This article is part of our DFS Tournament Guide series.
Sometimes these articles write themselves. Other times it's a bit of a struggle, especially when unresolved injury situations loom large over a DFS slate. In addition to the customary slew of RB injuries, the Week 8 main slate has Matt Ryan (ankle) looking questionable for a game with the highest over/under (53) and Drew Brees uncertain to return from thumb surgery for an uptempo battle against Arizona.
As if that weren't enough, Keenan Allen was added to the Thursday practice report with a hamstring issue, potentially vaulting Hunter Henry and Mike Williams into elite value territory, even with a tough matchup in Chicago. In any case, the 'injury' section at the bottom will be much longer than usual this week, while the rest of the article will focus on my favorite plays that aren't conditional.
As always, I'm happy to discuss strategy in the comments section below, or on twitter (@RotowireNFL_JD).
Note: All prices listed come from DraftKings, but most of the logic can be applied to other sites across the DFS industry. Discussion is limited to players from the "main slate" of games kicking off at 1:00, 4:05 and 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday. The strategy below is meant for large-field tournaments, where payouts typically are limited to ~20 percent of lineups, with the vast majority concentrated at the very top.
These are the players with the best projections relative to price — the guys that are good plays both for cash games and large-field tournaments. While we don't want our tourney lineups to look like cash-game lineups top to bottom, there's nothing wrong with using a few "chalk" picks that have strong odds to outperform their salaries. These players, along with a couple passing-game stacks, tend to form the core that remains fairly consistent throughout my lineups.
- RB James White, NE vs. CLE ($5,100)
White is challenging 2018 Davante Adams and 2019 Michael Thomas for the most consistent fantasy season in recent memory, somehow landing between 11.9 and 13.8 PPR points each week, despite working as the pass-catching back for a team that's outscoring opponents by 25 per game. We've already seen the stable floor, and there's a big game around the corner if White can find the end zone and/or get extra some work in a more competitive contest. I'm not quite ready to bet on that second scenario, but it's at least a possibility that should be considered when crafting his Week 8 projection.
Positive touchdown regression is the more important indicator, with White scoring just once from 38 catches and 283 receiving yards this season, compared to a TD for every 13.1 receptions or 114 yards prior to 2019. The second set of numbers is high for a running back, but he's still way behind expectation this season even if we build in some negative regression based on positional norms. It's also reasonable to argue against that regression, considering the Patriots have a long track record of throwing to running backs near the goal line under OC Josh McDaniels.
- WR Courtland Sutton, DEN at IND ($5,300)
Already averaging 5.1 catches for 80.6 yards with at least seven targets in every game, Sutton should see more passes after the Broncos shipped out Emmanuel Sanders and his 19 percent target share. Sutton is sixth in the NFL with 39 percent air-yard share and tied for sixth with 539 receiving yards, joining D.J. Chark and Michael Gallup at the front of the pack in a big season for second-year breakouts. Sutton should enjoy continued success Week 8, facing a Colts defense that's given up three 100-yard receiving performances in the past two games despite showing improvement on the whole.
Free safety Malik Hooker is primed to return from a knee injury, but top cornerback Pierre Desir has been ineffective while battling abdomen and hamstring ailments, giving up 13 catches for 213 yards on 22 targets the past two weeks, per PFF. Rookie corner Rock Ya-Sin hasn't been much better, yielding nine catches for 143 yards on 12 targets in that same stretch. The cornerbacks were a strength for Indianapolis last year, but it's been a different story this season with Desir and Kenny Moore (knee) battling injuries while Quincy Wilson has been benched in favor of Ya-Sin.
Honorable Mentions: RB Leonard Fournette, JAX vs. NYJ ($7,800); RB Le'Veon Bell, NYJ at JAX ($6,900); RB Devonta Freeman, ATL vs. SEA ($5,500); WR Kenny Stills, HOU vs. OAK ($4,700); WR Mike Williams, LAC at CHI ($4,000)
Stacks are the centerpiece of any tournament lineup, seeking to take advantage of positive correlations between players. It rarely makes sense to use a quarterback without one or two of his pass catchers, even if the player in question scores a decent portion of his fantasy points with his legs. Ideally, a stack also includes a pass catcher from the other side of the contest, hoping to take advantage of a tight game where both teams are still chucking the ball around late in the fourth quarter. (Implied team totals are listed in parentheses.)
