Daily fantasy football: Best buys for Week 1

Alvin Zeidenfeld
ESPN PLUS


It's hard to believe that another summer has come and gone, and this is my fourth year writing this column for ESPN. I had the pleasure of taking part in the Rankings Summit back in May for the second time and with the shift in the content that I produce centering around NFL and NBA daily fantasy entirely, it's freed up my summertime from focusing on each slate of daily fantasy baseball to just preparing myself for the coming season of NFL. If you're a returning reader from last year or the past few seasons, thanks for coming back. If you're new to the column there's a few things you should know.

Success in daily fantasy comes down to your ability to find value, identify players in great matchups and maximize the relationships between the players in your roster (otherwise known as correlation).

Each week, I'll go through each position and give you a few players I'm considering for my head-to-head lineups -- usually players who are getting as much volume as possible while also coming in at value prices. I'll also include some players who I am considering for my tournament pool in the write up section or in the "also considering" section for each position and while things may change from the time I write this article until kickoff on Sunday I do what I can to keep people updated on my various social media channels all the way up until kickoff on Sunday.

With that in mind, here are my favorite plays for Week 1.

Quarterbacks

Tom Brady ($7,800 DraftKings, $8,600 FanDuel), New England Patriots vs. Houston Texans: I'm an advocate for looking for a cheaper option at quarterback in my head-to-head games, allowing me to spend up at running back and wide receiver because of the narrow band of scoring between the top scoring QB and the 10th best on any given week. That philosophy has been the tried-and-true method in cash for the past half decade, but for tournaments all the main cash-game rules go out the window and I simply want the players with the potential to hit their ceiling and preferably so on a lower percentage of rosters than the chalkier cash game options. In Week 1, the Patriots have the highest team total on the board and Brady brings with him the highest raw projection at quarterback on the week. He's expensive, but I'm sure we can fit him into our tournament lineups even in some stacks with Rob Gronkowski by sacrificing one midrange salary option at running back or wide receiver for a value play. He won't be in my cash-game lineups, but I'll definitely have my shares of Brady in tournaments.

Philip Rivers ($6,400 DraftKings, $7,500 FanDuel), Los Angeles Chargers vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Game log watchers will point to the two horrific games that Rivers had against the Chiefs in 2017 and use it as an excuse not to play him while ignoring how much different the Chiefs' defense is personnel wise this season. With major losses in the defensive backfield, Kansas City could be the sort of team that we feast on every week this season, but that is yet to be determined. I'm a big believer in going with your takes early in the NFL season before we have massive amounts of data on who exactly these teams are and the best time to be contrarian is the first month of the NFL calendar in DFS. I'm pretty sure Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck will be higher owned in Week 1, but I'm happy paying a couple hundred more to get Rivers at what I believe will be slightly lower ownership against a porous defense.

Tyrod Taylor ($5,400 DraftKings, $6,600 FanDuel), Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: First things first; Taylor is a good fantasy quarterback. Considering the guys he has at his disposal this season with the Browns in Jarvis Landry, Josh Gordon, David Njoku (who should play closer to 85 percent of snaps this year vs. the 46 percent he inexplicably played last season), Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde, Taylor should be more than able to pay off this extremely low salary in Week 1. His ability to be efficient and the upside he brings with him with his legs sets him apart from the other cheap options for me this week. The Steelers return much of a defense that were the fifth least efficient red zone defense last season and the same unit that gave up six top 10 QB performances to the murderer's row of Deshon Kizer, Alex Smith, Matthew Stafford, Brett Hundley and Andy Dalton.

Intriguing for tournament play:

Andy Dalton ($5,800 DraftKings, $6,800 FanDuel), Cincinnati Bengals vs. Indianapolis Colts
  • From 2013-2016, the Bengals did nothing but open their season on the road. In Week 1 of those years, Dalton completed 73.3 percent of his passes and averaged 17.51 PPG. His numbers dropped to 61.7 percent and 16.17 PPG in Week 2-17 road games.


Russell Wilson ($6,200 DraftKings, $7,900 FanDuel), Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos

  • Subtract games last season in which Denver hosted a New York team and the Broncos allowed 16.7 PPG to QBs (league average was 15.5).


Andrew Luck ($6,100 DraftKings, $7,300 FanDuel), Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals

  • Before Luck had really shown us MVP talent, he played the Bengals twice in 2013 and 2014 seasons and combined for 670 passing yards, 6 TDs and 0 INT. The Bengals were the 4th best defense vs. QBs during those two seasons ... they ranked 15th last season.

Ryan Fitzpatrick ($5,000 DraftKings, $6,200 FanDuel), Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints

  • Tampa Bay had the 2nd highest pass percentage last season, and that's unlikely to change in a week where they are the league's biggest underdog.


