Matchups to Target
Kirk Cousins, MIN ($6,200 DK | $7,100 FD) vs. Lions’ Cover 1 | 2
Many likely attribute the 40-50 mph winds in Green Bay and a big game from Dalvin Cook last Sunday as the reason for Kirk Cousins’ poor showing (10.4 FPs). Those factors certainly played a significant role. However, all things being equal, Cousins already faced an uphill battle due to his historical struggles when facing most zone secondary shells. Taking a look at Cousins’ results this season, he face-planted at Indianapolis in Week 2 (1.5 FPs), and failed to capitalize facing off with a permeable Seattle secondary in Week 5 (16.2 FPs). What were the common factors? The Colts -- one of the most difficult secondaries in the league to diagnose -- feature Cover 2, 3, and 6 zones schemes, and the Seahawks feature a Cover 3 zone.
If every team played defense exclusively within a zone defense, Cousins would be run out of the NFL. However, the most common coverage in the NFL is a Cover 1 man shell. Every NFL defense has played at least 10 percent of snaps in man, and 25-of-32 played Cover 1 on over 20 percent of snaps this season. Looking once again at Cousins’ fantasy results, his two best games this season came against Tennessee in Week 3 (21.4 FPs) and Atlanta in Week 6 (29.7). For an explanation on how Cousins scored 22.8 FPs in Week 1, go here. Both the Titans and Falcons feature a Cover 1 scheme on over 30 percent of snaps.
Over the last 24 games, Cousins leads all QBs against Cover 1 with 0.55 FPs/dropback (FPDb), a 31 percent increase to his overall production. On 22 percent of his total dropbacks when facing Cover 1 over that stretch, he’s generated 29 percent of his passing yardage, and 32 percent of his TDs. His passing yards/attempt (YPA) is boosted by 20 percent that coincides with a 17 percent bump to his air yards/attempt. No other defense has played Cover 1 more this season than the Lions (48 percent). Looking back to his matchup with Detroit last season, Cousins passed for 338 yards and four TDs (29.2 FPs). Cousins has top-three QB upside as an automatic bet to exceed the 18.9 and 21.3 FPs on DraftKings and FanDuel, respectively, to cover floor value on his salaries.
Deshaun Watson, HOU ($7,100 DK | $8,300 FD) vs. Jaguars’ Cover 1 | 3 | 3S
You shouldn’t require an extensive tout to be on Deshaun Watson this week. Since Bill O’Brien was ousted as HC prior to Week 5, Watson has led increases of 30 percent to both his team’s scoring output, and to his FPG. One of those games, Week 5, was also facing Jacksonville when Watson generated 26.9 FPs. He was able to collect that success despite Will Fuller V being ghosted by Sidney Jones for much of the game. Watson fueled Brandin Cooks’ eruption for a receiving line of 8/161/1 (33.1FPs) against the Jaguars. However, Jones injured his back in Week 7, and is iffy to play this week. If he is out, Watson and Fuller would make for an excellent stack.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the historical factors detailing Watson’s success. Watson has been mislabeled a bit as a dual-threat QB. There’s no denying that he is a considerable threat with his legs, but only four -- two at the goal line -- of his 29 rushing attempts this season have been by design. Despite Houston’s 1-6 record, Watson currently ranks fifth in the NFL with a 106.0 QB rating. Watson has been at his best when facing Cover 1 secondaries. Over his last 24 games, Watson has faced a Cover 1 on 20 percent of dropbacks, leading to 27 percent of his yardage, and 29 percent of TDs.
Only two of the five main coverage shells utilized in the NFL (Cover 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6) provide a boost to “D4s” excellent overall FPDb, Cover 1 and Cover 3. Did I mention that the Jags feature Cover 1 (37 percent), and Cover 3 (33 percent) shells at top-10 rates this season? The only factor that could threaten the output of the passing offense as seven-point road favorites is the QB situation for the Jaguars. Rookie Jake Luton will get the start in Week 9 with Mike Glennon backing him up. No reliable expectations can be drawn yet for Luton, but Glennon has more than enough NFL experience to generate some offense if the green rookie falters.
Justin Jefferson, MIN ($6,100 DK | $6,800 FD) vs. Amari Oruwariye, DET
You might begin to notice a trend as we work through my players to target in Week 9. As you might have guessed, the Vikings are my No. 1 stack of the week. When Minnesota drafted Justin Jefferson out of LSU, they masterminded a coup to select the top overall Cover 1-destroying WR in the draft to replace one of the top Cover 1 WRs in the NFL, Stefon Diggs. An enterprise for assembling the most dangerous man coverage passing offense would be inconsequential without that exact specialty from Cousins. *Queue evil scientist laughter.* The result? Jefferson (0.97) leads all WRs with at least 200 routes run in average FPs/route (FP/Rt) over the last two seasons. The next three on the list are, brace yourself for this next one, Andy Isabella (0.86), followed by usual suspects Michael Thomas (0.74), and Davante Adams (0.74).
When Jefferson has faced a Cover 1 during his rookie season, he’s spawned 38 percent of his receptions, 43 percent of his yardage, and 33 percent of his TDs on only 22 percent of his total routes run. His yardage per route run (YPRR) increases by an astronomical 95 percent when facing the single-high safety coverage. While I’ve listed RCB Amari Oruwariye across from Jefferson, the Lions do not specifically shadow opposing WRs. Jefferson will see snaps with each of Oruwariye, LCB Jeffrey Okudah, and slot Justin Coleman in man coverage. No matter who they sacrifice across from Jefferson, please pass along your condolences.
Adam Thielen, MIN ($6,700 DK | $7,700 FD) vs. Jeffrey Okudah, DET
Could it get much worse for the Lions’ secondary this week facing inevitable nuclear destruction at the hands of Cousins and Jefferson? Actually, we’ve only covered half of the problem for Detroit. It just so happens that the WR 0.000911 behind Adams in FP/Rt earned against Cover 1 is Adam Thielen. On 22 percent of routes when facing Cover 1, Thielen has collected 29 percent of his receptions, 33 percent of yardage, and 45 percent of total TDs. While not at Jefferson’s colossal rate -- nobody is, that’s a 57 percent increase to Thielen’s total FP/Rt.
When he’s facing the highest rate of Cover 1 in Week 9, Thielen’s 51 percent jump to his YPRR will work in tandem with a 13 percent increase to his air yards/attempt. To add additional fuel to the fire for the Lions, they’ve permitted the third-highest completion percentage (17.2) on 20-or-more yard passes this season. With a bottom-10 pass rush and dreadful secondary play, Detroit will generously provide Cousins with plenty of pocket time to find Jefferson and Thielen during his progressions. Finally, you might be surprised to learn that Thielen (0.56) is currently second behind only Adams (0.72) in FP/Rt against all coverages this season.
Stefon Diggs, BUF ($7,400 DK | $7,600 FD) vs. Seahawks’ Cover 3
After allowing the most passing yardage in NFL history over the first six weeks, the Seahawks were graciously presented with the walking-wounded roster of the 49ers last week. Although, even with backups at every skill position, Seattle was outscored 27-7 during the fourth quarter. For the Seahawks’ sake, that level of complacency will need to be amended in time for Week 9. Nobody will confuse Buffalo as having an offensive juggernaut, but they’ve had a tremendous season as the current frontrunner in the AFC East.
Did anybody really think Josh Allen’s MVP-caliber season would hold up? Regardless, the improvement displayed by Allen in 2020 has been remarkable. Prior to this season, a couple of my closest friends in the scouting industry went as far as to say that they wouldn’t be surprised at all if Allen were permanently benched this season. Outside of a pair of poor weather games over the last three weeks, what has changed within the Bills’ offense to trigger these results? The answer is right under our noses: the acquisition of Stefon Diggs.
