Ladies and gentlemen, football is back! Which means fantasy football is back. Which means DFS is back. Which means I get to go back to ignoring all of your start/sit questions and spending all of my time (literally every waking moment) working on this column.
What is this column? Each week I’ll be listing the best and most-interesting plays of the week, grouped by position, and ranked and tiered in some sort of descending order. Keep in mind, we’re looking only at the players available on the main slate for both DraftKings and FanDuel.
This article is long. It’s going to be long every week. Ideally, it’s all you should need to know to be able to profit playing DFS in any given week.
Be sure to also watch our DFS Preview livestream every Friday at 3PM EST. Be sure to get in our Discord — if you’re not in there already, you’re missing out on a lot of important news updates as well as personal guidance and advice from our experts. And, most importantly, be sure to check back on Sunday mornings for the “Sunday Morning Update” – basically a TLDR version of this piece along with any injury-related updates we might need.
Anyway, let’s dive in…
TLDR: Too Long, Didn’t Read
**Continue reading for details and strategy on “expensive positions”
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
[Pricing -- DK: RB1, FD: RB1]
From 96 Stats:
1A. Aaron Jones finished as a top-6 fantasy running back in just three games last year. Nick Chubb just twice. Austin Ekeler only once. Okay, so keep that in mind…
1B. Over his last 17 games, Christian McCaffrey has finished top-2 47% of the time, top-4 67% of the time, top-6 82% of the time, and top-8 94% of the time. So, just once he failed to finish top-8 (when he finished 14th).
How often has paying up for McCaffrey burned you? Especially on a week like this with so much value? Maybe one time through 17 games? Yeah, I love those odds. As 6-point home-favorites against the hapless Jets — with DE Vinny Curry out, DE Carl Lawson out, and DT Quinnen Williams possibly still not 100% — McCaffrey should be viewed as a near- lock button play on both sites.
Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington Football Team
[DK: RB17, FD: RB10]
I am dangerously high on Gibson.
Among RBs, he ranks just 15th by DraftKings salary this week. By season-long ADP he ranks 9th. But he’s 6th in my rankings.
I went in deep, trying to justify my love of Gibson here. And, since then have been met with a high degree of confirmation bias, including hefty work this preseason, which might amount to something like: 22.3 carries and 9.3 targets per game.
Anyway, read those two articles if you want to know why I love Gibson this year. That’s the crux of the argument behind playing him this week. Otherwise the matchup is fairly neutral, as 1.0-point underdogs against a Chargers defense that gave up the 15th-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing RBs last year (+0.6). He rivals McCaffrey as one of the best plays on the slate on DraftKings.
Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
[DK: RB15, FD: RB9]
If I’m dangerously high on Gibson, I might be ODing-on-bath-salts levels of dangerously high on Mixon. He’s RB7 in my rankings but RB13 by ADP. And by DraftKings salary he ranks as just the RB15.
Like with Gibson, the crux of my argument for Mixon this week is based on my love for him across the full season. So, I urge you to read what I wrote here.
But basically, Mixon seems locked in to a full-on bell cow workload. I firmly expect for him – so long as he stays healthy – to finish the season ranking top-6 in Snap% and XFP per game. I expect him to be fairly gamescript-proof and very consistent on a week-to-week basis. That’s an important point, but not too important this week, as the Bengals are only 3.0-point underdogs at home against the Vikings. Otherwise, the matchup should be very favorable — the Vikings gave up the 6th-most FPG to opposing RBs last season.
Other Expensive Running Backs
In a week with so much value, it’s hard to avoid the other high-priced RBs. On DraftKings, I think you’ll be okay with just McCaffrey and two cheaper RBs. On FanDuel, I think you’re going to have to play McCaffrey and at least one of Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, and Derrick Henry. So who do you play?
From 96 Stats:
1A. Last season, Alvin Kamara averaged 29.2 FPG and 8.3 targets per game with Drew Brees under center. In his other four games, he averaged just 14.2 FPG and 4.0 targets per game.
1B. Last season, Kamara averaged 30.8 FPG in games Thomas missed (seven), as opposed to 18.7 FPG in games he played (six).
So, which Kamara do we get this week? This is still a Sean Payton-led offense, and that offense historically runs through the RB in the pass game. And nobody in the league does that as well as Kamara. So, I suspect we’ll see a lot more of 1B than 1A from Kamara this week. Further, the matchup appears near-ideal. Last season the Packers gave up the 6th-most schedule-adjusted FPG to enemy backs (+2.4), and also the 3rd-most receiving FPG (12.3).
Dalvin Cook, the unanimous 1.02 all summer, gets a Bengals defense that gave up the 2nd-most YPC (5.35) and the 7th-most rushing FPG to opposing RBs (16.7) last year. The Vikings are favored by 3.0-points and have a slightly higher implied point total (25) than the Saints (23). Oh, and Cook is also the healthiest he’ll be all year. (He averaged a McCaffrey-like 28.7 FPG through his first 7 games last year.)
I don’t think Henry is at all cash viable this week, but I like his tournament upside at least as much as Kamara and Cook. The Titans are favored by 2.5 points and have the 2nd-highest implied point total of the slate (27.5). Over Tennessee’s last 16 wins, Henry averages an astounding 26.3 FPG. But Tennessee basically has to win for Henry to hit. The spread (+/- 2.5) matters far more to Henry than the massive over/under (54.0). Over his last 12 games that had an over/under of 50.0-points or more, Henry averages 30.7 FPG in wins (7) but just 8.8 FPG in losses (5). So, for this reason, I’d much rather play Cook or Kamara in cash, though all three have similar levels of “bury you”-upside for tournaments.
