If you’re playing season long fantasy football and you aren’t playing in the National Fantasy Football Championship, then you’re doing it wrong. For 17 years now, Greg Ambrosius and Tom Kessenich have been setting the bar for the high stakes fantasy events and have consistently offered the best customer service in the industry. I couldn’t make it to the Big Apple for the NFFC Primetime this year, so I had to go with a phone hookup. My straight-butter KDS preferences yielded a first overall draft slot and David Johnson as my #1 RB. That’s the beauty of the first overall pick, but it came with a problem attached: a value-trap named DeMarco Murray. Unquestionably the best value on the board, and yet packaged with unquantifiable costs in terms of roster construction. When you’re plopping down four figures on an entry fee, it’s difficult to throw caution to the wind and not handcuff such a profile injury risk. If you take Tennessee’s bell-cow at 2.1, the insurance policy will cost you a player at the 5/6 turn. Draftniks love their shiny new toys, and Derrick Henry is the shiniest of the lot right now. Most NFFC draft crews won’t let the Titans backup last until the 8th round. Keep this heavy freight charge in mind if you want to lock up the Titans or Falcons backfield (Tevin Coleman went in the 6th round, snatched away from Devonta Freeman’s owner by one pick). The result is you end up "chasing" from that point on, always one player behind everyone else.
My first half looked like this:
1.1– David Johnson
2.12 – DeMarco Murray
3.12 – Alshon Jeffery
4.1 – Michael Crabtree
5.12 – Derrick Henry
6.1 – Greg Olsen
7.12 – Cam Newton
8.1 – Paul Perkins
9.12 – Zay Jones
10.1 – Robby Anderson
Some interesting market notes...LeSean McCoy was taken at 2.1. The shock of the draft was Melvin Gordon slipping all the way to 2.6. Kareem Hunt went at 2.11. Martavis Bryant was taken at 3.11. Chris Hogan climbed all the way up to 6.2 while Sammy Watkins fell past him at 6.3. Tyreek Hill is now being drafted in the 4th round.
Positional Breakdown by round
1st round – 9 WR, 3 RB
2nd round – 9 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE
3rd round - 8 WR, 2 RB, 1 TE, 1 QB
4th round – 7 WR, 3 RB, 2 QB
5th round - 5 WR, 5 RB, 2 TE
6th round – 6 RB, 4 WR, 2 TE
Quarterbacks are the most volatile scoring position from year to year, the highest scoring position and the least scarce. I recommend, in general, sticking to just RBs and WRs in the first seven rounds. There are exceptions to the rules (hence Greg Olsen in the 6th), but that’s been my most successful model through the years. Go with running backs and wide receivers early, with the tiebreaker going to RBs. Fade tight ends and quarterbacks until round 8, unless a value slips, weighing also if there is a cold pocket in which you don’t like any of the backs or wideouts.
Some players I am most likely fading for various reasons
1st round – Odell Beckham Jr. (injury prone and I don’t like the offensive line or system), Brandin Cooks (was the 8th best WR last year and he was the 8th WR off the board in this one. New system to learn and we don’t know how he’ll be used. Seems like you’ll make par at best, and some concerning unknowns).
2nd round – Todd Gurley (Jared Goff is still the quarterback in Los Angeles), Amari Cooper (fine but too expensive), Rob Gronkowski (missed 5+ games in three of the last five years, and is frequently hobbled/limited in the games he does play).
3rd round – Terrelle Pryor (had him everywhere last year, too expensive this year in a new system), Christian McCaffrey (timeshare with Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton always vultures rushing TDs).
4th round – Larry Fitzgerald (has a pattern of starting off hot and then fading in the second half).
5th round – Joe Mixon (offensive line problems), Ty Montgomery (when is the last time owning a Green Bay running back was a joyous experience?), Jordan Reed (injuries).
6th round – C.J. Anderson (limps off the field three times a game, or so it seems), Chris Hogan (upside is there but low percentage play. Too early for a lotto ticket with no floor).
