News & Analysis

Thanksgiving Day DFS Preview: Breaking down the Thursday DraftKings DFS fantasy football slate

Thanksgiving is objectively the best holiday of the year. The entire event is centered around food and football; what more could you possibly want, people?

OK, fine. Gambling and playing daily fantasy sports is an additional solid way to complement the sort of mid-day napping and day drinking that is typically encouraged on this special day.

Any day is a great day to win a million dollars. Why not give it a shot Thursday? What follows are my thoughts on the Thanksgiving Day DraftKings slate.

Editor's note: This article was published before the cancellation of the Thanksgiving Day matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Be sure to stay on top of fantasy football Week 12 by checking out PFF Fantasy's rankingsprojections, strength of schedule toolWR/CB matchup charts and DFS lineup optimizer!

Dual-threat quarterbacks and meals should be trusted on Thanksgiving

There’s a fairly large discrepancy in production this season between the slate’s dual-threat and more-stationary QBs:

I’ll be looking to build the majority of my lineups around Watson considering the opportunity to save money elsewhere in the lineup. He’s truly playing better than ever despite not having 1) DeAndre Hopkins, and 2) a real head coach. He was absolutely brilliant in Week 11, earning PFF’s highest grade at the position on his way to throwing for 344 yards, two scores and zero interceptions against Bill Belichick and company. The dual-threat talent also chipped in a 6-36-1 rushing line, functioning as the best player on the field for essentially 60 straight minutes.

The likes of Mitchell Trubisky (24.3 fantasy points), Philip Rivers (22.3), Kyler Murray (21.7) and Kirk Cousins (20.8) managed to clear 20 fantasy points against this Lions defense with ease. Watson is PFF’s third highest-graded QB since the Texans fired Bill O’Brien; he’s locked in as a top-five signal-caller against the league’s 28th-ranked scoring defense. For Thanksgiving, he deserves to be the highest-priced option, and stacks with the Texans’ various pass-catchers should be prioritized as the base of most lineups in tournament and cash games alike.

My quick thoughts on the slate’s other QBs are as follows:

  • Jackson has at least 50 rushing yards in five consecutive games. This passing offense as a whole has clearly regressed from 2019 to 2020, but we’ve still seen the league’s QB11 in fantasy points per game return top-12 value more weeks than not thanks to this sky-high rushing floor. Since the Ravens’ Week 7 bye only Dalvin Cook (109 carries), Derrick Henry (86), Josh Jacobs (84), James Robinson (65), Damien Harris (63) and Ezekiel Elliott (58) have more total rushing attempts than Jackson (53). The Steelers certainly boast the personnel to make life miserable for Jackson; just realize he’s the first or second-most fantasy-friendly QB in the league when things are clicking.
  • Roethlisberger and this Steelers offense have largely shifted from a run-first attack to a pass-first unit happy to attack defenses of all shapes and sizes with their trio of talented wide receivers. The result has been plenty of volume for Big Ben: He’s thrown 49, 32, 42, 46 and 46 times over the past five weeks, with the latter two performances coming in blowout wins. The problem: There’s still no rushing floor here, and Big Ben’s average target depth of just 8.4 yards remains tied for the lowest mark of his career. The Ravens hasn’t allowed more than 250 passing yards in a game since Week 4. I’d rather fire darts at the Steelers’ skill-position talents than actively build lineups around Roethlisberger.
  • Stafford has been a significantly less fantasy-friendly version of himself without No. 1 Kenny Golladay (hip) in action. When you also take away Stafford’s underneath threats in Danny Amendola (hip) and D’Andre Swift (concussion), you get the zero points that this offense produced in Week 11. The Texans are one of just six defenses to allow at least 7.9 yards per attempt this season; the matchup is nothing to fear. Still, Stafford isn’t a recommended tournament option if so many key weapons remain sidelined. If one of Golladay or Swift are able to return: fire away.
  • Dalton tossed a trio of scores in the Cowboys’ Week 11 win over the Vikings, although we didn’t ever really see him have to deal with pressure. Overall, Joe Burrow was pressured by this Washington defense on four of 34 dropbacks (12%) in Week 11 compared to 34 of 98 (35%) in Weeks 1-10. Don’t count on Dalton being afforded the same sort of time this week against Chase Young and company.
  • Smith threw the ball 55 times in Week 10, but Week 11’s 25 pass attempts seemed more in line with what we should expect from this offense more weeks than not. This version of Smith doesn’t possess anything resembling a rushing floor, and there just isn’t much room for passing upside when you have the league’s lowest average target depth by a full half yard. Smith is a great real-life comeback story that is capable of driving his offense up and down the field against the Cowboys’ continuously suspect defense; just don’t expect anything resembling high-end production for one of the league’s perennial least fantasy-friendly QBs.

