Four teams take a seat this weekend. When we enter Week 10, 50% of team bye weeks will be behind us. As for Week 8, the numbers tell us the defensive side of the ball controlled the action through the air. Case in point, we witnessed a full point reduction in season-long targeted passer rating (TPR) for outside cornerbacks, and more than a two point drop for free safeties (FS). The qualified FS position had a phenomenal week, slicing 20% off their overall air yardage/coverage snap (AY/CS) average in a single weekend. The AY/CS allowances proved stingy from all defensive units as passing offenses were forced to take the air out of the ball. The adjustment resulted in slight increases in yardage allowed/coverage snap (YPCS) and FPs/coverage snap (FP/CS) by inside/slot corners and strong safeties.
For all of the attention paid toward NFL rule changes favoring the offensive side, scoring is down 5.2% from last season. That’s the most significant decline from the previous season’s average since scoring declined by 6.0% from the 1987-to-1988 seasons. Key injuries, COVID-19 deactivations at inopportune times, and dreadful kicker accuracy have certainly impacted that average. And Week 8 did not hold back any punches. Of the 10 teams with two-or-fewer defeats, three were crippled last week either by losing a key offensive player (Derrick Henry from Tennessee and Jameis Winston from New Orleans), or a COVID-19 positive test (Aaron Rodgers from Green Bay).
If you struggled through Week 8 with your DFS results, there’s no better time than the present to get back on track. We can all take comfort from the original motivation for this wagering game we love: we always have a brand new week with a full bounty of cash up for grabs. And you can always count on me following every aspect of the process to the letter to provide you with every conceivable advantage.
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:
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
*28-28 (50%); 6-4 in Week 8
New York Jets (+10.5) at Indianapolis Colts
Buffalo Bills (-14.0) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Denver Broncos (+9.0) at Dallas Cowboys
Minnesota Vikings (+6.0) at Baltimore Ravens
New England Patriots (-3.5) at Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints (-5.5) vs. Atlanta Falcons
Las Vegas Raiders (-3.0) at New York Giants
Houston Texans (+6.5) at Miami Dolphins *Assuming Tyrod Taylor plays
Los Angeles Chargers (-2.0) at Philadelphia Eagles
Kansas City Chiefs (-7.0) vs. Green Bay Packers
Arizona Cardinals (-1.0) at San Francisco 49ers
Los Angeles Rams (-7.5) vs. Tennessee Titans
Pittsburgh Steelers (-6.0) vs. Chicago Bears
*19-25 (43%); 2-7 😱 in Week 8
Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars (Over 49.0)
Denver Broncos at Dallas Cowboys (Over 49.5)
Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens (Over 50.0)
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals (Under 46.5)
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (Under 42.0)
Houston Texans at Miami Dolphins (Over 46.5)
Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs (Under 48.0)
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers (Over 45.0)
Tennessee Titans at Los Angeles Rams (Under 54.0)
Chicago Bears at Pittsburgh Steelers (Under 40.0)
*39-15 (72%); 8-4 in Week 8
Indianapolis Colts (-510) vs. New York Jets
Buffalo Bills (-1000) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Dallas Cowboys (-410) vs. Denver Broncos
Baltimore Ravens (-250) vs. Minnesota Vikings
Cincinnati Bengals (-140) vs. Cleveland Browns
New England Patriots (-180) at Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints (-235) vs. Atlanta Falcons
Las Vegas Raiders (-150) at New York Giants
Houston Texans (+230) at Miami Dolphins *Assuming Tyrod Taylor plays
Los Angeles Chargers (-135) at Philadelphia Eagles
Kansas City Chiefs (-335) vs. Green Bay Packers
Arizona Cardinals (-110) at San Francisco 49ers
Los Angeles Rams (-350) vs. Tennessee Titans
Pittsburgh Steelers (-250) vs. Chicago Bears
Matchups to Target
Stefon Diggs, BUF ($7.7K DK | $7.6K FD) vs. Shaquill Griffin, JAX
We’ll have a few examples of players that faced solid opportunities against Cover 1-heavy defenses last week, failed to hit, and who will do so again this week. Stefon Diggs wasn’t a complete failure last week. With a Xavien Howard shadow, Diggs managed 4/29/1 of his 5/40/1 total receiving line inside Howard’s coverage. And the Jaguars will have another top-10 Cover 1 rate (eighth-highest) ready for the Bills. During the last three seasons of play, Diggs is eighth-best with 0.68 FPs/route (FP/Rt) vs. Cover 1. On 25% of total routes vs. Cover 1, Diggs has assembled 37% of his yardage, and 38% of his total TDs. He also ranks sixth-best with 3.28 yards/route (3.31) and 15th with 10.7 yards/target (YPT) when opposing a single-high scheme.
While I’ve listed Shaquill Griffin above, the alignment numbers actually place Diggs across from 2021 second-rounder Tyson Campbell on nearly two-thirds of snaps. If DC Joe Cullen has the brass pair to put his rookie corner on Diggs, the term nuclear comes to mind. But I am anticipating that Cullen will want Griffin across from Diggs on as many obvious passing snaps as possible. Griffin is permitting 1.05 YPCS (29th), 0.25 FP/CS (37th), 0.23 AY/CS (26th), and a 112.6 TPR (67th). This matchup is far less about Griffin’s coverage issues, all about Diggsy’s pwnage of man-to-man coverage. Even though I love the matchup, DK is still pricing Diggs a bit too high as the WR5.
Emmanual Sanders, BUF ($5.6K DK | $6.5K FD) vs. Tyson Campbell, JAX
A Diggs-Tyson Campbell matchup would be so much fantasy gold that I’m also expecting very good numbers resulting from an Emmanuel Sanders-Campbell faceoff. This play is far less about Sanders against Cover 1, all about the coverage issues from Campbell. Just to be crystal clear, 83 outside cornerbacks have qualifying statistics. Campbell is surrendering 2.54 YPCS (83rd), 0.46 FP/CS (83rd), 0.51 AY/CS (71st), and a 128.3 TPR (76th).
Final notes on Buffalo
The only thing that’ll hold Josh Allen ($8.2K/$9.0K) back from pacing the QBs is the blowout potential leading to the positive script. Even when Buffalo shut out Miami in Week 2 and Houston in Week 4, the Bills still passed the ball 33 times vs. 21 RB carries and 29 times vs. 28 RB carries, respectively. The focus on moving the ball through the air just sets the floor too low for the outstanding potential of Zack Moss ($5.3K/$6.0K). After 39% and 35% carry shares for Moss compared to 21% and 22% for Devin Singletary ($4.5K/$5.3K) in Weeks 5 and 6, the duo nearly split the carries evenly last week. A deeeeeep GPP punt on Moss isn’t the worst RB play on the slate. Just be prepared for the potential of that heart-breaking, basement floor rearing its head.
Cole Beasley ($5.4K/$6.3K) should be listed as being in a Matchup to Target. Again, for clarity, 38 nickelbacks have qualifying statistics. Beasley will see coverage from Tre Herndon, Jacksonville’s slot CB. Herndon is kindly granting 2.46 YPCS (38th), 0.59 FP/CS (38th), 0.34 🤯 AY/CS (37th), and a 148.7 TPR (38th) that this 43-year-old fantasy analyst could likely come close to replicating. How/Why Herndon is still being featured after allowing 95% of targets into his coverage to be completed is beyond comprehension.
As we were reminded just last week, Gabriel Davis ($3.5K/$5.0K) is a TD machine biding his time for some attention. With Buffalo dwarfing all other teams with their 10 personnel rate and with Dawson Knox ($4.6K/$5.9K) appearing to be a long shot to take the field, Davis could be one of the top bottom-barrel WR punts on the slate. Knox’s absence provided him with the second-highest route share and the highest target share this season. If Knox is held out another week, Tommy Sweeney ($3.1K/$4.7K) will draw another start. And Sweeney saw decent volume last week with four targets.
