To quote the legendary 1984 smash hit “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama, “It’s a cruel, (cruel), summer/Leaving me here on my own..” After a seemingly endless eight months, the glory of NFL DFS has returned. As usual, week one presents us with some lucrative contests, with a once-in-the-season opportunity to capitalize on an influx of amateur players, and a possibility of massive amounts of site overlay. (“Overlay” is the term used to describe when a site guarantees more money in prizes than the amount covered by buy-ins.) Considering that salaries for both DraftKings and FanDuel were released weeks ago, there are now some blatantly underpriced options on both sites that we can exploit. As we go through each position, I’ll be discussing roster construction for both cash games and tournaments, and explaining the logic behind using each player in which format(s).
Considering that I’m mostly a cash game player, we’re going to lead off with the quarterbacks that I’ll be targeting for value and a high floor projection. On DraftKings in particular, I always like to spend down at this position in order to lock in studs at running back and wide receiver, which places Carson Wentz squarely in the mix for me this week. Wentz’s price on DraftKings makes it possible to jam in the likes of Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, and LeSean McCoy, while still offering a high floor in a great matchup as a small road favorite in Washington. When you combine Wentz’s 5th most passing attempts with Washington’s 25th ranked DVOA in 2016, I believe he makes a strong cash game option with the upside for multiple touchdowns that keeps him on the tournament radar, also.
Aside from Wentz, Aaron Rodgers and Carson Palmer are two other quarterbacks that I’ll be considering for cash games on DraftKings. Despite facing an elite defense in the Seahawks at home on Sunday afternoon, Rodgers’ volume and cheap price warrant consideration as a high floor cash game option on DraftKings, and a relatively easy fit on FanDuel, also. While I’m not high on any of Rodgers’ pass catching options individually, he has an abundance of riches in terms of targets, and I’m confident that he will be able to exploit any weaknesses that Seattle leaves open. Carson Palmer and the Cardinals are a small road favorite in Detroit with one of the most exploitable matchups on the week in the passing game. After a poor start to the 2016 season, Palmer finished strong down the stretch, remains healthy heading into 2017, and will be able to take advantage of the lack of pass rush that the Lions will deploy. Equipped with the best pass-catching running back in the league in David Johnson, as well as high possession receiver Larry Fitzgerald in a gorgeous matchup against Quandre Diggs, I like Carson Palmer’s floor and upside combination in week one, and will be considering him for both cash games and tournaments.
Turning our attention to tournaments, the list of quarterbacks I’ll be using will be rounded out by Marcus Mariota, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Deshone Kizer. Mariota’s Titans are a home favorite in the second-highest projected total of the slate. Outside of Khalil Mack, the Raiders defense may be one of the least impressive units in the league, and present a great matchup for Mariota to exploit in his first game since the horrific leg injury he suffered last season. The Raiders were the 25th ranked DVOA unit in 2016, and also generated the least amount of sacks. Mariota’s price on DraftKings keeps him out of cash game consideration, but on FanDuel, I won’t fault you for using him. Pairing Mariota with tight end Delanie Walker is one of my favorite stacks in week one. Russell Wilson has absolutely horrendous numbers versus Dom Capers defenses. Wilson sports a 2:9 TD:INT ratio in the last two meeting versus Green Bay, but that won’t be enough to deter me from deploying him in some tournament lineups this weekened. The Green Bay defense is simply not all that talented, and I like Wilson’s chances of exposing their below average cornerbacks, especially in the slot with Doug Baldwin. Cam Newton offers some elite tournament upside in a matchup against the 49ers in San Francisco. Cam dropped 340 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, and only 1 interception in his meeting versus the 49ers in 2016. The Panthers added Christian McCaffrey with the 8th overall pick this season, and he has generated a tremendous amount of buzz all summer. Kelvin Benjamin looked amazing in the preseason and Greg Olsen is still an elite tight end. Plenty of pass catching options, a great matchup, and high team total makes Cam an excellent tournament play. Finally, I’m not opposed to taking the savings at punting quarterback with Browns rookie Deshone Kizer. The ability to rack up points on the ground boosts Kizer’s floor this week against the Steelers, and the savings you receive by going to him really opens up salary elsewhere for you to jam in your favorite studs. More of a tournament play for me, but I don’t hate the idea for cash games, either.
You aren’t going to find too many hot takes in this section. I’m using a core of seven running backs this week and I expect them all to be pretty chalky. With the expected roster construction including one or two of the top priced running backs, I think you can find plenty of differentiation by spending up at wide receiver in tournaments. As for the seven running backs, they are Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray, Todd Gurley, Christian McCaffrey, and Carlos Hyde. I won’t be using Murray or CMC in cash games, but they make elite tournament options. The other five running backs I’ll be using in both formats.
