Google defines contrarian as “opposing or rejecting popular opinion; going against current practice.” Popular plays are going to emerge throughout the course of the week, as they do every week, based on talented players squaring off against forgiving defenses. Of course in a nutshell the concept makes sense because using players against a weak opponent increases their chances of success. However this is the NFL and all sorts of outcomes are possible regardless of how juicy the matchup is. Heading into Week 1, here are some players that the masses may be off but have a high enough probability to succeed that they are worthy of your consideration:
Kirk Cousins, Redskins, $13,300 – Cheap quarterbacks (QBs) are trendy these days like hipster hairdos and saying the word “lit” (I’m still not sure I know what the word means). This makes differentiating in tournaments an easy proposition because all you need to do is spend up a little at the position. With only four points awarded for passing touchdowns (TDs), a QB must have an outlier performance to pay off at a high(er) price tag…but outlier performances win tournaments. Last year, the Steelers allowed the third most passing yards per game (272), behind only the Giants (299) and Saints (284). Kirk Cousins and the Redskins are loaded with weapons this year beginning with tight end (TE) phenom Jordan Reed but definitely not ending there. He also has the following players at this disposal: DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson (if healthy), Chris Thompson (an excellent receiving back) and even a solid duo of backup TEs in Niles Paul/Vernon Davis. In other words, he has plenty of options to help him take advantage of a susceptible pass defense. The Redskins’ implied team total only sits at 23.5 but their offense quietly has the potential to put up as many points as anyone. If this game morphs into a slugfest, Cousins has the potential to deliver a monstrous performance. For those reasons, I am willing to take the shot and spend up on him in larger GPPs where I am aiming for nothing less than first place.
Brock Osweiler, Texans, $11,900 – In previous articles, I have harped on the fact Chicago will be missing their top three cornerbacks in the opening game against the Texans. While the focus had been on the likes of DeAndre Hopkins, this has to be a positive for Brock Osweiler as well. Sans all of their starting corners, the Bears are going to struggle to cover anybody, so it stretches far beyond just their stud number one wide receiver (WR). Let’s not forget the Texans also drafted both Will Fuller (first round) and Braxton Miller (third round) in this year’s draft and also acquired solid receiving back Lamar Miller in free agency…so Osweiler’s arsenal exceed far beyond just the top receiver. 68-percent of the public betting money is on the Texans at home and the line has moved all the way up to Texans -6. With most focusing on Dak Prescott as their cheap option at QB in GPPs, Osweiler is a solid pivot and actually may possess more upside.
David Johnson, Cardinals, $14,100 – Quietly last season, only nine teams allowed more receptions to opposing backs than the Patriots. Even though they ranked in the top six in fantasy points allowed to the position, they still were susceptible to backs similar to David Johnson. This is a new season and the 2016 Patriots will begin the year without Tom Brady. Why does that matter? The Patriots led the league in time of possession last season mostly due to Brady’s ability to run an offense. Without him, that number is sure to slip and the defense is sure to spend more time on the field. This should lead to the defense’s weaknesses being exposed (at least in the first four weeks) and receiving backs were clearly one of their shortcomings in 2015. To me, this leads to an opportunity to roster an arguably overpriced David Johnson in a spot where he should come with a low ownership percentage. Johnson displayed the ability to break a long run any and every time he touched the football last season, not dissimilarly to the likes of a healthy Jamaal Charles. Johnson managed 20-plus fantasy points in three of his final games down the stretch last year and the general manager has referred to him as “the best receiving back he has ever seen.” Could this be an under-the-radar match made in heaven? I think so.
Darren Sproles, Eagles, $8,400 – Darren Sproles never gets enough love in the daily fantasy game because of his limited snap counts. Once again, Sproles caught 55 passes last season despite participating in a three-back rotation. However, he averaged the exact same amount of points-per-opportunity as Le’Veon Bell and Javarious Allen. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Eagles are expected to “feature” Sproles in the passing game this year with one less back in the rotation. The team’s new Offensive Coordinator, Frank Reich, schemed Danny Woodhead all the way to 80 receptions last year. Meanwhile, the Eagles will start rookie Carson Wentz from the get-go and the game still seems fast to most young QBs. Until it starts slowing down for him, it makes sense that young QB would look to security blankets when he is under pressure. Sproles certainly fits the bill and the Browns defense is just atrocious in all aspects (maybe even the worst in football). Therefore, Sproles is worth a shot at this bargain price tag. For a guy who has scored at least seven TDs in three of his last five seasons, he sure doesn’t get talked about a whole lot and he really should with the scoring format.
Sammy Watkins, Bills, $13,000 – Spending up at the WR position and punting it are not the only two options, although they feel like it in cash games sometimes. The middle-priced tier is loaded with talent and Sammy Watkins leads the pack. Although priced like a WR2, Watkins clearly established himself as a true WR1 over the final six weeks last season. During that span, he registered at least double-digit fantasy points in each game and averaged a whopping 25.17 fantasy points. By comparison, Antonio Brown averaged 25.7 fantasy points for the season (and Julio Jones averaged 25.2). There is nothing scary about the matchup with the Ravens and former first-round cornerback Jimmy Smith who graded as Pro Football Focus’ 76th best cornerback in 2015. According to their matchup tool, Watkins’ matchup is one of the best handful of individual matchups for the week. There is no doubt Watkins possesses the ability to far exceed value at this price tag so he should be one of the first players you look to roster in tournaments.
Sterling Shepard, Giants, $9,800 – There are two ways to look at Sterling Shepard in Week 1. Either the team is going to focus on getting Odell Beckham Jr. the ball and he should fall by the wayside or Beckham’s struggles against the Cowboys last season were for real. If a believer in the latter due to the fact Beckham posted two duds against them, then you’d have to think the Giants will take advantage of their offense’s new toy to play with. Dallas hasn’t changed defensive coordinators since last season and I believe they schemed a safety over the top of Beckham to help shut him down twice. Now, if they double Beckham, the talented rookie Shepard could find himself drawing a hearty number of targets. In mid-August, Beckham was quoted as saying, “I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but he’s going to be a special player. I kind of want to keep him on the down low right now, so that way he jumps out the first couple of games and has some big plays.” It almost sounds like Beckham is eluding to the game plan early in the season and foreshadowing a big game against the Cowboys. Getting ahead of the curve on players results in big days and this has all the makings of one of those examples.
Dwayne Allen, Colts, $6,300 – In my opinion, Jordan Reed is so brutally underpriced that he just absolutely cannot be avoided in cash games. Since I expect many to react similarly, this creates an opportunity to differentiate from the pack in tournaments. Even though the Colts are implied to score the most points of any team in Week 1, I don’t expect Dwayne Allen’s ownership percentage to exceed 15-percent. This means you are able to roster a near minimum-priced TE on the likeliest team to score the most points and it’ll actually be a contrarian strategy. Sign me up because now Allen will receive a full allotment of the targets at the TE position as opposed to sharing them with Coby Fleener last year. Remember, Allen scored eight TDs in 2014, which was also Andrew Luck’s best season as a professional. Assuming he is able to bounce back this season, Allen should be one of the main beneficiaries. While the masses are trying to decide between T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief, I’ll be rostering Allen at nearly the half the cost of either and dancing all the way to the bank….well, the PayoutZone.