Running back

Alvin Kamara ($8,500 DraftKings, $8,700 FanDuel), New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I think Kamara will be most popular option based on three factors: his price tag being cheaper than the other top dogs, the matchup (he averaged 31.5 DraftKings points per game last year against the Bucs) and Mark Ingram's absence. He's very affordable based on the value that's present on the slate, and running back is always going to be a position I'm going to look to load up on a superstar who's a home favorite. My only issue here is the volume Kamara gets. If we take out the first three weeks of the year to try and make his numbers look better, he still only averaged 13.9 touches per game. In the two games against the Bucs, he had only 31 total (15.5 per game). Many, including myself, are assuming that he's going to see a bump in usage this season, especially in the first four weeks while Ingram serves his suspension, but if he stays in the 13-15 touch range and doesn't bump to 20 as I expect, it's going to be extremely hard for him to repeat the efficiency he showed last year. I'm going to have my exposure to Kamara, but I also am aware of the risks vs. the other superstars who should see more usage but are in worse matchups.

Alex Collins ($5,800 DraftKings, $6,700 FanDuel), Baltimore Ravens vs. Buffalo Bills: Collins is fairly priced and sitting as the workhorse back, at home, with what should be a favorable game flow against the Bills as the Ravens are seven-point favorites at the time I'm writing this. The Bills have tried to fix their leaky run defense through the draft but it's still a very similar unit to the past two years in which they have allowed the most DraftKings points to opposing running backs (24.99 PPG). Collins is a tough runner who should be able to take advantage of the Bills tackling issues as well making him a very easy play where all the puzzle pieces fit together. I personally feel that Collis will be undervalued this weekend because of all the bigger names at running back and more specifically at his price point. I expect to have way more of Collins than the field.

Rex Burkhead ($4,200 DraftKings, $6,300 FanDuel), New England Patriots vs. Houston Texans: The prevailing thought is that Bill Belichick backfields are tough to figure out, but honestly, they've been extremely predictable for fantasy since about the 2015 season. Players know what their roles are and are expected to carry out the job for which they've been tasked. For most of the second half of last season, Dion Lewis, James White and Burkhead were splitting snaps pretty evenly with Burkhead getting the goal line and short yardage work (on 38 percent of snaps), White coming in in long passing situations and Lewis doing most everything else. Well now Lewis has moved on to Tennessee, the Pats drafted Sony Michel to possibly fulfill his role but he got injured in the preseason and still hasn't returned to practice and White will still handle his 33 percent share of the snaps, including mostly passing work. This leaves Burkhead in a similar role to Lewis at the tail end of last regular season, when he was getting a massive workload and was a daily fantasy God if only for a few weeks. Making things an absolute slam dunk here are the price, which is absolutely too low, and the fact that the Patriots have the highest team total on the slate and are home favorites.

Intriguing for tournament play:

Melvin Gordon ($6,800 DraftKings, $8,100 FanDuel), Los Angeles Chargers vs. Kansas City Chiefs
  • He has four rushing scores against the Chiefs in their past three meetings, and only twice last season did a team give their RBs 20-plus carries and fail to see them run for a score against the Chiefs.


Christian McCaffrey ($6,400 DraftKings, $7,500 FanDuel), Carolina Panthers vs. Dallas Cowboys


Dalvin Cook ($6,200 DraftKings, $7,300 DraftKings), Minnesota Vikings vs. San Francisco 49ers

  • Last season, Cook ranked second in touches through Week 4 and third in total yards before suffering a season-ending injury. Also, no team ran the ball at a higher rate in the red zone than the Vikings (53.4 percent), considerably higher than the league average (44 percent).

Chris Carson ($4,500 DraftKings, $5,900 FanDuel), Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos

  • Between Weeks 9-17 last season, Denver's defense allowed the eighth most RB points


Wide receivers

Keenan Allen ($7,500 DraftKings, $8,000 FanDuel), Los Angeles Chargers vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Allen ended last season on a ridiculous tear, averaging 27 DraftKings PPG from Weeks 11-17. What's even more amazing is that during that span he scored only five touchdowns with the majority of his scoring coming from his volume in the Chargers' pass game. Hunter Henry is lost for the season but I'm not sure the Chargers can put any more on Allen's plate in the red zone, as he was second in the league in RZ targets with 24 and led the team with a 35.14 market share of those valuable attempts. Knowing the volume will be there, lets take a look at the defense they're facing. The Chiefs lost Marcus Peters from an already underwhelming group of defensive backs and based on Mike Clay's unit grades, the Chiefs' corners rank third-to-last in the league above the Colts and Panthers. Allen should be a popular option in cash games and tournaments this week and I'll be right there with the crowd on this one.

A.J. Green ($7,300 DraftKings, $8,400 FanDuel), Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts: We picked on the Colts' secondary last year as they were one of the worst teams in terms of defending the deep ball both in terms of volume and efficiency. That doesn't look like it's going to change at all this season and the Bengals have a tasty matchup against them in Week 1. When we factor in AJG's fast starts in each of the past three seasons (fourth, third and seventh in receiving yardage in the first four games, respectively), and his market share of overall and red zone targets for Cincinnati on top of the deep ball upside, he provides one of the highest floor and ceiling combos on the slate.

