NFL DFS Week 1: Perfect Million-Dollar Lineup Guide
Living in the daily game world for any sport requires a lot of work with little reward for the casual player unless the stars align for one magical day. Most daily owners need to decide whether to be a grinder or a swing for the fence player. One path keeps you alive for more days of action with the idea of building your bankroll slowly. The other has a donation feel while offering a pot of gold at the end of a distant rainbow.
Since DraftKings and FanDuel started offering the million-dollar overall prize, I’ve been trying to find my get-out-of-jail-free card. The goal is to handicap the main football slate on Sunday and invest in the best possible combination of foundation players. If my key players have success, I will be in the hunt with many teams. Each football season, I expect to be in the mix in four or five weeks.
By making the projections each week for Sports Illustrated, I want to deliver a fair market value for each player while understanding the variance of their success. Game flow for each matchup is critical to finding winning plays. The difference between a 75-yard touchdown and a five-yard gain can be as little as a one-foot and a missed tackle. A couple of early turnovers can lead to a wide-open game with many passes by the trailing team.
Each week, we need to select a quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, and a flex player (RB, WR, or TE) plus a defense. In a way, developing your roster is similar to handicapping a pick-six at the horse track.
A football lineup requires nine players, but the quarterback position almost ties together one-third of the roster. To deliver separator stats at the receiving positions, the quarterback must play well.
If he passes for 300-plus yards with four touchdowns, one or more of his wide receivers also had success. Ideally, I’d like my three-player stack in an offense to score over 70 fantasy points, but this target is subject to investment in each player’s salary.
This week, Patrick Mahomes ($8,100), Tyreek Hill ($8,200), and Travis Kelce ($8,300) have a combined cost of $24,600. This grouping would need to score over 100 fantasy points in DraftKings scoring to deliver four times their salary, which is almost necessary to succeed in GPPs (grand prize pools).
There will be times when pass-catching running backs pay off when hooked up to their quarterback as well. Finding a bottom-tier tight end can’t be dismissed as well in some stacks as it can offer salary cap relief.
In comparison this week, Sam Darnold ($5,000), Christian McCaffrey ($9,500), and DJ Moore ($6,100) have an investment of $20,600). I have no problem hooking up McCaffrey with Darnold due to his value in the passing game. My target number required by this start to my roster would be 82-plus fantasy points.
The second piece to our daily game pick-six is finding players on the opposite team of my stack. The goal is to develop a core of players in a high-scoring game, but investing in the highest over/under matchup means rostering higher ownership players.
The next step is to identify the value plays at running back, wide receiver, and tight end. As the season moves on, the best wideouts will see their salaries rise. Injuries at running back can lead to opportunities at the position.
A player’s salary rises in two ways in the daily games. First, by being more productive, his price point will naturally inflate. Second, ownership will also push a player’s salary higher, even with a disappointing outcome in his matchup.
When setting your lineup, understand why you are taking each player and their risks and rewards. You can win with a couple of chalk plays while being contrarian on the “hot value of the week” can pay off in some weeks.
Don’t be afraid to single a couple of positions, as it will help expand your options at other spots in your lineup when entering multiple teams.
In the past, my goal was to stack six quarterbacks (25 teams each) when entering 150 teams in the Million Dollar Maker at DraftKings. I would then roster one foundation running back plus a couple of options at tight end and defense. I will fill the last running back and wide receiver positions with about five options depending on how much salary I have left.
This year, I’m going back to cheating the quarterback while trying to identify low-value hookups. With that said, I can’t dismiss paying for a higher quarterback in Week 1 as there are many values at running back and wide receiver. So my second change in my plan is relying on a group of top players to build my team around.
Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers
Darnold was rated as the top value quarterback for me in Week 1 at DraftKings. He has an explosive lead running back with a high ceiling in the passing game. I like the QB/RB hookup in this matchup. A three-player Panthers’ stack requires the Jets to put up a fight on the scoreboard. I could see Darnold spreading the ball around to his wideouts and still finishing with a competitive score for his salary ($5,000). Without a doubt, I’m using McCaffrey this week. I know his floor while seeing enough value talent in the player pool in Week 1 to make it work.
