The start of the NFL season is always an exciting time for a multitude of reasons, but the main one is: We haven’t been proven wrong yet.
We’ve all been trying to out-taek one another for the past six months while creating projections, rankings and doing our seasonal drafts. There is always an intense sense of optimism heading into Week 1 and getting into the nitty-gritty of setting lineups, making hard decisions about ownership percentages and settling on which tournaments to enter. And of course there are unforeseen circumstances such as injuries, coaching and officiating decisions, defensive/special teams touchdowns (the bane of our existence) and weather that can all change in a flash and alter what happens.
The best we can do for daily fantasy tournaments in Week 1 is try to harness some of that unpredictability in a positive way.
Several chalk plays will fall on their face this week, and we will be introduced to several players or offensive schemes that will shape the story of the 2018 season in ways that no one has projected. If your research leads you to discovering a play, you should ride that play, because I can guarantee that several of the guys who are considered top plays or “good chalk” will just not cut it this week.
The following seven plays are some exceedingly low-owned, high-risk fringe tournament plays that have turned up through the course of my own research.
I cannot guarantee Milly Maker-winning plays on a weekly basis, but I can promise to make recommendations that go beyond the highest-owned quarterback, the injury fill-in running back who will be 73% owned in your double ups and the $5,300 target machine everyone is locking on DraftKings.
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
The range of outcomes for Luck is wider than that of nearly any other quarterback on this opening slate. We haven’t seen him in live action for more than 500 days, but after suffering no apparent setbacks in the preseason, Luck makes his return in a home game against a Cincinnati Bengals defense that finished 17th in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average last season.
The total for this game has moved to 48 since opening at 47.
Luck has averaged 20.6 rushing yards per game over his career, which is a FantasyLabs trend that adds .59 DraftKings points over expectation. Luck also matches a PRO Trend of being in the top 20% of projected fantasy points per dollar. If Luck was healthy, and if this was a normal offseason, his salary at $6,100 would have put him in cash-game consideration.
Pairing Luck with a 5%-10% T.Y Hilton is just icing on the tournament cake.
>> All odds as of 4 p.m. ET on Thursday. Download The Action Network App to get real-time odds and track your bets
Chris Thompson, RB, Washington Redskins
Thompson seems to be a forgotten play this week. His situational usage will never make sense for cash games, as his floor is always lower than we would like at running back.
However, Thompson has several trends (PRO and otherwise) going in his favor. For starters, he is playing with a new quarterback who has frequently checked down to his running backs in high-leverage situations. In addition, all reports from Washington are that Thompson is fully healthy and ready to go after suffering a leg injury in 2017. And finally, Adrian Peterson is less than a zero in the passing game; he can’t block, he can’t catch, and at age 33, the guy can barely move.
Thompson has a PRO Trend of averaging more than three targets per game over his past 16 game and now has less competition for backfield snaps than in previous years.
Jay Gruden has been quoted saying “temptation will be there to play [Thompson] a lot,” and if the head coach is unable to fight that temptation in an opening road game, this could mean 5-10 carries and 5-8 targets for Thompson.
The Cardinals allowed 8.2 targets per game to running backs last season, and with that sort of high-end outcome of touches, Thompson can produce 15-20 DraftKings points. He is a large-field play, as the running back pool is pretty narrow this week — David Johnson, Christian McCaffrey, James Conner, Rex Burkhead and Alvin Kamara will (and should) soak up most of your ownership — but Thompson does have week-winning upside.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
On the very surface, Cook seems to be a pretty thin play. The coaching staff has been relentlessly talking up Latavius Murray while Cook saw two preseason carries for one yard as his only live action since suffering a torn ACL in Week 4 of the 2017 season, and there has been no indication that he’ll be used like a workhorse to the tune of more than 25 touches in Week 1. All of that leads us to this: In the two Vikings’ wins that Cook played in last season, when he didn’t exit with a torn ACL, he received 22 and 27 carries while getting five targets in each of those games.
Mike Zimmer and his staff clearly regarded Cook as a true bell-cow running back at this point last season. The Vikings are a significant home favorite with a healthy team total against a 49ers offense that had the fewest seconds per play in 2017, which means that there should be more possessions and more total plays run while Minnesota is ahead.
