This Week 1 divisional matchup, between two marquee teams seemingly moving in different directions, is a good example of why, when looking at a slate, it is important to rely on more than just Vegas totals:
For all the faults on this Giants team and all the negative press it receives, there are a few positives that we can lean on in regards to the offensive decisions of head coach Pat Shurmur. Going back to his time with the Vikings, Shurmur has been willing to work with a narrow distribution of offensive touches, designing his offense and calling plays so that his best players consistently see the most work. In 2017, this meant that Adam Thelen and Stefon Diggs were consistent focuses of the offense, and last year with the Giants, we saw Shurmur pour his offense through Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram. (Incredibly, there were only two games last season in which a Giants wide receiver outside of this group topped even four targets.) With Beckham gone, the Giants brought in Golden Tate – but Tate is suspended for the first four games of the year, leaving only Saquon, Shepard, and Engram.
Going another level deeper, then: the Cowboys allowed the ninth fewest receptions to wide receivers last season, while giving up the fourth most receptions to tight ends, and allowing the fifth most catches to running backs.
This is not to say that this is an easy matchup or one we would always go out of our way to target. Dallas allowed the seventh fewest yards per game last season and the sixth fewest points per game, while shaving over 4% off the league average yards after catch per reception. But with the Giants almost certain to filter their offense through their best weapons, and with one of their three best weapons having a far more difficult matchup than the other two, Saquon and Engram become two of the most volume-secure players on the slate – with increased value on DraftKings, where their matchup is boosted by the fact that the Cowboys allowed a 4.5% increase on the league average catch rate, and where heavy volume can help make up for a lack of scoring upside. In two games against the Cowboys last year, pairing Saquon and Engram would have averaged you 45.4 points – on pace for 164 points from your roster at a point-per-dollar rate. (In all, these two combined – across two games – for 30 receptions, 398 total yards, and three touchdowns.) In the better game these two combined for (the one in which they each scored a touchdown), they were on a 175 point pace. Now, even with the fact that cheaper players can go for higher salary multipliers, you would be looking for more than that to win a large field tournament; but in smaller field tournaments – and especially in cash games – locking up that much production at that much salary is always a strong play. (It also isn’t outlandish to give the Giants a 40% shot at scoring three touchdowns as a team; and if they were to hit this mark, these two would have a more-than-50% shot at scoring all three of them – making the math pretty solid from an upside perspective, with potential for these two to combine for a 200 point pace.)
You can learn more about our expectations for the new look Cowboys offense HERE, but in looking strictly at the matchup, the Giants will once again be weakest over the middle of the field (they are not shy-away on the outside; but they were above average on the perimeter last year). What does this mean for the Cowboys? Well, last year, Dallas did a poor job using Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper over the middle of the field. If Dallas holds to those patterns, the player with the best matchup is Randall Cobb – an interesting name to keep in mind simply because no one else will have him, though realistically, ceiling is an iffy proposition with Cobb and you would need a broken play in order for him to be worth the roster spot.
There is another train of thought that says that Kellen Moore will find ways to get his best players into the best matchups; and if you feel comfortable leaning toward this thought, Gallup and Amari become very much in play. I would recommend the safe route in cash games – avoiding both Gallup and Amari – but in tournaments, you can make a case for fading the Cowboys’ 2018 tendencies and expecting them to move one of these guys in position to succeed.
Not that the pass game is where anyone’s attention is right now, as it will be all eyes on the backfield for this game in the DFS community. The Giants were fine against the run last year – ranking middle of the pack in yards allowed per carry, rushing yards, and receiving yards. But with how bad this Giants team was as a whole, they tied for the fourth most touchdowns allowed to the running back position.
If Ezekiel Elliott returns to the Cowboys, he is expected to immediately step back into a workhorse role – though realistically, at this point, it would be fair to imagine that he wouldn’t be ready to step directly into his full, monster workload in Week 1, as he will be stepping into a brand new offense. The terminology will be the same, but Dallas is changing enough from a pre-snap perspective that there are timing elements that would make it difficult for him to fully step in, or for him to click right away, making him a risky play.
If he doesn’t return in time, expect Tony Pollard to be one of the most popular plays on the slate. Pollard should step into a monster share of touches, and his upside is notable – especially as his calling card in college was his pass game work.
So is Pollard a must-play if Zeke misses?
Note :: It’s looking likely that a Zeke deal gets done before Week 1 kicks off. We’ll wait until later in the week to update thoughts (any updates will go up at the bottom of this game), as that will allow us to get a feel for what coaches are thinking, and whether or not Zeke will play a full compliment of snaps. If he’ll be anything shy of a 90% player in Week 1, his price is too steep for him to be anything but a hope-and-pray tourney play; but if it looks like he’ll have his typical role, he can be considered his typically-elite self.
In cash games, I would say absolutely. There is no need to try to get cute in this spot.
In tournaments: look, Zeke himself had plenty of 15 point DraftKings and 12 point FanDuel games last season. And the sites were wise enough to not price Pollard at the minimum. There is no reason to expect a bad game from him, and he could easily put up a monster score (if we played this slate a hundred times, he would probably have 20 to 25 games that you would really wish you’d had at his price), but it wouldn’t be crazy to bet on a rookie fourth round draft pick having a less-than-elite first career game making the jump from the American Athletic Conference to the NFL. If you use Pollard in tourneys, you will be using a very chalky play that is nevertheless very strong; and if you fade him, you will risk missing out on a huge point per dollar game, but you will give yourself a shot at passing a large chunk of the field if you can somehow figure out how to allocate that salary better. That’s how I see it, honestly: if you come across something that you think is just a better allocation of salary (after all, this tends to be the loosest salary week of the year, and there are certainly other ways you can save money this week), Pollard would be a fine strategical fade even in smaller field tourneys. But given that he is fundamentally a very strong play, I wouldn’t beat myself up hunting for a different approach if I’m not coming across one. There are plenty of ways to play Pollard and still have a unique roster on the slate.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Although we should not expect a ton of points from the Giants, Evan Engram and Saquon Barclay are both very much worth considering this week – with a pairing of the two even in play on DraftKings in cash games, single entry, and small field play: locking in a large amount of fairly guaranteed point per dollar production.
On the Cowboys, the running back position is probably the only place I’ll have much interest myself, though if I were a multi-entry player by nature, I would probably want to have at least 5% exposure to the Cowboys passing attack, just in case the Kellen Moore offense is a bigger hit than we are anticipating.