NFL Deep Dive – Week 1

Hi. Andrew Barron here, eager to get into some NFL talk with you all. Many of you know me from the PGA world, but NFL is a DFS game I play just as heavily and a sport I have been following as a fan for much longer. I will be involved in making the weekly projections here this year, which we are really excited about. We will be powered by the Pro Football Focus premium statistics database, which is something I’ve wanted to be able to use in my analysis for a long time.

The point of this column is to use that data to go beyond surface analysis to find the truly best plays, which often will be the chalk but often will not. Find us in slack to keep discussing every week, as a major part of the system is leveraging ownership versus projection as we get closer to lock and have a clearer idea of the week’s total picture.

Now let’s get into it.

Quarterback:

QB is surprisingly shallow this week considering we have a full slate, with a number of players who will be normal targets in difficult matchups, on the road, overpriced, or not on the main slate. Guys I will be targeting, however, include:

Russell Wilson – SEA at GB: (FDr – $12,900, DK – $6,900, FDu – $8,000) I wish we were getting a bit more of a discount based on Wilson’s struggles last year, but this is still a great spot. The under reported secret is that he played through a slew of leg injuries, which inhibited his ability not just to scramble, but to throw on the run. That is what he does best, and considering not only how horrible the Seahawks O-line always is but also how short he is, that ability to make plays out of the pocket is absolutely necessary.

Per ProFootballFocus, Wilson averaged 0.58 or better fantasy points per drop back (FPDB) in each of his first four seasons before plummeting to 0.44 FPDB last year. I expect that to regress heavily back to his four year baseline. Green Bay mounts a reasonable pass rush (which a healthy Wilson should be able to avoid) but their secondary was atrocious last year and I am just not seeing signs that point towards recovery.

Carson Wentz – PHI at WAS: (FDr – $10,500, DK – $5,300, FDu – $6,000) This is gross just thinking about clicking on the button next to his name, but he is probably one of the safest options in terms of both Wentz’ projected level of production and the added bonus of how much you can improve your lineup around him with his low, low price point (FDr – $10,500, DK – $5,300, FDu – $7,100).

Despite the turnstile of coaching regimes, Washington traditionally presents fairly pedestrian defense.  On the flipside Philly has the third best average pass blocking grade among starters and that bum J Matt is outta there.

Alshon Jeffery probably gets the Josh Norman treatment, but Zach Ertz has a ton of potential at a very enticing price (see Tight End section below), Torrey Smith will at least draw some coverage deep to allow for more space in the middle of the field, and Darren Sproles can still turn check downs into massive gains.

Philly has a reasonably high implied total of 24.25, and the fact that newcomer LeGarrette Blount has apparently played himself into the doghouse this preseason should increase Wentz’s equity share in those touchdowns.

Deshone Kizer – CLE at PIT: This is largely a price play (FDr – $10,000, DK – $4,800, FDr – $6,000), but there definite is tournament merit for those possessing a strong constitution. Kizer is likely to be more of a Ben Roethlisberger/Cam Newton type quarterback who likes to roam around in the pocket, wait for things to develop downfield and take some big shots. To be successful at that, especially with questionable accuracy, one needs time and wider receivers who are either burners or can win jump balls.

Cleveland has a really nice offensive line and I am not particularly scared of Pittsburgh’s pass rush (James Harrison was their only real game changer last year and he has to fall off at some point), and Kizer has both a potential jump ball winner (Kenny Britt) and a burner (Corey Coleman).

If we start by giving him a well below average baseline of 230 yards and a touchdown AND THEN if he can connect on just one bomb and add 30 or so yards with his feet on top of that then he will obliterate his price tag across the industry.

Running Backs:

There isn’t much to say about David Johnson – ARZ at DET (FDr – $17,200, DK – $9,400, FDu – $9,400) and Le’Veon Bell – PIT at CLE (FDr – $18,600, DK – $9,800, FDu – $9,300) that hasn’t already been said. They both dominate their team’s offenses in a way that simply no one else does right now. I’d slightly lean Bell this week, as his offensive line is better and team total is a little bit higher. In theory he gets a few more touches, but I don’t think it is meaningful. I think it is fine and totally doable to play both in cash, and it gives you a fantastic floor. On the other handI am more reticent to pull the trigger in tournaments, as those price tags are enormous and really leave you dumpster diving (and at the same dumpster that the rest of the field is likely in) at the other positions. In order to counter this seemingly obvious situation, I may split it up three ways and do 1/3 Bell, 1/3 Deej, 1/3 skip them both and hope they score 18 points each.

