by Jeremy Maw
Despite being nearly two weeks from Sunday kickoff, DraftKings posted player pricing quite a while ago. The start to a new season, in any sport, creates an extreme variance in predicted outcomes. The mountain of off-season activity creates unpredictability and uncertainty. New coaches and position players will have an impact on their new teams, no question. It is up to us to determine the highest probability of each game.
When it comes to DFS, there has been a lot of talk in the community about GPP’s versus cash games. The common theme is to avoid cash games. I share this sentiment. There is so much information and optimizing available to any casual player, the “skill” of roster construction has become non-existent. That being said, there is still plenty of strategy components to follow when playing tournaments. Utilizing leverage, ownership percentage, and salary value, are just a few pillars to base decisions on when building your team.
In this article, I will focus a lot on salary. There is a simple math equation I have spoken about before to have a better understanding on what a player needs in fantasy production to pay off their salary. Assuming we are targeting 200 DraftKings points to win a GPP (depending on the week and contest, we may need more or less), we can divide 200 into $50K (the team salary). Now take 4 and multiple it to any given players salary. This number will give you the needed DraftKings points from each player to have a 4x return and get you the 200 points. Here’s an example:
Patrick Mahomes ($8,100)
$8.1 x 4 = 32.4
Mahomes needs to score 32.4 DK points to hit 4x.
Generally speaking, DraftKings is quite loose on their pricing for the first week of football. It is significantly easier to make a roster you like now, opposed to a later on in the season when the algorithms start kicking in and pricing goes up.
Leverage is my favorite strategy to focus on. In sports, there is no guarantee. When we see a trend starting to form, acknowledgment and adjusting to exploit any given situation can net you the largest return.
For example, in week one, the Vikings are set to face the Bengals. I would be stunned if Dalvin Cook is not one of the highest owned running backs come September 12th. The general football community knows that Cincinnati has an awful defense. Especially run defense. Game script should suggest Minnesota controlling the clock from first snap and putting up a lot of points. In a game stack, a common combination might be Joe Burrow, Dalvin Cook, Ja’Marr Chase, and maybe Tee Higgins/Tyler Boyd.
Using leverage, we can take the aerial attack of Minnesota at low ownership, instead. The Vikings are one of the best teams to stack, because we know exactly where all of the fantasy production is going. Cousins, Jefferson, and Thielen. We expect Minnesota to score. If all of the points are through the air, then the extremely high-owned Cook owners will stay towards the bottom of each contest, considering he needs 36.4 DraftKings points to hit 4x on a $9,100 salary.
Now that we have all of that out of the way, lets dive into some of the best options heading into week one for DraftKings GPP contests.
Aaron Rodgers (GB) – $6,800 @ NO (27.2 DK points for 4x)
I am beating the Aaron Rodgers drum all season long, so get used to it. Given the bizarre off-season, one can only assume Rodgers is going to do anything and everything possible to silence haters. He and Davante Adams are taking one last kick at the can, with Green Bay, going out with a bang.
While the matchup in New Orleans is not ideal, being priced sixth highest at the position and under $7,000, leaves plenty of room for upside. Rodgers is also one of the few “matchup proof” players in the league who will find a way to put up big numbers.
In a high-profile scenario, Packers at the Saints should garner the most viewership in week one. There are few narratives I try to get sucked in to. This will be one, though.
Jimmy Garoppolo (SF) – $5,500 @ DET (22 DK points for 4x)
Lance will have a future with the 49ers. He will be used on occasional wild cat plays. But this will be Jimmy G’s offense come week one. He will scorch this Lions defense, through the air and make it impossible for Kyle Shanahan to sit him. This is a situation that most DFS players will avoid altogether, not knowing how the offense will shake out. That being said, Garoppolo is a gamer and has a fantastic surrounding cast to put up monster numbers. Now that his job is on the line, expect a huge game against one of the leagues worst defenses.
Sam Darnold (CAR) – $5,000 vs. NYJ (20 DK points for 4x)
Well that didn’t take long for the first “revenge game” of the season. Sam Darnold finds himself in a significantly better offensive situation. He now has the NFL’s best running back catching passes, in Christian McCaffrey, and the most talented receiver he has ever thrown to, DJ Moore. Not only that, but he will be reunited with former receiver, Robby Anderson, who he formed great chemistry with two years ago in New York. Finally, Terrace Marshall is exploding in camp and preseason, looking like a legit stud to round out a very talented receiving core.
The New York Jets were a bottom five team in passing yards allowed (4,409) and passing TD’s allowed (34) during the 2020 season. Given the supporting cast in Carolina, compared to his time with the Jets, taking a flyer on Darnold at just $5,000 might be the easiest path to 4x. His low salary will allow you to pay up for other expensive pieces others wont have the luxury of.
Christian McCaffrey (CAR) – $9,500 vs. NYJ (38 DK points for 4x)
Not really much of a surprise. If Dalvin Cook is not the highest owned running back on week one, CMC should be. Despite needing low-owned players to win GPP’s, not every player on your team needs to be sub 10%. At the end of the day, you still need more points than everyone else to win. Get different elsewhere and lock-in a running back who also puts up monster receiving stats each week. #2for1.
He has a great matchup, great situation, and a history of smashing value on a consistent basis. In 2020, CMC was priced at $10,000 for week one. Why we get a $500 discount with a better QB and matchup to start 2021, is beyond me. This will likely be the cheapest price we see McCaffrey all season. Might as well load-up.