The slate’s toughest decision: To what extent will Zeke eat this turkey day?

Zeke and the Cowboys are (kinda) rolling with Andy Dalton back under center. There are $90 million reasons for Dallas to continue to hand Elliott a workhorse role, but whether or not you should fork over the $6,800 required to roster him on Thanksgiving is another story.

Ultimately, I think the decision is a resounding yes. Zeke carries the slate’s highest touch floor/ceiling combination and finds himself a good $1,000 cheaper than we saw during the early weeks of the season. The Cowboys’ banged-up offensive line could struggle to consistently protect Dalton, but the Football Team actually boasts the league’s 10th-worst defense in yards before contact allowed per rush.

Deciding where else we want to sprinkle ownership is a bit more of a conversation. Gus Edwards ($4,000) is shaping up to be the chalkiest play on the slate with Mark Ingram (covid) and J.K. Dobbins (covid) both sidelined. We have an 11-game sample size of him functioning as the Ravens’ starting RB without Ingram involved:

  • 17 carries-115 rush yards-1 TD, 62% snaps
  • 23-118-0, 61%
  • 21-82-0, 49%
  • 16-67-0, 44%
  • 19-104-1, 43%
  • 14-92-0, 37%
  • 12-76-0, 47%
  • 8-23-0, 34%
  • 21-130-0, 68%
  • 16-87-1, 32%
  • 11-23-1, 38%

It seems likely that Edwards will flirt with 15-20 touches; just realize the Ravens have consistently refrained from giving Gus the Bus a true three-down role due to his limitations as a pass-down threat. This means that we should expect Justice Hill ($4,000) to play anywhere from 30-60% of the offense’s snaps. It’s not an outrageous proposition; Hill (47 snaps) played more total snaps than Ingram (28) and Edwards (18) combined in the Ravens’ AFC Divisional Round loss to the Titans last season. This role only produced five targets, so don’t confuse this usage as viable for season-long fantasy, but he could be out there for a good chunk of the game and is a solid galaxy brain GPP dart throw.

D’Andre Swift (concussion) looks to be on track to miss another week of action. The Lions embraced a two-RB backfield in Week 11 with Swift sidelined. Kerryon Johnson essentially had his usual role while also taking on Swift’s pass-down work. Adrian Peterson continued to see the majority of the offense’s early-down work. Their home matchup against the Texans’ 30th-ranked defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing RBs is certainly a winnable spot, although it’s tough to have any level of faith in this Lions offense at the moment. Ultimately, I’d rather throw a dart at Johnson in the hopes that he receives the most touches in a matchup projected to feature a negative game script for the Lions, but don’t be afraid to mostly fade this group.

Fading the Lions and Ravens as a whole doesn’t seem like the worst idea this week. Additionally, I question James Conner's ceiling in this newfound pass-first Steelers offense. He’s struggled to reach even 15 touches in blowout wins over the past two weeks; a more neutral game script could leave fantasy investors awfully disappointed.

Surrounding Zeke with 1) J.D. McKissic ($5,100) and/or 2) Duke Johnson ($5,700) is my preferred strategy at RB on this slate. Non-Zeke lineups should certainly stack the Football Team defense with Antonio Gibson ($6,000); just realize if Zeke gets an ideal positive game script, that will likely set up better for McKissic to eat targets in comeback mode. Yes, Duke hasn’t lived up to expectations over the past two weeks. Also yes, the Lions have allowed more PPR points per game to opposing RBs than any other defense.

Affordable receivers are everywhere; they’re the Black Friday of this slate

Despite constant turnover under center and mostly bad play from whoever is there, Terry McLaurin ($7,000) has done nothing except ball out all season. The Rams held him to a 3-26-0 performance in Week 5, but otherwise McLaurin has caught at least four passes for 60 yards in every game this season. He scored in both career matchups against the Cowboys’ 31st-ranked defense in PPR points per game allowed to the position. McLaurin deserves to be the highest-priced and highest-projected WR on the slate.

We also shouldn’t sleep on Cam Sims as a tournament dart throw. The third-year receiver has started and played at least 70% of the offense’s snaps in four straight weeks. Sims has been targeted just 12 times during this stretch; he’s a long-shot dart throw at $3,300 this week. Still, he’s proven capable of making something out of nothing; only Deebo Samuel (13.3) and Richie James (11.7) have averaged more yards after the catch per reception than Sims (9.2) among all WRs with at least 15 targets this season. Don’t go crazy here, but Sims is a good complement to Zeke lineups due to this potential for enhanced target share if the Cowboys find a way to build a lead.

