This is a weekly article focusing on DFS strategies for the Sunday night and Monday night NFL games
In week 1, we find ourselves with a larger than normal primetime slate as the NFL decided to schedule two Monday night games, in addition to the regular Sunday night game. We’ll go game by game, looking for potential areas to exploit and matchups to attack. Both Fan Duel and Draft Kings offer tournaments for this three-game slate, which shapes up like this:
- New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys (Sunday, 8:30 ET)
- New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings (Monday, 7:10 ET)
- Los Angeles Chargers @ Denver Broncos (Monday, 10:20 ET)
Starting in Dallas, you probably heard by now that Ezekiel Elliot was able to avoid suspension and will take the field with his teammates in this NFC East rivalry game. Dallas showed us last year that their game plan will focus on controlling the clock, as they look to take a run heavy approach regardless of opponent. Although the Giants front seven is not weak against the run, the overall volume that Elliot will take on makes him an excellent play here. Zeke also has other factors in his favor as well. It is hard to imagine he wouldn’t have an extra chip on his shoulder, coming off of the suspension news. A favorite strategy of mine is targeting players when their salary is lower than we will likely see it in the coming weeks. This is a great way to maximize value, as we want to target players that can exceed their salary-based expectations, rather than feeling like we are forced to play them after a drastic price increase. Elliot will almost certainly balloon up to the 9K range on Draft Kings for week 2, making week 1 a time in which we can capitalize on his current value.
The passing game for Dallas doesn’t overly excite me, as New York boasts one of the better defensive backfields in the entire league. However, Dez Bryant is always worth a look in any matchup, as he can go toe to toe with elite cornerbacks and often win his individual battle. Dez is the type of player who can shine in primetime as well, so I wouldn’t be too scared to use him. The rest of the Cowboy’s offense profiles as risky tournament plays, that certainly aren’t guaranteed to excel.
The Giants expect Odell Beckham to possibly miss this game, which means added targets and opportunities will be abundant for the rest of the offense. The biggest beneficiary should be the newly acquired Brandon Marshall, as long as chemistry with Eli Manning is not an issue. However, ownership percentage is certainly something to monitor. If news breaks that Beckham is indeed going to sit this one out, you would have to imagine that a good amount of people will pivot over to Brandon Marshall. While this doesn’t make Marshall a bad option, it makes Sterling Shepard that much more appealing if he goes under owned compared to what he should be. Eli Manning has the potential to throw the ball 40+ times, putting both Shepard and Marshall firmly in play. To get an even more contrarian play, we want to look at rookie tight end Evan Engram. While there are a lot of unknowns with Engram, he has impressive size and speed. The first round pick has a lot of potential, but it remains to be seen if he can capitalize right away while sharing time with blocking tight end Rhett Ellison. Overall, the Giants offer several risky plays in the passing game with decent upside. Second year running back Paul Perkins could be intriguing as well, with the potential for added check downs and involvement in the passing game due to the Beckham injury.
As we move over to Minnesota, we come across two dome teams that have notably different styles of play. For years now, the Saints have been an explosive offensive team, featuring several players who can light up the box score any week. With Brandin Cooks now in New England and Willie Snead suspended for the first three games, Michael Thomas will be the clear and undisputed leader of this receiving core. Look for Drew Brees to target him early and often. Ted Ginn and Brandon Coleman figure to step up in the second and third receiver roles, and they are both capable of putting up a big game. I will not be attacking the Saints wide receivers on the prime time slate as heavy as some people are. I expect US Bank Stadium to be rocking and ready to go, with the crowd noise presenting a significant challenge for the Saints, despite being led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. Michael Thomas will likely find himself matched up against Xavier Rhodes the whole game. While Brees will still look his way, it may be beneficial to take a risk in a lineup or two on Coleman, Ginn, or tight end Coby Fleener, rather than to go heavy on your exposure to Thomas. If Thomas is projected to be highly owned, I will likely look to fade him from the majority of my lineups, instead using that salary to spend up on the likes of Ezekiel Elliot and others.
