Thanksgiving is here, and the NFL is still on pace for a record-breaking campaign with an average of 24.2 points per game per team. Eat some pie, loosen your belt and enjoy a three-game Turkey Day slate while spending time with people you can barely tolerate.
The action kicks off on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. ET.
In this special, Thanksgiving breakdown, I’m looking at two players per position at the top of the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
After this piece is published, FantasyLabs is likely to provide news updates on a number of players. Stay ahead of your competition with our industry-leading DFS-focused news feed.
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- Drew Brees: $6,700 DraftKings; $9,000 FanDuel
- Dak Prescott: $5,100 DraftKings; $7,400 FanDuel
Drew Brees: New Orleans Saints (-13) vs. Atlanta Falcons, 60 Over/Under
Remember last year when people thought Brees had a bad season, even though he completed an NFL-record 72.0% of his passes? He’s upped the ante this year with an outrageous league-high 76.9% completion rate. On top of that, his 2017 touchdown rate of 4.3% has progressed to 7.5% this year.
Entering the season, Brees had been a top-six fantasy quarterback every single year since joining the Saints in 2006 — except for last season. Unsurprisingly, he has reclaimed his top-six status this year and is once again producing at a prolific rate.
It’s hard to identify an area of the passing game in which Brees is deficient. He doesn’t air it out often, but he leads the league with his 139.8 QB Rating on deep passes (Pro Football Focus). He has an NFL-high completion rate of 76.5% without play action.
Possessing one of the quickest releases in the league, Brees leads all quarterbacks with his 82.6% completion rate when holding the ball for no more than 2.5 seconds in the pocket — and no passer gets rid of the ball within that time span more frequently than Brees does with his 64.3% rate. He’s exceeded his expected completion percentage by an NFL-best 9.9% margin (Next Gen Stats).
Winners of nine games in a row, the Saints are +200 favorites to win the Super Bowl. With an NFL-best 37.8 points per game, the Saints are the No. 1 team in The Action Network NFL Power Ratings. Coming off a 363-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Eagles, Brees is in peak form. He’s now a -210 favorite to win the MVP Award.
There is some marginal cause for concern with Brees in that he has averaged only 28.8 pass attempts per game since the return of running back Mark Ingram (suspension). While that number is likely deflated because of the small sample, there’s no doubt that in the Ingram-Alvin Kamara era, Brees has seen his passing volume decline.
- 2006-16, pre-Ingram & Kamara (174 games): 39.9 pass attempts, 309.0 yards and 2.22 touchdowns passing
- 2017-18, Kamara only (four games): 40.3 pass attempts, 323.8 yards and two touchdowns passing
- 2017-18, Ingram & Kamara (22 games): 32.3 pass attempts, 273.1 yards and 1.82 touchdowns passing
With Ingram, Brees this season has averaged 278.2 yards passing per game. It’s alarming that Brees has been so negatively impacted by the presence of his longtime back. Since Ingram’s return, the Saints have a 55.1% rush rate, which would lead the league if extrapolated over the entire season.
But Brees is still in a great spot as a significant home favorite at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (the Coors Field of fantasy football). An incredibly fantasy-friendly venue, the Superdome has an A-graded 58-41-2 over/under record with Brees, good for a 14.6% return on investment for over bettors since 2006, when Brees joined the Saints (per Bet Labs).
In the Superdome, Brees is one of the best home quarterbacks in the league.
Additionally, Brees has a great matchup against the Falcons, whom he has the pleasure of playing twice per year. When he faced them in Week 3, he scored a slate-high 43.5 DraftKings points with a ridiculous 396-3-0 passing and 3-7-2 rushing performance. In his seven previous games against the Falcons under defensive-minded head coach Dan Quinn, Brees has averaged 323.9 yards passing per start.
The Falcons defense is dead last in the league with a 20.9% mark in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, and it has allowed a top-two mark of 25.4 DraftKings points per game to quarterbacks. Every quarterback to face the Falcons this year has passed for either 300 yards or three touchdowns except for the backup Nick Foles in Week 1 and the pass-averse Prescott last week.
The Falcons defense has suffered a rash of injuries: Free safety Keanu Neal (knee, injured reserve) and strong safety Ricardo Allen (Achilles, IR) are out. Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant (thigh) and Robert Alford (foot) and safety Damontae Kazee (shoulder) have been limited in practice this week and are questionable. Most importantly, middle linebacker Deion Jones (foot) is yet to practice in full even though he was activated from IR last week. He’s tentatively expected to play on Thanksgiving, but he very well could sit one more game. Monitor Jones’ status on Thursday.
