Patrick Mahomes, KC at DEN ($7,400 DK, $9,000 FD, O/U 46.0)
It’s normally my goal with this article to avoid the highest-priced, obvious recommendations. I only make exceptions when the data informs me that the play is an absolute can’t miss. That happens to be the case with Patrick Mahomes this week in Denver. Mahomes currently ranks sixth in FPs/drop-back (FPDb) at 0.45 since Week 1 of 2019. As we saw last week, the Buffalo weather played a major role in his output. The Chiefs heavily leaned on Clyde Edwards-Helaire during the second half against the Bills. We will, however, need to monitor the weather in Denver. AccuWeather is calling for 21 degree temperatures and 2.4 inches of snowfall for Sunday afternoon. However, the forecasted 8 MPH winds and light snow shouldn’t deter the Kansas City passing offense.
What truly sets Mahomes apart this week is that he’ll face a Broncos’ secondary that offers the perfect combination of secondary shells that “Magic Mahomes” has punished over his career. In addition to a third of snaps in Cover 1, Denver will be expected to play Cover 3 and Cover 6 shells on nearly half of all snaps Sunday. Mahomes leads all NFL QBs with 0.59 FPDb -- an increase of 23 percent -- when he’s faced a Cover 6. His yards/attempt (YPA) increases by 27 percent to go along with a 29 percent increase to air yards/attempt. To put that into perspective, only eight QBs have managed to average at least 0.40 FPDb over that same time. When he’s been opposed by Cover 3 schemes, his YPA increases by 17 percent, and he’s thrown seven TDs to zero INTs.
The Bottom Line: I’m not going to cover them personally, but Travis Kelce, Tyreke Hill and, surprisingly, Mecole Hardman have been the prime beneficiaries in these situations. Only Calvin Ridley has more receiving TDs than Hardman against Cover 6 since September of 2019. Mahomes will cost you a premium with significant data in support of an optimal ROI.
Drew Brees, NO vs. CAR ($6,100 DK, $7,700 FD, O/U 51.0)
Even with Michael Thomas against the Panthers is too good to pass up. You would be correct in stating that Carolina has limited opposing QBs to only 13.9 FPG this season (fourth-fewest). However, the absolute anchor of the defense, Rasul Douglas, was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list this week. Even if Douglas was in play, Brees would still be in a smash spot this weekend. Why? Exactly like Mahomes, the Panthers’ secondary schemes happen to perfectly fall within the specialty of Brees’ skillset.
To be clear, Brees ranks very high across the board against all coverages as a bona fide future first-ballot HOFer. But only Russell Wilson comes close to Brees in his nuclear destruction of Cover 3 shells. Brees leads the NFL with 0.59 FPDb since 2019. You might wonder, since I am including last season in measuring Brees’ performance vs. Cover 3, has that success only been possible due to the awesome-sauce of Thomas? Not so fast. Thomas’ FPs/Route (FPR) actually dips by 17 percent when facing a Cover 3. Best of all, no team in the NFL has played more Cover 3 snaps this season than the Panthers.
The Bottom Line: Emmanuel Sanders was also placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday. However, I am fully confident that Jared Cook, Alvin Kamara, and Tre’Quan Smith offer enough toys to do considerable damage against Carolina. Remember what Tom Brady did in Week 4 to the Chargers with his entire WR room banged up? AccuWeather is calling for clear skies and light winds in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon. So that’s not a concern. A good amount of DFSers will likely pass on Brees against a solid Carolina defense, and without Thomas or Sanders. Depressed ownership will only serve to increase his value even further.
Matt Ryan vs. DET ($6,700 DK, $7,800 FD | O/U 54.5)
Gardner Minshew II vs. ARZ ($5,900 DK, $7,200 FD | O/U 49.0)
Aaron Jones, GB at HOU ($7,200 DK, $8,500 FD, O/U 57.0)
A.J. Dillon, GB at HOU ($4,000 DK, $4,500 FD, O/U 57.0)
After already writing up Aaron Jones as having the premium RB matchup on the slate utilizing a new approach, word was passed down that he would be a game-time decision. However, the unbiased, transparent data that singled out Jones would fall directly into A.J. Dillon’s lap.
The new measure I am describing is measuring the historical success of RBs when facing the NFLs five most used coverage shells: Cover 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. As you are likely already aware, defenses still align within coverage schemes on run plays. When playing within strict man coverage (Cover 0, 1, and 2-Man), each defender will be assigned a specific player. These schemes provide RBs with the advantage of the defenders never looking back at the QB. They must always keep their eyes locked on their assignment. Another form of man is termed “Brackets.” In this shell, the defense will enforce switch or “man-match” rules with a defender or two keeping an eye on the QB to protect the hole.
