We’ve crossed the half-way mark of the fantasy season and are marching towards the playoffs. Remember the days when the early part of the NFL season was plagued by inconsistent play and poor ratings? The story lines of this season have been great through eight weeks, and things should only get better as playoff implications and draft position begin to loom large across the league. There are some great match ups on the schedule this week, despite some very fantasy friendly teams being on bye. Thursday night didn’t offer many huge performances to overcome, so don’t feel as though you have to chase points. Enjoy each week, as there are now fewer ahead than behind.
Just a final reminder, but this article isn’t meant to highlight chalk plays, or must starts, even though, at times some of those names might appear. This is just a collection of players with mid-to-low tier pricing that can offer salary flexibility and good value. I wouldn’t use all of these players together in a single lineup, but each are capable of helping build in higher price studs. Keep these names in mind as you build this weekend and good luck.
DFS Targets: Week Nine
Alex Smith, vs. ATL ($5,000)
Alex Smith is still the starting QB for the Washington Redskins, despite what his pricing might have you believe. Smith is priced as QB23 on the full Thursday to Monday slate. This seems too low. $5,000 is tied for a season low salary for Smith. He was priced the same last week in a road match up with the division rival New York Giants, and was a bit under value, at just 12.42 points. While that might not be ideal for DFS purposes it will do. There are reasons to hope for more this week, as his match up could lead to middle tier production from one of the lowest priced starters available this week.
Now that Smith has left the fantasy friendly offense of Andy Reid, Smith has seemingly returned to his game manager default. The emergence of Washington’s run game behind Adrian Peterson has helped push this as well. The last three weeks, Smith has passed for fewer than 200 yards while not turning the ball over. That has been typical of Smith in 2018, as he’s averaged just over 15 points a game while throwing for eight TDs and only two INTs.
Looking at the career of Smith, this seems to fall perfectly in line with his good years as a starter. For Smith’s career, every season he has passed for more than 220 yards per game he has made the Pro Bowl. This year his per game average is 223 and he is on pace for his eighth straight campaign with single digit INTs. Smith hasn’t been as good as he was last year, but he’s probably been better than you would think. The range of outcomes for Smith has been limited, with his season high score of 19.6 points coming in Week 1, and a low of 12.42 coming last week. Ideally, a higher ceiling would be preferable, but Smith offers a safe floor and offers the potential of a higher return thanks to this weeks opponent.
Here is where things become interesting for Smith as a DFS play this week. While competence has been more standard than excellence for Alex, the Falcons offer a chance at QB success. As bad as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense has been, the Falcons are right behind them in terms of opposing QB production. Atlanta gives up an average score of 27.9 to QBs and has surrendered the second most yards among teams with only 7 games played. They’ve allowed 17 passing TDs and another two on the ground to QBs. Smith is a capable scrambler and ran for 5 TDs just two years ago. All things considered, this will be the best combination of potent opposing offense and weak opposing defense since Week 5’s showdown with the New Orleans Saints. That game was Washington’s last loss, and one of the four games Smith has scored above his season average.
I expect Atlanta to score and force Washington outside of their comfort zone from a game plan stand point. That might not bode well for them in real life, but it makes Smith an interesting play in DFS in a week that most attention will be focused on Cam Newton or Jared Goff.
Chris Carson, vs. LAC ($4,700)
It is strange to see Carson’s pricing this week put him down as the RB26. His Week 9 salary of $4,700 is the second highest he’s had in any week this year, but given his recent production a higher price bump wouldn’t have been unexpected. As it is now, Carson is only $400 more than last week, when he tied for his highest point total. Typically, pricing for players in this article makes chalk plays hard to find, but Carson might be approaching that status this week. Another good day this Sunday will likely see him placed in the $5000 dollar range in salary, so this might be the best discount on him for a while. Hop on this bargain now before it gets adjusted.
Casual fans might not guess it, but only two players have more 100+ yard games than Carson this year. The average price for those two, Todd Gurley and James Connor by the way, is $8,350. Any expectations for the Seattle rushing attack and Carson from the preseason have been surpassed. His season average of just 13.6 points per game obscures his recent success. In the last four games he’s played (he missed Week 4 and the team had a Week 7 bye) his average is 17.35. That includes Seattle’s Week 6 dismantling of the Oakland Raiders in London. Game script altered the rushing distribution there, as Oakland was never a threat. Carson is currently 8th in rush yards per game despite a couple of early clunkers in Weeks 1 and 2. Only Joe Mixon and Melvin Gordon have more yards in 6 games and Gordon costs $8,200 this week.
The bottom line is Carson has been one of the most productive backs in the league since establishing himself as RB1 in Seattle. His production has far out-paced his pricing and injury appears to be the only concern for him as this week’s match up is not disqualifying.
Speaking of that match up, Carson is playing the Los Angeles Chargers at home. Somehow, Seattle has managed to play only two home games, but their last one is a good comparison for LAC. Coincidentally, LA’s other team, the Rams, were the last opponent Carson saw at home. The Rams give up 22.3 points per game to RBs, compared to the Chargers 24.5. Both teams rank in the 20s in rush defense DVOA per Football Outsiders (LAR:25, LAC:21). Both teams are solidly in the middle of total rush yards allowed per game (LAR:21, LAC:17). In Week 5, a tight 31-33 loss, Carson had his most effective game; rushing for 116 yards on only 19 carries and adding an additional 11 yards on one catch. He can easily match these numbers this week against a mediocre rush defense.
Seattle has committed to running the ball, actually accumulating more rushing yards than passing yards in two of their last four games, including that Week 5 game against the Rams. If Carson plays, he should be a central part of the Seahawks offense and could turn into the biggest RB bargain of the week.
Tre’Quan Smith, vs. LAR ($4,200)
Bargain priced at WR55, Tre’Quan offers some really interesting GPP upside. After a breakout game back in Week 5, New Orleans had a Week 6 bye and then Smith saw a $400 price jump. That was followed by an even larger jump heading into last week. His price went up another $600 to end up a season high $4,300. A slightly disappointing showing in Week 8 has seen Smith drop again to his current price. Smith is a classic GPP big-threat type receiver, replacing Ted Ginn Jr. on the outside in a potent offense. This week’s salary is still cheaper than Ginn’s was at any point in the first four weeks while playing the same role. The risk here is real, but so are the potential rewards.
Unfortunately, Smith’s track record is spotty at best. As a rookie WR, he has been subject to the same inconsistency that has plagued other rookie WRs. The floor isn’t why you roster Smith, though. You use him hoping to capture the lightning-in-a-bottle upside of his Week 5 performance. In that game, Smith turned just three targets into three catches for 111 yards and two TDs. Those two TDs were both big plays. The first a 62 yard catch and run and the second a 35 yarder.
From Week 5 to now, Smith trails teammate Michael Thomas by only 42 air yards while being out targeted 20-13. Smith’s aDOT of 10.8 hints at the deeper nature of his usage and puts him in the company of other familiar outside threats. In the same time frame, Robert Woods, Kenny Golladay, and Sammy Watkins have similar aDOTs. Obviously, Smith isn’t at that level of production, but his usage aligns with those players.
The production might not be there, but the targets make him the second most valuable WR on a team with the fourth most points scored. Tre’Quan is pure potential on the outside and has the kind of match up that can unlock it.
Here is where the fun of rostering Smith comes forward. The Saints and Rams have combined to score 498 points in 15 games; or 20 more than the Rams scored all year last season. There should be plenty of points on the board; Las Vegas agrees as this game has the highest total of the week. The Rams have been decent holding opposing WRs to 36.1 points per game (22nd), but this offense has only supported two WRs. Michael Thomas will draw plenty of attention from the defense, as will Alvin Kamara. Smith will be viewed as the third best passing option, and has a favorable match up with Troy Hill, who is allowing a passer rating of 114.8. QB Drew Brees will find open receivers more often than most, and Smith should have a few shots deep with single coverage. My money is on Smith and Brees.
