Every week of the season, Ricky Sanders will break down NFL GPP tournaments with his core plays, intriguing plays and hot takes. Take home all the money!
The first week of the NFL season is upon us, and Week 1 has never been more cryptic. Instead of having been able to watch how players performed in preseason, everyone has now been forced to trust the opinions of beat writers more than ever. Practice videos and observational tidbits have shaped how the masses feel about certain players, but there is less actionable information than ever leading up to the first week of games. Consequently, this will be a great week to get contrarian in NFL GPP circles because certain consensuses have crept into the mainstream that are less warranted than ever before.
Since this is the first time the #EliteMafia has read the way I play daily fantasy football, my strategy is relatively simple: play high volume backs and make sure a lineup is properly correlated. While those two things seem relatively simple in theory, they are difficult to execute in practice because there are always exceptions that look enticing on a week-to-week basis. For instance, receiving specialist backs are quite often placed attractively, but they are only viable if either multiple scores and/or 100-plus yards from scrimmage are in play. Otherwise, the high-volume backs who do both, such as Christian McCaffrey, are just going to blow them away in fantasy points even in a 75-percentile outcome sort of game.
As for correlation, that means either team and/or game stacking in an appropriate fashion. At times, it is tempting to just run a “naked” Lamar Jackson, for he is a threat to rush for 100-plus yards and a score each week, but, for him to reach his true ceiling, he will likely have to throw for some scores, as well. Consequently, pairing him with one of his pass-catchers still always makes sense and so does potentially adding a member of the other team in case the game shoots out. These are the sorts of things to keep in mind when reading my article, as I will almost never stray from these basic principles because these are simple steps that can be taken to strengthen chances of winning tournaments in daily fantasy football. Now, onto Week 1:
NFL GPP Core
Matt Ryan – Last season, only six teams averaged fewer yards per carry (YPC) than the Falcons, and their major move to improve their rushing attack in 2020 was to bring in Todd Gurley. Look, I am not saying Gurley cannot rebound in a big way this year, but I am saying this is a back who tore his ACL in college and reportedly has been dealing with arthritis in the knee for quite some time. Back in March, Pro Football Doc wrote a piece on how arthritis is common following ACL surgery and how it should lead to him having a limited workload. If Gurley cannot be either as effective as he was in his prime or a true workhorse, then the rushing issues the Falcons suffered through a season ago could linger.
Oh, by the way, Gurley only averaged 3.8 YPC in 2019, or the exact same number as the Falcons subpar rushing game.
If the rushing woes have not been rectified, then the Falcons will once again be forced to sling the ball 600-plus times at a minimum (they led the league in 2019 with a whopping 684 passing attempts). Julio Jones is a year older but is still quite dominant, Calvin Ridley is entering his third year, and the team acquired Hayden Hurst for a second-round pick. In other words, the options in the receiving game are plentiful, and this team should be slinging it early and often (especially in a game featuring a 48.5-point over/under).
Of the two quarterbacks (QBs) in this game, Ryan owns the superior matchup on paper, with the Seahawks having ranked 23rd in passing defense according to Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) metric. As icing on the cake, the Seahawks lost pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, which should limit their pressure on opposing QBs (although it should be noted he was replaced with Bruce Irvin and the team did add Quinton Dunbar to the secondary). The pace, location and matchup are all ripe for Ryan to produce, and he will be a QB I make sure I am heavily exposed to this weekend.
Dalvin Cook – Of course, Christian McCaffrey is awesome and is worth rostering if ample salary is available. The problem is, if targeting expensive game stacks, it will be near impossible to fit McCaffrey alongside them. Therefore, Dalvin Cook will be making his way into plenty of my lineups this weekend, as he too is a true workhorse and draws a plus matchup versus a defense that ranked 27th in rushing DVOA last year. The loss of offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski is not likely to help Cook’s cause, as his scheme was about as run-heavy as it gets. At the same time, the team replaced Stefon Diggs with rookie Justin Jefferson, who is not even listed as a starter on the depth chart. Hence, it would be unlikely for the team to immediately morph into a pass-heavy offense with a receiving core of Adam Thielen and almost nothing else.