Basically, play whoever you prefer. Whoever fits your build. Or whoever matches us best with your level of risk-tolerance in whatever game format you entered. I get paid to give fantasy advice, and I spent all week doing research, but sometimes the answer is just “yeah, they’re all equally great plays.”
Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
[DK: RB14, FD: RB15]
Remember, bell cow usage – the sort of usage he saw this preseason (15 of 16 snaps with the first-team offense) – is far more important than offensive line play. And, it means he should be fairly gamescript-proof. That’s an important point this week, as the Steelers are 6.5-point underdogs against the Bills.
It’s certainly not a terrific matchup, and probably not even a neutral one, but he’s also still a little too cheap on both sites, ranking 14th (DK) or 15th (FD) in salary, in contrast to his August ADP of RB12.
James Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
[DK: RB13, FD: RB21]
Robinson is probably not a bell cow. He probably doesn’t come close to the workload he saw last year. In fact, there’s good reason to think he’s not even significantly more valuable than Carlos Hyde. Afterall, this preseason, Robinson only barely out-snapped Hyde with the first-team offense (33 to 28).
But then again, maybe that’s wrong. Maybe Robinson is closer to who he was last year, averaging 17.9 FPG (RB5) on a 1-win team. Maybe, even, he’s one of the best RBs in football — his 17.9 FPG as a rookie last year ranks 9th-best since 2000, on a top-10 list that includes Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Clinton Portis, Matt Forte, and Adrian Peterson.
At the very least, it’s hard not to play those odds at Robinson’s depressed salary on FanDuel, and in an absolutely perfect matchup. The Texans are blatantly tanking, and they gave up a league-high +7.8 schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing RBs last year. He’s mildly risky, but an incredible value nonetheless.
However, if you’re an MME player, Hyde is a great play for all of the reasons outlined above. That, and he’s far cheaper, and likely to draw super-contrarian-levels of ownership.
Raheem Mostert, RB, San Francisco 49ers
[DK: RB19, FD: RB18]
For reasons outlined here, Mostert was my favorite “Dead Zone” RB to draft all offseason. And everything since that article was written has been highly encouraging. Outside of 7 carries (gaining 53 yards) this preseason, Mostert was kept under wraps and given starter’s protection. He clearly seems to be healthy, and, more importantly, the starting RB in this backfield.
And he gets an absolute dream matchup this week, favored by 7.5 points against the tanking Lions. Detroit should be better against the run than they were a season ago, but it’s also a long fall from “worst in the league” to still “extremely bad.” Behind only the Texans (with no one else coming close), the Lions gave up +7.2 schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing RBs last season.
Trey Sermon is also vaguely in play, as a longshot flier for tournaments, in case he’s the goal-line back (very plausible) or in case this game gets out of hand early (equally plausible).
Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos
[DK: RB48, FD: RB25]
Williams has a great deal of upside in season-long fantasy leagues. Afterall, that’s why he was being drafted as the RB20 by ADP, four rounds above fellow Broncos RB Melvin Gordon. I argued here, though it admittedly sounded somewhat conspiratorial, that maybe Denver drafted him to be their bell cow. Of course, I admitted that sort of bell cow-usage would be unlikely to start the season and the crux of the upside-argument for Williams was in what he could do for you in the second-half, but also, maybe he’s the RB1 right out of the gates. I don’t think it’s very likely, but it’s at least conceivable. Afterall, he was given starter’s protection in Week 3 of the preseason, though Melvin Gordon was not given the same treatment.
In any case, and at the very least, he’s a phenomenal talent. (Last week, QB Teddy Bridgewater compared him favorably to Alvin Kamara. And HC Vic Fangio said, “He’s earned that trust and we’re not at all against playing him in any situation at any time in the game.") And this week’s matchup is soft — the Broncos are favored by 3.0 points, and the Giants gave up the 6th-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing RBs last year (+2.3). And, obviously, Williams shouldn’t be min. priced on DraftKings, though he is. It’s more of a longshot play for tournaments, but he’s still very much in play.
Damien Harris, RB, New England Patriots
[DK: RB24, FD: RB23]
Harris is a solid value, ranking as just the RB23 on FanDuel ($5,800), but he’s also only really in play for tournaments. And that should be the case for him all year.
In Week 1 of the preseason, I wrote:
Damien Harris played on 8 of the team’s 12 first-string snaps. James White was on the field for the missing (four) snaps… Given this usage, and with Rex Burkhead now in Houston (though there’s a chance he gets cut and brought back to New England), I’m expecting New England’s backfield to look a lot like it did in 2016. That year, LeGarrette Blount handled 73% of the team’s carries out of the backfield, while White handled 68% of the targets out of the backfield. On this 14-win team, Blount ranked 9th in fantasy points scored (14.7 FPG) and White ranked 26th (10.1 FPG). Obviously, the overall offensive environment in New England isn’t anywhere near as attractive now as it was back then, but there’s some value here. Both are excellent selections in best ball leagues, and great options in DFS (Harris when New England is heavily favored, White if the Patriots are underdogs) but less so in start/sit leagues, due to a lack of week-to-week consistency.
