Mark “Hilow” Garcia
This week is going to be won or lost at the running back position, as we have a handful of high chalk plays developing. With quarterback ownership likely to be spread out and not many clear areas for slate-breaking scores at other positions, it makes getting running back right that much more important. Overall, we don’t have an abundance of “can’t miss, smash spot” plays and are likely to see lower than 2020 average scores take down GPPs. That said, there are some interesting leverage angles present in “lower than should be owned” spots.
Funny story, in last week’s End Around, I had written something to the effect of “Dalvin Cook is set up the best he has been over the previous four “Dalvin chalk” weeks, so he’ll probably get injured.” I ended up deleting the tail end of that comment prior to going to press, but yea, my fault. These two are listed together because they are largely the same play, a high ceiling low to moderate floor, yardage and touchdown back that can both put a slate out of reach and destroy rosters. The Game Theory and DFS theory answer to chalk yardage and touchdown backs is to be underweight or fade when ownership reaches a certain threshold (my personal threshold is 25%, but over to your own practices). This will be the case seemingly for the rest of the year for these guys. For Dalvin, there is even more uncertainty introduced with the injury he sustained last week as well as the question of whether or not his high recent workload was a contributing factor.
(Typically I’d label these two guys borderline BAD CHALK, but because of the state of the slate and the fact that these players are not vastly superior plays when compared to running backs priced lower, this week they get the full BAD CHALK label)
Again, listed together because they are the same play (although DMo’s floor is slightly higher). One of these two are likely to be paired with one of the above two on the chalk build, making it fairly easy to find ways to differentiate ourselves. The cost considered floor on each is fairly high this week, but there are clear paths to failure and clear reasons to look elsewhere (in addition to clear reasons to play them). Basically, we can confidently project a floor of 18 or so touches with ceiling for 25+, with the biggest issues being lower-than-optimal touchdown equity and questionable per touch efficiency. They are both by no means terrible fantasy plays, but I will personally be looking to leverage off the very clear chalk build this week.
(neither GOOD CHALK or BAD CHALK, but this is the clearest leverage spot on this slate)
All of DeShaun Watson, Brandin Cooks and Keke Coutee are expected to be amongst the highest owned players at their respective positions. All are solid plays in a vacuum from the perspective of a point per dollar floor, but we have to question the ceiling in a difficult matchup with the Colts. After an offense loses a key contributor, volume clearly opens up for the remaining members, but oftentimes we see the offense become less efficient as a whole. In my mind, that is likeliest case scenario here, particularly when considering the matchup.
(Again, solid in a vacuum floor plays with questionable ceiling; neither GOOD CHALK or BAD CHALK with clear “fade this offense altogether” leverage angles in play)
Instead of pulling an excerpt from my course, let’s look at a deeper level of thinking regarding Game Theory and DFS for this week’s teaching segment.
“If-then” statements are derived from engineering and computer programming, where the “if” queues the software to highlight a certain parameter from code and the “then” performs the command once the specified parameters have been identified. This is how majority of the field thinks about contrarianism in DFS. To highlight what we mean by this using an example from this year, the thought process goes something like this: IF Dalvin Cook is not the highest scoring running back on the slate, THEN I need to find a similarly priced play that will be the highest scoring running back on the slate, thusly leaping the rosters that have Dalvin. The problem with this line of thinking is twofold: (1) what if Dalvin is the highest scoring running back on the slate but scores only 27 fantasy points, and there are multiple high-priced wide receivers that go for higher point-per-dollar multipliers, (2) What if there aren’t similarly priced running backs that have a good chance of outscoring Dalvin? Both of these cases have actually happened this year, and immediately all the chalk build rosters were dead.
The process of identifying chalk and then putting it into the context of a roster allows us to clearly define what the rest of the rosters that play chalk will look like (as in, we know there is only so much salary available through the idea of “common knowledge” and we know everyone in a contest is operating under the same contest governing rules) and leverage those findings to give ourselves the best chance to create a unique roster without sacrificing floor. Theoretically (and in practice, as this is the technique that led to almost an 80% cash rate in GPPs last year for me), this allows us to create rosters that have a chance to take down a GPP without playing suboptimal plays (and in turn, lowering our floor and subsequent cash rates).
So instead of relying on “if-then” statements, our goal is to think about roster construction in ways that the field is neglecting on a particular slate, creating leverage in the process, and giving ourselves the same chances of taking down a GPP as everyone else without sacrificing our cash rates.
This week, the chalk build consists of one high-priced running back (Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry) and one value running back (David Montgomery, DeVontae Booker, (maybe) Myles Gaskin), a wide receiver in each tier of pricing (high, mid, low), a value tight end and a pay up defense (of note, quarterback ownership should be relatively spread out). With quarterback and wide receiver ownership not expected to clearly congregate in any one area, we’re left with running back and tight end as the best positions to create leverage. Tight end is honestly such a mess that a $2,500 tight end that “fails” and gets us eight to nine points could still end up being the top point per dollar play on the slate, which narrows things down further for us. We must be very particular in our running back choices on this slate!
