Short Slate Tips
A few points to consider when it comes to playing short slates on DraftKings:
- With only eight teams to choose players from, the leverage you gain on the field by exploiting ownership percentages becomes amplified. Whereas someone like Todd Gurley may be the chalk at 25% owned on a normal slate, he could easily reach upwards of 50% this weekend. Even second-tier options, like Christian McCaffrey, are likely to be upwards of 30% owned. This certainly doesn’t mean you should fade Gurley, McCaffrey, or any other big name players outright. Missing out on a highly-owned player who has a big day can put you behind more than half the field. But if your goal is a first-place finish, you must be willing to submit a lineup with at least two players below 20% owned just to have a chance.
- Focus on unique roster construction. Build lineups that feel safe -- then tear them down and make new ones where you spend up at the opposite positions. Try full game stacks, playing a tight end in the flex, or anything else you consider a viable strategy for making your lineups stand out in a sea of carbon copies.
- Don’t be afraid to leave salary on the table. With ownership at least as important as projections on a short slate, leaving $1,000 or more unspent is a path to uniqueness most people won’t take. Unlike normal weeks, coming well short of the cap on a short slate doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sacrificing points.
- Use the Vegas lines to inform projected ownership. We can usually assume players from favorites will be higher-owned than their underdog counterparts, but sites like TheSpread.com let you dive deeper by showing the percentage of public bets on each team and how the lines have moved since they opened. Generally speaking, the higher percentage of tickets on a team, the higher-owned their players will be. And sometimes you can spot how sharp bettors are leaning when reverse line movement occurs. The sharps are fallible like everyone else but identifying who they like more than the public can help you uncover contrarian plays.
Tennessee @ Kansas City
|Vegas implied point total||18.5||26|
|Team points per game||20.9||25.9|
|Opponent points per game||22.2||21.2|
|Situation neutral pace rank||25||31|
|NSOS fantasy points allowed QB last five games rank||16||23|
|NSOS fantasy points allowed RB last five games rank||8||19|
|NSOS fantasy points allowed WR last five games rank||9||16|
|NSOS fantasy points allowed TE last five games rank||32||18|
Your opponents will be on these guys, but fading them relative to the field is likely to do more harm than good.
- Alex Smith is our top H-Value at quarterback and appears in three of our top four highest value stacks. The Titans recent middle-of-the-pack normalized fantasy points per game ranking vs. quarterbacks doesn’t pass the smell test. Tennessee has allowed 277 passing yards per game over the last five weeks (3rd-most), but have given up only 1.2 passing touchdowns (12th-fewest). Smith has proven capable of kickstarting the touchdown regression Tennessee has coming, topping 25 DraftKings points five times this season. The only concern for Smith is the slow pace of play for both teams, but Kansas City’s points per game average is even with their implied total and 56% of the Titans games have gone over the Vegas line this year (tied for 5th-highest rate).
- Smith’s most popular stacking partners will be Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Hill displayed impressive consistency over the second half of the season, scoring between 11.5 and 39.5 fantasy points in every game since Week 9. Even if he can only be safely projected for seven targets, Hill remains a great play against Tennessee’s pass funnel defense and subpar outside cornerbacks. Look for him to slip past the Titans secondary for at least one big play.
- Kelce -- this season’s cumulative TE1 on DraftKings -- is far and away the top projected scorer at the position this week. While he may not be the best point per dollar value priced 51% above his tight end counterpart in this game, Delanie Walker, he is the only player at the position capable of producing the type of 25+ point fantasy point performance that can put serious distance between you and those who fade him. You’ll want to be at least even with the field on your Kelce exposure.
- Walker fits much more easily into the most common roster construction than Kelce and will be heavily owned as a result. We know the deal with Walker at this point -- he’ll rarely lay an egg, but hasn’t shown the ability to clear 15 fantasy points with regularity. Of the three available brand-name tight ends, Walker feels the most like a consolation prize. The context of the slate requires at least 30% exposure, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just isn’t very exciting.
In The Mix
Ownership percentages of these players are likely to be in the middle-to-upper-middle ranges, but going heavier than the field can still provide leverage.
