This article is part of our DFS Tournament Guide series.
This guide focuses strictly on the main slate of Sunday afternoon games, with recommendations meant to be used for large-field, GPP tournaments. Player prices will only be mentioned for the two largest DFS sites, though much of what's discussed can be applied throughout the industry.
Variance and low ownership are desirable in large DFS tournaments, but we still need a few building-block players that are strong bets to outperform their price tags even if they don't have the highest ceilings and/or are likely to be popular plays. We'll also want to keep a close eye on injury situations with potential to create value for teammates (this is covered at the bottom of the page).
WR Kenny Golladay, DET (at MIN), ($5,500 DK; $6,200 FD)
We normally start this section with a running back, but there's only one player at the position (Christian McCaffrey) who seems to be finding his way into my lineups on both major DFS sites. Tuesday's trades mean the obvious value is at wide receiver, where Golden Tate leaves 9.9 targets per game behind in Detroit and Demaryius Thomas vacates seven per game in Denver. There's also an excellent argument to be made for Marvin Jones ($5,200 DK; $6,500 FD), but I'm leaning more toward Golladay because he's a better bet to take on some of Tate's old snaps in the slot. While potential shadow coverage from Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes (foot) isn't all that scary for Jones, it is less appealing than Golladay's probable matchup with the likes of Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse. Remember that this isn't the dominant Minnesota defense of recent seasons, yielding 8.1 yards per pass attempt while ranking 13th in Football Outsiders' defense DVOA (16th against the pass).
WR Emmanuel Sanders, DEN (vs. HOU), ($6,400 DK; $7,100 FD)
Courtland Sutton's low cost and Thomas-esque physique should ensure he gets most of the DFS attention, but I'd rather focus higher up the price scale with optimism for Sanders to have a huge game that includes double-digit targets and triple-digit yards. The 31-year-old is quietly enjoying a phenomenal 2018 campaign — on pace for a 100-1,320-6 receiving line on just 130 targets (10.2 YPT). Sutton has flashed big-play ability with 19.1 yards per catch and two scores among his 17 receptions, but a 46 percent catch rate leaves him with a more ordinary mark of 8.8 YPT. I'd rather sacrifice more of my budget to land a proven commodity with better projections in terms of both volume and efficiency. Any concern about the Texans allowing just 7.1 yards per pass attempt can be mitigated by the knowledge they've already faced the Dolphins, Jaguars, Bills, Cowboys, Titans and Giants. Houston's run defense is the real deal with a No. 1 ranking for run DVOA (and 3.6 YPC), but the pass defense is merely respectable at No. 14 under the opponent-adjusted metric.
Correlation plays are the centerpiece of any DFS tournament lineup, and this is usually where I start to focus on ceiling and ownership in addition to point-per-dollar projections. Not to say we can't also find value, but it's often worth a small sacrifice in that department to avoid the stacks that will crop up in a multitude of lineups. The ideal scenario allows us to match our QB with one of his primary targets as well as a pass catcher from the other team, hoping to capitalize on a tight, high-scoring affair in which both sides stay aggressive deep into the fourth quarter. With that mind, here are the games I'm focusing on for Sunday:
Rams at Saints
The prices will obviously make things tough for an all-out stack, and yet there's no way we can ignore a game which easily has the highest over/under (58.5) on the main slate and also is tied for the lowest spread (Saints +1). Quarterbacks Jared Goff ($6,000 DK; $8,400 FD) and Drew Brees ($6,100 DK; $8,400) aren't prohibitively expensive, but we do need to consider that both teams have been playing decent defense. To be specific, the Rams have seen a continuation of the classic Wade Phillips trend, ranking sixth in DVOA against the pass (7.6 YPA, 22 sacks) but 25th against the run (4.8 YPC). The Saints have been just the opposite, landing second in run-defense DVOA (3.2 YPC) and 29th against the pass (8.7 YPA, 17 sacks).
I have a hard time paying up for Todd Gurley ($9,500 DK; $11,200 FD) under those circumstances, but we do have a nice case for Alvin Kamara ($7,300 DK; $8,000 FD) after he handled a 72 percent snap share and 20 touches in last week's 30-20 win over the Vikings. Assuming his illness doesn't linger, Kamara clearly has a comfortable lead on Mark Ingram in the only NFL backfield capable of matching the Rams' for cumulative fantasy production.
For those inclined to target the New Orleans passing attack, pricing favors Michael Thomas at $7,600 on DK or Tre'Quan Smith at $5,100 on FanDuel. The rookie wideout logged a 77 percent snap share last week to distance himself from both Austin Carr (36 percent) and Cameron Meredith (17 percent), though you might not know it from the stat line (3-18-0 on four targets).
Pricing for the Rams favors Cooper Kupp ($6,000 DK; $6,800 FD) over Robert Woods ($7,000 DK; $7,600 FD) and Brandin Cooks ($6,700 DK; $7,500 FD), assuming reports suggest that Kupp is ready for his accustomed every-down role. There's always some extra risk with a player coming back from a knee injury, but the concern is outweighed by a favorable matchup with struggling slot cornerback P.J. Williams. Kupp's return should help Goff bounce back after the young QB averaged just 233 passing yards and 1.7 touchdowns the past three games.
Buccaneers at Panthers
This game carries an over/under of 55 points, but it also has some blowout potential (Bucs +6) after we saw the Panthers lay a Week 8 beatdown on a Baltimore team that's much better than Tampa Bay. McCaffrey ($7,800 DK; $7,900 FD) is the safest way to target this contest, as an every-down role allows him to reach his ceiling in any type of game script. We already saw him catch 14 passes in a Week 2 loss to Atlanta, followed by career-high rushing totals (28 carries for 184 yards) the following week in a win over Cincinnati. But that's enough about McCaffrey — we'll elaborate on him at greater length below.
There's also a strong argument for Cam Newton ($6,600 DK; $8;600 FD), another Panther whose versatility allows for huge fantasy outings in a variety of different scenarios. While it's tough for a pocket passer to reach his ceiling in an easy win, we've seen Newton do just that numerous times over the years, typically on the strength of a big rushing line. D.J. Moore ($4,300 DK; $5,300 FD) is a sensible stacking mate with Torrey Smith (knee) out for at least one more week, though we can also make a case for using Newton solo or just with McCaffrey.
A Newton-McCaffrey-Moore stack probably works best if the Bucs also put up points, but it's always hard to identify value in an offense with so many pass-catching threats. The good news is that Tampa's aggressive attack leads to a fascinating mix of long gains and turnovers, which is optimal for opponent volume. Greg Olsen ($4,700 DK; $6,200 FD) isn't the sexiest pick, but this is at least the right matchup to pay a premium for a declining player at a thin position.
Ryan Fitzpatrick ($5,500 DK; $7,100 FD) provides obvious value against a Carolina defense that doesn't quite match its reputation (20th in pass DVOA), and you probably already know that Mike Evans ($8,100 DK; $7,900 FD) has scored each of his four touchdowns this season on passes from the magic man (rather than famous Jameis). The Fitzpatrick-Evans-McCaffrey stack is awfully tempting on FanDuel, while DraftKings pricing gives us a better argument to load up on Panthers and mayyybe Peyton Barber ($3,600) or DeSean Jackson ($5,000) if you're feeling lucky.
While not nearly as important as quarterback-receiver combos, RB-Defense mini-stacks present another opportunity to take advantage of positive correlations in tournament lineups. We're generally looking for teams that are comfortably favored to win, preferably with a starting running back who dominates goal-line and clock-killing work.
Jordan Howard ($4,700 DK; $6,200 FD) + Bears D/ST ($5,400 DK; $4,100 FD)
I'm generally opposed to using this much of my budget on a defense, but it's fine to make exceptions to a loose rule when dealing with a Nathan Peterman start. The much-maligned 2017 fifth-round pick has somehow thrown nine picks on 81 career passes, completing just 45.7 percent of his throws for 4.4 yards per attempt. Meltdowns in Baltimore and Houston earlier this season prove that last year's five-pick outing against the Chargers wasn't just a small-sample fluke. Peterman truly is one of the worst NFL quarterbacks in recent memory, and he won't get much help from his teammates in Sunday's matchup with a Chicago defense on pace for 46 sacks and 25 interceptions. The Bears lead the league in defense DVOA and also have the highest overall defensive grade from Pro Football Focus.
