Thursday, Sep 5th
Monday, Sep 9th

End Around :: Week 1

Hilow’s End Around: Game Theory Training for DFS Play

Mark “Hilow” Garcia


Macro Slate View 

We touched on the principles of Game Theory, and how to leverage those principles, in the Game Theory course released last week. If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly urge you to give the first five lessons (FREE!) a read, as this weekly article will leverage those thoughts and ideas. 

We know from the course the idea of “common knowledge.” One of the first things I’ll do each week after finishing my research on the individual matchups on a slate is to look for angles that the majority of players will not consider, or the things that fall outside of “common knowledge.” More so than any other week or any other year (due to COVID, no OTAs/rookie camp, condensed camp, and no preseason), Week 1 2020 is going to be full of busted coverage, sloppy play, and teams working to find their identity. I guarantee not many DFS players are going to even think of this, let alone leverage it to their advantage. We also know that NFL personnel have one of the highest turnover rates from team-to-team and year-to-year of any major sports league. For these reasons, core plays should come from teams with little to no coaching turnover and minimal personnel changes, but we’re going to have a very tangible edge by rostering players that have one, or both, of: higher expected aDOT and higher expected YAC potential, specifically for wide receivers and tight ends.

Good Chalk vs. Bad Chalk 

CMC ::

CMC will always carry ownership, and it’s never bad chalk. The problem with Week 1 is we don’t know a few things about this Panthers team: we don’t know what their pace will look like (although it’s likelier than not to remain high with Joe Brady calling plays); we don’t know exactly what Joe Brady’s NFL offense will look like (although it’s likelier than not to be designed to attack multiple levels of the field); and we don’t know how involved CMC will be in the passing game in other-than-negative game scripts (although it’s likelier than not for him to consistently see 5-7 targets as his likeliest range of outcomes). Put it all together and he’s likely overpriced by a good $1000 in salary for the unknowns for Week 1. (Neither good chalk or bad chalk; simply a factor when determining our “chalk build.”)

George Kittle ::

Many people will look to the injuries to the Niners’ pass-catchers and justify paying $7,200 for Kittle vs. a team consistently ranked near the bottom of the league in points allowed to the TE position. The problem is we can never truly bank on more than Kittle’s standard range of outcomes when projecting targets per game, which is likely to reside in the 6-8 target range most games. That’s a hefty price to pay for sub double-digit looks, even in a perceived failsafe matchup. (Borderline bad chalk when factoring in volume-driven chances at a slate-breaking game and the value available elsewhere at the position.)

Zach Ertz ::

PHI write-up covered below in “Leverage Spots.” (Good chalk with possible leverage angles covered below.)

Antonio Gibson ::

Here is your “RB thrust into perceived volume” chalk. The hype surrounding AG in season-long drafts has gone a little overboard, in that the masses are assuming the rookie converted WR will start seeing bell-cow usage out of the gate following the release of Adrian Peterson. He’s as dynamic as they come, but I have doubts as to his early season role when factoring in everything COVID has forced rookies to overcome this year. I’d peg his likeliest range of outcomes for touches in the 10-12 range for the first 3-4 weeks. He obviously carries upside on those touches, but it isn’t enough for me to plug him into lineups expecting 4x value on his low $4,000 price. He will need to find paint for him to sniff that value, on a team likely to utilize Peyton Barber as the goal line back, and with JD McKissic involved on third downs/hurry-up offense in the early going. Fine cash play; poor GPP play with the lack of ceiling associated with minimal expected touches. (Bad chalk for GPP, both SE/3-max and MME alike.)

Terry McLaurin ::

What we know: 1) Rivera/Turner will look to get the ball into the hands of their playmakers as much as possible 2) F1 will see a good bit of recent PHI addition lockdown corner Darius Slay 3) WAS defense has a better-than-perception chance of creating a “tributary game script” in this game (a game script that falls outside of likeliest scenario, or where PHI controls the tempo and direction of the game) 4) F1’s hype in season-long contests is off the charts. Putting it all together, I expect F1’s ownership to far exceed his likeliest range of outcomes in both expected targets and final box score numbers. (Borderline bad chalk with leverage opportunities.)

Josh Jacobs ::

The perception amongst season-long drafters is that JJ will see increased pass game usage (Gruden has said this since the middle of last season). The problem is coaching actions do not match their words. Not only did Jacobs not see extended pass game usage in 2019 following Gruden hyping that he would, the Raiders spent $7 million over two seasons re-signing Jalen Richard this offseason, in addition to bringing in Devontae Booker and Theo Riddick seemingly to compete for depth for that third down/pass-catching back role. Finally, after cutting Riddick, they brought in TB-cut Dare Ogunbowale for a workout. Actions are not matching words here. The problem for us for Week 1 (or good news?) is that it likely won’t matter what Jacobs’ pass game involvement is playing the Panthers. We can confidently project a floor of 18-22 touches for Jacobs regardless of game script. Without those valuable targets, realize his floor is lower than we’d like for a player priced at $6,800, but the chances of him disappointing on a floor of 18-22 touches against the Panthers are slim, and his ceiling remains intact. (Neither good chalk nor bad chalk; simply a factor when determining our “chalk build.”