- Smith’s third stacking partner is Albert Wilson, fresh off a monster 10-147-0 in Week 17. Of course, the big performance came without Hill or Kelce in the lineup (and with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback), so we can’t expect another 11 targets anytime soon. But Wilson is one of a small handful of viable players on the slate priced under $4K and he’ll be on the field for over 80% of Kansas City’s offensive snaps. Wilson will draw Tennessee’s best cornerback, Logan Ryan, in coverage on the majority of his routes, but with Tennessee’s pass defense performing so poorly in aggregate, he has a shot at double-digit DraftKings points -- a mark he hit on five occasions this season prior to Week 17.
- With DeMarco Murray ruled out, Derrick Henry will carry the load again for Tennessee. Henry’s first crack at feature back duties was a mixed bag against a tough Jacksonville front in Week 17. He averaged only 1.8 yards per rush attempt but looked good taking a screen pass 66-yards for a score. Skeptics may point to the fact Henry received only one other target last week and assume he’s a zero in the passing game, but Tennessee played with a lead for most of the game and Henry came off the field for only one snap. As the cheapest source of 20+ touches on the slate, Henry clearly warrants significant exposure. If the Titans keep things competitive, it will be primarily due to Henry wearing down the Chiefs 32nd-ranked rush defense (DVOA). And if Tennessee gets blown out as the point spread implies, Henry -- the only back to get on the field in Murray’s absence last week -- could surprise as a receiver.
- Eric Decker hasn’t done much to warrant GPP consideration since becoming a Titan, but like Wilson, he’s one of a precious few receivers we can pencil in for 5-7 targets priced below $4K. Since Week 13, Decker has been targeted at least five times in every game, topping out at 10 in Week 16 vs. the Rams. He draws the most favorable cornerback assignment out of Tennessee’s starting receivers in Kansas City nickel corner Steven Nelson, who has allowed the third-most yards per route run on the slate (per PFF). Decker should come slightly lower-owned than Albert Wilson due to the Titans underdog status, Kelvin Benjamin’s availability at the same price, and Wilson’s standout Week 17 performance.
- While Rishard Matthews leads Tennessee wide receivers in every major receiving category, his target volume has dropped recently. From Weeks 12-16, Matthews trailed Walker, Decker, and Corey Davis in team target market share. Kansas City ranks 31st defending the opposition’s WR1, but that ranking can be attributed to nuclear early season games from Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, and Amari Cooper. Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters has rebounded from a mid-season swoon and should spend most of his time on Matthews. But despite the knocks against him, Matthews is the only Titans wide receiver who has flashed a 20+ point ceiling this season, making him worth playing in about 25% of your builds.
These players will appear in a small percentage of your opponent’s line-ups. They're high variance plays, but the greater your exposure, the farther your teams will separate from the pack if they have big games.
- As previously mentioned, Corey Davis has been Marcus Mariota’s favorite wide receiver target over the last five weeks. It hasn’t resulted in much besides a 9-6-91-0 (15.1 DraftKings points) line in Week 16 vs. the Rams, but the added involvement is encouraging. Davis’ youth and athleticism give him an edge on the aging (albeit surprisingly effective) Darrelle Revis, who should spend most of his time covering the rookie. Considering Davis has been more smoke than fire in his injury-plagued first season, he should come lower-owned than the similarly priced Wilson, Decker, and Kelvin Benjamin, despite having the upside to post a much bigger game than the veterans.
On a short slate, practically the entire player pool is in play, but some players still warrant less exposure than the field, while others are simply bad plays.
- Marcus Mariota comes cheaper than every starting quarterback besides Tyrod Taylor, but the next time he exceeds 22 fantasy points this season (4x his current price) will be the first. Young quarterback, eight-point underdog, on the road at Arrowhead in his first playoff game, isn’t a profile that inspires confidence Mariota will crash through his ceiling for the first time all year. If it weren’t for his rushing upside, he’d be recommended as a total fade.
