In this college football DFS preview, I’ll break down the DraftKings Saturday main slate into three categories: players to build around, value plays, and players to avoid.
Players to build around carry more expensive salaries, but they are worth prioritizing in your lineup due to their high ceiling. Value plays are lower-salaried options that come with some risk, but adding them to your lineup will help you afford the expensive stars. Players to avoid are fantasy-relevant options you might normally consider but have a tough matchup this week and are unlikely to meet their usual expectations.
All references to fantasy points per game are based on the DraftKings scoring system. All references to spreads and totals are from BetMGM.
Key Play-Calling Data (2021 season)
|Team||Plays Per Game||Overall Pass Rate||2nd Half Pass Rate w/ Lead||2nd Half Pass Rate Trailing|
Key Play-Calling Data (2020 season)
|Team||Plays Per Game||Overall Pass Rate||2nd Half Pass Rate w/ Lead||2nd Half Pass Rate Trailing|
PLAYERS TO BUILD AROUND
QB Emory Jones, Florida vs. South Florida
DraftKings Salary: $9,000
Carrying the highest salary on the slate, Emory Jones is risky and I’m inclined to fade him. However, there just aren’t many proven quarterbacks in safe matchups on this slate, so we’ll have to take some risks at the position.
Jones was disappointing in Week 1 (13.9 fantasy points), but the South Florida defense should help. The Bulls ranked 108th in the nation last year, allowing 26.0 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks.
It’s also worth noting Jones carried the ball three times inside the opponent’s five-yard line last week, but failed to score. He should get more opportunities this week, as Florida carries an implied total of 43.5 points.
QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh at Tennessee
DraftKings Salary: $8,500
Against a dreadful UMass defense, Kenny Pickett posted a somewhat disappointing 21.8 fantasy points in Week 1, but there were some encouraging numbers to come from the game.
Pittsburgh ran a play once every 21.5 seconds, the 11th fastest pace of the week, while Pickett attempted 37 passes. Pitt wasn’t slow last year, but that is a significant jump from its 25.3-second pace in 2020.
Since it wasn’t necessary to play fast or throw at a high volume in a 51-7 victory, we can probably assume Pitt wants to pick up the pace this year.
As an added bonus, Tennessee played at the fastest pace (17.8 seconds) and head coach Josh Heupel also played at the fastest pace last season at UCF (19.2 seconds). Despite a modest total of 56.5 points, this game has sneaky shootout potential.
RB Kyren Williams, Notre Dame vs. Toledo
DraftKings Salary: $7,300
According to Sports Info Solutions, Kyren Williams picked up 40 of his 42 rushing yards after contact against Florida State. The run game was abysmal, and head coach Brian Kelly will almost certainly focus on fixing it this week.
Even if the run game continues to struggle, Williams’s production should remain steady due to his role in the passing game. Williams ran routes on 23 of Notre Dame’s 42 dropbacks and saw six targets, including a touchdown.
RB Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M at Colorado
DraftKings Salary: $6,700
Texas A&M has a two-headed monster at running back, so there’s some risk in rostering either Isaiah Spiller or Devon Achane ($5,900). In this matchup, however, Colorado’s defense could allow both to shine.
Colorado surrendered at least 30 fantasy points to running backs in four of six games last season, including 53.7 in its bowl game against Texas.
Though the run game opportunities were fairly even (17-12 in Spiller’s favor), Spiller boosted his value with three targets on 19 routes last week, compared to zero targets on four routes for Achane, according to Sports Info Solutions.
RB Noah Cain, Penn State vs. Ball State
DraftKings Salary: $6,400
In the season opener versus Wisconsin, Noah Cain dominated the workload in Penn State’s backfield, playing 81% of the snaps.
Despite the low-scoring opening game, Penn State’s offense should have a high ceiling due to its pace of play. The Nittany Lions ran a play every 20.7 seconds, the seventh-fastest pace of Week 1.
Ball State is one of the better teams in the MAC, but Penn State is favored by 22.5 points. Expected a strong workload for Cain on the ground and in the passing game.
WR Jordan Addison, Pittsburgh at Tennessee
DraftKings Salary: $7,700
Pittsburgh’s No. 1 receiver Jordan Addison carries the highest salary on the slate, which is surprising considering his modest 16.2 fantasy points per game average a season ago.
