At kickoff on Thursday night for the HOF Game, it will have been 177 days, 21 hours and 56 minutes since Tom Brady kneeled to end Super Bowl 53…nearly six months since that last snap, but who’s counting?nearly six months since that last snap, but who’s counting?
UPDATE #1 (12:15pm) – Kevin Knight of @TheFalcoholic tweets: “Benkert and TE Alex Gray were showing off some serious chemistry last week”. Gray is a former Rugby player that never played organized football before spending last season on Atlanta’s practice squad. He’s touted as more of a blocking tight end, but if he’s been making the catches in camp, he could certainly make them in-game tonight. Add him to your list…
UPDATE #2 (7:30pm) – Long list of Broncos not expected to play (as per @MaseDenver), including: Flacco, Janovich, Lindsay, Booker, Freeman, Hamilton, Sanders, Sutton, Patrick, Cracroft. I did mention Royce Freeman as a possible pairing with Nick Williams – make sure he isn’t in your lineups!
Fantasy football players like you and I are in the midst of absolute chaos right now. Mock drafts and best balls, the latest projections and ADP movements, rankings and tiers, beat writer nonsense and intra-office Kyler Murray debate are running amok during this time of the year.
Thankfully, you are here as a member of an Elite group of fans and analysts, all here for the common goal: sifting through the bullshit, and dominating our competition – whether in the season-long, or DFS arenas. We are the ELITE MAFIA, now let’s go get that money – the 2019 season starts now!
Strategies For Setting Showdown Lineups
First and foremost, make sure you spend a few minutes going over Tyler Buecher’s write-up here on How to Play Preseason DFS – there’s a lot of great info in there to get you started. While his piece is more of a primer on general preseason DFS research and strategy, I wanted to touch on this Showdown format that we’ll be playing this week.
By now, I’m going to assume you all know how the Showdown, or Single-Game format works. Your Captain (or MVP on Fanduel) gets 1.5x their fantasy points. During the preseason, all players are priced the same, so salaries don’t matter – you’re simply looking to place the player who scores the most fantasy points into your Captain/MVP slot, while filling out the rest of your roster with the remaining 4 or 5 highest scoring players.
Now, you’ll want to avoid just sticking in random combinations of players that you like. Instead, you really want to think about how each player correlates with one another. For example, if you are using a pass-catcher in your Captain spot, you will generally want that player’s quarterback in your lineup as well, as he’ll be tossing the TD’s to that receiver. If a quarterback is in your Captain spot, you’re going to need at least a couple of his receivers – who will be catching his TD passes. If a running back with limited receiving ability is in the Captain spot, it’s unlikely his QB will also score enough fantasy points to be in a winning lineup.
There are plenty of other correlations you’ll want to keep in mind, too. Basically, just think about the projected game flow if the players on your roster are piling up fantasy points. A kicker isn’t going to have a ceiling game if his team’s quarterback is throwing TD’s. If you’re piling up offensive players from one team, chances are the opposition’s defense isn’t going to score many fantasy points. Some of these are more common sense than anything.
Below, you’ll find a list of my favorite options for Thursday night’s Hall of Fame game. Like a fancy dinner menu, I’ll provide you with some expert pairings – players that correlate well together, allowing you to easily build highly optimized lineups for this week’s Showdown contests.
IMPORTANT: Please check back here in the hours leading up to kickoff. So much information comes out on gameday during the preseason, and I’ll be monitoring everything, and posting any updates at the very top of this article.
