This article is part of our DraftKings NFL series.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit I've never been a fan of small DFS slates, be it for NFL, MLB, NBA or even college football (R.I.P.). Identifying point-per-dollar value is my strength as a DFS player, and while the game theory aspect isn't something that makes me uncomfortable, I do find it much harder to weigh the relative importance of value and ownership when picking from a tiny player pool.
Having said all that...my schedule is pretty open Wednesday night, and throwing together a few DraftKings lineups (along with this write-up) gives me a half-decent excuse to procrastinate making the macaroni & cheese for Thanksgiving.
The usual format for my DK articles doesn't make much sense on a short slate, particularly one where the only expensive running back, Melvin Gordon, largely earned his lofty price tag on the basis of pass-catching work that's now going to Austin Ekeler (First hint for this week's strategy: I'm fading Gordon). With the importance of point-per-dollar value largely muted, it's better to approach the slate from the perspective of what we think is likely to happen, comparing that to what we think our opponents will do.
The Top Plays
My first step is to identify the two or three players I definitely want in my lineups. Let's start with Vernon Davis ($5,500), who will take aim at a defense that simply can't cover tight ends (as you've probably heard by now). The Giants have given up league-high marks of 10 touchdowns and 93 targets to tight ends, also ranking among the bottom three in receptions (5.9 per game) and receiving yards (75.2) allowed.
Davis has averaged 13.6 DK points in the four games Jordan Reed (hamstring) has missed this season, despite scoring just once in those games. He'll have a good shot to find the end zone Thursday night against a Giants defense that finally kept tight ends out of the end zone for the first time all season in Sunday's 12-9 win over the Giants. Of course, Travis Kelce wasn't exactly shut down in the contest, catching eight passes for 109 yards on 14 targets (all team-high marks).
Also keep in mind that selecting Davis doesn't preclude you from using another tight end, as doubling down at the position in the flex spot is a perfectly reasonable strategy for a three-game slate. It's something I only do on occasion for larger slates, as wide receivers and running backs tend to have higher ceilings.
Speaking of ceilings, my other must-use player this week is Golden Tate ($6,200), who already has four games this season with more than 21 DK points. He's also had a few duds — including Sunday's win over Chicago and a Week 4 road win over Minnesota — which partially explains why his price is at its lowest point of the season. This still seems like a bit of a mistake, as he's just one week removed from a streak of four straight games with six or more catches for at least 86 yards.
Tate is the top threat in a prolific passing attack for a team that doesn't figure to have much luck with the run against a stingy Minnesota defense that's limited running backs to 3.4 yards per carry and four total touchdowns all season. The Vikings have also done a nice job defending wideouts, but Tate's role in the slot means he'll at least avoid top cornerback Xavier Rhodes for the most part.
Tate may have been shut down in his first meeting with the Vikings, but he caught 16 passes for 156 yards and a touchdowns in two games against a very similar Minnesota defense last season. Expect another high volume effort Thursday in a game that should look much different from the 14-7 slugfest between these teams from Week 4.
That expectation also makes Adam Thielen ($7,600) a slam dunk for my lineups, as Case Keenum ($5,300) likely will need to throw 30 or more passes against a Detroit defense that can put shutdown cornerback Darius Slay on Stefon Diggs ($6,300). Though he's clearly overtaken Diggs as the Vikings' top receiver, Thielen should mostly avoid Slay's attention while working from the slot. I'm expecting the NFL's latest superstar to make it four straight games with more than 20 DK points.
The Tough Decisions
With our three locks out of the way, the natural place to continue our roster building is at quarterback, where a decent case could be made for all six starters. Kirk Cousins ($7,100) figures to be the popular choice coming off back-to-back big games, but my concerns about the New York-Washington game turning into a blowout lead me toward Samaje Perine ($5,000) and the Redskins defense ($3,600) rather than Cousins and Jamison Crowder ($5,400). If I do make a lineup with Cousins and Crowder, it'll also include Evan Engram ($6,100) with the hopes that Big Blue can keep things within striking distance in the second half.
But I'd rather look to the other two games if I'm seeking the potential for a closely-contested shootout, considering Washington (-7.5) is the only heavy favorite on the Thanksgiving slate. And given what we've seen from both teams of late, Dallas figures to have more luck with its run game than passing attack against the Chargers, leading me toward Alfred Morris ($4,800) over Dez Bryant ($6,400), Terrance Williams ($3,700) and Jason Witten ($4,200).
This train of logic leads me to choose between Philip Rivers ($6,100), Matthew Stafford ($6,000) and Case Keenum ($5,300), with the last two perhaps getting special treatment because I already have Tate and Thielen locked in. Theo Riddick ($3,600) is a sneaky RB option for Stafford lineups, while TE Kyle Rudolph ($4,100) or RB Jerick McKinnon ($5,200) makes sense for Keenum lineups.
Any lineups with Rivers will include last week's blow-up star, Keenan Allen ($7,300), along with either TE Hunter Henry ($3,300) or passing-down back Austin Ekeler ($4,200). Tyrell Williams ($3,700) comes into play if Travis Benjamin (abdomen) and/or Mike Williams (knee) is unable to play.