My main interest from the Saints offense comes from the running backs. Mark Ingram is far from a safe bet, but offers upside with his low salary and ability to produce in the passing game as well as in the more traditional way of running between the tackles, and off tackle. We saved the best for last here, as Adrian Peterson gets to take the field for his first career game against the Vikings. Peterson, like Ezekiel Elliot is a big name running back who likely comes into this game with a huge chip on his shoulder. I expect the Saints to want to do everything they can to take the crowd out of the game as best they can. Running “All Day” all night may very well be the best way to do so. It is important to remember in DFS, we want players who will accrue volume and usage. Peterson not only checks that box, but is an absolute steal at only 4500 on Draft Kings. For perspective, this is 100 less than Carlos Hyde was on the main slate Sunday, and he was widely touted as an amazing value play.
While I am not a fan of the Vikings offensive line, I do have to give Sam Bradford credit for being able to operate so successfully and efficiently last season. The Saints aren’t what we would call a strong defense, although year after year they seem to at least be able to get after the quarterback. This recipe seems to take us to the conclusion that Bradford may have to get rid of the ball early when he drops back to pass. Stefon Diggs has shown he is an explosive player who can get behind a secondary, but his role has changed a bit in this offense. Diggs has now shifted outside to a more traditional receiver role, while breakout candidate Adam Thielan will shift inside more often than not, and play the role of slot receiver. With the Saints actually profiling as the seventh best at defending tight ends last season, Bradford’s preferred check down strategy when facing the Blitz may actually be to find Thielan over the middle rather than the always consistent Kyle Rudolph. As it stands now, I am more inclined to fade Kyle Rudolph because of this. He also checks in as the most expensive tight end, meaning he will almost assuredly be highly owned. This is a tournament strategy that comes with risk, so if your research made you feel comfortable about playing Rudolph, you may be better served sticking to your guns. Rudolph likely won’t end up in my lineups, but I certainly wouldn’t fault you for starting him. When it comes to Thielan and Diggs, I likely won’t play them both together, but I will have shares of both. For now, Thielan stands out as the better play due the number of routes he should run from the slot.
The Vikings running back situation is one of the more frustrating ones in the league from a DFS perspective. Rookie Dalvin Cook is expected by many to lead the backfield and emerge as the number one running back in Minnesota. The team also signed touchdown machine Latavius Murray, who’s punishing style looks like it will compliment Cook’s very well. The wild card player here and complete long shot is Jerick McKinnon. The former college quarterback is more of a scat back, meaning his red zone opportunities will be short in number. McKinnon is a player to focus on if you are strictly looking for a contrarian low owned player. He is anything but consistent, however he offers something that many players do not. Sometimes McKinnon only needs one or two touches to make an impact; starting him means you’re banking on him breaking off a big play that possibly ends with him in the end zone doing one of his quirky touchdown dances. At the same time, you may not need to gamble and get that risky, with Adrian Peterson’s price making him such a steal. McKinnon only shows up on my radar once or twice a year, and although I will monitor his work on Monday, he won’t crack any of my lineups. Jarius Wright is the same kind of play as McKinnon and simply doesn’t get enough usage to be confident in deploying him.
Our final game takes us to Denver, where we have a AFC West showdown. Many people are scared to play players on the road at Denver, but I expect to find some fantasy goodness here. The only way to beat the Broncos elite cornerbacks is to fit the ball into tight windows. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. are outstanding in every aspect of pass coverage, meaning Los Angeles Quarterback Phillip Rivers will have to force the ball into tight windows if he wants to have any chance of success in the passing game. For once, Rivers will have nearly his full arsenal of weapons surrounding him, as only Mike Williams is expected to miss the game. Keenan Allen is back healthy again, and he joins recent breakout players in Tyrell Williams and speedster Travis Benjamin to round out the Charger receiving core. Dontrelle Inman is listed as questionable, but it would not be a major loss if he didn’t suit up. Rivers can also rely on Antonio Gates, who is on the verge of taking over sole possession of first place on the all-time tight end touchdowns list. Second year man Hunter Henry is about as good a backup tight end as you will find, and actually projects to play about the same amount as Gates, if not more. Since Rivers has more of his weapons around than usual, he may fare slightly better than the public perception seems to expect. While the Broncos defense is among the top units in the league, Rivers is a divisional foe who won’t be intimidated at the prospect of heading into Mile High once again.
Melvin Gordon is shockingly underpriced at only 6600 on Draft Kings. This is another situation very similar to that of Ezekiel Elliot’s, where we want to attack this low price tag before it increases in the coming weeks. In two games against Denver last season, Gordon was able to tote the rock 23 or more times, giving him an outstanding usage floor. This matchup seems to pop off the page during research, as I expect the majority of DFS players to want to find other options at running back, rather than play a younger guy on the road in Denver. I don’t believe there is much reason if any, to be scared of playing Gordon, unless you think the game script will trend towards a Bronco blowout. If that is the case, it will be tough for Gordon to see over 20 carries. All in all, the entire Charger offense will be low owned with very volatile risk/reward potential.
The Broncos’ offense is actually not nearly as exciting as I initially thought it would be. Devontae Booker is out for this game, giving CJ Anderson the unquestioned lead role in the Denver backfield. If you ask me, Anderson should be the obvious choice at starter anyways, even if Booker was healthy. One of the more interesting offseason additions in all of the NFL was the Broncos adding former Chief Jamaal Charles. Charles is coming off of his second ACL injury and is past his prime. However, it would be foolish to think all of his talent has evaporated and I do still expect him to play a nice role for Denver. I don’t see him ending up in my lineups, as I much prefer Anderson. Denver seems like they would want to ease Charles in, and there is little to no reason to use him in a workhorse role.
In the passing game, Denver returns Virgil Green at tight end. Green is a solid player, but doesn’t offer a ton of upside, unless his role is going to dramatically increase this year. Quarterback Trevor Siemian showed his game manager ability last year; Siemian is a quarterback who gets the most out of his ability, and although not superbly talented, is capable of having a good game. As always with Denver, my interest in the passing game will be limited to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, although I would be lying if I said I was excited about playing either. If my roster construction yields an opening where I can easily fit one of them in, I will go for it. As badly as I want to talk myself into playing Emmanuel Sanders, at this moment I can’t quite pull the trigger. Los Angeles has one of the more underrated secondaries in the league, led by corners Casey Heyward and Jason Verrett. With the projected total in this game being the lowest on the three-game slate at only 43.5, I definitely will not be going out of my way to force in players from either team.
I’m wishing everyone good luck on this primetime slate, and I will leave you with this note. Researching and preparing on such an in-depth level offers us the chance to get a great feel for each game. This allows us to think critically about how the whole game may play out or evolve, rather than just analyzing if a certain player will excel. This article should enhance your ability to research and lead you to your comfort zone as you fill out your lineups. Once you have finished your research, it’s time to use it to your advantage! Don’t let yourself be scared off a play simply because nobody is talking about it. It is important to realize when you may have struck gold while researching, and above all stick to your guns and trust your gut. Don’t forget to sit back and enjoy the games so you can see your hard work hopefully pay off. As the 2017 NFL season kicks off, there are many opinions and a lot of analysis and data to be found. But at the end of the day, we can all agree on one thing: football is back and we couldn’t be more excited. Cheers to all my fellow NFL fans; let us make this season even more enjoyable with some success in DFS.
Plug Players of the Week:
These are players I will plug into almost every single one of my lineups, along with their corresponding price tag on Draft Kings
- Melvin Gordon, 6600
- Ezekiel Elliot, 8100
- Adam Thielan, 4800
Important to Note:
- The RB price tier between 4300 and 4600 is very, very interesting and may yield significant upside.
- Keep an eye on the Odell Beckham injury situation, as several players are likely to benefit from his absence. If he does sit, Marshall, Shepard, Engram, and Shane Vereen can all be upgraded.
- We know we will find some fantasy goodness from the Saints. The question is where? I wouldn’t be shocked if Brandon Coleman led the team in targets and came through as a low owned value play, outperforming expectations.
You can follow Nathan on Twitter, @Nathan___Smith
For more content featuring the NFL and more, be sure to stay tuned to The Sports Talk
I write about the NFL and more for TheSportsTalk
Follow me on Twitter: @Nathan___Smith