Originally posted: October 10, 2017
This column is an early-week look at what WRs are looking better or worse than usual against their secondary counterparts. Few NFL teams use true shadow coverage anymore, but if a team does, or is employing a different strategy this week in particular, we’ll note it here.
For the most part, we’re not going to mention the truly great players (it’s always a good idea to play Antonio Brown), unless the situation is so bad that a stud should be an obvious cash-game play.
We also finish up with some sneaky TE and RB plays in the passing game.
This column will be updated later in the week when more information is available.
Alshon Jeffery vs. Panthers CBs
Alshon has opened the year with several brutal matchups, and some shadow situations: Josh Norman, Marcus Peters, Janoris Jenkins, Casey Hayward, and Patrick Peterson have all faced off against Alshon at some point this year. I don’t mean to say that Carolina’s secondary is bad – in fact, quite the opposite. Starting CBs Daryl Worley (who returned from a strained pec last week) and James Bradberry are overall good players, without a doubt, and the Panthers’ 31.7 FPG allowed to opposing WRs is mediocre statistically. But both of those guys – Worley with an ankle and Bradberry with a calf – were added to the injury report on Tuesday and look iffy to play. That’s in addition to starting S Kurt Coleman (knee) not able to play. In addition, Carolina has been one of the league’s most predominant zone teams in recent years, and Jeffery’s size will be an asset in finding voids in that coverage. The Eagles may not have RT Lane Johnson (concussion) in Week 6, which could require them to get the ball out of Carson Wentz’s hands quicker. Jeffery on quick slants and digs would be an effective route to take there. Jeffery is coming off a season-low 4 targets against Arizona, in large part because of the coverage of Peterson, so expect him to be fed in Week 6 against a hurting secondary if you’re playing the intriguing Thursday Night slate.
Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess vs. Eagle CBs
This is actually an intriguing matchup. The Eagles’ starting CBs on the perimeter with Ronald Darby out – Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas– have been two of the more picked-on CBs in the NFL, which is no surprise. Douglas is a third-round rookie, and Mills struggled in his rookie year last year. That alone is a good enough reason to target Benjamin and the much-improved Funchess on the TNF slate. But it is also worth noting that Mills and Douglas struggle more with smaller, faster receivers than they do with the Benjamin and Funchess types. Nonetheless, no team in the NFL has surrendered more than Philly’s 77 receptions and 1033 receiving yards to WRs through five games, and at the very least there should be enough volume here to produce in a potential high-scoring game. The over/under is a current mediocre 46.5, but Cam Newton has been great the last two weeks, and Philly hasn’t scored fewer than 20 points since Week 12 of the 2016 season.
DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller vs. Browns CBs
This one is pretty easy. Hopkins and Fuller combined for 5 TD receptions against the Chiefs last week, though they did it on only 6 catches, and two of Hopkins’ 3 TDs came in total GTP. Nonetheless, what the last three games have proven is that QB Deshaun Watson is capable of making enough plays to keep this offense afloat even when it stalls out from drive to drive, as it did for times against Kansas City. Watson interspersed huge plays – his 5 TD passes came on just 16 completions – with some inaccurate throws, but it may be something we have to live with, a la Russell Wilson. This week, I’d wager Watson throws for more completions than 16 against Cleveland, which has ProFootballFocus’ second-worst CB by yards allowed per coverage snap in Jamar Taylor (2.07). Jason McCourty is actually playing pretty well, but Watson has carved up poor pass defenses, and the Browns qualify. The big issue is the new-found pass rush with DE Myles Garrett, who had 2 sacks in his NFL debut last week. Watson should be able to make enough plays that Hopkins gives potential as a core cash play, and he’s been willing to uncork deep shots to Fuller that makes him an intriguing back-end roster filler with explosion potential.
Larry Fitzgerald vs. Robert McClain
Fitz was pretty quiet against the Eagles last week, somewhat surprisingly, but Eagle slot CB Patrick Robinson has been overall excellent, and they used S Malcolm Jenkins in that spot as well. One guy who hasn’t been such is McClain, who is giving up the 10th-most coverage yards per snap out of the slot this year, according to ProFootballFocus, and who had a tough time with Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan last week. According to PFF, McClain has surrendered 14 receptions on his 16 slot targets, and with Fitz having a considerable size advantage (6’3” to 5’9”), expect this to be a matchup Carson Palmer tries to exploit early and often.
Jordy Nelson and/or Davante Adams vs. Trae Waynes
Waynes is a particularly beatable corner – a better athlete than player at this point – and is the most exploitable Vikings defensive back in a matchup Aaron Rodgers will look to exploit. The Packers move their receivers around like crazy, so both Nelson and Adams will see Waynes. According to ProFootballFocus, Waynes has allowed 307 yards in coverage, 7th-most among CBs, while teammate Xavier Rhodes isn’t even in the top 50 in the same category. Adams was Rodgers’ go-to man last week against Dallas, and could remain the same this week if Nelson (hamstring) is out or limited. Jordy missed the Packers’ game-winning drive against Dallas – which Adams finished off with a TD – but doesn’t appear to be seriously injured. Both guys have opportunities to make plays against Minnesota.
