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STATS’ Favorite Fantasy Football Plays: Week 2

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In conjunction with Sean Koerner’s best-in-the-biz Tiers piece that comes out on Wednesdays, I’ll be posting this on Fridays, to highlight players that are either a.) ranked too high or low by most experts, or b.) are mispriced on daily fantasy sites. I’ll discuss more players this week to keep it relevant for more of you and give you more daily fantasy options. I’ll also be pointing out daily fantasy stack opportunities as we go along. I’ll be differentiating between high-end plays – which are no-brainer cash-game plays or must-starts in season-long leagues – from sleepers – who are more unique GPP type plays and guys that are relevant only in deeper season-long leagues. Since I can’t touch on every player, feel free to ask me your sit/start questions on Twitter.

High-End QB Play: Carson Palmer, ARI (@ IND)

Last week we had Carson as a guy to avoid, which worked out well for us. While the masses overreact to a game in which he threw a ton of picks in comeback mode, we’re reversing course and moving him back into QB1 territory. The David Johnson injury shouldn’t hurt him – they may be so ineffective on the ground that they have to throw a ton by default (think Matthew Stafford’s Detroit offense). That volume could work wonders against a shambolic Indianapolis team that got torn up by Jared Goff and Cooper Kupp.

Stack Partner: Larry Fitzgerald. Fitz is seemingly always on the WR1 radar, despite being undervalued in draft rankings and later priced too low in DFS. He’s a great cash and GPP guy this week. I also love J.J. Nelson as a cheap sleeper, especially if John Brown doesn’t play (monitor that situation).

High-End QB Play: Russell Wilson, SEA (vs. SF)

We’re not ready to throw in the towel on the NFL’s second-ranked all-time passer rating just yet. Sure the offensive line is terrible, but that has been the case for several years now, and he’s done just fine regardless. This week he has a nice chance to bounce back against a San Francisco defense that gave up a couple big plays to a shoulder-less Cam Newton and is now missing Reuben Foster.

Stack Partner: Jimmy Graham. I think Seattle will look to get him involved more after he no-showed last week in Green Bay. He also has a nice affordable price on DFS sites.

QB Sleeper: Joe Flacco, BAL (vs. CLE)

Sean touched on this – Joe Flacco is good for a few relatively explosive games each year, and we’re never exactly sure when they’re going to be. Looking at last year’s game log, two of those were against Cleveland (302 yards and two TDs in Week 2; 296 yards and three TDs in Week 9). He has a good chance to repeat that this week at home against a Cleveland defense that, while improved, is still susceptible to big plays on talent mismatches alone. He’s a nice cheap DFS option that allows you to roster studs like Julio Jones and Le’Veon Bell, and he’s a starter in two-QB leagues this week.

Stack Partner: Mike Wallace. The cheaper of the two 1a WRs in Baltimore and the more likely to hit a big play (despite Jeremy Maclin’s big TD last week).

QB Fade: Marcus Mariota, TEN (@ JAX)

This Jacksonville defense is no joke and still may be a bit underrated. Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye form arguably a top-five CB duo, and Calais Campbell can still disrupt the heck out of the pocket (Note: Ramsey is banged up, and we may upgrade Mariota a spot or two in our rankings if Ramsey sits). Mariota is only a borderline QB1 in general, and in a week in which he has a negative matchup, he falls just outside our top 12. In DFS, he’s merely a contrarian stack option, as QBs like Jameis Winston and the aforementioned Wilson and Palmer make more sense.

High-End RB Play: Todd Gurley, LAR (vs. WAS)

There’s a narrative going around that Gurley “isn’t good.” First of all, that most likely can’t be true, given his ability to put up serious points just two years ago with no QB and stacked boxes. Second, regardless of his talent, he is one of the few undeniable three-down workhorses left, meaning he has a nice and high floor as your season-long RB1 and DFS cash game guy. Finally, until proven otherwise (meaning, against a team with real RBs, not the Blount/Smallwood/Sproles mess), Washington is a plus matchup for opposing RBs.

