Take a Stand: Week 1 DFS Plays & Fades


By Megan Shoup:

The “Take a Stand” article each week will feature players or teams that I am high or low on, yet it seems like the majority of the daily fantasy world feels the opposite. As we know in daily fantasy tournaments, if you take stands against ownership, you can use that to your benefit.

Obviously this does apply for all chalky plays, because there is plenty of “good chalk”. But each week I also see leverage points. I certainly will not always be right. In fact, I’ll be wrong plenty, so please don’t take these stands as gospel.  But when I am right, taking a stand will gain huge leverage on the field.

One of the OG/GOATs of DFS, Alvin Zeidenfeld or Al Smizzle always made the point that earlier in the season, especially weeks 1-4 is a great time to be contrarian. Taking a stand can gain massive leverage and be a huge advantage. Why is that?

We all think we know what’s going to happen based on last year’s results. But in actuality, a lot changes in the course of an offseason. Whether it’s draft picks, free agent additions/losses, positive/negative regression, coaching/scheme changes, and plenty more variables, the value of a player or team in daily fantasy from one year to the next can change. So Week 1 is the best time to be contrarian. Play like it’s a new season…because it IS! So let’s get to my Week 1 stands.

 

BULLISH:

Kirk Cousins and Vikings Offense:

I have stated repeatedly in articles this summer that I am very high on the Vikings and their offense this year. I’m very bullish on this team and bet them to win the NFC North. So I’m going to start right from week 1 and be very overweight the entire Vikings offense. Here were the reasons laid out for why I love this offense this year:

  • I love the head coaching hire of Kevin O’Connell. I think he will open this offense up to be more pass heavy and play to his skill position players’ strengths. It also helps that he worked with QB Kirk Cousins in Washington as his QB coach in 2017.
  • Kirk Cousins had one of his best statistical seasons in 2021 and I think he will build on that in O’Connell’s offense. One struggle for the Vikings in 2021 was 3rd down percentage, as I noted in a past NFL Futures article. The Vikings were ranked 26th in 3rd down percentage, while the Rams ranked 7th with O’Connell as the Rams offensive coordinator. If that statistic is vastly improved, that could go a long way to keeping the offense on the field for more statistical juice.
  • Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, KJ Osborn, and Irv Smith. Just pure offensive firepower!

I project that WR Justin Jefferson will be highly owned. But QB Kirk Cousins usually doesn’t garner a lot of ownership, and I expect RB Dalvin Cook, WR Adam Thielen, and TE Irv Smith Jr. will come in lower owned as well. Give me all the Vikings in a high projected total game set at 47.5 points against their division rivals, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

 

Bengals Offense:

It seems like the public is lower on the Bengals, at least from a betting perspective. I stated in my AFC North Futures article that I am betting the Bengals to win the AFC North. These are the reigning AFC Champs, and they just went out and got QB Joe Burrow three new offensive linemen to give him more time, which was their biggest issue last season. Burrow was already the most accurate passer in the league with a 70.4% completion rate. Now with more time to distribute the ball to J’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, I want to be early to this party.

I think DFS players may not be as interested in this game since it’s a 1 pm game, but you could be leaving a lot of points on the table. Burrow and Bengals stacks with definitely be a part of my player pool and I want to be overweight in Week 1.

 

Panthers Offense:

I think RB Christian McCaffery will be higher owned in Week 1, as he should be. And I’ll happily eat that chalk. But QB Baker Mayfield and WR DJ Moore I project to be low owned.

I typically prefer to spend up for QB, but Mayfield in an ultimate revenge game is a narrative I can get behind, especially at lower ownership. QB Baker Mayfield’s stats plummeted in pretty much every possible category in 2021 from 2020. But he was playing through several injuries, most notably a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. If Mayfield’s stats can be closer to 2020, where he had a 62.8% completion rate, 5.3% TD rate, and 1.6% INT rate, then that will be a significant upgrade over QB Sam Darnold. Darnold’s 2021 stats include a 59.9% completion rate, 2.2% TD rate, and 3.2% INT rate.

I think Mayfield boosts WR DJ Moore’s outlook for the season but also for Week 1. Now Moore finally has a QB that can get him the ball efficiently and hopefully can get Moore in the endzone more often (only 4 TDs the past three seasons). This is another party I want to be early to, so I will be overweight CMC and the entire Panthers offense.

