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 their DK salaries — 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. These players, along with a couple passing-game stacks, tend to form the core that remains fairly consistent throughout my lineups.
- QB Cam Newton NE vs. MIA ($6,100)
A lot of people won't be comfortable using a quarterback coming off an injury-marred season and now playing for a new team. But the cool thing about Newton is that he can put up fantasy points even if his passing isn't efficient, as he has career averages of 38.4 rushing yards, 0.46 rushing TDs and 21.4 DraftKings points per game. He averaged 21.8 DK points in 2018 with the Panthers, and he's now joining a Patriots offense that led the league in neutral-situation pace both of the past two years and finished top four in total snaps each of the last three seasons. Newton may not match his Carolina rushing averages with the Patriots, but his career high of 517 passes could be eclipsed by mid-December. A home date versus Miami is a good place to start, with New England carrying the seventh-best implied total (24.25) on Sunday's slate.
- WR Marquise Brown vs. CLE ($5,100)
Brown's season-long ADP rose to WR26 by the end of August, and he's now priced No. 30 at his position on a DFS slate with only 24 NFL teams. If you bought in on the breakout hype this summer, you pretty much have to like him at this price, even though Browns cornerback Denzel Ward is one of the few players in the league who can run step for step with Hollywood. I'd probably use Ward to shadow Brown if I were the one making decisions in Cleveland, but it's at least worth noting that the team made only two appearances in PFF's shadow coverage matrix last year — and neither instance was against the Ravens. Plus, No. 2 CB Greedy Williams (shoulder) isn't expected to play, nor is depth corner Kevin Johnson (liver), and even M.J. Stewart (hamstring) may be listed as questionable.
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 QB 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.)
Browns (20.25) @ Ravens (28.25)
Baker Mayfield ($5,700) playing on the road as an eight-point underdog against an impressive defense is too contrarian for my liking, but Odell Beckham at $5,900 is a nice bargain if you believe his 2019 struggles were primarily a product of poor coaching and an abdominal injury rather than a decline in skill. The Ravens have a great group of cornerbacks, but they also have first-time starter DeShon Elliott stepping in for Earl Thomas at free safety, creating a potential weak link to be picked on.
Of course, it's the Baltimore side of this game that carries more intrigue, with Brown already mentioned above as one of the best values on the slate, while Lamar Jackson ($8,100) and Mark Andrews ($6,000) remain weekly threats to lead their respective positions in fantasy scoring. There was only one game last season in which both Andrews and Brown went over 20 DK points, but we did see two other instances where the wideout cleared 15 and the tight end went well over 20. Jackson scored 33.4 or more in each of those three games, showing that he can keep two pass catchers productive while also adding some rushing stats.
I'd normally only use one pass catcher in a Jackson stack, but the price on Brown is good enough to justify the triple-up on Ravens. If you're looking for something with lower ownership, we probably won't see too many Jackson lineups that pivot to George Kittle ($7,200) instead of Andrews as the pay-up play at tight end.
- Best Stack: QB Jackson + WR Brown + WR Beckham + TE Andrews
Seahawks (25.5) @ Falcons (23.5)
This one has the highest over/under (49) on Sunday's slate, along with the tightest point spread. Heavy stack ownership is a certainty, which means we'll need to be mindful of including less popular picks at other positions in lineups built around the Seahawks-Falcons game.
Russell Wilson ($7,000) has the higher ceiling of the two QBs thanks to his scrambling ability and elite deep-ball accuracy, but he also costs a bit more than Matt Ryan ($6,700) and figures to be rostered in a larger share of tournament lineups. Wilson hit 40 DK points twice in the first nine weeks last season, before enduring a stretch of six in a row below 20. Ryan, on the other hand, maxed out at 35.9, but he had only three games all year with less than 18.5.
Given that he's a pure pocket passer, Ryan is best deployed with multiple pass catchers from his team. Julio Jones ($7,700) and Calvin Ridley ($6,100) are the obvious plays, while Hayden Hurst ($4,300) and Russell Gage ($4,300) are the discount options. In terms of bang for the buck, I prefer Hurst and Ridley, but that's mostly personal preference rather than anything based on concrete evidence. I do think there are a lot of good plays at WR this week, so it's tough to justify the opportunity cost of using a roster spot on a mediocre slot receiver like Gage... I'd rather go the discount route at RB or TE.
On the Seattle side, the target distribution is arguably even narrower, with Tyler Lockett ($6,500), DK Metcalf ($5,800) and Greg Olsen ($4,000) the viable choices. It isn't really clear how the No. 3 receiver job will be handled between Phillip Dorsett (foot) and David Moore, nor is it clear how many snaps Olsen will lose to Will Dissly and/or Jacob Hollister.
