NFL Deep Dive – Week 2
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.
Prices are listed in (DraftKings/FantasyDraft/FanDuel) order.
After last week’s plethora of crap matchups for QBs, this week things are quite a bit more appealing, especially at the top. The last few years in DFS the dominant strategy has been to pay down at quarterback, given the stability of the position on the whole. The standard deviation in points scored from QB to QB is much lower than at any other position, which makes sense considering they touch the ball on every offensive snap. Compare that to a wide receiver that is lucky to be targeted 10 times. While I think paying down can work for cash this week if you are married to some higher priced skill position players, the quality of the matchup for the six most expensive QBs is so good that I would be pretty surprised if one of them doesn’t have the slate breaking 350 yard/4 TD game you will need to win a tournament.
Tom Brady (7.9/14.9/9.2) vs. Drew Brees (7.7/14.6/8.7) NE at NO: Edge goes to Brady in this case. I have Brees projected for slightly more pass attempts, but Brady’s efficiency should win out here in a dome and with a huge 31 point team total. It is possible that the Vikings brand new offensive line is really good, but I think much more likely that New Orleans’ defense is still a bottom five unit. I am concerned about the Patriots dwindling offensive options, but there are still a number of weapons that I don’t think NO is equipped to handle. It would be a bump to Brady if Amendola is cleared. The only significant worry is that NO can’t do anything to slow the Pats on the ground, as they will be more than happy to run the ball 40 times with a deep RB corps headlined by stat geek darling Mike Gillislee. The argument for Brees is that if it gets ugly he could easily have a 400 yard garbage time game, but my suspicion is that people will overreact to the Patriots apparent defensive woes and he will be overvalued in tournaments.
Aaron Rodgers (7.4/14.0/9.1) vs. Matt Ryan (7.5/14.1/8.2) GB at ATL: Second marquee matchup where I prefer the road QB. I just don’t buy that ATL will be able to generate enough of a pass rush to bother Rodgers, and he absolutely shred teams when given time, last season throwing the most TDs (by a lot) when taking 2.5 seconds or more to throw and the third most when not pressured, according to PFF. While I’m not entirely sure what to make of the GB defense situation (they had Russ running for his life but that looked to be largely the O-line’s fault), you are still paying a premium for a career year from Ryan. Add to that Rodgers’ incredible scrambling ability (more rushing yards than any QBs but Tyrod/Kaep last year) and I don’t think this one is close.
I will continue to chase Russell Wilson (6.8/12.7/8.1) SF at SEA for all the reasons I highlighted last week (was clearly hurt last year, 0.44 points per dropback destroyed his previous career low of 0.58), as he gets a nice matchup at home against the possibly-improved-but-almost-definitely-not-good 49ers defense. Rookie 49ers LB Reuben Foster looks awesome but also looks like he won’t play. The Seahawks offensive line has never been good and that has not really been a problem historically. Their offense does not rely on time in the pocket nearly as much as other teams because Wilson is so good with his feet and because he is so short that he operates better outside of it anyway.
If trying to save money I have no problem with Philip Rivers (5.8/10.9/7.0) MIA at LAC: Miami’s defense doesn’t particularly scare me, and while I think a number of people are scared by the idea of its heavy run offense slowing the pace and limiting plays, Miami was actually second in opponent plays per game allowed when on the road last year. I am really buying the Chargers. The offensive line should be fine and they are loaded with skill position players. If they get a little health run good I expect big things, and that should start against this defense built up of rookies, cast offs, and old people. The Chargers should be able to run well enough to keep Miami from hammering them with a still potentially scary pass rush.
Lastly, Blake Bortles (4.4/10.0/7.1) TEN at JAX is absolutely horrible but also min salary on DK and Fdraft, he’ll HAVE to throw more than he did last week. If you love the rest of your lineup you can throw him in last and might live to tell the tale.
Mike Evans (7.7/14.6/8.5) CHI at TAM: I do think Evans headlines the position on this slate, despite not being the most talented receiver going. Consider this: last year, the Tampa Bay “deep threats” were Vincent Jackson, Cecil Shorts, and Russell Shepard, leaving Evans double or sometimes triple covered when he worked in the downfield area he and his QB like to hook up in. The presence of a weapon opposite him in Desean Jackson that opposing defenses will have to respect should greatly improve the efficiency. Jackson carries the added bonus of being somewhat of a one dimensional burner, so I don’t think he’s going to take away all that many targets from Evans. While these Bears corners are on the bigger side and are decent leapers, no one is winning a jump ball against Evans, whose freakishly long arms on top of a 6’5” frame and 37” vert make him tower above all challengers.