I will have some teams with one of Carolina’s wide receivers. For two players to come in, the Panthers would need to chase on the scoreboard. Terrance Marshall gained momentum in the season-long drafts while offering a size/speed combo to pay off his salary ($3,000). He fits the filler role in a daily game roster until we see his opportunity on the field.
Best Opponent Options: Corey Davis ($4,900), Elijah Moore ($3,000)
Mac Jones, New England Patriots
The Patriots awarded Mac Jones their starting back job late in August, leading to his salary ($4,400) coming in low out of the gate. With 200 yards passing and two touchdowns, he could deliver 16 fantasy points or close to four times his investment. I have him projected for 263 passing yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
If willing to shop in Jones’s aisle, I would only roster one hookup with Jakobi Meyer having the best opportunity in targets. All the Patriots’ receiving options are priced low enough where a touchdown plus minimal catches and yards could still work for their price point. Damien Harris looks to be in play, but he’ll need to rush for 100 yards with a touchdown to fill his salary bucket.
Best Opponent Options: Myles Gaskins ($6,000), DeVante Parker ($5,500), Jaylen Waddle ($3,600), Mike Gesicki ($4,500)
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs' passing stack should draw a lot of attention this week. The Browns should score, forcing Kansas City to stay on the peddle offensively. Many teams will single Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill should be popular as well. The back-end flier at wide receiver is Bryon Pringle ($3,000), especially if Mecole Hardman has a more serious oblique issue than expected.
Best Opponent Options: Nick Chubb ($7,200), Odell Beckham ($5,400)
Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray runs the ball well, with the receiving talent to excel in the passing game. The Titans have star power on offense, giving this matchup an explosive scoring feel. DeAndre Hopkins remains a beast WR1, and the Cardinals have sneaky receiving options behind him at wide receiver. Rondale Moore brings speed and quickness to their offense, but he still has to compete with A.J. Green and Christian Kirk for targets. I envision only a single stack with Hopkins on most teams while sprinkling in some of the other three options to fit my team structure.
Best Opponent Options: Derrick Henry ($8,800), A.J. Brown ($7,100), Julio Jones ($6,800)
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
Jalen Hurts gains his edge by running, and his matchup is favorable. He’ll be a thorn in Miles Sanders’ side at the goal line. A double stack may work if Philly falls behind early. Dallas Goedert and DeVonta Smith are reasonably priced. I am concerned that Zack Ertz will get the way of Goedert, so I would be more apt to single Hurts with Smith. In addition, I’m ok with singling a running back if his salary fits my team structure.
Best Opponent Options: Calvin Ridley ($7,900), Kyle Pitts ($4,400)
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
The last offensive stack for me in Week 1 is Joe Burrow and his three wideouts. I don’t want to be on the wrong side of Ja’Marr Chase’s breakout, especially when his salary ($4,800) is favorable, along with the ultra-talented Tee Higgins ($4,700). I will also mix in Tyler Boyd when double stacking two wideouts. The Vikings also have three elite players on their offense, pointing to a high-scoring game.
Best Opponent Options: Dalvin Cook ($9,100), Justin Jefferson ($7,700), Adam Thielen ($7,000)
Ideally, I’d like to start my team with three stud foundation players, but salaries dictate team structure.
Of the best RB1 options, Christian McCaffrey has the clear edge as far as his floor. He’ll need 150-plus combined yards with five catches and a pair of touchdowns to fill his salary bucket.
Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry project highly in touches while offering scoring ability. Cook scored over 30.00 points only twice (48.60 and 39.20 fantasy points) in 2020, and Henry had four impact games (40.40, 38.50, 36.20, and 36.00 fantasy points) in PPR leagues.