The conventional play is Wilson+Lockett+Metcalf, but Locket feels kind of expensive on a slate with so many talented WRs priced at $5,100-5,900. I'm fine using only Wilson and Metcalf from the Seattle side, considering the Seahawks QB can score points with his feet. I typically prefer to use two pass catchers from my quarterback's team, but one can do the trick with a rushing threat like Wilson.
- Best Stack: QB Wilson + WR Metcalf + WR Ridley
Dolphins (17.75) @ Patriots (24.25)
The Miami side pretty much just looks ugly, especially with DeVante Parker ($6,000) nursing a hamstring injury and Preston Williams ($4,500) potentially stuck in a part-time role for his first game back from an ACL tear. Mike Gesicki ($4,500) is the one I'd roster if I had no other choice, but even that seems dicey without knowing how OC Chan Gailey will use the young tight end (Gailey's offenses traditionally haven't sent many targets to the position).
The better bet here is to just stick with the New England side, where Newton has Julian Edelman ($6,000), James White ($6,000) and N'Keal Harry ($4,400) as his top receiving weapons. White is a personal favorite of mine, but it's hard to get behind him at that price when we go up just a few hundred dollars and get a potential three-down back like Kenyan Drake ($6,400) or Todd Gurley ($6,100).
Anyway, Edelman is the safe choice with a clear path to steady targets, but Harry comes $1,600 cheaper and could see a higher percentage of his targets on deep throws or near the goal line. Using both is perfectly reasonable, considering the Patriots have rookies at TE and journeymen for the other receiver spots. Edelman and Harry conceivably could account for half the targets.
- Best Stack: QB Newton + WR Edelman + WR Harry
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, e.g., using David Montgomery rather than Tarik Cohen in conjunction with the Chicago defense.
- Kenyan Drake ($6,400) + Cardinals D/ST ($2,100) at SF
It isn't exactly conventional to use an RB/defense stack from a seven-point underdog facing the defending NFC champs. But it also isn't conventional to see a potential three-down workhorse priced at $6,400, especially after Drake averaged 21.1 DK points (on 80 percent snap share) in eight games for Arizona last season, including 31.2 and 14.0 in two matchups with San Francisco. The Cardinals defense obviously doesn't inspire much confidence, but that's why we're getting them for only $2,100, which feels especially reasonable if Deebo Samuel (foot) doesn't play. This mini-stack is a nice way to differentiate lineups that rely on heavily rostered players at other spots.
- WR Davante Adams at MIN ($7,300)
Including the playoffs, Adams closed out last season with five consecutive games of 22.3 or more DK points, averaging 12.8 targets along the way. As you've probably heard by now, the Packers were quiet during the free-agent-signing period, then used their first two draft picks on a backup quarterback and a backup running back. That leaves Adams — along with Michael Thomas and Julio Jones — as one of the favorites for the 2020 NFL target lead, and he'll kick things off against a Vikings defense that got rid of its top three cornerbacks from last year. In the long run, it may prove to be addition by subtraction. In the short run, Minnesota has 2018 UDFA Holton Hill (524 career snaps) and 2018 first-round disappointment Mike Hughes (742 snaps) listed as the starting cornerbacks, with rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler the other options. It's feast time for Mr. Adams.
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.
- RB Christian McCaffrey vs. LVR ($10,000)
McCaffrey will probably have a good game because he is who he is, but we don't really want him in a tournament lineup if he's finishing around 20-25 points at this price. There are a few reasons — apart from the REGRESSION monster — to worry that he won't live up to last year's average of 31.0 DK points, starting with the possibility that a new coaching staff actually makes occasional use of its backup running backs (namely Mike Davis). That's not to say C-Mac will lose much work, but he could see a drop from last year's 93 percent closer to the ~85 percent range we typically see with other three-down studs like Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley.
Also consider that the matchup may not be as great as it sounds, with Jon Gruden favoring a slow pace of play on offense, while the Carolina defense resembles a sieve. The Raiders were 24th and 26th in neutral-situation pace the past two years, sporting the eighth-highest run play rate (44 percent) in 2019 despite being outscored by 106 points. McCaffrey is the best in the business at piling up fantasy points, but there's nothing he can do when he isn't on the field.
The SMASH Spot
Volume may be king, but we still need to account for efficiency, pinpointing situations that are likely to lead to impressive production in terms of YPA, YPC or YPT.
