DFS Strategy: Finding Value in Slumping Players (Fantasy Football)
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Every season, some players start off hot. Some players keep it up, while others make their Week 1 performance look like an outlier. Most early-season flukes see their DFS price depreciate over slumping weeks, but there are times when you can exploit the market’s overcorrection on certain players.
To illustrate that point, let’s take a quick look at some of Robert Woods’ week-by-week numbers from 2019.
|Week 1||16.6 (WR26)|
|Week 2||6.2 (WR69)|
|Week 3||8.8 (WR54)|
|Week 4||32.4 (WR2)|
|Week 5||9.8 (WR36)|
|Week 6||7.6 (WR43)|
|Week 7||13.6 (WR24)|
|Week 8||6.2 (WR62)|
|Week 10||16.5 (WR17)|
|Week 12||15.7 (WR18)|
|Week 13||33.2 (WR2)|
|Weel 14||25.7 (WR6)|
As you can tell, Woods had a pair of slumps in 2019. If you had inserted him into your DFS lineups in Weeks 4, 10, or 13, you got a good payoff, but those plays would’ve required you to bet against his earlier performances. So how do you identify value plays like Woods during the season? Here are a few strategies for using player slumps to your advantage.
Target Vulnerable Rushing or Passing Defenses
Sometimes all a player needs to bounce back is a dream matchup. Woods’ WR2 finishes illustrate this point, as they both came against terrible secondaries. He took on Tampa Bay, owners of the league-worst defense against wide receivers in Week 4, and he blew up again against the ninth-worst Cardinals in Week 9.
So while it’s easier to ride a hot hand into a bad matchup, you should also consider using a slumping player in that spot, too. Even if the performance proves to be an outlier, this is DFS, so you won’t have to worry if they can keep things up.
One thing to keep an eye on is whether a team’s defense matches up poorly with a position, or if it’s a funnel defense. Some secondaries play better against wide receivers than they do tight ends, but that doesn’t make them a pass-funnel defense, or a defense whose success against the run causes a team to call more passing plays. Target quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends against pass-funnel defenses (2019 Tampa Bay); target running backs against run-funnel defenses (2019 Carolina, Jacksonville).
Target Weak Cornerback Matchups
Some teams with mid-pack secondaries actually have one good and one exploitable cornerback. This means that WR1s, WR2s, or slot receivers may match up better than their counterparts, and it’s on you to figure out which receiver has the better matchup.
For example, Woods drew Steelers cornerback Joe Haden in Week 10. Like Woods, Haden plays on the perimeter, so we could have easily predicted this matchup. We could have also predicted the Steelers’ decision to use safety and ex-cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick against the Rams’ slot receiver Cooper Kupp.
Given this information, we could’ve expected a down game from Kupp, giving Woods the potential for more passing volume. So despite Woods’ series of poor performances before the date with Pittsburgh, he would’ve been a slumping player to bet on heading into Week 10. Sure enough, he turned the matchup into a WR2 finish, while Kupp failed to catch any of his four targets.
Target Injured Players’ Teammates
This is a simple rule of thumb in DFS lineup construction, but it bears repeating. Even if a player has slumped during the early part of the season, a sudden increase in their volume could bode well for their fantasy stock.
Woods’ case remains helpful for us here. In Week 8, the Rams lost Brandin Cooks to a nasty concussion. He wouldn’t return until Week 12, and the Rams reduced his snap share from that point onward.
If you look at the chart of Woods’ fantasy numbers, you’ll notice that they remain in the WR1/2 range following Cooks’ Week 8 injury. So for all the matchup analysis that you perform, volume stats are king when predicting fantasy performances, and injuries have the most significant effect on those numbers.
Target Players Off a Bye
Bye weeks give players a chance to catch their breath, get healthy, and learn a thorough gameplan. As a result, it’s often smart to bet on a slumping player to rebound when they’re coming off a bye. Of course, if you’re Andy Reid, your offensive playmakers might build such a massive lead you can rest them for most of the game. That said, you can count on this rule for most other players.
In Woods’ case, he rebounded significantly after Los Angeles’ Week 9 bye. You can chalk it up to Cooks’ injury or Kupp’s regression, but bye weeks give players a chance to get out of whatever rut they’ve found themselves stuck in.