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How To Handle Week 18 Chalk In DFS

Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard
Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) runs the ball against the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

It's common for DFS players to key in on the same expected top plays each week, or 'chalk plays' if you will. Each week, we'll look at the expected chalk plays with tips and best practices to improve your roster construction.

We’ll also explore theoretical and conceptual areas of roster construction in DFS as we examine various pieces of chalk throughout the season, with the goal being to grow as players along the way. Numerous tips, or best practices, will emerge from this exploration. With that, and in our best Bruce Buffer voice, it’s time!

Week 18 Chalk

Christian Kirk, Jacksonville Jaguars

Christian Kirk is the bare minimum price on both sites and is expected to garner some of the highest ownership on the slate. It’s quite simply a pricing mistake by both sites. That said, Kirk has returned 20 or more DK points just twice all season and is coming off major core surgery. In other words, this man is not a can’t-miss player on this slate.

CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys must win to lock up two home playoff games with the No. 2 seed. A loss and Detroit Lions win would drop them to the No. 5 seed, effectively the difference between the potential for two playoff home games and going on the road throughout the postseason. I’d say this team will operate as they normally would until the game is in hand, and if the game is in hand, it is highly likely that CeeDee Lamb has contributed to the Dallas production. 

Jordan Mason, San Francisco 49ers

The field seems to indicate a high level of confidence that Kyle Shanahan will rest or play Elijah Mitchell sparingly, which I don’t necessarily view as the likeliest outcome here. This could be a case where Mitchell operates as the lead back in the first half before giving way to Jordan Mason in the second, it could be a case where Mitchell is the lead back the entire game, and it could be a case where Mason operates as the lead back for most of the game – and everything in between.

Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings need a win and help in three other spots to make the playoffs (losses by the Packers, Saints, and Seahawks). That said, the only thing they can control is to win their game against the Lions, the latter of whom will be playing for playoff seeding with the chance to jump to the No. 2 seed. Justin Jefferson has seen double-digit targets in three consecutive games as the alpha in this offense and carries the best alignment of skills to mesh with quarterback Nick Mullens. That does not guarantee fantasy success here (as he’s proven in recent weeks), as he’s returned just one GPP-viable score since returning from injury (four weeks).

Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys

I started this week by circling Tony Pollard in pencil as a player that could return viability at expected low ownership – and then I looked at ownership. Pop quiz! How many games this season has Tony Pollard returned GPP viability at his current $6,500 salary? If you guessed zero, you win! 

Zamir White, Las Vegas Raiders

Another week, another expected massive Zamir White workload, this time coming against a Broncos team that has continued to struggle against the run this season. There are no problems here, although we must realize that White has a very small pass-game role, which requires him to surpass 100 yards on the ground and score multiple touchdowns for the GPP ceiling.

Pierre Strong, Cleveland Browns

I don’t necessarily understand this one, personally. Both Jerome Ford and Kareem Hunt will likely be active and play at least some of the game due to roster constraints. That still might only be the first few drives, but NFL teams average about four drives per half. That means Pierre Strong could see around five drives as the primary back. Is that enough to put up a GPP-viable score? I don’t know, but it probably isn’t the most likely outcome here.

Chris Olave, New Orleans Saints

We keep waiting for Chris Olave to truly erupt in this offense, and it keeps not happening. Another pop quiz! How many GPP-viable scores has Olave mustered at his current salary? The answer is unfortunately also zero. 

What’s Most Important in Week 18

We’ve structured this piece in this fashion to help reinforce the process of weeding through the bogs to identify the highest confidence plays on a given week. The truth is that the profile we have been looking for this season does not exist in Week 18. That said, we have numerous places where three of the four primary pillars of success lack certainty regarding workload. These are the spots that are most +EV to attack on a slate with so much uncertainty. Furthermore, the field’s confidence is striking on a slate with very little certainty.

Before we jump into the good stuff, let’s quickly explore why this slate is far from “a preseason slate.” Teams are allowed 90 roster spots in the preseason and have ridiculous flexibility regarding playing time. In Week 18, teams will be allowed seven inactive spots, two standard elevations from the practice squad, and a 53-man roster. That equates to 62 players spoken for, nearly 33 percent less than in the preseason.

Furthermore, there are some unique situations this weekend where we know where four or more of the inactives are going. The Los Angeles Rams, who have already stated they will sit Matthew Stafford, Kyren Williams, Cooper Kupp, Tyler Higbee, and Aaron Donald, already have five of their seven inactives spoken for and are likely to keep rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua active to break the rookie receiving record. He needs only 29 yards to do so.

That means Nacua will likely play until he breaks the record and rest. The Rams have only five wide receivers on the active roster outside of Nacua and Kupp and did not elevate a wide receiver on Saturday, meaning Demarcus Robinson could be forced to play most of the game. These are the unique scenarios I will be looking to leverage this weekend (and there are many more to speak of!). 

Building Leverage Through That

Let’s compare two situations that could help to highlight this idea.

First, let’s compare two running backs in nearly identical situations with very different ownership expectations – Strong and Ronnie Rivers. Both are priced at the $4,000 minimum on DraftKings and carry uncertainties regarding their expected workloads. Yet Rivers is expected to be virtually unowned, while Strong is expected to be amongst the highest-owned pieces on the slate. And Rivers is probably the better on-paper play as a player higher up on his team’s depth chart.

Next, we’ll compare a few wide receivers. Lamb is expected to be the highest-owned player on the slate, while A.J. Brown and Amon-Ra St. Brown go largely overlooked. All three teams’ individual situations are nearly identical, technically able to move in the standings in the NFC, but it would be highly unlikely. And yet, the field is certain Lamb will play a full allotment of snaps, and the Lions and Eagles will rest their studs.

What if Dan Campbell’s Lions shake off the upsetting loss last week with a statement? What if the Eagles don’t watch the scoreboard and give it everything after dropping four of their last five games? What if the condensed target trees for each team, due to the absences of Jameson Williams and Devonta Smith, filter additional volume to their studs?

You’ll notice that none of these potential plays are any less talented or in any worse spots. We’re simply placing leveraged bets on the uncertainty at play on this slate in places where the field largely isn’t.

That will do it for our Week 18 exploration of chalk and some theoretical and conceptual takeaways. We’ll run this series every week of the 2023 season, picking out new learning points each week. I welcome all feedback with this new column, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to let me know things you like or things I could do better.

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