DraftKings Week 1 Slate Breakdown with Cash and GPP Picks
Greetings to new and returning subscribers alike and Happy Week 1!
In this space each week, I’ll give my overall DraftKings cash game and tournament strategy thoughts and discuss how players fit into these strategies. 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
There are a handful of usable quarterback options priced below $6,000 this week but Blake Bortles ($5,600) is the most viable cash play of that group. Despite the season-ending injury to Marqise Lee, the Jaguars still have a relatively deep receiving corps even if no pass catcher stands out as spectacular. After allowing the fourth-highest touchdown rate and third-most fantasy points per pass attempt to opposing quarterbacks in 2017, the Giants open this season ranked outside the top 20 in 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed (aFPA) metric. Add a decent rushing floor (20.6 yards per game over the last three seasons) and Bortles grades out as a top-two value at his position.
Owners that find themselves needing to save slightly more salary can drop down to Tyrod Taylor ($5,400). Averaging just under 36 rushing yards per game over the last three seasons, Taylor gets a nice head start in fantasy over most quarterbacks. The Browns are four-point underdogs— which is usually a red flag for cash game quarterbacks—but even in losses, Taylor’s interception rate is below two percent, alleviating some of the negative game script concerns.
The player that pops among the top-five quarterback values is Deshaun Watson ($6,700). Houston faces a Patriots defense that starts the season ranked 32nd in quarterback aFPA and Watson averaged a whopping 38.4 rushing yards per game last season. Watson does rely heavily on the deep ball and posted one of the worst interception rates in the league last year but his rushing ability combined with the potential for a DraftKings bonus mitigates some of that risk.
Those that are concerned about Watson’s small sample size and first game back from a major injury can roster Cam Newton ($6,900) for just $200 more. Cam leads all quarterbacks in odds to hit cash value against a Dallas secondary that surrendered the seventh-highest touchdown rate through the air last year. Like the other quarterbacks in this space, Cam has massive rushing upside but also has the biggest sample size of fantasy success and the best supporting cast of his career.
In a game where the Saints are favored by 9.5 points—the largest margin of the week—Alvin Kamara ($8,500) is the top value across all positions, let alone running back. Sean Payton has expressed a desire to cap Kamara’s touches and that desire was reinforced when the Saints signed Mike Gillislee this week. Even if Gillislee does cut into the rushing work, though, DraftKings’ full-PPR scoring maintains a high floor for Kamara. Because Kamara has 100-yard potential both on the ground and through the air, the bonus system tones down those touch concerns, as well.
David Johnson ($8,800) will return to a workhorse role for the Cardinals against a Redskins defense that 4for4 ranks 25th against running backs to start the season. It’s virtually impossible to pair DJ with Kamara—who’s tough to fade in this smash spot—but there’s an argument to be made that Johnson is the safest play because of his touch ceiling.
Dropping down a pricing tier, Melvin Gordon ($6,800) registers as the second-best value at his position in a game where the Chargers are home favorites. Owners that are value hunting across sites should note that Gordon is $1,000 cheaper than Johnson and $700 cheaper than Kamara on DraftKings compared to a $500 and $600 discount, respectively, on FanDuel.
At a similar price point to Gordon, Christian McCaffrey ($6,400) rounds out the top four values at running back. McCaffrey is coming off of a season where he saw 22.6 percent of the Panthers targets, most among running backs and the 12th-highest target share overall. That work in the passing game makes CMC a smashing DraftKings value—even if he loses some of the target share to Greg Olsen or D.J. Moore, McCaffrey is expected to move closer to a full-time role after seeing less than 50 percent of backfield touches in 2017.
One unique way to search for value is to calculate dollar per projected touch. According to John Paulsen’s projections, Alex Collins ($5,600) is the seventh-best $/touch value and tops among running backs priced over $5,500. Coupled with a positive game script—Baltimore is favored by 7.5 at home over the Bills—Collins is the safest option priced under $6K.
A top-five value, Rex Burkhead ($4,200) is the best basement option of the week. Returning to the price-shopping store, Burkhead is priced as the RB17 on FanDuel but the RB39 on DraftKings. With Sony Michel questionable to start the season, Burkhead will lead the way ahead of James White in a game where the Patriots are 6.5-point home favorites over the Texans. Recent trends show that even a third of New England’s backfield work is worthy of fantasy relevance—Burkhead stands to see well over 50 percent in Week 1.
Situation to monitor: LeVeon Bell ($9,400) has still not reported to Steelers practice and his status for Week 1 is doubtful. If Bell skips the game against the Browns, James Conner ($4,500) will jump Burkhead as the top bargain play of the week. Pittsburgh is favored by four with an implied point total over 24. Conner has shined in preseason action and will inherit the majority of backfield touches.
UPDATE: LeVeon Bell has been declared OUT. Conner projects as a top-four value at his position.
LeVeon Bell’s status is the domino waiting to fall that will shift the entire slate, especially wide receiver status. Not only will rostering James Conner make Antonio Brown ($8,600) affordable, but it will ensure that AB dominates targets even more than usual—Conner is a far inferior pass catcher to Bell.
UPDATE: Rain and high winds are expected in Cleveland. This game total is now down to 41 and the chance of a sloppy, grind-it-out game makes Antonio Brown a risky cash play.
Owners that roster Burkhead and Conner—if Bell sits—could conceivably pair Brown with A.J. Green ($7,300), Keenan Allen ($7,500) or Michael Thomas ($7,800). All three of these receivers accounted for at least 27 percent of their team’s targets last season and face defenses that rank outside the top 20 in wide receiver aFPA—Thomas and Allen face the 31st and 32nd ranked secondaries, respectively. While the higher floor play is to opt for more reliable running back touches with cash game salary, it’s not ludicrous to pay for multiple elite receivers when possible on a site that awards a full point for a catch and 100-yard bonuses.
If Bell does play, the middle pricing tier carries more weight and Larry Fitzgerald ($6,600) and Emmanuel Sanders ($5,000) are the premier cash options there. Without another reliable pass catcher besides David Johnson in Arizona, Fitzgerald is primed for another awesomely consistent PPR season. Sam Bradford throws outside the numbers as little as any quarterback in the league, boosting Fitz’s value as a slot man.
Speaking of lining up inside, Sanders spent the majority of his preseason snaps in the slot. That move coupled with a new quarterback resulted in the highest preseason market share for any player in the league. Seattle was already mediocre against slot men last year and their defense will only be worse this year after losing two of their best DBs and Earl Thomas returning after a holdout with virtually no practice before the first game.
The deal of the week at wide receiver is Keelan Cole ($3,800). Aided by Marqise Lee’s injury, Cole ascended to top dog in the wide receiver pecking order in Jacksonville this preseason and he ranks as one of 4for4’s top values at the position.
UPDATE: With Will Fuller OUT, Bruce Ellington ($3,400) projects as a top-three value at his position. Against the Patriots last year, Ellington posted a 4/59/1 line on seven targets without Fuller in the lineup.
Rob Gronkowski ($6,900) has a #nice salary and is an even nicer value, leading the way at his position and tops among all non-running backs. Like most of the expensive plays this week, the feasibility of rostering Gronk will come down to Bell’s status. Given the choice, paying up for a receiver is almost always better than paying up for a tight end on DraftKings but the Patriots do have a depleted receiving corps so Gronk’s target share may be higher than usual.
Fading Gronk should mean paying down as much as possible since tight end is the most volatile skill position in fantasy. Tyler Eifert ($3,400) and Jack Doyle ($3,600) stand out as the best bargains. While DraftKings scoring favors targets over touchdowns, tight end is the position where scoring upside takes precedence over volume. Eifert and Doyle face off in a game that has the third-highest total of the main slate with a spread of just 2.5 points. When healthy, Eifert is among the most efficient red zone targets in the league. Doyle gets a boost with Andrew Luck at quarterback, as Luck has traditionally offered his tight ends one of the largest target shares, both overall and in the red zone.
Favored by almost a touchdown at home and priced as the DEF17, the Patriots ($2,400) are the top value play. Deshaun Watson has to prove that he can overcome his high interception rate and Bill Belichick’s ability to limit a team’s top target could put even more pressure on a young quarterback in a bad game script.
With the chance of a shootout in New England, owners that are fearful of the Patriots should pay all the way up for the Ravens ($3,800) or the Saints ($3,600). New Orleans is the biggest favorite of the week and Ryan Fitzpatrick has the highest interception rate in losses (4.9 percent) over the last three season of any quarterback starting this week. Baltimore is also favored by over a touchdown and they will face Nathan Peterman behind an offensive line that allowed the second-highest adjusted sack rate last season.