It’s tougher to get behind the Cowboys’ passing game against the league’s single-best defense in fewest PPR points per game allowed to opposing WRs. However, Washington has allowed 7.22 yards per attempt on targets into the slot compared to 8.6 on the outside. I like the idea of backing Amari Cooper ($5,700) over CeeDee Lamb ($5,400), while Michael Gallup ($3,500) has the sort of boom-or-bust field-stretching role that lends itself nicely to dart throws in tournaments.

Each of Marquise Brown ($4,700), Willie Snead ($4,300) and Dez Bryant ($3,600) are tournament darts at best considering the reality that 1) this Ravens passing game is only having success going to Mark Andrews ($5,200), and 2) the Steelers present the toughest matchup on the slate. At some point the artist known as Hollywood will cash in on a deep ball, but I’d rather take my chances with Gallup considering the latter receiver probably has a higher potential range of outcomes than any Ravens WR at the moment.

Marvin Jones ($5,500) will be one of my highest-owned players on the slate if Kenny Golladay ($6,000, hip) remains sidelined. The opposite is true if Golladay returns. These WRs combined for 20 receiving TDs in 2019, but they scored in the same game just twice. Jones has posted 4-55-0, 4-23-1, 3-39-2, 3-43-1, 8-96-1 and 4-51-0 receiving lines in six games with Golladay either sidelined or available for fewer than half of the offense’s snaps. I’d prefer to sprinkle tournament stacks featuring Stafford with one of Jones/Golladay in addition to T.J. Hockenson ($4,700) as opposed to going with both WRs.

All the previously mentioned situations are players that I believe are better off approached as one-off pieces of larger lineups consisting of the Texans and Steelers’ respectively beastly WR rooms. Big Ben’s hike in passing volume has helped enable each of Diontae Johnson ($6,200), Chase Claypool ($6,100) and JuJu Smith-Schuster ($5,900) to big games over the past month. Still, Johnson’s worst showing of the season came in Week 8 against the Ravens (1-6-0). He briefly left the game with a hamstring injury, but did play 77% of the offense’s snaps. It’s risky reading too much into this one-game sample, but I’m inclined to follow Claypool’s superior air yard potential. I’d still confidently rank both players over JuJu, who has been battling a knee injury all season and hurt his toe in Week 11.

Will Fuller ($6,400) and Brandin Cooks ($5,300) deserve to be lobbed into lineups of all shapes and sizes when the opportunity presents itself. They’ve each produced high-end fantasy production since coach Bill O’Brien was fired after Week 4:

  • Cooks: 50 targets, 37 receptions-496 yards-3 TD, PPR WR12
  • Fuller: 46 targets, 29-434-4, WR17

The absence of Randall Cobb (toe) elevates Keke Coutee ($3,400) into a starting role. He’s the cheapest option on the slate that we can feel reasonably good about getting at least five targets; just realize his ceiling is much lower in 2020 as the passing game’s No. 3 option compared to what we saw in 2018-2019 when he typically functioned as the No. 2 while playing with Fuller sidelined.

There are enough cost-saving options at WR and even RB to warrant spending up to the slate’s three-highest priced TE options in Mark Andrews ($5,200), T.J. Hockenson ($4,700) and Eric Ebron ($4,100). You could make an argument for Dalton Schultz ($3,800) or Logan Thomas ($3,500) considering they at least play near full-time roles, while Jordan Akins ($2,900) and Darren Fells ($2,700) are uber cheap but ultimately eat too much into each other’s output to be considered anything other than contrarian lineup fillers. Ebron seems like the best mixture of talent, price and value against a defense he hung a 4-48-1 line against back in Week 8.

Other appetizing notes

Combined pressure rates project Lamar Jackson and Andy Dalton to be under the most duress on Thursday, while the slate’s other four QBs are expected to face fairly clean pockets. The Football Team and Lions boast the two best matchups of the week in terms of combined yards before contact per rush; Swift should be a lock-button option if he somehow manages to clear the protocol by Thursday. … The Texans and Lions offenses are easily set up best in terms of combined EPA/play. Kenny Golladay seems to be trending towards not playing after being downgraded from limited on Monday to a DNP on Tuesday, but at least Swift and Danny Amendola managed to  get in limited practices. The Texans and Cowboys don’t appear to have any lingering injury concerns that could last until Thursday. … Antonio Gibson (ankle) was upgraded to full on Tuesday and should be good to go along with Terry McLaurin (ankle), who was limited. … Mark Andrews (thigh) is expected to play through the pain, but keep a close eye on the Ravens’ ongoing covid outbreak. … JuJu Smith-Schuster (foot) was limited on Tuesday after being a DNP on Monday; he’ll likely play, but it could be at less than 100%.

Best of luck to everybody and happy Thanksgiving!

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