Get Rich or Tilt Tryin: Week 11 Lineup Review

Two steps forward, one step back.

That’s been the story of my 2019 season so far and Week 11 was another notch in the “one step back” column. After a few weeks in which I felt like I made a lot of progress by focusing on incremental process improvements, I think I lost the forest for the trees in Week 11 and made some fundamental mistakes that are easily fixable going forward but definitely cost me this week and which, in retrospect, have me wondering what I was thinking when I set my lineups Sunday morning.

Let’s dive into a slightly abbreviated version of this week’s lineup review.

(Note: Unless otherwise noted, all ownership percentages are from the DraftKings $400K Slant, snap count data has been retrieved from Lineups.com and other box score data has been retrieved from ESPN.com)

Week 11 Exposures, Top Scoring Lineup and Overall Results

Week Lineups Cashed^ Best Finish^ Weekly ROI^^ Cumulative ROI^^^
1 42 610 -30.96% -30.96%
2 75 47 99.62% 34.33%
3 61 127 20.35% 29.67%
4 19 1,054 -74.52% 3.62%
5 69 84 53.56% 13.61%
6 52 1,141 -2.32% 10.96%
7 18 779 -74.23% -1.21%
8 56 125 7.21% -0.16%
9 50 55 81.54% 9.85%
10 50 34 -21.81% 5.84%
11 29 350 -49.83% 0.01%

^ – Number of lineups cashed (out of 150) and best finish in the DraftKings $9 Slant.
^^ – Net return on investment across all non-qualifier football GPPs.
^^^ – Aggregate return on cumulative seasonal investment assuming equal amount in play each week.

What I Got Right

Josh Allen & John Brown

My Ownership: 12.0%/14.7%; Field Ownership: 3.9%/5.5%; My Leverage: 3.08x/2.67x

Allen and Brown had a similar narrative surrounding them heading into Week 11. They were both known as high ceiling, low floor guys entering 2019 but to date this season had demonstrated more consistency without yet flashing their respective ceilings. Facing a Dolphins team that while playing better over the last few weeks is still lacking talent, particularly with CB Xavien Howard lost for the season, Allen and Brown finally flashed that upside and both had their best fantasy game of the season. Allen finished 21/33 for 256 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air and added an additional 56 yards and a score on the ground, while Brown was far and away Allen’s best and primary target, finishing with a 14/9/137/2 receiving line.

Michael Thomas

My Ownership: 41.3%; Field Ownership: 21.3%; My Leverage: 1.94x

Thomas’ price jumped all the way to $9,900 this week – he was $8,300 in Week 10 and just $6,600 in New Orleans’ Week 6 matchup against Tampa Bay with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm — but it was hard to argue with as the league’s top fantasy receiver stepped into the best possible match-up for the position. Despite the near 20% price jump, Thomas still graded out as the best value at wide receiver in my projections and despite the tight pricing on DraftKings this week he managed to find his way into over 40% of my lineups. Thomas did not disappoint, turning in an 11/8/114/1 receiving line, good for the fourth most fantasy points on the day among wide receivers (28.4).

Josh Jacobs

My Ownership: 71.3%; Field Ownership: 42.6%; My Leverage: 1.67x

The story on Jacobs was similar to Thomas, as the Raiders’ rookie running back had a home date with the winless Bengals as a double-digit favorite, setting him up as a great on-paper play despite a $1,200 price jump from Week 10. Jacobs had significant splits based on game-script entering Week 11 – in the Raiders wins, he’d averaged 22.0/95.6/1.4 rushing and 2.6/1.8/21.4/0.0 receiving on a 61% snap rate, while in their losses those numbers dropped to 14.5/83.3/0.0 rushing and 1.8/1.3/6.3/0.0 receiving on a 50% snap rate. An inability to find the end zone despite three carries from inside the Bengals’ six-yard line prevented Jacobs from having a true ceiling game on Sunday, but he otherwise lived up to expectations delivering 23/112/0 on the ground and adding 3/3/12/0 receiving.

What I Got Wrong

Brian Hill, Miles Sanders & Kalen Ballage

My Ownership: 55.3%/41.3%/36.7%; Field Ownership: 37.7%/34.3%/6.5%; Leverage: 1.47x/1.20x/5.65x

Yikes.

Hill, Sanders and Ballage all fit under the cheap running back chalk umbrella in Week 11 and, in retrospect, they were all flawed plays as well, but for three different reasons. We’ll break them down individually here and then tie it together in the What I Think I Know section below.

