This article is a data-driven deep dive on strategic decision-making and roster construction for DFS cash games and tournaments. It relies heavily upon FantasyLabs’ extensive suite of analytical DFS tools, as well as advanced metrics and film study. First, I walk through narrowing down the player pool at each position. Then, I lay out how to choose the highest-floor lineup combinations for cash games. Finally, I go game-by-game to present the biggest edges (stacks, pivots, leverage opportunities, etc.) in each.
Week 1 shmoney time!
- Lamar Jackson, Ravens ($8,100 DK, $9,400 FD) vs. CLE
Our NFL Player Models project Lamar Jackson as the highest-scoring player on the slate on FanDuel and ranks second behind only Christian McCaffrey on DraftKings while costing $1,900 less. In two matchups against Cleveland last season, Jackson averaged 242.5/3/1 passing and 13/84.5/0 rushing, with 25-plus fantasy points in both contests.
Running Back (Cash)
- Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team ($4,000 DK, $4,600 FD) vs. PHI
- Boston Scott, Eagles ($4,800 DK, $4,700 FD) at WAS
- Josh Jacobs, Raiders ($6,800 DK,$8,200 FD) at CAR
- Christian McCaffrey, Panthers ($10,000 DK, $10,000 FD) vs. LV
With Adrian Peterson’s average skillset in the pass game leading to his release in Washington and Miles Sanders’ hamstring forcing him to sit out Week 1 for Philly, Washinton Football Team-Eagles contains this week’s top two free squares in Antonio Gibson and Boston Scott. Gibson averaged 19.0 yards per catch on 44 receptions and 11.2 yards per rush on 33 carries in his brief college career at Memphis and projects to lead the Washington Football Team’s backfield in touches, regardless of game script. Scott is a player the Eagles’ coaching staff has no problem letting handle a sizable role: He received more carries than Sanders in each of their first three games together last season and handled 23 touches in Week 17 last year, including 19 carries. Scott’s backup, Corey Clement, failed to register a single touch in four active games last season, with 57 of his 60 snaps coming on special teams.
Josh Jacobs is in a smash spot against a Carolina defense that finished dead last in rushing DVOA last season while getting plastered for an unthinkable 27 rushing TDs by running backs — nine more than any other team allowed. He’s preferable to Christian McCaffrey on DraftKings, where his $10,000 cost is more prohibitive, and you can get the same scoring expectation from Jackson for nearly $2,000 less. FanDuel’s extra $10,000 of cap space makes him easy enough to jam in. Even in half-PPR scoring, no running back came within 6.0 points per game of McCaffrey last season. The Raiders defense ranked 20th in rushing DVOA and doesn’t appear to be significantly improved.
Wide Receiver (Cash)
- DeSean Jackson, Eagles ($4,900 DK, $5,700 FD) at WAS
- Chris Godwin, Bucs ($7,100 DK, $7,700 FD) at NO
- Davante Adams, Packers ($7,700 DK, $8,000 FD) at MIN
- Michael Thomas, Saints ($9,000 DK, $8,800 FD) vs. TB
In Week 1 against Washington last season, DeSean Jackson caught 8-of-9 targets for 154 yards and 2 TDs while commanding 41% of the team’s air yards. With Alshon Jeffery (foot) out, rookie Jalen Reagor (shoulder) short on experience, and Zach Ertz failing to land a new contract or be named a team captain by head coach Doug Pederson, Jackson is set up as the Eagles’ likely Week 1 receiving leader against a Washington Football Team defense that doesn’t have a perimeter cornerback with a PFF grade higher than 82nd on the roster. I’d rather eat the chalk by pairing Jackson with Scott than pivot off Jackson to a more expensive Marvin Jones or Darius Slay-shadowed Terry McLaurin simply for the sake of diversification.
Chris Godwin figured to be Tom Brady‘s favorite receiver even before Mike Evans‘ hamstring began acting up. Godwin was second in the NFL in receiving yards out of the slot last season (838) despite playing only 14 games, and the Saints’ biggest liability at corner is inside. Slot corner P.J. Williams ranked 103rd of 115 qualifiers in PFF’s cornerback grades, allowing 6 TDs and a 124.2 passer rating — and he’s the best option.
Against the Vikings last season, Davante Adams went for 7/106/0 on nine targets in Week 2 and 13/116/0 on 16 targets in Week 16. Minnesota has three new starting corners, and Adams has the same nonexistent competition for targets.
FanDuel’s friendly cap allows you to get up to Michael Thomas, who spanked Tampa Bay’s secondary for 11/182/2 and 8/114/1 in the two matchups last season.
Tight End (Cash)
- Hayden Hurst, Falcons ($4,300 DK, $5,200 FD) vs. SEA
This matchup is tailor-made for Hayden Hurst to pick up where Austin Hooper left off: Seattle has more talent at cornerback than most, which should ensure the Falcons continue to funnel the ball to tight ends. Seattle allowed the second-most yards (1,099) and fourth-most catches (97) to the position. Despite facing the likes of Hooper, George Kittle, Zach Ertz, and stretch-run Tyler Higbee last year, the Seahawks were still top three in most yards (67.7) and targets (8.2) per game allowed to tight ends after adjusting for strength of schedule, according to Football Outsiders.
Defense/Special Teams (Cash)
- Detroit Lions ($2,700 DK, $3,700 FD) vs. CHI
- Indianapolis Colts ($3,000 DK, $3,700 FD) at JAX
The Lions are the top projected defense that fits on DraftKings, while on FanDuel, you can get up to the Colts, who are eight-point favorites against the Jags, who will likely be the worst team in football this season.
Roster Build (Cash)
On DraftKings, you can get in Lamar with Jacobs, Adams, and Godwin if you punt the other two RB slots with Scott and Gibson, roll with D-Jax at WR3 and Hurst at TE along with the Lions D/ST.
On FanDuel, you can fit in all the top players in fantasy from a year ago — Lamar, CMC, and Michael Thomas — if you go with Scott/Gibson at RB, Godwin and D-Jax at WR, Hurst at TE, and the Colts D/ST. You can also get up to Adams over Godwin at WR if you go with a crapshoot D/ST; my top choice would be Washington because it finished top-10 in sacks (46), but it’s ugly.
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers (GPP)
I thought Jimmy Garoppolo would end up being the most under-the-radar QB play in this game after torching the Cards for four passing TDs in both matchups last season, but JImmy G projects for twice as much ownership as Kyler Murray, who posted 23-plus fantasy points in both contests and inherently has more upside than Garoppolo due to his rushing ability. Murray is top three on both sites in Leverage Score, meaning he is projected to be in far fewer lineups than his ceiling warrants. Murray’s new top receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, has a tough matchup on paper and no rapport with Murray to speak of, but there’s no more correlated stack than QB-WR1, and Hopkins projects for single-digit ownership and is also among the leaders in Leverage Score at his position.
Kenyan Drake is the only RB projected for a top-six ceiling that is expected to be in fewer than 10% of lineups and is also a great play. Drake went off for 162 yards and a touchdown on 20 touches in the first matchup last season, and though he only went for 80 scoreless yards in the second, the volume was there (22 touches).
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (GPP)
Leverage Score indicates that even at 5-8% ownership, T.J. Hockenson will be too highly owned to be a +EV play. DeAndre Swift and Kerryon Johnson are both popping Leverage Score-wise but are a crapshoot in what could be a 3-4 man backfield. I’d prefer to take a shot on Marvin Hall, who — even if he splits snaps with impressive rookie Quintez Cephus — should provide max air-yard equity after averaging a 27.5-yards target depth in 2019. If Hall ends up being an every-snap player, that would just be gravy.
At 9-12% ownership with a top-eight ceiling, Allen Robinson is squarely in the positive leverage category. He’s a great option when fading chalk studs like Adams, Thomas, or Godwin.
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (GPP)
Mark Ingram averaged 84.3 total yards and 1.0 TDS per game last season, and though he could eventually see his workload cut into by rookie J.K. Dobbins, now is the perfect time to invest — especially since his QB is projected for the highest ownership at the position.
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings (GPP)
For as productive as Adams was against Zimmer’s defense last season, his production was still dwarfed by Aaron Jones, who piled up 27 touches for 150 yards and a TD in Week 2 and followed it up with 25/160/2 in Week 16. At best, Jones projects to be in half as many lineups as Adams.
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (GPP)
Marlon Mack hasn’t lost his starting job quite yet, so there may be no better time to lock him in than this week at 0-1% projected ownership as he goes up against a Jags defense that got shredded for 166.6 total yards and 1.38 total TDs by opposing backfields last season. We project the majority of Colts backfield ownership to go the way of Jonathan Taylor, creating a discrepancy ripe for exploitation.
T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle have negative Leverage Scores, so I would fade them outside of Philip Rivers, who has one of the top Leverage Scores among QBs.
For the Jags, rather than get cute with James Robinson or Chris Thompson, I’d look to stack D.J. Chark with Gardner Minshew, as while Chark may see decent ownership, Minshew is expected to be in 0-1% of entries. Deep sleeper dart throw: Laviska Shenault Jr., who could see snaps at running back and is an even more explosive receiver than Chark.
Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals (GPP)
Austin Ekeler averaged 14 carries and six catches in his four starts last season before Melvin Gordon came back. His 9-12% ownership is way too low; he has McCaffrey-like upside — which is only enhanced by a Bengals defense that ranked 28th in DVOA against the run and 31st in DVOA on passes to running backs in 2019.
I’m also rolling with some bet on talent Joe Burrow shares. If he’s as nasty as we think he could be, the matchup won’t matter. A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, and John Ross are all high-upside, low-owned potential stacking partners. Green and Boyd have higher floors, but Ross has enough big-play upside to be never-saw-it-coming large-field GPP winner; his speed could be a shock to defenses early in the year, as it was last year when he came out the gate with 7/158/2 and 4/112/1 performances in Weeks 1-2.
Las Vegas Raiders at Carolina Panthers (GPP)
Darren Waller had a -0.26 correlation with Jacobs last season, has a top-four ceiling projection at the position and is expected to be in fewer than 5% of lineups.
We saw some big performances out of rookie wide receivers in Week 1 last season, so I also like Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards in what could be a low-key shootout. Both project to be on the field for nearly every Derek Carr dropback at the very least, and like Waller, they should provide anti-correlation to Jacobs.
For the Panthers, D.J. Moore is expected to be in fewer than 10% of lineups, which is criminal considering that he’s going against the No. 31 defense in passing DVOA and received an upgrade at quarterback. Moore has one of the top Leverage Scores on the slate.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (GPP)
Julian Edelman projects for 2-4% ownership and a top-three Leverage Score at the position. As the only New England receiver who can reliably separate, Edelman projects to be leaned on by Cam Newton, who doesn’t have the accuracy or familiarity within the offense to bother with N’Keal Harry and a bunch of inexperienced tight ends this early in the season.
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (GPP)
Jamison Crowder may not even make it into one of every 100 lineups, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else catching footballs for the Jets outside of him and the running backs. Breshad Perriman and Chris Hogan will be rendered useless by Tre’Davious White and Josh Norman, while Chris Herndon will likely be erased by an athletic safety and linebacking corps that has finished top-two in receiving yards allowed to the tight end position in each of the past two seasons under Sean McDermott. This is how it played out in Week 1 last season: With Crowder catching 14 balls on 17 targets while posting an 8/68/1 line on 10 targets against the Bills in Week 17, though that came with the team resting starters ahead of its Wild Card matchup with Houston. Crowder has the top Leverage Score on DraftKings and is fifth on FanDuel.
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Football Team (GPP)
With Gibson and Terry McLaurin slated to be chalk, this is a good game to attack for leverage. One way to attack is to stack the aforementioned players with Dwayne Haskins, who will no longer be subject to the volume constraints of Bill Callahan’s prehistoric, Peterson-focused offense. Another way is to target players not named Gibson and McLaurin, namely Steven Sims and Logan Thomas. Sims averaged 5/57/1 on 9 targets per game over the final quarter of the season, and Thomas should run a route on nearly every dropback as a receiving specialist who was acquired to take over for incumbent jack-of-no-trades Jeremy Sprinkle and will face a defense that could struggle to cover tight ends without safety Malcolm Jenkins.
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons (GPP)
Russell Wilson has a positive Leverage Score while Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf are in the negatives, meaning those guys will be too highly owned in non-Wilson stacks and should be confined to such. The best Leverage Play for Seattle is Chris Carson, who is expected to be lower owned than Wilson, Lockett, Metcalf, and almost every RB capable of his ceiling. Carson went 20/90/1 against Atlanta last season.
For the Falcons, Julio Jones has a top-three ceiling but is expected to fall below that in terms of ownership, making him an underrated play at moderate ownership (likely to be in the low-mid teens).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (GPP)
Even with 21-25% projected ownership on DraftKings and 17-20% on FanDuel, Alvin Kamara has a positive Leverage Score. He may not fare well against Tampa Bay’s interior behemoths Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea, but he has a path to being the top overall RB because of his receiving usage and is a great leverage play thanks to a slightly negative correlation to and cheaper price than Thomas, who is also expected to be more highly owned.
Chris Raybon is a Senior Editor at the Action Network who hosts the weekly NFL Betting edition of The Action Network Podcast and is featured each week on The Fantasy Flex edition of the pod, as well. He has watched every snap of every NFL game since 2010 — even the kneel downs. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisRaybon and read about how he quit his accounting job and got paid to watch sports.
Pictured: Lamar Jackson.
Photo Credit: Todd Olszewski/Getty Images.