Tajae Sharpe, @DAL ($3,800)
An even cheaper play than Smith, Sharpe is the WR65 by pricing on the full Thursday to Monday slate. With as cheap as that is, this is still Sharpe’s highest salary by $500 this season. Back in Week 2, Sharpe had climbed up to $3,300, only to drop back down to either $3,100 or $3,200 every other week. As low as that may seem, it has been fair pricing for him, but that could start to change with this week.
After losing his 2017 season to a stress fracture injury in his foot, Sharpe came into this season over shadowed by Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor. Both players were rookies poised to take on a larger role with the team shedding veterans at the position. But, Sharpe was a promising rookie himself a year prior. In 2016, he had three games with double-digit fantasy points and starting in 10 games. Around Week 11, though, he seemed to hit a bit of a rookie wall, registering only 7 catches from Week 12 to Week 16.
Move ahead to this season, and more specifically Week 7, and Sharpe had his best game as a pro. Tying a career high with 7 catches he also set a new mark for yards, with 101. More importantly, he seemed to move ahead of Taywan Taylor, who hasn’t scored more than 5 points in a game since Week 4. Comparing the two, Sharpe has been the more productive of the two, so it should have been a matter of time before he became the second option behind Corey Davis. Sharpe will not be a major consideration for most DFS players, as his breakout game came two weeks ago thanks to Tennessee’s bye week. Don’t overlook Sharpe in Monday night’s game. He could become a valuable pivot for people behind the cash line with limited salary.
The Dallas Cowboys are a hard defense to figure out. Strictly from a production stand point they have been excellent, allowing the third fewest yards per game and the fewest passing TDs in the league. But, that was also while giving up the sixth best passer rating and ranking 24th in Football Outsiders pass defense DVOA rankings. The Cowboys only allow 30.6 points per game to WRs in DraftKings, but that has been against mostly low volume passing teams, like Carolina or Washington, or just bad passing teams, like Jacksonville and the New York Giants. If the points are going to be spread to only two WRs, then 30.6 isn’t a bad total to split given Sharpe’s super low price.
Individually, Sharpe should be able to avoid Byron Jones or Chidobe Awuzie and match up on either Kavon Frazier or Anthony Brown. Both Frazier and Brown are rated in the low 60s per Pro Football Focus and shouldn’t be a major shutdown concern. It’s risky, but if Tennessee can look more like the passing offense that moved the ball against the Chargers in Week 7, or the Eagles in Week 4, then Sharpe can be successful. And with most of the low price WR love going to Courtland Sutton, Sharpe can be an effective alternative.
Chris Herndon, @MIA ($3,000)
Tight end values have been hard to find below the middle tier. How bad has it become? Chris Herndon is the TE16 this week. Herndon is a name most casual New York Jets fans might not even be familiar with. Herndon has not been priced above $2,800, which is how much he was last week. He has spent half the season at the minimum price of $2,500. He is super cheap. Not much else to say here.
The intriguing part of Herndon’s season has been the last three weeks. The last three games have been the three most productive of his young career, and he’s averaged 12.1 points in that time. Most of that has been from the TDs he’s caught each of the last three weeks, but he also squeezed in a seven target game in Week 7. Since Week 6, among TEs, Herndon has the seventh most air yards, and the second highest aDOT for TEs with double-digit targets. On the Jets, he only trails Jermaine Kearse in yardage and Kearse and Robby Anderson in targets.
He’s been getting opportunities and he’s been able to turn them into production. For a TE, especially one this cheap, that is huge.
Now we have arrived at the main thing driving interest in Herndon. The Miami Dolphins have been getting burned by TEs lately, giving up five TDs in the last three weeks, and two each the last two games. The TE studs who burned them for mutli-TD games? Michael Roberts and Jordan Thomas. Roberts is a second year no one for Detroit and Thomas might not even be the best rookie TE named Jordan on his own team. On the season, Miami is allowing 12.8 points per game to TEs, which syncs nicely with Herndon’s recent production.
Helping Herndon’s production possibilities even more, is the state of the Jets’ receivers group. Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson are questionable to play and Terrelle Pryor is now a Buffalo Bill. Kearse will be the top WR, and he will be joined by Andre Roberts and Charone Peake, who have a combined 8 catches this year. Herndon should be getting fed looks in this game.