This article is part of our DFS Tournament Guide series.
As always, I'm happy to discuss strategy in the comments 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.
These are the players with the best projections relative to price — good 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 the best 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 Damien Williams, KC vs. LAC ($4,700)
I already discussed Williams in my weekly matchups column, noting that he got 19 touches on 53 percent snap share last week in his first game back from a rib injury. Coach Andy Reid doesn't seem to trust Darwin Thompson or LeSean McCoy, while Spencer Ware (shoulder) is joining Darrel Williams (hamstring) on injured reserve. Damien may not be anything special in terms of running ability, but he's the one healthy running back Reid trusts to execute the offense without coughing up fumbles or missing blocks. That alone has a ton of value, with the Chiefs carrying an implied total of 27.25 as nine-point favorites for Sunday's game. Williams has good odds for a touchdown and even better odds to catch at least three or four passes.
- WR Keenan Allen, LAC at KC ($6,100)
We haven't seen a huge game from Allen since September, but even his version of a slump isn't too bad, with steady volume and a strong catch rate making up for the lack of big plays. He's working on six in a row with five or more catches for 68 or more yards, including an 8-71-1 receiving line on 12 targets Week 11 against Kansas City. The matchup here is far from ideal, but that seems like a reasonable trade off when we're getting Allen at a WR23 price tag.
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.)
Eagles (24.5) @ Giants (20.5)
The price on Carson Wentz ($6,100) is a major selling point for this stack, with the Eagles quarterback coming off four straight weeks scoring 21.93 or more DK points. There's no way I'm paying $6,400 for Daniel Jones against a decent defense, but I will consider Saquon Barkley ($8,700), Sterling Shepard ($6,200), Golden Tate ($5,100) and Darius Slayton ($4,900).
Slayton roasted the Eagles for 5-154-2 a couple weeks ago, but a knee injury limited him to a pair of targets and 29 percent of snaps last week. Plus, he did most of his damage in the first Eagles-Giants game when he was matched up with struggling cornerback Ronald Darby, who has since been placed on injured reserve with a hip injury. The Eagles also have top cornerback Jalen Mills (ankle) banged up, potentially improving the matchup for Shepard, who nonetheless feels a bit pricey with guys like Courtland Sutton, Keenan Allen, Jarvis Landry and DJ Chark Jr. all in the same price range.
Barkley is the safe bet for volume but also has the toughest matchup of the bunch, so he's more of an "if it fits" play than a true priority for me. Tate offers the best mix of price, talent and volume, costing $1,100 less than Shepard despite the similar level of production. Even though he mostly work from the slot, Tate has been more of a big-play threat than his teammate.
On the other side of the game, Miles Sanders ($6,800) is a bargain relative to his recent production, but Jordan Howard's expected return creates some uncertainty about the workload. I'm not opposed to adding Sanders to a Wentz stack, but I'd rather use Dallas Goedert ($4,900) and Greg Ward ($4,700), especially if Zach Ertz (ribs) is ruled out.
- Best Stack: QB Wentz + WR Tate + WR Ward + TE Goedert
Falcons (23.25) @ Buccaneers (24.25)
This is the only game on the slate with a decent over/under and a tight point spread, featuring two teams with well-earned reputations for chucking the ball around and playing terrible defense. The problem? Both defenses actually have been decent throughout the second half of the season, while both offenses have been thinned out by injuries.
I guess the second part isn't necessarily a drawback, as it leads to strong volume projections for an assortment of pass catchers: Julio Jones ($8,500), Breshad Perriman ($6,700), Justin Watson ($4,900), Austin Hooper ($5,800) and O.J. Howard ($4,300). My inclination is to go with Jones and Watson, paying up for the proven commodity while taking the discount on the other side.
As for the quarterbacks, Jameis Winston ($6,600) offers a higher ceiling thanks to his aggressive approach and ability to contribute rushing stats, but he's also relying on backups to catch passes, whereas Matt Ryan ($6,500) still has Jones and Hooper. If forced to choose, I slightly prefer Ryan over Winston, having seen the how much the latter struggled last week when he was forced to play a full game without Mike Evans (hamstring) and Chris Godwin (hamstring).
- Best Stack: QB Ryan + WR Jones + WR Watson + TE Hooper
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 Le'Veon Bell ($5,800) + Jets D/ST ($2,700) at BUF
Bills coach Sean McDermott plans to play his starters, but he acknowledged that "they're not all going to play the same amount in the game," per The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. With Buffalo locked in as the No. 5 seed, common sense dictates that guys like Josh Allen, John Brown, Tre'Davious White and Tremaine Edmunds won't stay in the contest beyond halftime. Meanwhile, the Jets figure to go all-out, as they've won too many games for the draft implications to be super important but not enough to prevent their head coach from looking like a fool. A second-half battle with Buffalo's backups could be the perfect showcase if Adam Gase truly is hellbent on trading Bell away in the offseason.