- Kareem Hunt’s midseason swoon is a thing of the past. Since offensive coordinator Matt Nagy took over play-calling duties from Andy Reid in Week 13, Hunt ranks as the cumulative RB3 on DraftKings -- and that includes last week’s game in which he saw only one carry (which he promptly took 35 yards to the house). While Hunt has the profile of a running back we should gravitate towards on DraftKings -- big home favorite, high implied team total, involved as a receiver (four receptions per game from Weeks 13-16), 84% market share of his team’s backfield touches, and nearly all the team’s red zone carries since Nagy started calling plays -- the matchup with Tennessee’s seventh-ranked rush defense (DVOA) is not a good one. With the exception of their annihilation at the hands of Todd Gurley in Week 16 (276 total yards and 2 receiving touchdowns), the Titans haven’t allowed another running back to exceed 76 yards on the ground and they’ve given up a league-low 4 rushing touchdowns this season. You obviously need some exposure to Hunt in this spot, but unless Nagy takes a page out of Sean McVay’s playbook and makes him the team’s most heavily targeted pass catcher, it’s tough to predict a 25+ point game.
Atlanta @ LA Rams
|Vegas implied point total||21.5||27.5|
|Team points per game||22.1||29.9|
|Opponent points per game||19.7||20.6|
|Situation neutral pace rank||21||1|
|NSOS fantasy points allowed QB last five games rank||21||18|
|NSOS fantasy points allowed RB last five games rank||1||22|
|NSOS fantasy points allowed WR last five games rank||25||24|
|NSOS fantasy points allowed TE last five games rank||20||24|
- Todd Gurley is $9,700 and still has the highest average running back H-Value by a 20% margin over the next closest player. His GPP winning 13-10-152-2 receiving line in Week 16 could be a preview of how Sean McVay plans on attacking the Falcons, who have allowed the most receptions to enemy running backs this season. He’ll be the most popular player on the slate and deservedly so.
- It was a disappointing cumulative WR6 finish for Julio Jones this season, but it wasn’t due to lack of opportunity. Jones led the league in team target market share over the last five weeks and will assuredly continue to dominate looks from Matt Ryan against the Rams. A fierce pass rush and number one cornerback, Trumaine Johnson, have made it difficult for opposing WR1s to hang big receiving lines on LA, but the team has been more susceptible to wide receiver production over the second-half of the season (as evidenced by the NSOS ranking above). Along with Gurley, Jones is the only player on the slate with 50+ fantasy points in his realistic range of possible outcomes and he’ll come at substantially lower ownership. In general, building lineups that concentrate most of the salary cap on wide receivers, as opposed to running backs, will be the exception this week.
- Devonta Freeman has two 25+ point performances in his last three games and comes at a significant discount compared to the other top-tier running backs. Defending the run has been a weakness of the Rams all season, which dovetails nicely with Atlanta’s presumed game plan -- to keep Gurley and LA’s explosive offense off the field. A heavier than usual dose of Freeman on the ground combined with his massive upside as a receiver (21 combined targets in his last three games) suggests a 30+ point ceiling is in play this week.
In The Mix
- Not many people expected Mohamed Sanu to be a top-30 fantasy wide receiver this season, but here we are. The veteran can be counted on for 6-8 targets most weeks and is a favorite of Matt Ryan when the team gets near the goal line. Five of Sanu’s six touchdowns have come within the opponent’s 10-yard line this season and he trails only Jones for the team lead in red zone targets. Sanu will go somewhat overlooked for the same reason he always does -- he’s boring. But his reliability and touchdown upside certainly have a place in at least 20% of your lineups on this slate.
- Cooper Kupp was the only Rams player to finish with at least a 20% target market share this season and looks poised for a big day lined up opposite Falcons nickel corner, Brian Poole. Per PFF, Poole has allowed more fantasy points per route defended than only one other cornerback active on this week’s slate. Kupp -- who was tied for third-most red zone targets in the league this season -- has scored twice in his last three games. Make him one of your highest wide receiver exposures.
- With the crowd on Freeman, Tevin Coleman is a clear leverage play. A disappointing second half will keep Coleman mostly off the radar, but we know he’ll be on the field for 40-50% of the team’s snaps and he still possesses the ability to hit the home run play (even if he hasn’t shown it recently). For a true contrarian lineup construction, pay up for Jones, Hill, and Michael Thomas, while using both Freeman and Coleman at running back. 35+ fantasy points are what you’re aiming for from the duo, which is certainly not out of the question if Atlanta pulls the upset.
