This article is part of our Showdown/Single Game DFS Breakdown series.
Scoring has been up fairly significantly this season, but if you're someone who likes the good ol' days of low-scoring dreadfully ugly football then Thursday night's matchup between the Broncos and Jets from East Rutherford, N.J., should be a treat. With nine games in Week 4 having totals of at least 48.0 points on DraftKings Sportsbook, including seven over 51.5, we're treated to the lowest total of the week Thursday, with the Jets 1.0-point home underdogs in a game with a 40.0-point total.
New York comes in 0-2 after scoring the fewest number of points in the league through three games (37) while allowing the second most in the AFC, falling 27-17 to the Bills, 31-13 to the 49ers and 36-7 to the Colts. Meanwhile, the Broncos are also winless, losing 16-14 to the Titans, 26-21 to the Steelers and 28-10 to the Buccaneers, somewhat expected results after being decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball. It was already going to be tough after losing edge rusher Von Miller to an ankle injury, but they are also without starting quarterback Drew Lock (shoulder) and top wide receiver Courtland Sutton (knee), while running back Phillip Lindsay has missed the past two games with a toe injury.
Meanwhile, the Jets' best defensive player, C.J. Mosley, opted out of the season, and they lost starting running back Le'Veon Bell to a hamstring injury. Additionally, top wide receiver Jamison Crowder missed the last two games with a hamstring issue of his own, No. 2 wideout Breshad Perriman is out with an ankle problem and rookie Denzel Mims, who they took with the 59th overall pick in this year's draft, hasn't played at all because of a hamstring injury. Oh, and current No. 3 wide receiver Chris Hogan has been limited in practice this week because of rib and knee injuries after playing 51 offensive snaps against Indianapolis last weekend and failing to catch any of this three targets.
Can you feel the excitement? OK, let's dive into the players who will actually be on the field Thursday.
Jets quarterback Sam Darnold ($10,600 DK, $14,000 FD) failed to throw for more than 215 yards and more than one touchdown in three games this season, including twice finishing with fewer than 180, and he's been picked off four times, including thrice last week against the Colts, who returned two for touchdowns. His 5.9 YPA is down a full yard from last season (and 0.9 from his rookie year), he has completed more than 60 percent of his passes once, and his 562 total passing yards rank 29th in the league. And while the Jets have been absolutely thrashed in their games, trailing 21-3 at halftime to the Bills, 21-3 to the 49ers and 17-7 to the Colts, 20 quarterbacks have thrown more passes than Darnold and 23 have more completions. So, of course, he's the second-most expensive player on DraftKings and FanDuel for Thursday's game, including the most expensive Jet and quarterback.
On the plus side, the Broncos' stats against quarterbacks this season look enticing for Darnold, as they've allowed the 12th-most fantasy points to the position on DraftKings and 13th-most on FanDuel. Then again, they faced Ryan Tannehill, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady, who we can kindly say are in a different tier than Darnold. Nevertheless, he's the starting quarterback for a home team in a single-game fantasy contest, so he'll be somewhat popular, and certainly among people who pair him with his pass-catchers.
Meanwhile, the Broncos will be starting Brett Rypien ($10,200 DK, $12,000 FD), who gets a decent discount from last week's starter Jeff Driskel ($10,400 DK, $14,500 FD) on FanDuel. Rypien was solid after coming on for Driskel last week, completing eight of nine passes for 53 yards, though he also threw an interception and fumbled (Denver recovered). From a basic statistical standpoint, the Jets don't look like a great team to play a quarterback against, but it really comes down to volume, as they've had the 10th-fewest passes thrown against them because they've fallen behind so quickly that teams don't have to throw as much. With the Broncos' favored and Rypien somewhat affordable against a defense that stops the run better than the pass, he'll be a decently popular play.
Despite the popularity of quarterbacks being used as captains/MVPs on these single-game slates, I'm not sure Darnold or Rypien will be over-used in those spots, particularly because there are options at the other skill positions who could certainly be more efficient and prolific. That's not to say they offer any kind of significant leverage, but using them for the multiplier spot may not be as chalky as we're used to seeing.
