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Nebraska (-7) – Illinois – OU: 55
Our lowest total on the slate at 55, this isn’t a game I’m rushing to stack but I do think it has the potential to be a good way to find some values. Starting with QB, Adrian Martinez ($6,800), almost all of Nebraska’s skill position players are priced low. Martinez specifically has a solid rushing floor, averaging over 74 yards per game in 2020 on the ground with a touchdown per game. The only issue with rushing to play him on this slate is the lack of bonus potential. Since he’s not a prolific passer and on his best day a 200 yard game is expected, Martinez needs to hit the 100-yard rushing bonus to be worth a spot in your lineup. A good rusher, he does face the worst rushing defense on the slate in Illinois who allowed over 230 rushing yards per game in 2020. Based on his price, he’s an okay salary-saving play but I don’t think he can win you a tournament.
I am assuming the starter for Nebraska is RB Markese Stepp ($4,900). As mentioned above, the Illinois rushing defense was pitiful in 2020. In fact, their 230 yards allowed per game was 5th worst in the country. Given the spread and low game total, Stepp could absolutely smash in this matchup if we knew he was starting but Scott Frost refuses to show his hand. One thing to keep an eye on up through game time is reports about his health and if he’s named the starter. Coming back from surgery earlier in the offseason, the expectation is that he’s good to go but keep up with the news to make sure Nebraska doesn’t pull any shenanigans.
With the expectation Stepp sees lead duties, the RB Gabe Ervin Jr ($4,100) hype should be paused at least for this week, Stepp should come out as the starting RB for the Huskers against Illinois and as a true freshman, it will be difficult to see him in action this week. The one name to pay attention to in the rushing game outside of Stepp is RB, Sevion Morrison ($3,000). Morrison is the expected RB2 at the moment and given the propensity for Illinois to bleed rushing yards, he could be viable in a one-off lineup in some tournament settings.
Although Martinez isn’t a great passer, there could be some value in the receiving options. First, the transfer from Montana State, WR Samori Toure ($4,900). Toure should be the favored target for Martinez in this game against an Illinois defense that allowed the 3rd most passing yards on the slate. Toure is probably fairly priced given what we know about the passing game but he could feature in as a guy who pops for a 5-80-1 type line. At his price, it might work out. Behind Toure, it’s hard to determine who is next up but it sounds like the 2020 JuCo transfer WR Omar Manning ($4,000) is the man. A player to keep an eye on for this season, it’s hard to justify Manning this week in a low-volume passing offense that is favored by 9.5 points. WR Zavier Betts ($3,700) and WR Oliver Martin ($5,200) should get some snaps but aren’t strong plays, especially Martin at his price point.
A pivot off the high-end tight-ends on this slate could be TE Austin Allen ($3,800) who leads all returning Nebraska pass catchers with a 14.1% receiving market share. Again, it’s not a prolific offense but Allen is the most involved tight-end at the price point worth slotting in as a lower-end pivot.
With an implied team total of 24 points, Illinois isn’t quite the high-flying offense to target in tournament settings but that doesn’t mean there aren’t players worth targeting.
Despite his price point, QB Brandon Peters ($6,500) isn’t productive enough to justify rostering even on a slate like this. In fact, his lack of upside makes him one of the more unattractive options. In 2020, Illinois had 152.9 passing yards per game and despite Peters being a super senior, I don’t see much improvement in 2021. His price accurately reflects expectations.
The most interesting player on Illinois is RB Chase Brown ($5,500) who should see feature back touches in this game. If the Illinois offense does one thing well, it’s run the ball. In 2020 they averaged nearly 200 yards per game at 196.1 and a passing rate of 37.3%. Nebraska’s rushing defense did allow 169.5 yards per game, the 3rd most on the slate. Brown is priced conservatively enough to plug him into your lineup if need be but he’s not a priority target.
In terms of pass catchers, the only three even potentially viable options WR Brian Hightower ($5,800), and TE Daniel Barker ($4,200). Their respective receiving shares in 2021, were 17.1% and 21.9% which given the shallow slate, may put Barker in play. One more possible play is WR Donny Navarro ($4,500), who became a hot name in camp this season and could see the most targets Week 0 but he’s not quite cheap enough to justify as a dart throw. Barker is probably the better target of the two as he is, again, a fine pivot off the high-ownership WRs on this slate. Hightower is untouchable at his price point.
UConn – Fresno St (-27.5) OU: 62.5
The first matchup of the day comes in as a blowout with Fresno State being favored by 25 points over the Huskies. There are a couple of ways to play this game if the assumption that Fresno dominates holds true. Their implied total of 45 points is the highest on the slate and returns most starters to an offense that averaged 77.3 plays per game (highest on the slate) and 356.3 passing yards per game (again, the highest on the slate).
First, go all-in on the Bulldogs. The UConn defense is terrible, ranking 128th in opponents’ points per game in 2019. They had trouble stopping both rushing and passing attacks. However, a QB Jake Haener $(9,700) / WR, Jalen Cropper ($7,300) stack is likely the most popular play on the slate, and for good reason. The Bulldogs leading wide receiver in 2020 should have a field day against the Huskies who didn’t play in 2021. The most intriguing player at his price point is RB Ronnie Rivers ($7,800). A dual-threat option and potential featured player for a team favored by 20, Rivers is likely heavily owned but could still reach a huge game with easy bonus potential. All three players are extremely viable.
While the high-priced focal points are likely to be high-owned, WR Keric Wheatfall ($5,500) could be a good way to get action in this game. The second-leading receiver behind Cropper last season, Wheatfall could be the beneficiary of a porous UConn defense. It’s important to remember it’s okay having players with high ownership if you’re different somewhere and Wheatfall could be a way to do this. I do expect him to be a popular pivot off of Cropper since he’s $1,800 cheaper but he should still see lower ownership. Another player who is dirt cheap and will likely have minimum exposure is WR Josh Kelly ($4,400), with only 33 fewer yards than Wheatfall last season, Kelly could be featured regardless of how the game shakes out and comes in on the low end of pricing and with projected low ownership. Given the pricing discrepancy between Wheatfall and Kelly, I prefer Kelly as the better play considering their 2020 market share numbers were separated by only 1.5% (17.4% for Wheatfall vs. 15.9% for Kelly). Again, given the 77.3 plays per game, the fast-paced offense should keep both secondary options in play.
A second option is the contrarian play to all-out fade Fresno State. As one of the most popular offenses on the slate and a 25-point favorite, it’s possible we see the key offensive players pulled early if they get out to a commanding lead. If that comes to fruition, it could be difficult for Haener and Cropper to pay off at their salaries. The devil’s advocate argument here is that in Fresno State’s 3 wins last season, the key offensive players were in during 4th quarter, even when up by 20+ points. This move is a way to be contrarian against the high ownership of the Fresno State offense. However, Head coach Kalen Deboer remains aggressive throughout the game, so this strategy is not without risk. If setting multiple lineups, this strategy is in play and is easiest to pull off in tournaments.
It’s hard to be excited about anyone on the Huskies as 25-point dogs and an implied point total of 17.5 points. The UConn offense wasn’t exactly explosive either the last time we saw them in 2019. Despite having the 78th strength of schedule in 2019, they managed only 18.9 points per game, good for 120th in the country. Despite the lack of relative success, the bright spot for the Huskies is RB Kevin Mensah ($4,200). His 1,013 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2019 was excellent given the context of the offense. This should mean he remains a featured player regardless of game flow and he’s absolutely worth a play. The Fresno State rushing defense ranked 106th in 2020, giving up over 213 yards per game. The issue with Mensah is that he’s priced too low and will see substantial ownership. He may be worth fading if UConn is in pass-mode the whole game, which given the spread feels expected.
Given the high-scoring nature of the Fresno St offense, if you’re investing in a Haener-WR stack, WR Cameron Ross ($4,800) is the best runback candidate. With a 27.9% market share as a true freshman in 2019, Ross is probably the only player worth investing in from the UConn passing offense and given his price point, it shouldn’t be hard to fit him into your lineup. The team’s WR2 Matt Drayton is out for the year so there is room for another option to emerge. That could be WR Jay Rose ($3,400). Rose is a great low ownership punt play that if he sneaks into the endzone could pay off in a big way. He should be involved as the tight end for UConn and third-leading receiver in 2019. If I’m making a handful of lineups, Rose isn’t a priority but he’s someone I would play to get different elsewhere if I am mass entering a GPP. He might sneak into a lineup or two.
Hawaii – UCLA (+18) OU: 68
Hawaii, with an implied team total of 25.25, is a fun offense to invest in against faced paced UCLA. Although Hawaii was only running 71 plays per game (48th in the country), UCLA should keep them on their toes running 74 plays per game (25th in the country). The fast-paced nature of this matchup means both teams should have viability throughout their respective rosters.
With Hawaii, the offense runs through star running-back/wide-receiver Calvin Turner ($6,400). Given the other options on the slate, Turner could be an excellent option against a UCLA team that allowed the 16th most passing yards in 2020, allowing over 274.1 yards per game. Turner should be even more involved this season as he’s projected to get more carries this year with the transfer of Miles Reed. He also is the team’s leading receiver with a massive 25.2% receiving yardage share in 2020. Given the other options on this slate, Turner is underpriced and should only see medium ownership with Rivers and Mensah being the top options. We don’t yet know if Turner ends up with the majority of snaps from the slot, but RB Dae Dae Hunter ($4,400) could see some run as a true running back since Turner is listed as a hybrid player. Until we know more, Hunter he’s not playable in more than a one-off. He’s a player who could find himself in an interesting spot this season and is included here as a name to keep an eye on.
Given Turner’s usage in the receiving game, QB Chevan Cordeiro($7,500) is a good option to stack with Turner but since he’s $2,200 cheaper than Haener, expect high ownership again. In 9 games last year he hit the 300-yard passing bonus once and the 100-yard rushing bonus once so he doesn’t have the massive ceiling every game but he will provide good production with his rushing usage. His price-point still makes him a good play. UCLA’s second-worst pass defense on the slate could result in Cordeiro hitting the passing bonus if they fall behind and need to take to the air. Speaking of – given he’s priced below both Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Jake Haener, Cordeiro is a good pivot off of the big two QBs if you need to save cash.
Given the high point total for this game, WR Jared Smart ($6,200) is an okay way to save money while getting action in the highest point total on the slate. He’s likely Hawaii’s leading option after Turner and given the 18-point spread, Hawaii may need to rely on him. His 15.4% yardage share from 2020 could be higher in this matchup as Corderio may need to air it out to play catchup and Smart is the top returning true WR for the Rainbow Warriors. WR Zion Bowens ($3,800) should have a role in this offense (but technically WR3 if counting Turner’s usage) so he’s playable at his price. In his only start last season he had 2-82-2 (two touchdowns 70 seconds apart) against New Mexico and given his speed, he only needs one big play to pay off at his price. The final Hawaii WR worth paying attention to is WR, Nick Mardner ($4,700). He’s listed as the third starter besides RB/WR Calvin Turner and WR Jared Smart so he should command a role but doesn’t have tournament-winning upside and has a zero-point floor.
Chip Kelly’s fast-paced UCLA team is favored by 18-points with the highest O/U on the slate this week. Even with that, the Bruins are one of the better values from the top down. Starting with QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson (DTR) ($8,500), the offense should once again be dynamic and flow through the dual-threat quarterback. Hitting the 300-yard bonus twice in 5 games and the 100-rushing yard bonus once (one of which was a double bonus), DTR has the potential to provide a solid rushing floor with a big ceiling. Considering he is priced under Haener, DTR will be a fixture in a good chunk of lineups. One concern for either bonus is that if UCLA gets a lead early, we could see them revert to their 2020 ways. Last season they had a neutral game pass rate that was slightly below average at 48.18% but an overall pass rate of 38.6%. For DTR to hit his ceiling, the game will need to stay close while being higher scoring.
Given UCLA’s implied point total of 43.25 points, RB Brittain Brown ($5,600) could be in for a huge game. The Bruins’ 45.6 rush attempts per game ranked 11th in the country last season and Brown could assume most of the workload with Demetric Felton gone. Given that Hawaii’s defense ranked 105th in rushing yards allowed last season (212.3 per game), he should be close to a lock to hit the 100-yard bonus in this matchup. Chip Kelly usually prefers a primary back in his offense with the lead back averaging close to 250 touches per season. Brown, a senior, should see the workload as the incumbent, and given his price-point, he is a great option on this slate to build your lineups from.
Although RB Zach Charbonnet ($5,300) is contending for some work, he enters week 0 as a backup. The only scenario where Charbonnet could be in play if UCLA takes an early lead and wants to get run in for the Michigan transfer but he’s not someone I’m targeting. He may see some elevated ownership due to name value alone but don’t be fooled, Brown is the guy to have here.
In terms of wide receivers, WR Kyle Phillips ($7,000) is the only one worth rostering. He was by far the most productive WR for the team garnering a 23.5% market share in 2020. If you’re loading up on this game, Phillips probably needs to feature somewhere in your lineups. If the projected total holds, he could be in for a 100-yard game as the second favorite target in a potential shootout.
The other receiving option is WR/TE Greg Dulcich ($6,000) who secured 32.9% of receiving yards for UCLA in 2020. Dulcich is a guy I’m more willing to play than Phillips given the $1,000 difference as well. Another playable option for the Bruins is WR Kam Brown ($3,400). A transfer from Texas A&M, Brown is listed as a starter for UCLA and is close to the min for this week’s slate. He and WR Chase Cota ($4,600) are vying for the third option in the receiving pecking order but given the discount on Kam Brown, I would rather take a shot on him in tournaments.