In one matchup versus the Packers last year, Cook turned 20 rushes into 154 rushing yards (7.7 YPC) and a score, plus he hauled in 3-3 targets. Since the pace of this game is not likely to be as quick as others on the slate, Cook’s ownership should fall outside the top four or so at the position, despite the fact the team’s total sits at a healthy 25.0-points. If looking for a direct alternative to McCaffery, look no further than Cook.
Calvin Ridley – If anyone has a chance to be this year’s Chris Godwin, it is none other than Calvin Ridley with an alpha opposite of him drawing much of the defensive attention and the receiver entering his magical third season. Third seasons seem to be the beginning of the prime for many receivers, and that held true for Godwin last year, as he hauled in 86 passes for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns (TDs) in the Buccaneers’ explosive passing offense. Ridley is not exactly coming off a bad season in his own right, considering he hauled in 63-93 targets for 866 yards and seven scores (which were down from the 10 TDs he scored in his rookie campaign).
Now, Jones is entering his age 31 season and it truly would not be shocking for him to start to slow down and Ridley to match or exceed his fantasy production. Ridley ranked third on the team in target market share a year ago (17.8-percent), but the team lost number two (Austin Hooper), number four (Mohamed Sanu), number five (Devonta Freeman) and number six (Russell Gage), so there is plenty of room for Ridley to see an uptick even if guys like Hurst and Gurley settle into significant roles.
New Seattle Seahawks addition Quinton Dunbar, who graded second of 115 qualified cornerbacks (CBs) last year according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), will almost assuredly focus his attention on Jones, which will leave softer matchups for elite route runner Ridley. Across the industry, Ridley is underpriced in what should be a fantastic matchup for him, especially if targets funnel his way because Jones is slowed down in any way, shape or form.
Tyler Lockett – In back-to-back seasons, Tyler Lockett has scored eight-plus touchdowns (TDs), and he is coming off a career-high 110 targets and 82 receptions (RECs) in 2019. Lockett led the team in target percentage, and that even held strong down the stretch when he was a bit banged up (led the team with a 20.7-percent target market share from weeks 13-17). Since D.K. Metcalf is the cheaper of the two on DK, where he is $700 cheaper, he is likely to be the more popular of the Seahawks receiving duo.
According to the PFF WR/CB matchup chart, Lockett’s matchup is slightly more favorable despite the fact Metcalf is facing a corner who allowed the eighth-most receiving yards and a near 107 QB rating last season. In other words, PFF noticed how remarkably Lockett performed when healthy, and it is not like Darqueze Dennard was a complete lockdown corner in his limited (nine-game) sample. I am projecting both teams to run well over 60-plays in this contest, which should create a fast-paced game environment with the potential for a legitimate shootout. In those sorts of games, players are necessary from both sides of the game, and Lockett is one of a trio of Seahawks skill position players (including Metcalf and Chris Carson) who I will be heavily exposed to on Sunday.
Anthony Miller – Per reporting out of Lions camp, CB Jeffrey Okudah has been shutting everyone down in preseason, which certainly coincides with his draft spot (third overall in the 2020 Draft). If he proves to be legit, Allen Robinson is going to have a tough time getting open this weekend, which would lead to targets funneling to Miller. The departure of Taylor Gabriel has already theoretically opened up additional market share for Miller to soak up, and this matchup should lead to more targets funneling his way.
Miller will match up against slot corner Justin Coleman, who was targeted once every 5.1 snaps, which made him the seventh-most targeted corner on a per-snap basis last year. In those targets, Coleman yielded a 107.3 QB rating to go along with 869 yards allowed (fourth-most of any CB) and the eight TDs (third-most allowed by any CB). Over the course of the second half of the season, Miller tied with Tarik Cohen for the second-highest target market share on the Bears, and he was nearly tied with Robinson on a fantasy point per target basis. Moving into the clear WR2 role, his market share should stretch about 20-percent, and, again, more targets should be on the way if Robinson is in fact smothered (as expected).