Denver running back Melvin Gordon ($11,000 DK, $15,000 FD) is the most expensive player on both sites, which is expected since Denver is favored and he's been essentially their primary offensive weapon. It's worth noting the Jets were a top-10 team against running backs last season, though they've allowed at least one running back touchdown in each game this year, allowing the sixth-most points to the position on FanDuel and eighth most on DraftKings. It's not a great matchup for Gordon, but it's certainly good enough to consider him, even at his elevated price.
Then again, Gordon's usage could decrease if Phillip Lindsay ($6,200 DK, $6,500 FD) returns from the toe injury that held him out of the last two games. Gordon and Lindsay were expected to split the backfield touches when both were healthy, but that only lasted one game when Lindsay suffered his injury in Week 1 against Tennessee. Lindsay hasn't been able to practice fully this week, but coach Vic Fangio seems optimistic he'll be available. Lindsay's viability seems pretty thin in terms of fantasy production, especially since he wasn't even getting a majority of the backfield opportunities when he was fully healthy, so he's certainly more a differential play, and certainly a differential captain/MVP, if anything. Meanwhile, some may be tempted by Royce Freeman ($2,800 DK, $6,000 FD) if Lindsay sits again because he got 38 percent of the snap share last week against Tampa Bay, but as RotoWire's Jerry Donebedian points out in this week's running back Hidden Stat Line, Gordon had a 30-12 snap advantage through three quarters of that game, with Freeman getting 10 of 14 snaps in the fourth quarter of a blowout loss. Additionally, Freeman blocked on 14 of his 20 pass snaps, was targeted twice on his six routes and still only managed four yards on two carries. There doesn't seem to be much upside with Freeman as long as even one of Gordon or Lindsay is healthy.
The Jets are working with a full-blown committee, one that's spearheaded by Frank Gore ($6,400 DK, $10,000 FD), who averages 3.4 yards per carry and has one catch on three targets for five receiving yards through three games. La'Mical Perine ($1,800 DK, $6,500 FD) is getting whatever he can get during early down work while Gore is on the sideline, leaving Kalen Ballage ($5,800 DK, $7,000 FD) as the pass catcher out of the backfield, nabbing all five of his targets last week for 44 yards and both for 12 yards in Week 2, his first game with the team. Ballage only has three carries on his 27 offensive snaps through two games, so it's clear the Jets have no interest handing off the ball to him when they have Gore and Perine available for those. Maybe the most surprising thing about the Jets is their insistence on running the ball despite being wildly behind in games:
As a reminder, the Jets were down 21-3 and 17-7 at halftime of both of their last two games, which ended in 31-13 and 36-7 losses. Given the committee approach, I really don't see how you can justifiable argue for any of these guys as captain/MVP plays, but Ballage at least gets the ball in space and makes sense even in a half-PPR format like FanDuel. There really seems to be no path to the Jets being up big and running the game out, which would theoretically make Gore and Perine options, but given how effectively the Jets have run the ball, they'd need to rush 75 times for one to maybe reach 100 yards on his own.
WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS
As if the running back situation wasn't disgusting enough, Darnold threw passes to his three running backs and Chris Herndon ($5,400 DK, $7,500 FD), Braxton Berrios ($7,200 DK, $10,500 FD), Lawrence Cager (sent back to the practice squad after the game and isn't in the DraftKings player pool, $5,500 FD), Chris Hogan ($4,800 DK, $8,500 FD) and Ryan Griffin ($900 DK, $5,000 FD) last week, with Berrios catching all four of his targets for 64 yards and a touchdown. Berrios has actually scored a touchdown in each of the last two weeks, as he's taken advantage of time in the slot due to Jamison Crowder's ($8,200 DK, $11,500 FD) injury. Unfortunately for Berrios, Crowder is expected to return Thursday, and he'll surely be the top receiving option for the Jets. Crowder caught seven of 13 targets for 115 yards and a touchdown in Week 1, though most of that came on a 69-yard touchdown from a screen pass.
Crowder could certainly be a viable captain/MVP play given how much Darnold likes to throw to him, so it shouldn't be surprising if he's the most popular Jet. Most lineups with him at the multiplier spot likely will have Darnold in the flex for correlation, and you can even pay down for Herndon with them instead of jamming Berrios, especially since Berriors' success came in Crowder's spot. Herndon has been really frustrating this season because of some decent expectations going into the year, but as Jerry notes in his other Hidden Stat Line article this week, Herndon ran a season-high 0.81 routes per Darnold drop-back last week and pass blocked on a season-low six snaps, so maybe there's potential they'll use him more this week. Surely Herndon will have a big game at some point, we just have to hope we aren't broke before it happens. Theoretically, Hogan could be a long-shot contributor since he leads the team in air yards (152), but it's really difficult to justify using him unless you're making a bunch of lineups after he caught seven of 15 targets for 75 yards in three games.