We can offset the high cost of Chicago D/ST by using Howard as a correlation play, hoping the Bears make good on their status as 10-point favorites. The third-year back has been a massive disappointment this season, but he did enjoy a breakthrough of sorts last week with his 22-81-1 rushing line against a respectable Jets defense. Despite allowing just 4.1 yards per carry, the Bills have provided an above-average matchup with their overall struggles as a team leading to 10 touchdowns (seven rushing) for running backs. Game script should favor Howard over pricey teammate Tarik Cohen ($6,200 DK; $7,200 FD).
RB Christian McCaffrey, CAR (vs. TB), ($7,800 DK; $7,900 FD)
I think this may be the fourth time I've recommended McCaffrey in this spot, as he's been slightly underpriced all season and remains so after a string of tough matchups. He emerged with his head above water following games against the Eagles, Redskins and Ravens, and we're now looking at a major reward in the form of a hideous Tampa Bay defense. The Bucs may be allowing a respectable mark of 4.2 yards per carry, but they've still managed to surrender 1.6 touchdowns per game to running backs, in part because they're completely hopeless defending the pass. Best of all, we can include McCaffrey as part of those Tampa-Carolina passing stacks, given that he's averaging 63 snaps and 7.4 targets per game. His best fantasy performance this season coincided with a huge day for Cam Newton in Week 2 at Atlanta, and we saw the same thing last year in Week 15 and then a playoff game.
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 the motivating factor, as many DFSers subconsciously overestimate the predictive value of recent results.
RB Todd Gurley, LAR (at NO), ($9,500 DK; $11,200 FD)
I've generally avoided talking about Gurley in recent weeks, believing his price is about accurate for his ridiculous level of production. He's worth rostering if you can make a lineup work around him, but it's not something we need to force under all conditions. This week I'm actually taking a stand against him, especially at the price on FanDuel. We've already discussed the discrepancy between how New Orleans defends the run and the pass — a trend that also has the effect of skewing volume toward the latter. Gurley's receiving ability and goal-line usage protect his status as the overall RB1 in season-long leagues, but we can find a better way to use our budget in the DFS realm. The Saints have shut down running backs to the tune of 2.9 YPC and 6.6 YPT, with four rushing TDs and one receiving score in seven games.
The Bargain Bin
QB Case Keenum, DEN (vs. HOU), ($4,900 DK; $6,800 FD)
RB Isaiah Crowell, NYJ (at MIA), ($4,200 DK; $5,700 FD)
RB Peyton Barber, TB (at CAR), ($3,600 DK; $5,800 FD)
RB Frank Gore, MIA (vs. NYJ), ($3,500 DK; $5,400 FD)
WR Jermaine Kearse, NYJ (at MIA), ($4,200 DK; $4,600 FD)
WR Courtland Sutton, DEN (vs. HOU), ($3,900 DK; $5,500 FD)
WR D.J. Moore, CAR (vs. TB), ($4,300 DK; $5,300 FD)
TE Kyle Rudolph, MIN (vs. DET), ($3,600 DK; $5,700 FD)
D/ST Broncos, DEN (at KC), ($2,600 DK; $4,600 FD)
Pricing Discrepancies Between FD and DK
As mentioned above, the pricing differences between sites dictate my strategy at running back this week, whereas the top value at quarterback and wide receiver tends to align.
My RB options on DraftKings include Todd Gurley ($9,500), Tevin Coleman ($4,800), Chris Carson ($4,700), Nick Chubb ($4,500) and Peyton Barber ($3,600) — none of whom I'd consider using at their respective prices on FD.
As for other DK-only plays? We have QB Philip Rivers ($5,600), WR Sammy Watkins ($4,900), WR Michael Crabtree ($4,800), TE Austin Hooper ($3,800) and D/ST Houston ($3,000). Then there's WR Michael Thomas, who should probably only be used in stacks on FanDuel ($8,600), but makes sense for any lineup on DraftKings ($7,600).
The value RBs on FanDuel are Lamar Miller ($6,500) and Kerryon Johnson ($6,400), with other site-specific plays including QB Deshaun Watson ($7,900), QB Matthew Stafford ($7,300), WR Mike Evans ($7,900), WR Jarvis Landry ($6,600), WR Doug Baldwin ($5,700), TE Travis Kelce ($7,600), TE Jordan Reed ($5,600) and TE David Njoku ($5,200).
Injury Situations to Monitor
Cook looks about 50-50 to miss another week with his hamstring injury, potentially leaving Latavius Murray ($6,700 FD; $5,100) in a high-usage role against a Detroit defense that's giving up 5.1 yards per carry and 145 rushing yards per game. The 28-year-old is working on a three-game streak with at least 17 touches and a score. The price is better on DraftKings, but Murray will also be a strong play on FanDuel if Cook is out another week. It's safe to fade both players if Cook gets the go-ahead Sunday morning.
Diggs (ribs) said he expects to play, but his absence from practice both Wednesday and Thursday casts some doubt over the situation even after a limited session Friday. We could see Adam Thielen ($8,900 DK; $8,900 FD) even busier than usual, with TE Kyle Rudolph ($3,600 DK; $5,700 FD) then stepping up as the No. 2 option in the passing game. The truly bold might consider taking a stab at Laquon Treadwell ($3,300 DK; $4,700 FD) or Aldrick Robinson ($3,200 DK; $4,600 FD), as the former is already averaging 4.6 targets per game and the latter has scored three times on five catches. Personally, I'd rather focus on the proven entities: Thielen and Rudolph.
While there hasn't been any report his injury is serious, Collins (foot) was limited at practice Wednesday and held out altogether Thursday. A Week 9 absence likely would cause the Ravens to abandon the power element of their offense, which already makes some sense against a Steelers defense that's limited running backs to 3.5 yards per carry and three rushing TDs in seven games. Javorius Allen ($3,800 DK; $5,400 FD) likely would see double-digit touches with Ty Montgomery still learning the offense, and wideouts Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead might take some of the snaps typically reserved for Baltimore's committee at tight end. Brown makes sense at $6,400 on FanDuel, whereas DraftKings pricing and scoring favors Crabtree ($4,800) or Snead ($4,200).
Carson ($4,700 DK; $6,500 FD) was added to the Thursday practice report as a limited participant with a hip injury — the same area that was injured when he missed Week 4 against Arizona. Mike Davis ($3,400 DK; $5,100 FD) filled in with a 21-101-2 rushing line and 4-23-0 receiving line in that contest, while first-round pick Rashaad Penny received just nine touches. Carson is probably fine, but if not, Davis will be an elite play on all DFS sites in a home game against the Chargers. Of course, Carson makes a lot of sense on DK if he's cleared to play.
Despite some reports hinting at positive progress, Freeman doesn't seem likely to return from a high-ankle sprain for Sunday's home game against Houston. The matchup with a defense allowing just 3.6 yards per carry is far from optimal, but we can't ignore Phillip Lindsay ($5,500 DK; $6,700) at a mid-range price when he has a good chance for 15-to-20 touches. The undrafted rookie ranks sixth among qualified players with 5.7 yards per carry, running behind an offensive line that ranks third in Pro Football Focus' run blocking grades. Lindsay had 112 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in Freeman's absence last week, albeit in a much more favorable matchup with the Chiefs. The wise move is to combine Lindsay with the affordable Denver defense, hoping to capitalize on game script if Deshaun Watson has a rough day.
Nothing stands out in terms of precipitation, though we do have some risk for moderate wind in Cleveland and Miami. It doesn't look serious enough to warrant fading players from the Chiefs, Browns, Jets and Dolphins, but our calculus could change if wind projections bump from the 12-15 mph range up to 20+ by Sunday morning. I probably won't give it much thought while building lineups Saturday.