Last year, all my loyal readers wept tears of unfathomable sadness when baseball ended, as that meant the end of the greatest weekly column in the history of the Internet. Thankfully, Razzball has decided this year that they do not want to disappoint everyone out there who make up my loyal fan base, so they have asked me to write a weekly football picks column. Here’s the important stuff – I will be focusing on FanDuel cash picks. That’s not to say that you couldn’t take my advice and use it for other sites, but each DFS site has its own salary structure, so a good play on one site isn’t necessarily a good play on another site. So if you only play somewhere else besides FanDuel, be very careful with these picks as they’re based specifically on the salaries on FanDuel. Further, the bulk of these picks are for cash games. I will make GPP recommendations wherever I feel it’s reasonable to do so, but if you’re only a GPP player, then while this column will still be useful, just know that it’s a cash-first article. Finally, I will be making occasional references to Rudy’s projections, which you should purchase, because they are quite good. That’s not me shamelessly plugging them – that’s me speaking the truth – they’re quite good and quite helpful for anyone who plays NFL DFS. So with that in mind, onto the picks…
Ben Roethlisberger, $7,600 – The home/road split thing is getting out of hand. Players normally do better at home, but for Roethlisberger to be this bad in prime situations this consistently is very noticable, to say the least. It’s normally a hallmark of Mike Tomlin to play down to their competition, especially on the road and then come roaring back at home, thus the 29.5 implied total this week vs the Chiefs. The Chiefs defense just got toasted by the Chargers for a 81.7% passing DVOA (shockingly enough, only 3rd best in week one). The Chiefs defense last year was terrible (dead last in DVOA) and without Berry patrolling the middle of the field or from any upgrades this past offseason, the Steelers receivers should have no trouble getting open and yards giving home Roethlisberger a very nice QB1 projection. The only caveat here is that the Steelers may reduce the amount of passing Roethlisberger does because of the maybe balky elbow, so it’s not without some risk.
Tyrod Taylor, $6,600 – Tyrod always gives you a solid floor with his rushing ability, but Sunday he’s projected to play from behind, in a dome, versus a defense that got absolutely torched by the immortal Ryan Fitzpatrick. That all results in him having a passing ceiling that helps him be a projected top value on the slate.
Case Keenum, $6,700 – Historically, the Broncos have an even bigger HFA early in the season since while players are in shape relative to normal humans, they aren’t quite at their top football game shape yet, so when they go into the high altitude in Denver, the results are a noticeable drop-off in performance. Further, the Broncos are facing the Raiders, who are hot garbage fire and then traded their best player because reasons. The Raiders will get no pass rush and their defense is going to consistently be bad. The Broncos should be able to do whatever they want with the Raiders and that includes Keenum passing all over them. The only question I have is do the Broncos go with a run heavy game script because, again, the Raiders are hot garbage fire on defense, so the Broncos could easily give Royce Freeman 20 carries and Phillip Lindsay 16 carries and still blow the Raiders out.
DeShaun Watson, $7,400 – Last year Tennessee was a pass funnel defense, ranking 24th in pass defense DVOA and 7th in rush defense. Week one was more of the same from Tennessee, who let the Miami Dolphins efficiently score 27 points and specifically, Kenny Stills dropped a 4/104/2 line on them. Watson, with his full complement of receivers, has an absolutely massive ceiling. And as we saw last week against a very solid Patriots defense, he was still willing to use his legs and get those rushing yards giving him a floor.
Todd Gurley, $8,900 and Alvin Kamara, $9,000 – Rudy’s #1 and #2 RBs of the week, and for good reasons. Both are playing for offenses that are willing to feature them extensively. They’re on the teams projected to score the most and third-most points (by Vegas totals) – the Saints check in at 29.75 and the Rams at 29.25. They’re on the two biggest favorites this week (the Rams at -13.5 and the Saints at -10 currently). They’re both at home. They’re both playing defenses that let their Week 1 opponent run wild (James Conner and Adrian Peterson may not have been particularly effective on a per play basis, but both were quite effective and neither is nearly the running back that Gurley and Kamara are. If you’re letting Adrian Peterson run all over you, what happens when you face a guy who isn’t old and broken?). The Browns may have caused 5 turnovers, but don’t be fooled – those were weather and Ben-on-the-road-at-1PM-induced. They still let Conner go bonkers on them. In sum, both these RBs project to absolutely crush. That said, there are ways to distinguish them. Kamara is featured far more in the passing game than Gurley is, but at the same time, the Saints have not shown a willingness to pound Kamara 20-25 rushes the way the Rams are willing to do with Gurley. One could argue that the Saints last year had Ingram to get those rushes, and last week (when Kamara only had 8 rushes), the Saints were game-scripted out of the opportunity to give Kamara those rush opportunities. It’s a plausible argument, but we know that the Rams will look to rush Gurley that many times, if possible, whereas it’s only arguable that the Saints will do so. So that would suggest that Gurley is a marginally better play than Kamara. However, Kamara is also more game-script proof than Gurley is – as we saw last week, even when the Saints get down, Kamara is an integral part of the offense. Even in a 0.5 PPR scoring system, Kamara’s involvement in the passing game is so massive that he can match or exceed all the other RB’s despite not being featured as much on the ground. While the Rams still use Gurley in the passing game, they don’t feature him nearly as much in the passing attack as the Saints do Kamara, so if the Rams fall behind (and that’s a big if, considering they’re a 13.5 point favorite), it’s possible Gurley gets game-scripted to a marginal day. One could also argue that if the Cardinals sell-out to stop Gurley with stacked fronts, the Rams will just pass up and down the field, regardless of game-script – something that hurts Gurley more than Kamara than if the Browns try the same approach to the Saints. So – Gurley or Kamara? Well, FanDuel does offer a Flex…
James Conner, $7,000 – The Steelers use whoever their starting RB is in the exact same fashion. It’s not to prove that they don’t need Le’Veon Bell, since they did this exact same thing with D’Angelo Williams when Bell was only injured/suspended. And boy do they use their starting RB. Vs the Browns in week 1, Conner ran 31 times for 135 yards and caught 5 passes. No other Pitt RB ran the ball or caught a pass. He’s too cheap for this kind of usage in a game that he should have positive game script (-5.5) and a huge total (29.5).