Kevin Hogan – Hogan will start the game for Denver, and should play much of the first half. He spent the 2018 season as the Broncos’ third-string QB, so he’s been working with a few of these Bronco receivers for some time now. In three seasons, Hogan has done well in preseason games, completing over 60% of his passes (71/114), with 8 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. From an ownership standpoint, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Drew Lock have as much as 2x the ownership that Hogan has, giving you some leverage should the inexperienced Lock flame out. The Broncos coaching staff has made multiple comments this week about Lock “not being ready yet”, and I don’t see how extended action with the 3’s and 4’s really helps the rookie’s development much. I won’t be surprised to see Hogan play the entire first half, and Lock splitting second half reps with fellow first-year QB Brett Rypien – although I’d expect Lock sees more work than Rypien. We’ll want to stack Hogan with at least a couple of the pass-catchers slated for first half action tomorrow, especially if he winds up in your CAPT spot. Also, keep this in mind: if Hogan is one of the highest scoring players, Atlanta is likely to be trailing in the second half, so a double-QB stack of Hogan and Benkert makes some sense. PAIRS WELL WITH: WR Juwann Winfree, WR Nick Williams, TE Noah Fant, ATL QB Kurt Benkert + pass-catchers
Devontae Jackson – Jackson is an undrafted rookie that’s been making a name for himself early on in Broncos camp. He’s tiny – just 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds – but explosive. With a knack for catching the ball out of the backfield, he has some added value in DK’s PPR format. Jackson is likely to get second-half work with the rookie QB’s, so look for him to catch some dump-off passes while working as a safety valve for the young passers. If you’re rostering Jackson, I probably wouldn’t bother rostering Hogan, or more than maybe one of the players who will see first-half work for Denver. I think Jackson’s ceiling would come from PPR points – and those are likely to come if Denver is trailing. Pairing him with Lock could be a way to differentiate your lineup from most of the field who will stack Lock with his receivers. Also, if you’re going to roster a kicker (not advised…), this is the type of player you would want to stack with him. Jackson can rack up the PPR points moving up and down the field, without needing TD’s. McManus is the only kicker on Denver’s roster. (note: don’t use McManus and Lock in the same lineup) PAIRS WELL WITH: QB Drew Lock, K Brandon McManus
Juwann Winfree – A sixth-round pick this past April, Winfree has exceeded that billing in camp thus far, with some beat writers already speculating that he’s locked himself into a spot on the final 53-man roster. With Denver starters unlikely to play much, if at all, Winfree should see most of his snaps alongside of Kevin Hogan – which works out well for both of them, as Hogan and Winfree have been working together with Denver’s second-team all offseason. Three days ago, we got this nugget from Broncos beat writer Ryan Koenigsberg: “Feels like Kevin Hogan exclusively targets Juwann Winfree when they are on the field together.” From everything I’ve read, Winfree had a great spring, was slowed by a calf injury in mid-July, but appears to be back to 100%. He was a guy that was flagged for injury concerns leading into the draft, so there is a little risk that the calf injury flares back up, or something else happens that could limit his snap count Thursday. You absolutely must stack Winfree and Hogan together, with Benkert likely to be bombing away in the second half if that duo piles up the fantasy points early. PAIRS WELL WITH: QB Kevin Hogan, ATL QB Kurt Benkert + pass-catchers
Nick Williams – Williams was a late addition to the Broncos roster, signing less than a week ago. He’s already been impressing at camp, though. Beat writer Troy Renck mentions this yesterday: “…Williams really knows this offense (and) looks comfortable.” He’s a smaller slot guy, so his value is a little higher with PPR scoring on DraftKings. All indications are that Williams should get a lot of work in the first half on Thursday, and although I’m a little concerned with the lack of reps he’s gotten with Hogan, this guy is a seasoned vet, and should get a number of looks in the middle of the field against the Falcon second-teamers. I think you have to stack Williams with Hogan, and this is another one of those PPR specialists that could make sense in a lineup without his QB, but with the team’s kicker or running back instead (not both). PAIRS WELL WITH: QB Kevin Hogan, RB Royce Freeman, K Brandon McManus
Trinity Benson – This is a kid I was very excited about heading into the draft. I actually wrote about Benson in my 2019 NFL Draft Sleepers article over on FantasyGuru.com in April. Benson will look to follow in Adam Thielen’s footsteps, as a highly-skilled D-II receiver that was looked over in the pre-draft process, eventually going undrafted. Benson was a track star in high school, and ran a 4.35 forty-yard-dash at his pro day. He is a definite vertical threat, a trait that could pair well with Drew Lock’s gunslinger mentality come the second half, when he’s going to see a lot of time against the Falcons third and fourth-team secondary. Unfortunately, the buzz is already out on Benson’s impressive camp, and I think the Lock-Benson combo will likely be the highest-owned QB-WR stack of the night. You have to pair the two, however, as Benson will likely be on the bench already if, and when, Brett Rypien gets into the game. PAIRS WELL WITH: QB Drew Lock
