This article is part of our DFS Tournament Guide series.
Is it just me or does the Week 5 main slate look, maybe, just maybe, a little bit boring? No Patrick Mahomes, nobody gets to face the Dolphins, and the best games of the week are in primetime (imagine that?). I actually like boring, and not just because it's a match for my personality. 😐
The past few weeks, it felt like there were so many good plays that I ended up with a variety of very different lineup constructions. This week, I'm able to hone in on a tighter core of players, with most lineups revolving around the Falcons-Texans game.
As always, I'm happy to discuss strategy in the comments section below, or on twitter (@RotowireNFL_JD).
Note: All prices listed come from DraftKings, but most of the logic can be applied to other sites across the DFS industry. Discussion is limited to players from the "main slate" of games kicking off at 1:00, 4:05 and 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday. The strategy below is meant for large-field tournaments, where payouts typically are limited to ~20 percent of lineups, with the vast majority concentrated at the very top. Risk is our friend.
These are the players with the best projections relative to price — the guys that are great plays both for cash games and large-field tournaments. While we don't want our tourney lineups to look like cash-game lineups top to bottom, there's nothing wrong with using a few "chalk" picks that have strong odds to outperform their salaries. These players, along with a couple passing-game stacks, tend to form the core that remains fairly consistent throughout my lineups.
- RB Leonard Fournette, JAX at CAR ($6,400)
Perhaps the most obvious candidate in the NFL for positive touchdown regression, Fournette somehow has been kept out of the end zone while ranking third among RBs in touches (88), scrimmage yards (518) and snap share (91 percent). A three-down role shields him from game script, allowing for at least 17 touches and 87 yards every week this season. The snap-to-snap consistency is still missing, but a penchant for breaking long runs means Fournette can make up for any mistakes in a hurry. He'll surely be the centerpiece of Jacksonville's Week 5 gameplan, facing a run-funnel Carolina defense that ranks fourth in pass-defense DVOA and 29th in run-defense DVOA. The Panthers have allowed 4.8 YPC to running backs, including a combined 18-114-0 rushing line from Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson last week in Houston.
- TE Greg Olsen, CAR vs. JAX ($4,000)
With Travis Kelce and George Kittle playing in primetime while Evan Engram ($5,800) and Darren Waller ($5,000) face top defenses, the main DFS slate doesn't look especially fruitful at tight end. I'm not necessarily opposed to using Engram or Waller, but I do think Olsen can get similar volume at a significantly lower price. The 34-year-old is seventh at his position for both targets (29) and PPR points (13.2), also ranking fourth in air yards (283). While some tight ends are primarily restricted to short passes, Olsen has always been more of a seam-stretcher, with his aDOT sitting at 8.8 or higher every year since he joined Carolina. The downfield opportunities give him a nice ceiling for tournament play, and his price tag is the lowest on the main slate among all players — including RBs and WRs — with 25 or more targets this year.
Stacks are the centerpiece of any tournament lineup, seeking to take advantage of positive correlations between players. It rarely makes sense to use a quarterback without one or two of his pass catchers, even if the player in question scores a decent portion of his fantasy points with his legs. Ideally, a stack also includes a pass catcher from the other side of the contest, hoping to take advantage of a tight game where both teams are still chucking the ball around late in the fourth quarter. (Implied team totals are listed in parentheses)
Falcons (22) at Texans (27)
This game carries the highest over/under (49) on the main slate and second-highest of Week 5, featuring a pair of star-studded offenses that have been disappointing through four weeks. Based on efficiency stats like DVOA — or even just yards and points — the Atlanta's defense actually has been better than the offense, though it's really just splitting hairs between varying degrees of bad.
Still, this contest has a sky-high ceiling for passing-game stacks, with the teams ranked second (Atlanta) and ninth (Houston) in game-script-adjusted pass-play rate, per ESPN's Mike Clay. Neither team is uptempo to the same degree as the Cardinals or Rams, but Atlanta does rank fifth in situation-neutral pace (28.8 seconds per play) while Houston is 13th (30.0). It also doesn't hurt that the Falcons have fielded a modest run-funnel defense — 21st in DVOA against the pass, but 7th against the run.
Matt Ryan ($5,900) and Deshaun Watson ($6,700) both carry reasonable price tags relative to past production, with the latter likely having higher ownership but also a higher ceiling (thank you, rushing stats). QB ownership usually is spread out enough that we don't really need to worry about it, so my bigger dilemma is whether or not to use a second Houston pass catcher after putting DeAndre Hopkins ($7,800) in those Watson lineups. Will Fuller's ($4,500) deep-ball prowess is always appealing, and Keke Coutee ($3,400) will be a nice value if Kenny Stills (hamstring) is out.
The issue with Watson is that a ceiling game probably involves some rushing production, which can make it hard for more than one receiver to blow up. The Texans did have two games last season with Watson, Hopkins and Fuller all reaching 25 DK points, plus another where Watson, Hopkins and Coutee (24.9) essentially pulled it off. On the other hand, Watson's top fantasy performance of the season — 40.5 DK points — was built on the strength of two rushing TDs against the Eagles in Week 16, with Hopkins landing only a tick above his season average at 22.4 DK points while no other pass catcher had more than 12.1.
I find that a game stack with Ryan at QB is much less of a puzzle, as his rushing production is negligible and his pass catchers have distinct roles. I actually used the Falcons as an example to discuss stacking in a DFS Tournament Strategy article for RotoWire's magazine and draft kit this past summer, noting how Julio Jones ($7,700) and Calvin Ridley ($4,900) tended to thrive in Ryan's big performances, while Austin Hooper ($4,500) and Mohamed Sanu ($4,200) either showed no correlation or a slight negative correlation with their QB.
Hooper has been great this year, but it's basically just been a better version of what we saw last season — tons of short receptions in games where the Falcons can't get Jones or Ridley going on the deeper stuff. I know Hooper's price relative to recent production is appealing, but it still seems like better news for Ryan if Ridley and Jones are the ones having big games. In fact, I'd be more inclined to use Hooper in a lineup with Watson, hoping the Texans take charge of the game and the tight end can show off some of his familiar garbage-time heroics.
- Best Stack: QB Ryan + WR Jones + WR Ridley + WR Hopkins/Fuller
- Other Best Stack: QB Watson + WR Hopkins + WR Fuller + TE Hooper
Cardinals (22) at Bengals (25)
One piece of advice here: stacking the game doesn't mean you're obligated to watch it. Cardinals-Bengals could be the good kind of ugly for DFS, featuring two teams with cheap players, pass-happy offenses and lousy defenses (yes, the offenses also are bad). Arizona plays at the league's fastest situation-neutral pace (26.7 seconds), and Cincinnati is 12th at 29.9 seconds. Both teams land in the top 10 for game-script-adjusted pass rate — Cincy at No. 5, 'Zona at No. 7.
We also need to consider the impact of recent injuries to both offenses, which creates extra opportunity for teammates to draw targets but also decreases the odds of the game turning into a shootout. I favor Kyler Murray ($6,300) over Andy Dalton ($5,700), as neither QB has a healthy downfield threat but the rookie at least can pile up yards with his feet. David Johnson ($7,500) is one of my favorite overall plays of the week (more on him later), and he definitely catches enough passes to work well in a passing-game stack.
Other options from the game include Larry Fitzgerald ($6,000) and Tyler Boyd ($6,500) in favorable bounce-back spots, along with budget savers Tyler Eifert ($3,300), Auden Tate ($3,500) and KeeSean Johnson ($3,500). Remember that Christian Kirk (ankle), Damiere Byrd (hamstring) and John Ross (shoulder) all are expected to miss the game because of injuries.
