My first few seasons playing DFS, I got crushed. Lineup after lineup, slate after slate, I just couldn’t do anything right. I was hemorrhaging my hard-earned money, and I really didn’t have much to spare. Just like those late-night infomercials, I had to find a better way!
I was making far too many mistakes to list them all here, but what I really needed then was a guiding hand, a voice (or an article perhaps?) that could, at the very least, help me understand who the best plays were, and more importantly — why?
This is that article.
Once I found FantasyPoints, and this article, everything changed. With a deeper understanding of which players are values (and why) I was able to make great strides in my own DFS play. And now, I’m writing this article.
Disclaimer: The NFL has adopted new testing protocols that enable the litany of players currently on the reserve/COVID list to test out of the protocol and potentially play this weekend. This is undoubtedly the most news-heavy slate we've dealt with all year, so monitoring news is going to be crucial to DFS success.
Again: There are new procedures in place that would allow Waddle (along with many others) to be removed from the COVID reserve list in time to play this weekend, if they show no symptoms and produce the right test results going forward. https://t.co/bJCnu2V9zE— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) December 16, 2021
With that out of the way, let’s talk values.
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins (VS. NYJ)
DK: +$423, 3.17X / FD: 2.44X
UPDATE: On Friday, both Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed cleared COVID protocol, which likely clears them to play on Sunday. It is an elite matchup for Gaskin.
The Miami Dolphins have a 25.5-point implied total this week against the Jets. For perspective, that’s 31% more than their per-game average this season. Does that mean we should be bumping our fantasy expectations for various Dolphins players by 31%? And if so, who?
In full games started and finished, QB Tua Tagovailoa is averaging 19.1 FPG. Or, 19.6 fantasy points per four quarters. Among all slate-eligible QBs, those numbers would rank 8th- or 7th-best. And yet, he’s just the QB12 by pricing this week ($5,700) on DraftKings. So, already a value in a neutral matchup, but this matchup almost couldn’t be any better. The Jets rank 3rd-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing QBs (+2.4) and dead-last in opposing passer rating (107.9). The Jets have allowed an opposing QB to reach 18.5 fantasy points against them in 9 of their last 10 games (21.0 FPG), though only one of these QBs ranks top-10 in fantasy points scored.
And the Dolphins could be without RBs Myles Gaskin, Phillip Lindsay, Salvon Ahmed, Patrick Laird, rookie Gerrid Doaks, and (maybe) Malcolm Brown (IR), leaving only scatback Duke Johnson. Their absence would likely force Tagovailoa to lean pass-heavy, helping his numbers and further bolstering the remaining pass-catchers.
Tagovailoa is clearly the best value, and the optimal cash game QB play on DraftKings. But he profiles as more of a tournament play on Fanduel where QB pricing is more condensed and he’s the QB8 by salary.
Elijah Mitchell, RB, San Francisco 49ers (VS. ATL)
DK: N/A / FD: N/A
Mitchell sets up as a strong value if he manages to play in Week 15, as he’s currently in concussion protocol and is dealing with a minor knee injury. But, he has been spotted working away from the main practice field with training staff in each of the last two practices, which is an improvement from last week, where he wasn’t seen participating in any of the 49ers practices in any capacity.
Elijah Mitchell seems to have maintained his receiving role, despite the return of JaMycal Hasty:— Jake Tribbey (@JakeTribbey) December 6, 2021
*49/53 backfield snaps (92%)
*16/18 backfield routes ((89%)
*3/3 backfield targets
In Week 13, Mitchell maintained bell cow status (97% backfieldXFP share) even with pass catching RB JaMycal Hasty back in the fold. Should Mitchell continue to earn 90% of backfield opportunities going forward, then we are looking at approximately 19.1 FPG, given this backfield has averaged 21.2 FPG this season. That, on its own, makes Mitchell a clear value, as 19.1 FPG would lead all slate-eligible RBs. However, Deebo Samuel has been significantly more involved as a rusher as of late (averaging 7.3 carries per game), so the expectation of a 90% backfield share for Mitchell may be a bit overly optimistic. Still, Mitchell is clearly the lead dog in this backfield even with Deebo’s role as a rusher increasing, as we saw Mitchell earn 75% of backfield carries in Week 12, despite 6 rushes for Deebo.
