Daily Fantasy Football Bargains, Best Buys and Busts: Week 1
If you've been playing fantasy football long enough, you've undoubtedly heard the advertisements for daily fantasy football that promise you the "excitement" of picking a new team every week.
And while those ads aren't wrong - there's plenty of excitement in daily fantasy - there's also stress, worry, and an overwhelming sense that you're missing the most obvious play in the world.
With that in mind, I'll take some time every week to present nine players for your consideration, so you can start building lineups, or simply check your work and make sure you didn't miss something obvious.
These players will be broken up into three categories. The first - Great Values - are pretty obvious. They're undervalued players who will allow you to spend more elsewhere. The next is Worth the Cost, which includes players who are more than worth a large chunk of your budget. The final category is Not worth it, which includes high-cost players who aren't worth their price tag, and shouldn't be in most of your lineups this week.
Keep in mind that these players may or may not be used in our weekly optimal lineups. To see who the algorithms are selecting on the week, check out our optimal lineup section, and don't forget to use our custom optimal lineup tool.
Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills - The Chicago Bears were the worst run defense in the league last year (by a mile) according to our Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. That is a good thing for the Buffalo Bills, who are a mess on offense when E.J. Manuel attempts to pass (fourth-worst in team passing last year according to our data), but look pretty good when they hand the ball off to their backs (16th in team rushing in 2013).
And the back you want for fantasy football is Fred Jackson, as he's cheaper in all formats, and is the most fantasy-friendly player in that backfield. Last season, Jackson got 45 red-zone carries, while C.J. Spiller had 18. He also catches the ball regularly, which helps in daily fantasy sites with reception bonuses - especially on DraftKings where you'll get a full point per reception. At only $5,800 on FanDuel and $4,400 on DraftKings, and in a comfortable matchup, Jackson is essentially a must-start in daily fantasy this week.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles - The numbers behind daily fantasy sports sometimes reveal that they're nothing but a cold, heartless machine. Why else would the leading receiver for the NFL's ninth-best passing offense be listed at $5,000 on FanDuel during Week 1?
We all know why Jeremy Maclin is so cheap (he missed all of last season, in case you weren't clear on this), so his "recent games" are zeros, which break all the algorithms at daily sites. Yet with the departure of DeSean Jackson, Maclin becomes the big-play, fantasy-week-winning deep threat in Chip Kelly's magical offense, and his price is way too good this week for daily fantasy.
Add in a matchup against last year's third-worst passing defense in Jacksonville (which should improve this year, but not enough to slow down the Eagles), and you've got a cheap lottery ticket with high odds of getting your money back and decent odds of a huge game that will guarantee you a cash in a tournament.
Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers - Remember this guy? One of the best tight ends of all time? Seems like a lot of fantasy owners have cast Antonio Gates aside in favor of some backup with 21 career receptions, which has led to pretty favorable prices for a player with a more than favorable matchup.
Gates is cheap across the industry, and he's a must-play this week thanks to a date with the Arizona Cardinals. The Cards allowed a Jimmy Graham-like line to tight ends last year (95 receptions, 1,156 yards and 16 touchdowns over the course of the season), and Gates is one of two tight ends in San Diego poised to take advantage.
Last season, Antonio Gates was targeted 15 times in the red zone, as compared to only four such looks for Ladarius Green. And while Green is an exciting young player who make break out with a big play or two on Monday night, Gates is the safer bet for a higher volume thanks to his experience. Gates was the fourth-most targeted tight end in the NFL last year, and for good reason. He's one of the best tight ends in NFL history, and you can get him for cheap in a perfect matchup this weekend. Do it.
Worth the Cost
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints - All summer, you've listened to numberFire writers yell and scream about why you shouldn't invest in quarterbacks in year-long fantasy football. Throw all of that out the window. It's daily season, and quarterbacks are important now.
In fact, it often makes sense to either take a top quarterback or punt the position rather than try to pick up a middling option, as the top quarterbacks often have high floors and very high ceilings, which is the case with Drew Brees this week. He faces the Falcons, who had the worst pass defense a year ago according to our data.