The Saints are also dealing with injuries. Left tackle Terron Armstead (shoulder) is almost certain not to play, but left guard Andrus Peat (hip), center Max Unger (quad) and right guard Larry Warford (concussion) have all practiced this week and seem likely to suit up. For Brees, the real question is whether dynamic rookie wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith (foot) will be able to play. He missed practice on both Monday and Tuesday.
But even without Smith, Brees should roll. The Saints are implied for an outrageous slate-high 36.25 points, and Brees has position-high median, ceiling and floor projections in our Models.
On Thursday night, I might look to bet the over on Brees’ passing yardage prop. In his 13 home starts with wide receiver Michael Thomas, he’s averaged 310.5 yards passing per game. To find the best bets in the props market, use our Player Props Tool, which is powered by our industry-leading projections. Since Week 1, the props with a bet quality of 10 have gone 187-89-8, good for a 66% win rate.
Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
Brees is the No. 1 quarterback in the Koerner and SportsGeek Models for both DraftKings and FanDuel.
Dak Prescott: Dallas Cowboys (-7) vs. Washington Redskins, 40.5 O/U
Since the Cowboys traded for wide receiver Amari Cooper, Dak has been much more efficient. Before Cooper, he averaged 6.8 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A). With Coop, he’s averaged a 7.4 AY/A.
But that efficiency hasn’t translated into much more production.
- With Cooper (Weeks 9-11): 17.8 DraftKings points, 240.3 yards and one touchdown passing, 0.33 interceptions, 8.3 yards and 0.67 touchdowns rushing
- Without Cooper (Weeks 1-7): 17.0 DraftKings points, 202.4 yards and 1.14 touchdowns passing, 0.57 interceptions, 33.7 yards and 0.29 touchdowns rushing
This, though, could be the week Dak has his Coop-accompanied breakout. Historically, Dak has been at his best as a home favorite, averaging 20.7 DraftKings points per game with a solid +3.63 Plus/Minus and 73.3% Consistency Rating.
Dak’s splits as a home favorite are quite notable.
- Home favorite (15 games): 239.4 yards and 1.60 touchdown passing, 0.40 interceptions, 25.9 yards and 0.40 touchdowns rushing
- All other situations (27 games): 204.1 yards and 1.19 touchdowns passing, 0.59 interceptions, 18.9 yards and 0.37 touchdowns rushing
As a home favorite, Dak has only once been cheaper than he is now: Week 1, 2016 — his first NFL game. He’s in an excellent buy-low spot.
Then again …
It’s almost Thanksgiving, which means it’s time to eat pie and remember that the #Cowboys are 0-7 against the spread on Turkey Day with Jason Garrett as the full-time head coach.
They’ve failed to cover by 10.44 points per game.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) November 21, 2018
Is it a tad troubling that the Cowboys are literally 0-7 against the spread on Thanksgiving under Garrett as a full-time coach? Is it alarming that they’ve failed to cover the spread by a horrible 10.44 points per game? Is it necessary for me to keep on asking rhetorical questions in this way?
You bet it is.
But the Cowboys have one massive factor in their favor: The Redskins are one of the most injured teams in the league. On offense, their injuries are legion.
- QB Alex Smith: Leg, IR
- WR Jamison Crowder: Ankle, questionable – out since Week 6
- WR Paul Richardson: Shoulder, IR
- RB Chris Thompson: Ribs, questionable – out since Week 9
- LT Trent Williams: Thumb, questionable – out since Week 9
- LG Shawn Lauvao: knee, IR
- RG Brandon Scherff: pectoral, IR
Without their starting quarterback, two best wide receivers, best pass-catching back and at least two starting offensive linemen, the Redskins could struggle to sustain drives, which in turn could put more pressure on their defense and make it more vulnerable.
On top of that, the Redskins will likely be without cornerback Quinton Dunbar (shin), who missed Weeks 7 and 8, exited Week 9 after aggravating his leg injury and sat out Weeks 10-11. The Redskins have struggled mightily to replace him on the outside.