In all secondary shells, the number of the shell indicates the number of defenders that will drop deep in coverage to essentially limit explosive plays. With up to six defenders dropping back deep in zone schemes (Cover 2, 3, 4 and 6), RBs can exploit these exposed looks for several yards prior to any contact. Now that I’ve explained all of that, let’s discuss the RBs who have a history of success against the coverage shells they will face in Week 7.
As already mentioned, Jones’ matchup stood out significantly from the study. Green Bay will face a Houston defense that features a Cover 1 with Cover 2 and 4 zones at secondary rates. On 24 percent of his overall snaps against Cover 1, Jones has collected 38 percent of his FPG. The Texans have played Cover 1 on 37 percent of snaps. Against Cover 2, 26 percent of his snaps have resulted in 37 percent of his FPG. Houston uses Cover 2 at a rate of 14 percent. Jones has only played against Cover 2 on seven percent of snaps, generating 4 percent of his FPG, and the Texans use that shell on 14 percent of snaps.
The Bottom Line: A pivot down to Dillon would obviously do wonders for the salary cap. However, it will also result in much of the field also taking advantage. If Jones is ruled out, I would still recommend following the population to Dillon. In limited action, Dillon has had the appearance of a man dead set on punishing defenders. At 6-0, 247 lbs., and 4.53 speed, Dillon is built like Derrick Henry. Although, we want the premium salary of Jones to face the Texans on Sunday. If the basis behind my calculations are correct, he would in line for one of his 30-40 point outings with Davante Adams set to be shadowed by Bradley Roby.
D’Andre Swift, DET at ATL ($5,400 DK, $6,100 FD, O/U 54.5)
Yes, I was ultra-impressed after watching De’Andre Swift run circles around the Jaguars’ defense. Yes, I have complete confidence that the Detroit decision-makers will greatly increase his involvement in the offense. However, I did not select Swift for this spot. The RB success vs. coverage shell model underlined Swift and Atlanta as the second-best stylistic matchup at the position. The model also selected both RBs listed below as alternatives.
Before I dig into the numbers on Swift, I should qualify that the model is not nearly as kind to the remaining RBs on the main slate. Some of these numbers for Swift may seem “meh,” but they are actually significantly better than the rest. The other important note is that the model was intentionally built without red zone and goal-line coverages. Thus, the TD numbers take a hit, leaving us with yardage-heavy predictors.
As for Swift’s matchup, the Falcons have rolled with a near-equal split of Cover 1, 2, and 3 shells comprising nearly 90 percent of snaps this season. Against Cover 1, Swift has played seven percent of snaps, and pulled 12 percent of his FPG. Unfortunately, we just don’t have enough of a sample size from Swift against Cover 2 to draw reliable conclusions. On the 38 percent of snaps facing Cover 3, Swift has earned 31 percent of his total FPG.
The Bottom Line: Swift was provided with a 19 percent increase to his carry share in Week 6. Most teams facing the Falcons have been too busy putting up video game passing numbers to leave much emphasis for the ground game. I do not expect Detroit to follow that trend. The Falcons are allowing the ninth-most FPs to opposing RBs on the main slate. With their record sitting at 2-3 following a 3-12-1 2019 season, HC Matt Patricia will need to keep Swift rolling to avoid being replaced. As 2.5-point road favorites, implied to score 29.8 points in a shootout, Swift is an optimal Week 7 play at a reasonable price.
Mike Davis at NO ($6,600 DK, $7,700 FD | O/U 51.0)
Jerick McKinnon at NE ($5,800 DK, $5,500 FD | O/U 44.0)
Julio Jones, ATL vs. DET ($7,100 DK, $8,300 FD, O/U 54.5)
Julio Jones was one of my featured starts in this week’s WR/CB Matchup piece (read here). As one of the elite WRs at exploiting man coverages, the fact that Lions will play nearly half of all snaps from a Cover 1 should have you motivated for exposure. As you may have noticed, I listed Matt Ryan as an alternative play. Stack potential is in full force here with Atlanta or Detroit with Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golladay, and/or T.J. Hockenson.
The Bottom Line: This would be a smash spot for Jones to ball out independent of what he did against the Vikings last week. Detroit has permitted the seventh-highest FPG to opposing WRs. As long as he’s healthy enough to play, another 26 percent target share at the NFLs third-fastest pace, and an implied 27.3 points is more than enough to cover value.