The 49ers are 9.5-point favorites with the 2nd-highest implied team total of the slate (27.75), suggesting quite favorable gamescript for their rushers, and Atlanta has been extremely vulnerable to opposing RBs this season. The Falcons rank 5th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed (+2.9) and 6th-worst in receiving FPG allowed (12.2) — an important note given Mitchell has commanded 90% of backfield targets and 89% of backfield routes over his last 2 games.
If Mitchell is fully healthy come Sunday, he’s easily a top-3 RB value on DraftKings in what should be a run-heavy game for SF.
James Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (VS. HOU)
DK: +$634, 2.35X / FD: +$441, 1.86X
Is James Robinson finally free? With Urban Meyer gone, it’s certainly more likely.
Robinson saw a pitiful 6 touches last week, but he did play on 64% of the team’s snaps – his highest mark since Week 6. It’s certainly hard to trust JRob given his recent performances, but without Urban Meyer, he may very well return to the JRob of Weeks 3 through 6, when he averaged 19.8 touches per game, 17.3 XFP per game, and 21.7 FPG. Among slate-eligible RBs, those numbers would rank 4th, 4th, and 1st. And yet, he’s $525 cheaper than he was from Weeks 3 through 6, priced as the RB22 on DraftKings. And on Fanduel, he’s $700 cheaper than his average price over that same stretch, clocking in as the RB19 (by salary) on the slate.
#Jaguars interim HC Darrell Bevell on RB James Robinson: "James Robinson is our starting running back and he will be played as such."— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) December 16, 2021
And this is probably the best game environment and matchup JRob has had all season. Jacksonville may actually win this game. In fact, they’re projected to win (-4.5), favored for the first time since Week 1. And it’s a near-perfect matchup on paper. The Texans rank 2nd-worst in YPC allowed (4.91) and worst in rushing YPG allowed (128.9). Over the past two weeks, they’ve given up 355 rushing yards and 5 rushing touchdowns to opposing RBs. And backup Carlos Hyde (concussion) will not play.
Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks (AT LAR)
DK: 2.48X / FD: 2.03X
Penny absolutely smashed after Pete Carroll said he would “be a big part” of the game plan in Week 14, earning a 57% snap share and 63% of backfield opportunities. He scored rushing TDs on runs of 32 and 47 yards and easily looked like Seattle’s best rusher on his way to 26.8 fantasy points — the 2nd-best mark of any RB this week. With how unimpressive DeeJay Dallas and Alex Collins have been this season, it’s easy to envision Penny’s role expanding further in Week 15, especially after Collins was just added to the reserve/COVID-19 list.
If Penny can capture just 70% of RB production in a backfield averaging 19.7 FPG, then we are looking at somewhere in the realm of 13.8 FPG. That may not sound particularly impressive, but among slate-eligible RBs, 13.8 FPG ranks 11th-best. And keep in mind Penny is priced as the RB22 on DraftKings and the RB19 on Fanduel.
With that said, this matchup with the Rams and the projected gamescript aren’t exactly favorable. Los Angeles has allowed -4.5 schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing RBs over their last 5 games (7th-toughest), and the Seahawks are 7.0-point underdogs, so there is a real risk Penny and Seattle won’t be able to establish the run in this contest. Still, Penny led all Seattle RBs with a 48% backfield route share last week, and captured 1 of 2 backfield targets in a blowout, so he’s likely to retain the lion’s share of pass game involvement if Travis Homer (calf) is unable to play.
This is a risky play. But, getting Penny touches to justify selecting him in Round 1 in 2018 may very well be at the top of Pete Carroll’s priority list given the Seahawks have little else to play for. And, we’ve really never seen what a fully-healthy Penny in a high-volume role looks like. He’s only earned 12 or more touches in 4 career games, and in those games, he’s averaged 22.3 FPG on 15.5 touches per game. So maybe, just maybe, he’s actually really good and has just been astonishingly unlucky with injuries thus far in his career.