Rather than requesting to be traded, had Diggs remained in Minnesota, NFL defenses would have been foolish to play man coverage against the Vikings. Following the five WRs mentioned above, Cooper Kupp, and Amari Cooper, Diggs ranks eighth over the last two seasons with 0.58 FP/Rt when facing Cover 1. However, Week 9 will bring the Seahawks’ Cover 3 to Orchard Park on Sunday. After dealing with the most extreme weather in the league at Bills Stadium in Week 8, the forecast calls for plenty of sunshine with a light breeze.
While “Diggsy” doesn’t have the explosive metrics against a Cover 3 zone that he has with Cover 1, his next highest average FP/Rt comes when facing Cover 3 (0.43). In order for Buffalo to keep up with the highest-scoring offense in the NFL this season (34.3 PPG), the Bills will need to take to the air. Keep in mind, for all of its defensive faults, the Seahawks may have the top run defense in the NFL. However, the secondary ranks 29th in completion percentage allowed (71.5 percent), 28th in YPA (8.4), dead last in passing 1st down percentage (42 percent), and 26th in completion percentage on passes of 40-or-more yards. The incident reliability is extremely high in favor of Diggs finishing Week 9 as a top-five scoring WR.
Julio Jones, ATL ($7,200 DK | $8,200 FD) vs. Michael Ojemudia, DEN
When he’s been healthy in four games this season, Julio Jones has only cemented his status as one of the most feared WRs in the game with 24.2 FPG. That scoring average alone would match his floor ROI on both platforms. However, several factors are pointing Quintorris’ arrow skywards for Week 9. For starters, it’s very possible that Calvin Ridley and his 22 percent target share will miss the contest with a midfoot sprain. Next, let’s consider the opponent. The Falcons will host the Broncos as four-point road dogs. Denver has been as consistent of a defense as any across the board this season. While I will not write up individual analysis on him, Russell Gage out of the slot.
As for Jones, he can expect to see a combination of RCB Michael Ojemudia and LCB A.J. Bouye in coverage depending on where he lines up. The outside CB combination plays almost exclusively to one side of the field. Ojemudia has allowed 1.40 yards per coverage snap (YPCS, league CB average is 1.27) to his coverage responsibilities this season. Bouye has permitted 1.21 YPCS. For comparison’s sake, Callahan has allowed 0.58 YPCS in 2020. In addition, Ojemudia has granted 14.4 air yards/target (26 percent more than the CB average), and Bouye 10.3. Clearly, the snaps across from Ojemudia will be kind to Jones.
Finally, let’s take a look at Julio’s historical trends against the Cover 1, 3, and 6 shells featured by the Broncos. Over his last two seasons (21 games), Jones has run 17 percent of his routes against Cover 1, generating 23 percent of receptions, 25 percent of yardage, and ranking fifth among WRs with 0.55 FP/Rt. Like many other WRs, Jones has had difficulty cracking Cover 6 schemes. The Half-Half-Quarter alignment is intended to crush long gains with six defenders dropping deep into coverage on obvious passing downs. However, the Broncos will, on average, only utilize a Cover 6 on 13 percent of snaps. Saving the best for last, the Broncos will align in a Cover 3 on 28 percent of snaps. Jones has a 13 percent increase to his FP/Rt, 24 percent rise in YPRR, and 12 percent boost to his air yards/target against Cover 3.
Travis Kelce, KC ($7,200 DK | $8,000 FD) vs. Panthers’ Cover 3
I feel your pain. With George Kittle now out for most of the season, Travis Kelce is far and away the most dominant TE in the game. Although, attempting to squeeze his lofty salary within DFS salary caps is not easy. We also run the risk of the Chiefs blowing out opponents, and resting their talented playmakers. As long as Christian McCaffrey returns from injury this week as expected, this game should remain close enough for us to write off that possibility. Carolina has limited opposing TEs to 10.8 FPs (10th-best) this season. However, they’ll face an entirely different beast in Week 9.
