FanDuel 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 FanDuel 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.
Note that FanDuel has replaced their kicker with a Flex position this season. Because running backs have a higher floor and smaller range of outcomes than wide receivers or tight ends, it’s often wise to fill the flex spot with a running back in cash games—of course, every week is unique and should be treated as such. Other sites that use a flex have seen a relatively even mix of tournament winners in terms of which position has filled the flex. Consistency scores suggest that receivers have a higher ceiling than running backs but with FanDuel’s half-PPR scoring system that gap is smaller than on full PPR sites.
Main Slate Cash Game Strategy
Making his Vikings debut at quarterback, Kirk Cousins ($7,600) projects as 4for4’s top value at his position on the main slate. Cousins gets to throw in the controlled environment of U.S. Bank Stadium against a San Francisco defense that opens the year ranked 27th in 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed (aFPA) metric. San Francisco is coming off a season where their secondary finished in the bottom 10 in both touchdown rate and fantasy points per attempt allowed. Last season, Cousins finished in the top 10 in touchdown rate and he gets a massive upgrade in pass catchers in 2018. With all signs pointing to efficiency, only one quarterback has better odds of hitting cash value in Week 1.
The quarterback with the best odds to hit cash value, you ask? That player is Cam Newton ($8,100). Despite his inefficiency through the air, Cam is among the safest cash game quarterbacks on a weekly basis because of his ability to get it done on the ground. Over the past three seasons, Newton has averaged just over 37 rushing yards per game, or almost a passing touchdown worth of fantasy points. In that span, he is the only quarterback with at least 20 rushing touchdowns, scoring almost once every other game. Working in Cam’s favor in the passing game is the fact that he faces a Dallas secondary that tied with the 49ers for the seventh-highest touchdown rate allowed to opposing passers last season. With Greg Olsen back, a rookie receiver that can stretch the field and a primary back that does most of his damage in the passing game, Week 1 is shaping up to be the beginning of a 2015-esque campaign for Cam.
For owners looking to pay down at quarterback, a pair of equally-priced signal callers stands out. Like Cam, both Blake Bortles ($6,600) and Tyrod Taylor ($6,600) offer a decent floor with their rushing ability alone, especially Taylor.
As a starter, Tyrod has averaged over 35 rushing yards per game and has found the end zone 14 times since the beginning of 2015, the second most in that span. While underdog quarterbacks should often be ignored in cash games, the Browns have two reliable, high-volume receivers in slot man Jarvis Landry and pass-catching back Duke Johnson. With the second-lowest interception rate over the last three season (minimum 400 attempts) Taylor is less of a risk than most passers in poor game script.
While Bortles hasn’t been the model of efficiency, he’s facing a Giants secondary that ranked in the bottom four in touchdown rate and fantasy points per attempt allowed in 2017, giving up the most fantasy points in the league to opposing quarterbacks. With his affordable price tag against a suspect secondary, Bortles is a top-three value at his position and has the fifth-best odds to hit cash value.
Sitting atop 4for4’s value reports are three running backs in the $8K range: Alvin Kamara ($8,700), David Johnson ($8,600) and Melvin Gordon ($8,100). As a 9.5-point home favorite with the highest projected team total of the week (29.5), Kamara tops that report. The only concern with Kamara’s floor is that he isn’t projected as a 20-touch back but the number two option, Mike Gillislee, will go into Sunday being on the roster for less than a week.
Those that do have concerns about Kamara’s touch floor can comfortably pivot to Johnson. While Kamara sits atop the value report, Johnson projects as the running back with the best odds to hit cash value. Leading all running backs with a monstrous 120 targets in 2016, Johnson is expected to fall right back into his workhorse role and John Paulsen has the Cardinals back forecasted for the most touches of any player this week. Arizona is a small favorite facing a defense that filters touches to running backs—Washington opens the season ranked in the top 10 in aFPA to quarterbacks and receivers but 25th against running backs.