I’m going to fade Alvin Kamara and Jonathan Taylor in Week 1. Kamara makes sense based on his pass-catching and expected bump in opportunity with Michael Thomas injured. Taylor offers the explosiveness I’m looking for at the top at running back, but the Colts will undoubtedly rotate in a second option to limit his ceiling in touches.
Nick Chubb and Clyde Edwards-Helaire look attractive for different reasons. The Browns should run the ball well, and Kansas City will give up fantasy points to running backs (24.36 FPPG in 2020 – 24th). Edward-Helaire falls into the contrarian play in the Chiefs’ offense. Most daily players will gravitate to Kansas City's passing game.
James Robinson and Antonio Gibson offer value at RB2. The Texans had the worst defense in the league vs. running backs in 2020, and I don’t see much improvement this year. Robinson gets a bump in quarterback play for the Jaguars, and he should have a high-volume opportunity. Gibson has a circle around his name in Week 1. He’s playing at home, and Washington should feed him the ball. The Chargers are league-average at best defending backs, giving Gibson a chance at 100-plus yards with a score and some catches.
In the offseason, fantasy managers have been promoting the upside of the 49ers’ run game. They have their chance to put their money on that opinion in Week 1 when San Fran faces the poor Lions’ run defense. Raheem Mostert brings injury risk and explosiveness while expecting to be in a timeshare. His matchup and salary fit the upside a daily player is looking for in GPP contests. An against-the-grain play like Trey Sermon could be in some lineups as well.
The top-end of the wide receiver pool can produce some electrifying games, leading to difference-maker scores in the fantasy market. In 2020, 72 wideouts scored over 27.0 fantasy points in PPR leagues compared to 51 running backs.
Davante Adams has become a volume targets beast with elite scoring ability. The Packers’ offensive line needs rebuilding while Aaron Rodgers comes into this year with something to prove before riding off into the sunset. Adams scored over 30.0 fantasy points last year six times in 14 starts in the regular season.
As great as the Chiefs’ passing offense is perceived in the fantasy market, Tyreek Hill had one monster game (13/269/3) in 2020 while scoring over 30.0 fantasy points once. Thanks to his scoring ability (17 touchdowns), his floor tends to be high, but he had seven games with six targets or fewer.
Calvin Ridley plays in an offense that continually attempts over 600 passes a year. He finished with three impact games (9/130/2, 7/109/2, and 10/163/1) in 2020 while gaining over 100 yards in eight matchups (five at home).
The elite wideout with the longest resume of success is DeAndre Hopkins. He has over 100 catches from 2018 to 2020 while gaining over 1,000 yards six times in seven seasons. Over his previous 78 games, Hopkins averaged 10.2 targets per week. Last year, he offered more consistency than impact games (14/151, 10/137, 6/131/1, 10/103/1, 9/136, and 9/169/1).
Stefon Diggs turned in his best season (127/1,535/8), helping Josh Allen become a stud quarterback. However, despite finishing third in wide receiver scoring, he didn’t score over 30.0 fantasy points in any regular season week in PPR formats (9/145/3 in the second round of the playoffs). Pittsburgh had a top ten defense vs. wideout last year, but Diggs did shine against them in Week 14 (10/130/1). Unfortunately, his matchup most likely puts him in the low ownership category.
DK Metcalf upped his game last year while offering an incredibly high ceiling. He needs Seattle to throw the ball to produce top-tier results, plus improved pass protection. Last year Metcalf had one outing with more than 30.0 fantasy points (12/161/2). His next step looks to be well over 1,500 yards with 100-plus catches and impact touchdowns.
Last year Keenan Allen played well with his new hotshot quarterback. Unfortunately, his home (69/701/4) and away (31/291/4) splits suggest he is an avoid in challenging matchup on the road.
I like the matchup for Terry McLaurin, but my all-in approach with Antonio Gibson may keep me from doubling on two Washington players. He looks to be on a path for 100-plus catches while offering big-play ability. McLaurin didn’t score over 30.0 fantasy points in 2020, but his lower salary ($6,400) requires only 25.0 to fill his salary bucket.
The tight end position tends to be tricky in daily games. Travis Kelce offers a clear edge in many weeks, but his high salary ($8,300) leads to some weaker options in your starting lineup. He needs to score 33 points to be a difference-maker in GPP events. Kelce only had two games (8/136/1 twice) worthy of his salary last season.
George Kittle comes with a discounted price ($6,300) compared to Travis Kelce, but he needs Detroit to put up a fight on the scoreboard to force the 49ers to the air. The talent is there for a high level of success if game flow breaks in his favor.
T.J. Hockenson showed growth last year, but he failed to score over 20.0 fantasy points in any game. The Lions lack impact talent at wide receiver, pointing to possible improvement in his opportunity. In 2020, the 49ers led the league in NFL defense.
Dallas Goedert still has to battle Zach Ertz for chances, but his role in the Eagles’ offense looks to be progressing higher. The Falcons ranked 29th against tight ends last year.
The Dolphins have the receiving depth to push up the wide receiver rankings this season. In addition, they have a top prospect at quarterback, and Mike Gesicki looks poised to be a better player in his fourth year in the league.
WR Michael Pittman, Indianapolis Colts ($4,100)
The injury to TY Hilton gives Pittman the clear WR1 opportunity for Indy. He brings size with a future skill set to catch 100 balls. He projects as the top value at wide receiver at DraftKings in Week 1. Seattle finished 29th defending wide receivers in 2020, and their defense will have challenges again this year.
WR Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins ($3,600)
A 15-point fantasy game by Waddle would fill his salary bucket. He offers speed and quickness while only needing a small window to turn a short pass into a long score. With Will Fuller out for Week 1, his targets should be favorable for his price points.
WR Gabriel Davis, Buffalo Bills ($3,400)
I expect Davis to have a much higher opportunity in his second season with the Bills. He has WR2 snaps his rookie season, which bodes well for his role in 2021. Pittsburgh gameplanned all summer to slow down Stefon Diggs, creating sneaky upside for this home run receiver.
WR Marquez Callaway, New Orleans Saints ($3,400)
The buzz wide receiver over the summer was Callaway. He flew up draft boards based on his camp news and success in the preseason. The injury to Michael Thomas puts him in a position to start the year as the Saints WR1. However, the Packers have a top cornerback in Jaire Alexander, who may end up shadowing Callaway. In the season-long games, I would struggle to start him if I drafted multiple wideouts before him. His low salary looks inviting, but a high ownership percentage may push me in another direction.
TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons ($4,400)
In the season-long drafts, Pitts came off the boards as the fourth tight end in most leagues. DraftKings ranked him seventh out of the gate but well below Travis Kelce. His salary paired with his talent should make Pitts a top target in Week 1.
TE Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers ($4,200)
My one-off play at tight end this week is Tonyan. His salary is just below Kyle Pitts, and he should be on fewer rosters. Tonyan scored 11 times in 2020, but he had only averaged 3.7 targets. His summer reports suggested an improved role, and the Packers don’t have a defined second receiving option behind Davante Adams.
My top three choices on defense are San Francisco, Washington, and Carolina.
Here’s my perfect lineup for the Sunday main slate DraftKings:
I struggled with which top stud wideout to use. I ultimately ended up on DeAndre Hopkins due to a competitive battle expected on the scoreboard. Tee Higgins ($4,700) fit the profile I was looking for in my last roster slot, but I had to give up Washington’s defense. I settled on the Saints even despite a matchup against Aaron Rodgers as I viewed New Orleans as the best low-priced defense.
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Senior analyst Shawn Childs is a multi-sport, high-stakes fantasy legend with lifetime earnings in the high six-figures. He has been providing in-depth, analytical break downs for years all while helping his subscribers to countless titles and winnings across season-long & DFS. An inaugural inductee of the NFBC Hall of Fame, Shawn can teach you how to prep like a champ!