High-End RB Play: Melvin Gordon, LAC (vs. MIA)

We don’t disagree with consensus that Melvin is the No. 3 guy this week behind Bell and Ezekiel Elliott. I need to point out, though, that he is a great value and cash-game option in DFS. With the Chargers expected to score around 25 points – and favored to win – he’s a great bet for 20+ touches, 100+ yards, and a TD. Normally, Le’Veon, Zeke, and David Johnson (RIP) are all great cash-game plays, but Le’Veon and Zeke both have bad matchups (vs. Minnesota and Denver, respectively), and Gordon is the better value. He’s closer to those guys this week than he is to the tier below him (Gurley, Kareem Hunt, Marshawn Lynch, Jay Ajayi, etc.).

Stack Partner: Chargers defense. The Chargers are a borderline start-able defense this week in season-long and a nice sneaky option in DFS. Jay Cutler surely has a few pick-sixes left in him.

RB Sleeper: Robert Kelley, WAS (@ LAR)

This is more of a season-long play, as you’re not likely to roster Kelley in DFS, where PPR is the name of the game. I just want to point out that the biggest concern about Kelley going into the year was the lurking presence of rookie Semaje Perine, who could steal short yardage looks. Well, Perine played zero offensive snaps last week, so Kelley’s role and large share of potential TDs looks safe. We see him as an unsexy, back-end RB2 in standard leagues, despite consensus ranking him as an RB3/flex.

RB Sleeper: Javorius Allen, BAL (vs. CLE)

It’s funny that Buck was highly touted as a waiver wire guy this week, but then under-ranked by many experts for this week. If anything, Allen has value primarily in games the Ravens are favored to win by a lot, as he should get a ton of carries as Baltimore’s No. 2 (really 1b) RB. This week should be one of those games. He’s a nice cheap DFS play and worthwhile flex option if you’re already in a bind in season-long.

Stack Partner: Baltimore defense. The no-brainer No. 1 defense against Cleveland this week. You can roster them while still keeping your team unique by stacking them with Allen. If Allen gets 15+ carries, it probably means things went very well for Baltimore as a team, making this a high-leverage duo.

RB Sleeper: Chris Carson, SEA (vs. SF)

This is a super-duper sleeper, only worth it in DFS as a dart-throw GPP pick. I just want to point out that he has been Seattle’s most effective runner in preseason and now also Week 1, and Pete Carroll has proven that he’s willing to give out carries/touches based on merit and not necessarily draft capital (see: Thomas Rawls 2015). This week, Seattle faces a San Francisco D that we rate as the single best matchup for opposing RBs. If you’re feeling frisky, give Carson a whirl when it’s too early rather than too late.

High-End WR Play: Tyreek Hill, KC (vs. PHI)

’Reek was a souped-up gadget player last year, but in Week 1 against Bill Belichick’s defense, he looked like a No. 1 WR. This means he’s no longer a low-volume, TD dependent guy, but rather a must-start WR1 with PPR value. He may be matchup proof (who can cover 4.2 speed?), but he has a particularly nice matchup against Philadelphia, a team without a No. 1 CB after losing Ronald Darby (by the way, ew). We see him as a top-eight WR this week, making him well worth his price in DFS.

Stack Partner: Alex Smith. We don’t like overreacting to one game, but it appears the consensus is under-reacting here. Smith isn’t Brett Favre all of a sudden, but he has arguably the best RB/WR/TE trio of weapons at his disposal now, and should be good for 240ish yards through the air. That makes him worth his price in DFS and a solid back-end QB1 in season-long.

High-End WR Play: Adam Thielen, MIN (@ PIT)

Thielen averaged 14 YPR last year, displaying his YAC and big-play ability, despite Sam Bradford’s noodle arm. Now, he is the Vikings’ go-to slot guy, which is great for his volume in that offense. Put these two attributes together, and we have a very high upside guy, a guy who is here to stay as a WR2. He’s still way underpriced by DFS sites and a great cash game option, especially in a week where Minnesota may be forced to put some points on the board in order to win.

WR Sleeper: Marqise Lee, JAX (vs. TEN)

Lee was a popular waiver-wire add after Allen Robinson’s injury, but people are still hesitant to throw him into lineups after he put up a bagel in Week 1. He’s not a bad WR3/flex, though, and maybe even a cash-game option in DFS. Jacksonville may as well have been up 20 by the time A-Rob was ruled out, and Jacksonville hardly had to throw. They’ll probably have to do a little bit of throwing in a closer game against Tennessee, a team that we rate as the second easiest matchup for opposing wideouts. He could easily double his four targets from last week, and if he catches four or five passes, he’s well worth his price in DFS.

WR Fade: Davante Adams, GB (@ ATL)

Green Bay has never had better, healthier receiving options, which is great for Aaron Rodgers’ outlook, but not for Davante’s. Randall Cobb looked great in the slot last week, hauling in nine of 13 targets, and the Martellus Bennett/Lance Kendricks TE duo saw 10 targets, which has to be some sort of Green Bay record for tight ends. Adams couldn’t produce against Seattle’s backup corners after Jeremy Lane’s weird ejection, which is not a great sign for him going forward. The high-scoring matchup at Atlanta bumps him into WR3/flex territory (don’t bench him unless you’re stacked!), but it’s still not enough to make him a worthwhile DFS target. Bennett and Jordy Nelson are much better Rodgers stack partners.

WR Fade: Amari Cooper, OAK (vs. NYJ)

While the game is close, this is a great matchup for Amari. The thing is, it may not be close for very long. Carr is a high-floor guy, as he’s likely to put up, say 200+ yards and a couple TDs before the game gets out of hand, but a four-TD day in the passing game is unlikely, which is not great for Oakland’s WRs. Basically, when Seth Roberts scores to go up 21-0 just before halftime and Cooper is sitting on six points, you will be very scared that he is just about done for the day, and you will feel very, very bad. We are trying to help you avoid that feeling by ranking him as a low-end WR1 rather than a top-eight guy.

TE Sleeper: Jared Cook, OAK (vs. NYJ)

“But Corey, how can you hate Amari and love Cook when they’re on the same team?!” I’d like to point out that sometimes, it’s OK to feel differently about the relative values of two players on the same team, based on their relative expectations. Cooper is a stud you likely drafted in the second round in season-long, and he’s priced as a stud in DFS. In order to exceed value, he needs 100 yards and a TD or two. That is very unlikely in a blowout. On the other hand, Cook is a waiver-wire TE2, who is dirt cheap on DFS and needs just a few first-half catches in order to hit value. He may even score a TD! Rostering him in DFS is smart, and I prefer him as Carr’s stack partner (though I don’t recommend Carr as anything but a contrarian play).

TE Sleeper: Zach Miller, CHI (@ TB)

We largely agree with consensus on the order of the top-10 TE, so I’m going to point out another sleeper, and it’s Miller… again. Last week I mentioned he’s arguably Chicago’s most reliable pass catcher, and that appears to be even truer this week – six targets and one Kevin White season-ending injury later. Since we don’t love the value/price of any high-end TEs this week, I recommend Miller as a DFS punt that allows you to roster some of the elite RBs/WRs. Much like Cook, he only needs three or four receptions to hit value, and he’s also the most likely Bear to catch a TD pass.

TE Fade: Jason Witten, DAL (@ DEN)

Going on three years now, Witten has recorded at least seven receptions in Week 1 against the Giants (with three TDs in those three games). This makes sense, as the Giants have great corners and linemen, but much weaker linebackers. In the previous two years, these Week 1 performances stood out among Witten’s best, as Dez Bryant, Zeke, et al got more involved in other matchups. The same will be true again this year in Witten’s age 35 season. He should only be rostered in plus matchups, and he doesn’t have that this week against a Denver defense that held Hunter Henry to 0-0-0-0.0 last week.

