It’s finally here- the Conference Championships of the 2023 season, and another DraftKings main slate. With just four teams playing, this article takes a little bit of a different format. We take a look at some starts who are nice pieces to build around, and some sits who could struggle to hit value.
Brock Purdy v DET ($6,400)
History is littered with famous pairings; Batman and Robin, Paul Lennon and John McCartney, Peanut Butter and Jam – together they form some of the greatest partnerships of all time, but when these unstoppable tag-teams are forced to go solo and do it all alone…things don’t always go so well. The on-field chemistry between 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy and 5th year wideout Deebo Samuel has been undeniable since Samuel’s return from a shoulder injury in week 10, with the former 2nd rounder finishing as the WR2 for fantasy over the final 8 weeks of the regular season. The No.1 seeds in the NFC lost only 3 of their opening 14 matchups – consecutive defeats against Cleveland, Minnesota and Cincinnati…the losses coinciding with the 3 weeks Deebo missed through a shoulder injury suffered early against the Browns (a game they were winning at the time of his departure). Samuel again left Sunday’s clash against Green Bay and once again San Fran struggled in the absence of their star man. Whilst this 49ers offense could lay claim to being The Beatles of the NFL, without Deebo Samuel, Brock Purdy and Co were a band on the run and had to wing it through their Divisional Round clash against the Packers.
Midweek reports suggest Samuel is tracking well to suit up this weekend and that’s good news for Brock Purdy as the NFC West Champs host the Detroit Lions and a pass defense that ranks 30th against opposing quarterbacks. The Lions saw off the challenge of Tampa Bay at Ford Field last Sunday, but still gave up 349 yards and 3 touchdowns to Baker Mayfield in the 31-23 victory. Detroit boasts the best run defense in football, so look to Kyle Shanahan to ask Purdy to take to the skies more often in their bid to make their 2nd Super Bowl in the last 5 years. Mr Irrelevant is my top ranked QB on the week yet again, even ahead of Lamar who is $1,300 more expensive on the slate.
Isiah Pacheco @BAL ($6,500)
Over the course of the regular season, Isaiah Pacheco averaged 4.6 yards per carry, good enough to see him finish 8th at the position for all backs who rushed over 200 times over the year. The former Rutgers man is turning into an efficiency machine during the back half of his sophomore season, with his 3 most economic outings on the year coming in his last 5 games. No running back getting double digit carries in the Divisional Round matchups had a better YPC than Kansas City’s lead rusher, with the former 7th round pick’s 6.1 rushing yards outpacing even Christian McCaffrey, the overall leader at the position on almost every metric across the year. The Chiefs are making their 6th consecutive AFC Championship appearance on Sunday evening, but the trip to Maryland will be their first away from Arrowhead in Mahomes’ career and for the franchise in 30 years, against what is a very stout Ravens defense. Baltimore are giving up the 3rd fewest fantasy points to opposing QBs and the 4th fewest to tight ends – on paper at least the chances of Mahomes and Kelce recreating the magic of last weekend’s victory in Buffalo seem slim. Despite being watertight through the air, the Ravens can be run on, and Pacheco will look to angrily stomp all over their 16th ranked rush defense at M&T Bank Stadium this weekend. Outside of CMC, Pacheco is the only RB I have any level of confidence in on the slate – and priced $2500 cheaper than McCaffrey, I will have a lot of exposure to him in my lineups.
Justice Hill v KC ($4,800)
If I am roserting a 3rd back in the FLEX, or simply cannot afford the CMC/Pacheco tandem, Baltimore’s Justice Hill is my most likely pivot at the position after his encouraging display in the Raven’s comfortable win over the Texans last weekend. Hill led the Baltimore backfield in carries against Houston, out-touching teammate Gus Edwards 13-10, putting up 26 more rushing yards on the ground than Edwards with his slightly larger workload. This was only the 4th occasion on the year where the 5th year RB out of Oklahoma State has seen the majority of work out of the backfield, and with his expanded role, Hill was able to amass a season best 66-yards rushing to go along with his 2 receptions for 11 yards. It would however be remiss of me to look past the very large, MVP sized elephant in the room. I did warn last week how John Harbaugh and his OC Todd Monken would have plenty of designed run plays drawn up for their quarterback – and while I did expect Lamar to have a handful of runs for 40 or so yards and maybe score a touchdown – I certainly wasn’t anticipating Jackson to break the 100 yard barrier for the 2nd time this year and find the endzone on 2 occasions. Lamar has a habit of vulturing multiple rushing scores from his running backs, with 6 of his 7 touchdowns on the season coming in only 3 contests – so don’t expect a repeat this time out. Hill’s increased role on the ground and his continued use in the passing game makes him the more attractive prospect at the position for the AFC’s No.1 seeds…particularly at home.
Brandon Aiyuk v DET ($6,900)
I confidently proclaimed last week that given the $900 difference in price, I much preferred Brandon Aiyuk at $6,900 over teammate Deebo Samuel, and in a way, I was kinda spot on…right? Ok, Aiyuk dropped the ball last week (only figuratively at least) with a fairly disappointing performance and a final stat line of 3 receptions for 32 yards. The yardage total was the lowest on the season for the former 1st rounder (in games that matter – I’m excluding week 18 here), a tally made even more frustrating given the absence of Deebo Samuel for over three quarters of San Fran’s Divisional Round victory over the Packers. With Samuel sidelined, Brock Purdy turned instead to tight end George Kittle, as the TE5 on the year and only man at the position to surpass 1,000 yards, led the way for the 49ers in the passing game with 81 yards and a score on his 4 receptions. Aiyuk wasn’t even the WR1 on the day for Purdy with Jauan Jennings (more on him later) hauling in 5 of his 6 targets for 61 scoreless yards. Deebo looks set to be a true game time decision for Sunday’s NFC title game with his shoulder injury, so Aiyuk should lead the line against Detroit and their 30th ranked pass defense, regardless if Samuel suits up or not. The 4th year wideout is once again priced down compared to his teammate Samuel – he’s my WR1 on the slate…ahead of Amon-Ra St.Brown who is a full $1k more expensive.
George Kittle v DET ($5,300)
Did you just read the section above where I said Geroge Kittle was the only tight end to record a 1,000-yard season? Did you also see that stat showing he led the 49ers in receiving yards and scored their only touchdown through the air last weekend? Ok…good. Kittle is priced as the TE3 on this 4-team slate, with only the Baltimore duo of Isaiah Likely and Mark Andrews behind him in the starting tight end conversation. Regardless which one of the Ravens TE’s suits up, at only $5,300 – the 7th year pro and five-time Pro Bowler is my favourite start at the position this weekend. Lions rookie Sam LaPorta ($5,400) will play despite his knee bruising, and Travis Kelce is fresh off a vintage 2-touchdown performance against the Bills, but with Deebo Samuel looking like he’ll be used sparingly (if he suits up) and Detroit giving up the 7th most yards to tight ends – Kittle has the best shot at finishing top of the pile at the position this weekend. San Fran’s No.85 has put up at least 100-yards or a score in 3 of his last 5 and has outscored Kelce, priced $1,300 more on the slate, on 6 of the 14 occasions they have both played this season. Kittle should have a solid floor with the potential for a week winning ceiling.