- Best Stack: QB Murray + RB Johnson + WR Fitzgerald + TE Eifert
We can pair a running back with his team's defense to double our bet on favorable game script in certain matchups. Just keep in mind that the scoring correlations aren't nearly as strong as those between quarterbacks and pass catchers, so it isn't worth forcing into a lineup unless the prices for each individual commodity make sense. We also need to account for specialized backfield roles, i.e., using Marlon Mack rather than Nyheim Hines in conjunction with the Indianapolis defense.
- RB Jordan Howard ($5,100) + D/ST Eagles ($3,700) vs. NYJ
This is the classic spot for a RB-defense ministack, with the Eagles playing at home and favored by 13.5 points against a team that may be starting its backup quarterback (or else a guy who is in danger of dying). Howard established season highs for snap share (53 percent), carries (15) and targets (four) during a back-and-forth game in Green Bay last Thursday, so he could push for 20 carries if the Eagles jump out to a comfortable lead. As a bonus, the team seems to be moving away from veteran scatback Darren Sproles, who was limited to one touch on seven snaps last week against the Packers. A two-way split in the backfield would be far more appealing than the three-way timeshares that have marked much of Doug Pederson's tenure as head coach.
- RB David Johnson, ARZ at CIN ($7,500)
With Kyler Murray's aDOT dropping below even Derek Carr levels the past two weeks, Johnson caught 14 passes for 127 yards and a TD on 20 targets, averaging 20.2 DK points without much production on the ground (22 carries for 77 yards). He'll now take aim at a defense that's given up a league-high 285 receiving yards to running backs, including Monday's double-dip by James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. The vulnerability to RB passing-game involvement is nothing new, with Cincinnati allowing the second-most receiving yards in 2018 (890) and third-most in 2017 (818). That's what happens when your linebackers are terrible and your defensive scheme is overly preoccupied with not allowing big plays.
Fading the Field
Every week we see at least one or two players carrying high ownership without the backing of a top point-per-dollar projection. Recency bias is often to blame, but in some cases it even makes sense to fade a player with a strong projection, particularly when there are other good alternatives at the same position.
- WR Auden Tate, CIN vs. ARZ ($3,500)
I won't necessarily argue against throwing Tate into a Cardinals-Bengals game stack. Otherwise, he's a shaky tournament play, attracting way too much fantasy attention for a middling player in a bad offense. John Ross (shoulder) leaves eight targets per game up for grabs, but it's not like Tate is headed for extra snaps — he already played 91 and 88 percent the past two weeks. The missing targets from Ross could just as easily go to some combination of Tyler Eifert, C.J. Uzomah, Damion Willis, Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. KeeSean Johnson ($3,500), Javon Wims ($3,500) and Keke Coutee ($3,400) are the same idea as Tate at lower ownership, while guys like Will Fuller ($4,500) and Curtis Samuel ($4,500) are well worth the extra $1k of salary.
The SMASH Spot
Volume is king, no doubt. But we still need to account for efficiency, pinpointing situations that give players good odds to outperform their typical marks for YPA, YPC or YPT.
- WR Allen Robinson, CHI at OAK ($5,600)
I constructed a longer argument in favor of Robinson in my weekly matchups column, noting the favorable combination of steady volume and a weak opponent. I also think we'll see low ownership because he's playing with a backup quarterback, though it doesn't seem like Chase Daniel is much of a downgrade from Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder). Robinson's 25 percent target share is 12th-largest in the league, and he's averaging 13.8 DK points without the help of even a single touchdown.
The Bargain Bin
QB Kirk Cousins, MIN at NYG ($5,300)
QB Joe Flacco, DEN at LAC ($4,700)
RB Miles Sanders, PHI vs. NYJ ($4,500)
RB Carlos Hyde, HOU vs. ATL ($4,300)
WR Will Fuller, HOU vs. ATL ($4,500)
WR Curtis Samuel, CAR vs. JAX ($4,500)
WR Jamison Crowder, NYJ at PHI ($4,300)
WR KeeSean Johnson, ARZ at CIN ($3,500)
TE Tyler Eifert, CIN vs. ARZ ($3,300)
TE Dawson Knox, BUF at TEN ($3,100)
TE Noah Fant, DEN at LAC ($2,800)
D/ST Tampa Bay Buccaneers at NO ($2,200)
The "Sunday Scramble" doesn't need to be stressful. It's not so hard to formulate a plan ahead of time for the best way to respond once inactive lists are released.
