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.
James Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (AT HOU)
DK: 2.83X / FD: 1.88X
Last week, with Carlos Hyde out (concussion protocol), Robinson played on 84% of the team’s snaps, earning 18 of 19 carries and 6 of 8 targets out of the backfield. He totaled 18.6 XFP, which ranked 4th-most at the position, and he scored 18.8 fantasy points, which ranked 5th-most.
And, well, it looks like Robinson is back. Or, at least, back to bell cow-status. And, I suspect, he’s going to retain that role even when Hyde returns from injury. Over his last bell cow stretch from Weeks 3 through 6, Robinson averaged 19.8 touches per game, 17.3 XFP per game, and 21.7 FPG. Among slate-eligible RBs, those numbers rank 4th, 6th, and 1st.
#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 as such, he’s an outstanding value priced as the RB12 on DraftKings.
This is easily one of the best matchups of Robinson’s career. Jacksonville may actually win this game, as they’re only 1.0-point underdogs. And if they do win, that would be just the 3rd win of Robinson’s career (in 28 games). And despite that massive handicap (of living almost exclusively in negative gamescript), and the handicap of a moronic coaching staff (which nonsensically forced Robinson into a committee alongside Carlos Hyde), he has remained one of the most productive RBs in fantasy. He averages 15.7 FPG across his career, just 0.1 less than D’Andre Swift. But in this week’s matchup against the Jets, we should be expecting maybe 50% more than that.
Against RBs, the Jets rank: worst in total FPG allowed (33.9, +4.5 more than next-closest), worst in rushing FPG allowed (20.8), 2nd-worst in receiving FPG allowed (13.1), 3rd-worst in YPC allowed (4.62), and worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed (+11.8). That final stat is 59% more than the next-closest defense, 286% more than the defense ranking 5th-worst, and is the highest stat I’ve ever seen allowed by a defense this far into a season.
JRob can be confidently rostered in both cash game and tournament lineups.
David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears (AT SEA)
DK: 2.75X / FD: +$347, 2.11X
Over his last 4 games, David Montgomery has averaged 22.0 touches per game, 6.3 targets per game, 19.5 XFP per game, but just 16.0 FPG. He’s been quite inefficient (-3.5 PAR), but he is the bell cow in Chicago, seeing at least 70% of snaps in each of those contests.
So how do we approach Montgomery in Week 16?
Well, I really think we need to pick our spots for Monty. The volume is obviously great, but the lack of efficiency is obviously an achilles heel with this play, so, at least to me, Montgomery should only be considered a value whenever he draws strong matchups, which should at least help compensate for the poor efficiency.
Thankfully, Seattle is giving up the 2nd-most schedule-adjusted FPG (+7.4) and 15.1 receiving FPG (most) to opposing RBs this season. Given Montgomery has seen at least 6 targets in each of his last 3 games (compared to a previous season-high of 4 from Weeks 1 through 12), this matchup could be the cure for his recent underperformance.
I don’t think we can trust Monty in cash games as he’s scored 10.0 fantasy points or fewer in 3 of the 6 games this season he has earned more than 20 touches. Although, it wouldn’t be difficult to argue his floor is significantly higher now that he’s seeing 4.3 more targets per game over the last 4 weeks. Given his volume and price point, I think the ideal way to view Monty is as a tournament pivot off the likely James Robinson chalk.
Ronald Jones, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (AT CAR)
DK: 2.63X / FD: +$2259, 2.39X
Lenny Fournette was just placed on IR with a hamstring injury, leaving Ronald Jones as the presumptive lead rusher in TB for at least the next 3 weeks.
Last season, we saw Jones take over the backfield in the 3 games Fournette missed, earning 23.3 touches per game, a 63% snap share, 4.0 targets per game, 100% of carries inside the 5, and 22.1 DraftKings FPG and 18.6 Fanduel FPG.
And if Jones can just recreate that workload and production, then he’s already a 4.33X value on DraftKings and a 3.44X value on Fanduel.
With that said, the risk with this play is Bruce Arians’ notoriously unpredictable RB rotations, and the somewhat subpar matchup, as Caronlina is giving up -3.6 schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing RBs (5th-toughest).
But, RoJo’s only realistic backfield competition is Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who has just 147 career snaps and one of the worst PFF receiving grades I’ve ever seen (sub-30.0 in each of his 2 seasons). Granted, Vaughn is a far superior pass blocker to Jones, with a PFF pass blocking grade over 78.0 in each of his 2 seasons, compared to Jones, who has posted sub-47.0 grades in each of his last 2 seasons.
