The Primer: Week 8 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles
Line: PHI by 7.5
Andy Dalton and Ben DiNucci: We aren’t likely to know who the Cowboys starter will be until later in the week, as Dalton tries to get cleared from an ugly concussion. It’s not like you’re looking to play Dalton anyway, as he’s completed just 43-of-73 passes for 361 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions over the last two weeks. Meanwhile, while the Eagles offense hasn’t lived up to expectations this year, their defense has played competently, especially when it comes to generating pressure, as the 9.16 percent sack-rate ranks as the third-best mark in football. The Cowboys quarterbacks have been sacked nine times over the last two weeks, as their offensive line continues to crumble. The Eagles have allowed five different quarterbacks to finish as top-12 options, so it’s not all bad. The only two who failed to get there were Dwayne Haskins and Nick Mullens, who both don’t have starting jobs anymore. I’m fairly certain we can put Dalton or DiNucci in that category, so do yourself and avoid them this week. *Update* Dalton has been listed as doubtful.
Carson Wentz: Is Wentz starting to get his groove back? He’s now scored at least 17.4 fantasy points in each of his last five games, including 21.4 or more in four of them. It doesn’t hurt that he’s scored a rushing touchdown in five of the last six games, something that’s difficult to see continuing considering Wentz scored just three rushing touchdowns over his first 57 career games. He’s also thrown for two touchdowns in each of the last three games, so maybe he’s turning a corner there, though his 58.6 percent completion-rate remains near the bottom of the league. Unfortunately, teams have decided to go run-heavy against the Cowboys, as evidenced by the league-low 49.3 percent pass-rate. No quarterback has thrown more than 40 passes and just one quarterback has averaged more than 7.88 yards per attempt. I don’t think it’s due to them being so talented but rather teams taking the air out of the ball after jumping out ahead of them. The Cowboys have scored 13 points in the two games since Dak Prescott‘s injury, so we’re likely to see the run-heavy ways of their opponents. Teams have averaged 67.9 plays per game against the Cowboys, and the Eagles have been the fourth-heaviest pass-happy team, calling a pass play on 64.8 percent of plays. It would be nice if we could get some competition in this game because Wentz could do some damage in this game, but volume is certainly a concern. He should be viewed as a high-end QB2 who might have a lower floor than most in that range due to lack of competency on the other side of the field.
Ezekiel Elliott: He has just one run of 15-plus yards this year, which is the second-worst mark in the league among running backs with 75-plus carries (tied with David Montgomery). The offensive line is not doing him any favors, as he’s averaged just 1.26 yards before contact. After finishing as a top-16 running back in each of the first five games with Prescott, Elliott has finished as the RB28 and RB40 over the last two weeks. It also doesn’t help that the Eagles have been among the best in the league at stopping the run, allowing just 3.30 yards per carry, which ranks second to only the Bucs defense. The last time Elliott played them, he totaled just 47 yards on 13 carries, though he did add seven receptions for 37 yards. Keep in mind that was with Prescott under center. No running back has been able to crack 81 yards on the ground against the Eagles, and in fact, if you go back to last year, they’ve allowed just four running backs to top 66 rushing yards in their last 23 games. If you have Elliott, you’re rooting for Dalton to return, as he at least targeted 10 times in his one full game. But even then, the Eagles have allowed just 1.27 PPR points per target to running backs, which is one of the lowest marks in football. Overall, the 0.73 PPR points per opportunity they’ve allowed ranks as the sixth-fewest in football. Elliott is still the workhorse, but he’s trending more into the low-end RB1/high-end RB2 territory than the elite one he used to be.
Boston Scott: We don’t know for certain if Miles Sanders will be held out again this week, but it seems like it was a multi-week injury. For now, we’ll plan as if Scott will start against the Cowboys. It was a workhorse role for him against the Giants, as he played 56-of-81 snaps while Corey Clement played just 18 snaps. Scott also had 17 opportunities, which is more than enough to get into the RB2 conversation in a mediocre matchup. The Cowboys have been better than a mediocre matchup. Teams have chosen to run the ball on them 50.7 percent of the time, which is the highest rate in the league. You can’t blame them considering the Cowboys have now allowed an even 5.00 yards per carry on the season, which ranks fourth-most in the league. There are just two teams who’ve allowed more than 123.1 fantasy points on the ground alone, and the Cowboys are one of them, allowing 149.5 of them. The downside is that they haven’t felt the need to throw the ball to running backs very often, as they’ve received just 14.2 percent of the targets, which ranks as the second-lowest number in football. It makes sense, too, as targets to them have amounted to just 1.07 PPR points per target, the lowest number in the league. They’ve allowed just 33.2 PPR points through the air to running backs, which is also the lowest mark in the league, and it cuts into the role we project for Scott. Still, it’s not enough to worry about him considering running backs are averaging a league-high 32.0 touches per game against the Cowboys. Over the last four games, they’ve faced a ridiculous 29.3 running back carries per game. Scott should be played as an RB2 who’ll have to get more done on the ground this week, but against the Cowboys, that hasn’t been a problem for a lot of running backs.
Amari Cooper: Considering how bad the Cowboys offense has been the last two weeks, Cooper owners should be extremely satisfied with his performances of 7/79/1 and 7/80/0. He’s finished as a top-30 wide receiver in 6-of-7 games, which is consistency that’s hard to find. The Eagles are surely going to stick Darius Slay on him this week, which hasn’t been great for receivers, though it’s also not a death wish. He’s allowed 27-of-37 passing for 277 yards and one touchdown in his coverage to this point, but the biggest game they’ve allowed to a No. 1 receiver was Terry McLaurin‘s five-catch, 61-yard performance back in Week 1, which was with Dwayne Haskins under center. On paper, it shows the Eagles have allowed the 12th-most points per game to receivers, but when you remove the THREE rushing touchdowns and rushing yards, they’ve allowed the 11th-fewest points to receivers. Cooper should be considered a mediocre WR2 who can be a victim of bad quarterback play at any time.
CeeDee Lamb: After breaking rookie records with five catches and 59-plus yards in each of his first six games, Lamb was held to just one rushing yard in Week 7. He was targeted five times, so it’s not like he was completely forgotten about, but the poor quarterback play proved to be too much. His matchup this week is much better than Amari Cooper‘s, as he’ll draw Nickell Robey-Coleman, who’s struggled in his new uniform. After being one of the better slot cornerbacks in Los Angeles, he’s allowed 19-of-23 passing for 225 yards and a touchdown in his coverage with the Eagles. Still, the Eagles have allowed just five wide receivers to hit 11.2 PPR points against them this year, which was the mark it took to hit a WR3 performance in 2019. Lamb shouldn’t be forgotten, but he should definitely be downgraded into the low-end WR3 territory with the poor quarterback play.
Michael Gallup: He’s now totaled just 17 targets over his last four games, which is not enough to be a consistent fantasy producer, especially when you factor in the poor quarterback play. Building on that, he’s finished with less than 30 yards in three of his last four games. He’ll see Avonte Maddox in coverage most of the time, which is not a horrendous matchup by any standards. Over the last two years, he’s allowed 59-of-90 passing for 764 yards and four touchdowns in his coverage, which is good for a QB Rating over 105.0. But again, this comes back to his quarterback play and getting consistent targets. It’s tough to see the Cowboys having much success on the ground against the Eagles, so we should see increased pass attempts if their defense can get off the field. Gallup has moved well out of must-play territory and should be considered more of a risk/reward WR4/5.
Travis Fulgham: Since entering the starting lineup, Fulgham has totaled 34 targets in three games. That’s elite volume that rivals the best in the game. He’s done a lot with those targets, too, racking up 21 receptions for 300 yards and two touchdowns. Keep in mind that two of those games were against the Steelers and Ravens. Meanwhile, the Cowboys defense has been among the most generous in the NFL. The Cowboys’ starting cornerback Daryl Worley had allowed 3.43 PPR points per target in his coverage, which is the second-most in the NFL. He’s no longer on the team. The only player who’s allowed more is his teammate Chidobe Awuzie (who’s expected to return this week), so clearly, the Cowboys defensive scheme is not quite working. As a whole, the Cowboys have allowed 2.18 PPR points per target to receivers, which ranks third in the NFL. They have allowed 10 different receivers to pile up 14.5-plus PPR points, which is the mark it took to finish as a WR2 or better last year. Fulgham should be considered a low-end WR2 with upside for this week.
Greg Ward: He falls under that category of wide receivers who never feel great to play, though he’s delivered 12.6 or more PPR points in three of his last five games. Between DeSean Jackson, Zach Ertz, and Dallas Goedert being out of the lineup and Alshon Jeffery maybe not being a real person at this point, Ward should be in line for five-plus targets in this matchup against the Cowboys, a team that’s allowed 2.18 PPR points per target. Tyler Lockett, Russell Gage, and Jarvis Landry all finished as top-24 options against them, though it’s worth noting that each of them did see six-plus targets. Even Golden Tate was able to collect four catches for 42 yards against them. Ward is someone you can play as a WR5 in a pinch, especially in PPR formats.
Jalen Reagor: After practicing this week, it seems that Reagor will suit up against the Cowboys, and though it comes with some risk, the matchup for him is phenomenal. The Cowboys have allowed a massive 15.0 yards per catch on the season, and that plays right into Reagor’s strengths. Prior to his injury, Reagor had averaged 19.8 air yards per target, which is one of the highest marks in the league. Knowing he’s stepping into DeSean Jackson‘s role, that should continue to be the case. There have been 10 different wide receivers who’ve finished as top-24 options against the Cowboys. He’s not a high-floor play or anything, but if you’re looking for someone who has a higher ceiling than most WR4/5 options, Reagor has it.
Dalton Schultz: After looking what might be a solution to tight end problems has turned into… well, another problem. Schultz has totaled just 63 yards over the last three games combined. His targets have dipped as well, which should be expected considering they can’t sustain drives on offense and their defense can’t get off the field. It is worth noting that the Eagles have been pretty awful at defending tight ends this year, allowing an 81.1 percent catch-rate and 2.29 PPR points per target to them. They’ve already allowed six different tight ends to finish with at least 9.3 PPR points against them, which is actually a stable floor this year. Included in that bunch is a 39.3-point performance to George Kittle and a 28.4-point performance to Tyler Higbee. Just like the rest of the Cowboys pass catchers, Schultz comes with bad quarterback risk, but this matchup has been one to look forward to with tight ends. He should be considered a middling TE2 who could find his way into the top-10 with some competent quarterback play.
Richard Rodgers: With both Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert out of the lineup, Rodgers played as the primary tight end against the Giants, and he delivered. All in all, he played 69-of-81 snaps, saw eight targets, and netted 6/85/0 on them. We know how important the tight ends are in the Doug Pederson offense, so we shouldn’t be all that surprised. The Cowboys have allowed 40 yards and/or a touchdown to six different tight ends this year, including a four-catch, 60-yard, one-touchdown performance to Logan Thomas last week. He did all of that on just four targets. The 2.06 PPR points per target the Cowboys have allowed to tight ends ranks as the ninth-highest mark in the league. They’ve allowed the 10th-most points per game to tight ends despite seeing just 6.4 targets per game to them. Meanwhile, the Eagles have targeted their tight ends 11.7 times per game. Rodgers is someone you should consider as a low-end TE1/high-end TE2 streamer.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants
Line: TB by 10.5
Tom Brady: After knocking the rust off over the first two games, Brady, at 43 years old, has completed 130-of-197 passes for 1,454 yards, 15 touchdowns, and one interception. He’s the No. 4 quarterback in fantasy over the last five weeks. And he’s about to get Antonio Brown in Week 9. But first, he has to get through this game with no Brown and no Chris Godwin, who was ruled out after having surgery on a broken finger that he suffered on his touchdown catch. The Giants haven’t been the smash spot that everyone expected at the start of the season, allowing the 11th-fewest fantasy points to the quarterback position. The efficiency metrics are stable at 7.67 yards per attempt, a 68.6 percent completion-rate, and 4.49 percent touchdown-rate, so what gives? They haven’t allowed barely any production on the ground to quarterbacks, which drags down their overall numbers. If you look at strictly passing numbers, they’ve allowed the 13th-most fantasy points. Over the last two weeks, we’ve watched Kyle Allen and Carson Wentz combine for 639 yards and four passing touchdowns. Knowing the Giants have allowed just 3.93 yards per carry on the ground, we could see them move the ball via Brady even more than in recent games, though the loss of Godwin hurts. Brady should still be considered a low-end QB1 who always gets it done on primetime.
Daniel Jones: He’s thrown the ball deep down the field on just 5.6 percent of his attempts, which is the second-lowest mark in the NFL. It’s a shame because he’s completed 7-of-13 deep passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns. Part of the issue is that he doesn’t have time, as the 43.8 percent pressure rate is the highest in football. The Bucs have the second-highest pressure rate and the fourth-highest sack-rate. You’d think there should be plenty of volume for Jones, considering the Giants have passed 62.1 percent of the time (seventh-highest), while the Bucs have faced a pass play on 64.1 percent of plays (fourth-highest), but the lack of plays may be an issue. The Giants have only run 57.7 plays per game, which is the lowest number in the league, while Bucs opponents have averaged just 61.3 plays per game, the seventh-lowest number in football. Just two quarterbacks have been able to finish as top-20 quarterbacks against the Bucs, and those quarterbacks were Justin Herbert and Derek Carr, both of which who are atop the league in efficiency stats such as yards per attempt. Jones… is not. He’s averaging just 6.1 yards per attempt. The Bucs also haven’t allowed a quarterback to rush for more than 19 yards against them this season, which puts a damper on the upside that Jones might find on the ground. He’s just a low-end QB2 in this game.
Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette: Jones is running hard and it shows in the numbers. The 3.32 yards after contact that he’s averaging ranks ninth among running backs with 50 carries. Still, Bruce Arians decides to share the work with Fournette. I really thought Jones had extended that leash, but apparently not. The Giants have been better against the run than expected, allowing just 3.93 yards per carry on the season, which ranks as the 11th-lowest in football. Despite six running backs seeing 12-plus carries, just one of them has been able to crack the 100-yard barrier, so it has not been a smash spot on the ground. Through the air is somewhat of a different story, as the 1.85 PPR points per target the Giants have allowed to running backs ranks as the second-highest mark in football. Five running backs have been able to amass 39-plus receiving yards against them this year. Knowing Fournette ran 25 routes last week while Jones ran just 15 isn’t ideal for Jones’ role in the passing game. His drop in the second quarter is likely what sealed his fate. Because of that, Fournette saw seven targets, catching six of them for 47 yards. Jones is still the preferred option but it appears to be closer than we thought, especially if Fournette’s usage in the passing game keeps up. Jones should be considered a low-end RB2 while Fournette is squarely in the RB3 conversation.
Devonta Freeman and Wayne Gallman: We aren’t going to get clarity on Freeman’s injury until late in the week considering this game isn’t until Monday night, but I’m not sure if it matters all that much. The Buccaneers haven’t missed a beat without Vita Vea in the middle of their defense, as they’ve allowed just 2.72 yards per carry on the season, including just 32 yards on 20 carries to the combination of Aaron Jones and Josh Jacobs over the last two weeks. Seriously. Not a single team of running backs have totaled more than 80 yards on the ground against them. They have allowed some production through the air, but Giants running backs have averaged just 4.7 receptions per game as a whole. Not a single one of them has more than 10 receptions on the year. The Bucs have allowed just four starting running backs to finish top-30 against them, and they all scored touchdowns. The Giants running backs have combined to total three touchdowns all season. Even if Freeman is out, Gallman is nothing more than a low-upside RB3. If Freeman plays, he’d probably be more of a high-end RB4 in my rankings, as Gallman would certainly cut into his workload. In the end, it’s a situation to avoid if possible.
Mike Evans: With Chris Godwin in the lineup, Evans has been an afterthought. In the three games without Godwin, it’s been a different story. He’s seen 10, 8, and 9 targets in those three games, totaling 19 receptions, 267 yards, and three touchdowns. In case you’ve missed it, Godwin has been ruled out for this game with a broken finger. The Giants are going to have James Bradberry shadow him, which hasn’t been a pleasant experience for Evans throughout the last two years. In case you forgot, Bradberry shadowed him the last two years while in Carolina. Here are his totals from those games:
|2018 – W9||10||1||16||0||2.6|
|2018 – W13||6||4||48||0||8.8|
|2019 – W2||8||4||61||0||10.1|
|2019 – W6||17||9||96||0||18.6|
The only game that Evans did well was the one he was targeted 17 times in. To be fair, it is a different defense that Bradberry’s playing for, and Evans has upgraded from Jameis Winston to Brady, but it’s something. Bradberry has done a solid job with No. 1 receivers this year: Travis Fulgham 5/73/0, Terry McLaurin 7/74/0, Amari Cooper 2/23/0, Robert Woods 6/35/0, and Allen Robinson 3/33/0. That’s pretty good, right? Still, it’s hard to see a scenario where Evans sees less than eight targets this week, so you have to get him back into lineups as a high-end WR2.
Scotty Miller: It’s pretty odd, but Miller has been more of a part of the offense with Chris Godwin in the lineup. Seriously, in three games without him, Miller has seen 3, 0, and 2 targets. In the four games with him, he’s seen 6, 5, 2, and 9 targets. Miller did deal with some injuries during that time, which could’ve contributed to his decreased role, though he was on the field. The Giants are going to have James Bradberry on Evans, which would put Ryan Lewis on Miller. He’s allowed 12-of-21 passing for 236 yards in his coverage, which amounts to a massive 19.7 yards per reception. Miller’s average depth of target is 16.3 yards down the field, which ranks as the fifth-highest mark in the league. If you’re trying to find someone who has value for one more week, Miller should be considered a decent WR4/5 with upside option.
Sterling Shepard: Welcome back to the lineup, Mr. Shepard. Taking away the game he needed to leave against the Bears, Shepard has now seen at least six targets in each of his last 18 games. That’s crazy, right? He’s the No. 1 receiver for the Giants with that target floor, even if Slayton may have a higher ceiling. The Buccaneers opponents have thrown the ball 64.1 percent of the time, which is the fourth-most in the NFL, and it’s allowed for plenty of opportunities for wide receivers. That’s led to 11 different receivers finishing with 10.5 or more PPR points, though just four of them have topped 14.3 PPR points. Receivers have been targeted 19.3 times per game against the Bucs, which is enough for Shepard to see his six-plus targets fairly confidently, especially since the run game will have no chance this week. Shepard should be considered a WR4 option who comes with a better floor than most in that range, though his ceiling is a bit limited.
Darius Slayton: He’s now seen just four targets in each of his last two games, and it’s limited his production. When you add Sterling Shepard back into the lineup, this was always the concern. Knowing the Bucs opponents have thrown the ball 64.1 percent of the time (4th in NFL), the Giants pass catchers should be pretty busy in this one. The Bucs have used Carlton Davis to shadow some No. 1 receivers, but the Giants don’t really have that prototypical No. 1, so we shouldn’t assume a shadow. The Bucs have allowed the eighth-fewest points per game to wide receivers, as they’ve limited them to just 1.69 PPR points per target. Sure, they’ve allowed 11 receivers to hit 10.5-plus PPR points, but seven of them had to see nine-plus targets to get there. The Bucs have allowed four pass plays to go for 40-plus yards, which is what you need to hope for with Slayton, so treat him as a boom-or-bust WR4 this week.
Golden Tate: He’s still yet to reach 50 yards in a game this year. He’s caught at least four passes in 4-of-6 games, which provides a floor for PPR leaguers, but the ceiling is extremely limited. He probably has the best matchup on the field this week, as Sean Murphy-Bunting is the weakest link in the Bucs secondary, allowing 32-of-35 passes to be completed for 369 yards and two touchdowns in his coverage, good enough for a 129.6 QB Rating. Opposing teams have moved their receivers around to get them in the mismatch with Murphy-Bunting, but Tate is essentially the full-time slot receiver, so can he deliver? He’s had other good matchups that he failed to deliver in this year and has seen just three targets over the last two games, so can we trust him enough to find out? Probably not, making him a WR5 with a limited ceiling.
Rob Gronkowski: It appears we have Gronk back in our lives. He’s now totaled at least six targets and 52 yards in each of his last three games and has scored in each of his last two games. He’s seen more deep targets (20-plus yards down the field) than any other tight end with seven of them, so even though he’s caught just three of them, it leaves the opportunity for one-play upside. With Chris Godwin out of the lineup, it should allow for more targets, too. The Giants have only faced 5.7 tight end targets per game, which is one of the lowest marks in football, and have held tight ends in check for the most part. They have allowed 7.60 yards per target and a solid 65.0 percent completion-rate, but they’ve allowed just one touchdown to them, keeping the overall numbers down. It’s not a great matchup considering just one tight end has caught more than four balls against them, but considering the surge in his play as of late, it’s tough to keep him out of lineups, because if Gronk is back, he’s matchup-proof.
Evan Engram: You can’t say the Giants haven’t been trying to get him the ball, as he’s averaging 6.3 targets per game, and they’ve even given him multiple carries in two of their last three games. He’s totaled at least 9.5 PPR points in 4-of-7 games, which is a bit more stable than most realize, though he’s yet to score more than 12.5 PPR points, so the ceiling has been non-existent. The Bucs have been similar to him, honestly. They’ve allowed the 11th-fewest fantasy points to tight ends, giving up 6.81 yards per target (22nd), a 61.7 percent completion-rate (27th), and a touchdown every 15.7 targets (18th). So, they’re a below-average matchup, though there have been five tight ends who’ve finished as top-15 options against them (Darren Waller was the only one who finished better than TE9). With the lack of run game, we should expect another game of six-plus targets for Engram, which keeps him in the high-end TE2 conversation.
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers
Line: CAR by 2.5
Matt Ryan: In four full games with Julio Jones in the lineup, Ryan has completed 122-of-172 passes (70.9 percent) for 1,432 yards (8.33 yards per attempt), 11 touchdowns, and one interception. Pretty solid, eh? That adds up to an average of 24.9 fantasy points per game. The matchup with the Panthers is one we’ve already seen, though that was without Jones in the lineup. In that game, Ryan completed just 21-of-37 passes for 226 yards and no touchdowns. Not many realize it, but the Panthers have been one of the better pass defenses in the NFL this year, allowing just 6.32 yards per attempt (lowest number in the NFL) and a 3.49 percent touchdown-rate (4th-lowest). The crazy part where it makes you feel like it’s all a hoax is that they’ve generated a sack on just 2.27 percent of dropbacks, which is the worst in the league. No other team in the league who’s generated a sack on less than 5.1 percent of dropbacks (there’s 10 of them) has allowed fewer than 7.15 yards per attempt. Teams are completing 69.0 percent of passes against the Panthers, so it would appear they’re simply dumping the ball off routinely. Ryan’s 9.0-yard average depth of target is top-10 in the NFL, so he’s likely to test them a bit more with Jones in the lineup. In 11 career Thursday night games, Ryan has averaged 280.3 yards per game while throwing 21 touchdowns. The matchup against the Panthers isn’t nearly as attractive as we thought it’d be, but it might not be as bad as it’s looked through seven weeks, as Drew Brees demonstrated last week when he threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns without Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Ryan should be considered a low-end QB1 this week.
Teddy Bridgewater: He’s now thrown for 254-plus yards and multiple touchdowns in three of his last four games with the only exception being the brutal matchup with the Bears. He’s now finished as a top-15 quarterback in 4-of-7 games, highlighting his ability to be a capable streamer. The Falcons have allowed a ridiculous 116.7 fantasy points per game to the combination of quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends, while the Seahawks are the only other team to allow more than 109.4 points to them. It’s not just a lot of volume, either. They’ve allowed 1.82 PPR points per offensive play, which is the most in the league, and is 8.2 percent more than any other team. There are certain matchups that just stand out, and this is one of them. Bridgewater showed that the last time these two teams met when he completed 27-of-37 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns. He’s not the only one who’s had tremendous success, as they’ve allowed a league-high 8.77 yards per attempt and a league-high 71.6 percent completion-rate. The 167.44 points they’ve allowed through the air is easily the most in the NFL, as no other team has allowed more than 142.72 points. Every single quarterback they’ve played has scored at least 18.4 fantasy points, including 28.8 or more fantasy points in 4-of-7 games. The league-leading 19 passing touchdowns and 2,411 yards they’ve allowed bode well for Bridgewater, who is firmly in the streaming conversation as a low-end QB1 this week. I believe he comes with a higher floor than Matt Ryan for those playing showdown, though Ryan’s ceiling might be a tad higher.
Todd Gurley: Don’t look now but Gurley is tied with Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook for most rushing touchdowns (7) in the NFL. He’s topped 80 yards on the ground just one time all season and he’s not heavily involved in the passing game, so he is somewhat touchdown-dependent, but you’ll take it when he’s scoring in 71.4 percent of his games. I shouldn’t minimalize his increased role in the passing game, either, as he has seen 12 targets over the last three games. Remember how I just said he’s topped 80 yards on the ground just once this year? Well, that game was against the Panthers when he racked up 121 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries. As crazy as this might sound, running backs have outscored quarterbacks by 16.52 points per game against the Panthers. They’ve done it both on the ground and through the air, as the 102.1 PPR points they’ve allowed through the air to running backs is second to only the Falcons. All in all, the Panthers have faced the most weighted volume to running backs through seven weeks, and Gurley has totaled 65.4 percent of all the Falcons running back opportunities, so he needs to be in lineups as a low-end RB1 this week.
Mike Davis: He had brutal matchups each of the last two weeks against the Bears and Saints, and while he was able to sneak in a touchdown against the Bears, he wasn’t as fortunate against the Saints. I wouldn’t be too worried, as he totaled 12 of the 13 available touches to Panthers running backs. Here’s a pretty crazy stat: Despite not taking over the starting job until Week 3, Davis has broken the most tackles (35) in the NFL. He’s also sitting there as the No. 9 running back in PPR formats. As long as McCaffrey is out (this might be the last game), Davis needs to be played. Most people see the matchup against the Falcons and think of a slot machine that just delivers fantasy points. While it is for most positions, not many have realized they’ve allowed the fifth-fewest yards per carry (3.53) to running backs through seven games. Where Davis will make his mark, however, is through the air, as the Falcons have allowed a league-leading 110.0 PPR points through the air alone to running backs, which amounts to 15.7 PPR points per game. We saw Davis take advantage of that back in Week 5 when he tallied nine receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown against them. The 89 yards he rushed for was also the highest total the Falcons have allowed this year. It’s possible that the workhorse is wearing on Davis and starting to affect his efficiency, but I’ll blame the matchups for much of it. Get him back into lineups as a rock-solid RB1 this week.
Julio Jones: He’s clearly 100 percent, as he’s racked up 19 targets, 16 receptions, 234 yards, and two touchdowns over the last two weeks. The matchups were great, so it’s good to see him take advantage of them. The matchup with the Panthers hasn’t been as great as you’d think for wide receivers. In fact, there has been one team who’s allowed more fantasy points per game to running backs than wide receivers, and it’s the Panthers. They’ve allowed a very-small 7.45 yards per target to wide receivers, which ranks second to only the 49ers. They’re allowing an above-average 67.9 percent completion-rate, though the receptions have gone for a league-low 10.97 yards. They have struggled with alpha wide receivers who see a lot of targets, which is a problem the Falcons present, as they have two of them. There have been three receivers who’ve seen double-digit targets against them and here are their totals: Keenan Allen 13/132/1, Mike Evans 7/104/1, and Calvin Ridley 8/136/0. It’s not a can’t-miss spot, but it’s also not one that you should look to avoid with Jones. Start him as you normally would.
Calvin Ridley: Through six weeks, he led the NFL with 875 air yards, while no other wide receiver had totaled more than 684 of them. When you combine that opportunity with Ridley’s efficiency, that’s when elite numbers come out. Despite his zero-point game against the Packers, Ridley is still the No. 3 receiver in fantasy football. Of all the production that the Panthers have allowed to skill-position players, just 41.9 percent has come via the wide receiver position, which is the lowest number in the NFL. That’s the issue, as is the 7.45 yards per target they’ve allowed to them, which is second-best in the NFL. However, Ridley already tagged this secondary for 8/136/0 when Julio Jones was out just a couple weeks ago. It also seems like Ridley will get rookie Troy Pride most of the time, which isn’t a bad thing as he’s allowed 15-of-18 passing for 236 yards and two touchdowns in his coverage. He’s the weakest link in their secondary right now. Start Ridley as a WR1 who just might outperform Jones.
Russell Gage: We talked about Gage the last two weeks, saying he is a fine bye week replacement now that Julio Jones is back in the lineup, as he just makes the entire offense run that much smoother. Gage has caught 10 balls for 119 yards over the last two games, which is perfect for someone who’s available on most waiver wires. The matchup this week is tougher than we expected. The Panthers have Corn Elder covering the slot, and he’s done a good job, allowing just 10 catches for 52 yards and no touchdowns on 16 targets. The only slot-heavy receiver who produced against them was Keenan Allen, who did most of his damage outside of Elder’s coverage. Knowing the Panthers have allowed the second-fewest yards per reception and the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to wide receivers, it may not be the best time to play him as anything more than a WR5 with minimal upside.
Robby Anderson: He ranks fourth in the league while averaging 2.76 yards per route run, which is typically a great indicator of future success. He’s been the opposite of the receiver he was in New York, as he’s been as consistent as they come, racking up at least 55 yards in every game, including 74-plus yards in 6-of-7 games. He’s a legitimate borderline WR1 with his production this year, which is not something anyone expected to say. Now he heads into a matchup with the Falcons who have allowed 10.55 yards per target to receivers, which is the highest mark in the league, and it’s amounted to 223.0 yards per game for them. Anderson will primarily see A.J. Terrell in coverage, a rookie cornerback who’s allowed a ridiculous 21-of-24 passing for 287 yards and two touchdowns in his coverage. Anderson hit them up for 8/112/0 in the first game, so there’s no hesitation starting him as a low-end WR1/high-end WR2 here.
D.J. Moore: He’s now totaled 93 yards in each of his last three games. Like, exactly 93 yards. Weird, right? That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that he’s now seen six or less targets in four of the last five games. He’s averaging 10.7 yards per target, which is fantastic, but he needs to remain efficient in order to keep posting WR2 numbers, as the volume isn’t quite worthy of a top-20 wide receiver. Fortunately, he shouldn’t need too many targets to do well this week against the Falcons. They’ve allowed a massive 223.0 yards per game to wide receivers alone. The Falcons starting perimeter cornerbacks on Moore’s side is Kendall Sheffield, and he’s allowed a league-high 2.77 yards per snap (no other cornerback is above 2.39), so this is a match made in heaven. Moore only saw five targets the first time these two teams played but he walked out of that game with 93 yards and a touchdown. Knowing there have been 12 receivers who’ve scored 12.1-plus PPR points against the Falcons, you shouldn’t have any concerns about playing Moore as a rock-solid WR2 this week.
Curtis Samuel: He returned to the lineup last week and proceeded to see six targets. He’s caught 25-of-29 targets this year, and though they’ve only amounted to 231 yards and no touchdowns, he has a role in this offense. He also happens to have a great matchup in the slot with Isaiah Oliver. No cornerback in the NFL has allowed more yards in his coverage (453) than Oliver. It is worth noting that they just moved him to the slot a couple weeks ago, so he’s in a new role, though he hasn’t done much better with it. On the 17 slot targets in coverage, he’s allowed 14/160/0. If you’re looking for someone who’s on waivers in most leagues who has a shot at a big game, Samuel makes sense as a risk/reward WR4/5 in this matchup, especially given his 16 touches over the last two games he played.
Hayden Hurst: The trend continued with Hurst with Julio Jones in the lineup. He’s struggled in the games where Jones didn’t play, but here are his totals with Jones in the lineup: 6/68/0, 4/57/1, 4/51/0, 5/72/1, and 3/38/0. He’s averaging a mediocre 5.6 targets per game on the season, which is good enough, though not quite the 120-target pace that Austin Hooper was on last year. Hurst’s current 16-game pace is 89.1 targets. The unfortunate part is that he already played the Panthers in Week 5 and produced just two catches for eight yards, though it’s worth noting that Jones was not in the lineup for that game. The Panthers have allowed six different tight ends finish as top-18 options against them, so they’re far from a must-avoid matchup, though they haven’t allowed much upside, as no tight end has scored more than the 12.2 PPR points that Jared Cook did last week. The 4.77 yards per target they’ve allowed ranks as the second-lowest number in the league, so it hasn’t been a very good matchup to target. Consider Hurst just a mid-to-high-end TE2 this week who benefits from the receivers’ coverage.
Ian Thomas: Even in a plus-matchup with the Saints, Thomas saw one target. He’s now seen two or less targets in 6-of-7 games and hasn’t topped 16 yards. You’re not going to consider him, even against a Falcons team that’s allowed more fantasy points to the tight end position than any other team in the league.