Pierre Garcon vs. Washington CBs
Two REVENGE GAMES in a row for Garcon! He torched the Colts for 8/94 last week on 11 targets despite seeing some of tough-matchup Vontae Davis. He won’t face nearly the resistance this week against Washington with Josh Norman out, and some bizarre off-season tweets from Garcon suggest he didn’t exactly leave the club on the best terms. One of the NFL’s toughest and most competitive players, if there is any ill will from Garcon for his former employer, I expect him to take advantage of it. Bashaud Breeland is actually a good corner who has overall played well this year for Washington, but the depth takes such a massive hit without Norman that I’m guessing Brian Hoyer will look Garcon’s way early and often. Garcon is a core PPR play for me this week.
Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen vs. Packers CBs
It was disappointing to see Sam Bradford look the way he did on Monday night against the Bears, because it is now blatantly obvious that the best option for fantasy going forward in Minnesota is Case Keenum until Bradford is right. Keenum is at least competent and healthy, and that means he should give Diggs and Thielen enough juice to produce against a poor Green Bay secondary. The best play here is Thielen; as the Vikings’ primary slot receiver, he’ll get a long look on Quinten Rollins, who has been one of the worst slot performers in the NFL, according to ProFootballFocus. Rollins has given up a reception on all 15 targets he’s seen out of the slot, including a TD to Cole Beasley last week (and Beasley had been utterly useless for fantasy in the four weeks previous). Diggs is more of a GPP play going up against Davon House and Damarious Randall, especially since he’s coming off a groin injury he was in and out of the lineup on Monday night. If there’s no setback during the week (a short week, to be fair), he is intriguing coming off a very quiet game.
TY Hilton vs. Titans CBs
It should be obvious to DFS players at this point that Jacoby Brissett isn’t nearly the downgrade from Andrew Luck that Scott Tolzien was and would continue to be. With Brissett at the helm, Hilton has posted lines of 7/153/1 and 7/177/0 in two of his last three games. In between, he posted just 3/30, but that was against Seattle in Seattle, a tough spot for anyone, let alone a young QB like Brissett. Tennessee is, uh, not Seattle. The Titans gave up a 50-burger to the Texans and Deshaun Watson two weeks ago, and only the corpse of Jay Cutler prevented them from giving up more yards and points last week. Despite the small showing by Miami’s passing game, the Titans are still 3rd in FPG allowed to WRs, behind only Tampa and Philly. Hilton is obviously better at home, but he’s still appealing in this matchup if you’re playing the full week or MNF slates.
Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams vs. Raiders CBs
The Raiders were down both Gareon Conley (shin) and David Amerson (concussion) last week against the Ravens, a game in which they got absolutely torched by Mike Wallace of all receivers (3/133 receiving). The Chargers have just a slightly better passing game than the Ravens, I reckon. LA had a tough matchup with the Giants last week, with both Allen and Williams putting up disappointing numbers. I’m not going to wager against them this week. Williams had 5/115/1 against Philly’s slower secondary in Week 4, while Allen will be able to win out of the slot against TJ Carrie, who is tied for second in the NFL with 18 receptions given up inside, according to ProFootballFocus. It’s possible both Conley and Amerson miss this game as well (Conley appears less likely to play than Amerson), which opens the door for some big production. You can also consider Travis Benjamin here for GPPs – he had just 2/18 receiving against the Giants last week, but Philip Rivers missed him on what should have been a long TD.
DeSean Jackson vs. Justin Bethel
Sometimes, I try to avoid getting too many “similar” matchups as last week’s column into this column, but the fact remains that the same matchups are often exploitable every week. And this one was golden last week – as Patrick Peterson shut down Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith torched Bethel for a long TD (and Nelson Agholor got one on Budda Baker as well). Similarly, to Smith and Carson Wentz, DJax has had some trouble getting on the same page as QB Jameis Winston, for one reason or another. But he had his first 100-yard game as a Buc last week, and now has one of the most exploitable deep ball matchups in the NFL this week. I’ll be using him as my WR3 in plenty of lineups.
Jamison Crowder vs. K’Waun Williams
Crowder has been absolutely awful this year, posting just one game of 10 or more FP even in PPR this year, despite being a consistent threat in 2016 and being an early-round fantasy pick in 2017. Crowder’s most notable play so far this year has been as the receiver who “lost the fumble” on Washington’s lateral play late in Week 4 against Kansas City that allowed the Chiefs to miraculously cover and hit over the total (some of us – not saying who – thank you, Jamison). This week, coming out of the bye, I’m taking the gamble that coach Jay Gruden and QB Kirk Cousins have reevaluated their offense to find ways to get Crowder more involved. They’ve had essentially two weeks to gameplan for the 49ers, who feature young CB Williams in the slot. A matchup we’ve exploited in this article in the past, Williams has given up 27 receptions out of the slot according to ProFootballFocus, which is 9 more than any other player they’ve charted. If Crowder is going to get right, this is the matchup in which to do it.