So maybe Vaughn plays more than anticipated because the coaching staff loves his blocking ability? Or maybe Jones is the clear bell cow because Vaughn is a terrible receiver? It’s tough to say for certain. But we do know that this backfield averages 27.4 FPG, and that’s unlikely to significantly change. If Jones captures just 60%, that translates to 16.4 FPG, which, on its own, already moves him into cash game consideration. If it’s 80%, then we are looking at 21.9 FPG, which would lead all slate-eligible rushers and easily make Jones the best RB play on the slate.
Like I said, we can’t be certain how this rotation will shake out, but if Jones is the lead back in almost any capacity, then he’s a top-3 RB value on both sites this week.
Justin Jackson, RB, Los Angeles Chargers (AT HOU)
DK: 3.29X / FD: 2.37X
Jackson saw a season-high 14 touches and scored a season-high 10.9 fantasy points in Week 15 with Austin Ekeler limited due to ankle soreness. Joshua Kelley also carved himself out a notable role, earning 7 carries, including 2 inside the 5, compared to 0 for Jackson. But Kelley averaged just 3.0 YPC (compared to 6.6 for Jackson), ran just 4 routes (compared to 22 for Jackson), and had a costly fumble at the goalline. So, presumably, if Ekeler were to miss a game, Jackson would absorb the majority of backfield work.
And now Ekeler is truly questionable for Week 16 (COVID protocol), leaving Jackson as the likely lead back (should Ekeler sit out) on a team with the highest implied team total of the slate (27.75).
If Jackson can capture 60% of RB production in a backfield that averages 26.9 FPG, then we are looking at approximately 16.1 fantasy points, which would rank 7th among all slate-eligible RBs and would actually tie Nick Chubb’s season-long average.
And Jackson himself is a pretty talented player. He averages 5.1 YPC across his career (Ekeler’s career average is 4.7), and has never earned a PFF rushing grade under 70.0 in his 4 NFL seasons.
But, I can’t say this play isn’t without it’s holes. Jackson didn’t earn any of the Chargers 5 carries near the goalline last week, and has just 5% of the Chargers’ total goalline carries on the season. So, there’s the risk he’s a “cardio award” type of RB, earning a litany of touches outside the red zone, and none of the high value carries near the goalline that typically lead to slate-breaking fantasy performances. Or maybe Jackson isn’t the lead back, and this ends up being closer to a 50/50 split with Kelley.
Those are obviously noteworthy concerns, but I do think there’s a strong likelihood Jackson will be the Chargers lead back, and may very well earn goalline carries after Kelley’s disastrous fumble inside the 5 last week. And we can’t forget this is the ideal gamescript for a run-heavy attack, with the Chargers as 10.0-point favorites. Plus, Houston has been a cushy matchup for RBs this season, allowing +1.8 schedule-adjusted FPG (7th-most).
Priced at just $4,200 on DraftKings and $5,400 on Fanduel, it’s tough to argue with Jackson as a cash game play and a great RB value, should Ekeler miss this game.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams (AT MIN)
DK: 3.24X / FD: 2.24X
No WR in the last decade has been the #1 player in fantasy according to my old / new fantasy football WAR model. Who knows, maybe Jerry Rice was back in the day. All I know this.— Jeff Henderson (@Statholesports) December 22, 2021
15 weeks in the books. The Kupp is in the house: pic.twitter.com/KSwIvTE1TT
Since the NFL merger (1970), Kupp has the 2nd-most receiving yards (1,625), 3rd-most receptions (122), and 9th-most receiving TDs (14, tie) of any player through the first 15 weeks of the season. But most importantly for this article, Kupp has the most fantasy points (370.1) of any WR ever through the first 15 weeks of the season, and is nearly a full game (23.7 fantasy points) ahead of 2nd place (2002 Marvin Harrison).
Among all WRs with more than 50 targets since 2006, Kupp’s 3.15 YPRR ranks 3rd-best, and the best since 2008 Steve Smith.
This season, Kupp has more 90 yard receiving games (13) than the next 2 closest players combined (12). And Kupp has 11 games with 20.0 or more fantasy points, which is 4 more than the next closest player (Tyreek Hill), and just 2 less than the entire Buccaneers WR corps combined (13).
And yet, Kupp isn’t priced like he’s having one of the greatest receiving seasons and potentially the greatest fantasy WR season of all-time. Instead, he’s merely priced as a WR1. In terms of DraftKings salary, Kupp actually hasn’t caught up to 2020 Davante Adams (who peaked at $9,400) or 2019 Michael Thomas ($9,900) despite having higher fantasy outputs than both players.
With Kupp averaging the most DraftKings FPG (28.4) of any WR ever, it would be reasonable to expect him to be the most expensive WR in DFS history. But he’s not even close.
So regardless of matchup, Kupp is a lock-button play in cash and given just how secure his floor is, should easily be the most valuable WR overall.