This game is one of two or three that is going to be under-owned relative to chances at a blow up. As we covered in the game writeup, Atlanta average five points per game more with both Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones (currently listed as questionable, but I’d put his status closer to the old school “probable”) on the field. New Orleans will also be without arguably their best pass-rusher in defensive end Marcus Davenport and arguably their best cornerback in 2020 in Janoris Jenkins. In all, we have a situation where things are lining up to provide a game environment that has a “better than perception chance” at being different than public perception. The perception is New Orleans will continue to control games with their defense and be able to rush at a high rate; literally any other game environment will be contrarian here. The likeliest way this game plays out against public perception is for the Falcons to force New Orleans to more aggression through the air, by either playing with a lead or creating a back and forth environment.
Because Atlanta can be expected to lean pass-heavy to begin with, the biggest “missing piece” to the equation becomes increased pass rates for New Orleans, and with Michael Thomas commanding such a large target market share with Taysom Hill at quarterback, we have a situation in which it is easy to identify where to expect offensive production for each team in a game environment that has each team passing more than expected. Matt Ryan (remember, Atlanta average five points per game more with both Julio and Ridley) is a viable piece to include in game stacks against one of the top two or three rush defenses in the league; if Atlanta succeed, it is likeliest to come through the pass game. Pairing Ryan with either Julio or Calvin Ridley (who should see the best pure matchup of the Atlanta pass-catchers) and bringing it back with Michael Thomas is an easy way to target concentrated offenses on both sides whose floors and ceilings are higher than the public will give credit for, in a week where it is not difficult to leverage the field off bad chalk. In all, this is my favorite under-owned game environment to attack on the slate.
Instead of looking at the individual running back leverage pieces, we’ll take a macro view of the position as a whole. Another extremely easy leverage angle that will go overlooked this week is to utilize two mid-range running backs in a week where the chalk build will be to utilize one pay-up (Henry, Dalvin) and one value running back (Montgomery, Booker, (maybe) Gaskin). The likely pivot off the ownership of that roster construction will be to either double pay-up or double pay-down, with the lowest ownership from a roster construction standpoint likely being this double mid-priced running back construction. Austin Ekeler, James Robinson, Miles Sanders and Alvin Kamara (ordered by my personal preference considering chance at a slate-breaking score) all carry pure leverage from a micro standpoint, but the way to truly gain an edge on the field from a leverage angle is to play two of them together on the same lineup!
I haven’t yet looked at pricing, but I can’t imagine Kyler Murray carries much ownership this week. Furthermore, the ownership he does carry is likelier than not to be paired with one of his pass-catchers. We’ve seen his rushing outputs tail off over the previous two weeks (five attempts each game), which can likely be attributed to his shoulder injury. I prefer to be a week early as opposed to a week late on high upside players whose box scores have been affected by injury. At some point, the rushing will return, and this week the matchup should filter additional volume to Kyler rushes. So the only question becomes whether or not he feels healthy enough to take off and scramble against a team with high pressure rates. The rushing ceiling alone is immense here.
As we covered in the writeup of this game, the best way to attack here is by betting on the game environment as a whole. If Kyler either has a high rushing output or connects on a deep pass or two to Christian Kirk or Andy Isabella, it stands to reason that the Rams will be more aggressive in their rush/pass rates. The low aDOT roles of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods line up well with what the Cardinals are willing to give up on the defensive side of the ball, with the only thing holding them back being expected volume. Naked Kyler + Kupp (or Woods) is a high leverage angle deserving our consideration this week!
It’s not clear to me currently whether or not he’ll see overwhelming ownership priced around DMo and Booker, but I’d wager good money that Gaskin is the lowest owned of those three. I dove deep into the wide array of possible outcomes for the Dolphins this week in the game writeup, but it appears we’re likely to get one of the two optimal scenarios (Tua Tagovailoa starts, Salvon Ahmed misses, and Gaskin plays). Considering the high likelihood that the Dolphins defense controls this game, paired with a lofty 27 point Vegas implied team total and what should be an overwhelming command of the backfield duties in what should be a low volume passing attack with high rush rates, and we get a running back who carries top five volume projections that also has top five touchdown equity (conversely, DMo would check one of those boxes) at low ownership. If ownership looks like it will rival DMo, I’ll likely look elsewhere and avoid this entire tier of pricing.
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.
You can listen to Hilow and Lex on Run To Daylight (hosted by TodFromPA || presented by OWS!), live at 8 PM Eastern this Saturday. (Note: the podcast runs live, but it will be archived shortly after it finishes.)
We’re looking for the best game theory // leverage angles on the slate! Drop your thoughts below, and let’s see where we end up!!!
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