This article is part of our DFS Tournament Guide series.
I've been playing daily fantasy since 2013 and can't remember seeing anything that compares to last week. Sure, there have been slates where the top scores in tournaments were above 300 on DraftKings and near 250 on FanDuel, but even in those high-scoring weeks, a lineup with 200 on DK or 170 on FD was good enough for a min-cash in large tournaments — not necessarily the case this past Sunday.
While there's no need to drastically adjust strategy in response to an outlier, last week did serve as a useful reminder that the quality of DFS competition has improved. Will Fuller was more than 20 percent owned in large tournaments on DraftKings, following four straight games with no touchdown and a maximum of 10.1 points. He may have been a popular pick among DFS pros, but that alone can't explain the extent of his Week 5 ownership.
Our new reality is one where many of the people that chased prior-week touchdowns a few years ago now are chasing air yards or positive TD regression. That doesn't mean we can't find value at low ownership — Allen Robinson last week was a good example — but it does make things somewhat more difficult. I believe it's more important than ever to prioritize point-per-dollar value, with a secondary goal of unique lineup construction rather than worrying too much about ownership percentages of individual players.
We still don't want to see exact copies of our lineups in tournaments, nor do we want to see a bunch of lineups that have just one or two players different. Unique lineups can take down tournaments even if one of the players underperforms, while popular constructions usually demand that everyone produces a big game. That's not to say we should sacrifice too much value just to be different, but it's at least worth considering when we build a lineup around the chalky stack of the week.
As always, I'm happy to discuss strategy in the comments section below, or on twitter (@RotowireNFL_JD).
Note: All prices listed come from DraftKings, but most of the logic can be applied to other sites across the DFS industry. Discussion is limited to players from the "main slate" of games kicking off at 1:00, 4:05 and 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday. The strategy below is meant for large-field tournaments, where payouts typically are limited to ~20 percent of lineups, with the vast majority concentrated at the very top. Risk is our friend.
These are the players with the best projections relative to price — the guys that are great plays both for cash games and large-field tournaments. While we don't want our tourney lineups to look like cash-game lineups top to bottom, there's nothing wrong with using a few "chalk" picks that have strong odds to outperform their salaries. These players, along with a couple passing-game stacks, tend to form the core that remains fairly consistent throughout my lineups.
- RB Le'Veon Bell, NYJ vs. DAL ($6,400)
I originally had Chris Carson in this spot before a look through weekly projections and a discussion with Andrew Laird convinced me Bell is the better play. The 26-year-old is fifth among all players in target share (27 percent) and second among running backs in snap share (94 percent), averaging 17.8 PPR points with just one touchdown from 372 scrimmage yards (Hello, positive TD regression). In addition to playing with a third-string quarterback, Bell already has seen matchups against three defenses among the top 12 for fewest fantasy points allowed to running backs (BUF, NE, PHI). Following last week's disaster against Aaron Jones, the Cowboys have given up the sixth-most PPR points to RBs (28.5 per game), ranking 20th in Football Outsiders' DVOA against the run. With Sam Darnold finally back in the lineup and hopefully not in danger of dying, Bell should move closer to his output from Week 1 — 23.2 PPR points.
- WR Michael Gallup, DAL at NYJ ($5,600)
Undeterred by arthroscopic surgery, Gallup returned to action last week with a 7-113-1 receiving line on 14 targets and 86 percent of snaps in a loss to Green Bay, finishing the contest as the NFL leader in receiving yards per game (113.0). His 29 targets put him a smidge ahead of Amari Cooper (28) in the three weeks both wide receivers have played, with Gallup's 27 percent share in active games ranking sixth in the league (right below Bell). In the terminology of season-long fantasy, Gallup has moved into WR2 range, yet the DFS price is more WR3. A matchup with the Jets adds to his appeal, as only nine teams have allowed more DK points per game to wide receivers. Gang Green's starting outside cornerbacks, Daryl Roberts and Trumaine Johnson, are 81st and 99th in yards allowed per cover snap (1.54, 1.72) among the league's 113 CBs with 50 or more cover snaps, per PFF. Gallup has lined up outside on 84 percent of his snaps.