Eagles’ WR Overhaul Should Give Wentz Productive Week 1 Weapons

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Among the Week 1 matchups is a clash of the two NFC East teams that failed to make the playoffs last year, Philadelphia and Washington. Whereas the Redskins were just a Week 17 win away from qualifying, the Eagles’ 2-9 slump from Weeks 5 to 15 included two defeats to Washington and took them out of the hunt.

Going into this season, however, not only do the Eagles have a big edge on the Redskins according to STATS’ production metrics – a 7.88-point spread despite being on the road – but they have the NFL’s second-ranked roster based on projected personnel.

So why the esteem for a last-place team? Look no further than Carson Wentz’s new weapons – Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. STATS’ X-Info data, which provides detailed insights on statistical events not captured via traditional data collection methods, tells us why.

Wentz set an NFL rookie record with 379 completions, but less than half went to his wideouts. Among quarterbacks with at least 400 attempts, his completion percentage to wide receivers was a league-worst 44.9. No NFC team had fewer explosive plays receiving – 25 yards or more – than the Eagles with 18, while Washington led the league with 45. Philadelphia was at the other end because Wentz didn’t have any game-breaking wideouts at his disposal. Jeffery and Smith change all of that.

Jeffery had 16 explosive plays in 17 games over the last two years, while the departed Jordan Matthews had 17 in 30. Jeffery’s last full season in 2014, he has 12 explosive plays. Give Smith a pass for those forgettable years in San Francisco and go back to his time with Joe Flacco, and he had 44 explosive plays in 64 games. Since he entered the NFL in 2011, Smith ranks 12th among all players in explosive plays receiving with 54, and he’s seventh in average yards at catch (11.8).

Before resorting to blaming Wentz’s inaccuracy or penchant for dumping off to a back or a tight end, let’s delve even deeper into X-Info to see why his wideouts may have been more at fault.

Last year’s combination of Matthews, Dorial Green-Beckham and Nelson Agholor so often failed to create separation that Wentz had trouble completing balls downfield. The Eagles were 28th of 32 teams in yards at catch – yards the ball traveled in the air relative to the line of scrimmage on completions – at 5.04 per reception. The Eagles’ top player in that category was Matthews at 7.5, which ranked 68th in the league last season, while his replacement as Philly’s No. 1 receiver ranked ninth – Jeffery averaged 11.7.

Washington led that category, a number that will likely drop with the offseason departures of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon.

Earning extra yards once the ball was completed also didn’t go in Wentz’s favor, as Philadelphia ranked 26th with 4.95 yards after catch per reception. Matthews ranked tied for 89th at 3.6, while Jeffery was exactly a half yard better.

The Eagles could make a big jump because Jeffery is known as an adept route runner who can beat defensive backs for 50-50 balls, and Smith is a better deep threat than Wentz has ever had. Plus, two established sets of hands should help – Wentz’s dropped passes quarterback rating last year was 20th of 27 qualifying QBs. Jeffery had one drop in 94 targets.

It’s easy to see why Matthews went from being top dog to the doghouse in Philly’s wide receiving corps, leading to his trade to the Bills for cornerback Ronald Darby. Criticized by the harsh Eagles’ faithful for having alligator arms, Matthews often failed to come up with key catches or get the extra yards needed. His clutch reception percentage – catches resulting in a first down or a touchdown – failed to surpass 52 in either of the past two seasons. Jeffery hasn’t been below 70 percent in the last three seasons, including 78.8 last year, which ranked fifth. Additionally, Agholor was at 41.7 percent last year and 47.8 in 2015.