Of course, this week’s matchup isn’t ideal, but it looks more favorable than not. New England is favored by 3.0 points (ideal would be 7+), at home, against Miami’s sub-mediocre run defense (PFF's 28th-best defensive line). Expect New England to be extremely run-heavy this year, and an especially run-heavy offense this week (Mac Jones’ first start). And with Cam Newton (who had a league-high 9 rushing touchdowns from inside the 5-yard-line last year) now out of the picture, Harris offers massive touchdown upside. (For instance, only Derrick Henry had more multi-rushing-touchdown games than Newton last year.)
Chase Edmonds, RB, Arizona Cardinals
[DK: RB34, FD: RB21]
Edmonds was a tricky player to evaluate all offseason. Based on HC Kliff Kingsbury’s comments (in May and then later in August), he made it clear this was going to be a committee backfield. But what was unclear to me was whether he viewed James Conner as merely the new Kenyan Drake in this offense, and thus, Edmonds’ scatback-plus role would remain unchanged. Or, if Edmonds would be the one to receive the bulk of that missing work. (Last season Drake ranked 14th and Edmonds ranked 36th in XFP per game.)
All of this is still unclear to me, though I should mention, Edmonds’ preseason usage was highly encouraging, albeit in a limited sample, as he played on 7 of the team’s 10 first-team snaps. If Conner is the new Drake, and Edmonds is merely just the same old Edmonds, that would certainly be unideal for those of you who drafted him at his ADP (RB28). That would also be unideal for those of you playing him this week. But it also shouldn’t be a major concern.
This matchup sets up excellently for Edmonds and that scatback-plus role, in what should be a pass-heavy shootout. The Cardinals are 2.5-point underdogs against the Titans, in a game which boasts the 2nd-highest over/under of the week (54.0). And it’s also a great on-paper matchup, as Tennessee ranked 5th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing RBs last year (+3.5). He’s a solid value on DraftKings and a strong high-floor play in a game you’re going to want to get exposure to. And he also offers excellent upside beyond that, should his preseason usage carry over to Week 1.
Mike Davis, RB, Atlanta Falcons
[DK: RB22, FD: RB17]
From 96 Stats:
2A. Last season, Mike Davis ranked 3rd-best of 63-qualifying running backs in PFF’s Elusive Rating.
2B. Per SIS, only three players ranked top-10 in avoided tackle rate on both rushing attempts and receptions: Alvin Kamara, David Montgomery, and Davis.
2C. The only other RBs on the team are former WR Cordarrelle Patterson and journeyman Wayne Gallman, whom the 49ers cut just days ago.
Davis was quietly excellent last season, and no one seemed to care. Not even the Falcons, who are paying him just $1.5M guaranteed. HC Arthur Smith doesn’t seem to care either, heavily hinting at (back in March) a RBBC-deployment with this backfield.
Still, Davis’ competition isn’t too imposing. And the odds of him being a bell cow are at least better than his DraftKings salary implies. And the matchup is fine, favored by 3.0-points against an Eagles defense that looked inept in the preseason while trying to implement their new scheme. He’s only a slight value, but he’s in play nonetheless.
Other Running Backs
No one is talking about Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and, well, that’s a mistake. There’s the 30-point implied total. The fact that the Chiefs have talked all offseason about wanting to run the ball more and to pepper Edwards-Helaire with targets. Through the first 6 weeks of the season (prior to the arrival of Le’Veon Bell), Edwards-Helaire ranked 2nd among all players at all positions in XFP (averaging 19.9) and ranked 5th among RBs in snaps. And yet, he’s priced outside of the top-10 RBs on both sites. Due mostly to his projected ownership (3%), he’s ending up on a lot of my lineups.
As we discussed in earlier sections, Carlos Hyde and Trey Sermon are both in play as low-owned fliers for large-field tournaments.
I don’t love Aaron Jones, but he’s at least interesting if he’s likely to go low-owned. After losing a number of key starters, New Orleans’ run defense looks dramatically worse than it did a season ago (though people may still be fearful), and Jones always offers slate-busting upside. He’s hit 32.0 or more DK fantasy points six times (three games over 44.0) over his last 26 games.
Marquez Callaway, WR, New Orleans Saints
[DK: WR79, FD: WR57]
This preseason, Callaway turned 9 targets (23 routes run) into 8 catches for 165 yards and 2 scores. Of 288 qualifying WRs, he ranked first in both PFF grade (95.9) and YPRR (7.17).
Callaway, a Greg Cosell-favorite, a training camp darling, and New Orleans’ likely No. 1 receiver with Michael Thomas out, has since vaulted up fantasy draft boards. (Emmanuel Sanders tried to warn us this would happen.) By ADP, he’s now the WR43, though that may still be too low. With Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith out and TE Adam Trautman still at least a little banged up, we like him this week as a low-end WR3. And yet, he ranks outside of the top-75 WRs by salary on DraftKings.
On paper, the matchup is fairly tough, but it’s also not insurmountably bad. Jaire Alexander hasn’t shadowed since Week 7 of last season, and this game offers massive shootout potential — 49-point over/under, Green Bay only favored by 4.5. As I see it, he’s a borderline must-play on both sites.
Tee Higgins, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
[DK: WR41, FD: WR27]
Higgins ranks 23rd among WRs by ADP, sandwiched in between Julio Jones and Jerry Jeudy. And yet, he ranks just 41st by DK salary ($4,700), tied with T.Y. Hilton and Jamison Crowder, both of whom aren’t even playing this week.
From Week 3 until Joe Burrow’s season-ending injury in Week 11, Higgins — a rookie — averaged 15.5 FPG (20th) and 8.1 targets per game (8.1). Again, he ranks just 41st by DK salary.
