This article is part of our DFS Tournament Guide series.
Week 3 is undeniably weird, featuring four or five new starting quarterbacks and two games with point spreads in the 20s. These aren't my favorite situations to target heavily in DFS tournaments, but it's easy enough to make the case for players from the Patriots and Cowboys when we have a high degree of confidence they'll score at least three or four touchdowns.
Just remember that blowouts aren't the best for passing volume, even if the winning team happens to be ruthless. Tom Brady threw the ball just 28 times last week in Miami, and it's now been three years since he reached 40 attempts in a game the Patriots won by 20 or more points. Something along the lines of 280 yards and three touchdowns (with no rushing stats) is fine for cash games and season-long lineups, but it isn't tournament-winning material.
I'd be more inclined to use Dak Prescott, who gets additional upside from his running ability and also has an obvious stacking partner (Amari Cooper). That said, we have plenty of other stacking options from games that figure to be more competitive.
As always, I'm happy to discuss strategy in the comments section below, or on twitter (@RotowireNFL_JD).
Note: All prices listed come from DraftKings, but most of the strategy can be applied to other sites across the 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.
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 few "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 Nelson Agholor, PHI vs. DET ($3,600)
Agholor and Zach Ertz ($5,700) are the last men standing in Philadelphia after injuries wiped out Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and Dallas Goedert. Despite his costly drop on a deep pass in the fourth quarter, Agholor capitalized on the extra volume in Sunday's 24-20 loss to Atlanta, going for 8-107-1 on 11 targets. He'll have a tougher matchup this week against Darius Slay and slot corner Justin Coleman, but we can live with mediocre efficiency when there's potential for double-digit targets at this price. Agholor stayed busy the last time Jeffery missed games, catching 20 of 27 targets for 145 yards and a touchdown over the first three weeks of last season.
- WR Larry Fitzgerald, ARZ vs. CAR ($5,100)
Fitzgerald is still priced like the guy who went down with a sinking ship last season, not the guy who sits in the top 10 for targets (24) and receiving yards (217) through two weeks under Kliff Kingsbury. The 26 percent target share isn't dominant by No. 1 receiver standards, but it doesn't need to be when his team ranks second in both pace (22.2 second per snap) and pass-play rate (75 percent). Arizona's regular use of four-wide formations allows Fitzgerald to handle an every-down role in the slot, where the Panthers have been using an odd mix of cornerback Javien Elliott, safety Eric Reid and linebacker Shaq Thompson (per PFF). The air raid presents a troublesome matchup for a defense with minimal depth behind its top two cornerbacks, James Bradberry and Donte Jackson, who don't have any significant experience guarding the slot.
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 player 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)
Panthers (20.75) at Cardinals (23.25)
The low over/under (44) reflects uncertainty about the quality of both offenses, not to mention Carolina's quarterback situation with Cam Newton (foot) either absent or continuing to battle through an injury. Fortunately, our game stacks don't need a ton of scoring to work out in this situation, with the two teams involved ranking first and second in pace (second and sixth in neutral situations). It's a matter of intent for the Cardinals under Kliff Kingsbury, while Carolina's ranking admittedly involves Newton unintentionally stopping the clock with his all-too-frequent incompletions.
Even if the Panthers are able to slow down a bit, the prices on Kyler Murray ($5,800), Larry Fitzgerald ($5,100), Christian Kirk ($5,000) and Greg Olsen ($3,700) all rank among the best at their respective positions. Fitzgerald and Kirk get the lion's share of targets in a pass-heavy offense, and Olsen ranks third among TEs with 18 targets as he heads into a matchup with the defense that's given up the most points (by far) to his position.
I discussed my Week 3 love for Fitzgerald, Kirk and Olsen in greater detail in my matchups column, but I'll also use Christian McCaffrey to balance out the other side of this stack. Fun fact: McCaffrey reached 30 DK points six times last season, and in each instance the opponent's QB went over 20 points.
Best Stack: QB K. Murray + WR L. Fitzgerald + WR C. Kirk + TE G. Olsen
Ravens (23.25) at Chiefs (28.75)
This one jumps off the page with the highest over/under (52) of the week and a tight spread (5.5) compared to the majority of Kansas City's road games. It's also sure to have high ownership on both sides, with Patrick Mahomes ($7,600) and Lamar Jackson ($7,000) potentially ranking 1-2 at QB in terms of both price and popularity.
The Baltimore side is pretty easy to figure out, considering Marquise Brown ($5,900) and Mark Andrews ($4,600) have accounted for 56 percent of the team's targets, 64 percent of air yards and 70 percent of receiving yards. If we roster Jackson, we also want Brown and/or Andrews in our lineups. If we roster Mahomes, it's probably better to pick just one of the two Baltimore pass catchers, though it still wouldn't be crazy to use both given the narrow focus of the target distribution..
