FanDuel Daily Fantasy Football Helper: Week 1
Welcome to our weekly FanDuel NFL primer, where we give you an overview of the Sunday main slate to help you get started on your research.
As always, we recommend checking out all of numberFire's daily fantasy tools at your disposal. In particular, our weekly projections can help you nail down who might be the slate's top scorers and best values, while the heat map is a great way to get a general overview of the slate's implied totals and every team's strengths and weaknesses.
Now, let's run through some of this week's top plays of the slate.
Patrick Mahomes ($8,800 on FanDuel): Mahomes is a no-brainer elite option in Week 1, checking in with the top score in numberFire's Week 1 projections. Kansas City is a 5.5-point favorite over Cleveland in a game with the highest over/under of the slate (54.5). With Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce once again by his side, Mahomes should contend for the league lead in both passing yardage and touchdowns, and that's reflected in his season-long projections.
And while Mahomes doesn't run as much as some other quarterbacks, he isn't a zero in that area. He averaged 4.1 carries and 20.5 rushing yards per game in 2020, effectively tacking on a couple of extra points every week to his gaudy passing numbers.
Kyler Murray ($8,400): Murray and Josh Allen ($8,100) rank second and third, respectively, in numberFire's quarterback projections, and both are absolutely viable after showing massive upside in 2020. Of the two, Murray arguably gets the slight edge in a high-total contest against the Titans (52.5), whereas Allen has a tougher draw versus what is expected to be a stout Steelers defense again, per PFF.
Although Arizona is a three-point underdog, the tight spread suggests we could have a shootout, and being a slight 'dog isn't necessarily a bad thing for quarterbacks when looking at last year's data on perfect FanDuel lineups. Of course, the main allure of Murray is his rushing upside after he racked up 819 yards and 11 scores on the ground last season. That came to a whopping per-game average of 8.3 carries and 51.2 rushing yards per game.
Murray and Allen top our rushing projections at the position and are closely followed by our next entry.
Jalen Hurts ($7,600): Hurts looks to be the ultimate wild card on this slate after teasing with FanDuel of scores 19.3, 37.8, 20.6, and 17.3 points in four starts to end 2020, and he didn't even play all of that final game. The rushing potential is obvious after he had 106, 63, 69, and 34 rushing yards and 3 total rushing scores across those weeks. In fact, despite having only those four starts and limited snaps here and there prior to that, Hurts still finished the year with the ninth-most rushing yards among quarterbacks (357), just ahead of Mahomes and behind Allen.
The only question is whether he can throw well enough to be successful, as he averaged a middling 0.07 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back last season, which was well below the league average (0.13) and on par with guys like Nick Mullens and Taysom Hill.
But the fantasy ceiling is obvious, and Atlanta is the right team to play against to get off on the right foot. The Falcons ranked just 23rd against the pass last season -- per numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics -- and they're expected to be a bottom-tier overall defense in 2021, per PFF. This game also has a solid 48.5 total with a tight spread, giving it the potential for a high-scoring game environment.
Christian McCaffrey ($10,400): Considering all the elite backs we have on this slate, I don't think McCaffrey is necessarily a must at his salary. But if you need any reminder of his fantasy prowess, he was just the third player in NFL history to record 1,000 yards receiving and 1,000 yards rushing in a single season two years ago, and even in his injury-shortened 2020 campaign, he posted 32.1, 22.8, and 27.0 FanDuel points across his three games, averaging 19.7 rushes and 6.3 targets. He's projected for easily the most FanDuel points among running backs as a home favorite against the Jets.
Alvin Kamara ($8,600): The reason you don't necessarily need to lock in McCaffrey is that we also have Kamara, Dalvin Cook ($9,400), and Derrick Henry ($8,900) on the slate, and all of them are projected for roughly 20 FanDuel points. All three absolutely deserve to be in your tournament player pool, but if forced to choose one, Kamara might be the guy.
Kamara has the lowest salary of the group, and while new starting quarterback Jameis Winston brings some uncertainty to the mix, Kamara should soak up all sorts of targets on a team that's short on experienced pass-catchers with Michael Thomas out.
According to a study by Jim Sannes a few years back, targets are effectively worth twice that of carries on FanDuel, so if we look at Kamara's "adjusted opportunities" (carries plus 2x targets) last season, it would come to 26.8 per game even without any boost, which isn't far off Cook (30.1) and Henry (27.4) despite Kamara lagging way behind in rushing attempts.
Najee Harris ($6,500): Once we get below $8,000, I do like Aaron Jones ($7,400), who could see more passing-game work with Jamaal Williams gone, and we've seen Jones' slate-breaking upside plenty of times before. But A.J. Dillon will still be a factor, preventing Jones from reaching true bell-cow status.
On the other hand, Harris is expected to be the man in Pittsburgh, making him incredibly valuable as a volume-based play at this modest salary. The only downside is that the Steelers' offensive line is just 31st in PFF's offseason ranks, and the Bills are the type of offense that could get out to a big lead as 6.5-point home favorites. That adds some risk, but if Pittsburgh can keep this a fairly tight game, Harris should get plenty of run in a game with an appealing 48.5 total.
James Robinson ($5,900): With Travis Etienne out of the picture, Robinson is expected to be the lead back in the Jacksonville backfield, making him the top point-per-dollar running back play in numberFire's projections. Robinson averaged a robust 17.1 carries and 4.3 targets (25.7 adjusted opportunities) across 14 games last season.
However, it's unclear how much Carlos Hyde will eat into Robinson's workload under this new coaching staff, so there's enough uncertainty here to prevent Robinson from being one of those must-play value running backs you need to stuff into your lineups.
