With the growing popularity of daily fantasy football and more new users arriving by the day, simply looking at the basic information and statistics available to everyone will not give you the edge you need to consistently submit winning lineups. Using data from sites like RotoGrinders and Pro Football Focus provides a unique way to look at player statistics and participation not found anywhere else.
I’ve gone with some less obvious and contrarian picks worth using in large field tournaments with a lower ownership percentage. That doesn’t mean there won’t be chalk players listed – there are still players that need to be in your lineup.
Last week we found some big performers like Jeremy Maclin and several other players like Nick Foles, Cordarrelle Patterson and Alfred Morris that provided good value on the dollar. This week we are faced with even tighter salaries on FanDuel so we need to be creative with our lineups.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-week $3 Million Fantasy Football league for Week 9's games. It's only $25 to join and first prize is $500,000. Starts Sunday, November 2nd at 1pm ET. Here's the link.
Here are the picks this week:
QB Colin Kaepernick – 49ers vs. STL
If there is a chalk play this week among these recommendations, Colin Kaepernick fits the bill against a struggling Rams defense. As we’ve exploited players on teams coming off their bye week many times in this space, Kaepernick is no different. Recency bias may kick in for some this week. The 49ers are coming off their bye week and did not play particularly well in their trip to Denver in Week 7. Let’s not forget that Kaepernick dominated this same Rams team in Week 6 for 380 combined yards and three touchdowns.
Despite winning a tightly fought contest against Seattle, St. Louis has been borderline dominated the last four weeks by opposing quarterbacks. A combination of Nick Foles, Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Alex Smith has averaged a 68% completion percentage for 273 yards and 1.75 touchdowns each week. That doesn’t include the 13 carries for 167 yards and a touchdown they have surrendered in the last three weeks (excluding the nimble footed Foles). Eight of those carries were quarterback scrambles and only three came when pressured. That magnifies the lack of pressure on they are getting on the quarterback. They have just an average of two sacks and 3.25 quarterback hits in that same three game stretch. Overall for the season, the Rams defense is ranked a lowly 29th according to RotoGrinders’ Defense vs. QB tool.
Kaepernick may not need to throw for over 300 yards this week as a heavy home favorite but his scrambling ability allows for safe floor if the Rams’ offense doesn’t travel well.
Colin Kaepernick Projection
QB Eli Manning – Giants vs. IND
Eli Manning makes our second quarterback recommendation coming off the bye. Outside of his dud in Week 6 at Philadelphia, Manning has been one of the best fantasy quarterbacks in recent weeks and he will be overlooked because of the Giants’ bye week. On paper this looks like a moderately tough matchup for Manning and the Giants IF cornerback Vontae Davis suits up (which is unlikely).
Anyone that rostered Ben Roethlisberger or had to look up at a Roethlisberger led team above you in the standings know that he had a historic day. Many were not on the Steelers’ offense (myself included) because of the success Indianapolis had against opposing quarterbacks. When Davis was sidelined it changed the entirely complexity of their scheme. In the first seven weeks of the year, the Colts allowed just 232 yards passing, an 8/6 TD to INT ratio with three sacks and four QB hits per game. We know that Big Ben proceeded to throw 522 yards, SIX touchdowns and zero sacks (a lone QB hit) with Davis on the sidelines.
With Davis sidelined, Greg Toler makes for a better second corner than lead corner and Davis’ replacement Josh Gordy was schooled last week by rookie Martavis Bryant (two red-zone TDs). Did we mention that Toler allowed 118 yards and two touchdowns to Antonio Brown? Even without Victor Cruz, the Giants receivers and Larry Donnell should find plenty of holes in the Colts’ zone coverage. Manning will need to keep pace with Andrew Luck on the scoreboard and has the home-field advantage. We shouldn’t count on 500 yards and six touchdowns from Manning but multiple scores are within reach.
