This article is part of our DFS Tournament Guide series.
I would've called you crazy not so long ago if you'd told me a Redskins-Giants matchup would be at the center of the fantasy football universe. Well, here we are, in a world starring Daniel Jones and Wayne Gallman instead of Eli Manning (it was about time) and Saquon Barkley (frowny face).
As always, I'm happy to discuss strategy in the comments section below, or on twitter (@RotowireNFL_JD).
Note: All prices listed come from DraftKings, but most of the logic can be applied to other sites across the DFS industry. Discussion is limited to players from the "main slate" of games kicking off at 1:00, 4:05 and 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday. The strategy below is meant for large-field tournaments, where payouts typically are limited to ~20 percent of lineups, with the vast majority concentrated at the very top. Risk is our friend.
These are the players with the best projections relative to price — the guys that are great plays both for cash games and large-field tournaments. While we don't want our tourney lineups to look like cash-game lineups top to bottom, there's nothing wrong with using a few "chalk" picks that have strong odds to outperform their salaries. These players, along with a couple passing-game stacks, tend to form the core that remains fairly consistent throughout my lineups.
- RB Wayne Gallman, NYG vs. WAS ($4,600)
I'm not here to sell you on the merits of Wayne Gallman as a real-life NFL player. The fact is, I just don't care, because he's well positioned for a large workload at a cheap DFS price, running behind a good offensive line against a bad defense. Gallman doesn't need to be anything close to Saquon Barkley — the price is halved but the volume won't be. That's not to say Gallman will be up at 17 carries and seven targets per game like his insanely talented teammate, but we're really just asking for 14 and four at this price. (Check out my Week 4 matchups column for a more detailed argument in favor of Gallman.)
- WR Christian Kirk, ARZ vs. SEA ($5,100)
You know we're talking about excellent value when a player's per-game scoring equates to 3.1x on his current DK salary, even though he hasn't scored a touchdown. Tied for fourth in the league with 32 targets, Kirk has primarily been used on shorter passes (8.2 aDOT), but he's also seen five targets (t-17th) 20 yards or more downfield, per PFF. The high volume of short throws gives him a nice floor, with just enough deeper work to also create a real ceiling. The Seahawks have given up the 10th-fewest DK points to wide receivers, but that's largely been a product of the matchups — Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger/Mason Rudolph, Teddy Bridgewater — rather than high-level play on defense. The Seahawks are 23rd in PFF's grading for both pass coverage and pass rushing, with preseason cut Jamar Taylor the most recent player to get slot work.
Honorable Mention: RB Leonard Fournette, JAX at DEN ($6,000); RB Kerryon Johnson, DET vs. KC ($5,400); WR Larry Fitzgerald, ARZ vs. SEA ($5,600); Courtland Sutton, DEN vs. JAX ($4,600); Paul Richardson, WAS at NYG ($3,700)
Stacks are the centerpiece of any tournament lineup, seeking to take advantage of positive correlations between players. It rarely makes sense to use a quarterback without one or two of his pass catchers, even if the player in question scores a decent portion of his fantasy points with his legs. Ideally, a stack also includes a pass catcher from the other side of the contest, hoping to take advantage of a tight game where both teams are still chucking the ball around late in the fourth quarter. (Implied team totals are listed in parentheses)
Redskins (23.25) at Giants (26.25)
Here we run into a classic tournament-play dilemma — the best value at running back comes from a game that also holds tons of appeal for a passing attack. Gallman hasn't really shown the type of receiving ability to warrant rostering in the same lineup as his quarterback, but it's a perfectly acceptable strategy given that Daniel Jones ($5,300) is also an excellent value. The conventional logic dictates pairing Jones with Evan Engram ($5,700) and/or Sterling Shepard ($5,800), while a focus on value points toward Jones+Gallman+Engram.
The other side of the game also offers some lovely prices, including Case Keenum ($4,900), Chris Thompson ($4,500), Paul Richardson ($3,700) and Trey Quinn ($3,000). That said, I'm more inclined to go with Danny Dimes, even knowing that ownership will be much higher. I rarely use more than four players from the same game, but the prices here make it reasonable to go five deep (maybe even six?).
Best Stack: QB Jones + RB Gallman + WR Richardson + TE Engram
(editor's note: this section was updated to reflect Terry McLaurin's mid-week injury)
Seahawks (26.5) at Cardinals (21.5)
This game is sure to attract a lot of attention, with Russell Wilson ($6,100) coming off a 400-yard, four-TD performance to face a fast-paced opponent that can't play a lick of defense. In fact, the only thing that will keep ownership from this game somewhat reasonable is a general fear of fading Patrick Mahomes ($7,500) and the Chiefs. Personally, I'd rather stick to Kerryon Johnson ($5,400) and Travis Kelce ($7,200) from that Lions-Chiefs game, as a bunch of other QBs are in good spots to reach the Mahomes level of production.
