FanDuel Week 1 Slate Breakdown with Cash & GPP Picks
Every DFS slate requires a unique approach. With every player at the disposal of both you and your opponents, you have to account for the upside and downside of not just the players you choose to play, but also those you don't. But whereas our positional strategy analysis articles are primarily focused on providing objective analysis on that upside and downside, this column is focused on the resulting strategy that emerges from that information. Instead of a pros/cons style of presenting info like in the positional pieces, here I will highlight what ended up swinging my decision making toward particular players and away from others in terms of cash-game viability and overweighted tournament exposure.
Cash Game Strategy
In terms of projected odds to hit cash game value, no players on the slate are within 10 percentage points of LeVeon Bell and David Johnson. Some may shy away from jamming in both, but remember, it's not about every player in your cash game lineup hitting value as much as it's about your lineup as a whole hitting value. Bell and DJ can easily make up for busts elsewhere. Our cash game projected odds suggest that eschewing them means you're dealing exclusively in players with less than 50/50 odds of hitting value.
While I expect Marcus Mariota to be cash game chalk against Oakland due to a modest $7,800 price tag and home-favorite status in a game featuring the slate’s only over/under of 50+, I’m happy to pay the $700 premium for Matt Ryan, whose team owns the slate’s highest implied total—one of the top predictors of success for a QB. Over their last seven games (the sample size of peak predictiveness for QBs), Ryan has blown away Mariota in per-game passing yardage (306-222) and TDs (2.9-1.7) while throwing for multiple scores in all seven games to Mariota’s four. There’s simply less risk with Ryan, who should come out throwing (to Julio Jones, mind you) in new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s up-tempo attack against a strong, pass-funneling Bears front-seven, than with Mariota, who has to overcome a coaching staff content to go run-heavy and a defense that could easily allow long drives to Oakland’s stellar offensive line. Given that Aaron Rodgers ($8,300) will face an improved Seattle defense and Ben Roethlisberger ($8,200), Cam Newton ($7,900), and Russell Wilson ($8,000) struggle on the road, Ryan is far and away my top cash play, with Mariota merely serving as a secondary cost-saving alternative in a game I believe could feature the run more than we think.
If I wasn't using Bell and DJ, the only other RBs I'd feel comfortable with are DeMarco Murray ($7,600) and Todd Gurley ($7,300) as home favorites. Ezekiel Elliott ($8,700) and LeSean McCoy ($8,500) are always liable to go off, but both the Giants and Jets played strong run defense last season, and Elliott and McCoy's salaries are too close to Bell and DJ's to justify not paying all the way up for them instead.
Larry Fitzgerald ($6,200) has it down to a science: his annual late-season swoon lowers his salary for his next early-season boon. In Weeks 1–6 over the past three seasons, he’s averaged 13.9 points (5.7-75-0.60) on 8.2 targets per game, but from Week 7 on he dips to 11.3 points (6.2-63-0.31) on more targets (8.8) as his gas tank empties. Fitzgerald finished second in the league in inside-the-10 targets last season, which is perfect for FanDuel’s TD-driven scoring. He also has a plus-matchup against Quandre Diggs—the weakest link in Detroit’s defensive backfield.
Without yardage bonuses or full PPR, every WR on FanDuel is risky—100 yards without a TD doesn’t guarantee hitting value—which makes me inclined to exploit underpriced Terrelle Pryor’s separation skills against Philadelphia’s toast-happy cornerback duo of Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby, who combined to give up 102 receptions for 1,556 yards last season (15.2 yards per reception). Capable of going deep (14.2 average target distance in 2016) and winning in the red zone (6-foot-4, 233-pound frame), Pryor has multiple avenues to pay off his $6,200 price tag despite acclimation concerns.
One potential tax for jamming in Bell and Johnson is punting the WR3 slot, and with Jermaine Kearse and Jeremy Kerley now part of the Jets’ passing “attack,” Kendall Wright is the clear play over Robby Anderson at $5,200. With Cameron Meredith on IR and Kevin White yet to look like himself after a myriad of injuries, Wright is Chicago’s best bet for volume. Wright was targeted 8.7 times per game under Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains while both were with the Titans in 2013, so despite admittedly low TD odds, I’m comfortable with Wright’s chances of hitting his 11.9-point target score via a chain-moving, potentially garbage-time induced 8-79 type of receiving line against Atlanta.
