Daily Fantasy Football: Sannes' Situations to Monitor in the Divisional Round
The divisional round daily fantasy slates are defined by uncertainty.
A lot of this comes at running back with key players coming off of injury and some surprise showings in the Wild Card round. But there's shakiness in the receivers, too.
We're going to do guesswork in spots where that typically isn't necessary. Our job is to be as educated in that guesswork as we possibly can be.
We're not going to be right in all of these assumptions, which does force us to account for the volatility within our player exposure levels. However, hopefully leaning on some data can point us in the right direction and jack up the odds we hit.
Today, we're going to go game-by-game and outline the key questions impacting how we view the players involved from a DFS perspective. Then, we'll spin that up into outlining how we should play things for both the single-game slates and the four-game offering.
Bengals at Titans
Of all the questions this weekend, this one may be the biggest (both literally and figuratively): how much work does Derrick Henry see in his return?
Henry is set to come off of injured reserve this week to play his first game since breaking his foot in Week 8. It's a long layoff, and D'Onta Foreman did play well in his stead. So, there is a lot of uncertainty here.
You can build valid arguments on both side of this one. The downsides are those mentioned above: it's an impactful injury for a physical runner, and they do have a viable alternative.
On the flip side, it's King Henry, and it's a win-or-go-home spot where the Tennessee Titans are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. If he can be a full go, he will be.
Henry at full strength would be tough to avoid here. Prior to the injury, he was averaging 27.4 carries, 2.5 targets, and 136.4 yards from scrimmage per game. He was handling 48.0% of the red-zone work, too. Getting that kind of workload at $9,000 on FanDuel would be really tough to turn down.
The exercise we have to do with Henry is the same we'll have to do with others: decide the probability they have a full role, and then decide the probability they provide proper value if that does happen. If Henry does have a full role, the odds he pays off a $9,000 salary are quite high. As a result, I'm planning on being pretty heavy on Henry, even if my exposure levels are lower than they would be if he were at full health.
You can help off-set Henry's salary a bit by giving Julio Jones a sniff at $5,600.
Jones has been a tough sell all season due to injuries and the offense's ineffectiveness. But the efficiency should increase here with the offense healthy, and Jones has had the bye to get his hamstring into likely the best spot it has been since Week 1. In a must-win Week 18, Jones had a season-high nine targets, four of which were "deep" (at least 16 yards downfield).
That's why we can consider Jones at $5,600. The clear alpha here if we've got the salary, though, is still A.J. Brown. Assuming Henry is activated, this will be the sixth game this year with Henry, Brown, and Jones all active. Brown has dominated usage in those games.
|With Big Three||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Brown's salary is $7,600. That's too low for his role. In other words, we're going to want to be in on the Titans this week, whether it's on the Saturday-only slate or the full four-game slate.
Salaries on the other side are more appropriate, which makes sense given that the Cincinnati Bengals have been at full health for most of the year. The one guy you could view as being undervalued may be Tee Higgins.
Higgins nearly dropped a donut last week, which was painful at $6,900. However, that has come down to $6,400 this time around, and he still is getting a solid workload for that salary. Here's the team's target distribution in games Higgins has played since returning from a shoulder injury in Week 5.
|Since Higgins' Return||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Obviously, Ja'Marr Chase is the top guy here, and we should treat him as such. But Higgins' salary can make it a bit easier to jam in both Henry and Brown if we are so inclined, and that is a tempting proposition.
Because tight end is rough on this slate, it is at least worth touching on C.J. Uzomah. Uzomah had six targets in the Wild Card round, his fifth time hitting that mark or higher in his past six games. As the Bengals have become more pass-heavy, Uzomah's floor has risen. He's unquestionably the number two tight end on the slate behind George Kittle, and it's fair to be hesitant with Kittle. It's far from the end of the world if you wind up having decent exposure to Uzomah as he helps you lower salary allocated to an underwhelming position.
49ers at Packers
This game has all the makings of a thriller. It has the highest projected EPA per play of any game of the weekend, according to my numbers, so even with slow pace, it has some key components of a shootout.
But the injuries here are a major buzzkill, and they're impacting both sides.
We'll start with the Green Bay Packers, who could potentially be without two needle-movers. Left tackle David Bakhtiari is questionable while receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling is doubtful. Bakhtiari missed almost the entire regular season, so his sitting would be more of a promised gift that we never received; Valdes-Scantling would force us to downgrade the offense from what it did in the fall.
Valdes-Scantling missed six total games during the regular season, so we actually do have a decent sample of this offense without him. Unfortunately, it's not as spicy as when his speed is on the field. Here are Aaron Rodgers' splits with and without Valdes-Scantling, according to Next-Gen Stats. EPA per drop back shows the expected points added on a per-drop back basis while accounting for negative plays such as sacks, incompletions, and interceptions. CPOE is the completion percentage over expectation, and Success Rate is the percentage of plays that generate positive EPA.
|Rodgers in 2021||EPA/DB||CPOE||Success Rate|
The league-average EPA per drop back is -0.01, so even a diminished Rodgers is still a superstar. It's just not quite as absurd as it is when they have their field-stretcher.
That downgrades Rodgers a bit but not to the point where he's no longer the top quarterback on the Saturday-only slate. It does, however, knock him below both Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes on the full four-game slate. It also increases the appeal in pivoting to either Joe Burrow or potentially Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. If nobody's going to blow up, you might as well save some salary. Rodgers is still the top option; the gap between him and the field has just been diminished.
The lone positive is that taking MVS out of the equation does open up some targets for others in the offense. Randall Cobb is likely back this week, meaning the Packers will have the same receivers now that they had from Weeks 4 to 7 when Valdes-Scantling was sidelined the first time. In that stretch, we saw a lot of deep volume funneled to Davante Adams.
|Weeks 4 to 7||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
That 48.0% deep target share is up from Adams' full-season mark of 36.8% in the games he played. He got one-third of his deep targets for the full season in the above four-game stretch with MVS sidelined.
You don't need more reasons to load up on Adams. But when you're deciding prioritizations on the studs for this slate, this should tip the scales toward him over guys like Henry and Deebo Samuel.
Clearly, MVS' absence does open up some targets for Cobb and Allen Lazard, but it's important to note Aaron Jones' workload there, too. This was before Jones got banged up, and the Packers did feature him through the air. This happened toward the end of the regular season, too, with Jones getting 6 targets and at least 87 yards from scrimmage in each of the final 2 games.
Jones should be healthier now after the bye and a game where he was held out in Week 18. By sitting Jones and playing A.J. Dillon in that game, the Packers were telling us that they view Jones as the more valuable back. Combine that with the available targets, and I believe we'll see Jones' workload improve here.
That isn't enough to put Jones above guys like Eli Mitchell or Joe Mixon, whose roles we know. It does, however, necessitate that we reset expectations on Jones from where they were at down the stretch. To me, that leads to Jones' being just a singular tier behind Mitchell, Henry, and Mixon whereas he would have been more of an afterthought previously. I'm not opposed to going overweight on him in tournaments and hoping this potential role plays itself out.
Our views of the San Francisco 49ers depend on your read on Jimmy Garoppolo's health. If you think the shoulder and thumb will be legit issues, the odds the offenses collapses increase, negatively impacting everyone (including Rodgers due to what would be decreased passing volume). If you are comfortably with his health, then we'll obviously have key interest in all the major players.
The important thing with them is zeroing in on the games where the whole band has been together. Since Kittle's return, they've had six games with both Samuel and Mitchell healthy. Here's the workload for each guy in that time with "RZ Share" being the percentage of team carries or targets that player has gotten from the 20 or closer.
|With All Active||Carries||Targets||Yards||RZ Share|
Clearly, Mitchell and Samuel are a cut above the rest. The yardage gives them a floor, and the touchdown juice gives them upside.
The one concern on Mitchell is the one stated above: if the game gets out of hand. He hasn't been a non-factor in the passing game, but it's also not where he's used most. If they fall behind, we don't know what his role will be. That's why even though Mitchell is my top back on the Saturday-only slate, I'm okay putting a lid on my exposure to him and filtering in Mixon and Jones, even if their median projections aren't quite as promising.
For Samuel, the collapse concerns are part of why I'd be more keen on Adams in the upper register than him. Samuel's talent and workload combo are phenomenal, but I have more faith in Green Bay's offense to pull through in a higher percentage of scenarios. Samuel's still great, but with only a $100 gap between him and Adams, it's a necessary thought process to go through.