Starting with Hill, with Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith sidelined, Hill became the favorite to step into a near bell-cow role for Atlanta in Week 11. For his part, Hill is a decisive runner that grades out as a roughly average athlete by NFL running back standards and has shown flashes in limited opportunity – Hill had a 100 yard game against Carolina late in 2018 and generated more than 60% of his yards after contact in Week 10 after relieving Freeman. The opportunity came as expected but Hill was unable to convert that opportunity into fantasy points on Sunday despite ideal game script, finishing with 15/30/0 on the ground and 3/1/8/0 through the air.

Sanders is the most explosive player of the bunch, something the Eagles’ offense is otherwise sorely lacking, but Sanders’ chalkiness signaled a lot of faith from the DFS community that, in the absence of Jordan Howard, Sanders would see a significant uptick in volume in Week 11. Entering Sunday, Sanders had never seen more than 13 carries or 5 targets in a game and ranked just 41st in expected fantasy points per game among running backs at 10.0, just ahead of Jamaal Williams and just behind Frank Gore. Sanders nearly matched his to-date ceiling in terms of touches (11) and targets (4) on Sunday, but it still wasn’t the type of volume I am looking for from a running back that I’m rostering on 40%+ of my lineups; as I’ve discussed before, at running back in particular, opportunity is king.

Which is what made Ballage such a conundrum for me this week. It was easy to project Ballage for the type of volume I like to see at running back given the way he’s dominated opportunity in the Dolphins’ backfield since the trade of Kenyan Drake and suspension of Mark Walton. On top of that, he was at home facing a Bills defense that has been one of the best in the league against the pass (9th in DVOA entering Week 11) but one of the worst against the run (27th in DVOA). However, unlike Hill and Sanders, Ballage has shown a shocking lack of explosiveness in the opportunities he’s been given thus far – on 77 touches in 2019, Ballage’s longest play from scrimmage is 13 yards. Ballage was the one guy among the group who managed to put up a useful fantasy score, at least given the dearth of scoring at running back on Sunday, but it was buoyed entirely by a short touchdown plunge set-up by a long Devante Parker catch-and-run. On the whole, Ballage turned 14 Week 11 touches into a pitiful 17 yards.

Tyler Boyd

My Ownership: 32.0%; Field Ownership: 14.4%; Leverage: 2.22x

After having a cliché third-year wide receiver breakout in 2018, Boyd has regressed substantially in 2019. Boyd is a guy that I invested in substantially in season long leagues and I’ve had a couple weeks in which I’ve been overweight on him in DFS, but I think it may be time to scale back expectations. Boyd has been playing worse in his own right – Boyd’s mid-60s PFF grade is in-line with his first two seasons and well below his mid-80s grade in 2018 – and has now downgraded from Andy Dalton to Ryan Finley at QB. While not a superstar, Dalton is a competent NFL quarterback and was masking the full extent of the hopelessness of the Bengals’ offensive line. In 8 games, Dalton’s average time to throw was under 2.3 seconds while Finley has been over 2.8 in his two starts. The result? Despite facing two relatively weak pass rush units in both starts (BAL & OAK), Finley has been under pressure on over 40% of his dropbacks, whereas Dalton had kept that number below league average (31% v. 34% average) by getting the ball out quickly. Those quick releases often led to Dalton feeding his slot receiver, and Boyd had nine or more targets in six of Dalton’s eight starts.

Even with that volume and Dalton running the show Boyd wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire, and if Finley can’t get it done against the Raiders I don’t know who he can get it done against. Making matters worse for Boyd’s expected output going forward, Zac Taylor has gone with a roughly 50/50 run-pass split in Finley’s two starts after passing at the league’s highest clip with Dalton at the helm (71%). There is some squeaky-wheel narrative appeal to Boyd this week after he made no secret of his displeasure at his lack of targets following the game, and he is facing a Steelers defense that has historically been vulnerable in the slot, but I plan to be very cautious with my Boyd shares going forward.

Eric Ebron

My Ownership: 29.3%; Field Ownership: 11.6%; My Leverage: 2.53x

I spent a lot of time in my lineup reviews in both Week 9 and Week 10 extolling the virtues of fading recency bias in NFL DFS down the stretch, and when I look at the Ebron play I can’t decide whether or not I fell into that trap or if circumstance got me on this one.