Smith was at 70 percent last year and has averaged even more throughout his career. He’s just 28 years old and not far removed from being one of Flacco’s favorite targets. Wentz didn’t have that kind of home run-ball receiver as a rookie, so Smith could help spread the field given his ability to blow by defenders.

This week, Smith has the advantage of going against an extremely inexperienced safety in Deshazor Everett. The special-teams ace rarely saw the field on defense during his first two NFL seasons but was recently thrown into the starting role after 22-year-old Su’a Cravens shockingly announced he was considering retirement.

The prime-time matchup, though, will be Josh Norman on Jeffery. Norman had a solid first season with Washington, but it wasn’t exactly spectacular. The five touchdown passes he allowed were a career high, and of the 40 passes completed when he was the defensive target, the yards per burn was 13.6.

That was his worst mark since 2013 and about 2 1/2 yards worse than fellow Redskins corner Bashaud Breeland. In fact, Jeffery got the better of Norman last season when still with the Bears. He caught five passes for 92 yards largely with Norman shadowing him, and the former All-Pro corner was burned for a total of 81 yards on the day – his second-worst game total of 2016.

Despite the presence of Norman, the blossoming Kirk Cousins and the addition of new No. 1 wideout Terrelle Pryor, STATS’ production metrics have Washington with only the NFL’s 28th-ranked roster. That certainly doesn’t mean the Redskins can’t handle the Eagles on Sunday, but completing a third straight season sweep of their division rivals will be far from child’s play now that Wentz has some new toys at his disposal.

 

Dig deeper into X-Info data with STATS’ NFL 2017:

Dig deeper into X-Info data with STATS' NFL 2017.

Press Releases

STATS Takes Over Payton, Buchanan, Robinson, Rice Awards, Announces FCS Banquet Date

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CHICAGO – Nov. 3, 2016 – STATS, the world’s leading sports data and technology company, announced an agreement today that will allow it to hand out a quartet of legacy NCAA Football Championship Series (FCS) awards tied to some of the biggest names in the subdivision’s history.

Just prior to the FCS postseason concluding in January, STATS will present:

  • • The FCS Walter Payton Award, given to the FCS’ offensive player of the year;
  • • The FCS Buck Buchanan Award, given to its defensive player of the year;
  • • The FCS Eddie Robinson Award, given to its coach of the year; and
  • • The FCS Jerry Rice Award, given to its freshman of the year.

Founded by Mickey Charles of The Sports Network, the annual honors date back to 1987, when the Payton Award was presented to running back Kenny Gamble of Colgate. Since then, names of future NFL stars like Steve McNair, Brian Westbrook and Tony Romo have been called up to accept the hardware. Last season, Cooper Kupp – who became the FCS’ all-time leader in receiving yards and touchdowns this season – was the winner. The Robinson Award also began in 1987.

“I’ve always considered the storylines of the FCS to be just as important as the rest of Division I college football,” said Charles. “And lacking a Heisman of their own, what better choice than in the name of a football legend, Walter Payton? I am pleased to pass on three decades’ worth of history to STATS for custodianship and expansion at this time.”

The same national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers, and other dignitaries who select the STATS FCS Top 25 poll – numbering over 150 voters – will choose the winners. Those awards join the STATS FCS Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete Award, created one year ago to honor the wife of Eddie Robinson and her service to community and academics.

These awards will be presented to the winning athletes during the end-of-season banquet that will take place Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 – the night before the FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas – at the Embassy Suites Dallas-Frisco Convention Center. Last January, almost 200 attendees representing a cross-section of FCS roles came together for STATS’ inaugural awards ceremony.

The Buchanan Award goes back to 1995 and includes such notable alums as Dexter Coakley and Jared Allen, while the Rice Award was created in 2011.

“Coming from an FCS school, I’m proud to lend my name to such a distinction, and to help STATS expand its national coverage initiative,” said Rice, a Mississippi Valley State graduate who is almost universally recognized as the greatest wide receiver of all time and was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2010.

