FantasyLabs is a daily fantasy tools and real-time analytics platform that enables players to test theories, create and backtest models, and construct customized lineups. In this piece, Editor-in-Chief Matthew Freedman leverages the same Tools and Models used by co-founders Jonathan Bales and Peter Jennings (CSURAM88) for each slate.
In guaranteed prize pools, a player’s ownership rate is just as important as his expected production. At FantasyLabs, Adam Levitan and company work hard to project and update each player’s GPP ownership on both DraftKings and FanDuel. Here are five players we project early in the week to have significantly lower ownership than other players in their salary ranges.
QB Marcus Mariota: $5,900 DraftKings, $7,600 FanDuel
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has been something of a hobbled disaster this season. The Titans are 8-4 in his starts, and he leads the league with four game-winning drives, so his horridness has been somewhat masked by the superficial success of his team, but the only quarterback this year to throw more interceptions than Mariota (14) is Browns rookie DeShone Kizer (17). Mariota’s 62.2 percent completion rate is in line with his career average, but his 2.8 percent touchdown rate, 3.9 percent interception rate, and 7.2 yards per attempt are the worst marks of his career. He has Konami Code capability and five rushing touchdowns, but Mariota (knee) also reportedly suffered a minor injury in Week 14 that could limit his running potential this week.
As amazing as this sounds, the 8-5 Titans are +2.0 road underdogs to the 3-10 49ers: If that doesn’t suggest the extent to which the market is down on the Titans, nothing will. Because of his struggles Mariota will have reduced ownership — he was owned at just 0.92 and 0.93 percent in DraftKings and FanDuel guaranteed prize pools in Week 14 — but the 49ers have allowed quarterbacks to score top-four fantasy marks of 20.4 DraftKings and 19.6 FanDuel points per game (PPG). Only the Browns (28) have allowed more total touchdowns to quarterbacks than the 49ers (27), who are exploitable via the passing game, as safeties Jimmie Ward (arm) and Jaquiski Tartt (arm) are on Injured Reserve and cornerbacks Dontae Johnson and K’Waun Williams both have Pro Football Focus grades below 45.0. Despite his inadequacies, Mariota can win this matchup.
RB Rex Burkhead: $6,400 DraftKings, $6,500 FanDuel
Patriots running back Rex Burkhead has established himself as the New England back to roster with five touchdowns in the past three games, but he’s never been more expensive than he is now, he played only 27.9 percent of the offensive snaps in Week 14, and he has a tough Week 15 matchup in Pittsburgh against the Steelers, who are 11th against the rush in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). Salary escalation, recent reduced usage, and matchup concerns will likely lead to lower ownership rates for Burkhead.
Still, Burkhead has potential against Pittsburgh. The Patriots are fourth in the league with 28.31 PPG, and Burkhead is their established goal-line back with nine opportunities inside the 10-yard line over the past three weeks. The Patriots have an opportunity to regain the No. 1 seed with a win over the Steelers, and they will have extra motivation following their 27-20 loss to the lowly Dolphins in Week 14. The return of tight end Rob Gronkowski (suspension) should help to spark the offense, and in the Gronk era the Pats have averaged 31.6 PPG following a loss of at least seven points. The Pats are -2.0 road favorites, and the game easily leads the slate with a total of 53.0 points. Burkhead is likely to have multiple opportunities to score.
RB Kerwynn Williams: $4,000 DraftKings, $5,500 FanDuel
Cardinals running back Adrian Peterson (neck) hasn’t played the past two games, and he’s questionable for this week. In his place Kerwynn Williams has done admirably, turning 36 rushes and one target into 185 scrimmage yards. An underused five-year veteran who balled out as a senior at Utah State in 2012 with 1,512 yards rushing, 697 yards receiving, and 20 total touchdowns, Williams isn’t built like a typical workhorse, but he has the speed (4.48-second 40) to make up for his diminutive size (5’8” and 195 pounds). At FantasyLabs we have a proprietary Plus/Minus metric that measures actual vs. expected fantasy production based on the historical performances of previous players at comparable salaries. In his two games as the Arizona lead back this year, Williams has +2.05 DraftKings and +2.40 FanDuel Plus/Minus values.
And this isn’t the first time Williams has done well as an injury fill-in. At the end of the 2014 season he played as the lead back after Andre Ellington was lost to injury, and last year he led the backfield after David Johnson’s injury in the final game of the season. In his six career games with at least double-digit carries, Williams has averaged 83 scrimmage yards and 9.8 PPG in points-per-reception scoring. The Cardinals are implied for just 19.5 points as +4.5 road dogs, but the Redskins have lost four of their past five games and allowed opponents to score 30 PPG in that span. If Peterson is out, Williams will have the opportunity to produce against a collapsing team.
WR Jordy Nelson: $6,300 DraftKings, $7,200 FanDuel
I swear this is the last time I’ll highlight Jordy Nelson in this series. Even though Nelson has only 28 receptions for 213 yards and no touchdowns over the last eight games, DraftKings and FanDuel have jacked up his salaries under the assumption that he has a chance to revert to his prior form with the return of quarterback Aaron Rodgers (collarbone), who could be activated from IR this week if his CT scan checks out. However, it’s likely the market fade Nelson even if Rodgers returns: The stench of the past two months will not be so easily removed, especially now that people will have to pay up if they want to invest in him. It also doesn’t help him that the Packers are +3.0 road dogs against the Panthers, who are eighth against the pass in DVOA.
But Nelson clearly warrants at least speculative exposure if Rodgers returns. Since 2013 (minus his injury-shortened Week 2), Nelson has played in 46 games with Rodgers. In those games, he has turned 9.1 targets into 5.9 receptions, 85.7 yards receiving, and 0.87 touchdowns per game. Nelson has been a top-five fantasy receiver with Rodgers. With the apparently quarterback-agnostic Davante Adams likely to draw more ownership and also more attention from the defense, Jordy is ready to bounce back. From Week 1 of last year to Week 5 of this year, Nelson easily led the NFL with 20 touchdowns receiving. That he hasn’t scored since Week 6 is amazing. He’s massively due for touchdown progression.
WR Cooper Kupp: $6,200 DraftKings, $6,500 FanDuel
Rams wide receiver Robert Woods (shoulder) is expected to return this week after missing the past three games, and his presence will likely diminish the ownership of Cooper Kupp, who has impressed in his absence with 18 receptions for 302 yards and a touchdown. As it is, Kupp was owned at just 3.74 and 4.13 percent in DraftKings and FanDuel GPPs last week. The market is relatively off of Kupp, which makes him intriguing.
The Rams lead the league with a +6.44 Vegas Plus/Minus and have hit their implied Vegas totals in a near-elite nine games. They struggled, though, against the Seahawks earlier in the year, scoring just 10 points at home, and now they’re +2.0 road dogs in Seattle implied for just 23.0 points. Road dogs — especially those playing against Seattle — tend to be unpopular, but the Seahawks defense is exploitable right now: Defensive end Cliff Avril (neck), cornerback Richard Sherman (Achilles), and safety Kam Chancellor (neck) are all on IR, and linebackers Bobby Wagner (hamstring) and K.J. Wright (concussion) left Week 14 early with injuries and are uncertain to play in Week 15. Against a diminished secondary, weakened pass rush, and hollowed-out middle-of-the-field defense, Kupp could have success out of the slot. He leads the Rams with 85 targets, 56 receptions, and 783 yards receiving.