FanDuel Week 1 Slate Breakdown with Cash and GPP Picks
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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. For those new to 4for4, we use a proprietary value metric to determine the best values across all positions, rather than the flawed raw point-per-dollar value that you usually find across the industry. An extension of our value metric and projections is our GPP Leverage Score, a single value that drives our decisions on which players we can be most confident using in GPPs as it relates to their expected ownership in large-field tournaments.
Main Slate Cash Game Strategy
Kicking off the season, Jameis Winston ($7,500) tops 4for4’s value report at quarterback in a home game with the third-highest over/under on the main slate (49.5) and a spread of just one point. Tampa Bay and San Francisco both finished 2018 in the bottom three in fantasy points per pass attempt allowed and new Bucs head coach Bruce Arians is one of the more pass-friendly coaches in the league. For those playing on multiple platforms, Winston stands out as the best bargain at his position, priced as the QB3 on DraftKings but the QB9 on FanDuel.
While Winston is the best value at his position, no quarterback offers better odds to hit cash value than Patrick Mahomes ($8,700). While pricey, Mahomes leads arguably the best offense in the league and no team boasts a higher implied total in Week 1 than the Chiefs (28). It is worth noting that Mahomes’s worst fantasy game of last season came in Week 5 against the Jaguars, when he posted only 17.8 FD points, finishing as the QB17. On the flip side, Jacksonville will be starting two new safeties, so there is some risk of early-season chemistry issues in the secondary.
At a similar price-point to Winston are two rushing threats in Kyler Murray ($7,300) and Lamar Jackson ($7,400), both ranked as top-three quarterback values. The risk surrounding a rookie quarterback in his first career start under a rookie head coach nudged me toward Jackson in cash games. Baltimore is one of the biggest favorites of the week (-7.5) against a Dolphins defense that finished 2018 ranked 31st in schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed (aFPA) to quarterbacks and already looks like a team that is tanking for its future. The floor Jackson offers with his legs is clear but he also looked like an improved passer in the preseason.
Another intriguing option in the same tier is Carson Wentz ($7,600). The Chiefs are the only team on the main slate with a higher implied total than the Eagles and Wentz finally has a competent backfield and a deep threat in DeSean Jackson. Jackson’s presence alone has boosted his quarterback’s efficiency by 0.94 yards per attempt—an increase that would have given Wentz the second-highest per-pass efficiency in the league last year.
As always, saving at quarterback is a viable option and the top value priced below $7,000 is Nick Foles ($6,500). The addition of Foles, along with new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, should mean a more pass-heavy attack than the Jaguars offenses we’ve become accustomed to in recent seasons—before firing DeFilippo as their OC last season, the Vikings ranked third in neutral passing rate. Not only will Jacksonville likely have to throw to keep up against the powerful Chiefs but Kansas City was arguably the best secondary to target with quarterbacks last season and have done little to improve this year.
The top overall value in Week 1, Christian McCaffrey ($8,900) offers the highest floor projection of any non-quarterback on the slate. After finishing 2018 as one of five backs to account for at least 40% of his team’s total touches, McCaffrey opens the season in one of the highest touchdown equity spots of the week—Carolina is just a three-point underdog to the Rams in a game with a total over 50. Even if Carolina does fall behind, McCaffrey’s work in the passing game makes him virtually matchup proof.
While not in an expected shootout situation like CMC, Saquon Barkley ($9,200) is almost always cash viable for similar reasons—he accounts for as much of his team’s offense as any player in the league and can lead running backs in targets in any given week. While it will take some serious sacrifice at other positions, there is enough value across the board to hit the lock button on both McCaffrey and Barkley.
Rounding out the top five running back values are three players priced virtually the same in Leonard Fournette ($7,200), Nick Chubb ($7,400) and Dalvin Cook ($7,400). Cook projects to be the most popular play of the bunch as a four-point home favorite against a Falcons defense that finished 28th in running back aFPA last season. What that ranking doesn’t account for is the fact Atlanta played most of last season without safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones, two excellent run defenders. Still, Minnesota was one of the most run-heavy offenses in the league after relieving DeFilippo of his coordinator duties. Also, the Falcons allow as many receptions to backs as any team in the league, even with Neal and Jones.
Like Cook, Chubb is a home favorite but faces a Titans defense that finished fourth in running back aFPA last season. While Chubb may be subject to weekly touchdown variance because of all the offensive weapons in Cleveland, he may suddenly have one of the safer floors in the league with pass-catching specialist Duke Johnson no longer around.
Most likely to be the least popular back of this group is Fournette. While ownership is often ignored in cash games, there can be a benefit to favoring slightly less popular players of similar price and value in cash, especially for those who play high-volume Head-to-Head contests since there is a monetary incentive to outscoring as many opponents as possible, rather than just maximizing floor like in a 50/50 or Double Up. Like Chubb, Fournette may have a sneaky-high floor—I’ve already mentioned that the Jacksonville offense may be more pass-heavy than previous iterations and Fournette no longer shares a backfield with T.J. Yeldon, who accounted for 78 targets in 2018. Those factors could negate concerns about rostering an underdog in cash, especially against a Chiefs defense that closed last season ranked 31st in running back aFPA.
The two best salary-saving options at running back are Chris Carson ($6,600) and Austin Ekeler ($6,400). Carson will carry the load in one of the most run-heavy offenses in the league as a 10-point home favorite against arguably the worst run defense in the league. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Co. have vowed to get Carson more involved in the passing game this season but even if that doesn’t come to fruition in Week 1, the Seahawks back could conceivably lead the league in carries in the first week if game script complies.
With Melvin Gordon seemingly set on missing games this season, Ekeler will inherit lead-back duties against a newly Andrew Luck-less Colts team. Upon Luck announcing his retirement, the Chargers went from three-point home favorites to laying nearly a touchdown. In the three games Gordon missed and Justin Jackson played last season, Ekeler averaged over 17 touches per game.
4for4’s Lineup Generator prefers a roster with at least one priced-up wide receiver, with Odell Beckham ($8,200) and Tyreek Hill ($7,600) sitting atop this week’s value report. Beckham will see significant snaps against both Malcolm Butler and Adoree’ Jackson—among Week 1 starting cornerbacks that saw action last season, Butler allowed the ninth-most fantasy points per target while Jackson nearly finished in the bottom third of the league. If Mahomes benefits from the Jaguars’ two new safeties, one of the more likely targets to exploit that area is Hill.
Amari Cooper ($7,500) was a full participant in practice on Wednesday and starts the season in a matchup against Janoris Jenkins, who was once a cornerback worth avoiding but allowed the 16th-most yards per target last season. With Ezekiel Elliott possibly not playing a full complement of snaps after missing virtually the entire offseason, the offense could very well run through Cooper.
While Cooper is trending in the right direction as it pertains to injuries, Stefon Diggs was a surprise scratch from practice on Wednesday with a hamstring injury, opening up the door for Adam Thielen ($7,400) to dominate targets even if Diggs is active. No corner expected to start in Week 1 allowed more fantasy points per target last season than Atlanta slot man Damontae Kazee. Especially if Diggs is hobbled, expect Thielen to see extended time in the slot.
Dropping down a pricing tier, Tyler Lockett ($6,800) and Tyler Boyd ($6,900) face off and will both man the No. 1 WR spot for their respective offenses. Lockett is expected to inherit Doug Baldwin’s valued slot role in Seattle’s offense. While the Seahawks are a run-first team, Russell Wilson’s efficiency can boost his primary pass-catcher’s value, even if he doesn’t see the volume of some of the top receivers. With A.J. Green out, Boyd should command a healthy target share in a game where Cincinnati will likely be forced to throw a ton, especially late, as 10-point dogs.
Arizona will open the season with two backup players starting at cornerback, making Kenny Golladay ($6,900) and Marvin Jones ($6,100) both fantastic values. While Detroit is committed to the running game, the matchup to exploit this week is against the inexperienced Chris Jones and Byron Murphy. Almost as exploitable as facing two backups, the Buccaneers’ Chris Godwin ($6,900) and Mike Evans ($7,900), will face K'Waun Williams and Ahkello Witherspoon, cornerbacks who both finished in the bottom 25 in fantasy points per target allowed last season. In a likely air-it-out affair, these two can be mixed and matched with the aforementioned players in their respective pricing tiers.
D.J. Moore ($6,200) is expected to step into a primary receiver role in 2019 and will get things started against a Rams defense that finished 2018 ranked in the bottom 10 in wide receiver aFPA. One of the main reasons for those struggles was Marcus Peters, who ranked in the bottom 10 in both yards per target and fantasy points per target allowed last year. Moore should spend most of his time against Peters.
The best option below $6,000, and likely my highest-owned player of the week, is Dede Westbrook ($5,900). The arrival of Foles to Jacksonville plays into Westbrook’s strengths and he is the best bet in his price range to see double-digit targets in a game where the Jaguars will almost surely throw as much as any contest all season.
Given the separation between the top-three tight ends in the league and the rest of the field, Travis Kelce ($7,800), George Kittle ($7,300) and Zach Ertz ($7,100) are almost always worthy of cash consideration, but if I’m paying up at the position this week it’s for Kittle. The 49ers tight end has little competition for targets in a potential shootout while Kelce and Ertz are on more explosive, but also more crowded, offenses. Kittle offers a nice discount on Kelce and will face a Buccaneers defense trying to patch their passing game woes with a handful of rookies while Ertz will be matched up with Landon Collins, who the Eagles tight end has historically struggled against. All these factors make Kittle the top overall value at his position.
The best bargain of the week is Hunter Henry ($6,100) in an offense that has 11 weekly targets up for grabs with Melvin Gordon holding out and Tyrell Williams and Antonio Gates no longer on the roster. Favorable game script has proven beneficial for tight ends and Henry will compete with Keenan Allen as the Chargers' primary red-zone target in a game where the Chargers are favored by nearly a touchdown and projected for almost 26 points.
Evan Engram ($6,400) is slightly more expensive than Henry and while the Giants don’t offer nearly as much touchdown equity as the Chargers, Engram could challenge for the most targets at his position on opening weekend. With Golden Tate’s suspension, Engram will battle Sterling Shepard and Saquon Barkley for targets—in the final four games last season without Odell Beckham in the lineup, all three players averaged over seven targets per game.
Defense and Special Teams
There are a handful of teams favored by at least a touchdown but the Ravens ($5,000) stand out as the top value at their position despite being the highest-priced play of the week. Although on the road, Baltimore is favored by 7.5 points and Ryan Fitzpatrick will likely be forced into high-passing volume behind an offensive line that 4for4’s Justin Edwards ranks dead last going into the season. Fitzpatrick hasn’t found much magic in losses, posting an abysmal 4.7% interception rate over the last two seasons in losses.
Tied as the largest favorite of the week (-10), the Eagles ($4,600) are at home against a Washington offensive line ranked 26th by Edwards, as Trent Williams refuses to suit up. According to SportsInfoSolutions, only four quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts under pressure last season posted a worse quarterback rating than Case Keenum.
Andy Dalton has been quite as erratic as the aforementioned quarterbacks but he will be behind 4for4’s 31st-ranked offensive line without his top receiver as a 10-point road underdog to the Seahawks ($4,500). Jadaveon Clowney hasn’t been a premier pass rusher but his addition certainly helps Seattle’s cause.
The Chargers ($4,000) got a great boost to their value once Andrew Luck announced his retirement, as the Chargers moved from a three-point favorite to a 6.5-point home favorite with Jacoby Brissett starting. While the Colts boast one of the best lines in the league, it should be noted Brissett suffered the second-highest sack rate in 2017, presumably because of how long he takes to get rid of the ball.
- QB: Jameis Winston, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Carson Wentz, Nick Foles
- RB: Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook, Chris Carson, Austin Ekeler
- WR: Odell Beckham, Tyreek Hill, Amari Cooper, Adam Thielen, Tyler Lockett, Tyler Boyd, Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, D.J. Moore, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, D.J. Moore, Dede Westbrook
- TE: George Kittle, Hunter Henry, Evan Engram
- DEF: Ravens, Eagles, Seahawks, Chargers
Main Slate GPP Strategy
The following are players who 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 who'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
- Todd Gurley ($7,600) @ Panthers - The Rams are favorites in a game expected to be a shootout and Gurley will carry the lowest ownership you’ll see him at all season if he gets even two-thirds of the backfield work. Of course, there is concern about his workload given Gurley’s knee condition but it’s better to bet on variance in your favor before he has weeks of an NFL season under his belt.
- Ezekiel Elliott ($9,100) vs. Giants - Similar to Gurley, there will be concerns about Elliott’s workload after ending a lengthy holdout just days before the start of the season. As 7.5-point home favorites, the Cowboys could probably afford to give Zeke a limited workload if they get up big, but he could see a full complement of snaps if the game is close or he looks especially spry. Only one back priced above Elliott has a higher Week 1 Leverage Score as of this writing.
- Damien Williams ($6,900) @ Jaguars - Offseason rumblings about Darwin Thompson cutting into Williams’s workload, followed by the signing of LeSean McCoy, has the starting running back on the league’s best offense expected to see sub-10% ownership in a week where they have the highest implied total on the main slate. If I was completely confident in Williams, he’d be an obvious cash play but this is a perfect strike-while-the-public-is-cold opportunity.
- Tevin Coleman ($6,300) @ Buccaneers - An unofficial depth chart that touted Matt Breida ($5,400) as San Francisco’s No. 1 RB spiked hype around the already popular back but it’s been Coleman getting most of the offseason work as the “primary” back in what will be a true timeshare. We currently project Coleman and Breida for similar ownership but I’d expect the public to lean toward the cheaper Breida.
- Kerryon Johnson ($7,000) @ Cardinals - Johnson would probably be a cash option if it weren’t for the Cardinals’ decimated secondary which could lead Detroit to pass much more than we’d expect against a defense ranked 27th in running back aFPA last season. While the Lions are just a 2.5-point favorite, a surprise blowout is in the cards (no pun intended) against a rookie quarterback making his first career start behind an atrocious line with a head coach in his first game as well. That game script would obviously play into Johnson’s favor.
Passing Games to Target
- 49ers @ Buccaneers - Tampa Bay was one of the best defenses to target last season and this game has shootout potential written all over it. A healthy Jimmy Garoppolo ($7,200) should nudge the 49ers toward a higher passing rate than last season, especially against this secondary. Dante Pettis has one of the most favorable matchups of the week against slot corner M.J. Stewart, who allowed the third-most fantasy points per target last season among cornerbacks expected to start in Week 1.
- Vikings vs. Falcons - Playing Kirk Cousins ($7,400) with almost any of his pass-catchers is a fantastic leverage play against Dalvin Cook, who currently projects as the highest-owned player on the main slate. Stefon Diggs’s late-week hamstring injury would give me pause about rostering him in any format but this is a good spot to run a sneaky game stack. Julio Jones ($8,500) will draw shadow coverage from Xavier Rhodes and while that used to be a concern, some would say this is a clear advantage for Julio.
- Rams @ Panthers - Los Angeles is a favorite in a potential shootout spot but the Panthers are expected to draw higher ownership across the boards. In addition to Gurley’s questionable workload, many owners are likely trepidatious about trying to pinpoint which pass-catcher to pair with Jared Goff ($7,800). Those filling out 150 lineups can take this opportunity to scattershot each of the Rams’ primary pass-catchers across their portfolio but Cooper Kupp ($6,800) is the best red-zone target of the bunch and will likely be lower owned than Robert Woods ($7,000) and Brandin Cooks ($7,000), despite being the cheapest, since he is coming off of a major injury.
- Bills @ Jets - No quarterback scored more FanDuel points than Josh Allen ($6,900) from Weeks 12–17 last season and he opens the season against one of the worst secondaries in the league. Allen’s legs give him a floor and while he doesn’t throw often, when he does it’s deep. This sets up for huge boom weeks. The most obvious beneficiary of Allen’s downfield style is newly-signed John Brown ($5,500), whose 16.1-yard average depth of target ranked fourth among receivers with at least 50 targets last season.
Other Pass-Catchers to Target
- Alshon Jeffery ($6,700) vs. Redskins - The Eagles suddenly have weapons galore and while DeSean Jackson is the obvious boom play, he is dealing with a finger injury that could deem him a bit of a decoy to open the season. As noted earlier, Ertz has traditionally struggled against safety Landon Collins and since Josh Norman isn’t a shadow corner, Philadelphia could scheme Jeffery away from Washington’s best cover man.
- Mark Andrews ($5,400) @ Dolphins - Last season Andrews ranked third among tight ends in target depth and like the Bills, the Ravens don’t ask their mobile quarterback to throw often but Greg Roman has typically favored the deep ball more than most coaches. Roman oversaw Colin Kaepernick and Vernon Davis at their peak and Jackson and Andrews could prove to be a similarly successful tandem with a breakout against one of the worst defenses in the league.
- O.J. Howard ($6,500) vs. 49ers - With virtually the entire Buccaneers passing game listed as cash-viable, the same case could certainly be made for Howard but it’s simply too tough to draw up a scenario where he sees the same volume as Evan Engram at almost the exact same price point. Regardless, Howard is arguably the best downfield tight end in the league and this is one of the best games of the week to stack.
Defenses to Target
- Jets ($4,200) vs. Bills - While I like the Bills passing game as a GPP play, it is a high-variance dart throw, meaning there’s arguable as much downside as upside. Offsetting one of the worst secondaries in the league is a Jets line that is one of the best in the league. Betting on a low-owned home favorite is hardly ever bad process.
- 49ers ($3,700) @ Buccaneers - Stay with me on this one. Yes, the 49ers are road underdogs in what is expected to be one of the highest-scoring contests of the week but they will also get as many pass-rush opportunities as any defense. Bruce Arians will ask Jameis Winston—who is known to go off the rails at any time—to take long drops behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league and all signs point to Nick Bosa making his NFL debut in Week 1. Though counterintuitive, a defense can give up a lot of points and still have a hell of a fantasy day.
Overweight GPP Plays
- QB: Jimmy Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, Josh Allen
- RB: Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Damien Williams, Tevin Coleman, Kerryon Johnson
- WR: Dante Pettis, Julio Jones, Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, John Brown, Alshon Jeffery
- TE: Mark Andrews, O.J. Howard
- DEF: Jets, 49ers
Full Slate Notes
- In a game with a 53.5-point over/under, Drew Brees ($8,000)/Michael Thomas ($8,500) and Deshaun Watson ($8,500)/DeAndre Hopkins ($9,000) top the 2-man Stack Value Reports. Thomas draws one of the best matchups of the week against Bradley Roby.
- Last season, Tom Brady ($7,300) averaged 23.4 points per game with Josh Gordon ($6,300), or fringe top-10 numbers. New England is projected for over 28 points and Brady is a natural price pivot off of Winston or Murray.
- The Saints are touchdown favorites at home. Even with the addition of Laremy Tunsil, Justin Edwards still ranks Houston as the eighth-worst offensive line in the league. Alvin Kamara ($8,700)/Saints defense ($4,100) is an upside stack.
- Of the cornerbacks projected to start in Week 1, Oakland trots out three who finished in the bottom 16 in fantasy points per target allowed. Daryl Worley is the worst of the bunch, and he will spend time covering Emmanuel Sanders ($5,600) and Courtland Sutton ($5,900).