The long-term trend here is that while “The Colts Tight End” position has been an extremely valuable commodity over the past season and a half, when both Ebron and Jack Doyle have been healthy they have effectively split that opportunity and value, leaving them both relatively worthless from a fantasy perspective. After complaining about his role leading up to Week 10, Ebron bucked that trend last week, running 33 routes on 42 Colts dropbacks and turning 12 targets (1 in the red zone) into 5/56/0 receiving. The reason I thought this might be more signal than noise is that with T.Y. Hilton on the shelf since Week 8 and Parris Campbell going down in Week 9, Ebron is probably the most dynamic playmaker the Colts have left standing in the passing game (all due respect to Zach Pascal and his 4.6 40), and with Jacoby Brissett back at the helm I had hope Ebron could be more efficient with the opportunity this week.

In Week 11, Brissett was playing with a massive brace on his injured knee – Sam Monson of PFF compared it to building scaffolding – and, perhaps to protect him, the Colts went extremely run-heavy (36 rushes, 24 pass attempts) and used a lot of heavy personnel/max-protect – the Colts had six offensive linemen on the field for seven snaps and kept their tight ends in to pass block at their highest rate this season. Doyle didn’t see a single target on just 14 routes run, and Ebron saw just four targets on 16 routes (though he did catch all of them). Adding to that, Ebron was reportedly battling an illness Sunday and the story seems to check out — he was spotted throwing up during the game on multiple occasions, did not see a single official target in the second half, and his lone unofficial target — a catch negated by a pass interference call on Doyle – came on the Colts’ first drive of the half.

The Colts are off the main slate this week, facing Houston on Thursday, and I’ll be interested to see how both Brissett and Ebron look and are used for purposes of how I value Ebron going forward, though the mini-bye after a Thursday game will presumably be a positive for Brissett’s health in particular.

What I’m Not So Sure About

What I was thinking.

Pretty much every single line-up I played yesterday had at least one of Miles Sanders, Kalen Ballage or Brian Hill. That’d be one of the worst stables of running backs in the NFL, where roughly 100 running backs are on rosters, let alone to be trotting out in fantasy lineups, where I only need to pick two. What was I thinking?

What I Think I Know

I need to play good players, in good situations, getting good opportunities.

I’ve mentioned once or twice in this space that I have a handful of “principles” that I read over every Sunday morning before I start building lineups. One of the first ones is the maxim above, the first part of which is borrowed from Manny Lora. Looking back, I think I broke that cardinal rule a couple times over on Sunday.

Ballage was in a good situation and getting good opportunities, but he’s yet to give any indication that he is a good player. Hill is a solid player and was getting good opportunities, but he was in a bad situation – Devonta Freeman has disappointed in this role nearly every week, and Dirk Koetter hasn’t coordinated a strong running game in the past decade, so why did I assume Brian Hill of all people would thrive? Sanders is a good player and was in a good situation with Howard unable to go and facing a Patriots defense that blankets opposing wide receivers, but for the 11th straight week didn’t get the amount of opportunity necessary to be a reliable play in DFS.

While my player selection and projections left a lot to be desired in Week 11, I think the remainder of my process remained solid. Let’s look at the way a few bad apples can spoil the bunch in an MME build from two different angles.

First, as the 1 p.m. games rolled to a close, I thought I was actually in pretty good shape and had a few lineups ready to make a run if the afternoon games went as I expected. This lineup in particular had my hopes fairly high, as it sat in the top 10 of a few small GPPs with over 180 PMR, before the aforementioned Boyd and Sanders decided to go M.I.A. all afternoon:

Viewing the costs of my terrible Week 11 decision making through another lens, I went back and re-ran my lineups with all of the same settings but with everyone featured in the What I Got Wrong section removed from my player pool. Had I somehow managed to have that type of foresight, my results in the $400K Slant would have improved to 44 cashes (up from 29) with a net loss of $346 (improved from a net loss of $766) and my average lineup would have scored 132.3 points (up from 123.2). It still wouldn’t have been a great week – as my overall exposures show, I had plenty of other issues with my projections this week beyond those mentioned herein – but the improvements are substantial, those types of improvements add-up in the long-run, and on the whole it shows the weight that just four players had on my overall results this week — Ballage was actually decent from a point-per-dollar perspective (12.7 fantasy points at $4,300), ranking fifth among running backs with at least 1.0% of ownership from that perspective.

My confidence in my process isn’t shook, and my main goal for Week 12 is to simply get back to basics and renew my focus on the fundamentals.

Until next week, back to the grind…

Bill Elder (a.k.a. BillyVonElds) is a full-time DFS player and former corporate attorney. He is currently ranked in the Top 500 of Rotogrinders’ overall rankings with a number of GPP wins under his belt, including a 1st place finish in the DraftKings Millionaire Maker in 2018. You can find him on Twitter at @BillyVonElds.

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