For Weeks 7-10, Dunbar was replaced by the combination of Greg Stroman and Danny Johnson — rookies who respectively entered the league as seventh-round and undrafted roster fodder. Collectively, they have allowed a 27-444-3 receiving line on 38 targets. Last week, the Redskins moved cornerback Fabian Moreau from the slot to the outside, and they moved Stroman to the slot.
Regardless of how the Redskins deploy them on Thursday, Dak will likely have numerous opportunities to exploit corners who are either inexperienced or playing out of position.
On top of that, it’s probable that the Redskins will use Josh Norman in shadow coverage against Cooper for much of the game. Although they have been reluctant in previous seasons to employ their No. 1 corner in this way, over the past month they’ve finally let their top corner tail four of the top receivers in the game: Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones, Mike Evans and DeAndre Hopkins. Norman was an All-Pro in 2015, but those days are long gone: The receiving quartet combined for a 23-364-2 stat line on 33 targets.
If the Redskins have Norman shadow Cooper, that actually might benefit Dak, who’s the No. 1 DraftKings quarterback in five of our Models and the No. 1 FanDuel quarterback in three of them.
Model Running Backs
- Ezekiel Elliott: $8,600 DraftKings; $8,700 FanDuel
- Alvin Kamara: $8,300 DraftKings; $8,900 FanDuel
Ezekiel Elliott: Dallas Cowboys (-7) vs. Washington Redskins, 40.5 O/U
Only Todd Gurley (253) has more touches this season than Zeke’s 233. And like Gurley, Elliott is a non-injury lock to get 18-plus opportunities per game. Since he entered the league in 2016, Zeke is the only back to average more than 100 yards rushing per game with his 101.9 mark, and he leads the NFL this year with his 38.2% usage market share.
While the Cooper addition hasn’t significantly impacted Dak’s fantasy production, it has coincided with a major enhancement in Zeke’s per-game performance.
- With Cooper (Weeks 9-11): 25.5 FanDuel points, 19.7 rushes, 6.7 targets, 5.7 receptions, 166.7 yards and one touchdown
- Without Cooper (Weeks 1-7): 16.3 FanDuel points, 18.9 rushes, 5.1 targets, 3.6 receptions, 113.4 and 0.57 touchdowns
Although Zeke had an embarrassing Week 7 road performance against the Redskins, totaling just 42 scoreless yards on 15 carries and six targets, that was in the pre-Cooper era, and now Zeke is a home favorite. He should see his touches against a Redskins funnel defense that ranks eighth against the pass (-2.7% DVOA) and 28th against the run (0.4%).
Elliott has a position-high 96% Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where he leads all backs with his median and floor projections and is the No. 1 back in the Bales, CSURAM88, Koerner and Freedman Models.
Alvin Kamara: New Orleans Saints (-13) vs. Atlanta Falcons, 60 O/U
Kamara is the slate’s smash back. He leads the position with nine DraftKings and 16 FanDuel Pro Trends. While Zeke might be the safer option thanks to his locked-in volume, Kamara has the higher ceiling projections: When he faced the Falcons in Week 3, he put up 37.0 DraftKings points and 190 yards on 16 carries, 20 targets and 15 receptions.
Kamara clearly won’t see that kind of usage in this game because of the presence of Ingram, but he should still be plenty productive. The Falcons are 31st in rush defense (6.1% DVOA) and 26th in pass defense against running backs (14.4%). In fact, the Falcons have allowed a league-high 38.0 DraftKings points per game to opposing backfields this year, and no team has been more generous to running backs through the air since 2015, yielding an NFL-high 430 receptions to the position.
With Kamara, the question is always how many snaps and touches he’ll lose to Ingram.
Last year, after Adrian Peterson was traded to the Cardinals in Week 6, Kamara played 14 games with Ingram (including the playoffs). For the first four games of this season, Kamara had the backfield to himself, and then Ingram returned in Week 5 to split the backfield once again. Kamara’s various opportunity and production splits are telling:
- With Ingram (2017, Weeks 6-19, 14 games): 21.7 DraftKings points, nine carries, 5.9 targets, 4.7 receptions, 104.4 yards and 0.93 touchdowns from scrimmage
- Without Ingram (2018, Weeks 1-4, four games): 36.3 DraftKings points, 14 carries, 11.8 targets, 8.8 receptions, 152.8 yards and 1.5 touchdowns from scrimmage
- With Ingram (2018, Weeks 5-11, six games): 21.1 DraftKings points, 13.3 carries, 4.2 targets, 3.5 receptions, 86 yards and 1.5 touchdowns from scrimmage
On the one hand, Kamara’s per-game production has plummeted since the first month of the season, and his per-touch efficiency has been masked by a high touchdown rate that seems unsustainable. On the other hand, his 2018 fantasy production with Ingram is nearly identical to that of 2017.