Honorable Mentions: RB Leonard Fournette, JAX vs. NO ($6,700); RB Chris Carson, SEA at CLE ($6,000); WR Robert Woods, LAR vs. SF ($5,600); WR D.J. Chark, JAX vs. NO ($5,500); WR Courtland Sutton, DEN vs. TEN ($5,000); WR Robby Anderson, NYJ vs. DAL ($4,000)
Stacks are the centerpiece of any tournament lineup, seeking to take advantage of positive correlations between players. It rarely makes sense to use a quarterback without one or two of his pass catchers, even if the player in question scores a decent portion of his fantasy points with his legs. Ideally, a stack also includes a pass catcher from the other side of the contest, hoping to take advantage of a tight game where both teams are still chucking the ball around late in the fourth quarter. (Implied team totals are listed in parentheses)
Saints (21.25) at Jaguars (22.25)
Featuring the third-smallest over/under (43.5) on a 10-game slate, Saints-Jaguars doesn't make for the best stacking choice at first glance. In this case, it's not about any expectation of a crazy shootout; rather, the appeal lies in favorable pricing for individual players. Gardner Minshew ($5,000), D.J. Chark ($5,500) and Alvin Kamara ($8,000) all rank among the best values at their respective positions, and they should be popular choices in cash games.
I'll discuss Kamara in more detail below, so let's focus on an unexpected development: Minshew being unleashed — and thriving — as a downfield passer. After starting the year with average target depth (aDOT) shy of seven yards in three consecutive games, Minshew ranked among the league leaders in Week 4 (11.4 aDOT, 3rd) and again in Week 5 (9.6 aDOT, 7th). The aggressive approach creates a higher ceiling, and it also bodes well for his No. 1 target, with Chark's 14.5 aDOT ranking second to only Mike Evans' 15.9 among players with 35 or more targets.
I also like the matchups for Michael Thomas ($7,800) and Dede Westbrook ($5,100), though the latter feels a bit pricey for a receiver who relies on lower-value passes (5.9 aDOT, one target inside the 10-yard line). I made a case for Westbrook as a season-long play in my matchups column earlier this week, but I'm less enthusiastic about him in DFS tourneys where we can get a big-play weapon like Courtland Sutton ($5,000) at a slightly lower price.
- Best Stack: QB Minshew + RB Kamara + WR Chark
Texans (25.75) at Chiefs (29.75)
I'm partially mentioning this game out of a sense of obligation, given a massive over/under (55.5) that's four points above any other Week 6 contest. I won't deny the potential for a shootout, but it feels like all the key players are either overpriced or accurately priced.
I do think Tyreek Hill ($6,900) is a bit cheap relative to long-term expectation, and we know that Hill, Patrick Mahomes ($7,500) and Travis Kelce ($7,000) all have a decent chance to lead their respective positions in fantasy scoring any given week. Just remember that Houston is 15th in DVOA against the pass and Kansas City is No. 8. The public narrative may suggest otherwise, but both of these defenses have been competent in terms of per-play efficiency.
On the other side of the game, the price gap between DeAndre Hopkins ($7,400) and Will Fuller ($6,000) quickly has shifted from too large to too small, making the former a sharper play after the latter had the game of a lifetime last week. Houston's unexpectedly decent rushing attack (5.1 YPC, 8th) should find success against a Chiefs defense ranked 31st in YPC allowed (5.3) and 30th in DVOA against the run — a mismatch that has implications for hurting volume in other parts of the game.
I don't feel any need to use Carlos Hyde ($4,400) or Damien Williams ($5,700) in DFS lineups, but it's easy enough to imagine a scenario where they eat up enough touches and clock to keep all those Mahomes/Watson lineups south of the big money in tourneys. Duke Johnson ($4,100) is a better fit for game stacks, offering potential for chunk gains along with the likelihood of more playing time if the Texans end up pass-heavy.
