In conjunction with Sean Koerner’s best-in-the-biz Tiers piece that comes out on Wednesdays, I’ll be posting this on Fridays, to highlight a few guys we like or dislike, relative to consensus. Keep in mind that everything is in regard to standard scoring, or applies to all scoring systems, unless stated otherwise. I’ll try to avoid writing too much about the guys Sean already highlighted in his piece to give you guys more variety, and hopefully season-long players and DFS Sunday players alike can gain some insight into our thinking and rankings.
High-End QB Play: Ben Roethlisberger, PIT (@ CLE)
Most experts would all agree Big Ben is a QB1 play this week, but where we differ is that we consider him a top-five option. Pittsburgh has the highest team total of the week, and barring a Mike Gillislee-esque barrage of 1-yard TD runs, Ben is sure to put serious points on the board before game script works against him. I bet he’s being undervalued due to his struggles on the road last year, which shouldn’t be the case against a pass defense that allowed 36 TDs last year – one that just lost top corner Joe Haden and that is probably missing No. 1 overall draft pick Myles Garrett. Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh D will probably be a chalky DFS stack, but the Big Ben-Antonio Brown passing stack is elite, too.
QB Sleeper: Deshone Kizer, CLE (vs. PIT)
Yes, our sleeper QB is from the same game. DeShaun Watson was the popular pick for rookie QB to come onto the scene and win fantasy matchups, a la Dak Prescott, but Kizer turned out to be the guy that seized a starting job out of camp. He looked competent in doing so and has a few things working for him this week, including: a) game script, b) an array of underrated receiving options, and c) dual-threat running ability. If you’re looking for a low-owned value play in DFS, or an emergency Jameis Winston/Andrew Luck replacement in a season-long league, know that we consider Kizer a top-20 guy this week.
QB Fade: Carson Palmer, ARI (@ DET)
Consensus considers Palmer to be a top-12 QB this week, probably due to Detroit’s points allowed to QB last season. Dig deeper into that, and you’ll see Detroit allowed the second most passing TDs and the second fewest rushing TDs. If that regresses a bit, and 1-yard TD passes become 1-yard TD runs, that pass defense looks a lot closer to average. Also, much of the damage against Detroit came in the first three weeks, when they were torn up by Aaron Rodgers and Luck, before they rattled off eight wins in the next 10 games. In a merely average matchup, on the road, we do not consider Palmer to be a QB1, and you should still start guys like Dak and Matthew Stafford over him.
High-End RB Play: Jordan Howard, CHI (vs. ATL)
The “Chicago stinks and Atlanta is good” narrative has left many of the Bears undervalued this week. In regard to the first part of that equation – yes, Chicago stinks (at least on offense), but they can’t be much worse than they were last year, when Howard rushed for over 1,300 yards. They’ll lean on the run even more on Sunday, trying to pull off the home upset via ball control and defense. In regard to the Atlanta part – despite all the games they won last year, they still allowed 105 rush yards per game, thanks to a bottom-six ranking in yards per carry allowed. Howard is a mega-talented runner, going against a mediocre run defense, in a game where his team needs to feature him in order to have a chance. After the obvious top-four RBs, he’s our next man up.
RB Sleeper: Frank Gore, IND (@ LAR)
Consensus ranks him 30th, as he’s likely to see nine-man fronts, and they may have trouble moving the ball with a rookie UFA at center. You don’t get points for yards per carry, though, and he could get enough volume to overcome these factors. He’s still one of the clearer lead backs in the NFL, and we project him for 14 carries (our 16th highest projection of the week). On that volume alone, we have him ranked above guys like Tevin Coleman and Joe Mixon, who will most likely see only 8-12 carries. Also working in his favor: The Rams without Aaron Donald will be a much less imposing defense. He’s still a RB2 and a sneaky contrarian DFS play.
RB Fade: Devonta Freeman, ATL (@ CHI)
We don’t “hate” Devonta this week (especially in PPR) – we just disagree with consensus opinion that he’s a top-five option and see him as more of a low-end RB1. He’s coming off a training camp where he didn’t get much work due to a concussion, so we see him getting a 60/40 carry split with Tevin Coleman. That’s enough to bump him down below Howard, Gurley and Murray, who have decent-to-good matchups.
