Sunday Morning Update
On Friday morning, we talked about four moving pieces we would be watching. Let’s start with those because we have already received some big answers that will have a big impact on the slate.
Michael Thomas out
One piece we were watching was Michael Thomas. As of Friday morning he was projected to be one of the most popular wide receivers but he had not practiced all week. We now know why. Thomas’ ankle injury is so serious that he is not only out this weekend, but out for the regular season. We also learned that it would be Drew Brees and not Taysom Hill at the helm for the Saints. These two items have changed the complexion of the slate. Alvin Kamara is now expected to be the chalkiest play on the entire slate. Kamara was listed as a top play before this news and he is an even stronger option now. However, we do want to be aware that if we are playing Kamara and a couple other very popular plays, we want to try to take some shots at less popular players in a couple other spots.
Thomas’ absence and the return of Brees also answered another big question we had, which was whether there would be any obvious value plays on the slate. Emmanuel Sanders ($5,500) and Tre’Quan Smith (($5,000)both look like very strong bargains with Brees in the lineup and Thomas sidelined. Sanders is the safer play. Smith is riskier but may have slightly more big-play upside.
Ravens WRs return
We were also watching to see if the Ravens three wide receivers who were sidelined due to close contact with a coach who tested positive for COVID-19 would be cleared in time to play. They have been cleared, which helps solidify Lamar Jackson as the safest quarterback to play this week.
The tougher question is whether the days away from practice will lead to Marquise Brown ($6,000) potentially seeing a few less targets than normal. Brown was a risky play to start with and the missed practices may lower his floor slightly more. Brown is a mediocre play as a one off but if you are playing Lamar Jackson at quarterback (as many will be), rolling the dice on Brown makes a lot more sense. If he catches one long bomb, not only does that bring him close to hitting value but it also greatly increases the chances that Jackson gets there as well.
A bit more clarity in Miami: Sunday Inactive Update
WR Isaiah Ford
WR Mack Hollins
TE Adam Shaheen
Lynn Bowden Jr ($5,000) looks like the beest bet if you are going to take a chance on one of these guys. On a slate without a lot of value, Bowden is in the conversation with guys like Kendrick Bourne, Tre'Quan Smith, and Emmanuel Sanders as top salary savers. Maybe we should be thinking about the Patriots Defense ($4,100) a bit more as well because that group of options looks pretty rough.
Where is the Value?
The more the week has gone on, the more I have warmed up to the idea of Keke Coutee ($5,900). We remember Coutee torching this same Colts defense two weeks ago for eight catches and 141 yards. Let us not forget that Coutee also exploded against the Colts in 2018 with an 11 catch, 109-yard performance. Indianapolis plays a lot of zone and has some holes in the middle of the field where Houston will likely look to attack with Coutee.
If you feel similarly about the lack of value, the big decision then is whether to pay up and spend $20K+ on three wide receivers in that $7K range and know that probably means you care going to have a really hard time playing Derrick Henry or Travis Kelce (and certainly not both). It is scary to fade the elite guys who have been on a tear. However, there is enough to get excited about at both running back and wide receiver in the $7K range, the recommendation here is to live in that range with balanced builds instead of a stars and scrubs approach.
One of the bigger picture things worth spending time thinking about this week is how you think some of these games with huge spreads play out. The Rams are favored by 17 points against the Jets. The Ravens are favored by 13 against Jacksonville. The Titans are favored by 11 against the Lions. Most of the chalky plays are coming from these three big favorites —Lamar Jackson, Derrick Henry, Cam Akers, J.K. Dobbins, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Mark Andrews, and the defenses of the Rams, Ravens and Titans.
Are these bad teams going to fight or just lay down? Do we need the underdogs to show some fight? We saw the Jets sleepwalk through their last game against Seattle, which seemed to limit the upside of the Seahawks offense. The Seahawks were able to put it in cruise control for the entire second half with a lot of backups rotating in. Russell Wilson played less than three quarters.
There is danger we have some similar outcomes this Sunday. Are the Titans going to feed Derrick Henry 30 times in a game where they are favored by 11 points and are likely to be facing a backup quarterback? The Rams are long shots for the top seed and the bye but are near locks for the playoffs. Are they going to rotate more young guys and backups in like the Seahawks did last week?
There are still a lot of moving pieces on the slate where we are unlikely to have answers until Sunday morning. Here are some of the stories to follow closely:
- Will the Ravens wide receivers be back? Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, and James Proche were placed on the COVID-19 list on Wednesday after close contact with another person who tested positive. That does not mean they are for sure out this week, however. The potential return of Brown is especially key because, as mentioned above, there is not a lot to be excited about in the $6K range at wide receiver and Brown would add a good option to the mix in that range. Plus, the status of these three wide receivers should have an impact in how confident we are about Lamar Jackson’s chances of success.
- The entire Miami skill position situation seems up in the air. Mike Gesicki hurt his shoulder and the initial reporting seemed to indicate he would be out but he was able to get in a limited practice Thursday. DeVante Parker and Jakeem Grant are questionable with hamstring injuries but were both able to practice. Parker looks on the probably side of questionable. Salvon Ahmed looks like he will be back in some capacity, though he is still dealing with a shoulder injury. Matt Breida is off of the COVID-list. Myles Gaskin may miss another week. My first instinct is to just avoid this mess. However, if we do get some clarity and only a few of these guys are able to play, it is a potential source of value on a slate we really need it.
- Raheem Mostert’s ankle injury is worth watching closely. Jeff Wilson would be one of the top plays on the slate should Mostert miss, though he seems more likely to play than not. Even if Mostert plays, if we get some indications that he will not take on his typical workload, Wilson should move up our lists.
- Michael Thomas has missed a couple practices with an ankle injury. He has dealt with the injury all season but typically is limited in the early week practices, not completely sidelined. Thomas is currently projected as one of the chalkier plays of the week but we need to confirm his health before slotting him in. If he unexpectedly scratches, we will have the value wide receiver options we are currently lacking.
The #Saints might be getting Drew Brees back this week ... but his star pass-catcher is yet to practice.— SaintsNOW (@SaintsNOW) December 18, 2020
Here's what to know about Michael Thomas, the rest of the injury report for today â¤µ https://t.co/TX5BXUkJFc
Patrick Mahomes II ($8,900) is always strongly in play. Especially since he is not priced up that much higher than the rest of the pack. Lamar Jackson ($8,200) is the chalk after a big time national television performance on Monday night. Kyler Murray ($8,200), Jalen Hurts ($6,900), Russell Wilson ($8,400), and Taysom Hill ($7,500) have the dual-threat ability to post huge scores and are some of the guys most worth focusing on in our tournament builds.
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore ($8,200 — 16%)
This is our first “good chalk” of the week. Jackson looked fantastic against the Browns and has looked like he did last season running the ball in recent weeks. In his last two outings, he has ran 22 times for 218 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Ravens team total (30 points) is one of the highest on the slate and they are in must-win territory the rest of the regular season, so we do not need to worry about motivation. The Jaguars have allowed the 3rd-most FanDuel points (22.3 per game) to opposing quarterbacks this season.
Patrick Mahomes II, Kansas City ($8,900 — 12%)
With few exceptions, the playable quarterbacks are priced at $7,500 or more again this week. There is such a small gap between the pack and Mahomes, it is easy to just lock in his high floor and huge ceiling at the top of your GPP lineup. Over the last six weeks, Mahomes has thrown for 383, 318, 462, 348, 372, and 416 yards. We have almost come to expect this level of greatness from him and should take a step back to marvel at what he is doing.
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia ($6,900 — 10%)
If we are going to pass on the high-floor, high-ceiling chalky quarterbacks, Hurts looks like one of the top options. The $2,000 price difference between Hurts and Mahomes is the first big factor in his favor. It is hard to fit in guys like Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce. Hurts is one of the ways to get there. He is going to run the ball a ton. Hurts had 18 rushes last week for 106 yards against a good Saints defense. While he has yet to score a rushing touchdown, that should change soon. Hurts has an ideal build for short yardage running and scored 20 rushing touchdowns last season for Oklahoma.
Kyler Murray, Arizona ($8,000 — 10%)
Murray has cooled off in recent weeks. In fact, he has not scored more than 20.3 fantasy points in over a month. It is worth remembering he is a guy who has posted 27+ FanDuel points seven times already this season. Plus, we are another week removed from the shoulder injury that has seemed to hamper Murray. After three straight weeks of five carries, he was near a season-high with 13 rushing attempts last week. That is a great sign he is healthy again and that we might see more of the rushing touchdowns that made Murray the top fantasy quarterback through the first couple months of the season.
There are a lot of option worth targeting in the $7K range. Jonathan Taylor ($7,400), Alvin Kamara ($7,800), Cam Akers ($6,700), and Miles Sanders ($6,800) chief among them. We are also going to have to make a call about how hard we are going to push to fit Derrick Henry into our lineups. At the lower end, Leonard Fournette ($5,500) is likely to be popular, which makes him an easy fade given how bad he has looked lately. J.K. Dobbins ($5,900) is a cheap option with real upside but you have to worry about Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards stealing all the rushing touchdowns.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee ($10,200 — 30%)
Henry looms large on this slate. He has gone for 35+ points twice in the last three weeks and has had a number of monster games late in the season each of the last few years. If he goes for 200 yards and multiple scores, you won’t care what other choices had to be made to fit him in. It is extremely scary to be under the field on Henry but that may be the play this week. The cheaper options at the position have enough upside that if Henry merely has a good game (20 fantasy points or so), then he is unlikely to be in GPP-winning lineups.
If Derrick Henry is able to join the historic company of runners who have reached the single-season 2,000 rushing yards mark, would that make him NFL MVP? ðŸ¤” https://t.co/RHsjYfc7Se pic.twitter.com/RFCpA8weIi— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) December 18, 2020
Cam Akers, LA Rams ($6,700 — 35%)
It looks like Akers is going to be the chalkiest play on the slate. Put him in the “good chalk” category. Over the last two weeks, Akers has 53 touches and has become the workhorse back most expected when the Rams took him in the middle of the second round last April. He has taken his opportunity and ran with it. Last week’s 194 total yards against the Patriots were a coming out party. With the Rams 17-point home favorites, the spot looks great as well. Akers is at least $1,000 underpriced and on a slate where there is not a lot of value, that is difficult to ignore.
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans ($7,800 — 36%)
Kamara went from flying slightly under the radar during the middle of the week to the most popular play on the slate with the news that Michael Thomas would be out and Drew Brees would be back at quarterback.Kamara saw 10 targets last week against the Eagles even with Hill at quarterback. As crazy as it sounds, we can safely project Kamara for 10+ targets again ths week. If we expect the Chiefs offense to have success in building an early lead, it is easy to imagine another 10+ target game for Kamara and not hard to envision him seeing as many as 15 targets. He has as much upside as anyone on the slate and is priced way down compared to the other top backs.
Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis ($7,400 — 20%)
Taylor will be popular but you can easily make the case he should be twice as popular. He has averaged 21.3 touches per game over his last three and finally emerged as the workhorse back we expected him to be. The Texans give up 28.1 FanDuel points per game to opposing backs (second most) and we saw Taylor have a big game with 135 total yards and a touchdown against this same Texans defense just two weeks ago. While Taylor will still be popular, the emergence of Alvin Kamara at only $400 more will help keep Taylor from finding his way into much more than 20% of the lineups.
Tyreek Hill ($9,300) and DeAndre Hopkins ($8,600) are tough to fit in this week, which may not be a bad thing if you are targeting them since it will keep their popularity in check. The best bang for our buck is really clustered in the $7K range, however. Cooper Kupp ($7,100), Robert Woods ($7,400), Brandon Aiyuk ($6,900), Terry McLaurin ($6,900), Michael Thomas ($7,000), Allen Robinson ($7,300), and T.Y. Hilton ($6,800) each look strong this week. Each of them will be popular but the fact that there are so many good options in the same exact price range should help to keep the percentage owned for each at a reasonable level.
Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco ($6,900 — 25%)
Aiyuk has been a target monster down the stretch of the season. In his last four games, he has been targeted 50 times (12.5 per game). With Deebo Samuel and George Kittle out, the 49ers have few options but to pepper Aiyuk with targets. He has been making a lot of big plays too so there is no reason to think it will not continue against a bad Cowboys defense that is allowing 34.4 FanDuel PPG against to opposing wide receivers.
Terry McLaurin, Washington ($6,900 — 16%)
Seattle’s defense has been better of late but has given up the most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers on the season. McLaurin has cooled off with Alex Smith (famed “dink and dunker”) at the helm but Smith may be out with a calf injury. That would open the door for McLaurin’s Ohio State teammate Dwayne Haskins to return. McLaurin averaged over 10 targets per game while Haskins started and should get plenty of opportunities against this shaky Seattle secondary.
On our NEW #SeahawksMan2Man podcast:— Dugar, Michael-Shawn (@MikeDugar) December 16, 2020
This Seattle-Washington matchup features 2 stud WRs from the 2019 draft. We know DK is a beast, but where does Terry McLaurin rank in that group?
We had @InstantRHIplay on to talk about it. https://t.co/HO1JNtYn6C pic.twitter.com/Gg81SbyuAA
Kendrick Bourne, San Francisco ($4,800 — 5%)
As noted in the positional overview, one can make a strong case for a bunch of different guys in the $7K range. Instead of looking at another of those guys here, let’s look focus in on one of the best options for salary relief at the position. Bourne has shown at least a little bit of a floor over the last five games. He has seen at least five targets in each and is averaging a respectable 6.8 targets per game over that stretch. He has also been a favorite red zone target for Nick Mullens, averaging 1.0 red zone targets per game over his last five. He has narrowly missed turning a couple of those opportunities into touchdowns, which is one of the main reason he is still priced way down at $4,800. Bourne provides leverage against the field given that Aiyuk is likely to be the most popular wide receiver this week. He also gives us a path to Derrick Henry and/or Travis Kelce.
One of the themes we have bene hammering home here in recent weeks is just how much Travis Kelce and Darren Waller have separated from the pack at the tight end position. Waller is not on this slate, which leaves Kelce standing head and shoulders above the other options. The only problem is that he is also priced head and shoulders above the rest of the position at $8,500 ($2,700 more than any other tight end). If you are hand building lineups this week, tight end makes for a good starting point. Decide first whether you want to make the sacrifices elsewhere to have Kelce as your tight end and then go from there.
Travis Kelce, Kansas City ($8,500 — 25%)
There is not much to say about Kelce. He has six straight games with 8+ catches. In five of those six, he also topped 100 receiving yards. He is averaging a ridiculous 124.8 receiving yards per game since Week 8. If you like enough of the mid-priced options at other positions, play Kelce. Simple as that. He is the best play at tight end by a good margin.
Mark Andrews, Baltimore ($6,800 — 15%)
With Lamar Jackson projected as the most popular quarterback, Andrews is going to get a boost in popularity. It does not hurt that half the Ravens wide receivers are sidelined. Even if they are cleared in time for Sunday’s game, they will have missed the entire week of practice. Andrews has struggled along with the rest of the Ravens offense. He has just one touchdown since mid-October. However, there have been some signs of late that he is rounding into form. Over his last three games he has averaged 5.7 catches for 78.3 yards and 0.3 touchdowns for 12.7 PPG. It makes sense to project Andrews for something similar to that this week, which makes him the clear #2 tight end on the slate.