The palaces on the Las Vegas Strip wouldn’t exist if the public won consistently. That’s why I look for ways the consensus can fail, so I can bet against the herd when there is a logical path to doing so. That’s especially true in large-field best ball tournaments, where drafting less popular player combinations can give you an advantage when those players hit.
In the spirit of that notion, let’s discuss a few contrarian options on the Week 17 slate through the DFS concept of leverage.
To start, we’ll identify a few early-round players in potential smash spots on the championship slate. Then, we’ll figure out who is positioned to benefit the most if those high-caliber players fail when life-altering best ball money is up for grabs.
Week 17 Leverage Plays
Derrick Henry at Houston Texans
Henry draws the Texans in championship week, and he gets them in Week 15 to kick off the best ball playoffs. The Big Dog has one of the best stretches through the fantasy playoffs, making Henry more appealing in best ball tournaments.
His upside is clear and massive, but who could benefit the most if Henry fails in either of these smash spots?
RB Tyjae Spears: Henry’s first path to failure is the most obvious for a 29-year-old running back who has carried the ball 1,249 times over the past four seasons. Henry could miss these contests due to injury. In that event, third-round pick Tyjae Spears is well-positioned to take on primary ball carrier duties. Since the schedule release, I’ve bumped up my intended exposure on Henry, and I’ve done the same with Spears.
The Texans gave up the most yards rushing to running backs last season, per The Edge. New Texans coach DeMeco Ryans called the defense for the San Francisco 49ers last season, who gave up the fewest yards rushing to running backs. We can reasonably expect Ryans to deploy a 49ers-like scheme, and the Texans added upgrades to their defensive front this offseason.
We shouldn’t expect the Texans to transform into an elite run defense overnight, but they should be better. If Houston’s improved run defense limits Henry, that could be a positive for the Titans’ pass catchers.
WR Treylon Burks: The Texans gave up the seventh-fewest yards receiving to wide receivers last season, but the 49ers allowed the sixth most. Given the defensive scheme change in Houston and that the Texans do not have the pass rush that Ryans’ 49ers did, Titans wide receivers have a sneaky interesting matchup in Week 17.
Treylon Burks is the clear top pass catcher in Tennessee. The Titans’ passing attack isn’t exactly a beacon of stability, which is why Burks has a murky season-long outlook. But he does have interesting spike week potential in Week 17.
>> READ: What Is Burks’ Best Ball Value?
TE Chigoziem Okonkwo: Tennessee’s second-year tight end is arguably the second-biggest threat in the Titans’ passing attack. Fantasy football contributor Nic Bodiford has Chigoziem Okonkwo among his three favorite Week 17 tight end matchups.
I was already targeting Okonkwo in drafts, but this matchup makes me more interested in Burks than before the schedule release.
Cooper Kupp at New York Giants
Cooper Kupp is one of the league’s best route runners, and he’s put up massive production when Matthew Stafford is on the field. In Week 17, Kupp draws a New York Giants defense that plays more man coverage than most, creating plenty of opportunities for him. New York surrendered the sixth most PPR points to perimeter wideouts last season.
Kupp nearly splits his snaps on the perimeter and in the slot. The ceiling for Kupp during the full season and in this contest is sky-high, which is why he’s being selected in the top five of drafts.
I was already way overexposed to Jefferson before the schedule release, where now his ADP is in the range it should have always been in. I only have an interest in Higbee in certain builds, so this matchup hasn’t had much influence on my exposure to either player. But it has increased my interest in one Ram.
RB Cam Akers: I’m not a Cam Akers guy, never have been. However, Akers was a bell cow for the Rams down the stretch last season with 19 or more carries in each of his final three games. Akers’ Week 17 matchup is interesting.
The Giants allowed the fourth-most yards rushing to running backs last season. New York added a few run stuffers to its front this offseason, and Bobby Okereke is the best off-ball linebacker the Giants have had in years. Even if New York’s run defense improves, it will unlikely become an elite group.
I wasn’t targeting Akers before the schedule release; now I intend to be around even (eight percent exposure). I’m actively targeting Akers on teams where I don’t take Kupp, and I’m set up to select Daniel Jones as one of my quarterbacks.
Jalen Hurts Stacked with A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and/ or Dallas Goedert
The Arizona Cardinals have a bottom-tier secondary and pass rush, making this an absolute smash spot for Philadelphia’s loaded offense. That said, the game script could be a concern for the Philadelphia Eagles’ passing attack in fantasy, as Philadelphia is currently a 10-point favorite in this contest.
If Kyler Murray is active for this matchup, the chances of this being a closer game go way up. If he’s not, the Eagles are going to roll the Cardinals. As former Eagles President and The 33rd Team analyst Joe Banner said on our podcast, the Eagles want to throw early and run late by design. If the Eagles blow out the Cardinals, this becomes a potential smash spot for their running game.
RB D’Andre Swift: Volume and availability are concerns for D’Andre Swift, especially if the Eagles have wrapped up their playoff seeding by Week 17. Still, if Swift is a full go for this matchup, he could go off behind Philadelphia’s top-10 offensive line.
RB Rashaad Penny: Just about everything that was just said about Swift applies to Rashaad Penny. The main differences are Swift is a more explosive player while Penny is a better bet to breach 15 carries in a game.
RB Kenneth Gainwell: Even if the Eagles run a three-man rotation in their backfield, Kenneth Gainwell looks like he’s third in the pecking order. That said, Swift and Penny have missed a ton of time due to injuries in their career. Gainwell has two touchdown upside in this matchup.
The floor is concerning for all of these players. Still, there can be a major upside in ambiguous backfields when one player emerges, especially when each runner benefits from premium offensive line play. The potential for garbage time volume in this Week 17 matchup gives each of these runners extra appeal in best ball tournaments.