For a slightly cheaper touch floor, Gordon has been among the safest plays in recent history. The Chargers back is coming off of his first 300-touch season and only three backs have more total touches over the last two years. Los Angeles is a home favorite with the fourth-highest implied point total on the main slate. Although Kansas City played running backs well last season, their defense has been a sieve this preseason, which should lead to increased touches near the goal line for Gordon, an aspect that is crucial for FanDuel’s half-PPR scoring system.
Dropping down to the next salary tier, Christian McCaffrey ($7,500) registers as a top-five value. The second-year back has dominated first-team reps this preseason and is expected to greatly improve on the 45 percent backfield touch share that he saw last season. Only two teams ran at a higher rate inside the 10-yard line than the Panthers last year and while CMC only accounted for five of those attempts, he added eight targets, the most for any running back in that part of the field. Even in half-PPR scoring, McCaffrey’s target volume gives him a reliable cash-game floor and he has as much touchdown upside as any player not named Kamara this week.
The best price-saving option of the week is Alex Collins ($6,700). Baltimore is one of two teams on the main slate favored by more than a touchdown and they get the benefit of opening the season at home. From Weeks 8–17 last season, only six players were offered more touches than Collins and his workhorse role is expected to continue into 2018. Buffalo has an above-average defense but the Bills will roll out one of the worst offensive units in the league. Their inability to move the ball will leave Collins and the Ravens with favorable field position—and ultimately a positive game script—more often than not.
Situation to monitor: LeVeon Bell ($8,900) 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 ($5,000) becomes the skeleton key that will open up this slate. 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 ruled OUT. James Conner projects as a top-six value at his position. Weather concerns have pushed the over/under in this game down to 41, lowering Conner's potential touchdown floor.
Being able to afford a top-tier receiver is going to depend on two things: whether or not James Conner is in play and if you prefer to spend up for Gronk. Antonio Brown ($9,000) grades out as the top value at his position as well as the receiver with the best odds to hit cash value. If LeVeon sits, Brown’s value only increases since Conner is a marginal pass catcher at best and there are no other reliable targets after JuJu Smith-Schuster.
UPDATE: Rain and high winds could lead to a conservative passing attack on both sides of the ball. Antonio Brown should still see a fair amount of targets but he is a high-risk cash-game option.
Owners that want to roster an elite wideout without paying full price should take the discount on Keenan Allen ($8,000). Allen finished 2017 in a virtual tie for the second-highest target share in the league (second and sixth place were separated by 0.7 percentage points), but his appeal on FanDuel is in his touchdown upside. Only two players saw a higher red zone target share than Allen last season and he received the second-most targets inside the 20. With Hunter Henry out for at least the first half of the year, Allen is the clear primary option for Philip Rivers near the goal line and Kansas City’s secondary is arguably the worst in the league.
Michael Thomas ($8,500) falls in an awkward salary range where he’s sandwich perfectly between the previously mentioned receivers but he’ll face a Tampa Bay defense that might be as bad as the Chiefs. Likely lined up against rookie cornerback Carlton Davis for most of the game, Thomas is a fine cash game option.
The lone receiver in the $7,000 range that I’m trusting in cash is Larry Fitzgerald. John Paulsen projects Fitz for the fifth-most receptions at his position but he comes at a considerable discount to the high-volume players in the elite tier. Some owners might be worried about Fitzgerald’s touchdown upside with DJ back in the mix but Fitz saw 20 red zone targets in 2016 with a fully-healthy Johnson.
The two players that stand out in the $6K range are Chris Hogan ($6,700) and Emmanuel Sanders ($6,300). No receiver priced below $7,000 has better odds to hit cash value than Hogan, who will be Tom Brady’s primary target besides Gronk this week. Emmanuel Sanders has been running the majority of his routes out of the slot, a position that Case Keenum was very successful targeting last season. Denver has one of the most concentrated passing games in the league over the last few seasons and Sanders comes at a $700 discount to Demaryius Thomas against a decimated Seattle secondary, even with Earl Thomas back.