To be clear, I'm skeptical of the Houston side of this potential stack, not the KC side. We know the Chiefs will come out of the gate pass-heavy, and they may have Hill back in the lineup to make it all work.
- Best Stack: QB Mahomes + WR Hill (if he plays, TE Kelce if not) + RB Duke Johnson
Falcons (26.75) at Cardinals (24.75)
This is another game with a high total that nonetheless should be treated with some skepticism for DFS stacking, given the Falcons' wide distribution of targets and the Cardinals' lack of interest in throwing downfield. Of course, both defenses involved truly are terrible, which isn't the case in the aforementioned Texans-Chiefs game.
There's also the matter of Arizona and Atlanta ranking top six in both pass-play rate and situation-neutral pace, though the Cardinals opted for more balance the past two weeks, relying on a mixture of Kyler Murray ($6,500), David Johnson ($7,600) and Chase Edmonds ($4,600) to move the ball on the ground. Murray had his best fantasy game last week on the strength of a 10-93-1 rushing line, but none of his WRs has enjoyed a big day since Week 2 in Baltimore.
While the Atlanta side provides a higher degree of certainty that we'll see production through the air, it's no longer a near-lock for Julio Jones ($8,000) to be doing a huge portion of that damage. With Austin Hooper ($5,000) and Mohamed Sanu ($4,500) both more involved so far this season, Jones is just ninth in the league with 44 targets and much further down the ranks for target share (an uncharacteristically low 20 percent). Maybe it's ust a matter of sample size, but I don't love making that bet when he's priced No. 1 among all WRs, equal to a high-end RB1 like Kamara.
In any case, Hooper and Sanu have the largest matchup advantages against an Arizona defense that's been especially soft over the middle of the field — another topic discussed in my matchups column from Thursday. The elephant in the room is Johnson's back injury, potentially setting up Edmonds for three-down usage at a dirt-cheap price. Edmonds becomes the top value of Week 6 if DJ can't go.
- Best Stack: QB Ryan + WR Jones (I know, I'm a hypocrite) + WR Sanu + RB Edmonds (if DJ is out)
We can pair a running back with his team's defense to double our bet on favorable game script in certain matchups. Just keep in mind that the scoring correlations aren't nearly as strong as those between quarterbacks and pass catchers, so it isn't worth forcing into a lineup unless the prices for each individual commodity make sense. We also need to account for specialized backfield roles, i.e., using Marlon Mack rather than Nyheim Hines in conjunction with the Indianapolis defense.
- RB Leonard Fournette ($6,700) + Jaguars D/ST ($2,200) vs. NO
In the interest of full disclosure, I don't actually see myself using any RB-defense ministacks this week. The pricing on Fournette and the Jaguars defense makes this interesting, so I'll mention it as a reasonable alternative for anyone that isn't sold on my beloved Minshew-Kamara-Chark stack. There's also merit to combining Bell with the dirt-cheap Gang Green defense, though Bell's reliance on pass-catching production reduces the expectation of long-term correlation. Then we have the matter of my love for Michael Gallup (I don't want to use a defense from the same game as two of my skill players). This is a good time for a reminder that I'm here to discuss options, not to make decisions. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Honorable Mention: RB Le'Veon Bell ($6,400) + Jets D/ST ($1,500) vs. DAL
- RB Alvin Kamara, NO at JAX ($8,000)
We all saw what Christian McCaffrey (and Reggie Bonnafon) did last week, but the issues for Jacksonville's run defense actually started late last season when Derrick Henry rumbled for 238 yards and four TDs. This new version of the Jags is all bark, no bite, more likely to rack up 15-yard penalties than to shut down an opposing running back. Now ranked dead last in DVOA against the run, Jacksonville has taken a big hit with rookie linebacker Quincy Williams replacing Telvin Smith on the weak side. Repeatedly humiliated by McCaffrey last week, Williams has been charged with nine missed tackles and 264 receiving yards into his coverage this season, carrying PFF's No. 77 grade among 79 qualified linebackers. The Jags have PFF's second-worst team grade for tackling, while Kamara leads the league with 38 tackles avoided. The superstar back also happens to be a top candidate for positive TD regression, with just two scores from 583 scrimmage yards. The only cause for concern is an ankle injury that limited Kamara's participation in Thursday's practice.
Honorable Mention: WR Michael Thomas, NO at JAX ($7,800)
Fading the Field
Every week we see at least one or two players carrying high ownership without the backing of a top point-per-dollar projection. Recency bias is often to blame, but in some cases it even makes sense to fade a player with a strong projection, particularly when there are other good alternatives at the same position.
- RB Ezekiel Elliott, DAL at NYJ ($8,500)
I understand the appeal of Ezekiel Elliott when Dallas is playing as a seven-point favorite, but I can't accept the combination of high ownership and the top price on the entire slate when there's better value elsewhere in the same game (see: Gallup, Michael and Bell, Le'Veon). The underlying issue with Elliott is simple: his price reflects 2018 receiving usage that hasn't been there this season. The running back is down to 10 percent target share and 0.71 yards per route (per PFF), compared to 19 percent and 1.38 in 2018. With Gallup replacing Elliott as the No. 2 pass-game option while Randall Cobb and Jason Witten combine for 28 percent of targets, the 24-year-old running back isn't likely to approach last year's 77-567-3 receiving line. Tony Pollard's disappearance from the offense has only helped a little, with Elliott at 13 percent target share the past two weeks.
Other Fades: QB Deshaun Watson, HOU at KC ($6,700)
The SMASH Spot
Volume is king, no doubt. But we still need to account for efficiency, pinpointing situations that give players good odds to outperform their typical marks for YPA, YPC or YPT.
- TE George Kittle, SF at LAR ($5,200)
I'm not sure how much my enthusiasm actually relates to the matchup, but I like the consistency of my column format and this seems like as good a place as any to discuss why Kittle is such a great play. For starters, his salary on DK has reached its lowest point since last September, failing to account for a Monday outburst after DFS contests for Week 6 had already opened. Kittle's slow start to the season, counterintuitively, was largely a product of a too-easy schedule, with Jimmy Garoppolo averaging just 28.3 pass attempts for an offense that leads the league in run-play rate (57 percent). The 26-year-old tight end ranks third at his position with 25 percent target share, so he won't have any trouble putting up stats once the 49ers are forced to throw. For what it's worth, Kittle caught 14 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns on 24 targets against the Rams last season, facing what was arguably a better version of the same defense.
Honorable Mention: WR Adam Thielen, MIN vs. PHI ($6,700)
The Bargain Bin
QB Kirk Cousins, MIN vs. PHI ($5,200)
QB Gardner Minshew, JAX vs. NO ($5,000)
RB Adrian Peterson, WAS at MIA ($4,500)
RB Kenyan Drake, MIA vs. WAS ($4,400)
RB Duke Johnson, HOU at KC ($4,100)
WR Mohamed Sanu, ATL at ARZ ($4,500)
WR DeVante Parker, MIA vs. WAS ($4,200)
WR Preston Williams, MIA vs. WAS ($4,100)
WR Robby Anderson, NYJ vs. DAL ($4,000)
TE Gerald Everett, LAR vs. SF ($3,600)
TE Noah Fant, DEN vs. TEN ($2,900)
D/ST Jaguars vs. NO ($2,200)
D/ST Cardinals vs. ATL ($1,900)
D/ST Jets vs. DAL ($1,500)
The "Sunday Scramble" doesn't need to be stressful. It's not so hard to formulate a plan ahead of time for the best way to respond once inactive lists are released.
