News & Analysis

Scott Barrett’s daily fantasy focus: Top plays, strategy, and advice for Week 17

By Scott Barrett
Dec 29, 2018

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Nov 1, 2018; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) runs with the ball against the Oakland Raiders during the third quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

This article is long, so I’ll spare you a lengthy intro. Here’s everything you should need to know in order to dominate your Week 17 DFS tournaments and cash games.

Note: All numbers in parentheses refer to a player’s salary rank on each site.

Injury news & notes to know

Antonio Brown (DK: WR1, FD: WR1) is listed as questionable after missing practice all week with a knee injury. The injury seems serious enough that there’s a risk he might be limited or used as a decoy even if he’s active. This makes JuJu Smith-Schuster (DK: WR5, FD: WR7) one of the better high-priced options at the position. Cincinnati isn’t a soft matchup by any stretch, but this is a must-win game, and Smith-Schuster has been on fire in recent weeks. Over the past five weeks, he ranks first among all wide receivers in expected fantasy points per game (22.1) and third in actual fantasy points per game (21.6).

Spencer Ware (hamstring) is questionable for Week 17 against the Raiders but has practiced in full all week and is likely to play. On the off chance he’s out, Damien Williams (DK: RB15, FD: RB15) becomes a top play. Even if Ware is active, Williams deserves consideration, though he wouldn’t be at the top of my list. Over the last three weeks, Williams ranks third in fantasy points per game (25.4) and fifth in expected fantasy points per game (20.2). Note: Ware played in one of these games, and perhaps the new contract extension offered to Williams implies a hefty workload even if Ware is active.

Davante Adams (DK: WR7, FD: WR4) is questionable and Equanimeous St. Brown is doubtful for Sunday’s game against the Lions. I’ll get to Adams later, but this injury is a legitimate concern for his prospects. In an irrelevant game, he could be on a snap count. These injuries vault Marquez Valdes-Scantling (DK: WR58, FD: WR66) up my rankings. He’s been boom-or-bust all year, so he’s risky but still a good tournament option.

Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Matt Breida, and Garrett Celek are all out for Sunday’s game against the Rams. I’ll get to George Kittle (DK: TE3, FD: TE3) and Jeff Wilson Jr. (DK: RB31, FD: RB32) later, but this also pushes Kendrick Bourne (DK: WR60, FD: WR75) into consideration. He averages 5.1 targets per game over his last eight games, but that should jump this week, with these four players (a combined 36% target market share since Week 10) out of the picture. He’s a fine salary relief option this week.

Odell Beckham Jr. is out again this week, raising my projections for TE Evan Engram (DK: TE5, FD: TE7). Engram has hit at least 75 receiving yards in three straight games and at least 65 receiving yards in four straight. Sterling Shepard (DK: WR23, FD: WR37) has seen good volume with Beckham out, but with less production and in a tougher matchup this week.

Todd Gurley is out this week, making C.J. Anderson (DK: RB21, FD: RB30) a top value yet again. More on him later.

James Conner (DK: RB7, FD: RB7) is legitimately questionable. If he plays, he’s a top option. If he’s out Jaylen Samuels (DK: RB9, FD: RB18) deserves a long look. Through 11 games, Conner has played on 81% of the snaps while averaging 22.3 fantasy points per game. Across Samuels’ three starts, he’s played on 71% of the snaps while averaging 16.9 fantasy points per game. Whoever it is, Pittsburgh’s RB1 gets a dream matchup against a Bengals defense that is giving up the most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs.

Rashaad Penny (knee) is questionable for Week 17 against the Cardinals. If he’s out, boost Chris Carson (DK: RB11, FD: RB25) slightly (more on him later).

DeSean Jackson is doubtful, further concentrating the snaps and targets between Mike Evans (DK: WR10, FD: WR11), Chris Godwin (DK: WR47, FD: WR57), and Adam Humphries (DK: WR23, FD: WR23). All three get a bump up my rankings this week. Jameis Winston, reportedly, might not play the full game, which muddies things, but the three receivers are still firmly in play. Each week I’ve picked the wrong one, so I’ll leave that portion of the analysis up to you.

Allen Robinson is doubtful this week. On paper, the Bears want to win to advance to the No. 2 seed, but things are a bit trickier than that. Robinson’s injury doesn’t move the needle for me on anyone else but does make me slightly more excited for Tarik Cohen‘s (DK: RB17, FD: RB20) prospects. The Bears are 5.5-point underdogs this week (likely hinting at their motivations) and that negative gamescript should be beneficial to Cohen (so long as he doesn’t get benched with the starters at any point in the game, which is not a given). Cohen averages 17.8 expected and 21.3 actual fantasy points per game in losses, but 10.3 expected and 12.7 actual fantasy points per game in victories.

With Phillip Lindsay out for the Broncos, Royce Freeman (DK: RB62, FD: RB63) will be the team’s lead back this weekend, but I actually prefer Devontae Booker (DK: RB72, FD: RB81) at salary. Freeman will be massively owned, but Booker, reportedly, will “get a bunch of runs.” Freeman has just nine targets all year, while Booker has seen 42. Freeman will be the team’s early-down runner, while Booker will get some of those carries while also dominating work as a receiver. That’s especially important this week as 6.0-point underdogs up against a Chargers defense that is surrendering the 18th-most rushing and the seventh-most receiving fantasy points per game to enemy running backs.

Drew Brees will be benched this week and Teddy Bridgewater (DK: QB18, FD: QB18) will start in his absence. He’s far better than your typical backup, but he’ll also be playing with backup receivers. He’s also playing for a contract and a starting job at a near-minimum-price on DraftKings up against a Panthers defense that ranks bottom-10 in opposing passer rating, fantasy points allowed per game, and fantasy points allowed per dropback. He’s vaguely in play this week.

Owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett insist Dallas will be playing their starters in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Giants. This seems like a bad idea to me, but maybe they’ll only play for a drive or two like in Week 17 of the 2016 season. You can bet on the irrationality of the Dallas front office by playing Ezekiel Elliott (DK: RB2, FD: RB3) as a low-owned contrarian option, but that’s not a bet I’m going to make.

Though banged up, Julio Jones (DK: WR2, FD: WR3) and Tevin Coleman will play this week. This pushes Brian Hill back out of contention, while Jones is still in play, though risky. As Adam Levitan noted, “Jones has only run a route on 43 of Matt Ryan‘s 66 dropbacks (65%) across the last two games.”

Quarterbacks

Patrick Mahomes (DK: QB1, FD: QB1)

Mahomes totals 399.7 fantasy points through Weeks 16, averaging 26.6. In total fantasy points or on a per-game basis, that’s the new record for fantasy quarterbacks. He’s the highest-priced quarterback on both sites, but it still comparatively cheap on DraftKings. His $7,100 salary was eclipsed 40 times by quarterbacks last year. The Chiefs need to win to clinch the No. 1 seed, and Oakland is a dream matchup on paper. Oakland ranks third-worst in opposing passer rating (138.6) and worst in fantasy points allowed per dropback (0.62). As I showed the last time these two teams faced off (Week 12 when Mahomes totaled 33.0 fantasy points), this is also an ideal matchup for Mahomes in that he’s the league’s most pressure-sensitive quarterback and Oakland’s defense is the worst at generating pressure. Gamescript is a concern, but Kansas City is still one of the league’s 12-most pass-heavy teams (61%) despite spending the most time leading by 10 or more points.

Ben Roethlisberger (DK: QB2, FD: QB2)

Roethlisberger quietly ranks second behind Mahomes in fantasy points per game (22.5) and also gets an ideal matchup this week. The Steelers need a win to get into the playoffs and the Bengals are giving up the second-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks, while also ranking bottom-six in opposing passer rating (132.2) and fantasy points allowed per dropback (0.56).

Aaron Rodgers (DK: QB4, FD: QB7)

2018 was shaping up to be the worst season of Rodgers’ career. He came into last week ranking just 11th in fantasy points per game (19.2). After his monstrous Week 16, he now ranks fourth (20.8). It feels like point-chasing and it probably is, but the matchup looks great on paper. Detroit ranks second-worst in opposing passer rating (141.6) and fourth-worst in fantasy points allowed per dropback (0.62). If Adams is out or we get word he’ll be limited, I might pivot off Rodgers entirely, or I might be more excited to play him and stack him with a cheaper option – I haven’t entirely decided.