Ja’Marr Chase is a stud, no doubt, but he also sat out the entirety of his 2020 season, and then dropped 4 of his 5 total targets this preseason.
Minnesota’s revamped secondary should be quite a bit better than it was last year, but still not great, as PFF has them ranked just 16th heading into the 2021 season. Really, Higgins is yet another glaring value who doesn’t really require a lengthy explanation as to why.
Tyler Boyd is another strong value, ranking, per the Super Model, 13th-best among WRs on DraftKings and 5th-best on FanDuel. He has the softest matchup of the Cincinnati WRs. And one can envision him getting peppered with low-aDOT targets in this contest, due to the mismatch between Minnesota's defensive line versus Cincinnati’s offensive line, and hesitancy from Joe Burrow as he regains confidence following a gruesome knee injury. But, simply, I like Higgins’ upside more.
Elijah Moore, WR, New York Jets
[DK: WR91, FD: WR66]
Elijah Moore, a humble farmer’s son, is priced at a modest $3,000 on DraftKings, the minimum salary for a WR on that site.
Despite his meager upbringing, Moore would later achieve greatness, when, last year, he averaged 157.1 YFS per game. This was the most by any Power-5 WR in any season since at least 2000, and maybe ever. Since then, he’s risen through the ranks to become — not just a top-35 NFL draft pick — but my No. 1 Exodia-play of the 2021 season.
And is there not any better way to kickoff Week 1 of the #ElijahMooreSZN than with him being minimum priced on DraftKings? No doubt, if I’m right about Moore, he’s not just a top value this week, but this is possibly the cheapest he’ll ever be in his entire career.
To find out why I’m so confident in Moore this year, I urge you to read these two articles from earlier in the offseason: here and here. And why am I so confident in Moore this week? Beyond the stone-minimum salary, of which I take great personal offense, he also has a great matchup this week. Carolina has a bottom-10 secondary, and that secondary should be even worse this week, with A.J. Bouye still out (suspension).
Although I like Corey Davis, I’d rather play Moore (regardless of Keelan Cole’s status). And I also suspect he won’t be as highly owned.
Expensive Wide Receivers
Yeah, so, there’s a metric buttload of high-priced WRs who are all in play this week. And because pricing is so loose, they’re all very playable. But they’re all grouped very tight together. In my own lineups, I’m not forcing myself to make these tough decisions. I have my core plays, and then I differentiate by making various gamestacks. One lineup will have DeAndre Hopkins stacked with A.J. Brown or Derrick Henry. Another will have Davante Adams stacked with Alvin Kamara or Marquez Callaway. Stefon Diggs will be played with Najee Harris or Diontae Johnson. Etc. But if you’re going to make me break ties…
Of the high-priced WRs, my preferred point-per-dollar plays are (ignoring ownership): On DraftKings: Calvin Ridley, Davante Adams, Terry McLaurin, and then Stefon Diggs
On FanDuel: Stefon Diggs, Calvin Ridley, Davante Adams, and then Terry McLaurin
And it’s really hard to not play one of these guys. (McLaurin will get his own section because he’s significantly cheaper.) One of the best counter-arguments I never received (but should have) to my staunch Anti-Zero-RB stance all summer was something like this: “Well, this has been true for years. This is true in a vacuum. But this year is different, because we have like five WRs who are all about to put up historically great levels of production.” And that’s a legitimately great counter-argument. One that’s very hard to argue against. Here’s what I mean:
From 96 Stats:
1A. Excluding a Week 4 game Calvin Ridley left early due to injury, he’s reached at least 90 yards or scored a touchdown in 16 of his last 18 games (89%). And he's reached at least 17.0 DK fantasy points in 15 of those 18 games (83%). Contrast this with Keenan Allen, who hit that mark in just eight of his last 18 games (44%).
1B. Julio Jones has missed eight games over the past two seasons.
1C. Calvin Ridley saw at least 9 targets in each of those eight games (though he fell below that mark 65% of the time when Jones played), and only once failed to reach at least 17.0 fantasy points.
1D. Across those eight games, Ridley averages 11.1 targets, 107.0 receiving yards, and 21.9 DK FPG. For perspective, those numbers would have ranked best, best, and 3rd-best (respectively) last season.
2A. If we drop Week 2, when he left early with a hamstring injury, Davante Adams put up 26.5 FPG across his 16 healthy starts (including the playoffs).
2B. Adams’ 26.5 FPG would have been the best season by any WR all time, even ahead of Jerry Rice’s 1987 season (26.2 FPG), when he scored 22 TDs in 12 games.
3. Including the postseason, Stefon Diggs averaged 11.2 targets, 109.6 receiving yards, and 25.5 DK fantasy points per four quarters (adjusting for the one game he left early) over his final 11 games. For perspective, those numbers would have ranked best, best (7th-best since 1970), and 2nd-best (9th-best all-time) if over the full season in each of the last three seasons.
Adams, Diggs, and Ridley are all fantasy cheat codes. Almost like playing Jerry Rice in his prime. And a similar augment could be made for D.K. Metcalf, who will be playing against Xavier Rhodes’ backup this week. Or Justin Jefferson, in a top-10 matchup, coming off of the greatest rookie season in NFL history. Or DeAndre Hopkins, who (believe it or not) our projections like as the WR1 this week, playing behind a 25.25-point implied total against a bottom-10 secondary.
However, factor in projected ownership, and Tyreek Hill is probably the best play for tournaments on both sites. He’s the only one from this group expected to come in at under 10% ownership, and, with Hill, that’s always a mistake. Hill always offers slate-busting upside, Sammy Watkins is no longer in the picture, and, most importantly, he’s fully healthy. Hill has historically always performed like a top-5 fantasy WR, but on only high-end WR2-levels of volume. But, remember, there was a 6-game stretch last year, at the tail-end of the season right before he popped up on the injury report with a hamstring, where Hill averaged an Adams-like 11.6 targets and an astounding 30.2 DK FPG (would rank best all-time).
Hill is my favorite high-priced WR for tournaments. But, otherwise, yeah, they’re all great options. I wish I had a more definitive answer for you, but I just don’t. Play your favorite, or get more creative like me.
Jerry Jeudy, WR, Denver Broncos
[DK: WR38, FD: WR41]
Again, so many of my arguments for players I’m recommending in Week 1 come down to this:
“I loved this guy all offseason. And, maybe I was wrong. But I’m not going into Week 1 assuming I’m wrong.”
Simply, Jeudy is really freaking good. Way better that his stats imply. He gets open at will. Every video of him running a route in practice ends with the opposing cornerback pants-down, ankles broken, and sobbing. With Teddy Bridgewater (who supported three top-25 WRs last year) usurping Drew Lock, look for Jeudy to have a breakout year. At the very least, look for him to be a lot better than he was last year. From 96 Stats:
1A. Just 65.5% of Jerry Jeudy’s targets were deemed catchable by SIS. That ranked 3rd-worst of 71 qualifiers last year.
1B. Last season 81.3% of Teddy Bridgewater’s throws were deemed catchable by SIS.
1C. Broadly speaking, you can say 10 targets per game from Drew Lock (6.55 catchable) is worth the same as 8 targets per game from Bridgewater (6.50).
Anyway, he’s a top value on both sites, priced as just the 38th (DK) or 41st highest-priced WR (FD). That’s in contrast to an August ADP of WR26.
On paper, the matchup is either brutal or extremely soft. If James Bradberry shadows Jeudy, we should be shaving about 25% off of his FPG expectation. If not, perhaps if Bradberry instead shadows Courtland Sutton (who spends a much higher percentage of his routes lined up outside), we should be vaulting Jeudy up our boards. That’s because New York’s CB2, Adoree’ Jackson (who is also dealing with an ankle injury), has long been a player we’ve gone out of our way to target in DFS.
Marvin Jones Jr., WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
[DK: WR72, FD: WR31]
After trading away CB Bradley Roby, the Texans now sport arguably the worst outside CB duo in the NFL. Desmond King is a little more competent in the slot, but Terrance Mitchell and Vernon Hargreaves III (on the outside) have long been weekly targets for DFS players.
In this matchup, look for Jones to pick up right where he left off in the preseason, as Trevor Lawrence’s favorite target. DJ Chark may one day regain his WR1-status, but, I suspect, at least not for a while, as he’s missed almost all of the preseason and QB-rapport isn’t something that happens overnight. But Lawrence has already shown a great deal of trust and rapport in Jones, who averaged an impressive 4.04 YPRR (5th-best) and 0.49 targets per route (6th-best) this preseason. He’s an immense value on DraftKings, priced as just the 72nd-most expensive WR on the slate.
Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington Football Team
[DK: WR14, FD: WR12]
McLaurin ranked 10th in FPG (16.8) last year, prior to first popping up on the injury report in Week 11. (He proceeded to play through TWO high-ankle sprains.) Keep in mind, this was in spite of league-low levels of QB play (Alex Smith/Dwayne Haskins/Taylor Heinicke). And now he has a true gunslinger in Ryan Fitzpatrick under center.
As Wes Huber explained here, he also gets a very favorable matchup this week against Michael Davis and Los Angeles’ Cover-3-heavy scheme. WR Curtis Samuel will not play. And his price-tag on DraftKings ($6,400, WR14) is borderline-insulting, and very exploitable.
Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
[DK: WR15, FD: WR15]
It’s as simple as this: last year, when Johnson played a full game, he performed like a top-5 fantasy WR.
From 96 Stats:
1A. Diontae Johnson fell under 50% of the team's snaps in Weeks 3 (injury), 5 (injury), and 14 (drop-related benching). He played on 76% of the team's snaps in Week 8 but clearly wasn't quite right after spending some time in the medical tent with an injury suffered in the first quarter. Including the postseason, but excluding those four games…
1B. Johnson saw double-digit targets in 11 of 12 games, with the lone exception being Week 17, the one game QB Ben Roethlisberger didn't play.
1C. Over this span, Johnson averaged 12.3 targets, 83.0 yards, 19.6 XFP, and 19.4 FPG. If extrapolated over the full season, those numbers would have ranked best (+1.7 more than next-closest), 8th-, 2nd-, and 4th-best among wide receivers.
Johnson was mispriced in drafts all summer, and he’s mispriced again, as just the 15th most expensive WR on both sites.
That’s a mistake. Yes, the matchup is tough on paper, but only on paper. Look for Buffalo to shut down Chase Claypool, but for Johnson to feast in the short to intermediate levels of the field — his bread and butter — against a Sean McDermott defense that always shuts down the deep passing game and funnels volume closer to the line of scrimmage.
Other Wide Receivers
QB Carson Wentz will play. Seattle gave up the most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing WRs last year (+8.4), and by a landslide. TY Hilton is out. Parris Campbell is banged up (Achilles). And Michael Pittman might actually be really good; the next sophomore WR poised for a breakout. Maybe. At the very least, he seems locked in to about 8-10 targets and probably shouldn’t be anywhere near this cheap: $4,100 (DK) / $5,300 (FD).
