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Neil Orfield NFL DFS Showdown Strategy: DeVonta Smith an Elite Stud for Eagles vs. Vikings MNF (Sept. 19)

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For nearly a year now, I’ve been hosting the High Stakes podcast for Stokastic, interviewing DFS pros on a range of topics. There have been a lot of recurring themes on the show, but the most relevant for this article: DFS pros love NFL DFS Showdown.

That’s because a lot of casual NFL fans enter the Showdown fray as a way to have some action on island games. As a result, DraftKings and FanDuel offer enormous contests with generous prize pools. The contests become more difficult to win, too, when there are hundreds of thousands of entrants, but with a large portion of the new players being casual, the increase in difficulty pales in comparison to the increase in prize pools. It’s a tradeoff DFS pros will gladly make.

My goal with these Showdown articles — which I’ll be writing for each Thursday Night Football and Monday Night Football NFL DFS slate this season — is to help you attack the largest field DraftKings GPP like a pro. There are three main components to discuss when it comes to Showdown, and I’ll break them down accordingly: Projection, Correlation and Differentiation.

Before reading this piece, you may find it helpful to read my evergreen piece about how to attack NFL Showdown GPPs more generally: https://www.stokastic.com/nfl/draftkings-showdown-simplified-tips-tricks-making-big-money-nfl-dfs-island-games-2022/

Week 2 NFL DFS Showdown: Eagles vs. Vikings MNF

Projection

The goal in DFS is to make the lineup that puts up the most points and a natural starting point is looking at individual players who are likely to put up high scores or high point-per-dollar scores. Some pros run simulations or create their own projections to achieve this. Many others, like myself, rely on the Stokastic projections and tools to determine which players should be core pieces of our lineups. I primarily look at the base projections and the “Top Showdown Plays” Tool, which publishes results of advanced simulations runs by the Stokastic team.

Studs

These are simply the top projected players on the slate. I’d recommend having at least three of these players in just about every lineup you make tonight, either as Captain or in a Flex spot.

  • Jalen Hurts ($11,600) is Stokastic’s top projected player yet has a nice price discount from Justin Jefferson.
  • Justin Jefferson ($13,000) projects slightly worse than Hurts at a higher price tag. Still, he clearly has the upside to be the highest scoring player on the slate by a wide margin.
  • Kirk Cousins ($9,800) is the third highest projected player on the slate but has just the fifth highest salary on the slate.
  • Dalvin Cook ($11,000) has the fourth highest projection and the fourth highest salary on the slate.
  • A.J. Brown ($10,400) has the fifth highest projection and fourth highest salary on the slate.
  • Adam Thielen ($7,200) comes in at a nice price discount and has the sixth highest projection on the slate.
  • Miles Sanders ($8,000) has the seventh highest projection on the slate at the sixth highest price tag.
  • DeVonta Smith ($5,200) has the eighth highest projection on the slate at a very discounted price tag.

Point-Per-Dollar Plays

These are just a few players who will be featured throughout my lineups due to their high projected points per dollar. At the same time, because I’ll typically have at least three studs in each lineup, the top points-per-dollar plays are often players I’ll be pivoting away from in some spots in favor of players who project a bit worse but will also garner lower ownership. I’m also excluding any player with a projection below three fantasy points from this list.

  • Jake Elliott ($3,800) and Greg Joseph ($4000) both project well, and many Showdown players don’t love using kickers.
  • K.J. Osborn ($4,600) was on the field for 42 snaps in week one, working as the Vikings’ clear number three receiver.
  • Boston Scott ($2,800) and Kenneth Gainwell ($5,000) both project fairly well point per dollar, a week after each scored touchdowns for the Eagles. Gainwell was on the field for 23 snaps week one, and Scott was on the field for just 14.
  • Vikings Defense ($3,600) and Eagles Defense ($3,400) are both in play, though the spots are admittedly tough. Both are facing high powered offenses with quarterbacks who don’t turn the ball over much.

Correlation

In NFL DFS, correlations are endless, both positive and negative. Some are obvious — QBs have positive correlation with the WRs on their team. Some need a bit more research — how do kickers fare when a team’s backup running back exceeds his projection? Some correlations I like in this game:

  • Kirk Cousins at captain with at least one, and generally two, Vikings pass catchers. Kirk Cousins has just one rushing touchdown in each of the past four seasons and has not rushed for more than 156 yards in any of them. So he’s likely going to get most of his production through the air. But on each passing play, the receiver scores more fantasy points than the quarterback. So if Cousins is passing to just one pass catcher, that pass catcher will outscore him. Most likely, if Cousins scores enough points to be optimal at captain it will be because he throws for many yards and touchdowns, to multiple pass catchers so they don’t surpass him in scoring. One exception would be if the majority of passing goes to Justin Jefferson. There is a possibility that Jefferson could outscore Cousins and Cousins could still be optimal at captain because Jefferson is a full $3,200 more expensive than Cousins in the flex spot and $4,800 more at captain. This comes into play more if you are using the full salary cap; if you are, you could play Cousins at captain with just Jefferson in the flex. If you’re leaving salary on the table and using Cousins at captain, I would recommend playing multiple Vikings pass catcher in the flex.
  • Justin Jefferson at captain with no more than one Vikings wide receiver or tight end in flex spots. Jefferson costs a massive $19,500 at captain tonight. To be optimal at the price tag he’ll likely need to put up a huge score. This would require Jefferson to get a lot of the Vikings’ receiving volume, reducing the volume available for other receivers. It’s not impossible for Jefferson to be optimal at captain with multiple Vikings receivers in the flex, particularly if one is a value play that makes the rest of the lineup work without putting up a huge score. But more often than not if Jefferson gets there at this salary, other Vikings receivers will not have big days.

Differentiation

Making highly projected lineups with smart correlations will separate you from the lowest level Showdown players, but there are many very smart casual players as well. Differentiation is the last step to separating pros from Joes.

In just about any DFS GPP, finding low-owned gems is key because lower ownership reduces the field of lineups you’re competing against when the player has a 99th-percentile outcome. Taking it to the extreme, just as a thought exercise, let’s say that Sanders scores 100 fantasy points tonight. You’re not just going to need him, but you’ll need him in the captain spot (150 fantasy points). If 20,000 lineups in your contest have Sanders in the Captain spot, you’ve essentially reduced the field of lineups you’re competing with to 20,000. If only 200 lineups have Sanders at Captain? Now we’re talking.

On NFL Showdown slates there is an additional factor for large field GPPs. We don’t just want to find seldomly used players; we want to find seldomly used LINEUPS. Why? Well, I’ll give you two examples from last year:

  • On September 20, 2021, DraftKings had a Milly Maker for the Packers vs. Lions tilt, but the top lineup was duplicated 231 times. Rather than winning a million dollars, the users who entered those 231 lineups had to split the top 231 prizes, for just a bit over $6,000 each. That’s despite having everything go their way, which requires an extreme amount of luck.
  • On October 11, 2021, we saw the other end of the spectrum: user rcoho1984 played a unique lineup in the Ravens vs. Colts Milly Maker, taking home not just a million dollars but a ticket to the Tournament of Champions.

If you’re going to win — which takes a lot of luck, regardless of how well your lineup projects — I’d suggest making it count. I’m not necessarily concerned with making an entirely unique lineup like rcoho1984 did every single time, but I aim to be a lot closer to their unique lineup than those that were duplicated 231 times.

Some Easy Tricks

Low-owned players. Yup, even if you’re using other tricks to get unique, it’s still a good idea to play a few players who won’t be getting much ownership. Some low-owned players to consider:

  • Quez Watkins ($3,200) saw zero targets in week one but was on the field for 41 snaps. It wouldn’t take much for Watkins to pay off his price tag and he may have more opportunities tonight.
  • Zach Pascal ($1,400) saw just 17 snaps in week one. But at his price tag, he could be optimal with just one high scoring reception.
  • Johnny Mundt ($2,000) had an expanded role in week one, seeing 40 snaps as Irv Smith Jr. works his way back from injury. He caught all three of his targets for 17 yards.
  • Alexander Mattison ($4,200) is too expensive for his likely role. But he should have at least some opportunities, and if he breaks off a big play or two the price tag is not so high that he can’t pay if off. Not a high probability play, but worth a look at very low ownership.

Embrace lineups missing some correlation pieces or even with some negative correlation. Generally, highly correlated lineups will be over-owned, whereas the field will avoid negative correlation at all costs. If you want to read my reasoning, check out the evergreen piece I linked near the top of this page. In some of my lineups, I like to see the following:

  • Quarterback against opposing Defense.
  • Pass Catcher at Captain without including the QB at Flex.
  • Multiple Running Backs from the same team in a lineup.

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Leave salary on the table. I kind of buried the lede here. This is the easiest way to lower your duplicates. Casual players assume that if they have salary left over, they should upgrade. The problem with this approach is that it almost inevitably leads to highly duplicated lineups. How much salary should you leave on the table? That’s up to you. If it’s less than $600 and you haven’t gotten extremely unique with player selections and weird correlations, it’s likely you’ll have to split any winnings with many other entries.

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