FanDuel NFL Week 1: In-depth Player Pool with Expert Analysis
Without a preseason, which doesn’t tend to reveal much anyway, we have less information on what is going to be substantially different for our FanDuel lineups this year. At the end of the last season, four players proved to be a great core to build around each week: QB Lamar Jackson, RB Christian McCaffrey (CAR, $10,000), WR Michael Thomas (NO, $8,800), and any T.E. playing the Cardinals Defense, which this week is TE George Kittle (S.F., $8,000).
There is no reason to change that approach for Week 1. All four are projected to be the top scorers at their prospective positions. However, it’s hard to fit all four into a lineup and not be completely rolling the dice with other positions.
I’m not a mass entry player. I research and make a few lineups each week and then proceed on to the next. With FanDuel $4 entry for a $1 million top prize, I made a few more lineups than usual. The additional lineups allow exposure to core four while playing others in great matchups for well-rounded lineups. It also made for a longer article than norman, as more players are in the play pool.
Research, The Three Mikes
As regular readers of my column, you will not only see my research of stats but the analysis of some of the best experts in the industry (If you can’t beat them, join and credit them). Mike Tagliere of FantasyPros and Mike Woellert of 4for4 are frequently quoted. This year, I will be adding Mike McClure of SportsLine.
Tagliere’s weekly column, The Primer, is the most compressive look at Fantasy Football. It’s typically about 20,000 words and had well thought out information on every fantasy-relevant (and not so relevant) player. Tagliere takes into account defensive injures, schemes, matchups, and historical numbers. I admire Tagliere’s work. This article is somewhat modeled after The Primer but reduced to only the players I’m using.
Woellert is an expert columnist at W.R. vs. C.B. matchups at 4for4. He continually finds low owned undervalued players that have huge weeks. When spending up at W.R., it’s great to know they are in an advantageous situation. As the season progresses, patterns emerge, and it becomes clear which C.B.s should be exploited. Our goal will be to play W.R.s, who are covered by C.B.s, who average near or above 2.0 fantasy points per target.
McClure is a DFS millionaire. He does his computer modeling and publishes players to focus on based on simulating games 10,000 times each for SportsLine. McClure’s info has continuously put me in the money playing PGA, including winning a GPP tournament. I’m looking forward to including his information for NFL play.
While my articles give you free exposure to a sliver of the information, at FantasyPros, 4for4, and SportsLine, I would recommend subscribing to any or all of them to help with your research.
Week 1 Player Pool
Lamar Jackson (BAL, $9,400) only had one game last year, where he had one game last season where he scored less than 20 fantasy points. Neither came against the Browns. In two meetings against Cleveland, he passed for 485 yards and six T.D.s (3 each). He also ran for 166 yards. That is only slightly above his average of 80.4 yards a game. Those rushing yards is like spotting a Q.B. two passing T.D.s. With seven rushing TDs, Jackson averages a rushing T.D. nearly every other game, which scores six points as opposed to the four points you get for passing T.D.
Drew Brees (NO, $8,100) faces a Bucs defense that allowed the third-most (20.75) fantasy points a game to opposing Q.B.s. Brees is home where he had a 119.7 QB rating last year while he averaged 332.8 yards a game and threw 17 of his 27 T.D.s.
Matt Ryan (ATL, $7,800) is facing the Seahawks and is $600 cheaper than QB Russell Wilson (SEA, $8,400). The game has the highest over-under at 49, with the Seahawks favored by just 2,5 points. The two are closely projected and ranked. Ryan’s discount provides value.
Mitchell Trubisky (CHI, $6,900) will likely be extremely low owned and has the opportunity to provide a 3X return while providing salary relief to spend elsewhere. In three most recent games against the Lions, Trubisky has thrown three T.D.s in each of them while reaching over 300 yards twice and had a rushing T.D.
Gardner Minshew II (JAC, $6,200) is another dirt cheap option with more than ample opportunity for a 3X or greater return. “I’ve said it all offseason… Minshew has been underrated by the fantasy community,” wrote Tagliere. “He posted top-18 type numbers in 71.4 percent of his games, which ranked 12th among quarterbacks. While that doesn’t highlight a ceiling, it does highlight a floor, especially for those who like to stream the position. Keep in mind that the floor was intact while he rushed for 344 yards without a single touchdown.” Minshew has also had success against Indianapolis. “The Colts are a defense Minshew crushed last year, pouring on 295 yards and three touchdowns on 39 attempts. Even going back to Nick Foles in Week 11, he was able to throw for 296 yards and two touchdowns against them, so the Colts defense clearly didn’t match up well against the Jaguars skill position players.”
Michael Thomas (NO, $8,800) lead all W.R.s with 374.60 fantasy points last season. Chris Godwin (T.B., $7,700) had the second most with nearly 100 points less at 276,10. Sure Thomas may have some regression, but don’t count on it this week. He faces the Bucs who allowed the most fantasy points a game to W.R.s at 47.25. The second most was the Giants at 41.08, or a full T.D. less. Thomas has also had a ton of success against Tampa Bay. “He’s played them seven times, racking up 94 or more yards in six of them, including 180 or more twice,” wrote Tagliere. “Against a similar secondary to the one he’ll face this week, he smashed them for 19 receptions for 296 yards and three touchdowns in two games last year.”
Julio Jones (ATL, $8,200) caught 10 of 12 targets for 152 yards to score 20.1 points against the Seahawks last year. The Seahawks secondary is similar. If Jones can find the end zone, he could have a monster day. Jones is a core player for McClure.
Davante Adams (G.B., $8,000) provides the constancy you want. He scored 15.3 or more points in nine of the last ten games. That’s because he averages 11 targets a game. The chances of Adams having a 3X performance this week is excellent. “If you’re playing DFS, you’ll want to know this… The Vikings will be starting three new cornerbacks this year,” wrote Tagliere, “Former first-round pick Mike Hughes has been elevated to the No. 1 cornerback on the depth chart. He’s never been asked to shadow No. 1 receivers, as that was typically Xavier Rhodes’ job, but it’s likely his job this week.”
Allen Robinson (CHI, $7,200) is the number one W.R. for the Bears and the most logical stack with Trubisky. “Robinson was targeted 153 times last season, a 9.56 per-game average,” wrote Woellert. “The Lions secondary is going to miss Darius Slay, and it appears Robinson will find himself lined up on rookie, Jeff Okudah—talk about being thrown to the wolves in Week 1. Robinson ran 50% of his routes in 2019 on the left side, so he should see the rookie on most of his routes. If he does move around, he’ll match up with Desmond Trufant. Trufant has battled various foot injuries that have zapped some of his speed. Trufant is coming off a 2019 season in which he was responsible for four scores and yielded 2.4 fantasy points per target. No matter where Robinson lines up, he’ll have a favorable matchup.”
DJ Chark (JAC, $6,600) stacked with Minshew cost $13,300 and projected by 4for4 to yield 28.2 points for a 2.12X return while leaving a ton of cash to build around them. Chark had 20 targets in two games against the Colts last season and should be covered by CB Xavier Rhodes, who was brutal last year. “Targeting Rhodes last season typically produced good results,” wrote Woellert. “Rhodes had a rough 2019 season, allowing 77% of his targets to be caught and four scores while failing to produce an INT. He yielded 2.2 fantasy points per target. Even if Chark moves around, he’ll find himself on Rock Ya-Sin, who has a great name but allowed just under two fantasy points per game at 1.98. Chark is a nice spot to produce. Especially with Leonard Fournette out of the picture, there might be more emphasis on the passing game.”
Odell Beckham (CLE, $6,900) appears to be a value based on talent and opportunity, but the matchup against the Ravens is brutal. When W.R.s did have big games against Baltimore last season, it tended to be in the slot and not on the outside for deep balls where Beckham dazzles. Nevertheless, the game has a reasonably high over-under at 48 with Ravens favored by 7.5. That means Vegas expects a final score of about 27-20. Those 20 points for Cleveland present an opportunity for Beckham to score a T.D. and game script for Beckham to be targeted late as the Browns are expected to playing catch-up.
