Larejo is a mid-stakes tournament mastermind who specializes in outmaneuvering 150-max players with a small number of entries
The irony in the title of this article is why I’m so excited to write this piece each week this season. No DFS players are naturally willing to lose. I’m not, you’re not. We’re preconditioned as humans to want to see green (profit) every time we play DFS. No matter how hard we prepare, we’ll still be annoyed (insert emotion of choice here) if/when we lose our entire investment on a given slate.
Embracing and conquering that feeling is what we are here for, together. What makes One Week Season so wonderful is the intent for this community to come together and strive for first place finishes. You aren’t going to read content and analysis geared toward getting you a few minimum cashes. To do this properly, we have to understand how we build rosters that can compete for first place, and more specifically how to play sub-optimal players with a sense of comfort.
That last sentence is what drives me in DFS. It’s an element most players will not recognize, let alone embrace. Sub-optimal situations drive us toward discomfort. We fight the urge to remove these plays from our lineups. We hem and haw, rationalizing why they won’t hit and replace them with a more obvious (or contrarian) play. And yet, those plays can be the catalysts toward a first place finish.
If you tuned into the Theory of DFS podcast JM did with Jordan Cooper (blenderhd) earlier this week, they discussed studying first place rosters and labeled some first place rosters as nutso. Well, consider yourself lucky because I will be here every week with you all to find those exact nutso set-ups, which people will say to themselves when they are studying your first place lineup in a GPP soon.
Before digging into the Week 1 slate, I want to clarify one more thing. When discussing these risky players and game environments, my goal is not to provide a contrarian-for-contrarian’s sake possibility (i.e. a guaranteed sub-2% owned player or block), but rather the spots I see on this given slate who have the potential to hit their 90-95th percentile outcome this week, and are being overlooked by the field. We’re on the hunt for these glanced over, uncomfortable, and irrational situations which come with their fair share of risk, to gain leverage on the field when those 5% outcomes become reality.
Ask yourself five minutes before rosters lock on Sunday, are your lineups Willing to Lose?
Note :: I’ll be taking a slightly different approach this season than I did in the NFL playoffs last year. Some of my comments will drive toward very specific players, and some will guide you toward a setup or an environment. These are your lineups, you make the calls!
Take away the name I just wrote above. Instead, imagine I wrote ‘most talented / only competent offensive player on a heavy underdog team, will be focal of the offensive gameplan, and should be game script immune’. Maybe you feel slightly better now. If I did not give you his name and only this description, who else would you name in this category? Alvin Kamara is one. Joe Mixon, perhaps? Not bad company.
There are many reasons not to play D’Andre Swift this week: he just recently shed a groin injury which caused him to miss all of August; he’s going up against the 49ers and their stout defense; he is in a perceived time-share (65/35?) with a capable backup in Jamaal Williams; and he now has Anthony Lynn as his new offensive coordinator. But let me provide some counterpoints to why you could lean on Swift this week.
Before getting too excited about Swift, realize the Lions implied team total is only 18.75. But it’s a good week to bet on Swift one week early, on the chance he’s healthy and the Lions feature him heavily as their best bet to keep the game within reach.
One of my favorite (ok, tedious but useful) exercises each week is to write down all possible playable players in each game. This usually looks like: QB, RB, WR, WR, and a TE, sometimes another WR is added, sometimes a second RB or TE, based on expected personnel tendencies. Rarely do I include a fourth WR. With two exceptions…the Buffalo Bills and the Arizona Cardinals.
I think most NFL minds would agree both Brian Daboll and Kliff Kingsbury are above-average offensive minds. But even with that assertion, it was shocking to me to see some of their secret sauce on display in the form of personnel frequencies. In 2020, 17 teams ran 11-personnel (3 WR, 1 RB, 1 TE) over 60% of the time. This is still the most common offensive grouping (plus the QB and five offensive linemen). 12-personnel is the next most common with 2 WR and 2 TE’s on the field (15 teams ran this over 20% of the time). Beyond those formations, we have more unique, less frequent combinations which get us to 100%.
Among those unique combinations is a 4-WR (10-personnel) alignment. Only the Bills and Cardinals used this alignment more than 5% of the time in 2020. But what shocked me was their usage wasn’t just slightly more than 5%, it was 3X the rest of the league for Buffalo (15%) and 4X for Arizona at a whopping 20%.
That was way too many words on offensive personnel but my point is when looking for these sharp plays, we must recognize what these coaches run and who they are putting on the field. And it’s important to note the extended player pool these coaches create for us.
The Cardinals have the Titans on Sunday in what should be a high scoring affair. We know Hopkins will soak up much of the target share from Kyler Murray, but beyond him, the only other given is that AJ Green, Christian Kirk, and Rondale Moore should round out their 4-WR sets. It will be skewed by game flow but getting around 65% of the Cardinals offensive snaps with at least 3-WR on the field would be similar to their approach in 2020.
Hopkins and AJ Green should man the outside with Kirk and Moore in the slot. Let’s embrace what we don’t know. Moore and Green are new to the team and the offense. Kirk is a second-year player with the same OC and QB. I expect Moore to gain some buzz at a low price with his top-end, 4.37 speed. Green is a possession, catch-and-fall space eater who is also too cheap, despite his aging talent. My favorite of this bunch though is Kirk. His playbook and QB familiarity and 4.47 speed, and his positive slot matchup with Kristian Fulton (56.5 coverage rating by PFF is below average in 2020).
Let’s take the opposite approach here on the Swift section. The Falcons and the Eagles are also playing in one of the higher Vegas over/unders of the week (48 and climbing). Jalen Hurts should pick up some momentum as more and more box score readers will dig into his high rushing floor, realize how porous the Falcons defense still is and grab his floor.
Matt Ryan is boring, old, and never covers a Vegas spread when you need him to. Yet, Ryan might be a phenomenal play this Sunday. All the talk, and really I mean all the talk about the Falcons offense has been with the changes they made this offseason: losing Julio Jones, adding Kyle Pitts, Mike Davis, and Head Coach Arthur Smith. But I’d like to focus on the constants in this offense, Calvin Ridley and Matt Ryan. In Week 1, they are more straightforward to project.
Smith is a respected play-caller, known for putting his best players in position to make plays, and game planning to their strengths (i.e. not having a static mind). Davis and Pitts seem to be projecting as the beneficiaries of Smith’s brilliant mind. I expect Pitts to be fairly high-owned, and rightfully so this week based on his price and expected usage. Davis, as we’ve all read by now, is an explosive pass-catcher and Smith likes to lean on one running back and ride him, etc.
But what about Ryan? Smith stated on The Ringer’s Flying Coach podcast in June that Matt Ryan was the key reason why he took the Falcons job over other offers. I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s possible we see Smith unleash Ryan this season as they really don’t have any great RB’s and their best talent dictates Ryan throwing 35+ times every single game if they are trying to win by going through Ridley and Pitts.
And as for Ryan’s matchup this week, he gets the pass-funnel Eagles, who ranked 32nd in 2020 against deep passes, 32nd DVOA against #1 WRs, and 31st against #2 WRs. If we consider Pitts a WR, I’d count on seeing a Ryan-Ridley-Pitts stack on my rosters somewhere on Sunday.
I have to admit, the overreaction to a preseason performance has been astounding on Winston. Two short seasons ago, Winston threw 30 interceptions. He had Bruce Arians calling his plays, the same Arians who just won a Super Bowl with Tom Brady. Winston has always been turnover prone (averages 4.8% turnover-worthy plays in his career, according to PFF – for context, the league leader last season was Deshaun Watson at 1.8%), but for some reason, the current narrative is that Sean Payton + Lasik eye surgery = Winston reincarnated. I won’t link to this but there’s a real article out there about why Winston will make the Pro Bowl. I’m not buying it, whatsoever.
The Packers have a new defensive coordinator this season in Joe Barry but largely the same players. He’s not a household name, but he’s not new to the position. He had some success in previous stints at Washington and Detroit, and for some reason, his teams have led the league in forced fumbles (3rd in WAS, 1st in DET). I think that’s an aberration, but worth mentioning with Winston’s high turnover rate.
In Jameis’ defense, the matchup is brutal this week for his first start. The Packers boast the league’s top-rated (PFF) cornerback in Jaire Alexander, and an above-average pass rush. And also unfortunately for Jameis, he lost his #1 WR, possibly his #1 TE, and really only has Alvin Kamara at his side to counteract the Green Bay defense. This is simply a case to play the narrative. Jameis won’t be too highly owned himself, but he’s always been fantasy-friendly to opposing defenses and I will believe that continues until proven otherwise.