This article is part of our DFS Tournament Guide series.
This is a tricky week for tournament strategy for a few different reasons, starting with too-low prices for all the key players in Oakland's offense. The Raiders played their opener Monday night, when DFS salaries for Week 2 had already been set. Darren Waller is a steal on DraftKings at $3,300, after he converted a 100 percent snap share into seven catches for 70 yards against the Broncos. But, is he a better value than Tyrell Williams ($4,400) — who did 6-105-1 on a 95 percent share — or Day 1 workhorse Josh Jacobs ($4,700)?
Heck, we can stack them all together with Derek Carr ($5,100) and fill out the rest of the lineup with superstars — just know we'll be far from alone in that strategy. That's not to say it can't work, but we'll need to be more mindful of ownership percentages throughout the rest of the lineup, perhaps using high-priced players with difficult matchups (Davante Adams and David Johnson come to mind) instead of the obvious choices like Alvin Kamara and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Of course, I love Kamara and Smith-Schuster if I'm using a lower-owned game stack, as both land in prime spots for volume. They're also playing in games with stacking appeal, and Smith-Schuster's contest has a couple strong options at running back. Therein lies part of my dilemma this week, with all the best plays coming from four or five games on a 13-game slate.
If I want a passing stack from the Chiefs-Raiders game, for example, I might need to make a concession on Jacobs and use running backs with lower point-per-dollar projections from other games. Ultimately, it's hard to create a lineup where I don't feel like I'm making a big sacrifice and missing out on something. Is that the sign of a great DFS slate, or just an annoying one?
Note: All prices listed come from DraftKings, but most of the strategy can be applied to other sites across the industry.
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 couple "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.
- WR Tyrell Williams, OAK at KC ($4,400)
Williams gets the nod over his Oakland teammates because he's further ahead of the pack at his position, with RotoWire's projections putting him at 3.1x on DK. Jacobs and Waller actually are a bit higher, but they have other running backs and tight ends not too far behind. In any case, the projection for Williams feels conservative, considering he drew seven of the team's 15 WR targets in a season opener that saw Carr attempt just 26 passes. None of the other wideouts on the roster has ever reached 600 yards in a season, so it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to see Williams with 26.9 percent of team targets and 61.3 percent of air yards last week.
He's the lone vertical threat in an offense that likely will be forced to throw in the second half against Kansas City, facing a defense that just surrendered 4-146-1 to D.J. Chark and 6-97-1 to Chris Conley. Williams may be slightly under-qualified in a No. 1 role, but he's at least better than those guys. The Raiders used him all over the formation last week, so he should have chances against all the KC cornerbacks — Bashaud Breeland, Charvarius Ward and Kendall Fuller. The slot corner, Fuller, has shown the most promise the past couple years, and he won't even be on the field when the Raiders use heavier formations (they averaged just 2.1 WRs per snap last week).
- D/ST Houston Texans vs. JAX ($2,800)
Gardner Minshew is fun, no doubt. He's just not as much fun as winning money. Before we get carried away with optimism based on a sample of 25 pass attempts against the Chiefs defense, let's remember he's a rookie sixth-round pick — one who completed 56.2 percent of his passes for 4.9 yards per attempt in the preseason, finishing with no touchdowns, no turnovers and nine sacks across 96 pass attempts. Minshew now heads into Houston as an 8.5-point underdog, carrying the third-lowest implied total (17.5) of the week. Houston's defense lands No. 3 in my weekly rankings, yet carries the 13th-highest price on Sunday's main DFS slate. That's the kind of discrepancy I can't pass up, even if ownership figures to be high.
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 signal caller in question scores a decent portion of his 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 deep into the fourth quarter. (Implied team totals are listed in parentheses)
- Kansas City Chiefs (30.25) at Oakland Raiders (23.25)
In addition to the slew of underpriced players, this game has the highest over/under (53.5) of Week 2. We know we're dealing with high ownership, and it's a fair enough price to pay for predictable target/carry distribution against a pair of ugly defenses. Given the salaries of the four aforementioned Raiders, this will be one of the few times all season when stacking players from the underdog on a seven-point spread will be a more popular strategy than stacking from the favorite.
Patrick Mahomes ($7,500) is an easy No. 1 in any sensible weekly rankings, but I don't love using him on a slate with a handful of attractive options below $6,000 on DK. His pass catchers are a different story altogether, with Sammy Watkins ($7,200) and Travis Kelce ($7,300) taking aim at an Oakland secondary that lost starting safety Johnathan Abram (shoulder) in the season opener and also has CB Gareon Conley (neck) on the injury report. Watkins will be a chalk play on the heels of his Week 1 explosion, but it's for good reason given his secure volume in an elite offense while Tyreek Hill (shoulder) is out. I mentioned earlier that Tyrell Williams accounted for 61.3 percent of his team's air yards last week; Watkins was the one player with a larger share — 65.6 percent.
I don't see much reason to dig deeper into this game, despite my optimism about Mecole Hardman ($4,800) as an add in season-long leagues. His price accounts for the expectation of a larger role sans Hill, and the hype surrounding this game ensures the rookie will have at least moderately high ownership. Plus, Andy Reid mentioned that De'Anthony Thomas has done some of the same things as Hill in the Chiefs offense. We know Watkins, Kelce and Damien Williams ($5,800) will have plenty of chances, but we don't know how much else will be left, or who will get those touches. (Consider Williams as a stand-alone play in lineups that stack a different game.)
Best Stack: QB Carr + WR Williams + TE Waller + WR Watkins + TE Kelce
- Seattle Seahawks (21.75) at Pittsburgh Steelers (25.25)
There are four games on the main slate with higher over/unders, but this one is no slouch at 47, featuring a pair of defenses that allowed 759 passing yards and five TDs last week. We have one team that finished last season second in pass-play rate (67.4 percent), and another that comfortably led the league in rush percentage (52.4) Theoretically, that makes it a better fantasy matchup for the Seahawks, likely getting a boost in snap volume compared to their long-term expectation.
Of course, they're also playing as 3.5-point underdogs, which suggests Russell Wilson ($6,200) will be busier than usual. I nonetheless lean toward Ben Roethlisberger ($5,800), who comes at a lower price with a much higher volume expectation, albeit without the same potential for rushing stats. Roethlisberger's infamous home/road splits returned to the normal range last year, but he's nonetheless averaged 1.94 touchdowns at Heinz Field throughout his career, compared to 1.41 everywhere else. Long story short, this price is too low for Roethlisberger in any home game where he isn't facing an elite defense (the Seahawks don't come close to qualifying).
The return home creates a nice rebound spot for JuJu Smith-Schuster ($7,500), along with James Conner ($6,800) and Vance McDonald ($3,900). Keep in mind that Conner and McDonald had their Week 1 snap shares impacted by Pittsburgh's use of five-wide formations on 14 snaps; it's not like they were losing a ton of work to Jaylen Samuels (33 percent) and Xavier Grimble (3 percent). McDonald's dominance of the TE workload hints at better days to come, and he should have modest ownership given the plethora of other options at his position. Conner's playing time was a bit more concerning, but NFL.com's Graham Barfield points out that the running back played two-thirds of snaps before halftime in the Week 1 blowout, handling nine of Pittsburgh's 13 RB opportunities.
Looking back to the other side of the game, DK Metcalf ($4,300) is an easy choice over Tyler Lockett ($6,200), who may be doomed to a lifetime of never getting the target volume he deserves. In addition to a 6-2 advantage over Lockett in targets, Metcalf was on the field for 23 of Russell Wilson's 25 dropbacks last week. We'd all be talking nonstop about his 89-yard debut, if not for the fact he was outshined by some other rookie wideouts.