Kelvin McKnight – If you’re looking for a lower-owned option on Denver, Kelvin McKnight has also been having a nice camp, and should get early second-half work with Lock and co. He is touted as having top-notch route running ability, and explosive YAC potential. He’s a smaller wideout – just 5-foot-8 – but has gotten a lot of praise from Denver beats. Fun fact: McKnight has an NFL bloodline – the nephew of a former top-five pick: receiver Peter Warrick. McKnight would be another stack option with Lock, and could be the sneaky build as he should have significantly less ownership than Benson. PAIRS WELL WITH: QB Drew Lock
Noah Fant – Jeff Heuerman is unlikely to see much, if any, time tonight. Jake Butt and Bug Howard are also out, leaving only a few tight ends available to play for Denver on Thursday night. Fant will probably see the most time. He was the team’s first-round pick in April’s draft, as a highly-touted vertical threat in the mold of a Jimmy Graham. Interestingly enough, a rookie tight end has appeared in the optimal Showdown lineup in each of the last three HoF games (Hayden Hurst, Rico Gathers, Mycole Pruitt), so while a rookie tight end can usually be forgotten about during the regular season, they can have some preseason success. I want to get more information on Fant’s projected playing time before I’m truly comfortable having a lot of exposure to him, but I can’t see a reason why Denver wouldn’t give him at least the first half with Hogan. Unless you see an update here on Thursday, I think stacking Fant with Hogan and another receiver or two is the direction I’m going to go in for this one. As with Winfree, if Fant piles up points, there’s a good chance we’re looking at a Bronco lead going into the second half, and Benkert will be letting it fly. PAIRS WELL WITH: QB Kevin Hogan, ATL QB Kurt Benkert + pass-catchers
Troy Fumagalli – Another lower-owned stack option with Lock, the former Wisconsin Badger is essentially a rookie pass-catching TE on the Broncos roster. He was a fifth-round pick in 2018, but spent the season on IR with a sports hernia-related injury. He’s been lining up all over the line of scrimmage, both as a tight end, and split out wide as a big-bodied receiver. Again, I really would like to get some info on how Denver will split playing time, because Fumagalli is likely to see some snaps in the first half with Fant in two-TE formations, but I’d imagine he gets second half work, too. That suggests it might be a toss-up with which QB you’d want to stack him with. Regardless, he’s definitely a threat in the red zone, and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if he finished with more production than the higher-owned Fant on Thursday night. PAIRS WELL WITH: QB Kevin Hogan, QB Drew Lock
Broncos – Denver will see Matt Schaub and Kurt Benkert under center for Atlanta on Thursday night. Schaub is a veteran, but let’s not forget his Nathan Peterman-like streak of pick-sixes back in 2015 – a streak that all but ended his career as a starter in this league. Kurt Benkert is a gunslinger through and through. He’s a fearless player that will try to fit balls into tight windows, and was knocked in the 2018 draft season as being a guy who struggled with telegraphing his throws. Between the Falcons options at QB and their lack of WR/TE depth, I’m expecting a run-heavy game from Atlanta, which generally leads to a low-scoring contest in the preseason. Although it’s taken only about 10 DK points to get into the optimal lineup in the past five HOF games, only three of the five lineups featured a team defense. Kickers and defenses always seem to be over-owned in these Showdown contests, so you’ve got to be careful with how much DST exposure you want. The Broncos, though, are definitely a unit with a lot of upside. You can probably stack Denver with their big back, David Williams, who will be grinding in the second half if they’re ahead. PAIRS WELL WITH: RB David Williams
Kurt Benkert – According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it’s going to be “The Benkert Show” on Thursday night. Matt Ryan is unlikely to play, and Matt Schaub doesn’t need much work, so Benkert is nearly guaranteed to get at least one half under center – but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get much of the second quarter as well. This is purely a volume play. I’m not a big believer in Benkert, or his pass-catching options, but the fact that he’ll probably be on the field longer than any other QB is enticing. Benkert is definitely not scared to bomb away, and many times it only takes one deep ball in these preseason contests for a QB to finish as one of the top fantasy scorers of the game. You’ll want to pair him with guys towards the middle/end of the depth chart – Olamide Zaccheaus, Marcus Green and Jaeden Graham are my favorites. PAIRS WELL WITH: WR Olamide Zaccheaus, WR Marcus Green, TE Jaeden Graham
Brian Hill – I’m expecting a run-heavy game from Atlanta. They’ve got a logjam at the end of their RB chart, with four guys competing for 1 or 2 roster spots. Hill shined in last year’s preseason, rushing for over 5 yards per carry, while factoring into the pass-game as well. I think Atlanta knows what they have in Ito Smith, so I don’t expect him to get much first-half work, leaving Hill, and probably Ollison, to split carries for the first 30 minutes. Again, Hill can pile up the DK points in the pass-game, so if you’re going to use a kicker (…don’t), this would be the kind of player I’d stack him up with. If Hill does wind up scoring a TD or two, you’ll want Lock, along with Denver’s second-half pass-catchers, as they’ll likely be throwing the ball. PAIRS WELL WITH: K Giorgio Tavecchio, DEN QB Drew Lock + pass-catchers
