DraftKings Week 1 Slate Breakdown with Cash and GPP Picks
The Socratic paradox states, “I know one thing; that I know nothing.” (There’s actually no evidence Socrates ever even said this.) Keep this statement in mind throughout the season. DFS is a humbling game—successful cash game players lose 40% of the time; the most skilled tournament players might make it in the money in a third of contests. We’re going to get a lot wrong over the next few months. But so is everyone else. DFS isn’t necessarily about being right every time, as much as it’s about being wrong less than our opponents.
Don’t assume you have all the answers this year, but don’t assume I do either. Take in valuable information as much as possible and focus on the process of being a winning DFS player, since the process is the only part you can control. Question everything because none of us really know anything (about the future at least).
What this column hopes to accomplish this year is to make you wrong less often than everyone else. Each week, I’ll give my overall DraftKings cash game and tournament strategy thoughts, and discuss how players fit into these strategies (or don’t). By offering a general approach to the week, along with a player pool to consider, you should walk away feeling well-equipped no matter your bankroll strategy or game selection process.
Main Slate Cash Game Strategy
To Bell and DJ or to not Bell and DJ? The makeup of cash game lineups this week is going to be determined by how badly you want to pair LeVeon Bell and David Johnson. With both backs priced well over $9,000, a true punt or two is necessary to make this duo a reality. Fortunately, there's just enough value available this week to lock in their 55 combined projected touches. This is my preferred strategy this week. Remember, in cash games you want to be consistently better than average and you don’t have to blow away the field by being perfect at every position. If Bell or DJ somehow whiff, you’re not going to lose ground on the field, but fading either one could make it nearly impossible to have a profitable week if they both perform as expected.
Each position is going to be approached with the idea that getting to Bell and DJ is the objective and it starts with finding a value at quarterback. Carson Wentz ($5,300) is the top-projected value on the week against an Eagles secondary that sits 24th in projected quarterback aFPA. The line on this game has oscillated back and forth between the two teams and Philadelphia currently sits as a 1-point favorite with a respectable 24.25 implied point total. Quarterback scoring is the flattest of all positions, meaning the gap between the top plays and replacement-level players is negligible relative to the other positions. DraftKings lends itself to saving at the quarterback position and with an eye on running back, this is the week to do it. Wentz is the cutoff for cheap signal-callers this week, though. The trio of Scott Tolzien ($4,500), DeShone Kizer ($4,800), and Jared Goff ($4,800) have floors too low to palate for cash games. Aaron Rodgers ($7,000), Marcus Mariota ($6,800), Russell Wilson ($6,800), and Matt Ryan ($6,900) are packed in a pricing tier that would make it nearly impossible to fit the top two backs in your lineup.
It’s pretty clear by now what my plan is here. Johnson and Bell have the highest projected floors of any players this week and the highest non-QB ceilings. They are also the only two players who have a better than 50% chance of hitting their cash game value. The matter beyond these two is how to get a running back into the flex spot—Carlos Hyde ($4,600) allows for that. He’s not in an ideal situation as an underdog, but the 49ers are at home and are my pick for upset of the week. At the very least, Hyde is projected for 18 touches, which actually gives him a similar $/touch value as DJ. If Bell and Johnson weren’t driving my decision making, I’d strongly consider Todd Gurley ($6,000) behind an improved offensive line as a 3.5-point home favorite against a Tolzien-led Colts team that figures to leave the Rams with favorable field position way more often than not.
Depending on how you maneuver your salary, there is a trio of mid-tier receivers to target as cash game anchors: Larry Fitzgerald ($5,900), Doug Baldwin ($6,700), and Michael Crabtree ($6,000). All three rank in the top eight at the position in projected odds of hitting cash game value, with none coming in below 40%.
Fitzgerald is a top-two value on the main slate and will face a Lions secondary that allowed the highest red zone touchdown rate through the air last season. Few receivers see the volume Fitzgerald does in the red zone, as he ranked in the top 10 in red zone target share in 2016.
Baldwin will draw coverage from Damarious Randall, who allowed the second-most fantasy points per snap of any cornerback to play at least eight games last season. As a unit, the Packers secondary projects as the fourth-worst defense in wide receiver aFPA—fantasy points allowed to receivers is a very sticky year-to-year stat at the extremes.
