Pat James delves into strategy, cash game plays, and GPP pivots for Wild Card Weekend.
DraftKings Wild Card Round Cash Game Plays
Alex Smith ($6,300)
Boxes Checked: team implied total, home favorite, matchup, rushing upside, funnel defense
Alex Smith gets the best matchup for the best price against a Titans defense that ranks 24th in pass DVOA. The Titans also come in as a “funnel defense,” ranking seventh in rush DVOA. Despite Kareem Hunt’s increased role the last few weeks, the Chiefs main advantage will be through the air. In fact, the Titans rank dead last in defending running backs catching passes, so rostering Smith could get you exposure to Hunt’s production as well. Smith adds the ability to tack on a few fantasy points with his legs as he averages just under four rushing fantasy points per game. In a home game where they are a touchdown favorite, the Chiefs should have their way offensively with the Titans. The Chiefs have the second-highest implied total on the slate against a Titans team that may have shot their shot beating the Jaguars last week.
Todd Gurley ($9,700)
Boxes Checked: home favorite, team implied total, market share of carries, market share of targets, game-script independent, offensive line
Todd Gurley makes for an interesting case as his price is somewhat prohibitive. Basically, if you’re comfortable with the value you have to lock in to get up to Gurley, you have to play him, but you may prefer a more balanced lineup. The Rams are home, TD favorites with a team total of 27, so Gurley is set up well in terms of game script. The matchup with the Falcons is not ideal, as they rank first in fantasy points allowed to RBs, however Gurley remains matchup proof. He will get all the carries and also see his share of targets in the passing game. The Rams rank first in situation-neutral pace of play. Gurley has put together two championship-winning weeks in his last two starts and will be heavily owned.
Leonard Fournette ($7,400)
Boxes Checked: home favorite, team implied total, matchup, market share of carries, projected game script, market share of red zone carries.
This may be the first time all season I’ve written up Leonard Fournette, but his matchup and price are just too good to pass up. He gets the Bills’ league-worst run defense in a great game script. The Jaguars are nine-point favorites with a team implied total of 24 points. Fournette has averaged 20 carries and 3.5 catches over his last four games and is a lock for 20-plus touches. The Jaguars game plan should be to feed Fournette the rock every chance they get. Despite playing well down the stretch, Blake Bortles gave the Jaguars coaching staff a glimpse into the past in last week’s loss to the Titans. With the Bills banged up and not much of a threat, the game shouldn’t get away from the Jaguars, increasing Fournette’s chances for a high workload.
Devonta Freeman ($6,300)
Boxes Checked: team implied total, market share of carries, market share of targets, game script independent, matchup, funnel defense, pace bump
Devonta Freeman is the cheapest RB I’m comfortable rostering in cash games. Freeman has two games over 25 fantasy points in his last three. Game-script independent, he’ll get carries and targets no matter the score. The Falcons are currently five-point road dogs with a 22-point implied team total. The Rams rank 30th in fantasy points allowed to RBs and present a funnel defense for the Falcons. The Rams rank third in pass DVOA and 22nd in run DVOA. Atlanta should have an easier time on the ground than through the air, which may open up more carries for Freeman. The Rams also provide a pace bump, ranking first in situation-neutral pace. Freeman has been heavily involved in the passing game as well – 21 of his 47 targets have come in the last three games.
Michael Thomas ($7,800)
Boxes Checked: home team, team implied total, market share of targets, market share of red zone targets, matchup
Michael Thomas leads the Saints with 27 percent of the team’s total targets and also sees 20 percent of the red zone targets. We have another funnel spot here for a player we want to roster. The Panthers surrender the bulk of their fantasy points to outside receivers and have completely shut down opposing run games.1 And despite also ranking fairly well against the pass (10th), they rank 19th to WR1. The Saints are home TD favorites with an implied total of 27. Thomas has the same floor as many of the RBs priced at or above his salary. I’d personally rather attack both RB spots with studs and roster cheaper WRs, but Thomas is your guy if your paying up at the position.
Dede Westbrook ($4,400)
Boxes Checked: home favorite, team implied total, market share of targets, mispriced
Since returning from injury, Dede Westbrook has led the Jaguars in targets, averaging over seven a game and only registering one game with fewer than six. I’m not extremely fond of the Jaguars passing attack against the Bills, but Westbrook’s usage relative to price is too hard to pass up. Even if the Jaguars are at full strength with Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, and Keelan Cole all suited up, Westbrook will still be targeted enough to pay off his salary. If you are trying to jam Todd Gurley into a lineup, Westbrook is a solid piece to offset his price.
Albert Wilson ($3,300)
Boxes Checked: team implied total, home favorite, projected target market share, funnel defense
So Albert Wilson lit it up last week and that’s unfortunate. He probably will be heavily owned for that simple fact. I wanted a piece of him based on his performance prior to last week, so I was hoping he didn’t produce in Week 17 to keep the box score warriors off. Tennessee is ranked 11th against WR1s but 28th against WR2s in DVOA. Not only is Tennessee a “pass funnel” defense, they also funnel targets to Wilson’s position in the offense. Even if we take out last week’s monstrous performance, Wilson averaged six targets per game over his last five. On this slate we’re going to need a salary saving player or two if we want to roster the likes of Todd Gurley and Alvin Kamara. Wilson is currently listed as questionable, so just make sure he suits up.
Charles Clay ($4,000)
Boxes Checked: market share of targets, TE funnel, pace, projected game script
Charles Clay comes in with a questionable tag, but should play as he has had this type of precautionary rest since returning from injury. Clay owns a 15 percent market share of targets and an 18 percent market share in the red zone. The Jaguars have great perimeter defenders in A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey, which forces the ball to the TE and RB. Speaking of RBs, LeSean McCoy looks very iffy to even suit up, for this game. If McCoy doesn’t go or word is he will be limited, Clay becomes an even better play. The Bills are TD dogs on the road, which lends itself to some garbage time receptions. Lastly, the Bills have been playing with top-five pace this season, which remains an important box to check.
Cam Newton presents the best alternative to Smith, as his rushing floor elevates his overall floor and presents some cash game safety. Alvin Kamara could potentially replace Gurley in your lineup if you need the extra salary. Gurley is the better play in my opinion, but if you find a 2v2 you’re more comfortable with, go for it. Derrick Henry will be a bit chalkier now that DeMarco Murray has been ruled out, but I think I like Devonta Freeman a bit better. At receiver, there is value to be had with the Titans passing attack in Rishard Matthews and Eric Decker. Additionally, Mohamed Sanu and Robert Woods are my favorite plays in the mid tier. I chose Clay as my TE play based on price. He presents the best price per dollar and allows us to get the RBs we like. However, Travis Kelce is my favorite play if you find the salary.
Rams’ Passing Attack
With a ton of emphasis on Todd Gurley this week, Jared Goff and his receivers may go overlooked in tournaments. Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and even Sammy Watkins paired with Goff could be tournament winners in the event their scoring comes through the air. That being said, Gurley is a large part of the passing attack, so mixing and matching all the players mentioned above is a good idea. Surprisingly, Watkins has the highest positive correlation with Goff.
The narrative around Drew Brees and the Saints offense this year is that it’s all about the RBs. Brees was asked to do much less in 2017, but against a Panthers’ secondary that is getting thrashed by WRs, stacking Brees with his pass-catchers could be lower owned and higher upside than you’d think. Michael Thomas should be heavily owned, but you can make the stack unique by adding Ted Ginn or Alvin Kamara.
I have a suspicion Tyreek Hill will go under-owned this week based on the projected ownership of Travis Kelce and Albert Wilson. However Hill boasts a .81 correlation with Alex Smith, meaning when Smith goes off, there’s a great chance Hill will too.
Short Slate Strategy
- Enter your optimal lineup into cash games. Create your cash game lineup as you would on a full slate, by maximizing point per dollar projections. Play the obvious studs and values without putting much thought into ownership.
- In tournaments, focus on a narrow pool of players. Attempting to “cover all the bases” by getting a piece of all the players on the slate is sub-optimal. Choose a narrow core of players and rotate in supplementary pieces when building multiple lineups.
- Correctly fading a highly-owned player is magnified. Correctly fading or being underweight on a chalky player on a short slate creates massive leverage. Mainly because the ownership percentages are inflated. By the same token, if you fade a highly-owned player who subsequently has a monster fantasy day, you’re drawing dead. However, winning a tournament on a short slate requires these tough decisions.
- Utilize a game stack. Pegging the game that will shootout on a short slate and rostering multiple players from that game uses correlation to limit the amount of independent outcomes you need to have correct. Even better if you think Vegas could be wrong about one of the lower total games on the slate.
- Leave some salary on the table. An easy way to be contrarian in tournaments is to not max out the salary cap. This strategy is helpful for me especially because I don’t have an inherently contrarian DFS mind.
- Utilize late swap. Use late swap to move on to lightly-owned players. This is something you should always do with lineups that have underperformed in earlier games, but on a short slate it could vault you from last to cashing with the right move. Your low scoring teams aren’t going to move up the leaderboard with players that are 80 percent owned. It may feel uncomfortable to swap from Christian McCaffrey to Jonathan Stewart, but it’s most likely your only shot.
In cash, we can simply roster what we see as the optimal lineup, but in tournaments you have to get weird at one or two positions. This contrarian lineup construction can be achieved by adding a lightly-owned player to a stack, fading a heavily-owned player, or leveraging how an expected outcome occurs (Jaguars blowout the Bills, but all on Bortles TD passes).
- Ranking sixth in DVOA. (back)