UPDATE: Jeffrey Okudah reportedly will come off the bench which does bring Miller down a notch. Parris Campbell is finding his way into more builds than Miller because of the price difference anyways and he is one of my highest exposure receivers of the week.
George Kittle/Chris Herndon/Jack Doyle – Judging by some initial ownership projections, Hayden Hurst is garnering the most interest from the public after his draft season hype. If stacking the Seahawks/Falcons game, he is certainly playable but, at this ownership, he is likely a fade as otherwise. Plus, if focusing on the expensive, workhorse running backs (RBs), more salary relief than Hurst is likely necessary to fill out a roster.
George Kittle is the opposite of cheap, but Chris Herndon and Jack Doyle are both priced $3,600 or less on DK and are expected to be important parts of their respective offenses. Per the Athletics’ Connor Hughes, the chemistry between Sam Darnold and Herndon has “blossomed” this offseason, and most of the receivers have been banged up. In other words, it seems within the range of possibilities that Herndon receives 20-plus percent of the target market share in Week 1, and he is priced like a pure punt. Doyle will receive a slight boost with Trey Burton out and Philip Rivers has historically leaned rather heavily on his team’s starting tight end (TE), whether it be Antonio Gates or Hunter Henry.
As for Kittle, the projected ownership is a bit outrageous for a player who is the clear top option in the passing game, and his price is tough to get to without multiple other punts in the lineup. These three are all strong leverage plays on the field, and I will likely be deciding between the three in single-entry, as well.
Other Strong Single-Entry GPP Options: Russell Wilson, Danny Amendola/Marvin Jones (with Kenny Golladay doubtful), T.Y. Hilton, Chris Godwin (depending on how ownership shapes out) and N’Keal Harry
Intriguing Play of the Week
Antonio Gibson – As the week went on, I truly expected the ownership projections on him to skyrocket, but they simply have not yet, possibly because he is not listed as the starter on the depth chart. Gibson is basically a receiver playing the RB position, as he carried the ball a total of 33-times in college (all in his senior season). Typically, playing RBs lacking volume is not my style, but Gibson could receive the targets of a WR2-3 while mixing in around double-digit carries.
At his extremely cheap price, there is certainly value to that, although he will need to either rack up the yardage or find the end zone to propel lineups to the top of large field GPP leaderboards. Gibson is the sort of player who can take any touch to the house, so I still plan to go over the field (around 10-percent projected ownership so probably around 20-percent of my lineups) as I think he leads the backfield in touches from day one. He is a vastly superior play on DK, which awards a full point per reception, and is not as TD-dependent as FD.
QB Pool in 150 Lineup MME Set
Matt Ryan – 20%
Russell Wilson – 18%
Lamar Jackson – 12%
Kirk Cousins – 10%
Carson Wentz – 10%
Baker Mayfield – 10%
Mitchell Trubisky – 6%
Tyrod Taylor – 4%
Joe Burrow – 4%
Potential late add: Kyler Murray (if only to get more exposure to a likely drastically under-owned DeAndre Hopkins) – 6% (otherwise distribute the percentage to the remaining QBs in the build)
Why are QBs like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees not in the build? Well, I feel like I can get most of the value from those guys by simply rostering Davante Adams or Michael Thomas, so I do not feel a need to resort to the two-man stack. Even if Murray throws mostly to Hopkins, he can contribute with his legs as well, so there is a stronger possibility for him to finish as the top-scoring QB than there is for Rodgers or Brees.
Underweight QB Play of the Week: Drew Brees/Tom Brady
Underweight RB Play of the Week: Alvin Kamara/Le’Veon Bell (complete fade)
Underweight WR Play of the Week: N/A
Underweight TE Play of the Week: Dallas Goedert
Potential Slate Edges: Dalvin Cook/Anthony Miller/Parris Campbell
With Boston Scott emerging as a legitimate fill-in candidate, I now will be attempting to find ways to Scott + multiple elite RB lineups on both sites and will try to pair that trio with QB/WR stacks and game stacks at the pass-catching positions. Scott may garner 30-percent ownership, and he is likely still someone we will want to be over the field on, given his top 10 RB production without Miles Sanders at the end of last season.