 

Detriot Lions Defense:

This one probably has people scratching their heads. But let me start with a quick story.  I’m going to channel my best Sofia from Golden Girls.  Picture it…it’s Week 1 of the  2019 season, and everyone is excited to play Bucs QB Jameis Winston against the 49ers defense. The 49ers invested in their defense that offseason but no one was talking about that and it was clear Winston would be high-owned. Well, Winston threw 3 interceptions (2 returned for touchdowns). I was able to take advantage of this by playing the 49ers’ defense at a very low price and low ownership.

The summary of this story is fading a high-owned QB and playing the low-owned defense gives you double leverage if it works. So I’m going to try to recreate that 2019 magic by fading a potentially high-owned QB Jalen Hurts and playing the cheapest defense and potentially low-owned Detroit Lions.

Plus, remember that 2021 1st-round pick CB Jeff Okudah tore his Achilles in week 1. So he basically had a redshirt year and now the Lions essentially have two Top 3 draft picks as new defensive starters this year in Okudah and of course Edge Aidan Hutchinson. The Lions are expecting young players like Derrick Barnes, DT Alim McNeill, and Levi Onwuzurike to make a big 2nd-year leap.

You’ll see below, that I am not as high on Eagles’ QB Jalen Hurts as most. So as Detroit’s own Eminem said, you got one shot, one opportunity. And I think this is an opportunity to find some massive leverage on the field.

 

BEARISH:

Jalen Hurts:

A lot of people take their season-long and best ball takes into Week 1 of daily fantasy. And no one seems to be getting more love than QB Jalen Hurts. It is as if everyone took a mind eraser shot and forgot about his horrible playoff game against the Buccaneers the last time we saw him play.

Yes, I know his rushing provides a nice floor for fantasy. But in order to smash value, he needs to add stats in the passing game as well. Most people point to the addition of WR AJ Brown, who is a stud receiver and an immense talent. While I think Brown will help Hurts, I don’t think this turns Hurts into Joe Burrow and Tom Brady in terms of an accurate passer, good decision maker, and true great quarterback.

My brother Steve made several good points in this Point/Counterpoint article examining both sides of Hurts’ range of outcomes. See this excerpt from Steve’s article:

Hurts’ rushing production was such a big factor in his fantasy scoring last season. While typically we like rushing QBs because they can be “dual-threat”, that only applies if they are going to produce fantasy points through the air as well. While rushing production can give a QB a very strong floor to build upon, it’s also pretty streaky overall. Hurts were highly reliant on his 10 rushing TDs, but that is not something he can bank on. Since Daunte Culpepper had 10 rushing TDs in 2002, the only QBs to crack that mark are Cam Newton (3 times), Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts. Murray last season lost about 4.5 points per game rushing, but his total fantasy production drop was only about 2 points per game because his passing made up for it. I just don’t know if we can think the same will occur with Hurts.

The bottom line for me is I don’t view Hurts as a good NFL starting quarterback. Even with the strong offensive line and addition of AJ Brown, they do need the right arm of QB Jalen Hurts to be much more efficient. I think his arm strength is average and that is going to be needed to continue to improve as a passer and make those tight-window throws. It doesn’t matter who your receivers are if you can’t make the necessary NFL throws. Per Player Profiler, Hurts ranked 29th in True Passer Rating, 30th in Catchable Pass Rate, and 26th in Accuracy Rating.

Yes, he’s a fantasy asset when he adds 10 rushing TDs, as he did in 2021. But he had the 2nd worst completion percentage (61.3%) and was tied for the 3rd worst TD ratio (3.7). I think his ownership will be skyhigh Week 1 against the Lions. I will fade Hurts, play some Lions defense and look to gain massive leverage on the “unknown” factor of if Hurts has improved as a passer.

 

Daniel Jones & Giants Wide Receivers:

No, it’s not because I’m a Washington fan. If QB Dak Prescott was on this slate, I’d play him. I have a ton of Prescott in best ball this year. It’s about good QBs (Prescott) vs bad QBs (Hurts and Jones in my opinion).

Because of QB Daniel Jones’ (only 5K on DraftKings) and Giants receivers’ low pricing, I expect them to be very high owned. To me, this is risky chalk. I think a lot of Giants fans and analysts are hoping the new HC Brian Daboll can unlock Jones’ upside, much like he did for QB Josh Allen. Jones and Allen are two very different QBs, and I am skeptical that is going to happen at all this season, let alone week 1. If I’m going to pay down at QB, I’ll play Mayfield and DJ Moore as I mentioned above at much lower ownership.