Friday, January 8, 2016

Wildcard Weekend Contrarian Plays

The weekly column I wrote for Footballguys subscribers this season focused on why projecting ownership percentage in large field GPPs is important, which players to target based on low ownership, and which highly owned players shouldn’t be faded despite their popularity.

For playoff contests, I felt the need to do things a bit differently. The concept of ownership percentage takes on added importance when constructing lineups on a four game slate. With the player pool so thin, even casual entrants can easily construct a roster made up of the most reliable and/or highest upside players. Whereas on a 16 game slate these “chalk plays” (think Antonio Brown this week) might be around 30% owned, on a short slate we can expect them to appear on 50%-70% of rosters (or more).

More so than in a normal GPP, missing out on just one highly-owned player who has a big day will dig your team a hole too deep to climb out of. And even if you have that player in your lineup, they’ll be lighting it up for nearly every other team in the tournament. So while getting a 40 point game from Antonio Brown this week is great, it will only keep you afloat -- not get you to the top of the standings. If you want to have any shot at a deep run in tournaments this week, you’ll need to surround your core of chalk plays with at least two under-the-radar players (think 20% owned or less on such a short slate) and probably more depending on the size of the field.

If you’re familiar with GPP game theory, none of this is earth shattering. But since the importance of hitting on low-owned players is amplified in playoff contests, that’s where I want to place my focus over the next few weeks. Here is one high variance option from each team that can help separate your rosters from the pack:

Packers @ Redskins

James Jones - $4,100
When I began researching the slate, Jones jumped out to me as a glaring value. Unfortunately, after jumping on some Roundtable discussions with the other Footballguys (namely John Lee) it became apparent I wasn’t alone, which leaves me guessing Jones will be a more popular play than I first anticipated. That being said, I’m still going out of my way to roster him. Jones has quietly become Aaron Rodgers’ go-to receiver over the last four weeks (not coincidentally since Mike McCarthy took over play calling duties). He leads Green Bay in target market share (27.97%), red zone targets (six), receiving yards (279), and yards per reception (14.7) in that span. Football Outsiders ranks Washington 30th against WR2s in their pass defense DVOA metric, and Jones will run the majority of his routes against undrafted free agent rookie Quentin Dunbar, who Pro Football Focus grades as the third-worst cornerback on the slate. Washington has been burned for pass plays of 20+ yards 58 times this season (sixth-most in the league), while Jones’ 18 receptions of 20+ yards rank him 11th among pass catchers.

Pierre Garcon - $4,200
I’m planning on having low exposure to all Washington players, so coming up with one to write about was a struggle. My gut tells me Kirk Cousins will come crashing down to earth against a strong Green Bay defense and Aaron Rodgers will right the ship (to a degree), leading Green Bay to an easy win in Washington. Jordan Reed will get a lot of traffic based on his recent usage and production (rightfully so), but if he’s 50% owned, going in a different direction at tight end is an easy way to differentiate from the field. Garcon is no great shakes in this matchup, but he’s second on the team in targets over the last four weeks and has caught a touchdown in each of the last three games (two of which came on six red zone targets). As of Thursday, Sam Shields (Green Bay’s best cornerback by a wide margin) was surprisingly still in the league’s concussion protocol after missing three consecutive games. If Shields is once again forced to sit, Garcon becomes far more interesting.

Seahawks @ Vikings

Jermaine Kearse - $3,300
Russell Wilson is likely to be right there with Ben Roethlisberger as most popular quarterback this weekend, but Kearse will check in behind both Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett in terms of ownership. Not only is Kearse the cheapest and most unique way to gain exposure to Wilson, he might be the best option outside of Baldwin. Kearse and Lockett’s target share and fantasy point totals are nearly identical over the last four games. Since Week 12, Kearse has failed to score double digit fantasy points only once, and on the season he’s the second-most frequently targeted Seahawks receiver in the red zone. There’s clear risk here as Kearse was held completely out of the box score in his last meeting with Minnesota, but the Vikings have made a habit of allowing big games to complementary wide receivers in recent weeks, and Kearse is coming in hot. Out of all the players listed in this article, I’ll have the heaviest exposure to Kearse and James Jones.

Kyle Rudolph - $3,500
I’m expecting Jordan Reed, Tyler Eifert, and Travis Kelce to account for about 80% of the tight end ownership, which means you’d really be cutting the chalk with Rudolph. While Rudolph might not have a high ceiling (and definitely has a scary low floor), he does have touchdown potential which is all you can ask for at his price and projected ownership. The Vikings may not pass much in the red zone, but when they do Teddy Bridgewater looks to Rudolph first. Rudolph’s 41% red zone target market share ranks fifth-highest in the NFL (albeit on only 11 targets), and four out of his five touchdowns this season have come in home games. Seattle ranks 26th in pass defense DVOA vs. tight ends and have allowed eight touchdowns to the position (10th-most in the league), so the matchup is favorable. I’m also expecting Seattle to put up plenty of points in this game, which should force Bridgewater to pass more frequently than usual. Jerick McKinnon also makes sense as a low exposure dart throw for Minnesota on the chance Adrian Peterson re-injures his back or ankle early in the game.

Chiefs @ Texans

Albert Wilson - $3,500
The case for Wilson is admittedly a little thin, but outside of Jeremy Maclin (who will be high-owned in a terrible matchup) and Travis Kelce (who isn’t a chalk play, but won’t be low-owned either), it’s tough to find a player on the Chiefs worth rostering. Wilson has at least been involved in Kansas City’s game plan recently. His target share over the last four weeks is above 20%, which has worked out to between four and six looks per game. We also know he’ll be on the field, as his snap count hasn’t dipped below 70% in any of the past four games. Wilson has played well this season (relative to the Chiefs run-first offense), and he flashed the 18 point ceiling we’re looking for at his price tag in Week 14 against San Diego. His primary one-one-one matchup with Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson is winnable -- according to Pro Football Focus, Johnson has allowed the second most fantasy points per route defended on this week’s slate. I expect Alex Smith to be forced to pass more than usual for the Chiefs to win on the road, which would lead to extra opportunity for all of Kansas City’s pass catchers.

Jaelen Strong - $3,000
The intriguing rookie out of Arizona State has begun to show up in box scores, with double-digit fantasy point performances in two of his last three games. The bump in production can be attributed to increased playing time due to recent injuries to Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington. Shorts should make it back this week, but Washington was still limited to side work at Thursday’s practice after suffering a hip injury in Week 17. If Washington doesn’t play, Strong will work opposite DeAndre Hopkins on the perimeter where the Chiefs have been burned by wide receivers for the majority of the season. Four game slates rarely require entrants to drop down to minimum salary plays when constructing lineups, which will keep Strong hidden from the masses. His upside is mostly theoretical at this point, but Strong goes 6’2’’, 217 lbs, showed off elite athleticism at the scouting combine, and has a multi-touchdown NFL game to his credit despite playing limited reps all season. If Washington suits up, it’s probably best to forget Strong. Alfred Blue is the least expensive source of 15-20 touches on the slate and makes sense as another against the grain option from the Texans, if you trust their defense will dominate Kansas City at home.

Steelers @ Bengals

Marvin Jones - $3,700
Those looking to invest in Bengals pass catchers will be shooting for A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, which should leave Jones a forgotten man. Since A.J. McCarron took over as the Bengals starter, Jones and Green have each seen an identical 26 targets. Jones’ target share will likely dip a bit with Eifert’s return to the lineup, but he’ll still enjoy favorable coverage as the Steelers focus on stopping Green (who has a history of destroying them). Something similar to the 6-61-0 line Jones posted when the Bengals and Steelers met in Week 14 is well within his range of outcomes, and the upside is there for more against a Pittsburgh team that led the league in fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers.

Martavis Bryant - $5,600
I’ll be very interested to see Bryant’s ownership in tournaments this weekend. The limited number of available wide receiver options guarantees he won’t be super low-owned, but how many entrants will be willing to take the risk on a player with a combined two receptions and four yards over his last two games? Here’s hoping recency bias is a factor because I plan on having about 35% exposure to Bryant. A high total point ceiling is all you should be concerned with when constructing lineups this week (as opposed to traditional point per dollar value at each roster spot). Bryant has a proven ceiling as high as any receiver’s on this slate, and that includes Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins. I loved hearing Bryant get called out by Ben Roethlisberger this week and after Bryant accepted his quarterback’s challenge, I’d be shocked if he wasn’t motivated to bounceback. One thing’s for certain -- Bryant has the physical tools to dominate Cincinnati cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Heath Miller’s two best fantasy games both came against the Bengals this season, if you’re looking for a true contrarian play from the Steelers.


  1. Interested to see how Wheaton does. CIN can't stop everyone and will focus on AB & Martavis so maybe Wheaton sneaks into the endzone due to 1-on-1 coverage.

    1. You can do worse than Wheaton if you're throwing darts, but he's got a tough matchup in the slot with Leon Hall. I am also not a fan of Wheaton as a player, so my opinion there might be slanted.

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