We got a minor respite from the onslaught of chalk dominance last week. Some of the most popular plays faltered and some lower-owned guys shined. … Enough on both sides of the ownership coin that it was finally +EV to make some wise fades. Russell Wilson let me down in a big way though. After seeing his performance against the cuddly-soft Saints defense, I must conclude he is more injured than he admits and I have no choice but to declare him “broken” until further notice.
Injuries, particularly to starting running backs, have had a marked effect on the landscape of DFS this season. It feels like every week a new one is down and there’s a near-minimum salary guy in line for a large workload. I hate this. DFS sites put a great deal of effort into their pricing systems to create a competitive market environment, but they have yet to appropriately compensate for this type of injury in NFL pricing. It skews the entire slate.
But we can use this to our advantage. If pricing naturally forces a slate to lean one way, the easiest way to be contrarian is trend in the opposite direction. With the extreme value offered by Charcandrick West and to a lesser extent Devontae Booker, paying down at running back, while spending up at receiver and especially quarterback, seems to be the flavor of the week. Going with cheap QBs (several of whom I like) and paying up for two or more high priced RBs (most of whom have upside despite tough matchups) is a simple formula to counter the prevailing trend in lineup construction.
With that in mind, let’s examine some specific pivot plays.
Highest owned: Aaron Rodgers $7,800 vs. IND (25%), Dak Prescott $6,450 @ CLE (20%)
The Thursday game drew a lot more attention this week and pretty heavy ownership. A lot of ownership numbers are going to change and all we can do is attempt to figure out where it’ll go. The percentages listed are exactly what they were in the Thursday contest. But we also have to consider that Matt Ryan ($7,400) was 27% owned and Jameis Winston ($6,400) was 24% owned. Given their Thursday popularity, I’m guessing most of that ownership is going to Rodgers and Dak, respectively.
Rodgers is at home against a soft defense that is top-five in most fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. The Colts defense hasn’t been stopping anyone, allowing nearly 275 passing yards per game, seventh-most in the NFL. They get no pressure on the quarterback, ranking 20th in hurries per game. Aaron Rodgers at home with time to throw should be able to pick apart a defense that likely missing Vontae Davis, who at one time was a shutdown corner, despite struggling this year. If there’s cause for concern, it’s that Rodgers has struggled this season. However, his last two games have been vintage Rodgers, with seven combined touchdowns. The complete lack of a running game in Green Bay has led to Rodgers throwing it an absurd amount of times – 45, 42, 56, and 38 times over the last four games. The opportunity is there and the Packers have the highest implied Vegas total of the week at almost 31 points. He’s not an easy fade, but his price on Aces makes it slightly easier given what else you can do with all that salary.
An even sweeter matchup awaits Dak Prescott. The Browns defense allows an Average Net Yards per Attempt (ANYA) of 10.2 – the same as the woeful Saints defense. ANYA is a metric I like to use as a snapshot of how defenses fair against the pass, because it includes things like incompletions and yards after the catch. Dak is coming off a game where he attempted 39 passes, his second highest total of the season. To be fair, he only completed 19 of those, but if he’s getting the same volume against the Browns he’s going to complete more. However, he might not have to throw it much against the Browns; Dallas is favored by a touchdown despite the game being in Cleveland. His passing yardage totals are fairly low, which hurts him on Aces where those yards are more valuable than other sites. Oddly enough, he’s only rushed for more than 12 yards twice this season: last week against the Eagles he ran for 38 yards and against the Bears he ran for 36. I think the perception – at least the one I had in my head – that he has significant floor or added upside from rushing is a misconception. His price has come up enough that you can’t get away with a 15-17 point game from him. I want more upside in my GPP QB.
Pivot: Cody Kessler $5,000 vs. DAL (1%)
When Thursday contests locked, Kessler had not been confirmed as the starter, so I do expect him to be a little more popular, but he’s still unlikely to break 5%. Before you think I’ve completely lost it, remember that upside is based on price, and with Kessler at bargain basement levels, he doesn’t need as much as other guys to give big returns. Naturally his floor also resides at that basement level, but his ceiling is not much lower than guys $1,000+ more expensive. Dallas has been roughly a neutral matchup for quarterbacks, but consider in their last game they lost top corner Morris Claiborne and safety Barry Church. Chances are their pass defense this week will suffer. Kessler is not opposed to airing it out; in his three full games, he has 33, 40, and 41 pass attempts. This week he also gets back Corey Coleman, giving him a true second option out wide to complement Terrelle Pryor. The Browns, as usual, are projected to trail in this game, which should lead to plenty of opportunity to test Dallas’ replacement defenders. A lot of circumstances are coming together in a good way for Kessler and make him a prime boom or bust candidate at a bargain price.
Highest Owned: Ezekiel Elliot $6,150 @ CLE (53%), Charcandrick West $4,400 vs JAX (39%)
Here we have to account for the effect of 46% owned Devonta Freeman ($5,200) and 19% owned Antone Smith ($3,500). It probably means these guys are all higher owned. Last week, Zeke was a pivot candidate and 150 yards later he’s the highest owned back on the next slate. Granted, his lack of touchdowns kept his score mediocre last week, but they are by nature fluky. This week, he should slice through the Cleveland defense like a machete through warm butter. Their 48.33 percent rushing success rate allowed, which circumstantially measures a run’s success based on its contribution to the team for that down and distance, is fourth-worst in the league. Elliott has a stranglehold on the Cowboys’ backfield, getting 85 percent of the snaps over the last month. In a game, they’re projected to lead, Elliott should see the ball often.
I think West makes for a much more interesting fade candidate. With Spencer Ware now confirmed out, I expect CharcNado (my personal favorite nickname for him) to be much more heavily owned on Sunday. Despite his expected “bell-cow” status, many question marks remain for West. He’s never demonstrated the ability to be an effective bell-cow. He’s 30 pounds lighter than Ware and generally has an athletic profile that looks more like a change of pace back than a bell-cow. The Jaguars’ rush defense is not as bad as it seems. They’re giving up the tenth-most rush yards per game, but it’s coming on the fourth-most rush attempts per game. The Jaguars inability to keep games close or their offense on the field inflates the number of rush attempts they face. That volume should go to Charcandrick, given the lack of anyone behind him besides the freshly signed Bishop Sankey. But what if the Chiefs, without Alex Smith, don’t get a big lead on the Jaguars? Vegas doesn’t think it’s very likely, but I think there’s a better chance of things going awry for the Nick Foles-led Chiefs down to their third string running back than that.
Pivot: Darren Sproles $4,450 @ NYG (5%)
It was comical that the Eagles said they were “considering” making Sproles their lead back this week. Uh… I don’t know if this is a semantic issue or what, but Sproles has arguably been favored over Ryan Mathews all season, and most of all last week. Sproles played 80 percent of the snaps to just 11 percent for Mathews, who also lost some to Kenjon Barner and Wendell Smallwood (per the RotoViz Snap Report App). Sproles got 15 carries and seven targets, while Mathews got four carries and one target. I don’t know what game the Eagles are playing, but the bottom line is that Darren Sproles is the guy in Philly. At a fraction of the ownership of West, he offers very similar prospects against a Giants defense weak in the middle, allowing the 12th-highest rushing success rate. It’s projected to be a close game, but Sproles’ heavy involvement in the passing game renders him largely immune to game script concerns. That same weakness over the middle should allow Sproles to feast in the short pass game and use his athleticism to get yards after the catch.
Highest Owned: Donte Moncrief $4,650 @ GB (24%)
I have no idea what’s going to happen to ownership with 53% Mike Evans ($5,300) and 18% Julio Jones ($6,550) no longer in the picture. I think TY Hilton will be higher owned (he was only 5% owned on the Thursday slate) but I’m not sure what else. People have certainly welcomed his teammate, Moncrief, back with open arms. After receiving nine targets on his way to a modest line of 4-41-1, Moncrief is easy to like against a Green Bay defense strong against the run but weak against the pass. However, notable in that line is that he only caught four of his nine targets. Moncrief will also spend much of his time matched up against Ladarius Gunter, who has the highest Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade of any of the Green Bay corners, while TY Hilton gets the tastiest matchup against Micah Hyde. Moncrief certainly could have a big game, but I don’t think he is a sure thing.
Pivot: Terrelle Pryor $4,650 vs. DAL (7%)
Do I like the Browns a little too much this week? Probably, yes. However, I think there is merit to attacking a defense that just lost two of its best players. Dallas’ defense has been much better than anticipated all season long, but losing Claiborne and Church to injuries at the same time is going to set them back.
Pryor has thrived with Kessler at quarterback. Obviously, the sample size is small, but in the four games this season when Kessler has played a significant amount (semi-arbitrarily set at nine or more pass attempts by me) Pryor has scored twice as many half PPR points per game as in the four games without significant play by Kessler (16 to 8). Cody is good for him. The return of Corey Coleman bodes well, too. Having another receiving threat out there will prevent Dallas from constantly double covering Pryor, giving him the space to make big plays.
Highest Owned: Greg Olsen $4,700 @ LA (14%)
Ownership is fairly spread out at tight end. This is actually a very fair price for Olsen in a solid matchup against the Rams, who have surrendered the tenth-most half PPR points per game to opposing tight ends. Aside from the last game, Olsen hasn’t seen less than seven targets in a game. He’s tied for the third-most Red Zone targets among tight ends for the season with ten – but only one touchdown. That seems likely to positively regress. Given that he’s not too highly owned, I don’t mind going with Greg this week in GPPs.
Pivot: Kyle Rudolph $4,550 vs. DET (9%)
But there is a nice slightly lower-owned, slightly lower-priced option available in Kyle Rudolph. Playing tight ends against Detroit has become so automatic I’m surprised he isn’t more popular. They have been completely unable to defend the position all season long. Rudolph is both a talented player and in a situation where he should see decent volume. He’s caught ten of his 17 targets the past two games combined. Detroit has allowed opposing TEs to score 13.5 half PPR points per game, the most in the NFL.
Highest Owned: KC D/ST $3,300 vs. JAX (21%)
I’d love to do an in-depth study on the effects of island games in DFS. Sure, follow the Jaguars used to be the thing to do in fantasy, but that hasn’t been the trend as much this season. Now we’ve had a lot of Blake Bortles being absolutely awful at football on national television and the defense facing the Jags is the highest owned. There’s plenty of good reason for that. The Jaguars have one of the lowest projected totals of the week at 18.5 and the 7.5 point spread is the widest margin. As I mentioned, Bortles is awful and he’s turnover prone. The KC defense is talented and has put up at least seven fantasy points in five of the seven games they’ve played. There’s a lot to like about this chalk.
Pivot: MIN D/ST $3,300 vs. DET (5%)
Oh, how times have changed. This is the reverse of how I wrote this section last week. Minnesota was the highest owned and I suggested a pivot to the lowly-owned KC D/ST. Well, it’s similar reasoning this week. The variance in D/ST scoring is always going to be there. Detroit has been a tough matchup for opposing defenses so far this year, but Matthew Stafford has also been known to throw interceptions when pressured, which is something at which the Vikings excel. Vegas is very down on the Lions offense this week, projecting them for the lowest overall total at 17.5 points. Because a defensive unit’s score is so much harder to project than other positions, I rely much more on Vegas when selecting them and that total tells me they expect the Lions to have a tough time getting anything at all done against the Vikings in Minnesota.
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