Todd Gurley – LAR vs IND: Man, I don’t want to do this, but for the second year in a row Gurley is in an amazing week one spot and he is reasonably priced (FDr – $11,300, DK, $6,000, FDu – $7,300). While he blew it last year against the 49ers, this Colts team might be even worse (32nd in rush defense DVOA). Add to that the Rams replacing LT Greg Robinson (worst run blocking grade of 76 T qualifiers per PFF) with the totally competent Andrew Whitworth (who had protected Andy Dalton’s blindside his whole career, and forewarning, he will come up in future articles when we talk about how screwed the Bengals are) and I think the Rams might actually be able to run the ball.

The price also does not reflect Andrew Luck’s absence, which dramatically shifts the expected game script into one where the Rams are pounding the ground with a lead. Gurley/Rams D going to be a very popular stack in tournaments, for good reason.

Carlos Hyde – SF vs CAR: Strictly price and volume here. The 49ers offensive line is not very good, and the Panthers severely underperformed on defense and will have LB Luke Keuchly back for now. But Hyde should get 20 touches. His no. 2 is UDFA Matt Breida who was toting the rock last season for Georgia Southern (646 rushing yards and three lonely TDs). Kyle Shanahan has taken over as HC, and he turned freaking Devonta Freeman into a star, so while hopes are high, there are certainly some reasonable reservations. While he will be popular, there is a strong likelihood he pays off his number (FDR – $9,400, DK – $4,600, FDu – $6,800).

Jordan Howard – CHI vs ATL: This is a deep GPP play here, but what do we always hear? If there is ever a time for taking shots, it is early in the season before we get a handle on what the teams are really like and he is priced in that awkward “sweet spot” where he is not a premium option, but not a discount dandy either (FDr – $11,900, DK – $6,300, FDu – $7,500)

We think the Falcons will be awesome again, but who knows? They had a bad run defense even last year. The middle of the Bears offensive line is really really good. Mike Glennon likes to take deep shots, and the best way to set those up is with play action, which only works if the run game is going. I think the Bears are incentivized to try and shorten the game here, and the easiest way for them to do that will with Howard. Maybe the Atlanta line gives up some early pressure against a pretty good Bears front seven and they get turned over. All of a sudden we could be looking at a workhorse back, at home with a lead, presumably with single digit ownership. Dare to dream?

Wide Receivers:

Larry Fitzgerald – ARZ at DET: (FDr – $11,000, DK – $5,900, FDu – $6,400)Detroit had a miserable pass defense last year, and it was even worse at covering short routes. They have largely reworked their linebacker corps this offseason, letting former stud but oft injured Deandre Levy walk and using their first rounder on ILB Jarrad Davis. I still think this is going to take time for this new unit to gel.

At this point in his Hall of Fame career Larry Fitzgerald is basically a TE type who will run a bunch of routes against slot corner Quandre Diggs (109th out of 118 CB coverage grade) and ILB Tahir Whitehead (83rd of 88 LB coverage grade). The outside corners are okay too, possibly funneling more targets into the middle for Fitz and David Johnson.

Kendall Wright – CHI vs ATL: Necessary salary relief for cash games (FDr – $6,300, DK – $3,200, FDu – $5,200) in a game where Bears are home dogs and the game flow should lead to at least 35 or so dropbacks for QB Mike Glennon, and those targets have to go somewhere.

While Glennon’s propensity to launch it deep the last time he was a starter (2nd in deep pass attempt percentage in 2014) could be a tournament argument for big, fast, and injured Kevin White (FDr – $8,300, DK – $3,200 and $5,200), I’m guessing that was more of a function of his primary targets back on those Tampa Bay teams being enormous humans Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson.

