The Sharp Report
One of the most proficient gamblers that sportsbooks have ever seen, Haralabos Voulgaris, is on record saying the main reason he retired from professional gambling is that he was gradually losing his edge against the sportsbooks. Voulgaris explains that every time he placed a bet, he gave the sportsbook a metaphoric piece to the puzzle that, once solved, would completely erase his edge to the point where he would no longer be a profitable bettor. The same way sportsbooks learned from Voulgaris' bets and eroded his edge, daily fantasy sports players can learn from their top competitors and eat away at their edge. These top competitors, known as sharps, typically play DFS at a much higher level and for much more money than others. These players normally have very advanced and accurate projection systems that give them their edge over the field. Fortunately, every time they enter a contest the sharp players' lineups are available to the public to be broken down, analyzed, and learned from. The Sharp Report will be a weekly article that uses all available and applicable data to draw conclusions regarding how the industry's smartest decision-makers and their projections systems come to their final conclusions when building lineups. Over the course of the entire season, The Sharp Report's goal will be to project what the best players in the industry will do in upcoming contests and, in turn, figure out what it is that gives these high-level players their edge over the field.
Throughout each week, more and better information regarding things like player availability, individual matchups, and depth charts will become available. The section of this article projecting which player is likely to be rostered by most of the sharp players next week will be updated by Saturday afternoon each week after all applicable information has become available. If enough data reveals itself that a completely new player is deemed worthy of being mentioned as Next Week's Sharp Play, the original section will appear in red font and the new section will appear in bold black font. If all available information leads to the same conclusion made earlier in the week, the original section will be changed to bold black font.
The players analyzed in this article consistently play, and win, in high-stakes contests and are also ranked in the top ten percent in RotoGrinders' super heavyweight division of DFS players. Players' names will be omitted from the article, but all lineups analyzed are from the GIANT $1,060 50-50 on DraftKings.
Team #1: 147.68 points, DID cash
Team #2: 119.18, did NOT cash
Week 13 was a unique beast to take on, as it was one of the few weeks out of the season where there was no consensus sharp quarterback selection. At the top, Patrick Mahomes II garnered attention in an expected shootout against Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At the bottom, Ryan Fitzpatrick re-assumed the starting job for the Dolphins in a soft matchup against the New York Jets. Then, between the two, Josh Allen seemed to go overlooked against the Chargers. At the end of the day, Allen did not produce as expected, but given his rushing production coming through as expected and the unforeseen flow of that game limiting his passing totals, the process behind the selection appears sound.
As per usual, the sharpest players in DFS almost unanimously opted to roster three running backs in cash-games last weekend. Moving forward, this remains the optimal strategy and should be deployed virtually every weekend.
Two salary-saving options stood out above the rest in Week 12, especially for cash-games. Both plays followed very similar reasoning, and it is not unlike what we have seen throughout the season when identifying where to pinch pennies in DraftKings lineups.
In Indianapolis, Jonathan Taylor, the team's highly-touted rookie running back, made his way onto the COVID 19 reserve list ahead of last week's game due to contact with someone who tested positive during an out-of-town trip. This news came down late in the week and forced the Colts to turn towards Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins to fill his spot in the tam's backfield. Typically, Hines spells Taylor on passing downs, and Wilkins fills in sporadically in neutral game-scripts or blowouts. Without Taylor factoring into the equation whatsoever in Week 12, both Hines and Wilkins stood to benefit; however, Nyheim Hines was the Colts' running back of choice for most sharps. First, recent snap-share numbers suggested that Hines was likely to shoulder most of the load in Taylor's absence. Next, and perhaps most importantly, Hines is one of the league's best pass-catching running backs, which provides a remarkable floor of production for a player checking in at just $4,600. Lastly, for a player heavily involved in the passing game, playing at home, in a dome, also helped steer players in Hines' direction.
Shifting our focus down south, in Atlanta, Brian Hill stepped into the starting spot in Atlanta's backfield while Todd Gurley sat out due to a knee injury. Hill has been Gurley's primary backup every step along the way this season. Atlanta generally handles their backfield differently than Indianapolis; they do not deploy specific running backs in specific situations nearly as often. The Falcons typically rely on their running backs to be well-rounded players capable of playing all three downs. While I am not commenting on the actual efficacy of either team's strategy, it is important to note its impact on fantasy production. Although Hill has no true calling card as a player stepping into a starting role, the expectation that he will remain on the field regardless of the game-state is vital to his fantasy value. As a potential three-down-back, a soft matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders' 30th-ranked run defense, according to DVOA, Hill jumped off the page as a premier bargain bin option in Week 12. Also, much like Hines and the Colts, Hill and the Falcons played this game at home, in a dome, which typically fosters a fantasy-friendly scoring environment.
This past weekend, aside from a projected sharp play, Keelan Cole, appearing in nearly 45-percent of lineups at just $3,600, two specific pass-catchers stood out above the rest as underpriced top-end options.
