In daily fantasy circles, a subject that keeps coming up is the topic of rake. It keeps coming up because it keeps going up.
This week, there were rumblings on social media among DFS customers about creeping rake (the fee that the DFS websites subtract from a contest prize pool for conducting the game), which in some contests on FanDuel and DraftKings, is approaching 16 percent. The typical rake recently has been about 15 percent -- and any movement upward, no matter how small or how few contests it affects, is going to be noticed. Obviously, the lower the rake, the better for the customer.
But since rake is the chief source of revenue, it's understandable DFS websites charge some commission. The issue, for DFS participants, is at what point does the rake become so high that being profitable, as a player, becomes too difficult.
To put this in perspective, two or three years ago, 10-11 percent was typical. One smaller website that seems to be holding steady at about 13 percent on many popular contests (and even zero rake on some head-to-head contests) is FantasyDraft.
Another change for DraftKings this week is its lineup of NFL games that are included in what it calls it "featured" contests. Previously, the Sunday night game was included along with the early and late afternoon games. Now, the Sunday night game is off the table. What may result is an uptick in what are called "prime time" contests that feature just the Sunday night and Monday night games. In fact, DraftKings is offering just such a contest with $1 million in guaranteed prize money and $100,000 to the winner (entry fee is $5).
Here's this week's value picks.
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars: This is a DraftKings choice only. Bortles' four-touchdown-pass performance against the Ravens last week was certainly a statistical outlier for the Jaguars quarterback. However, Bortles' appeal comes from an extremely attractive salary cap number ($5,300 on DK) and a seriously weak opponent, the New York Jets, who played over their heads last week against the Miami Dolphins.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: On FanDuel, the choice in Dalton for the same reasons -- cheap price ($7,100) and vulnerable opponent (Cleveland Browns).
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals: Bengals players are going to be popular this week, in large part because they play the Browns. But Mixon is a special case. The Bengals got a new offensive coordinator last week and are turning the page with the running backs. Rookie Mixon's touches went up last week, and he's going to be the No. 1 back in Cincinnati. His salary cap number is as low as it'll be for a while.
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys: Obviously, Elliott is no bargain, but when it comes to deciding where to splurge, he's a likely bet. He bounced back from a Week 2 disaster with a solid Monday night performance against the Arizona Cardinals, and he draws the Los Angeles Rams, who have been susceptible to the run.
Chris Johnson, Arizona Cardinals: Johnson is a big-tournament contest flyer. He's had lackluster performances since replacing the injured David Johnson, but the Cardinals are sticking with him as the starter, and he gets to play against the San Francisco 49ers, who have one of the worst run defenses in the league. His low salary cap number means you can spend more at other positions.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals: Green plays well against everyone, and this week he draws the Browns, who are incapable of stopping top-flight receivers.
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals: The hesitation on Fitzgerald is that he had such a huge Monday night against Dallas (13 catches, 149 yards, one TD) that he is due for a statistical regression. But he is clearly the one receiver that quarterback Carson Palmer trusts, and he draws the 49ers, who are terrible.
Sterling Shepard, New York Giants: As a slot receiver, Shepard is going to be more valuable on full-point-per-reception websites (DraftKings, FantasyDraft), and he's more reliable as a cash game option.
Evan Engram, New York Giants: It seems every week, there is a player who becomes a "hidden gem" darling. This week, it's the Giants' rookie tight end, and with good reason. He is getting a steady diet of targets, and he made good on one of two red-zone targets this season. And, oh yeah, he's dirt cheap on DraftKings.
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles: As long as the Eagles target this guy 10 times a game and he's in the $6,000s salary-cap bracket, he's a must-have in cash games, especially on PPR websites.
Ryan Succop, Tennessee Titans: Kickers are relevant only on FanDuel. Succop has quietly been putting together a monster season. Let's realize that it's all about opportunity with kickers, but Succop has made the most of them.
Cincinnati Bengals: Getting big points from a defense in DFS is more about an opponent's tendency to make big mistakes. The Bengals play the Browns. Cleveland's nine giveaways lead the league.