Keelan Cole ($4,500) is the “free square” at wide receiver this week. After the season-ending injury to Marqise Lee, Cole separated himself in preseason as the number one in Jacksonville and he’s the only receiver priced below $6,000 that registers as one of 4for4’s top-20 values at his position. If LeVeon Bell does start, owners should hit the lock button on Cole, although that may be the optimal play either way.
UPDATE: With Will Fuller OUT, Bruce Ellington ($4,600) will start opposite DeAndre Hopkins. Against the Patriots last year, Ellington posted a 4/59/1 line on seven targets without Fuller in the lineup. Ellington serves as a punt option for those that don't want to stack Bortles and Cole in cash.
To Gronk or not to Gronk? That is the question. Paying up at tight end is usually ill-advised in cash games but Rob Gronkowski is by far the top value at his position, not to mention the best non-running back value of the entire slate. If LeVeon sits, owners can realistically roster four players at or above Gronk’s salary. Cash game theory would suggest that two of those players be a running back so the decision comes down to Gronk or an elite receiver. Because tight end scoring is inherently more volatile—even for Gronk—I tend to lean receiver.
Although their salaries are separated by $1,100, for many owners the decision will come down to paying for AB or Gronk. Using the coefficient of variation (CV), Brown has been slightly more consistent over the past three seasons—including playoffs and injuries—with a CV of 50.5 percent compared to 54.9 percent for Gronk. For those seeking consistency, this should nudge you towards Brown.
Those that do opt to fade Gronk in cash should look to pay down at the position and Jordan Reed ($5,800) and Tyler Eifert ($5,500) stand out as top-five values. Both players are similar in that they are efficient touchdown scorers with huge question marks coming off of injuries. Eifert has the better matchup against a Colts defense that opens the season ranked 24th in tight end aFPA and Cincinnati has a slightly higher implied point total in a game with the third-highest game total on the main slate.
Going down to Jack Doyle ($5,600) is the safe option for those that want to see Reed or Eifert perform before trusting either in a cash game lineup. Doyle ranked third in target share among tight ends last season and is the de facto number two behind T.Y. Hilton. Even with Eric Ebron in town, Doyle has a relatively decent floor with Andrew Luck under center— the Colts ranked in the top three in total tight end fantasy points scored in Luck’s last two full seasons.
Anyone that can afford the Ravens ($4,800) defense should lock in the top value of the slate. Baltimore is a 7.5-point favorite facing what looks to be the worst offense in the league going into Week 1. Nathan Peterman will start at quarterback for the Bills behind an offensive line that ranked 31st in adjusted sack rate allowed last season.
In order to save a couple hundred dollars, the Saints ($4,600) are viable as the biggest favorite of the week. In addition to the benefit of playing at home, New Orleans will face backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick while Jameis Winston serves his suspension. Over the last three seasons, only two active quarterbacks have a higher interception rate than Fitzpatrick.
The Patriots ($4,200) are the best affordable option this week. Even though this is the only game with an over/under above 50, Houston is projected for fewer than 23 points and New England is favored by 6.5. Deshaun Watson’s big fantasy numbers masked the fact that he posted the third-highest interception rate last season. No player threw deep (15+ yards downfield) at a higher rate than Winston in 2017 and while that approach leads to a high ceiling, the high-variance strategy also means a treacherous floor.
- QB: Kirk Cousins, Cam Newton, Blake Bortles, Tyrod Taylor
- RB: Alvin Kamara, David Johnson, Melvin Gordon, Christian McCaffrey, Alex Collins
- WR: Antonio Brown, Keenan Allen, Michael Thomas, Larry Fitzgerald, Chris Hogan, Emmanuel Sanders, Keelan Cole
- TE: Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed, Tyler Eifert, Jack Doyle
- DEF: Ravens, Saints, Patriots
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 ($7,300) vs 49ers - The Vikings are 6.5-point home favorites against a 49ers defense that's opening the season ranked 28th in running back aFPA. Because Cook is coming off of a major injury, his ownership will be somewhat depressed for such a great spot. Cook is a leverage play against a Vikings passing game that is expected to be one of the highest-owned of the week and he’s also a natural price pivot off of Christian McCaffrey, who will be one of the most popular running back plays.