DJ Chark ::

Again, off-season hype drives the majority of our expected ownership projections for Week 1, with no preseason and limited camp news. Keeping likeliest scenario for this game in mind, we should expect one of the Jags’ pass-catchers to see a spike in production this week, and outside of Chark, the snap rates of the secondary pass-catchers is not yet known, leaving Chark as the best bet to see a bump in targets and production. Breaking this down further, we shouldn’t be surprised to see 2.5 quarters of underperformance from this offense as a whole, capturing ceiling in garbage time. This makes us even less sure of any real floor for members of this offense, and the secondary pass-catchers become more GPP-viable. Of those secondary players, Chris Conley carries the highest raw ceiling, both from an expected snap rate perspective (played on 82% of offensive snaps in 2019, which actually led the team for wide receivers over the course of the full season; I’d expect Laviska and Dede to share playing time in the slot to start the year) as well as talent vs. opportunity perspective. (Borderline bad chalk for expected range of outcomes vs. expected ownership; Conley a viable leverage pivot for GPPs at only $4,000 in salary (another YAC/R gem).)

Jamison Crowder ::

With a bottom three defense and likely negative game script, paired with the injuries to the Jets’ pass-catchers, expect ownership to flow to the player who has received the most offseason hype. His floor is locked in for Week 1, but we have to question his price-considered ceiling in a tough matchup, likely needing heavy volume to reach the DraftKings receiving bonus and/or multiple touchdowns to capture a GPP-winning ceiling. (Solid cash game play, doubtful GPP ceiling. Bad chalk for GPP with a possible leverage to be covered later.)

Chalk Build ::

We should expect heavy ownership on the three RBs covered in the previous section as well as the two TEs, with likeliest chalk build being two of CMC/Jacobs/Gibson paired with either Kittle, Ertz or Waller at TE. Furthermore, expect a good percentage of the field to play all of CMC/Jacobs/Gibson plus one of those three TEs. There will also be a good portion of the field that plays CMC/Jacobs/McLaurin as opposed to Gibson, paired with one of the three TEs. There are a few ways to leverage these scenarios, which we’ll cover in the next section. 

Leverage Spots ::

With no preseason, and limited exposure available to camps, the field will have a harder time identifying solid leverage spots (again, areas outside of “common knowledge”). With the idea of “strategic reasoning” in mind, paired with the goal of our single entry and three-max builds (building a roster that effectively contains the same floor as if we had paid up at every position, while not sacrificing ceiling), we’ll introduce the idea of “leverage.” Leverage spots are ways to introduce unique roster constructions that will seem, to the untrained eye, as hyper-contrarian. The kicker is that we’re not sacrificing floor or ceiling when looking at the roster as a whole, instead choosing our spots where we can differentiate ourselves from the field, as opposed to utilizing pure ownership numbers. Typically, these spots are found by identifying highly concentrated passing offenses and utilizing players with lower expected ownership in our builds. These ideas were developed by breaking down DFS into the different areas of Game Theory that the game itself falls under: Non-Cooperative Game Theory, Asymmetric Game Theory, and Non-Zero-Sum Game Theory (for further explanation of these terms and ideas, a look into Game Theory psychology, and how to utilize these principles in DFS roster construction, grab my full Game Theory course in the Marketplace for only $29!).

Now to the good stuff: where can these plays be found for week one?

NYJ ::

For the Jets, we have a team with a bottom three (if not THE worst) on-paper defense in the league and a concentrated passing offense for Week 1 (Denzel Mims and Breshad Perriman missed majority of camp due to injury, with Mims being a rookie lacking NFL reps and Perriman new to the team and lacking Gase reps; Chris Hogan signed three weeks ago, and Ryan Griffin was limited in camp while recovering from offseason ankle surgery, leaving Le’Veon Bell, Jamison Crowder and Chris Herndon as the only viable pass-catchers to receive meaningful camp reps with starting quarterback Sam Darnold). Because of the tough matchup against the Bills, there likely isn’t going to be large ownership numbers on any of these options, but the ownership that does come from the Jets is likely to be concentrated on Jamison Crowder, who has received the most hype on this offense this offseason. Were this an easier matchup, we could feasibly stack this offense, but since it’s a difficult one, the smart leverage play is to roster a sole member of the pass-catching corps not named Jamison Crowder, also tabling the possibility of rostering Darnold. 

PHI ::

Similar story for the Eagles as we had with the Jets, but the matchup is much better on paper. Looking at the Eagles’ offense, we have injuries primarily thinning out the herd for us. Alshon Jeffery was activated off the PUP the day of this writing, Miles Sanders has missed over half of camp, JJ Arcega-Whiteside has not transitioned well to the NFL game, and the rest of the receiving corps (outside of the guys we’ll cover next) consists of Greg Ward Jr., Quez Watkins and Jalen Reagor (who is expected to miss the first 3-4 weeks of the season). To this point, I’ve left out three players: Dallas Goedert, DeSean Jackson and Zach Ertz. Dallas Goedert suffered a hairline fracture to his thumb, and is likely to be wearing a protective brace on his hand and wrist. Furthermore, the Eagles have had two massive injuries to their offensive line, going so far as to work out Cordy Glenn this past week (showing you the state of emergency for that OL unit as a whole, as Cordy Glenn is #NotGood), and Goedert is 10x the blocker that Ertz is. Examining the matchup with Washington, we find a defensive line unit that PFF has ranked number four overall this year. With all this in mind, we should expect the Eagles to play primarily 12-personnel sets (1 RB, 2 TE), and Goedert to play primarily in-line for Week 1, as he is a better blocker than Ertz and has an injury that could limit his pass-catching ability and effectiveness. So that leaves us with Ertz and Jackson as viable options. With the masses having caught up to the fact that Ertz is a “possession TE,” deriving the vast majority of his value from volume, paired with the injuries to that offense and the public perception that goes with it, we can be certain the ownership numbers from the Eagles will be heavily weighted towards Ertz. The one thing holding volume down for PHI pass-catchers is the possibility of them jumping out to a big lead, which is muted by a couple things: 1) The fact that WAS should remain aggressive the entire game with a change of coaching (remember, Rivera’s Panthers led the league in pace of play last year) 2) If the Eagles do jump out to an early lead, it’s likely that damage has been done by either Ertz or DJax.

Both Chris Herndon and DeSean Jackson stick out as high leverage plays, but that is where majority of our competition will end their analysis. By playing BOTH Jackson and Herndon on the same roster, for a combined $8,200 in salary, or only 16.4% of our salary available, we capture a tangible floor plus ceiling combination (stemming from the concentration of targets expected for each respective offense) for minimal salary. Bringing us back to the idea of playing high aDOT/YAC potential players in week one, Chris Herndon ranked 12th amongst TEs in 2018 (last healthy season) in YAC/R (yards after catch per reception) and Desean Jackson has consistently ranked in the top five wide receivers over the past five season in average depth of target, averaging an aDOT (average depth of target) over 16.0 over that same time (which is absolutely absurd)!

WAS ::

With the PHI write-up in mind, and the fact that Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson are sure to see heavy ownership when considering price and season-long hype, I’d prefer to get my exposure to this side of the game with the bare minimum WAS D as opposed to one of their pass-catchers. In my opinion, the “likeliest tributaries” paint a picture of either: 1) Washington asserting themselves on both sides of the ball to start the game (Ron Rivera establishing his tempo on both offense and defense), forcing PHI into volume passing and giving WAS the ability to execute their likeliest scenario game plan (one where they’ll look to control the ball and clock, setting up downfield looks) or 2) this game turns into a messy slug-fest, where neither team is able to assert themselves on offense. The perception is that of PHI controlling the game, but the ownership on WAS pass-catchers will likely be higher than the tangible chances of that happening. This gives us a nice leverage spot by either fading the WAS side of the ball, or taking a discount on the WAS D (remember, they boast PFF’s 4th-rated defensive line and PHI has issues up front).

Dalvin Cook ::

With so much ownership expected on both CMC and Jacobs, I feel Dalvin may go somewhat overlooked for Week 1. With how poor the Packers were at stopping the run game off the edges last year, coupled with the 18-22 rush and 3-5 target floor (with ceiling for more!) of Dalvin and the fact that the Packers did little to address their inside-out run-stopping game, we should be able to capture a higher floor and ceiling than Josh Jacobs at a fraction of the ownership.

Emmanuel Sanders ::

There is a ton to like from both sides of the TB/NO game, but Sanders is the likeliest to see very little ownership. We spoke in the first section about the opportunity for increased broken plays, blown coverage, and communication errors for Week 1; Sanders is one of the best in-space WRs in the league.

Chris Conley ::

Covered above in the DJ Chark write-up.

In Summary ::

We’re talking a lot this week on the site about the sort of score you’ll need in Week 1 to take down a tourney. In addition to keeping this in mind, be sure to also keep in mind the things we know, the things we don’t, and the ways we can use this to our advantage. This can help you move off the beaten path, with differentiated (and better!) roster compared to what the field is putting together.

If you’re wanting to further sharpen your game theory thinking, be sure to check out the first five lessons (FREE!!!) of the Game Theory course.

And if you have any questions, reach out to me on Twitter @HilowFF!