Chargers receivers MIA at LAC: I think Keenan Allen (5.8/11.0/7.1) is the cash play and the easiest to project for a big workload against a mediocre Miami secondary, but I will always be intrigued by the size/speed/vert combo of Tyrell Williams (4.7/9.2/6.3), who actually achieved slightly more separation per target (2.4 to 1.8 SEP per NFL NextGen Stats, neither great) against a very tough Broncos secondary. Williams is one of my favorite tournament plays, with great long touchdown potential.
Jaguars receivers TEN at JAX: Not a pretty situation, but even snap adjusting Bortles to the lowest number of pass attempts on the slate gets you a pair of sub 4k receivers that should pick up 6-10 targets each in Allen Hurns (3.9/7.7/5.6) and Marqise Lee (3.8/7.4/5.9). I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in saying I don’t expect the Jags to pummel the actual-quarterback-having Titans into submission like they did the Texans, and Tenn graded out much stronger against the run than the pass last year, both in DVOA and PFF grades. Somebody has to catch the thing.
Martavis Bryant (5.5/10.3/6.2) MIN at PIT: Didn’t work last week, and I don’t think the matchup is as good, but the price is down and the ownership should be too. I think the chemistry will come for Ben and Martavis. Additionally, the two star players in Minnesota’s secondary, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith, should be kept busy with Antonio Brown and Le’veon Bell, respectively. Second CB Trae Waynes is actually even faster than Martavis and can jump with him about as well as anyone can be expected to, but his agility scores are horrible and if Bryant has any moves whatsoever working it should be a massive mismatch. GPP only, but this will pay off eventually. Last week I said I wasn’t playing a GPP lineup without a Steeler. I think that will continue to be a theme.
Adam Thielen (5.0/9.9/5.8) MIN at PIT remains awfully cheap after his smash game against New Orleans. I don’t expect everything to go right on the road against a tougher Pittsburgh team, but he should probably be 5-600 more.
Jordy Nelson (7.9/15.0/8.1) GB at ATL: Managed to haul in 7/8 targets last week while being blanketed (1.2 SEP) against a ridiculous Seattle defense. I mentioned earlier not being particularly scared of the Atlanta pass rush, and there is no way the corners will be able to hold coverage if Rodgers has the time he needs to throw receivers open. ATL CB Desmond Trufant is a big name coming off of a season ending injury whose PFF coverage grade has quietly declined every year he has been in the league.
Titans rookie Corey Davis (4.1/8.0/5.7) TEN at JAX played a lot more than I was expecting in week one, out there on 66% of offensive snaps and picking up 10 targets. I think there are a few red flags on him long term that we can get into if he starts to break out, but for now I think this is a buying opportunity on a very cheap player with upside. Star Jags corner Jalen Ramsey missed practice Wednesday with an ankle injury, and if he has to sit out Sunday it should create a trickle-down effect, giving Davis some better looks.
If Jacoby Brissett gets the start I like the chances for Donte Moncrief (4.0/7.8/5.6) (6’2”, 4.4 40, absolutely ridiculous leaper) to get a chance at some jump balls against Justin Bethel while T.Y. Hilton and Patrick Peterson dance on the other side of the field. Bethel is actually decent sized for a corner and also an incredible leaper, but he has gotten torched a number of times in his NFL career.
Running back, for me, is much less about some kind of physical mismatch as it is workload, expected game script, and access to touchdowns. With wide receivers and even quarterbacks I can often find reasons to get wacky if I find something beyond the box score, but for the most part with RB I don’t overthink it and play the Vegas sheep role. There are other ways to get weird.
Melvin Gordon (7.0/13.3/7.6) MIA at LAC: More Chargers, more love. Gordon is one of the true solo RB shows still operating in the NFL, and the only one this cheap with every contextual factor going for him. Well, except Todd Gurley, but I’m taking that W and moving on for now. Home favorite, gets the vast majority of the touches including at the goal line, involved in the passing game, mediocre opposing run defense. Nice solid value with plenty of room for upside if Jay Cutler turns in a classic Jay Cutler game.