NOT SO GOOD…
Mike Evans vs. Patrick Peterson
Evans actually scored a TD in this matchup on Peterson last year – he finished with 6/70/1 in Week 2 of 2016 – but Jameis Winston also threw a pick to Peterson when he was in coverage on Evans, and Evans’ TD came with the Bucs down 24 in the second half. Nonetheless, Peterson is almost certainly the best shadow corner going in football right now – he’s shut down Dez Bryant, Pierre Garcon, and Alshon Jeffery the last three weeks – and not mentioning him in this article would be downright negligent.
Sammy Watkins vs. Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye
This goes without saying. Watkins has caught 1 ball on 6 targets the last two weeks, including getting shut out on 4 targets against the Seahawks in Week 5. To this point, only two teams – Washington and Pittsburgh – have given up fewer FPG to opposing WRs than the Jaguars, who have Ramsey developing into legitimately one of the top corners in all of football. It is not a good spot for Watkins to bounce back (in fact, his upcoming schedule is particularly brutal).
Martavis Bryant vs. Marcus Peters
The Steeler offense is a mess, but at least it hasn’t gotten the worst of Antonio Brown yet. The guess here is the Steelers scheme to get Brown the more favorable matchup, on Terrance Mitchell, while using Bryant as the sacrificial lamb for Peters’ LCB spot. Peters will move around from time to time, but he’s clearly more comfortable on the left side, so he’ll continue to make his home there. The connection with Bryant and the struggling Ben Roethlisberger just isn’t there yet, and I doubt this is the week to say it’ll get there.
Amari Cooper vs. Casey Hayward
Cooper has 4 receptions on 15 targets his last three games. He has 13 on 33 all season. He has a grand total of 23 receiving yards over his last three games. He also has just 118 receiving yards this year… there have been 19 individual games of more yards. He will likely get Derek Carr (back) back this week, but his struggles are outrageous right now. Hayward doesn’t shadow a ton – the Chargers play a lot of Cover 3 under DC Gus Bradley – but Cooper is just a player I cannot in good faith put in a lineup right now, especially against an underrated secondary.
Brandin Cooks vs. Morris Claiborne
Cooks can really struggle against faster corners, as we’ve seen against the likes of Marshon Lattimore, and Claiborne isn’t really that. But this note is just to point out how well Claiborne has been playing in his first year with the Jets. According to ProFootballFocus, he’s allowed a QB rating of just 56.8 on throws targeted his way, 8th-best among NFL CBs. Cooks could get him downfield, but Claiborne has been a matchup to avoid more often than not this year.
Demaryius Thomas vs. Janoris Jenkins
Thomas is coming off a rare stinker – 1/11 receiving against a poor Raider secondary before the Broncos’ bye. Unfortunately, he likely draws the primary coverage of Jenkins in this one. It won’t be much easier for Emmanuel Sanders, who will probably deal with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out of the slot, but I project Thomas to have the tougher draw.
Roger Lewis vs. Broncos CBs
Lewis will be a popular waiver play this week because of the devastating injuries to the Giant WR corps in Week 5, but it should go without saying he should be on benches – and not in DFS lineup consideration – against the NFL’s best secondary in Week 6.
SNEAKY TIGHT END PLAYS
Ryan Griffin vs. Browns
I say it every week: I put the same matchups in this article because they work. Like clockwork, the Browns gave up a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins last week, the week after giving up 2 to Tyler Kroft. I’m willing to go back to the well with Griffin, who has seen 15 combined targets the last three games, and has a rookie QB in Deshaun Watson who is making a lot of plays. Griffin is my core cheap TE play this week.
Austin Hooper vs. Dolphins
The Dolphins have given up an average of 7 receptions and over 50 yards per game to TEs thus far, and actually had a long TD allowed to Delanie Walker last week wiped out by a penalty. The Falcons are expected to be without Mohamed Sanu in this game, which opens up plenty of targets to distribute elsewhere. Hooper has a lot of talent for Matt Ryan to rely on.
George Kittle vs. Washington
Washington’s 361 yards allowed to the TE position is the 4th-most among NFL defenses… despite Washington having played just four games thus far (the next-highest four-game team is Atlanta, at 13). And Kittle finally had the breakout I’ve been waiting for in Week 5, hauling in 7/83/1 receiving on 9 targets. An outrageously good athlete, Kittle has a shot to establish himself as the 49ers’ #2 receiver, behind Pierre Garcon. This is a good matchup to use him.
AJ Derby vs. Giants
Here’s the other matchup to exploit! The Giants have given up a TE TD in every single game this year, including Hunter Henry a week ago. Derby posted 4/75/1 on 6 targets in Week 4 against the Raiders, the Broncos’ last game. He’s a “riskier” option because he’s seen more than 3 targets in only one game this year, but it’s impossible to deny the beauty of this matchup. The risk, of course, is Virgil Green or Jeff Heuerman become the actual beneficiaries of the matchup, but that’s what you’re gambling on in GPPs.
PASSING-GAME RB PLAYS
Tevin Coleman vs. Dolphins
Elijah McGuire vs. Patriots
Theo Riddick vs. Saints
Source: Fantasy Guru
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