toward Deebo Samuel, given he earned targets at a higher rate after the Christian McCaffrey trade.

Elijah Moore, WR Cleveland Browns (VS. CIN)

DraftKings: $3,800 (WR62)

What if this really is the year for Elijah Moore? You don’t have to take our word for it – we here at Fantasy Points have been above market on Moore since he came out of the womb, effectively – just look at the above tweet. Moore is the most mispriced player on the slate relative to current DraftKings ADP.

And remember who Elijah Moore is. He was among the most efficient rookies in a stacked class, with his 1.95 YPRR from out wide ranking 23rd overall and 3rd among rookies, behind only Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle (min. 200 routes) in 2021. He was Scott Barrett’s WR3 in the 2021 class, ranking “as the 10th-best WR prospect to come out since 2015, directly in between Justin Jefferson and Jerry Jeudy.”

Reports from camp have been glowing thus far…

We can’t underestimate what a change of scenario could do for a player with Moore’s talent. Moore and the Jets clearly didn’t see eye-to-eye, resulting in a dramatic mid-season trade request and public statements about wanting the ball more. In stark contrast, Browns HC Kevin Stefanski has showered Moore with praise, gushing, “He takes it very seriously, which is great. It’s fun to be around a guy that really works at it. He’s taken the bit on everything we’ve asked him to do.”

If the vibes are immaculate, maybe Moore’s Week 1 DFS performance will be too. I’ll always take shots on players of Moore’s caliber when they only cost 8% of your total salary.

Hunter Henry, TE, New England Patriots (VS. PHI)

DraftKings: $3,500 (TE18)

Important Note: No TEs really jump out (to me) at these Week 1 prices. But Hunter Henry looks like he offers the most volume-based upside relative to his current price. This position looks to be the hardest to decipher for Week 1, even a month away from kickoff.

It’s easy to forget Henry was the TE15 in 2021, ranking 2nd among TEs (and 8th among all players) in end zone targets (12) and 5th in games of 18.0 or more fantasy points (3) – the same number as George Kittle.

And I think we can safely write off Henry’s 2022 season as ‘The Matt Patricia Effect’ after New England averaged 5.2 fewer PPG and 46.1 fewer YPG relative to 2021, leading to Henry posting the worst YPRR (1.21), PFF receiving grade (61.4), and FPG (6.1) of his career. If we place any value on Bill O’Brien as an offensive coordinator (or even just think he’s better than Patricia), we should be interested in Henry as a value TE.

Notably, the last time Bill O’Brien called plays for New England was in 2011 – when Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski set the all-time record for team TE targets (277). New England’s current receiving group doesn’t offer up many (or arguably any) serious target earners. So, even if we don’t think Henry is particularly good, he’s still one of the most talented pass catchers in an offense that will likely feature their TE(s). Reports from training camp indicate Henry has been heavily involved, and if those reports hold true come Week 1, Henry is a clear value at just $3,500 on DraftKings.

Jake Tribbey is a recent college graduate and lifelong football fan obsessed with extracting every edge possible from NFL DFS, Best Ball, and player props/futures.