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The Fade Route: DFS NFL Week 1

Quick game here of DFS buzzword bingo.  Ready?

Shares.  Diversification.  Portfolio.  Exposure.  Value.

What if I told you that most of the stock market lingo you’ve read and heard relating to DFS is wrong?  Well, not wrong exactly, but misdirected?

Dynasty leagues have parallels to the stock market in that you acquire and hold assets with no expiration date.  DFS and redraft leagues, however, have a defined end date.  You can’t afford to wait around for Lamar Jackson Incorporated to become the next Apple.  You need to get paid now.  This shot clock nature makes DFS and redraft much more like the bond market than the stock market.

Wait, bonds?

Ask someone how a bond works and their face will droop like you’ve just landed a sick burn on Roast Battle. 

We all love to use stock market terms in DFS because equities (stocks) get all the headlines.  Yet, the U.S. bond market is about twice the size of the stock market at trades at three times the volume every day.

On Wall Street, bond traders play varsity and stock traders are regarded as the JV.

So while everyone else you’re competing within DFS espouses stock market terms like shares, exposure, and value, perhaps it’s time you think like a boss bond trader instead.

Don’t overthink it.  A bond is just a promise to repay a loan.

You’re looking to make your money work for you, so one day you call up your buddy Shaquille because he has connections.  Shaquille introduces you to his pal Kenny.  Kenny’s car just broke down and he asks you to spot him $100.  Shaquille says Kenny has a steady job and is good for the money.  Being the prudent money manager you are, you agree to lend him the $100 if Kenny repays you $110.  Kenny shakes on it and gives you his promise, his word – his bond – to pay you back.

Boom.  You’ve just bought a $100 bond from Kenny yielding 10%.  ($110/$100 – 1 = 10%).  Shaquille’s high level of confidence that Kenny can pay you in full gives Kenny’s bond a quality rating of Legit.

Next, Shaquille introduces you to his friend Chuck.  Chuck is I’ll-pay-you-tomorrow-guy when the pizza arrives.  Chuck wants to borrow some cash because he’s gonna crush his fantasy leagues this year if you can help him out with the buy-in.  Shaquille reminds you that Chuck has never actually won a title and gives Chuck’s bond a Coin Flip quality rating.  Chuck yells at Shaquille and kicks you both out of the house.  You decide that if you loan Chuck $100, you’re going to need $150 back at the end of the season.

Chuck’s bond is yielding a cool $150/$100 -1 = 50%.  It’s much riskier than Kenny’s bond, but if Chuck pays you back in full, you’ve earned 5x the yield you made on Kenny’s bond.

Finally, Shaquille brings you to a dive bar to meet Ernie.  When you arrive you immediately notice the crutches next to Ernie and his foot in a hard cast.  This guy is a hot mess.  His not-my-fault tale is a work hazard of slipping off of a defective ladder.  Sure, Ernie.  Sure.  Halfway through his fourth Pabst Blue Ribbon, in a mind-blowing plot twist, Ernie asks you for some money.  He’s out of work and behind on rent, so he needs enough to get by until he wins his lawsuit against his dastardly ex-employer next month.

You ponder loaning Ernie $100 on condition that he repay $200.  If the stars align you’d earn a fat 100% yield, but everything hinges on a dicey court case.  Shaquille tips the bartender and tells you Ernie’s bond quality is Hell No.

Bond quality is the likelihood you’ll get paid in full on your loan and is either Legit, Coin Flip, or Hell No.  Follow?  Good.  Now, on to the week one slate.  This week, the focus will be on three players whose bonds are of lower quality than what the market believes and worth fading.

DFS Fade #1: Kenny Stills, WR MIA.  Draftkings: $4,700 of $50,000 (9.4%).  FanDuel: $6,000 of $60,000 (10%).  Yahoo: $17 of $200 (8.5%).  FanBall:  $5,200 of $55,000 (9.5%)

On the surface, Jarvis Landry’s departure seems like a boon to Stills in terms of target volume and market share.  161 targets are out the window and seemingly there for the taking, right?

But let’s frame it another way: why don’t we handcuff WRs?  In basketball, a bench power forward subs in and sets the same picks on the same plays as the starter.  In baseball, a backup outfielder covers the same range as the starter.  In football, however, the wide receiver is usually an overlapping position in name only.  Wideouts run different segments of the route tree.

Landry piled up receptions year after year because of his sublime ability to separate against tight man coverage on slants, crosses, and screens to the flat.  Stills shouldn’t be expected to eat into those 161 vacated Landry targets because he doesn’t specialize in those same routes.  In fact, only 15.5% of Stills’ receptions came against press coverage at the line of scrimmage last season, he averaged a weak sauce 3.23 YAC per reception, and he only broke four tackles all season.  Kenny Stills is not Jarvis Landry.

If he could simply slot in for Landry like a power forward or a left-fielder, the Fins’ front office wouldn’t have needed to pull their semi-annual tradition of backing up the Brinks truck for dollar store free agent WRs (Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola, in the 2018 edition).  What’s more, Jarvis Landry caught almost one-third of Miami’s 2017 first downs by air.  Given that their routes rarely overlapped and fewer first downs (and more punts) are in order for one of the NFL’s slowest teams by play volume, one could argue that Landry’s departure shrinks the opportunity set for big plays and actually worsens Stills’s 2018 fantasy outlook.

Oh, and in terms of projecting Stills’ big play likelihood for week one against Tennessee, last year 62% of his catches came against zone defense while only 38% came against man, and in 2017 only the Chiefs and Patriots played more man coverage than the Titans, according to PFF.  Re: the QB argument, is Tannehill a better player than Jay Cutler?  Probably.  But does Tannehill throw a prettier deep ball than Smokin’ Jay?  No chance.

Stills is a prime example of where studying a single player can yield contrasting opinions, depending on the viewing lens.  TFA’s Cody Kutzer penned a compelling case as to why Kenny Stills is a value in dynasty.  It’s not hard to see Stills breaking out in the future on something like the Marvin Jones path of eventually transitioning to a better situation that facilitates consistency rather than mere flashes of talent (Jones had something of the opposite problem in Cincinnati as Stills has in Miami, as Jones ran many of the same routes as the incumbent WR1 who happened to be Canton-bound and blocked his opportunity set).  From a dynasty stock market perspective, Stills is an excellent buy-and-hold.  However, from a DFS week one bond market perspective, his bond quality is Hell No.  He’s not worth 8.5-10% of your budget.

By the way, Hell No doesn’t mean Hell Never.  Could Stills land a splash scoring play on a given week?  Could the judge side with Ernie on the faulty ladder workman’s comp case?  Sure.  But there’s a home for Hell No bonds, and it’s called best ball format.

DFS Fade #2: Kareem Hunt, RB KC.  Draftkings: $6,900 of $50,000 (13.8%).  FanDuel: $8,000 of $60,000 (13.3%).  Yahoo: $33 of $200 (16.5%).  FanBall:  $7,800 of $55,000 (14.2%).

Outrage and bafflement reigned last season when Kareem Hunt vanished during the Chiefs’ 1-6 midseason nosedive.  “What the hell are Andy Reid and Matt Nagy doing?  They’re benching their workhorse RB when he’s needed most!  Why has Kareem Hunt disappeared?  He’s not on the injury report, so has the coaching staff lost its collective mind?”

Sometimes, awful playcalling and clock management are on display and ripe for rightful criticism.  However, there are many coaching factors that we simply can’t know or, more likely if we’re honest, we don’t totally understand.  Due to the human mind’s infinite need for definition and certainty, it’s easy to throw what we can’t explain into a junk drawer labeled “Coaching” and slam it shut.

On game day, Big Red has often bungled timeouts which any Madden junkie could successfully execute in their sleep.  But should we honestly believe that Andy Reid, the strategist whose teams have gone 16-2 after bye weeks over his career, would somehow phase his best playmaking RB out of the game plan for a full third of the regular season?

As depicted in Matt Waldman’s wonderful Rookie Scouting Portfolio, Hunt’s biggest blemish coming into the NFL was his pass protection.  Perhaps it was no coincidence that Kansas City’s losing streak and Kareem Hunt’s disappearance came precisely at the same time as when the Chiefs’ offensive line suffered injuries, a lack of cohesion, and underperformance.  If any of us were coaching a team with a crumbling offensive line in front of a quarterback having an MVP-caliber season with our own job on the line each and every week, would we throw our worst pass-blocking RB in to protect said quarterback?  Interestingly, Kareem Hunt’s production immediately trended upward when O-line recovered from the injury bug and re-cemented itself as one of the NFL’s top units to close the season.

Look, we all love Hunt.  The problem is that judging by both contract and draft capital, the Chiefs love Mahomes more.  Mahomes is exciting, but it’s probably unrealistic to expect him to handle the same reads Alex Smith did.  Given last year’s “disappearance,” it may be a stretch to expect Hunt to operate as a true three-down back until his pass pro improves.

Hunt is priced as the RB6-8 across the DFS platforms above, with a price tag ranging 13-16.5% of your budget.  The market clearly views Kareem Hunt as Legit bond quality.  He certainly could pay off those RB1 expectations, but given his weakness in pass blocking and potentially ceding some snaps to superior Mahomes protectors like Spencer Ware, the floor is lower than the market expects.  Plus, the San Di-Angeles Chargers had one of the NFL’s best run defense units in 2016 when Bosa and Ingram were healthy.  Hunt’s week one bond is better rated as a Coin Flip than Legit.

DFS Fade #3: Todd Gurley, RB LAR.  Draftkings: $9,300 of $50,000 (18.6%).  FanDuel: $9,000 of $60,000 (15%).  Yahoo: $38 of $200 (19%).  FanBall:  N/A.

Todd Gurley propelled so many teams to championships and riches to close 2017 with perhaps the most epic FF playoff mic drop we’ll ever see.  And in looking at the numbers, there’s nothing on the surface to suggest Gurley would regress in 2018 beyond the noise factor.  Great O-line, competent and improving passing game, and an improved defense that should provide plenty of rushing garbage time…check, check, check, and check.  For DFS week one, the Mack-less, neutered Oakland defense shouldn’t scare anyone.  So, is this simply a “don’t @me” contrarian hot take or what?

Here’s the scenario for giving some pause, not just for week one but for many games this season.  Let’s rewind to the prior decade and look at the 2007 San Diego Chargers.  Coming off of the best ever fantasy season for an RB in the Super Bowl Era in with 33 total TDs in 2006 (including two touchdown passes), LaDainian Tomlinson was the slam-dunk, no-brainer consensus fantasy 1.01 in 2007 drafts.  The Chargers had posted a 14-2 record and the personnel looked even better for 2007.

Then, things got a little weird.

The team went 5-5 to start the season, mixing blowout wins with some close losses.  The Chargers rallied and won the final six games to close the season with an average victory margin of 18 ppg.  Problem was, LT’s touches fell by 31, and his TDs fell by 14.  What could this change be attributed to?  What was the source?  Noise?  Randomness?  Regression?  Norv Bleeping Turner as head coach?

None of the above.  Counterintuitively, LT’s statistical saboteur was favorable game script.

Hold up – positive game script always helps RBs because teams automatically run-run-run to kill the clock and close the show.  That’s, like, a rule in every fantasy forecast, ever.

Except it didn’t happen.  The Chargers’ defense and special teams doubled its 2006 season touchdown total and provided the offense with healthy halftime leads.  Young guns named Michael Turner and Darren Sproles emerged as dependable alternatives to LT, one a between-the-tackles banger and the other a screen game scatback.

Garbage time became the enemy.  Because LT played against fresh defenders in the first half and sat out a maddening amount of second-half snaps, both his volume and efficiency slipped.  He was the same dynamic talent, but it was in the team’s best interest to showcase players like Turner and Sproles rather than run the wheels off of LT.  Smart for the Chargers, but brutal for those who selected Tomlinson at 1.01.

Present day: Todd Gurley is the consensus 1.01 after an epic 2017 campaign.  The defense now boasts new additions Peters, Talib, and Suh, as well as locking down game wrecker Aaron Donald with a long-term contract.  It’s safe to assume this DST unit will be among the most expensive each and every week on DFS platforms.  The team drafted RB John Kelly who dazzled in the preseason, and in what some viewed as the most surprising result from cut day, Sean McVay decided to keep four running backs on the active roster.

Sean McVay is one of the most progressive minds in the game.  He defied convention and benched all of the Rams starters throughout this preseason so as to avoid injuries on meaningless snaps.  Suppose the Rams are up by multiple scores early in the second half against the seemingly self-imploding Oakland Raiders – would you assume McVay runs Gurley into the ground, or might he treat garbage time like an extension of the preseason and let these promising backups could slow the miles on his $60 million hot rod’s career odometer?

There’s absolutely no questioning that Todd Gurley’s talent is Legit.  However, it’s fair this season to question if the same combination of garbage time and emerging backups which torpedoed LaDainian Tomlinson’s 2007 fantasy prospects might similarly befall 2017’s fantasy hero.  For that reason, in games where the Rams are heavy favorites, positive game script could be Gurley’s statistical saboteur and downgrade the likelihood of paying off his steep price tag to Coin Flip. 

And just for fun, who might you guess is Todd Gurley’s closest player comp on PlayerProfiler?

That does it for the week one Fade Route.  What does everyone else think?  Let us know below or @BeauNoes.

Beau Noeske is a portfolio manager, Chartered Financial Analyst, author, and founder of entity wagering firm Hi-Line Sports Investment Group, LLC, which was featured in the June 2016 issue of Sports Illustrated. @BeauNoes

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