Rashaad Penny has earned 12 or more touches in just 4 career games.— Jake Tribbey (@JakeTribbey) December 13, 2021
His per-game averages in those games:
Hear me out...
Maybe he's really good?
Penny is a strong tournament play this week regardless of Collins’ status, given he’s likely to carry low ownership. But if Collins sits, Penny may enter the cash game conversation as he would be much closer to a bell cow role than his price on either site would indicate. Still, it’s a tough matchup, and likely one with poor gamescript, so I couldn’t say I’m excited about the prospect of playing Penny in cash.
Michael Carter, RB, New York Jets (AT MIA)
DK: 2.30X / FD: 1.66X
Michael Carter is slated to return from a “low-grade high ankle sprain” and seems at least a little mispriced as just the RB38 on DraftKings ($4,700).
Pros: He’s no doubt mispriced… Over his last 5 games, Carter averaged 14.7 carries, 7.3 targets, 20.5 XFP, and 18.7 fantasy points per four quarters. For perspective, either of the latter two numbers would lead all slate-eligible RBs. And yet he’s just the RB38 by pricing… He was never quite a bell cow, but was the clear leadback, playing on 62% of the snaps, while handling 72% of the carries and 53% of the targets out of the backfield… And maybe he’ll receive a larger share of the passing-down work this week, after Ty Johnson dropped 3 targets last week…
Cons: To be fair, Tevin Coleman missed a bunch of these games with a hamstring injury, and he’s in line to be cleared for action in Week 15. And Carter’s best games came with Mike White who targeted RBs at an obscenely high rate… Maybe he’s eased back into playing time with a reduced workload coming off of injury… No Jets RB reached even 11.0 fantasy points in the 3 weeks he sat out… The Dolphins are a tough matchup for opposing RBs, ranking 5th-best in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed (-2.6)… And, most importantly, the Jets are an inept and dysfunctional mess, projected to score only 16.5 points this week (worst).
Carter carries plenty of risk, likely too much to be considered viable in cash games. But if he resumes his old role, he’s easily the most mispriced RB of the slate. And that makes him an incredible tournament play.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams (AT SEA)
DK: 3.39X / FD: 2.56X
Kupp not only leads all WRs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns — the esteemed triple crown — but he’s pacing the league in each stat, and, most importantly, by FPG. He averages 28% more FPG (+4.8) than the next-closest WR (Davante Adams). And yet, he’s just $100 more expensive than Adams on DraftKings, and $500 more on Fanduel this week.
Most Fantasy Points (PPR) by a WR in any Season All-Time— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) December 14, 2021
1. COOPER KUPP, 2021 (438.5*)
2. Jerry Rice, 1995 (414.0)
3. Antonio Brown, 2015 (388.2)
4. Antonio Brown, 2014 (386.9)
5. Randy Moss, 2007 (385.3)
6. Marvin Harrison, 2002 (384.2)
*on pace for
At $9,000, he’s (merely) priced like a high-end WR1, but nothing quite like a WR one pace for the single-greatest fantasy season of all-time. His 27.7 DK FPG leads all players at all positions (including QBs). And, among WRs, it ranks 2nd-most all-time, just 0.1 DK FPG behind Jerry Rice’s famed 1995 season.
If Kupp scores exactly 27.7 fantasy points this week (his per-game average), he’ll provide 3.1X value, which ranks best at the position. Adams, in contrast (22.5), would provide just 2.5X value.
Kupp might be the most valuable player in all of fantasy, but he’s not the volume king, even after his 50% target share last week. That title belongs to Diontae Johnson, who leads all players at all positions in XFP/G. But Kupp is no slouch in that regard either. His 21.5 XFP/G ranks 3rd-most among all WRs since at least 2008.
And Kupp is an especially attractive DFS play this week, given this near-perfect matchup. Seattle is glaringly the league’s top slot-funnel defense, ranking 7th-worst in FPG allowed to slot WRs (15.9) but 2nd-best in FPG allowed to outside WRs (15.1). And we saw Houston try to take advantage of this vulnerability last week. Brandin Cooks was running just 30% of his routes from the slot, but that jumped to 62% last week. And it worked; he scored 21.1 DK fantasy points (most since Week 3), with 83% of his receiving yards coming from the slot.