Final notes on Jacksonville
So frustrating that Trevor Lawrence ($5.4K/$6.4K) couldn’t add a third straight money performance at Seattle last week. The ‘Hawks provided him with a ton of the Cover 3 looks that he apparently loves. On 23% of the rookie’s dropbacks, T-Law has collected 31% of his total yardage against Cover 3. “Sunshine” does have a 90.3 passer rating against Cover 4, but be warned. There’s a reason Buffalo’s featured Cover 4 is tolerating the fewest overall FPG (11.8), pure passing FPG to QBs (7.6). The only chance for production for the Jaguars, James Robinson ($6.4K/$7.5K), is looking very iffy with a banged up foot. If Robinson misses and Carlos Hyde ($4.9K/$5.6K) is unable to shake his calf strain, we may see Dare Ogunbowale ($4.0K/$4.9K) given featured carries.
Marvin Jones Jr. ($5.7K/$6.0K), Laviska Shenault Jr. ($4.4K/$5.5K), and Jamal Agnew ($4.3K/$5.2K) will need to find weaknesses inside the four-high coverage of Tre'Davious White, Levi Wallace, Taron Johnson, Micah Hyde, and Jordan Poyer. Yeah, good luck.
Investing in TE production against Cover 4 and Cover 6 is a venture not for the light of heart. That said, Dan Arnold ($3.4K/$5.1K) is one Jag receiver that might do well. These percentages might not blow your mind, but they are actually better than Travis Kelce’s. On 15% of routes against Cover 4 over the three previous campaigns, Arnold has caught 17% of his total passes, 15% of his yardage, and 14% of his TDs.
Matchups to Target
Teddy Bridgewater, DEN ($5.3K DK | $7.1K FD) vs. Cowboys’ Cover 1
Teddy Bridgewater is our second entry on the list of those with outstanding Cover 1 success, fell short facing a featured Cover 1 last week, and will enter Week 9 across from another team with a high Cover 1 rate. The Cowboys feature the third-highest Cover 1 rate. They are endorsing the fourth-most passing YPG (278.1), 11th-highest YPC (7.35), eighth-highest completion rate on throws of 20-plus yards (17.3%), and 11th-most FPG to QBs (19.3).
Dating back to the 2018 season, Bridgewater has compiled 0.56 FP/Db (third-best), a 114.9 passer rating (third), and with a 24% spike to his YPA (second). On 21% of dropbacks during that time, Bridgewater has found a home for 37% of his total TD strikes. Dallas’ offense is generating the third-most PPG at 32.1. That’s a huge factor forcing opposing offenses to take to the air. The Broncos’ chances of making the playoffs are only at 28% after defeating Washington last week to even out their record. It should go without saying that this matchup in the Lone Star state is of the must-win variety.
CeeDee Lamb, DAL ($7.2K DK | $7.5K FD) vs. Ronald Darby, DEN
Yeah, all serious DFS competitors already know CeeDee Lamb is a weekly consideration. He ranks 12th with 0.494 FPs/touch, 14th with 11.1 YPT, and ninth with 2.47 YPRR. He’ll face a Denver defense utilizing the fourth-highest rate of Cover 1 and second-highest of Cover 6. The only factor that prevented me from listing Dak Prescott as a Target is the calf strain that forced him to miss Week 8. But Cooper Rush just proved that he can capably feed Lamb, fueling a 6/112/0 line last week against Minnesota. And that result is important for underlining this matchup. The Vikings are using the third-highest rate of Cover 6. Lamb put up 3/40/0 of his line across from that Cover 6.
During his career, Lamb is sixth-best with 0.49 FP/Rt vs. Cover 6. CeeDee ranks sixth-best with 2.61 YPRR, third with 14.9 YPT, and is second in among all WRs over the last three years with two TD receptions against Cover 6. Since Lamb runs nearly two-thirds of routes from the left side, he’ll face Ronald Darby on all of those snaps. Darby is delivering 1.59 YPCS (67th), 0.31 FP/CS (66th), 0.60 AY/CS (77th), and a 112.4 TPR (66th). If the cards fall as expected, Lamb could post a season-, possibly career-, best performance on Sunday.
Matchups to Avoid
Courtland Sutton, DEN ($5.9K DK | $6.7K FD) vs. Trevon Diggs, DAL
With the freedom to feature any matchup that stands out while writing up every weekly matchup, you might notice that I lean heavily toward including the Matchups to Target. That’s partly due to my preference for pointing out the positives. When I do devote the time to writing up Matchups to Avoid, I make absolutely sure it is deserving. Let’s just get the whole Trevon Diggs shadow narrative out of the way. Diggs is defending from the right side of the field on just under 75% of coverage snaps. If you want a determination from someone that’s studied all of the film, Diggs is not shadowing opposing No. 1 wideouts. And the alignment percentages support that opinion, as shadow corners do not devote a massive chunk of their time to one side of the field. While Diggs will not shadow Courtland Sutton, the alignment numbers will place Sutton on Diggs’ side of the field on well over half of his reps.
Then we have the height issue. Anthony Brown, the starter on the opposite perimeter, is only 5-foot-11. With Sutton standing 6-foot-3, we can bank on DC Dan Quinn sticking Diggs on Sutton on the most important obvious passing plays. One of the more perfect examples highlighting the importance of using all my Big 4 coverage metrics. Diggs is permitting 1.81 YPCS (80th), 0.32 FP/CS (71st), 0.27 AY/CS (43rd), and a 61.2 TPR (seventh). Before we get too excited about those YPCS and FP/CS, consider that Diggs has been targeted at the 12th-lowest rate among outside CBs. When a corner is either intercepting or swatting away a fourth of all targets, QBs tend to look elsewhere. Nearly two-thirds of the total yardage allowed by Diggs has been collected on six completions. Sutton will have better days ahead.
Final notes on Denver
Melvin Gordon III ($5.2K/$6.4K) scored two TDs last week. Javonte Williams ($4.8K/$5.8K) caught the TD the previous week. It’s truly a coin flip between these two. However, they will face an elite Dallas run defense this week that entirely eliminates both from the equation. The Cowboys are evenly lenient to receivers stationed inside or out. With each of their three starting LBs ranking outside the top-50 in each of the Big 4 coverage metrics, Jerry Jeudy ($5.0K/$5.8K) will enter a nice spot on the inside.
My coverage algorithm likes Tim Patrick ($4.7K/$5.6K) this week. I very much value the formula’s transparent calculations. Patrick did not initially stand out, but he will face off with Anthony Brown. While Brown has greatly improved his play in recent weeks, he has struggled against big wideouts. Whether it’s Sutton, Patrick (6-foot-5!), or Jeudy (6-foot-1), Brown is going to have his hands full. During his career, Noah Fant ($4.4K/$5.6K) ranks 20th with 0.29 FP/Rt vs. Cover 1. By far his best numbers have been collected against Cover 3. When Fant faces a Cover 1-heavy opponent, I consider him as having TD-dependency. That said, Albert Okwuegbunam ($2.6K/$4.5K) is the Denver TE with the Cover 1 chops. If his numbers qualified, Okwuegbunam would rank sixth-best with his 0.45 FP/Rt.
Final notes on Dallas
When I see Dak Prescott ($6.9K/$7.9K) priced under $7.0K on DK and $8.0K on FD, I see opportunity. Prescott is free of any coverage vulnerabilities, protected by the top O-line in the game, and surrounded by elite playmakers. If Prescott sits, Cooper Rush ($5.2K/$6.5K) becomes an intriguing value. The Broncos use far more man coverage than the Vikings but, as mentioned above, both utilize similar zone schematics. With Cleveland’s O-line struggling with injuries all season, the ‘Boys’ line has taken the top honor through eighth weeks. As it stands, I only shy away from Ezekiel Elliott ($7.0K/$8.2K) exposure against the most elite run defenses, and when Prescott is not under center. Denver is not an elite run defense. They’ve sanctioned the third-most FPG to RBs over the last four weeks (33.1). Tony Pollard ($4.7K/$5.8K) is one of the best backup RBs, but the touches available to him are not enough to get me out of bed.