But, Kupp also draws a strong matchup. Minnesota is giving up the 5th-most FPG (15.7) to opposing slot WRs. And they rank dead-last in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to WRs (+8.0) this season, and have been even worse lately, allowing +14.1 schedule-adjusted FPG over their last 5 games.
Kupp is having, potentially, the greatest fantasy WR season of all-time. And he draws an excellent matchup. But he’s not close to being priced like it. #LockHimIn
Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Detroit Lions (AT ATL)
DK: 2.52X / FD: 1.67X
Amon-Ra St. Brown has basically been the entirety of the Lions’ offense without T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift. Over his last 3 games, St. Brown has averaged 11.7 targets per game, 83.0 YPG, and 21.2 FPG. Compared to his first 11 games, that’s a 149% increase in targets per game, a 160% increase in YPG, and a 207% increase in FPG. Among slate-eligible WRs this season, St. Browns’ numbers over the last 3 weeks would rank 1st (tie), 5th, and 2nd if extrapolated out for the full season.
If St. Brown’s usage continues like this in any capacity, he’s an obvious value.
The matchup with Atlanta sets up great for St. Brown, as the Falcons have given up the 3rd-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing WRs this season (+5.0), and the 12th-most FPG (13.4) to opposing slots.
With that said, D’Andre Swift is expected to return to practice this week, and if he plays, that’s an obvious ding to St. Brown as Swift averaged 6.4 targets per game and was 2nd on the team in target share before getting injured. But even a 20% reduction in St. Brown’s recent volume would still be 9.4 targets per game, so Swift’s return is likely the difference between St. Brown being a top-5 WR value on the slate and just being underpriced in a strong matchup.
Antonio Brown, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (AT CAR)
DK: 2.98X / FD: 1.68X
Brown was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice, and appears on track to play in Week 16. Assuming he does play, he’s likely right there with Cooper Kupp as the most mispriced WR of the week on DraftKings.
Chris Godwin (ACL) is leaving behind 16.9 XFP per game (9th-most among WRs), 9.1 targets per game (11th-most), and 17.3 FPG (8th-most, tie). And Mike Evans (hamstring) hasn’t practiced yet this week and appears more likely than not to miss Week 16. He has accounted for 15.2 XFP per game (15th-most among WRs), 7.1 targets per game (34th-most), and 15.8 FPG (15th-most).
So, the NFL’s 2nd-most productive WR corps (47.6 FPG) may be missing 70% of their total production in Week 16.
And even with a healthy Godwin and Evans, Brown averaged 14.7 XFP per game and a team-leading 19.1 FPG through his first 5 games of the season. In fact, Brown has team-leading numbers in air yards per game (117.6), deep targets per game (2.6), and was tied with Chris Godwin in end zone targets per game (0.8) with the entire receiving room healthy.
So what can Brown do now that the offense is missing 70% of their production? Well, we can’t know for sure, but we don’t need to in order to determine he’s clearly mispriced. If we just look at his numbers through his first 5 games, he ranks 26th in XFP per game and 6th in FPG per game among all WRs. As the WR33 on DraftKings, and the cheapest he’s been all year, Brown would be a value with a healthy Godwin and Evans. But without them, he’s easily $2,500 too cheap, and should be considered one of the more obvious cash game plays of the season.
The matchup is on the tougher end (-2.2 schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing WRs), but I can’t say that I think that matters given the massive number of vacated targets in this offense and Brown’s absurdly low DraftKings price-point.
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (AT NYJ)
DK: 2.71X / FD: 1.46X
Turns out Laquon Treadwell wasn't only on the field due to Urban Meyer. Yesterday he led JAX in:— Jake Tribbey (@JakeTribbey) December 20, 2021
*Routes (40, 13 more than Shenault)
10.9 FPG over his last 3 games
Laquon Treadwell has hit 50 receiving yards in four straight games, averaging 7.0 targets (team-high) and 60.0 receiving YPG (1.75X more than next-closest) over this span. And he ranks 2nd on the team in routes, behind only Marvin Jones over the last 4 weeks.
That’s obviously led to consistency from a fantasy perspective, as Treadwell has scored at least 9.3 fantasy points in each of those games. So, at his current salary of $3,500 on DraftKings, he’s already a 2.66X value if he just hits his low score from the past month.
Do I get excited at the prospect of rostering a player like Treadwell, who has a career YPRR of just 0.98? No, of course not. But, at least right now, you’d be hard pressed to find a more consistent, full-time starting WR available under $4,000 on DratKings. Granted, that can of course change with how busy the COVID protocol has been as of late.