Adam Thielen (MIN, $6,800) is similar to Beckham in that he should see plenty of targets, but is in a difficult matchup. Thielen should see 8-12 targets, and with his talent, that should be enough regardless of the matchup, to provide value at this price.
Tyler Lockett (SEA, $6,800) is the number one W.R. on the team that is projected to win with the highest over-under. He will likely see in the range of 6-10 targets and has the matchup to make the most of it. “(Atlanta) allowed a 67.5 percent completion rate (fifth-highest), 9.52 yards per target (second-highest), and a touchdown every 17.3 targets (eighth-most often) to wide receivers,” wrote Tagliere. “What does all that add up to? 1.97 PPR points per target, which ranked as the third-highest mark in the league. Not an average secondary now, eh? Lockett caught all six of his targets for 100 yards in their meeting with each other last year. Considering they lost long-time starter Desmond Trufant, it’s hard to say they’re going to get better. Start Lockett as a rock-solid WR2 who comes with plenty of upside in this matchup.”
Stefon Diggs (BUF, $6,600) has a very favorable matchup against the Jets. “I really like Stefon Diggs’s favorable matchup opposite Pierre Desir this week,” wrote Woellert. “Diggs produced an aDOT (average depth of target) of 14.8 and Desir yielded 9.8 yards per target, so I’m not sure he’s going to be able to run well with Diggs this week. Desir allowed 16.3 yards per reception and just under two fantasy points per target.”
Terry McLaurin (WAS, $6,500) is a very similar play to Beckham and Thielen. McLaurin has the talent for a big day, but will likely be covered by C.B. Darrius Slay, who allowed a skinny 58.3 catch rate last season for the Lions. McLaurin faced Slay and the Lions last year and caught just 5 of 12 targets for 72 yards. Nevertheless, at the price point per target expects, McLaurin had the opportunity to reach 100 yards and a T.D. I’m not necessarily expecting fireworks. Still, there is a solid floor at a low price to build around.
Note: Beckham, Thielen, and McLaurin are included in the player pool because their price in enticing based on projected volume and talent provide a solid floor for points with upside. They will not be used together in the same lineup because their ceilings are likely caped based on matchups. The main reason for them is they partner well with a W.R. on the opposing team that is in a good matchup. This is further explained in lineup build. But in that price range, Locket and Diggs have better matchups.
Kenny Golladay (Det,(7,300), Marvin Jones Jr. (DET, $6,200), is cheaper than Locket and Diggs and could explode for a big day on Sunday. Jones Jr. will likely see an uptick in targets with teammate WR Kenny Golladay ($7,300) extremely limited in practice this week with an ailing hamstring. Jones will probably either see rookie CB Jaylon Johnson or CB Kyle Fuller, who allowed 1.78 fantasy points per target, according to Woellert.
Marquise Brown (BAL, $5,900) stacked with QB Lamar Jackson provides the best-projected value return of 36.1 points at a combined cost of $15,300 for a projected return of 2.36X. That’s a great base to build around! Brown’s cheapish price also allows for other marquee players despite spending for Jackson.
DeSean Jackson (PHI, $5,700) faces a Washington Football Team that Vegas belies is the worse in football at 150 to 1 odds to win the Super Bowl. Like Miami last year, we will likely pick on Washington regularly. Oh, yeah, Jackson destroyed them last year in Week 1 when he caught eight of nine targets for 154 yards and two T.D.s to score 31.4 points. Then he got hurt in Week 2 and was done for the year. Now healthy, this speedy veteran looks to pick up where he left off. “Philadelphia will be without Alshon Jeffrey and Jalen Reagor,” wrote Woellert. “Jackson and Zach Ertz should be the primary pass catchers with some John Hightower and Greg Ward mixed in. I like Jackson’s matchup on Fabian Moreau the most. Moreau allowed 73% of his targets to be caught while yielding 2.1 fantasy points per target.”