Other (not mentioned anywhere else): Lamar Jackson (DK: QB16, FD: QB10), Sam Darnold (DK: QB20, FD: QB16), Nick Foles (DK: QB13, FD: QB12)

Running backs

High-priced options

Of the high-priced options, you’re probably only looking at Melvin Gordon (DK: RB4, FD: RB6) and Saquon Barkley (DK: RB5, FD: RB4), unless we get something more definitive on Christian McCaffrey, James Conner, and Ezekiel Elliott. Barkley ranks third (24.0) and Gordon ranks fourth among running backs in fantasy points per game (23.8). That’s at least 2.0 fantasy points per game more than the next-closest wide receiver, though, laughably, both are priced well below the highest-priced wide receiver. That’s been a pricing mistake we’ve exploited all year to great success (paying up for the bell-cow running backs) and this week should be no different.

Mid-tier options

Over the last three weeks, Chris Carson (DK: RB11, FD: RB25) ranks sixth in both expected (19.5) and actual fantasy points per game (21.8). He benefited from Rashaad Penny’s absence in two of these games as well as mostly good gamescript, but gamescript should be ideal again this week, as 13.5-point favorites. Seattle’s motivations aren’t cut and dry, but a win does give them a better seed. Over this aforementioned three-week stretch, 86% of Carson’s production and volume has come on the ground. The Cardinals are most exploitable on the ground, giving up the most rushing fantasy points per game to enemy running backs.

Value plays

In last week’s column, I wrote, “From Week 11 to 17 in 2017, Jamaal Williams (DK: RB16, FD: RB16) played on 91% of the snaps. Over this span, Williams averaged 18.7 carries, 4.7 targets, 18.3 expected fantasy points, and 19.0 actual fantasy points per game. By any stretch, those are mid- to low-end RB1 numbers.” In Week 16, he played on 85 snaps, drawing 15 carries and eight targets. No other running back saw a snap. He totaled 27.6 fantasy points (second-most) on a 21.5-point expectation (fifth-most). He should be an RB1 again in Week 17 against Detroit.

Elijah McGuire (DK: RB23, FD: RB27) has assumed a bell-cow workload following the departure of Isaiah Crowell. Over the last three weeks, he’s played on 78% of the snaps while averaging 16.5 expected (ninth-most) and 19.0 actual fantasy points per game (11th). This week he gets a New England defense ranking third-worst in yards allowed per carry (4.88) and 10th-worst in receiving fantasy points per game allowed to enemy running backs.

With Matt Breida out for Week 17, Jeff Wilson (DK: RB31, FD: RB32) again becomes a strong value. Breida played on only 10 snaps Weeks 13-14. Over that span, Wilson played on 78% of the snaps, while averaging 19.0 carries and 5.5 targets per game. This was good for an average of 16.0 fantasy points per game (11th-most at the position over this stretch) and an 18.1-point per-game expectation (ninth-most).

In Week 16, C.J. Anderson (DK: RB21, FD: RB30) touched the ball 21 times, while totaling 162 yards and a score. His expectation was low (12.2), but he played on 75% of the team’s snaps while drawing 66% of the team’s running back opportunities. Anderson’s low expectation is partly due to good efficiency, scoring on his lone opportunity inside the 5-yard line, and partly due to a lack of work through the air (one target). We shouldn’t expect a Gurley-esque workload from Anderson, but we could expect high-end-RB2 volume. On one of the league’s most efficient offenses, that might again be good for RB1 numbers.

Super value plays

There is always good value at the running back position in Week 17. Whether due to injury or teams resting starters or teams wanting to get a better look at their backup before the draft, we’ll frequently find a near-minimum-priced running back thrust into a bell-cow workload. More than any other position, fantasy production for running backs has far more to do with volume than efficiency. These running backs will come in on fresh legs and oftentimes outproduce the starter they’re replacing, due to a more robust workload (thanks to a reduction in competition for snaps). In 2016, for instance, backups Charcandrick West, Rex Burkhead (then with Cincinnati), and Shaun Draughn all finished as top-five fantasy running backs in Week 17. This week, we might be looking at a name like Cameron Artis-Payne (DK: RB76, FD: RB81), if we get word Christian McCaffrey is out. Keep an eye on news later in the weekend. I’m sure we’ll get word a few more starters will be out.