Paul Perkins – This may seem like a contradiction since I ripped on the Giants offense earlier, but cost is the mitigating factor. Perkins is much better than average. He's just in a bad situation in New York, but he does have volume and skill on his side. If I’m wrong about the offensive line not being able to block for him, there’s massive upside here. I don't think we’ll see that upside, but we don’t have to if we take him in the 8th round as our RB3.
Thomas Rawls – I don’t think Eddie Lacy will be able to stay on the field.
Ezekiel Elliott – Certainly not a good pick if the primary focus is the smaller league, but how many of us are trying to win the overall? If that includes you, then Elliott makes a lot of sense as a high risk/high reward player. Last year, I drafted a team with Le’Veon Bell in the second round to pair with Devonta Freeman. That lineup made a lot of noise in the fantasy playoffs. The Cowboys mercurial star has a higher ceiling (since his suspension might not take place this year) and a lower floor (since he might miss six games) than Bell had in 2016.
This weekend represents your last chance to qualify for Fanduel’s World Fantasy Football Championship Final that will take place Sunday, December 18 in California. Let’s cut to the chase and look at some players of interest in that quest. This week, it’s hard to get away from the chalk quarterbacks and running backs, which means I’m going to slum it at wide receiver and tight end.
Drew Brees (9,300) averages 28 ppg in the Superdome. The former Charger likes to spread the ball around, so playing him alone makes sense, though pairing him up with Coby Fleener makes sense too as an inexpensive and efficient way to buy more shares of the Saints offense.
Aaron Rodgers (8,500) has strung together six straight games of 23+ points, a result of a number of running back injuries that forced the Packers to do what they do best: throw the rock. That trend will continue. Davante Adams is their most physically gifted receiver, but Jordy Nelson remains Rodgers’ favorite target. Jared Cook can gobble up targets if Green Bay sees a matchup they want to exploit, and either Randall Cobb or Ty Montgomery steal some looks from time to time, so going naked is definitely an option here as well. But if you prefer to stack, pairing the Packers QB with Adams presents the highest ceiling.
Colin Kaepernick (7,800) posted 296 yards passing and 113 yards rushing on the way to a 34-point performance. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chicago designates someone to spy on Kaepernick to keep his legs in check, but he remains an option if you need salary relief and don’t want to sacrifice upside.
You don’t need me to tell you that David Johnson (9,200) is a good play against Washington’s run defense, or that Le’Veon Bell (9,300) is a good play almost every week no matter the matchup. The only problem is you can probably only afford one unless you really sacrifice a lot elsewhere. They truly are the only two "money in the bank" plays at RB, so if you can swing it, it’s definitely worth it to roster both.
Jordan Howard (7,400) will be highly owned this week given the matchup against San Francisco. It’s fine to pair him with Bell or Johnson, but you will need to diversify at other positions.
Theo Riddick (6,500) will be tasked with helping Detroit come from behind in a shootout. The fourth-year back out of Notre Dame has been targeted 10 or more times twice in the last four games. FanDuel gives you just a half-point per reception, but it’s something and the YAC in a game with a lot of offense creates a high ceiling.
Tyrell Williams (6,800) has emerged as Philip Rivers' number one target, with 25 targets over the last two contests.
Davante Adams (6,800) trails Jordy Nelson in number of targets but is the most explosive wide receiver in the Green Bay offense.
DeVante Parker (6,500) has the upside you need in a GPP and some players may be off him this week because he caught just three passes last week. But he had a couple of big plays erased by replay, including a touchdown, and with 24 targets over the last three games, the sophomore has become Ryan Tannehill’s favorite target.
The word is out now on Tyreek Hill (5,800) and Tyler Gabriel (5,700) after their breakout production in Week 12, so their ownership will shoot up, but they still offer salary relief and an acceptable ceiling. Just keep in mind that defenses may start to pay more attention to them.
Dorial Green-Beckham (4,500) gets my vote for best wide receiver value on the board this week. With 18 targets the last two weeks, and Jordan Matthews dinged with an ankle injury (supposedly minor), I’m not sure the reasoning behind the minimum salary. No, I don’t trust anything Doug Pederson says when it comes to injuries or player usage.
