Let’s just get this out of the way: Tre’Quan Smith did nothing last week.
Having spent the last five years writing about cash games, it’s hard to accept writing about a range of outcomes in a meaningful way, and Smith definitely hit the bottom of his in Week 1.
Andrew Luck was fine. Dalvin Cook got all the work but no touchdowns (though the Vikings defense call did pay off off). Chris Thompson was a stud. Dede Westbrook outscored Keelan Cole and Tyler Eifert. And Jordan Akins played enough to get DFS points but did not, in fact, get enough DFS points to matter.
This week, and likely moving forward, I’m going to focus more on guys with tremendous spiked-week potential who are not necessarily in the 1% owned-range that I aimed for in Week 1.
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Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Before we dig into any statistical analysis: Mahomes and Tyreek Hill are perfect for each other.
Andy Reid is a very smart football guy. He knew that it was time to get rid of a very good quarterback — yes, that is what Alex Smith is — for a potentially legendary QB.
Mahomes attempted only 27 passes in Week 1 and finished with 28 DraftKings points, and while he likely will not average almost one fantasy point for every pass attempt he makes this season, he is in a very favorable position. The Chiefs-Steelers total has been bet up to 53.5 since opening at 50.5 (see live data here), Mahomes has multiple PRO trends (including that the Chiefs’ implied team total has moved more than two points) and will likely be in a game script that leads to more pass attempts than rush attempts for the Chiefs offense.
It is true that having a higher team total, regardless of spread, has a stronger correlation to fantasy production. But having a QB who projects for more attempts is not a bad thing.
With Antonio Brown and Home Ben Roethlisberger taking more of the ownership and attention, I think that the Mahomes/Hill stack that just produced 169 yards and two touchdowns is going to be under-owned relative to ceiling, not to median projection. We have Mahomes projected for between 5-8% ownership, but he is the third-highest rated QB in the Tournament Model.
The Chiefs will be the lower-owned side of this week’s highest total.
Lamar Miller, RB, Houston Texans
I do not like Miller as a player all that much. He is pretty touchdown-dependent, and everyone knows my biggest leak is that I like “swaggy” or exciting players. Miller is not that, but he can provide value in tournaments this week.
Miller played 57-of-74 offensive snaps in Week 1. Alfred Blue did vulture a goal-line carry, but I would not expect that to happen more than 20% of the time moving forward. Houston travels to Tennessee to face a Titans team that just played a seven-hour game and got dunked on by Jakeem Grant and Ryan Tannehill in Miami. Marcus Mariota will either not play or play hampered against a Texans team that hung in there against the Patriots.
Miller is the sort of boring play who will not be owned but can easily turn in a 114-yard, two-touchdown day with four receptions against the Titans and be on a Millionaire Making winning roster without a truly explosive play. He has four PRO trends in his favor, and I expect his targets to rise from the two he saw in the season-opener as Houston’s offensive staff has a chance to review what did and didn’t work against New England.
Alfred Morris, RB, San Francisco 49ers
Morris had four (!!!) carries inside the 5-yard line for the 49ers in Week 1. He was legitimately running well before he fumbled, and he still got back into the game after that. Matt Breida played when the 49ers were chasing as the Vikings pulled away, but the game script should be reversed against the Lions.
San Francisco opened as a -3 favorite, but has moved to a giant -6. Morris’ game is not typically a good fit for DraftKings, but at only $3,600 and with the perfect script, he is the fourth-highest rated running back in the Tournament Model. The 49ers’ team total has risen to 27 — which is a PRO trend for ground-heavy running backs — and they will likely be without Marquise Goodwin in this game. Projecting 30 to 35 total carries for the 49ers is not absurd, and that would give both Morris and Breida enough touches to be fantasy relevant.
Morris will likely be more chalky on FanDuel, where the scoring system does not hurt his lack of work as a receiver, but he is one of the few sub-$4k plays this week with multiple touchdown upside.
Golden Tate, WR, Detroit Lions
After the football-watching public saw the Lions get railroaded by Sam Darnold and what was expected to be a bad Jets defense on Monday night, I am expecting ownership on Tate, Matthew Stafford and Kenny Golladay to be lower than it should be.