Whereas Lamb is at his best against split safety schemes, Amari Cooper ($5.7K/$6.9K) loves working against Cover 1. He ranks 10th-best over the last three years with 0.66 FP/Rt vs. Cover 1. Cooper is going to do well this week. He will need to deal with Patrick Surtain II on a good number of snaps, but the Broncos lost Bryce Callahan this week. Callahan holds this secondary together. Without him, ‘21 fifth-rounder Caden Sterns will be thrust into the fire, and we may see Kyle Fuller emerge from the doghouse. Either way, all Dallas receivers will see a boost against a Callahan-less secondary. With news that Michael Gallup will need another week, Dalton Schultz ($4.8K/$6.1K) is someone to keep in mind if Prescott returns to the field. Denver has defended TEs well, but Blake Jarwin could miss Week 9 with a hip injury. And Cedrick Wilson Jr. ($3.6K/$5.3K) is a name to remember if Rush is forced to make another start. He compiled a 3/84/1 line week with Prescott’s understudy leading the offense.
Matchups to Target
Kirk Cousins, MIN ($6.2K DK | $7.4K FD) vs. Ravens’ Cover 1 | 6
The Vikings couldn’t get anything going while hosting the Cowboys last week. We’ve already established that Trevon Diggs did not shadow anyone. No easy button, Dallas simply outplayed their opponents. Minnesota only converted one-of-13 third down attempts. And the O-line permitted 19 QB pressures. The Ravens will not provide the Minny O-line any clemency with their top-five blitz rate. But they will provide Kirk Cousins with another chance to attack a Cover 1-heavy defense.
Baltimore DC Don Martindale initially shied away from using his Cover 1 staple. However, it seems he’s attempting to make up for lost time, utilizing Cover 1 enough to currently push the overall rate to sixth-most. The Ravens have closed off QB rushing lanes to the fewest FPG (0.90), but they’ve supplied the fourth-most pure passing FPG overall (17.6). And their QB allowance has spiked to seventh-most over the last four weeks (20.1), the most over the last two (26.6). Since Week 1 of the 2018 season, Cousins ranks second among all QBs with 0.58 FP/Db against Cover 1. Built into that number is a 116.7 passer rating (second-highest), 22% jump in YPA (third), and 21% increase in air yard/attempts (ninth). He’s assaulted single coverage with 28 TDs vs. only three INTs.
Justin Jefferson, MIN ($7.5K DK | $7.6K FD) vs. Anthony Averett, BAL
Justin Jefferson has not reached paydirt since Week 4. We could look at the 23% decline in his YPRR from his rookie season (2.66) as concerning. But I’ve seen nothing on film or in the analytics that raise a red flag. The reason I view JJ as being on a path toward a potential Hall of Fame career is his complete dominance of the two most common NFL coverage schemes: Cover 1 and Cover 3. He’s averaging 2.62 YPRR against Cover 3 and 3.70 YPRR when facing Cover 1 this season. He ranks fourth-best with 0.74 FP/Rt vs. Cover 1 during his career. That’s a 55% increase in production above his overall average (fourth-best). He also ranks second across from single coverage with 4.13 YPRR, third with 13.73 YPT, and seventh by drawing targets on just under 40% of his reps.
When Baltimore lost Marcus Peters for the season, 2018 fourth-rounder Anthony Averett was thrust into a featured role on the outside. With Jefferson running more than half of his routes from the left side, Averett will need to bring his A-game on Sunday. The former Alabama corner is permitting 1.67 YPCS (77th), 0.31 FP/CS (67th), 0.40 AY/CS (66th), and a 75.5 passer rating (17th). With Marlon Humphrey still struggling to emerge from his atypical coverage numbers, even if Martindale were to decide to shadow Jefferson with his star corner, I’d still confidently expose my lineups to a high amount of JJ action.
Lamar Jackson, BAL ($7.3K DK | $8.3K FD) vs. Vikings’ Cover 2 | 6
Lamar Jackson just doesn’t enjoy facing Cover 1 defenses. He’s always been far more successful punishing zone schemes. If we handpicked a coverage match suited to his history of success, we’d end up with high rates of Cover 2 and Cover 6 for L-Jax. Minnesota is fielding the sixth-highest rate of Cover 2 and third-highest of Cover 6. During his career, Jackson has produced 0.36 FP/Db (ninth-best), a 103.3 passer rating (seventh), and with a 32% increase in his YPA (second) against Cover 2. When he’s gone up against Cover 6, Jackson has generated 0.35 FP/Db (12th-best), a 107.1 passer rating (fourth), and with a 23% jump in YPA (third). When a QB is bringing 8.0 pure rushing FPG to the table, the knowledge that he’ll enter a smash spot to attack with his arm is reason for excitement.
Marquise Brown, BAL ($6.0K DK | $7.7K FD) vs. Bashaud Breeland, MIN
With the ponies in the stable able to attack the schemes that he loves, no amount of previous success is going to aid Jackson in blowing up. In addition to Mark Andrews and Rashod Bateman, Jackson will have the services of Marquise Brown. During Hollywood’s career, he ranks third-best among all wideouts with 0.51 FP/Rt when facing Cover 2. That success is fueled by 2.68 YPRR (fourth-highest), 18.7 YPT (first), and with an 18% increase in air yards/attempt (seventh).
Sprinting through just under 70% of his routes from the right side, Brown will see a ton of reps against the Vikings’ dedicated left corner, Bashaud Breeland. Still looking to right the ship, Breeland is supporting 1.97 YPCS (81st), 0.44 FP/CS (82nd), 0.33 AY/CS (33rd), and a 118.7 TPR (73rd). He’s been the seventh-most targeted outside corner. The Vikings are promoting sixth-most FPG to opposing WRs this season (40.3), the most over the last two games (63.9). And they are also pacing the league in production allowed to receivers working from the outside (21.5).
Final notes on Minnesota
If the alignment percentages hold up, Adam Thielen ($6.9K/$7.4K) will go up against Marlon Humphrey. Now that Thielen and Jefferson’s salaries are comparable, Jefferson is the play. But Thielen has also shredded Cover 1 the last three seasons. During that time, he ranks seventh-best with 0.68 FP/Rt. On 22% of his routes across from single coverage, Thielen has accounted for 33% of his yardage, and 37% of TDs. Humphrey is delivering 1.48 YPCS (65th), 0.32 FP/CS (69th), 0.24 AY/CS (33rd), and a 110.6 TPR (60th).
Until Dalvin Cook ($7.7K/$8.8K) starts producing through the air, he is an easy weekly fade. K.J. Osborn ($3.6K/$5.5K) has been a decent compliment this season. But we need a larger sample size before investing in exposure. Tyler Conklin ($3.0K/$5.2K) has made some incredible catches this season. And he is clearly on the TE punt map with Cousins attacking his favorite coverage.
Final notes on Baltimore
Does it really matter if Latavius Murray ($5.5K/$5.7K) plays on Sunday? The only way I’d consider Murray, Devonta Freeman ($4.9K/$5.5K), Le’Veon Bell ($4.5K/$5.0K), or Ty’Son Williams ($4.4K/$5.3K) is if two were scratched, and they were priced at the minimum. They aren’t, so I’m not. With Sammy Watkins ($4.3K/$5.5K) still not practicing, I am determined to have a ton of Rashod Bateman ($4.0K/$5.4K) exposure this weekend. More specifically, a ton of large-field GPP Bateman exposure. He’s been on the field for 67% and 66% of team passing plays and drawn 24% and 13% target shares to begin his career the last two weeks, respectively. The red flag is waved when the Vikings’ outstanding safeties, Harrison Smith and Xavier Woods, focus their attention. But Bateman will have the luxury of Hollywood and Andrews keeping their gaze.