Tevin Coleman, $5,900 – He’s priced for his normal role – a respectable running back involved in both the rushing and passing game who is in a full-blown timeshare with another running back who is just as good (if not better), and also involved in both the rushing and passing game. Except now that other running back (Devonta Freeman) is injured, but Coleman’s priced as if Freeman’s healthy. In the three games that Freeman missed in 2017, Coleman registered 21, 21 and 19 touches with a touchdown in each game). $5,900 is simply too cheap. Carolina’s rush defense is actually fairly competent, so this play really is about the full-time volume for a part-timer’s price.
Dalvin Cook, $6,500 – Dalvin played 57 of 71 snaps last week. He’s a 3-down back (80% snap count and 7 targets in week 1) on a good offense, so you don’t have to fear him being negative game-scripted out of value. There is no reason he should be $6,500. He doesn’t offer quite the value that Conner or Coleman offer, but if he fits a lineup perfectly (or you’re on some weird slate that doesn’t have some of the above-referenced options), he’s good to go.
GPP Recommendation – James White, $6,500 – With Jeremy Hill out for the season, and both Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel questionable, it’s entirely possible the New England Patriots backfield is down to James White and Kenjon Barner (and Barner only signed on Tuesday – mostly for his special teams play). A $6,500 running back on one of the better offenses in the league and where there may be no other running back options is normally an elite play in all formats. However, the fact that the Patriots have shown they are entirely willing to throw the ball 50 times and completely ignore the running game altogether if need be, combined with the fact that a lot of James White’s value comes in the passing game and FanDuel is only 0.5 PPR, removes him from cash consideration. But he’s still a fantastic GPP play. If Sony Michel and/or Rex Burkhead play, that could make White an even better GPP play as either of those two being active will drive down White’s ownership, while possibly having no effect on White’s volume as both of those other RBs could be active but severely limited. Even if Michel/Burkhead are healthy enough to be involved, the Pats could always go to the aforementioned 50-pass attempts game and James White could rack up a monster score in the process, even in 0.5 PPR.
Antonio Brown, $8,900 – Do we need analysis here? He’s good, Chiefs are not. He’s a lock. A caveat – Big Ben is listed as questionable and although he practiced in full on Friday, it’s theoretically possible he does not play. Antonio Brown’s production when Ben is not the QB significantly drops. One could argue that is because Landry Jones (who has been Ben’s backup for the most part these last few years) is objectively horrible as an NFL QB, and Josh Dobbs may actually be good, so Brown’s performance will not suffer. But at $8,900, that’s not a risk I want to take in cash. It’s also almost likely not relevant as I highly doubt Ben misses this game.
Dante Pettis, $4,500 – With Marquise Goodwin out, Pierre Garcon is going to get elite CB Darius Slay shadowing him. And outside of the 1 TD catch, Slay shut down Robby Anderson last week. One of the hallmarks of a Kyle Shanahan offense is the QB throws to whoever is open and Pettis should be the WR who gets open (given that Slay should be on Garcon). San Francisco has the 4th highest Vegas implied total this week (27.25) and should be able to throw against this Detroit defense, which gets worse without Ziggy Anseh and Pettis is cheap for the kind of production he’s projected to have. Now if it comes out that Slay is shadowing Pettis or not shadowing anyone, i’d go with Garcon since he’s less boom or bust and still pretty cheap himself. I’d list him as a GPP recommendation but that’d just be repeating this basic point – if Slay doesn’t shadow Garcon, Garcon is a tremendous play, as reflected in the fact that he’s Rudy’s #1 value WR as of this writing (to clarify – the only WRs who are better values are $8K or higher). I’m skeptical of it because I don’t think it’s properly adjusting for Slay’s shadowing, but with Matt “I put a pencil behind my ear to make me look smart” Patricia coaching, maybe Slay’s usage will change.
