It was a great week to be a qualified strong safety. While a 3.9-point reduction in targeted passer rating (TPR) may only compute as 3.7% in the calculator, it’s a massive improvement considering that one week on the field altered the yearly number to that extent. Perhaps it’s simply the product of numbers leveling out. Regardless, qualified air yards per coverage snap (AY/CS) fell for a fourth straight week. Particularly inside the coverage responsibilities of outside cornerbacks. Wrap your head around a 21% plummet in that number solely from Week 11 play. But the average AY/CS declined for every position group with significant coverage responsibilities.
Pre-2020 scoring is still down and rushing efficiency actually improved slightly in Week 11 compared to the first 10 weeks. To bring everyone up to speed, passing attempt rate and efficiency on throws traveling 20 yards-or-more had been on a downward trajectory for five straight weeks since the rate reached its peak in Week 5. Week 11 provided us with some interesting data points. You can check them out for yourself in the updated chart below:
The deep target rate dropped, yet again, by 18%. However, those attempts resulted in 10 TDs vs. six INTs. That’s easily the top TD-to-INT ratio (1.67) since Week 6 (1.78). However, unlike Week 6 when an extremely healthy 13 QBs contributed a deep passing TD, Aaron Rodgers and Trevor Siemian combined to complete seven-of-10 attempts for 223 yards, and five deep TDs last week. With two QBs contributing half of the deep TD total and another decline in attempt rate, it’s safe to say that the issue is far from settled.
You’ll see a number of coverage metrics throughout this series. The following chart provides the full names for the acronyms and the average numbers for each position group through Week 11:
To magnify their importance toward processing the matchup data, familiarity with these abbreviations is key. The full names of the data points in the headers of the data table above will not be written out in full within the specific matchups. You’ll find the following acronyms frequently used whenever referencing defensive coverage statistics:
Yards Allowed Per Coverage Snap = YPCS
Fantasy Points Allowed Per Coverage Snap = FP/CS
Air Yards Allowed Per Coverage Snap = AY/CS
Targeted Passer Rating (i.e., Passer Rating on Targets into Coverage) = TPR
Offensive abbreviations used when referring to QBs/RBs/WRs/TEs:
FPs/Dropback = FP/Db
FPs/Route = FP/Rt
FPs/Touch = FP/Tch
Yards/Route Run = YPRR
Air Yards/Attempt = AY/Att
Air Yards/Target = AY/Tgt
Yards/Target = YPT
Targeted Passer Rating (i.e., QB Passer Rating When Targeting Receiver) = TPR
If you’d like to learn more about/refresh yourself with each of the defensive coverage shells and other relevant schematic details mentioned throughout this series, utilize the following resources:
Fantasy Shells: Coverage Glossary
Fantasy Shells: Cover 1
Fantasy Shells: Cover 2
Fantasy Shells: Cover 3
Fantasy Shells: Cover 4
I hope everyone enjoys a Happy Turkey Day on Thursday! As always, we will have the pleasure of a trio of games to consume along with our cooked bird, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. Without further delay, let’s dive into a special Thanksgiving Day edition of Advanced Matchups.
*41-57 (42%); 5-7 in Week 11
Chicago Bears (-3.0) at Detroit Lions
Dallas Cowboys (-7.5) vs. Las Vegas Raiders
Buffalo Bills (-6.5) at New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3.0) at Indianapolis Colts
Tennessee Titans (+6.5) at New England Patriots
Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5) at New York Giants
Cincinnati Bengals (-4.5) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Miami Dolphins (+2.0) vs. Carolina Panthers
Houston Texans (-2.5) vs. New York Jets
Atlanta Falcons (-1.0) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Denver Broncos (+2.5) vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Green Bay Packers (+1.0) vs. Los Angeles Rams
Minnesota Vikings (+3.5) at San Francisco 49ers
Washington Football Team (-1.0) vs. Seattle Seahawks
*37-38 (49%); 7-4 in Week 11
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (Under 41.5)
Las Vegas Raiders at Dallas Cowboys (Under 50.5)
Buffalo Bills at New Orleans Saints (Over 46.0)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts (Over 52.0)
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (Over 43.5)
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (Under 45.5)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (Over 44.5)
Carolina Panthers at Miami Dolphins (Under 41.5)
New York Jets at Houston Texans (Under 44.5)
Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars (Under 46.5)
Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos (Under 48.5)
Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers (Under 47.5)
Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers (Over 48.5)
Seattle Seahawks at Washington Football Team (Under 47.0)
*56-38 (60%); 6-7 in Week 11
Chicago Bears (-155) at Detroit Lions
Dallas Cowboys (-335) vs. Las Vegas Raiders
Buffalo Bills (-265) at New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-155) at Indianapolis Colts
New England Patriots (-265) vs. Tennessee Titans
Philadelphia Eagles (-180) at New York Giants
Cincinnati Bengals (-210) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Miami Dolphins (+110) vs. Carolina Panthers
Houston Texans (-150) vs. New York Jets
Atlanta Falcons (-120) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Denver Broncos (+125) vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Green Bay Packers (-105) vs. Los Angeles Rams
Minnesota Vikings (+150) at San Francisco 49ers
Washington Football Team (-120) vs. Seattle Seahawks
Matchups to Target
Tom Brady, TB ($7.6K DK | $8.2K FD) vs. Colts’ Cover 2 | 3 | 6
He doesn’t partake in the foods most of us crave on a daily basis. He doesn’t drink soda in spite of previously being a paid spokesman for Coca-Cola subsidiary: Glaceau SmartWater. Just check out his quote regarding the property he represented:
“You probably go out and drink Coca-Cola and think, ‘Oh yeah, that’s no problem.’ Why, because they pay lots of money for advertisements that think that you should drink Coca-Cola for a living? No. I totally disagree with that. And when people do that, I think that’s quackery. And just the fact that they can sell that to kids? That’s poison for kids.”
Sorry Subway, no bread, either. He’s reportedly never even stepped foot into a Subway during his lifetime… but definitely keep mailing over those endorsement checks. Who’s the exclusive soda provider for Subway? You guessed it: Coke. You may remember seeing him in Hershey’s vs. Reese’s Super Bowl commercials. He also had an early career deal with Dunkin’ Donuts. That’s right, no sugar in TB12’s diet. What does the GOAT stand for? Vultering goal-line TDs, of course, but he also dabbles in Cover 1, Cover 2, Cover 3, and, oh yeah, he’s also the exclusive endorser of Super Bowl ring blingage:
Tom Brady showing off all his Super Bowl rings 🐐 pic.twitter.com/c95jGyE3RL— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) July 23, 2021
The Colts and DC Matt Eberflus teased us in Week 10 with the fifth-highest rate of Cover 1 during their 23-17 home victory over Jacksonville. Stuffing top-20 rates of Cover 1 into the two games prior, Indy also used the sixth-highest rate of single-high in their Week 6, 31-3 home victory over Houston. Prior to that — as well as in Week 11, zero top-15 Cover 1 rates for Indianapolis. We never know what we’re going to get from Eberflus. Assuming that pair of high Cover 1 finishes was an opponent-specific strategy, we can narrow his arsenal list down to Cover 2, Cover 3, and Cover 6. More specifically, the eighth-highest rate of Cover 2, 12th-highest of Cover 3, and ninth-highest of Cover 6.
Brady has covered his floor four times since Week 4 (seven games). In two of those games, he only provided 2.68 FPs of combined profit. With a 29% chance to hit meaningful profit, we should require assurances with QB3/QB4 pricing. This is the week. We will have our bases covered whether Eberflus specifically features Cover 1, 2, 3, or 6 in Week 12. Here is the evidence from Brady’s last three seasons:
Cover 1: 0.53 FP/Db (sixth-best) and a 97.7 passer rating (12th)
Cover 2: 0.39 FP/Db (fifth-best) and a 103.1 passer rating (fourth)
Cover 3: 0.42 FP/Db (11th-best) and a 98.1 passer rating (10th)
Cover 6: 0.35 FP/Db (12th-best) and an 84.2 passer rating (21st)
The Cover 6 numbers from Brady may not inspire. But we can count the number of QBs who truly thrive while facing Cover 6 on one hand. And Brady has really improved against the scheme that combines elements of both Cover 2 and 4 (2 + 4 = 6) this season… a scary thought. We just want to avoid matchups against defenses featuring Cover 4. Brady has thrown zero TDs, five INTs, and posted a 69.9 passer rating since Week 8 of last season against Cover 4.
Mike Evans, TB ($7.2K DK | $7.5K FD) vs. Xavier Rhodes, IND
With the schemes the Colts will potentially feature already covered, let’s take a look at how Mike Evans has played with the GOAT during their two seasons together:
Cover 1: 59 targets (first), 35 receptions (first), 592 yards (first), seven TDs (first), 2.35 YPRR (second)
Cover 2: 12 targets (sixth), nine receptions (seventh), 186 yards (third), one TD (second), 1.29 YPRR (ninth)
Cover 3: 43 targets (first), 29 receptions (first), 392 yards (first), 2 TDs (first), 1.95 YPRR (third)
Cover 6: 16 targets (second), nine receptions (fifth), 94 yards (fourth), zero TDs, 0.92 YPRR (10th)
The first takeaway: he has not played well against Cover 6. That said, nearly 20% of his Cover 6 reps were against the Jalen Ramsey-led Rams. In Week 12, Evans (6-foot-5) will line up across from 6-foot-1 Xavier Rhodes (6-foot-1) on at least half of his routes. Rhodes is permitting his coverage to collect 1.72 YPCS (fifth-most), 0.34 FP/CS (fifth), 0.23 AY/CS (24th), and a 105.3 TPR (22nd-highest). With Cover 2 and 6 shells featured by the defense, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that Rhodes attempts to jam his assignments at the line at the 14th-highest rate. And he’s been the 11th-most targeted corner this season. Best of all, he’s allowing the fifth-highest rate of 20-plus-yard receptions.
Michael Pittman Jr., IND ($5.6K DK | $6.6K FD) vs. Sean Murphy-Bunting, TB
Another receiver that will have a significant size advantage on Sunday, Michael Pittman Jr. (6-foot-4, 220-pounds) will work across from Sean Murphy-Bunting (6-foot-0, 195-pounds). Murphy-Bunting will be playing in his second game removed from his IR stay after suffering a nasty elbow dislocation in Week 1. Due to their extensive list of outside corner injuries, SMB has been tasked with kicking outside from the slot to work at left corner. We can expect to see Murphy-Bunting’s numbers improve, but he’s currently clearing his coverage for 2.26 YPCS, 0.55 FP/CS, 1.62 AY/CS, and a 111.5 TPR (all unqualified). Pittman will square off with Murphy-Bunting on at least half of his routes on Sunday.
Unlike last season, the Buccaneers have been one of the easiest defenses to read this season. DC Todd Bowles has been all about Cover 2 and Cover 3, most definitely impacted by their litany of injuries. I’ll save the Cover 2 analysis for Carson Wentz’s analysis in Final Notes. Sneak peak: it’s his fav. When facing Cover 3 during his 24-game career, Pittman’s FP/Rt improves by 31% (sixth-highest). He ranks 16th-best with 0.45 FP/Rt, second with 13.5 YPT, and 15th with 2.39 YPRR. On 22% of his career routes, Pittman has produced 25% of his receptions, 31% of his yardage, and 33% of his TDs.
Matchups to Avoid
Jonathan Taylor, IND ($9.1K DK | $9.8K FD) vs. Buccaneers’ Cover 2 | 3
According to Next Gen Stats, Jonathan Taylor has the second- and third-fastest speeds recorded this season. Not at all surprising considering his 4.39-speed. With the news coming down the wire that Vita Vea will play in Week 12, the opening in the matchup-upside window for Taylor diminished. The Bucs are only supporting 78.4 rushing YPG (the fewest), 3.8 YPC (second-fewest), and 0.60 TDs/game (fourth-fewest). More bad news, Tampa Bay’s pure rushing allowance to opposing RBs consists of 7.8 FPG (the fewest) and 3.70 red zone touches/game (10th-fewest).
If we want to grasp at the positivity straws, they are facilitating 14.4 pure receiving FPG (fourth-most) and 2.30 goal line carries/game (eighth-most). But TB is only tolerating 26% of those goal line attempts reaching color. If we were dealing with RB10-15 pricing and a floor expectation ~17-20 FPs, JT would be a definite consideration. The reality is that we need 27.3/24.5 FPs before we see a sliver of profit with his RB1/RB1 pricing.
T.Y. Hilton, IND ($4.0K DK | $5.5K FD) vs. Jamel Dean, TB
Let’s begin with this:
If we were in the business of inducting players into the Hall of Fame for the quality of play since Week 15 of last season — including the playoffs, Jamel Dean would be enshrined. After returning from a concussion in Week 15, he shut down his coverage to an average receiving line of 3.6/28.7/0.0 as a featured perimeter corner. Dean actually began his collegiate career as an Ohio State Buckeye, before transferring to become an Auburn Tiger. The Buccaneers committed grand larceny by selecting him with the 94th pick of the 2019 draft. And the unheralded defense that played a massive role during the Bucs’ path toward collecting Super Bowl LVI was far from a fluke. He’s only sanctioning 0.71 YPCS (fifth-fewest), 0.15 FP/CS (fifth), and a 57.2 TPR (second-lowest) this season.
As for T.Y. Hilton, running nearly two-thirds of his routes from the left side of the formation, will place him within the vicinity of Dean on far too many plays. Hilton’s yet to return to being the type of player we’ve come to expect following preseason neck surgery. This is not going to be a generous matchup for him to get right.
Final notes on Tampa Bay
Even with the eighth-most goal line attempts/game (1.4) and the sixth-most targets/game (5.4), poor rushing efficiency — the exact issue that resulted in being shipped out of Jacksonville — from Leonard Fournette ($6.8K/$7.1K) has significantly limited his upside within one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. It’s a challenge deciding between Evans, Chris Godwin ($7.0K/$7.6K), and Antonio Brown ($5.5K/$7.0K) when all three are healthy. But AB84 is considered doubtful this week. As in Week 11, both Evans and Godwin should do enough to cover their floors. Godwin’s 0.52 FP/Db over the last three seasons against Cover 2 only trails Jerry Jeudy’s average. And the Colts’ nickelback, Kenny Moore II, is handing out the third-most FP/CS this season (0.33).
Among WRs running at least 100 routes, Tyler Johnson ($3.9K/$5.3K) ranks 103rd with 0.21 FP/Rt this season. Much of that work has been done in place of Brown. With AB unlikely to play, a date across from Rock Ya-Sin is on deck. And it so happens that the Bucs have activated Scotty Miller ($3.0K/$5.0K). Miller has been a favorite target of Brady’s when he’s been provided with a featured role. Do not be surprised to see Miller on the field in place of Johnson in Week 12. It did not take long for Rob Gronkowski ($4.4K/$6.5K) to make his mark. He was an instant problem for the Giants last week. Best of all, his pricing has dropped by 20% since Week 3 on DK to enter Week 12 as the TE11. The value alarm is sounding 🔊.
Final notes on Indianapolis
As alluded to above, during Carson Wentz’s ($5.8K/$7.3K) last 39 games, he ranks fourth-best with 0.39 FP/Db, second with a 105.9 passer rating, and his YPA improves by 34% when facing Cover 2. Tampa Bay has been a bit better than average at limiting QB production, and they’ve been particularly tough in defense of play action — a huge component of Wentz’s game. The stock of Nyheim Hines ($4.0K/$5.2K) is at an all-time low after Deon Jackson ($4.04.6K/$K) stepped into a larger share of the backfield carries last week (13% vs. 9%, respectively).
The Bucs tasked Mike Edwards with converting from safety to nickel two games ago. And the results have been promising. Not good news for Zach Pascal’s ($3.5K/$5.3K) already dim outlook. It’s my hope that Indy either trades Mo Alie-Cox ($2.6K/$4.5K) or allows him to leave via free agency. Seeing a player of his talent languish behind Jack Doyle ($3.1K/$4.6K) is painful to watch.
Matchups to Target
Jakobi Meyers, NE ($5.0K DK | $5.7K FD) vs. Elijah Molden, TEN
The Titans are a virtual lock to make the playoffs. However, they really need to catch a break concerning their defensive backs. DC Shane Bowen has resorted to shifting his perimeter and situational DBs in a perpetual rotation as individuals succumb-or-survive the injury report. But the purpose here is to identify weaknesses, not to imply any sympathy. One of those D-backs that has seen his role altered along the way has been 2021 third-rounder Elijah Molden. Forced into time as a safety early in the season, Molden has settled into his natural position out of the slot. On the season, Molden is supplying 1.39 YPCS (eighth-most), 0.31 FP/CS (also eighth), and a 108.0 passer rating (seventh-highest) to his coverage assignments.
For those unaware, the PPR ceiling for Jakobi Meyers is unknown. His route running is sharp, his hands are reliable, and he is perfectly comfortable working on the outside when the Patriots are utilizing Heavy personnel. Meyers is unlike most “slot” WRs; he has remained on the field for at least 90% of passing plays in eight-of-11 games this season. Two factors have worked against him: (1) despite drawing at least a 21% target share in seven games, he’s only found the end zone once. (2) He is extremely game-script dependent. In four defeats, Meyers has averaged 10.3 targets and 14.3 FPG. In eight victories, 5.9 targets/game and 7.7 FPG. Consider that New England has nearly averaged more PPG (35.0) than opponents have scored against their defense over the last five games… COMBINED (38)!
Before you race to your bookie to toss every dollar in your bank account on New England winning the Super Bowl, it should be noted that the Pats have played the easiest schedule in the league this season. That changes this week. Even without Derrick Henry, Tennessee is not a team to take lightly. Yes, they hit a road bump against Houston last week. And, if A.J. Brown is unable to take the field, another lopsided victory could follow. But the path to a blowout is far easier said than done in today’s NFL. With Jackrabbit Jenkins either hobbled or inactive altogether, Meyers will work against a secondary that is encouraging the most receptions (15.5), yards (200.1), red zone touches (2.36), and fifth-most TDs (1.27) per game to opposing WR units. All told, the Titans are allowing 43.3 FPG to WRs (obviously the most).
Final notes on Tennessee
Even if AJB is out, it’s a guarantee that Ryan Tannehill ($6.1K/$7.2K) is going to give his all on Sunday. The same can be said for several other Titans that have been on the field in every game to hold this team together. It is impossible to back into a 73% winning percentage by Week 12 of the NFL season. Should we be targeting Tannehill this week? If Brown ($7.1K/$6.8K) is out, he will just not have the weapons at his disposal to attack Bill Belichick’s defense. And Belichick has been using a rotation of Cover 1, 2, and 3 that, while not all that intimidating on paper, has found few up to the deciphering task.
Even if AJB does take the field, J.C. Jackson could be in the Defensive MVP discussion if his coverage quality continues the rest of the season. The list of his primary coverage responsibilities this season includes: Kyle Pitts, Donovan Peoples-Jones, DJ Moore, Mike Williams, Corey Davis (two games), Amari Cooper, Brandin Cooks, Mike Evans, Marquez Callaway, and DeVante Parker. The group combined for an 18/213/0 receiving line on 39 targets. He either INT’d or deflected 13 of those 39 targets (33%). In case it was missed, allow me reiterate that he permitted 46% of intended targets to his primary responsibilities to be completed (5.5 YPA) and INT’d or defended 33%! And Chris Moore is currently the only individual to score a TD inside his coverage this season. One final note: his TPR of 40.1 is only 0.5 higher than what’s awarded to QBs for spiking the football.
Mr. INT doing Mr. INT things. pic.twitter.com/P5d23o9clu— New England Patriots (@Patriots) November 8, 2021
Taking nothing away from the outstanding work from Mr. INT but, if Brown were entering the game at 100% health, I would not hesitate to insert him into my lineups. The Patriots utilize rates of Cover 1 and 3 high enough that we would be foolish not to trust a wideout whose FP/Rt ranks sixth- and seventh-best against those schemes, respectively, during his career. Even with the knowledge that Brown would be at less than 100%, I’ll still have a few lineup stocks invested in Brown if he is active on Sunday.
With Julio Jones and Marcus Johnson on IR, Brown or no Brown, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine ($4.0K/$5.7K), Chester Rogers ($3.5K/$5.3K), and Dez Fitzpatrick ($3.2K/$5.0K) will play featured snaps for Tennessee. If Brown is out, Westbrook-Ikhine will start on the right side across from Jackson. We want nothing to do with that situation. If Brown plays, Westbrook-Ikhine will start on the left, working on the inside with Rogers in four-wide sets. Under either scenario, Fitzpatrick will run the majority of his routes on the left perimeter. He will be the responsibility of Jalen Mills. And the former Eagle is only licensing his coverage with 0.93 YPCS (21st-best), 0.24 FP/CS (36th), 0.15 AY/CS (20th), and an inflated 119.4 TPR (ninth-highest). It’s described as inflated since 80% of his yardage allowed and all four TDs were scored on four 40-plus receptions between Weeks 4 and 8 when the former LSU Tiger was dealing with a nagging hamstring injury. In his other 335 snaps in coverage, he allowed a combined 20/61/0 line on 35 targets. If it’s in any way unclear, Fitzpatrick will have his work cut out for him.
Rogers will continue to be featured in the slot; he’ll draw the coverage of Myles Bryant. It was so disappointing to see Geoff Swaim ($2.6K/$4.4K) unable to play last week. It was a tremendous matchup, with floor pricing. Not so much this week. The pricing is the same, the opportunity is not. The Patriots are acquiescing the fewest FPG to TEs this season (7.5). IF Swaim is out again, do not provide the time of day to either Anthony Firkser ($2.7K/$4.8K) or MyCole Pruitt ($2.5K/$4.5K). Even without Brown, I do like one Tennessee RB. Now that Adrian Peterson is no longer in the picture, D’Onta Foreman ($4.8K/$5.7K) holds the rest-of-season (ROS) upside. But the Pats have been air-tight to ground production (fifth-fewest FPG at 9.9). But the guy I like is Dontrell Hilliard ($4.6K/$5.5K). One of the few vulnerabilities from New England has been pure receiving production authorized to RBs by LBs Dont'a Hightower and Ja'Whaun Bentley. The assumption is that Jeremy McNichols ($5.1K/$5.5K) will not play. If he does, I will not trust his health holding up.
Final notes on New England
I was tempted to chase after Mac Jones ($5.4K/$6.8K) in this spot and to list him as a Target. I would not argue against another following that course of action. What turned me away is the potential for Brown not being able to play the entire game… if he’s even active. The Joker was well on his way toward a big game last week against Atlanta on TNF until OC Josh McDaniels took his foot off the gas when it was clear the Falcons were not going to present a threat. But I will not be targeting either Damien Harris ($6.1K/$6.0K) or Rhamondre Stevenson ($5.2K/$5.9K) with this game-tested run defense of the Titans in opposition. Nyheim Hines (18.9 in Week 3) is the only RB this season to top 15 FPs against Tennessee without fully commanding his team’s backfield carries.
Fingers crossed Belichick and McDaniels have finally seen that Brandon Bolden’s ($4.0K/$4.9K) value is on special teams. I’ve made my case multiple times that Kendrick Bourne ($4.9K/$5.8K) deserves a more substantial role at the expense of Nelson Agholor ($4.3K/$5.5K). And that remains unchanged after Agholor’s TD on an entirely uncharacteristic busted coverage from A.J. Terrell last week. If Jenkins is active, Bourne will still also see snaps on the right side across from Chris Jackson and Chris Jones. Agholor will draw the more difficult coverage from Kristian Fulton.
With the Pats holding an 82% chance to earn a playoff bid, N’Keal Harry ($3.0K/$4.8K) must force his way into more reps in place of Agholor. The most frustrating characteristic of Hunter Henry ($4.5K/$5.6K) is what has appeared to be an inconsistent drive to be great during his career. In some weeks, nobody can stop him. When the world begins to take notice, he disappears. No matter what level Henry brings in Week 12, Jonnu Smith ($2.7K/$4.5K) is proving that he’s the type of player that vanished in the second half of the ‘20 season, not the guy that had a mini-breakout during the first half.
Matchups to Target
Jalen Hurts, PHI ($7.3K DK | $8.4K FD) vs. Giants’ Cover 3 | 4
The Giants have defended QBs very well this season. Not only that, they’ve limited the position to only 2.31 FPG on the ground (10th-fewest). Since Week 7, QBs have only averaged 12.4 FPG. Adoree’ Jackson has been one of the top corners all season and James Bradberry has overcome a rough start. New York’s defense has paid particular attention toward preventing long gains. NYG has held opponents to the seventh-lowest completion rate on throws of 20-or-more yards (11.8%) and to the lowest rate of 20-plus yard runs (0.73%). Why would we ever even consider wagering against these data points?
Jalen Hurts may be best classified within a category all to himself. Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson are absolutely worthy of being listed right alongside Hurts as the top-three “leg” threats in the NFL. Cam Newton and Tyrod Taylor can run, but have strict upside caps at this stage in their careers. Justin Fields will be in contention one day. Tannehill and Josh Allen can easily tap into that part of their games. But they gain most of their production while scrambling from a collapsing pocket. So what sets Hurts apart from Murray and LJax? For one, NFL experience. Hurts doesn’t have it. And Hurts is unique in that he’s managed to maintain his elite fantasy status while only excelling against a single coverage scheme.
If a QB could enter the NFL with a plan of attack in place against a single coverage, the optimal choice would be Cover 3. With the average league-wide rate of Cover 1 on the decline, defenses have utilized Cover 3 29% more than Cover 1… and any other scheme, for that matter. And Hurts isn’t simply good at attacking Cover 3, he’s one of the best in the world. During his 26-game career, Hurts has generated 0.49 FP/DB (fourth-best), a 105.5 passer rating (third), his YPA improves by 33% (the highest), and he aggressively attacks with 10.0 AY/Att (third-highest) when opposed by Cover 3. Drew Lock and Brandon Allen are equally dominant across from Cover 3. But Hurts has managed to post at least 18.5 FPs in 13-of-16 career starts by combining his elite ground production with Cover 3-mastery.
As for the Giants shutting down opposing QBs, no opposing QB has more than four rushing attempts against them this season. Not to mention the fact that none of those opposing QBs offer anything in the ballpark of Hurts’ rushing upside, Hurts has never attempted less than seven rushing attempts when he’s been the starting QB. By the way, New York is using Cover 3 at the sixth-highest rate this season.