Kupp naturally runs 67% of his routes from the slot. Though Seattle did somewhat hold him in check in their last meeting (Week 5), when he scored only 16.2 fantasy points (his 2nd-worst outing of the year). Still, he exceeded 90 receiving yards; a feat he’s accomplished in an astounding 12 of 13 games this year.
Odell Beckham Jr. is in COVID protocols and is expected to miss Sunday’s game. That should be beneficial to Kupp, as he leaves behind the 7.3 targets per game he’s received over the last three weeks. But you can also argue that maybe his absence hurts Kupp, and will lead towards more shaded safeties, bracket coverage, and/or double coverage.
Still, I think he’s pretty damn close to being a must-play in DFS this week, especially on DraftKings.
Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers (AT BAL)
DK: 2.92X / FD: 2.32X
Adams has seen at least 9 targets in 10 of his last 11 games. He’s hit the 100-yard bonus in three consecutive games, averaging 30.7 DK FPG over this span. He now ranks behind only Cooper Kupp in FPG (21.0) and behind only Kupp and Diontae Johnson in XFP/G (19.7).
And he gets an absolute dream matchup this week. Baltimore ranks 6th-worst in FPG allowed to opposing outside WRs (23.1), and they’re giving up a league-high +8.5 schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing WR1s over their last 5 games. Over their last 7 games, opposing WR1s are averaging 21.0 FPG against them. Though those WRs collectively average just 14.6 FPG in all other games.
And Baltimore’s secondary is undeniably worse now, after losing Marlon Humphrey in Week 14. After already losing Marcus Peters in training camp, they’re starting backups Anthony Averett and Chris Westry on the perimeter. But CB Tavon Young has been excellent in the slot; Baltimore is giving up the 5th-fewest FPG to opposing slot WRs (10.5), That implies a much tougher matchup for Allen Lazard (20.9 fantasy points last week), and a laughably lopsided matchup for Adams on the outside.
Bonus: The Ravens are also giving up the most FPG to opposing WRs on deep passes (13.6). That’s good news for Adams, who ranks 6th in receiving yards gained on deep targets, though we also shouldn’t forget about Marquez Valdes-Scantling who ranks 4th among all WRs in deep targets per game (2.4) and runs 71% of his routes from the outside. Over the last 4 weeks, and among all slate-eligible WRs, MVS ranks 17th in targets per game (8.0), 15th in XFP/G (15.1), and 21st in FPG (12.1). He’s the 36th most expensive WR of the slate on DraftKings ($4,600). And stacking him with Adams has been positively correlated over the past two seasons (+0.09).
Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (VS. TEN)
DK: +$209, 2.56X / FD: +$628, 2.18X
(If we exclude a few games from 2020, when Johnson suffered an injury in the first half, and that one game he was inexplicably benched for drops, then…)
Johnson has now seen double-digit targets in an astounding 20 of his last 22 games with Ben Roethlisberger under center. Over this span, he averages 11.9 targets and 19.5 FPG. Over the past two seasons, those numbers would rank best and 3rd-best among all WRs.
This year, Johnson ranks 1st in targets per game (12.5), 5th in air yards per game (115.4), 2nd in end zone targets per game (1.1), 6th in deep targets per game (2.2), 1st in XFP/G (22.0), and 6th in FPG (18.4). He has not only seen a notable improvement in target volume, but his role has dramatically changed, leading to a massive improvement in target quality. In comparison to last season, he’s seen a significant increase in air yards per game (up +50%), end zone targets per game (+81%), and deep targets per game (+71%).
And Johnson not only leads all players at all positions in XFP/G (22.0), but his 22.0 XFP/G ranks 2nd-most by any WR since at least 2008, just 0.2 XFP/G behind Calvin Johnson’s 204-target 2012 season.