Qadree Ollison – As is generally the case with rookie running backs, I’d expect Ollison to lead the team in rushing attempts tonight – likely getting carries in both the first half, as well as some of the third quarter. Ollison showed he could handle a heavy workload at Pitt last year, but he’s more of a “between the tackles” runner, with a big body and upright play-style. Ollison is the type of guy who could fall into a couple goal line touchdowns, making him a decent fantasy option on either site. I’d expect his ownership to be a bit higher than Hill’s, especially if we start seeing game day tweets about how much work he’s going to get (likely). I’d pair a back like this with the Atlanta defense, as he’s probably only going to wind up in the optimal lineup if he scores a TD or two, which means Lock and Rypien bombing away in half two – which also probably means turnovers. PAIRS WELL WITH: Falcons DST
Tony Brooks-James – This is the Falcons second-half PPR back. If Hogan and company put up points in the first half, you can expect Brooks-James to pile up some catches out of the backfield. Like the Broncos’ Jackson, this is probably his only path to a good fantasy day. If the Falcons are up, they’ll pound Ollison into the line for much of the second half. Brooks-James came out of Oregon as a “scatback-type” – he’s a small, shifty, third-down back if he can make it at this level. “TBJ” is a guy you can pair with Hogan and his pass-catchers, and his ownership will probably be pretty low. He’s listed behind Kenjon Barner, as the last RB on the Falcon depth chart, but beat writers expect him to get more work than Barner. PAIRS WELL WITH: DEN QB Kevin Hogan + pass-catchers
Devin Gray – After a ton of training camp buzz in 2018, Gray was hyped as a high-upside DFS play in the preseason. After catching 4 balls for 83 yards in his first game, however, he flamed out completely – finishing the preseason with just 2 more catches in three games. I’d hate to be falling into the same trap again, but the buzz is back with Gray, and I want at least a little bit of exposure to the 6-foot-0, 192 pound receiver out of Cincinnati. He’s likely to get first-half snaps, so depending on how much Matt Schaub we see, a Schaub-Gray stack is one that should be low-owned, with high-upside – stay tuned for any playing time updates we may see. If Schaub is projected for the entire first half, I’ll have a lot of lineups with those two. PAIRS WELL WITH: QB Matt Schaub, QB Kurt Benkert (?), QB Drew Lock + pass-catchers
Olamide Zaccheaus – Zaccheaus is probably my favorite pass-catching option on this team for Thursday night. Expect him to work with Benkert in the second half. What people aren’t talking about, is the fact that Benkert and Zaccheaus played together at UVA for two seasons, combining for over 130 receptions, 1,400 yards, and 12 touchdowns. This kid is extremely quick, and plays mainly out of the slot. His biggest weapon is the YAC. This kid doesn’t need much time, or room, to turn a routine catch into a long gain. There’s a ton of upside here, but although I was hoping Zaccheaus would stay under the radar, he’s getting a lot of playing time buzz from beat writers on Twitter, so you can expect a decent ownership number. PAIRS WELL WITH: QB Kurt Benkert
Marcus Green – Green was a sixth-round pick of the Falcons in April’s draft. He’s a do-it-all type player – he can play receiver, running back, returns kicks and plays on special teams. Green is a true offensive threat who should have relatively low-ownership tomorrow. He ran a sub-4.4 forty this past spring. He’s a guy that’s used a lot on screen plays, and he’s got the speed to turn some of those into big gains against third and fourth-team defenses. He’s squarely in the middle of a competition for the last one or two WR spots on the Falcons’ 53-man roster, so I’m expecting Green to get significant playing time tomorrow night. While it’s a deep group of receivers for Atlanta – expect guys like Christian Blake and Khalil Lewis to get a lot of run, too – Green is by far the most dangerous weapon in that group. PAIRS WELL WITH: QB Kurt Benkert
Jaeden Graham – Graham spent the entire 2018 season on the Falcons’ practice squad, so he knows this playbook just as well anyone on the team, and more importantly, has spent countless hours practicing alongside QB Kurt Benkert – another 2018 practice-squader. Graham was the team’s leading receiver in the 2018 preseason finale – the last time he saw game action. In his last season at Yale (2017), Graham caught four touchdown passes in just 10 starts. He’s surely going to be looked at in the red zone, giving us another “HULO” play for our Showdown lineups this week. PAIRS WELL WITH: QB Kurt Benkert
Falcons – Rostering this Falcons defense could prove to be a good move – there will always be DST upside when facing the likes of Drew Lock and Brett Rypien. If Denver trails in the second half, this game could get ugly. I don’t love using defenses in Showdown, as the amount of times they’re actually in the optimal lineup does not warrant the ownership numbers they always receive. I’m not sure I would recommend using a defense in the CAPT spot, but I’m certainly not opposed to having some exposure here. If you are rolling with the ATL DST, make sure to have Ollison in there too, as he’d get a lot of work if the Falcons are up late. PAIRS WELL WITH: RB Qadree Ollison
ONE FINAL NOTE: On kickers, remember this is the preseason. Coaches will go for it on fourth down much more in August. They’re going to go for the two-point conversation much more than they would during the regular season. I likely won’t be rostering any kickers, and would probably recommend the same. You really need a ceiling game of 10+ fantasy points from a kicker to have them finish in the optimal lineup, and the chances of that happening in the preseason, combined with the ownership they’ll get from DFS players trying to “be different”, just takes them completely out of consideration for me.