This article is part of our DraftKings NFL series.
Welcome back to regular season daily fantasy football! Sure, we had Thursday's Packers-Bears opener, but Sunday represents our first real classic slate of the season.
Before we jump in, I think it's worth explaining this article a bit and how I go about analyzing slates. I generally focus on cash games (head-to-heads, double ups), and the players highlighted below are usually more suited for those types of contests. That being said, I try to expand the conversation to include additional cash options and players I think will be good for GPPs. This article is not meant to simply have the bolded players cherry picked to submit a lineup in 60 seconds. Instead, the idea is to explain why certain players fit, why certain positions or price ranges should be prioritized and why some specific players could be faded.
Additionally, you'll see that I rely on Vegas odds quite a bit, both to get an understanding of how a game is expected to play out and generally which games will have more points. I'll be honest, it generally feels like it's not as detailed as spitting out certain advanced stats that show why a team's wide receivers should be prioritized, but I'll make the argument that a significant amount of the statistics we use to show why a certain situation is good already lines up with the Vegas odds. Deep-diving into certain stats only reenforces the odds, so why not just use them to start? Obviously there are things you can discover that don't jive with the odds (those who have an edge betting on the NFL will tell you that), but from a daily fantasy football perspective, Vegas odds and player salaries are what we can prioritize.
Finally, you'll notice the order I break players down in may be different than what you are used to seeing. I do this because this is the order I often use when building my lineups. Most weeks revolve around what you do at running back, whether you want to pay up for the elite options or pay down for guys who are thrust into bigger roles but whose salaries haven't caught up yet. And with that said, let's jump in.
Dalvin Cook, MIN vs. ATL ($6,000): Cook leads a quartet of running backs around his price who figure to be popular in cash games because of their significant roles and solid matchups. The Vikings' main offensive threats seem fairly under-priced in a home game against the Falcons when they have the co-eighth-highest implied total on the slate. In fact, they have the same implied total as the Browns, whose starting running back, Nick Chubb ($6,400) is another member of this tier who is expected to get plenty of consideration. There is a ton of optimism about the Browns this season, including this week at home against the Titans, and while Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham get plenty of attention, the backfield is Chubb's. Jacksonville's Leonard Fournette ($6,100) seems like an odd pick given the Jaguars are underdogs at home in the game with the highest total on the slate, but the best way to slow down the Chiefs' offense is to keep it off the field, and Jacksonville's clearest path to doing that is to run Fournette into the ground. It also doesn't hurt that the Chiefs were one of the worst teams in the league at stopping running backs last season, something that isn't expected to have drastically changed in the off-season. That being said, they weren't as bad on a per-game basis as the Bengals, who will be tasked with trying to slow down the final member of this group, Seahawks running back Chris Carson ($5,700). Seattle is the biggest moneyline favorite in Week 1 with the fifth-highest implied total (26.75, higher than the Rams and Cowboys), and getting their starting running back at less than $6,000 is solid. There will always be concerns about Rashaad Penny ($4,900) stealing a few touches, but all indications are that the backfield touches mostly belong to Carson.
Christian McCaffrey, CAR v. LAR ($8,800): The top of the running back salary list is unsurprisingly strong, with McCaffrey more expensive than all but Ezekiel Elliott ($9,200) and Saquon Barkley ($9,000). Given that Elliott missed all of training camp and the preseason because of a contract holdout, there seems to be little reason to trust he'll have a full workload this Sunday against the Giants after just rejoining the team Wednesday. There was a ton of enthusiasm for backup Tony Pollard ($4,500) if Elliott's holdout went into Week 1, but the latter's return makes it really tough to justify either player in cash games given the uncertainty around their respective snaps. There's little separating the expectations of McCaffrey and Barkley, as both should be heavily used on the ground and through the air, and while they are underdogs, the Panthers at least have a high enough implied total at home against the Rams. It's tough to argue that they aren't the two safest options for cash games, and they both have very high ceilings, but rostering one or both means you're passing on the group above and paying down significantly at wide receiver and tight end (and possibly quarterback) because they are so much more expensive. It wouldn't be surprising to see cash lineups with one of McCaffrey or Barkley and then the cheaper group filling out the rest, while taking both probably leaves more question marks than you want in those types of contests. While both players are similar in terms of production, McCaffrey has the slight advantage of a higher team total, though quarterback Cam Newton is always a touchdown-poach threat near the goal line while Barkley doesn't have that concern with Eli Manning.
Le'Veon Bell, NYJ v. BUF ($7,100): Stuck in a salary tier between the elite and the salary savers are notably Bell, Arizona's David Johnson ($7,700) and, if you're feeling generous, Rams running back Todd Gurley ($7,900), whose usage is unpredictable enough to make him a solid GPP play as the starter for a favorite with the third-highest implied team total on the slate. Bell makes for a fine cash play other than his salary, which lands in a bit of a dead zone where the salary down from McCaffrey and Barkley doesn't get you a whole lot and the improvement from the Cook group ends up hampering more than helping. But that range could certainly be attractive for GPPs. Other overlooked-but-viable cash plays include Kerryon Johnson ($5,800) and Mark Ingram ($5,100), who are both road favorites and figure to get plenty of work. Both seem reasonable for GPPs too, especially since the path to touches seems more secure than what you'll get from Austin Ekeler ($5,500) or Justin Jackson ($4,000) from the Chargers or Jordan Howard ($4,200) with the Eagles. Philadelphia is a huge favorite against Washington, and any normal circumstance would have their starting running back getting plenty of attention. Unfortunately, a running-back-by-committee makes them all sorts of questionable, enough so that Peyton Barber ($4,000) and Matt Breida ($4,000) look more secure. Then again, the one who may get even less attention is Marlon Mack ($5,600), who could be used heavily as the Colts quickly transition out of the Andrew Luck era.
Chris Godwin, TB v. SF ($6,200): The 49ers-Bucs game has the second-highest total on the slate at 50.5 on DraftKings Sportsbook, and it's not that high because of the running backs. With a game expected to be close – the 1.0-point spread has moved back and forth between the teams – there will be plenty of fantasy players targeting the game, so don't expect to get many low-owned options. That being said, Godwin lines up to be popular in cash games because of his opportunities in a high-scoring game, and the fact that he's $1,700 cheaper than teammate Mike Evans, the third-most expensive wide receiver.
Curtis Samuel, CAR v. LAR ($4,200): Godwin isn't the only attractive option in his price range from the Bucs-Rams game, as the L.A. group of Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods are only $300 and $200 more, respectively, while Cooper Kupp is $500 less, and any of them could go off for a big game given the yards and points we're hoping to see. The difficulty is that rostering multiple Rams wide receivers seems too risky for cash games, and it's certainly possible that you pick the wrong one if you only choose one. Kupp's salary may make the risk easier to swallow, or you could just focus on the other side of the field with Samuel, who is $1,300 less than fellow-starter D.J. Moore. The Rams' receivers obviously bring more excitement because we've seen how many points they can put up, but Samuel should have enough opportunities Sunday to justify a fairly low price. Paying down at wide receiver will be a popular strategy for those who are paying up at running back, and cash-game players are likely to also consider the Jets' Jamison Crowder ($4,100) because of his expected targets, though his upside is limited. On the other hand, GPP players have been salivating about DeSean Jackson ($4,500) being back in Philadelphia and playing his (latest) former team right away. Jackson will surely be used to stretch the field, though it's tough to see him being under-owned, even while playing with a broken finger. If you believe in the Cardinals, Christian Kirk ($4,700) could be a viable stack option with Kyler Murray ($5,600), and including Kirk here should make you actually consider Jags wideout Dede Westbrook ($4,800), who gets a tremendous quarterback upgrade from Blake Bortles to Nick Foles. The middle tier has a solid number of secondary weapons like Marvin Jones ($4,800), Sammy Watkins ($5,000), Calvin Ridley ($5,100), Robby Anderson ($5,200), Mike Williams ($5,300), Dante Pettis ($5,400) and Jarvis Landry ($5,600) before getting to no. 1s like Tyler Boyd ($5,800) since A.J. Green is out, Tyler Lockett ($6,000) and Kenny Golladay ($6,300). All make for extremely viable stacks with their respective quarterbacks.