The ‘21 first-rounder will work across from Cameron Dantzler. After posting some promising rookie metrics, Dantzler has struggled to replicate the success. He’s gift wrapping 1.26 YPCS (54th), 0.29 FP/CS (56th), 0.73 AY/CS (80th), and an 80.9 TPR (23rd) as the most targeted outside corner this season. That third-highest AY/CS number from Dantzler has me anticipating some splash plays for Bateman. Until he is priced in the 5K/6K’s, I want to be out in front for Bateman’s first big game. Did we really expect Mark Andrews ($5.5K/$7.1K) to continue with the 31.3 FPG average from Weeks 5 and 6? His 7.8 FPs from Week 7 killed that heater, but it also slashed his pricing back down to earth. Unfortunately for MANdrews, he’s likely to play the decoy this week within Eric Kendricks’ responsibility, one of the top-three coverage LBs in the game. His sacrifice will provide more space for his WR compatriots to work.
Matchups to Target
Jarvis Landry, CLE ($5.1K DK | $5.9K FD) vs. Mike Hilton, CIN
Outside of their beatdown at the hands of Arizona in Week 6, it is really surprising to see Cleveland sitting at 4-4, and with their playoff chances dropping below 50%. The Browns boast an elite O-line, pair of RBs, and defense. The major question marks are with Baker Mayfield in matchups opposed by zone-heavy defenses and at wideout, in general. Regardless, in spite of his slow start, it was very refreshing to see Odell Beckham Jr. playing football with his mouth closed rather than accosting the Cleveland coaching staff with the juvenile outbursts we’ve seen in the past. At least in my eyes, all of that accrued respect for OBJ evaporated when his father took to social media to show us where his son got his personality:
Odell Beckham Jr. was excused from practice today; Browns are discussing the WR's future with his agent, per @Jake_Trotter.https://t.co/rkZbof7Kpc
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 3, 2021
Should we really care if Beckham has played his last game for the Browns? The soon-to-be 29-year-old’s play has followed a precipitous decline since the 2016 season. Moving on to a detail relevant to Week 9 DFS play, one man’s loss is another man’s opportunity. Over the final five games last season after Beckham tore his ACL, Jarvis Landry averaged 19.2 FPG. The outlook may not be great for Mayfield this week, but Landry could see as many targets as he can handle on Sunday.
The Bengals are authorizing the 10th-most FPG to WRs that’s built from reception- and yardage-heavy stock. Mike Hilton will be one of the primary defenders tasked with defending Landry. He’s distributing 0.94 YPCS (10th), 0.23 FP/CS (16th), 0.10 AY/CS (fifth), and a 100.9 TPR (24th). Finally, Cincinnati has been more vulnerable to receivers attacking from the interior, relenting the 10th-most FPG (21.4).
D’Ernest Johnson, CLE ($5.4K DK | $5.5K FD) vs. Bengals’ Cover 2
If the Nick Chubb we see on the field was seeing the same usage as last season, his Week 9 matchup would pop as promising. But Chubb is seeing nearly identical passing work as James Conner — not a good thing. Chubb garnered 16 carries in his first after missing the previous two games due to a calf strain. Filling in for Chubb and Kareem Hunt in Week 7 against Denver, D’Ernest Johnson fabricated 27.8 FPs on a 22/146/1 rushing line. He added 2/22/0 through the air. With Chubb re-taking his lead role against the Steelers, Johnson produced 29 yards on seven touches, adding a goal-to-go TD. Cincinnati has actually done quite well limiting opposing ground games to the 11th-fewest pure rushing FPG. But the Bengals are fostering the second-most pure receiving FPG to opposing backs (16.2). And those ranks have remained true over the last four and two games.
It appears Johnson is going to replicate the workload vacated by Hunt. That could pay off toward profit over value in a spot that has the appearances of a defensive struggle. Johnson should not come anywhere close to your Cash/Single-Entry (SE) lineups. But, using the ability he displayed in Week 7, Johnson’s skillset could come in handy for Cleveland and GPP aficionados this week.
Matchups to Avoid
Joe Mixon, CIN ($7.1K DK | $7.4K FD) vs. Browns’ Cover 3 | 4
Well, the oh-so-quiet timeshare-narrative I alluded to in last week’s piece did not age well. For whatever reason, HC/play caller Zac Taylor chose not to attack the most vulnerable run defense in the NFL. And it likely cost him the game. After near 50/50 carry share splits between Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine in Weeks 5 and 7 — separated by Perine missing Week 6 with COVID-19, Mixon took every RB carry last week. Perine was relegated to 14 offensive snaps, two targets.
Mixon will not have the luxury of facing New York this week. The Browns are closing down opposing run games to the third-fewest rushing YPG (84.8), second-fewest YPC (3.5), fifth-lowest rushing first down rate (21.8%), and third-lowest 20-plus run rate (0.52%). The Dawg Pound is handing only 19.0 FPG to RB units (fifth-fewest).
Final notes on Cleveland
Unfortunately for Baker Mayfield ($5.4K/$6.6K), the apology he’s requesting from OBJ is not going to help his Week 9 outlook. The ninth-highest rate of Cover 2 and 14th-highest of Cover 3 that the Bengals will utilize on Sunday have resulted in 10 TDs vs. 20 INTs for Mayfield during his career. Nick Chubb ($6.7K/$7.6K) will always hold more value within FDs half-PPR format. If you must, focus your Chubb exposure to that platform. The wheels will come off for MAyfield if Landry is surprisingly inactive. Donovan Peoples-Jones ($4.4K/$5.1K), Rashard Higgins ($3.4K/$5.0K), and David Njoku ($3.0K/$4.8K) have rode along on Mayfield’s coattails in being far better against Cover 1 than zone shells. The only other receiver with a background of relevant success is Austin Hooper ($3.2K/$4.9K). He ranks sixth-best over the last three campaigns against Cover 2 with 0.46 FP/Rt.
Final notes on Cincinnati
A defeat at the hands of NYJ didn’t prevent Joe Burrow ($6.8K/$7.6K) from registering a fifth-straight games of at least 20 FPs. Cleveland will pack the highest rate of Cover 4 and seventh-highest of Cover 3 for their trip to Cincinnati. Burrow’s FP/Db ranks 23rd and 22nd during his career against Cover 3 and Cover 4, respectively. But his combined five TDs vs. five INTs against those schemes leaves a far more clear path toward improvement. Samaje Perine’s ($4.6K/$5.3K) excellent play this season deserves a secondary role, at the very least. It seems odd that the Bengals are so determined to ride Mixon into the ground after already dealing with his various ailments.
Ja’Marr Chase ($7.6K/$7.9K) has collected a 10/203/1 receiving line (15 targets) against Cover 3 this season. He ranks third among all WRs this season against Cover 3 with 0.65 FP/Rt, third with 3.63 YPRR, and third with 13.53 YPT. Against Cover 4, he’s posted 2/57/1 on four targets. Plenty of potential, just not enough of a sample size to list him as a Target. I have a gut feeling that this could be the week that Tee Higgins ($5.3K/$6.6K) spikes. With Chase taking the NFL by storm and Tyler Boyd ($5.0K/$5.9K) going for 20 FPs in two of the last five games, Higgins is still looking for his first statement performance. The Browns have limited opposing WR units to 36.6 FPG this season (17th), but 42.4 over the last four (fifth-most). While we don’t have much pointing to C.J. Uzomah ($3.9K/$5.4K) excelling, he did post 4/42/1 against Cleveland in the same Week 2 game last season that he ruptured his Achilles tendon.
All signs point to this game being controlled by the defensive side of the ball. And the Vegas money agrees. With both QBs failing to offer fantasy upside and both defenses featuring stout run defenses, the write-ups will be limited to final notes.