If there weren’t injury concerns or coachspeak about Murray, Cook would be one of the five highest-owned players in this spot at home in a high-pace matchup as a heavy favorite.
Dede Westbrook, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
In games that Westbrook and Keelan Cole played together last season, Westbrook averaged 7.2 targets per game and scored only once while Cole averaged 7.14 targets per game but scored three touchdowns.
It is clear that Cole is definitely the starter over Westbrook, and Donte Moncrief will be the other “starting” wide receiver. However, FantasyLabs currently has the $3,800 Cole projected between 17% and 20% ownership (and it will be much higher in cash games). Westbrook is projected at 2% to 4%.
Is Cole that much more likely to pull off a long touchdown than Westbrook?
Per airyards.com, both Cole and Westbrook have above-average Game Speed after 25 yards, although Cole burns after 55 yards traveled. Westbrook is a former fourth-round draft pick and a Fred Biletnikoff Award winner who got off to a slow start in the NFL due to injury. Cole over Westbrook does make sense for cash because Cole will get more snaps, but Westbrook will get a softer corner matchup and will come at a gigantic ownership discount.
If you were to look up the definition of a Week 1 leverage play, it would be this situation with limited information but a lot of public certainties about only one player. Ask yourself this when creating tournament lineups: “How different are Cole and Westbrook in projection really?”
Tre’Quan Smith, WR, New Orleans Saints
A great sub-genre of elite guaranteed prize pool plays are rookies who come in at sub-3% ownership and have one (or more) long touchdowns. Tarik Cohen was on the Week 1 Millionaire Maker winning roster last year, and while it’s obviously difficult to project Smith to match Cohen’s 12 targets, 113 yards and one touchdown debut, I think Smith has an elite ceiling in this spot.
Cameron Meredith was horrible for most of the preseason while Smith was outstanding, securing 15 of his 17 targets for 189 yards and a touchdown. Ted Ginn Jr. is now 33 years old and drew exactly zero rave reviews during camp. There is also the loss of Mark Ingram for four games (suspension), which should theoretically tilt the Saints to slight upticks in three wide receiver personnel and more pass attempts.
The high-end range of outcomes for Smith is probably 30 snaps and five targets while the low end would be 10 snaps and no targets. But with the highest team total of the slate, his outstanding preseason performance and a lack of clarity for production behind Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, Smith is a legit high-upside tournament play.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
When Eifert was fully healthy, he was converting touchdowns at a Rob Gronkowski-level. Since the start of the 2014 season, Eifert has 25 red-zone targets and 16 touchdowns for an otherworldly 64% conversion rate. The Bengals-Colts over/under has moved to 48 since opening at 47, and Indianapolis has the lowest cap allocation for defense in all of football.
The Bengals coaching staff has stated throughout the offseason that Eifert will be used less between the 20s and more in the red zone, which is perfect for the range of outcomes we want for him in DFS. And for what it’s worth, Eifert and the coaching staff also have relayed that he is completely recovered from his prior back injuries and that he has no reason to be listed on the injury report.
Eifert also has several PRO Trends in his favor despite being projected for between 0% and 1% ownership: Averaging at least 10 yards per reception over his last 16 games, being in the top 20% in Bargain Rating and having a projected Plus/Minus of at least 2.0, Eifert is my favorite GPP play at tight end (other than the exceedingly owned Gronkowski). Eifert is also a great leverage off Jack Doyle teams.
Jordan Akins, TE, Houston Texans
Despite the fact that Akins has massive red flags as a prospect because he is already 26 years old, he did beat out Stephen Anderson for the Texans’ No. 2 tight end job, which I did not project. Anderson seemed to have a real role on this team, and Akins played so well in the preseason that the Texans just flat moved on from Anderson.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound rookie has several factors going for him. His high draft cost and age actually make it likely that the Texans will use him right away. Braxton Miller also got cut, and as of now, it’s not clear who will be the third receiver behind Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins. As such, it’s a reasonable expectation to see more 12 personnel from the Texans. Their matchup with the Patriots also has one of the higher totals and pace projections for the week.
For the stone minimum of $2,500, Akins can help create some Kamara/Johnson/Antonio Brown tournament lineups and provide reasonable upside, if approximately zero floor.
Pictured above: Tre’Quan Smith
Photo credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports