Justin Herbert, LAC vs. LV ($6,800 DK, $7,900 FD, O/U 51.5)
In order to avoid too much crossover with my Week 9 Advanced Matchups recommendations, I’m listing Kirk Cousins as an alternative. For complete clarity, Cousins is my No. 1 QB play this week. That said, Justin Herbert will play host to the Raiders in Inglewood with more than enough upside for pivot consideration from Cousins. “Hairbert” has done his damage on the fifth-highest opportunity rate (44.2) in the league. After watching every bit of his NFL tape this week, I came away even more impressed after already being enamored with the rookie. The only reason Herbert isn’t ranked within the top-10 in percentage of air yards (50 percent) and air yards/attempt (8.4) is due to game planning rather than arm strength. When you consider his most dangerous deep threat, Mike Williams, missed most of Week 3 and all of Week 4, we can expect those metrics to correct themselves in short order.
At full strength, Herbert mixes up short 0s (screens to the flat), 2s (slants), and 6s (hitches) to Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry in order to soften up defenses to hit Williams deep on 3s (outs), 8s (posts), and 9s (go’s). I’ll dig deeper into Williams’ future prospects later. Los Angeles will face a Las Vegas secondary featuring Cover 1 (28 percent), Cover 2 (14 percent), and Cover 6 (20 percent). Not only has the Raiders’ run defense struggled, its pass rush has been nonexistent, and the secondary could very well be the worst unit in the league. Las Vegas is permitting the ninth-highest YPA (7.4), eighth-highest completion percentage on targets on 20-or-more yards (14.7), and fourth-most FPG to opposing QBs over their last four games (24.8).
The Bottom Line: The coverage shells the Raiders will pack to defend Herbert are an absolute perfect match to his strengths. Against Cover 1 on 18 percent of dropbacks (DBs), Herbert has passed for 23 percent of his total TDs, and ranks sixth with 0.45 FPs/dropback (FPDb). When he’s faced a Cover 6 on 14 percent of DBs, Herbert has passed for 19 percent of his yardage, gains 22 percent to his YPA, and ranks 10th with 0.37 FPDb. However, get very excited for the Cover 2 snaps from Las Vegas. Herbert’s average FPDb (0.63) is 25 percent higher than Patrick Mahomes for the top mark in the NFL. To sum all of that up, the Raiders are walking into an ambush on Sunday.
Josh Allen, BUF vs. SEA ($7,000 DK, $8,200 FD, O/U 55.0)
Before we get too excited about exposure to Josh Allen, we’ll need to criticize his downside. Over his last 25 games, Allen’s FPDb has decreased by 15 percent. On 19 percent of all DBs versus Cover 3, he’s generated 22 percent of his yardage, and only four percent of his TDs. Seattle will be expected to scheme Cover 3 on 43 percent of snaps, the third highest rate this season. You might be asking yourself, if he’s struggled against the exact coverages he’ll face, why am I touting him? Funny you should ask.
The biggest change to the Buffalo offense in 2020 is the acquisition of Stefon Diggs. The former Maryland Terrapin has been a godsend for Allen and the Bills this season. Not only does he line his pockets with the destruction of man coverages, but he was also able to overcome Cousins’ significant zone shortcomings while in Minnesota to rank 28th in FPs/route (FPRt) over his last 25 games played. The only factor missing from Allen’s profile when facing Cover 3 is the lack of TDs. The surrounding metrics actually support a future turnaround in that department. His YPA (7.4) increases by 11 percent and his percentage of air yards (64) goes up 12 percent when facing a Cover 3.
The Bottom Line: How can we possibly cover Allen without taking a look at how generous the Seahawks have been in pass defense? They’re permitting the second-most FPG to QBs (25.4), the most FPG to WRs (57.7), and, even with the Week 8 matchup with a hobbled Jimmy Garoppolo included, they’ve still allowed the sixth-most FPG to QBs over the last four games (23.5). The last thing we need to consider for Allen’s Week 9 upside is how he has been scoring his FPs. With a 17 percent carry share (30 percent over the last three weeks), Allen has collected 23 percent of his FPG (5.4) -- sans bonuses -- for 228 rushing yards, and four TDs. It just so happens that 24 percent of the FPG Seattle has allowed to QBs this season has been on the ground. With 56 percent of Allen’s rushing attempts on designed runs, his floor will not be elevated to this magnitude the rest of 2020.
Kirk Cousins, MIN vs. DET ($6,200 DK, $7,100 FD | O/U 53.0)
Deshaun Watson, HOU at JAX ($7,100 DK, $8,300 FD | O/U 51.0)
James Conner, PIT at DAL ($6,900 DK, $8,200 FD, O/U 42.0)
Since he is priced at $8.2K/$9.3K, I’m not going to cover analysis on Dalvin Cook. However, Cook is, by far, my No. 1 RB play on the main slate. Checking outside the top-five salaries, nowhere near enough love has been directed in James Conner’s direction. After leaving Week 1 with an ankle injury following the third offensive series, many wanted to stick a fork in his future. Make no mistake, Conner’s health has always been the limiting resource for the 6-foot-1, 233-pound bruiser. That said, he was immediately ready for the very next practice, and he’s been nothing short of pivotal in the Steelers’ success this season.
For starters, he has a rushing TD in five of his last six games partly thanks to being given two-thirds of RB goal-line carries. He’s also garnered two-thirds of all RB targets in 2020 (nine percent target share). Over Pittsburgh’s last three games, “The Terminator” has stockpiled almost 80 percent of carries, and that number jumped to 94 percent last week. Only adding to his Week 9 charm, Conner will head into Arlington to face the Cowboys as 14-point favorites. Dallas’ run “defense” has permitted the most rushing YPG (170.9), third-most YPC (5.1), and sixth-most TDs/game (1.38).
The Bottom Line: The Cowboys are granting the eighth-highest pure rushing FPG to RBs this season. Dallas is currently trying out third-stringers to start at QB for them this week. The likelihood that the Steelers play most of the game from a positive game script is almost guaranteed. We have a precedent from Week 6 of Conner’s involvement in a complete blowout of their opponent. During Pittsburgh’s road annihilation of Cleveland, Conner took 20 carries for 20.2 FPs. Considering the Browns play at the third-slowest pace in the league and the Cowboys the highest -- the combined pace of Dallas and Pittsburgh is the highest on the slate (145.2), Conner will have more than enough opportunities to outpace the 20.7/24.6 FPs we’ll need from him to cover salary value.
J.K. Dobbins, BAL at IND ($4,900 DK, $5,300 FD | O/U 48.0)
The Baltimore offense will face its most difficult challenge since … what a coincidence … since last week! In a back-and-forth contest, the Ravens fell to the Steelers 28-24 despite out-gaining Pittsburgh 457-221 in total offensive yards. Baltimore gained 58 percent of that yardage on the ground between J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Edwards took a 52 percent RB carry share to Dobbins’ 48, but “J'Kaylin” was clearly the more consistent of the two. Facing one of the top-three run defenses this season, Dobbins ran for 113 yards at a 7.5 clip. He had zero negative runs to Edwards’ two and, if you take away their two longest runs, Dobbins averaged 5.4 YPC versus 3.0 for Edwards.
The Ravens will face a Colts defense that should also be considered top-three against the run. However, even after the 265 rushing yards against them in Week 8, the Steelers (18.0) are still allowing less FPG to opposing RBs than Indianapolis (19.0). One of the most amazing aspects from the Baltimore backfield’s performance is that stud LT Ronnie Stanley only played 25 percent of total snaps. D.J. Fluker stepped in with clutch run blocking and should allow the Ravens’ rushing attack to keep rolling along.
The Bottom Line: Everyone may not agree, but Indianapolis has not faced a dynamic rushing attack equipped with Baltimore’s level of mauling run blocking this season. The ability of Lamar Jackson to adjust to the box with read- and run-pass options makes defending them nearly impossible. Actually, one scenario comes to mind, reducing Dobbins’ and Edwards’ carry shares in favor of the 2020 version of Mark Ingram. At least for Week 9, Ingram isn’t practicing, Dobbins will continue to have his belly filled with more than enough touches to exceed a floor value of 14.7 FPs, and the potential for so much more.
Dalvin Cook, MIN vs. DET ($8,200 DK, $9,300 FD | O/U 53.0)
Chase Edmonds, ARI vs. MIA ($6,800 DK, $7,400 FD, O/U 48.5)
Justin Jefferson, MIN vs. DET ($6,100 DK, $6,800 FD, O/U 53.0)
I resisted the temptation to double up my analysis recommendations this week on Kirk Cousins, Deshaun Watson, Adam Thielen, and Stefon Diggs. But I am drawing a line on Justin Jefferson. I want to make sure that the message for exposure to Jefferson is loud and clear. To read the specifics of what I wrote on Jefferson, go here. Essentially, JJ is on his way to becoming the most dangerous WR in the game when facing Cover 1 defenses. He currently ranks first among all WRs with 0.97 FP/Rt either compared to the field from just 2020, or dating back to the beginning of Week 1 of 2019.
The Bottom Line: No defense has played Cover 1 at a rate higher than the Lions (48 percent) this season. It will not matter if it’s Matthew Stafford or Chase Daniel leading the opposing Detroit offense this week. If the Vikings end up blowing out the Lions, they’ll still be able to nourish the DFS plates of Cousins, Cooks, Jefferson, Thielen, and, in my expectation, Irv Smith Jr.. It will not matter if DC Cory Undlin places Amani Oruwariye, Jeffrey Okudah, or Darryl Roberts across from Jefferson. The rookie out of LSU is going to ball out in Week 9.
Mike Williams, LAC vs. LV ($5,100 DK, $6,200 FD), O/U 51.5)
When Justin Herbert started Week 2 in place of Tyrod Taylor, it was a call made within an hour or two of game time after Taylor’s lung was punctured by a pain killer injection. Herbert was called to lead the offense long before the staff intended and after practicing very little with the first-string offense. Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, and Mike Williams were forced to develop compatibility with Herbert on the fly. Even with how well Herbert has played, that’s easier said than done. As for Williams, a hamstring injury that lingered only made that learning curve significantly steeper. Now that Williams is healthy, accumulating both game and practice reps with Herbert, his upside should continue to elevate over the rest of the season.
Williams drew a very difficult shadow in Week 7 against Sidney Jones. When healthy, Jones has shown the ability to ghost his assignments as a CB once considered to be a first-round lock for the NFL draft. Luckily for Williams, neither the Broncos he faced in Week 8, nor the Raiders he’ll face in Week 9 roster an outside corner with Jones’ lockdown ability. It currently appears that Williams will see around half of his snaps across from RCB Nevin Lawson. The 5-foot-9 Lawson will have his hands full with Williams at 6-foot-4. Take note that previous matchups between these teams are entirely unreliable without Herbert running the show.
The Bottom Line: In Williams’ last two games -- sans the Jaguars matchup -- he’s generated a combined receiving line of 10/208/3 or 26 FPG. I think it’s safe to say that Herbert and Williams have developed quite a connection. While the Raiders’ secondary has been better against outside WRs than slot, the only two they’ve faced with Williams’ talent level have been Robby Anderson and Stefon Diggs. Las Vegas allowed the two to collect a combined line of 12/229/1 (20.5 FPG). They did limit a sluggish Mike Evans to 2/37/0 in Week 7, but also let Scotty Miller and Chris Godwin go for 15/197/2. At $5.1K/$6.2K, outside of the Vikings’ one-two, Williams is one of the absolute top values at WR on the main slate.
Cole Beasley, BUF vs. SEA ($5,400 DK, $5,300 FD), O/U 55.0)
Speaking of values, have you noticed what Cole Beasley has been doing this season with Stefon Diggs drawing away the attention? Prior to playing within the remnants of Hurricane Zeta in Week 8, Beasley was averaging 14.9 FPG over the first seven weeks. He currently ranks within the top-20 WRs with 2.08 yards per route run (YPRR) from an 18 percent target share. His target shares rose to 29 percent in both Weeks 6 and 7 prior to the gail force winds of Week 8. In Week 9, Beasley will face a Seattle secondary permitting the most FPG to the slot this season (21.6). And I’ve already covered just how benevolent the Seahawks have been against the pass.
The Bottom Line: If you decide to pivot away from the Vikings, Josh Allen, Diggs, and Beasley would be my No. 2 stack of Week 9. Beasley hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm against the featured Cover 3 scheme of the Hawks. However, get this: on 20 percent of routes against Cover 3 during his time with Buffalo, Beasley has generated 20 percent of his receptions, yardage, and TDs. Now that is some wicked consistency. We’ll need “Young 2% Milk” -- absolutely love that nickname -- to provide us with at least 16.2/15.9 FPs to cover his floor value at $5.4K/$5.3K. The 0.5 PPR format on FanDuel does limit his upside a bit. That said, he is an excellent value on DraftKings in what the analytics suggests to be a smash spot.
Adam Thielen, MIN vs. DET ($6,700 DK, $6,800 FD | O/U 53.0)
Julio Jones, ATL vs. DEN ($7,200 DK, $8,200 FD | O/U 50.0)
Stefon Diggs, BUF vs. SEA ($7,400 DK, $7,600 FD | O/U 55.0)
T.J. Hockenson, DET at MIN ($5,100 DK, $6,000 FD, O/U 53.0)
It was actually Matthew Stafford’s wife that recently passed along that her husband has already tested negative for COVID-19 in back-to-back days. If he passes a third test, he’ll be able to play, but would need to travel separately from the team. Even if Chase Daniel leads the offense against the Vikings, he’ll need everything he can get from T.J. Hockenson with Kenny Golladay sidelined. Don’t take that the wrong way. “Hock” has been much more than a replacement this season. As one of the very few reliable fantasy TEs, Hockenson has scored a TD in three of his last four, and 50-plus yards in five-of-seven.
The Bottom Line: Minnesota has allowed 13.3 FPG to opposing TEs (16th) and that number has increased to 16.0 over the last four games. With one of the weakest pass rushes in the NFL, Hockenson should see slight increases to his percentages in the slot (42 percent), and out wide (17 percent). The Vikings are permitting the fourth-highest overall YPA (8.0) and the fifth-highest completion percentage on 20-or-more yard targets. That level of cushion within soft Cover 2 and 4 zones will serve lineups well in Week 9.
Noah Fant, DEN at ATL ($4,600 DK, $5,800 FD, O/U 50.0)
The Falcons’ secondary has been a frequent DFS target this season. For a defense allowing the second-most FPG to all combined positions (110.5), that makes complete sense. Although, the Atlanta secondary has been a bit better of late after limiting their last four opponents to under 20 PPG. After allowing 10 combined receiving TDs the first four weeks, the secondary has cut that number to four over the last four. In spite of that, they’ve continued to be the most vulnerable defense this season against TEs. No team has allowed more FPs (151.2) to TEs through eight weeks. With the Broncos heavily targeting their talented pair of TEs (Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam) this season, we have a recipe for DFS success.
The Bottom Line: Fant has been another consistent presence at a position starving for reliability. He’s seen at least five targets in every game played and two of his three down games can be attributed to his ankle injury and to being eased back in Week 7. Now that he’s 100 percent, he has top-five upside at the position against a defense ignoring opposing TEs. If you are looking for another TE punt play -- the other being Irv Smith Jr. -- Okwuegbunam wouldn’t be the worst option in a favorable matchup.
Travis Kelce, KC at CAR ($7,200 DK, $8,000 FD | O/U 53.0)
Irv Smith Jr., MIN vs. DET ($2,900 DK, $4,600 FD | O/U 53.0)