Dallas Goedert, PHI ($4.8K DK | $5.9K FD) vs. Giants’ Cover 3 | 4
Three TEs have been on the field for 85% of team passing plays this season: Travis Kelce, Tyler Higbee, and T.J. Hockenson. Only three others have been on the field for at least 80%: Mark Andrews, Darren Waller, and Kyle Pitts. Mike Gesicki falls just shy of that average. Which TEs have collected target shares of at least 18%? In order from the highest: Andrews, Kelce, Waller, Hockenson, Pitts, and Gesicki. The qualified leaders in FPG among TEs? In order, Kelce, Andrews, Waller, George Kittle, Dawson Knox, Hockenson, and Pitts.
In the five weeks since Zach Ertz was traded to Arizona, even if we include Week 10 when Dallas Goedert only ran 19% of team routes due to a concussion, he’s garnered 25% of the target share. If we remove Week 10, that number jumps to 29%. In those other four games, Goedert has run a route on 87% of team routes. As for his Week 12 matchup, the Giants have been the fifth-most vulnerable team on a FP/CS basis when defending play action. Goedert just so happens to have manufactured 47% of his FPG average (4.44) and 56% of his total yardage on play action. And TEs have scored the 15th-most FPG (13.4) this season, 10th-most over the last four weeks (13.6), and fourth-most over the last two (19.8). Finally, New York has provided TEs with the second-most red zone touches/game (1.2).
Matchups to Avoid
Darius Slayton, NYG ($4.9K DK | $5.5K FD) vs. Darius Slay, PHI
Since Darius Slay didn’t struggle through a dramatic collapse in play quality that shook the league last season, it’s highly unlikely to come to fruition. Not to mention the fact that he’s not a QB. But Slay should absolutely be in the running for Comeback Player of the Year. I’m not going to list all of his ‘19 statistics. I’ll just state that his numbers fell off a cliff over the second half of the season. More important to our purposes, Slay is only accrediting 0.76 YPCS (11th-fewest), 0.22 FP/CS (19th), 0.11 AY/CS (fourth), and a 74.0 TPR (15th-lowest among qualified outside CBs). Darius Slayton faced off with Slay in two games last season. He averaged a 3/47/0 line for 7.7 FPG. And it was a season when Slayton was featured with a much larger share of the targets.
In four games this season when he’s seen at least a 19% target share — including 21% in Week 11, Slayton has averaged only 10.2 FPG. Philadelphia is only providing opposing WR units the third-fewest FPG this season (28.7). It’s really a shame that Slayton hasn’t provided utility this season. With 58% of his career TDs scored on only 27% of routes against Cover 1, he’s only hit value in one-of-three matchups (Week 2) across from a featured Cover 1. The Eagles are using the seventh-lowest rate of Cover 1 this season.
Final notes on Philadelphia
Miles Sanders ($5.1K/$6.1K) was actually provided with enough carries to make a difference during his team’s 40-29 victory over the Saints. Jordan Howard ($4.8K/$5.6K) is listed as doubtful and is not going to take the field on Sunday. With the Giants gift-wrapping opposing RBs with 27.9 FPG (fifth-most), Sanders could provide some usefulness… IF he can manage to reach paydirt. New York is only offering RBs 1.3 goal-to-go attempts/game (fifth-fewest), so Sanders will need to work for his food. And we all know Hurts is going to get his fill of the ground production first. At least Sanders has already separated himself comfortably from Boston Scott ($4.0K/$5.2K).
James Bradberry granted 68% of total yardage and 67% of TDs on 46% of ‘21 coverage snaps during the first five week. While Mike Evans (Week 11) and Hunter Renfrow (Week 9) reached the end zone against him over his last two games, he’s only supported a 3/28/0.4 average receiving line over the last four weeks. DeVonta Smith ($6.4K/$6.4K) alignment has been spread out to the point that we should not label him to either side of the field. He simply searches for zone holes and sits. Since he’s run nearly 90% of his routes from the perimeter, he’s going to have to deal with either Bradberry or Adoree' Jackson. Oddly enough, Smith has not played particularly well against Cover 3. But that could all change without a moment’s notice. This is the Hurts-Smith-Goedert show. Quez Watkins ($3.5K/$5.1K) and Jalen Reagor ($3.0K/$5.0K) are simply along for the ride.
Final notes on New York
The data suggests Week 12 is not going to play out well for Daniel Jones ($5.6K/$7.0K). The Eagles feature Cover 2 and Cover 6 at top-10 rates. Danny Dimes has thrown three TDs vs. nine INTs against Cover 2 and 6 during his 37-game career. His FP/Db averages decline by 29% and 24% when facing Cover 2 and 6, respectively. We saw enough from Saquon Barkley ($6.3K/$7.5K) last week that he could be a tremendous value with RB14/RB13 pricing against a Philly defense licensing the eighth-most FPG this season (26.4). Devontae Booker ($5.4K/$6.5K), please take your intended seat on the bench.
Kadarius Toney ($5.2K/$5.6K) will face his most difficult coverage test of the season from a nickelback with Avonte Maddox this week. Maddox is in the midst of a breakout season, limiting his responsibilities to 0.89 YPCS (sixth-fewest), 0.25 FPCS (18th), 0.08 AY/CS (eighth), and a 93.4 TPR (16th). Making matters more challenging, the Eagles are only using Cover 3 — Toney’s wheelhouse — at the 18th-highest rate. The two receivers that should provide Jones with his best chance to succeed are Kenny Golladay ($5.1K/$5.9K) and Evan Engram ($3.8K/$5.5K). Philadelphia is pacing all teams in FP/CS allowed on play action. Golladay has drawn 44% of his FPG (3.49), Engram has extracted 40% (3.20) with play action this season. Further fueling Engram’s upside, the Eagles are supplying TEs with the most receptions (7.36), yards (73.7), TDs (0.82), red zone touches (1.36), and FPG (19.8) this season.
Matchups to Target
Najee Harris, PIT ($8.2K DK | $8.8K FD) vs. Bengals’ Cover 2
One of the most obvious touts in this article. The Bengals had stood as a considerable challenge on the ground to RBs early in the season. That’s changed over the last four weeks. They’ve handed them the eighth-most pure rushing FPG during that time (16.4). Najee Harris began his rookie season only averaging 46.3 rushing YPG through four games. He collected 92.2 YPG over the next five.
With the Chargers building a 24-10 lead at the 11:50 mark of the third quarter last week, the script prevented Harris from accumulating ground volume. But an opening in Cincinnati’s rushing defense makes this matchup for Harris all-the-more cherry. The Bengals are stocking the RB shelves with the third-most pure receiving FPG (14.6). On the off-chance that a reminder is necessary, Najee was fed with 19 targets the last times these teams met, which resulted in a 14/102/0 receiving line for 31.2 FPs.
Diontae Johnson, PIT ($6.6K DK | $7.1K FD) vs. Chidobe Awuzie, CIN
As is always the case, Diontae Johnson ($6.6K/$7.1K) was front-and-center as the centerpiece of the passing offense with a 7/101/1 line on 13 targets. While Diontae did well to collect 3/59/0 of his line while running over half of his routes on Michael Davis’ right side, Johnson exploited rookie Asante Samuel Jr. with 3/26/1 on three routes into his coverage. If Diontae had a matchup across from a rookie on deck this week, he would easily be deserving of a Target listing. But he’s going to be clashing with Chidobe Awuzie’s left side of the field on around two-thirds of his routes. The majority of the damage against Awuzie’s coverage was done in Week 5 (6/88/0 on 10 targets to Davante Adams) and Week 7 (2/46/1 on eight targets to Marquise Brown). Over his remaining 265 snaps in coverage, he’s only surrendered a 28/200/2 combined line.
He’s not drawing all of the press from the media by deflecting passes or coming down with INTs, he’s simply attaching himself to receivers inside his responsibility, and forcing QBs to look elsewhere. Over the last three games, opposing QBs have only attempted an average of 3.3 targets into his coverage. That said, Awuzie hasn’t been defending Johnson. In every game he’s started and finished this season, Diontae has collected at least a 25% target share in an offense that passes the ball on 64% of snaps. He is currently garnering 10.3 targets/game (fourth-most). The Bengals are featuring the ninth-highest rate of Cover 2 and fielding Cover 3 on just under one-third of their plays. That Cover 3 rate is of particular note for Johnson since he ranks sixth-best during his 40-game career with 0.54 FP/Rt. Pop 2.59 YPRR (ninth-most) and garnering the third-highest target rate when defenses put a Cover 3 on the field into the calculation and the full extent of Diontae’s Week 12 upside is revealed.
Final notes on Pittsburgh
Ben Roethlisberger ($5.2K/$6.6K) provided profit over value last week for only the third time this season. His entirely unexpected 22.92 FPs came out of nowhere. The Steelers’ defense played without T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, or Joe Haden in the lineup. Reminiscent of his performance against the Browns in the Wild Card round of the playoffs last year, Big Ben has always seems to be on standby for an eruption when Pittsburgh falls significantly behind early. One has to wonder why the Steelers wouldn’t simply attempt to carry the same up-tempo strategies they employed against the Chargers when they scored 24 points in under 11 minutes of game time. Can we count on seeing that happening this week? Hardly. Nothing from Roethlisberger’s three floor-covering performances this season immediately stand out as indicators for reliable projection of future recurrence.
The evidence is plainly displayed for all to see that Big Ben is no longer a QB that should be leading an offense equipped with Pittsburgh’s level of playmaking talent. His passer rating under pressure (43.8) is only a hair under what’s awarded for spiking the football. Roethlisberger did actually find the time to feed Chase Claypool ($6.0K/$6.5K) with 14.4 FPs last week. It fell short of covering his floor, far from a surprise from Roethlisberger. Put Claypool under the direction of a strong-armed, efficiently-aggressive QB — Roethlisberger ranks 39th with 7.22 AY/Att this season — and he’s, at the very least, a top-15 fantasy wideout. It is what it is. For Week 12, Claypool will have a strong matchup against Eli Apple. But I’m not going to have any Claypool exposure since Roethlisberger treats the athletic-phenomenon that is Chase Claypool as a hindrance to his Diontae dedication. If Claypool is unable to get Roethlisberger’s attention, James Washington ($3.9K/$5.3K) simply doesn’t stand a chance.
The only reason Pat Freiermuth ($4.3K/$5.3K) has been able to become a weekly consideration is that he only attacks with 6.1 AY/Tgt. Please do not confuse that last sentence with an effort to discount Freiermuth as a stud TE. During the pre-draft process, I pounded the table with my opinion that he should be a first round selection due to his athletic twitchiness. But Roethlisberger’s limitations decide who will succeed. And the current version of Big Ben fears pocket pressure so much that he literally snaps the ball and releases it. If a receiver actually requires the opportunity to run an NFL route, he will complete said route too late to receive a target. The snap-instant release method is not to be applauded. Even after scoring 37 points last week, Pittsburgh’s offense ranks 20th-best with 21.4 PPG. Freiermuth could also see a bump in volume if Eric Ebron ($2.8K/$4.7K) is unable to play.
Final notes on Cincinnati
As expected, Joe Burrow ($6.2K/$7.1K) did not post Joe Burrow numbers against the Raiders’ league-leading Cover 3 rate. The Steelers are featuring the second-highest rate of Cover 3 and seventh-highest of Cover 2. And no defense has put a Cover 3 on the field at a higher rate over the last five weeks. Another week without the greatest setup for Burrow. But let’s establish the fact that the ‘21 version of Pittsburgh’s defense is not an elite coverage unit. They have kindly forwarded the 11th-most FPG to WRs through 11 weeks (37.0). If pricing is not an issue, Ja’Marr Chase ($7.3K/$7.7K) is your guy. He’s produced the ninth-most FP/Rt (0.49) against Cover 3 this season.
For the rest of us, Tee Higgins ($5.4K/$6.2K) deserves some GPP attention. Yes, we are talking about the same guy that hasn’t covered value in his last six games. Even with Joe Haden returning to practice in a limited fashion after missing Week 11 with a sprained foot, Higgins will still likely see some James Pierre on Sunday. Haden cast doubt on being able to return this week but, immediately after, HC Mike Tomlin stated that he expected Haden to return to the field. If Haden is being pushed before he’s ready — as it certainly seems, I want some stock in Higgins. He hasn’t been as good as Chase across from Cover 3, but 0.38 FP/Rt, 1.98 YPRR, and Haden at less than 100% is enough for me.
No Tyler Boyd ($5.1K/$5.8K) for me this week. His FP/Rt (-10%), YPT (-11%), YPRR (-12%), and AY/Tgt (-5%) all decline when working against Cover 3. C.J. Uzomah ($3.4K/$5.2K) has posted 30% of his yardage and 32% of his receptions on only 25% of his routes over the last three seasons. He’s only lacking the TDs. But Pittsburgh is limiting TEs to only 0.20 TDs/game (seventh-fewest). Joe Mixon ($7.5K/$8.0K) accumulated the yardage (90) in their Week 3 matchup, but wasn’t able to put the ball into the end zone. That falls in line with the Steelers’ season, limiting RBs to 0.80 TDs/game (10th-fewest). With T.J. Watt set to play, that difficulty curve will be maintained.
None of the matchups from this game stand out. It’s shaping up as a defensive struggle. Miami’s consistent defensive strength has been its run defense. Carolina will run the ball early-and-often with Cam Newton under center. The Dolphins have nothing resembling a ground game, relying on Tua Tagovailoa to generate all of its offense. The Panthers pack a fierce pass rush and a disciplined pass defense.
Final notes on Carolina
When Cam Newton ($5.6K/$8.0K) does look to pass he’ll need to circumvent a Miami pass rush that’s manufactured the most QB pressures this season. I’ve never seen a team generate this vicious of a pass rush while its O-line also surrenders the most QB pressures to opposing defenses. It’s certainly not going to help Newton’s cause that his O-line has permitted the third-most QB pressures. This matchup is tattooed with a criss-crossing hodgepodge of conflicting extremes. And the ‘Phins have been as efficient at limiting ground production (12.4 FPG) as it has at containing gains through the air by RBs (9.9). It’ll be another week where I fade Christian McCaffrey ($9.0K/$9.7K) outright. During Newton’s first game leading the offense, Chuba Hubbard ($5.0K/$5.5K) and Ameer Abdullah ($4.0K/$4.7K) were eliminated from the game plan.
Newton’s addition should actually be to the benefit of D.J. Moore ($6.2K/$6.7K). Newton isn’t going to lead DJM to top-five WR numbers, but he will use his experience to inject the week-to-week consistency Moore sorely lacked from Sam Darnold.
The alignment percentages place Moore across from Xavien Howard on over half of his reps. But Miami has converted to a Cover 3-heavy defense. Either way, Newton has thrown one TD vs. five INTs over 19 games spanning the last three seasons against Cover 3. Byron Jones is actually the more experienced Cover 3 corner. He will have little issue limiting Robby Anderson ($4.7K/$5.4K). Brandon Zylstra ($3.0K/$4.8K) was featured in the slot over Terrace Marshall Jr. ($3.1K/$4.7K) last week. Not that it should matter. Ditto for Ian Thomas ($2.5K/$4.2K) playing more than Tommy Tremble ($2.5K/$4.6K).
Final notes on Miami
The most difficult part of projecting Tua Tagovailoa ($5.5K/$6.9K) on a weekly basis is that he’s thrown 65% of his career TDs on only 7% of dropbacks against Cover 0 (blitz without deep safety help) and inside the red zone when defenses utilize coverage tailored to the short field. Without those TD numbers fueling his scheme success, short of building a database devoted to pinpointing Tagovailoa matchup hotspots, it’s impossible to compare his production to other QBs. On the other end of the spectrum, projecting the Miami backfield has been a breeze. It sucks. Avoid it every week. That’s not to suggest that Myles Gaskin ($5.6K/$6.2K) is without value. He’s a change-of-pace, scatback that’s an asset as a receiver out of the backfield.
Seeing the Dolphins rotating Gaskin and Duke Johnson Jr. ($4.0K/$4.5K) is akin to expecting cold water to boil inside a freezer. Phillip Lindsay could make short work of establishing himself as the early-down back. Jaylen Waddle’s ($5.9K/$6.7K) YPRR spikes by 33%, YPT by 19%, and AY/Tgt by 18% when he’s gone against Cover 1 this season. He’s also generated 34% of his yardage on 25% of his routes. Waddle sliced up SEC coverage at Alabama when they put Cover 1 on the field. The Panthers are featuring the eighth-highest rate of Cover 1. And A.J. Bouye, the coverage counterpart Waddle is expected to face, has been just below average across the board this season. Dimeback Myles Hartsfield hasn’t played as many snaps as Bouye, but he’s been far more impressive during his opportunities in coverage. Albert Wilson ($3.1K/$4.9K) will also see some work on the outside, but he’s going to draw Hartsfield when he aligns in the slot with Waddle.
We want nothing to do with Mack Hollins ($3.3K/$5.3K) on the left side with Donte Jackson in caverage. And the same goes for Preston Williams ($3.0K/$4.8K) on the right with Stephon Gilmore’s role growing on a weekly basis. If you want to take a GPP stab at a Miami receiver other than Waddle, Mike Gesicki ($5.3K/$6.2K) is your huckleberry. At least he garners consistent volume. Durham Smythe ($2.6K/$4.7K) and Adam Shaheen ($2.5K/$4.4K) are only finding work in short situations and due to the Dolphins’ weak WR rotation. They are not taking the field at the expense of Gesicki’s workload.