Honorable Mention: RB Aaron Jones ($8,200) + Packers D/ST ($3,000)
- RB Christian McCaffrey, CAR vs. NO ($10,000)
The Panthers have been shameless about pumping up McCaffrey's statistics, peppering him with targets against soft zone defenses in the fourth quarter of blowouts rather than pulling him from games in favor of backup Reggie Bonnafon. The star running back is now 67 receiving yards away from 1,000 from the year, while 216 yards from scrimmage would break Chris Johnson's single-season record. The second mark will be tough to reach even if it's prioritized, but that doesn't mean the Panthers won't give it a try. Even if they aren't successful, it's hard to imagine McCaffrey finishing the game with fewer than 10 targets.
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 good alternatives at the same position and price range.
- QB Robert Griffin, BAL vs. PIT ($5,100)
A cheap quarterback with running ability may seem tempting, but Griffin will largely be surrounded by fellow backups while facing the starters from a top-five defense. There's a reason Baltimore has an implied total of 17.5 points, installed as a two-point underdog for a game that's a must-win for the opponent. Coach John Harbaugh already ruled out RB Mark Ingram (calf) and RG Marshal Yanda, with TE Mark Andrews (ankle) and LT Ronnie Stanley potentially next in line.
Other Fades: TE Travis Kelce, KC vs. LAC ($7,000)
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.
- Michael Gallup, DAL vs. WAS ($5,400)
Washington is middle of the pack in terms of production allowed to wide receivers, with cornerback Quinton Dunbar (hamstring) enjoying a standout season that has helped the defense hide some of its shortcomings. Unfortunately for the Redskins, their top corner will finish out the year on injured reserve, while Sunday's inactive list may include some combination of CB Fabian Moreau (hamstring), S Landon Collins (shoulder) and S Montae Nicholson (neck/ankle) — all three are starters, and all three missed practice both Wednesday and Thursday. In any case, Gallup sticks out like a sore thumb among the WRs in his price range, averaging 14.8 DK points and 77.6 yards per game. He just went over 1,000 yards in his 13th game of the season, leading the Cowboys in receiving for a second time in the past three weeks.
The Bargain Bin
QB Sam Darnold, NYJ at BUF ($5,000)
RB Kerryon Johnson, DET vs. GB ($4,500)
RB Jaylen Samuels, PIT at BAL ($4,300)
WR John Ross, CIN vs. CLE ($4,500)
WR Dede Westbrook, JAX vs. IND ($4,200)
WR Mohamed Sanu, NE vs. MIA ($4,100)
WR Alex Erickson, CIN vs. CLE ($3,600)
TE Noah Fant, DEN vs. OAK ($3,600)
TE Tyler Eifert, CIN vs. CLE ($3,400)
D/ST Chicago Bears, at MIN ($2,100)
The "Sunday Scramble" doesn't need to be stressful. We can formulate plans ahead of time for the best way to respond once inactive lists are released.
- QB Kyler Murray (hamstring), ARZ at LAR
My interest in Christian Kirk ($4,700) depends on Murray suiting up. I guess the quarterback himself is slightly tempting at $5,500, but the lack of passing production throughout the second half of the season makes him a tough sell if the hamstring injury might impact his running ability.
- RB Jamaal Williams (shoulder), GB at DET
Aaron Jones ($8,200) gets a better workload floor if Williams is inactive. The Packers are still fighting for a first-round bye, so they figure to ride Jones hard unless the game turns into a blowout. Of course, the blowout scenario probably involves Jones piling up stats to help them get there.
- RB Josh Jacobs (shoulder), OAK at DEN
DeAndre Washington ($5,200) is a bit more expensive than last week and gets a tricky matchup in Denver, but it's only fair to mention him given that he put up 21.6 and 18.6 DK points in the two games Jacobs missed.
- TE Zach Ertz (ribs), PHI at NYG
Dallas Goedert ($4,900) will be the most popular TE play if Ertz is inactive, and it's a case where the projection would be plenty strong enough to tolerate the high ownership. Count me in.
There aren't any major concerns for wind or snow, but we may see rain in a few games, most likely in Cincinnati. It doesn't look like anything that will impact quarterbacks or pass catchers.
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 price for Daniel Jones ($7,500) is more reasonable on FD, but I'll probably stick with Carson Wentz ($7,700) anyway.
- Christian McCaffrey ($11,000) probably won't make my lineup, considering his short receptions aren't as valuable on FanDuel and yet his price tag is further removed from the rest of the pack at RB. I'd rather have Aaron Jones ($8,000) and an extra $3,000 to spend on wide receivers.
- Kerryon Johnson ($4,500) is priced at the minimum! Granted, he's probably splitting carries as a 12.5-point underdog. But, still!
- Michael Thomas ($9,200) isn't as far away from the pack at WR compared to where he's priced on DraftKings.
- I guess i prefer Sterling Shepard ($6,300) over Golden Tate ($6,100) when the pricing is this close. Also, Darius Slayton ($5,400) looks pretty good if we get positive news on his injured knee.
- DJ Chark Jr. at $5,900 is cool. We're probably getting three points or 20 points, with no in between...that's fine for tournaments.
- I like Jamison Crowder at $5,600 against a Buffalo defense that figure to pull some of its starters out of the game early.
- Austin Hooper ($6,000) is priced at TE8, compared to TE4 on DraftKings. In fact, the whole Ryan-Jones-Hooper stack comes at a favorable price on FanDuel.
- There are plenty of cheap D/ST options: the Jets at $3,200, the Cowboys at $3,600, and the Steelers at $3,500.