James Robinson (JAX) – $6,400 @ HOU (25.6 DK points for 4x)
Although the backfield situation is not ideal for Robinson, the matchup is. Considering the Houston Texans have already given up before season even starts, this might be a game Jacksonville can actually win. In 2020, Houston allowed the most rushing yards against (2,564) and the second most rushing TD’s (24). Carlos Hyde will certainly frustrate those who roster Robinson. Even without Etienne, Hyde will make his presence felt. That being said, Trevor Lawrence will undoubtedly be sheltered as much as possible by this strong backfield. If the Jags can get an early lead, expect a ground and pound approach. There will be plenty of volume for Robinson to break off big runs and score (hopefully multiple times).
Considering the price point, Robinson will go lower owned than he should. In this range, Austin Ekeler, Aaron Jones, CEH, Miles Sanders, Najee Harris, and Joe Mixon should all garner attention. Personally, I believe the matchup is too good to pass up. With a rookie quarterback, I expect a big work load.
Devontae Booker (NYG) – $4,000 vs. DEN (16 DK points for 4x)
Obviously injury news will be a determining factor as to how viable Devontae Booker will be. However, this type of situation will occur numerous times throughout the season and is an important DFS conversation. At the running back position, almost always lock-in a back-up at minimum price who is set to get 15-20+ touches. Reaching 16 DK points is not difficult at all for a starting back. If he can produce 60 all purpose yards, catch four balls, and score one TD, boom, 4x. Fading this player regardless of ownership, in most cases, is not the most wise decision. At wide receiver, different story because they are not guaranteed any receptions. If Saquon sits, Booker is guaranteed touches.
*Update* It sounds like Barkley will be “limited”, in week one. This is still a viable play if you can significantly upgrade your roster elsewhere.
To sell Booker more, the matchup looks tough on paper but could be sneaky good. The Broncos did not allow a lot of rushing yards against (2,080), however, allowed the third most yards per attempt at 4.8. Could be smoke, but the volume should be there for Booker (even if Barkley plays) to be a good option at minimum price.
Davante Adams (GB) – $8,300 @ NO (33.2 DK points for 4x)
While this is not a sneaky player to discuss, pairing Adams and Rodgers together is standing out as my personal early favorite for week one. While scoring 33.2 DK points is a lot, Adams averaged 26.5 fantasy points per game last season.
To be clear, targeting Rodgers and Adams is not going to be popular, which is why I love it. Other situations like ARI/TEN and CLE/KC, have a higher projected total, compared to GB/NO. At the top, Hopkins, Brown, and Hill should all see more attention at a lower price. However, Adams has no reason to be left off that list based on matchup alone. There is no corner that can cover him and he will produce at an elite level every week.
Diontae Johnson (PIT) – $6,300 @ BUF (25.2 DK points for 4x)
This should be one of the more competitive games week one. Two good offenses will go head to head in what should be a slug fest. Diontae Johnson broke out last year and was the most targeted wide-out on the team, with 144. Given the poor offensive line and shoot-out style game script, I fully expect Big Ben to chuck it all game. Johnson will be the possession receiver who should see plenty of work. If Johnson can work on limiting the number of drops (13 last season), we should expect another step forward in fantasy production.
Ja’Marr Chase (CIN) – $4,800 vs. MIN (19.6 DK points for 4x)
Yes, I have heard all of the negative news coming out of camp. Bring it on. Give me more news about Joe Burrow not being mentally ready. Give me more news about Chase being unable to gain separation against NFL defenders. Guess what? I don’t care. Chase is a world class talent. Joe Burrow is a world class talent. The two have a proven track record of undeniable chemistry that few quarterback/receivers ever build. And, the odds that we even see this at the NFL level, before week one, is highly unlikely.
At $4,800, please, give me all the Ja’Marr Chase I can handle. His ceiling and upside is so much higher than anyone else in this price range. Keep in mind, Chase is the same age as Justin Jefferson. They played on the same LSU team with Joe Burrow. Jefferson recorded 111-1540-18. Chase recoded 84-1780-20. Fast forward to their respective NFL teams. Below is their respective quarterback comparison on a per game basis:
Cincinnati will rely on production through the air far more than Minnesota. Expecting similar numbers from Chase, what Jefferson was able to accomplish last season, is not out of the realm of possibilities, at all.
Dallas Goedert (PHI) – $4,800 @ ATL (19.2 DK points for 4x)
If Zach Ertz ends up leaving the Eagles before the start of the season, Goedert instantly becomes a top tier tight end and should be considered in the same class as Kelce, Kittle, and Waller. Despite the presence of Ertz last season, Goedert still managed to stay on pace for 762 yards and four touchdowns.
Historically, the Eagles have utilized the tight end position as much as anyone. Given the lack of any alpha wide receiver, in addition to a young quarterback, this still should ring true.
Atlanta was ranked dead last in pass defense from 2020, while limiting teams on the ground to just 1,677 rushing yards (sixth best in the league). They are a clear pass funnel defense, allowing their opposition to throw all over them. Goedert at just $4,800 is a smash play and should be highly owned come week one.
“It seems like a foregone conclusion that Ertz will be off the team soon, which clears a path for Goedert to be among the league leaders in targets for a tight end. It’s a new offense, but Nick Sirianni comes from the Frank Reich tree, which has a history of producing tight end production.”– Mike Tagliere
This should be a good start to building lineups. As we get closer to kick-off, I will update accordingly. There is still plenty of time for a lot to change. As always, reach me on twitter @j_maw for any questions or thoughts you may have. Good luck this season!