This article is part of our DraftKings College Football series.
Happy New Year! As we ring in 2022 and close out the 2021 season, we're treated to a five-game slate loaded with quality matchups across the board. We kick things off with the Outback, Citrus and Fiesta Bowls before the Granddaddy of Them All carries the afternoon window and we close things down in Nola with the Sugar Bowl. Even with opt-outs and no playoff implications, this will still be a strong sendoff for the season. And yes, I've heard the rumors that there is a bowl game between LSU and Kansas State on Tuesday at 9PM eastern but I still don't believe them.
As I just alluded to, opt-outs are a major factor on this slate. At once it means we won't have the luxury of rostering bedrocks like Jahan Dotson, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Kyren Williams, Treylon Burks and others, but it also gives us the opportunity to mine for serious value. I'm not sure I recall seeing so many viable sub-$4K options since Week 1 when CFB DFS is the true wild west. Will unproven freshmen emerge? Will bigger workloads prove to be too much for players who have had reserve roles all season?
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C.J. Stroud, Ohio State ($9,900) vs. Utah
There may be some consternation in paying up for Stroud when he's missing two of his top three receivers against a Utah defense that memorably shut down Oregon twice late in the season. Ohio State is more explosive through the air and more balanced overall, so Utah can't cheat against the pass without getting bludgeoned by TreVeyon Henderson in return. If anything, we can use all of this to our advantage as Stroud's roster percentage may dip below season norms, even on a small slate. Okay, maybe I'm wishcasting there, but still.
Utah did what it did to Oregon because the Ducks did not have a viable passing game. That's not the case in this spot, even with Wilson and Olave out. Stroud has been automatic since getting fully healthy during conference play and still has Jaxon Smith-Njigba to throw to. Not to mention, Ohio State has a number of blue-chip recruits at receiver that have been waiting in the wings for an opportunity and have gotten more reps during bowl practice.
Cameron Rising, Utah ($6,700) vs. Ohio State
On the other side of the Rose Bowl matchup we have Rising, an impressive first-year starter with dual-threat ability. His lack of passing volume hurts his overall projection as he throws it 27 times per game with middling YPA and completion percentages. Still, that's baked into the price here and Rising's ability as a runner (6.5 YPC, 407 yards, 5 TD). He's at the helm of the team with the second-highest implied total on the slate in a game with the highest over/under. Rising will be a factor and at $6,700, he represents solid value.
KJ Jefferson, Arkansas ($7,700) vs. Penn State
Jefferson might have to do it all Saturday with Treylon Burks opting out. No other Arkansas skill player, either in the backfield or in the receiving corps, has been overly impressive this season (though there are some worthwhile dart throws mentioned later). Jefferson is the only sure thing in this offense heading into Saturday.
Jefferson already leads the team in rushing share as a quarterback, which gives him built-in upside. With less viable targets running routes, Jefferson could be more busy than usual as a runner Saturday.
When Jefferson does throw, he has a bevy of cheap options that could work as part of a stack or mini-stack as well.
Others to Consider: Will Levis, Kentucky ($7,100) vs. Iowa
Abram Smith, Baylor ($6,800) vs. Mississippi
Ole Miss' run defense is the worst on the slate and Baylor will certainly test it early and often Saturday as the Bears have the 23rd-highest run rate in the nation. Smith is the tip of the spear in the Baylor run game with a 46 percent share of the carries. The converted linebacker runs with the physicality you'd expect and it translated into 1,429 yards, 12 touchdowns and a strong 6.2 YPC mark. He saw 17-or-more carries in each of his last seven games and stands to get fed again in this matchup. Backfield mate Trestan Ebner ($4,900) is a nice pivot, too. His rushing floor is much lower as he sees 11 rushes per game, but he has obvious upside in the passing game (28 catches, 284 yards, 2 TD) and has a kick return touchdown to his credit as well. In PPR scoring, Ebner is a fine option but Smith is the preferred play here.
Raheim Sanders, Arkansas ($4,000) vs. Penn State
The Nittany Lions have some high-profile opt-outs on defense so what was already a middling run defense could be certifiably vulnerable Saturday. Of course, the problem is that Arkansas' backfield has been one of the most difficult to solve from a fantasy perspective this season. Three different Hogs have 80-or-more rushes and all have had comparable effectiveness. If you look at snap counts, it was actually AJ Green who led the backfield in that category in the last two games of the season. He saw all of four carries in that span, though, while Sanders had 14 rushes and two scores.