Michael Crabtree ($6,900) essentially projects for Larry Fitzgerald-type production but costs $500 more. A game with a high total and a small spread is a good time to use one of the six most highly targeted receivers in the red zone (21 targets). I am concerned about a run-heavy opponent and Crabtree’s splits over 13 losses in his Raiders career (4.6-49.0.38), as I’m not confident Oakland will win on the road.
Over the second half of last season, no TE—not even Travis Kelce—came within 1.8 points per game of Zach Ertz ($5,900) at 13.8. Even if you remove Ertz’s two extreme-volume games without Jordan Matthews, Ertz would have still finished fifth in TE scoring over that span (10.5 points per game). Washington’s strong outside cornerback duo of Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland set Ertz up for another high-volume game. Ertz’s numbers do dip slightly on the road, but not enough to justify paying up to $6,200 for road-game egg layer Jimmy Graham (only 7.3 points per game on the road in his Seattle career). Jason Witten ($5,400) and Charles Clay ($4,600) are viable as TD-or-bust home-favorite punt plays with above-average implied team totals (25.75 and 24.5, respectively).
At minimum price as a home favorite on the team with the slate’s sixth-highest implied total in a game that shouldn’t get away, Greg Zuerlein is my preferred kicking option. The difference between Zuerlein's odds of hitting value and some of the higher-priced kickers is minimal.
The Rams ($4,600) will probably have the better defense this season, but the Bills’ advantage in point spread (-9 to -3.5) and opponent implied total (15.5 to 18.5) give them the Week 1 DFS edge over Wade Phillips’ unit. The Bills need approximately 9 points to hit value, and 17-of-22 (77%) defenses with an opposing implied total below 16 have scored 9+ over the past three seasons; the Jets' implied total is 15.5.
Summary of Cash-Viable Plays
- QB: Matt Ryan, Marcus Mariota
- RB: LeVeon Bell, David Johnson, DeMarco Murray, Todd Gurley
- WR: Michael Crabtree, Larry Fitzgerald, Terrelle Pryor, Kendall Wright
- TE: Zach Ertz, Jason Witten, Charles Clay
- K: Greg Zuerlein
- DST: Bills, Rams
Below are players I want to overweight my exposure to, i.e., own in a higher percentage of my lineups than the public in order to differentiate and pull ahead.
I've found RB to be the best position to start the GPP lineup building process with because it doesn't produce the same correlational domino effects as QBs or receivers. It also tends to be the position with the highest ownership and most expensive players, which further increases the importance of knowing what you're going to do there first.
This week, it starts with what you're going to do with LeVeon Bell and David Johnson. Bell’s projected odds of hitting GPP value are four times that of any RB except Johnson, and Johnson's odds are three times that of all RBs except Bell. Both have positive GPP Leverage Scores, which means fade either at your own risk. Weighting each of their GPP Leverage Scores suggests roughly a 60–40 exposure split in favor of Bell, who I expect to be slightly lower owned than Johnson due to his lack of participation in offseason activities. No first-place Sunday Million lineup over the past two years contained two RBs over $8,000, but coinciding with the return to prominence of feature backs in the Bell/DJ mold, seven of the last eight included an RB1 of at least $8,900. The RB2 in those same lineups maxed out at $7,700 and five were no higher than $6,500. That means doubling up on Bell and Johnson is probably not +EV but there's nothing necessarily wrong with having one or the other in a large percentage of lineups.
I expect most lineups that fade Bell and/or DJ to pick from what projects as a fruitful tree of second-tier RBs priced $7,300 and above. I do want exposure to that tier—particularly Todd Gurley and DeMarco Murray as home favorites in good matchups—but the higher-leverage move is to overweight exposure to even cheaper RBs.
Due to FanDuel’s TD-driven scoring, the average "big-game" (top-six) RB on FanDuel requires 2+ TDs 84% of the time. Since being a favorite maximizes rushing TD odds and nearly 90% of them occur within the 20-yard line, RBs on favored teams who get goal-line work are a good starting point for finding overlooked value. Jonathan Stewart ($6,100) has quietly become Carolina’s goal-line back, notching 20 carries inside the 10-yard line to Cam Newton’s 8 last year. I don’t expect the 49ers to play historically bad run defense again this year, but their 24 rushing TDs allowed to RBs last season were 6 more than any other team, and the year-to-year correlation for bottom-five run defenses is very sticky.
The Eagles are the favorite against Washington, but both early-down backs in this game are intriguing. It features an above-average over/under (47.5), a close spread (-1), and the largest percentage of “over” bets of the week, per VegasInsider.com. Washington ranked sixth in adjusted line yards last season while Philadelphia ranked 13th, which probably undersells how good the Eagles’ line actually is. Both LeGarrette Blount ($6,200) and Rob Kelley ($5,800) provide a sneaky source of cheap, low-owned TD equity.
It's crucial to remember that while limiting your cash game player pool mostly to RBs on favorites will minimize the chances of a bust, just under 40% of big-game RBs have been underdogs. Isaiah Crowell ($6,500) fits the profile of a good contrarian play, as his Browns are a home underdog against a Steelers defense projected to rank 29th against RBs. Using players on large underdogs is risky, but Cleveland’s talented offensive line combined with Big Ben’s propensity for road-game clunkers provides somewhat of a safety net.
Under the tutelage of Kirk Cousins whisperer Sean McVay, Jared Goff ($6,600) could take a break from a Ryan-Leaf-like career trajectory and surprise as a home favorite against a Colts defense missing top cornerback Vontae Davis. I like the unique roster construction that Goff's price point unlocks, and he has more three-TD games in seven career starts (1) than alternative Mike Glennon ($6,700) has in 18 career starts (0). Also, Sammy Watkins easily trumps anyone Glennon will be throwing to.
Carson Palmer ($7,300) goes into Detroit a favorite against a defense that last season set the record for highest completion percentage allowed (72.7%). There's always the risk of Detroit's game-shortening offensive tactics hindering their opponent's overall volume, but Palmer has multiple avenues to good yardage and TD numbers: David Johnson catching the ball out of the backfield, Larry Fitzgerald’s plus-matchup in the slot, and shot plays to burners John Brown and J.J. Nelson.
The Sammy Watkins trade, Anquan Boldin's retirement, non-newsworthy coachspeak about feeding LeSean McCoy, and a preseason concussion have all contributed to an anti-Tyrod Taylor narrative, creating a "be greedy when others are fearful" situation to exploit. The public is conflating Taylor's dire season-long outlook with his cake Week 1 matchup against a Jets tank job so blatant it would make "Trusting The Process" look like the blueprint for immediate win-now gratification. Amidst all the upheavel in Buffalo, the team's implied total has held steady at 24.5 against an inexperienced, pass-funnel Jets defense that just traded away one of its few remaining good players in Sheldon Richardson.
Update: Another two QBs I like this week are Russell Wilson ($8,000) and Derek Carr ($7,700). Wilson's road woes are cause for concern, but both teams are likely to struggle to run in this game and the Packers have three cornerbacks that were in the 10th percentile or lower in QB rating allowed. Carr will likely take his shots at Amari Cooper now that rookie Adoree' Jackson has been pushed into a starting spot with LaShaun Sims (groin) out.
Almost unbelievably, the Packers’ top three cornerbacks all ranked in the bottom 11 among 139 qualifiers in passer rating allowed: Damarious Randall was 129th, Quinten Rollins 135th, and Davon House 136th. Not only is Paul Richardson ($5,200) a nice pivot off Jimmy Graham, who has scored only 14% of his TDs on the road over the past two seasons, and Doug Baldwin (43%), but Richardson is also a perfect price-point pivot off Kendall Wright.
The Seahawks cornerbacks behind Richard Sherman are Jeremy Lane, who ranked 125th in passer rating allowed last season, and rookie Shaquill Griffin. All are lengthy types who struggle with shifty receivers like Randall Cobb ($5,900). Cobb is the highest-leverage way to invest in a Green Bay offense that Vegas odds imply will be among the week's highest-scoring teams. Cobb makes for a better pairing with Aaron Rodgers than Jordy Nelson because QB-WR stacks where both are players expensive tend to be ineffective.
FanDuel's lack of yardage bonuses and PPR scoring place a premium on WRs who can go deep or dominate in the red zone. I already mentioned how much I like Terrelle Pryor on this site, and Kelvin Benjamin ($6,500) and Martavis Bryant ($6,500) also fit the bill as receivers over 6-foot-4 who play on teams with implied totals of 26.5+ in plus-matchups.