Quincy Enunwa, $5,000 – Enunwa quickly established himself as Rookie sensation Sam Darnold’s favorite receiver, with a massive 47.6% target share in week 1, which was the highest in the league. Miami doesn’t project to be any good defensively and last year they were a pass funnel defense, ranking 29th in DVOA vs the pass and 15th vs the run. The Jets should be able to pass on them and Enunwa should rack up the catches, yards and TDs (given his 3 targets in the red zone).
GPP Recommendation – DeAndre Hopkins, $8,400 – Watson and Hopkins were the Mahomes and Tyreek of last year. This year, they are still the OG Mahomes and Tyreek. Just play them in a GPP. Of course,you can also play Hopkins on his own, because, he’s quite good at catching footballs. Hopkins 174 air yards is 6th in the league (he led the league last year) and it’s likely to be a productive relationship as long as both are healthy. It doesn’t even matter what the matchup is, if Hopkins comes down with 2 long TD catches, you’ve got your value right there.
George Kittle, $5,600 – Kittle crushed a good Vikings defense last week and would have crushed even more except he dropped an 80 yard TD. With Goodwin out and Slay likely shadowing Garcon, the 49ers passing offense is going to be concentrated into Pettis, Taylor and Kittle (again, if Slay is not shadowing or shadowing Pettis, this changes things).
Jared Cook, $5,000 – The Raiders as a team are going to be hot garbage fire all year and lose lots of games. Their receivers are also huge boom or bust guys (Amari) or old and busted (Jordy). Cook is neither of those things and Carr has to throw to someone and since he loves to check down and throw short and over the middle, that leaves Cook as the only one who can do that. This week we have the good fortune of Cook vs the Broncos. The Broncos are terrible vs TEs, they allow yards (2nd most last year – for those interested, the Raiders gave up the most, because of course they did) and they allow efficiency (31st in DVOA). Denver in week one picked up right where they left off, posting a beautifully ugly 29th in DVOA against TEs, allowing future Hall of Famer Will Dissly to drop a 3/105/1 line on them. I actually had to look up how to spell his name because you need to know how to spell future Hall of Famers.
Jonnu Smith, $4,200 & Ian Thomas, $4,000 – Look, we all know we play Fantasy Football to roster the big boys, so if you want to spend 4k on a TE so you can roster everyone you want to, it’s not a bad play, especially since they are both super athletic and are now the primary pass catching TEs on their respective teams due to injuries.
GPP Recommendation – Zach Ertz, $6,500 – Rudy’s got him as the #1 TE, and while I’ll bash Nick Foles for being pretty boom or bust, he’s not at that Nathan Peterman level where the entire offense completely and utterly sucks (even on his bust days). Someone’s going to catch passes against Tampa’s defense, and the Eagles don’t have many options in the passing game. Alshon is still hurt, and now that Darren Sproles is out, they won’t throw to their RBs that much (unless they completely change their RB usage tendencies). There’s not much else besides Nelson Agholor, so unless you think Agholor’s going to set target records, then Ertz is going to get the ball a bunch. I don’t like him in cash because paying up for a Tight End on FanDuel in cash is a very shaky proposition as they almost always need a Touchdown to justify their high salaries.
Atlanta Falcons, $3,400 – Defense in fantasy football is stupid, they are cheap and home favorites and Cam likes to throw interceptions.
Washington !(@#$%^&*, $3,700 – Defense in fantasy football is stupid, they are cheap, home favorites and Andrew Luck shockingly likes to throw interceptions.
Los Angeles Chargers, $4,400 – Defense in fantasy football is stupid, they are expensive and the Bills are crazy bad at some bad offensive positions to be bad at. Note: That is all of them. If you’re building an NFL team, don’t be bad at all offensive positions. Note on the Note: Also don’t hire Jeff Fisher, it has the same effect.
GPP Recommendation – Tampa Bay Buccaneers, $3,300 – The Bucs got absolutely destroyed by the Saints last week. News flash – a lot of defenses get destroyed when they’re on the road in New Orleans. Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and a gaggle of other receiving options make it one of the toughest matchups for a defense. Now, the Buccaneers are certainly not even remotely an elite defense, but you can do worse for this price than a team at home facing Nick Foles (who tends to be boom or bust, with seemingly no rhyme or reason). Combine that with the inherent RNG of team defenses and their price (which opens up more premium plays elsewhere), and you’ve got yourself one heck of a GPP defense. That said, I must warn anyone that there’s many reasons not to play the Buccaneers defense, beyond just the fact that they’re hot garbage fire at pass defense. Here’s one – their head coach says stupid stuff like “We’ve studied the analytics on it and the problem with looking at it like that — those are all looking at all fourth downs over the course of the season, you might get three in a row, but if I don’t get it in this particular game, we might be losing, and I might be out of here.” Oh, and almost forgot – defense in fantasy football is stupid.
Random Other GPP Thoughts
I will include this section every week as long as these two are healthy – if you’re a multi-entry GPP guy, always include multiple Patrick Mahomes ($7,500) and Tyreek Hill ($8,100) lineups. There is always a significant chance they’re the high scores of the slate, regardless of matchup.
Best of luck to everyone on Sunday!