Daily Fantasy Football: Sannes' Situations to Monitor in Week 1
The term "situation" is not a sexy one for daily fantasy. Honestly, it's a miracle you even clicked this article because it's vague and doesn't have the obvious appeal that a "plus matchup" or a "value play" would have. Search-engine optimization can kick rocks.
Although "situation" is, indeed, vague, it's intentionally so. That's because a team's situation is really alluding to the context that surrounds them, and there are so many things that can influence that context. It's vague because it must account for everything from wind speed to offensive-line health to snap rates.
Situation is strange as a subject, but you can bet your booty it matters for DFS. It's the difference between rookie-year Jared Goff and the guy who lit it up the past two regular seasons. If you're not accounting for a team's situation and context, you're going to miss the boat on teams rising and falling across the league.
That's what we're going to try to do here throughout the 2019 season. We'll run through injuries, weather, role changes, and more, trying to identify edges that you can gain over the field. We certainly don't want to overcomplicate matters as that can also lead us down the wrong path, but we at least need to make sure we're accounting for each team's situation.
For Week 1, there's going to be a lot to discuss. Salaries came out in early August, and since then, we've seen a bunch of trades along with the retirement of one of the game's upper-tier quarterbacks. We've also got holdouts, injuries, and coaching changes we haven't seen the full effects of yet. There are a lot of moving parts, and we're probably not going to be able to account for all of them. But we should at least give it a shot.
With that said, let's dive into some of the big situations to monitor on the main slate in Week 1 and how they could impact our DFS lineups.
Andrew Luck's Retirement
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that your opponents are accounting for Andrew Luck's retirement. They may have noticed that nugget amid all the other news. But salaries came out well before Luck's announcement, so we have to dive in to see if we can use any of the Indianapolis Colts this week or if this news is all about the Los Angeles Chargers' defense and special teams.
With Luck out, Jacoby Brissett takes the reins of the offense for the second time in three years. It's safe to say the first go-round didn't go so hot as Brissett ranked 29th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back out of 45 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. NEP is the model numberFire uses to track the expected points added or subtracted on each play throughout the year, giving context that you don't get from a yards-per-play model. This is necessary when a two-yard gain on 3rd and 1 is wildly different than a two-yard gain on 3rd and 3, and NEP accounts for those differences.
Again, though, we have to account for situation. And Brissett's surrounding talent this year is just a wee bit different than it was in 2017.
Specifically, the offensive line is lightyears better than it was when Brissett was first the starter. They led the league in sack rate last year after ranking dead last -- by a wide margin -- in 2017. Part of that was on Brissett (he had the sixth-longest time to throw, according to Next-Gen Stats, while Luck had the ninth-shortest time last year), but adding Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith along with a skilled coach in Frank Reich made a world of difference.
When Brissett actually got rid of the ball, his stats weren't as bad. He was 24th in Passing NEP per attempt once you take out the expected points lost on sacks, grading out ahead of guys like Andy Dalton, Dak Prescott, and Eli Manning.
That's why we should expect Brissett to be much better in 2019 than he was in 2017. His situation is drastically different than it was then, and those key differences all move the needle in the right direction. Add in Derwin James' injury, and we shouldn't be stumbling over ourselves to get 100% exposure to the Chargers' defense at $4,000 on FanDuel. But there may not be much juice to squeeze on the Colts' side, either.
T.Y. Hilton will still have pop games this year, but he's $7,700, making him the fourth-most-expensive receiver on the main slate. Playing outdoors against a still-solid defense makes that largely unattractive. Marlon Mack isn't as costly at $6,900, but the lack of clarity around his involvement in the passing game this year makes him tough to swallow there. Brissett is just $6,000, meaning he's likely the most desirable asset of the bunch. But the game environment here doesn't figure to be as enticing as it could be in other spots, which limits Brissett's upside.
More than anything, we should monitor this Colts offense to see how we should handle them going forward. If they can hold their own outdoors against a solid team, it'll mean they could be due for an explosion from late September through mid-November when they play six of their eight games at home. For right now, though, we may want to stick in evaluation mode with this offense outside of some cheap Brissett shares.
Ezekiel Elliott on a Snap Count
The Dallas Cowboys turned Ezekiel Elliott into Scrooge McDuck dot gif this week, and Elliott promptly reported for practice on Wednesday. But given the long layoff, it should be no surprise that the team will ease Zeke back into his regular workload.