Without Vontae Davis, the Colts will start Rashaan Melvin, who ranked 90th in passer rating allowed last season, along with two rookies, Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston. Like his former quarterback, Sammy Watkins ($6,900) is surrounded by a negative season-long narrative that has overshadowed his attractive Week 1 matchup.
Chicago’s starting outside cornerbacks are Marcus Cooper, who finished 89th among 139 qualfied cornerbacks in passer rating allowed, and Prince Amukamara, who finished 124th (min. 20 targets). Given Chicago's pass-funneling front-seven and talks of increased tempo and more red zone targets, Julio Jones ($9,000) could be in for a Week 1 eruption. Update: Amukamara (ankle) is doubtful.
Tyrod Taylor locked on to Charles Clay down the stretch last season, and Clay responded with a 5.3-57-1.0 receiving line on 7.5 targets per game over the final four weeks. Taylor hasn't had much time to practice with Jordan Matthews or Zay Jones lately, so there's a solid chance the familiar Clay paces the Bills in targets. Also working in his favor is that being a home favorite is the ideal scenerio for a TE.
Dallas’ implied total is 25.75, and while their Vegas totals can sometimes be inflated because the public likes to bet on them, the fact remains Dallas is a home favorite, the ideal circumstance to exploit the Giants' continued punting of the linebacker position in real life by punting a TE against them in DFS. Jason Witten ($5,400) looked spry in the preseason and could see increased volume if Dez Bryant struggles with Janoris Jenkins and company again; Dez caught only 2 passes combined on 14 targets in the teams' two meetings last season.
TEs who end up scoring multiple TDs tend to be home favorites with an average of 7.9 targets and a cost of $5,965. Martellus Bennett ($5,700) fits the bill, as 7–8 targets are doable if Richard Sherman takes one receiver out of the game (Davante Adams, perhaps).
Tyler Eifert ($6,100) is a home favorite with 18 TDs in his last 21 games, including one in each of his last two meetings with Baltimore.
First-place Sunday Million lineups generally avoided minimum-priced kickers as well as kickers priced $5,000 and above; 47% have been priced either $4,600 or $4,700 over the past two seasons. Matt Prater ($4,700) pops out, as no Lions stand out as particularly good bets for TDs and Prater hit on 7-of-7 50+ yarders last season. Ryan Succop ($4,600) is a home favorite with an implied total of over 26 and has the added benefit of leveraging you in the event the Titans passing game doesn’t do well.
The Texans, Steelers, Rams, and Bills all merit GPP exposure with projected odds of hitting value at least double that of any other D/ST on the slate. One other D/ST I want exposure to, however, is the Jaguars ($4,100). They’re an underdog, but will face a Texans offense that features an immobile Tom Savage at QB and converted tight end Kendall Lamm at left tackle. At $100 above the minimum, the Jaguars' salary seems like a glitch; they're the third-most expensive D/ST on DraftKings.
Summary of + Exposure Plays
- QB: Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr, Tyrod Taylor, Carson Palmer, Jared Goff
- RB: LeVeon Bell, David Johnson, DeMarco Murray, Todd Gurley, Terrance West, LeGarrette Blount, Jonathan Stewart, Rob Kelley
- WR: Julio Jones, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, Kelvin Benjamin, Terrelle Pryor, Randall Cobb, Paul Richardson
- TE: Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz, Martellus Bennett, Jason Witten, Charles Clay
- K: Matt Prater, Ryan Succop
- DST: Texans, Steelers, Rams, Bills, Jaguars
- Kareem Hunt ($5,800) might be the Thursday chalk, but Mike Gillislee ($6,400) is a nice pivot as a home favorite RB on a team whose power-back role has produced 10+ TDs in four of the past five seasons.
- I'd expect Vikings top cornerback Xavier Rhodes to follow Michael Thomas, while the disappointing Trae Waynes takes Ted Ginn ($5,600). Ginn would be my highest Monday night receiver exposure.
- Antonio Gates ($5,300) is still the top TE in San Diego, and I wouldn't shy away from using him against a Broncos defense whose elite cornerbacks funnel action to the middle of the field.