- RB Todd Gurley, LAR vs. SF
With Gurley's availability uncertain and Darrell Henderson yet to play a significant role in the offense, Malcolm Brown ($4,300) could be headed for a busy Week 6, albeit against an excellent 49ers defense. Even in the tough matchup, Brown's combination of price and workload expectation would make him an excellent DFS play, but only if Gurley is ruled out. Unfortunately, the game kicks off at 4:05 p.m. ET.
- RB David Johnson (back), ARZ vs. ATL
I don't have much interest in a banged-up DJ at $7,600, but Chase Edmonds ($4,600) becomes the No. 1 value of the week if his backfield mate isn't able to play. Edmonds likely would be tasked with three-down usage against a pillow-soft defense, as D.J. Foster ($3,000) is the only other healthy RB on the roster. Foster has strictly played special teams this season, with his most recent snap on offense coming in December 2017. This is another late kickoff — 4:05 p.m. ET.
Watkins seems like a long shot after missing practice both Wednesday and Thursday. Demarcus Robinson ($5,900), Mecole Hardman ($5,300) and Byron Pringle ($3,500) are far from reliable, but it's reasonable to roll the dice with one of them in Mahomes lineups if Hill remains out for another week. (Hill at $6,900 against a weak group of cornerbacks will be interesting if he's cleared to play and expected to handle a full workload.)
The Ravens have received minimal production from their secondary and tertiary pass catchers, so the argument for Lamar Jackson ($6,900) takes a hit if he doesn't have Andrews or Brown in the lineup. It seems Brown is the one in real danger of being out or limited, perhaps setting up Andrews ($4,800) for a couple extra targets. Regardless, this matchup primarily favors Mark Ingram ($6,600) and Gus Edwards ($3,900), with Baltimore favored by 11 points against a Bengals team that's given up the second-most fantasy points to RBs (31.2 per game).
- CB Jalen Ramsey (back), JAX vs. NO
If you're on the fence about Michael Thomas ($7,800), Ramsey's return might push you in a different direction. I prefer Kamara anyway.
It looks like the Thursday game got most of our bad weather out of the way this week, but there is some possibility for wind to impact the Seahawks-Browns game in Cleveland. Anything around 20 mph or higher is a concern for quarterbacks and pass catchers, so it's worth checking out the forecast Sunday morning.
Adjusting for FanDuel Prices
The prices listed in this article are from DraftKings, and while most of the logic applies to any DFS site, there are a few specific changes I'll need to apply for FanDuel:
- Per usual, Lamar Jackson ($8,200) is a better play on FD than DK, priced way below Pat Mahomes ($9,200) and also below Dr. Watson ($8,400). We even get favorable prices on Tyler Boyd ($6,400) and Marquise Brown ($5,800), creating some appeal for a Bengals-Ravens game stack.
- Le'Veon Bell ($6,800) is priced at RB10 instead of RB7, though it's probably fair given his loss of value on a site that only awards half a point for receptions.
- Tevin Coleman ($5,000) stands out as the best discount RB, unless Chase Edmonds ($5,200) or Malcolm Brown ($4,800) end up starting for their teams. Coleman is part of a three-way timeshare, but he led the 49ers in carries last week in his first game back from an ankle injury.
- Woods ($7,100) and Chark ($6,500) don't provide the same value we get on DK, but Gallup ($6,100) does.
- Carson is my Seahawk of choice on DK, but his $7,200 price tag on FD makes Tyler Lockett (at just $6,300) the better value.
- We know Larry Fitzgerald ($5,600) is more valuable on full-PPR sites, but not to an extent that justifies the price discrepancy between DK and FD.
- I don't see any reason to use Gerald Everett ($6,000) when he's priced so close to Kittle ($6,500), Hooper ($6,400), Andrews ($6,300) and Will Dissly ($6,000). I guess that makes Noah Fant ($4,500) the cheap TE of choice if you're favoring a lineup construction that I hate this week.
- Washington at $4,200 is my favorite D/ST play, but I'm also fine with paying up for Baltimore ($5,000) or going cheap with San Francisco ($3,500).