This article is part of our DFS Tournament Guide series.
As always, I'm happy to discuss strategy in the comments 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.
These are the players with the best projections relative to price — good 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 the best 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 Melvin Gordon, LAC vs. OAK ($5,600)
DeAndre Washington ($4,000) figures to be the more popular RB choice from this game, but I'd rather fork over an extra $1,600 to get a superior player from the team that's favored by a touchdown. That's not to say Washington is a bad DFS play, just that Gordon is an even better one. The Chargers' lead back is averaging 15.8 carries, 3.2 catches and 98.3 yards since Shane Steichen took over as offensive coordinator, scoring four touchdowns in those six games (for an average of 17.2 DK points). Gordon's pair of lost fumbles last week contributed to a blowout loss to the Vikings, but even then he was benched for only two drives before reentering the game.
- TE Austin Hooper, ATL vs. JAX ($4,400)
Hooper returned from a knee injury two weeks ago, eased back into the lineup with 64 percent snap share. He nonetheless saw six targets in a comfortable win over the Panthers, and he then bumped up to 82 percent snap share last week — again drawing six targets — in a 29-22 road victory over the 49ers. It's been a while since we saw a big stat line, but the workload suggests its right around the corner, and the price is about $1,000 cheaper than what we paid in October. We've already seen Hooper thrive in an offense with Calvin Ridley (abdomen) and Mohamed Sanu competing for targets, so the tight end shouldn't have any problem now that he's the No. 2 option.
Honorable Mentions: RB Ezekiel Elliott, DAL at PHI ($7,900); RB Devonta Freeman, ATL vs. JAX ($6,000); RB DeAndre Washington, OAK at LAC ($4,000); WR Tyler Boyd, CIN at MIA ($5,800); WR Greg Ward, PHI vs. DAL ($4,200)
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.)
Jaguars (19.75) @ Falcons (26.75)
I can't say I love the Jacksonville side of this game, but I do love the prices on Matt Ryan ($6,200) and Austin Hooper ($4,400) against a low-energy Jaguars defense. Devonta Freeman ($6,000) gets the best individual matchup, and Julio Jones ($8,000) should see double-digit targets so long as the game doesn't become a blowout too early.
In terms of bringing it back on the other side, I'd rather stay away from a slumping Leonard Fournette ($7,200), considering Atlanta has been far more vulnerable to the pass than the run. We're then left to watch for injury news on DJ Chark Jr. ($6,300, ankle), whose absence last week contributed to a two-TD game for Chris Conley ($4,300) and a 76-yard outing on six targets for Keelan Cole ($3,600). Dede Westbrook ($5,100) has a nice matchup in the slot, but I don't love paying a higher price for a guy who draws shallower targets (at least not in large-field tourneys when I'm hunting for ceiling).
- Best Stack: QB Ryan + WR Jones + WR Conley (maybe) + TE Hooper
Cowboys (23.75) @ Eagles (22.25)
I don't love the odds for this game to become a shootout, but it at least figures to be a close contest, and there are a bunch of players with intriguing prices. That includes Ezekiel Elliott ($7,900), Amari Cooper ($6,700) and Michael Gallup ($5,500), though it will be hard to rely on the latter two unless we get some positive news on Dak Prescott ($6,400) and his sore shoulder.
The other side gives us target hog Zach Ertz ($6,400) and late-season workhorse Miles Sanders ($6,400) as expensive options, while Carson Wentz ($5,800), Greg Ward ($4,200), Dallas Goedert ($4,100) and Boston Scott ($4,000) are viable discount plays. Wentz topped 22.5 DK points each of the past three weeks, albeit with the assistance of one overtime game (vs. NYG) and one matchup with the Dolphins. I'm still not sure how I want to stack this game, but here's my best guess until there's more information on Prescott:
- Best Stack: QB Wentz + RB Elliott + WR Ward + TE Ertz
Bengals (23.75) @ Dolphins (22.75)
Andy Dalton ($5,200) initially caught my eye as the top QB play of the week, though I'm pivoting to Matt Ryan now that the weather in Miami looks problematic. That said, I still see plenty of DFS potential for this game if the rain and wind aren't too bad, with Joe Mixon ($6,600), Tyler Boyd ($5,800) and even John Ross ($4,200) or Tyler Eifert ($3,200) all in play.
Eifert bumped up to 47 and 55 percent of snaps the past two weeks, catching seven of nine targets for 93 yards. I'm not necessarily saying we can trust him, but we can at least bring him back into consideration as a discount TE play. Ross has handled his two smallest snap shares of the season in two games since he returned from a shoulder injury, but it won't come as any surprise if he returns to a full-time role either this week or next. Both are valid tournament plays.
On the Miami side, DeVante Parker ($6,800) remains the safe choice to pile up volume, while Mike Gesicki ($3,600) and Myles Gaskin ($3,800) both offer sneaky appeal. Albert Wilson ($3,800) had his best and busiest game of the year last week, but he'll have to contend with Bengals slot corner Darqueze Dennard, who has been playing at a surprisingly high level. Gesicki and Gaskin actually have the best matchups here.
- Best Stack: QB Dalton + RB Mixon + WR Boyd + TE Gesicki
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 Phillip Lindsay ($5,300) + Broncos D/ST ($3,500) vs. DET
Lindsay has been a thorn in my side for the past month, repeatedly failing to take advantage of his team's decision to reduce Royce Freeman's involvement. It was a decision that theoretically would lead to more touches for Lindsay, but it hasn't quite worked out that way in practice, largely because the Broncos haven't been able to hold possession of the ball. They ran 46, 53, 55 and 57 plays the past four weeks, landing comfortably below league-average (63.4) even when they beat the Texans and Chargers.
It's a trend that should reverse this week, with Denver favored by a full touchdown over a Lions team that has an even worse situation at quarterback. Of course, third-string QB David Blough is far from the only problem, as Detroit also has Marvin Jones (ankle) and T.J. Hockenson (ankle) on injured reserve. There's an obvious lack of firepower even if Kerryon Johnson (knee) makes it back for Sunday's game.
Honorable Mention: RB Adrian Peterson ($5,000) + Redskins D/ST ($2,800) vs. NYG
- RB Ezekiel Elliott, DAL at PHI ($7,900)
I don't usually play running backs against the Eagles, but I'll happily make an exception when a guy like Zeke remains underpriced. He put up 16.6 or more DK points each of the past five weeks, despite drawing a quartet of difficult matchups — the Patriots, Bills, Bears and Rams — during that stretch. Meanwhile, the Eagles have dropped to No. 11 in run defense DVOA (-13.3%) and No. 7 in YPC allowed (4.0), with recent rushing lines including 16-66-1 for Adrian Peterson and 14-129-1 for Rashaad Penny (but they did shut down Patrick Laird!). We could even see Elliott draw a few extra targets if Dak Prescott's sore shoulder dissuades the Cowboys from throwing downfield.
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 good alternatives at the same position and price range.
- Michael Thomas, NO at TEN ($9,300)
If we're talking about a redraft or dynasty league, Thomas still needs to be treated as the overall WR1, offering an unprecedented combination of volume and talent. However, there's just enough doubt to warrant a DFS fade when he has his own price range among wide receivers, as both Thomas and Drew Brees remain far less effective away from the Superdome. The superstar wideout is averaging 10.9 catches for 128.4 yards in home games, compared to 7.7 for 87.5 on the road. Sure, the work away from home is still easy WR1 territory, but is it worth a price tag that's much closer to Christian McCaffrey than to any other receiver?
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.
- RB Joe Mixon, CIN at MIA ($6,600)
Mixon's second-half surge has included some nice work against good defenses, including 151 yards against Baltimore in Week 10 and 156 against New England last week. With his new workload norm consisting of 15-to-25 carries and three or four targets, Mixon could reach triple-digit yardage before halftime in his matchup with an undermanned Miami defense. The Dolphins are 29th in run defense DVOA (4.2%) and 32nd in DK points allowed to running backs, most recently yielding 33.3 points to Saquon Barkley in Week 15. Good weather or bad, Mixon will get plenty of work Sunday in Miami.
Honorable Mention: WR Mike Williams, LAC vs. OAK ($5,000)
The Bargain Bin
QB Andy Dalton, CIN at MIA ($5,200)
RB DeAndre Washington, OAK at LAC ($4,000)
RB Boston Scott, PHI vs. DAL ($4,000)
RB Myles Gaskin, MIA vs. CIN ($3,800)
WR Chris Conley, JAX at ATL ($4,300)
WR John Ross, CIN at MIA ($4,200)
WR Greg Ward, PHI vs. DAL ($4,200)
WR Larry Fitzgerald, ARZ at SEA ($4,200)
WR Alex Erickson, CIN at MIA ($3,300)
TE Mike Gesicki, MIA vs. CIN ($3,600)
TE Tyler Eifert, CIN at MIA ($3,200)
D/ST Philadelphia Eagles vs. DAL ($2,500)
The "Sunday Scramble" doesn't need to be stressful. We can formulate plans ahead of time for the best way to respond once inactive lists are released.
- QB Dak Prescott (shoulder), DAL at PHI
The Cowboys continue to insist Prescott will play, even though he hasn't been throwing in practice. We'll need to closely monitor reports on expectations for his health, as both Amari Cooper ($6,700) and Michael Gallup ($5,500) have reasonably favorable prices for their matchup with Philadelphia's shaky secondary. I even have some interest in a Prescott-Cooper-Gallup stack, though it burned me last week and won't make much sense this week unless reports on the quarterback's shoulder are positive.
- WR DJ Chark Jr. (ankle), JAX at ATL
Chark's status will determine whether we can fire up Dede Westbrook ($5,100), Chris Conley ($4,300) or Keelan Cole ($3,600) as value plays. Each of the three is at least $500 more expensive compared to last week, so it's not like we're talking about must-starts. I prefer to use Conley, whose skill set and role would be the closest match to Chark.
Believe it or not, the biggest concern this week is in Miami, where the forecast calls for rain, thunderstorms and winds above 15 miles per hour. On the other hand, forecasts for the Midwest and East Coast look surprisingly mild for this time of year.
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:
- Ryan Fitzpatrick ($7,400) is priced at QB11, compared to QB8 on DK. The smaller gap between him and Andy Dalton ($7,100) would encourage me to use the home-team QB rather than the visitor if I end up stacking Bengals-Dolphins.
- I like Chris Carson ($8,200) as RB5 a lot better than I like him as RB2 on DK.
- I know Alvin Kamara ($7,200) is slumping, and I know he's less valuable when we're talking half-PPR instead of full, but RB13 is such a tempting price. The positive TD regression has to come eventually, right?
- DeVante Parker ($6,900) is priced at WR9, compared to WR6 on DK. The Fitz-Parker stack will offer excellent value if the weather in Miami cooperates.
- DJ Chark Jr. ($6,300), if he plays, once again looks underpriced on FanDuel.
- The price is right to take a shot on D.J. Moore ($6,600) in Will Grier's first NFL start, whereas the pricing on DK pushes me away from that risk.
- My love for Austin Hooper ($6,000) doesn't really translate to FanDuel, where the gap between him and Zach Ertz ($6,900) is much smaller.
- The Jets D/ST ($3,600) is a solid play if you don't have much budget remaining at the end.