Eli Manning Projection
RB Marshawn Lynch – Seahawks vs. OAK
The narrative that Marshawn Lynch is a malcontent and that his recent two-game slide is directly related to his unhappiness with the Percy Harvin trade is overblown. Correlation does not imply causation. Whether or not Lynch is someone you would invite to dinner is irrelevant. He just needs to run for a lot of yards and score touchdowns in this one week in daily fantasy sports. It is almost just as plausible that he was the victim of game script or the way the oblong football bounced that day. By most metrics we have – Lynch is still running at a high level and it’s the perfect opportunity to take advantage of his poor public perception. Especially when people attempt to add one more variable to the equation and see that Oakland just shut down the Browns’ high-powered running attack (Alex Mack anyone?).
So now that we have that out of the way, let’s dig in. Yes, Lynch has not had the season most of us have expected for him so far. His carries are down about three per game from last year’s pace as well as his touchdown rate is down about 1.3%. However his yards per carry, yards after contact and targets per game are equal to or higher than last year. The big difference is about 10 rushing yards less per game, which makes sense given the reduction in carries.
The Raiders have struggled with stopping the run this year, though they have made some minor improvements under Tony Sparano. Oakland has given up an average of 30 carries for 119 yards (65% after first contact, 4.7 missed tackles) and a touchdown to opposing running backs. Their biggest issue was stopping the run from nickel or dime packages. Teams have run the ball for an average of 19 times for 91.9 yards and 0.9 touchdowns against those fronts. Those averages are improved by Sparano’s current three game stint as interim head coach (13.6 carries for 54.7 yards and 0.67 touchdowns). Regardless, the Raiders are huge road underdogs and the game script will be conducive for Lynch and the Seahawks to get their running game healthy. This may seem like one of the most obvious matchups to exploit this weekend, but many will have written off Lynch already because he has burned them for the last two weeks. Invest with confidence when others are fearful.
Marshawn Lynch Projection
RB Branden Oliver – Chargers at MIA
Branden Oliver is going to be front and center in a pivotal matchup this weekend between two AFC Playoff contenders. While the total points in this game has a modest total according to Vegas NFL odds, the game script sets up nicely for Oliver to have a big fantasy day. On paper, this is a tough matchup for the Chargers. Miami allows just an average of 83 yards and 0.6 touchdowns a week to opposing running backs. However, they are vulnerable in the passing game. Running backs have averaged 4.7 receptions for 33.4 yards and 0.3 touchdowns against Miami.
Oliver should be under-owned this week given recent circumstances. He hasn’t found the end zone the last two weeks with a combined 141 yards of offense, yet he has still accounted for 94 percent of the Chargers’ carries and 13 percent of the team targets. The hidden value here is something that Pat Thorman of Pro Football Focus noted in his research this week. The Chargers do not run a no-huddle offense at home but utilize it on 34 percent of their offensive plays while on the road. With Oliver on the field for four out of every five plays, there is an opportunity for him to see more volume in the passing game and take advantage of one of Miami’s few weaknesses on defense.
Branden Oliver Projection
RB Shane Vereen – Patriots vs. DEN
There are going to be plenty of points scored in Foxboro on Sunday between the Broncos and Patriots, but how to we leverage that into our lineups? The strength of the Broncos’ defensive backs should give us some minor pause about rolling Brandon LaFell or Julian Edelman this week. Both receivers should produce on volume alone, but the huge upside game might not be there for them. The best way to exploit the matchup is to roll out Shane Vereen despite the Broncos’ equally strong run defense.
Denver has been stout against the run all year. They have allowed an average of 17.4 carries for 50.9 yards and 0.6 touchdowns to running backs each week. However, they can be beaten by pass catchers out of the backfield with an average of 4.9 receptions for 50.7 yards and 0.3 touchdowns. The two touchdowns they have surrendered came on noteworthy plays. Marshawn Lynch lined up at right wide receiver on the goal line and beat linebacker Brandon Marshall for a touchdown. Then a few weeks later, Andre Ellington caught an errant pass 20 yards downfield from rookie Logan Thomas and took it the remaining 61 yards for a touchdown.
