Notorious' NFL DFS Picks - Core Plays: Week 1
Want to know who you should build your NFL DFS lineups around each week? Derek “Notorious” Farnsworth, one of the most legendary daily fantasy sports players around, will focus on his core picks in this weekly in-depth feature for Premium subscribers.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…
Week 1 is finally here!
This article will focus on my very favorite plays of the week. These are plays that I plan to use for both cash games and tournaments. I want to make the article as transparent as possible, so I will go through the plays that I love for all sites and then hit on a couple that are more site-specific. For instance, I love the spot for Jamies Winston this week at home against the Niners, but he’s overpriced compared to his peers on DraftKings. He’s a much better point-per-dollar option on FanDuel, which is why he’ll be featured in the “Additional FanDuel Plays” section.
Before we get into the picks, I wanted to hit on a few strategy notes. Individual player ownership is often overblown when it comes to DFS. In my humble opinion, we should be more concerned about the aggregate ownership of each lineup rather than the ownership of each player. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look for pivots and for leverage in tournaments in a sport as volatile as football, but if you love Dalvin Cook this week, you should not hesitate to play him in tournaments, even at high ownership. The lineups that win big tournaments almost always have a couple of highly owned players mixed in with some low owned pivots. The reason why players become chalky in the first place is that they are in fact good plays. The mistake isn’t targeting one highly owned player, it’s filling out an entire lineup of chalky players without creating any leverage to give yourself a chance to actually win tournaments.
The next note is about correlation. I can’t stress enough how important correlation is in NFL DFS. If you are building tournament lineups without creating game stacks, QB/wideout pairings, and/or RB/DST pairings, you are essentially throwing away money. And on the opposite spectrum, we don’t want to target players that cannibalize each other’s fantasy production. For instance, outside of a single-game slate, you don’t want to target two running backs from the same team or pair a quarterback with a running back that doesn’t catch the ball out of the backfield. This limits the ceiling of your lineup as a whole and therefore, limits your chances of winning a tournament. In terms of lineup construction, I like to start with my favorite QB/wideout stacks and build from there. As an example, I love the spot for Winston and the Buccaneers’ passing attack. I will start tournament lineups with Winston and either Chris Godwin or Mike Evans (potentially even a triple-stack) and then look to bring it back with a wideout from the Niners. Erik Beimfohr wrote a great piece on stacking in NFL DFS if you haven’t read it yet.
And finally, most of the plays featured in this article are going to be chalky. As I mentioned above, we have to create leverage in tournaments if we are looking to finish in that elusive top 0.1%. I will make a strong case for each of my core plays and also talk about potential ways to get leverage against them in large-field tournaments. I will be overweight on the field when it comes to each individual core play, but filling out a lineup with these five or six players might be a little too chalky to win tournaments. This is where the leverage section comes into play.
Let’s dive into the plays for Week 1!
Salaries: FanDuel: $7,400 / DraftKings: $6,000
We are going to start with perhaps the most obvious play of the entire slate. Cook is projected to lead the way in terms of ownership on both FanDuel and DraftKings and for good reason. He shined in the preseason and has two qualities that we often look for at the running back position — he’s playing at home and the Vikings are favored. The other quality that I love with running backs is an ability to play all three downs. With Alexander Mattison playing the backup role for Minnesota this season, Cook should see 60-70% of the team’s snaps and touches in the backfield. He’s a solid pass-catching back and might see an even bigger role if Stefon Diggs (questionable) is eventually ruled out.
All of this and we haven’t even gotten to Cook’s matchup against the Falcons. In 2018, they were ranked 30th in DVOA against the run and allowed the most schedule-adjusted fantasy points to running backs. A lot of that had to do with injuries. Linebacker Deion Jones will certainly help now that he’s back on the field, but this is a team that has struggled against running backs for many years. As highlighted in the Grind Down this week, Cook ranked second in the league with a 38.2% juke rate. He’s primed to have big games even in difficult matchups, so we shouldn’t hesitate to play him in a home game against the porous Falcons. This is the week of cheap bell-cow running backs and Cook is the first of three that I have featured in my core plays.
Potential Leverage?: The way to get leverage against Cook this week is to target the passing game for the Vikings. Such a large portion of fantasy production comes down to which players end up finding the endzone. If all of the touchdowns for Minnesota come through the air, Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, and Stefon Diggs will be the difference makers in DFS. Cook is soaking up so much ownership that people are naturally shying away from the Vikings’ passing game. The only downside with this strategy is that Diggs is shaping up to be a true game-time decision. If he ends up being inactive, we could see an even bigger workload for Cook and we would no longer get Thielen at low ownership.