I don’t think it makes sense to give up on Le’Veon Bell (9.8/18.6/9.0) MIN at PIT after one game. The Steelers generally looked out of sorts, not moving the ball the way one would expect against the Browns defense. I am okay chalking that up to rust and I still think this offense should be ridiculous. Bell only played 71% of the snaps in his first week back after holding out and missing the offseason. That chemistry will return, and the Bell 40 smash is coming. I like this spot at home against Minnesota more than most will. I respect them, but they aren’t so dominant that they can shut down a Steelers team (once they get it going, anyway) with this many guys that command a double. Not jamming in for cash, but if enough value pops up (which it looks like may happen) I am into it. We just saw the floor game.
Ty Montgomery (5.8/10.9/6.5) GB at ATL: This dude just led all running backs by playing 90% of the snaps against SEA last week. If we can actually project him for 15 or so rushes and 5 targets in this offense then he should be priced closer to 7k, especially when considering that Atlanta allowed the most receiving yards per game to RBs last year and just got lit up by a Bears RB most of us had never heard of last week. Definite cash play for me.
Jacquizz Rodgers (4.4/8.7/6.6) CHI at TB: Honestly I’m fairly surprised this guy is still in the league, considering he is 5’6”, <200 lbs., and not very fast or elusive. But he gets it done, consistently rating as a fine part time player who catches the ball well out of the backfield. At this price it’s not about game breaking ability though. It’s about volume for a team at home that is projected to score 25 points while he fills in as the feature back for the suspended Doug Martin.
If it looks like one of the Baltimore running backs will take the lead, both Terrence West and Javorius Allen are significantly underpriced for a highlighted role. I have no read on the situation right now, but I will be paying attention to the beat writers to see if it sounds like one will out touch the other, particularly Allen.
Martellus Bennett (3.9/7.7/5.8) GB at ATL: The Packers obviously are another offense I am targeting. Bennett is a very good blocker, which often was frustrating last season with the Patriots and in week one against that brutal Seattle defense. The Atlanta front worries me much less, and if he gets out and runs some routes, well… think about what Rodgers did for Jared Cook last year, and now imagine a person with actual hands in that role.
Charles Clay (3.0/6.0/5.2) BUF at CAR: Not a very good matchup, as he will probably see a fair amount of Luke Keuchly and Captain Munnerlyn in coverage, and the Bills are a horrible team only projected to score 17.5 points on the road. BUT, as I mentioned last week, Tyrod Taylor hasn’t worked with any of his skill position players outside of Clay and Shady before this year, and I expect the looks to continue in the early part of the season. Saw nine targets last week and saw his price drop further while compelling options around him like Zach Ertz got big hikes. Should catch more than four if that happens again, and if he scores another touchdown life is lit.
Rob Gronkowski (6.9 lol/13.0/8.1) NE at NO: This is 100% about attacking New Orleans. Gronk seems maybe a tad overpriced, but if the Patriots are moving the ball at will like we’d expect them to, there is no more dangerous target in the red zone. Excels at those deep middle routes Thielen kept torching New Orleans on this past week. More a tournament play but the path to the three TD game is there, and I don’t think people will plan on going up to him with all the expensive QBs and WRs.
Coby Fleener (3.1/6.0/5.3) NE at NO: This guy is bad, but again, cheap targets. Willie Snead is still out due to suspension and without the 17 Saints wide receivers we have become accustomed to, Fleener could actually get work. The Patriots linebacking corps is banged up, and the game could shoot out or end up in a bunch of garbage time. Plug your nose and click.
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.
Rams: I think that last week’s performance may inflate their ownership a little, and they don’t have the nut matchup like they did against Indianapolis. Washington’s offensive line is good, but the holes are in the middle, and the league’s best interior pass rusher in Aaron Donald is back this week. I don’t trust Kirk Cousins, and that is exactly what I want when targeting a fantasy defense.
Chiefs: Justin Houston looked really good last week, and the Chiefs racked up 13 pressures against a good New England offensive line that was committed to the run. Philly too has a decent offensive line, but they pass a lot, which will lead to more opportunity for KC to create problems. Add to that the always nascent potential for Tyreke Hill to do something insane on special teams and this makes for a nice tournament play.
Bucs: I kinda like the Bears offensive line too, but this is more a play on the Bucs getting up big at home and Mike Glennon doing something stupid. Brent Grimes has shown ball hawking tendencies over his career.
The Cardinals are potentially in for some fun against that miserable Indy team, as are the Raiders if that pass rush they displayed against Tennessee wasn’t a fluke.
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