Final notes on New England
With Carolina featuring the ninth-highest rate of Cover 1, I kicked the temptation of listing Mac Jones ($5.3K/$6.5K) as a Target around the brain. On 29% of his rookie dropbacks, “The Joker” has thrown for 44% of his TDs. And, if his rookie numbers qualified, Jones would rank 16th-best with 0.40 FP/Db. But the Panthers are getting healthy at the wrong time for my taste. The return of Shaq Thompson and getting Stephon Gilmore on the field do not instill confidence. The closest player to be listed as a Target is Damien Harris ($6.0K/$6.6K). He is on quite a heater with 21.0 FPG over his last three games. Harris is easily the cheapest of the top-10 RBs in rushing YPR (sixth-most, to be exact). While I plan to have some Harris exposure, please understand that Carolina is shutting down 68% of third down attempts (third-highest) and limiting offenses to the second-fewest YPG (295.6).
Rhamondre Stevenson ($4.2K/$4.9K) was added to the active roster last week. He played a situational role, but New England keeping him active is the important detail. J.J. Taylor ($4.1K/$4.8K) will never be anything more than a scatback. Brandon Bolden ($4.0K/$5.1K) simply needs to stick to special teams. If Harris were to be injured, Stevenson would provide the Patriots with their best chance to succeed. I want to like Jakobi Meyers ($5.2K/$5.5K) here. His coverage history has yet to highlight a scheme of attack. It would obviously help if he were to add some end zone trips. Carolina’s nickelback, A.J. Bouye, hasn’t been ghosting his assignments, but he’s played well enough to reconsider Meyers' exposure.
I’ll state it again: the Pats need to evaluate whether N’Keal Harry ($3.0K/$4.9K) is going to be a part of their future plans. The only way they will uncover that truth is allowing him to play featured snaps with Jones. Kendrick Bourne ($4.6K/$5.6K) has proved his worth. His role on the team and immediate playing time is secure. But Nelson Agholor ($4.1K/$5.4K) has returned sub-replacement value in return for his 256 passing routes. Harry needs to be featured over Agholor, with the 41% odds for securing a playoff bid providing the kid with an additional level of experience. Watching Hunter Henry ($4.0K/$5.3K) post a 1/33/0 line in his first game against the Chargers that drafted him was a stark reminder of his cavernous floor. Jonnu Smith ($2.8K/$4.7K) continues to be a solid TD-dependent dart throw with his TE32/28 pricing.
Final notes on Carolina
How does a QB go about averaging 26.9 FPG during the first four games — including 22.9 vs. New Orleans and 36.54 vs. Dallas — and follow that up with an average of 10.4 over the next four? Sam Darnold ($5.5K/$7.0K) continues to be one of the most polarizing players in the NFL. Chuba Hubbard ($6.1K/$6.8K) stood as the closest Panther to being featured as a Target. At the very least Hubbard has proven his worth as a competent lead back. But the potential return of Christian McCaffrey ($8.0K/$10.0K) eliminated all desire to devote time to dedicated write-up for Hubbard. As for CMC, no way I’m touching him at that pricing until I see those hamstrings hold up.
I’m not sure if I feel more sympathy for Darnold or D.J. Moore ($6.4K/$7.1K). One of the direct explanations for Darnold’s and DJM’s struggles are staring us square in the face:
Sideshow Bob Anderson ($4.5K/$5.5K)
The Panthers received some outstanding news for their offense, Terrace Marshall Jr. ($3.2K/$4.9K) appears set to return to the field. What the ‘21 second-rounder lacks in experience is more than made up for in 90th-percentile athleticism. If he can provide a spark… actually, if Marshall can simply catch the catchable balls, he’ll be light years better than the fodder they are currently featuring.
Short of listing the back with RB1/3 pricing as a Target, we have a second consecutive matchup without a single matchup to highlight.
Final notes on Atlanta
As expected, the Saints unleashed Bradley Roby in Week 8 against Tampa Bay. He limited Chris Godwin to a 1/20/0 line. Good thing Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was around for Godwin to plaster with 5/106/1 of his production. With Marshon Lattimore limiting Mike Evans to 2/48/1, the Saints proved their truly elite defense is more than capable of impacting the playoffs without a dominant offense. On the one hand, Matt Ryan ($5.6K/$6.7K) could take advantage of that emotional victory to put something on the board under their noses. On the other hand, the Saints completely ghost the Falcons like they did to the Packers in Week 1.
Mental health concerns should not be taken lightly. And the Falcons will be counting the minutes until Calvin Ridley ($6.2K/$7.0K) is able to overcome this obstacle.
Without Ridley, Atlanta lacks anything worthy of DFS attention at wideout. Russell Gage ($4.9K/$5.8K) has not been the type of WR that responds favorably to increased looks. He’s played his best ball in a support role. Olamide Zaccheaus ($3.6K/$5.2K) has actually posted solid results when thrown into a quasi-featured role. However, he’s collected all of one reception on 67 routes against Cover 1. For those keeping score at home, the Saints are featuring the fifth-highest rate of Cover 1 and also the fifth-highest of Cover 4. Tajae Sharpe ($4.2K/$5.5K) did just flip a 23% Week 8 target share into a 5/58/0 line. He’ll very likely draw Lattimore’s attention. If that interests you, good luck.
Kyle Pitts ($5.9K/$6.6K) was drafted higher than any TE in the history of the NFL to hold down the fort as the second option in the offense. Not to headline the passing game nine games into the season. He’ll have his work cut out for him against a defense offering the sixth-fewest FPG to TEs (8.5). But we can always handicap a few extra FPs in Pitts’ favor since he stands as such a unique challenge. Atlanta’s clearest path to receiving production might actually be their featured back, Cordarrelle Patterson ($6.3K/$7.0K). He leads all Falcons’ WRs 0.55 FP/Rt against Cover 1 and 0.42 FP/Rt against Cover 4 over his last three seasons-plus. Even with all of his receiving potential, Mike Davis ($4.7K/$5.6K) has regressed into a plodding pile pusher. It’s been pretty difficult to watch.
Final notes on New Orleans
The Jameis Winston injury would be entirely eliminated from memory if Taysom Hill ($5.5K/$7.0K) manages to take the field in Week 9. A return to limited practices is promising, but does not indicate he’s managed to clear the concussion protocol. If Trevor Siemian ($5.4K/$7.0K) is tasked with leading the team, it may actually be a boon to the already soaring value of Alvin Kamara ($8.2K/$9.4K). Siemian’s last significant action came back in 2017 with Denver, so I have nothing on him related to his history of coverage success. With the announcement that Michael Thomas will miss the rest of the season, it’s officially determined that New Orleans will fail to strike fear from their opponents upon setting their sights on their wideouts.
The best of the bunch, Deonte Harris ($3.9K/$5.2K), appears to have evaded consideration as such from his own coaching staff. Atlanta is fielding the highest rate of Cover 2, a full 43% higher than the next highest rate (Houston). If his numbers qualified, Harris would lead all WRs with his 0.64 FP/Rt against two-high. On 14% of career routes vs. Cover 2, Harris has tracked down 25% of his yardage. On 39 career routes across from a Cover 2, Marquez Callaway ($5.0K/$5.4K) has one reception. If you didn’t receive the memo, Tre’Quan Smith ($4.4K/$5.7K) is one of the least efficient wideouts in the game today. Adam Trautman ($2.8K/$4.4K) owns the entire share of Saints’ TE touches. Even without much at WR, that role has resulted in 20.3 total FPs in seven games.
It’s extremely hard to write about a football game after Henry Ruggs III’s decision to drive drunk at three times the speed limit, killing a young woman and — far less importantly — effectively ending his football career. The Raiders still have to play in this game, however, and Derek Carr will have to lead them.
Matchups to Target
Derek Carr, LV ($5.9K DK | $7.5K FD) vs. Giants’ Cover 2 | 3 | 4
The one player we can all count on maintaining composure on Sunday is Derek Carr. The current challenge for Las Vegas is far different than when dealing with the aftermath of inappropriate comments from their deposed HC. But Carr has displayed the resiliency on the field to overcome the most current challenge. Since Jon Gruden’s departure, Carr has led the Raiders to back-to-back wins, and submitted one of the most efficient passing performances of the last half-decade in Week 7 against Philadelphia. With Darren Waller missing the game with what must have been a low-ankle sprain — man-up Waller!, Carr shredded the Eagles for 323 passing yards, a pair of TDs, and one INT. What made the game so impressive is that he completed 91% of his attempts! And the INT was on a ball that Jalen Richard deflected directly into the hands of Avonte Maddox.
