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A lack of NFL football, or football in general, is a terrible thing. Thankfully, football is still hanging around thanks to the XFL! And since DraftKings is offering DFS tournaments, it’s time to discuss the top plays and contrarian options so we can bink some XFL tournaments.
I’ll be going position by position, highlighting my favorite plays for tournaments, with a TL;DR included for those who don’t want to read my reasoning and just want the top-value plays. I’ll also include teams’ implied totals directly below, to help readers get a sense of the offenses Vegas thinks will put the most points on the board.
St. Louis Battlehawks (16.5) @ Seattle Sea Dragons (20.0)
DC Defenders (16.75) @ Vegas Vipers (20.25)
San Antonio Brahmas (20.75) @ Orlando Guardians (17.75)
Arlington Renegades (17.5) @ Houston Roughnecks (23.0)
The XFL is not making this easy. There isn’t uniform injury reporting. To be frank, it’s a mess. Below, I’ll link every team injury report I can find, and I’ll do my best to keep this updated as the new or updated reports roll in throughout the week.
In the TL;DR, I’ll list out the top plays in order of value (according to me). This isn’t super strict, it does not factor in ownership, and in some cases, it’s sort of arbitrary. It also doesn’t matter nearly as much as my readers think it does. What does matter is maximizing the correlations within your lineups, and making sure you include at least a few players on each tournament team who should be on the lower end of ownership (I highlight a few in my write-ups). Get creative!
Plays ranked in order, with tier 1 in bold, and assumes notable questionable players suit up…
QB: Brandon Silvers, Ben DiNucci, Drew Plitt, Jack Coan, AJ McCarron, D’Eriq King
RB: De’Veon Smith, Brian Hill, Kalen Ballage, Max Borghi, Dejoun Lee, Ryquell Armstead, Nick Holley, Brendon Knox, Abram Smith, Jacques Patrick, Jah-Maine Martin
WR/TE: Jahcour Pearson, Tyler Vaughns, Blake Jackson, Eli Rogers, Cody Latimer, Justin Smith, Fred Brown, Austin Proehl, Jordan Veasy, Deddrick Thomas, Jontre Kirklin, Sal Cannella, Deontay Burnett, Josh Gordon, Martavis Bryant, Jeff Badet, Marcell Ateman
Brandon Silvers ($8,600): There aren’t many great QB plays for Week 2, but there is a clear-cut top QB play in Brandon Silvers. Silvers plays for one of the league’s most prolific passing offenses, with Houston throwing on an absurd 70% of their plays – leading to a league-high 33 points in Week 1. Silvers is willing to push the ball downfield, posting the league’s highest aDOT (9.7) among QBs who threw at least 20 passes in Week 1. Despite the high-end pass rate and downfield throws, Houston QBs were pressured just 9 times in Week 1, leading to the lowest pressure rate (20%) in the XFL.
Sure, Cole McDonald will steal a few snaps – perhaps even at the goal line. But Silvers is the team’s QB1. Houston’s pass rate, pass protection, and Silvers’ aggressiveness should make him the highest-projected QB of the slate in virtually any set of projections. Tack on an $8,600 price tag, and it’s fairly obvious Silvers is the top QB play of the week.
Ben DiNucci ($10,200): DiNucci is another ‘layup’ of a QB play, similar to Silvers. Seattle threw the ball at a league-leading 77% rate in Week 1, while DiNucci recorded 10 more dropbacks (57 total) than the next-closest QB (Silvers). Sure, DiNucci wasn’t very good – earning a sub-par 55.9 PFF passing grade and a rather pitiful 68.7 passer rating – but I’m not sure that matters given the passing volume.
Plus, DiNucci has an advantage no other XFL QB can match: Seattle is going for 3 points after every TD. Compare that to Houston (a similarly prolific passing offense) who went for 1 point after all four of their Week 1 TDs. That means DiNucci is significantly more likely than any other XFL QB to end drives with a Passing TD (4 DraftKings points) and a 3-point conversion (3 DraftKings points). He’s right there with Silvers as the top QB of the slate, with the only clear tiebreaker being price.
AJ McCarron ($10,700): McCarron isn’t an obvious value, but he is firmly entrenched as a starter – a major advantage in a league where roughly 50% of teams are rotating QBs in some capacity. St. Louis posted a respectable 67% pass rate in Week 1, but they were faced with negative gamescript for the majority of the game. Thankfully, we can expect the Battlehawks to be faced with a similar situation in Week 2 as 3.5-point underdogs.
Because McCarron doesn’t project very well relative to his QB1 price tag, I’d imagine he clocks in around ~QB4 in terms of ownership, likely around 10%. That opens up a strong leverage opportunity for DFS players to roster the league’s most experienced QB (in NFL terms). McCarron did, after all, post the position’s 2nd-best PFF passing grade of Week 1 (72.4) on his way to 19.8 DraftKings points (QB2). It isn’t as sexy as DiNucci or Silvers – but the ownership discount should be enough to keep me interested in McCarron in GPPs.
D’Eriq King ($6,700): He isn’t a guy I want on many of my GPP teams, but I do think MME players will want some exposure here. D’Eriq King provided the DC offense with a spark that simply wasn’t matched by starting QB Jordan Ta’amu, doing so in just ~1.5 quarters of action – running for 15 yards (a 42-yard run was called back due to a very iffy penalty) and a score. If we spot King that 42-yard run and extrapolate his rushing numbers out to a full game, he would’ve scored 31.2 DraftKings on rushing production alone. Jaw-dropping stuff.
I suspect there is a chance (maybe 5% or 10%?) that King starts on Saturday and plays the full game at QB. If that happens, he’s easily the top QB value on the slate. Nobody would come remotely close. That, on its own, is enough to warrant playing King in GPPs. Keep in mind, this is a slate that locks on Thursday, so news of King starting (if it comes at all) could come well after lineups have locked. Add in the chance he could 4X his DraftKings salary in a split role with Ta’amu, and I legitimately love King as a GPP play in the largest DraftKings tournaments. Just remember that you don’t need to play him on more than 5% of your teams if you are MMEing.
Weighted opportunity, snap/route shares, and raw opportunities through 1 week:
Brian Hill ($7,300): Hill started the game for the Battlehawks and dominated usage in the first quarter until he suffered a hamstring injury, before returning near the end of the 3rd quarter – again dominating backfield usage. Crucially, Hill played nearly every snap during the Battlehawks' final two drives (both of which were 2-minute drills). Had he not been injured, Hill’s workload may have rivaled De’Veon Smith and Kalen Ballage as the best of Week 1. Now that Hill is confirmed to be at or near full health, it’s relatively easy to regard him as one of the top RB plays of Week 2 – even with the risk that St. Louis could be faced with negative gamescript as 3.5-point underdogs.
Kalen Ballage ($7,100): Ballage dominated RB usage in Week 1, leading the league in weighted opportunity (19.2) and raw opportunities (28) in a game that featured almost exclusively positive gamescript for San Antonio. I still don’t think Ballage is very good, but that doesn’t matter much if he’s a lock for 20 or more touches in games the Brahmas are expected to win.
And thankfully for Ballage, San Antonio is facing the league’s worst team in Orlando as 3.0-point favorites. Orlando gave up the most points (33) and the 3rd-most rushing YPC (4.3) in their abysmal showing against Houston in Week 1. If the Brahmas can control this game (which seems more likely than not), Ballage should get fed. He’s a strong pairing with the San Antonio defense; granted, I do think there is a compelling argument for fading him if you believe Orlando could stay competitive here.
De’Veon Smith ($5,700): By far my biggest miss in my Week 1 XFL Preview involved the assumptions I made about the Renegades backfield. For starters, the team was extremely run-heavy (48% Week 1 pass rate), despite playing in negative gamescript for nearly the entirety of their matchup with Vegas. And this backfield wasn’t nearly as involved in the receiving game as I initially hoped, recording just 3 total targets after the 2020 Renegades’ backfield averaged 13.0 targets per game.
But we did learn a crucial piece of information: De’Veon Smith might be the closest thing this league has to a bell cow. Smith ranked 2nd in weighted opportunity (14.2), 1st in snap share (75%), 1st in route share (60%), and 3rd in targets (3). I’m expecting Arlington to get blown out as 5.0-point underdogs to Houston, and that sets Smith up with arguably one of the best backfield receiving roles in the XFL. He’s the top RB value of the week at just $5,700.
Max Borghi ($8,000) and Dejoun Lee ($4,200): Borghi is an easy click. He’s the lead RB on the best offense in the XFL, earning the 3rd-best weighted opportunity (11.6) and tying for the best RB receiving workload (4 targets) in Week 1. It might even be fair to call Borghi the “baby Christian McCaffrey” of the XFL. That’s a tremendously valuable role, but (unlike last week) it’s already priced in – Borghi’s Week 2 DraftKings salary and ownership will more than reflect his role as the CMC of spring football.
That said, industry projections don’t quite reflect that this backfield split was much closer to 50/50 than the moniker of “baby Christian McCaffrey” would suggest. Don’t get me wrong, Borghi is the lead RB here. But Dejoun Lee earned 37% of backfield weighted opportunity (6.9), 60% of backfield red zone touches (3), and 37% of backfield opportunities (7) while roughly matching Borghi in both snap and route share. In a blowout script, Lee could get some real run.
And I think we are looking at a blowout script here against a lackluster Arlington team, with Houston favored by 5.0 points – the largest spread of the week. If the Roughnecks lead the week in scoring again, both Lee and Borghi could smash. And Lee, at just $4,200, only needs ~12.0 or so DraftKings points to provide solid value at his price. The best part? Nobody is going to play him. I’ll have sprinkles of Lee throughout my GPP teams in the hope the Houston scoring machine can’t be stopped.
Note: Nick Holley ($3,000) is also in play for Houston given he’s listed as an RB on DraftKings and ran 33 routes last week (all of which were from the slot) – granted, it led to only 1 target. I don’t think Holley is live for any carries, but he could see as many as 4 or 5 targets at the stone-minimum price on DraftKings. He’s worth considering if you need massive salary savings at RB, but he could easily post a zero.
Josh Gordon ($10,100): Gordon is clearly overpriced, and that means he won’t be nearly as popular as teammates Blake Jackson and Jahcour Pearson (both of whom I write about below). Still, Gordon has a great role, leading the pass-happy Seattle offense in air yards (101.7), aDOT (11.3), and tying for the team lead in red zone targets (2). Because we have incredible value at WR (again, discussed below), I’m more than happy to sacrifice a few projected points (and some salary) to get off either Pearson or Jackson in favor of the lesser-owned Gordon – especially since his downfield role could easily lead to big plays.
Marcell Ateman ($9,500): Ateman is similar to Josh Gordon in that he’s clearly overpriced relative to his industry-wide projection, which should keep his ownership in the single digits (unlike Gordon, who I expect to clock in around 15%). But I find it relatively easy to get behind Ateman as a contrarian WR option this week (thanks, value WRs). Why? Ateman led St. Louis in air yards (71.2), targets (4), and red zone targets (2) in Week 1. Just from watching the game (film nerd alert), it really appeared as though this team plans on Ateman being their alpha both downfield and in the red zone. And I’m expecting St. Louis to be forced into a more pass-happy approach (similar to last week) as 3.5-point underdogs. So, it’s a solid setup for Ateman, who is relatively easy to pay up for given the obvious value at WR this week.
Jahcour Pearson ($7,300): Pearson is going to be the most popular WR play of Week 2, but it’s for great reason. In Week 1, Pearson led the XFL in targets (13), receiving yards (95), and YAC (46) – demonstrating he is the WR1 on the league’s most prolific passing attack (77% Week 1 pass rate). If Pearson’s role holds (it will), his WR11 DraftKings salary makes him one of the most mispriced players of the slate. Pearson is the definition of good chalk – he’s in an elite role and is just too cheap. Fading this play is just getting too cute.
Important note: Blake Jackson ($6,400) is listed as questionable with a thumb injury. It looks like he’s going to play, as he was listed as a starter on the Sea Dragons Week 2 depth chart. In Week 1, Jackson earned 11 targets (2nd-most among all players), and figures to see great volume again in Week 2 given just how pass-happy this offense is. If Jackson sits (which looks unlikely), Kelvin McKnight ($3,000) would take over his slot role and be the slate's top WR value.
Cody Latimer ($3,700): Latimer logged 6 targets, 68 yards, and a score on just 14 routes before having his day cut short due to injury at the beginning of the 2nd half. Scoring 17.8 DraftKings points in a little more than a half of play is certainly impressive, suggesting Latimer could be the top receiving option for the XFL’s worst offense. And even though we don’t expect Orlando to score many points, we do expect them to play from behind against San Antonio as 3.0-point underdogs. Latimer should see excellent volume relative to his price, so he’s a strong play, even with the handicap of a potential three-QB rotation.
Justin Smith ($3,300): Smith didn’t play in Week 1, but that didn’t stop Roughnecks’ OC AJ Smith from raving about him in a recent interview, saying, “we are extremely happy to be able to showcase [Justin Smith] and his talents. So we have a little more left in our arsenal of guys than what we showed in Week 1.” And it’s hard to imagine a better or more explosive offense for Smith to step into than Houston…
Week 1 XFL leaders in air yards:— Jake Tribbey (@JakeTribbey) February 22, 2023
Jontre Kirklin (HOU) - 124.0
Deontay Burnett (HOU) - 104.5
Travell Harris (HOU) - 104.5
Josh Gordon (SEA) - 84.0
Martavis Bryant (LV) - 78.1
Smith could immediately displace Travell Harris (who is currently injured) as the Roughnecks' WR3. And even in the event Harris plays, the Houston offense appears so good I wouldn’t be shocked to see multiple WRs absolutely smash in terms of value. At just $3,300, Smith pops as an awesome value play (with better upside than a player like Fred Brown) at WR.
Fred Brown ($3,200): Landen Akers has been placed on the reserve list, so he will not play in Week 2. Akers led the Brahmas in targets (7) and receptions (7) while posting a freakishly-low 0.0 aDOT – meaning he was being fed screens, swing passes, and other near-guaranteed short-area touches. Obviously, that’s a valuable role. And it looks like Fred Brown will take it over as he was the only Brahmas WR outside of Jalen Tolliver (whose role will likely stay the same) to see notable slot snaps. Assuming Brown takes over the majority of Akers’ low-aDOT slot role, he’s clearly one of the top salary-saving options of the week at WR.
Tyler Vaughns ($3,000): Vaughns led Arlington WRs in targets (5, tie), receiving yards (38), route share (97%), and air yard share (30%). I don’t expect this to be a world-beating passing offense given Arlington’s 48% Week 1 pass rate, but I do think these Arlington pass catchers have merit in Week 2 as 5.5-point underdogs. The Houston Roughnecks' offense looked unstoppable in Week 1, scoring 33 points. If they can recreate that performance in Week 2, Arlington will need to get out of their comfort zone and throw the ball. And an increase in passing volume for Arlington could only benefit Vaughns, who is priced about $2,500 too cheap as their top pass catcher.