Ahead of Ezekiel Elliott’s first team practice since June, I’m told the plan right now is about 20-25 reps on Sunday, rookie Tony Pollard behind him and FB Jamize Olawale as your best blitz pickup guy on 3rd downs. Things can always change but this is the plan heading into today.
— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) September 4, 2019
For perspective, Le'Veon Bell played 43 snaps in his return from a holdout back in 2017, and that 71.7% snap rate was easily his lowest of the season. Elliott's lowest raw snap count all of last year was 49, so even if Zeke does blow past the 20 to 25 snap projection, it's a pretty significant downgrade.
As such, we should project Elliott to get roughly 50 to 60 percent of his usual workload, and at $9,100 on FanDuel, that's abundantly noteworthy. It's also not low enough to get us jazzed about rolling out Tony Pollard at $5,200. The matchup and game script are tempting, but if you want to go at this Cowboys offense, the more palatable route seems to be via Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup.
Melvin Gordon's Holdout
If you're reeling from Elliott reporting and depriving you of Pollard value, do not fret; just wipe those tears with shares of Austin Ekeler.
Melvin Gordon is still absent from the Chargers, and that doesn't look like it'll end any time soon. We can say with a pretty solid amount of confidence that he'll miss Week 1 against the Colts. Thankfully, we already have a sample on what to expect from the Chargers when Gordon's not in the fold.
Last year, Gordon missed four games, and both Ekeler and Justin Jackson were active for three of them. If you combine those three games together, here's how the volume was divvied up between the two. "Adjusted Opportunities" is just carries plus double the running back's targets. A target is worth twice as much as a carry in FanDuel's half-PPR scoring system, and this helps account for that discrepancy, giving a target its proper value.
|Without Melvin Gordon in 2018||Snap Rate||Carries Per Game||Targets Per Game||Adjusted Opportunities|
This does include one game where Gordon was a bit of a surprise inactive, and Ekeler played 95.5% of the snaps in that one. But he played 77.8% and 68.4% of the snaps in the two other games, so even once Jackson was better acclimated to the offense, Ekeler was still doing the heavy lifting.
Let's assume that Jackson -- entering his second year in the league -- does earn a bit larger piece of the pie. To do so, we'll allot Ekeler his minimum mark in all three categories above for Week 1. That would mean he would play 68.4% of the snaps, getting 12 carries and 5 targets, which equates to 22 adjusted opportunities. Those are still awesome numbers for a guy who is $6,400.
The Chargers will play this game without left tackle Russell Okung, which is a major downgrade to the offense and a reason we should be pessimistic about this game shooting out. But we're not going at Ekeler for efficiency; we're going there for volume, specifically the work he'll get in the passing game. He shouldn't push you off of someone like Chris Carson, who is just $200 more expensive on FanDuel (more on him later), but with two running back slots and a flex, you shouldn't have any issue squeezing both into your lineup.
Changes in the Chiefs' Backfield
At least with the Chargers, we have a vague idea of what to expect from a usage perspective. That's not happening with the Kansas City Chiefs.
LeSean McCoy is now on the roster thanks to a juicy one-year deal with $3 million in guaranteed money, which means he's not coming here to play the Carlos Hyde role of the dutiful plodder; he's going to steal snaps from Damien Williams.
As of Wednesday, it seemed as if McCoy would be ready to roll, but that was very much still up in the air. What seemed more clear was that Williams would start the game, which is at least valuable info to have.
Right now, we don't know what the running back situation will look like in Kansas City. That doesn't mean we should cross Williams off our list just yet.
First, there is a situation in which McCoy winds up being inactive on Sunday. Between Williams, McCoy, Darwin Thompson, and Darrel Williams, the Chiefs do have four running backs on the roster; they could afford to sit McCoy if he weren't fully up to speed yet. If that were to happen, then Williams would be in play at $6,900.
The second scenario is when you're stacking both sides of this game. Williams is a worthwhile piece to consider in those lineups, and stacking this game isn't a bad idea.
We also should expect the Jaguars to operate at a faster clip this year. The team threw on first down in the first half of games just 42% of the time last year, the third-lowest mark in the league, according to Sharp Football Stats. They've now got John DeFilippo as their offensive coordinator, and -- at the time of DeFilippo's firing -- the Minnesota Vikings had the fifth-highest mark in this stat. More passes means the clock will stop more often, which inflates play volume. That's good for both the Jaguars and the Chiefs.
