Week 4 Overview
We have finally reached the point of the season where we are starting to get a better feel for which players will see the most opportunities and that has led to more accurate pricing. Gone are the free squares of weeks past (like $6,000 Saquon Barkley as a home favorite last week). This week, we will have to take more chances if we want to also roster some of the elite players on the slate.
The roster build that looks optimal both from a pure points and game theory perspective is paying up for top quarterbacks and tight ends while rostering some less expensive, lower-owned running backs to generate some salary cap space and add uniqueness to our builds.
The move if you are truly playing for first, which is the only +EV way to approach these top-heavy tournaments, is to roster a quarterback with rushing upside. The QB1 each of the first three weeks (Kyler Murray the first two weeks and Josh Allen last week) has scored a rushing touchdown. The average fantasy score of the QB1 on the main slate has been approximately 36 points. Given the influx of talented young dual-threat quarterbacks, it is no longer an either-or choice between targeting big passing numbers or rushing upside. You can get both. Murray and Allen in their QB1 weeks had an average of almost 350 passing yards and 3.7 passing touchdowns. With that context in mind, our goal is to find the quarterback with some rushing upside who can also throw for 300+ yards and three touchdowns this week. We have quite a few potential options to choose from.
Top QB Plays
Kyler Murray ($8,200), Arizona at LA Rams
Can I copy and paste the same case I have made for Murray every week this season? He is a top option for Arizona as a runner down around the goal line and has scored on the ground in every game this season. Murray has a few other things going for him this week. First, his ownership is expected to be sub-5% due to his “disappointing” Week 3 performance when he threw for 316 yards and scored a rushing touchdown but only scored 19.5 points due to not throwing any passing touchdowns. The fact 19.5 is the floor and by far Murray’s lowest fantasy point total of the year tells you all you need to know about how well he projects. Second, this Rams matchup is sneaky-good for him. Los Angeles gave up decent numbers to the Bears and Colts moribund passing offenses and then got torched by Tom Brady last week (432 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns). The Rams are also the first offense the Cardinals have faced this season that could have real success against their defense. This game has shootout potential (slate-high 54.5 game total) and we know how quickly the fantasy points can start to add up when this offense kicks up the pace and aggressiveness.
Dak Prescott ($7,700), Dallas vs. Carolina
The Cowboys rushing offense has revved up over the last two weeks, which has led to more pedestrian passing numbers for Prescott. There is a yin and yang to offensive success in the NFL, however. Teams being forced to respect and game plan against the Cowboys running game opens things back up for Prescott and the passing offense. If the pendulum swings back towards the passing half of the offense, Prescott could have a big game against a banged-up Carolina secondary. The season-ending injury to cornerback Jaycee Horn was a massive blow to the Panthers defense. Horn had started so well, he looked like not just the top rookie corner but possibly one of the best cornerbacks in the entire NFL. The desperation trade for C.J. Henderson shows just how rough the cornerback depth chart looks for the Panthers now. That is not a great place to be when traveling to face Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb.
Highest completion % in a season: Drew Brees 74.4% in 2018.— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) September 30, 2021
Dak Prescott thru 3 games: 77.5%
Can he post that all season? “Why not? Yeah.”
Dak added when you have his WRs, his protection, his preparation, and Kellen Moore calling plays, “I don’t see why it can’t get better.”
Prescott has been extremely efficient and the Cowboys offense is starting to look like one of the league’s elite units. While the quarterbacks are still priced in a narrow range, Prescott’s sub-$8K salary adds to his allure this week given how tight pricing is at wide receiver and tight end. Every dollar saved matters this week in terms of roster construction.
Other QBs to consider:
Jalen Hurts ($7,900), Philadelphia vs. Kansas City
Hurts has not been as consistently prolific a passer as some of the other top young dual-threat quarterbacks. However, he does have the requisite passing upside to put together a spike week, as evidenced by his 326 passing yards and 2 touchdowns last week against Dallas. Hurts also does more as a runner than any quarterback other than Lamar Jackson. He has 179 rushing yards through three games. This weekend, he has a Vegas over/under of 52.5 rushing yards and implied odds of around 40% to score at least one rushing touchdown. In short, he projects for roughly 8-to-9 fantasy points just as a runner with upside for much more. In a potential shootout against Kansas City, Hurts has a realistic path to the 30+ points we have needed from our quarterback to win a GPP this season.
Josh Allen ($8,500), Buffalo vs. Houston
Allen is right there alongside Murray and Patrick Mahomes II when it comes to weekly upside. He is not running quite as much as in years past but the bills offense has become so pass-heavy that we don’t need rushing yards for Allen to put up a big week (though a goal-line touchdown certainly helps the case). Typically, you would say Houston’s lack of offensive prowess would limit the opposing quarterback’s upside due to the likelihood of a run-heavy gameplay in the second half should the quarterback start hot. However, run-heavy may not be in the cards for Buffalo regardless of the score given the way it looks like they want to play offensively. Watch the weather in this one. It will likely be rainy and there is potential for some wind. Sloppy conditions could limit the offenses.
The chalkiest options at the position this week, Saquon Barkley ($6,900) and Chubb Hubbard ($6,300), are decent options with high floors but this feels like a week where the optimal play is going to be fading the chalk. Given the matchups and likely game scripts for Barkley and Hubbard, the odds of them putting up slate-winning performances are too low to justify their popularity. We should also see relatively heavy ownership on the elite backs like Alvin Kamara, Derrick Henry, and Dalvin Cook. Those three are always worth playing if you can make the salaries work, which is tougher than normal this week. If multi-entering, being with the field on those three is a good idea. This is a week to dig deep to try to find value and hope to hit on some lower-owned gems to try to separate our roster builds from the field here. The focus of our top plays will be some backs who should come in at around 5% or in ownership.
Top RB Plays
D’Andre Swift ($7,700), Detroit at Chicago
Swift checks a lot of boxes for me this week. He has a solid floor given his massive pass-game usage, proven upside, and is going to likely come in with sub-5% ownership. Over the offseason, the conversation about A-backs and B-backs and concern over how Jamaal Williams would impact Swift’s usage was overblown. Through three games, Swift is playing 63.2% of the snaps. That’s right in the same range as Aaron Jones (64.3%) and Austin Ekeler (64.7%) and what Alvin Kamara’s usage was prior to this season in New Orleans. The Kamara-like usage predictions from those more bullish on Swift are coming to fruition. This Lions offense is devoid of talent at wide receiver, leaving Jared Goff no choice but to pepper his running backs and tight ends with targets. We may see his usage rates tick up even further based on recent comments from head coach Dan Campbell. Swift is averaging 6.3 catches, 55.3 receiving yards, and 0.3 receiving touchdowns per game. Even in FanDuel’s half-PPR format, that is 10.5 fantasy points per game just from his receiving work alone.
Lions beat writer Kyle Meinke added context to Swift’s early usage:
Swift already leads the Lions in rushes (33), rushing yards (123), targets (23), receptions (19), touches (52), total yards from scrimmage (289) and touchdowns (two). That’s basically every notable offensive category besides receiving yards, where he’s just 7 yards off T.J. Hockenson’s team high of 173. That’s it. And he’s done it all from the bench. Detroit has tried to throttle Swift’s usage as he works his way back from a painful, nagging groin injury that dogged him throughout the summer. He missed most of training camp and didn’t ramp up his practice time until the last couple weeks before the opener.
The Lions offense finally got on track in the second half last week when it turned to Swift as the primary playmaker. Expect that to start right away this week. The Bears defense has been tough against the run but has shown signs of vulnerability against the pass. Last week, Kareem Hunt racked up 155 total yards and a touchdown with six receptions against this defense.
Elijah Mitchell ($5,600), San Francisco vs. Seattle
This is a tentative recommendation contingent on the late-breaking news about Mitchell’s health being positive. Sigmund Bloom made a great case for Mitchell in his weekly sleepers column:
Mitchell returned to practice on a limited basis this week and might not be 100%, nursing a shoulder ailment, but it’s clear that the team trusts him a lot more than they trust Trey Sermon, so he should be the lead back as long as he can play Sunday. The Seahawks have gotten gouged on the ground each of the last two weeks, facing 35 Derrick Henry carries in Week 2 and 33 combined carries from Minnesota backs last week, for 182 and 138 yards respectively. Opposing offenses are also averaging nine running back receptions per game, with four backs notching six receptions against them already this year.
We may be able to get Mitchell at sub-5% rostered in this great matchup. The price is also extremely attractive in a week where it is much more difficult to find value. It is much easier to squeeze in somebody like Travis Kelce if you take a risk on Mitchell or one of the other sub-$6K running backs.
Sunday morning update: Mitchell is out. Insert Trey Sermon for all of the same reasons.