Anquan Boldin (5,000) offers the least expensive exposure to decent production in the Lions-Saints shootout. Matthew Stafford has targeted the veteran nine times in each of the last two games.
Coby Fleener (5,500) has gone six straight weeks producing less than 10 points. I anticipate that trend changing against the Lions. Detroit has yielded the most touchdowns and fantasy points to tight ends this year.
Antonio Gates (5,300) came out of the bye week and posted a bagel for owners. Philip Rivers didn’t even target the future Hall of Famer in Week 12, even though Rivers looked his way at least nine times each of the previous four weeks. Gates needs just three more touchdowns to break Tony Gonzalez’s record.
Vance McDonald (4,900) has a weekly floor of six targets and at least one red zone look. Last week he couldn’t corral an easy catch for six points, so his stat line would have looked better. He is somewhat touchdown or big play dependent, but if you need an extra $400 or $500 freed up for upgrades at other positions, McDonald is worth a look.
Mostly luck at this position so just roll with what your salary allows, using favorites playing at home as your filter if you can. Justin Tucker (5,200) and Matt Bryant (5,100) represent the chalk if you have the funds. If you’re scrapping for salary, Caleb Sturgis (4,500) and Mason Crosby (4,600) are the money saving plays.
San Diego (4,500) vs. Tampa Bay
Green Bay (4,500) vs. Houston
New England (4,600) vs. Los Angeles
The fantasy carnage has been devastating for some. The Zero RB Theory has been a veritable mine field: Sammy Watkins, Josh Gordon, Eric Decker, Keenan Allen, Dez Bryant, Corey Coleman, Donte Moncrief and others out of commission. Tyler Lockett, Devin Funchess and Tyler Boyd have been unplayable. Is there help out there on the wire? If you play in the NFFC, the answer is not much. Let’s look at the football "basket of deplorables" that may be on the wire.
Dontrelle Inman hauled in 7 of 11 targets for 120 yards. The bulk of fantasy scoring came on a 57-yard catch where Inman simply blew by Saints cornerback Ken Crawley, who allowed Inman free release to the outside and the safety missed his assignment as well. I don’t know that it will be that easy for Inman most of the time, but 11 targets are 11 targets. You can’t wait for Philip Rivers to "prove" it a second week in a row unless you want to pay heavy freight down the road. Tyrell Williams hurt his arm on a play in the third quarter and was helped toward the sidelines, but he later returned to the game and seemed unaffected.
Dez Bryant is somehow week to week with a hairline fracture in his knee….or is it a bone bruise? Does anyone remember the last time Bryant was healthy for more than a couple of plays? Will the Cowboys hold out the oft-injured receiver until after the Week 7 bye so he can heal up? If Dallas’ #1 gets reinjured, Brice Butler’s stock goes way up. Dak Prescott targeted Bryant’s backup nine times in Week 4, good enough for 17th most targets among wide receivers.
With Sammy Watkins out for the bulk of the season, Tyrod Taylor has to find a new target. Buffalo doesn’t like to pass much, but they do pass some, enough to support 10 targets of Robert Woods.
Digging even deeper, New York Jets undrafted rookie Robbie Anderson is someone to keep an eye on. Brandon Marshall has been a little dinged up and the former Temple Owl is only an injury away from a bigger role in the offense. Even as the #3, Anderson saw six targets last week. Although his pro-day 40 time was 4.34, that type of speed doesn’t seem apparent on his game film. Nevertheless, he’s fast enough and has an excellent stop-and-go move that can burn corners for a big play. Consider him a desperation WR3 or Flex play if he gets more looks. I wouldn't be ready to start him at this point, but he's someone to keep on your radar. Or, if you have chaff like Josh Gordon to discard, he might be worth a $1 bid as a stash.
Kevin White has been placed on Injured Reserve. That means Eddie Royal should be owned. Keep an eye on Cameron Meredith to see if his role increases.