As was the case all last year, I don’t have a great read on D.J. Moore vs. Robby Anderson. I like both in a top-3 matchup against the Jets. I think I like Moore more on DraftKings and Anderson more on FanDuel… Similarly, Justin Jefferson vs. Adam Thielen is another close call. If forced to choose, I’d take the $700 in savings with Thielen… D.K. Metcalf vs. Tyler Lockett is a little tough. I’d give the lean to Metcalf with Xavier Rhodes out. Either this is one of the three games per year Lockett goes nuclear or he probably tanks your lineup… I think A.J. Brown vs. Julio Jones is a tougher call than most think. This will be the healthiest Jones is all year, and he’ll be far less highly owned. But, also, Brown should be way more than just $300 more expensive than Jones. Still, they’re really just both excellent plays in a top-3, maybe top-1 matchup…
Elijah Moore is my preferred rookie WR to play in DFS this week, but Rondale Moore and Terrace Marshall are also attractive. Moore is an extremely high-level prospect who offers “Kryptonian Cole Beasley”-levels of PPR cheat code-upside. He averaged 8.90 career receptions per game at Purdue. That ranks 2nd-best by any wide receiver since at least 2000, behind only Davante Adams (8.96). Working as a starter, Moore was similarly highly involved this preseason (just as HC Kliff Kingsbury predicted), earning 9 targets and 3 carries through four quarters of play. He’s cheap exposure to a game that offers the 2nd-highest over/under of the slate… Rondale Moore is a better cash play than Marshall, but I like Marshall’s ceiling more for tournaments. I explained why I like him so much this season here. As for why I like him so much this week? It’s easy. The Jets have one of the worst secondaries I’ve ever seen on paper… As rookies, and maybe only part-time players, both are somewhat risky in Week 1. But they’re both, also, undeniably attractive values.
Fellow rookie Jaylen Waddle is in play, but I like him significantly less than Marshall and either Moore.
If Odell Beckham Jr. is active, he’s a solid low-owned tournament-play in a game you’re going to need exposure to. If he’s out, Jarvis Landry is very much in play, though not a tremendous value. Landry averaged 8.8 targets and 19.0 FPG over his final five games last season… If OBJ sits, camp standout Donovan Peoples-Jones is a fine low-owned tournament punt. Wes Huber talked about him in more detail here.
Similar to Donovan Peoples-Jones, Gabriel Davis is a strong low-owned tournament punt if Emmanuel Sanders is out.
Even if OBJ and Sanders sit, I think I still like Quez Watkins more than the other two. He’s a sneaky stacking option with QB Jalen Hurts. (Wes Huber dug in deeper on him here). But, I also don’t expect to have much exposure to any of these three WRs. They’re just solid low-owned punts for those making multiple lineups for tournaments.
Another similar play is Marquez Valdes-Scantling, with Davante Adams likely to draw Marshon Lattimore in shadow coverage. MVS has the much softer draw against Paulson Adebo, a third-round rookie whom New Orleans just went out of its way to replace (trading for Bradley Roby, who is out this week). For what it’s worth, our sources have continuously raved about MVS this offseason, as have a few other beat reporters.
Sterling Shepard isn’t at all necessary this week, but he will be the clear No. 1 receiver with Evan Engram out and Kenny Golladay, Saquon Barkley, Kyle Rudolph, Kadarius Toney, and Kaden Smith all still at least a little banged up.
Logan Thomas, TE, Washington Football Team
[DK: TE6, FD: TE6]
In My Guys, I had this to say of Thomas: "I don’t know if I should call Thomas an Exodia, but at his price-point and given my heavy exposure, I might as well."
For reasons outlined here, he was one of my favorite picks all summer. And he’s still a terrific value, ranking just 6th among TEs in DraftKings salary, $100 cheaper than Hunter Henry.
Thomas resumed his 2020 role this preseason, playing on 23 of 23 snaps with the first-string offense, and only pass-blocking on one play. WR Curtis Samuel is out this week (groin). Los Angeles was a top-10 matchup for TEs last year, though HC Brandon Staley and the healthy return of S Derwin James should make it quite a bit tougher.
But the reason he’s a Tier 1-play for me this week is due to everything I outlined in the article above.
Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
[DK: TE8, FD: TE3]
My first official take of the 2021 offseason was this: "Kyle Pitts will be in the Hall of Fame. I haven't felt this sure about a fantasy-eligible prospect since Christian McCaffrey."
Kyle Pitts isn’t “going to be” a stud. He already is one.
He ranks 4th among TEs by ADP, and yet he ranks just 8th among TEs by DraftKings salary this week. He goes 75 picks behind Mike Gesicki, but he’s $100 cheaper.
Of course, I get the apprehension. Rookie TEs typically underperform for fantasy. It’s just his first game in the NFL, after being kept mostly under wraps in the preseason. I’m sympathetic to those concerns, but I also know Pitts is the most outlier-ish TE prospect of all-time, and so it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s also an outlier in that regard.
Ultimately, he’s simply an immense value in a favorable matchup this week — Philadelphia gave up 8th-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing TEs last year (+1.8). Although Calvin Ridley should get the better of Darius Slay (if he chooses to shadow), that’s still a matchup that’s more difficult than not, and could help push more volume towards Pitts.
Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
[DK: TE1, FD: TE1]
In a week with so much value, you’re going to want to pay up for someone. And you’re going to need some exposure to this [email protected] game. So why not, Kelce?
