I’ll be breaking down intriguing leverage plays every week throughout the 2018 NFL season. The focus will be on analyzing our new proprietary metric, Leverage Score, which is based on projected ownership and ceiling.

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The Chalk

Patrick Mahomes: $7,000 DraftKings; $8,900 FanDuel

Pricing is tight in Week 3, and it’s rare that no player stands out as a glaring must-play at running back, wide receiver or tight end at this point in the week.

Ownership could be relatively spread out, but one of the biggest questions that must be answered is whether we can pay up for Mahomes in his home debut. He is currently projected for the highest ownership of any quarterback, but he also leads the position with his median, ceiling and floor projections.

Per Matthew Freedman’s Week 3 Quarterback Breakdown, Mahomes has been the league’s most efficient fantasy producer through two weeks with 1.1 fantasy points per dropback. Further, this offense will continue to be leaned on if the Chiefs are going to win games. Their defense is that bad, currently dead last with a 31.7% in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, so shootout potential for Mahomes isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

As good as the peripheral situation appears for Mahomes from a metrics standpoint, his price has moved from $6,000 to $7,000 just two weeks into the season. Not to mention the recency bias of 10 touchdowns through two games will undoubtedly have the public chasing.

Mahomes’ rushing skill set certainly raises his floor for cash games, but he’s averaged only 19.5 rushing yards per game this year, so can you get away from him in tournaments?


The Pivot

Kirk Cousins: $6,800 DraftKings, $8,600 FanDuel

Let’s get this out of the way.

You’re probably thinking: “You can’t pay up for a quarterback in a game with this large of a spread.”

Tell that to Tom Brady. Per our Trends tool, Brady provided a +2.06 FanDuel Plus/Minus over the past two seasons as a double-digit favorite.

“But that’s Brady and the New England Patriots, totally different.”

Is it? Let’s take Brady out of the sample completely and extend that to all double-digit favorites dating back to the 2014 season. A non-Brady sample of 96 quarterbacks over that span has still been a solid investment, with a +0.49 Plus/Minus at only 8.7% ownership.

Of course, every situation is different, but the main reason Cousins could be a viable pivot off of Mahomes is how condensed the target share is in Minnesota. Cousins currently has the third-highest Leverage Score of any quarterback on DraftKings.

If Minnesota is going to score points — and the Vikings will score a lot of them, according to Vegas — it’s certainly in the realm of possibilities that the Vikings passing game is the prime beneficiary and gets there on efficiency. We know exactly where the ball is going. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen represent an insane 84.0% target market share of air yards through two weeks.

High Leverage Spot

Adam Thielen: $7,800 DraftKings, $8,200 FanDuel

Thielen is probably overpriced on DraftKings with a 5% Bargain Rating, but he leads all FLEX options with a 98% Leverage Score in Week 3. He currently owns the third-largest CB/WR advantage on the main slate, per Pro Football Focus, as he’s expected to run the majority of his routes against Rafael Bush. The Bills could also attempt to get Thielen matched up on linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, similarly to how the Chargers attacked Buffalo last week with Keenan Allen.

Everything points to Thielen being a focal point of the Vikings’ game plan against a Bills team that likes to filter targets into the middle of the field. Diggs has lined up in the slot only 24% of offensive snaps so far this year.

Rostering the Vikings passing game doesn’t come without risk. We can’t completely ignore game script, of course, but it’s notable that we currently project the Vikings offense for 68.6 plays, the third-most on the main slate. As we saw in Week 2, this passing game carries slate-winning upside and will likely go under-owned yet again.

Pictured above: Kirk Cousins (8), Adam Thielen (19) and Stefon Diggs (14).
Photo credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports