Perfect DraftKings Lineup: Defensive and Other Lineup Construction Trends

This five-part series concludes with notable defensive trends as well as some overall lineup construction trends.  While it may not feel or look like it, defense still has a vital role in the league; look no further than Super Bowl 53 when Brian Flores completely shut down Sean McVay’s octane offense.  Defense does win games even in a league that is predicated on offense nowadays as this first trend illustrates.

NO DEFENSE IN THE PERFECT LINEUP LOST ITS GAME

The first two weeks hilariously contained defenses in the perfect lineup that played to ties.  However, coming as no surprise from Week 3 on, the perfect defense won their game straight up.  By predicting who will win games, it can eliminate half of the available pool of defenses to select from.  It’s very rare that the top defense in a week lost its game to the point that it hasn’t happened in fantasy football since Week 4 of 2015 when Detroit amassed 24 fantasy points in a loss to Seattle.

11 OF THE 17 DEFENSES WERE FAVORITES

Like the fans, Vegas is still learning about the 32 teams early on that for as bad as the Bills were offensively in the first half of 2018, they possessed a competent defense that everyone in suicide pools and DFS discovered as 17-point underdogs in Week 3.  Go back to Week 1 in 2017 and Jacksonville made the perfect lineup as six-point underdogs against an awful Tom Savage that ultimately gave DeShaun Watson the starting job.  

Once the first few weeks play out, Vegas has a better pulse on the teams and it shows as no defense heading into their respective perfect game was worse than 3.5-point underdogs.  This trend is an extension of the one listed above and further reduces the pool of suitable options.  It would take balls to start a double-digit underdog as a fantasy defense, the type of balls that less than a percent of people in the Milly Maker had who started the Bills as 17-point dogs.

15 OF THE 17 DEFENSES WERE PRICED NO MORE THAN $3000

Two viable defensive strategies proved effective in 2018.  Rostering the Bears defense each week would have given you nine double-digit fantasy point performances, the most in the NFL.  The other option was rostering the defense against a Cardinals offense that allowed a league-high 10 double-digit fantasy point performances.  Implementing these strategies would be costly as most weeks, the Bears or whoever the Cardinals dueled with were the priciest defenses on the board.

Luckily the best defense on the main slate was over $3000 just twice, demonstrating that paying down at that position can be just as effective as paying up for what are considered to be the top defensive options heading into the week.  Chiacgo and Miami were the top two defenses on the Week 9 main slate with a difference of $1300 in salary and three fantasy points.  That extra salary could find better use in helping to pay up for some top-tiered talent at other positions.  Especially when the top-priced defense was never the perfect defense at any point in 2018.

13 OF THE 17 DEFENSES HELD THEIR OPPONENT UNDER THEIR TEAM TOTAL

In its simplest form, the primary goal of a defense is to keep another team off a scoreboard.  Targeting games with low game totals is one way to go about this process.  Like running back, there is a stronger correlation in utilizing the team totals by rostering defenses against opposing offenses not expected to generate much offense.  The Cardinals were dead last in a variety of offensive categories and metrics last season that it made them a weekly piñata as they only exceeded their team total three times.  

Of course just keeping opponents off the scoreboard won’t be enough to earn a spot in the perfect lineup.  Pitching a shutout nets 10 fantasy points but every defense needed an additional boost to get on the exclusive list.

15 OF THE 17 DEFENSES FORCED MULTIPLE TURNOVERS

Ultimately, the goal of selecting a fantasy defense is identifying the one that has the best chance to hold an opposing offense to as little points as possible while scoring a defensive touchdown.  Forecasting which one will register a pick 6 or special teams touchdown can be as much of a science as meteorologists trying to predict the weather.  Even with the increase in technology and tools, you’d think that they be able to give an accurate report on a daily basis.  Selecting a defense can feel the same way as there have never been more databases and tools for fantasy players to access.  Yet, there are so many variables in 60 minutes of football that determine success and failure for fantasy defenses.  

Let’s not forget the low frequency of defensive/special teams touchdown that occur year after year.  There were 83 occurrences in 2018, an average of 5.18 per week.  Let alone trying to predict who’s going to return a kickoff or punt to the house will be enough to drive one bonkers and is simply not a viable option.

The best course of action in finding a defense that can score a touchdown is selecting ones that best create opportunities to allow that to happen.  12 of the 17 perfect defenses sacked the quarterback at minimum three times, all opportunities that force precious turnovers that increase the opportunity for a defensive score.  In the 15 games in which a defense forced multiple turnovers, nine of them did so in games they scored a defensive touchdown.

Playing on the road, inclement weather, backup quarterbacks, porous offensive lines, and increased wind speeds are just some of the variables that can influence turnovers.  If cognizant of these factors, it can help place you in the best spot to roster the best defense in what can be tough position to project.

OTHER NOTABLE TRENDS

15 OF THE 17 PERFECT LINEUPS FEATURED GAME STACKS

Each main slate featured at least one team stack and that was nearly identical for game stacks as only two of them didn’t feature one.  Of the 21 game stacks that occurred, the most common was an RB+WR which occurred four times followed by an RB+TE and WR+WR stack happening twice.  A variety of other game stacks from WR-WR+WR to QB-RB+WR found their way into the perfect lineup as well as unusual combinations from WR+DEF to RB+DEF.

Stacking as many players from both teams in matchups with low spreads and high game totals is a commonly applied strategy.  Regular season matchups like the Saints-Rams, Chiefs-Rams, and Chiefs-Patriots come to mind though the former two unfortunately weren’t on the main slate.  Like Al Zeidenfeld cleverly professes in these situations, “Play all the dudes.”

Ryan Fitzpatrick and DeSean Jackson formed a stack along with an opposing, underpriced stack of Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara at a Mercedes-Benz Superdome known for some shootouts in Week 1.  The following week saw another shootout where Jesse James and JuJu Smith-Schuster slaughtered a Chiefs defense that hardly played any in 2018 against a Steelers defense that had no answer for the duo of Mahomes and Kelce.  

More often than not, you will have the two or three-player game stacks that frequent the perfect lineup.  The RB+WR variety makes sense in that a running back slaughters a team on his own while the opposing offense utilizes a wide receiver in an effort to play-catch-up; Ezekiel Elliott and Golden Tate in Week 4 are the perfect illustration of this theory.  When the stars align and both offenses are clicking, nothing beats having pieces of both teams in a lineup and watching the DK points accumulate.

THERE WERE ONLY SIX INSTANCES OF BACK-TO-BACK ENTRIES IN THE PERFECT LINEUP

Recency bias plays a factor each and every week in any cash game or tournament.  The competition gets gitty when an Amari Cooper or a Tarik Cohen goes off the week before and then is highly disappointed when these players fail to meet the expectations bestowed upon them from the prior week’s performance.  

Observing from a macro level, taking all of the fantasy positions in 2018 other than the kicker, there were 28 occurrences in which a top-3 performance was duplicated the following week.  This doesn’t include perfect lineup figures but encompasses all of fantasy football players in full-point PPR leagues last season.  Of those 28, just three of them stretched multiple weeks with Todd Gurley posting top-3 performances at his position four weeks in a row along with Drew Brees and Zach Ertz doing so in three-week stretches.  

In terms of frequency, the running back position saw the most with 12 posting top-3 performances in consecutive weeks while the wide receiver had just two in Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill.  With bell cow backs making up a majority of the 12, this reinforces two ideas that were discussed earlier regarding paying up for the top-tiered running backs and paying down at the wide receiver position with the inconsistency at the top of the fantasy point leaderboard for receivers each week.  

There are some variables that impact the low number of back-to-back top-3 performances in the DraftKings perfect lineup.  First, playing on Thursday, Sunday, or Monday night removes those respective players from eligibility on that week’s main slate.  That number of six back-to-back top-3 performances could certainly be higher if the main slate wasn’t limited to just the Sunday afternoon block of games.  Second, salary increases to those who excel the prior week make it more difficult to insert them the following week and still put together the best possible lineup.  Of those six repeat perfect lineup occurrences, running backs represented four of them (Barkley, Gurley, McCaffery, Mixon) while the wide receiver (Thielen) and tight end (Kelce) made up one each.

This teaches us the importance of when the masses zig in one direction, zag in another one.  Naturally it’s easier to go with what’s comfortable and select the player that had an incredible performance the prior week vs the contrary that didn’t post double-digit fantasy points.  If the same players kept repeating their dominant performances, fantasy football would be so easy and predictable that fantasy football analysts wouldn’t be needed and everyone would be printing money in DFS. Another way to understand recency bias is why pay an additional $600-$1000 in salary for a player that excelled the prior week that more likely than not will come back to earth or fall way short of projections? 

THE AVERAGE COST OF THE FLEX POSITION WAS $4135

8 of the 17 perfect flex spots went to running backs who averaged 22.5 touches at an average cost of $4587.  $203.86 per touch isn’t too shabby for trying to squeeze in a player with the last remaining salary available.  Tarik Cohen made it twice as a flex option while those that were in the fantasy playoffs in redraft leagues may recall Derrick Henry’s two games of dominance, one which landed him as a perfect flex off 34 touches and a steal of a $5000 salary in Week 15.

Double tight ends had its spots as five occurrences featured two tight ends making the cut.  Being that it was the most recent main slate, no one would have expected Blake Jarwin’s three touchdown performance in Week 17.  He paired with George Kittle as Kyle Shanahan did whatever it took to feed Kittle towards a record.

Four wide receivers were perfect flex options with two of them pairing with an opposing receiver to form game stacks.  DeSean Jackson and Michael Thomas both went off in a Bayou shootout that saw the Bucs shock the Saints to open the season.  Kenny Golladay has his way with the Panthers secondary while D.J. Moore did his best to duplicate that performance in Week 11

Back around 2015 when both FanDuel and DraftKings invested heavily in television advertising, DK’s commercial would ask who your million dollar player would be.  That commercial referred to the flex position and that low-rostered player that would be the difference maker.  It came in the form of Jesse James, Calvin Ridley, Maurice Harris, and Blake Jarwin at various points of last season.  That commercial still holds credence to this day as 13 of the 17 main slates had one player, not including the quarterback or defense, that was priced under $4000.  

CONCLUSION

While this series was intended to serve as an aid in roster construction, don’t treat it as gospel as these trends as well as offensive and defensive philosophies are subject to change each season.  The NFL is very much a copycat league as those who were looking for a head coach this offseason were trying to find the next Sean McVay.  By the end of the 2019 season, teams with coaching vacancies could be looking for the next Frank Reich or Brian Flores or whoever is the hot name enjoying success and implement their philosophies.

What we know heading into 2019 is that the NFL has become a passing league with quarterbacks and wide receivers posting record numbers in 2018.  While rushing attempts decreased, running backs experienced great success with their utilization out of the backfield which in effect has taken a toll on the tight end position as illustrated in part four of the series.

We can take this knowledge and gear our first few lineups of 2019 towards these trends.  After the first few weeks play out, we can reassess those trends and adjust our lineup construction philosophies if need be.  Staying flexible is an important attribute to have as some of the trends I described may change when I compose this writing following the 2019 season.  As long as we remain keen to what is transpiring on the field, we can remain prepared to generate the best possible lineups in an effort to build the perfect one.

Perfect DraftKings Lineup Tight End Trends

We continue our five-part series with the fourth installment that analyzes a tight end position that leveled out after a horrendous 2017 season.  As many in redraft and dynasty leagues can attest, finding a reliable tight end was quite the endeavor in 2018 after the position was already a dumpster fire the year before.  In fact, 2015 saw 15 tight ends maintain an average of double-digit fantasy points in PPR scoring but that number has dropped to only 13 of them in 2016 to just eight and nine in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

While overall tight end targets and touchdowns have decreased each season since 2015, overall tight end receptions and yards saw a slight bump in 2018 after experiencing the same decreases as the aforementioned targets and touchdowns.  There were 209 tight end touchdowns in 2015 and since that season, that number hasn’t eclipsed 200.

As we discussed in part two of this series, the running back has been integrated more and more into the passing game over the last few years.  Receiving touchdowns from the running back have increased from 94 in 2016 to 108 and 120 in 2017 and 2018, respectively.  Circa back to 2016 when total running back and tight end receptions were nearly identical with 2,516 of them at running back and 2,484 at tight end.  Since that season, running back receptions are up an average of 242 per year while tight end receptions are down an average of 169.  

This helps explain some of the reasoning why tight end fantasy production has been on the decline.  The running backs are syphoning work from their tight end teammates, especially when some of them are the best offensive asset on their respective teams and deserve additional work.  It also validates taking a top-tier tight end in fantasy drafts as early as the second round when Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, and George Kittle all led their offenses in receptions and targets.  The drop off after those three is pretty significant and one can only hope Eric Ebron continues what was an unexpected 2018 season and O.J. Howard rebounds from his season-ending foot and ankle injuries.

This first tight end trend should come as no surprise after reading the intro to this article.  While you were able to find bargains that did pay off, there was safety in paying up for the top options that delivered more than they disappointed.  

12 OF THE 22 PERFECT TIGHT ENDS REPRESENTED THE TOP FIVE IN SCORING AT THE POSITION IN 2018 IN FULL POINT PPR FORMATS

The struggle at this frustrating position could also be felt in the DFS community.  For the first half of 2018, rostering Zach Ertz or Travis Kelce yielded excellent returns as they represented the perfect tight end in five of the eight weeks when both were available on the main slate.  These two continued to dominate in the second half but an injury to Jack Doyle opened the door for the usually unreliable Eric Ebron to post his best season at the NFL level which generated two spots on the list.  Kittle had a December to remember as the top tight end in the final month and one that helped make money for those that rostered him in Weeks 14 and 17.

Ertz, Kelce, Kittle, and Ebron combined to make up half of the perfect tight ends with soon-to-be free agent Jared Cook sneaking into the list in Week 4 to complete the 12 occurrences from the top 5 at the position in 2018.  Pending the Week 1 schedule, the former three should represent the priciest options on the first main slate of 2019.

15 OF THE 22 TIGHT ENDS WERE PRICED UNDER $6000

Even the better tight end options had some pricing errors that made them so enticing, they couldn’t be passed up.  Travis Kelce was inexplicably priced under $6000 in Week 2 as he went off for 32.9 DK points.  Eric Ebron wasn’t correctly priced until week 13 as the DFS community took advantage of this low cost with Jack Doyle lost for the year.  George Kittle was slightly discounted at $5500 when he destroyed the Broncos to the tune of 210 yards and a touchdown.

As maddening as the position could be, 15 of the 17 weeks in 2018 featured at least one tight end not named Ertz or Kelce that scored 20+ fantasy points; Weeks 8 and 15 had no one eclipse that mark.  Like the wide receiver, this shows there were some perfect options that didn’t require breaking the bank in order to get to the coveted bell cow backs.  Austin Hooper took advantage of a Buccaneers defense that was extremely inept against the position prior to defensive coordinator Mike Smith being fired at the low cost of $3500.  Kyle Rudolph had dominated at Ford Field to the tune of 17.56 FPPG in his last three at that venue prior to the 2018 matchup that saw him continue that trend with a 36.2 DK point performance.  $3400 was the cost to roster his best performance of the year.

THE AVERAGE NUMBER OF RECEPTIONS PER GAME FOR THE TIGHT ENDS WAS 7.73 

This figure is nearly identical to the average number of catches for the perfect receivers.  The ceiling was 16 catches by Zach Ertz who slaughtered the Texans while Eric Ebron needed three touchdowns off as few as four touches to cement his spot in perfection.  There’s no secret here, paying up means obtaining a solid floor of volume while rolling the dice on a cheaper option can pay off but is certainly a riskier proposition; ask those that rostered Matt LaCosse and Anthony Firkser who both posted goose eggs in favorable matchups in Week 13 and 15 respectively. 

HOUSTON, CLEVELAND, OAKLAND, DENVER, AND MIAMI EACH ALLOWED TWO TIGHT ENDS IN THE PERFECT LINEUP

All five of these teams have been repeat offenders in the top 10 in FPA to tight ends since 2017.  Cleveland’s spot on this list should come as no surprise as they’ve been inside the top 10 in FPA in each of the last three years.  The Browns looked to have remedied their issues in the first eight games but allowed 17.81 FPPG in the second half to the position.  Pending where Jared Cook lands in the offseason and Gronk’s decision to continue to suit up or retire, the Browns tight end schedule eases up in 2019 as they would only face two tight ends inside the top 10 in FPPG in 2018 in George Kittle and Vance McDonald.  

Oakland and Denver fall victim to facing Travis Kelce twice a year which explains part of their heartache.  Still, the Broncos allowed a tight end playing his first game in the NFL in Will Dissly and an aged Antonio Gates to have their best performances of the season while the Raiders let a cornucopia of Ravens and Colts tight ends destroy them.  The Dolphins will benefit from a retired Gronk if that indeed happens but still deal with Zach Ertz and an Indianapolis offense that almost doubled up every team in touchdowns thrown to the position last season.  The Texans have dates with that same Colts offense and Travis Kelce who the Texans have failed to contain in three of four career matchups.

CONCLUSION

When August comes around and you get to the second round of redraft leagues, you will be faced with the decision of taking one of the big three tight ends or playing the crapshoot at the position.  That’s the same scenario DFS players will face weekly in 2019.   

Playing the defensive matchups can work to your advantage as the last trend indicates where paying down is viable.  However, that’s the headache in what can be an unreliable position.  Will you pay up for the consistent Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz, or let it ride on a cheaper option in a favorable matchup?  Hopefully our struggle is alleviated with the emergence of more reliable tight end options as the 2019 season unfolds.

DFS in Review: Perfect DraftKings Lineup Wide Reciever Trends

Part 3 of the series reviews a wide receiver position that rebounded from a real life and fantasy perspective from 2017.  As a whole, wide receiver receptions, yards, and touchdowns saw sizable increases in 2018.  Also notable, wide receiver rushing attempts and rushing yards had substantial bumps from the prior year.

As you will discover from this piece, the position can be a roller coaster to evaluate each week.  44 different receivers made the perfect lineup out of a possible 55 occurrences.  Compared to the running back and tight end positions that saw 62% and 64% of its respective slots represented by different players, 80% for wide receivers shouldn’t be too surprising.  Especially when you consider there are at least two reliable receivers on most teams vs a single bell cow back or tight end that is heavily relied upon.

Some of these receiver trends aren’t as concrete as those that were presented in the previous two articles of the series regarding the quarterback and running back positions.  The wide receiver position displays more variables that show the fickle nature of the position.  At times, these variables can make it feel rather unpredictable as the trend below and others discussed in this article will illustrate.

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THE PERFECT WIDE RECEIVERS COMBINED FOR A RECORD OF 29-24-2

Tyreek Hill was the WR1 in Week 10 in a win that he did nearly all of his damage when the game was still within reach for the Cardinals.  In opposite fashion, Taylor Gabriel caught two touchdown passes in what already a rout against the Buccaneers.  Remaining cognizant to how coaches and coordinators approach and utilize their passing games in positive gamescript can be critical when a game gets out of hand.  Some may like to keep the foot on the gas while others may be content running the ball and draining clock. 

Negative gamescript can move one from six DK points and WR63 for the week and boost him all the way up to 23 DK points and WR8 on a deep throw in hopes of a late rally.  Of the 50 perfect receivers that did score a touchdown in their respective games, 30 of them did so when their team was trailing.  This isn’t breaking news but sometimes, a reminder of the obvious can be a cure for the overthinking that is possible on a week-to-week basis.  In this case, rostering receivers that are expected to be in a close game or playing from behind.

Defenses that possess a strong competency in stopping the run may be more targeted via the wide receiver.  Take the Saints as they surrendered the fourth fewest FPA to running backs but hemorrhaged the most fantasy points per game to opposing receivers.  These stout rushing defenses can funnel additional passing attempts and create more opportunity for damage through the air, especially when the secondary is a porous one.  The Saints allowed four perfect receivers with their inability to contain the position.

As evidenced, a lot goes into deciding which receiver to choose.  Where the perfect running backs show a positive correlation towards winning their respective games, it’s nearly a 50/50 proposition with their wide receiving counterparts.  Of course, none of this matters if there isn’t opportunity to make a difference on the field.

THE AVERAGE NUMBER OF RECEPTIONS PER GAME FOR THE WIDE RECEIVERS WAS 7.96 

Targets are fantasy gold that create opportunities for wide receivers to produce.  Without them, that receiver serves no purpose in lineups, especially when running backs are seeing increased touches and roles in the offense.  With the limited amount of opportunities they have each week, it is critical for receivers to capitalize on those balls thrown to them.  

For those that achieved perfection, the average number of receptions per game was 7.96 off 10.23 targets.  Michael Thomas saw a perfect lineup ceiling of 16 receptions in Week 1 while Tyrell Williams needed as few as three of them to do his damage.  Of course, Tyrell needed more than three receptions for 118 yards to get on that list by scoring two touchdowns on the day.  It’s no surprise that 50 of the 55 wide receivers on the list posted at least one touchdown. 

35 OF THE 55 WIDE RECEIVERS WERE PRICED AT $6000 OR LOWER

Considering 21 of the 34 perfect running backs, not including flex options, we’re priced over $7000, inexpensive wide receivers needed to be rostered and were available each week.  In fact, at least one perfect wide receiver was priced as low as $5000 in all but one main slate in 2018; Week 2 was the only week that featured all receivers over $6000.  

Needless to say, a wide receiver under $6000 won’t land a team’s #1 option in most cases.  However, a team’s second or third made the perfect lineup in 15 of 17 weeks as 44 different receivers made the list.  Targeting susceptible cornerbacks comes into play in identifying those cheap receivers that have favorable matchups.  P.J. Williams, M.J. Stewart, and Jalen Mills were just some of the corners that were weekly targets in the 2018 DFS landscape.  One secondary fell victim to more perfect receivers than the other 31 teams and resides in a division with strong quarterbacks and receiving corps.

CAROLINA ALLOWED SEVEN PERFECT WIDE RECEIVERS

In one corner sits Matt Ryan with his lethal perimeter receivers in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.  In another contains the surgical duo of Drew Brees and Michael Thomas.  Don’t forget about Jameis Winston and his trio of talented receivers in Mike Evans, Adam Humphries, and Chris Godwin; it remains to be seen if DeSean Jackson returns in 2019.  That’s a tall order of firepower for any secondary to endure in 6 of 16 games.  

The damage inflicted upon a Panther secondary that was in the top 5 in FPA to perimeter receivers wasn’t just limited to divisional foes.  Kenny Golladay got the best of them at one point as well as a pair of Seattle receivers in David Moore and Tyler Lockett that both posted 100+ receiving yard games en route to the perfect lineup.  Odell Beckham Jr. threw a touchdown pass on top of the carnage he created opposite James Bradberry and Donte Jackson.

Carolina’s 2019 schedule outside of divisional play features some tough perimeter receiver matchups to include Davante Adams, T.Y. Hilton, DeAndre Hopkins, the Rams duo of Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, and the aforementioned Tyler Lockett.  For what has been an Achilles heel for this defense the last two years, the Panthers need Jackson to continue to develop as he enters his second year in the league and Bradberry to shut down opposing receivers not just named Mike Evans.

CONCLUSION

DeAndre Hopkins and Antonio Brown were the only two receivers to eclipse 300 fantasy points in PPR scoring in 2017, the fewest receivers to hit that benchmark since 2012 when Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall were the only two to do so.  In 2018, five other receivers joined Brown and Hopkins in this club, reiterating the aerial revolution that is sweeping the NFL.

As long as this pass-first mentality continues, the state of the wide receiver shouldn’t bottom out as it did in 2017 and maintain its current upward trend.  Even with the running backs more involved in the passing game, the current household names at the receiver along with the ascension of some younger stars projects a bright outlook for the position for the next few years.

DFS in Review: Perfect DraftKings Lineup Running Back Trends

Part two of the DraftKings perfect lineup series continues with the running back position that saw a rookie out of Penn State lead the NFL in scrimmage yards.  Saquon Barkley was a dominant force on a Giants team that had no other positives come from their 2018 campaign.  He carved up the Big 10 for three years and now looks like he will terrorize opponents in the NFC East for the foreseeable future.

Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott both eclipsed 2,000 scrimmage yards in 2018, the first time two running backs did so since 2014 when Le’Veon Bell and DeMarco Murray accomplished the feat.  Had Christian McCaffery played the whole game in Week 17, he would have made it three which would had been the most since 2006 when five running backs went over the total.

The bell cow back is alive and well as some of these figures we’ll discuss will certainly demonstrate.  Take Zeke for instance as his targets out of the backfield increased from 3.8 per game in 2017 to 7.0 last year.  When your running back is your best offensive weapon, why not feed him as many touches as possible? 

That’s not to say running backs on the ground didn’t serve a purpose; Sony Michel and Nick Chubb showed that they have promising futures in their rookie seasons. However, part of our success on DraftKings is made off receptions, an aspect that Michel and Chubb’s skillsets are currently lacking.  One thing that 76.2% of the perfect running backs shared was getting the W for their respective teams.

32 OF THE 42 PERFECT RUNNING BACKS WON THEIR GAMES STRAIGHT UP

Christian McCaffery made the perfect lineup four times in 2018 and did so each time in a Panthers loss, averaging 11.5 receptions in those games.  The 10 running backs that made the list off losses or ties averaged 9.1 receptions per game, thus showing the importance of being a back that is either gamescript-independent or ones like Tarik Cohen or Duke Johnson that see an increased role when their team operates under negative gamescript.

While some of the 32 running backs who won their games were the gamescript-independent types, there are some who thrive off operating when their team plays with a lead.  Marlon Mack, Derrick Henry, and Nick Chubb are those that fall into this category that were perfect at one point last year and perform better in positive gamescript as they don’t see much work out of the backfield.  Mack, Henry, and Chubb saw +9.16, +10.6, and +11.3 FPPG differentials respectively in games that their teams won in PPR scoring. 

It’s critical to roster these positive gamescript backs in games that you believe they will win or they could be a liability if their teams end up falling behind.  In fact, the average margin of victory for the 32 backs that made the list when their teams won their games was 13.88 points.

THE AVERAGE NUMBER OF TOUCHES PER GAME FOR THE PERFECT RUNNING BACKS WAS 24.7

Bell cow backs like Christian McCaffery, Todd Gurley, and Saquon Barkley that work independent of gamescript represented 22 of the 42 perfect running backs last season.  As running backs are being included in the passing game more and more, expect this trend to continue heading to 2019.  This is the main reason why these backs are highly-priced as they are all but locked in for 20+ touches each week whether their teams are leading or trailing.

There are instances where fewer than 20 touches has proven successful.  Isaiah Crowell earned RB3 honors as he torched the Broncos on the ground for 219 yards on 15 carries in Week 5.  A 77-yard touchdown run certainly helped his bottom line that day.  Tevin Coleman converted 18 touches into 32.6 DK points against a lifeless Redskins defense in Week 9.  Needless to say, each back that didn’t get 20 touches crossed the pylons at least once.

Projecting running backs that can produce without a ton of volume can provide salary relief to afford the top-tiered options.  Typically, these backs don’t exceed $6000 on DraftKings; Crowell and Coleman were an affordable $4100 and $4800 when they went off on their respective weeks.

31 OF THE 42 RUNNING BACKS WERE PART OF GAMES IN WHICH THEIR RESPECTIVE TEAM WENT OVER THE TEAM TOTAL

While 54.76% of the perfect backs participated in games that went over the game total, there was a stronger correlation for running backs that hit perfection and their respective teams going over their team totals, occurring at a 73.8% rate.

Positive gamescript usually indicates feeding the running back as much as possible, especially during routs with the leading team eating as much clock as possible.  The Bills didn’t do their part in reaching the game total of 44 in a 37-5 defeat in Indianapolis in Week 7 as it became the Marlon Mack show early in that game and throughout the contest.  The Dolphins didn’t have an answer for Aaron Jones as he turned 15 carries into 145 yards and two touchdowns.  The Packers easily covered their team total of 29 but without help of the Dolphins offense, the teams fell short of the game total of 45.

ATLANTA ALLOWED SIX PERFECT RUNNING BACKS

This should come as no surprise as no team in the NFL has been consistently hurt by running backs out of the backfield more than the Falcons since 2016.  In fact, their defense has allowed the most receptions and targets to pass catching backs in each of the last three years.  The Patriots won Super Bowl 51 by exploiting this weakness as they didn’t have an answer for James White’s 14 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown.

In DraftKings full PPR scoring system, targeting running backs who excel out of the backfield against the Falcons is the gift that keeps on giving, especially when Christian McCaffery and Alvin Kamara reside in the NFC South for two meetings each year.  McCaffery made the perfect lineup in both 2018 matchups while Kamara secured a spot in Week 3 perfection.  Other notable running backs who will clash with Atlanta in 2019 include Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Jerick McKinnon, Dalvin Cook, and Dion Lewis.

7 OF THE 17 PERFECT LINEUPS FEATURED RUNNING BACKS THAT BENEFITTED FROM A TEAMMATE EITHER HOLDING OUT, INJURED, OR SUSPENDED

Look no further than Week 1 when James Conner took advantage of Le’Veon Bell’s holdout and reeled off 39.2 DK points off 36 touches and an inexpensive $4500 salary.  Alvin Kamara’s volume was never higher in 2018 than Weeks 3 and 4 during Mark Ingram’s suspension that resulted in 37.0 and 44.1 DK point performances.  With Aaron Jones placed on IR with a knee injury, Jamaal Williams and his $5400 salary were an integral part in being able to roster Christian McCaffery and Antonio Brown in Week 16.  Not only that, Williams was just one of two active running backs available for the Packers in that game and saw all of the touches.

7 out of 17 isn’t the strongest correlation but it warrants attention when the average cost of these running backs, not including Alvin Kamara in Weeks 3 and 4, was $4520.  While Giovani Bernard didn’t make the perfect lineup when Joe Mixon was inactive in Week 3 and 4, he was a chalky play that returned value at his $5900 and $6400 salaries in those respective weeks.  Given the right circumstances, taking advantage of these opportunities to get 20+ touches at minimum cost is highly recommended.

Revisiting the Kamara scenario, we were filled in on the Ingram suspension back in May and while he was still too cheap in Week 1, he was correctly priced by Week 3.  Undoubtedly, he would see a bump in volume and in the two weeks he made the perfect lineup, he touched the ball 55 times at a combined $19100 in that timeframe.  On a dollar-per-touch basis, even as expensive as he was priced in those two weeks, Kamara was a bargain at $347 dollars compared to $383 dollars per touch off 24 touches and a $9200 salary from fellow perfect Week 3 back Todd Gurley.

There was substantial evidence that Melvin Gordon wasn’t healthy in Week 12 after fully practicing on Wednesday but being downgraded to limited on Thursday and Friday.  He would eventually leave the game against the Cardinals with a knee injury that made him questionable throughout the week.  Austin Ekeler was sitting at $3600 and for those who pulled the trigger to roster him in spite of Gordon playing, those people were handsomely rewarded with a 26.3 DK point performance as Ekeler was the flex option in Week 12’s perfect lineup.

These free squares that become available make for excellent flex plays that open up a lot of possibilities in terms of putting together a variety of lineups.  Once the salaries for the upcoming week release during Sunday Night Football, they do not change regardless of transactions, suspensions, or players declared inactive before kickoff on Sunday.  While a heavy focus was dedicated to the running back position, this concept applies to all of the other positions as well; Chris Godwin was a fine example that made the perfect lineup twice with DeSean Jackson declared inactive both weeks.  Other than quarterback, no other position typically touches the ball more than the running back.  When a starter is declared inactive, those 15-20+ touches need to go to the next man up that is usually available at an inexpensive price tag on DraftKings.

CONCLUSION

Looking at a macro level, total running back receptions throughout the league were about the same in 2018 as they were in 2017.  However, running back carries dropped by nearly 800 attempts from 2017 to 2018, further evidence of the passing epidemic that is spreading like wildfire.  To better understand where the league is headed and the magnitude of that number, 800 represents 3.13 fewer rushing attempts per NFL game.

Our lineup construction philosophies should be cognizant of this new utilization of the position.  Ground-and-pound backs will still serve a purpose in not just the league but in fantasy football.  However, in PPR scoring, receptions from the running back position are gold.  It’s why we pay up for Gurley, Barkley, and McCaffery that get nearly all of the running back touches and represent 18-20% of the salary cap on DraftKings.  Expect these trends to continue as we head into the 2019 season.

WEEK 8 DRAFTKINGS/FANDUEL SELECTIONS

QUARTERBACK

Patrick Mahomes: vs DEN (DK 7000; FD 9200)

The Chiefs offense averaged 29 points in Alex Smith’s final five games as the Kansas City starter against the Broncos when the Denver defense was worthy of respect.  Imagine what Patrick Mahomes will do this weekend against this defense that clearly isn’t what it used to be.  300+ passing yards and a 3+ touchdown pass performances in five of seven games as well as 20+ fantasy point performances in six of seven; he has lived up to the preseason hype and shows no signs of slowing down in this high-octane offense.  If the Denver defense still causes concern, Mahomes did throw for 300 passing yards against Jacksonville, arguably the toughest defense he will face in 2018.  The question will be, can you afford to pay up and roster him?

Andy Dalton: vs TB (DK 6200; FD 7800)

Baker Mayfield may have struggled last week but Andy Dalton looks to continue how Drew Brees, Mitchell Trubisky, and Matt Ryan have all performed in home games against a terrible Buccaneers defense on the road.  300 yards and 3 passing touchdowns have been the floor for home quarterbacks against the Buccaneers outside of Raymond James Stadium.  The most recent memory of Dalton was an awful performance against a Chiefs defense that has been burnable all year which may lower his ownership in both cash games and GPPs this week.  He’s in a prime position to rebound from that terrible Sunday Night Football performance; start the Red Rifle with confidence.

Matthew Stafford: vs SEA (DK 5600; FD 7300)

Take a look at the quarterbacks that the Seahawks have faced and it makes sense why they’re the “best” fantasy defense against the position.  They’ve faced Dak Prescott before Amari Cooper became a Cowboy, Josh Rosen in his first NFL start, and Derek Carr who has been pitiful in 2018.  Conversely, when playing teams with a serviceable quarterback and good receivers, notice how Seattle has given up 300+ passing yard games to the Broncos and the Rams.  Detroit has one of the best trios of receivers in football and Matthew Stafford should continue to expose Tre Flowers and Shaquill Griffin on the outside with Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay.  While the rest of the field looks toward Rodgers, Mahomes, and Roethlisberger, this is a good opportunity to differentiate lineups and save some salary in a good spot for Stafford.

RUNNING BACK

Todd Gurley: vs GB (DK 9800; FD 11000)

FanDuel has finally priced Todd Gurley at an appropriate price as he represents nearly 20% of each site’s respective salary cap for those who roster him.  Even touching the ball just 19 times against the 49ers, his lowest amount all season, he still managed to find his way to 28.6 FD/30.6 DK.  Paying up for Gurley nearly guarantees a floor of 19 touches and 22 FD/25 DK points, all great figures against a Green Bay defense that has been more susceptible to running backs away from Lambeau Field.  As if you needed another reason to roster this elite talent, the Packers allow nearly 10 fantasy points more in full PPR scoring to the running back position on the road.

James Conner: vs CLE (DK 7500; FD 8000)

The latest seems to be Le’Veon Bell reporting after the trade deadline passes on October 30th.  For at least week 8, James Conner remains the starting running back against a Browns team that has allowed the second-most rushing touchdowns.  He has filled in admirably in Bell’s absence touching the ball 20+ times in games that Pittsburgh either won or tied this season while averaging 25.77 FD/30.52 DK points in those games.  Vegas loves the Steelers as they are 8.5-point favorites following their bye week against a Browns rush defense that has been exposed by Melvin Gordon and Conner himself back in week 1.  Expect him to play a major role in this game as the Steelers may lean on him heavily before he possibly relinquishes the starting duties back to Bell.

Kareem Hunt: vs DEN (DK 7100; FD 8100)

While Tyreek Hill has been more of a focal point in road games, scoring six touchdowns away from Kansas City, Kareem Hunt has been more the focal point in home games as he has crossed the pylons six times at Arrowhead.  A 10-point favorite in a high-powered Chiefs offense at a reasonable cost; Hunt meets all of the requirements for a solid DFS start.  It should no longer be a secret how bad the Broncos have performed against running backs on the ground as they have allowed the second-most rushing yards in the league.  Not to mention he totaled 175 scrimmage yards against Denver back in week 4 and it puts Hunt in an excellent spot to duplicate that performance and perhaps exceed value on both sites.

David Johnson: vs SF (DK 6700; FD 7300)

Things can only go up from here with offensive coordinator Mike McCoy removed from the equation.  Byron Leftwich has witnessed what David Johnson is capable of as the quarterbacks coach under Bruce Arians before his promotion to offensive coordinator.  If anything, he should make the gameplan as easy as possible for Josh Rosen and heavily rely on his prized running back.  Hopefully that starts against a 49ers defense that’s given up the 7th most FPA to the running back position.  The price is low enough to take a gamble on DJ with a Cardinals team that should be reinvigorated after the OC change and 10 days to prepare for this game.

WIDE RECEIVER

Antonio Brown: vs CLE (DK 8500; FD 8800)

From a real-life perspective, the 9th year receiver is putting together another solid campaign.  From a fantasy perspective, there are those that feel like Antonio Brown is having a down year as he has produced 222 fewer yards than last year through six games.  However, the targets and the touchdowns have been there and this week, he faces a Cleveland secondary that has surrendered the 3rd most FPA to receivers lined up on the left side of the ball and the 7th most FPA to receivers lined up on the right side.  The Browns have been effective in shutting down slot receivers which gives JuJu Smith-Schuster the tougher matchup of the two which further bodes well for Brown to put together another strong outing.

A.J. Green: vs TB (DK 8000; FD 8800)

Tyler Boyd: vs TB (DK 6700; FD 6800)

Starting each team’s #1 wide receiver against Tampa Bay has yielded excellent results this year as they are averaging 23.06 FPPG in PPR scoring.  A.J. Green should carve up this depleted Buccaneers secondary rather easily and he is slightly discounted on DraftKings.  M.J. Stewart will be someone we continuously target each week as Jarvis Landry posted a 20.7 FD/25.7 DK point performance last week under Stewart’s coverage.  Tyler Boyd will greatly benefit opposite the struggling slot corner and provides extra salary relief compared to Green.

Doug Baldwin: at DET (DK 5500; FD 6400)

Amazingly, Tyler Lockett is priced high than Doug Baldwin on FanDuel, even after Baldwin played his best game of the year with a 6/91/0 clip.  A lot of fantasy owners and experts in the industry have soured on him as he has dealt with a knee injury that has lingered since the end of the preseason.  After two weeks of rest since the matchup in London, his knee has had additional time to recover and it sets up well as he lines up against Teez Tabor.  Tabor, a cornerback filling in for the injured James Agnew and one that has struggled in his first two seasons in the league, will have his hands full with Baldwin who lines up in the slot on 70% of his snaps.  Don’t let the FanDuel pricing cause confusion, he is indeed Russell Wilson’s preferred receiver and it should show in this juicy matchup.  

Anthony Miller: vs NYJ (DK 3400; FD 5200)

He saw seven targets which is the most he has seen in a game thus far and played a season-high 63% of the offensive snaps against the Patriots.  It aligns well for Anthony Miller to be a cheap option that can return value with a few catches and a touchdown against a Jets secondary that has been horrendous against slot receivers.  Adam Thielen, Jarvis Landry, and Golden Tate are among a few of the receivers that have feasted on this weakness that has allowed the 3rd most FPA to the slot.  At the time of this writing, Allen Robinson missed Thursday’s practice and if he were to be inactive on Sunday, it puts Miller in an amazing spot to see additional snaps and targets at a bargain bin price.

TIGHT END

Travis Kelce: vs DEN (DK 6800; FD 7300)

The Broncos have been fortunate to play the Jets, Cardinals, and Rams in the last three weeks, all offenses that don’t utilize the tight end as much as the Chiefs.  Travis Kelce shredded Denver in week 4 to the tune of 9/137/1 and is certainly worthy of being the highest-priced tight end on the main slate.  To pay up for him means paying down elsewhere but the Denver defense hasn’t improved from their struggles last year against tight ends.  Kelce should certainly prove this for the second time this year.

David Njoku: at PIT (DK 4600; FD 5700) 

5.5 catches for 57 yards and .5 touchdowns off 8.75 targets; this is what David Njoku has averaged since Baker Mayfield assumed the starting duties back in week 4.   The connection was notable in the preseason and it has blossomed into a reliable weapon for Mayfield.  The Steelers allow the second most targets to tight ends and hemorrhage yardage to the position.  Njoku is right at that point where he will be considered expensive with another solid outing.  While he’s fairly priced on FanDuel, if all goes according to plan, he will be above $5000 and $6000 on each respective site next week against the Chiefs.

O.J. Howard: at CIN (DK 3900; FD 5800)

Jameis Winston has been known to favor the tight end position and that hasn’t changed in the two games since returning from suspension.  O.J. Howard has been the main beneficiary as he has seen 13 targets compared to Cameron Brate’s five and played 60% of the snaps vs Brate’s 38%.  Up next for Howard is a date with a Bengals defense that allows the most targets to tight ends and surrenders the 4th most FPA to the position in PPR scoring.  He’s priced generously on DraftKings and is a solid option to find the end zone and return value as the Bengals have given up four touchdowns to tight ends.

DEFENSE

Chicago: vs NYJ (DK 4100; FD 5000)

Fantasy defenses against the Jets have forced multiple turnovers in all but one game and have scored double digit fantasy points in four of seven games.  Tom Brady has carved up many of the best defenses in his career; don’t let that deter you from starting the best defense on the main slate this week.

Kansas City: vs DEN (DK 2600; FD 3900)

For as bad as the Kansas City defense has performed on the road, giving up 33.25 points per game while averaging 3.25 fantasy points, it’s been much better at Arrowhead, giving up just 17 points per game while averaging 13.33 fantasy points.  While the Broncos have yet to lose a fumble, Case Keenum has been prone to the pick, having thrown at least one in every game thus far.  The Chiefs have won the last six games against their divisional foe giving up an average of 19.33 points.  There’s plenty of defenses in the $2600 and below category on DraftKings this week; this is surprisingly one of the better options.

Pittsburgh: vs CLE (DK 2300; FD 3800)

The Browns are averaging two turnovers a game since Baker Mayfield took over as starting quarterback while the Steelers force 1.33 turnovers per game along with getting to the quarterback 3.5 times.  Pittsburgh comes off a bye and certainly comes into this game angry from an unprecedented tie back in week 1.  

PRICE SHOPPING

Each week, I will identify what players are bargains based on the salary cap percentage difference they represent on the respective site.  Here are the notable week 8 bargains from both sites:

NOTABLE DRAFTKINGS BARGAINS

QB Jared Goff: 2.16

QB Aaron Rodgers: 1.73

WR Anthony Miller: 1.86 

TE O.J. Howard: 1.86

TE Jimmy Graham: 1.26

NOTABLE FANDUEL BARGAINS

RB James Connor: 1.67

RB Joe Mixon: 1.6

RB David Johnson: 1.24

WR Tyreek Hill: 4.2

WR Jarvis Landry: 3.24

WR Mike Evans: 2.6

WR Tyler Boyd: 2.07

Way Too Early Week 1 DFS Thoughts

Upon the NFL schedule release in late April, there isn’t any other week that allows more time for DFS preparation than Week 1.  Even without the DraftKings salaries being posted before Wednesday, there’s enough data and information to identify players with favorable and unfavorable matchups and begin generating possible lineups.  Generally, I don’t plan past Week 3 as the trends from prior year start to become replaced with the narratives of the current season.  

These are my general thoughts after seeing the Week 1 salaries along with tidbits of information I found useful.  Remember, this is all before the first snap of the preseason taking place so some ideas and thoughts listed below are subject to change (Note: this only covers the main slate and excludes the Thursday opener, Sunday night, and Monday night games.  Also, FanDuel has yet to release their salaries as I conclude this article so this focuses more on DraftKings at this point).  

Buffalo vs Baltimore (-5; 47)

Buffalo: With uncertainty regarding LeSean McCoy’s playing status due to off the field issues, the state of the Buffalo offense remains a huge question mark.  Chris Ivory would assume the lead back duties in the event that McCoy misses time.  A new starting quarterback inherits the tough task of facing the Ravens, Chargers, and Vikings to begin the season, all teams that were in the top 5 in fewest FPA to quarterbacks in 2017.  Against these stout defenses, the Bills may have a tough time putting points on the scoreboard the first three weeks of the season.  

Baltimore: The NFL has presented the Ravens with the team that ultimately knocked them out of postseason contention when the Bills beat the Dolphins and the Ravens lost to the Bengals in Week 17 last year.  With revenge in mind, there isn’t much that should scare this Baltimore defense against the Bills offense, especially in LeSean McCoy doesn’t suit up.  An Alex Collins, Baltimore defense stack could be an excellent 1-2 punch as this game has the potential to get out of hand whether A.J. McCarron or Nathan Peterman is under center.  Last year, Alex Collins had a +2.814 FPPG differential in games the Ravens won, a +2.643 FPPG differential in games at M&T Bank Stadium, and a +4.67 FPPG differential in games the Ravens were favored.

Tampa Bay vs New Orleans (-7; 46.5)

Tampa Bay: The Bucs were dealt a horrible hand back in April when the schedule release had them slated to play the Saints, Eagles, and Steelers the first three weeks.  Then it later comes out that Jameis Winston will be suspended for this rough stretch against these opponents that combined for 37 wins in 2017.  In 4 starts last year, Ryan Fitzpatrick averaged 258.8 passing yds, 1.5 TDs, and .75 INTs along with 12.5 yards on the ground.  He returned value in two of those four starts at his listed $5000 DK salary for Week 1.

New Orleans: With Mark Ingram suspended the first four games, ownership levels for Alvin Kamara are projected to be extremely high at his $8500 DK salary.  Vegas has the Saints giving 7 points in a revenge game from Week 17 where the Saints needed a win and a Rams loss to clinch the 3rd seed in the NFC.  The Rams fulfilled their end of the bargain while the Saints couldn’t hold up their own.  The Saints have an excellent chance to win this game with revenge in mind and Jameis Winston suspended.  One of the bigger lineup construction questions for Week 1 will be deciding to pay up for Kamara and his projected increase in volume with a lot of other people, knowing full well that he may be an important piece for cash game and GPP success.  Or is it best to fade him, hope he busts and allocate that extra savings in salary to other options that others won’t be able to afford in selecting Kamara.

Pittsburgh vs Cleveland (6.5; 47)

Pittsburgh: There’s something to be said about players who come out of the gate fast.  Antonio Brown would be one of those players.  Since 2014, he has finished at worst the WR5 for Week 1 averaging 28.18 FPPG in full PPR scoring in Week 1 matchups from 2014-2017.  In 2016, Le’Veon Bell was suspended for the first three games and missed a Week 1 matchup vs the Redskins and last year, Bell missed all of training camp and didn’t see action until Week 1 against the Browns.  Amazingly, last year’s exact scenario can play out again with Bell expected to hold out and finally suit up against the Browns on September 9th.  The odds of Antonio Brown duplicating his Week 1 success seems favorable.

Cleveland: The Browns have added San Francisco’s starting running back, Miami’s heavily targeted slot receiver, and Buffalo’s starting quarterback.  Indeed, this roster is vastly improved from the 0-16 bunch not only on the offensive side of the ball but defensively as well.  However, there are a lot of mouths to feed when considering the following player’s targets per game in 2017 with the Browns or their former team:

Jarvis Landry: 10.6

Carlos Hyde: 5.5

Duke Johnson: 5.81

Josh Gordon: 8.6

Corey Coleman: 6.33

Browns TE position: 7.63

That’s 44.47 targets per game on a team that threw the ball over 40 times in a game last year just three times and over 45 times once.  Even Tyrod Taylor threw over 40 passes only one time with Buffalo in 2017.  It’s going to be interesting to see how the targets are disbursed among this talent.  One thing is for certain, if Hue Jackson can’t win more than a game with this roster, he’ll need to do more than jump in Lake Erie, he will need to swim away from Cleveland for good.  

Houston vs New England (-7; 51)

Houston: The last time DeShaun Watson was on the field, him and Russell Wilson dueled to put up 79 points in what was arguably the best NFL game in 2017.  He nearly conquered Tom Brady in Week 3 until Brady connected with Brandin Cooks for a TD with 23 seconds remaining.  This matchup lands the Texans in a favorable spot against a team that lost the Super Bowl.  In the last 10 years, the losing Super Bowl team is 2-8 ATS in Week 1 action with New England being one of those teams that did cover after a 2011 Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants.  That statistic suggests at worst, the Texans should be able to keep it close.  The bigger question will be if the teams can once again combine for 69 points given this is Watson’s first game since he tore his ACL.  Also, how long will it take for him to feel comfortable on his legs again to activate his rushing upside that saw him average 42 yards a game on the ground in six starts.

New England: With Zach Ertz playing the opening Thursday night game, it leaves Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski as two of the three top tight ends on the main slate.  The Chargers have contained Travis Kelce throughout his career thus leaving Gronk as the high end tight end to consider inserting into lineups.  With Julian Edelman suspended until Week 5 and Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola out of the picture, Gronk looks to be the familiar target and a safe play to accumulate double digit targets.  He turned 10 targets into 8 catches for 89 yards and a touchdown in the Week 3 meeting against the Texans last season.  

San Francisco vs Minnesota (-5.5; 47)

San Francisco: The 49ers were cruising to a top 3 pick until they decided to see what they had in Jimmy Garappolo and now that franchise looks to have its starting quarterback of the future.  He started from Week 13 on and won all five of those games, including a thrashing against the second best defense in football in Jacksonville that paid San Francisco no respect heading into Levis Stadium.  There is definitely regression heading Jimmy G’s way at some point and it could be this Week 1 tilt with Minnesota.  He isn’t going to catch teams off-guard any longer, especially against a team in the Vikings that allowed 12.5 points a game at US Bank Stadium in 2017 and a league low 10.3 FPPG to QBs at home.

Minnesota: The Vikings have upgraded their offense with the addition of Kirk Cousins and the return of Dalvin Cook from a torn ACL in Week 4 against the Lions.  One player that is an upgrade at US Bank Stadium compared to playing on the road is Stefon Diggs.  His dominance at home saw him score under 14 PPR points just once in six games last year. Among wide receivers who played 12 or more games last year, Diggs had a +10.05 FPPG differential at home, the third highest home/away variance behind Davante Adams’ +11.7 differential away from Lambeau Field and Michael Crabtree’s +11.56 differential at the Oakland Coliseum.  

Cincinnati vs Indianapolis (-2.5; 46)

Cincinnati: Scroll over game logs from prior weeks of various seasons and the fact remains that more often than not, players that win their games score more fantasy points than those who don’t.  Andy Dalton would be the poster boy of this description as no quarterback who played more than 12 games in 2017 averaged fewer fantasy points in a loss than Dalton’s 10.28 FPPG.  In fact his +8.894 FPPG differential in losses was the worst such figure among quarterbacks last year.  Vegas has this game as essentially a pick em with the Colts giving three points as the home team.  With Andrew Luck possibly playing through rust, the Bengals have a chance to squeeze a Week 1 win on the road and the Red Rifle could be an inexpensive choice to return value on both Fanduel and DraftKings.

Indianapolis: The way to attack Cincinnati in 2017 was through the running back and tight end as the Bengals bolstered a secondary in which all positions were in the bottom half of FPA to wide receivers in the 2017 season.  That secondary remains intact heading into 2018 and the player that shredded them in the 2017 matchup also remains on the Colts roster.  The only difference now is Jack Doyle may have competition for some of the tight end targets with the addition of the wildly inconsistent Eric Ebron from the Lions.  The possibility of Doyle being vultured this coming season is small yet possible; Ebron does show flashes of why he was taken with the 10th pick in the 2014 draft.  With Andrew Luck returning to the field, tight end targets should increase compared to last year.  29% of Luck’s pass attempts went to the tight end in 2016 compared to just 19% with Jacoby Brissett under center last year.  

Jacksonville vs New York (N) (4; 44)

Jacksonville: The 2017 version of Blake Bortles was definitely one of the bigger surprises of last season.  DraftKings didn’t take him seriously until Week 16 when he was finally priced above $6000 as he reached 3x nine out of 14 games at that point.  With a solid receiving corps and his ability to use his legs to gain yards, Bortles has the potential to hit 3x in various games this year as well.  The Giants allowed the most fantasy points to quarterbacks last year and at $5600, the possibility of returning value certainly exists in Week 1.

New York: The Giants team that made postseason play in 2016 never recovered at any point last year from their infamous boat trip and getting booted out of the playoffs at the hands of the Packers.  Injuries decimated the roster on both sides of the ball along with a team that flat out quit on Ben McAdoo at various moments during the 2017 season.  If the 2018 Giants can play at half the level they did in 2016, they could arguably be the second best team in the NFC East.  Running back was addressed in a big way with the selection of Saquon Barkley.  Odell Beckham Jr. will be welcomed back to the receiving corp with open arms after recovering from ankle surgery that sidelined him beyond Week 5.  One of the current debates in the fantasy industry is with both Beckham and Saquon sporting 1st round ADPs in redraft leagues, why is Eli Manning being drafted as late as the 14th round to not being drafted at all?  If they both put up numbers that validate their first round selections, then Eli should be a bargain at where he is being drafted.  He will certainly be a bargain for the early part of the year at his salary on DraftKings and FanDuel.  Unfortunately, Week 1 won’t be one of those instances against a stingy Jacksonville team that allowed the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks last year.  