Best Stack: QB Roethlisberger + WR Smith-Schuster + WR Metcalf
- New Orleans Saints (25) at Los Angeles Rams (27)
This game provides the third-highest over/under (52) of Week 2 and the second-highest on the primary DFS slate. Prices on individual players aren't quite as favorable as those from the previously discussed games, but that could actually work in our favor in terms of ownership, especially with everyone down on Jared Goff ($5,900) after what happened in the Super Bowl and Week 1. We'll keep this short and sweet, because I already made my case for Goff and Cooper Kupp ($6,000) earlier this week in a matchups column (you should read it), and I'll discuss Alvin Kamara ($8,200) below.
Best Stack: QB Goff + WR Kupp + RB Kamara
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 Sony Michel rather than James White in conjunction with the New England defense.
- Matt Breida ($5,200) + 49ers D/ST ($2,800) at CIN
Listed at 5-11, 195 pounds, Breida doesn't fit the archetype for this strategy, relying on chunk gains in open space rather than goal-line or clock-killing work between the tackles. In fact, he ran outside on a league-high 71.3 percent of his carries last season, also ranking 21st among 49 players (100-carry min.) in positive gain rate (81.7 percent), despite what might seem to be a boom-or-bust running style. He's a difficult matchup for lead-footed Bengals linebackers Preston Brown (4.86 40) and Nick Vigil (4.72), whose struggles in coverage — and in general — are outlined in more detail in the previously mentioned matchups column.
With Tevin Coleman (ankle) out and only Raheem Mostert behind him, Breida is looking at 15-to-20 touches against a defense that surrendered a league-worst average of 31.3 DK points to RBs last season. The Bengals' pass-heavy Week 1 gameplan under new coach Zac Taylor adds extra upside to this mini-stack, giving the 49ers' improved defense extra opportunities for sacks and takeaways, with the potential for elevated play volume also boding well for Breida. I wouldn't normally use this RB-D/ST stacking strategy with an underdog, but I believe the 49ers are a better team than the Bengals, and we have the slew of mitigating factors mentioned above.
- Mark Ingram ($6,000) + Ravens D/ST ($3,800) vs. ARZ
This is a holdover play from last week, with the faster pace of the opponent's offense hopefully making up for the fact that the Cardinals aren't as incompetent as the Dolphins. The Ravens will have to work at least a little bit harder for their points this week, but they should have plenty to go around as 13-point favorites with the third-highest implied total (29.5) on the slate. It's a spot where Ingram can afford to lose some work to Gus Edwards and Justice Hill, though he may run into some problems once the schedule gets more competitive. One additional note here:
Honorable Mention: Carlos Hyde ($3,600) + Texans D/ST ($2,800) vs. JAX
- WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, PIT vs. SEA ($7,500)
Priced as WR5 on the main slate, Smith-Schuster would be approximately one-million-percent owned in this spot if he'd blown up against the Patriots in Week 1. He actually was the one Steeler to have a decent night, hauling in six of eight targets for 78 yards before leaving with a minor toe injury at the very end. Now cleared from the injury report, Smith-Schuster figures to feast on Seahawks cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin, Tre Flowers, Ugo Amadi and Jamar Taylor, rather than being shadowed by an elite corner (Stephon Gilmore) the way he was last week. The Steelers moved Smith-Schuster all around the formation in their opener, so we don't need to worry about him totally losing the slot work he thrived on the past two years.
- RB Alvin Kamara, NO at LAR ($8,200)
Including playoffs, Kamara has faced the Rams three times in his young career, averaging 10.7 carries, 7.0 catches, 138.3 scrimmage yards and 1.6 touchdowns. Given the presence of Aaron Donald along with cornerbacks Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Nickell Robey-Coleman, it's simply a matter of common sense for Kamara to dominate volume when the Saints play the Rams. There's also the matter of facing a fast-paced team in a game that could carry added weight for playoff seeding. As a bonus, it isn't clear Latavius Murray will have as big of a role as Mark Ingram, with Kamara coming off a season opener in which he had 20 touches on a 75.8 percent snap share. Everything points to a high-volume afternoon for one of the most efficient players in the league.
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 options at the same position.
- RB Dalvin Cook, MIN at GB ($7,200)
Let's get one thing out of the way: nobody can ever excuse me of not believing in Dalvin Cook. I talked him up throughout the offseason (hardly alone on that one), then put him in all my Week 1 DFS lineups. But now his price has risen by $1,200, with Minnesota carrying an implied total of just 20.5 points against a Packers team with a remade defense that dominated the Bears in Week 1. And while Cook is getting three-down usage, he also figures to lose some work to Alexander Mattison, who got four carries in the first half (and nine overall) during Minnesota's Week 1 stomping of the Falcons. It's not that this is a terrible spot for Cook; it just isn't good enough to justify the high ownership that will accompany the current hype. Kamara should give us a bunch more points for just $1,000 more in salary, while a trio of cheaper backs — James Conner ($6,800), Chris Carson ($6,400) and Austin Ekeler ($6,100) — are comparable to Cook.
- WR John Ross, CIN vs. SF ($4,600)
For starters, the archetypal "deep threat" is best used when his ownership is low, not when it's sure to be elevated on the heels of a 7-158-2 receiving line. It was cool to see Ross finally shine last week, but his big day largely was built on a flea-flicker and a hideous coverage misplay, with the Seattle secondary appearing incompetent. It's not that I'll be surprised if Ross has a breakout season; I just don't think it's the right play for DFS tournaments to use a high-owned WR who could be volatile throughout the year even if he's successful. Also, the 3.6 YPT from last season still scares me.
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.
- RB Devin Singletary, BUF at NYG ($4,200)
Here's another example of an exciting development that may have gone unnoticed by some fantasy players because of all the crazy stuff happening with rookie wide receivers and tight ends last week. Singletary had nine touches in his NFL debut, but he played 69.6 percent of snaps and compiled 98 scrimmage yards against the Jets. The Bills neglected T.J. Yeldon (2.9 percent), putting Singletary on the field for 40 of Josh Allen's 47 dropbacks (per PFF). The rookie ran 38 pass routes, ranking second on the team to wide receiver John Brown (40), who also has a good chance to shine this week.
One weird note from Week 1 — PFF shows the Bills with just 10 pass-blocking snaps that weren't from offensive linemen. They had all five skill-position players run routes on the vast majority of passes, relying on Josh Allen to either get rid of the ball quickly or avoid pass rushers. Of course, the Giants don't have any legitimate pass rushers, which explains how Dak Prescott threw for 405 yards and four TDs on 32 attempts last week. Prescott's average time from snap to throw (2.53) was the eighth-quickest last week, while Allen (2.72) was considerably lower at 18th, though still far removed from his absurd, league-high mark of 3.22 last year (baby steps!). Last week's pass-heavy, min-protect gameplan from offensive coordinator Brian Daboll shows an emphasis on quicker throws, which should work in Singletary's favor.
BONUS STACK: QB Allen + RB Singletary + WR Brown + TE Evan Engram
Honorable Mentions: Anyone facing the Cardinals or Dolphins.
The Bargain Bin
QB Andy Dalton, CIN vs. SF ($5,400)
QB Josh Allen, BUF at NYG ($5,300)
QB Derek Carr, OAK vs. KC ($5,100)
RB Devin Singletary, BUF at NYG ($4,200)
RB Carlos Hyde, HOU vs. JAX ($3,600)
RB Adrian Peterson, WAS vs DAL ($3,400)
RB Mike Davis, CHI at DEN ($3,300)
WR Christian Kirk, ARZ at BAL ($4,500)
WR DK Metcalf, SEA at PIT ($4,300)
WR Courtland Sutton, DEN vs. CHI ($4,200)
WR Terry McLaurin, WAS vs. DAL ($3,800)
WR Cole Beasley, BUF at NYG ($3,800)
TE Tyler Eifert, CIN vs. SF ($2,900)
TE Mike Gesicki, MIA vs. NE ($2,700)
D/ST Indianapolis Colts at TEN ($2,500)
D/ST New York Giants vs. BUF ($2,500)
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 Joe Mixon (ankle), CIN vs. SF
We saw Giovani Bernard ($5,300) in a three-down role early last season when Mixon missed two games due to a knee injury, with Gio putting up 19.6 and 25.6 DK points on snap shares of 87.7 and 60.3 percent. With only Samaje Perine behind him on the depth chart, Bernard becomes a top-10 RB play if Mixon is ruled out. Ownership shouldn't be too high, considering the price has been raised from last week and the slate has plenty of good RB options.
- WR Mike Williams (knee), LAC at DET
With TE Hunter Henry (knee) already ruled out and Williams not looking good, the burden of the Chargers offense falls on Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler — both strong plays even if Williams suits up. The Lions match-up well with Allen from a micro perspective, with top corner Darius Slay offering strong coverage from any spot on the field, while offseason acquisition Justin Coleman was one of the better slot specialists in the league the past two years in Seattle. The expectation of double-digit targets outweighs the matchup from my vantage point, but it's at least something to consider.
I don't really know how to treat this situation, with Evan Engram ($5,200) and Saquon Barkley ($9,200) already locked in for huge volume in an offense that probably won't move the ball unless the latter rips off a big run or the former catches a bunch of short passes in garbage time against soft zones. I can't say Engram is a bad play if he has a projection of 8-to-10 targets at that price, but there are so many other options at tight end from teams that figure to score more points. Barkley and Engram seem pretty close to maxed out for volume, so some of the missing Shepard/Latimer targets would need to go to guys like Bennie Fowler, Rhett Ellison, Russell Shepard and Cody Core — that's gonna be a 'no' from me, dawg.
We don't have any forecasts for heavy wind or precipitation, but there is some potential for hot weather causing fatigue in Nashville (Colts-Titans), Los Angeles (Saints-Rams), Miami (Patriots-Dolphins) and Denver (Bears-Broncos). It's a concern for workhorse running backs more so than anyone else, though Leonard Fournette (86.2 percent snap share) didn't have any issues last weekend in Jacksonville. The aforementioned teams all use at least two running backs, albeit to a lesser extent for the Chiefs and Saints. The temperatures are something to keep an eye on — not something that's impacting my decisions as of Friday.
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:
- Lamar Jackson ($8,200) becomes a better play, priced at QB3 instead of QB2, and on a site with no yardage bonuses (volume QBs like Roethlisberger and Goff are more likely to hit those).
- On the other hand, I can't roster Mark Ingram ($7,500) where he's priced at RB — tied with Austin Ekeler and more expensive than David Johnson ($7,300) or Leonard Fournette ($6,900)
- FD is begging us to take a shot on a lineup with both Jackson and Johnson, hoping the latter can keep the Cardinals close and force the former to stay active deep into the second half.
- Matt Breida ($5,600) becomes an excellent play, rather than a merely good one.
- Same idea with Gio Bernard ($5,700), if Mixon can't go.
- Tyler Boyd at $6,300, or John Ross at $6,400? Too easy.
- Forget what I said about Mecole Hardman ($4,700) earlier, based on DK prices. At this salary, why not try it? FWIW, Sammy Watkins ($7,400) also looks a smidge better on FD.
- Is Kenny Golladay ($6,600) always underpriced on FD? It really does seem like it.
- George Kittle ($7,100) is much cheaper than Kelce ($8,000), while T.J. Hockenson ($6,000), Darren Waller ($5,400) and Delanie Walker ($5,900) are priced up relative to their DK salaries.
- 49ers D/ST ($3,700) pairs well with Breida, as mentioned above.