Mark “Hilow” Garcia
This is one of the more interesting small slates I can remember, as there are a significant number of landmines due to public misconception. Before we continue, go read (or reread) the Edge write-ups for the four games this weekend so we’re operating with the same common knowledge.
Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are likely to be the highest owned players at their respective positions, and for good reason. Macro thoughts are covered in-depth below.
(GOOD CHALK, with a case to be made against Patrick Mahomes at significant ownership)
The best way to describe the Rams’ defensive scheme is “modified cover-2,” where Jalen Ramsey has routinely been used as a shadow and the rest of the defense operates with cover-2 principles. This explains their susceptibility to the deep ball over the middle of the field and otherwise lockdown coverage. Per @dwainmcfarland, the Rams are in pure man coverage at the lowest rate in the league (12.3%). Davante Adams is considered the king of beating man (40% targets per route run, 49/646/10 triple slash on 61 targets), but his numbers against zone are a little more human (27% targets per route run, 62/723/4 triple slash on 85 targets). Projected for 40%+ ownership, there is a valid case to be made that Adams simply falls short of his lofty salary here.
(neither GOOD CHALK nor BAD CHALK, but a lot to keep in mind)
Before we dig into the “why,” I want to pose a question: what end of weekend fantasy score from Alvin Kamara would we be left feeling “man, I had to have that?” Is it 20 points? 25 points? 30? Got your answer? Good. Alvin Kamara played 16 total games this season. Of those 16 games, he scored between 17.7 and 25.3 fantasy points in 10 of them, going over 25.3 in four (with only one of those eruptions coming in a game Michael Thomas played) and under 17.7 in two. Now consider the opponent, a team that allowed only 20.7 fantasy points per game to opposing backfields (sixth in the league). Back to my question, if your answer was 25 or 30 points, Game Theory suggests you should fully fade Kamara at his projected 35-40% ownership (he went over 25.7 points only four of 16 games, or 25%).
(BAD CHALK from a Game Theory perspective)
This one makes no sense to me and is likely a product of “team jam ‘em in.” Allen Lazard has one, yes, one game over six targets on the season, which came all the way back in Week 3 (eight targets). His moderate aDOT (10.0) means he needs volume to provide value, volume which is unlikely to be there against the Rams. I would much rather take a shot on the upside of Marquez Valdes-Scantling at a similar price point ($3,800), who carries significant downfield work (18.1 aDOT) that happens to align with one of the few susceptibilities of the Rams’ defense. Basically, four to six targets for MVS is much more valuable than four to six targets for Lazard.
(BAD CHALK of the week!)
Singletary is projected to be the top touch to price value on the slate, but the matchup and lack of solid touchdown equity leave a lot to be desired. On a normal slate, Singletary would be an easy “Bad Chalk” fade, but on a small slate there is definite merit to cheap access to 20-22 running back opportunities.
(neither GOOD CHALK nor BAD CHALK, but understand what you’re getting by playing him)
Andrews might be my favorite leverage fade of the week, and it is primarily a product of a general misconception of likely game flow and how each team would respond to varying game flows. I covered the reasoning behind these thoughts in depth in the Edge write-up, so I will spare you the regurgitation, but realize the people that are getting excited about a bump to volume for Andrews simply do not understand how the Ravens are likely to attack here, even in negative game script (as in, there is but one game scenario that yields a viable chance for Andrews to see more than six to eight targets, and that’s the Bills going up by multiple scores early).
(BAD CHALK primarily due to coaching tendencies misconceptions)
It isn’t often that we see a clear chalk build develop on a four-game slate in the NFL, but that is exactly what we have this week. Expect Patrick Mahomes + (Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill) + (Devin Singletary or Cam Akers) + Alvin Kamara + Davante Adams to headline a good chunk of lineups this week. We’ll cover the best leverage available from each individual game below, but from a macro perspective, lineups with two running backs priced above $6,600 (Kamara, Aaron Jones and Nick Chubb) and lineups with two value running backs (Akers, Singletary, Kareem Hunt being my favorite) will be under-owned.
Since we have such a small slate, I’ll go game by game in this section and identify the best leverage positions that I see available from each game.
It seems silly (or obvious, maybe?), but the best leverage from this game is to use the LAR D/ST. The Rams are priced all the way down as the second least expensive defense, but this is still the best defense in the league. The second best would be to fade Davante Adams, which, as was covered above, could go either way here. Finally, because of the susceptibility of the Rams’ defense over the deep middle of the field, Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a viable GPP flier at likely low ownership (Allen Lazard is currently projected for the fourth highest ownership at the wide receiver position and he carries very little upside in this matchup).
Since the Baltimore offense is so spread out, and we know exactly how they are likely to attack here (on the ground), and because the ground game for the Ravens is split between three players (Lamar Jackson, JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards), there isn’t a lot of leverage to gain on the Ravens’ side of the ball outside of playing Lamar Jackson naked, which is more than viable. This leads us to the Bills, where we also know exactly how they are going to attack here. I’d expect the bulk of the ownership on the Bills to land on Devin Singletary and Stefon Diggs (Singletary as the highest touch to salary value on the slate and Diggs because, well, he’s Stefon Diggs). The best pure matchup from the Bills in this game is Cole Beasley in the slot against weak side safety, linebacker and Jimmy Smith coverage. This gives us two viable leverage scenarios: (1) stack up the pass game, fading the chalky running back (Josh Allen + Stefon Diggs + Cole Beasley), (2) play only Singletary from the Bills as the best value on the slate, and (3) play Singletary and Beasley together, leaving Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs off the roster. In scenario one, we’re betting on the Bills having success and scoring by their typical means (through the air or through Josh Allen on the ground). In scenarios two and three, we are betting on the Ravens controlling the game and taking the best value(s) from the Bills.
I alluded to the fact that this game carries the highest chance on the weekend of shooting out, but what I feel is going to go overlooked is just how concentrated the avenues of least resistance are for each team. For the Chiefs, with Sammy Watkins out, Demarcus Robinson is going to shift to the “X” wide receiver (as was done earlier in the year when Sammy Watkins missed), leaving the “Y” (typically thought of as the slot wide receiver in standard alignments) to be split by Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle. The likely reason for this is that “X” wide receivers are lined up on the line of scrimmage and are the position most susceptible to press/man coverage (typically regarded as the hardest thing for young wide receivers to learn when transitioning from college to the professional game). Denzel Ward is likely to cover the “X” wide receiver in the Browns’ 4-3 base cover-3 defense. Tight end coverage is also a soft spot in the 4-3 base cover-3 defensive scheme. Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are set up to absolutely smash here. A full Chiefs stack consisting of Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce will carry the lowest aggregate ownership when compared to each individual player, lowering the percentage of the field we’re competing against.
On the other side, Kansas City are so very clearly best attacked over the middle of the field through the tight end position and through running backs, both on the ground and through the air. With David Njoku looking unlikely, paired with the heavy multiple tight end sets employed by the Browns, we’re likely to see heavy snap rates from Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant and Stephen Carlson. Austin Hooper has run a route on 82% of Cleveland’s pass plays and was targeted on 23.8% of routes (70 targets on 294 routes run). Taking the chances we see increased pass plays from the Browns here into account, likeliest scenario places Hooper in the nine to 11 target range, with legitimate room for more. Both Cleveland running backs are set up well against the Chiefs, with touchdowns likely to be the differentiator. Finally, two-tight end lineups will carry low combined ownership, a valid way to differentiate on a small slate. Attacking the best game environment in a way that makes our rosters built differently than the field’s is how we set ourselves up for profit over time.
The single greatest leverage piece from this game, quite possibly the entire slate, is Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders played one fewer snap than the chalky Michael Thomas in the Wildcard round and is currently projected for 3-5% ownership. That would be a mistake for a wide receiver likely to avoid Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis, running routes against relative coverage liabilities Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean. For my MME crowd, the second-best leverage is to create a rule of “exactly one Buccaneers pass-catcher,” as it is unlikely the Bucs completely fail but it is difficult to key in on who is likeliest to succeed. With Alvin Kamara looking like the chalk at running back, there is also legitimate merit to a full fade in a difficult matchup.
You can catch Hilow (and Sonic, and Xandamere, and JM) on the OWS Discord server…
You can get inside Hilow’s DFS mind here.
You can also grab the first five lessons of Hilow’s Game Theory course for FREE.
FRIDAY NIGHT :: You can listen to Hilow and Lex on Run To Daylight (hosted by TodFromPA || presented by OWS!), live at 8 PM Eastern. (Note: the podcast runs live, but it will be archived shortly after it finishes.)