Kenny Golladay, DET at ATL ($6,700 DK, $7,600 FD, O/U 54.5)
Jones and Kenny Golladay make up my core WR duo in Week 7 that will likely end up on 90 percent of my LUs. The Falcons are currently leading the NFL with 18 TDs and 2,012 receiving yards allowed. Isaiah Oliver has shifted down to cover the slot in recent weeks, with Kendall Sheffield inserted as a starter on the outside. As mentioned above in the Swift analysis, Atlanta will feature Cover 1, 2, and 3 in equal proportions. Against Cover 1, Golladay has generated 2.41 YPRR, and his FPR increases by 15 percent.
The Bottom Line: As is very common for many of the better outside WRs, Golladay has yet to find his groove against Cover 2 shells. However, he has been at his best when facing Cover 3 schemes. His FPR and YPRR both see a 25 percent increase against the coverage. The Lions do not play at the frantic pace of the Falcons, but they do rank within the top-15 teams. With 29.8 implied points for the offense, Golladay will line up across from Sheffield on around half of all snaps. Sheffield is permitting 18.7 FPG, 2.62 yards per coverage snap, and 10.3 yards/target to his coverage responsibilities. Making this a matchup one that you simply cannot pass up.
Jamison Crowder, NYJ vs. BUF ($5,900 DK, $6,300 FD), O/U 46.0)
Skill players are falling injured all over the place with even more being dropped onto the reserve/COVID-19 list at a scary rate. Despite being limited by a late week groin injury, I am still comfortable listing Jamison Crowder as one of the top plays on the slate. Although, if Sam Darnold were to be ruled out, I will need to walk back that recommendation. It’s expected that both will be cleared to face Buffalo in Week 7.
You might remember that I recommended Crowder in Week 1 in this same spot. Buffalo actually allowed the fifth-lowest FPs to slot receivers last season. They likely would’ve come close to leading the category had Crowder not balled out against them with an average line of 11/83.5/0.5 in two games last season. In Week 1, Crowder kept at the Bills for 24.5 FPs from a 7/115/1 line.
The Bottom Line: When healthy this season, Crowder has been one of the most underrated WRs in the game. Target shares of 29 and 33 percent over the last two weeks give plenty of confidence toward his outlook. However, both of those games had Joe Flacco under center. Crowder was forced to do all of his work after the catch with Flacco dumping off short passes to him. With Darnold’s ability to air it out, Crowder’s upside elevates him to top-value status.
Chris Godwin at LV ($6,300 DK, $7,400 FD | O/U 53.0)
Terry McLaurin vs. DAL ($5,800 DK, $7,100 FD | O/U 46.0)
T.J. Hockenson, DET at ATL ($5,100 DK, $5,900 FD, O/U 54.5)
If you have the cap to spare, Travis Kelce is the optimal play at the position. If not, T.J. Hockenson is not a bad pivot facing an Atlanta defense struggling to defend TEs this season. The Falcons have allowed the second-most FPs to opposing TEs in 2020. That includes the second-most yards (438) and most TDs (7). After a disappointing rookie season, Hock’s target share of 16 percent has held steady throughout his sophomore campaign.
The Bottom Line: It’s been a crapshoot with TEs all year. Outside of the top six-or-seven, simply getting 10 FPs out of the position is essentially considered a victory. You’ll need to save a few bucks to fit Hockenson into your LUs, but he has a matchup on deck to provide a solid ROI.
David Njoku, CLE at CIN ($3,000 DK, $4,500 FD, O/U 50.5)
Outside of Kelce and Hockenson, we have the option of going after one of the starting TEs from Green Bay at Houston, or punting the position entirely for one of Austin Hooper’s replacements. I had already planned to write up Hooper as one my top-two TE plays when word broke on his appendicitis. The Bengals have permitted the sixth-most FPs to opposing TEs this season. In the last two weeks, they’ve allowed the most.
The Bottom Line: In his second week from being activated from IR, David Njoku actually ran fewer routes than Harrison Bryant (22 to 25 percent, respectively). Njoku did top Bryants’ seven percent target share with 11 percent of his own. Nick Chubb landing on IR led to the Browns, as expected, asking their TEs to block at a decreased rate. This created a much greater role in the passing attack for Hooper. The factor that should lead to Njoku taking on the greater target share with Hooper out is his request to be traded. Cleveland will want to use this as an opportunity to showcase Njoku to potential suitors.
Robert Tonyan at HOU ($4,600 DK, $6,000 FD | O/U 57.0)
Darren Fells vs. GB ($4,100 DK, $5,300 FD | O/U 57.0)