- QB: Blake Bortles, Tyrod Taylor, Deshaun Watson, Cam Newton
- RB: Alvin Kamara, David Johnson, Melvin Gordon, Christian McCaffrey, Alex Collins, Rex Burkhead, James Conner
- WR: Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Keenan Allen, Michael Thomas, Larry Fitzgerald, Emmanuel Sanders, Keelan Cole, Bruce Ellington
- TE: Rob Gronkowski, Tyler Eifert, Jack Doyle
- DEF: Patriots, Ravens, Saints
Main Slate GPP Strategy
The following are players that I will likely be overweight on compared to the field—not my entire player pool. It’s wise to have some exposure to players in what are expected to be the highest-scoring games, but they will only be mentioned here if I like them more than the public. 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 that’s being ignored in a popular passing offense can be an effective strategy for getting exposure to a chalky team while remaining unique.
For guidance on how to formulate exposures in your personal tournament portfolio, use 4for4’s ownership projections and this guide to leverage scores. All players mentioned as cash game options are worthy of consideration as core GPP plays.
Running Backs to Target
- Dalvin Cook ($6,200) vs 49ers - Minnesota’s passing game is expected to be one of the highest-owned units of the week but Cook is going largely ignored. Owners are likely nervous about a player coming off of a major injury and Cook is priced between two of the most popular plays of the week, namely Christian McCaffrey and Alex Collins. As a home favorite against one of the worst rush defenses in the league, Cook stands out as the running back with the highest leverage score priced above $6,000.
- Ezekiel Elliott ($7,700) at Panthers - Zeke is one of two running backs (David Johnson) priced over $7,000 with a leverage score above 2. In other words, no other expensive running back has a suggested ownership twice that of the public. Elliott is one of the few backs that has 20-touch upside even in negative game script and his salary is in an unpopular price range which can help with an uncommon roster build.
- Leonard Fournette ($7100) @ Giants - Like Zeke, Fournette’s salary is in a range that could potentially lead to a unique lineup construction. Jacksonville is favored against a defense that has holes at every level and positive game script should lead to over 20 touches.
- James White ($4,000) vs Texans - With Sony Michel likely out, White will share backfield duties with Burkhead but White is used primarily as a pass catcher. Because New England is so short on pass catchers, White has the potential to hit tournament value with his target volume alone.
Passing Games to Target
- Ravens vs Bills - Ceiling stack value reports point to Joe Flacco ($4,900) as the quarterback with the two most valuable QB/Pass Catcher stacks. Paired with Flacco in those stacks are Nick Boyle ($2,500) and John Brown ($3,700). With Hayden Hurst sidelined, Boyle will get the start at tight end for a team that ranked fourth in red zone targets to the position last season. Brown is a boom play that relies heavily on the deep ball to do his damage. While both of these pass catchers are notable ceiling values, they only need to be used sparingly to be overweight on the field. Owners rostering the Ravens passing game as a leverage play off of Alex Collins should use Michael Crabtree ($5,400) as the primary player to stack Flacco with.
- Steelers at Browns - The obvious implication of LeVeon Bell sitting out would be the value of James Conner but it could also mean that the Steelers will lean heavily on Ben Roethlisberger ($6,600). Big Ben is conveniently priced $100 below Deshaun Watson, who figures to be a much more popular play. Bell’s absence likely means a boost in targets for JuJu Smith-Schuster ($5,900). UPDATE: Weather concerns should lead to a conservative passing game here. Because the Steelers have such great weapons, they are still worthy of consideration if game-time conditions are better than expected but consider lowering shares of this offense.
- Broncos vs Seahawks - Denver has featured one of the most concentrated passing attacks in the league with Sanders and Demaryius Thomas ($5,700) teaming up as one of the most high-volume receiving duos in the league. Now, they finally have a competent quarterback in Case Keenum ($5,100) and open the season against a Seattle secondary that is a shell of its glory days. Teams have traditionally struggled in the altitude early in the season and with the Seahawks’ rough offseason, this game sets up as the surprise blowout of the week.
Other Pass Catchers to Target
- DeAndre Hopkins ($8,300) @ Patriots - Belichick’s success against his opponent’s primary receivers—New England held Hopkins to 76 yards on 7 catches last year—gives me pause about rostering Nuk in cash games but this game is as likely to shoot out as any and primary targets can perform well in any game script. Houston’s dependence on the long ball leads to a high variance offense which also means an elevated ceiling for all players involved.
- Odell Beckham ($7,000) vs Jaguars - Beckham is priced below $8,000 on DraftKings for the first time since Week 14 of 2014 and this is likely the cheapest he’ll be all season. Jacksonville’s secondary does pose concerns for any pass catcher but it also drives down ownership. The Jaguars struggled against top wideouts last year, letting Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins average 25.1 DK points in four games, including the playoffs.
- Adam Thielen ($6,900) vs 49ers - Some might consider Minnesota a 1a/1b situation but Thielen dominated targets for the Vikings last season, accounting for just under 27 percent of all throws. Additionally, Thielen saw over 27 percent of Minnesota’s looks in the red zone. With safety Jaquiski Tartt healthy and ready to lock up tight ends again, Thielen is the overwhelming favorite to catch multiple touchdowns in Kirk Cousins’ debut.
- Will Fuller ($5,100) @ Patriots - If New England does scheme to stop Hopkins, it could leave Fuller to roam free in what will already be a favorable matchup against Eric Rowe.
- Kenny Stills ($4,700) vs Titans - With Devante Parker out, all of the Dolphins pass catchers get a bump and Stills is the playmaker of the bunch. Only three receivers are a better ceiling value than Stills this week.
- Travis Kelce ($6,400) at Chargers - Few tight ends can hit tournament value on volume alone but Kelce is one of those players. Kansas City’s poor secondary could force their offense into more passing situations than expected and Kelce is a correlation play with the popular Chargers such as Gordon and Allen.
- Delanie Walker ($4,900) at Dolphins - Walker is a touchdown regression candidate and that bounce back could start right away against a Dolphins defense that opens the year ranked 31st in tight end aFPA. Walker is in an unpopular price range for his position which always helps lead to a unique roster.
- Vikings ($3,500) vs 49ers - Ownership on expensive defenses will favor the Ravens and Saints because they are favored by such large numbers but Minnesota is a sizeable home favorite and a pivot off of the more popular plays. Only one team on the main slate projects to score fewer points than San Francisco.
- Broncos ($3,300) vs Seahawks - Seattle is one of three teams on the main slate with an implied point total below 20 and they show up to Denver with one of the worst offensive lines in the league. The Broncos secondary took a hit this offseason but Chris Harris may be the best slot corner in the league and he’ll hold down Seattle’s best receiver, Doug Baldwin, who is playing at less than full strength.
Overweight GPP Plays
- QB: Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Case Keenum
- RB: Dalvin Cook, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, James White
- WR: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, JuJu Smith Schuster, Demaryius Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham, Adam Thielen, Will Fuller, Kenny Stills
- TE: Travis Kelce, Delanie Walker, Nick Boyle
- DEF: Vikings, Broncos
Full Slate Notes
Thursday Night contests see some of the most out-of-whack ownership numbers in DFS—casual fans want to see their players play now. A strategy that is often profitable is to play the Thursday-Monday tournaments simply to fade the disproportionately high ownership on Thursday’s players. As always, this should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
- Green Bay is a 7.5-point favorite with an implied point total near 28 against Chicago. Sunday Night games often have inflated ownership since they are nationally televised but that will be exacerbated on the opening weekend of the season with one of the most popular offenses in the league.
- Mohamed Sanu ($3,800) and Randall Cobb ($4,700) are both top-four ceiling values at their positions on the Thursday-Monday slate.
- With Carson Wentz out, the Falcons defense ($2,500) can serve as a leverage play against the inflated ownership of both offenses on opening night.
- Only two teams allowed more touchdowns on deep balls than the Raiders last year. That vulnerability sets up Brandin Cooks ($5,600) for a Week 1 breakout.
- Detroit is favored by 6.5 at home with an implied point total over 25. Matthew Stafford ($6,500) will face a Jets defense that opens the season ranked 31st in quarterback aFPA. While the Lions passing game will likely be popular on the Prime Time slates, they’ll probably go overlooked on slates that include all games.
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images.