Adam Thielen was unable to play in Week 12, as he was listed on the COVID 19 reserve list. He removed approximately 28-percent of total targets and 39-percent of total air yards from this offense with his absence. While his fill-ins would certainly account for some of that lost production, the primary benefactor in this situation was Justin Jefferson, Minnesota's blossoming young star at wide receiver. Jefferson already commands highly-valuable targets in volume when Thielen is on the field. Now, with no other viable competition to be the best route-runner and receiver on the field, Jefferson's volume was sure to increase, both in terms of raw target numbers and his market share of valuable targets within the offense. The betting market projected the Vikings to score nearly 27 points on the afternoon when they played at home, in a dome, against the Carolina Panthers. Carolina's defense ranks 24th in the NFL in passing DVOA allowed, and this soft matchup combined with Jefferson's expected uptick in valuable receiving volume made the Vikings' rookie an exceptionally popular selection in cash-games. Justin Jefferson ended up in 68-percent of lineups in the GIANT $1,060 50-50 on DraftKings in Week 12, and he came through for his backers by finding the end zone twice on seven receptions.
Again, down in Atlanta, a very similar situation unfolded in the Falcons' offense. Except for this time, on the outside, the NFC South basement-dwellers were without their number-one receiving threat, Julio Jones. Jones was confirmed to be inactive on Sunday morning, which left Calvin Ridley as the team's most-talented pass-catcher on the active roster. Ridley's 2020 campaign leading up to this point was already impressive with Julio Jones on the field competing for targets. Now, without one of the league's most explosive receivers, Ridley's receiving volume and fantasy production were expected to skyrocket. The Falcons entered this matchup against the Raiders as moderate underdogs. Given the expected increase in passing volume, Ridley was fully capable of paying-off his $7,100 price tag on DraftKings. With Julio Jones in the mix this season, Calvin Ridley ranks 15th in the league, amongst wide receivers, in weighted opportunity rating (WOPR.) The opportunity to roster Ridley without Jones in the mix was too good to pass up, as 68-percent of players in the GIANT $1,060 50-50 opted to lock him into their lineups.
Now, let's use these exact principles and concepts to identify where to start DFS lineups for the Week 13 slate of games.
The Sharp Core
Moving forward, The Sharp Report will feature a full Sharp Core, where instead of simply highlighting one or two of the best options, a core of three players will be analyzed to provide a strong foundation for a full cash lineup, rather than just a starting point. The initial Sharp Play will come on Wednesday, with the article's publishing, followed by another one added on Friday, with the final coming Saturday afternoon.
Projected Sharp Play #1: Brandin Cooks
This coming weekend, Brandin Cooks' situation is eerily similar to Calvin Ridley's and Justin Jefferson's last weekend. As mentioned above, when delving into why Ridley and Jefferson were so popular in Week 12, targeting a depleted receiving corps by selecting the proverbial last man standing is an exceptionally popular and sharp cash game strategy. Will Fuller V recently announced that he was suspended through the end of the season due to a failed performance-enhancing drug test. On top of that, Randall Cobb made his way onto the injured reserve within the last week, and the Texans parted ways with Kenny Stills just days ago. Now, Brandin Cooks stands alone as the only starting receiver currently available for Houston on the outside, and his volume should increase dramatically in this role as the team's number-one wide receiver. Since Bill O'Brien was fired earlier this season, Houston's offense relied much more heavily upon Deshaun Watson and the passing attack. Alongside Brandin Cooks, look for Keke Coutee and Isaiah Coulter to step into the starting lineup. Given the massive difference in talent between Cooks and the other two starters, Cooks will almost certainly be the top-dog in this passing game. At just $5,600 on the DraftKings main slate, Brandin Cooks is an elite starting point for DFS lineups this weekend, when he will likely make his way onto the vast majority of sharp teams across all formats.
Projected Sharp Play #2: David Montgomery
At running back, look to David Montgomery as a player to build lineups around in the mid-range in Week 13. Without a viable option to spell Montgomery, he rarely leaves the field. Across his last 7 outings, he has played at least 80-percent of Chicago's offensive snaps in 6 of them. The lone game he did not eclipse that mark, he left early due to a concussion. Montgomery is particularly enticing this weekend thanks to a plus matchup and a strong expected gamescript. The Bears play host to the Detroit Lions this weekend, and as four-point favorites, their offense should rely much more heavily upon their rushing attack. Additionally, Detroit's defense ranks amongst the league's worst against the run, where they are 23rd in total DVOA allowed. In short, Montgomery's modest $5,500 price tag does not match his bell-cow workload and top-tier matchup the scheduling gods gifted him in Week 13. Most sharps will pay-down at one running back spot this weekend to allow for top-end options elsewhere, and you should do the same.
Projected Sharp Play #3: Anthony Firkser
The last feature of this week's salary-saving Sharp Core is Anthony Firkser, the Tennessee Titans' starting tight end this weekend with Jonnu Smith sidelined. As the team's number-one tight end, Smith is the third-leading receiver for Tennessee this season, with Firkser close behind as the fourth-leading receiver. Now, without Smith in the mix, Firsker projects to play the majority of snaps and absorb a large portion on Smith's weekly volume. On the year, Anthony Firkser averages nearly four targets-per-game while playing second-fiddle at his position, while Jonnu Smith averages nearly five targets-per-game. This weekend, if we conservatively project Firkser to absorb half of Smith's typical volume, then he should command nearly seven targets on the afternoon. At the minimum price allowed for a tight end on DraftKings of $2,500, he does not need much to reach value against the Cleveland Browns. Additionally, Firkser checks in as the number-one tight end in the FootballGuys' consensus projections, when sorting by h-value. All signs point towards Anthony Firkser being the third, and final, salary-saving option for the sharpest NFL DFS players this weekend.
Atop the player pool, Dalvin Cook is once again an elite selection for DFS lineups, and he should be relatively easy to fit into DFS lineups with this moderately-priced Sharp Core.
THE SHARP CORE
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