Johnson is seeing the best volume of any player in fantasy, but he’s also unrivaled in terms of consistency (both production and volume). He has hit at least 20.5 XFP in 10 of 12 games. (Kupp is the only other WR averaging over 20.5 XFP per game, another historically great mark, and he’s hit 20.5 XFP in just 7 of 13 games). Johnson has seen double-digit targets in 11 of 13 games. And he’s scored at least 15.0 fantasy points in 10 of 12 games.
And look for this trend to continue for at least one more week. In Week 15, he gets a Tennessee defense that ranks 2nd-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing WRs (+7.41, 6th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to WR1s (+2.0), and 8th-worst in FPG allowed to opposing outside WRs (22.7). And they rank worst in FPG allowed on deep passes (10.6) and 2nd-worst in YPG allowed on deep throws (64.8) – an important note given Johnson averages 2.3 deep targets per game (3rd-most among all WRs) and 23% of his total fantasy production has come on deep throws.
A.J. Green, WR, Arizona Cardinals (AT DET)
DK: +$449, 2.31X / FD: +$700, 1.63X
DeAndre Hopkins is out, likely for the remainder of the season, with a torn MCL. Hopkins also missed Weeks 10 and 11 this season, and in those games A.J. Green recorded a rather pedestrian 6.0 targets per game and 6.6 FPG. But, those games came without Kyler Murray, and the offense as a whole struggled massively, averaging just 16.5 PPG (11.7 PPG lower than their season-long average) and 291.0 YPG (83.8 YPG lower).
With Kyler healthy, we can absolutely expect a stronger offensive output this week (slate-leading 30.25 implied team total) relative to Week’s 10 and 11. More importantly, Hopkins was this offense’s No. 1 option in the end zone and on deep balls, with 11 total end zone targets and 1.3 deep targets per game. But Green is right behind him in both categories, currently 2nd on the team with 8 total end zone targets and 1.3 deep targets per game. So he would be the most likely beneficiary of Hopkins' vacated end zone and deep targets given he’s already being used in that capacity.
And while the Lions have been stingy against outside WRs (18.6 FPG allowed, 6th-fewest) they are incredibly vulnerable to the deep ball, allowing a league-leading 66.8 YPG and the 5th-most FPG (9.3) on deep passes this season.
Plus we can’t forget Green earned 11 targets, 152 air yards, and scored 20.2 DraftKings points on the back of 21.0 XFP (11th-most) just last week.
I’m not convinced Green is a strong-enough value to warrant being played in cash, given the massive amount of WR value that’s opened up this week. But he does carry elite TD and big play equity, which makes him a compelling tournament play, especially given the Cardinals 30.25 implied team total.
DeVante Parker, WR, Miami Dolphins (VS. NYJ)
DK: +$1406, 2.88X / FD: +$722, 1.75X
Among all slate-eligible WRs, Parker ranks 12th in targets (8.7), 18th in XFP/G (14.4), and 21st in FPG (12.5). And yet, he ranks just 49th in salary on DraftKings this week ($4,300).
Every game Parker has played this season has come with Jaylen Waddle (8.8 targets per game, 15.3 FPG) in the lineup. Waddle is currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list and his status for Week 15 is uncertain. Should he miss, that leaves 44% of Miami’s WR targets and 46% of their WR fantasy production unaccounted for.
And keep in mind, the Dolphins could be without RBs Myles Gaskin, Phillip Lindsay, Salvon Ahmed, Patrick Laird, Gerrid Doaks, and (maybe) Malcolm Brown (IR), leaving only scatback Duke Johnson.
If Gaskin/Ahmed/Lindsay don't produce consecutive negative COVID tests by this weekend, then Dolphins' RB group Sunday would be Duke Johnson and potentially p-squaders Gerrid Doaks (yet to make regular-season debut) and Dexter "Juice" Williams (7 career rushes, 19 yards).— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) December 13, 2021
If Miami is missing the vast majority, or even all, of their RB production from the first 14 weeks of the season, then a pass-heavy approach is all but guaranteed. And a pass-heavy approach without Jaylen Waddle would almost certainly mean a massive target share for both Parker and TE Mike Gesicki.