I haven’t watched film on every game in the NFL this year, but I’ve watched a good bit. The worst game for cornerbacks has to be the Lions dismantling of the entire Green Bay secondary. Until they fix this broken defense, I’m riding the aerial attack of whatever team the Pack is facing.
Eli Manning - There’s good Eli and bad Eli, and I think this matchup is just the tonic that the Giants QB needs.
Tom Brady – I always find it interesting when I hear people flippantly dismiss the "angry Tom Brady" theory, as if emotions or level of focus have no bearing on performance. I never try to convince them otherwise. I just smile, tell them they’re right, and ask them to join my league.
Carson Wentz – The rookie is accurate, sharp, makes excellent decisions, doesn’t make mistakes, spreads the ball around and gets a great matchup against the Lions.
Odell Beckham Jr. – We’ve already addressed the matchup. ODJ is due.
John Brown – Led the NFL with 16 targets in Week 4, but with Carson Palmer not traveling with the team and Drew Stanton slated to start, Brown is relegated to a high-risk, GPP-only play.
Brice Butler – We talked about Butler earlier. If Dez is inactive, this speedster is dirt cheap and should easily cover his cost.
Julian Edelman – The man that can find Edelman finally returns, and he’s angry.
Eddie Royal – Alshon Jeffery has been dinged up with ailments in his knee and hamstring, and now Kevin White is out of the picture. Some of those extra targets figure to go to the former Charger.
Melvin Gordon – The sophomore has speed to burn, but the line has not been opening up holes. The fantasy production from the former Badger has been buoyed by touchdowns and his YPC against the Saints and Colts was right around 2.0 YPC. I’m fading Gordon this week.
Terrance West – Justin Forsett’s release has catapulted the mediocre journeyman into fantasy relevance. This is a situation to watch closely. It’s hard to read the tea leaves as to whether West or Kenneth Dixon gets the most carries. Either makes a decent GPP play, and if you’re boxing permutations, floating two similar lineups with both Ravens backs makes sense given their low cost and matchup against the Redskins. Cash game players may want to steer clear and opt for someone with guaranteed touches.
DeMarco Murray – Has received between 18 and 27 touches each of the first four weeks of the season and gets to face the Dolphins.
Zach Ertz – If you’ve been playing DFS much this year, you probably know that attacking Detroit is a common chalk play. It’s worth reiterating that Carson Wentz loves to spread the ball around, but Ertz should still get looks in the end zone. The Eagles first-string tight end has been out since Week 1 and a full practice points to his availability this weekend. But if Ertz has a setback, Trey Burton would be a sneaky play at near minimum salary.
It’s interesting to follow daily fantasy football touts every week and the traps they fall into, repeatedly. Green Bay’s secondary is terrible, right? They’re "garbage" and Julio Jones is at worst the second best receiver in the league. The Packers have one of the best run defenses in the league. Matt Ryan will throw all day in a shootout. Julio’s floor is +20. How did that "lock" work out for you? It didn’t work out for me either. Yes, I’m vulnerable to falling into the same trap. Jones dinged his knee, but there was a larger issue in play here. The truth is these are all elite world-class athletes or they wouldn’t make NFL rosters in the first place. Take "bad" NFL cornerbacks, add safety help over the top and most of the time that will neutralize the best receivers in the game. No matter how bad a defense is, if they decide to eliminate an offensive weapon, they can do it. We don’t ignore matchups obviously, but they take a back seat to game flow, defensive focus, and potentially other factors.
I like to focus on volume. It always depends on the slate, but if I had my druthers, I prefer to pay up at RB, targeting a high volume back on a team favored to win. Generally speaking, that maximizes the potential number of carries as the team with the lead milks the clock or protects their advantage. Among the more expensive options, there’s more volatility at wide receiver than at running back, so again, I look for wideouts that are targeted frequently but cost less than the top tier options. There are exceptions, but typically I go cheap or punt Tight End. If I have a lot of cash to pay up for Rob Gronkowski, I may shell out the bucks once in awhile. So, what does the slate look like this week?
Ezekiel Elliott – He costs an arm and a leg this week, but Elliott will be the cornerstone I build around. The former Buckeye averages just under 23 carries per game, and has seen less than 20 only once this year. He’s been targeted in the passing game 12 times over the last three weeks. The game has the 4th highest total on the slate. Cleveland is weak at stopping the run and has a porous secondary, so I can’t see the Browns stacking the box to stop the run with Dez Bryant back in the starting lineup.
Ty Montgomery – Outside of Elliot, there are too many question marks for me to pay up for my RB2. Aaron Rodgers targeted the Packers hybrid over 25 times in Weeks 6 and 7 and handed off to him nine times against the Bears. Mike McCarthy has repeatedly used subterfuge to try to convince the gullible that Don Jackson and Knile Davis were going to be a meaningful part of the offense.
Carlos Hyde – There is a very good chance starting this oft-injured back could backfire. He wore a non-contact jersey at practice Tuesday and Wednesday. I need to see an upgrade to full practice before I start this Ohio State University alumnus outside of GPPs. Even if he plays, he could be eased into action, but the matchup against the Saints is juicy. Fade Hyde in cash games.
Tim Hightower – Another GPP-only option here. After fumbling early, the second stringer toted the rock 26 times in relief. The San Francisco defense has been a sieve since linebacker NaVorro Bowman was carted off and lost for the season in Week 4 against the Dallas Cowboys. No, the 49ers aren’t going to stack the box and open up things for Drew Brees. The real question here is whether or not Sean Payton lets Mark Ingram’s backup carry the mail again on Sunday.
Davante Adams – Thirty targets the last two games, playing host to Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton, and the slate’s highest total at 52.5. Where do I sign up?
Mike Wallace – Joe Flacco threw to him 13 times against the Jets, and nine times the previous game. The Ravens figure to be trailing in the second half so the stage is set.
Stefon Digs – The Vikings second-year receiver has been quiet since a breakout performance against the Packers in Week 2. Sam Bradford targeted Digs 13 times in the Windy City, finally scoring a touchdown in the closing seconds in garbage time. The Detroit Lions secondary visits Minnesota and will have trouble keeping the Vikings sophomore out of the end zone this weekend.
Torrey Smith – GPP’s only if you need salary relief. The 49ers should be playing from behind and the Saints corners can be beat. Not a high percentage play but could pay off pretty big if it hits.
Corey Coleman – Not to be used in cash games, Coleman may go overlooked. Cleveland will be playing from behind and Terrelle Pryor figures to get the most attention if he suits up on Sunday (he did not practice Wednesday).
There’s no reason to pay up at Tight End. Greg Olsen is great, but Cam Newton can go three quarters forgetting he’s on the Panthers roster. Gary Barnidge and Antonio Gates are adequate punt plays.
Don’t overthink this one. As stated previously, the Colts-Packers matchup carries the highest total, with two of the best quarterbacks in the game. Both teams present interesting stacking options. I’ll be on the Packers side of things with Aaron Rodgers probably my highest owned QB.
Packers – The Colts offensive line gives up sacks to everyone and the Colts will be playing from behind in this one. Not to mention the price is right.
Opening weekend for the National Fantasy Football Championship is upon us. There’s more risk early on in this year’s draft than any other in recent memory. Let’s look at a few make or break players and see if they are worth investing in tomorrow and Saturday.
Last year, for some reason, Mike McCarthy relinquished play-calling duties for the Green Bay Packers. Despite my misgivings about this peculiar development, I invested heavily in Aaron Rodgers’ aerial assault squad in the NFFC. If you watched even a few of the Pack’s games last year, you know my season essentially was over before it even began. The numbers themselves don’t convey just how inept the entire offense was. Unconfirmed rumors floated that a name change to the "Green Bay Three & Outs" was briefly considered. Jordy Nelson’s absence was only part of the problem. With a similar play-calling plan in place this year, I’m not touching any Packers with a ten-foot pole. The miniscule ADP discount says this group is not worth the risk.