Oakland’s two primary pass catchers, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper, have nearly identical projections across the board against a Titans secondary beginning the season at the bottom of the wide receiver aFPA chart, but Crabs comes with a $1,200 discount. With an over/under sitting at 50.5 and a spread of just 2.5, this is one of the likelier shootouts of the week.
Unfortunately, rostering all three of the wideouts isn’t a realistic option, but Kendall Wright ($3,200) is the key to unlocking Week 1. With Cameron Meredith out for the season, Wright is now the safe floor play on the Bears. He will line up in the slot and should command team-leading target volume over Kevin White, who has yet to show he is ready to be the focal point of a passing game. There isn’t another trustworthy true punt option on DK this week.
Two wide receivers are also worthy of consideration are Pierre Garcon ($5,300) and Kenny Britt ($4,800). Garcon will command a healthy target share as the primary receiver under Kyle Shanahan and he’s on par with Crabtree in terms of likelihood to hit cash value. The only pause I have about Garcon is rostering him with Hyde, if I go that way at running back. Britt is in a position to thrive in garbage time against a Steelers secondary that sits at 24th in wide receiver aFPA, but he will have to endure passes from a rookie quarterback.
With Jordan Matthews now in Buffalo, Zach Ertz ($3,500) will dominate middle-of-the-field targets for the Eagles and he gets to face a Washington defense that projects as a bottom-10 team against tight ends. Stacking a quarterback with one of his pass-catchers isn’t a popular cash game option, but it also isn't one I necessarily shy away from, especially when both players are particularly inexpensive. Priced as the TE10 and just $1,000 above the salary minimum, there’s no need to get cute in cash at the most volatile position in fantasy.
Because of their affordability, the Rams ($3,200) are the top value of the week as 3.5-point home favorites. The Bills and Steelers are bigger favorites, but paying up at defense restricts the floor of the more valuable skill positions this week. One intriguing cash option is to completely ship this roster spot. If the top defenses don’t put up a monster number (which is hard to do without a touchdown), the separation in fantasy scoring is small at the position. San Francisco ($2,100) is a top-four value against a Panthers offense projected to rank in the bottom five in schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed to opposing defenses.
- QB: Carson Wentz, Aaron Rodgers
- RB: David Johnson, LeVeon Bell, Todd Gurley, Carlos Hyde
- WR: Doug Baldwin, Michael Crabtree, Larry Fitzgerald, Pierre Garcon, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright
- TE: Zach Ertz
- DEF: Rams, 49ers
Main Slate GPP Strategy
LeVeon Bell is the only player with better than 30% odds to hit his GPP score and no other player with a price tag of $7K or higher has a leverage score of at least 1.50. In other words, don’t fade his predictability and ceiling in a spot where the Steelers are 8-point favorites. David Johnson also trumps every other running back in GPP odds, so the question of the week is how to build around these RBs when you do roster them, and how to approach lineups without either back.
- Christian McCaffrey ($5,400) is projected for roughly 15 touches against a 49ers defense projected to be the worst against running backs this year.
- Carlos Hyde is projected for 18 touches at a salary below 5K.
- Marshawn Lynch ($5,300) is expected to see 18 touches but is priced outside the top 15 at his position in a game expected to produce over 50 points.
In lineups without the top two studs, look to leverage public opinion.
- Tennessee is expected to have the highest-owned passing game, while DeMarco Murray ($7,400) has a leverage score that is on par with LeVeon Bell.
- Only two passing games are expected to be owned more than Atlanta’s, but Devonta Freeman, who led the league in red zone opportunities last season, is expected to be in fewer than 15% of lineups.
- Week 1 brings in more casual players than usual to DFS. The average fantasy owner will remember how bad Todd Gurley was last year, instead of focusing on his tremendous situation this week. Almost any other running back would garner twice as much attention in this spot.
If I want to target the aforementioned rushers as leverage plays, then it’s implied I should want to be underweight—or at least not overweight—on those passing games. When considering chalk passing attacks, I rarely go for a full fade. Instead, I tend to have relatively flat ownership across my quarterback portfolio, trying to build unique stacks and roster constructions around the popular plays. I also want to implement more traditional tournament techniques with my lower-owned passing games.
