Thursday NFL DFS Breakdown: Saints vs. Cowboys

Thursday NFL DFS Breakdown: Saints vs. Cowboys

Two teams featured on Thanksgiving Day will matchup with a full week of rest as the Cowboys host the Saints on Thursday night.

Vegas Info

The Saints are currently 7.5-point favorites despite being on the road, while the over/under total is 52.5.

The Implied Score is Saints 30, Cowboys 22 (dropping a half point).

Team Info

The Saints average 6.4 yards per play on offense, ranking fifth in the NFL. Defensively, the Saints allow 6.1 yards per play, which is tied for the ninth-worst mark in the NFL.

The Cowboys average 5.4 yards per play on offense, ranking 23rd in the NFL. Defensively, the Cowboys allow 5.4 yards per play, tied for the eighth-best mark in the NFL.

In terms of fantasy points allowed to each position, here's a quick glance at what each team has done to this point.

(DraftKings scoring was used for this table, but adjusting to FanDuel scoring doesn't change the rankings in a meaningful way.)

Saints24.5 (30th)19.2 (3rd)50.1 (32nd)8.0 (2nd)
Cowboys18.6 (T-10th)21.1 (9th)30.6 (3rd)15.5 (26th)

Key Injuries

Tre'Quan Smith (toe), Wil Lutz (back) and Dan Arnold (chest) fully practiced Wednesday after limited sessions Monday and Tuesday. They do not carry an official designation on the injury report.

Tyron Smith (neck) did not practice all week, but he's listed as questionable.

Sean Lee (ankle) and David Irving (ankle) have been ruled out.

Team Trends

The Cowboys might have overpaid for Amari Cooper, but he's a huge addition to an offense that was sorely lacking a top-end option in the wide receiver corps in the first seven games.

Since the addition of Cooper in Week 9, Dak Prescott has gone 91-for-130 (70.0%) for 1,010 yards and a 5:1 TD: INT mark. He's averaged 7.77 YPA during that span, while posting a 102.4 passer rating.

Prior to Cooper's arrival, Prescott was completing 62.1% of his passes, and he carried a 6.88 YPA while posting an 87.4 passer rating.

Even on a game-by-game basis, Prescott's completion percentage in each of his four games with Cooper has been higher than it was in each of the seven games played without him.

Cooper has led the Cowboys in target share in three of his first four games in Dallas, averaging 25 percent of the targets during that span. Ezekiel Elliott has been second in target share during that span (21 percent average), followed by Michael Gallup (16 percent) and Cole Beasley (14 percent).

After losing tight end Geoff Swaim to injury in Week 11, the Cowboys used a three-man rotation against Washington last Thursday, with Dalton Schultz (60 percent of the snaps) seeing the most playing time, followed by Blake Jarwin (50 percent) and Rico Gathers (21 percent). Schultz's lone target last week came in the red zone, and head coach Jason Garrett said Tuesday that the Cowboys intend to lean more heavily on Schultz in Week 12.

In some ways, trying to assess the Saints' personnel groupings feels like an exercise in futility. Sean Payton uses a lot of players, and he constantly mixes and matches them into different combinations. Compared to more predictable teams (especially a team like Dallas), snap shares seem much less meaningful.

Just as I shortened up the range of interest with Dallas to the time since Amari Cooper has been in tow, I want to focus on the Saints since Week 5, when Mark Ingram returned from suspension.

In those seven games, the Saints have distributed 32 red-zone targets as follows:

Michael Thomas - 9 (28.1%)
Alvin Kamara - 6 (18.8%)
Ben Watson - 5 (15.6%)
Tre'Quan Smith - 4 (12.5%)
Austin Carr - 3 (9.4%)
Zach Line - 2 (6.3%)
Dan Arnold - 1 (3.1%)
Josh Hill - 1 (3.1%)
Keith Kirkwood - 1 (3.1%)

During that span, they've run the ball 53 times in the red zone with the following distribution:

Alvin Kamara - 21 (39.6%)
Mark Ingram - 15 (28.3%)
Taysom Hill - 10 (18.9%)
Teddy Bridgewater - 3 (5.7%)
Drew Brees - 3 (5.7%)
Zach Line - 1 (1.9%)

Counting the non-designed QB runs above, the Saints have run the ball 62.4% of the time inside the red zone since Week 5.

Captains, MVPs & High-Priced Fades

Full PPR scoring on DraftKings makes Alvin Kamara the highest-scoring player on the board for this matchup, in terms of fantasy points per game to this point. Using him as the Captain commands a slate-high $17,700 on DraftKings, but he's only the fourth-highest priced player on FanDuel, which should nudge his ownership rate as the MVP selection even higher in those contests. In cash-game lineups, I have no qualms about locking in Kamara, but you'll quickly see that the pricing is such that you're leaving at least one critical player from one of the offenses out of your lineup.

Drew Brees ($15,900 DKC, $17,000 FD) has turned in two clunkers this season (Week 4 against the Giants and Week 8 against the Vikings), but he's posted seven games with at least three TD passes, including one in which he ran for a pair (Week 3 against Atlanta). The idea that the Saints will find ways to spread the ball around and meet or exceed their Implied Total is a reasonable conclusion to draw, and not wanting to get it wrong by choosing the wrong weapon of choice for Brees by merely putting the multiplier on Brees himself looks like a safe path.

Cowboys corner Byron Jones has been excellent this season, holding the opposition to a 4.9 YPA and 42.3% completion percentage when he's been targeted this season. While he may follow Michael Thomas ($17,400 DKC, $14,500 FD) around, even the occasional matchup against other Dallas corners could be lethal for Thomas, as Anthony Brown and Chidobe Awuzie have allowed QB ratings over 100 this season. Steering away from Thomas as a Captain/MVP option seems appropriate, if not slightly obvious given the circumstances, and the high price might make him the top-end fade of choice in this game.

Ezekiel Elliott ($16,800 DKC, $16,500 FD) has a larger role in the Dallas passing game than many of us expected when the season began, which raises his floor considerably in situations where Dallas is forced to play from behind and lean more heavily than usual on the passing game. Zeke has gone over 120 yards rushing and caught at least five passes in each of the Cowboys' last three games, and much like the seemingly difficult matchup for Thomas on paper against Jones, Elliott is set to face a Saints run defense that has been the league's most stingy in YPC allowed (3.6, tied with the Bears) this season.

Of course, leaning on the QB from the team expected to be playing from behind can be effective, and Dak Prescott ($13,500 DKC, $15,500) might be squeezed from consideration for a few lineups since his FPPG numbers pale in comparison on the other top-end players in this game. At the very least, Dak is a must-play for anybody fading Zeke, since a Dak rushing TD could be part of the reason Zeke falls short of lofty expectation.

Mark Ingram ($11,400 DKC, $12,500 FD) is interesting for the designation, since large clusters of lineups should lean on one of Kamara, Brees, Elliott or Prescott in the top spot. Since returning from his suspension, nearly one in every six red-zone plays the Saints have called resulted in the ball being in Ingram's hands. If you believe this could be a big night (80+ rushing yards and multiple TDs) for Ingram, locking him in as the Captain/MVP would give you a slightly different look, and on DraftKings in particular, it frees up enough extra cash for a significant upgrade (or two) with your other roster spots.

Amari Cooper's ($12,300 DKC, $12,500 FD) monster game against Washington may have ruined Thanksgiving for some, but he's been targeted at least eight times in three of his first four games with the Cowboys. His past transgressions against the fantasy community may pull his ownership rate down slightly from where it should be in a matchup this favorable, but it's hard to imagine Dallas getting anything done through the air without Cooper being a part of it. No team has been more generous to opposing wide receivers than the Saints this season, which only increases Cooper's appeal.

With Tre'Quan Smith ($10,200 DKC, $10,500 FD) on track for a return Thursday, it's time to consider if his monster game in Week 11 against the Eagles (10-157-TD) was the byproduct of Philadelphia's injury-ravaged secondary, or if it was a sign that he's taken over as the Saints' No. 2 WR down the stretch. Considering that he was targeted the same number of times in that matchup (13) as he was in the previous four games combined (Weeks 7-10), it's easy to assume that it's the former. I expect him to be a popular play outside out of the Captain spot on DraftKings thanks to a modest $6,800 price tag. In a scenario where I only have one lineup built for this slate, Smith is a fade, and if I were to go the multi-entry route, I would limit exposure to 33% of lineups or less.

Mid-Range Considerations

Michael Gallup ($4,400 DK, $6,000 FD) dropped a potential long TD against Washington, but he's getting somewhat steady opportunities as the third option in the passing game behind Cooper and Elliott, with at least five targets in three of the Cowboys' last four games. Gallup's 42.9% catch rate through 11 games is woeful, but he's turned seven of his 18 receptions this season into gains of 20+ yards, and he'll likely match up against Eli Apple (8.3 YPA, 94.6 passer rating against) opposite Cooper vs. Marshon Lattimore.

Cole Beasley ($6,000 DK, $8,500 FD) might be ignored on FanDuel, where receptions are only worth a half point and the price is $2,500 higher than it is on DraftKings. Beasley's overall usage has been slightly below that of Gallup since Cooper arrived, but he may see regular coverage from P.J. Williams, Ken Crawley or Justin Hardee working out of the slot, which is an extremely favorable matchup as Williams and Crawley have allowed passer ratings of 120+ this season.

Ben Watson ($3,900 DK, $7,000 FD) stands out as a potential mid-range bargain option, considering the previously noted pecking order for red-zone targets (he's third since Week 5) since the return of Mark Ingram in Week 5. He's a GPP-only play, however, as Watson has gone without a target in each of the Saints' last five games. Also, while Josh Hill has been playing more snaps than Watson, Hill runs a route 71 percent of the time whereas Watson runs a route 86 percent of the time.

A decision between Watson and Keith Kirkwood ($3,600 DK, $8,000 FD) might be a regular toss-up for a final roster spot. Kirkwood has picked up a double-digit target share in each of the last two games (16 and 14 percent, respectively). As a result, I expect him to be slightly more popular than Watson.

Punt Plays

Dan Arnold ($2,700 DK, $7,500 FD) is a converted wide receiver out of the University of Wisconsin -- Platteville, making a move to tight end for the Saints. He's still more of a hybrid than a true tight end, but if his chest injury proves to be a non-issue, Arnold enters Week 13 coming off a season-high six targets and his first career TD last week.

Taysom Hill ($2,400 DK, $5,000 FD) has racked up nearly 20 percent of the Saints' red-zone carries since Week 5, which is surprising to say the last.

Dalton Schultz ($1,200 DK, $5,000 FD) has the slight upper hand in the Cowboys' current tight-end rotation, which at the salary floor on FanDuel in particular, may have some appeal for top-heavy lineups in need of significant salary relief.

Noah Brown ($200 DK, N/A FD) played 20 snaps and pulled in a pair of targets for 22 yards against Washington in Week 12. He spent the first eight games of the season on IR, but he may be trending toward taking on the Cowboys' No. 4 WR role down the stretch, which given the instability at tight end, could open the door for a handful of targets in matchups where the Cowboys throw more than usual.

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Derek VanRiper plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: FanDuel: RotoWireDVR, DraftKings: BentleysChair, Yahoo: d.vanriper,.
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Derek VanRiper
Derek was a frequent writer and media host. During his tenure, he'd been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also had hosted RotoWire's shows on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210).
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