The Giants feature the fourth-highest rate of Cover 3, ninth-highest of Cover 4, and 10th-highest of Cover 2. On the 20 dropbacks in that Week 7 contest when Carr faced the same coverages New York features, he completed 19-of-20 attempts for 224 yards, nine first downs, and 11.2 YPA. Removing the results of Week 15 last season when Carr was forced out due to injury after six dropbacks, Carr has averaged 333.9 passing YPG, and 2.1 total TDs/game. It appears the catalyst for Carr’s career metamorphosis was his Week 12 performance vs. Atlanta that resulted in all of 0.6 FPs, four turnovers, and a 43-6 demolition. Another promising takeaway from Carr’s performance against the Eagles two weeks ago, he pivoted off Waller’s absence to seamlessly feed Foster Moreau with a 6/60/1 line.
Kadarius Toney, NYG ($5.2K DK | $5.7K FD) vs. Nate Hobbs, LV
One of the features of this column that I chose to eliminate this season is the Matchup of the Week. If I chose one for Week 9, it would be Kadarius Toney vs. Nate Hobbs. Every serious DFS devotee should already be fully aware of Toney’s identity. But the majority of the Earth’s population likely have no knowledge of Hobbs’ existence. He played his high school ball about an hour down the road from my home at Louisville Male HS. Hobbs was selected out of the University of Illinois in the fifth round of the most recent draft. He posted some plus measurables at his Fighting Illini Pro Day, clocking with a decent 4.48-second 40, but adding a 6.85-second three-cone, 40.5” vertical jump, and 135” broad jump.
Among qualified slot corners, Hobbs ranks third-best in YPCS (0.62), fourth in FP/CS (0.15), first overall in AY/CS (0.02), and 16th in TPR (92.2). The top mark for fewest AY/CS indicates the level of respect Hobbs’ coverage has commanded from QBs, and further reinforced by the fact that his coverage is the least targeted at his position. Ingesting all of that information, it should be clear that this isn’t my typical Target recommendation. But Toney isn’t your typical wideout. He combines elite speed (4.38-second 40) and explosiveness (39.5” vertical and 136” broad jump). But this particular schematic matchup against a Raiders’ defense featuring the highest rate of Cover 3 simply leans too far in Toney’s favor to ignore.
With the cutoff set at 10 receptions for individual coverage qualification, Toney ranks second-best this season with 0.85 FP/Rt, leads all WRs with 5.06 YPRR, stands seventh in YPT (12.46), and first in target rate drawn when on the field against Cover 3 (41%). Hobbs will be in the vicinity of Toney while he’s doing most of his work and the Raiders will stalk Daniel Jones with the league’s highest QB pressure rate. But my confidence in Toney this week would only be threatened by picking up another injury.
Final notes on Las Vegas
The Giants’ defense permitting the 10th-most rushing YPG, 10th-highest YPC, and eighth-most FPG to RBs isn’t really the most significant threat facing Josh Jacobs ($6.2K/$7.2K). An annoying string of soft tissue injuries keep popping up, while Kenyan Drake ($5.1K/$6.2K) has emerged to average 19.1 FPG during Rich Bisaccia’s two games as interim HC. Whenever the opposing defense features a competitive rate of Cover 2, we can count on around 15-17 FPs from Hunter Renfrow ($4.8K/$5.6K).
The pressure will be ramped up for Darren Waller ($6.2K/$6.8K) to get back to dropping jaws and for Bryan Edwards’ ($4.1K/$5.3K) development to kick into another gear. If Carr is unable to foster those outcomes, Moreau could absorb some of the available targets. The direct beneficiary of the available reps floating about will be Zay Jones ($3.0K/$4.8K). Expect to see him on the field for three-fourths of team passing snaps, collecting 15% of the target share, and filling the void as the teams’ deep threat.
Final notes on New York
I understand the allure in chasing after Daniel Jones’ ($5.6K/$7.3K) early-season success. He posted 24.8 FPG during the first four weeks, ingrained with 188 total rushing yards, and a pair of ground scores. However, since taking a scary helmet-to-helmet hit at Dallas in Week 5, Danny Dimes has altered his approach toward running with the ball. No longer rushing forward for the extra yardage, Jones’ 55% decline in YPC since Week 5 has been due to surrendering his body prior to contact. Without that wreckless running style, Jones’ production floor is no longer elevated. For that reason, those normally looking for numbers from Jones should instead focus their attention on Carr.
With Saquon Barkley’s ($6.8K/$7.5K) left ankle still too swollen to play last Monday night and also dealing with a positive COVID test, as much as it pains me to type into words, Devontae Booker ($5.9K/$6.3K) is entering a spot that is fueled by more than the volume that he’s been gifted. Since taking the lead following Barkley’s injury, Booker has only returned 3.40 YPC in return for his 57 carries. But he has been able to supplement that paltry ground efficiency with a 14/124/1 receiving line (8.1 FPG) on 17 targets. His reliable hands have provided Booker with his extended NFL career.
With three defeats decided by three points-or-less, I can’t help but wonder how this season might’ve unfolded had the Giants had the benefit of healthy seasons from Barkley, Toney, Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, etc. The injury bug has even engulfed Dante Pettis. After Toney emerged as a budding star and John Ross III ($3.2K/$5.0K) proved he had plenty left in the tank, the role for Darius Slayton ($4.8K/$5.8K) in New York’s future plans was entirely called into question. You’d think Slayton would be working with every fiber of his being to leave no doubt as to his place on the team. Yeah, he’s returned a 5/63/0 combined line over the last two weeks in return for his 58 routes.
Slayton will see enough snaps across from Casey Hayward Jr.’s coverage to matter this Sunday. Hayward is just this guy on the outside allowing 0.42 YPCS (second-best), 0.08 FP/CS (the best), 0.20 AY/CS (19th), a 60.4 TPR (sixth), and targeted at the lowest rate among all perimeter corners. If you want a piece of the Giants’ passing attack outside of Toney in large-scale GPPs, take a look at Collin Johnson ($3.0K/$4.7K). He’ll draw a far more favorable matchup from Trayvon Mullen, and he put some nice Cover 3 efficiency on tape when he was with Jacksonville. Another guy that should be working triple-time to assist NYGs efforts — and hasn’t — is Evan Engram ($3.8K/$5.1K).
Matchups to Target
Tyrod Taylor, HOU ($5.0K DK | $6.9K FD) vs. Dolphins’ Cover 1
To get the write-up started, check out the following Tweet:
Tyrod Taylor has a 112 passer rating in the 7 games he’s played against the Dolphins. He’s thrown 10 TDs and has no interceptions against Miami. He’s completed 72.8 percent of his passes against the Dolphins.— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) November 3, 2021
The missing context, intentional or not, from the above information includes Tyrod Taylor never facing Miami under the current regime, or while fielding the vast majority of their players. And Taylor hasn’t played meaningful snaps against Miami since December of 2017. However, the important factor is that those previous Dolphins’ defenses also featured a heavy rate of Cover 1. I have 197 dropbacks for Taylor in my database that dates back to 2018. If his Cover 1 numbers qualified, Taylor would tie Josh Allen at seventh-best with 0.48 FP/Db. Opposed by a Cover 1 on 30% of his total dropbacks over that time, Taylor has connected for 67% of his TDs. There is a good number of QBs I love this week, but Taylor may offer the highest upside of all of them.