Le’Veon Bell will face the Cleveland Browns will be without top pick Myles Garrett which provides quite the boost to an already juicy matchup. While some may be concerned with his potential workload after getting in limited preseason action, Bell himself said he’s ready for a full workload that could reach upwards of 30 carries. Cleveland had the 27th ranked DVOA run defense in 2016, and Bell had his way with them in Week 11 of last year to the tune of 146 yards on 28 carries, as well as adding 8 receptions. I wouldn’t overthink this one.
While I don’t think think it’s necessary to spend up for both Bell and David Johnson in cash games on DraftKings, it’s considerably easier on FanDuel, and that is the likely route that I will take. While David Johnson doesn’t have quite the tasty matchup that Bell has, the Lions linebackers are inept at defending against pass catching running backs, and there are none better than DJ. Due to his passing game involvement, Johnson has an elite floor for cash games each and every week, and tournament winning upside in stacks with Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald.
The Buffalo Bills are not going to be a good football team in 2017, but we should absolutely ride their stud running back LeSean McCoy until Buffalo ultimately decides to trade him, or runs him straight into the ground. McCoy will push for 30+ carries and generate some targets in the passing game against a Jets defense that is now without elite defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson. A near double-digit home favorite, Buffalo should ride McCoy as much as possible in this spot in order to keep the ball out of the hands of TyGod Taylor, whom management are seemingly not very high on. I love this spot for Shady so much that I’m heavily considering pairing him with either Le’Veon or DJ in DraftKings cash games.
In terms of my favorite running back values on the week, Todd Gurley tops the list. Expect new head coach Sean McVay to feed Todd Gurley in their week one opener in order to boost his confidence after a dismal 2016 campaign. The Colts “defense” will be sucking wind quickly as I don’t anticipate Scott Tolzien will be able to keep their offense on the field for long periods of time. Gurley is another candidate for 30+ touches, and at a significant discount on both DraftKings and FanDuel, he is an elite cash game and tournament option despite the fact that he will be very popular.
Carlos Hyde is simply mispriced on DraftKings. That’s all there is to it. New head coach Kyle Shanahan is widely regarded as an offensive genius, and despite the difficult matchup against the Carolina Panthers, the price and volume are too good to pass up. Sticking with the same game, I love Christian McCaffrey and his pass catching upside in tournaments. CMC has his own playbook to start his NFL career, and I expect the Panthers to put that on display against a 49ers run defense that was putrid in 2016. Elite tournament upside here. Topping off running back will be DeMarco Murray, who I expect to be the lowest owned out of this bunch. I love the Oakland/Tennessee game, and I’ll be doing my best to get as much exposure to it. Murray rattled off 114 yards on just 16 carries versus Oakland last season, and while Derrick Henry’s increased role is concerning, I think Murray still holds the upside needed to win tournaments this weekend.
As discussed earlier, I believe the popular roster construction in week one will have players paying up at running back, and saving at every other position. With that said, the mid-priced wide receivers I love for cash games include Larry Fitzgerald, Doug Baldwin, Amari Cooper, Kelvin Benjamin, Terrelle Pryor, and (gulp) Kendall Wright.
Larry Fitzgerald is a pass-catching monster who finds himself in a matchup with Quandre Diggs, who ranked towards the bottom of every pass coverage metric according to Pro Football Focus. I’m pressing the lock button on Fitz in cash games on both sites, and I’ll have plenty of tournament exposure, too. Doug Baldwin is another high possession slot receiver with massive upside. Look for Russell Wilson to pepper Baldwin with targets against the weak Green Bay secondary in a potential high scoring game. The volume puts him in play for cash games and the touchdown upside keeps him in play for tournaments. After a mid-week injury concern, Amari Cooper looks ready to roll against the Titans and should give them fits down the field. I don’t think it’s necessary to spend up for Cooper in cash, but his tournament upside against Tennessee’s burnable secondary is too good to ignore. Many expect Cooper to take a big step forward this season, and a tasty matchup against the Titans would be a good way to get started. Kelvin Benjamin had a very impressive preseason, appears to be in great shape after some concerns were raised about his weight earlier in the season, and gets a matchup against a 49ers secondary which is still being rebuilt by new head coach Kyle Shanahan. Last season against San Francisco, Benjamin dropped a 7/108/2 line and a repeat of that performance is not out of the realm of possibilities here. I’ll be honest, I’m drinking the Terrelle Pryor kool-aid this season. I have him on my lone season-long team, and I will be rostering plenty of him in DFS this weekend. Sure to be a red zone monster, Pryor will also benefit from both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson bolting Washington and leaving an abundance of volume open to consume. Furthering Pryor’s appeal is his matchup against Eagles CB Jalen Mills, who was Pro Football Focus’ dead last ranked cornerback in 2016. While he’s certain to see some of new acquisition Ronald Darby on Sunday, Pryor owners can find solace that DeVante Parker just shredded Darby in the preseason. Now, I’ll preface this selection by saying this is simply a punt value due to the volume that he’s going to see. But, I’m recommending Kendall Wright in cash games. He’s basically free on DraftKings, could see upwards of 10 targets in the slot against the Falcons in a game that they’re certainly going to be trailing in. With Desmond Trufant likely covering Kevin White for most of the game, I can see new Bears QB Mike Glennon looking for Wright early and often in order to move the chains. I may deploy a full tournament fade of Wright, given that I don’t believe his touchdown equity is very high.