Wide receivers

Davante Adams (DK: WR7, FD: WR4)

(Note: This was my initial analysis on Adams, but the knee injury has me legitimately worried. I’m leaving it here for the record, but definitely keep an eye on reports.)

Adams leads all wide receivers in fantasy points per game (21.8) but is just the seventh-highest-priced wide receiver on DraftKings. He’ll get Pro Bowl CB Darius Slay in shadow coverage this week, but that didn’t matter in Week 5 when he posted a 9-140-1 line against Detroit on 12 targets. Despite the Pro Bowl nod, Slay also hasn’t played well this year, ranking just 59th of 75 qualifying cornerbacks in fantasy points allowed per route in coverage. Adams has also been one of the more cornerback-immune wide receivers all year. Despite shadow games against Slay, Stephon Gilmore, Patrick Peterson, Tre’Davious White, Marcus Peters, and Xavier Rhodes (x2), Adams has, remarkably, reached at least 16.0 DraftKings fantasy points in every game this year. Adams also has a strong narrative working in his favor. He needs 134 yards to break a Packers record for most receiving yards in a single season, and based on this article, it seems all relevant parties are very aware of that fact.

Julian Edelman (DK: WR11, FD: WR13)

Since rejoining the Patriots in Week 5, Edelman ranks 12th among all wide receivers in fantasy points per game (16.9). He runs 67% of his routes from the slot, and the Jets rank worst in fantasy points per game allowed to opposing slot wide receivers. Basic math suggests he’s a top value this week.

Robert Woods (DK: WR15, FD: WR10)

Since Cooper Kupp’s season-ending injury in Week 10, Woods ranks fifth among wide receivers in expected (18.1) and eighth in actual fantasy points per game (18.8). Over this span he’s run 69% of his routes from the slot (59% last week), which means an ideal matchup this week against a San Francisco defense that is giving up the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing slot wide receivers.

Keenan Allen (DK: WR8, FD: WR9)

Excluding Week 15, when Allen exited in the first quarter with an injury, Allen is averaging 21.1 fantasy points per game since Week 9 (third-most). The Chargers should be playing all out for the No. 1 seed, and Allen gets a soft matchup in the slot against the Chris Harris Jr.-less Broncos. Harris’ replacement is safety Justin Simmons, who ranks sixth-worst of 89 qualifying safeties in PFF coverage grade.

Doug Baldwin (DK: WR18, FD: WR17)

After a slow start to the year, Baldwin has led Seattle’s receivers in expected fantasy points in each of his past five games. Over this span, he averages 15.3 expected fantasy points per game and 17.3 actual fantasy points per game. Those numbers rank 11th- and 15th-best, respectively. In theory, Seattle is playing to win this week, and Baldwin also gets a top matchup. He runs 66% of his routes from the slot, and Arizona ranks sixth-worst in fantasy points per game allowed to opposing slot wide receivers. If there’s any doubt whether or not Baldwin is actually “back,” keep in mind he’s our highest-graded wide receiver since Week 13.

Kenny Golladay (DK: WR16, FD: WR16)

Golladay follows up three straight brutal matchups (shadow coverage from Patrick Peterson, Tre’Davious White, and Xavier Rhodes) to get a Green Bay defense that was just gashed by Robby Anderson to the tune of 29.0 fantasy points. Green Bay is giving up the second-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing WR1s. Despite the tough cornerback schedule, Golladay ranks sixth in expected fantasy points per game (19.4) and seventh in yards per game (102.0) over the past two weeks. With a depleted receiving corps, it seems Matthew Stafford has reverted back to his younger self, when he would force-feed the ball to his WR1 (then Calvin Johnson) regardless of how open he might be.

DaeSean Hamilton (DK: WR29, FD: WR40)

Over the last three weeks, Hamilton ranks 16th among wide receivers in fantasy points per game (15.1) and 10th in expected fantasy points per game (16.9). Courtland Sutton finally saw better usage last week (17.3 to 14.2) and Denver’s offense is hard to trust, but he remains a strong value. The Chargers aren’t a soft matchup by any stretch, but he should get the better end of it with Casey Hayward likely to shadow Sutton.