The Kansas City side isn't so easy, given that anyone wearing a Chiefs jersey within a 50-mile radius of Arrowhead Stadium is a threat to put up 100 yards and a couple touchdowns. I don't mean that as a knock on Demarcus Robinson ($5,200), but actually, yes, I kind of do. Regardless, we don't get much help from the WR/CB matchups, as the Chiefs move their receivers all around the formation, while Baltimore almost always keeps top cover man Marlon Humphrey on the right side of the QB.
It's hard to go wrong with Travis Kelce ($7,100), but I also like Sammy Watkins ($6,800) now that he'll be a bit cheaper and lower-owned than he was last week. Robinson and Mecole Hardman ($5,000) both are valid as the third wheel, though I prefer the latter because I think he'll have more plays designed for him and should carry slightly lower ownership (recency bias, and what not).
I do want to note that Mahomes reached 30 DK points in seven games last season, with Kelce averaging 26.0 points in those contests (compared to 22.5 for Tyreek Hill). I usually prefer to stack my QB with WRs because they're more likely to produce big plays, but Kelce has proven to be the exception based on his activity in the red zone and down the seam. His 9.9 aDOT ties him with Watkins and ranks fourth-highest in the league among 16 tight ends with double-digit targets.
Best Stack: QB P. Mahomes + TE T. Kelce + WR M. Brown
Giants (20.5) at Buccaneers (27)
The price drops for Jameis Winston ($5,400) and Mike Evans ($6,600) make sense given that the Bucs have been running far more often (46 percent, 10th-most) and generally struggling on offense. However, I'll happily take them at their lowest prices in recent memory for a matchup with a Giants defense that might be worse than Miami at defending the pass. I made my case for Winston in the matchups column, explaining how the Giants actually have been decent defending the run, which further encourages opponents to pick on a helpless secondary that gets no help from the M.I.A. pass rush. I'm not ready to mess around with Daniel Jones ($5,000) on the other side, but it's fine to take a shot on Evan Engram ($5,200).
Best Stack: QB J. Winston + WR M. Evans + WR C. Godwin + TE E. Engram
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.
- Frank Gore ($4,400) + Bills D/ST ($3,400) vs. CIN
The Bengals are the perfect opponent for this strategy, with their league-high 76 percent pass rate leading to plenty of chances for sacks and turnovers while also creating potential for extra snap volume. It helps that they have the worst linebacker duo in the league, with PFF grading Preston Brown and Nick Vigil as Nos. 56 and 71 among 78 qualifiers. Both received similarly poor grades last season — Vigil at 63 and Brown at 73 among 88 LBs with 300-plus snaps. After allowing the second-most fantasy points and fourth-most rushing yards to RBs last season, the Bengals haven't wasted any time showing similar generosity in 2019, yielding the most points (81.5 PPR) and second-most rushing yards (302) through two weeks.
Gore's reliance on carries over receptions might seem to limit upside, but it also ties him more closely to the success of his team's defense. Plus, he could very well get more involved in the passing game Sunday, with backfield mate Devin Singletary (hamstring) looking like a long shot to play. Regardless, Gore saw 21 touches last week even with Singletary still getting occasional work into the fourth quarter.
- WR Keenan Allen, LAC vs. HOU ($7,000)
Allen leads the NFL in target share (36 percent), air-yard share (55 percent) and cumulative air yards (329), also ranking seventh in receiving yards (221), second in targets (25) and t-5th in catches (16). He and Austin Ekeler have become the entire Los Angeles offense, with Hunter Henry injured, Mike Williams underutilized and Travis Benjamin invisible. There's no reason for anything to change this week when the Chargers play host to a Houston squad that's yielded 9.3 YPT to wide receivers while taking PFF's ninth-worst team grade for pass coverage. Michael Thomas beat the Texans for 10-123-0 in Week 1, and D.J. Chark went for 7-55-1 in Week 2. For what it's worth, Allen has a higher scoring average (23.6 DK points) than any of the six wide receivers priced above him.
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.
- WR Julio Jones, ATL at IND ($7,300)
If you've been playing DFS for a few years, you might be familiar with the Julio Jones rule: use him after a bad game and fade him after a good one. I'm not married to that "rule" by any means, but it does generally make sense to avoid a high-owned, high-priced player at the most volatile fantasy position (WR) unless the matchup truly is pristine. This doesn't even come close to meeting that standard, with the Colts boasting a respectable defense as well as an offense ranked 22nd in pace (28th in neutral situations). They allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers last season, and that was with Frank Reich playing uptempo in a way that elevated snap volume on both sides of games. This year's Colts take the opposite approach, slowing things down while focusing on their ground game (53 percent run rate, fourth-highest) and mixing in some short passes (Jacoby Brissett's 5.2 aDOT is shortest in the league).