Although Ingram is always likely to get 10-16 touches per game, Kamara is clearly the playmaker in the committee. In a split backfield, he lacks the opportunities necessary to produce as he did in Weeks 1-4, but Kamara has the capacity to score 25-plus DraftKings points in any given game.
Kamara is the No. 1 DraftKings and FanDuel back in the Levitan, Raybon and SportsGeek Models.
Model Wide Receivers
- Michael Thomas: $8,900 DraftKings; $8,800 FanDuel
- Tre’Quan Smith: $4,700 DraftKings; $6,400 FanDuel
Michael Thomas: New Orleans Saints (-13) vs. Atlanta Falcons, 60 O/U
Clearly, the Saints are the team to stack on Thanksgiving.
Ironically, the Falcons have been so bad against the run that they’ve managed to hold opposing wide receivers to a league-low 20.4 FanDuel points per game — but that definitely doesn’t mean they are good in pass defense or that Thomas isn’t likely to dominate. In Week 3, he put up 17.9 FanDuel points against them with a 10-129-0 receiving line on 10 targets.
In his five career games against the Falcons, Thomas has averaged 18.5 FanDuel points with a +7.50 Plus/Minus and 80% Consistency Rating on 107.8 yards, 0.6 touchdowns, 10.8 targets and 8.2 receptions per game.
In 2016-17, Thomas had more receptions (196) than any other NFL receiver in history has had in his first two seasons. And this season Thomas has been even more dominant. Through 10 games, Thomas has almost as many touchdowns (eight) as incomplete targets (nine) — and he’s been targeted 91 times. His 90.1% catch rate is transgressively high, and he’s tied for the league lead this year with four games of 10-plus receptions.
Trailing only Julio Jones with his average of 104.2 yards per game, Thomas is aggressively lining up all over the formation — 272 snaps wide left, 166 wide right and 157 in the slot — and the Saints are strategically scheming each game to get the ball to their alpha receiver, who has teamed up with quarterback Drew Brees for an elite 12.4 AY/A.
Thomas is expensive, but he leads the position with his median and ceiling projections and is worth the investment. If you roster Thomas in guaranteed prize pools, you might want to use our Lineup Builder to stack Thomas with Brees. Together, Thomas and Brees have a significant 0.60 correlation.
Thomas leads the position with eight Pro Trends and a 98% Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where he’s the unanimous No. 1 wide receiver in our Pro Models.
Tre’Quan Smith: New Orleans Saints (-13) vs. Atlanta Falcons, 60 O/U
As mentioned earlier, Smith (foot) is uncertain to play, having missed practice on both Monday and Tuesday. If active, he will be a high-upside option for risk-seeking roster constructions. Smith is coming off a dominant 10-157-1 receiving performance on 13 targets, but the game before that he had literally zero targets even though he played 66.7% of the snaps. In any given game, he has the potential to score anywhere from zero to 30 DraftKings points.
Here’s what I said about the rookie playmaker in Smith’s 2018 NFL Draft prospect profile.
Smith is the type of receiver I tend to like more than most draft analysts. Smith has received so little hype that I expect him to be a Day 3 prospect, but he has significant Day 2 potential.
After redshirting in 2014, Smith emerged as the team’s top pass catcher in 2015. Although the Knights were awful, Smith led the team with 52 receptions, 724 yards, and four touchdowns, capturing 32.2% and 30.8% of the receiving yards and touchdowns. He progressed in 2016 with 57 receptions, 853 yards, and five touchdowns, and last year he turned into one of the most dominant receivers in the country: He was first among all draft-eligible wide receivers with a 142.9 passer rating when targeted (Pro Football Focus), and even though he was often targeted downfield — he was third in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 16 deep receptions of 20-plus yards — he still managed to catch an outstanding 71.1% of his total targets for 1,171 yards, and 13 touchdowns.
Even if he’s selected in the middle rounds, Smith has the potential to produce like a second-rounder thanks to his physicality and ability to make plays all over the field.
