Before we dive into the matchups, I want to highlight a few changes you’ll notice this week to the format. Requests to have this piece expanded have been heard, I will now be covering the smash spots and avoidable DFS matchups for QBs and TEs. Rest assured, the WR and CB face-offs will still make up the meat of the analysis. Let’s jump into the action.
Matchups to Target
Joe Burrow, CIN ($6,200 DK | $7,600 FD) vs. Titans’ Cover 1 | 2
It’s been quite the year for rookie breakouts on offense this season. And this will be a big week for the top-three QBs selected in the 2020 Draft. It just so happens that I’ll cover each of them in this article. For the No. 1 overall pick, Joe Burrow’s performance has been nothing short of phenomenal. At his current pace, he’ll accumulate 4,624 passing yards by season’s end, obliterating the rookie record of 4,374 set by Andrew Luck in 2012. He will only need one more 300-yard game to tie the rookie mark also set by Luck (6) that year. In addition, he is on pace to exceed the Bengals’ single-season passing records for attempts, completions, and passing yards.
The volume alone vaults Burrow into weekly DFS consideration. His lone down game came at the hands of the Ravens in Week 5. The Baltimore secondary did a remarkable job of jamming Cincy WRs while simultaneously (literally) running circles through the Bengals’ O-line with looping stunts. 16 total pressures and seven sacks later, Burrow was force-fed his third loss of the season, and a season-low 6.3 FPs. One of the most impressive aspects of Burrow’s success is what he’s achieved in spite of the Cincinnati O-line’s struggles. In Week 8, he’ll face off against the Titans and their featured Cover 1 and 2 schemes. I’ll cover the most glaring hole in the Tennessee defense in Tyler Boyd’s writeup further down in the article.
As for the Titans’ new DC Jim Haslett’s defense, it will present a pass rush that is a far cry from that of Baltimore. In fact, I would rank the unit in the bottom-five in the NFL. With ample time to diagnose their coverage shells, Burrow is set up for another monster outing. When the “Tiger King” has faced a Cover 1 defense, his air yards per attempt has increased by 19 percent. And against Cover 2 looks, Burrow has completed an astounding 91 percent of attempts this season. With the second-highest combined pace of play on the slate, the reasoning behind this matchup receiving Vegas’ highest combined total of the slate should instill complete confidence in Burrow this week.
Just for fun, I’ll close this with an interesting factoid from a Sports Illustrated story on Burrow: yes, he hails from a long line of relatives that played football, but his grandmother takes the cake. During the 1940’s, she set the high school basketball record in Mississippi for scoring 82 points in a single game!
Justin Herbert, LAC ($6,900 DK | $7,700 FD) vs. Broncos’ Cover 1 | 3 | 6
It took HC Anthony Lynn quite a bit of time to warm up to the idea of Justin Herbert leading his offense. However, his performance literally took the decision out of his hands. The sixth-rounder out of Oregon blazed a trail toward becoming the new face of the franchise by averaging 23.3 FPG against the Chiefs, Panthers, and Buccaneers his first three games. In case you aren’t aware, a serious argument could be made for including each of those units within the top-five pass defenses in the league. And he hasn’t simply been managing these games, as only Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson have averaged more FPs per dropback (FPDb).
As for his Week 8 opponent, Ed Donatell’s Denver defense presents a formidable challenge. The Broncos feature a nasty run defense to go along with a variety of coverage schemes featuring Bryce Callahan. To think they’ve played this well without Von Miller is a remarkable achievement. However, I still consider Herbert to be an elite play this week. On the 29 percent of Cover 1 snaps he’s expected to face from the Broncos, his FPDb increases by 10 percent. His percentage of air yards increases by 15 percent along with a veteran-like 68 percent completion percentage against a Cover 3. Denver will scheme a Cover 3 on 31 percent of snaps. Finally, the Broncos roll out a Cover 6 at the league’s fourth-highest rate (16 percent), against which Herbert has averaged the NFLs fifth-highest FPDb (0.48) with a 15 percent bump to his YPA.
A couple interesting tidbits about “Hairbert” to close: he became the regional softball toss champion at Age 11 and hit a walk-off home run to win his team’s first game at the Babe Ruth World Series when he was 12.