Matchups to Target
Brandin Cooks, HOU ($5.8K DK | $6.5K FD) vs. Michael Carter II, NYJ
Poor play under center has come at the expense of Brandin Cooks’ production the last two games. Don’t confuse Houston’s 22-13 victory over Tennessee as anything to do with the offense. Yes, Tyrod Taylor ran for a pair of scores. But DC Lovie Smith’s defense collected four INTs, two forced fumbles, and the Titans fumbled on two other unforced occasions. But those last two games were against the surging Miami defense and the disciplined Titans’ front-seven. In Week 12, the Texans will have the get-right of all get-right opportunities against the NFLs punching bag, also known as the New York Jets. They’re no longer involved in handing out the FPG numbers — the Jets have left a note next to a bowl asking that opponents only take a few. But those naughty NFL offenses have filled their bags with 39.8 PPG over the last five weeks.
Houston has played the third-most difficult schedule this season. And they’ve faced a who’s-who of the top defenses over the last nine games. The last time they faced a team of New York’s calibur, the Texans racked up 449 total yards and 37 points against the Jaguars in Week 1. With Jacksonville’s defense playing far better of late, Week 12 may be this offense's last chance to stroke their egos. During the last four weeks, opposing WRs have requisitioned 46.1 FPG from NYJ (third-most), 52.3 over the last two (the most). It’s no guarantee that Cooks sees coverage from Michael Carter II more than from any other Jets’ defender since he lines up at a different location on what seems like every play. Without a ground game to speak of from Houston, Cooks should garner another of those 30+% target shares. More than enough to go profit over value on sheer volume alone.
Matchups to Avoid
Zach Wilson, NYJ ($5.1K DK | $6.2K FD) vs. Texans’ Cover 1 | 2
The Jets must get Zach Wilson back on the field to work through his coverage recognition issues. If his pre-snap read accuracy spills over into next season, the current state of the rest of the team will not be competitive anyway during their full rebuild. But New York will absolutely want to see significant improvements by Year 3. We still need some of the fuzziness to clear out of the way after only 205 dropbacks, but he has been a complete disaster against both Cover 1 and Cover 2. In order to keep the approach clean, I’ll just state the numbers in bullet points:
Cover 1: Zero TDs, three INTs, 0.10 FP/Db, -53% ⬇ in FP/Db, 45.1 passer rating, -41% ⬇ in passer rating, -29% ⬇ in YPA
Cover 2: Zero TDs, one INT, 0.11 FP/Db, -50% ⬇ in FP/Db, 48.8 passer rating, -30% ⬇ in passer rating, -29% ⬇ in YPA, -28% ⬇ in AY/Att
Lovie Smith is one of the architects of the Tampa 2 — a variation of Cover 2 with a LB also dropping deep to the open hole over the middle of the field. His Texans are fielding Cover 2 at the second-highest rate and Cover 1 at the seventh-highest. Last week, Houston ranked sixth and second with their Cover 2 and 1 rates, respectively.
Final notes on New York
I will not be trusting any Mean Green RB with Wilson back under center. Michael Carter ($5.5K/$6.4K, out with an ankle injury), Ty Johnson ($4.3K/$5.2K), and Tevin Coleman ($4.0K/$5.6K) will not see the targeting provided by Mike White and, to a lesser extent, Joe Flacco. The matchup was right for Corey Davis ($4.8K/$6.1K) to get it done against Tennessee, but Elijah Moore ($5.6K/$6.4K) stole the aerial show before Houston reverted to killing the clock. Terrance Mitchell and Desmond King II have not been shutdown corners, but Wilson has only found a hint of success against Cover 3. The Texans are using the fourth-lowest Cover 3 rate. Jumping on the Moore bandwagon would be extremely easy after averaging 20.5 FPG the last three weeks. And I was as high as anyone on Moore during the pre-draft process. But it’s just too difficult to trust that Wilson will know how to get him the ball.
Wilson peppered the slot early in the year, so that might lead us to conclude that Jamison Crowder ($4.7K/$5.9K) should do well. I actually do think Crowder will lead the team in receiving, but I’ve got to cap his output, as well, with Tavierre Thomas working as the nickelback. He’s ghosted his coverage with 0.42 YPCS (the fewest), 0.10 FP/CS (the fewest), 0.04 AY/CS (second-fewest), and a 78.0 TPR (seventh-lowest). Since targeting his TEs 10 times in Week 1, Wilson devoted a 9% target share to the position in his last five games. At least you get your name written up, Ryan Griffin ($2.6K/$4.8K).
Final notes on Houston
I have my doubts that Tyrod Taylor ($5.3K/$7.4K) will receive ownership-love in spite of the vanilla matchup after the way he’s played since returning from IR. But that’s just a hunch since I prefer to keep my process sterile from the actual ownership projections while writing this series each week. While 18.5 FPs might be asking a bit too much on FD with QB12 pricing, his QB26 pricing is absolutely in play with expectations for profit above a 15.9 floor. I am not touching Rex Burkhead ($4.2K/$5.7K) or David Johnson ($4.5K/$5.4K) ownership this or any week. For all we know, they could end up featuring Royce Freeman or move safety Terrence Brooks to RB 😜. I’m expecting Taylor to devote 30-40% of the targets toward Cooks. That leaves very little between Nico Collins ($3.2K/$5.3K), Chris Conley ($3.9K/$5.2K), Danny Amendola ($3.0K/$4.9K), Chris Moore ($3.0K/$5.0K), Pharaoh Brown ($2.8K/$4.5K), and Brevin Jordan ($2.5K/$4.6K). I’m taken aback every time I look over that list of names.
Matchups to Target
James Robinson, JAX ($6.2K DK | $7.6K FD) vs. Falcons’ Cover 1 | 2
It’s such a relief to see the Jaguars no longer playing games with their stud RB. I’d be foolish not to wonder how the workload will be distributed when Travis Etienne does return to the field. But his rehabilitation is likely to spill over into the next season quite a bit. For now, James Robinson is the bellcow for a team with a defense that is improving on a weekly basis. Whether it was in an effort to pass along some type of message to J-Rob, he’s averaged 17.8 FPG since taking over the backfield prior to Week 3. And that average includes Week 8 when he left in the first quarter with a bruised heel. If we exclude that game, he’s averaged 23.2 FPG in the PPR format on DK. Those 23.2 FPG would only be bested by the 26.0 from both Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor. With that in mind, under what conditions should Robinson not be the primary target of our attention against an Atlanta defense supporting 27.9 FPG (fourth-most) and 4.80 red zone touches (eighth-most) to opposing RBs?
Matchups to Avoid
Marvin Jones Jr., JAX ($5.3K DK | $5.9K FD) vs. A.J. Terrell, ATL
My jaw dropped while watching TNF last week when Nelson Agholor broke completely free of A.J. Terrell’s coverage for a 19-yard TD. After shocking most of America with a 2020 breakout with the Raiders, Agholor has been a disaster for a team with serious playoff aspirations. Let’s set the record straight that the TD scored by Agholor was a complete coverage bust miscommunication by Terrell. In no way did Agholor put the moves on the ‘20 first-rounder out of Clemson. After a rough rookie season, a considerable argument can be made that Terrell has been the premiere NFL corner this season. Metrics that would definitely raise some eyebrows from a corner working in the slot but, from a perimeter CB, Terrell is on the fast track to locking up a record-breaking contract at the conclusion of his rookie deal.
How good, you say? Even better than Ramsey the Great. Terrell is cutting off the blood flow to his responsibilities with a nanoscopic 0.42 YPCS (second-fewest), 0.14 FP/CS (fourth-fewest), 0.12 AY/CS (seventh-fewest), and a 67.5 TPR (eighth-lowest). Among the list of elite CBs this season pulled from the very cleanest of coverage profiles (Jalen Ramsey, Jamel Dean, Casey Hayward Jr., Tre'Davious White, J.C. Jackson, and Darius Slay), Terrell has managed to ascend to the elite grouping at 23 years, one month. That’s two full years less than the next youngest in the group (Dean). Oh, guess I should mention that Marvin Jones Jr. is not someone you should consider when he’s running two-thirds of his routes across from Terrell.
Final notes on Atlanta
I’m amazed at how well the Jacksonville defense has played since Week 2 without big names leading the way. No QB this season has managed more than 22.6 FPs during that time. That list includes Jimmy Garoppolo (15.6), Carson Wentz (7.1), Josh Allen (9.6), Tua Tagovailoa (21.4), Ryan Tannehill (14.0), Joe Burrow (22.3), Kyler Murray (18.5), and Teddy Bridgewater (21.2). Their record may stand at 2-8, but three of the Jags’ defeats have been by 10 points-or-less. Quality safety play and a relentless pass rush leave me with concerns that Matt Ryan ($5.5K/$7.1K) will be able to find success in this spot. Not to mention the fact that only Jonathan Taylor has managed to post double-digit FPs on the ground over the last five weeks.
With Cordarrelle Patterson ($6.5K/$7.8K) still dealing with a sore ankle, he’s an easy fade for me without any type of pricing discount. It’s comical that Atlanta actually featured Qadree Ollison ($4.0K/$5.2K) on an NFL field during the ‘21 season. At the very least, Mike Davis ($4.9K/$5.9K) did manage to catch at least three balls for only the second time in seven games. With a belief in the importance of transparency, Jacksonville is extremely close to joining Arizona and New England as teams we simply SHOULD NOT TRUST as it relates to their coverage scheme rotation history. Over the last two games, they’ve put at least one top-15 rate each of Cover 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. They are undoubtedly playing the analytics game. If clarity is not provided after Week 12, the Jaguars will be blacklisted within my coverage analysis.
