Hilow is a game theory expert (courses at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Northwestern) and tournament champion who focuses on mid/high-stakes single-entry/three-entry max
This slate started super ugly to me and turned into a beautiful swan. Basically, I initially saw chalk congregating a lot differently than it ended up heading into the weekend, which gives us an opportunity to simply “play the best plays” through smart roster construction without having to stand on our heads to generate leverage.
From a macro perspective, we have three clear top game environments in Dolphins @ Lions, Cardinals @ Vikings, and Raiders @ Saints, eight freaking games with a game total of 44.5 or lower, and three “key decision points,” as covered on The Slate podcast this week (if you missed it, no worries – we recorded on Friday evening this week and it is available now on the Inner Circle podcast feed).
Those three key decision points are the 1) quarterback position, where the best on-paper plays are at pricing extremes in Jalen Hurts and Sam Ehlinger; 2) the tight end position, where Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews are absent, leaving only George Kittle as a player that can put the slate out of reach; and 3) the running back position, where we have more viable plays than any other slate this season. Let’s dive in!
Quick explanation: restrictive chalk is an expected highly owned piece that restricts the maneuverability of the remainder of your roster while expansive chalk is an expected highly owned piece that allows for higher amounts of maneuverability on the remainder of your roster. Classifying various forms of chalk as either restrictive or expansive allows us to visualize what it means for roster construction on a given slate and how restrictive a certain player might be, meaning more of the field will look similar from a roster construction standpoint with that piece.
QUICK NOTE: Although not currently listed as chalk, I expect the ownership of Sam Ehlinger and George Kittle to get steamed throughout Saturday and into Sunday morning, giving us a little more to consider when looking at the chalk and chalk build.
Neither restrictive nor expansive chalk. Pollard sports a gaudy 6.2 yards per touch this season, which ranks fourth at the position. As in, he has been one of the most efficient backs in the league. Ezekiel Elliott is now expected to miss this week with a knee contusion/sprain as the Cowboys head into their bye week in Week 9, meaning the bulk of the workload in the Dallas backfield should fall into Pollard’s capable hands. Similar to JM’s thoughts on the situation, Pollard isn’t exactly the “team jam him in smash play” that the field seems to think this week (although a great on-paper play). The Cowboys backfield averages just 21.2 DK points per game on 27.6 carries and 3.7 targets. Their 26 total running back targets ranks just 26th in the league this season, meaning Pollard should be considered closer to a yardage and touchdown back than perception indicates based on coaching and play-calling tendencies this year. Still a solid play, just not the “can’t miss smash spot” being tossed around the industry.
Restrictive chalk. Josh Jacobs is a genuine workhorse running back in the year of our Lord 2022. Oh, how times change and change fast! Jacobs holds the league’s second-highest snap rate and top overall opportunity share at 76.1% and 84.8% (!!!), respectively. His 54.2% route participation rate ranks 10th at the position. He has evaded the second most tackles, has the third-highest juke rate, a solid 5.7 yards per carry (sixth), and a beautiful 5.9 yards per touch (eighth). Furthermore, he gets the distinct pleasure of running behind the league’s top-ranked run-blocking offensive line. The matchup yields an insane 5.11 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Saints defense allowing a robust 4.75 running back yards per carry this season. Jacobs is still underpriced for that profile at $7,500 (he should be priced with Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey), and we’re likely to get some sort of psychological effect through the raising of his price by a full $1,000 from last week.
Neither restrictive nor expansive chalk. Walker is a stud. His breakaway run rate ranks first in the league (11.9%), his juke rate ranks first in the league (56.0%, lolz), and he has evaded the sixth most tackles this season while not becoming the starting running back until Week 6. He now faces a Giants defense allowing the sixth most second-level yards per carry and third most open field yards per carry.
Neither restrictive nor expansive chalk. Stevenson has recently surged to an insane workload over the past three games, handling snap rates of 90%, 86%, and 77% over the past three weeks as Damien Harris has battled injury. His season-high snap rate before Harris’ injury was just 62%, which is more in line with standard lead-back duties across the league. Will Harris be more involved this week being two weeks removed from his injury?
Restrictive chalk. Kamara is back to the Kamara we’ve grown to know and love over the previous five seasons, as the presence of Andy Dalton at quarterback has returned Kamara to a massive piece of the passing game. He brings one of the highest floors to the table this week, with recent target counts of nine, nine, and six over the three games in which he played and Dalton started. He has averaged 21.2 DK points per game in those contests and has yet to score a touchdown this season. Once the touchdowns start flowing, look out!
Neither restrictive nor expansive chalk. Pierce should see the lion’s share of usage out of the backfield moving forward but falls just below workhorse usage via a modest pass game role. As in, Rex Burkhead should continue seeing usage in obvious pass down situations. That said, a valid expectation of 20-22 running back opportunities should remain, albeit in a neutral-to-difficult matchup against the Titans. That profile would be more useful to us on a different slate than on this one, where we have no less than 15 viable running backs available.
Expansive chalk. I mean, I guess. The level of infatuation with Moore from the field is intriguing to me. This is a moderate-to-high volume wide receiver on a shitty offense, playing for a team with a Vegas implied team total of just 18.5 points. Although unlikely to completely sink a roster, he is equally as unlikely to post a “had to have it” score.
Restrictive chalk. The concerns of Tyreek seeing a decrease in usage moving from Kansas City to Miami were overblown this offseason. The dude is a matchup nightmare, and he now faces the team running the highest rate of man coverage this season. Good freaking luck. Basically, the reasons to move off Tyreek this week should be tied to theoretical reasons, as he is very clearly one of the top overall plays on the slate.
Neither restrictive nor expansive chalk. The primary pass-catching option remaining for a team that has averaged 31 points per game across Dalton’s four starts. Yea, count me in.