When you're stacking this game up, you're going to want exposure to most of the relevant pieces in one lineup or another. With Williams likely to start, he is one of those relevant pieces. He has proven to be proficient in the passing game, and he's tied to a quarterback who can generate touchdown drives against any defense. So while Williams is absolutely not a cash-game play or an option for our core in tournaments, we shouldn't completely cross him off our lists, especially when we decide to go hard at this game.
The Dolphins' Mass Exodus
You shouldn't have any issues finding a palatable defense and special teams this weekend in DFS. There are several teams opening the year without their starting left tackles, and the opposing defenses could be prepared to eat.
That starts with the Miami Dolphins, who shipped Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills out to the Houston Texans in a move that netted them a plethora of high-value picks. The future Dolphins will benefit, but the 2019 Dolphins are in full-on "Prediction? Pain," mode.
The line has shifted from the Baltimore Ravens -4 to the Ravens -6.5, according to oddsFire, and the Dolphins' implied team total is down to 15.5 points. Even at $5,000 and on the road, the Ravens are justifiable with a high floor and a massive ceiling.
Taylor Lewan's Suspension
Losing your left tackle at any point is sub-optimal, and that's where the Tennessee Titans find themselves this week with Taylor Lewan suspended the first four games. It's even worse when you have to face the Cleveland Browns' pass-rushers.
The Titans played 131 snaps without Lewan last year, according to The Quant Edge's injury tool, and their yards per pass attempt dipped to 6.85 from 7.84 while their yards per carry fell to 3.67 from 4.59. Of course, part of that sample was when they were also missing right tackle Jack Conklin and/or Lewan's backup, Dennis Kelly, but this is a big loss for the Titans. Not having Lewan is a downgrade for their offense and a pretty sizable upgrade for the Browns' defense at $4,300. Nick Chubb is another benefactor here with game script setting up well for the Browns, so be sure not to gloss over him at $7,400.
Trent Williams' Absence
Washington doesn't have a backup like Kelly with Ty Nsekhe now with the Buffalo Bills, and they'll also get to play on the road without their left tackle as Trent Williams continues his holdout. The Philadelphia Eagles should be licking their chops.
When Williams was off the field last year, Washington averaged 6.5 yards per pass attempt, and their quarterbacks were sacked 8.3% of the time, according to The Quant Edge. That was with Nsekhe still in town as a high-quality glue piece.
Now, Washington has to lean on Donald Penn, who hasn't played left tackle since 2017, is coming off an injury-shortened season, and turned 36 back in April. He could fill the shoes of Nsekhe, but asking him to live up to what Williams would have offered would be foolish. As such, the Eagles' defense is another tempting option to consider at $4,600.
A.J. Green's Injury
When salaries for Week 1 came out, A.J. Green had already sustained his injury, so we're not necessarily getting the Cincinnati Bengals' other pieces at massive discounts. But it does have some ripple effects.
Last year, the Bengals played three games in which Green was out and Andy Dalton started (Dalton sustained his season-ending injury after 30 snaps in Week 12). Dalton attempted 73 passes in those games, and 24.7% of them went Tyler Boyd's direction. That included just 2 of 16 targets at least 16 yards downfield, but Dalton still very much was leaning on Boyd.
Boyd didn't do a ton in those games, but he also faced some studly cornerbacks against the Ravens, Browns, and New Orleans Saints. Boyd recorded at least 65 receiving yards in all three games, so even though he didn't blow up, he was still a dependable fantasy asset in that time.
Boyd's $6,900 this week in a situation where the Bengals are going to have to pass. We should be highly skeptical of the Bengals' offense as they play without Green and deal with a mixture of injuries, retirements, and disappointing performances on the offensive line, but Boyd is firmly in play in the middle tier at wide receiver.
Boyd would also stack well with Chris Carson here, one of the bigger benefactors of Green's injury. Without Green, the Seattle Seahawks' win odds increase, which amps up the chances that Carson is getting volume deep into games. That's enough to put him in play at $6,600.
On top of that, it sounds as if the Seahawks want to get Carson more involved in the passing game. As mentioned when discussing Ekeler, each target is worth twice as much as a carry, so even a minor bump there would do wonders for Carson's appeal. He's firmly in play for cash games, and he stacks well in tournaments with either Boyd or the Seahawks' defense and special teams.
The Cardinals' Pace
We know the Arizona Cardinals are going to hold their foot on the throttle a little harder this year under Kliff Kingsbury. They're probably not going to huddle, and that should amp up play volume from where it was last year (and, frankly, there's nowhere to go but up in that department). There are a couple of other factors to consider for Week 1, though.
The first is that the opposing team plays a role in pace, as well, and the Detroit Lions project to sputter more than a sprint. They were 29th in situation-neutral pace last year, according to Football Outsiders, and brought in the run-heavy Darrell Bevell to coach the offense in 2019. Their speed may put a lid on how much of Kingsbury's offense we get to see right out of the gate.
Additionally, in order to run a bunch of plays, you've got to pick up first downs. It's entirely possible that the innovative system could do that, but we can't definitely say that they'll be an efficient offense. Again, it can't get much worse than it was last year, but it's hard to know how much volume we'll see in Week 1, especially behind a questionable-at-best offensive line.
Perhaps the biggest benefactors here, instead, will be the Lions. If the Cardinals' offense runs fast but doesn't move the ball well, it'll give gobs of play volume to Kerryon Johnson and his playmates. It's even more enticing with cornerbacks Patrick Peterson suspended and Robert Alford on injured reserve. The Lions may not get a situation this conducive to play volume all year long, so now's likely a good time to fire up guys like Johnson, Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Matthew Stafford.
The Jets' Pace
The entire offseason, we've been viewing the New York Jets on the opposite end of the spectrum from the Cardinals. That was a logical assumption given that Adam Gase's Dolphins ranked 31st in situation-neutral pace last year. But the tides have been turning toward a more snappy approach of late.
In two games, the #Jets have gone no-huddle on 11 of 23 plays with Sam Darnold taking snaps (48%). They scored TDs on two of his four drives.
NY went no-huddle on 4% of plays last year, and Adam Gase’s #Dolphins used it on 15% of snaps.
— Pat Thorman (@Pat_Thorman) August 16, 2019
Gase has said these things in the preseason before only to wind up going with a slower approach during the regular season. The pace they decide to deploy this year could depend on how well Darnold performs.
When a team is overmatched, you want to operate at a slow pace. That reduces the number of possessions in the game and increases the variance, meaning the talent gap between you and the opponent is less noticeable. Based on Gase's history, it seems as if he is aware of this thought process.
The table below shows where Gase's teams ranked in situation-neutral pace each year and where they were in numberFire's Adjusted NEP per play, a measure of overall offensive efficiency adjusted for strength of schedule.
The 2015 and 2016 offenses weren't putrid, but both had below-average defenses (the Chicago Bears ranked 31st in schedule-adjusted defense that year), meaning they generally weren't on the same level from a team perspective as their opponents. But when the offense was clicking under Peyton Manning, Gase let them buzz along.
That means this year could break a couple of ways, depending on Darnold's output. If he equals what he did down the stretch last year, it shouldn't be a surprise to see the Jets rank in the middle of the pack or better in pace. But if he struggles behind an improved-yet-shaky offensive line, then we could see Gase slow things down again.
As for Week 1, it seems as if the betting public is paying attention to this. The total for the Jets' game against the Buffalo Bills opened at 38.5 but has gone up to 40.5 at FanDuel Sportsbook with 83% of bets and 89% of the money on the over, according to oddsFire. Even though the Bills have a stout defense, this should increase our interest in Le'Veon Bell at $7,900, and given the Jets' potential defensive issues, running it back with someone like John Brown is also very much on the table.
Stefon Diggs Missing Practice
In a bit of a surprise, Stefon Diggs did not practice on Wednesday with a hamstring injury. There hasn't been any other news about Diggs, so it's likely that nothing ultimately comes of this.
However, were Diggs to sit, it would amp up the target expectation for both Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen. Cook is already facing an Atlanta Falcons defense that funnels targets to running backs, and Thielen has a massive target share even when Diggs is on the field.
It's worth noting that in the lone game Diggs missed all season last year, the Vikings threw the ball just 22 times, and they're now entering the year with a hyper-run-heavy mindset. As such, we may not want to get too excited about the tertiary options like Chad Beebe and Kyle Rudolph. But an absence for Diggs would at least give slight volume bumps to Thielen and Cook.