A.J. Brown, TEN ($6,900 DK | $7,500 FD) vs. William Jackson III, CIN
In his return from missing two games due to a knee injury, A.J. Brown didn’t miss a beat. After playing 85 percent of passing snaps his first two weeks back, Brown jumped to 91 percent involvement last week versus the Steelers. He’s scored at least one TD in each of those games, four in total, to go along with an elite 2.91 yards per route run (YPRR). As long as he clears the concussion protocol that forced him to miss Week 7, William Jackson III’s 74 percent of snaps at RCB will place him across from Brown’s 61 percent of all routes run at LWR. Jackson will need to be on his A-game in this spot.
First of all, Ryan Tannehill ranks third among all QBs since 2019 in FPDb (0.58). Tannehill has passed for 43 percent of his TDs on only 33 percent of dropbacks over that time when facing Cover 1. Over his NFL career, when facing a Cover 1, Brown has generated 41 percent of his yardage, and 45 percent of his TDs on only 32 percent of routes. And his FPs per route run (FPRR) catapults by an impressive 23 percent. On average, the Bengals feature a Cover 1 shell at the league’s sixth-highest rate (39 percent).
Keeping with the trend, one impressive feat achieved by Brown early in his career: he is only the second athlete -- Kyler Murray being the other -- to ever be selected to play in the Under Armour All-America games in both football and baseball.
Tyler Boyd, CIN ($6,600 DK | $6,400 FD) vs. Chris Jackson, TEN
As hinted at above, Tennessee will head into Week 8 without a significant presence. One of Burrow’s former LSU teammates, slot CB Kristian Fulton, will miss the game with a knee injury. As if we really needed additional persuasion for exposure to Burrow, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd. In Fulton’s place, Chris Jackson will man the slot within Tennessee’s man (Cover 1) and zone (Cover 2) combo defense. Jackson is permitting FPs at a massive 38 percent higher rate than Fulton this season.
Since Boyd has played over 85 percent of his snaps from the slot, we could be in store for a highlight-reel performance in Week 8. Since Week 3, Boyd’s target share has settled north of 20 percent in every game. He’s led the Bengals in percentage of routes run in all sans one game this season. The Titans have played the second-most Cover 2 shells in the league this season. Over his last 23 games against a Cover 2, Boyd’s FPRR has increased by 23 percent due, in part, to tracking down 86 percent of all targets. The only shell Boyd has put to the chopping block with greater success is when facing a Cover 1. Against which, his FPRR shoots up 26 percent, and his air yards/target increases by 15 percent.
Boyd hasn’t revealed much of his athletic background or personal life, so we’ll stay within football with his goody of the day: as a student at Clairton HS, Boyd helped the football squad to a 48-0 record, three WPIAL titles, and three PIAA Class A titles during his three seasons as a starter. As a senior, he rushed for 2,584 yards and 43 TDs!
Davante Adams, GB ($8,800 DK | $9,100 FD) vs. Vikings’ Cover 2 | 4
If you read last week’s entry, you are no doubt aware that the recommendation to downgrade Davante Adams didn’t exactly go as scripted. The Texans lost the shutdown coverage skills of Bradley Roby to a knee injury during the very first series. Complete obliteration comes to mind when describing the manhandling of the Texans’ secondary replacements that attempted to cover Adams. In Week 8, Adams will have a rematch with the Minnesota secondary that resulted in a 44.6 FPs on his 14/156/2 receiving line in Week 1.
The Vikings can only hope that their combination of Cover 1 (20 percent), Cover 2 (21 percent), Cover 3 (29 percent), and Cover 4 schemes (18 percent) will fare better against Adams the second time around. After missing two full games and the bye week, Adams has been fed with target shares of 32 and 50 percent the last two weeks. Rather than using a lengthy list to describe his schematic successes, rest comfortably in the knowledge that I am aware of only two factors proven to slow the man down:
1) A shutdown corner with the ability to match his explosiveness, quickness step-for-step (a la Bradley Roby).
2) A secondary featuring his equivalent in athletic specimens working from an airtight zone -- more specifically a Cover 3, Quarters, and/or Half-Half-Quarter shells.
As you might have guessed, the Vikings do not check either box. Perhaps, in time, their secondary may develop some of those characteristics. At present time, Adams’ premium salary on DraftKings or FanDuel is worth every single penny. In fact, he will likely end Week 8 as one of the top overall values. Minnesota’s defense is pacing the NFL in receptions, yardage, and TDs allowed on deep targets of 20-or-more yards. Starting RCB Cameron Dantzler permitted the league’s highest FPs per coverage snap (20.9, FPCS), but was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list this week. In addition to whoever is plugged into the starting lineup, Holton Hill and Jeff Gladney have not been any better than Dantzler.
For Adams’ morsel, follow this link to watch a short video displaying compelling evidence why Adams is one of the elite athletes in the entire NFL. Keep in mind, he’s only 6-foot-1.
D.J. Moore, CAR ($6,200 DK | $7,000 FD) vs. Kendall Sheffield, ATL
The particulars encouraging this play are obvious. The question to ask isn’t if you should have exposure to D.J. Moore, it’s if you should stack Teddy Bridgewater with Moore and/or Robby Anderson. Should Christian McCaffrey return this week, which is somewhat of a longshot, he will most likely be on a snap count Thursday night. Either way, it’s the Falcons’ secondary that’s ripe for exploitation. I should note, the Atlanta secondary has been slightly better the last couple weeks. However, they’re still allowing the fifth-most FPs to opposing WRs, and third-most to outside WRs.
Early in the season, it appeared that Anderson had moved ahead of Moore in the pecking order. Although, the separation between their target shares has decreased -- 27 percent for Anderson and 24 for Moore. Even if we set the plus matchup that Atlanta bestows aside, the coverage shells they’ll utilize still stylistically benefit Moore’s history of success. The Falcons present Cover 1, 2, and 3 shells in nearly equal proportions. When facing a Cover 1, Moore’s FPRR is juiced by 16 percent with a 10 percent boost to his air yardage. On 26 percent of total routes against Cover 1, he’s generated 40 percent of his career TD total.
While his FPRR mirrors his total average against both Cover 2 and 3, they both hide the potential for more. He’s pulled in 81 percent of Cover 2 targets over his career without a TD. We are thus presented with direct causation indicating a future trend correction. That same reasoning holds versus Cover 3, where his air yardage per attempt increases by 17 percent. The Falcons are the prime locale for receiving TD course corrections, as they’ve permitted the most in the NFL this season (19).
Here’s the best I can do as far as background info on the former first-rounder: Moore is one of the most tight-lipped individuals in the NFL. He stated that his grandmother was so colorful while raising him that he developed a penchant for being a good listener.
George Kittle, SF ($7,000 DK | $7,700 FD) vs. Seahawks’ Cover 3
Let’s get it out of the way, Seattle’s defense has permitted the most passing yardage through six games in NFL history. With that stated, even a 49ers’ passing offense that takes a clear back seat to the run holds flowering potential. If you’re wondering how in the hell Seattle holds a 5-1 record with such coverage deficiencies, you simply need to appreciate their run defense. The Seahawks are allowing the eighth-lowest yards per carry average and only three runs of 20-or-more yards this season. However, it’s not all on the secondary. A pass rush that ranks 25th in total pressures generated is just as culpable
These are just a few of the factors that present Jimmy Garoppolo as a certified DFS target at a reasonable price, stack potential along with either George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, or Brandon Aiyuk. As a lesson in reminders, Kittle provided crystal clear evidence in Week 4 (43.1 FPs) that when he hits, he can rearrange the slate. With the status of Jamal Adams “week-to-week,” Kittle joins Davante Adams as the two individuals that could single-handedly decide millions in Week 8 prizes. To drive home my point, it has absolutely nothing to do with Seattle’s struggles this season. Well, a little.
Were Kittle to enter Week 8 across from the Panthers or Chargers, I would still be high on Kittle this week. What do the two have in common with Seattle? They each feature a Cover 3 on at least half of all snaps this season. But the Seahawks’ 10 percent utilization of Cover 6 seals the deal. Against Cover 3 over his last 20 games, Kittle has run 29 percent of his routes, generating 42 percent of his receptions, and 37 percent of his yardage. Keep in mind, we’re not discussing WRs here. We’ve begun to accept a handful of catches for 50 yards as solid output from the position. These Cover 3 percentages are simply off the charts. Only Mark Andrews holds a candle, and he’s done so on TD dependency.
But wait, there’s more. I mentioned Cover 6 as a huge factor. When secondaries have dared to throw Cover 6s at Kittle, he responds with increases to his air yards per attempt by 18 percent, YPRR by 41 percent, and holds a perfect QB rating when targeted (158.3). Exactly as I described for Davante Adams, worth every penny.
A surprising detail behind Kittle’s football trajectory: it took being placed behind Jon Wisnieski, a freshman at the time, on the Iowa depth chart during his redshirt sophomore season to finally motivate George to dedicate himself to the game. Prior to that, his partying lifestyle held priority.
Noah Fant, DEN ($4,700 DK | $5,700 FD) vs. Chargers’ Cover 3
After promoting the factors in favor of Kittle exposure, Noah Fant is the unfortunate recommendation next in line. While he may not be one of the most talented TEs to ever play the game, they both played for the Iowa Hawkeyes, and Fant does have a great matchup on tap. For one, over the last four weeks, the Chargers have allowed the sixth-most FPG to opposing TEs (15.9). Suspect coverage from the Los Angeles LB and Safety units -- sans Desmond King II -- leading the way.
Fant will see plenty of Kyzir White on Sunday. White has allowed an average of 12.5 FPG this season. With the Chargers playing Cover 3 on over half of all snaps, Fant should have no issues covering value at a 17 percent target share. When Fant has faced a Cover 3 during his career, his FPRR increases by 37 percent. Eerily similar to Kittle against Cover 6, Fant has generated a QB rating when targeted of 154.3.
Fant facts: played for his older brother, Chris Fant, at Omaha South HS. Also participated in sprints, the high jump, and triple jump for the Packers.
Other matchups to consider:
Tom Brady, TB ($6,700 DK | $7,700 FD) vs. Giants’ Cover 2 | 3
Jimmy Garoppolo, SF ($5,400 DK | $6,600 FD) vs. Seahawks’ Cover 3
Tyler Lockett, SEA ($7,100 DK | $7,200 FD) vs. 49ers’ Cover 3 | 4 | 6
Darren Waller, LV ($5,600 DK | $6,800 FD) vs. Browns’ Cover 3 | 4
Harrison Bryant, CLE ($3,200 DK | $5,000 FD) vs. Raiders’ Cover 1 | 2 | 6
Matchups to Avoid
Tua Tagovailoa, MIA ($5,600 DK | $6,800 FD) vs. Rams’ Cover 3 | 4 | 6
If you’re like me, when you are gifted with new toys, you want to put them into play at your earliest convenience. However, the matchup couldn’t get much worse for Tua Tagovailoa’s NFL debut. First of all, the Dolphins’ O-line is a bottom-10 unit heading into a clash with the Aaron Donald-led Rams’ top-five pass rush. Further complicating the clash, Jalen Ramsey and the Los Angeles zone secondary have held opposing QBs to the third-fewest FPG over the last four weeks.
We have nothing in the way of pro footage or analytics in support of Tua succeeding in the face of such a daunting challenge. As much upside as I believe he will provide, exposure to the rookie should be capped at tourney darts. With no less than six exploitable matchups over the next nine weeks, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to scratch our Tagovailoa itch over the rest of the season.
Kirk Cousins, MIN ($6,000 DK | $7,100 FD) vs. Packers Cover 2 | 3 | 6
When it comes to the Minnesota offense at full strength, the rules for exposure are as plain as black-and-white. For opposing defenses that heavily feature man coverages, get your Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, and Justin Jefferson stacks ready. When a zone defense comes to town, fade the lot. As long as the opposing offense isn’t able to run up the score, Dalvin Cook makes for a fantastic pivot.