A look at this carry percentage chart goes to show how volatile this carry distribution can be. To be clear, using any of these backs will be risky. That said, we can use that to our advantage as any Razorback runner you roster will likely have a low roster percentage, and if you guess right, you suddenly have leverage. Sanders gets my endorsement thanks to his late-season presence in the backfield but it would not be surprising for at least two Razorback running backs to turn in viable production against Penn State.
Gavin Williams, Iowa ($3,600) vs. Kentucky
Tyler Goodson is sitting this one out as he gets ready for the draft, which leaves Iowa without a rusher that it leaned on for 55 percent of its rushes this season. Ivory Kelly-Martin is the most established option behind Goodson with 160 career carries, but his 3.8 YPC career average leaves something to be desired even if he's in line to start. Williams is the unknown here. He's a redshirt freshman who has comparable season-long numbers to Kelly-Martin but started to come on strong down the stretch with 50+ yards in two of his last three games.
We know what Kelly-Martin is at this point. And it's not overly impressive. Williams seems to have more upside and I'm willing to take the plunge with the Peter Griffin Mystery Box instead of the boat. Kelly-Martin is min-priced, for what it's worth, so I can't blame anyone taking a min-priced starter in a run-heavy offense, either.
Logan Diggs ($3,800) and Audric Estime ($3,000), Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma State
No Kyren Williams means that Notre Dame will be turning to some inexperienced but talented backs for the Fiesta Bowl. Diggs projects as the next man up after taking 43 carries for 201 yards and three touchdowns. That shows that the coaching staff already trusted him to have a role behind Williams throughout the year. Estime is more of an unknown. His only carries on the year came in the romp over Georgia Tech when he took six attempts for 61 yards. Still, Notre Dame is looking to the future in this spot and will likely give its 228-pound freshman some added run. At $3,000, Estime is a dark horse to return value.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State ($7,700) vs. Utah
Last time Ohio State was shorthanded at receiver it was against Nebraska and Smith-Njigba went ahead and set a single-game school record for receptions with 15, which he turned into 240 yards and a score. That was just when Garrett Wilson was out. Saturday, Wilson and Chris Olave are sitting out as they get ready for the draft. Outside of that JSN-Wilson-Olave trio, Ohio State receivers combined for 44 targets on the season. That's staggering considering that the Buckeyes went to the air 447 times this season.
Yes, this means added opportunities for Julian Fleming, Marvin Harrison Jr., and Emeka Egbuka, but there's no question that Smith-Njigba will be seeing as many targets as he can handle Saturday. It's chalky to go with Smith-Njigba but I simply do not see a receiver on this opt-out laden receiver board with a better combo of floor and ceiling.
Egbuka would be my preferred dart throw if you're pursuing an Ohio State passing stack as he caught six of seven targets for 145 yards in seven games. Fleming and Harrison saw more targets but had uninspiring per-target explosiveness. Of course, Egbuka's 85-yard reception against Akron is doing a lot of the heavy lifting on his season totals. Still, and increased role should translate into production for Egbuka at the min-price of $3,000.
De'Vion Warren, Arkansas ($3,200) vs. Penn State
It's anyone's guess how Arkansas will recalibrate its passing attack with Treylon Burks and his 31 percent target share absent from the equation Saturday. Only one other Razorback had more than 300 receiving yards this season and no other Hog had more than two receiving touchdowns. Will Arkansas lean on the ground game more? Possibly. But the Razorbacks will still trust KJ Jefferson to put it in the air.
Warren has promising peripherals. He averaged a solid 8.4 YPT on 26 targets. His catch rate was just 50 percent but he finished strong in the season finale with two catches for 63 yards on three targets. Look for him to be more involved Saturday. Tight end Blake Kern ($3,700) may be the new preferred red zone target with Burks out and is worth a shot as well if you need a sub-$4K option at receiver or flex.
Parker Washington, Penn State ($5,300) vs. Arkansas
I might've liked Washington at $5,300 even if Jahan Dotson was playing. But with no Dotson, I'm a big fan of using Washington on this slate. When you remove Dotson from the equation, no other Penn State pass-catcher holds a candle to Washington. The second-year wideout converted an 18 percent target share into 57 catches for 722 yards and four touchdowns. The next-most productive receiver, KeAndre Lambert-Smith, had 31 catches and two touchdowns. Washington is primed to take over the No.1 role, and while Arkansas will be ready for this development, his target volume should carry him to a productive day.