Supposedly, A.J. Green merely banged knees with a defensive back and expressed no concern over his latest injury. The play I saw that gave him a significant limp was of the "touch-me-not" variety, and involved no knee contact at all. This may well blow over and be nothing, but until I see Adriel Jeremiah go full tilt and get up from hard contact as if it’s nothing, I will not invest. Particularly when a healthy A.J. wasn’t that attractive at a pricey #6 overall ADP. The prolific pass catcher profiled more as a high-end WR2 last year. Marvin Jones is gone and Tyler Eifert is out the first few weeks. There’s not much here to draw defenders away from the Bengals' only elite offensive weapon.
Josh Norman took Odell Beckham Jr. to the woodshed in a marquee clash of the Titans back in December. There’s no shame in getting shut down by the NFL’s best shutdown cornerback, but becoming mentally unhinged in the midst of it broadcasts your weakness far too loud and wide. Beckham has always been emotionally volatile. Throw in the non negligible injury risk (four games missed the last two seasons) and I’m very glad the NFFC employs the KDS system of submitting draft slot preference. 1.3 is not where I want to be, but if you are stuck there, the NFFC’s premium on the wide receiver position almost forces you to take one here.
How will Dez Bryant’s foot hold up after off-season surgery? Can Dak Prescott feed him the ball? Too many questions to risk a late first-round or early second-round pick. Similarly, Sammy Watkins had off-season foot surgery and always seems to be hurt, not to mention Buffalo’s run first philosophy. That makes him worth fading.
Jordan Reed missed 12 games over his first two seasons, then somehow managed to stay on the field for 14 in 2015, enough to land him a huge five-year contract. Do you want to spend an early-round pick (#37 ADP) hoping he can match his career high of 14 games played coming off a contract year?
Melvin Gordon managed a meager 3.5 yards per carry in his rookie campaign. Off-season knee surgery has the fantasy market shying away. Another legitimate concern is that if San Diego plays from behind, Danny Woodhead could steal some of his snaps. The former Badger flashed game changing breakaway speed this pre-season and made more decisive cuts than I saw last year. Gordon is not without risk, but he's a decent flier with RB2 upside for those that roll with the Zero RB theory.
Seems as though Carlos Hyde is never 100% healthy. Even though he suited up most of the time, and put up elite statistics, he may have set an OSU record for limping off the field with various foot ailments. After off-season foot surgery, he claims that the foot is now healed, but how long will that last? I would be shocked if the Buckeye alumnus played 16 games. The talent is great and Chip Kelly’s system ideal, but you can’t score fantasy points on the sidelines. Having said that, a true bell-cow in a day and age where such animals are virtually extinct is hard to come by. You’re going to have to spend a 4th round pick to acquire Hyde’s services, then you’re going to have to handcuff two other backs to lock up the San Francisco running back stable. Shaun Draughn is the official backup for now, but he’s dinged up with a rib injury and may not be ready for Week 1. Not only that, but a much improved and very fast Mike Davis looked more impressive and could overtake Draughn as the true backup. That’s a lot of roster space to burn for one starting position, but it could pay off.
Most of what I said concerning Carlos Hyde applies to C.J. Anderson. Right now, the Denver Broncos #1 back looks great, showing burst, speed, and quick cutting ability he didn’t display at all last season and only partially started to flash towards the end of last year. How long can that possibly last? Anderson’s natural state is that of being hobbled. As an owner, you see it almost every game. Sure, he usually suits up, but the over/under on limping off the field and missing a few plays is set to about 2.5 every game. Last year, C.J. frustrated fantasy owners by posting fewer than 10 points 11 times, and the only 20+ point performance was such a shocker that it was certainly on fantasy benches, a tease that tricked owners into starting him the next two weeks as he posted 5.9 and 2.5 points. He’s a boom or bust 4th round selection that could make your season if he stays healthy, but since he’s never shown that ability, the odds are better than 50% he becomes an anchor sinking your fantasy dreams.