Unfortunately, the Vikings will face a zone defense with an offense entirely apt at scoring in a hurry. These are the matchups that end in Cousins forcing the ball into the exact coverages he has given ample evidence of his inability to diagnose. On 13 percent of dropbacks against Cover 2 over his last 21 games, Cousins has thrown for three percent of his TDs with a 51 percent drop in FPDb. The Packers will defend from a Cover 2 on 20 percent of snaps. When Cousins has faced a Cover 3, his YPA dips by 13 percent, and FPDb by 10 percent. Green Bay is expected to utilize Cover 3 shells at a rate of 27 percent. Against the Cover 6 looks that he’ll face at the NFLs highest rate, Cousins has seen a 55 percent drop in his FPDb, and 36 percent dip in air yards per attempt.
Queue the most obvious question: how did Cousins manage 22.8 FPs against Green Bay back in Week 1? Funny you should ask! Continue on to the Thielen analysis for your answer.
Adam Thielen, MIN ($7,200 DK | $7,700 FD) vs. Packers Cover 2 | 3 | 6
Way back in Week 1, the Packers cruised to a 29-10 lead at the end of the third quarter. The Green Bay defense had, up to that point, put a stranglehold on the Minnesota offense. However, for reasons I cannot comprehend, DC Mike Pettine started playing around with his secondary shells. Rather than using the known Cover 2, 3, and 6 formula, he shifted to a Cover 4 in the fourth quarter. It just so happens that, as zone shells go, Cousins and Adam Thielen are the most almost-not-terrible against Cover 4s. The end result was Thielen generating 5/80/2 of his overall 6/110/2 receiving line and 79 percent of Cousins’ Week 1 FPs.
The Packers played a Cover 4 on nine snaps during that fourth quarter. Over the last three games combined, they’ve used Cover 4 on 14 snaps. Allow me to break it to you, if this fantasy analyst was able to break the code on the Vikings’ quarter of success, then the Packers’ brass was able to decipher that Gordian knot by the next day. I’ll pull this bandage as fast as possible. When Thielen has been defended by a Cover 2 over the last two seasons on 14 percent of routes, he has zero TDs, and five percent of his yardage. On 24 percent of routes facing a Cover 3, he has one TD to go along with a 46 percent slice to his FPRR. Against Cover 6 on 10 percent of routes, zero TDs, and four percent of yardage. Move on.
DeVante Parker, MIA ($5,700 DK | $6,100 FD) vs. Jalen Ramsey, LAR
If this were 2019, the Rams would be expected to roll out a Cover 3 on around half of all snaps. Within that forecast, DeVante Parker would make for an intriguing tourney play as one of the meanest Cover 3 bullies in the NFL. Notwithstanding, the 2020 Rams have sliced their Cover 3 usage in half under new DC Brandon Staley. In its place, Los Angeles is featuring the second-highest rate of Cover 4 (29 percent), fourth-highest rate of Cover 6 (18 percent), and the highest rate of Cover 3 Seam.
While it may sound similar to Cover 3, the 3 Seam scheme is difficult to digest, even by most experts. The matchup zone concept will feint a blitz look, but drop seven into coverage, sometimes including D-linemen. Many times, the QB will call for additional protection, leaving those seven defenders in coverage on as few as four receivers. Making matters infinitely worse for Parker, another alteration to the Rams’ defense this season has been Jalen Ramsey shadowing opposing No. 1s. As much as I love Parker’s ability, I can think of 1,000 other ways I’d enjoy losing my money than wagering on his success vs. Ramsey.
Amari Cooper, DAL ($6,500 DK | $7,500 FD) vs. Darius Slay, PHI
If you watched the Eagles play the Giants last Thursday night, you were witness to a milestone. New York utilized a goal-to-go switch-and-rub route between Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard to score the first coverage responsibility TD on Darius Slay in 281 snaps. That said, Slay limited his shadow, Slayton, to 4.3 FPs.
In primary coverage of Terry McLaurin, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, A.J. Green, Deebo Samuel, Chase Claypool, and Slayton this season, the combined group generated a grand total of 28.7 FPs. With Amari Cooper’s only chance at respectable production, Andy Dalton, highly unlikely to play, we have far better WR options on the slate to devote our salary. Let’s just say that I do not believe in the abilities of Ben DeNucci enough to withstand the elite Philly pass rush long enough to find Cooper within gaps in Slay’s coverage.