Tate had 15 targets and Golladay had 12, and both got over 110 Air Yards. Tate has the best cornerback matchup against K’Waun Williams, who just gave up a big target performance to Adam Thielen and was one of the most targeted slot corners in 2017. The 49ers playing at a fast pace on offense — they had the fastest seconds per play in football in 2017 — is a boon to Tate’s targets numbers. And while Marvin Jones is the clear loser in targets with the emergence of Golladay, Tate is still the top option.
Tate has averaged more than seven targets per game over his last 16 games as a Lion, which is an encouraging PRO trend. And the Lions, much like last week, should be in catch-up mode almost the entire contest.
If Tate gets 12 targets at the 5-8% ownership that we have him down for, I think he has one of the better median and ceiling projections of all mid-priced players.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos
Depending on which ownership projections you look at, there is a wide range of opinions on Thomas. But there’s not much debate over whether DT or Emmanuel Sanders is the better receiver.
The fact is that Thomas is better, folks.
In the games that DT and Sanders have played together, Thomas has averaged more fantasy points per game, more touchdowns and more targets. Thomas is now cheaper at home, where the Broncos moved from a 3-point to a 6-point favorite against corners who gave up start-able games to Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp while Robert Woods got 161 Air Yards (though was not able to convert his deep targets).
Thomas is now operating closer to the line of scrimmage with an aDOT almost 3 yards lower than Sanders, but that actually helps his floor on a week-to-week basis. Thomas is the highest-rated wide receiver in the Tournament Model this week and has every PRO trend in his favor that you can imagine.
Thomas should also get most of his snaps against the Raiders’ weakest corner, Gareon Conley. While Sanders was the TNT last week, this is a potential explosion spot for the Broncos veteran.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
If you have spent time on the internet recently, you probably have seen or heard that Jalen Ramsey doesn’t think that Gronk is “very good.”
There is also the stat that Gronk goes from a 74% to a 51% catch rate when covered by a cornerback (and it is expected that Ramsey will cover Gronkowski on Sunday). Gronk’s response was pretty Gronkian: “That’s some good percentages. I mean, I don’t really go into statistics like that. I’ve just got to play ball. That’s basically all. I’ve got to come out and play ball.”
When Gronk comes to play ball and he is under 10% owned, well, it is as simple as being overweight on Gronkowski. Regardless of matchup, Vegas total or projected pace, Gronkowski is the most elite player at a scarce position. The Patriots also have very few options in the passing game right now, which has led to Phillip Dorsett having the game of his life and Cordarrelle Patterson to a real role on a Super Bowl-aspiring team.
Ramsey or no Ramsey, Gronk has a ceiling that is projected to be six points higher than any other tight end on the slate. And with so much ownership going to Jack Doyle and George Kittle, I expect this week to be one of the lowest-owned weeks of the season for Gronkowski.
Even getting him on 25% of your teams will mean that you are healthily overweight.
Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins
This is a pretty interesting week because there are three guys — Jared Cook, Doyle and Kittle — who we have projected for a very large chunk of the ownership percentage at tight end.
Gronk will soak up his customary 10-15% of the pool, Kittle has become the definitive chalk, the Colts are dedicated to dinking and dunking to Doyle and Cook is coming off of a national TV game in which he broke records. All of this will add up to a guy who averages 13.3 fantasy points per game over the course of his career to be under 10% owned against a group of defenders that are likely to finish 32nd in Football Outsiders’ pass defensive DVOA.
The Bengals had zero problems moving the ball against the Colts last week, and the Washington offense will be better than Indy all season. Reed had only five targets last week, which was actually second on the team, as Alex Smith barely had to throw in the second half against Arizona. But of the limited Air Yards Washington had, Reed led the way.
I believe that Washington is going to have another really efficient, high-scoring week against the Colts. And Reed is likely to be their leading receiver in this game and for the rest of the year. He’s an excellent leverage play off of Kittle/Doyle/Cook.
Pictured above: Patrick Mahomes
Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports