Winning for John
John Dwight Eller was born on June 22, 1958. John grew up big and athletic, like most of the Eller family. Football was (and still is) life in Corning, California, the Olive City. Eller played all the sports, excelling every step of the way. John played receiver and linebacker for the Corning Union High School Cardinals alongside his close friend, Jeff Stover. Stover went on to the University of Oregon and qualified for the boycotted 1980 Olympic Games in shot put, before trying out for and signing with the San Francisco 49ers during their glory days of the 1980s. John would make the two hour drive from Corning to Candlestick Park to hang out with Jeff at 49ers practice. John met the acquaintance of Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and all the others from that dynastic run. I’m sure some of it is embellished, but the stories my stepfather, John Eller, told me about the 49ers pushed me head-over-heels in love with the game of football.
I won’t bore you with the details of my parents splitting up when I was in elementary school, but the important stage was when I was introduced to John. My real dad wasn’t around a bunch, but John always was. He was a contractor and built a great deal of homes in Corning, often paying me in cash to clean up job sites as an otherwise lazy kid. I loved to play video games and read books in my room, but John never accepted that on a sunny day and would kick me out of the house to simply “be outside.”
My stubborn self resented John for pushing me out into the world, but I still loved everything about playing and talking about football. I loved the Cowboys because of Emmitt Smith and local legend, Larry Allen (but also because John and I didn’t get along at the time and I hated the 49ers). I learned friendly rivalry from John. He also taught me to embrace the competitive fire I already had inside of me.
When he was blindsided by cancer four weeks ago, it broke everything inside of me because he had already lost a battle he didn’t know he was fighting. He passed away on Labor Day, but not before he got to his favorite spot on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska to catch salmon and smoke a bowl. He had gotten his pilot’s license on a whim a few years ago and always wanted to fly on a private jet. He was returned home from Alaska in failing health last week on his first ever chartered flight.
I couldn’t help but smile through the numbness while writing this. He loved to read my fantasy football columns. I know he would love this one. He downloaded the DraftKings app last year just because he wanted to “put a hundred bucks in there and win or lose with my buddy Bo.” He won with me and all of you who were so awesome to support my work. I am dedicating this entire 2021 season to John’s memory. We will dominate cash games once again with the same strategy as before, now enhanced with the incredible tools at Occupy Fantasy and Run the Sims.
Week 1 DFS Cash Plays
I have a slightly different view from the consensus on how to build winning cash lineups. Instead of focusing on players with a “high floor,” I instead focus on their expected workload. These players often have that safe floor as a result of the VOLUME of opportunities, but they also have a higher likelihood of returning the 3x+ value that most cash games require to end the day above the pay line. A smart cash player has to always consider ceiling as a part of the equation, just maybe weighted lighter than if building for a GPP. I ask myself the same question every time: Does this player’s expected volume of opportunities (EVO) have high odds of accomplishing 3 points per salary dollar, divided by 1,000 (x=3[y/1000]).
Patrick Mahomes ($8,100):
There isn’t a more consistent cash game performer at any position than Mahomes. His salary will likely climb from this point, so it’s a clear strategy to plug him in this week. Even in a tougher matchup with Cleveland, hitting 24.3 points is closer to his floor than ceiling. I predict 32 passing attempts and three rushing attempts. Mahomes has an 82% chance to achieve 3x value, with more than a puncher’s chance of hitting 4x value.
Kyler Murray ($7,600):
Murray is my favorite cash quarterback this week. He faces a horrendous Titans defense, increasing the potential quality of his 40 EVO (35 passes, 5 rushes). I put Murray at a 91% chance of hitting 22.8 points on Sunday. Don’t overthink it. This is an incredible value for a player who was the highest scoring quarterback before a shoulder injury last season.
Ryan Tannehill ($6,500):
On the other side of the coin, The Tannehill-led Titans face a very young Cardinals defense with a myriad of weapons that will challenge the best units this season. The implied total is among the highest on the slate, giving Tannehill a nice bump in EVO. Add in weapons like AJ Brown and Julio Jones, and Tanny cracks 20 points with ease this week.
Matt Ryan ($6,000):
Matty Ice lost his favorite toy, but his parents, bracing for the disappointment had already ordered a new one. They spent a pretty penny in the form of the fourth overall pick to acquire Kyle Pitts. The Eagles will run a lot of Cover-2 on Sunday to deflect attention from their lack of defensive athleticism. The rushing attack for Atlanta might have trouble against a physical Philly front too. Even without a mobile dimension, Ryan’s EVO is 35. I would be stunned if he can’t crack 18 points.
Joe Burrow ($5,700)
There will be a lot of attention on Burrow’s left knee on Sunday. I’ll be watching who they run out there to attack a mildly improved Vikings defense. I envision a ton of passing attempts with low aDOT, featuring all three receivers and Joe Mixon. Burrow is holding a 40 EVO, making him a very strong value at quarterback for cash contests.
Christian McCaffrey ($9,500)
It’s a great week to roster stud running backs. All of the highest-priced options have plus matchups this week, so look to save salary elsewhere. CMC is a no-brainer any time he’s active and under $10k. His hunger to get back on the field, combined with the putrid Jets defense in the way, and you have the perfect excuse to root for the best to return to his 2019 form.
Dalvin Cook ($9,100)
Dalvin Cook against the Bengals? Sign me up! 27 points is tough to reach, but the Vikings EVO allocation was further narrowed with Irv Smith’s injury. Getting there with Cook shouldn’t make you sweat too hard. On DraftKings PPR scoring, Cook’s role in the passing game will be paramount.
Alvin Kamara ($8,600)
Speaking of a role in the passing game, Kamara is an obvious pricing mistake. He will be the chalkiest running back for GPP, limiting how much exposure you might want. For cash, spend with confidence that he is a virtual lock to anchor your build. Green Bay doesn’t have an answer for Kamara on defense, especially with his versatile route tree.
Austin Ekeler ($7,000)
After a couple missed practices for load management on Ekeler’s hamstring, many will be too shy to plug him into any DFS roster. I say they’re crazy. Ekeler is expected to play in full on Sunday, meaning you lock him in on DraftKings. Washington’s defense is stout, but struggled to contain receiving backs. The sheer volume of diverse routes makes Austin Ekeler a steal at his salary this week.
James Robinson ($6,400)
Preseason injuries are such a bummer. They also create opportunities, for the accompanying player and DFS gamers alike. Robinson will likely see a ton of work, reminiscent of last season. The best part? The Jags face the hapless Houston Texans. Houston is in the throes of a 76ers-level rebuild, already in full tank mode.
Najee Harris ($6,300)
I can’t believe I’m rostering a rookie running back in a Week 1 cash game, but the Bama prospect by way of Northern California checks all the boxes for EVO. Harris has all the requisite tools to excel at this level immediately. He also faces a dearth of pro-level competition on the depth chart. I believe new offensive coordinator Matt Canada will try to set the tone early on against Buffalo, giving the bruising ball carrier a chance to put his own stamp on the league from the jump.
Joe Mixon ($6,200)
I trust Joe Mixon…this week. This salary is criminally low, which is perfect for plugging into a cash game with an EVO of 22. Don’t underestimate Mixon’s acuity as a receiver either. Gio Bernard is gone, paving the way for even more volume for the volatile, polarizing former Oklahoma Sooner. I feel much more secure playing Joe Mixon in the one game bubble of DFS than spending high draft capital to roster him in season long and chewing my fingernails off.
Chase Edmonds ($4,600)
I love value running backs who are a big part of their team’s passing attack. In the case of Edmonds, he plays for a team that is terrible at scheming a running game. Kliff Kingsbury is as creative as a plain bagel, but the Air Raid scheme targets the running back position quite often. James Conner is a plodding, inefficient mess and obvious downgrade from Kenyan Drake. A healthy Edmonds at this salary is a very safe bet to hit value.
Davante Adams ($8,300)
For how narrow my focus is on a particular set of running backs, there are quite a few wide receivers that I will have in my pool to plug into my cash builds. I am not afraid to roster a great wide receiver like Adams, even if he is facing a great corner like Marshon Lattimore. He is too much of a crucial part of the Packers offense and many of his EVO are completely manufactured. If you can squeeze Adams into your build, you rarely have a worry that he will perform.
Calvin Ridley ($7,900)
Ridley averaged nine targets per game last season, but that increased dramatically when Julio Jones left the field. Philly has Darius Slay and a bunch of guys, but Slay rarely shadows a particular receiver anymore. I expect Matt Ryan to have eyes for Ridley early and often, in between the pockets of the Cover-2 zone and in the corners of the end zone.
DeAndre Hopkins ($7,800)
I love Nuk this week. I don’t ever force a stack in cash games, but I reserve the possibility for offenses like Arizona with a defined X receiver and a steady flow of target volume. Pairing him with Kyler Murray will be a staple of most of my builds this week.
Stefon Diggs ($7,600)
In a similar vein to Murray/Hopkins is Josh Allen and Diggs. Pittsburgh’s defense is very stout, but their weakness is at cornerback. This was evidenced by Diggs ripping them apart in their 2020 meeting. $7,600 is a steal of a salary; one that will make Diggs too chalky in GPP.
Keenan Allen ($6,900)
Much like his teammate, Austin Ekeler, Allen is a cheat code on DraftKings every time he laces up his cleats. Washington presents plenty of challenges for Justin Herbert defensively, but to me that just translates to more looks at his security blanket in the slot.
Julio Jones ($6,800)
I don’t remember the last time I saw a healthy Julio Jones under $7k. He faces a terrible Cardinals secondary in a likely shootout game. Don’t miss this obvious value. Julio is still one of the best receivers in the game.
Terry McLaurin ($6,400)
I’m unsure about the Washington offense, in general. I don’t like the fit with Ryan Fitzpatrick, especially against such a tough Chargers secondary. McLaurin, especially with Curtis Samuel on IR, gives me the least amount of pause. This will be his lowest salary of the year.
Diontae Johnson ($6,300)
Would I roster Diontae at $7,000 against Tre White? Probably not. I lean Claypool in a GPP this week, but Johnson’s expert route running will afford him a great deal of targets this week. At this salary, I expect pretty good odds of hitting value.
Brandon Aiyuk ($5,700)
Aiyuk is simply priced incorrectly this week. Detroit offers no defensive solution to slow down the 49ers, giving me good cause to plug the Arizona State product in as a value cash pivot to George Kittle. Aiyuk is another expert route runner who is the X receiver in this offense. Even Jimmy Garoppolo will be able to find him.
Tyler Boyd ($5,200)
Boyd is usually a better cash play than GPP and this week is no different. Joe Burrow will be reliant on quick passing on Sunday and likely throughout the 2021 season. Boyd is a trustworthy slot who should garner 8-10 targets.
Jakobi Meyers ($5,100)
Meyers might only be valuable in this exact format. He is a sharp slot receiver in a run-heavy Patriots offense and has exactly zero NFL touchdowns to his name. What he does have going for him is a role as the focal point of an offense run by a smart and accurate rookie quarterback.
Laviska Shenault Jr ($5,000)
The contrast between Shenault and Meyers is stark. Shenault is also the slot weapon in an offense run by a smart and accurate rookie quarterback, but he is also incredibly gifted as a ball carrier after the catch. Viska has plenty of touchdown upside against the Texans to pair with his EVO.
Jerry Jeudy ($4,800)
I doubt Jeudy makes this list if Drew Lock was the starter instead of Teddy Bridgewater. Jeudy is an otherworldly route runner and one of my favorite plays on Sunday, regardless of format. This salary is just too far below what it will be to ignore.
Tee Higgins ($4,700)
Remember Tee Higgins? Apparently DraftKings doesn’t. His salary is disrespectful. Minnesota’s defense will have to cover all three of the Bengals receivers, which I think they will do poorly. 14 points for Higgins to hit 3x value is incredibly likely.
AJ Green ($3,800)
Speaking of the Bengals, AJ Green has finally escaped their grasp. He is yet another receiving piece in a high-volume passing offense that faces a terrible defense in a shootout game. It’s been a half decade since we saw Green’s greatness, but I’m optimistic that we will see glimpses of it this season.
Marquez Callaway ($3,400)
Mr Chalk himself is the “free square” this week. He is a full fade for me in GPP, considering he will have to find space against Jaire Alexander. In cash, there isn’t much reason to avoid the only receiver worth a damn on this team besides Kamara.
Terrace Marshall Jr ($3,000)
I am consumed by rookie fever! Marshall is a 6’2″ slot receiver with incredible ball skills. He is facing the Jets. He is one of three rookie receivers with breakout potential at the minimum price, but the only one I actually expect to get a steady dose of meaningful targets.
Rondale Moore ($3,000)
EVO also accounts for manufactured touches. I expect the rookie out of Purdue to be weaponized in space from all over the formation against Tennessee. This might be the first time we see any kind of creativity from Kingsbury. Moore is more explosive in the slot than Christian Kirk and a better runner out of the backfield than the corpse of James Conner. It will be fun to roster Mighty Mouse all season, albeit at a higher salary going forward.
Travis Kelce ($8,300)
Kelce is an obvious no-brainer every week. With Mark Andrews and Darren Waller off the main slate this week, you’re hard-pressed to find more of a cash game lock. Fitting him in under the cap is the real challenge.
George Kittle ($6,300)
This salary made me laugh out loud. Easy smash spot against the pathetic Lions. A healthy Kittle is the alpha pass catcher in San Francisco. Roster him and profit with ease.
Logan Thomas ($4,600)
This was a late addition, with the injury setback to Curtis Samuel. I won’t have a ton of Thomas, but he will see an uptick in EVO with a narrower passing focus for Fitzpatrick. The Chargers were also weak against opposing tight ends in 2020, relative to other positions.
Kyle Pitts ($4,400)
This is the best cash play of the week at any position. Pitts is my TE1 overall this week and should feast on the Eagles horrible linebackers and safeties all day. Arthur Smith will be dialing up a multitude of ways to funnel targets to the stud rookie, in addition to exploiting the seam weakness in the Philly Cover-2 scheme. MEGA SMASH!!!
Anthony Firkser ($3,200)
The Titans passing game will likely run through AJ Brown and Julio Jones, but the utter lack of good wide receivers behind them leads me to believe Firkser will be a key contributor to keep the chains moving. His role in the offense as a traditional tight end is unclear, as he is a liability as a blocker. If you’re left looking for a cheap option at tight end, he’s your guy this week.