Darrell Henderson ($6,000), LA Rams vs. Arizona
Like Mitchell, this is a tentative recommendation for now (Friday morning) contingent on receiving some reports Saturday night that Henderson is healthy enough to resume his normal role. He was being used as a legitimate workhorse back (over 80% of snaps) before the injury. The price and matchup are both extremely attractive. Arizona has been merely average against opposing running backs so far, giving up over 20 FanDuel points per game despite jumping out to big leads each of the first two weeks. Expect a more balanced game plan from the Rams on Sunday to keep Chandler Jones and the excellent Arizona pass rush from teeing off on Matthew Stafford. In a potential shootout, a $6,000 starting running back who should be involved as both a runner and receiver is an attractive option. We may see ownership rise if late-breaking news is especially bullish for Henderson but as of now, he is looking like a very sneaky play who is flying way under the radar.
Other RBs to consider:
Ezekiel Elliott ($7,000), Dallas at Carolina
Carolina’s defense has been dominant against opposing running backs early in the season. These early defensive numbers are why Elliott should come in at sub-10% ownership despite the big game last week, a strong spot with Dallas playing as home favorites, and an attractive price $2,000+ below the top backs. However, do we trust those Carolina defensive statistics? The Panthers have faced arguably the league’s two worst offenses (Jets and Texans) and it is hard to know what to make of their matchup against the Saints, which came when half the New Orleans coaching staff was out due to COVID (including the run-game coordinator, running back coach, and offensive line coach). This is mostly the same personnel on defense who gave up the 14th-most points to running backs last season. Elliott is a great play in tournaments given his realistic multiple-touchdown upside.
Alvin Kamara ($9,000), New Orleans vs. NY Giants
The iffy health status of Dalvin Cook and the $1,200 gap in price between Kamara and Derrick Henry will likely lead to Kamara being the most popular of the top backs this week, with 25%+ ownership. His popularity and the price tag are the only things not to like here, which makes Kamara a strong play. He has received 20+ carries twice already this season, already matching his total of 20+ carry games last season. If we can start penciling him in for 20 carries along with his heavy pass-game usage, he is going to be a player we feel great about paying up for every week.
Derrick Henry ($10,200), Tennessee at NY Jets
We all know why Henry is a strong fantasy option every week. Our rule of thumb that has been surprisingly effective in recent years is to play Henry when the rest of the field is off of him. We find ourselves in a bit of a no-man’s land on that this week, as Henry is probably going to be somewhere in the 10-20% range, where he is not overly chalky but also not going to give you a huge edge on the field.
At this point in the season, we know who the truly elite wide receivers are and they are priced as such. Cooper Kupp, Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, and Stefon Diggs each have great projections and look great in lineups as your WR1 as long as you can find the cap space to fit them in. In most roster builds, we are going to have to make some sacrifices at WR2 and WR3 this week. We can target players who have underperformed so far (Allen Robinson, Brandon Aiyuk, and Robert Woods) or young players who are stepping into bigger roles (Michael Pittman Jr, Marquez Callaway, and Tim Patrick) in the $5,500 to $6,500 range. There are also a trio of rookies (Jaylen Waddle, Rondale Moore, and Kadarius Toney) with very affordable salaries and realistic upside as intriguing WR3 options.
Top WR Options
Davante Adams ($8,100) Green Bay vs. Pittsburgh
The matchup is mediocre but does it really matter for Adams? He has been on a ridiculous tear over the past two seasons, averaging nearly 2. Last week, he was targeted a ridiculous 18 times and produced 25.2 FanDuel points (12-132-1). It did not even feel like an outlier performance given what we have seen from Adams over the last two seasons. In fact, in 8-of-17 games, he has gone for at least 7 catches, 100 yards, and a touchdown. He has been basically a 50/50 proposition for a 20+ fantasy point game in 0.5-PPR scoring, which is just incredible. He is worth trying to squeeze into your lineup regardless of the sacrifices it may require at other positions, especially since the $8,100 salary is only slightly above that of most of the other top options on the slate. Adams has an unmatched touchdown expectation at the position, which makes him the top play over Cooper Kupp.
Davante Adams and Aaron Jones have both scored 20+ TDs in their last 20 games played.— PackersHistory.com (@PackersHistory1) September 28, 2021
This is the first time in Packers history a set of teammates have congruently scored 20+ TDs in their last 20 games played.
They’re, arguably, the most dynamic WR-RB duo in franchise history. pic.twitter.com/qaWKgIZuW9
Michael Pittman Jr ($5,800), Indianapolis at Miami
Over the last two weeks, Pittman has been targeted 24 times. He has clearly emerged as the top pass catcher in this Colts offense. You rarely have the opportunity to roster a player who has been getting this many opportunities for sub-$6K. That salary is especially noteworthy this week when there are fewer clear values and the opportunity cost of not paying up at quarterback and tight end is so high. Pittman fits in extremely well as a high-floor WR3. He also is not without upside. Pittman caught 8 passes for 123 yards in Week 2 against the Rams. The strength of the Dolphins defense is the cornerback position, so the matchup is not ideal. However, Miami did give up 75+ receiving yards to three different Raiders wide receivers last week (Hunter Renfrow, Bryan Edwards, and Henry Ruggs III). The advanced metrics also love Pittman. He has a 26.7% share of targets, has run a route on every passing play, and has the sixth-highest share of team air yards in the NFL.
Other WRs to Consider:
Tim Patrick ($6,100), Denver vs. Baltimore
Patrick has quickly emerged as the co-number one target in the Denver offense alongside Courtland Sutton. If we assume that Sutton sees a lot of Marlon Humphrey on Sunday, it is reasonable to believe that Patrick leads the Broncos pass catchers in targets. Patrick has been incredibly efficient this season, catching 12-of-13 targets and only needs more opportunities to have a big game. Perhaps the only reason he has not seen more targets is the fact that the Broncos have jumped out to big leads in each of their first three games. In what should be a close game against the Ravens, we could see Patrick’s targets double. At a relatively affordable salary and with ownership projected at just around 2%, Patrick is a sharp dart throw WR3 to insert into chalkier lineups to get some differentiation from the field.
Kadarius Toney ($4,900), Giants at New Orleans
This one is not for the faint of heart. Toney has been a disaster of a first round pick from pretty much the first day of practice when his shoes didn’t fit. He has done nothing to date, averaging 2.3 yards per game. So why is he here? The Giants will likely be without Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton. Kenny Golladay should see plenty of elite cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Who else is Daniel Jones going to throw to? This is a spot where Toney should see 6-to-8 targets. There is some talent here, so it will be fun to see what he does with what looks like a clear opportunity ahead of him. With a bargain-basement salary and virtually no ownership, this is a high-risk, high-reward roll of the dice.
There is nothing that stands out about any of the tight ends below $5,800. You could certainly roll the dice and hope to hit on a value option but the floor is just so low on most of these guys that they are more likely to cost you a GPP when your other players hit than win you one on their own. Instead, the optimal play is sticking with the blue-chippers at the position this week and trying to find salary savings and uniqueness elsewhere. This lean towards the top tight ends is one of the reasons the top plays at running back were lower-owned and cheaper options.
Top TE Options
George Kittle ($6,700) San Francisco vs. Seattle
After a little bit of a slow start to the season, Kittle really got rolling last week with 102 total yards and 7 catches. In a huge divisional matchup against Seattle, expect the 49ers to again make a concerted effort to get the ball into the hands of their best offensive player. The Seahawks are fresh off of allowing 7-70-1 to Tyler Conklin, who is not in Kittle’s league as far as talent. In weighing Kittle versus Travis Kelce, the lack of clear value plays at other positions may tilt the equation towards Kittle just slightly this week.
Travis Kelce ($8,200), Kansas City at Philadelphia
Kelce will likely be my most-rostered tight end almost every week this season. The floor and ceiling combination is unmatched and his ownership should not be prohibitively high most weeks, considering how many do not like paying up at tight end. The salary is a bit of an issue this week. Unlike the first three weeks, it feels like the salaries have tightened up a bit and we have to be more cognizant of trying to squeeze out as much bang for our buck as possible. The lean is towards making some of those salary-saving moves at other positions, however. There is very little to get excited about at tight end beyond the top couple options and Kelce provides such a massive weekly advantage, I would rather have him and a $7,000 RB1 than a bargain tight end and one of the most expensive running backs.
Other TEs to consider:
Mark Andrews ($6,500), Baltimore at Denver
The matchup is difficult against a very good Denver defense but that may end up playing into Andrews’ favor. If the Broncos can bottle up the Ravens rushing attack and force Lamar Jackson to throw 35+ times, then Andrews has a clear path to a big game. He has a 21.8% target share (trailing only Travis Kelce on this slate) and also has a very high aDOT of 11.4, which increases his chances of picking up yardage in big chunks.
Miami ($4,000) vs. Indianapolis
Miami has given up some points this year but has also generated six turnovers and scored a defensive touchdown. This defensive playmaking is not a fluke given the aggressive scheme that asks their talented cornerbacks to play a lot of man coverage and the number of ballhawks they have in the secondary. The mid-tier price is attractive given the tighter salary cap.
Buffalo ($5,000) vs. Houston
The Bills will be extremely chalky and it is not easy to pay top dollar at the position this week. That being said, we saw just last week when Denver, as the chalky defense facing a shaky rookie quarterback, absolutely smashed. This is a real possibility for the Bills, especially if they can jump out to an early lead and force a more aggressive gameplay from the Texans.