Julio Jones, ATL at MIN ($8,000): The elite wideouts is a group that goes about five deep, depending on how far you're willing to go. Jones appears to have a tougher matchup than Odell Beckham ($8,100), Evans, Tyreek Hill ($7,600) and Keenan Allen ($7,300), but it's just so tough to argue against his target upside in a dome game with points to be had. Jones' career-long struggles with touchdowns can't be ignored, but his receptions make him arguably the most stable for cash games. Beckham has looked great in limited beat writer cell-phone videos during training camp, while we all know what Hill can do when given a little space. Both players can really blow the doors off, and their respective upsides are better than Jones or Allen. Consideration for Jones should also begin the discussion about what to do with the receivers from the Vikings, who are actually favored against the Falcons in Minnesota. Stefon Diggs ($6,700) missed Wednesday's practice with a hamstring injury but returned Thursday, and while he's always capable of a solid performance, Adam Thielen ($6,800) has a better track record for cash games. All of these guys are pricey, so we shouldn't be surprised if they put up a big game, but they aren't nearly as reliable as the high-priced running backs, which is why cash game players tend to pay up there. One last guy I don't want to ignore is T.Y. Hilton ($6,600), who everyone dropped in their season-long rankings when Andrew Luck announced his retirement, but let's not forget that he's an excellent receiver and Jacoby Brissett ($4,400) isn't some total unknown (or a terrible known), and GPP players should take advantage of the negative sentiments if they lead to lower ownership.
Lamar Jackson, BAL at MIA ($6,000): The Ravens are 6.5-point favorites against arguably the worst team in the NFL and their starting quarterback is the eighth-most expensive player at the position. Jackson's passing upside is barely a consideration, as his rushing stats rival some of the best running backs on the slate (then again, he can't catch passes like them). The interesting thing about Jackson is that you barely even think about stacking him with a wide receiver because of his solid rushing floor, but it almost makes it easier to use him in cash games because you don't feel the need to pair him up. Playing in Miami in early September isn't ideal from a weather perspective (it's hot), and the 38.5-point total is the lowest of the entire week, though the Ravens' implied total is still higher than teams like the Falcons, Cardinals, Packers and Steelers. Jackson is likely to be a popular cash-game quarterback until his price really rises, and DFS players should take advantage.
Carson Wentz, PHI v. WAS ($5,700): The Eagles are 10-point favorites at home against Washington and are tied with the Chiefs for the highest implied team total. Additionally, they are reportedly using a running-back-by-committee, and while that doesn't mean the running backs are going to be used sparingly, why is Wentz this cheap? Unlike Jackson, there's basically no realistic rushing upside with Wentz, but we also can't ignore that he scored at least 19.8 fantasy points in eight of 11 starts last season. Wentz will surely be a popular pay-down option for those who don't want to trust Josh Allen ($5,600), Kirk Cousins ($5,500) or Matthew Stafford ($5,400), though there has been so much fantasy optimism about Kyler Murray ($5,600) that it shouldn't be shocking if people go his way, even if the Cardinals are home underdogs against the Lions. We get into the decently sized underdogs lower down the salary scale like Eli Manning ($5,000), Ryan Fitzpatrick ($4,900) and Case Keenum ($4,900), though if you really want to play the salary game, Jacoby Brissett ($4,400) feels more exciting than the slouches priced a little more. It also doesn't hurt that he scores a few fantasy points with his legs.