Wilson, of course, is one of them, going up against a defense that's allowed the second-most DK points to quarterbacks, including nine passing touchdowns and 8.5 YPA. Tyler Lockett ($6,300) is the obvious stacking partner based on target volume, but we can also make good arguments for deep threat DK Metcalf ($4,800) and red-zone weapon Will Dissly ($3,600). I'm sure I won't be alone in favoring the latter, with the tight end coming off back-to-back productive outings and now freed from a timeshare with Nick Vannett (traded to Pittsburgh).
Best Stack: QB Wilson + WR Lockett + WR Kirk + TE Dissly
Browns (19.0) at Ravens (26)
I get that the Browns have been legitimately bad, but their implied total feels a bit too reactive to a three-game sample, or perhaps it's giving Baltimore too much credit for defensive successes of the past. This year's Ravens been decidedly better on offense than defense, allowing Kyler Murray and Mahomes to throw for 723 yards the past two weeks. The Cardinals were awfully close to pulling off a Week 2 upset in Baltimore, ultimately undone by struggles in the red zone.
My point isn't that I'm in any rush to use Baker Mayfield ($5,800) or Nick Chubb ($6,400), but rather that I expect the Browns to keep the game close enough for Lamar Jackson ($6,900) and Marquise Brown ($5,800) to have a shot at reaching their respective ceilings. The scoring correlation between the two Ravens should be strong this season, with Brown ranking seventh in the NFL in air-yard share (41 percent) and 13th in target share (25 percent).
Hollywood's dominance of the aerial attack should lead him to a big day against a Cleveland defense that may be without starting cornerbacks Denzel Ward (hamstring) and Greedy Williams (hamstring) for a second straight week. If you're really worried about the Browns keeping this game close, it's fine to add Odell Beckham ($7,300) or Jarvis Landry ($5,300) as the third wheel. Just know that Beckham will run a lot of his routes against Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who has given up just eight catches and 1.14 yards per coverage snap this season, per PFF.
Best Stack: QB Jackson + WR Brown
We can pair a running back with his team's defense to double our bet on favorable game script in certain matchups. Just keep in mind that the scoring correlations aren't nearly as strong as those between quarterbacks and pass catchers, so it isn't worth forcing into a lineup unless the prices for each individual commodity make sense. We also need to account for specialized backfield roles, i.e., using Marlon Mack rather than Nyheim Hines in conjunction with the Indianapolis defense.
- RB Devonta Freeman ($5,000) + D/ST Falcons ($2,900) vs. TEN
Neither Freeman nor the Atlanta defense inspires much confidence, but it's the right spot and right price to take a shot on the correlation. The Falcons are installed as four-point favorites — a line that actually gives the Titans too much credit. I discussed Marcus Mariota's struggles in my Hidden Stat Line column earlier this week, and I think any opportunity to bet against his success is a good one. This mini-stack is one small way to do that, especially if Freeman doesn't have to deal with Ito Smith (concussion) stealing touches.
- Austin Ekeler, LAC at MIA ($8,000)
Coming off three straight games with six or seven catches, Ekeler should find more of his production on the ground this coming Sunday, taking aim at a Miami defense that's given up 5.4 YPC and 177.3 rushing yards per game to running backs. This mixture of workload, talent and matchup typically would demand sky-high ownership, but the impending return of Melvin Gordon impacts public perception of Ekeler, even though it's not an actual factor in the gameplan until next week. The popularity of teammate Keenan Allen ($7,600) is another factor, as many DFS players will be hesitant — and rightfully so — to use both Chargers in the same lineup. Allen has the edge in pretty much any matchup, but his relative advantage isn't as large as Ekeler's this week, as the star receiver likely will face shadow coverage from Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard.
Honorable Mentions: TE Travis Kelce, KC at DET ($7,200)
Fading the Field
Every week we see at least one or two players carrying high ownership without the backing of a top point-per-dollar projection. Recency bias is often to blame, but in some cases it even makes sense to fade a player with a strong projection, particularly when there are other good alternatives at the same position.
- Christian McCaffrey, CAR at HOU ($8,800)
This is a spot where high ownership is guaranteed, even though the matchup is merely decent. McCaffrey is coming off 30.8 DK points last week, playing on a slate with no Saquon Barkley (ankle), Ezekiel Elliott (SNF) or Alvin Kamara (SNF). The glut of value at WR in the mid-to-lower price range further pushes ownership toward the Panthers' star running back, especially after Ekeler disappointed so many DFS players last week. Not to say I'm a believer in the Texans defense, but it did prevent Ekeler and Alvin Kamara from having blow-up games earlier this month. McCaffrey still has a decent argument for overall RB1 status this week; he's just not a good tournament play once we account for ownership, the highest price tag on the entire slate and a team implied total of 21.75.