Salaries: FanDuel: $7,200 / DraftKings: $6,100
Pricing for Week 1 is always a little soft because salaries are posted a month before the season starts. Injuries are bound to happen, which creates a bunch of value plays that the sites couldn’t have seen coming. All of the value will lead many to play the likes of Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley. I’m certainly high on both players, but don’t see a need for them when we have similar workloads and upside in the mid-range. All reports from the Jaguars have been good when it comes to Fournette. He seems motivated entering his third year and he’ll have little to no competition in the backfield. T.J. Yeldon is no longer with the team and Alfred Blue was sent to the IR. Fournette’s backup is rookie Ryquell Armstead, who was selected in the fifth round.
Even though it was largely due to necessity with Blake Bortles at the helm, Fournette has always had a huge workload with the Jaguars when healthy. We have him projected for a 62% rushing share in this backfield and that honestly feels a bit low given the fact that they don’t want to throw Armstead into the fire in his first NFL game. Fournette is thought of as a pure downfield runner, but he’s a very capable pass-catcher out of the backfield. The Chiefs were ranked dead last in DVOA against the run in 2018 and allowed the third most schedule-adjusted fantasy points to running backs. The Jaguars are underdogs at home, but the line is moving in their favor. They should be less predictable on offense this season with new quarterback Nick Foles and new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, which should help open running lanes for Fournette. This is expected to be one of the highest-scoring games of the week and we get a true three-down back at a much cheaper price point than McCaffrey or Barkley.
Potential Leverage?: I’m not as interested in getting leverage against Fournette this week because I don’t expect his ownership to be out of control. I expect the Jaguars to move the ball up and down the field against a beatable Chiefs’ defense, but I don’t want to play Nick Foles in his first game with the Jaguars. He is certainly an upgrade over Bortles, but he doesn’t have the ceiling that I’m looking for in a quarterback. I have plenty of interest in Dede Westbrook, who saw seven of Foles’ 10 targets in one of the preseason games, but he’s cheap enough that you can actually play him with Fournette as part of a full game stack. Tyreek Hill should be low owned on the other side of the ball and Travis Kelce has the highest projection of any tight end of the slate.
Salaries: FanDuel: $6,600 / DraftKings: $5,700
Carson’s ADP in season-long and bestball leagues has been skyrocketing over the last few weeks. Many expected Rashad Penny to claim the top spot in the Seahawks’ backfield, but we heard Pete Carroll sing praises about Carson in the offseason. Everything from the start of camp to the end of the preseason has favored Carson. He has looked great in the preseason, while Penny looks lost on the field. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up falling behind C.J. Prosise on the depth chart after a few weeks. In addition to his stellar play on the field, Carroll said that he expects Carson to catch somewhere in the range of 50 passes this season, which is a huge boost to his fantasy appeal on full-PPR sites. The absence of Mike Davis could prove to be the springing point for a monster season from Carson.
The Seahawks ran the ball as often as any team in the NFL last season and I don’t expect that to change much as 10-point home favorites against the Bengals. While Cincinnati finally moved on from Marvin Lewis, they still might be one of the worst teams in the league. They should certainly have one of the worst defensive units. In 2018, they 28th in total defensive DVOA and 26th in DVOA against the run. They allowed the second most schedule adjusted fantasy points to running backs and didn’t do much in the offseason to improve on that side of the ball. We currently have Carson projected with a 55% rush share in this backfield and while that’s enough for him to succeed in this matchup, it leaves room for upside. He’s going to be involved in the passing game and he’s going to be their goal-line back. He finished the 2018 season in the top 10 in rushing attempts and rushing touchdowns in the redzone and he was playing in a timeshare.
Potential Leverage?: Carson isn’t going to be as chalky as Dalvin Cook this week, but he’s still expected to be the highest owned player from the Seahawks. The natural leverage spot is to play the passing attack for Seattle. They’ve said that they want to throw the ball a bit more this season and the Bengals were just as bad against the pass as they were against the run. Russell Wilson is a dual threat quarterback with a pretty clear WR1 in Tyler Lockett. You can bring the QB/WR stack back with Tyler Boyd, who should see a larger target share while A.J. Green is on the shelf. You can also play the RB/DST correlation here, as the Seahawks are in a great spot themselves. The Bengals have a bad defense to begin with and they are starting their third-string left tackle.
Salaries: FanDuel: $6,900 / DraftKings: $6,200
The hype train on Godwin left the station a few weeks ago and hasn’t slowed down since. His stock has been rising in season-long and bestball leagues and for good reason. The Buccaneers led the NFL in passing yards last season and while they no longer have Todd Monken, they brought in Bruce Arians to be their head coach. I’m not in love with the fact that Bryon Leftwich is the offensive coordinator, but he will be running Arians’ vertical passing attack. Godwin is a perfect fit for this offense and Arians came out and said that he’s never coming off the field. This is his third year in the league, which is typically the season for breakouts at the position. He should run a healthy dose of routes from the slot, which means he’ll be able to avoid most of the top cornerbacks and match up against smaller slot corners (Jimmie Ward this week).