As I noted in my 2018 post-draft dynasty rookie rankings, Smith is an athletic and productive receiver and, more importantly, a skill-position player selected by Saints HC Sean Payton with a top-100 pick. Here are all of the other backs, receivers and tight ends Payton has selected with a top-100 pick for the Saints.
- RB Reggie Bush (2006, 1.02)
- WR Robert Meachem (2007, 1.27)
- TE Jimmy Graham (2010, 3.95)
- RB Mark Ingram (2011, 1.28)
- WR Brandin Cooks (2014, 1.20)
- WR Michael Thomas (2016, 2.47)
- RB Alvin Kamara (2017, 3.67)
Every single one of those players has had at least one fantasy-relevant campaign.
Smith is highly likely to have a sustained season of success at some point (#HouseSlytherin). With a player like that, it’s almost always worth having at least a little tournament exposure in the event of an eruption.
If Smith is unable to play on Thanksgiving, backup wide receivers Keith Kirkwood and Austin Carr will warrant strong consideration as injury fill-ins.
Smith is the No. 1 DraftKings wide receiver in the Levitan, Koerner, SportsGeek and Freedman Models.
Model Tight Ends
- Austin Hooper: $4,200 DraftKings; $5,800 FanDuel
- Trey Burton: $4,000 DraftKings; $6,400 FanDuel
Austin Hooper: Atlanta Falcons (+13) at New Orleans Saints, 60 O/U
The Saints are 27th overall with a PFF coverage grade of 65.1, but they are fourth in pass defense against tight ends (-28.7% DVOA) and have held the position to a bottom-three mark of 6.5 FanDuel points per game. When Hooper played the Saints in Week 3, he disappointed with 5.8 FanDuel points and 3-23-0 receiving on four targets.
But the slate is thin at the position, and after a slow first month of the season, Hooper has become a regular contributor to the offense. Over the past six games, he’s averaged 10.5 FanDuel points, 53.3 yards and 0.33 touchdowns on eight targets and 6.3 receptions per game. In three of those games, he actually had double-digit targets.
In fact, since Week 5, Hooper is second on the team to only wide receiver Julio Jones with his 48 targets, 38 receptions, 320 yards receiving and 302 air yards.
Hooper leads the position with six Pro Trends on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 tight end in the CSURAM88, Koerner, Raybon and SportsGeek Models.
Trey Burton: Chicago Bears (-3.5) at Detroit Lions, 44.5 O/U
Burton is coming off a massively disappointing performance in which he had just one target, and he’s had more than six targets in a game just once this year, but he’s the No. 7 fantasy tight end with 11.1 DraftKings points per game, hitting his salary-based expectations at a 70% rate. Discounting his three duds — the only games in which he’s failed to hit the 20-yard threshold — Burton has hit 14.6 DraftKings points per game: When Burton is involved in the game, he produces.
It’s perhaps not a coincidence that Burton had his worst performance of the year the same week that tight end Adam Shaheen made his season debut after missing the first 10 weeks of the season with a foot injury. But Shaheen (concussion) suffered a head injury in Week 11 and is yet to practice this week. He seems very unlikely to play on Thanksgiving, so Burton should have all of the tight end opportunities to himself once again.
Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder) is also yet to practice this week, and he increasingly seems unlikely to play. Backup Chase Daniel is a 10-year veteran who has familiarity with HC Matt Nagy’s system and hasn’t been awful in his two career spot starts. It’s possible that he could rely on the tight end more than usual, and it’s also possible that he might not be as big of a downgrade from Trubisky as expected.
The Lions offer an enticing matchup for Burton. The Lions have the league’s second-worst PFF coverage grade at 50.7, and against tight ends in particular they are 29th in pass defense (32.7% DVOA). Strong safety Quandre Diggs and free safety Glover Quin have combined to allow a 75% catch rate in their coverage.
Lining up in the slot and out wide on 51.2% of his snaps and facing a secondary that could be more vulnerable than usual given the lingering injury to No. 1 cornerback Darius Slay (knee), Burton has significant upside: He leads the team with five receiving touchdowns, nine red-zone targets and seven targets inside the 10-yard line.
Burton leads the position with five Pro Trends on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 tight end in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan, Koerner and Raybon Models.
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Pictured above: Drew Brees
Photo credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports