Originally posted: November 29, 2017
This column is an early-week look at what WRs are looking better or worse than usual against their secondary counterparts. Few NFL teams use true shadow coverage anymore, but if a team does, or is employing a different strategy this week in particular, we’ll note it here.
For the most part, we’re not going to mention the truly great players (it’s always a good idea to play Antonio Brown), unless the situation is so bad that a stud should be an obvious cash-game play.
We also finish up with some sneaky TE and RB plays in the passing game.
Jamison Crowder vs. Cowboys CBs
Crowder has come absolutely alive the last four games, posting his four best individual fantasy performances of the entire season over that stretch. He posted 7/141/1 receiving against the Giants on Thanksgiving night, tallying his first TD of the year after scoring 7 a year ago. Crowder has now averaged 10.25 targets per game over the last four games, after averaging just 5 over his first six games. The absence of Chris Thompson in the passing game is opening up a role for someone like Crowder to produce in the short-to-intermediate area, but he’s also their most explosive player on offense right now. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are going through an absolute crisis on both sides of the ball that has culminated on defense with the club benching starting CB Anthony Brown. Brown, according to ProFootballFocus, has allowed a league-high 7 TD receptions this year. Meanwhile, Crowder has absolutely torched Dallas in his career, averaging 9.5 targets, 7 receptions, 89.8 yards, and .5 TDs over his last four games against the Cowboys. He’ll see a lot of Orlando Scandrick in the slot, but Scandrick was part of the crew that got absolutely smoked by Keenan Allen in last week’s game against the Chargers. Everything’s setting up well for Crowder on this Thursday night slate. Washington still has a low, outside chance of making the playoffs, but more importantly to them, they could basically eliminate Dallas by beating them. So much is aligning in Crowder’s favor that I’d expect him to be a popular play – for good reason – on the Thursday slates.
Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson vs. Packers CBs
It’s been funny to me that Vegas isn’t putting out a point spread for Bucs games prior to knowing exactly who will start at QB between Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick. I don’t give a flying crap who the Bucs’ QB will be in this game, and I suspect neither do most bettors or DFS players. Heck, if you forced me to choose a QB for the Bucs, based on how they’ve played this year, I may go with Fitz over Winston, who was clearly playing hurt. And if he wasn’t playing hurt, there’s way more reason to worry about his future. But that’s a long-term question, and we’re talking short-term here. Shockingly, a Packers defense that is throwing guys like second-year UDFA Josh Hawkins and rookie S Josh Jones out there in the secondary got absolutely torched by Antonio Brown last week. (They’ve also thrown Lenzy Pipkins and Donatello Brown into the secondary in recent weeks. They didn’t play last week, but I wanted to say “Lenzy Pipkinsand Donatello Brown” in this column again.) Hell, even Martavis Bryant got into the end zone with JuJu Smith-Schuster inactive. Let’s not go too deep here; Davon House and Damarious Randall is a very exploitable starting CB duo, and I’m putting money on Evans scoring his first TD since Week 7 against Buffalo here. Meanwhile, DeSean seems to have a little bit of extra juice with Fitz, though the big plays haven’t been happening (he averaged 6 receptions of 42 yards or more per season in his career prior to this year; his longest as a Buc is 41 yards).
Davante Adams vs. Bucs CBs
The Bucs chalk matchup came through last week; it’s hard to imagine anyone winning big in DFS in Week 12 without using Julio Jones. This matchup isn’t as much of a smash spot considering Brett Hundley is no Matt Ryan (hell, we don’t even know if he’s Mohamed Sanuas a passer), but Hundley acquitted himself overall well last week against Pittsburgh, nearly quarterbacking the Packers to a win on the road in prime time. Adams was part of that game, posting 5/82/1 receiving on 9 targets, including scoring on a 55-yard TD. The Steelers’ secondary has collapsed in recent weeks, but their overall defensive product is still far greater than what the Buccaneers have had to offer this year. Over his last four games, Adams has averaged 9.3 targets and 18.03 PPR FPG, so at the very least he’s managed to keep WR1 levels of production despite Hundley being a significant dropoff from Aaron Rodgers. The Bucs lack size in the secondary, but most of all, it should be blatantly obvious from watching them fall all over themselves last week against the Falcons that they simply lack talent. Adams probably won’t be as chalky as the matchup dictates because of the Hundley Factor, but his production with Hundley suggests the floor isn’t nearly as low as you might think. And maybe even some of the world’s bravest GPP players will take a shot on Jordy Nelson this week (I’m not sure I’ve reached that stage of my life).
Marqise Lee vs. Colts CBs
The Colts had become one of the teams in the NFL that went from having an exploitable matchup that everyone targeted in DFS to a team that had a “hidden” top CB for a number of weeks. That CB, Rashaan Melvin, is unfortunately now injured, out for a while with what looks to be a broken hand. That’s good news for Lee this week, because Lee was both a victim of Blake Bortles’ atrocious play in Week 12, and the matchup with Cardinals top CB Patrick Peterson, who helped hold him to 1/13 receiving on 2 targets, his worst game since he was shut out on 4 targets in Week 1. The Colts, now sans Melvin, prove a much easier matchup. Lee posted 4/72 receiving against Indianapolis back in Week 7, a game in which Allen Hurns went for over 100 yards. We’ll see if Hurns returns this week, but he didn’t practice at all last week. Moreover, Hurns has primarily been a slot receiver, which could simply take Keelan Cole out of the lineup and leave the exploitable perimeter matchup for Hurns. GPP players can also fire up Dede Westbrook, who played 70% of the snaps last week and saw 10 targets. Westbrook is still more of a “hypothetical” asset, especially given how terribly Bortles played last week, but he has some GPP appeal to Lee’s cash-game floor appeal against the hapless Colts this week – remember, Bortles threw for 330 yards in that contest back in Week 7.
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders vs. Dolphins CBs
The Broncos may never truly find out if Paxton Lynch can play, given he suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 12, his first and only start of the season. It’s a shame for Lynch, and the Broncos are almost required to move on from him this off-season and bring in a veteran or another young CB. But it’s just as well for us for fantasy, as Trevor Siemian (presuming he gets the start as expected over Brock Osweiler, who was a healthy scratch in Week 12) is likely still the best QB here, at least for fantasy. Siemian started the first seven games of the year for the Broncos. In those games, Thomas finished five times as a top-36 WR (yes, low bar to cross) and Sanders finished three times as such, though he only played in five of those games (ankle injury). Both Thomas (WR5) and Sanders (WR2) had their best finishes of the year with Siemian at QB. Moreover, Miami’s secondary is an absolute mess of late (hell, their whole team is). It feels like Sanders more than Thomas benefits from Siemian’s presence (since the beginning of 2016, he’s been the higher-ceiling player of the two), while DT still holds down a reasonable floor with Siemian in there. My preference is to pay for Sanders, who I think has more week-winning potential than does Thomas, though I also acknowledge the downside there that DT likely doesn’t have.
Alshon Jeffery vs. Seahawks CBs
Alshon scored a chalky REVENGE GAME TD last week against the Bears, posting his fourth consecutive game with a score, totaling 5 TDs over that span. He saw 9 targets against the Bears, has seen no fewer than 4 this year and has seen at least 7 in every game over his four-game TD streak. Meanwhile, he gets to take on an absolutely decimated Seattle secondary that somehow still has functional bodies despite Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor on IR. Shaquill Griffin, Byron Maxwell, and Jeremy Lane will split the duties on the outside. Griffin is a rookie, the Seahawks tried to trade Lane away but had to keep him because of a failed physical, and Maxwell has essentially become a punchline for his time with the Eagles and Dolphins. It’s not a “revenge game” for Alshon against Maxwell since the two of them never crossed paths in Philly, but we’re sure some of his teammates will let him know about the history. Mostly, Alshon’s defensible as a play here because he’s really clicking with Carson Wentz, and there is a reason to believe he’s capable of getting the better of all the Seahawks’ corners.
Marquise Goodwin vs. Bears CBs
It appears the 49ers are going to make the move to expected franchise QB Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 13 after Garoppolo entered for an injured CJ Beathard in Week 12 and led the Niners to their only TD of the game against the Seahawks (a pass to Louis Murphy). The Niners got a lot out of Beathard, who showed some real toughness behind a bad line, but essentially it feels like coach Kyle Shanahanwas waiting for a reason to go to Garoppolo, and he seems to have gotten it last week. Meanwhile, Goodwin has started to produce at a relatively consistent level… at least for him. The deep threat has seen a total of 16 targets over his last three games, and while he’s caught just 7 of them, he’s averaged a ridiculous 32.71 YPR and has scored a TD. On the year, Goodwin is averaging 21.4 yards per reception, first among qualified WRs. And as impressed as I was with Beathard’s toughness and ability to make plays (I thought he was a really bad prospect coming out of Iowa), the fact of the matter is that Garoppolo is just a better thrower. That’s why the 49ers dealt for him. The Bear defense is solid, but CB can be exploited – CB Kyle Fuller has been graded poorly by ProFootballFocus, and Prince Amukamara isn’t much of a runner, which makes Goodwin dangerous in this matchup. He’s not a cash game option because of his literal goose-egg floor, but his ceiling is higher with Garoppolo than with Beathard in my opinion.
Devin Funchess vs. Saints CBs
Cam Newton completed 11 passes last week against the Jets in a woeful performance – Cam is reportedly dealing with a thumb injury on his throwing hand in addition to the shoulder injury he’s dealt with all year. But Funchess caught 7 of those passes last week against the Jets, for 108 yards. His 12 targets were a season-high, and it’s hard to imagine Cam won’t focus on Funchess yet again given the fact that he’s lost Kelvin Benjamin (trade), Curtis Samuel (injury), and Greg Olsen (re-injury) over the past month. Of course, this situation has to be watched for injuries on the other side of the ball – the Saints were down CBs Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawleylast week against the Rams, and it cost them big time. If they’re down Lattimore this week (big if), Funchess should be one of the chalkier plays on the slate. If they have either guy, you may think there’s some GPP appeal here because Cam really doesn’t have anyone else to throw to.
Dontrelle Inman vs. 49ers CBs
Inman has played three games with the Bears and has instantly become the favorite target for QB Mitchell Trubisky. Inman has 22 targets over that span, which is tied for 19th-most among WRs. He has more targets than guys like Marvin Jones, Josh Doctson, Stefon Diggs, and Sammy Watkins over those three weeks. The 49ers’ secondary has improved somewhat, especially because rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon looks like someone who can be a quality starter in the NFL, but beyond Witherspoon, they’ve been throwing Dontae Johnson and K’Waun Williams out there, and both of those guys have been struggling. Inman is primarily an outside receiver, which means he’ll see mostly Witherspoon and Johnson, and we believe Johnson to be the more exploitable of the two. But frankly, he’s been Trubisky’s only reliable option, and I would anticipate Trubisky will continue to force Inman the ball. According to FootballOutsidersDVOA, the 49ers have been a bottom-10 defense against opposing teams’ #1 WRs, and Inman is the Bears’ only receiver. He’s a good cash game option as a #3 WR this week.
Cordarrelle Patterson and Johnny Holton vs. Giants CBs
I’m throwing this out there because, as of now, the Raiders stand to be without both Michael Crabtree (suspension) and Amari Cooper(concussion/ankle) against New York. The chalk play in this passing game will be Jared Cook (see below), but savvy DFS players will also look to the WR position to create some cheap variance. My personal preference is for Patterson, as he led the Raiders with 4 targets last week against the Broncos, but Holton has made his share of big plays this year.
NOT SO GOOD…
TY Hilton vs. Jaguars CBs
Yeah, here’s a no-brainer. Hilton crushed the Browns, 49ers, and Texans this year. He’s been literally useless against everyone else, including these Jaguars back in Week 7 when he posted just 2/27 receiving on 8 targets. Hilton has had a bizarre year, and he’s a guy who needs Andrew Luck back in the worst way.
Sammy Watkins vs. Patrick Peterson
Here’s another obvious one – Watkins was the beneficiary of Robert Woods’ injury last week against the Saints, with a season-high 9 targets and 4/82/1 receiving. But he was also the beneficiary of the injury to CB Marshon Lattimore, as Watkins has struggled in matchups this year when he has had to face off with a true, legitimate #1 CB. One of those situations came back in Week 7 against the Cardinals, when Watkins drew a lot of Peterson and finished with just 3/42 receiving on 5 targets. Jared Goff is playing at a high level and with a ton of confidence, but if Woods can’t play this week, it’s just going to be another tough draw for Watkins, in a year in which he’s seen a ton of them. Watkins’ draw will likely mean a high ownership for Cooper Kupp, which makes a lot of sense in cash games given how he produced last week.
Doug Baldwin vs. Patrick Robinson
I mention Patrick Peterson in this column every week, and it’s for a good reason. But he’s not even the highest-graded “Patrick” among ProFootballFocus’ CBs – that would be Robinson, who has been an absolute revelation out of the slot for Philadelphia (he’s PFF’s #2 overall CB). With his play, the return of Ronald Darby, and the development of Jalen Mills, the Eagles have one of the NFL’s best secondaries even though it was considered a real weakness coming into the year. Baldwin moves all around, but he’s the Seahawks’ primary slot receiver, and he’s fresh off a bizarre game in which he posted just 2/25 receiving on 3 targets in a positive matchup with the 49ers last week. His best chance of making plays in this game is on the Russell Wilson improvisational train, given Russ will likely be under pressure all day from Philly’s elite DL. Within a structured setting, Baldwin may have the hardest matchup in the slot in the NFL.
Josh Gordon vs. Chargers CBs
I’m rooting for Gordon. I hope he can have a successful return to football, and mostly I hope he can get his life turned around. But I’m not daring enough to fire him up in DFS when he hasn’t played football since 2014. I would love to see Gordon burn a good defense for a TD this week, but there are way too many variables at play this week to actually spend money on the guy (one of them being the fact that the Chargers have two of ProFootballFocus’ top 13 graded corners in Casey Hayward and Trevor Williams).
SNEAKY TIGHT END PLAYS
Jared Cook vs. Giants
Yeah, just because Vernon Davis put up a damn goose egg in this glorious matchup last week doesn’t mean I believe the Giants’ woes against the TE are all of a sudden fixed. Moreover, the Raiders may be without both of their top WRs this week – Michael Crabtree(suspension) and Amari Cooper (concussion/ankle). Not only does Cook have the matchup, he’s going to be the focus of Derek Carr’s eye. I expect Cook to be insanely chalky and for good reason.
Hunter Henry vs. Browns
Henry had a big game last week against Dallas, posting 5/76/1 on 5 targets, his best fantasy day of the year. In essence, he had the Turkey Day that Vernon Davis should have had. Well, Henry now gets to test his mettle in a glorious matchup, a Brown defense that keeps on giving to TEs and is FootballOutsiders’ #32 defense against TEs by DVOA, to boot.
Evan Engram vs. Raiders
After a couple horrendously crappy weeks, it stinks that I have to put Engram back in this category, but my guess is a bunch of DFS players will be off him because of his lack of production (4 catches, 27 yards) over the last two weeks. However, it’s not for lack of trying – Engram has still been targeted 13 times over those two poor games, 5th-most among TEs, and behind all the usual suspects. The Raiders are FootballOutsiders’ #30 defense by DVOA against the tight end, so it’s a good week for Engram to bounce right on back.
PASSING-GAME RB PLAYS
Christian McCaffrey vs. Saints
I love CMC this week in cash games (DK for PPR). Over the last few weeks, he’s really started to pass the eye test, looking more and more like the player we thought he’d be coming out of Stanford. Meanwhile, Jonathan Stewart has continued to look like a sub-par plodder. The Panthers have nothing in the pass-game right now outside of CMC and Devin Funchess, and McCaffrey torched the Saints for 9/101 receiving on 11 targets back in Week 3. If Cam Newton is truly dealing with a bothersome thumb injury, keeping his passes mostly in the short area would be a good idea against this Saints defense.
Rex Burkhead vs. Bills
Playing these Patriot RBs can be annoying, but Burkhead is clearly the Patriots’ goal-line back now, while also providing the option to be split out in the same situation (like on his short TD last week). I love his work in the passing game and he’s more of a versatile threat than James White, so I like him in GPPs against these Bills. One thing I’d be concerned about – though there’s no logical reason for Bill Belichick to activate Mike Gillslee given how effective his run game has been without him – consider the fact that ol’ Bill may opt to get Gillislee out there against his old team for a cheap TD. It’s just a fear I have this week.
Tarik Cohen vs. 49ers
Do you dare? The Bears’ run game was horrendous last week against the Eagles, gaining just 6 yards overall. But the Eagles’ elite defense just swallowed up the whole offense, which made it hard for anyone to get going. Cohen, who was targeted just twice last week, has a much better matchup this week, against a 49er defense that ranks #31 against the RB in the passing game by FootballOutsiders’ DVOA. The Bears would do well to get him involved, though his horrendously low floor makes him a GPP option only.
Source: Fantasy Guru
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