The matchup is difficult to gauge, as the Jets rank 4th-worst in PFF coverage grades (44.4), but as the 4th-toughest matchup for opposing outside WRs (16.6 FPG). And they rank exactly in the middle of the pack in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing WRs (+0.6, 16th). I’m inclined to call it a neutral matchup, but the obvious concern here is gamescript. The Jags are just 0.5-point underdogs, so unlike most of their games where they are heavy underdogs, there is the risk they control the game utilizing their rushing attack, leading to low passing volume for the offense as a whole. Still, the spread indicates a close game is a much more likely outcome, and that would obviously keep Treadwell involved.
It’s reasonable to question the ceiling here, given Treadwell hasn’t exceeded 11.7 fantasy points in any game this season. But I don’t think you can reasonably question the floor, and typically with punt plays at WR, all we are looking for is a safe floor and a strong median projection relative to price. Treadwell offers both.
Byron Pringle and Mecole Hardman, WRs, Kansas City Chiefs (AT PIT)
Both Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are in COVID protocols, which means Kansas City may be without 50% of their targets from the first 14 games of the season.
And among the remaining receivers, only Mecole Hardman (64) and Byron Pringle (38) have more than 30 targets.
Kansas City has known about Hill and Kelce’s positive tests since Tuesday, so they’ve had the majority of the week to gameplan what their offense would look like without those players. It’s impossible to know how the vacated 19.0 targets per game that Kelce and Hill are leaving behind will be distributed, but if we just remove their workload from the equation, that would give Hardman a 26% target share, and Pringle a 15% target share. With Mahomes throwing 39.2 passes per game, that translates to a rough estimate of 10.2 targets for Hardman, and 5.9 for Pringle.
Both players average the same number (0.2) of end zone targets per game, but Hardman sees drastically better red zone usage, with 0.9 red zone opportunities per game compared to just 0.2 for Pringle. And both players have similar workloads down the field, as Pringle averages 0.7 deep targets per game and Hardman averages 0.8 – an important note given Hill and Kelce combine for 2.6 deep targets per game.
Based on that, I have little doubt that Hardman is the preferable play, and is safely a cash game lock should both Kelce and Hill be out. But with both players being dirt cheap (Hardman is WR65 by salary on DK, and the WR53 on FD. Pringle is WR73/WR53), I’m absolutely going to have exposure to both, at least in tournaments. KC still offers the 3rd-highest implied team total of the slate (26.75), so even bookmakers don’t view the absence of Hill and Kelce as too detrimental to this offense’s scoring ability.
On a final note, if you are wondering how to pivot off Pringle and Hardman in tournaments (should Kelce and Hill miss), my favorite way to do so would be Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He is negatively correlated with Pringle (-0.59), Hardman (-0.28), and Mahomes (-0.12), and he may see extra work if the Chiefs don’t trust their backup cohort of pass catchers.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (AT CAR)
DK: 1.61X / FD: 1.23X
Chris Godwin is out for the year with a torn ACL, Leonard Fournette (hamstring) was just placed on injured reserve, Mike Evans is questionable with a hamstring injury, and Antonio Brown hasn’t practiced since Week 6 (but is expected to play this week). There’s a real chance the Buccaneers offense will run through Rob Gronkowski in Week 16.
Sunday night, with both Godwin and Evans injured mid-game, Gronk set a season-high in targets at 11. Granted, it translated to just 4.9 fantasy points, but Tampa Bay was shut out in their worst performance of the Tom Brady era, so Gronk’s underperformance isn’t without reason.
And prior to Week 15, Gronk still ranked 2nd among all TEs in FPG (15.5), 1st in red zone targets per game (1.3), and 1st in end zone targets per game (1.0). Now, Chris Godwin leaves behind 2.1 red zone targets per game (2nd among WRs) and 0.8 end zone targets per game (tied for 1st among WRs). Mike Evans (who hasn’t practiced this week and appears unlikely to play) is potentially leaving behind 1.1 red zone targets and 0.6 end zone targets per game. And Fournette ranked 5th among all RBs in red zone opportunities per game (4.0). Just how many of those high-value opportunities end up going Gronk’s way is anyone’s guess, but as an all-time red zone threat, he’s sure to benefit from Tampa Bay losing their top weapons in and near the end zone.
Carolina ranks as a neutral matchup for opposing TEs in the metrics that matter to me, and given the sheer volume of vacated touches and targets the Bucs are going into this game with, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect one of Gronkowski’s highest-volume games of the season this week. Prior to Week 15, Gronk has averaged 17.3 FPG in the six games he’s earned 8 or more targets, a mark that’s just 1% less than the slate-leading TE (Mark Andrews), and yet, Gronk is 12% cheaper than Andrews on DraftKings, and 16% cheaper on FanDuel.