Stefon Diggs, BUF ($6,800 DK | $7,100 FD) vs. Stephon Gilmore, NE
On par with recommending a fade of Parker against what I still remember as a Cover 3 defense, it resonates as uncouth on my football IQ asking you to avoid Stefon Diggs against a man-heavy secondary. However, that is exactly what I am suggesting. To be clear, Diggs has been as excellent as advertised when facing man defenders this season. The issue lies in the opponent. We really won’t know how HC/DC Bill Belichick plans to handle the coverage of Diggs until 1:00 PM ET on Sunday. He has a situational matchup policy that will pit Diggs with either Stephon Gilmore or JC Jackson throughout the game.
With rumors being circulated that Gilmore could be traded prior to November 3rd, it would not be surprising to see management push for Gilmore to exclusively cover Diggs. Either way, rumors of Gilmore’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. After allowing the much-publicized 3/85/1 receiving line to DK Metcalf in Week 2, Gilmore’s combined coverage line is 7/61/1 over his last four games. To be clear, I do not expect that Diggs will be ghosted in this spot. But he is going to face a considerable challenge from both Gilmore and expected rain showers this Sunday afternoon.
T.J. Hockenson, DET ($5,300 DK | $6,000 FD) vs. Colts’ Cover 2 | 3 | 6
Coming off of last week’s last second TD reception to secure an improbable 23-22 road victory, T.J. Hockenson is finally coming into his own after a difficult rookie season. He’s scored in three-straight games and has garnered at least five targets in all but one contest. The issue for Hock extends to the entire passing attack: the masterminded zone defense of DC Matt Eberflus.’ The Colts mask their blitzes and full-allotment of coverages so well that many QBs will waste multiple plays audibling for a hot route with a resulting clean pocket.
Indianapolis has intercepted the most passes this season en route to holding opposing QBs to a league-low 11.7 FPG and 71.2 opposing passer rating. That success has extended over to opposing TEs where the Colts have also bested the league by permitting a minuscule 5.1 FPG. However, were Darius Leonard to miss another game, Hockenson would have a sliver of hope. But that seems unlikely with Leonard returning to practice on Wednesday. With several enticing matchups for TEs at various salary tiers, Hockenson is priced to fade in Week 8.
Hayden Hurst, ATL ($4,200 DK | $5,900 FD) vs. Panthers’ Cover 3
It’s actually been an impressive career-revival for Hayden Hurst this season. Within a suppressed TE market, averaging 10.4 FPG places him No. 10 at the position. It is my belief that a change of scenery will very rarely result in production without presenting clearly evident signs from his past. In the case of Hurst, the only signs we had pointing to future upside came while as a student at South Carolina. That said, it’s not as though he’s setting the league ablaze. His pass blocking is replacement-level at best and he is only a factor when he’s able to counter sluggish defensive footwork with his 4.67 speed.
As for his prospects in Week 8, my sources say no. Who might these sources be? Just my trusted film, spreadsheets, and own eyeballs. Shaq Thompson may never be considered a coverage ace. But he possesses every bit as much athleticism as Hurst, and he’s allowing only 0.90 YPCS this season. The Carolina secondary has limited opposing TEs to the ninth-lowest FPG (10.9) in 2020. However, it is Hurst’s own limitations that entirely eliminates him from consideration. The Panthers will field a Cover 3 at the league’s highest rate (51 percent). Over his last 24 games, Hurst has failed to score a TD against Cover 3 on over a fourth of his routes. To make matters worse, his QB rating when targeted decreases by 33 percent, and his FPRR is reduced by 25 percent. Look elsewhere.
Other matchups to avoid:
Matthew Stafford, DET ($6,400 DK | $7,200 FD) vs. Colts’ Cover 2 | 3 | 6
Jared Goff, LAR ($6,500 DK | $7,300 FD) vs. Dolphins’ Cover 0 | 1 | 6
Hunter Henry, LAC ($4,200 DK | $5,600 FD) vs. Broncos’ Cover 1 | 3 | 6