Other Fades: QB Patrick Mahomes, KC at DET ($7,500)
The SMASH Spot
Volume is king, no doubt. But we still need to account for efficiency, pinpointing situations that give players good odds to outperform their typical marks for YPA, YPC or YPT.
- WR Marquise Brown, BAL vs. CLE ($5,800)
I could've gone in a bunch of different directions here, picking between players listed in my matchups column from Thursday (yes, that's another shameless plug). Brown ultimately gets the nod, offering a perfect combination of reasonable ownership and sky-high upside. He hasn't lived up to the Week 1 explosion, but 22 targets the past two weeks cemented his status as Baltimore's top receiving threat. Hollywood has seen a steady mix of short and long passes, with his 10 targets 20 or more yards downfield tying Kenny Golladay for the NFL lead, per PFF. It would be nice to see some contribution in the intermediate passing game, but that's more of a concern for the Ravens than for fantasy owners. Brown should get loose for at least one long gain this weekend.
Honorable Mentions: RB Kerryon Johnson, DET vs. KC ($5,400); TE Will Dissly, SEA at ARZ ($3,600)
The Bargain Bin
QB Case Keenum, WAS at NYG ($4,900)
RB Chris Thompson, WAS at NYG ($4,500)
RB Carlos Hyde, HOU vs. CAR ($4,300)
RB Justin Jackson, LAC at MIA ($4,100)
WR Preston Williams, MIA vs. LAC ($3,900)
WR Paul Richardson, WAS at NYG ($3,700)
WR Trey Quinn, WAS at NYG ($3,000)
TE Will Dissly, SEA at ARZ ($3,600)
TE T.J. Hockenson, DET vs. KC ($3,300)
TE Noah Fant, DEN vs. JAX ($2,600)
D/ST Carolina Panthers at HOU ($2,300)
The "Sunday Scramble" doesn't need to be stressful. It's not so hard to formulate a plan ahead of time for the best way to respond once inactive lists are released.
- RB Ito Smith (concussion), ATL vs. TEN
I already discussed Devonta Freeman ($5,000), who becomes one of the top plays at RB if his backfield mate is held out due to a concussion. With Kenjon Barner (concussion, knee) also banged up, the Falcons may be down to Qadree Ollison and Brian Hill as their depth options.
- RB Rashaad Penny (hamstring), SEA at ARZ
Chris Carson ($5,700) is a tough man to trust right now, but he makes sense for DFS tournaments if his backfield partner is out another week with a hamstring injury.
With their Nos. 2 and 3 receivers both missing practice Wednesday and Thursday, the Chargers may become more reliant on Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen... if that's even possible. I might take a shot on Dontrelle Inman ($3,000), but only if Williams and Benjamin both are sidelined.
- CB Jalen Ramsey (back, hamstring, illness, personal, trade demand, etc.), JAX at DEN
Denver's Courtland Sutton has caught at least four passes each week this season, averaging 14.6 DK points without the benefit of a touchdown. He's a good play if Ramsey suits up and a great play if the disgruntled cornerback is absent.
- WR Chris Godwin (hip), TB at LAR
Given what we've seen from the Rams defense so far this season, I'm scared to touch any part of the Tampa Bay offense in Week 4. There's a good enough argument for Mike Evans ($7,100) on the basis of expected volume if Godwin can't play, but it's not like we'll get low ownership after what Evans did last week. A Godwin absence probably just pushes me even more in the direction of paying up for the Rams defense ($3,500).
The forecasts for Sunday are mild, albeit with some potential for wind to impact passing games in Miami and Denver. Neither situation appears problematic as of Friday, but it at least warrants checking back in on Sunday morning.
Adjusting for FanDuel Prices
The prices listed in this article are from DraftKings, and while most of the logic applies to any DFS site, there are a few specific changes I'll need to apply for FanDuel:
- The stack with Lamar Jackson ($8,300) and Marquise Brown ($5,700) is priced very favorably. Of course, that also means it will be higher-owned on FD than it is on DK.
- Todd Gurley ($6,800), David Johnson ($6,800) and Leonard Fournette ($6,400) have been disappointing, but this is the right price to take a shot at their lofty ceilings.
- Larry Fitzgerald ($5,900) is actually the same price as Christian Kirk ($5,900), making the decision more of a toss-up.
- Sammy Watkins ($6,900), Josh Gordon ($6,200) and Tyler Lockett ($6,600) are all high-upside WRs with better prices on FD than DK.
- Travis Kelce ($7,600) is a bit closer to the rest of the TE pack under FD's algorithm. I love him on every DFS site, but especially here.
- The Vikings defense ($4,000) is priced No. 11 among D/STs, compared to t-6th on DK ($3,400).