News & Analysis

NFL DFS: An early look at Week 1 DraftKings salaries

Sep 8, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets running back Le'Veon Bell (26) rushes against Buffalo Bills defenders during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

With the NFL season just three weeks away, it’s time to take a peek behind the curtain to see what the fantasy football giant DraftKings has in store for us during Week 1 of the NFL season.

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Because the player salaries are released almost a month before teams officially kickoff, there is always an abundance of value available if you’re keen.

I’ll breakdown the 12-game Sunday slate and identify the best players and values across all the positions (D/STs included) to ensure Week 1 of the 2020 season is a profitable one.

Quarterbacks

Jan 11, 2020; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) throws a pass against the Minnesota Vikings in the first quarter in a NFC Divisional Round playoff football game at Levi's Stadium. Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers ($5,800)

In his two games versus the Arizona Cardinals in 2019, Jimmy Garoppolo averaged four passing touchdowns, 370 passing yards and 9.0 yards per attempt. The Cardinals added safety Isaiah Simmons in hopes of slowing down opposing passing attacks, but expecting him to affect George Kittle ($7,200) in his first NFL game is nothing more than a pipe dream.

Add in rookie wideout Brandon Aiyuk ($4,500) at wide receiver with a sidelined Deebo Samuel ($5,300)/Jalen Hurd ($4,100) and you have a tremendous three-person DFS stack. Both Kittle and Aiyuk are YAC monsters, and no team allowed more yards after the catch than the Cardinals in 2019.

Tyrod Taylor, Los Angeles Chargers ($5,600)

The Los Angeles Chargers open against the Cincinnati Bengals, who not only allowed the most total rushing yards in the league last season but also the most rushing attempts and rushing touchdowns to the quarterback position. With a solid rushing floor, Tyrod Taylor is a value.

He should also offer plenty of upside in his Week 1 matchup as a passer. The Bengals will be without the services of newly acquired cornerback Trae Waynes due to a torn pectoral, which will slot first-time starter Darius Phillips on the outside against the Chargers' receiver duo of Mike Williams and Keenan Allen — advantage L.A.

Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears ($5,400)

One of the most successful weeks in my DFS-playing career happened during Week 1 of the 2018 season. I fit as many expensive skill players as I could and punted the quarterback position by starting Ryan Fitzpatrick against the New Orleans Saints.

This strategy panned out, as Fitzpatrick threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns. Paying down at the quarterback position is a viable strategy, and only Fitzpatrick ($5,300) and Dwayne Haskins Jr. ($5,000) are cheaper starting QBs than Mitchell Trubisky.

Now, it remains to be seen whether Trubisky will be the Week 1 starter, but the beat reports out of Chicago Bears camp expect him to start the opener against the Detroit Lions. The Bears would be wise to start Trubisky during a truncated offseason, especially with the Lions as their Week 1 opponent.

In Trubisky’s last three starts against Detroit in the Matt Nagy offense, he has averaged three passing touchdowns, 9.5 yards per attempt, 289 passing yards and earned a 90.9 PFF passing grade. That translates to 32.5 fantasy points per game when you also include Trubisky’s rushing statistics.

Nobody on planet Earth is going to want to play Trubisky, so leveraging him in a GPP could be a great way to save salary and differentiate your lineup. Remember, even before Marcus Mariota was benched last season, he posted 250-plus yards and three touchdowns versus the Cleveland Browns in Week 1.

Running Backs

Nov 3, 2019; Carson, CA, USA; Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) is defended by Green Bay Packers defensive back Darnell Savage (26) during the first quarter at Dignity Health Sports Park. Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers ($7,000)

As mentioned, the Bengals don’t have a great run defense. They added defensive lineman D.J. Reader from the Houston Texans, but he's coming from a Houston defense that ranked 25th in rushing yards allowed, 21st in explosive plays rushing allowed and 27th in rushing yards per attempt (4.8) in 2019.

You want to spend up at the running back position on DraftKings, and even as the fourth-most-expensive running back available, Ekeler still feels like a value. In the four games last season without Melvin Gordon III, he averaged 27 points per game while absolutely dominating the running back snap share over backup Justin Jackson ($4,400).

Ekeler is probably going to generate a decent amount of ownership, so if you want to be contrarian, pivoting to Jackson or rookie Joshua Kelley ($4,300) could be a way to get a leg up in a large-field tournament.

Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles ($6,300)

If Miles Sanders is genuinely the guy, as announced by head coach Doug Pederson, then his Week 1 price is an absolute steal. In DFS, we want as many running backs who see three-down work and around 20 touches per game.

We saw Sanders get that workload at the end of 2019 and deliver a top-five fantasy performance. Factor in the favorable matchup against Washington, who Sanders absolutely dusted for over 35 fantasy points on 25 touches in 2019, and he needs to be locked-and-loaded across all lineup builds.

Johnathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts ($5,700)

The Indianapolis Colts running backs might have the juiciest of all matchups Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. For that reason, this might be the lowest price we see on Johnathan Taylor in 2020. 

In 2019, the Jags ranked bottom-five in explosive rushing plays allowed (29th), rushing first downs allowed (28th), rushing yards allowed (28th), rushing yards after contact allowed (28th) and rushing yards allowed per attempt (31st).

They traded Calais Campbell — who was PFF’s second-highest-graded run defender — and it looks incredibly likely that they'll also be without the services of disgruntled defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.

The Colts want to use a hot-hand approach when deploying Taylor alongside Marlon Mack ($5,300), which to me sounds like we are just one long JT run away from him completely taking over. Mack has had his chances to produce behind an elite offensive line but has been nothing more than just average.

Mack ranked outside the top-20 running backs in PFF grading the past two seasons, and he greatly benefitted from his two games last season against the Jaguars — 20 percent of his total fantasy points came in those games.

Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets ($5,600)

Le’Veon Bell’s price on DraftKings for Week 1 is lower than any salary he had in 2019. That makes him the cheapest three-down running back you can roster.

The matchup on paper is neutral, with the Bills ranking 17th versus running backs per PFF’s strength of schedule tool. But, looking specifically at Bell, this could be the perfect spot for him.

In 2019, Bell had only three games with multiple carries of 10 yards or longer — two came against the Bills. He also averaged 5.5 catches in the two matchups against his division rival.

Bell looks like a secure bet to pay off his low price come Week 1 — he scored double-digit fantasy points in all but two games in 2019 despite all the struggles the Jets’ offense endured.  

Wide Receivers

Oct 20, 2019; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard (13) stretches to catch a deep pass in the third quarter during the game against the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles ($4,900)

In this world, nothing is certain except death, taxes and DeSean Jackson going bonkers in Week 1 of any given NFL season. Jackson has six 100-yard receiving outings in Week 1 games over his career.

One of those games was last season versus Washington, and with that same team on the schedule this year, it’s not outlandish to project a repeat performance. After all, Washington's secondary has changed — but not for the better.

Cornerback Quinton Dunbar was by far the highest-graded player (89.5) in Washington’s secondary in 2019, and he was traded to the Seahawks in exchange for a mid-round pick. In his place, the team signed a familiar face in cornerback Ronald Darby.

Among cornerbacks with at least 400 snaps played in 2019, Darby’s coverage grade (39.8) ranked second-to-last among 102 qualifying cornerbacks. To make matters worse (for Darby), the deep ball destroyed him — he allowed the second-most 20-plus yard receptions and yards at the cornerback position.

Washington’s weakness against the vertical passing game also makes rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor ($4,300) an enticing option.

Allen Lazard, Green Bay Packers ($4,900)

The Minnesota Vikings defense is not what it was during its glory days, and you should take full advantage of it. They have gone through a complete overhaul, especially in the secondary, so targeting receivers on their schedule is a smart strategy, as they are going to be reliant on rookie defensive backs.

