Daily Fantasy Sports Buried Treasure: NFC North
Welcome to DFS Buried Treasure
Every year players emerge from the depths of the roster to shine as a beacon of hope for desperate DFS players. Sometimes these players end up being lineup mainstays, sometimes not. Often these players start as fodder on the back end of the depth chart. Given the right conditions, these players can blow past their meager pricing and provide tremendous value. It is still very early to be thinking of DFS lineups, but this series will try to highlight players with the skills and circumstances to return great value on a likely depressed salary. These might not be for the faint of heart, but there is a lot of potential here. These are the DFS buried treasures, NFC North edition. Previous editions can be found below:
Chicago Bears: Anthony Miller, Wide Receiver
Year two of the Matt Nagy era in Chicago is underway. By all accounts, the first season was a huge success. A 12-4 record, division title, and seeing the offense score as a top ten unit while the defense led the league in points allowed has led to a healthy bit of optimism for this upcoming season. Even with all that, there are many questions surrounding the team in 2019, with the majority concerning the offense. Various injuries combined to limit the upside of the Bears offense at times last year.
The best case of this phenomenon is Anthony Miller, who had some very solid weeks in his rookie season, and also disappeared down the stretch. Blame for that can be firmly placed with a shoulder injury suffered in Week 3. Miller separated the shoulder, and it was never the same after that. Credit to the rookie, though, as he opted to continue playing rather than shut it down. As 2019 opens, he will be operating with two fully healthy shoulders and is set as the Bears’ starting slot receiver.
In an injury plagued rookie season, Miller showed enough to make him an intriguing DFS play. He had one monster game in Week 10 against the Detroit Lions. It was the high water mark for his season, and less than two months after his initial shoulder injury.
On the surface, the week to week chart is not impressive. Miller’s upside is though. When consideration is made concerning the shoulder injury, which got progressively worse as the season wore on, Miller’s season breaks down nicely around that Week 10 game. An upward trend peaks, then you see a heavy decline phase. Whether it was the shoulder, or other wear and tear for a rookie WR, remains unclear.
As a comparison, look at another rookie WR from 2018:
That is the weekly chart for D.J. Moore. Looking at current ADPs (courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator) Moore is going in the 5th round in a PPR format. Miller is going in the 11th. Certainly, Moore and Miller aren’t equivalent players, but in terms of a week to week ceiling, they are not as far apart as most would assume.
Miller has been overlooked in most leagues, due to a combination of fear of Tarik Cohen, inconsistent play from Mitchell Trubisky, and even a lack of context for what Miller was dealing with last season. The players ahead of Miller aren’t exactly guaranteed to hold back his production either. Cohen’s role will likely be reduced as the Bears have already talked about overworking him last season. Allen Robinson has missed 24 games in just a 5-year career. Taylor Gabriel has never had a season higher than WR41. Other than Robinson, Miller has the highest receiving upside and also has the most room for growth.
While Miller wasn’t the bargain some other players in this series were in 2018, he was competitively priced most of the year. After starting way too high, $4,600 in Week 1, he dropped to below $4,000 until Week 11. He did not dip below $4,100 again the rest of the way, despite a mostly unproductive stretch of play. With pricing in that range, Miller should warrant strong consideration, especially against any teams struggling to cover the slot receiver. The Bears open against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night on September 5th, so his DraftKings price has yet to be released. Just one more note: Green Bay allowed the 4th most receiving yards and TDs to WR last year. Keep an eye on his pricing right out of the gate.
Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford, Quarterback
While Stafford may not be unknown, he has largely been overlooked for fantasy this year. The Detroit Lions’ QB1 is coming off the worst full season of his career. His current draft position in redraft leagues is all the way down to the 14th round, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. Luckily, his slide down the ADP slope makes him an intriguing DFS play. In the second year under coach Matt Patricia, Stafford and the Lions are expected to put more of a focus on the run game. Hoping to replicate a Seahawks-like balance, the Lions have brought in Darrell Bevel to run the offense. Now, combining elements of the Seattle run game with receiver schemes from the Patriots, the Lions expect to make a much better showing in 2019.
The case for Stafford comes down mostly to one word: regression. Mostly when talking about player regression, it carries a negative connotation. Don’t forget though, regression to the mean can be positive too. Stafford suffered through a lost season and the major headline was that he played through a broken back. While that seems to be true, other injuries held him back before the back, which reportedly occurred in Week 13. Still, looking at his last four games, including that Week 13 game vs. Arizona, he only had more than 208 yards in the season finale. Prorate out his per game average from Weeks 1-12 to a full season, and Stafford hits 4,115 yards and his numbers don’t seem as dire. Since 2011 (when he first started 16 games) he has averaged a 4,564/28/14 line. It won’t take much improvement for him to approach those numbers again.
The Bevell Difference
Ignoring the injuries, and assuming Stafford returns at full health, the better indicator for him to return to fantasy prominence is Darrell Bevell.
Bevell hasn’t had a QB finish outside the top 15 since 2011. With the personnel in place at the skill positions, Bevell is set to run his system. The fantasy community is expecting Kerryon Johnson and Kenny Golladay to be an RB1 and WR2. Marvin Jones Jr. is still going as a usable WR/FLEX option. Rookie TE T.J. Hockenson is being hyped as the top dynasty add at the position. There is lots of optimism for the Lions offense, just not for the QB.
Hopping on Stafford early should give a decent bit of differentiation, and you’d be relying on a QB who ranked 9th, 7th, and 6th in the three years before 2018. Age isn’t a factor yet, Stafford will be 31 this season, his team is improved across the board, and he enters the year healthy and ready to extend his streak of 128 regular season games started.
Finding a moderately priced QB that can be successful is a great head start to a cashing lineup. Stafford started 2018 at his highest price, $6,500 and trended down until he typically ended up in the low $5,000s. For comparison, last year’s QB11, Kirk Cousins, averaged about $6,000/week. If Stafford can return to a top 10 QB, then his Week 1 pricing in 2019 of just $5,400 represents a solid value. Should his price remain in the mid to low $5,000s, Stafford has the talent to go well beyond a 3X ROI and has the ceiling to hit 4 or 5X. Not bad for the QB17 opening against a questionable defense in Arizona.
Green Bay Packers: Geronimo Allison, Wide Receiver
Fantasy teams everywhere will be depending on the outcome of the Green Bay WR2 carousel. At this point, Davante Adams has proven himself as an elite WR and in the conversation for WR1 in fantasy. The question remains, though, who is the WR2? One of the leading candidates is Geronimo Allison. Entering his fourth season, and fresh off inking a one year, prove-it deal with Green Bay, Allison is betting on himself. All he needs to do is repeat the kind of performance he was producing before injuries derailed his 2018 season. In 5 games, Allison was on pace for a 64/970/6.4 season. That projection makes him the WR23, between Julian Edelman and Emmanuel Sanders. A concussion, hamstring injury, and finally a torn groin requiring surgery ended his breakout before it could really take off. Now, Allison is ready to return and will look to establish career highs in his receiving numbers and games played.
Not only does Allison have a new contract, but he also has a new position as well. Locked in as the starting slot WR, he steps into the Randall Cobb role for Rodgers. The Packers QB is more than capable of sustaining two high-level fantasy assets at the WR position:
For his career, Rodgers has led the WR2 on the Packers to a WR26 ranking, right in line with where Allison was projecting at the time of his final injury. Allison is larger than typical slot receivers, at 6’3″, but Rodgers has a long history of targeting his slot and taller pass catchers (Jordy Nelson, 6’3″ and Jermichael Finley, 6’5″).
Another thing working in Allison’s favor is his efficiency. It is certainly a small sample, given that he’s only played a total of 30 games in his career, but he’s done well when given touches.
His ratio holds up well when compared to recent successful WRs on the Green Bay roster. Rodgers has shown an ability for getting great production from lesser talent, and Allison is primed to follow that Packer tradition. With a full season to show everyone that it was former coach Mike McCarthy that was holding him back, Rodgers is about to unleash a scorched Earth revenge season for the ages. Getting a bit of exposure to that will certainly help DFS players throughout the season.