The potential for double-digit targets at a $4,300 DraftKings salary is enough to make any player a value. But the Jets are PFF’s 3rd-worst graded pass coverage unit (41.0 team coverage grade), and they’ve been vulnerable to opposing WR1s as of late, allowing the 5th-most schedule-adjusted FPG (+2.2) over their last 5 games.
Parker is an obvious value even if Waddle plays (which he absolutely could), given the 12.5 FPG he’s averaged in his 6 games with Waddle would translate to a 2.90X DraftKings value this week. But if Waddle sits, it would be hard to consider Parker anything other than the best WR value on the slate in a compelling matchup.
Gabriel Davis, WR, Buffalo Bills (VS. CAR)
DK: +$1051, 2.97X / FD: +$1044, 1.84X
Emmanuel Sanders isn’t likely to play this week due to a knee injury he suffered in Week 14, and that opens the door to a full-time starting role for Gabriel Davis. That injury capped Sanders at just 32% of the team’s snaps, but catapulted Davis into a season-high 80% route share. And Davis proceeded to hit season-highs by a number of other metrics.
He scored 15.3 fantasy points (season-high) on 9 targets (season-high). 2 of those targets came in the end zone and 3 came inside the 5-yard-line, netting 18.6 XFP. That wasn’t just a season-high, but it also ranked 18th-most among all WRs on the week.
So, now, the question is — what’s the expectation for Davis this week without Sanders?
Despite the handicap of his part-time role, Davis has touchdowns in back-to-back games, and a 100-yard in Week 10 (39% route share). He’s run a route on only 40% of the team’s dropbacks this season, and he’s averaging 3.4 targets, 6.9 XFP, and 7.2 FPG. So, without Sanders, do we just double those numbers to get 14.4 FPG (~WR15 on the slate)? Or do we assume he gets 100% of the work? For posterity, that would come out to 8.5 targets, 18.0 XFP, and 17.3 FPG (~WR6).
Or do we just look at his numbers from last year? Davis has played on at least 66% of the snaps only 9 times (and only once in 2021). In those games, Davis averaged 5.6 targets and 10.4 FPG (~WR34).
Or do we treat him as exactly we would Sanders, who ranked 38th among all WRs in XFP/G?
Or is it exactly the sort of numbers he put up last week — 18th in XFP (18.6), 27th in fantasy points scored (15.3).
It’s difficult to determine exactly how to project Davis, but there’s only one other WR under $3,800 on DraftKings who projects for anything close to a full-time role (Laquon Treadwell), and his team is implied for just 22.25 points. Davis and Treadwell are both glaring values and the only reasonable options for those looking to punt WR on DraftKings, and all else equal, I’ll always prefer the player in the superior scoring environment (Buffalo’s implied team is 27.5).
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (VS. HOU)
DK: +$403, 2.92X / FD: 1.60X
I wrote up Treadwell as a value last week, and despite his role staying the same and having his best fantasy performance of the season (10.8 fantasy points), his price actually decreased on DraftKings.
Over the last three weeks, Treadwell is tied for the team lead in targets per game (6.3), ranks 1st in yards per game (61.0), and ranks 2nd in routes per game (34.0). Among all WRs, those numbers would rank 35th, 45th, and 28th over the full season. The offense may be terrible, and Treadwell himself may not be very good (career 0.96 YPRR), but he’s locked into a full-time role with a consistent target floor (5 targets in each of his last 3 games) which isn’t something you could say about nearly any other sub-$3,800 DraftKings WR, outside of Gabriel Davis.
This matchup is on the favorable side, albeit just slightly. Houston is giving up the 12th-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing WRs (+1.4), and the 10th-most FPG to outside WRs (23.0). But, the Jaguars are 5.0-point favorites, just the 2nd time they’ve been favored all year, so there is certainly a risk they take a more run-heavy approach in this contest. And there’s also the risk Treadwell was one of Urban Meyer’s ‘guys’ and could see a reduction in playing time with Meyer out of the building.
But if Treadwell’s role is anything like what we’ve seen over the last 3 weeks, he’s an obvious value. He carries more downside risk than Gabriel Davis, but ownership should reflect that. If you are looking to pivot off the Davis chalk, Treadwell is undoubtedly your best bet.