Once you've saved a few thousand bucks by plugging in one of the values listed above, you can afford Brees easily, and enjoy what could be a historic quarterbacking day.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs - LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles are the top two backs across daily sites this week, and for good reason. With reception bonuses, these dual-threat tailbacks have the potential to be a huge hit during Week 1 in favorable matchups.
But the reason to pick Charles over McCoy is because of that matchup situation. Last season, McCoy had a couple of games against weak opponents where he didn't perform well, or was held back and saved for more difficult games. Charles, on the other hand, was seemingly used to shame poor opponents like the Raiders and Titans, reminding them just how bad they are by letting Charles run wild against them.
And with a date against the aforementioned Titans in Week 1, Charles is well worth his top salary on FanDuel, especially with Dwayne Bowe sidelined.
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys - Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver. These will be the men tasked with stopping Dez Bryant during Week 1. They'll have to do so without NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith rushing the passer and patrolling the middle of the field, and without Glenn Dorsey clogging up the middle to free up others in the front seven.
Yes, the 49ers are still a formidable opponent, but not quite as formidable as you may think at a glance. Take advantage of that and roster Bryant this week, as many players will see the "SF" matchup and simply ignore him altogether.
Dez was one of the eight-most targeted players in 2013, seeing eight or more looks in 12 of his 16 games. He was also the 14th best receiver according to our Reception NEP metric. He's Tony Romo and the Cowboys' best shot at beating the 49ers this week, and if he's used accordingly, he'll do more than just return value in daily fantasy.
Not Worth It
Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers - Antonio Brown is one of the most expensive wideouts this weekend, and he has a matchup with Joe Haden and the Browns. Though he's played Haden well in the past, that alone should be enough to scare you away from this Steelers' top receiver.
Add in the presence of Mike Pettine in Cleveland, who brings the Rex Ryan style of coaching to the Browns, and there's even more reason to be concerned. Top all of that off with the trainwreck of an offense that the Browns showed us this preseason, and you have a game set up to silence Antonio Brown altogether.
A tough matchup in a game his team is likely to win easily (they're touchdown favorites at home) means you can do better with your top-dollar at receiver. Brown is a great receiver (our seventh-best last season), and will have his weeks, but you're better off spending a bit less to get a player like Houston's Andre Johnson, who gets the below-average Washington defense in a game that figures to be much closer.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Doug Martin could have easily won daily fantasy matchups on multiple occasions in 2012 with his breakout performances, but he struggled to get things going in 2013 and was sidelined due to injury just a couple of months into the season. He returns in 2014, healthy, and drawing praise from his coaches and teammates during training camp.
So while it might be tempting to take a shot at Martin Week 1, hoping to catch him before an eventually price increase should he have a big day, the matchup and the questions along the Tampa Bay offensive line kill most of the value here. The Bucs face the Panthers, who had a top-10 run defense last year, and were overall one of our best defenses within every metric.
Combine that with the Bucs' uncertainty at right guard and questions about how good the offense will be in general, and you're wise to pass on the Muscle Hamster. Spend $100 less on FanDuel and grab Montee Ball instead, who gets a game against last seasons eighth-worst run defense (the Colts) as Peyton Manning's sidecar in what should be a shootout.
Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers - Remember all of those encouraging things I said about tight ends playing against the Cardinals earlier? None of that applies to wide receivers.
The Cardinals allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to wideouts (despite allowing the most to tight ends) in 2013, and part of that has to do with the presence of Patrick Peterson. Peterson will be on Keenan Allen for most of this weekend's game, which means he's not a wise choice in daily fantasy.
Allen was a red zone favorite of Philip Rivers last year, and will score plenty of fantasy points this year. But when you can get Larry Fitzgerald for $300 less on FanDuel, who's on the other side of Allen's game on Monday night in a better matchup, it's a no brainer to pass on last year's rookie sensation.