Raiders (22.5) at Texans (29)
This game has the second-highest over/under (51.5) of Week 8, pitting MVP candidate Deshaun Watson ($7,100) against an Oakland defense that just allowed Aaron Rodgers to produce the top single-game QB fantasy score (46.8 DK points) of the season. With DeAndre Hopkins ($8,100) coming off a big game and Kenny Stills ($4,700) looking at an every-down role with Will Fuller (hamstring) sidelined, the Watson-Hopkins-Stills stack offers enough upside to justify the high ownership that surely will be part of the package.
Derek Carr ($5,000) hasn't shown much of a ceiling with his dink-and-dunk passing, but it's worked out pretty well for Darren Waller ($5,900), who is on pace for 1,293 yards and already has two games above 30 DK points. I'm less keen on Tyrell Williams ($5,500) in his first week back from a foot injury. There are other WRs with better or similar talent and safer volume in the same price range, so even a good matchup against Houston's secondary doesn't bring Williams into play for me.
I'll also be sure to avoid Josh Jacobs ($5,800), who is nursing a shoulder injury ahead of a matchup with a Texans squad ranked 12th in YPC allowed (4.1) and fifth in run defense DVOA (-20.4%). I made a more detailed case against the rookie in my matchups column earlier this week, noting that his impressive talent won't be enough to avoid some clunkers given the nature of his role.
- Best Stack: QB Watson + WR Hopkins + WR Stills + TE Waller
Giants (21.25) at Lions(28.25)
I'm not brave enough to use Daniel Jones again after what happened last week in a home game against a bad defense, so the trick here is building the right lineup around Matthew Stafford ($6,100), whose fantasy production has skyrocketed thanks to his team's inability to run the ball (3.8 YPC, 23rd) or play good defense (6.1 yards per play, 27th). Injuries to RB Kerryon Johnson (knee) and Darius Slay (hamstring) compound the problem, and trading away safety Quandre Diggs probably won't help.
I may not have the courage to roster Jones, but I'll happily take a shot on Saquon Barkley ($8,900) or Evan Engram ($5,300) to balance out a Stafford lineup. The bigger question is what to do about the Detroit pass catchers, with presumed No. 1 target Kenny Golladay ($6,400) coming off a stinker in the same game that saw Marvin Jones ($5,800) explode for four touchdowns.
A few years ago, recency bias would've pushed the tournament field strongly toward Jones, making it an easy decision for me to roster Golladay. Sadly, the competition has gotten a lot smarter, often chasing air yards, positive TD regression and other indicators of opportunity, instead of chasing last week's box score (sigh). As such, Golladay and Jones both figure to be reasonably popular choices, facing a Giants secondary with three cornerbacks in the bottom 20 for yards allowed into their coverage, per PFF.
There's also a reasonable case to be made for Danny Amendola ($4,100) and T.J. Hockenson ($3,500), the latter of whom likely will be ignored in favor of Engram in the majority of Giants-Lions game stacks. I'm not sure what to make of Amendola, whose boom-or-bust production this season stands in stark contrast to a career full of 5-45-0 receiving lines. My best guess is a return to boring consistency, though it does seem a chest injury contributed to at least one of his three bust games earlier this year.
- Best Stack: QB Stafford + RB Barkley + WR Golladay + TE Hockenson
Buccaneers (21.5) at Titans (24)
The Titans' season-high implied total is a true testament to the ineptitude of the Tampa Bay defense, not to mention the negative impact Marcus Mariota was having on his team. The fun thing about the Bucs is that they've allowed a league-low 2.9 YPC, further encouraging opponents to pick on their porous pass defense.
Tampa has faced a league-high 41.7 attempts per game, giving up the fourth-most DK points to quarterbacks while facing a schedule that hasn't included any signal callers in the top 15 for per-game fantasy scoring. The Bucs shut down Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara and Saquon Barkley, only to get roasted by Kyle Allen, Teddy Bridgewater and Daniel Jones (file that to the category of 'sad but true').
So, yes, I'm ready to go dumpster diving with Ryan Tannehill ($5,100), and I could also make a decent argument for Jameis Winston ($5,900), given that the Tennessee defense has shown hints of a more modest version of the pass funnel — No. 3 in DVOA against the run, No. 23 against the pass. Chris Godwin ($7,100) has easily been Tampa's best player on offense, but he comes with a higher price tag — and presumably higher ownership — than fellow wide receiver Mike Evans ($6,600). There's also the matter of O.J. Howard's hamstring injury, which could leave Cameron Brate ($2,700) as the top TE value play of the week.
Speaking of which, the Titans may not have Delanie Walker (ankle), potentially adding Jonnu Smith ($2,800) to the mix for a Tannehill stack. The 24-year-old tight end saw just three targets last week, but he turned them into 64 yards while playing 83 percent of snaps. With Corey Davis ($4,400), A.J. Brown ($4,100) and Adam Humphries ($3,900) also coming cheap, I'll look to use multiple Tennessee pass catchers in any Tannehill lineup.