When you do roll out highly-owned passing games consider some of these options as differentiators:
- Onslaught - Instead of stacking a popular quarterback with one of his pass-catchers, add a second pass-catcher, and maybe even the team running back to the mix.
- Game Stack - In addition to your two- or three-man stack, add a player, usually the primary pass-catcher, from the opposing team. This is obvious in shootouts but is often ignored (erroneously) in games expected to be lopsided.
- An off-the-board play - Rostering a pass-catcher ignored in a popular passing offense can be an effective strategy for getting exposure to a chalky team while remaining unique.
Here’s how I will approach passing games I want any exposure to this week:
- Titans/Raiders - Of all the notable pass-catchers in this game, Eric Decker ($5,000) has the lowest projected ownership, making him the player to be overweight on. If this game does shootout as expected, you’re not going to gain much ground on the field even with a big game stack. My most popular play will be pairing Mariota with Decker and trying to differentiate my roster elsewhere, but the savvy tournament move is to attack the running backs.
- Packers/Seahawks - Neither of these offenses have rushing attacks I’m particularly interested in, so when I do roll out these combos, it will mostly be with some sort of game stack. I’m particularly intrigued with the interior pass-catchers on both sides of the ball. The Seahawks are typically vulnerable over the middle of the field. Martellus Bennett ($5,700) and Randall Cobb ($5,300) could make it difficult for Seattle to decide how to guard that area. Jimmy Graham ($5,100) and Doug Baldwin dominate red zone work on the other side, and Green Bay doesn’t have a strong point in their secondary, making Russell Wilson my favorite GPP quarterback.
- Falcons - Without any reliable pass-catchers beyond Julio Jones ($8,500), a Ryan/Julio stack is a relatively expensive one I will use sparingly. Only Derek Carr ($6,700) has a lower leverage score than Ryan. My favorite way to approach this offense is by using the backfield as a leverage play.
- Steelers - When Martavis Bryant ($6,000) is active, Ben Roethlisberger has averaged 56 more yards and nearly twice as many touchdowns per game. If I roll out any onslaught, it will be with this crew, but Bell is still the only player I will be overweight on.
- Cardinals/Lions - 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. If any game jumps GB/SEA and TEN/OAK for the highest scoring of the week, I expect it to be this one, with its 48-point over/under and a spread of just 1.5. Because no player besides David Johnson pops as a particularly obvious ceiling play, various game stacks are in play here. John Brown ($4,800) has a leverage score over 1.5, while J.J. Nelson ($3,700) is one of six receivers with a leverage score over six. For Detroit, Eric Ebron ($3,600) has a leverage score on par with Jimmy Graham, and Arizona lost both of their starting safeties this offseason.
- Bengals - Andy Dalton ($5,700) is the top positive touchdown regression candidate of the year and is a 3-point home favorite. While A.J. Green ($8,000) and Tyler Eifert ($4,600) are among the top four in projected ownership at their respective positions, Dalton is going largely ignored and has a leverage score near 1.5.
- Rams - With Vontae Davis inactive, Sammy Watkins ($6,200) could run free through a secondary that projects to rank in the bottom half of the league against wideouts with Davis. Tolzien should offer Goff amazing starting field position and increased scoring opportunities.
Because a GPP-winning defense relies so heavily on fluke plays such as return touchdowns, my exposure at the position is generally quite flat. The Bills ($3,900), Steelers ($3,600), and Falcons ($3,300) are all favored by a touchdown or more against rookie or backup-level quarterbacks, while the Rams ($3,200) get Tolzien at home as 3.5-point favorites.
Overweight GPP Plays
- QB: Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer, Matthew Stafford, Andy Dalton, Jared Goff
- RB: LeVeon Bell, David Johnson, Christian McCaffrey, Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray, Devonta Freeman, Todd Gurley
- WR: A.J. Green, Doug Baldwin, Eric Decker, Randall Cobb, J.J. Nelson, John Brown, Sammy Watkins
- TE: Tyler Eifert, Jimmy Graham, Martellus Bennett, Eric Ebron
- DEF: Bills, Steelers, Falcons, Rams