- Saquon Barkley ($7,600) vs Jaguars - Another pivot off of CMC, Barkley is a slight home underdog, but a significant number of big games have come from dogs lately. Jacksonville opens the year ranked first in aFPA to quarterbacks and wide receivers, but 22nd against running backs. Touches should filter to Barkley, who will immediately step into a workhorse role.
- Leonard Fournette ($8,000) @ Giants - Of the running backs in the $8K range, only David Johnson has a higher leverage score than Fournette. Jacksonville is a favorite against a Giants defense that ranks in the bottom 10 in running back aFPA and only three teams ran at a higher rate inside their opponent’s 10 last year than the Jags. Fournette is a pivot off of the high-priced studs and a leverage play off his somewhat popular passing game.
- Rex Burkhead ($6,300) vs Titans - When salaries initially dropped, Burkhead was a favorite value play but a preseason knee injury has cooled the public on the Patriots back. New England’s passing game is expected to be the highest-owned of the week, making Burkhead a great way to get relatively low-owned exposure to what could be the highest-scoring offense of the week. Because many teams will go with a high/low approach at running back, Burkhead is in a salary range that will be largely ignored at his position and can lead to an overall unique lineup build.
- Jordan Wilkins ($5,100) vs Bengals - With Marlon Mack unlikely to play on Sunday, Jordan Wilkins stands to head a committee backfield with Christine Michael. In a game with an over/under at 48 and a spread of just 2.5, Wilkins will be the lowest-owned number one skill-position player on either team in a game that has shootout potential. It helps that the Colts are the home favorites and Wilkins is a near-perfect price pivot off of James Connor. Wilkins shouldn’t be a staple in lineups but it won’t take many shares to be overweight on the field.
Passing Games to Target
- Jaguars @ Giants - I’ve already mentioned Bortles and Cole as cash targets but it’s worth mentioning that three of the top ceiling stack values include Bortles. Donte Moncrief ($5,200) has proven to be a formidable red-zone option in his time with the Colts and he is a great leverage play off of Cole.
- Chargers vs Chiefs - There may not have been a defense with a worse preseason than the Chiefs who open the year ranked 25th in quarterback aFPA and 32nd against receivers. Philip Rivers ($7,500) should get an early start to his expected positive touchdown regression and Tyrell Williams ($5,500) pops as a receiver with one of the highest leverage scores of the week.
- Titans @ Dolphins - With Mike Mularkey out and OC Matt LaFleur in, Tennessee is expected to shift to a much more pass-heavy game plan than they’ve run in recent years. Marcus Mariota ($7,200) will kick the season off against a Dolphins defense that 4for4 ranks 23rd against quarterbacks. Last season, Delanie Walker ($6,100) was among the leaders in red zone target share but his target totals suffered because of the scheme. Facing 4for4’s 31st ranked defense against tight ends, Walker is my favorite option to pair with Mariota.
- Ravens vs Bills - As one of the biggest favorites of the week, Alex Collins stands to be one of the most popular running back plays but the Ravens passing game is going largely unnoticed. The Bills’ offensive ineptitude will benefit Collins the most in the form of game script but favorable field position means scoring opportunities for the entire offense. Just a few shares of Joe Flacco ($6,100) will make a portfolio overweight versus the field and Baltimore finally has a reliable red zone target in Michael Crabtree ($6,600), who doubles as a pivot off Chris Hogan. Owners in massive fields should consider one or two shares of Nick Boyle ($4,400)—with Hayden Hurst out, Boyle will get the start. He quietly saw double-digit red zone targets last year and as a team, the Ravens ranked fourth in tight end targets inside the 20.
Other Pass Catchers to Target
- DeAndre Hopkins ($8,800) @ Patriots - The risk with Hopkins as a cash play is that Bill Belichick often devises a successful scheme to limit an opponent’s primary target—in Week 3 last year, New England held Nuk to a 7/76/0 line. Deshaun Watson’s affinity for the deep ball makes this a high variance offense but that expanded range of outcomes is precisely what we’re looking for in tournaments. Game script could hamper Watson if this is a blowout but receivers still offer plenty of upside when playing from behind.
- A.J. Green ($8,400) @ Colts - Of the receivers priced $8,000 and above, Green is likely to be the lowest owned play. Much of Green’s day will be spent across from cornerback Pierre Desir, who, last year, allowed the 10th-most yards per target among Week 1 starters—and Desir is arguably the Colts’ best corner. This game has the potential to be the highest scoring of the week and Green is the most dominant skill player on either side of the ball.
- Odell Beckham ($7,800) vs Jaguars - Many owners will stay away from Beckham this week because of the tough matchup against Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye but an elite receiver in a tough matchup is often one of the best GPP plays. Jacksonville’s secondary is great but they struggled against elite receivers last season—in four games, including the playoffs, Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins averaged a 7/106/1 line against the Jags.
- Tyreek Hill ($7,300) @ Chargers - Because of their porous defense, the Chiefs may have to throw more than they’d prefer with their new starting quarterback. Not only is Hill a nice correlation play to add to Chargers stacks, but he is a double-dip candidate as a kick returner and he may be fielding a lot of those in Week 1.
- Chris Godwin ($5,500) @ Saints - As a massive road underdog, the Buccaneers will be in catch-up mode for most of the game. Godwin is listed as a co-starter alongside DeSean Jackson but Godwin benefits from Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. Of the top three targets in Tampa Bay, Godwin posted the shortest average depth of target last year and Fitzgerald throws deep at a considerably lower rate than Jameis Winston.
- Ben Watson ($4,900) vs Buccaneers - After an underwhelming preseason from Cameron Meredith the Saints number two receiving option behind Michael Thomas remains a question mark. In 2015 with the Saints, Watson led the team in red zone targets. While Thomas obviously wasn’t on the team at that time, there’s evidence that Brees trusts Watson near the goal line and he’s the ultimate leverage play off of Thomas and Kamara.
- Broncos ($4,600) vs Seahawks - Seattle has had one of the most tumultuous preseasons in the league and they have to travel to Denver in Week 1. Russell Wilson is stuck behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league and he’ll be facing arguably the best outside linebacker duo in football in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Additionally, Wilson’s best receiver is admittedly playing at less than full strength. Few signs point to the Seahawks bucking the trend of Denver’s overwhelming winning percentage at home early in the season.
- Vikings ($4,500) vs 49ers - Minnesota is the only team that currently ranks in the top 10 against every position in aFPA. In most spots as a home favorite, the Vikings would be commanding massive ownership but there’s a logjam of defenses in this price range. Take the discount on ownership against an offense that is without their best running back and a quarterback that has a small sample as a starter.
- Panthers ($4,300) vs Cowboys - Dallas’ receiving corps has been stripped clean and their one strength—running back—is the position that Carolina excels against. Only three teams on the main slate have a lower implied total than the Cowboys and Dak Prescott has the fourth-highest interception rate in losses since entering the league.
Overweight GPP Plays
- QB: Philip Rivers, Marcus Mariota, Joe Flacco
- RB: Dalvin Cook, Saquon Barkley, Leonard Fournette, Rex Burkhead, Jordan Wilkins
- WR: Donte Moncrief, Tyrell Williams, Michael Crabtree, DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Odell Beckham, Tyreek Hill, Chris Godwin
- TE: Delanie Walker, Nick Boyle, Ben Watson
- DEF: Broncos, Vikings, Panthers
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.
- Nick Foles preseason struggles make the Falcons ($3,300) a reasonable punt play on defense. No skill position players stand out so much in this game that they should be an overweight play relative to their inflated ownership.
- 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.
- Mitch Trubisky ($6,500) is a top-four ceiling value and Allen Robinson ($6,500) has one of the most favorable cornerback matchups of the week.
- Detroit is favored by 6.5 at home with an implied point total over 25. Matthew Stafford ($7,800) 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.
- Todd Gurley ($9,000) projects as the top overall value across all games. Owners looking to diversify their shares across slates should consider rostering Gurley in cash games that involve the Monday Night matchups.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images.