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.
- WR Will Fuller, HOU at LAC ($4,900)
Fuller earned a spot in the "upgrades" section of my weekly matchups column, likely doing battle with 2018 UDFA Brandon Facyson (who?) while Casey Hayward shadows DeAndre Hopkins. Detroit's Kenny Golladay took advantage of this same situation with an 8-117-1 receiving line last week when the Chargers made the questionable decision to put their top cornerback on Marvin Jones. Hayward has limited opponents to 7.5 YPT as a member of the Chargers, picking off 12 passes while allowing 10 TDs into his coverage. Facyson only played eight snaps on defense last season, and the early results in 2019 haven't been good —10 catches for 126 yards and a TD on 12 targets. It's a nice bonus that Fuller is the perfect type of WR to use in large tournaments, with his 24.3 aDOT leading the league among players with more than three targets.
The Bargain Bin
QB Jacoby Brissett, IND vs. ATL ($5,200)
QB Kyle Allen, CAR at ARZ ($4,000)
RB Phillip Lindsay, DEN at GB ($4,300)
RB Duke Johnson, HOU at LAC ($4,300)
RB Miles Sanders, PHI vs. DET ($3,900)
WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, GB vs. DEN ($4,300)
WR James Washington, PIT at SF ($3,500)
WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, PHI vs. DET ($3,500)
WR Mack Hollins, PHI vs. DET ($3,200)
WR Damiere Byrd, ARZ vs. CAR ($3,000)
TE Austin Hooper, ATL at IND ($3,600)
TE T.J. Hockenson, DET at PHI ($3,500)
TE Will Dissly, SEA vs. NO ($3,400)
D/ST Arizona Cardinals vs. CAR ($2,700)
D/ST Los Angeles Chargers vs. HOU ($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 Marlon Mack (ankle), IND vs. ATL
Mack ($5,800) looked like a strong play before the news of his injury, so it follows that Jordan Wilkins ($3,500) will be an elite DFS option if he gets the fill-in start. That's not to say Wilkins is a comparable player, but he's at least shown speed and explosiveness in his limited NFL action, including a 55-yard run last week in Tennessee. More important, the Colts seem to view Nyheim Hines ($3,400) as strictly a passing-down specialist, potentially setting up Wilkins for the lead role in an offense with the fourth-highest run rate in the league and the 13th-largest implied total (24.25) of the week.
McCoy ($5,000) seems to be ahead of Williams ($5,200) in terms of health, but it isn't certain either will play. If both sit, Darwin Thompson ($3,000) becomes the obvious No. 1 DFS play of the week, warranting ownership in every lineup for both cash games and tournaments. McCoy ($4,900) will be a great player to a somewhat lesser extent if he plays while Williams sits, though we might need to keep an eye out for news about whether he's expected to handle a large workload.
- QB Cam Newton, CAR at ARZ
I'm not actually sure this will impact my process, but it's at least worth mentioning that one of the starting quarterbacks from my favorite stacking game is looking questionable-to-doubtful with a mid-foot sprain. The reasons I'm not too concerned?
1. I prefer Kyler Murray in the stack
2. Kyle Allen can't be much worse than Newton was the past two weeks.
- RB Devin Singletary, BUF vs. CIN
I've already talked about Frank Gore too much this week, so let's keep it simple — he'll go from "some lineups" to "nearly all of my lineups" if Singletary is ruled out with a hamstring injury.
The Sunday forecast calls for heat (~90 degrees) in Tampa Bay, wind (~15 mph) in Green Bay and light rain in Seattle and Kansas City. None of it really concerns me, as I already plan to fade Saquon Barkley and won't have a ton of investment in the passing attacks for Packers-Broncos. The biggest area of concern would be if the winds in Green Bay push up to 20+ mph.
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:
- Personally, I won't use Daniel Jones ($6,000), but I can see how it might be tempting if you like the Bucs-Giants stack and also want expensive running backs.
- David Johnson ($7,000) is too cheap. Of course, I said the same thing last week and he stunk.
- Aaron Jones ($6,900) is priced at RB13, compared to RB10 on DK's main slate.
- I like Tyler Lockett ($6,600) at WR20 on a site where TDs hold more weight.
- Marquise Brown ($6,100) is a good play on DK and an elite play on FD.
- John Brown ($5,900) initially landed on my 'fade' list and may stay there on DK, but the price on FD is just way too low.
- That said, Agholor ($4,800) and Fitzgerald ($5,900) remain the best WR values.
- George Kittle ($6,600) is a great pivot from Zach Ertz ($6,900) on a site that's half-PPR instead of full.
- The Cardinals D/ST ($3,200) is dirt-cheap and pairs well with DJ.
- The 49ers D/ST ($3,700) is another obvious value, facing a first-time starter at QB.