Brandin Cooks, HOU ($6.1K DK | $6.8K FD) vs. Byron Jones, MIA
Exposure to Taylor goes hand-in-hand with a Brandin Cooks stack. The alignment rates indicate that Cooks will see the most reps across from Byron Jones. But Cooks’ time is distributed pretty evenly across the formation, so he’ll also see coverage from Xavien Howard, Nik Needham, etc. Miami is using the second-highest rate of Cover 1, the highest rate of man coverage. Jones is permitting 1.15 YPCS (41st), 0.27 FP/CS (46th), 0.31 AY/CS (52nd), and a 105.0 TPR (53rd). The ‘Phins are kindly distributing the most FPG to opposing offenses (105.9). That includes the fourth-most to QBs (21.6) and second-most to WRs (43.6). Cooks is collecting a 29% target share (fifth-highest), so his 0.458 FP/Rt (17th) and 2.21 YPRR (18th) inform us he has significant room for improvements now that Taylor is back in control of the offense.
Final notes on Houston
When all signs seemed to be pointing toward David Johnson ($4.4K/$5.3K) recapturing the Houston backfield after Mark Ingram II was dealt to the Saints, the carries were distributed between Rex Burkhead ($4.3K/$5.0K) and Scottie Phillips ($4.0K/$4.7K). Keeping Johnson and Phillip Lindsay ($4.1K/$5.1K) out of action would make sense if the reasoning involved dealing them prior to the deadline. Yeah, that doesn’t appear to be the case since both are still on the roster. At this stage, it could be anyone taking carries from Taylor on Sunday… a list that also includes recent signee Jaylen Samuels.
If any of the extensive preseason hype surrounding Nico Collins ($3.6K/$5.4K) is going to come to fruition, we will see it with Taylor distributing the ball. However many targets are sent toward Danny Amendola ($3.2K/$4.8K), Chris Conley ($3.1K/$4.9K), or Chris Moore ($3.0K/$5.0K) are wasted opportunities younger players such as Brevin Jordan ($2.5K/$4.6K) for a franchise at the very deepest level of the rebuild trench.
Final notes on Miami
The offense should not be blamed for the struggles of the team. Aside from struggling against a Buffalo defense that held Patrick Mahomes II to a 70.9 passer rating in Week 5, Tua Tagovailoa ($5.8K/$7.3K) has exceeded expectations when factors such as available personnel and playing while the Twitterverse constantly spread Deshaun Watson-to-Miami rumors are considered. If Chris Grier enters the 2022 season without a difference-making upgrade at RB, my mostly positive image of his work will be damaged. Myles Gaskin ($5.8K/$6.1K) is a scatback being asked to work on early downs. And Salvon Ahmed ($4.0K/$5.2K) is essentially a Gaskin clone.
Jaylen Waddle ($5.6K/$6.1K) has been everything Miami envisioned when they selected him. When the Dolphins field an imposing RB presence, linked to considerable improvements along the O-line, Waddle, DeVante Parker ($5.3K/$6.2K), Will Fuller V — if he’s still around, and Mike Gesicki ($4.9K/$6.5K) will provide Tagovailoa with a bevy of dangerous weapons. For now, Tua is being forced to work with Preston Williams ($3.3K/$5.1K) and special teams stud Mack Hollins ($3.0K/$5.0K) on far too many snaps.
If you noticed the complete lack of Week 9 expectations for Miami players, each of the obvious suspects are in play. The scheme matchup for Tagovailoa isn’t great up against the second-highest rate of Cover 2 from the Texans. But they are licensing the eighth-most FPG to QBs (20.4). As expected the coverage from Houston has regressed to giving out the seventh-most FPG to WRs over the last four games (41.4). A GPP stab at Waddle or Parker could pay off, but the scheme history favors Gesicki. His 108.1 TPR across from Cover 2 ranks 10th, while his 12.6 air yards/target and 10.53 YPT paces all TEs during his career.
Matchups to Target
Justin Herbert, LAC ($7.0K DK | $7.6K FD) vs. Eagles’ Cover 2 | 6
Coming off 45.8 FPs in Week 5, it went against my appreciation for the talents of Justin Herbert to fade him outright against Baltimore and New England. But I stuck to my guns, side-stepping his 13.91 average output. Unlike every other elite fantasy QB, Herbert does not play well against Cover 1-heavy schemes. It’s a factor that can also provide context to his sub-20.0 FPG results during the first two weeks. But we have the green light for maximum Herbert exposure in Week 9. Philadelphia features the fourth-highest rate of Cover 6, and 12th-highest rate of Cover 2. It’s the fourth-highest Cover 2 + Cover 6 combo rate, and fifth-highest rate of two-high shells.
During his career, Herbert ranks fourth among all QBs with 0.41 FP/Db, first with a 111.1 passer rating, and fourth with a 31% increase in YPA against Cover 2. The former Oregon Duck has generated 0.42 FP/Db (fourth-best), a 105.6 passer rating (sixth), and 28% jump in YPA (second) during his career against Cover 6. Every defense, no matter how good, eventually finds a QB/s that simply takes advantage of every trick utilized to trip up the others at the position. For an Eagles’ defense limiting QBs to the seventh-fewest FPG to QBs (16.5), Herbert is their kryptonite.
Final notes on Los Angeles
My coverage algorithm is projecting Najee Harris for the top score on the main slate. For me, Austin Ekeler ($7.9K/$9.0K) and Alvin Kamara are close enough to Harris that they are 1A-1B-1C. For however long Ekeler manages to keep his sensitive hamstrings intact, he stands alongside CMC as the most difficult RBs to defend. Take away the ground production, they slice up your defense through the air. Dedicating resources toward containing their passing game contributions, they pivot toward showing off their extremely unique versatility by piling up numbers on the ground.
When Herbert is entering a smash spot, deciding between Keenan Allen ($6.7K/$7.0K) and Mike Williams ($7.1K/$7.3K) is extremely difficult. And the Eagles are not doing us any favors by distributing the 18th-most FPG to receivers stationed inside and outside. The algorithm projection slightly favors Allen, but I’m seeing a better spot for Williams. M-Will ranks seventh with 0.46 FP/Rt against Cover 2 the last three years, the majority of which is collected by attacking the vulnerable honey-hole down the sideline. Williams’ alignment numbers will place him across from Steven Nelson on a ton of his routes. Nelson is approving 1.05 YPCS (28th), 0.23 FP/CS (28th), 0.12 AY/CS (first), and a 105.4 TPR (55th). That top-ranked AY/CS number might be discouraging, but consider that Nelson has been targeted at the seventh-lowest rate.
For the vast majority of QBs, Philly’s schemes leave them glued to film study attempting to figure out where they went wrong. We should not have the same concerns for Herbert and Williams. They will attack the honey hole on Nelson’s right side, and that targeted rate will increase after Week 9. Josh Palmer ($3.0K/$4.6K) catching a TD last week brings him one step closer to unseating the inefficiency of Jalen Guyton ($3.1K/$4.7K). At this point, I give up trying to project Jared Cook’s ($3.3K/$5.2K) productive games.
Final notes on Philadelphia
If not for his league-leading 8.9 pure rushing FPG, Jalen Hurts ($6.7K/$7.8K) would be listed as entering a Matchup to Avoid this week. Even with the elevated floor, I’ll be directing my exposure attention elsewhere. I briefly considered listing Boston Scott ($5.2K/$6.3K) as a Target. But I am anticipating that the Eagles will trail the Chargers throughout this game. For all of the reasons that Scott and Jordan Howard ($4.6K/$5.7K) succeeded in Week 8’s total annihilation of Detroit, the logic points to Kenneth Gainwell ($5.0K/$5.2K) regaining his mojo as Philadelphia is forced to take to the air from a negative script. That might seem to indicate it being time for some DeVonta Smith ($5.2K/$5.8K) love. But the Chargers are shutting down opposing WR units to the fewest FPG (26.0). Jalen Reagor ($4.0K/$5.2K) — if he plays — Quez Watkins ($3.8K/$5.4K), and Greg Ward ($3.2K/$5.0K) can be avoided with confidence. I’m on the fence with Dallas Goedert ($4.5K/$6.2K). Yes, Los Angeles has been bad against TEs, but Hurts has shown us nothing against the top-10 Cover 4 and Cover 6 rates the Chargers employ.