However, as we detailed in Kenny Pickett’s section, this game should be played at a fast pace. Addison saw a 21.7% target share last season, so expect a solid volume for him in this matchup.
Given the high salary, Addison is more attractive in a stack with Pickett than on his own.
WR Chris Olave, Ohio State vs. Oregon
DraftKings Salary: $7,200
Normally this might be a spot to consider fading Chris Olave after he generated 30.7 fantasy points on only five targets, but given his track record and an incredible matchup, it’s safe to expect another big game.
Assuming roles in Oregon’s inexperienced secondary remain the same, Olave should primarily draw coverage from Trikweze Bridges, who was burned for seven catches on eight targets and 106 yards against Fresno State in his first career start, according to Sports Info Solutions.
Considering teammate Garrett Wilson’s comically low salary (more on that later), Olave’s rostership may be lower than usual, potentially increasing his value as a slight contrarian play.
WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State vs. Ball State
DraftKings Salary: $7,000
A strong 24.2 fantasy points in Week 1 doesn’t even do Jahan Dotson’s dominance justice. Dotson was targeted 10 times at an average depth of target of 20.3 yards downfield, according to Sports Info Solutions.
Unfortunately, quarterback Sean Clifford is going to hold him back sometimes, as only two of his five targets at 15+ yards downfield were catchable (he caught both), according to Sports Info Solutions.
Ball State is a solid MAC opponent, but has some issues in its secondary. Western Illinois receiver Dennis Houston torched the Cardinals for 237 yards and 50.7 fantasy points in Week 1. And it likely wasn’t a fluke, as six receivers posted at least 25 points against Ball State in 2020.
WR Tay Martin, Oklahoma State vs. Tulsa
DraftKings Salary: $6,900
With Tylan Wallace now in the NFL, it appears as though Tay Martin is stepping into his role in the Oklahoma State offense. Against Missouri State in Week 1, Martin saw a 25% target share with an average depth of target 18.7 yards downfield, according to Sports Info Solutions.
Starting quarterback Spencer Sanders returns from the COVID protocol after missing last week’s game and is expected to play. But with or without Sanders, Martin is an option against a Tulsa team coming off an ugly loss to UC Davis.
WR Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee vs. Pittsburgh
DraftKings Salary: $6,600
We’re still learning about the Tennessee offense, so there’s some risk with all of their players, but Jalin Hyatt’s 34.8% target share and 15.4-yard average depth of target from Week 1 are tough to ignore.
Hyatt was also targeted on 38.1% of his routes, according to Sports Info Solutions, so it appears as though quarterback Joe Milton is seeking him out.
WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State vs. Oregon
DraftKings Salary: $5,900
This is the most baffling salary of the week. Unfortunately, the number is so obviously off that Garrett Wilson’s rostership should be through the roof, decreasing his value in tournaments.
In Ohio State’s season opener, Wilson saw an absurd 55% target share with an average depth of target at 14.4 yards downfield.
Wilson is likely to draw consistent coverage from Oregon’s top cornerback Mykael Wright, potentially suppressing his value slightly, but the salary reduction more than makes up for the matchup.
QB Spencer Sanders, Oklahoma State vs. Tulsa
DraftKings Salary: $7,500
Due to COVID protocols, Spencer Sanders missed Oklahoma State’s season opener but he’s been cleared to play on Saturday. It’s unclear if he had symptoms, so we should reserve some level of skepticism about his health.
Sanders’s salary is a little expensive to be considered a value, but with limited options for value quarterbacks on this slate, we’ll put him here. Sanders was highly inconsistent in 2020, but closed out his season with 30.5 fantasy points versus Baylor and 35.7 against a solid Miami Hurricanes defense.
Tulsa’s defense appears to have taken a big leap backward this year, as it generated pressure on just 13.5% of pass-rush snaps versus UC Davis last week, according to Sports Info Solutions. Sanders’s average throw traveled 10.3 yards last season and he should have plenty of time to sit in the pocket and take shots downfield.
QB Noah Vedral, Rutgers at Syracuse
DraftKings Salary: $6,700
This matchup between Rutgers and Syracuse only carries a total of 52 points, but that feels low given the pace at which these teams play. In 2020, Syracuse ranked 35th in pace of play with Rutgers ranking 15th. And with Rutgers favored by just two points, this could potentially turn into a second-half shootout, giving Noah Vedral an elevated ceiling.
Vedral is not reliable 一 he posted just 15.3 fantasy points in a 61-14 victory over Temple last week 一 but his salary reflects the risk.
On a positive note, Vedral had eight carries for 58 yards last week, including four designed runs, so the run game production gives his floor a boost.
RB Jabari Small, Tennessee vs. Pittsburgh
DraftKings Salary: $5,800
Tennessee lists Jabari Small and Tiyon Evans ($6,300) as co-starters on the depth chart, but Small took the field first and saw seven more touches and 19 more snaps in Week 1 against Bowling Green.
Small also ran six routes compared to zero for Evans, according to Sports Info Solutions. And, although Evans has nearly 20 pounds on Small, it was Small who took Tennessee’s only handoff inside the five-yard line.
This was expected to be a close battle for playing time, but that’s a lot of evidence pointing towards Small as the Vol running back to roster.
RB Malik Davis, Florida at South Florida
DraftKings Salary: $5,800
The Florida depth chart lists Dameon Pierce ($6,000) and Malik Davis as co-starters, but it was Davis who took the field first in Week 1 and had 14 carries to Pierce’s six. Davis also ran more routes (10) than Pierce (six), although Pierce was targeted on five of those six routes, according to Sports Info Solutions.
South Florida surrendered 68.5 fantasy points to NC State running backs last week, so both Davis and Pierce are in play in this matchup, with the slight edge going to Davis given his usage and cheaper salary.
RB C.J. Verdell, Oregon at Ohio State
DraftKings Salary: $5,400
Minnesota running backs Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts combined for 197 yards and 36.9 fantasy points against Ohio State last week. Oregon should do some damage on the ground as well, but it’s tough to choose between C.J. Verdell and Travis Dye ($4,800), who split time evenly in Week 1.
Dye is the more elusive runner and will play more on passing downs, whereas Verdell is the downhill runner likely to get more goal-line snaps. It makes sense to have exposure to both given their reasonable salaries, but given how Ibrahim 一 a more similar runner to Verdell 一 tore through Ohio State’s defense, maybe Verdell deserves a slight edge.
WR Bo Melton, Rutgers at Syracuse
DraftKings Salary: $5,700
This salary falls into a middle tier, but we’ll place Bo Melton here because he’s too risky to be considered a player to build around.
As detailed in Noah Vedral’s section, this game should be played at a fast pace, giving a boost to Melton’s expected workload 一 he had a 25.6% target share last year and saw six targets in Week 1.
WR1s averaged 21.3 fantasy points per game versus Syracuse last season, and Ohio’s Jerome Buckner just about matched that with 20.2 points in Week 1.
WR Cedric Tillman, Tennessee vs. Pittsburgh
DraftKings Salary: $5,300
Against Bowling Green, Cedric Tillman saw a ridiculous 203 intended air yards (33.8 air yards per target) and finished second on the team with a 26.1% target share, according to Sports Info Solutions.
Since he’s a deep threat with an unreliable quarterback, he’ll probably be boom-or-bust this season, but quarterback Joe Milton does have a strong arm, so consistent deep shots will be a part of this offense.
Treat Tillman as a tournament-only option, possibly as a contrarian stack with Milton at quarterback.
WR Taj Harris, Syracuse vs. Rutgers
DraftKings Salary: $5,100
This game is expected to be played at a fast pace (see Noah Vedral for more details) and Taj Harris should be the beneficiary for Syracuse. Harris saw a 50% target share last week, though his actual workload will likely be more similar to his 32.9% share in 2020.
Harris reached 24 or more points three times last season, peaking at 36.6 against NC State, so he’s established a nice ceiling when the matchup is right.
WR Taysir Mack, Pittsburgh at Tennessee
DraftKings Salary: $4,400
The salaries of Pittsburgh’s receivers appear to be based entirely on last week’s scores rather than the depth chart. As a result, WR2 Taysir Mack is a great value thanks to being outscored by backup Jared Wayne ($5,200) against UMass.
Mack started and ran 13 more routes than Wayne, so there’s little doubt about the pecking order. Additionally, Mack saw an average depth of target 15.7 yards downfield compared to 6.7 for Mack.
WR2s scored double-digit fantasy points in seven of 10 games against Tennessee last year, and we already mentioned the expected fast pace of this matchup.
WR Mycah Pittman, Oregon at Ohio State
DraftKings Salary: $4,200
As a sophomore in 2020, Mycah Pittman 一 the younger brother of Indianapolis Colts’ receiver Michael Pittman Jr. 一 was expected to be a breakout performer but it never materialized. In Week 1, against Fresno State, he led Oregon with a 20.8% target share, but finished with just three receptions and 7.0 fantasy points.
This game carries the highest total on the slate, so it’s worth taking a shot in hopes of a breakout game.
Another similar Oregon receiver worth considering is true freshman Troy Franklin ($4,700). Franklin was listed as a starter last week, but played just seven snaps due to an injury suffered in practice and didn’t see a target. He’s expected to be ready for this game.
WR Parker Washington, Penn State vs. Ball State
DraftKings Salary: $7,000
WR2s averaged 18.7 fantasy points per game versus Ball State in 2020. Parker Washington had four receptions on six targets in a sloppy Week 1 game against Wisconsin, but we should be confident his ceiling is much higher than his 8.7 fantasy points.
Last year, Washington saw a 20.7% target share with an average depth of target 10.6 yards downfield.
WR Bryson Green, Oklahoma State vs. Tulsa
DraftKings Salary: $3,300
True freshman Bryson Green started against Missouri State, led the team in routes (23), and finished second with a 20% target share, according to Sports Info Solutions. Despite those numbers, five Cowboys receivers carry higher salaries.
Last week against UC Davis, Tulsa allowed 24.6, 14.4, and 13.2 fantasy points to Davis’s top three receivers. Brennan Pressley ($5,600) and Braydon Johnson ($4,000) are also worth considering after finishing third and fourth, respectively, in target share last week.
WR Kris Hutson, Oregon at Ohio State
DraftKings Salary: $3,200
Treat Kris Hutson as a tournament dart throw only, but there’s potential value in his low salary in a deep but unproven Oregon receiving corps.
Against Fresno State 一 a game that came down to the wire 一 Hutson started and surprisingly led the receivers in playing time, running seven more routes than any other Duck, according to Sports Info Solutions. He only saw two targets, but obviously the coaching staff trusts him.
As a true freshman in 2020, Hutson saw an average depth of target at 12.5 yards downfield, so there’s some potential for him to be used as a downfield weapon against an unproven Ohio State secondary.
Hutson is not listed as a starter this week, so his floor is zero, but with his salary also near the floor he could be worth a flier.
PLAYERS TO AVOID
QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State vs. Oregon
DraftKings Salary: $8,600
With 28.1 fantasy points against Minnesota, C.J. Stroud proved he’s capable of producing in Ohio State’s offense. However, those are unsustainable fantasy numbers given his usage: 22 pass attempts and three rushing attempts.
After Stroud was a little sloppy in the first half, Ohio State mostly took the ball out of his hands. Stroud attempted just eight second-half passes, but four went for scores, boosting his fantasy production.
Additionally, Oregon has been successful at limiting quarterback fantasy production. In 2020, the high score for every Oregon opponent was either a running back or receiver 一 although Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener did lead the team with 20.9 points last week.
Stroud will probably produce enough to have cash game value, but with Ohio State likely going with a run-heavy offense, he may lack the elite ceiling to be a strong tournament option on this salary.
RB Breece Hall, Iowa State at Iowa
DraftKings Salary: $8,000
Based on Breece Hall’s track record, it’s reasonable to take a chance on him in a lineup or two. After all, he scored 30 or more fantasy points in eight of 12 games last year. However, there are some concerning trends heading into this rivalry showdown.
Iowa State continues to play at a maddeningly slow pace. After ranking 110th in pace of play last year (28.8 seconds per play) they slowed it down even more last week against Northern Iowa (31.0) and nearly suffered the upset loss.
The Hawkeye defense is also brutal on running backs, having allowed just 16.3 fantasy points per game to ball carriers in 2020 and holding Indiana’s running backs to 8.4 in Week 1. Dating back to the start of 2020, the highest-scoring fantasy player against Iowa has been a wide receiver in every matchup. So if you want to roster someone on Iowa State, Xavier Hutchinson ($6,000) looks like the best bet based on his 30.8% target share in Week 1.