That starts with the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 with Allen Lazard. Lazard saw season-highs in both receptions (five) and targets (nine) in his last game against the Vikings, and that should continue with him established as the No. 2 wide receiver behind Davante Adams.

Also consider that Lazard sees a worthy amount of money touches in the offense — his high end-zone and deep-target share is being overlooked.

Tight Ends

New York Jets tight end Chris Herndon (89) rushes against the New York Giants. The Jets face the Giants in the first preseason game at MetLife Stadium on Thursday, August 8, 2019, in East Rutherford.

Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons ($4,300)

There is a good chance we see a shootout in Atlanta Week 1 between the Falcons and Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks can’t rush the passer, and with Matt Ryan un-pressured he is going to shred the Seahawks' base defense. The offensive onslaught will force Seattle to “shine the Bat light” and let quarterback Russell Wilson get them back in the game.

The high-scoring environment is favorable for fantasy, so grabbing pieces of both offenses is highly recommended. It’s going to be challenging to get all the big-name receivers like Julio Jones ($7,700), Tyler Lockett ($6,500), Calvin Ridley ($6,100) and D.K. Metcalf ($5,800) into your lineup.

Getting an ancillary piece like Hayden Hurst is a great way to get exposure to this game, and the matchup could be sneaky good for the Falcons’ new tight end.

As I wrote in my Hayden Hurst breakout piece, if Seattle decides to play man coverage on Hurst in their base Cover 3 defense, it’s going to be a long day for the Seahawks’ defense. Hurst’s PFF receiving grade vs. man coverage (82.9) ranked fifth among tight ends with at least 10 targets.

Additionally, former Falcons tight end Austin Hooper absolutely destroyed Cover 3 last season, ranking fourth in receptions, fourth in yards, fourth in yards after the catch, sixth in yards per route run and earning the third-highest receiving grade (90.7).

You might think the addition of safety Jamal Adams could slow down Hurst — his PFF coverage grade (87.3) ranked seventh-best among safeties — but it will be Adams’ first live-action with this defense, so a blown assignment would not be outrageous to see.

Chris Herndon, New York Jets ($3,300)

The price to pay for the services of Chris Herndon is egregiously low. He’s the same price as tight ends Tyler Eifert and Nick Boyle. Head coach Adam Gase already announced that Herndon is the starter over returning veteran Ryan Griffin, and the chemistry that Herndon showed with Sam Darnold during his rookie campaign is a reason to buy into a solid Week 1 effort.

Herndon’s yards per route run (1.63), receiver rating (126.8) and PFF receiving grade (80.3) all rank No. 2 among all receivers with at least 25 targets from Darnold. The Buffalo Bills matchup in Week 1 is not ideal — they have been strong against the tight end — but for the bottom-dollar price for a player that saw a 20% target rate on routes run during the second half of 2018, it’s too much value to pass up.

Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills ($3,900)

The Jets don’t have Jamal Adams anymore, but that is not reflected in DraftKings' seventh-most difficult matchup rank for Dawson Knox in Week 1. PFF’s strength of schedule considers this and adjusts the matchup from seventh-worst to third-best.

Knox won’t be someone I look for in a cash game setting, but in GPP — where he could deliver big-play upside at low ownership — I will be targeting him all day long. 

The Bills tight end ranked seventh in aDOT (10.1) and second in yards per reception (13.9) among tight ends with at least 25 targets, showcasing his big-play upside with quarterback Josh Allen.

Defense/Special Teams

Los Angeles Chargers ($2,800)

Even if the Chargers weren’t playing a rookie quarterback starting in his first NFL game, they would still be a viable option in DFS. The Chargers’ defense is strong across the board with Chris Harris Jr, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Derwin James and Casey Hayward Jr.

But, lucky for us, they get the luxury of facing off against quarterback Joe Burrow. Even if the rookie holds his own in his debut, mistakes are going to happen against a stout group of defensive playmakers.

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