DFS Wide Receiver Analysis: Week 1
The problem with seeking DFS advice is that most people aren’t asking the right questions. The most common question I get is: "Who should I play this week?"
That’s the wrong question.
A better question is: "I’m playing 100 head-to-head games from the $1 to the $5 level. Can I pay down for a quarterback if it lets me pair LeVeon Bell and David Johnson in the same lineup?"
This type of question is what this column will aim to address this season. Rather than telling you who to play, our weekly DFS positional breakdowns will address every relevant play at each position. They will also explain how you should think about players in terms of tiers, their overall impact on lineup construction, and potential range of outcomes.
Below is an analysis of this week’s wide receivers on the main slate, including the upside and downside of each relevant player, and how you might adjust your approach to the position depending on the game type. The chalk and any referenced ownership percentages are derived from the 4for4 DFS Ownership Projections.
Note: For early-season wide receiver matchups, history suggests previous season matchup data correlates very strongly from one year to the next, especially for teams that finished at the extremes (top or bottom five in fantasy points allowed).
On both FanDuel and DraftKings, Antonio Brown and Julio Jones figure to be the highest-owned receivers of the week. However, with the prospects of rostering David Johnson and LeVeon Bell in the same cash game lineup, no top-tier receivers show up in the 4for4 optimal lineup for either site. Larry Fitzgerald and A.J. Green are the preferred third options on FanDuel, while the Raiders duo of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree will be popular plays across the board. Because Bell and Johnson project to be in the majority of lineups come Sunday, hammering higher-priced receivers could lend itself to unique roster construction this week.
- Antonio Brown’s recent home/road splits are somewhat alarming—over the last three seasons, Brown has averaged 15 more yards, twice as many touchdowns, and 6 more PPR points at home than when away. On the flip side, with the entire preseason to prepare, Week 1 shouldn’t have the same impact as a normal travel week. Also, only two teams performed worse than Cleveland against WR1s last season.
- Julio Jones is priced so high his salary likely negates the consistency of receivers on teams with high implied point totals—Atlanta’s 28 projected points are the highest on the main slate—making him more of a tournament play. With Steve Sarkisian calling plays, Jones could return to the 30% market share receiver he was in 2015, which makes him a fine option in DraftKings GPPs. The Falcons have declared they want to increase Julio’s red zone target share from the 9.6% he saw last season, but Chicago allowed just 18% of red zone pass attempts to be converted into touchdowns in 2016.
- Larry Fitzgerald is the only receiver who shows up in both FanDuel and DraftKings optimal lineups. He's projected for the most receptions in Week 1. Fitz is the preferred cash game option of the week and has upside against a Lions defense that allowed the highest red zone touchdown rate through the air last season. If Johnson dominates red zone opportunities, though, it could be tough to take down a GPP with Arizona’s primary pass-catcher in your lineup.
- With the Buccaneers/Dolphins game moved to Week 11, and Mike Evans no longer in the player pool, the list of top-tier receivers to choose from is short. Baltimore projects as a top-10 defense against receivers this year, but A.J. Green was on pace to lead the league in targets last season, and I want to target the Bengals' positive touchdown regression early in the season. Of course, Tyler Eifert could cap Green’s upside, but riding offseason reads early in DFS is a great way to differentiate yourself in Week 1 GPPs. Not many owners are likely to have more Green in their GPP portfolio than Brown or Jones.
- The Raiders travel to Tennessee in Week 1 to take on a Titans defense that projects to rank dead last in wide receiver aFPA, explaining the high projected ownership for Cooper and Crabtree. Because jamming in Bell and Johnson is so appealing, the cheaper Crabtree is the preferred cash game option of the two Oakland wideouts. However, both Cooper and Crabtree have massive upside in a game with the second-highest over/under of the week (50.5) and a spread of just two points. While most owners will be splitting their ownership between this electric tandem, pairing them together with their quarterback could be a GPP-winning lineup differentiator. Don’t go overboard with this game, though—over the last 10 seasons, games projected to score 46.5–48 points score nearly as many as those projected for 48+ in the first four weeks of the year.
As mentioned earlier, since rostering the top two RBs is likely the preferred cash game strategy, the stud receivers will mostly be reserved for GPP play. Neither of the two non-chalk studs are expected to see ownership above 10%, so it won’t be hard to be overweight on either option.
- “Ankle injuries cause an 11.8% drop in production for wide receivers, affecting both volume and efficiency. Regardless of designation, there was an 8.4% drop in targets, a 9.2% drop in catch rate, and a 6.2% drop in yards per reception.” Odell Beckham is liable to blow up at any time, but proceed with caution here.
- The last time Dez Bryant faced Janoris Jenkins, the Cowboys wide receiver scored the fewest fantasy points of any player to see at least nine targets since the league started tracking the statistic in 1992. As arguably the best red zone receiver in the league, though, Bryant has the highest leverage score among the stud receivers.
Other than the chalk, pass-catchers in the Packers/Seahawks game will likely dominate ownership, as that game has the highest over/under of the week (51). This tier, especially the lower-end, is where owners should be looking to fill out their cash game rosters if the goal is to get to Johnson, Bell, or both.
