DFS Kicker & DST Analysis: Week 1
I'm Justin Bailey, and each week I’ll be providing 4for4 DFS subscribers with an in-depth breakdown of the upside and downside of the defenses and kickers on the main slate. For those of you who don't know me, I've been analyzing DFS since 2014. My analysis in this space will include how to approach each of the chalk options, along with how options at the various salary tiers fit into overall roster construction. Ultimately, this piece will provide objective analysis to help guide you through the process of finding safe choices for cash games and high-leverage choices for GPPs.
The Steelers, Bills, Rams, and Texans come out as the chalkiest options in our ownership projections and are likely the pool of defenses you’ll want to stick to in cash games, as all are set to face an offense that is implied for fewer than 20 points. Since most of the chalk defenses teeter on the expensive side, there is plenty of opportunity to find cheap contrarian options for GPPs.
- The upside of using the Bills ($4,700/$3,900) is they have a matchup with a Jets offense that is implied for a slate-low 15.5 points and scored just 26 TDs last year. The downside lies in the fact that the Bills offense post Sammy Watkins could be so bad that this game stays close enough for the Jets to go run-heavy for most of the game, which would limit valuable sack and interception opportunities.
- The upside of using the Texans ($5,100/$3,800) is that they’re facing Blake Bortles, a quarterback who ranked in the bottom-10 in interception rate (3.7%) and TD rate (2.6%) last season. The downside is they have a high salary, a relatively low spread (-5.5), and a horrible offense that could allow the Jaguars to play close to the vest.
- The Rams' ($4,600/$3,200) upside is that they will face Colts backup quarterback Scott Tolzien, who has a career average of only 5.2 adjusted yards per attempt. The Colts’ implied total has dropped over 6 points since Andrew Luck was ruled out; they’re now implied for just 18.75 points. The only downside is that All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald will likely be out due to an ongoing contract dispute.
- The Steelers' ($4,800/$3,600) upside is that they’re 8-point favorites against a Browns offense implied for fewer than 20 points, and one that will feature a rookie quarterback, DaShone Kizer, in his first start. The downside is that Pittsburgh is on the road, where the team has historically tended to struggle.
The Panthers and Falcons are both 5–7-point favorites that can be used as a pivot off the chalk at a similar price point. The risk with these two teams is that if the chalk does as well as expected, you could be losing value without saving salary.
- The upside for the Panthers ($4,900/$3,500) is that their defensive line, which ranked fifth in adjusted sack rate (7.3%) and fourth in adjusted line yards (3.61), is their strength while the 49ers’ offensive line, which ranked 30th (8.4%) and 32nd (3.63), respectively, is their weakness. The risk with Carolina stems mainly from them being on the road.
- The upside with the Falcons ($4,700/$3,300) is that they’re 7-point favorites against a Bears offense that lost Alshon Jeffery to free agency and Cameron Meredith to injured reserve. The downside comes from Atlanta's defense not being particularly strong overall—it ranked 19th in yards per play allowed (5.6) and 28th in passing TDs allowed (31) last season—along with the team being on the road.
With a bunch of strong options at higher price points, the value defenses are too risky for cash games, but make for excellent contrarian GPP options.
- Perhaps my favorite defense on FanDuel, the Jaguars ($4,100/$3,700) have strong cornerbacks in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye to go with an elite edge-rusher in Calais Campbell, who will see some time lined up against Kendall Lamm, a former tight end that has been converted into a left tackle. The risk from using the Jaguars is that they are a road underdog.
- The Cardinals ($4,600/$2,800) were a top fantasy defense last year, but lost major pieces on defense with Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger departing in the offseason. Also, Detroit plays a keep-away style of football and ended up ranking 28th in pace of play last season while committing the fifth-fewest turnovers (15) in the league. The Cardinals are a risky play on the road against an opponent implied for 23.25 points.
- Given that the Giants ($4,500/$2,600) allowed the second-fewest yards per carry (3.6) and passing TDs (13) in the league, they may have more value than their 25.5-point opposing implied point total suggests. The risk, of course, comes from being a road underdog.
- The 49ers ($4,000/$2,100) and Browns ($4,000/$2,000) come in ultra cheap, so it’s difficult for them to not pop up as “values.” The upside of using either of them comes from the unique roster construction and ability to fit in more high-salaried skill-position players, but both of them also pose a high risk of posting negative scores.
Dan Bailey and Matt Bryant project as the chalkiest kickers for Week 1 at $4,900 apiece. Given that the salary range for kickers is small, it won’t be hard to leverage other mid-range options in similarly favorable spots.
- The upside with Bailey ($4,900) is that Dallas is a favorite with an implied total of 25.25, while the downside is that the Giants defense is very good and could potentially limit Dallas' field goal attempts.
- The upside with Bryant ($4,900) is that Atlanta is a large favorite (-7) with an implied total above 27. The only downside is that he'll be kicking on the road.
- The upside with Justin Tucker ($5,000) lies in the fact that he hit 10-of-10 field goal attempts of 50+ yards last season, while his downside is that the Ravens have an implied total hovering around just 20 points.
- The upside with Sebastian Janikowski ($4,800) is that despite being on the road, the Raiders have a 24.5-point implied total in what should be a high-scoring game. The downside is that he ranked 20th in kicking accuracy last season. There are also concerns with his availability stemming from a contract dispute. Note: Janikowski is OUT Sunday after going on IR.
- The upside with Dustin Hopkins ($4,800) is mainly that he's on a home team in what should be a close game. Also, he led the league in field goal attempts last season (42). The downside is that he ranked 23rd in field goal accuracy (81.0%) and made only 3-of-7 attempts from 50+ yards.
- The upside with Mason Crosby ($4,800) is the Packers' implied total of 27 points, while his downside is 11 missed field goals from 40+ yards last season.
- The upside with Steven Hauschka ($4,800) is that he's a home favorite on a Bills team with an implied total over 24, while the downside is he ranked second-to-last in extra point accuracy last season (82.9%).
- The upside with Chris Boswell ($4,700) is that the Steelers are 9-point favorites with a 27.5-point implied total. His downsides include his 19th-place finish in field goal accuracy last season (84.0%), only four career attempts of 50+ yards, and the Steelers' propensity to go for two instead of kick the extra point more often than any other team.
- There's a chance Graham Gano ($4,700) gets let go before Sunday in favor of also-rostered rookie Harrison Butker ($4,500), but if Gano remains on the roster, coach Ron Rivera has said it will be Gano, not Butker, kicking come Sunday. The upside with kicking for Carolina is that they have an implied total of 26.5. The downside for Gano is his 27th-place ranking in field goal accuracy last season (78.9%), while the downside for Butker is, of course, that he's a rookie.
- The upside with Matt Prater ($4,700) he hit on all seven of his attempts from 50-plus yards last season and will be at home, while the downside is that the Lions are a slight underdog.
- The upside with Ryan Succop ($4,600) includes a price tag that is just $100 above the minimum, the Titans' implied total above 26, and his fourth-place finish in field goal accuracy last season (86.1%). The downside is that he has one of the league's weaker legs; he has never attempted more than five field goals from 50+ yards in one season.
- The upside with Phil Dawson ($4,500) is that he's on a team with a 25-point implied total. Like many other kickers, Dawson's downside is that he struggles to kick from deep; he has only five attempts from 50+ yards over the last two seasons.
- The upside with Greg Zuerlein ($4,500) is that he's a minimum-priced home favorite, while the downside is that he attempted only 23 field goals last season, 28th in the league.