The Broncos at least have guys running routes who we should be interested in, they're just dependent on Rypien getting them the ball, obviously. With Sutton sidelined for the year, Jerry Jeudy ($7,800 DK, $11,000 FD) has been their most popular receiver, leading them in targets (24) and air yards (286), trailing only tight end Noah Fant ($9,000 DK, $12,000 FD) in receptions (14 to 13) and receiving yards (184 to 173). Those two will surely be who fantasy players target if they want the big pieces of the Denver passing game without having to shell out for Rypien in his first career start. I should note (and steal more from Jerry) that Jeudy has played as the No. 3 wideout in three-wideout sets, but he still leads the team in target share and is 11th in the NFL with 24 targets, including at least seven in each game this season. While Jeudy has played mostly out of the slot, he's still generated an excellent 11.9 aDOT, well ahead of Fant's 8.7, which itself is pretty good for a tight end. Fant has excellent speed for a player at his position, so while we generally expect fairly modest yardage from tight ends who catch passes, 98 of Fant's 184 receiving yards have come after the catch. Given their usage and potential upside, plus Rypien's uncertainty, Broncos-backers could certainly captain/MVP Fant or Jeudy and hope Denver's scores go through them while flexing the quarterback, just in case.
Tim Patrick ($5,000 DK, $8,000 FD) and KJ Hamler ($4,800 DK, $7,500 FD) can't be ignored with their respective 14.0 and 13.3 aDOTs, with the former actually second on the team with 196 air yards, helping him to 10 catches on 14 targets for 96 receiving yards. Hamler basically played for Sutton, and while he played a season-high 58 snaps last week, he still only managed three catches on five targets for 30 yards, a decrease of two targets and 18 receiving yards from the prior game despite catching the same number of passes. The benefit of using Patrick or Hamler is that you don't necessarily need a lot of catches because they can break off a big play at any time, and they are running deeper routes than guys like Jeudy and Fant, but they also come with more risk because they simply don't get as many targets. The same applies to DaeSean Hamilton ($3,400 DK, $7,000 FD), who leads the team with a 14.8 aDOT but has only caught two of six targets for 23 yards. He's pretty much a multi-entry consideration, at best.
And you can put basically every other pass catcher in that group, as it's just really tough to predict a usable game out of players like Diontae Spencer ($1,200 DK, $5,000 FD), Jake Butt ($800 DK, $5,000 FD), Tyrie Cleveland ($200 DK, $5,000 FD) and Nick Vannett ($200 DK, $5,000 FD).
Low-scoring games always make us consider kickers, and while we unfortunately don't get the wonderful Denver altitude in this one, Brandon McManus ($4,600 DK, $9,500 FD) and Sam Ficken ($4,400 DK, $9,000 FD) will surely be in some builds, more so in cash games than tournaments. There is really not a whole lot to say about the kickers themselves, other than the fact that neither has hit double-digit fantasy points on DraftKings or FanDuel yet this season, but in a game that isn't expected to have many points then it might be safer to roster them instead of the third wide receiver or backup running back in their salary range on DraftKings. It's a bit different on FanDuel because they are more expensive than players like Patrick, Herndon, Hamler, Ballage and Lindsay, but from a floor perspective they are arguably more reliable.
After seeing Darnold throw two pick-sixes last week, fantasy players will surely be considering the Broncos defense ($5,600 DK) even though it has only two turnovers and four sacks in three games. Given how poor the Jets' offense has been, using the Denver defense instead of a backup running back or wide receiver certainly has potential, especially because they have almost as much touchdown upside. Heck, even a Broncos defense captain isn't totally out of the question if the Jets continue to turn the ball over.
On the other hand, the Jets defense ($4,000 DK) has three turnovers and six sacks through three games and is facing a first-time starter under center, and it is at home (albeit, with no fans). The kickers probably provide more stability, especially since they are only $400 and $600 more, but people who embrace variance should surely have the Jets defense in their player pools.