The absence of Aaron Rodgers cuts the legs out underneath everything the Packers hope to accomplish. With Mr. Rodgers in play, my money would have been invested against the Chiefs. Without him, the upside of the entire Green Bay offense is cut in half… sans Jordan Love, of course.
Matchups to Target
Derrick Gore, KC ($4.0K DK | $5.4K FD) vs. Packers’ Cover 4 | 6
For the backfield of Kansas City, the utility of Darrel Williams ($5.7K/$6.7K) and Derrick Gore entirely revolves around the volume. Without ARod extending offensive drives to the benefit of minimizing the odds a defensive vulnerability is identified, the Chiefs will turn those tables by controlling the clock. We only have a single quarter of play from the Chiefs when they managed to accrue the type of comfortable lead I’m expecting on Sunday. In Week 6 at Washington, Williams scored from three yards to put KC in front by 11 points at the 14:06 mark of the fourth quarter. Over the remainder of the game, they fed their RBs on 53% of the plays.
With the Chiefs averaging 68.9 offensive plays/game, a repeat of that 53% number would distribute 36.3 carries between Williams and Derrick Gore. To be clear, Williams should do very well in this spot. And I actually prefer his athleticism to Gore’s. However, Williams is carrying pricing as the RB22/19, while Gore’s comes in as the RB65/48. The potential for just under 20 carries for a back with that pricing should perk the ears up for the entire field. Cash/SE devotees take notice.
Mecole Hardman, KC ($3.9K DK | $5.4K FD) vs. Chandon Sullivan, GB
I’m gonna bite. The last time I listed Mecole Hardman as a Target, he returned my trust with his second-lowest output of the season (5.8 FPs in Week 7). But the Packers’ secondary losing the luxury of hiding their deficiencies is just too compelling to ignore. The defender I’ve had my eye on for multiple weeks is Chandon Sullivan. Following Jaire Alexander’s placement on IR, Sullivan has stepped in with surprising results as GBs replacement nickelback. But those numbers highlighting his success are of little interest to me this week.
Patrick Mahomes II has easily played the worst ball of his NFL career this season. But he’s completely maintained his extremely aggressive approach. And Sullivan will not only be forced to deal with aggressive lazers inside his zone to Hardman, some random gents named Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce will also traverse his territory. But Hardman offers some interesting numbers that drew me toward him here. When working against Cover 6 during his career, Hardman leads all wideouts with 0.63 FP/Rt. He ranks second-best with 3.04 YPRR, second with 19.1 YPT, and third with a 47% increase in air yards/target.
Final notes on Green Bay
We will finally get a glimpse into the post-Aaron Rodgers era on Sunday. Kansas City has had issues on defense, but how much trust should we place on Jordan Love ($4.4K/$6.0K) identifying them? For this guy, a GPP dart or two, nothing more. This game has get-right in favor of the Chiefs stamped all over it. That’s very bad news for Aaron Jones ($7.2K/$8.5K) and AJ Dillon ($4.6K/$5.2K). Make sure you ignore all “Green Bay will just run more without Rodgers” narratives. I’ll also keep my Davante Adams ($8.2K/$9.0K) exposure limited to a lineup or two. No way I’m investing my hard-earned bankroll on Love properly feeding Adams at his pricing. Allen Lazard ($4.6K/$5.7K), on the other hand, has played extremely well of late, also packing along pricing offering salary relief. No BFF, no Randall Cobb ($4.5K/$5.6K).
Final notes on Kansas City
Guess what? Patrick Mahomes II ($7.8K/$8.5K), Tyreek Hill ($7.9K/$8.5K), and Travis Kelce ($7.0K/$7.8K) will score FPs!!! Just keep that between the two of us.
Matchups to Target
Elijah Mitchell, SF ($5.8K DK | $7.1K FD) vs. Cardinals’ Cover 3
Until I see Elijah “Eli” Mitchell lay an egg, he will continue to be listed as a Target. The 49ers’ O-line is built to maul opposing defensive fronts into meat piles resembling rushing lanes. And Mitchell has taken advantage of an outstanding opportunity, putting his insane 4.35-second 40-time at 5-foot-10, 201 pounds on full display. He reminds everyone of his 37.5” vertical and 128” broad jump explosiveness every time he drives between the tackles. San Francisco dedicates the sixth-highest rate of offensive plays toward sustaining their ground game. And Mitchell has been fed with 75% and 69% of that volume over the last two weeks, respectively.
Matchups to Avoid
Deebo Samuel, SF ($7.8K DK | $8.0K FD) vs. Robert Alford, ARI
Another future Hall of Fame subscription for whom I have whole-heartedly signed on the dotted line is for Deebo Samuel. Combine the leg power and vision of Percy Harvin with the hands of Tim Brown. While I expect the Cardinals will ultimately take this game, they are simply ill-prepared for the challenge on their plate this week. Samuel did not face Arizona in either of their games with San Francisco last season. But they did catch Deebo twice during his rookie campaign. Samuel took a backseat with a 4/40/0 to Emmanuel Sanders and George Kittle during his first encounter. In the second, he directed his offense’s 36-26 victory with an 8/134/0 line.
While some of the defenders from that Arizona team remain, the vast majority have never faced Samuel. One of those is Robert Alford. It’s been an All Pro-type season for Alford, limiting his coverage to 0.61 YPCS (sixth-best), 0.21 FP/CS (19th), 0.13 AY/CS (second), and an 85.3 TPR (31st). But the most significant issue presented by Samuel is identical to the one defenses faced when defending Harvin: they don’t need the air yardage of outside WRs or the designed screen blocking of slot WRs. Just like RBs big enough to break tackles and fast enough to run around them, Samuel only requires the football to be placed in his hands before creating his own offense.
Final notes on Arizona
My heart went out to Kyler Murray ($7.9K/$8.2K) after the inexcusable error by A.J. Green ($4.7K/$5.7K) resulted in Arizona taking their first loss of the season last week. Had Green simply curled on the timing route, the Cards are still undefeated at 8-0. Murray put everything he had into driving his offense to the goal line. Watching a perfect throw collected by Rasul Douglas was devastating. San Francisco is shaving off opposing production by the day. The final vulnerability is pure rushing allowances to QBs. Great for Murray, terrible for Chase Edmonds ($5.3K/$5.9K) and James Conner ($5.3K/$6.1K). Over the last four weeks, nobody is permitting fewer FPG to RBs (14.9).
If he follows the same protocol, we’ll find out late in the week that DeAndre Hopkins ($7.0K/$7.2K) will give it a go. But I have no confidence whatsoever that he’ll make it through the entire game with his hamstring injury. If he misses the game, my money will be on Green putting every ounce of his energy into replacing the brain fart from Week 8 with a big game. It’ll be tough for Christian Kirk ($5.3K/$6.4K) or Rondale Moore ($4.2K/$5.3K) to blow up against a San Francisco defense only licensing the seventh-fewest FPG to receivers aligned on the inside. Zach Ertz ($4.7K/$5.5K) is second on my list for a decent game, sans Nuk.
Final notes on San Francisco
Looking over the 49ers’ skill options without Samuel, George Kittle, or Mitchell is a great distance removed from intimidating. Jimmy Garoppolo ($5.7K/$7.2K) is just not the same QB that previously took this team to the Super Bowl. A portion of that can be explained by the drafting of Trey Lance. But Jimmy G is nowhere remotely close to the previous threat that could drop 300 passing yards and multiple TDs on any given Sunday. JaMycal Hasty ($4.0K/$5.4K) is simply the change-of-pace scatback. If Mitchell were to be injured, Trey Sermon would be his direct replacement. Do we even need to discuss Brandon Aiyuk ($4.1K/$5.5K)? Mohamed Sanu ($3.4K/$5.1K) has been his contribution-equal. Ross Dwelley ($2.5K/$4.5K) got the first shot of being featured until Kittle returns. He flopped, now Charlie Woerner ($2.5K/$4.3K) is playing with the starters.