- Sammy Watkins has shown a tendency to disappear in games, but he did lead all Rams pass-catchers with seven touchdowns this season and can be safely counted on for at least five targets. Watkins remains capable of slipping past the best secondaries in the league, making his middle-of-the-road matchup with Falcons cornerback Robert Alford not much to worry about. On a small slate, any player with 30 fantasy points in their range of possible outcomes has to be considered and Watkins qualifies.
- Austin Hooper is a strong play if (and only if) Levine Toilolo can’t make it back from an MCL sprain. Without heavier than usual field time, Hooper isn’t anything more than a dart throw due to his limited involvement in the offense.
- Jared Goff has been extremely matchup dependent this season, with his five 20+ point games coming against the 49ers, Giants, Texans, Saints, and Titans. With the exception of the Saints, each of those teams is hovering near the bottom-10 pass defenses in the league (DVOA) and most are close to rock bottom. The Falcons don’t qualify as a frightening pass defense by any means, but they aren’t bottom feeders either. Goff has exceeded all expectations this year, but he’s still a second-year quarterback making his first playoff start against a team coming off a Super Bowl run. As the highest priced quarterback on the slate, you’d need Goff to exceed 20 fantasy points to make it worth his salary and his track record this season makes it unlikely.
- Matt Ryan’s 2017 game log is devoid of performances that have helped anyone win a GPP -- a trend that isn’t likely to change this week. If the Falcons win, it will be because their pass rush rattled Goff, Ryan was efficient on limited opportunities, and the Falcons ground game helped them dominate time of possession. None of those scenarios scream ceiling game for Ryan, who couldn’t even crack 20 fantasy points in Week 12 when Jones went for over 50.
- Robert Woods enjoyed a breakout year in his first season with the Rams, despite missing three games late in the year with a shoulder injury. He returned looking no worse for the wear, leading all LA wide receivers in targets from Week 15-16. Woods should draw Atlanta cornerback Marcus Trufant on the slight majority of his routes, which caps his upside. If you roster him expecting more than 15 fantasy points, you’re likely to be disappointed.
Buffalo @ Jacksonville
|Vegas implied point total||15.75||23.75|
|Team points per game||18.9||26.1|
|Opponent points per game||22.4||16.8|
|Situation neutral pace rank||9||13|
|NSOS fantasy points allowed QB last five games rank||3||22|
|NSOS fantasy points allowed RB last five games rank||30||16|
|NSOS fantasy points allowed WR last five games rank||2||27|
|NSOS fantasy points allowed TE last five games rank||29||5|
- If you believe Jacksonville crushes Buffalo, play all the Leonard Fournette you can. There’s little doubt the Jaguars plan on hiding Blake Bortles in these playoffs and running the ball is clearly the path of least resistance against the Bills defense. Any concerns about Fournette’s health were laid to rest last week when the coaching staff opted to play him on a season-high 87% of the team’s snaps in a meaningless game against Tennessee. Play him even if you think the Bills can pull the upset -- Jacksonville’s offensive production will run through Fournette in this game regardless.
In The Mix
- If LeSean McCoy is able to suit up (as of this writing the tea leaves suggest he’s 60/40 to play at less than 100%) he becomes interesting as a quasi-contrarian option. Very few people will be eager to roster McCoy with a bum ankle at roughly the same price as Fournette, but we know the Bills will lean on him if he’s active. Given a full workload, the probability McCoy can produce 25+ fantasy points isn’t much lower than any other top-tier running back on the slate outside of Gurley and he’ll come at much lower ownership. It’s not a play to go overboard with for obvious reasons (the injury situation, implied game script, and strength of the Jaguars rush defense since the Marcell Dareus trade), but you shouldn’t come up empty on McCoy if he’s cleared.
- At $1,400 less than his Week 17 salary, Dede Westbrook is the one Jacksonville wide receiver worth serious consideration in this spot. Much has been made about the strength of the Jaguars pass defense, but look at Buffalo’s normalized fantasy points allowed rankings to quarterbacks and wide receivers over the last five weeks. Over that span, they’ve put the clamps on Tyreek Hill, T.Y. Hilton, and Brandin Cooks twice. In a difficult matchup for Jacksonville’s passing game, it makes sense to follow the targets and choose the lowest priced option. Since being activated in Week 11, Westbrook is the most-heavily targeted Jaguars player and he comes at $200 less than Allen Hurns, who may get squeezed out of the rotation with Marqise Lee expected to return. Westbrook’s big play profile also gives him the ability to pay off most of his salary on one long touchdown catch.
- Kelvin Benjamin has a difficult individual matchup against stud cornerback A.J. Bouye, but he’s only $3,500 and has the best shot of any Bills receiver of finding the end zone. Benjamin’s size (6’4’’, 245 lbs.) gives him an edge on most corners in jump ball situations and Bouye (6’’, 191 lbs.) is no exception. If the game gets away from Buffalo, Benjamin could be in line for garbage time production. In the two games he’s seen more than five targets for the Bills, he scored 12 DraftKings points (3.4x multiple of his current salary) both times.
- Don’t believe anyone who tells you the Jaguars funnel passing game production to tight ends. Jacksonville ranks in the top half of the league in pass success rate against opposing tight ends and allow the seventh-fewest yards per pass attempt to the position. Still, Charles Clay is in play because his recent target volume (at least eight in three straight games) isn’t reflected in his price. Tight ends have been targeted more than five times in a game twice against the Jaguars this season, and both scored double-digit PPR points, which wouldn’t be a bad outcome for Clay considering his cost.
- Tyrod Taylor’s rushing ability gives him a floor close to 15 fantasy points in any matchup, which would be enough given the context of this slate. Rostering Taylor at $4,700 provides enough cap flexibility to fit three high priced running backs or receivers into your lineup, whereas entrants who pay up for Smith, Ryan, Cam Newton, or Drew Brees will have a hard time squeezing in more than two. It’s worth noting mobile quarterbacks have had some success on the ground vs. the Jaguars this season. Jacoby Brissett rushed for over 30 yards against Jacksonville twice this season, while Russell Wilson (5-50) and Marcus Mariota (10-60) both added more than the equivalent of an additional passing touchdown on the ground.
- Deonte Thompson warrants consideration as a low exposure, min-priced stacking partner for Taylor. We’re looking for 12 fantasy points from Thompson -- a mark he’s exceeded in 25% of his games played this season. His ownership will be well under 25% and his role as the Bills top downfield threat makes him interesting against a Jaguars defense that surprisingly leads the league with 11 passing touchdowns of 25+ yards allowed.
- Marqise Lee is expected to return this week. Before missing the last three games of the season, he led the Jaguars with a 24% target market share. No one will want a part of Lee, whose price is sandwiched between Kupp and Sanu, due to his injury status but as long as he’s declared active, he’s a good a bet as any to lead the Jaguars in receiving.
- If you’re looking for a flier at 5% owned, Marcedes Lewis has the best matchup of any Jacksonville pass catcher. Buffalo allows the third-highest pass success rate to enemy tight ends and the 10th-highest yards per attempt average.
- Doug Marrone is likely to do everything in his power to keep Blake Bortles from losing this game for the Jaguars. Even if the game script goes topsy-turvy and Bortles is forced to pass, it’s unlikely he’ll find much success against the Bills. Plus, haven’t we been waiting for his entire career to fade Blake Bortles in a playoff game?
- With Allen Hurns back, Marqise Lee expected to play, and the Jaguars likely to play conservatively on offense, the targets that have been there for Keelan Cole will dry up. You’re better off stepping down to Ginn or Watkins.
Carolina @ New Orleans
|Vegas implied point total||21||27.5|
|Team points per game||22.7||28|
|Opponent points per game||20.4||20.4|
|Situation neutral pace rank||20||15|
|NSOS fantasy points allowed QB last five games rank||30||13|
|NSOS fantasy points allowed RB last five games rank||10||18|
|NSOS fantasy points allowed WR last five games rank||32||29|
|NSOS fantasy points allowed TE last five games rank||17||2|
- Drew Brees’ fantasy ceiling has been hibernating during 2017, but chances are he’ll still be the highest-owned quarterback on the slate. The easiest way to attack the Panthers is via the passing game, though Brees didn’t exceed 20 fantasy points in either of the Saints convincing wins over Carolina this season. But with the way the Panthers have been bleeding fantasy points to quarterbacks recently, Brees’ ownership is justified, probably more so than Alex Smith’s in what could easily become a grind-it-out game in Kansas City. Brees and Michael Thomas as your highest-exposure stack is certainly a strategy that makes sense this week.
- After we heard all offseason how the Panthers were committed to preserving Cam Newton, he went on to post career-highs in both rush attempts (139) and rushing yards (754). Those two statistics are enough reason to include Newton in your plans this week, even if his prospects of an above average passing game are low against the Saints fifth-ranked pass defense (DVOA). While Newton shouldn’t have a problem hitting 20 fantasy points, a 30-point ceiling game is a stretch in this spot.
- Michael Thomas is the number one wide receiver play on the board. He scored 21.7 and 18 fantasy points, respectively, in the Saints prior meetings with the Panthers this season, finding the end zone in both games. Opposing WR1s have decimated young Carolina cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley since mid-season, giving Thomas multi-touchdown potential.
- Since Adrian Peterson was traded during the Saints Week 5 bye, Ingram is averaging 22.7 PPR points in home games vs. 13.9 on the road. Carolina boasts a tough rush defense, but Ingram still went for 24-points against them at home in Week 13. Ingram should come at lower-ownership than Alvin Kamara, Hunt, Fournette, and Freeman, but has similar upside, making him ideal for GPPs.
- Kamara also had success against Carolina in Week 13, going for 9-60-2 as a rusher and 6-66-0 as a receiver. Coming in underweight on Kamara on a short slate is dangerous due to his home run ability. Use him plenty, especially as a RB1 in Brees stacks.
- Christian McCaffrey exceeded 15 fantasy points in both of this year’s meetings with the Saints, including a 23.7-point Week 3 performance in which he was targeted 11 times. With Devin Funchess struggling through a shoulder injury, McCaffrey’s role in the passing game takes on added importance for Carolina, but it’s difficult to make a strong case for him with Devonta Freeman available for $100 less and so many other stud running backs in the top-tier.
In The Mix
- Ted Ginn Jr hasn’t impressed in two appearances against his former team this season, combining for 4 catches, 71 receiving yards, and 1 touchdown. As our Danny Tuccitto, recently pointed out in a Footballguys group chat, the Panthers are most susceptible to receivers in the 15-yard aDOT range, which is Michael Thomas territory. Of course, Ginn could bust a big play at any time, so he warrants at least limited exposure.
- A broken foot has hobbled Greg Olsen for most of the season. With the exception of a Week 15 blow-up game against the Packers abysmal secondary, Olsen failed to crack six fantasy points in any game. As their NSOS ranking against tight ends indicates, this is a difficult matchup for Olsen, but he’s in play because of his career track record and the possibility he ends up Carolina’s most-heavily targeted pass catcher as they attempt to come from behind. At the very least, he’s a low-exposure pivot off Delanie Walker.
- In five playoff games since Ron Rivera took over as head coach, Jonathan Stewart has averaged 17.4 carries, 82.2 rushing yards, and 1 touchdown per game. And those numbers are negatively impacted by the 2015 Super Bowl, in which Stewart was limited to 12 carries for 29 yards against the Broncos historically great defense. Was Stewart a surprise scratch last week because Rivera was gearing the veteran up for a heavy playoff workload? It’s certainly a chance worth taking at $3,500.
- Devin Funchess is playing hurt and will be locked up by Marshon Lattimore. Damiere Byrd and Curtis Samuel are on injured reserve, and Ted Ginn Jr plays for the opposition, leaving Bersin as the last man standing for the Panthers at wide receiver. Bersin has played the second-most wide receiver snaps for Carolina since Byrd’s injury and has received four targets in each of his last two games. Kaelin Clay has also seen an uptick in snaps, putting him in GPP flier consideration as well, but Newton has favored Bersin over the small sample.
- Devin Funchess hasn’t looked right for weeks and as previously mentioned, he faces a difficult one-on-one matchup with Marshon Lattimore. With Cooper Kupp in a great matchup in the same price range, Funchess is nothing but a low exposure dart throw who is more likely to disappear than return to relevance.