Tennessee vs Miami (2; 45.5)

Tennessee: Matt LaFleur as offensive coordinator will be a nice addition to a Tennessee team that was mediocre and unimaginative on the offensive side of the ball in 2017.  With the talent that Tennessee possessed, that team should have averaged better than 20.9 points per game.  From a fantasy perspective, the Titans were one of two teams along with the Falcons that didn’t have a quarterback score 20 fantasy points in a single game last year.  With LaFleur as offensive coordinator of the Rams, that team scored 29.9 points per game in 2017.  He has the talent to put up wicked numbers in Tennessee with the addition of Dion Lewis to compliment Derrick Henry and a healthy Corey Davis who dealt with a lingering hamstring injury throughout last season.  Marcus Mariota could be available at a discount on both DraftKings and FanDuel for the early part of 2018 until he performs like the Mariota of 2016.  Showing the kickers some love, as quarterbacks coach for the Falcons in 2016 and the aforementioned OC for the Rams last year, Matt Bryant and Greg Zuerlein were the top kickers in fantasy in those years when LaFleur was on that respective coaching staff.  This should bode well for Ryan Succop who finished as the 9th best kicker in 2017.

Miami: Jarvis Landry retired his role as the #1 receiver in Miami after he was traded to the Browns, leaving a few receivers to compete for that role.  Devante Parker has yet to play a full season with the Dolphins and live up to the draft capital spent on him since being drafted 14th overall in the 2015 NFL draft.  In that same timeframe, Kenny Stills hasn’t missed a game and performed more as the second wide receiving option than Parker has when Landry was a Dolphin.  Danny Amendola filled in for an injured Juilan Edelman with New England last year and should slide into Landry’s vacated role after being paid $12 million over two years.  However, the Dolphins also invested $24 million over three years in Albert Wilson who played just over 60% of his snaps as a Chief in the slot and could cut into Amendola’s snaps.  This will be Ryan Tannehill’s first game under center since Week 14 of the 2016 season where he has experience with Parker and Stills but this will be his first game without his target hog in Landry.  With the Dolphins expected to play from behind in games this season, Tannehill will be throwing the ball often and time will tell who emerges as his new favorite target.

Seattle vs Denver (-2; 42)

Seattle: Looking at the over/under total of 42, Vegas is anticipating a lower scoring affair at Sports Authority Field.  However, this game screams potential shootout considering the legion of boom is no longer and Denver’s defense isn’t exactly the 2015 version that won Super Bowl 50.  For that to happen, Russell Wilson will look to continue his absolute dominance of AFC opponents.  In four games against the AFC South last year, Wilson averaged a remarkable 30.51 FPPG.  Going back further, in 12 games against the AFC since 2015, he has averaged 26.4 FPPG in which Seattle has scored 30.6 points per game and covered the over in 9 of those 12 games.  One thing to slightly consider is Wilson’s propensity for a slow start; he hasn’t eclipsed 20 FP in any of his six previous Week 1 starts.  He could make for a sneaky tournament play as the competition will see his “tough” matchup and look at other options.

Denver: The quarterback carousel will finally end for the Broncos who had Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Payton Lynch all start games at some point in 2017.  Case Keenum should provide much needed stability at a position that has been anything but since Peyton Manning retired.  Denver faces a Seattle defense that struggled immensely against the run in the final four games of 2017, allowing 579 rushing yards and 5 rushing touchdowns.   Assuming he is named the starter, Royce Freeman can be a cheap option at $4500 in a game that should see points put on the scoreboard.  He averaged 6.05 yards per carry and crossed the pylons 16 times in his senior year at Oregon.

Washington vs Arizona (PK; 44)

Washington: A lot of the focus in camp is on Derrius Guice and for good reason.  However, don’t sleep on Chris Thompson who is returning from a broken ankle he suffered against the Saints.  At his 15.88 FPPG clip in 9 games before last year’s injury, he was on pace to finish as RB8 in PPR scoring.  He will need Alex Smith to target him more than he was targeting his running backs last year as the Chiefs starter.  The Chiefs ranked 31st in RB target share which ranked only better than the Texans.  Smith falls into a Washington system that targeted the running backs 22.11% of the time.

Arizona: There is initial hesitation in starting players coming off injury; David Johnson should not be of such concern.  If anything, the only thing his wrist injury would have prevented him from doing is work in the weight room.  It shouldn’t have prevented him from maintaining his impeccable aerobic conditioning.  Bottom line: this wasn’t an ACL tear or other leg injury and he has been in the weight room since April 3rd when he was fully cleared so come September 9th, he will be ready for action.  Three of Arizona’s first four opponents are against teams that were in the top 10 in FPA to running backs on the ground.  Washington was shredded by such running backs in their final four games in 2017, giving up 654 yards and 3 touchdowns in that span.

Dallas vs. Carolina (-2.5; 44)

Dallas: Philadelphia’s path to the NFC East title was made easier when Ezekiel Elliott’s looming six game suspension was finally enforced.  Dak Prescott was certainly impacted by this as he scored 19.63 FPPG with Zeke on the field vs 13.39 FPPG with Zeke warming the bench.  With pass catchers that don’t invoke much fear among opponents, it will be curious to see if opposing defenses stack the box on Zeke and make Dak beat them through the air.  If so, will the Cowboys utilize Zeke out of the backfield more than they have in the past?  Elliott averaged 3.8 targets per game in 10 games last year, up 1.2 TPG from 2016.  This number fails in comparison to Le’Veon Bell’s 6.63 TPG, Todd Gurley’s 5.44 TPG, and David Johnson’s 7.5 TPG back in 2016.

Carolina: No running back in 2017 had a higher floor than Christian McCaffery’s 7.8 FPPG in PPR scoring.  He and Le’Veon Bell were the only two running backs that scored a minimum of 7 fantasy points each game last year.  While he isn’t on that tier of running backs, it’s still one hell of a name to be associated with after a successful rookie season.  Early reports out of Panthers camp indicate the team’s desires to give him the ball 25-30 teams a game.  He was targeted 7.06 times per game last year so he would be cutting into C.J. Anderson’s carries for that goal to happen.  He faces a Dallas team that ranked 13th in FPA to receiving backs. McCaffery has excelled at Bank of America Stadium in the early part of his career, posting 20+ FP games five times last year. 

Kansas City vs Los Angeles (A) (-3; 47.5)

Kansas City: Some players own teams and in Travis Kelce’s case, the Chargers own him.  Since 2015, he hasn’t found the end zone against the Chargers in six games and is averaging a meager 6.88 FPPG in that timeframe.  Tyreek Hill had a little more success in 2 starts last year finding the end zone twice, totaling 19.5 FPPG in two starts.  Then there’s Kareem Hunt who smashed in both starts to the tune of 327 yards on the ground and two rushing touchdowns, pounding his way to 32.45 FPPG.  How Sammy Watkins and Patrick Mahomes II factor into this equation has yet to be determined.  Kelce will no doubt be started in redraft leagues, but for DFS purposes, there are other tight end selections available with better upsides in Week 1.

Los Angeles: Philip Rivers faces a Chiefs secondary that gave up the second most fantasy points to receivers lined up on the left side and the third most fantasy points to receivers lined up in the slot in 2017.  On top of that, Marcus Peters is removed from the equation and replaced with David Amerson who allowed quarterbacks a league high 156.3 rating in just six games last year.  This sets up well for the veteran quarterback and his receivers.  Keenan Allen scored 21.21 FPPG at home and 23.53 FPPG as a favorite last year.  He will cost a pretty penny to insert into lineups while a cheaper option exists in Tyrell Williams.  A boom or bust option at $4200, he can easily return value with a deep shot and a score.