George Kittle (S.F., $8,000) is arguably the best T.E. in football and faces a Cardinals defense that allowed 14 T.D.s to the position last season. “What happens when you take one of the league’s best tight ends, remove all the wide receivers around him due to injury, and then put him up against the league’s worst defense against tight ends,” wrote Tagliere. “We’re going to find out in Week 1. The Cardinals were historically bad at defending tight ends last year. Seriously, they allowed league-highs in yards per target (9.02), catch-rate (75.4 percent), and targets per touchdown (8.1). That all amounts to 2.39 PPR points per target, while no other team in the league was over 2.04 points per target. They allowed nearly 70 more PPR points to tight ends than any other team. Am I driving my point home yet? There were 13 tight ends who finished top-10 against them. Okay, I’m done. To be fair, the Cardinals did draft one of my favorite defensive players in the draft when they snagged linebacker/safety hybrid Isaiah Simmons at No. 8 overall. He’s going to help, that much is true. However, this is his first NFL game, with no preseason action. If you think it’s that simple to stop Kittle, don’t you think other teams would’ve game planned to do it?”
Zach Ertz (PHI, $6,600) is another elite T.E., and like Kittle, will likely see a ton of targets as the Eagles are missing offensive weapons. “Ertz is clearly in his prime against a team that allowed 1.90 PPR points per target last year (7th-most in NFL),” wrote Tagliere. “Now, it is a new defense being installed, but that’s where the advantage really comes in for the Eagles, as Ertz/Wentz have played together for years in the same offense, while Washington is trying to learn how to communicate amongst each other. With tight ends, communication is paramount, as you’ll have one of a cornerback, linebacker, or safety assigned to him, and if one man misses his assignment, Ertz will take advantage.”
Hunter Henry (LAC, $6,000) produces when healthy. He is healthy should see an uptick in targets with WR Michael Williams (LAC, $5,900, shoulder) a game-time decision and likely limited if he does play. Five of six T.E.s who saw more than three targets against the Bengals last year finished as top-10 for the week, according to Tagliere. Henry had top-5 upside potential and a reduced price.
Christian McCaffrey (CAR, $10,000) scored 471.20 fantasy points last season. The next closest was R.B. was Aaron Jones at 314.80 at 156.40 fewer for a near a 10 points a game difference. McCaffrey faces a Raiders defense that allowed the eight-most fantasy points per opportunity and 205.7 PPR through the air to R.B.s, according to the Tagliere. The Raiders looked to improve on those numbers with a new linebacker corps, but that is likely to lead to communication errors for McCaffrey to exploit. McCaffrey has shown to be game script proof. If the Panthers are trailing, that just likely means more targets for McCaffrey. That being the case, I am playing both McCaffrey and the Raiders cheap defense at $3,200, and one lineup will include both.
Josh Jacobs (LVR, $8,200) faces a Panthers defense that allowed a league-worst 34.07 fantasy points a game to R.B.s as the allowed 5.32 yards per carry.
Austin Ekeler (LAC, $7,700) exploded on to the NFL scene last year and finished fourth among all R.B.s with 309.0 fantasy points. There may be some regression for Ekeler as the Chargers parted ways with pass-happy QB Philip Rivers (IND, $7,100) with Q.B. Tyrod Taylor (LAC, $7,000). That probably means fewer pass-catching opportunities for Ekeler. This week’s matchup against the Bengals is one that Ekeler should be able to exploit both through the ground and the air. “The Bengals are a team that was demolished by running backs last year, allowing a massive 4.58 yards per carry and even more importantly, 7.40 yards per target,” wrote Tagliere. “The acquisition of D.J. Reader in the middle of the defense will surely help, but they do have two new starting linebackers as well, so this unit is far from familiar with one another. Running backs averaged 29.1 touches per game against the Bengals last year, which leaves plenty of room for Ekeler to get 16-plus touches.”