But what is clear is that Robinson has a plus matchup against a Houston Texans team that ranked 30th in adjusted rush defense in 2020 and may very well have the league's worst defensive line this year, according to PFF. That ought to give Robinson a solid floor, but with a middle-of-the-road 45.5 total between two teams that aren't expected to be very good, it's likely this game doesn't end up as high-scoring as others on the slate, perhaps limiting his ceiling.
Davante Adams ($8,600): Up top at wide receiver, Tyreek Hill ($8,500) projects as this week's top option, and then we get a slew of other alphas in DeAndre Hopkins ($8,200), Calvin Ridley ($8,100), and Stefon Diggs ($7,900) who need no explanation. All of them are projected for 16-plus FanDuel points.
But let's not forget about the dominance of Adams, who still has little competition in Green Bay as Aaron Rodgers' favorite target. Adams saw a 31.9% target share and 36.1% air yards share last season, and he also led the league in red-zone targets and targets inside the 10-yard line.
There's a chance Marshon Lattimore shadows Adams, but it isn't a matchup to shy away from, and Adams simply has so much volume working in his favor anyway. Playing in what should be a tight contest against New Orleans, the game environment could also favor a big performance.
Justin Jefferson ($8,000): Including the previously listed group, we also have Jefferson, A.J. Brown ($7,800), and D.K. Metcalf ($7,700) hovering around this $8,000 range. Out of these eight guys, seven of them are in games with totals of 48.5 or better, making them all easy to like in various game stacks.
Jefferson is the lone exception, with this Vikings-Bengals contest coming in just below that threshold (47.5). That may be a subtle distinction, but that still puts them below six other totals, and this game also doesn't involve any of the top quarterbacks mentioned earlier. Furthermore, Jefferson himself is attached to Kirk Cousins, a meh fantasy quarterback who few will roster. It all boils down to Jefferson potentially seeing the lowest draft percentage at this salary range, making him an intriguing play in tournaments.
Although Minnesota tends to lean on the run, this passing game pretty much comes down to Jefferson and Adam Thielen and not much else -- especially with Irv Smith Jr. likely done for the year. The targets will absolutely be there for Jefferson after logging a 24.2% target share and 36.4% air yards share in his rookie campaign.
Cincinnati was also extremely pass-heavy with Joe Burrow under center last year, and they're littered with pass-catching weapons, so there's also the possibility that this game can hit the over if Burrow comes out firing.
Tyler Lockett ($6,800): There's no question that Lockett is maddeningly inconsistent from week to week, but the spikes were incredible last season, including scores of 45.5 and 32.5 FanDuel points. And the reality is that in terms of target share, he and Metcalf are virtually identical at roughly 23%, though Metcalf does get the edge in air yards at 39.3% versus 28.3%.
This duo should hog the targets once again this year, and if we get the "Let Russ Cook" version of Russell Wilson ($7,800), that upside will be very much intact. Wilson himself could also be an enticing tourney play, too, as he could end up being the odd man out on a slate with so many high-upside signal-callers up top.
Michael Pittman Jr. ($5,300) and Marquez Callaway ($5,200): Scrolling down to the bargain bin salary range, we see Pittman and Callaway pop up as number-one wideouts barely above $5,000. With T.Y. Hilton and Michael Thomas injured for their respective teams, these two should see increased roles to begin the year. Both players also open the season in potentially fantasy-rich game environments, making them suitable inclusions for stacks, as well.
George Kittle ($7,000): Look, if you can fit in Travis Kelce ($8,500), you're absolutely doing it, and you don't need me to tell you that. He easily outpaces the field at tight end in our projections and rightfully so.
But a healthy Kittle is a damn good consolation prize at a whopping $1,500 discount. Injuries plagued Kittle in 2020, but he still managed to average nearly eight targets across eight games, which is fantastic for a tight end. The 49ers have the fifth-highest implied total (26.00) over the lowly Lions, and Kittle has a great chance to hit the ground running. The Lions were dead last in adjusted pass defense last season and have PFF's 30th-ranked secondary entering the year.
Kyle Pitts ($6,000): Pitts rounds out what you might call a "big three" at tight end, as only Kelce, Kittle, and Pitts are projected for double-digit points. But in Pitts' case, we're taking a leap of faith on a rookie, albeit one with plenty of hype and draft pedigree after going fourth overall last spring. But he's expected to be the second option behind Calvin Ridley on a Falcons team lacking weapons.
Pitts is in a game with a solid total versus Philadelphia and also fits right in as a perfect bring-back option in game stacks with Jalen Hurts.
If you're looking for a true punt, Jonnu Smith ($4,900) is a possibility. It's difficult to say how the targets will be distributed in a revamped Patriots offense under Mac Jones, but Smith could emerge as one of the Pats' top options.
Denver D/ST ($4,100): The Broncos' defense leads numberFire's projections as both the best point-per-dollar value and the best in raw points. That's due to their matchup against Daniel Jones and a Giants offensive line that's 32nd in PFF's ranks. Jones was sacked 45 times in 2020 at a 9.1% rate, the second-highest clip in the league. He also has 29 fumbles across just 27 career games. Although we're more concerned with accumulating sacks and turnovers when it comes to fantasy defenses, it can't hurt that the Giants also aren't expected to score much at all, displaying the second-worst implied total (19.25).
Buffalo D/ST ($3,600): As noted earlier, this isn't expected to be a very good Steelers offensive line. While Ben Roethlisberger isn't an easy guy to sack -- he actually had the lowest sack rate of 2020 (2.1%) -- Pittsburgh threw at the second-highest rate last season, and they could be forced to stick to that script for at least this opening game if Buffalo gets out to an early lead as nearly touchdown favorites. The 39-year-old quarterback isn't getting any younger, and even if he's able to get the ball out quickly to avoid sacks, we could see the Bills' defense have the opportunity to make a pick or two and take one to the house.