He’s certainly not cheap, priced the same as the WR1 on DraftKings and the WR2 on FanDuel, but he’s still a value. That’s at least about where he should rank, given the immense upside he offers as a high-end WR1 masquerading as a TE. And again, he’s affordable this week, with so much value elsewhere, and with the TE position still looking about as messy and uncertain as it did last year. Cleveland gave up the 2nd-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing TEs last year (+3.7), though they weren’t much better against opposing WR1s (+1.1). In the playoffs last year, Hill and Kelce both saw 10 targets. Kelce scored 27.9 DK fantasy points, Hill dropped 22.9.
Tyler Conklin, TE, Minnesota Vikings
[DK: TE29, FD: TE34]
Listen, with TE being the absolute dumpster-fire it was last season, I’m never not going to recommend a near-min. priced TE. Even on a week like this, with so much value elsewhere, it’s still at least reasonable to consider punting the position and paying up for someone else at one of the other more important positions that also offer more upside.
And this week, that min. priced TE would be Conklin. He might not be 100% healthy, but he’s at least back to practicing in full.
In the final four games of last season (with Kyle Rudolph out but Irv Smith active), Conklin played on 69% of the team’s snaps, running a route on 65% of Kirk Cousins’ dropbacks, and out-targeting Smith 21 (14% target share) to 20. This preseason (with Conklin out), Smith played on 26 of the team’s 30 first-team snaps, earning a 28% target share.
I think that’s the sort of usage we should be looking forward to with Conklin this week, which makes him a highly attractive value at his salary: $2,900 (DK) / $4,400 (FD).
Other Tight Ends
Jonnu Smith is a strong play. Hunter Henry will be active, but he’s probably not quite 100%. I think we’ll see him peppered with low aDOT targets and he may even get a few carries (potentially, maybe even near the goal-line).
Gerald Everett is a little behind Smith, but another decent value as Seattle’s likely No. 3 receiver.
Austin Hooper is in play, if only due to the 54.5 over/under. But Wes Huber dug in deeper on him here.
George Kittle is in play, but I like him less than Travis Kelce or Logan Thomas/Kyle Pitts. Still, he has “bury you”-upside against this tanking Lions team.
Zach Ertz is a fine value / punt, and a sneaky stacking option with Jalen Hurts. Wes Huber talked about him in more detail here.
Listen, this is where you should get weird. I gave you my core plays at the other positions, and I’m going to play all of those guys. In tournaments, the way I differentiate is by playing unorthodox QB stacks. Typically something like QB-WR1-Oppo WR1. Who is in play at the QB position? Pretty much everyone. Get weird. Get cute. Have fun.
Like the value on both Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd? Play both stacked with Joe Burrow, and run it back with a Vikings WR.
Can’t not play Josh Allen? Do it. And stack him with Stefon Diggs and Diontae Johnson.
Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
[DK: QB9, FD: QB7]
From 96 Stats:
1A. Lamar Jackson averaged an astounding 135.2 rushing YPG in his final collegiate season. That ranks best among all QBs drafted in the first four rounds since 2014.
1B. Jalen Hurts ranks second (101.6), Kyler Murray ranks third (76.5), and Dak Prescott ranks fourth (57.8), though really both are a sizable distance behind Hurts.
1C. In any case, 2021 Hurts reminds me a lot of 2019 Lamar Jackson. Which is to say, he’s being drafted around his floor, and has massive league-winning upside in his sophomore season, thanks mostly to his hyper-mobility.
1D. Last season, Hurts averaged 24.8 fantasy points per four quarters (11.3 rushing). Or 25.9 FPG in games started and finished (9.9 rushing FPG). For perspective, 24.8 FPG would rank as the 8th-best QB season all-time and 25.9 FPG would rank 5th-best all-time. 11.3 rushing FPG would rank best all-time and 9.9 rushing FPG would rank 3rd-best since 1975.
1E. In other words, if Hurts remains who he was last year and doesn’t lose the starting job, he doesn’t just have high-end QB1 upside, he has overall QB1 and historically great levels of upside.
1F. And it’s not hard to envision an improvement. This is his first full season getting starter reps in practice, and his supporting cast will be much-improved following the healthy returns of a number of key starters, in addition to the arrival of Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.
1G. Due to a massive amount of injuries last year, Philadelphia's three most-targeted receivers last year were Greg Ward, Zach Ertz, and Travis Fulgham. Gross.
Yeah, I love Hurts. He’s QB7 in my season-long rankings. And he’s just the 9th highest-priced QB on DraftKings. And he draws an absolute dream matchup this week. Per PFF, the Falcons have the league’s worst secondary and the league’s 2nd-worst defensive line. Last season, they gave up a league-high +3.5 schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing QBs and ranked 5th-worst in rushing FPG allowed to QBs. And there’s a good chance they’re going to be even worse this year.
In tournaments, my favorite way to stack up Hurts is by playing Quez Watkins or Zach Ertz, though you can certainly play him naked.
Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals
[DK: QB2, FD: QB2]
If I’m going to pay up for a QB on DraftKings this week, it’s going to be Murray.
Behind a 54.0-point over/under, everyone wants exposure to this game. If that over/under hits, Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, and Julio Jones could all go off. But, if that over/under hits, Murray has to go off.
Murray has played in 7 games with an over/under above 51.0-points. He’s hit at least 20.0 fantasy points in all 7 of those games, averaging 27.8 FPG. For perspective, that would have bested Lamar Jackson’s record-setting 2019 season.