Patrick Mahomes, KC at JAX ($7,200): Mahomes is the most expensive quarterback on the slate, which isn't all that surprising after his ridiculous 2018 season and the fact the Chiefs have the highest implied total as road favorites in Jacksonville. Paying up for Mahomes will be a popular strategy if only because people don't want to miss out on a monster game, though there will be those who pivot to Jameis Winston ($6,600) because the Bucs are supposed to score plenty of points, and they're unlikely to go through the running backs. That leaves guys like Baker Mayfield ($6,400), Russell Wilson ($6,300) and Jared Goff ($6,200) as options with great matchups who are likely to be lesser owned than they would be if we didn't have such good options elsewhere.
Travis Kelce, KC at JAX ($7,100): It's not often that you see a team's quarterback nearly the same price as their top tight end, but here we are with the Mahomes-Kelce duo. There are a plethora of reasons to think they will succeed, but the real question is whether they're worth the combined salary. Rostering both in cash makes things pretty difficult throughout the rest of the roster, but it is a very viable pairing in GPPs where we can get riskier with our other roster spots. The only problem is that they're a stack, along with Hill, that isn't likely to be low-owned, so you'll have to pick your spots in terms of contest selection (small-entry GPPs or non-double up multipliers). The 49ers' George Kittle ($6,600) is another premium option who comes at a premium price, but he's also playing in a game with a high total and should be very active. That leaves Zach Ertz ($6,100) as the last of the elite tier of tight ends, and while he costs the least, he also probably has the lowest floor of the trio, even with the Eagles expected to dominate Washington.
Evan Engram, NYG at DAL ($4,800): There has just been too much written about Engram being a huge part of the Giants' offense for me to ignore him at less than $5,000, even as a road underdog in Dallas. The Giants are obviously going to rely on Barkley more than anyone else, and while Sterling Shepard ($5,000) is a viable wide receiver, we have plenty of those in his price range; however, you can't say the same about Engram and other tight ends. Sure, you can make the case for O.J. Howard ($5,000) because of his potential high-scoring game script, but he is fighting for targets much more than Engram. There is a sizable salary drop to the range that includes Hunter Henry ($3,900) and David Njoku ($3,700) – I'll throw in Eric Ebron ($4,100) too since I seem to be more optimistic about the Colts than many others – but none seem to have the target upside that Engram has.
Mark Andrews, BAL at MIA ($3,000): Andrews' floor is quite low, but at only $500 away from the minimum, he at least provides some great salary savings while also giving us someone to pair with Jackson. Sure, we're playing Jackson for what he can do with his legs, but Andrews has been a popular target and getting a few catches wouldn't be all that surprising. If you want to trust someone who has at least shown some upside in his career, Greg Olsen ($3,200) isn't bad, while Kyle Rudolph ($3,300) provides access to the Vikings' passing game if you bypass Thielen and Diggs.
Seahawks vs. CIN ($3,100): The variance that comes from defense/special teams because of the unpredictability of turnovers makes writing them up each week feel like a futile exercise. We have a weekly Streaming Defenses column that does a great job of breaking down all the options, but primarily what we're looking for is teams that have good opportunities at creating turnovers, not necessarily keeping their opponents off the scoreboard (though that's nice too). Seattle should be in control against the Bengals throughout Sunday's game, and the possibility of Andy Dalton having to air it out as part of a comeback should provide excellent interception opportunities as he's throwing under pressure. You can make the case for quite a few defenses this week, which is pretty much the case any week, with the Jets ($3,100), Lions ($2,900) and Bills ($3,000) making sense for teams cheaper than Seattle, though even going all the way down to the 49ers ($2,200) isn't crazy given Winston's turnover history. I generally fill my defense spot last and try my best not to adjust the rest of my roster to fit in a specific team; the random scores that happen each week are just not easily seen before the games are played, so don't start sacrificing other roster spots just because you're short on a defense that might score nothing anyway.