- Best Stack: QB Tannehill + WR Davis + WR Godwin + TE Smith (injury dependent)
We can pair a running back with his team's defense to double our bet on favorable game script in certain matchups. Just keep in mind that the scoring correlations aren't nearly as strong as those between quarterbacks and pass catchers, so it isn't worth forcing into a lineup unless the prices for each individual commodity make sense. We also need to account for specialized backfield roles, i.e., using Marlon Mack rather than Nyheim Hines in conjunction with the Indianapolis defense.
- RB Leonard Fournette ($7,800) + Jaguars D/ST ($2,900) vs. NYJ
By no means am I giving up on Sam Darnold after one hideous game against a dominant defense. I just don't trust him to immediately bounce back, playing on the road in another tough matchup. The Jags haven't forced many turnovers, but that should be right around the corner for a defense that's sixth in QB pressure rate (28.9) and eighth in sack rate (7.7). Meanwhile, Fournette remains underpriced thanks to an unsustainably low ratio of touchdowns (one) to scrimmage yards (918), leaving me no choice but to continue beating the positive regression drum.
Honorable Mention: RB Tevin Coleman ($5,000) + 49ers D/ST ($3,700) vs. CAR
- WR Michael Thomas, NO vs. ARZ ($8,000)
With 16.4 or more PRR points each week this season, Thomas has become the most reliable commodity in fantasy football apart from the handful of every-down running backs, also showing an immense ceiling with three games above 40 DK points since the beginning of 2018. Potential shadow coverage from Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson isn't optimal, but the consistency of both volume and efficiency should outweigh secondary factors. The real trick is figuring out how to fit both Thomas and Hopkins into a lineup without sacrificing too much in the backfield.
Honorable Mention: WR DeAndre Hopkins, HOU vs. OAK ($8,100)
Fading the Field
Every week we see at least one or two players carrying high ownership without the backing of a top point-per-dollar projection. Recency bias is often to blame, but in some cases it even makes sense to fade a player with a strong projection, particularly when there are good alternatives at the same position and price range.
- RB Ty Johnson, DET vs. NYG ($4,900)
- The Lions couldn't run the ball with Kerryon Johnson (3.3 YPC).
- Ty Johnson hasn't been much better (3.6 YPC on 23 carries).
- The Giants got smoked by elite rushing attacks the past two weeks, but they've been respectable against the run overall: 14th in DVOA, 15th in YPC allowed (4.2)
- J.D. McKissic figures to handle passing downs.
- Matthew Stafford and his pass catchers are great plays.
- Johnson is a much better play at $5,200 on FanDuel.
The SMASH Spot
Volume is king, no doubt. But we still need to account for efficiency, pinpointing situations that give players good odds to outperform their typical marks for YPA, YPC or YPT.
- WR Kenny Stills, HOU vs. OAK ($4,700)
I considered not writing about Stills for the sake of anyone that reads my other articles on RotoWire, or, for that matter, anything at all on the website. We seem to have a lot of Stills stans in our ranks; no surprise given his career marks of 16.2 yards per catch and 9.5 per target. He's been even more efficient (15.4 YPT) in limited action this season, and he played 94 percent of snaps last week — with a 4-104-0 receiving line on five targets — after Will Fuller injured his hamstring. Look for Stills to get closer to seven or eight targets Sunday, facing an Oakland defense that's given up the second-most DK points to wide receivers, allowing 10.2 YPT (30th) and 11 total touchdowns in six games.
Honorable Mention: WR John Brown, BUF vs. PHI ($5,900)
The Bargain Bin
QB Ryan Tannehill, TEN vs. TB ($5,100)
QB Derek Carr, OAK at HOU ($5,000)
QB Mitchell Trubisky, CHI vs. LAC ($4,800)
RB David Montgomery, CHI vs. LAC ($4,400)
RB J.D. McKissic, DET vs. NYG ($3,900)
WR Corey Davis, TEN vs. TB ($4,400)
WR Phillip Dorsett, NE vs. CLE ($4,200)
WR Mike Williams, LAC at CHI ($4,000)
WR Alex Erickson, CIN at LAR ($3,700)
WR Demaryius Thomas, NYJ at JAX ($3,300)
TE T.J. Hockenson, DET vs. NYG ($3,500)
D/ST Carolina Panthers at SF ($2,400)
D/ST Los Angeles Chargers at CHI ($2,300)
The "Sunday Scramble" doesn't need to be stressful. We can formulate plans ahead of time for the best way to respond once inactive lists are released.
- RB Josh Jacobs (shoulder), OAK at HOU
DeAndre Washington ($3,100) will be a better play than Jalen Richard ($4,000) if Jacobs ends up inactive, with Washington getting most of the backup work so far this season — 29 carries and nine targets, compared to 13 and 10 for Richard. There's also the matter of Richard being added to the Thursday practice report with an ankle injury, further clouding the situation. I'll be obligated to play Washington if both Richard and Jacobs miss the game .
- WR Keenan Allen (hamstring), LAC at CHI
I was already all over Mike Williams ($4,000), who has seen six or more targets in four consecutive games, with 656 air yards ranking ninth in the league. The Bears defense hasn't been quite as good as last season, with cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara both playing mediocre football. We can also expect extra targets for Hunter Henry ($4,900) and Austin Ekeler ($5,900) if Allen is inactive Sunday. I won't touch Geremy Davis ($3,000) or Andre Pattion ($3,000), but I figured I'd at least mention them for the sake of anyone who is feeling crazy.
- RB Alvin Kamara (ankle), NO vs. ARZ
Latavius Murray ($5,800) belongs in every lineup if Kamara is ruled out again, coming off 32 touches and 83 percent snap share last week in Chicago. The Cardinals haven't given up a ton of fantasy points to running backs, but their uptempo offense can create extra volume throughout a game, and they rank 23rd in YPC allowed (4.7).
- QB Drew Brees (thumb), NO vs. ARZ
I'm not actually sure if this impacts my Week 8 strategy, given how well Teddy Bridgewater is playing. I felt obligated to mention it, if only as a tiny boost for Michael Thomas in the event Brees returns. I guess we could also make a case for Ted Ginn ($3,700) if he's working with a more accurate deep passer.
- RB David Johnson (ankle), ARZ at NO
I don't feel great about using any player against the Saints defense right now, but Chase Edmonds in a three-down role at $6,200 represents obvious volume-to-price value. I guess there's some chance the Cardinals mix in Zach Zenner or Alfred Morris this week, so maybe that will be my justification for an Edmonds fade that I later regret.
- TE O.J. Howard (hamstring), TB at TEN
Cameron Brate ($2,700) can be projected for a handful of targets instead of two or three if Howard is ruled out.
- TE Delanie Walker (ankle), TEN vs. TB
It's the same idea for Jonnu Smith ($2,800) in the event Walker doesn't play.
- QB Matt Ryan (ankle), ATL vs. SEA
This is a big one, impacting my interest in Falcons-Seahawks game stacks, as well as my willingness to use Julio Jones ($7,700), Calvin Ridley ($5,600), Austin Hooper ($5,500) and even Tyler Lockett ($7,000) or DK Metcalf ($5,000) as stand-alone plays. I'm worried this will turn into a blowout with a heavy dose of Chris Carson ($7,000) if Ryan is absent or limited. I also think Devonta Freeman ($5,500) is the underpriced guy from this game, at least on DraftKings.
- WR Sterling Shepard (concussion), NYG at DET
It sounds like Shepard will miss at least one more game, but his status is worth monitoring as it relates to target expectations for Evan Engram.
Browns-Patriots at 4:25 p.m. ET is the only game with precipitation in the forecast, with wind estimated at 10-to-15 mph. There's also some potential for wind in Buffalo, but it doesn't look too bad as of Friday morning.
Adjusting for FanDuel Prices
The prices listed in this article are from DraftKings, and while most of the logic applies to any DFS site, there are a few specific changes I'll need to apply for FanDuel:
- Between the looser pricing algorithm and the more favorable price for Tyler Lockett ($7,200), I'd be more likely to use a Russell Wilson ($8,600) lineup on FD.
- Drew Brees ($7,200) is underpriced if he plays.
- Saquon Barkley ($8,600) is a good play on all sites, but he's even better on FD.
- Same for Le'Veon Bell ($7,000) and Leonard Fournette ($7,700). The TDs will come, eventually.
- I'll back away from my Ty Johnson fade if I'm basically getting him for free ($5,200).
- Tevin Coleman ($6,200) is relatively more valuable on a site that isn't full PPR, and the 49ers defense ($4,800) is priced at No. 4 instead of No. 3 among D/STs.
- Julian Edelman ($6,600) is getting too many targets to be this cheap.
- (Insert obligatory comment about Kenny Golladay ($6,700) being too cheap.)
- John Brown at $5,900 against a pass defense, coming off six straight games with more than 50 yards. Come on, now....
- Add D.J. Chark ($6,300) to the list.