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November 9, 2018

Fantasy Strategy: Don’t get caught up in cliches

Johany Jutras, CFL.ca

Defence wins championships and opining the need to establish the run are common clichés come playoff time, but neither of these has anything to do with Fantasy football success. Many players have built up season-long statistical track records but changing rosters and head-to-head matchups will likely be more indicative of Fantasy production this week than the numbers players were able to produce versus weaker opponents throughout the season.

QUARTERBACK

Top Projected:

Jeremiah Masoli, HAM – $10,760

Matt Nichols, WPG – $6,811

Travis Lulay, BC – $5,966

The smaller rosters and salary cap for the playoff contests make the decisions regarding what positions to pay up for that much more crucial. Masoli led the Ticats’ passing game to the top of the field this season, averaging a league high 9.11 yards per attempt while passing for the third highest rate of passing TDs per attempt. The other three passing offences this week were all below the league average rate of passing yards per attempt (8.1), so there is some justification for his inflated salary.

BC is also the most generous pass defence on the slate, allowing 7.92 yards per attempt, but that is still below the league average for the season. In the three games Masoli has played without Brandon Banks, though, he has averaged only 6.95 yards per attempt while his passing TD per attempt rate dropped by 75 per cent. This offence is not the same without Banks, especially while still reeling from the losses of Jalen Saunders, Chris Williams, and Terrence Toliver.


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Nichols is the clear top value at the position, but he’s far from a safe play. In three games versus Saskatchewan this season, he averaged only 7.59 yards per attempt with a 53 per cent completion rate, had a 2:5 TD to INT ratio, and failed to crack even 170 yards passing in any of those contests. Those are not contest-winning Fantasy numbers. The weather also seems to be working against the prospects of the offences in Regina on Sunday, as the temperature at kickoff is expected to be around -11C with winds in the 15-25 kph range. If there’s any hope for Nichols’ Fantasy prospects, it’s that the Riders allowed the second highest rate of passing TDs per attempt on the slate despite their fearsome reputation – big plays can be had if the pass rush doesn’t get there first.

Lulay has not looked good in has last two outings, but games versus Saskatchewan and Calgary will do that to a quarterback. The Lions were one of the more run heavy teams this season – rushing 35.9 per cent of the time – so Lulay didn’t have many huge statistical games, but his salary certainly reflects that. Through the first half of the season, the Ticats’ defence was allowing the fewest passing yards per game in the league (201.9 per game/7.1 yards per attempt) but by season’s end they are now giving up pass yards at a significantly higher total and rate (247.7 per game/7.92 yards per attempt). Their passing TDs per attempt rate has also nearly doubled from .0265 to .0495 over the second half of the season. They are much more vulnerable to the pass than they appeared early on. It’s likely the Lions feature a run heavy attack, but the deep shots will still be there to DeVier Posey and Bryan Burnham. It only takes a couple connections for Lulay to be the top Fantasy QB of the week at this salary.

RUNNING BACK

Top Projected:

Andrew Harris, WPG – $8,075

Alex Green, HAM – $9,441

Tyrell Sutton, BC – $6,181

Punt Single:

Cameron Marshall, SSK – $5,275

Just as Nichols struggled versus the Riders this season, Harris was also largely held in check by the Green and White outside of a couple long runs in the Labour Day Classic. In his two other games versus Saskatchewan, Harris averaged only 2.35 yards per carry, had only three receptions on three targets, and was held out of the end zone completely. Harris likely has the highest ceiling of any RB on the slate, playing for the top rushing offence in the CFL which averaged 5.73 yards per carry while also leading the league in touchdowns on the ground. He projects for the most touches of any running back this week, while the weather would seem to lend itself to a more ground based offensive attack. He’s certainly in consideration for the RB slot in lineups despite the fact the Riders allowed the second fewest yards per rush attempt (4.94) and the fewest total rushing TDs (12) this season.

Green’s price tag is egregious, but if players save salary at QB with Lulay, he could make part of an interesting game stack expecting Lulay to pass a lot while playing from behind, giving Green extra work grinding down the clock. Green averaged a solid 5.3 yards per carry this season and faces a BC rush defence which is the worst of any team in the playoffs, allowing 5.42 yards per carry. The pairing of Odell Willis and Shawn Lemon at mid-season made for a fearsome Lions pass rush, but both are somewhat one-dimensional players that led to an increasingly generous rush defence as the season wore on. If Green is going to pay off this tag, it will have to be on the merits of multiple rushing TDs, so players should likely decide between investing in either Green or Hamilton receivers but not both.

Travis Lulay will try to solve the Ticats’ pass defence on Sunday at Tim Hortons Field (Patrick Doyle/CFL.ca)

After a wonderful two-game premiere for the Lions in which Sutton tallied 203 yards rushing and two TDs, he was made mostly irrelevant over the following two games versus Saskatchewan and Calgary. Those two defences were the top rush stoppers in the league though, allowing only 4.74 yards per carry. Hamilton on the other hand, was one of the worst rushes defences in the league throughout the season, allowing 5.33 yards per carry by season’s end to go along with the second highest rate of rushing touchdowns per attempt allowed of any playoff team. With a much more affordable price tag, he could make the opposite game stack from Green/Lulay a solid play, making Masoli affordable if players believe it is the Lions that will play from ahead.

The expected long-term loss of Riders season long starter Tre Mason bumped Marshall’s workload significantly in the Riders’ season finale versus BC, leading to 134 rushing yards on 19 carries. Frankly, Marshall’s running style seems a better fit for the Riders’ offence than Mason, as he patiently waits for gaps to develop while Mason tended to go full speed from the moment he was handed the ball to where he expected the blocking to develop holes. The Riders ran the second highest percentage of running plays this season (39.4%), so Marshall should get a significant work while Thigpen spells him as a change of pace back. The Bombers allowed a below average rate of rushing yards per attempt (5.06) but did allow the highest rate of rushing TDs per attempt this season. Add to that that the Riders were one of only two teams this season to score more touchdowns on the ground than through the air and there’s reason to be interested in Marshall as a flex play, if not the RB slot.

WIDE RECEIVER

Top Projected:

Luke Tasker, HAM – $8,886

Terrell Sinkfield, HAM – $5,359

Darvin Adams, WPG – $7,176

Bryan Burnham, BC – $6,165

DeVier Posey, BC – $5,790

Weston Dressler, WPG – $5,256

Punt Single(s):

K.D. Cannon, SSK – $2,500

Justin Buren, HAM – $2,500

Kenbrell Thompkins, WPG – $2,500

Patrick Lavoie, SSK – $2,500

Tasker is the top projected receiver on the slate, but this is the lowest projected total for any top WR this season. The price tag is inflated primarily due to his multi-touchdown efforts late in the season while Banks commanded much of opposing defences’ attention. However, as mentioned before, Tasker’s workload usually doesn’t increase in Banks’ absence, but his efficiency does decline. With relatively high salaries for the top RBs and a lot of good values near the bottom of the WR scale, it’s difficult to spend up for Tasker while he faces a BC pass defence that allowed the third fewest yards per target this season (7.85). If players are looking to invest in the Hamilton passing attack, less expensive options like Sinkfield or Jones are preferable options at nearly half the salary and with arguably the same upside.

Adams ended the regular season on his best three-game run of the year, averaging seven targets for 90 yards and a touchdown in each of his final three games. It’s no coincidence that this was also one of the best stretches for Nichols in the regular season. Much has been made this week of the Bombers record with or without Weston Dressler in the lineup (10-3 with him, 0-5 without him) but that’s about as actionable for Fantasy purposes as noting Nichols is 1-5 in games played on a Sunday since 2015. What is actionable though is that the Riders allowed the third highest rate of receiving TDs per target of any team this season – the second highest of any playoff team. Adams is the Bombers’ deep threat and will have to have a big game for the Bombers to win. The other Bombers’ receivers priced around $5K have similar ceilings, but their floors are much lower.

The Bombers will be looking for a big play from Darvin Adams against the Rider defence (The Canadian Press)

As mentioned earlier with Lulay, the Hamilton pass defence isn’t nearly as daunting as it was in August and there should be opportunity for a Lions receiver to have a productive game. Over their last five games, Posey averaged 6.2 targets per game while Burnham’s role slumped to a mere 3.8 targets per game in that stretch. Burnham was much more efficient with his looks though as he averaged 14 yards per target in that span while Posey got only 8.1 yards per target. Neither were particularly consistent though, as they each produced only one 100-yard effort this season. Burnham was the more consistent TD producer which may give him the edge if deciding between the two this week, but it’s not clear what the optimal stack with Lulay will be.

The receiver bargain bin is stocked with minimum priced options in starting roles, but probably the most interesting of them is Cannon if he’s able to suit up for the Riders after getting banged up versus BC a couple weeks back. None of these options are likely to get more than four or five targets, so efficiency is what will make or break these value plays. Cannon has the best top speed of the bunch, making him the most likely candidate to bust one big play to pay off his tag.

DEFENCE

Top Projected:

Saskatchewan Roughriders – $5,440

Winnipeg Blue Bombers – $6,300

BC Lions – $3,200

With the forecast for cold and breezy conditions in Regina on Sunday evening, a game that was expected to be dominated by the defences leans even more heavily that direction. A frozen football is difficult to hang on to. The Riders led the league in forced two and outs (107), were tied for the league lead in sacks (45) and forced the third most turnovers (41). What really puts them into the top spot though is their propensity to turn those takeaways into touchdowns, having scored 11 this season. Nichols’ 2:5 TD to INT ratio versus the Riders this season is glaring.

The other side of the game is the other top consideration for a defence this weekend as the Bombers were also tied for the league lead in sacks (45) and tied for the league lead in forced turnovers with 49. The Riders allowed the fewest sacks in the league this season though (27) so the upside isn’t as high for the Bombers. The salary savings the Riders unit offers hurts the Bombers appeal a little as well.

If players are looking for a bargain defence this week, the Lions are probably the best of the two remaining options. At half the price of the Bombers unit, the Lions produced just as many sacks this season and face a Ticats offence that gave up the second most turnovers in the league during the regular season (41). If the Hamilton offence continues to struggle minus Banks and others, the BC defence could be a solid value.

STACKS

Masoli > Sinkfield

Tasker gets the headlines in Hamilton, but if their offence is going to be effective, it will be due to Terrell Sinkfield’s ability to stretch the field in Banks’ absence. In his lone game of meaningful action as a receiver, Sinkfield had nine targets and led the Ticats with 72 air yards. Masoli isn’t cheap, so a cheap stacking partner is nearly a necessity.

Nichols > Adams

If Matt Nichols is going to have a productive outing on Sunday, Adams will almost certainly be the major player in his success. The Riders still allow more big plays than they should, and Adams would be the one to exploit them.

SEMI-FINAL PROJECTIONS

QUARTERBACKS

Name Postion Salary Team Opp Projection Pts/$ Pass Attempts Rush Carries
Jeremiah MASOLI QB $10,760.00 HAM BC 22.75 2.16 34.45 3.70
Matt NICHOLS QB $6,811.00 WPG SSK 17.12 2.57 27.70 1.90
Travis LULAY QB $5,966.00 BC HAM 12.65 1.99 29.96 1.90
Zach COLLAROS QB $5,323.00 SSK WPG 10.84 2.08 31.39 1.70
Chris STREVELER QB $8,692.00 WPG SSK 4.90 0.63 1.20 3.40
Cody FAJARDO QB $5,000.00 BC HAM 1.04 0.21 1.10

RUNNING BACKS

Name Postion Salary Team Opp Projection Pts/$ Rush Carries Receiving Targets Punt Returns Kick Returns
Andrew HARRIS RB $8,075.00 WPG SSK 18.20 2.30 15.20 4.30
Alex GREEN RB $9,441.00 HAM BC 16.36 1.76 16.20 1.20
Tyrell SUTTON RB $6,181.00 BC HAM 13.38 2.19 11.80 2.90
Chris RAINEY RB $6,587.00 BC HAM 12.38 1.96 3.70 2.30 4.00 4.00
Cameron MARSHALL RB $5,275.00 SSK WPG 11.22 2.17 14.10 1.80
Marcus THIGPEN RB $6,570.00 SSK WPG 8.65 1.34 6.30 2.50 3.00 3.00

RECEIVERS

Name Postion Salary Team Opp Projection Pts/$ Rush Carries Receiving Targets Punt Returns Kick Returns
Luke TASKER WR $8,886.00 HAM BC 16.15 1.86 0.00 7.30
Terrell SINKFIELD Jr. WR $5,359.00 HAM BC 13.31 2.68 0.00 8.10 1.00 1.00
Darvin ADAMS WR $7,176.00 WPG SSK 13.12 1.87 0.00 6.30
Bryan BURNHAM WR $6,165.00 BC HAM 11.81 1.69 0.00 5.90
DeVier POSEY WR $5,790.00 BC HAM 11.29 2.04 0.00 6.40
Weston DRESSLER WR $5,256.00 WPG SSK 10.25 1.99 0.00 5.30
Mike JONES WR $5,360.00 HAM BC 10.04 2.23 0.00 5.70
Jordan WILLIAMS-LAMBERT WR $4,527.00 SSK WPG 9.90 2.23 0.00 6.10
Nic DEMSKI WR $4,811.00 WPG SSK 9.83 2.04 1.90 5.00 0.00
Marquay MCDANIEL WR $3,570.00 HAM BC 9.18 2.67 0.00 5.40 0.00 0.00
Kyran MOORE WR $4,350.00 SSK WPG 8.95 2.09 0.20 4.80 1.00 1.00
K.D. Cannon WR $2,500.00 SSK WPG 8.59 3.43 0.00 4.90
Justin BUREN WR $2,500.00 HAM BC 8.39 3.36 0.00 5.80 0.00 0.00
Kenbrell THOMPKINS WR $2,500.00 WPG SSK 7.70 3.08 0.00 3.90
Ricky COLLINS Jr. WR $3,190.00 BC HAM 7.49 2.18 0.00 5.60
Drew WOLITARSKY WR $4,352.00 WPG SSK 7.14 1.67 0.00 4.10
Shaq EVANS WR $4,148.00 SSK WPG 6.20 1.52 0.00 5.00 0.00
Patrick LAVOIE WR $2,500.00 SSK WPG 5.92 2.37 0.00 5.30
Cory WATSON WR $3,284.00 BC HAM 5.48 1.66 0.00 3.20
Naaman ROOSEVELT WR $5,689.00 SSK WPG 5.40 0.97 0.00 4.00
Caleb HOLLEY WR $2,500.00 SSK WPG 1.12 0.45 0.00 0.80