High-End WR Play: DeAndre Hopkins, HOU (vs. JAX)
We’re pretty in line with consensus in regards to the elite WR1, so I had to dig a bit deeper here to find a high-end outlier. Consensus ranks DeAndre 13th among WRs this week, while we see him as a solid WR1. Yes, Jacksonville does have an underrated defense, particularly at cornerback, but DeAndre is a WR1 on volume alone this week. He saw 151 targets last year (9.4 per game), and now Houston is without Will Fuller. He’s also a great bet to catch any TD that Houston puts up, and their 22.5-point team total, while low, is still higher than 10 other teams this week. We like Hopkins as much or more than Demaryius Thomas, Michael Thomas, and T.Y. Hilton, who all have matchups and/or QB play working against them.
WR Sleeper: Marvin Jones, DET (vs. ARI)
Marvin’s consensus ranking outside the top 40 WRs implies that people seem to have forgotten just how good he was when healthy last year (82 yards per game and four TDs in the first eight games last year). He has WR2 upside whenever healthy, and it seems like Patrick Peterson is shadowing Golden Tate, potentially leaving Marvin as the open option. It adds up to a guy that we project as a solid WR3 and who has proven upside.
WR Fade: Michael Thomas, NO (@ MIN)
Again – we don’t hate Michael Thomas, and you’re starting him if you own him. We just wouldn’t invest in him in DFS, as we see him as more of a borderline WR1 than an elite option this week. New Orleans’ team total of 22.5 is one of the lowest they’ll have this season (and is the same as DeAndre’s Texans!), and Thomas’ matchup against Xavier Rhodes (and potential double teams) is really tough. Willie Snead’s suspension (and added volume for Thomas) is enough to keep him a WR1 no matter what, but the bad matchup knocks him below guys like Amari Cooper and Hopkins in our rankings.
High-End TE Play: Coby Fleener, NO (@ MIN)
But, how can we want to fade a WR and play a TE from the same team? It’s all about relative expectations – Thomas is typically ranked eighth among WRs and Fleener 14th among TEs, while we rank both around 11th at their positions. Much of Snead’s looks will transfer over to guys like Fleener and Ted Ginn Jr., who get a boost. Even in a tough matchup, Fleener gets enough of a boost to pass Hunter Henry (brutal matchup vs. Denver) and Jack Doyle (no QB), at least for this week.
Sleeper TE: Zach Miller, CHI (vs. ATL)
Chicago’s receiving corps is much-maligned. Few believe Kevin White has the tools to be a true No. 1 WR, and Kendall Wright could hardly see the field for Tennessee last year. Fair enough, but people seem to be sleeping on Miller, who displayed TE1 ability and production before getting hurt in Week 10 last year (16-game pace of 778 yards and 6.4 TDs). He may be Chicago’s most reliable pass catcher, and he could rack up volume if they have to play catchup. We see him as a top-20 option and nice emergency fill-in.
TE Fade: Eric Ebron, DET (vs. ARI)
He’s proven to be ineffective in the red zone, with six career TDs, including just one last season. He therefore relies on volume and yardage, which he’ll have a tough time getting against Arizona’s defense, especially since he’s already a bit banged up. He’s outside our top 15 this week, and in DFS we’d rather roster Miller for cheaper.
Each week, I’ll also leave you with a couple stacks I think could work in DFS – either QB/pass catcher or RB/defense. This week, the Pittsburgh stacks that I mentioned already are obviously valuable, as are Todd Gurley/Rams and LeSean McCoy/Bills. If you want a stack that may be a bit lower owned, I like Lamar Miller/Texans defense. Against Blake Bortles, Houston is an elite play, which is widely known, but this may be the rare week where Miller is also a great play. Alfred Blue is out, and the Texans are favored, meaning we project enough volume for Miller to vault him into our top-10 RBs of the week. If you want to go for an even sneakier stack, I also like Carlos Hyde/49ers defense. Hyde is an RB1 this week now that Joe Williams and Tim Hightower are out of the picture, and the 49ers defense is a top-20 option at home against a banged up (and officially “questionable”) Cam Newton.