Nagging injuries also affected Allison’s pricing last year. His two most expensive weeks were games he didn’t suit up for. He cracked the $5,000 barrier three times, in Weeks 5, 6, and 8, but was in the $4,000s for most of his production. Again, since the Packers will open the season on a Thursday night, his pricing has not been released. But, if he were to settle into Rodgers’ average WR2 ranking of 26, that would be roughly around $5,000 (Sterling Shepard is the Week 1, main slate WR26). Really, anything at or below that would be solid to very good value, depending on how low he goes. He is likely to start well below that anyway, given his lack of experience and the cloudy forecast for the Green Bay offensive hierarchy. If the price for Allison is below the WR26 threshold, he could be a steal early on until his price is market corrected.
Minnesota Vikings: Alexander Mattison, Running Back
Casual fans likely are unaware of the potential that rookie RB Alexander Mattison possesses. The former Boise State Bronco is fresh off a junior year that saw him total over 1,500 yards from scrimmage while scoring 17 TDs. He earned a 1st team all-conference honor for his work and then declared for the NFL Draft. The Vikings made him the final pick of the 3rd round, and the 7th RB taken overall. It makes sense for Minnesota to acquire a competent backup to starting RB Dalvin Cook, and he has obviously had some issues staying on the field. What Minnesota gets in Mattison, is a slightly slower, less agile Dalvin Cook. Both runners are listed at 5’11” and both use their vision, patience, and power to get the most out of their runs. Cook is more explosive, but Mattison is a very solid backup.
Obviously, the backup RB for Minnesota will have some speculative value until Dalvin Cook proves he can last through a whole season. He has had some bad luck with injuries his first two seasons, suffering and then re-aggravating a hamstring last year, and tearing his ACL his rookie season. Drafting a player in hopes of an injury to the starter always feels a little gross in fantasy, but DFS allows us to rent as opposed to buying. The second Cook misses any game time, Mattison will have real value in DSF lineups. Right now there is no threat to his status as the RB2. Mike Boone is back with the team and so is Ameer Abdullah. The two players combined for a total of 58 yards last season. Boone has looked good in preseason action but coach Mike Zimmer acknowledges that the backup is Mattison.
The Vikings also took care of the offensive line this offseason. Their first-round pick was used on Garrett Bradbury who will immediately replace Pat Elflein and push him to a guard spot, where he has been more effective in the past. They added a couple of other OL for depth later in the draft, Dru Samia in the 4th and Oli Udoh in the 6th. This is also a year after they drafted their starting RT, Brian O’Neill, in the second round.
The Kubiak Effect
The biggest source of optimism for the Vikings RBs, though, is the addition of Gary Kubiak as an offensive advisor. Here is a quick reminder of what Kubiak likes to do with RBs:
His RB1 averages an RB17 season. Zimmer has already talked about going back to a more run-based offense, and there were already hints of that shift happening last season after Kevin Stefanski took over play-calling duties. Minnesota is a good offense that wants to run more, has improved their OL, added a coach who turns RBs to fantasy gold and has a starting RB that had missed roughly has his professional games. The backup in that scenario has some real value.
As a rookie, there is no pricing data on Mattison yet. We can, however, get a rough sense of his pricing from last year’s backup, Latavius Murray. Murray had four weeks priced at or over $5,000, all of which were when Cook was out. It isn’t a great comparison, given that Murray has an actual track record of success in the league, but it’s a solid place to start. Mattison would likely be similarly priced if he were the starter, and possibly lower.
Really, any starting RB in a good offense is worth DFS consideration under $5,000, but Mattison’s skill set makes him valuable. He has shown the ability to handle an RB1 workload in college (he rushed 40 times in his final game for BSU) and flashed good hands out of the backfield. He’s not the most agile guy, but in Kubiak’s system, RBs are typically asked to make one cut and go. Expect Mattison to show solid skill as the backup, and be prepared to use him freely if/when Cook goes down with an injury.