- Priced as the WR29 ($6,100) on the FanDuel main slate, only 12 receivers have better odds of hitting cash game value than Terrelle Pryor. He brings a 31% red zone scoring rate from 2016 to a quarterback that struggled mightily inside the 20 last season—red zone prowess is paramount on FanDuel, even in cash games. With Jamison Crowder expected to command a hefty share of targets and a healthy Jordan Reed at tight end, all Washington pass catchers have a wide range of outcomes with so many mouths to feed.
- Jordy Nelson falls just below the stud threshold on FanDuel, where he is priced as the WR8 at $7,700. As Aaron Rodgers' primary red zone target, Nelson has as much upside as any receiver in the league. However, the addition of Martellus Bennett could make scoring unpredictable for any Packers receiver.
- Doug Baldwin will line up across from a secondary that projects to rank 29th in wide receiver aFPA and allowed the third-highest red zone touchdown rate through the air last season. Only Antonio Brown and Julio Jones are better values on FanDuel.
- Pierre Garcon is a top-three DraftKings value and figures to see a massive target share as the new primary target in San Francisco under his former coach, Kyle Shanahan. Garcon’s touchdown upside will be heavily predicated on how valuable his targets from journeyman quarterback Brian Hoyer are.
- Golden Tate saw double-digit targets in seven of the Lions' 11 games last season. He is the primary target on one of the league's most pass-heavy offenses. Tate’s 21% career red zone scoring rate leaves something to be desired in terms of GPP-winning touchdown potential.
- Sammy Watkins gets a presumed downgrade going from Buffalo to Los Angeles, but in Week 1, the Rams could start with favorable field position more often than not against a Scott Tolzien-led Colts team. Watkins won’t have to face Vontae Davis, but his floor is as low as anyone’s with Jared Goff throwing the ball.
- DeAndre Hopkins will continue to be one of the most targeted receivers in the league, but he draws former teammate A.J. Bouye in Week 1—one of the few cornerbacks in the league that can deem a receiver a full fade.
- In the two years Martavis Bryant has been allowed to play in the NFL, Ben Roethlisberger has averaged 56 more yards and nearly twice as many touchdowns per game, making Bryant a great tournament play. Jockeying for touches with arguably the two best players at their position, in Brown and Bell, Bryant is always liable to put up a dud, even in a great matchup.
- San Francisco ranked 27th in red zone passing touchdown rate allowed in 2016 and Kelvin Benjamin has converted 38% of his career red zone looks into scores. Cam Newton and Benjamin are both volatile players, and Newton, Greg Olsen, and Christian McCaffrey could all put a dent in Benjamin’s red zone work.
- At just $5,200, Allen Robinson will garner some attention in FanDuel tournaments. He’s one of the best red zone receivers in the league, but this is a prohibitive matchup, and Blake Bortles might be the worst quarterback in the league. Jacksonville figures to shift to a run-first offense this season.
- Davante Adams and Randall Cobb both project for sub-5% ownership, but Cobb is likely to go completely ignored. Cobb is a near-perfect price pivot off of Adams on FanDuel, and is priced as the WR34 on DraftKings. Adams figures to get more red zone looks than Cobb, but the presence of Martellus Bennett could open up the middle for the first week of a Cobb comeback.
- Only three receivers have a higher career red zone touchdown rate than Eric Decker—and he’ll be catching balls from the quarterback with the best scoring rate inside the 20 over the last two seasons. Despite Tennessee’s run-first philosophy (at least last year), Decker needs to be sprinkled into GPPs.
There are usually a few punt receiver options, but pricing is surprisingly sharp for the first week of the season. Only three receivers priced below the value threshold are expected to be owned in more than 5% of lineups. At least one of these plays is necessary for a Johnson/Bell combo.
- With Cameron Meredith out for the season, Kendall Wright and Kevin White are suddenly viable options. Wright is an intriguing floor play as the Bears' primary slot receiver. He’s the top DraftKings value on the main slate against a Falcons defense ranked 25th against receivers. Don’t expect much in terms of touchdown ability with Mike Glennon under center and Kevin White the probable primary red zone target.
- Rishard Matthews is the only cheap play not on the Bears expected to approach double-digit ownership, but he does most of his damage from deep and will surely lose targets to Decker. Oakland did allow the second-most passing touchdowns from outside the red zone last year.
- Kenny Britt will be the primary pass-catcher on a team that could be playing from behind. With a big lead, the Steelers would likely give Britt plenty of cushion in garbage time, but he will have to endure targets from rookie DeShone Kizer.
- The Robby Anderson logic follows the same train of thought as rostering Britt, but Anderson is nowhere near the player Britt is. Also, the Jets will be the most anemic offense in football.
- Paul Richardson is officially listed as the No. 2 wide receiver on the Seahawks depth chart. He could make a nice GPP leverage play off of Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham, but know this is a dart throw.
- If Odell Beckham sits or is limited, Sterling Shepard is worth a look in GPPs—he has the second-highest DraftKings leverage score among receivers.