Martavis Bryant – PIT at CLE: I am not sure what the Browns plan to defend this guy is, but it is probably not going to work. Bryant is 6’4” with a 39” vertical (about 85th percentile for WR, not taking into account height), and the TALLEST Browns CB is 5’11” Jamar Taylor. We know that QB Ben Roethlisberger loves to take his time and look down the field and with teammates Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown getting all the attention, Bryant is going to be the third priority for the Browns to even notice, let alone actually stop.

Listen we all know that Ben’s home/road splits are real, but I think that will keep ownership down and this is a ridiculous matchup on paper. The former Clemson wideout is just as likely to have a slate breaking double dong game as anyone and he probably my favorite tournament play on the board and his price is terrific on all sites (FDr – $11,300, DK – $6,000, FDu – $6,500)

Doug Baldwin – SEA at GB: This is buying the Russell Wilson resurgence and believing that the Packers are still trash in the secondary. At first I was a little apprehensive about this play as I thought Wilson may have leaned on him more heavily in the short passing game because of Russ’ many leg injuries, however after further investigation, that does not seem to be the case.

Baldwin’s aDOT (average depth of target) of 8.7 yards was a full standard deviation below league average last year, implying about the bottom 15th percentile and that Russ used him to get the ball out quickly. However, his 10.1 aDOT in 2015 was also below average and he STILL had the 6th best yards per target, which I think points to a stability in projection that the absurd 14 touchdown outlier that season does not. (FDr – $12,600, DK – $6,700, FDu – $7,500)

Odell Beckham (QUES) – NYG at DAL: This is for a scenario where ODB doesn’t play… we will need to keep our eye on the news, but if this comes to pass, there should be plenty of targets to go around for Brandon Marshall (FDr $10,100, DK – $5,100 and FDu – $6,800) and Sterling Shepard (FDr – $8,000, DK, $4,100 and FDu – $5,800). Dallas’s slow pace of play and reasonably good corners make them a stay away for me more often than not, but the potential opportunity volume for the price will be hard to pass up.

Marshall is old and was not good last year, but we should not forget that he had Ryan Fitzpatrick and Bryce Petty as his quarterbacks. He’s still one of the biggest and strongest to ever play his position, and I’d rather play him early in the season before the inevitable minor injuries start piling up.

Oakland Wideouts: I am as excited for Amari Cooper (FDr – $13,600, DK – $7,200, FDu – $7,600) as the next guy, but I still think the better play is his teammate Michael Crabtree (FDr – $11,300, DK – $6,000, FDu – $6,900). Cooper doesn’t create great separation (with a mean of 2.7 yards per NFL next gen stats, which about league average) despite being really fast (4.42 40) and really agile (3.98 shuttle).

Crabtree still led the duo in redzone targets (21 to 13) and total targets (142 to 127) last year, and that is important considering Carr refuses to open it up (21st in both deep pass % and total deep attempts per PFF). I expect Cooper takes over as clear no 1 eventually, but for right now I’m guessing he is higher owned despite being more expensive and arguably the second option.

To those playing the extended slates I really think the Brandin Cooks – NE vs KC (FDr – $13,100, DK – $7,700, FDu – $7,400) and Adam Thielen – MIN vs NO (FDr – $8,000, DK – $4,800, FDu – $5,700) can be fantasy gold.  It is also my belief that this duo are going to have different roles than currently projected. Cooks and Edelman have nearly the same measurements except that Cooks is faster, and Brady has never regularly used a short deep threat. While most people seem to be expecting Chris Hogan there I feel like it will be a lot more Cooks personally.

As for Thielen, perhaps I am a tad scared as someone who owns a ton of fellow Viking WR Steph Diggs in yearlong, and I’m pretty worried that their roles may switch. Whether that is paranoia or not, it is more in doubt than it was before the preseason and it’s worth taking some shots trying to be early to a potential change. When was the last time we were right preseason about a Vikings receiving situation?

Tight Ends:

Zack Ertz – PHI at WAS: Another volume play, but this the cash play (FDr – $7,000, DK – $3,500, FDu – 5,900) I think. Jordan Matthews is gone, Alshon Jeffrey is going to be blanketed by Josh Norman, Torrey Smith sucks. This is your target for easy completions. Not much of an athlete but he gets decent separation and is a nice big target. At 3500 you are living clean with 6 for 60, and I think that’s very doable with upside for 100 and a touchdown.

Delanie Walker – TEN vs OAK: Not sure what this guy needs to do to get respect. Last year among tight ends w at least 50 targets he was:

3rd in points per snap

2nd in aDOT

7th in YPT and YPR

Oakland was bottom 10 again in both DVOA against the TE and passing YPG allowed to TE

He’s an absolute steal on DraftKings at $4,300 and even deserves “flex spot” consideration at that price point.  Fewer gamers will look to him on FanDuel – $6,100 where there are more popular options and on FantasyDraft – $8,100 with the extra utility spots, there is less likelihood that gamers consider a second tight end with the added flexibility to go value hunting on the way to Stars-n-Scrubsville.

Charles Clay – BUF vs NYJ: More an interesting pivot off of an unproven Ertz than anything else, but Clay and LeSean McCoy are the only returning skills players for Tyrod Taylor. This trio has had weeks of real productivity together in the past, including down the stretch last year. The Jets are horrendous, got eaten up by tight ends and on short middle routes last year, and project to maybe be even worse this year.  Clay is a fine play in all formats across the industry (FDr – $6,300, DK – $3,200, FDu – $4,600).

Evan Engram – NYG at DAL: I am probably only biting here if WR Odell Beckham is out, but this guy is intriguing (FDr – $5,600, DK – $2,900, FDu – $4,900). Looks more like a wide receiver than a tight end, and I know that gets tossed around a lot but I mean that in a measurements sense. He is small for today’s TE at 6’3”, 235. On a fun note, he also might be the second fastest TE ever to play after Vernon Davis, he ran a nice shuttle, and has long arms/big hands, which should help as a red zone target. Even if I do not pull the trigger today, this is someone I will be keeping an eye on all year.

Defenses:

There are people out there who still actively target low team totals when picking a defense. Approximately 73% of offenses scored between 14 and 34 points in a given game last year, which is a difference of TWO fantasy points for your defense. We want pressure, pace, and putrid playmaking (that means bad QBs, sorry was going for the whole alliteration thing). Tournament winning defenses almost always have a touchdown, and that is going to come from turnovers.

LA Rams vs Indianapolis Colts: (FDr – $6,300, DK – $3,200, FDu – $4,600) The Rams might end up 20+% owned this week, which might make them an solid fade in tournaments as they are unlikely to score multiple touchdowns, but this is definitely the GTO play. They were priced before Andrew Luck went out. The Colts offensive line is bad, Scott Tolzien is worse, and they are likely to be playing from behind. Meanwhile the Rams have the interior J.J. Watt in Aaron Donald, as well as 4-5 other guys that can get after the QB from all angles in addition to really good coverage linebackers and ball hawking corners. This is a perfect storm.

Houston Texans vs Jacksonville Jaguars (FDr – $7,400, DK – $3,800, FDu – $5,100): Blake Bortles is going to be facing a pass rush of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus. I am a little worried that Jacksonville may try to limit the damage with longtime offensive line specialist Doug Marrone running the show, and that coupled with the (wasted) draft pick of Leonard Fournette does point to a more run heavy attack. But if Blortles is gonna be allowed to Blort at all this is exactly the kind of matchup you want.

Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears (FDr – $6,400, DK – $3,300, FDu – $4,700): The Bears line is good up the middle, but their tackles aren’t very good and the Falcons do have a few decent edge rushers and solid coverage corners. If the run game doesn’t get going it will be a long day for Glennon.

Chicago Bears vs Atlanta Falcons (FDr – $4,300, DK – $2,200, FDu – $4,300): Listen, this is not a good idea. HOWEVER, I kinda like it as a stack with Howard, particularly on DraftKings. You are making an assumption about how the game will play, and while that is not the most likely outcome, its probability is much higher than the ownership of this stack. Say it works 20% of the time. You think that the Bears, with that big red 1st next to them for opponent, are going to be more than 1-2% owned? It is worth a small percentage of tournament exposure if entering multiple lineups.

Oh, and get used to streaming whoever plays the Bills or Jets. This week they get each other! I’ll have a little of both sides.

Go and get it everybody.

Find me on Twitter @andrewmbarron or in the FanVice Premium Slack @hotmajik if you wanna talk strat/make jokes/argue