It can be tough to decipher what the Patriots are going to do on a weekly basis with their running backs but a clear trend is developing this year. Bill Belichick is using his personnel to take advantage of what the defense does worse. Last week was a Jonas Gray week because of the Bears’ poor run defense. This week is setting up as a week that Vereen will need to be involved in the passing game. In the last two years against top-15 run defenses, Vereen is averaging almost one more reception and 18 more receiving yards than against bottom 15 run defenses. This game is going to be up-tempo with a lot of plays and Vereen is set to capitalize on the opportunity.
Shane Vereen Projection
RB Frank Gore – 49ers vs. STL
It feels odd to call Frank Gore a punt play after all these years, but that is what he is at this point. His usage numbers are down this year due to the presence of rookie Carlos Hyde and he is seeing approximately three carries less per game from 2013. Not earth shattering, but enough to suppress his yardage totals despite having the same yards per carry as last year. Other than keeping their workhorse running back fresh, it appears he is set up to be a big factor in this divisional showdown with St. Louis.
Gore had a less than ideal performance against the Rams in Week 6 with just 38 yards on 16 carries. In the two weeks prior, Gore ran 42 times for 226 yards – definitely not washed up. Like most of his teammates, Gore found little success on the ground in Denver.
The Rams have been inconsistent in stopping the run the last four weeks. They’ve given up an average of 92 yards and 0.75 to opposing running backs in that stretch – yet were worked over by Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis for 119 yards last week. The headliner for the Rams defense was holding Marshawn Lynch to just 53 weeks but that was more a result of game flow than a pure shutdown performance. Remember that Lynch had a touchdown called back due to penalty. Gore has had success against St. Louis as recently as last year – he ran 35 times for 195 yards (5.6 YPC) and two touchdowns in his two games against them.
Frank Gore Projection
WR Steve Smith – Ravens at PIT
Steve Smith’s hot start has cooled considerably the last two weeks. Luckily for Smith he gets to kick start a new hot streak with Cortez Allen in coverage. Allen is the worst graded cornerback in league (by a wide margin) at Pro Football Focus. He’s allowed an average of 4.25 receptions for 69 yards and 0.63 touchdowns each week and most recently surrendered two touchdowns to the Colts (Hilton and Moncrief).
Smith’s market share of WR targets by week has slipped the last two weeks to just 21 percent – down considerably from the start of the season. It appears to be more a matter of circumstance than any underlying issue. If we know Cortez Allen is poor in coverage, then Gary Kubiak will as well. We shouldn’t be surprised to Smith blow by Allen at least once for a long touchdown.
Steve Smith Projection
WR Andre Johnson – Texans vs. PHI
Andre Johnson has been consistent in recent weeks if anything. The lack of touchdowns is still mind-numbing, but his suppressed salary across the industry has made him a good cash game lineup option. However, there a few reasons (some obvious) to think that Johnson is in for a big day in Week 9.
Let us start with the obvious. The Texans are home underdogs. Houston will have to pass to keep pace with the breakneck Eagles’ offense. Johnson has been a co-number one receiver with DeAndre Hopkins and will still see at least 10 targets. That’s his floor. The slightly less obvious aspect of Johnson’s matchup is that he will see right cornerback Cary Williams in coverage. For anyone following this article for the past two seasons knows that we target Williams at every optimum opportunity. He gives up an average of 4.6 receptions for 69.4 yards and 0.6 touchdowns in coverage. Regardless if you assign the blame to Williams or safety Nate Allen, both players were responsible for allowing John Brown to catch a target 43 yards downfield that turned into the game-winning 75 yard touchdown reception last week.
The less obvious aspect of a potentially big fantasy day for Johnson and the Texans’ passing attack is their increased usage of the no-huddle offense. Pat Thorman of PFF also notes that the Texans have used the no-huddle approach on 25 percent of their offensive plays the last two weeks and their offensive plays run is climbing rapidly as a result.
Andre Johnson Projection
WR Dwayne Bowe – Chiefs vs. NYJ
Dwayne Bowe is strictly a matchup play this weekend. This game has the lowest total of the weekend and the Chiefs are one of the biggest home favorites. It is obvious that Las Vegas does not think too highly of the Jets “offense”. Kansas City should not have to pass much but it will be too tempting not to take advantage of Antonio Allen in coverage of Bowe. Allen gives up an average of 4.1 receptions for 54.1 and 0.9 touchdowns each week. His seven touchdowns allowed lead the league – a dubious distinction to own. What makes matters worse is outside of touchdowns to Antonio Gates and Shane Vereen; his other touchdowns have come against All-Pros Jeremy Ross, Danny Amendola, Robert Woods and Scott Chandler.
Bowe only has one red-zone target through six games played with zero touchdowns. He is as good a bet as anyone to find the end zone this week.
Dwayne Bowe Projection
WR Odell Beckham – Giants vs. IND
As we discussed above with Eli Manning, the Giants are a sneaky passing option to target this week. It gets better for Beckham because if Vontae Davis is somehow able to play this weekend, he will be matched up with Rueben Randle in coverage. That pins Beckham against either Toler or Gordy in coverage, a matchup that he should win often. Scoring three touchdowns in your first three games as a professional puts anyone on the map, and we’ve seen Beckham’s separation skills that led the Giants to select him early in the first round. That matches up with the Giants’ snap deployment of him. He is seeing 59 percent of his snaps at right wide receiver or flanker – allowing him to move in motion to the slot.
Also as with Manning, Beckham may be overlooked coming off the bye week. Fire him as a high-upside option.
Odell Beckham Projection
TE Julius Thomas – Broncos at NE
What have you done for us lately Julius Thomas? How about just six catches for 50 yards in the last two weeks combined. His production accounted for just 18 percent of the Broncos’ passing market share after a dominant start to the season. Variance and regression was bound to kick in sooner or later and it did. However, as we like to say around these parts – he’s good at football.
Per RotoGrinders’ Defense versus TE tool, New England is a bottom-third defense in covering tight ends. If you subscribe the aspect of Narrative Street that Peyton Manning will kick start his struggling receivers then Thomas is in for a big day. In addition, New England’s new-look defense sans Jerod Mayo just allowed Martellus Bennett to tally six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown last week. The Patriots used the village approach in coverage and no combination of Brandon Browner or Jamie Collins was effective. Chicago cleared schemed to get Bennett on the Patriots’ linebackers and we know Manning will do the same.
Thomas will be overlooked because of his recent struggles but still owns one of the highest ceilings among tight ends. His salary fell $700 on FanDuel this week whereas Rob Gronkowski’s salary increased by that same $700. You do the math.
Julius Thomas Projection
TE Jason Witten – Cowboys vs. ARI
It is normally not advisable to chase points from last week, but Jason Witten’s salary remained the same or decreased across the industry because of the Monday Night Football effect. Witten had his first marquee game of the season with five catches for 70 yards a touchdown (from Brandon Weeden) on a healthy eight targets. We aren’t ready to proclaim him back to normal, but in a week where the top options are sparse, it makes sense to pivot back to Witten.
His underlying metrics aren’t terribly off his 2013 pace. His targets are down over one per game, his touchdown rate is down four percent yet his aDOT is up a full yard. He’s caught one of his three red-zone targets for a touchdown and his touchdown last week came from 25 yards out.
We may have mentioned before that the Cardinals struggle with tight ends. They have not allowed a touchdown to a tight end the last three weeks, but offer up a safe floor of 5.7 catches for 57.7 yards in that span. That should make it easier for Witten to hit value on his salary across the industry.
Jason Witten Projection