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Fantasy Plays: Pivoting Away From Popular Daily Plays

October 10, 2018 - 11:45 am
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It's getting harder to gain an edge in daily fantasy football with more research tools and advanced statistics.

Similar research processes lead many daily players to the same plays each given week.

Last week, DailyRoto's Colin Drew won more than $250,000 using a lineup optimizer to identify pivots — key spots to use players who won't be widely owned in large tournaments. Pivoting away from popular players and toward alternatives in a similar price range lets fantasy owners differentiate their lineups, distinctions that become important when trying to break away from the pack in large tournament fields.

Drew's highest scoring lineup featured Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers at just 3 percent ownership, stacked with Packers wideouts Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. This trio was a profitable pivot from the more popular stacks in the Steelers-Falcons game.

In Week 6, one of the league's top tight ends and a certain defense are being priced reasonably across daily fantasy platforms and will likely prove to be popular. If fantasy owners dig a bit deeper, they can find alternatives that are also enticing.

PIVOT: ERIC EBRON TO CAMERON BRATE

Thus far, the Colts tight end Ebron leads all tight ends with 12 red zone targets and has scored more DraftKings fantasy points than any player at the position over the last three weeks, since teammate Jack Doyle went down. During that span, Ebron has garnered the third-highest target share of any TE and the second most targets overall. This week, he faces a Jets defense that ranks 20th against the TE according to Football Outsiders' defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) metric, although they have only allowed 33.4 yards per game to the position.

Due to Ebron's heavy usage, especially down by the goal line, he will inevitably be popular this week. There's a strong case for using Tampa Bay's Cameron Brate instead.

Brate is cheaper across the industry and will be squaring off against a Falcons team that has been playing in shootouts — nearly 60 total points have been scored on average in Atlanta's games. Atlanta has a high-powered offense and its already mediocre defense lost safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones for the season.

The Bucaneers have already switched to Jameis Winston at quarterback, meaning brighter days should be ahead for Brate even before factoring in the injury to O.J. Howard. According to Rotoviz, Brate has averaged 5.21 targets per game, 42.3 yards per game, 3.4 receptions per game, 0.5 touchdowns per game and 10.7 point-per-reception fantasy points per game in games where Winston has thrown at least 15 passes. Brate saw less usage in the five games where Winston did not meet that threshold, due to being inactive or getting hurt.

Even with Howard on the team, Brate ranked 17th among TEs in red zone target share and 13th at targets at the position last year. With Howard out of the picture, Brate can reasonably be projected for a similar market share to Ebron — and Winston has shown an affinity for him. The matchup is nowhere near as favorable on paper, as the Falcons rank fifth in DVOA versus the position, but they do not have a single linebacker who grades inside the Top 50 at the position in coverage, per Pro Football Focus. The combination of cheaper price and increased opportunity trumps the supposedly inferior matchup.

PIVOT: TEXANS DEFENSE TO BILLS DEFENSE

The public is undoubtedly going to have interest in targeting a defense against the lowly Bills offense that has averaged fewer yards per game than any team other than the Cardinals. Through five games, the Bills have turned the ball over eight times, and the thought of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney getting after Josh Allen is tough to ignore. Allen has been sacked more than any other QB in the league and his 60.4 QB rating rates worst of all the 35 qualified signal-callers.

Even so, defense is a tough position to spend up on in daily fantasy because that leads to skimping on offensive players who possess more upside. The difference between the Texans and the Bills is the equivalent of the pricing difference between Jarvis Landry and Julio Jones or even the difference between Nyheim Hines and T.J. Yeldon this week on DraftKings. There is no need to miss out on a true WR1 or a workhorse back because of a defense when the Bills legitimately find themselves in an ideal spot to succeed, too.

Houston's offensive line has allowed a 7.5 percent pressure rate, the fifth highest in the league, and the Bills convert pressures into sacks at a league-average 12 percent rate. However, the last time they faced a bottom-tier offensive line, they sacked Kirk Cousins four times and forced him to fumble twice.

Deshaun Watson is battling a chest injury and a total has not yet been released for the game likely due to the uncertainty around his status. Obviously, his absence would enhance the matchup, but even if he were to play, the Bills have yet to allow 300 yards passing in a game and they have played Philip Rivers, Cousins and Rodgers. Since Week 3, Buffalo has allowed exactly one passing TD versus Cousins, Rodgers and Marcus Mariota and they have induced eight turnovers over that time frame. PFF grades the Texans offensive line as the sixth worst run-blocking unit and the Bills defensive line as the ninth best pass-rushing unit. The Texans have passed the ball on about 60 percent of their plays in two of the last three games, and Lamar Miller has been brutal (10th worst Pro Football Focus grade of any back with at least 50 rushing attempts), so there will be plenty of drop-backs for the Bills to get after the QB.

If needing salary relief, or just simply looking to be contrarian, look no further than a Bills defense that is greatly underappreciated due to the poor public perception of the team.