Jordy Nelson (DK: WR32, FD: WR49)

Nelson is averaging 8.5 targets per game since Week 13, which ranks 12th-best among wide receivers. He is also averaging 15.0 fantasy points per game over this span, which ranks 16th-best. Kansas City is giving up the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers.

Other (not mentioned anywhere else): Tyreek Hill (DK: WR4, FD: WR8), DeAndre Hopkins (DK: WR6, FD: WR2), Trent Sherfield (DK: WR93, FD: WR121), Jake Kumerow (DK: WR102, FD: WR57), Tre’Quan Smith (DK: WR64, FD: WR98)

Tight ends

Zach Ertz (DK: TE2, FD: TE1)

With Nick Foles under center, Ertz is seeing a target every 3.35 routes. That is 17% better than the next-closest tight end and also would lead all wide receivers. Alshon Jeffery is Foles’ second-favorite target, but he’ll have his hands full this week, in shadow coverage against Josh Norman. Nothing about the matchup stands out, but Ertz did just finish with the fifth-best fantasy tight end season of all-time. That makes him comparatively cheap on both DraftKings and FanDuel. His $6,700 salary on DraftKings was eclipsed 24 times (by a tight end) last year, and his $7,800 salary on FanDuel was eclipsed 16 times. He’s a better value on DraftKings, where he ranks as the 17th-highest-priced receiver on DraftKings but ranks 11th in DraftKings fantasy points per game.

Travis Kelce (DK: TE1, FD: TE2)

Kelce just put together the fourth-best fantasy season (Weeks 1-16) of all time. Like with Ertz, that added historical context makes him a screaming value at salary, and especially so when considering how weak the rest of the position is in comparison. Unlike Ertz, Kelce also has a top matchup this week. Oakland ranks worst in yards allowed per target to tight ends (10.8) and has seen 27.5% of their total passing yardage allowed go to tight ends (second-most). They rank fourth-worst in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game, which, of course, includes Kelce’s 12-168-2 line against them in Week 13.

George Kittle (DK: TE3, FD: TE3)

Kittle is a tier below Kelce and Ertz, and the matchup is only neutral, but he does have a nice little narrative working for him. In Week 14, Kyle Shanahan was beside himself, angry he wasn’t able to get Kittle five more yards for a record-breaking day. Week 17 is his chance to make things right. Kittle needs 100 yards to break Rob Gronkowski’s NFL season record for yards by a tight end, and he is well aware of the fact. Kittle said here, “It’s a target, I definitely want to get it done. It’s not a lost cause if I don’t get it done, but it would be really fun for us.” Even if Shanahan is unsympathetic to this narrative, with so many injuries to their receiving corps, San Francisco has little choice but to force-feed Kittle the ball.

Jared Cook (DK: TE4, FD: TE4)

Cook is a tier behind Kittle, but he does draw the best matchup of any tight end. Kansas City ranks worst in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game allowed to opposing tight ends (both over the last five weeks and the full season). When Cook faced them in Week 13, he posted a 7-100-1 line on eight targets. Cook has also been one of the more matchup-dependent players in the league. In six games against defenses ranking bottom-10 in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, he averages 17.0 fantasy points per game. In all other games, he averages just 9.5.

Chris Herndon (DK: TE16, FD: TE8)
Gerald Everett (DK: TE24, FD: TE23)

if looking to pay down at the position, look no further than our fourth- (Everett) and eighth- (Herndon) highest-graded tight ends. Last week, Los Angeles’ WR3 Josh Reynolds was bumped down to a 51% snap share (from 99% in Week 15) as the team opted to go with more 2TE sets rather than their typical (3WR) alignment. Everett joins Ertz, Kelce, and Kittle as the only tight ends to see at least six targets in each of the last three weeks. Herndon ranks eighth in targets (26) and ninth in fantasy points (48.7) since Week 12. Everett has a below average matchup, but Herndon’s is attractive. Robby Anderson will have his hands full against Stephon Gilmore (our top-graded cornerback) in shadow coverage and the Patriots rank seventh-worst in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends.

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