Keelan Cole ($3,800 DraftKings, $4,500 FanDuel), Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants:

Down the stretch last season, Cole saw a big increase in snaps, playing more than 70 percent six times after not playing over 65.7 percent the first half of the season. His volume and performance also saw an increase because, as I have said before, you can't score fantasy points if you're holding your helmet on the sidelines. Cole was scheduled to start opposite Marquise Lee but Lee is now out for the season and Cole could see a snap count of 75-85 percent, mirroring his preseason usage when Blake Bortles was on the field, and should lead the Jags in targets. Yes, this is a ground-and-pound offense that focuses on defense, but Bortles still threw for 21 touchdowns last year and anytime you're going to get a player getting the amount of run that Cole will get combined with an unimpeded path to targets sitting at or just above minimum salary you take it. Even here in Week 1 when the salaries are pretty soft on both sites, playing Cole allows you to upgrade one mid-salary player to a superstar in addition to the ones you'll already be able to roster. This is as close to a cash game lock button play as it can get. He doesn't need a touchdown to reach value, the downside is minimal, and much like Burkhead, I'll let someone else worry about fading his low bar to reaching value.

Intriguing for tournament play:

Michael Thomas ($7,800 DraftKings, $8,500 FanDuel), New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Tampa Bay allowed the most points to WRs last season. Meanwhile, the suspended Ingram accounted for 19.6 percent of New Orleans' red zone receptions last season, so it stands to reason that Thomas gets some of that love.

Jarvis Landry ($5,500 DraftKings, $6,600 FanDuel), Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Only the Packers allowed more WR touchdowns than the Steelers from Weeks 10-17 last season.

Tyrell Williams ($4,200 DraftKings, $5,500 FanDuel), Los Angeles Chargers vs. Kansas City Chiefs

  • KC allowed the second most points to WR last season, and opponents attempted 12.8 percent more deep passes last season against the Chiefs than against any other defense in football.

John Ross ($3,900 DraftKings, $5,100 FanDuel), Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts

  • The Colts allowed a league-high 61 deep completions last season, and Ross' unparalleled speed means potential for big plays (like that 57-yard score against the Bills in Week 3 of the preseason).


Tight ends

Jack Doyle ($3,600 DraftKings, $5,600 FanDuel), Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals:
When the Colts signed Eric Ebron I initially thought Doyle would be in for a drop in snaps and targets in 2018, but that appears not to be the case if we look at preseason usage. In game two of the preseason, where both Ebron and Doyle were healthy and active, Doyle played on 21 of the 23 snaps played by Andrew Luck while Ebron was on the field for only five of the 23. Doyle is at a friendly price on both sites and the Colts' defense is in as rough a place as it was last year, which should force the offense to put the pedal down to keep pace and outscore opponents since stopping them defensively doesn't seem to be an option for Indy. Add to the mix that the Bengals allowed the ninth most points to opposing tight ends last year and it just sweetens the deal. Doyle is just too cheap to ignore on volume alone but when you factor in the touchdown upside he becomes a core play for me.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins ($3,200 DraftKings, $4,600 FanDuel), Jacksonville Jaguars at New York

Giants:
Ladies and gentlemen, the tight end Flow Chart play of the week is back in action for Week 1 and it's Seferian-Jenkins. We're going to spend most weeks picking on the Giants, the Browns and the Dolphins with our tight end plays and if you're looking for value at the position, ASJ provides it with all the touchdown upside you could want against a Giants defense that continues to place a welcome mat at the front of the end zone for any opposing tight ends. For all the reasons people will look to avoid using Bortles' pass catchers, you can't ignore the fact that Jacksonville makes a point to target the big men in the red zone. Of their top four players targeted in the red zone last season, two (Marcedes Lewis and James O'Shaugnessy) were tight ends, and the other two were receivers who are either injured or not on the roster. The puzzle pieces all fit together well enough for me to want to have tournament shares of ASJ in Week 1.

Intriguing for tournament play:

Rob Gronkowski ($6,900 DraftKings, $7,900 FanDuel), New England Patriots vs. Houston Texans

  • Gronk has averaged 2.63 more PPG than any other qualified TE during his career, and oh by the way, Houston allowed the fifth most points to tight ends last season.

Jordan Reed ($4,000 DraftKings, $5,800 FanDuel), Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals

  • The oft-injured Reed has at least 5 catches in his first game in each of the past three seasons.


Defenses

Ravens ($3,800 DraftKings, $4,800 FanDuel), vs. Buffalo Bills:

The Ravens DST is priced up on DraftKings as the No. 1 defense on the slate but based on the presence of so many values I believe they're an option in cash. The Ravens DST was tied for fourth in 2017 for the most double-digit efforts on a week and have a distinct defensive line vs. offensive line matchup here against the Bills. I love the high sack and turnover probability here and am willing to pay up for it.
Patriots ($2,400 DraftKings, $4,200 FanDuel), vs. Houston Texans:

Yes, this is the highest total on the day and, yes, the Texans can certainly put some points on the board with Watson & Co., but the Patriots' price on DraftKings seems awfully low considering the turnover upside against Watson and how good this defense was as a unit outside of the first couple of games last year and the Super Bowl. This is a price play for me to allow an upgrade if you can't work your way up to the Ravens.