- RB James Conner (ankle), PIT vs. BAL
This one is simple: I won't use Conner or Jaylen Samuels ($4,100) in any lineups if Conner plays, or I'll have Samuels in every single lineup if Conner doesn't play.
- RB Jamaal Williams (head/neck), GB at DAL
Aaron Jones ($5,900) is on the road against a tough defense, but it's easy enough to make a case if Williams can't play — there's potential for three-down usage at a two-down price.
- WR Davante Adams (toe), GB at DAL
Marquez Valdes-Scantling ($5,600) is rather expensive for a guy with his track record, but that's what happens when you're set up as the No. 1 receiver in an Aaron Rodgers offense. I don't quite view MVS an elite play, but he at least warrants consideration if Adams is ruled out.
- WR Kenny Stills (hamstring), HOU vs. ATL
Stills and Keke Coutee ($3,400) combined for 18 targets the past three weeks, essentially splitting the No. 3 receiver role. The second-year slot man should see a handful of chances if Stills isn't available.
- WR Michael Gallup (knee), DAL vs. GB
Multiple reports suggest Gallup will return for Week 5 after a knee scope held him out for two games, but I'm skeptical he'll be back in his every-down role, considering he still hadn't run full speed as of Wednesday (per ESPN's Todd Archer). Even so, his return could pull a bit of volume away from Amari Cooper, who also has the threat of potential shadow coverage from emerging superstar Jaire Alexander.
With Williams and Benjamin both out last week, Dontrelle Inman jumped in for a 5-76-0 receiving line, only to land on IR with a quad injury a few days later. The Bolts are now down to Geremy Davis and Andre Patton for depth, but I won't be taking a shot on either player.
- CB Jalen Ramsey (back), JAX at CAR
The list of potential issues is much shorter this week, but there's still some chance Ramsey misses a second straight game. His absence would be good news for both Curtis Samuel ($4,500) and D.J. Moore ($5,200), though the latter has seen just seven targets since Kyle Allen took over at quarterback. On the other hand, Jacksonville's pass rush could force Allen to get rid of the ball in a hurry, which would favor Moore (9.2 aDOT) over Samuel (15.0).
- QB Sam Darnold (illness), NYJ at PHI
It sounds like Darnold won't play, but if he does end up gaining clearance, I'd be hesitant to spend up for the Eagles defense ($3,700) unless I'm attaching it to Jordan Howard. Robby Anderson ($4,500) also comes into play if he's working with Darnold instead of noodle-armed Luke Falk, though I don't think we'd be seeing the best version of Darnold. This one kind of confuses me.
We could see some wind in the London game (CHI-OAK), but everything else looks clean as of Friday morning. The current Sunday wind projection for London is only 14 mph, which isn't enough to warrant downgrades for quarterbacks or receivers. I'll start to worry about Robinson if the wind pushes up to 20 mph.
Adjusting for FanDuel Prices
The prices listed in this article are from DraftKings, and while most of the logic applies to any DFS site, there are a few specific changes I'll need to apply for FanDuel:
- The gap between Deshaun Watson ($8,000) and Matt Ryan ($7,700) is much smaller, so that would impact my decision between the two (but also ownership).
- Kyler Murray ($7,400) is priced at QB11 on the main slate, compared to QB4 on DK.
- David Johnson ($6,800) is too cheap. I don't know why you'd make an FD lineup without him.
- I'll buy the squeaky-wheel-gets-the-grease narrative for Stefon Diggs ($6,000) at this price.
- Marquise Brown ($5,400) is still the No. 1 WR on a good offense.
- Larry Fitzgerald ($5,800), like all the other Cardinals, is blatantly underpriced.
- Tom Brady ($7,600), Julian Edelman ($6,500) and Josh Gordon ($6,200) all feel underpriced.