- RB Josh Jacobs at CAR ($6,800)
The 2019 Panthers run defense was so bad that it forced Ron Rivera out of Carolina and Luke Kuechly into retirement. It can't possibly be quite as bad this year, but there's also not much hope for anything beyond mediocrity, with Tahir Whitehead replacing Kuechly and first-round DT Derrick Brown being the only other noteworthy acquisition. Set up with a 25.25 implied total as a three-point favorite, Jacobs has a decent shot at 20-plus carries in a backfield where the alternatives (Jalen Richard, Devontae Booker) are essentially passing-down specialists. Even if Richard gets most of the third-down snaps, Jacobs can improve on last year's 56 percent snap share and 2.1 targets per game. Given his running ability and the solid O-line in front of him, a small bump in pass-catching work could be enough to put Jacobs in mid-range RB1 territory.
The Bargain Bin
QB Tyrod Taylor at CIN ($5,600)
RB Kerryon Johnson vs. CHI ($4,400)
RB Antonio Gibson vs. PHI ($4,000)
RB James Robinson vs. IND ($4,000)
RB Chris Thompson vs. IND ($4,000)
WR N'Keal Harry vs. MIA ($4,400)
WR Bryan Edwards at CAR ($4,200)
WR Parris Campbell at JAX ($3,900)
TE Ian Thomas vs. LVR ($3,400)
TE Chris Herndon at BUF ($3,300)
TE Tyler Eifert vs. IND ($3,300)
TE Logan Thomas vs. PHI ($2,800)
D/ST Arizona Cardinals at SF ($2,100)
D/ST Washington Football Team vs. PHI ($2,000)
The "Sunday Scramble" doesn't need to be stressful. We can plan our response ahead of time for various scenarios that could emerge once inactive lists are released.
- RB David Montgomery at DET
Tarik Cohen ($4,900) is already on my radar as one of the better sub-5k options at RB, but it'll be hard to pull the trigger if Montgomery (groin) ends up active. While he'll never see workhorse usage as a rusher, Cohen could take on extra snaps and a few more carries without Montgomery in the picture. Ryan Nall ($4,000) and Cordarrelle Patterson ($3,400) are the other candidates for backfield snaps, and it's hard to imagine either getting more than a dozen touches.
- WR Kenny Golladay vs. CHI
Marvin Jones ($5,500) becomes an auto-play if Golladay's mid-week hamstring injury leads to a Sunday absence. In case you're wondering, the only sample we have of Jones playing without Golladay in the lineup comes from Weeks 4-9 in 2017, a five-game stretch where MJ averaged 5.4 catches for 85.4 yards and 0.6 TDs on 9.8 targets. Not sure that really matters given that it was three years ago and Golladay was the team's No. 3 receiver at the time, but I found it interesting nonetheless.
There's no scenario where I'm ever paying $5,000 for Kendrick Bourne, but George Kittle at $7,200 becomes all the more attractive if one or both of the San Francisco wideouts isn't able to play in Sunday's game. Yes, the Cardinals will be focused on removing Kittle, but wouldn't that be just as much the case with Samuel and Aiyuk in the lineup?
- WR Mike Evans at NO
I'm mostly staying away from this Bucs-Saints game, because both teams look pretty sharp on defense and yet the star-studded offenses figure to draw DFS attention. Still, it's worth noting the possibility of Evans missing the game, though I probably won't be the one to take a stab at Chris Godwin ($7,100) or Scotty Miller ($4,000). Maybe you could talk me into Miller if he was priced closer to the 3k minimum...
- WR Mike Williams at CIN
Keenan Allen ($6,300) and Hunter Henry ($5,300) are still priced like they're playing with Philip Rivers, and while I think they'll end up doing fine for season-long managers with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, it's not really something I want to target if I'm not getting the same TyGod-related discount we saw in drafts this summer. The idea of stacking Taylor with his $4,700 deep threat, Williams, actually had some tournament appeal, but that's gone now that the wideout is a game-time decision. Even if he plays, Williams could see his snaps and targets restricted.
- Miles Sanders at WAS
My gut says Sanders is fine to play but could have his workload scaled back. If I'm wrong, and the Eagles end up holding him out, Boston Scott ($4,800) would be the top play of the week in both cash games and tournaments. We could also see Corey Clement ($4,000) take some carries, though he's dealing with a quad injury of his own. In any case, it's really Sanders' workload more so than his active/inactive status that seems to be in question.
The forecast in Jacksonville calls for temperatures in the mid-to-high 80s, with humidity and a chance of scattered thunderstorms. The conditions could lead to fatigue and lower snap counts, but I'm not sure how much that matters for fantasy, as we already know the Colts will use a committee in the backfield, while Jacksonville appears set to rotate players at multiple positions.
The forecast in Buffalo calls for rain showers and winds around 15 mph. That's not a big concern at the moment, but we'll have to worry about the passing games if the projection shifts to heavier rain and/or winds above 20 mph.