Kelce is able to combine size and off-the-charts speed to form one of the most difficult matchups in the game. With the other top TEs in the league, defenses only need to track their coverage inline or in the slot. With Kelce, he brings another world of problems lining up out wide on 42 percent of snaps. In fact, Kelce’s 126 routes run out wide more than doubles every other TE in the NFL. In return for his $7.2K/$8K salary, you are provided with a 6-foot-5, 260 pounder with 4.61 speed. He’s essentially a matchup nightmare, WR-hybrid that can only be slowed by top shadow corners.
Kelce will see the highest rate of Cover 3 shells in the NFL this season from the Panthers. While “Zeus” is otherworldly against man coverage, he matches his overall FP/Rt average when facing Cover 3 (0.44 FP/Rt). And Carolina will also throw in 17 percent of Cover 1 snaps on Sunday. Whether it’s Shaq Thompson or Jeremy Chinn, Kelce will have a considerable advantage, and Patrick Mahomes postmarking him dimes. What more could you ask?
Irv Smith Jr., MIN ($2,900 DK | $4,600 FD) vs. Tracy Walker, DET
In contrast to the guaranteed upside from Kelce at a premium, we have my No. 1 TE punt of Week 9 in Irv Smith Jr.. Another Viking? Most definitely. Since being drafted in the second round of the 2019 draft, Smith has received a pedestrian target share behind Kyle Rudolph. While he hasn’t had much of an opportunity to put his abilities on display, I fully believe he has a very bright future.
While grading games on staff with PFF of Smith’s days with Alabama and during the ‘19 preseason with Minnesota, Smith’s explosiveness and route-running ability were clearly evident. I remember seeing what appeared to be a player with WR speed, cutting ability running inline seam routes. We may not have a great deal of NFL data on Smith, but he has been trending in the right direction in recent weeks.
Over the first four weeks this season, Smith and Rudolph ran a near-even split of team routes and target shares. However, over the last three weeks, Smith has run 73, 79, and 83 percent of routes to Rudolph’s 55, 60, and 56 percent. As for target shares, Rudolph has received 5, 13, and 7 percent shares compared to Smith’s very consistent 11, 15, and 14 percent. We only need Smith to cover 8.7 FPs on DK at $2.9K (13.8 on FD). He may not exceed those numbers but the ability to load up elsewhere is well worth the risk.
Other matchups to consider:
Josh Allen, BUF ($7,000 DK | $8,200 FD) vs. Seahawks’ Cover 3
Justin Herbert, LAC ($6,800 DK | $7,900 FD) vs. Raiders’ Cover 1 | 6
Michael Thomas, NO ($6,900 DK | $8,600 FD) vs. Jamel Dean, TB
Tyler Lockett, SEA ($6,800 DK | $7,400 FD) vs. Taron Johnson, BUF
Mike Williams, LAC ($5,100 DK | $6,200 FD) vs. Nevin Lawson, LV
Daren Waller, LV ($5,800 DK | $6,400 FD) vs. Chargers’ Cover 3 | 3S | 4
T.J. Hockenson, DET ($5,100 DK | $6,000 FD) vs. Vikings’ Cover 2 | 4
Matchups to Avoid
Ryan Tannehill, TEN ($6,300 DK | $7,400 FD) vs. Bears’ Cover 3 | 3S | 6
If you haven’t received the news, allow me to break it to you that Ryan Tannehill is one of the elite QBs in the game. He’s provided us with a slew of evidence that lays any narratives of riding the coattails of Derrick Henry to rest. Over the last two seasons, Tannehill ranks within the top-10 QBs overall and against four-of-five primary coverage shells in FPDb. However, even as 5.5-point home favorites, Tannehill will face a Bears’ defense that happens to feature his quasi-Kryptonite secondary shell, Cover 6.
Whereas most teams utilize a Cover 6 as a situational, passing down maneuver, the Bears play from a Cover as a base package on over 20 percent of snaps. With the combination of Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson, Deon Bush, and Roquan Smith to pull it off, the strategy has limited opposing QBs to the fifth-lowest FPG this season. Tannehill has seen a 32 percent dropoff in FPDb when facing Cover 6 schemes over his last 25 games. We have a collection of QBs with much juicier matchups in Week 9.
Teddy Bridgewater, CAR ($6,000 DK | $7,300 FD) vs. Chiefs’ Cover 2 | 4
Unfortunately for us, Teddy Bridgewater and his passing offense missed out on a tremendous opportunity to cash in against the Atlanta secondary due to poor second half weather last week. During his first season leading the Panthers’ offense, Bridgewater’s 0.34 FPDb currently ranks behind 29 other QBs. And those struggles have come in spite of the talented WR trio of D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Curtis Samuel. The return of McCaffrey should help, but the issues run much deeper. The most significant being a minuscule 7.6 air yards/attempt that barely edges out Cam Newton and Jimmy Garoppolo for the lowest in the league.
Forcing his receivers to do all of the work after the catch typifies Bridgewater as a QB capable of solid games against vulnerable competition, and untouchable against the best. This happens to be one of the untouchable weeks. The Chiefs are limiting the entirety of opposing offenses to the third-lowest FPG this season (77.3). For QBs, they’ve been limited to the third-lowest in the league at 15.2 FPG. Bridgewater has actually been average against Cover 2 shells the last two seasons. But he’s been atrocious against Cover 4 with a 38 percent decline to his FPDb without a single TD pass. Even with a McCaffrey return, finding Carolina as 11-point road dogs in Arrowhead leaves Bridgewater as a hard pass in Week 9.
D.J. Moore, CAR ($5,600 DK | $7,000 FD) vs. Bashaud Breeland, KC
Piggybacking off the Bridgewater analysis, despite D.J. Moore’s status as one of the most promising young WRs in the game, he’s also an easy fade in Week 9. First of all, Kansas City is limiting opposing WRs to the third-lowest FPG this season (28.8). That number remained consistent over the last four (30.6), and greatly decreased over the last two weeks (23.6). What makes things very frustrating with Moore this week is that he actually has a history of success against both Cover 2 and 4 secondaries. His FPDb has increased by 13 percent against Cover 2 and by 11 percent against Cover 4.
Despite that success, Moore will draw coverage from Bashaud Breeland on at least half of his routes on Sunday. Breeland has been as shutdown as shutdown corners can get in 2020. He’s limited his coverage responsibilities to 0.33 YPCS and 0.08 FPs per coverage snap (FPCS, league CB average is 0.27) this season. Even when Moore finds his way outside of Breeland’s coverage, none of the other Kansas City CBs or safeties are exceeding league averages in either YPCS or FPCS. Look elsewhere.
D.J. Chark Jr., JAX ($5,200 DK | $6,400 FD) vs. Bradley Roby, HOU
Of all of the WR/CB matchups on the Week 9 slate, none have it quite as bad as D.J. Chark Jr.. If you have been reading my work this season, you are fully aware of the considerable obstacle facing Chark from Bradley Roby. He may not be the household name of Jalen Ramsey or Stephon Gilmore, but Roby is easily on that level of shutdown goodness. When Roby injured his knee in the opening quarter of Week 7 against Green Bay, Davante Adams proceeded to throwdown 44.6 FPs on the remaining Houston secondary. According to reports, Roby will be ready to go this week.
As for Chark’s chances, we already have a precedent to project his outlook. Roby limited Chark to a 3/16/0 line in Week 5. Adding additional difficulty to the matchup for Chark, Jacksonville will introduce us to their sixth-round 2020 QB selection, Jake Luton. Reports have surfaced that Jacksonville intends to air it out considerably more with Luton. If those rumors prove to be true, Luton’s debut will be a struggle should he attempt to force the ball into Roby’s coverage. Roby is only allowing opposing No. 1’s to produce 0.76 YPCS.
Amari Cooper, DAL ($5,600 DK | $7,000 FD) vs. Joe Haden, PIT
Before I dip into Amari Cooper, the simple fact that the Cowboys are holding a tryout between Garrett Gilbert and Cooper Rush for the right to lead the offense should give you pause. Even if either is able to find enough time behind Dallas’ patchwork O-line, they’ll need to do so against the top defense in the NFL this season. The T.J. Watt-led Steelers’ pass rush is averaging an NFL-high 26.2 QB pressures/game.
For Cooper, he’ll face off with either Joe Haden and/or Steven Nelson in Week 9. Both have limited their coverage assignments to 0.21 FPCS or 23 percent below league average. In man-to-man situations (26 percent of snaps), Cooper should hold the advantage. On 26 percent of routes against Cover 1 since Week 1 of 2019, Cooper has generated 35 percent of receptions, 37 percent of yardage, and 39 percent of his total TDs. However, when facing Cover 3 shells (42 percent of snaps), Cooper’s FP/Rt decreases by 31 percent. If you roster Cooper in Week 9, make sure you keep your fingers crossed.
Mark Andrews, BAL ($4,800 DK | $6,600 FD) vs. Colts’ Cover 2 | 3 | 6
You begin to construct your lineups for Week 9, soon discovering to your complete amazement that Mark Andrews is priced at a season-low $4.8K/$6.6K. Should you expose 100 percent of your lineups to the usually pricey TE? Actually, give it up to the salary calculators on both platforms, they nailed Andrews’ salaries this week. After taking their second defeat of the season from the Steelers in Week 8, Baltimore will find the sledding tough once again in Week 9. The Colts’ plethora of zone shells have frustrated opposing offenses on a weekly basis behind the mastermind game planning of DC Matt Eberflus.
For “MANdrews,” he’ll face a defense limiting entire opposing offenses to the lowest combined FPG this season (75.8). Indianapolis has limited opposing QBs (13.2) and TEs (6.7) to the lowest FPG in the league. As if that wasn’t enough for Andrews, he’ll face all of the Darius Leonard he can handle, and a bit more. Leonard is limiting his assignments to 0.67 YPCS and 0.15 FPCS as one of the absolute elite LBs in coverage. Perhaps Andrews will break free for a TD at some point over the 60 minutes of game time. That would be a small victory in what will prove to be his most frustrating game of the season.
Jared Cook, NO ($4,700 DK | $5,900 FD) vs. Lavonte David, TB
If you’re not excited for this one on Sunday Night Football, have someone check your pulse. While Chris Godwin was actually spotted in practice during Wednesday’s walkthrough, the anticipation for his return to the field would pale in comparison to Antonio Brown’s. For the team on the other sideline, the long-awaited return of Michael Thomas will come just in time for a rematch of the game where he suffered his high-ankle sprain. The Saints are also expected to welcome back Emmanuel Sanders from a two-week absence on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
For Jared Cook, the returns of Thomas and Sanders will eat into the increased target share he’s received over the last two weeks. Not a terrible factor for Cook’s upside since so much attention will be focused elsewhere. However, Cook will see a ton of coverage from Lavonte David. Through eight games, David is holding his coverage to 0.61 YPCS and 0.17 FPCS. His coverage acumen is on par with Leonard’s. Despite the daunting challenge for Cook, both platforms have priced him as if he’s in a smash spot. Not by a long shot.
Other matchups to avoid:
Kyler Murray, ARI ($7,800 DK | $8,600 FD) vs. Dolphins’ Cover 0 | 1 | 3
Drew Lock, DEN ($5,200 DK | $7,200 FD) vs. Falcons’ Cover 1 | 2 | 3
Marquise Brown, BAL ($6,000 DK | $5,800 FD) vs. Colts’ Cover 2 | 3 | 6
Corey Davis, TEN ($5,900 DK | $6,000 FD) vs. Bears’ Cover 3 | 3S | 6
Darius Slayton, NYG ($5,000 DK | $5,900 FD) vs. Redskins’ Cover 3 | 4
Russell Gage, ATL ($4,500 DK | $5,400 FD) vs. Bryce Callahan, DEN
Hayden Hurst, ATL ($4,100 DK | $5,600 FD) vs. Justin Simmons, DEN
Dalton Schultz, DAL ($3,600 DK | $5,100 FD) vs. Robert Spillane, PIT