Brandon Aiyuk's salary is just $5,900, which is lower than it should be with his workload. This means we have him, Higgins, and Julio Jones all at $6,400 or lower and all figuring to see healthy target shares. To me -- when combined with the running-back landscape -- this means we should feel inclined to use a receiver in the flex on the Saturday-only slate, putting another lid on our exposure levels to the backs, all of whom have paths to disappointment.
On the four-game slate, Kittle's a tough sell. It gives you access to two elite tight ends and two more getting better work than he is. Kittle's ceiling is still there, but the odds he reaches it are diminished when everyone is healthy.
For the two-game offering, we don't have much choice; we're going to have to use Kittle at some point. He, Uzomah, and Josiah Deguara are the only guys getting even noteworthy usage, and Kittle obviously has the best upside of the group. That justifies some usage. But he'll also be super popular as a result, and popular options with obvious paths to disappointment are often bad investments. Kittle's ceiling keeps him from being a full fade recommendation, but you can make a strong case for going Uzomah over him and filtering in some Deguara.
Rams at Buccaneers
A lot of the question marks on this slate are negative ones where players could get disappointing workloads relative to expectations. A question mark in the positive sense is the one around Cam Akers, and it help makes him one of the best plays across the four-game slate.
In the wild card round, Akers turned 17 carries and 2 targets into 95 yards from scrimmage while playing 50.9% of the snaps. Both of the targets were downfield looks, and he hauled one of them in for 40 yards. The dude looked great.
If Akers keeps the same workload here, he's a great play. He's clearly the Los Angeles Rams' preferred passing-game back, and that should be a focal point against a stout rush defense.
But, if that snap rate increases even a bit, Akers turns into a phenomenal play. His salary is just $5,700, and he has feature-back upside. You don't get that often at this point in the season. We should feel comfortable being aggressive with Akers because even if he maintains his role, the odds he pays off his salary are high.
The only downside of Akers is the health of left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Whitworth injured his knee in the wild card round and is uncertain to play this week. The Rams put up 30 points with Whitworth sidelined in Week 16, but Matthew Stafford averaged -0.27 EPA per drop back, his second-worst mark of the year. Including last week, the Rams' EPA per drop back falls to 0.12 without Whitworth versus 0.19 with him, according to Next-Gen Stats. Their odds of disappointing on offense as a whole increase a decent amount if Whitworth can't go.
Unfortunately, we have similar concerns on the other side. Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen got in some work during Thursday's practice, but right tackle Tristan Wirfs remained sidelined. It seems likely at least one of them plays, but against this defensive line, missing even one constitutes a downgrade.
This game is fast-paced, featuring two of the top four teams in Football Outsiders' situation-neutral pace metric for the full season. If we get good news on the linemen, this game grades out on par with Sunday's late game. We just have to keep a close eye on the news to know how much we should adjust for injuries.
Things with Leonard Fournette are a bit cloudier than they are with Akers. Fournette seemed likely to play last week but ultimately wasn't activated, leading to a near even split between Giovani Bernard and Ke'Shawn Vaughn. This week, Fournette has hinted that he'll play, but we still don't know for sure.
The absence last week should impact our confidence in Fournette here. It was a playoff game, so if he were healthy enough to play, he would have. He does get an extra week of rest, but it's hard to tell whether that would be enough to convince them to not just play him but slot him back into his old, every-down role.
As of now, my confidence level on Fournette is a bit lower than it is on Henry, even after accounting for their respective salaries. Henry at least has a healthy offensive line and didn't miss a high-leverage game just a week ago. That pushes the needle in his favor. Fournette is still fully in play for the Sunday-only slate, but we have to rank him below Akers and Devin Singletary.
The other ripple effect of the linemen is how we view Tom Brady. Brady's salary is $7,800, a dip of $700 from Patrick Mahomes and $1,000 from Josh Allen. Obviously, we'd love to get to them because they have similar passing projections but also add value with their legs. If Jensen and Wirfs go, the appeal in Brady as a salary-saver goes up. If not, then we have pretty heavy incentive to get to one of those two.
