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
There are four games with a total between 48.0 and 49.5 points on this slate with no game over 50.0 and six games with a game total between 40.0 and 46.0 points. Breaking that down further, there are three games with a game total between 43.5 points and 47.0 points, which is typically the range that carries a wider range of potential outcomes. Furthermore, the state of the quarterback position is basically “Josh Allen and everyone else,” while the state of the tight end position is “who the hell knows?” Finally, the field seems to be most certain at the running back position, which should tell us most of what we need to know about the slate itself, particularly considering the macro shift in focus amongst fantasy players away from running backs and towards pass-catchers this season. That should provide us with ways to generate smart leverage by identifying underowned spots with upside, without introducing suboptimal plays. 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.
Neither restrictive nor expansive chalk. One of the biggest things we look for at running back is changing roles or expanding roles. Etienne started the season seeing no more than 53% of the offensive snaps over the first six weeks. With the James Robinson trade, Etienne has seen snap counts of 80% and 79% over the previous two weeks, handling running back opportunity counts of 19 and 27 in those two games. All he’s done with the increased workload is break 100 yards and score a touchdown each week. The on-paper matchup is far from ideal, yielding a below-average 4.27 net-adjusted line yards metric, but the Raiders have allowed 27.0 DK points per game to opposing backfields and Jaguars running backs have outperformed their offensive line, scurrying to a massive 5.46 yards per attempt as a team this season (ranks second in the league behind only Seattle).
Neither restrictive nor expansive chalk. Stevenson looks great to the casual box score watcher, surging for 20.1 or more DK points in five of his previous six games. Damien Harris missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday with an illness before getting in a limited session on Friday, keeping the door open for him to be available on game day. That said, he now appears to be recovered from a hamstring injury that had him limited or out for three consecutive weeks, as he returned to a 41% snap rate share in Week 8. We should tentatively project Stevenson for the minimum 62% snap rate share he has seen following Ty Montgomery’s injury in Week 1, with a wider range of expected usage than others near his pricing. The Colts have allowed just 3.99 yards per running back carry this season and the game environment should be a gross, grind-it-out type game, denting the top end of Stevenson’s range of outcomes in the process.
Restrictive chalk. Ekeler was limited in practice on Thursday with an abdomen injury before returning to a full participant Friday, meaning he shouldn’t have any limitations on Sunday. Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, and Donald Parham are out, while DeAndre Carter popped up on the injury report on Friday with an illness. The extent of Carter’s illness is not yet known, but we’ve seen the flu be particularly nasty this season (see Davante Adams in Week 8), introducing further uncertainty amongst the pass-catching corps in Los Angeles. That could theoretically leave Josh Palmer, Michael Bandy, and Gerald Everett as the top non-running back pass-catchers for the Chargers against the sieve-like Falcons defense. As in, there is a legitimate path for Ekeler to lead the slate in targets at all positions. I want exposure to that.
Neither restrictive nor expansive chalk. Look, Joe Mixon is seeing elite usage but that’s about where the positives end. On the season, he has scored a full 25% fewer fantasy points than expected behind one of the league’s poorer offensive lines. What’s been most concerning to me is the film, as his lack of burst and confusing routes leave a lot to be desired. Speaking of his routes, he is running routes similar to how Derrick Henry is being used, with mostly bump-and-escape, run six to seven yards downfield, and present his numbers to the quarterback routes. We saw what that leads to against the Broncos last week, basically presenting opposing linebackers with a squared-up target with his back turned. NFL linebackers are not missing that tackle, I’m sorry, I don’t care who it is.
Restrictive chalk. Jacobs can be considered in the same tier as Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley, at least as far as team opportunity share goes. Furthermore, the Raiders offensive line is blocking to the league’s top adjusted line yards metric and Raiders running backs are averaging a massive 5.40 yards per running back carry. The return to health of Davante Adams should keep the Jaguars honest here after the Saints were able to simply stack the box to slow Jacobs down a week ago.
Restrictive chalk. The Packers rank second in the league in adjusted line yards, while their running backs are combining to rush for 5.03 yards per running back carry. They now face a Lions defense largely unable to stop a sneeze. I tentatively expect A.J. Dillon to be more involved from a snap rate perspective this week after maxing out at a 49% snap rate over the previous month of play, but the per-touch upside for Jones should be considered amongst the top on the slate.
Expansive chalk. Higbee has seen his snap rate slip over the previous two games after starting the season with no fewer than 93% of the offensive snaps over the first five games. Since then, Higbee has seen snap rates of 78% and 69%, once in a convincing victory over the Panthers and once in a lopsided loss to the 49ers. His playing time and usage appear to be a change in offensive design from Sean McVay, with Brycen Hopkins taking on a larger role as a blocker. The return of Van Jefferson has shifted the offense entirely away from 12-personnel. Basically, McVay appears to be changing the dynamics of the offense in an attempt to save the season, leaving more uncertainty than the field is giving credit for here.
Expansive chalk. Evan Engram’s participation in the Jaguars offense has progressively increased as the season has moved on, reaching a peak at a 93% snap rate in Week 8. The man is going to be involved. The problem is that Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, Marvin Jones, and Evan Engram all hold similar underlying metrics, as far as team target market share, targets per route run rate, and air yards share. To think there is certainty here is a bit misguided, in my opinion. That said, Engram makes a lot of sense on a slate like this where the position is filled with uncertainty.