Based upon the individual matchups they’ll face, Tajae Sharpe ($3.9K/$5.0K) will see the softest coverage from Tyson Campbell. Judging from their history of coverage success, the numbers are suggesting that Russell Gage ($5.1K/$5.7K) will pace Atlanta WRs. Olamide Zaccheaus ($4.4K/$5.4K) and Frank Darby ($3.0K/$4.6K) should be avoided. Only Mike Gesicki (19.5) has posted more than 13.4 FPs against Jacksonville among TEs faced since Week 5. And Gesicki and C.J. Uzomah (26.5) are the only TEs to score the 18.3/16.5 FPs that Kyle Pitts ($6.1K/$6.6K) will require to hit value. It's not a week where I’ll be investing in The Prototype.
Final notes on Jacksonville
Atlanta is still utilizing the highest rate of Cover 2. However, they have also been mixing in a top-10 rate of Cover 1, and top-15 rate of Cover 3 in recent weeks. The Cover 3 numbers are a welcome sight for Trevor Lawrence ($5.4K/$6.7K). But the speed of the NFL game is still an issue for Sunshine. Until things begin to slow down for him, we’re unlikely to see any immediate improvements from him against the Cover 1 and 2 of the Dirty Birds in Week 12. I don’t care how many times HC Urban Meyer wants to hand the ball off to Laviska Shenault Jr. ($4.4K/$5.6K). It’s not going to be enough to push him toward utility until T-Law is able to put the ball into his hands through the air. If Meyer allows Shenault to play Wildcat QB, that would draw my eye. During the monster 2018 season he submitted as a true sophomore at Colorado, he averaged 29.5 FPG that was infused with five rushing TDs from Wildcat QB. One alteration that I know we will see again this week that should result in better numbers is doing more work on the inside now that Jamal Agnew is on IR.
Since the science of analytics informs us that Marvin Jones Jr. is in danger of being ghosted by A.J. Terrell this week, perhaps Shenault will be featured in the volume game. He’ll work against safety-to-nickel rookie convert Richie Grant and Darren Hall. Shenault’s upside is boosted further by the outlandish realization that Laquon Treadwell ($3.0K/$5.0K) is likely to be featured in the vacancy left behind from Viska’s shift inside. If not Treadwell, Tavon Austin ($3.0K/$4.9K). Yikes! Here’s your weekly reminder that Dan Arnold ($4.0K/$5.1K) is going to do well and be one of the highest-owned TEs on the main slate. More science.
Matchups to Target
Mike Williams, LAC ($5.7K DK | $6.6K FD) vs. Ronald Darby, DEN
I use an unbiased formula that accounts for each franchise’s previous and remaining strength of schedule, as well as the current odds to collect a playoff bid, to highlight the teams with a legitimate chance to make a difference in the playoffs. Currently sitting with a 6-4 record, Los Angeles has endured the fifth-most difficult schedule, and holds the 11th-best chance to reach the playoffs. As stated, it’s an entirely unbiased view. It may come as a surprise to some, but the Chargers are currently seated at No. 3 on the list. They could conceivably take six of their seven remaining games. And the one opponent they’ll face — Kansas City — that will undoubtedly result in Vegas listing them as the underdog will be played on their home field. Without their narrow 41-37 victory over Pittsburgh, LAC would not be found inside the formula’s top-10. And it was a 53-yard TD strike to Mike Williams that proved to be the decisive points.
The SuperChargers need all of their Big 3 (Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, and Williams) to get on a roll in order to turn ‘21 into a magical season. Granted, Los Angeles took advantage of an undermanned Pittsburgh defense, but it was a sight to behold alongside a red hot Justin Herbert. In order to keep the torch lit, Williams must take advantage of Ronald Darby. During his six games this season, Darby has provided his coverage with 1.46 YPCS (15th-most), 0.29 FP/CS (26th), 0.45 AY/CS (second-most), and a 98.0 TPR (37th). Take note of Darby being attacked with the second-most AY/CS. He’s also permitting the ninth-highest rate of completions traveling 20-or-more yards. With 33% of Williams’ FPG coming on receptions of 20-or-more yards, it should provide Williams with the perfect opportunity to go nuclear.
Final notes on Los Angeles
The limiting factor determining whether Los Angeles’ offense will blow up in this spot will be how Justin Herbert ($6.6K/$7.8K) plays against Denver’s league-leading rate of Cover 1. Herbert shredded the Chiefs’ Cover 1 in Week 3 by completing 10-of-11, collecting 109 yards, and a pair of TDs. That C1 success continued until he ran into the Patriots in Week 8. He threw two INTs compared to only three completions against Bill Belichick’s version of the scheme. It was a pretty gloomy performance. However, he has shown some improvements against single coverage the last three weeks with a 12% increase to career FP/Db against Cover 1. If he can continue to display improvements against his only weakness, the sky's the limit. This will be a great Litmus test to that end.
When Herbert is at his best, Austin Ekeler ($8.4K/$8.4K) is thriving as one of the most unstoppable playmakers at his position. And the Steelers’ RB allowances were nearly identical to the current numbers for the Broncos. When Williams is unable to create splash plays, defenses are able to flatten Keenan Allen’s ($7.4K/$7.0K) output. He always gets his reception numbers, but his yardage can be contained with dedicated safety attention. While I like the slate-busting potential for Williams more, Allen will also see a favorable matchup against newly-installed slot corner, Kyle Fuller. Facing off with Allen with extremely limited nickel experience is going to place Fuller under a microscope. Best of all, Jalen Guyton ($3.0K/$4.9K) will draw the task of dealing with the athleticism of ‘21 first-rounder Patrick Surtain II. It certainly blows that Guyton seemed to have recaptured the ground Josh Palmer ($3.0K/$5.0K) gained toward work on the left side. Jared Cook ($3.0K/$5.0K) also lost some involvement percentage points to Donald Parham ($2.7K/$4.7K) in Week 12.
Final notes on Denver
Teddy Bridgewater ($5.3K/$7.1K) has really come out of nowhere to post the second-highest passer rating under pressure for Denver. Regardless, the Chargers feature the third-highest rate of Cover 6. And they paced the league with their Cover 6 last week. It’s a scheme that Bridgewater has never been able to crack. Over his last 35 games since 2019, Bridgewater has thrown zero TDs vs. three INTs, his FP/Db plummets by 49%, and his passer rating by 43% when working against Cover 6. Numbers that are even worse than those submitted by Drew Lock.
I know one of Melvin Gordon III ($5.3K/$6.3K) or Javonte Williams ($5.2K/$5.7K) is going to do well against this Los Angeles run defense. I’m just not going to chase after either. In addition to dealing with Chris Harris Jr., Jerry Jeudy ($5.5K/$6.1K) is not going to help Bridgewater one bit against LACs Cover 6. When Jeudy has faced the scheme during his career, his FP/Rt (-81%), YPRR (-465%), and YPT (-329%) averages each faceplant into the dirt. The only Cover 6 upside for the Broncos will come from Courtland Sutton ($5.4K/$6.0K). He’s never found the end zone, but his 0.51 FP/Rt (sixth-most) circles his understanding that finding-and-sitting in a hole in the zone is the best avenue of attack. If not for the above-average coverage from Michael Davis and Bridgewater’s struggles, Sutton would have been written up as a Target.
While Tim Patrick ($4.8K/$5.7K) doesn’t offer anything close to Sutton’s Cover 6 success, he will draw the best matchup across from ‘21 third-rounder Asante Samuel Jr. Even with the Chargers playing TEs soft this season, I’m fading Noah Fant ($4.6K/$5.9K). He has not been on the same page with Bridgewater in quite some time. Albert Okwuegbunam ($3.3K/$4.9K) offers the potential for far more value.
Matchups to Target
Allen Lazard, GB ($3.8K DK | $5.2K FD) vs. Robert Rochell, LAR
Allen Lazard is questionable with a shoulder injury and I have next to nothing to present as evidence in support of exposure. Here’s what I can offer:
He’s playing at home.
It’s not set in stone, but Davante Adams could draw significant attention from a certain someone.
When that certain someone devoted his attention toward Adams during the Divisional Round of the playoffs last season, Lazard posted a 4/96/1 line on eight targets… a game also played on Lambeau Field.
Matchups to Avoid
Davante Adams, GB ($8.6K DK | $8.7K FD) vs. Jalen Ramsey, LAR
Jalen Ramsey does not adhere to alignment percentages. One week, he works exclusively outside. In another, he devotes two-thirds of his reps to the slot. In some games, he’s planted himself to one side of the field. In others, he will rotate. While it would be 100% accurate to state that Ramsey has not shadowed a single receiver all season, Ramsey the Great’s willingness to shatter all expectations forces me to pause before tossing out any absolutes. What I can guarantee is that Ramsey will play exceptional football on Sunday. While I have a gut feeling that Ramsey will remove the seal this week to tail Davante Adams to both sides of the field, everyone should make their own decisions as to handling Adams in DFS this week.
If it’s not Ramsey, it’s going to be Darious Williams. After some struggles early in the season, Williams has come on strong since returning from IR. No corner in the world can ghost Adams. Even though Ramsey played him extremely well to limit him to 3/27/0 in that playoff game, Adams still broke free to total a 9/66/1 total line. More importantly, the Packers advanced. While another output of 21.6 FPs wouldn’t be considered a disappointment with WR2/WR2 pricing, it would still fall below value. My decision on Adams in Week 12 is obvious considering the label adorning his matchup.
Final notes on Los Angeles
If Matthew Stafford ($7.1K/$7.7K) submits another sub-16 FP performance this week, it’ll be time to hit the panic button in Los Angeles. Green Bay’s defense is about as far removed from being a slouch as it gets, but Stafford lacks a single coverage weakness within his game. He’s a QB that’s supposed to excel no matter who takes the field against him. Especially since Jalen Ramsey is on the same roster. Yes, with Robert Woods hitting IR, Stafford’s situation is not all that different from Ryan Tannehill’s. However, Stafford does have Tyler Higbee ($4.2K/$5.4K) and Odell Beckham Jr. ($5.0K/$5.8K).
Higbee has been a considerable disappointment this season, but he’s at least shown the ability to get the job done. OBJ, on the other hand, sounds as though he signed with the Rams in order to make money on the endorsement trail… not to save the franchise’s Super Bowl aspirations. It also sounds as though Beckham is having a difficult time learning Sean McVay’s playbook. Eric Stokes was shredded by Justin Jefferson last week, but he should have little issue containing the ‘21 version of OBJ. I simply cannot wait to see how Chandon Sullivan handles Cooper Kupp ($9.6K/$9.5K). My expectations for Sullivan when he was inserted at Nickel in place of Jaire Alexander were rock bottom. But he has excelled at every stop along the way. If he contains Kupp this week, I will sing the safety-to-corner’s praises until he gives me a reason to shut my mouth.
Everyone wants a piece of Kupp’s explosive numbers in DFS, but budgeting his WR1 pricing on DK is extremely difficult. The Packers utilize top-five rates of Cover 4, 6, and 3-Matchup Zone. None of them are particularly appealing for Van Jefferson Jr. ($4.9K/$5.4K). Neither is drawing coverage from Rasul Douglas. Darrell Henderson Jr. ($5.8K/$7.3K) (50%) and Sony Michel ($4.4K/$5.1K) (40%) nearly split carries in Week 10. Are we certain that’s not going to be a trend moving forward?
Final notes on Green Bay
I rolled the proverbial dice last week that the lack of practice reps from Aaron Rodgers ($6.9K/$7.9K) in nearly three weeks would not hinder his ability to attack a Minnesota defense using a much higher rate of Cover 1. The Rams use the lowest Cover 1 in the league. And he didn’t practice once this week, either. In a vacuum, Mr. Rodgers has provided enough evidence in his ability to succeed against the top-five rates of Cover 4, 6, and 3-Matchup Zone schemes that LAR features to travel around his neighborhood multiple times. As you can see, both defenses mirror each other's rotation. For those unaware, Green Bay DC Joe Barry was the Rams’ LB coach until departing prior to the season. But I have serious trust issues with Rodgers’ lack of practice reps heading into this matchup. In addition, if not for a rushing TD during that playoff game, Rodgers would have fallen short of value. He’s a fade alongside Adams for me this week.
If Aaron Jones ($6.0K/$7.0K) does end up playing, his ownership is going to be much lower than normal considering the 4:25 start time. It would certainly make some sense to insert him into a few lineups, but have your replacement in mind if he is scratched. The most obvious will be AJ Dillon ($5.9K/$6.9K). I absolutely loved seeing him put together a 6/44/0 receiving line last week. As passed along last week, Dillon is a bigger, faster version of Najee Harris. Patrick Taylor Jr. ($4.0K/$4.6K) is one of the additions from the historic Memphis RB recruits from a previous regime.
I have zero trust that Marquez Valdes-Scantling ($4.1K/$5.6K) will be able to repeat his performance from last week. Whether it’s Darious Williams or David Long Jr., these Rams do not allow the type of bombs that MVS collected toward his big day in Week 12. One of the reasons that I feel Ramsey will follow Adams is the idea that the best defensive player in the NFL would spend even a single snap in coverage over Randall Cobb ($3.7K/$5.3K). If things go as I am expecting, Robert Rochell will be responsible for Cobb. Josiah Deguara ($2.6K/$4.9K) starts for the Packers. That is all.
Matchups to Target
Kirk Cousins, MIN ($6.3K DK | $7.5K FD) vs. 49ers’ Cover 3 | 4
The value alarm went off in support of the Vikings’ passing offense for this week due to the 49ers finishing with the 17th- and eighth-highest rates of Cover 1 the last two weeks, respectively. That said, nobody should need to be reminded that a Kyle Shanahan team is not one we should be investing significant capital toward continuing with unexpected trends. The reliable expectations from San Francisco are in seeing a top-10 rate of Cover 3 and top-five rate of Cover 4. While Kirk Cousins has made considerable strides this season against Cover 4, his 0.52 FP/Db ranks second-best across from Cover 3 during 41 starts over the last three seasons. During that time, against that scheme, Cousins leads all with 16 TDs, has supplied a 102.0 passer rating (eighth-best), and uses the sixth-highest rate of play action in order to aid him from distinguishing it from Cover 1. To wrap it up, Cousins has Justin Jefferson as his Cover 3-guy, and Adam Thielen to attack Cover 4. If the ‘9ers put that Cover 1 on the field enough, all three will blow up.
Final notes on Minnesota
Dalvin Cook ($8.1K/$8.1K) has provided profit over value once in eight games (Week 6). Without the receiving production that helped to vault him to notoriety as one of the top-three RBs in the NFL, he is the easiest fade at the position each-and-every week. Continuing to be featured at left corner, the metrics for Josh Norman have fallen off a cliff after a hot start. He’s licensing the 23rd-most YPCS (1.29), 10th-most FP/CS (0.33), 20th-most AY/CS (0.24), and the fifth-highest TPR (125.0). If we needed some motivation for Justin Jefferson ($8.3K/$8.1K) exposure, the fact that he’ll see primary coverage from Norman should do the trick.
The outlook is nowhere near as good for Adam Thielen ($6.7K/$7.2K). Emmanuel Moseley has consistently been a top-15 performer at right CB for SF. If the 49ers use another high rate of Cover 1, I will absolutely regret fading Thielen. But, even though he’s Cousins’ top option against Cover 4, Thielen is never someone I want rostered against a defense using a top-10 rate of Zone schemes. K'Waun Williams has also had a very strong season in coverage, so K.J. Osborn ($3.4K/$5.1K) will have his work cut out for him. And San Francisco has been one of the best at preventing TE production. Tyler Conklin ($3.7K/$5.3K) will work too close to Fred Warner for my tastes.
Final notes on San Francisco
Jimmy Garoppolo ($5.7K/$6.5K) is not a threat to attack defenses over the top. On deep targets this season, he’s thrown a pair of TDs vs. a pair of INTs. And he hasn’t completed more than one deep attempt in a game since Week 7. But he has done a tremendous job over the last four weeks at improving his efficiency, and leading his squad to a 3-1 record. One of the reasons we’ve seen some scheme alterations from the Vikings in recent weeks is an increase in long-ball allowance. If Minnesota does continue using a higher rate of Cover 1 this week, it’ll improve the upside for Deebo Samuel ($7.9K/$8.0K) quite a bit. He draws enviable coverage from that guy this week. That guy being a reference to Bashaud Breeland permitting the second-most YPCS, the most FP/CS, and 13th-highest TPR. Deebo should always be among everyone’s top-five WR considerations. His WR4/WR5 pricing is tough to navigate, but he’s providing the second-most FPG (22.6) in return.
The Vikings have also made changes in their run defense strategy after a rough start. And the results have been very positive. With Elijah Mitchell ($5.4K/$6.8K) still recovering from finger surgery, I will have zero stocks in him or in Jeff Wilson Jr. ($5.3K/$5.8K). Even if Mitchell is ruled out, Trey Sermon ($4.6K/$5.0K) will take enough snaps to render both useless. Brandon Aiyuk ($5.3K/$6.3K) draws a more challenging matchup from Patrick Peterson. His big Week 12 game is not going to come as easy as it did in Jacksonville. Hard pass on Jauan Jennings ($3.0K/$4.8K) S/R across from Mackensie Alexander. It’s difficult to type into words, but I want nothing to do with George Kittle ($6.4K/$6.7K) this week with Eric Kendricks in coverage.