Prior to last season, STATS expanded an initiative to serve the FCS community with staples such as a pre- and postseason All-America team, weekly Top 25 poll, national players of the week, award watch lists and season-ending awards.

In addition, STATS created a dedicated FCS website – www.fcs.football – featuring breaking news, real-time scores and other unique content that combined the strengths of STATS’ data, editorial and product expertise. Launched prior to the 2015 season,  the site has accumulated close to two million page views over the past 12 months.

“We laid down a strong coverage foundation last season and, in the process, developed incredible relationships with the schools and the conferences,” said Brian Orefice, STATS’ Director of News. “But we want to ride that momentum into even better content and broader exposure. Thanks to Mickey, inheriting these awards and all they represent can only help us achieve those goals as we try to maintain the legacy of the FCS’ rich past while pushing forward toward its promising future.”

The FCS competes at the NCAA’s Division I level, and is home to 125 schools in 13 conferences across the country. Approximately 150 FCS players are on NFL rosters annually, including current stars like Romo (Eastern Illinois), Joe Flacco (Delaware), Carson Wentz (North Dakota State), David Johnson (Northern Iowa), Josh Norman (Coastal Carolina) and Julius Thomas (Portland State).

STATS announces FCS preseason Top 25 poll, launches www.fcs.football destination site

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Chicago, IL – August 10, 2015– STATS LLC, the world’s leading sports technology, data and content company, unveiled its preseason FCS Top 25 poll Monday – featuring four-time defending champion North Dakota State as the overwhelming No. 1 – and launched a destination site for FCS players and fans throughout the country.

STATS, which purchased The Sports Network (TSN) in February, announced it would expand TSN’s commitment to FCS coverage when revealing its preseason All-America team last month. For almost three decades, TSN served the FCS community with such staples as a pre- and postseason All-America team, weekly Top 25 poll, national players of the week, award watch lists and season-ending honors.

To no one’s surprise, North Dakota State University (NDSU) will be a significant part of that coverage. The Bison, who received 144 out of 147 first-place votes, begin their quest for an unprecedented fifth straight FCS title when they take on No. 13 Montana in the FCS Kickoff – the first game of the college football season – on Aug. 29. The game will be televised by ESPN.

“What we’ve done has been phenomenal, but we have to stay hungry,” said NDSU coach Chris Klieman. “It’s different in my five years here now that we have most of our guys back on offense and very few on defense. We are going to need some young guys to step up, and we’re going to be challenged right away at Montana.”

Illinois State, Sam Houston State, Villanova, Coastal Carolina, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, Chattanooga, New Hampshire and Northern Iowa rounded out the top 10.

STATS’ coverage of the subdivision will be spearheaded by longtime TSN FCS Executive Director Craig Haley and supported by journalists based out of STATS’ Chicagoland headquarters. The company is leveraging its core editorial, data and product expertise to create a destination site – www.fcs.football – featuring breaking news, real-time scores and video analysis that no FCS fan will want to go without.

“By continuing the FCS Top 25 poll and bolstering it with a destination website, STATS is showing its commitment to improving FCS player and fan experiences. It’s such fertile ground for coverage,” Haley said.

The site will continue to evolve throughout the season both in its look and content. A conference-by-conference preview package and regular video installments on timely topics are set to kick off this week, in addition to features and breaking news as the season nears.

“The idea is to make fcs.football a one-stop shop for everyone’s FCS coverage needs,” said Brian Orefice, STATS’ Director of News and Editorial Operations, “whether that fan is looking for the latest score from a Maine Black Bears game or breaking news on the San Diego Toreros.”

The FCS competes at the NCAA’s Division I level, and is home to 125 schools in 13 conferences across the country. Approximately 150 FCS players are on NFL rosters annually, including current stars Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois), Joe Flacco (Delaware), Vincent Jackson (Northern Colorado), Jared Allen (Idaho State) and Julius Thomas (Portland State).