As for the tournament side of things for wide receivers, the usual suspects are all in play and make for great game theory pivots off of the massive amount of ownership that the expensive running backs are sure to see. Antonio Brown gets to face a Joe Haden-less Browns team which he had tuned up consistently even when Haden was still in Cleveland. The narrative of Big Ben not being as great on the road is real, the ownership will more heavily be skewed onto Lev Bell, and we have an opportunity to get Antonio Brown at a fraction of the ownership. If you’re scared off of Antonio because you believe that Martavis Bryant will siphon off some of his volume, Brown actually averages more fantasy points per game with Bryant on the field. It doesn’t hurt that the Steelers sport the highest team total on the board, either. Julio Jones will be severely underowned this weekend. While the Bears defense is not as bad as public opinion makes them out to be, I still think Julio will be a focal point of the offense on Sunday under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Whereas former OC Kyle Shanahan continually used Julio as a decoy in the red zone, I also expect that change under Sarkisian. The Falcons may have troubles move the ball on the ground against the Bears sneaky good defensive line, and I think that only boosts Julio’s appeal for a massive tournament winning style game. You know who seemingly isn’t being talked about at all this week? AJ Green. In the last 5 games against the Ravens, Green has hauled in 6 touchdowns. Ravens stud corner Jimmy Smith played in all of those games. Green is one of the best tournament receivers on the board given ownership considerations.
The tight end section starts and ends with Zach Ertz for cash games, in my opinion. Severely underpriced on DraftKings and FanDuel, I love Ertz’s chances at a massive game against a Washington defense who gave up the second most catches and third most yards in the league to opposing tight ends last season. The Eagles traded slot receiver Jordan Matthews to Buffalo which will only open up more volume for Ertz over the middle all season. Wentz and Ertz developed a strong connection in 2016 and I expect that to be a focal point of the offense. While Ertz is no secret this week and destined to be extremely high owned, I will likely be taking an overweight approach to the field in tournaments, also. For the teams that I’ll be pivoting off of Ertz, Delanie Walker will be the tight end I go to next. I love the Mariota/Walker stack against the Raiders who gave up the fifth most yards in the league to the position in 2016. The only other tight end that I’ll really be considering is Tyler Eifert. When he’s healthy, Eifert is a matchup nightmare and a redzone monster. He’s caught a touchdown in each of the last two games against the Ravens and will be a sneaky play at the position this week.
Defense seems pretty straight forward this week. I’ll be keeping a tight core of defenses this week that will include: Bills, Texans, Rams. The Steelers are a fine option if you’re looking to pick on the Browns, but I think Kizer is capable of having a very solid game here which limits my appeal to Pittsburgh. As for the Bills, they get to face a Josh McKown led Jets team who is devoid of talent all over the field. While the Bills defense isn’t a unit that I expect to be elite on the season, I think this is a great opportunity to pick on the Jets before the masses really flock to this streaming option. If you believe in narratives, the Houston Texans defense is for you this week. After being devastated by Hurricane Harvey, I expect the Texans to give an inspired performance at home against pick-six savant Blake Bortles. The Texans are an elite defensive unit, get to face one of the most turnover prone quarterbacks of recent memory, and are at home. Seems like a no brainer. Finally, I want to make sure I have exposure to the L.A. Rams defense against Scott Tolzien and the Colts this Sunday. Despite being without stud Aaron Donald in Week 1, the Rams should be able to generate plenty of pressure on the Colts offensive line and get to Tolzien with ease. They come cheaper than both Buffalo and Houston, and offer tremendous amounts of upside in this spot.
As mentioned throughout the article, I think there is a straight forward approach to cash games this weekend, which opens up plenty of opportunity to pivot in tournaments for differentiation. I believe you MUST have one of Le’Veon Bell or David Johnson in your cash games, if not both. Take the savings with value plays like Carson Wentz, Zach Ertz, and Kendall Wright to make that happen. In tournaments, consider paying down at one or both of your running back spots in order to get in the stud wide receivers who will be significantly underowned compared to their running back counterparts.
Best of luck in your contests this week, and stay sharp out there.
You can find me on Twitter @_ryanpaulsen for more DFS nonsense.