Regardless of the health up front, Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski will be priorities here. We've got a two-game sample on the Bucs without Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin, and Evans and Gronk have bathed in high-leverage looks.
|Past 2 Games||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
You could bump Evans down a bit if you wanted now that Jalen Ramsey is no longer playing as much slot corner as he was earlier in the year, but these two grade out well both for the two-game and the four-game slate.
For the Rams' pass-catchers, we have reason to expect a bounce-back for Cooper Kupp. He hasn't exceeded seven targets in the past three games, but that's in large part because the Rams have been so run-heavy, trying to limit the Stafford implosions. That volume should increase here against a stout rush defense.
|With Higbee Since Bye||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Higbee's salary is just $5,400. Using him does keep you off of Gronkowski and Travis Kelce (unless you use one in the flex), and that is a negative. But he also makes it easier to get to Kupp and Tyreek Hill (or Adams and Samuel on the four-game slate), and that does carry value. Even on a good slate for tight ends, Higbee is a fully legitimate option.
Bills at Chiefs
You can view this both ways. On one hand, Clyde Edwards-Helaire was out, and Darrel Williams was dealing with a toe injury. That thrust McKinnon into a larger role, and that could evaporate now that Edwards-Helaire is back to practicing in full.
On the other hand, McKinnon balled out, turning 12 carries and 6 targets into 142 yards from scrimmage. That's the second-highest output for any Chiefs back the entire season. If they didn't view him as a difference-maker before, it's possible they do now.
Here, we have to go through the same thought process we did with Henry. What are the odds that the Chiefs give McKinnon the lead reins again this week? What are the odds he splits with Edwards-Helaire but still gets enough work to pay off a $6,000 salary? Consume as much news as you can prior to lock to determine those percentages and then fill out your lineups based on those assumptions.
We don't have to guess with Singletary. The Bills have told us he is their lead back, and it makes him arguably the top option across the entire four-game slate.
In 6 games as the Bills' lead back, Singletary has averaged 96.5 yards from scrimmage per game. His red-zone share is up to 36.2%, which is actually a hair higher than Fournette's mark was when the Bucs were featuring him. Singletary has no injury concerns, his matchup isn't that tough, and his offense has lower odds of disappointing than Eli Mitchell's. To me, that makes him the steadiest option this weekend and one of the top priorities across any position.
It's a lot muddier with the Bills' pass-catchers. With Emmanuel Sanders back last week, the snaps and routes among the pass-catchers got spread out. Here's the breakdown via Next-Gen Stats across the first three quarters, before the game got truly out of hand.
|First 3 Quarters||Snap Rate||Route Rate||Targets||Air Yards|
The Bills value Gabriel Davis as a run-blocker, which is why his snap rate was so high but his route rate underwhelming. That locks him on the field, which is a great thing, and to me, it makes him the top guy among the non-Stefon Diggs receivers.
With that said, all three of him, Sanders, and Isaiah McKenzie could flop, and all three have paths to paying off. That's why I'll likely rotate through those three (fully omitting Cole Beasley) while making the higher-salaried guys on the slate my key core pieces.
The range of outcomes discussion is different for the Chiefs' receivers. Although Byron Pringle has a couple of two-score games recently, his workload is underwhelming in the games he has played with Hill and Kelce since the bye.
|With Hill and Kelce Since Bye||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
That's why I'd prefer to take swipes at the Bills' guys than Pringle: they're dealing with one road block to targets (Diggs) versus two (Hill and Kelce). You may be funneled to Pringle with so little value at receiver on the slate, but my goal would be to avoid him if possible.
Between Kelce and Hill, my preference will almost always be Hill because he's not as dependent on massive yards-after-the-catch showings to come through. But Kelce -- even at his age -- is still pretty masterful in that department. There's no wrong answer here, but if forced to choose, Hill would be my choice.
Finally, with the quarterbacks, I'd give the edge to Allen due to his huge rushing outputs recently. From the Bucs game on (when the Bills started playing must-win games basically every week), Allen is averaging 8.8 rushes for 67.8 yards per game. For context, Lamar Jackson averaged 69.3 rushing yards per game in his full games this year. Allen is that plus big passing volume and efficiency. Mahomes does run more in high-leverage games, so he's right in Allen's tier but a smidge below, and these are the top two quarterbacks in the four-game slate.