This is one of my favorite games of the week to target. The Niners and Buccaneers both struggle on the defensive side of the ball and I don’t expect Tampa Bay to be able to run the ball very effectively. The lethal duo of Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber might make up the worst backfield in football. Both of these teams played at a fast pace in 2018 and this game is basically set as a pick ‘em in the market. I still expect Godwin to be one of the highest owned receivers of the week, but every podcast that I listen to and every article that I read talks about how highly owned he’s going to be. Often times, we see players that have high ownership projections early in the week tail off as we get closer to Sunday.
Potential Leverage?: As noted above, Godwin projects to be one of the highest owned receivers of the week. Like myself, everyone else is buying the hype heading into his third season. The natural leverage play in this game is Mike Evans, who seems to be flying under the radar for no apparent reason. Sure, he’s a little more expensive and the two have similar projected target shares, but he’s technically still the number one wideout in this offense. Arians loves to take shots downfield and we know Jameis Winston isn’t afraid to throw it up to Evans in jump ball situations. I plan to have exposure to both Godwin and Evans and might even make a few lineups and triple-stack this Buccaneers’ pass offense. It’s going to be a very concentrated attack, which should be great for Winston, Godwin, and Evans.
Additional FanDuel Plays
FanDuel Salary: $7,500
If I love Chris Godwin in all formats, if I love Mike Evans in tournaments, and if I hate the Buccaneers’ rushing attack, then I should obviously be high on Winston. We’ve heard reports that Leftwich wants Winston to make fewer mistakes this season, but this is still an offense created by Arians. He loves to take shots downfield and Winston is the perfect candidate to do just that. He has more rushing upside than most realize and gets to face a Niners’ defense that was ranked 27th in DVOA against the pass in 2018. With a lack of talent in the backfield, the Buccaneers might be forced to air it out in Week 1. Winston quietly has some of the best weapons in football. In addition to Godwin and Evans, he has a huge play-making tight end in O.J. Howard.
FanDuel Salary: $7,800
If you are new to DFS or if you have only played on DraftKings in the past, I’ll let you in on a little FanDuel secret — the pricing is softer as a whole and more condensed at the tight end position. Everything hinges on the slate in front of us, but in general, I try to pay up at tight end on FanDuel and pay down at tight end on DraftKings. Even though they are facing the Jaguars, the Chiefs still have the highest implied total of any team in the main slate. Jalen Ramsey is going to shadow Tyreek Hill (which should be a great matchup to watch) and we aren’t sure what to expect from this backfield now that they acquired LeSean McCoy. The only player that I really feel confident in on the Chiefs is Kelce. The Jaguars have an elite defense, but were mediocre against tight ends last season. In their one meeting last year, Kelce caught 5-of-8 targets for 100 yards.
Additional DraftKings Plays
DraftKings Salary: $5,600
When salaries were first released, everyone expected Murray to be the highest owned quarterback for Week 1. He was getting all of the offseason hype after being the first pick in the draft and after the Cardinals brought in Kliff Kingsbury. Murray looked strong in his first preseason start but struggled in two drives against the Raiders and now everyone wants to fade him. His ADP in drafts fell, his ownership projection for DFS fell, and the implied total for the Cardinals fell. Am I missing something here? Are we really overreacting because a rookie quarterback struggled in the second preseason game? Kingsbury is holding his cards close to his chest and didn’t really reveal anything. This is going to be the fastest-paced offense in football. I know the Lions want to run the ball and slow the pace of play down, but Murray gets to face a beatable secondary at home in Kingsbury’s first game as the Cardinals’ head coach. You don’t think he wants to put on a show for management and for the fans? This might be the cheapest we ever see Murray again. He’s a dual-threat quarterback that offers a high floor and a high ceiling.
DraftKings Salary: $3,900
The final core play of the week is going to be popular on DraftKings. This is the most volatile position in NFL DFS, so I certainly don’t mind pivoting to Austin Hooper in a few lineups here and there. With that said, this is a great spot for Henry and he’s only $3,900 this week. The Colts were one of the worst teams at defending tight ends a year ago and Henry no longer has to compete with Antonio Gates for targets. The losses of Melvin Gordon and Tyrell Williams is going to open up targets in general and targets in the redzone. The Chargers’ offensive line is already in shambles, so I expect them to lean on a quick passing attack, which helps the fantasy appeal of guys like Henry and hurts the fantasy appeal of the deep threats. He’s a physical talent that is primed for a big season. It makes sense to hop on him for Week 1 before his price skyrockets here shortly.
Best of luck to everyone in Week 1. If you have any questions, leave a comment below.
Image Credit: USA Today Sports Images