Joe Mixon (CIN, $7,300) has a smoking matchup against the Chargers, who have a solid secondary but have struggled against the run. The Bolts allowed a league second-worst 28.75 fantasy points a game to R.B.s.
Marlon Mack (IND, $6,100) or Jonathan Taylor (IND, $5,400) are in a great spot against the Jaguars who allowed an eighth-worst 26.13 fantasy points a game to R.B.s. The issue is this looks to be an undefined timeshare to start the season. Nevertheless, at their price points, there is an opportunity for both to reach 2X or one of them to have a huge day. The price point for Taylor is likely the cheapest he will ever be.
Tarik Cohen CHI, $5,200) is a solid flex play against a Lions defense that struggled against pass-catching R.B.s last season. He may also see an increased workload with teammate RB David Montgomery (CHI, $5,900) coming off of a groin injury. “Cohen is one of my favorite RB3/flex plays for a few reasons,” wrote Tagliere” “One is Montgomery’s potentially limited workload, while the other is the Lions’ inability to slow down pass-catching backs. They allowed 1.91 PPR points per target to them last year, and teams took full advantage, averaging 13.5 PPR points per game through the air alone to their running backs. Cohen caught four passes in each game against them last year, but with Trubisky on a short leash, I’m guessing he’ll be safer than usual and dump the ball off to Cohen.”
Antonio Gibson (WAS, $4,600) should see a decent portion of Washington’s run game with the departure of RB Adrian Peterson (DET, $5,100), who spoke glowingly of Gibson’s talent when he was released. However, the Washington backfield is still a timeshare, and there may not be enough touches to go around for anyone to stand out in what is likely a poor game script for R.B.s against the Eagles. With that said, all you need is for Gibson to fall into the end zone to pay off at his price. Gibson is one of McClure’s picks.
Miles Sanders (PHI, $6,800), Boston Scott (PHI, $4,700) could have a massive day against Washington. Sanders was initially one of McClure’s picks this week. That’s likely Sanders had the best game of his career against Washington late in the season last year when he rushed for 122 yards and a T.D. on 19 attempts and added six receptions for 50 yards and another T.D. for 32.2 points. The issue is Sanders is battling a hamstring injury and is a game-time decision. If Sanders doesn’t play, then Scott is an absolute steal at his price, and I will likely be building at least one more lineup with him in it. If Sanders does play, Scott is still a substantial value as Sanders will probably see a reduced workload.
Joshua Kelley (LAC, $4,500) is the Chargers fourth-round pick has been the talk of training camp. It’s unclear if Kelley has officially beat RB Justin Jackson ($4,500) out for the number two spot and take on what was the Melvin Gordon (not on the main slate) role, which is now with the Broncos. If he has, then an opportunity is there for Kelley to put up a 3X or better return against the Bengals. Kelley should be lowered own between Scott and Gibson, which makes him a great GPP play at minimum price.
Take a Side
There isn’t an exact science in what a winning lineup looks likes. However, they should tell a logical story, and certain elements are frequent.
When building a lineup, I’ll try to check off most of the criteria:
1) Q.B. stacked with a W.R.: This allows for a double score when the two connect.
2) Opposing W.R.s: A recent analysis of big tournaments winners found a high percentage were constructed two W.R.s in the same game from opposing teams. The opposing W.R. correlation makes sense because high scoring shootouts allow for opportunity on both sides of the ball.
3) R.B. stacked with Defense: There is a strong correlation between an R.B. performing well with their team’s defense. One factor for this is when a team has a large lead late in the game, the R.B. gets extra carries to run out the clock. When it comes to defenses, I don’t shy away from paying down. That’s not to say that I seek to play them, but are more than okay with it to play the offensive player I want. There are many times when a low priced DST ends up being the top fantasy scorer of the week because of a kickoff return for a T.D., or turnover turned into a T.D.
Mix It Up: Don’t wholly copy these lineups as I will be using them. Instead, use this article as research and use the players to build your unique winning lineup.
Also, be sure to stay with IroniqMedia for all of your fantasy information throughout the season here.
Follow Dan on Twitter @sandiegosports.