This article is part of our DraftKings College Football series.
We're nearing the end of the regular season but we've got a banger of a slate this week despite most of the SEC missing from it thanks to the conference's annual bye* week against cupcake opponents.
We have three games with totals over 60 with Ohio State-Michigan State leading the way at 68.5. Pittsburgh-UVA has a high total at 66, which seems to imply Vegas believes Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong will play. Whether that ends up being the case will be determined Saturday, but at this point I'd take the under on that game and be worried about having much Virginia exposure in my lineup. (This is the same guy who faded Wake Forest against Army, so take that for what you will).
The passing game discussion this week centers on Ohio State, which has maybe the most explosive offense in the country and gets a home matchup against the nation's worst pass defense. The matchup says this is the No.4 team in the country vs. the No.7 team in the country, but a 19.0-point spread is more informative.
SMU's pass defense is shaky but the question comes down to whether you can trust Cincinnati to exploit that detail. If Jerome Ford is out or limited, Cincinnati may lean on Desmond Ridder and the passing game more than usual. Ridder ($8,900) is a fine option but I wouldn't stack the Bearcats. Five players have target shares of 10 percent or more. It's too wide of a target tree to trust stacking.
Northwestern, Virginia, Wake Forest, Texas and Georgia Tech have the worst run defenses on the slate. Unfortunately, Northwestern is going against a team that hardly runs and the same can be said about Virginia to an extent. Clemson's run game has been an enigma all season, too, and Will Shipley ($6,700) isn't exactly a bargain given how banged up he's been in recent weeks. Notre Dame's Kyren Williams has the best blend of role and matchup among running backs from this cluster with the Irish facing an overmatched Georgia Tech defense at home where they're favored by 17 points.
Oklahoma is another interesting wrinkle on this slate. I don't get into any individual picks from the Sooners in my writeup, but don't write them off just yet. It's still a loaded offense playing at home coming off a loss. The field's exposure to the Sooners may be at an all-time low and it might be time to buy the dip. Iowa State's defense isn't nearly as scary as it was expected to be.
- DraftKings Lineup Optimizer
- NEW Matchups Page (Vegas odds, opponent averages, etc.)
- Advanced Lineups Page
- Team Trends
- Defense vs. Position
- Team Rankings
C.J. Stroud, Ohio State ($9,500) vs. Michigan State
It's going to be hard for me to make a lineup I like this weekend that doesn't include Stroud. The setup is perfect. Not only is Ohio State back at full strength in its receiving corps with Garrett Wilson back in the fold and Jaxon Smith-Njigba currently in the midst of a breakout, but Stroud himself is playing like arguably the best quarterback in the country right now. Since missing the Akron game in Week 4, Stroud has returned to light up every defense he has faced, averaging 345.5 passing yards per game with a 72 percent completion rate, a 9.9 YPA and a 22:2 TD:INT over his last six games.
On top of all that, he's facing the oft-referenced Michigan State defense that is the stone-worst in FBS against the pass. There are several elite quarterbacks on this slate, but I believe Stroud is the best play of that group given his recent production and extremely favorable matchup. It's surprisingly easy to stack Ohio State receivers alongside Stroud in a lineup this week, too. More on that in a bit.
Phil Jurkovec, Boston College ($4,500) vs. Florida State
This play might be the key to the entire slate. Usually, the best value quarterback on the board is somewhere in the mid-$5,000s and it's an unproven player or someone with a tough matchup on paper. Neither is the case here as Jurkovec is min-priced for a quarterback when he probably should be somewhere closer to $7K as he gets set to face the 'Noles.
Jurkovec looked rusty in his return from a wrist injury against Virginia Tech in Week 10 but looked much more like the quarterback who is generating some draft buzz in last week's game against Georgia Tech as he completed 13 of 20 passes for 310 yards (15.5 YPA!) and two touchdowns while adding three scores on the ground. The matchup against Florida State is a degree or two tougher than the Georgia Tech one and the lack of passing volume for Jurkovec since returning (33 total attempts in two games) is a slight concern. However, Jurkovec is showing a willingness to run (17 rushes, 166 yards, four TD) since returning and frankly, we only need him to push for 18-20 points for him to crush value relative to salary.
The flexibility that playing a min-priced quarterback with upside gives you is just too good to pass up.
Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh ($9,100) vs. Virginia
The fact that Pickett is carries just the sixth-highest price tag among quarterbacks on this slate is surprising. The Heisman hopeful has been consistently prolific all season. Pickett attempts over 38 passes per game while completing over 2/3 of those attempts with a 9.1 YPA and 32 touchdowns compared to just four interceptions. He's also getting it done on the ground with 223 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Virginia is decidedly weaker against the run than it is against the pass, but Pickett is matchup proof at this point and the Cavaliers are still mediocre against the pass overall, allowing 239.8 yards per game (84th). That number balloons to 282.3 passing yards per game allowed when Virginia is on the road, too.
It's hard to see Pickett flopping in this setup.
DraftKings has made running back the toughest position to sort out this weekend. There's a who's who of options at the top of the board but most of them cost as much or more than a premium quarterback option. Seven active running backs are priced at $8K or higher, with three checking in at $9K or above. All of them (Breece Hall, Kenneth Walker, Brian Robinson, Braelon Allen, TreVeyon Henderson, Jerome Ford (questionable) and Kyren Williams) are strong plays in a vacuum, but it's about how they fit into a lineup build that you like top to bottom. Of that group, I'd be most inclined to go with Alabama's Brian Robinson. His recent performance could steer people away from him, especially at $9K, but Arkansas plays the same style of defense that Mississippi does, and we all saw how that went for Robinson. If Arkansas stays in that coverage-heavy base and doesn't adjust, Alabama can bludgeon the Razorbacks with Robinson.
With that in mind, let's look at some more cost-effective options at running back for this slate.
Israel Abanikanda, Pittsburgh ($5,300) vs. Virginia
This play becomes especially appealing if Virginia doesn't have quarterback Brennan Armstrong (undisclosed) available as Pitt will likely get out to a comfortable lead over the Cavs. It's a good play regardless though as Abanikanda has a 33 percent share of Pitt's ground game over the last six weeks. He has 73 rushes for 414 yards and three touchdowns in that stretch, which doesn't jump off the page but that explains why he's in the mid-tier range. The key is the matchup. Virginia has the second-worst run defense on the slate at 222.1 rushing yards allowed per game on a slate-worst 5.8 YPC. 12-15 carries for Abanikanda, along with a ~4-target floor, should provide a decent return relative to salary here.
Keyvone Lee, Penn State ($3,600) vs. Rutgers
Penn State's run game has been bad for most of the year and figuring out its backfield rotation has been a crapshoot. Lee, Noah Cain, and John Lovett all have rushing share averages between 20 and 30 percent. None of them have been overly productive, either. Cain averages just 3.15 yards per carry but leads the backfield in rushing scores (4) and he's involved in the pass game with 16 grabs for 105 yards. Lee has the best YPC average of the regular running backs at 4.93 but he has just one rushing touchdown. So why am I in on Lee this week?
Well, recency bias plays a factor. Small samples are tricky but this isn't baseball. We only get 12 cracks at this during the regular season. The hot hand means something and Lee seems to have it right now. Cain had minimal playing time last week while Lee took command of the backfield with a season-high 20 carries. He was reasonably effective given the matchup, too, averaging 4.4 YPC against a stout Michigan defense.
This week Lee gets to face Rutgers' defense at home. Rutgers isn't terrible against the run (153.7 RuYd/G allowed) but that's nothing to avoid, either. If Cain is still in his reduced role, the backfield should belong to Lee in a game where Penn State (-17) projects to be leading by multiple scores throughout. At just $3,600, we just need some moderate usage and decent efficiency for this to pay off.
Leddie Brown, West Virginia ($6,200) vs. Texas
The Horns might be on quit watch this weekend in Morgantown after last weekend's disastrous upset loss to Kansas that didn't really look like an upset on the field. That's of course speculative even if there is something rotten in Austin, so let's look at the facts.
Brown averages 17.1 carries per game and, outside of the Oklahoma State game in Week 10, has been heating up down the stretch. Removing the OK State game, Brown has seen 66 carries for 305 yards and five touchdowns in his last three games and has 11 catches in that span as well.
The sledding should be easy sledding for Brown this weekend against a Texas defense that surrenders over 200 rushing yards per game. With Brown's share of the backfield (52 percent), he'll get plenty of cracks against this weak Texas run defense.
Ulysses Bentley, SMU ($3,800) at Cincinnati
SMU is a double-digit road underdog against a good defense, so this traditionally wouldn't be a setup to target this backfield. Bentley's deflated price tag makes him an exception, however. This is a running back who was checking in over $6,000 on DraftKings for much of the season before a five-week stretch where he was either out or limited. He returned for real last weekend with 14 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown while adding three catches for 27 yards.
Tre Siggers did well enough in his absence to where he's likely the lead back the rest of the way, but there's still enough room in the backfield for Bentley to be a contributor. There's also the fact that Cincinnati is much tougher against the pass than it is against the run, where it's middling at best, checking in at 69th in rushing yards allowed per game. Prior to the South Florida game, Cincy had given up at least 155 yards on the ground in four straight against bad teams. And it still allowed USF to punch in three rushing scores.
SMU could absolutely lean on the ground game a little more this week to limit Tanner Mordecai's exposure to a shutdown secondary, which opens up more opportunity for Bentley and Siggers. Bentley gets my lean here though as a sub $4K option with the upside of someone closer to $6K.
Others to Consider
King Doerue, Purdue ($4,500) vs. Northwestern: This is pretty simple. Northwestern has the worst run defense on the slate and one of the worst in the country. Now, Purdue has the 7th-highest pass play percentage so the running backs inherently have a low ceiling. But if we can squeeze 10+ carries and a touchdown out of Doerue, that should be more than enough for him to return value. Purdue is an 11-point favorite, so the run game could be more of a factor than usual for the Boilermakers.
Ohio State's Receivers vs. Michigan State
Whether it's Jaxon Smith-Njigba ($7,900), Garrett Wilson ($6,800) or Chris Olave ($6,400), you can't go wrong this week. In fact, I'm going to try to at least two of these guys in the bulk of my lineups and it's possible to squeeze all three if you roster Jurkovec at superflex.
A brief case for each:
Smith-Njigba: Playing too well to have his role scaled back even with Garrett Wilson back. Set an Ohio State record with 15 grabs against Nebraska in Wilson's absence, backed it up by catching nine of 10 targets for 139 yards and a score against Purdue.
Wilson: Talent-wise, he's the best of this group in my opinion. He's coming off a three-touchdown game in his return and averages 10.4 YPT on the year. It's shocking to see his salary actually lower this week than it was against Purdue ($6,900) despite dropping a cool 54.7 DK Points on the Boilers.
Olave: The least flashy of this group but he's remarkably consistent. He's scored in seven straight games and averages a solid 8.5 YPT on 8.8 targets per game since Ohio State started conference play in earnest in Week 5.
My guess is that Wilson will be the most popular this week, followed by Olave for value purposes and then Smith-Njigba. All of them will have high roster percentages but it's well worth it to get exposure to this level of talent in the softest matchup possible.
Jahan Dotson, Penn State ($8,400) vs. Rutgers
We took last week off from Dotson but we're going back to the well here as Penn State gets set to host Rutgers. Dotson is second in the nation behind Western Kentucky's Jerreth Sterns in total targets (127) and his 33.4 percent target share ranks seventh in the FBS. Games like the one against Michigan show that volume isn't always everything as he had nine catches for 61 yards on 16 targets. But games like the one against Maryland (11 catches, 242 yards, three touchdowns) show how high Dotson's ceiling can be. Dotson hasn't seen fewer than 12 targets since Week 4 when Penn State played an FCS school. That shows that Dotson is game script-proof in that even when Penn State is playing an inferior opponent, it still feeds its star wideout.
The high price tag along with a lot of DFSers targeting the Ohio State and Pittsburgh wideouts should keep Dotson's roster percentage in check, making him all the more appealing in GPPs.
Xavier Worthy, Texas ($7,200) at West Virginia
Bijan Robinson is out, Texas has settled on its quarterback (for now) and Worthy is coming off an obscene 22-target game against Kansas. It's fair to doubt this Texas team, but Worthy is a stud regardless of the team context. He has a 29 percent target share while averaging 10.2 YPT and scoring 11 touchdowns. No Robinson should mean a more pass-heavy approach for Texas and Worthy is the only target the Horns seem to trust right now. Worthy's roster percentage could be kept in check this week with so many other games drawing a lot of attention.
Dylan Goffney, SMU ($3,000) at Cincinnati
Danny Gray was not practicing as of earlier this week after leaving last week's game against UCF. Gray's absence opened things up for Goffney to have a breakout game against the Knights where he caught 10 of 13 targets for 88 yards. The yardage total isn't impressive relative to the catch or target volume but still, that volume is extremely interesting for a player sitting at min-price.
Again, Cincinnati is toughest against the pass, but Goffney having a role similar to last week's would set the table for him to return value at min-price. He's a GPP-only consideration but there's some upside here.
The other near-min-priced option I like for this week is Purdue's Broc Thompson ($3,100), who has touchdowns in back-to-back weeks for the Boilermakers and has caught six of seven targets in that span against Michigan State and Ohio State.