You can stack Murray with DeAndre Hopkins, Rondale Moore, A.J. Green, or no one else from Arizona’s side. But you’re going to need to stack him with at least one player from Tennessee’s side.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings
[DK: QB10, FD: QB11]
I don’t entirely agree with Wes Huber that Kirk Cousins is a top-7 QB in the NFL. In fact, I don’t know that I’d have him in my top-15. But we’re both in complete agreement that Cousins is a top-1 QB against Cover-1 defenses. Per Wes, “Over the last three seasons, against Cover-1, Cousins has averaged 0.63 fantasy points per dropback (1st) — a 38% increase over his average — a 123.6 passer rating (1st), and a 17:1 TD:INT ratio.” He’s elite against Cover-1, and he’s at least top-12 against Cover-4.
Cousins gets a Cover-1- and Cover-4-heavy Cincinnati defense this week (8th-highest rate of both Cover-1 and Cover-4 last year). And a Cincinnati defense that’s fairly inept against the pass overall, ranking 7th-worst in fantasy points allowed per pass attempt last year (0.51). And they gave up the 7th-most FPG to opposing outside WRs last year. And they’re possibly even worse now than they were last year. William Jackson III (PFF’s 20th highest-graded CB last year) is now in Washington, and Trae Waynes is out this week (hamstring). So they’ll be starting Mike Hilton, Chidobe Awuzie, and Eli Apple, three CBs we’ve long gone out of our way to target in DFS.
Jefferson just totaled the most receiving yards by any rookie WR since the 1970 NFL merger. Adam Thielen — though he was ranked as just a low-end WR2 in fantasy drafts all summer — has been a fantasy WR1 whenever he’s been healthy.
Cousins is looking likely to go underowned, and I like the leverage he offers off of Dalvin Cook. And I love the upside he offers for tournaments, stacked with 2/3 of Jefferson, Thielen, and Tee Higgins.
Sam Darnold, QB, Carolina Panthers
[DK: QB26, FD: QB26]
Darnold was initially looking like one of my favorite tournament plays on DraftKings, stacked with Christian McCaffrey and at least one other receiver from this game. But he’s starting to get quite a bit of buzz, and thus, ownership. Still, he’s a tremendous value, in a top-3 matchup. Yes, he stunk last year. But Teddy Bridgewater didn’t; at least not at this price. And Darnold has since upgraded from a bottom-5 supporting cast to one that’s at least top-10. And, more importantly, he’s upgraded his play-caller from Adam Gase to Joe Brady.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is just the 22nd highest-priced QB on FanDuel. And, well, that’s a mistake. The Chargers were a top-5 matchup for QBs last year, ranking 5th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed (+2.4), though they should be quite a bit better this year. And Fitzpatrick has always been a lot better for fantasy than anyone seems to recognize, averaging 22.6 FPG in games he's started and finished over the last three seasons. For perspective, only two QBs average more FPG over this span — Patrick Mahomes (24.5) and Lamar Jackson (24.2). Obviously, Washington probably prefers a more conservative approach, trying to slow the game down with the run, beating teams with their top-tier defense, but the +/- 1.0 spread implies shootout potential, which would be right in Fitzpatrick’s wheelhouse.
Jalen Hurts is the top cash play on DraftKings. But, per our projections, he’s only about neck-and-neck with Josh Allen on FanDuel. It’s a perceived tough matchup for Josh Allen, but also probably nowhere near as tough as it was last year. After losing Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton, the Steelers have fallen to bottom-6 in Mike Clay’s cornerback rankings. And, besides, it’s also Josh freaking Allen. The Bills have the 3rd-highest implied point total of the slate (27.5) and essentially all of those points should come through the air or by Allen on the ground.
Behind the 2nd-highest implied point total of the slate (28.75), it's hard not to fall in love with Ryan Tannehill. He's been supra-Mahomian-levels of awesome over his last 24 starts. And he gets a top-3 matchup this week. And he’s since upgraded his WR2 from Corey Davis to Julio Jones. And he’s just the 8th-most expensive QB on DraftKings… The interesting thing about Tannehill is he’s actually positively correlated to Derrick Henry. So, you could play both together on a fairly unique lineup. I think (based on these numbers in the link above), I like the idea of stacking Kyler Murray with Derrick Henry and AJ Brown. And I like the idea of stacking Tannehill with Julio Jones.
I think Matt Ryan is quietly a phenomenal play for tournaments on DraftKings. Ryan is home, in the dome, likely to draw low ownership, and the Falcons have the 5th-highest implied point total of the slate (26.25). Their RBs are uninspiring, but both Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts are top values. And the Eagles’ defense was an abject disaster this preseason while trying to implement their new scheme.
I wrote up Baker Mayfield for Start/Sit here. And Wes Huber explained here, why he loves him in DFS this week. I’m less bullish with Odell Beckham Jr. questionable, but Wes makes a compelling argument beyond just the massive 54.5-point over/under.
Patrick Mahomes is a great play, obviously. But he’s expensive, and I prefer Murray more on DraftKings and Allen more on FanDuel.
Trevor Lawrence is basically the FanDuel equivalent to Sam Darnold. Basically any QB in the NFL can do whatever they want against the Texans defense. But I worry HC Urban Meyer isn’t yet ready to take the training wheels off.
Similarly, Mac Jones is exceedingly cheap on both sites. He would be your “QB punt,” but I worry about his touchdown-upside, and I don’t think he’s necessary this week.