The Primer: Week 10 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
Spread: Ravens -7
Ravens vs. Patriots Betting Matchup
Lamar Jackson: Coming into Week 9, Lamar Jackson was second among quarterbacks with 17 red zone runs but didn’t have any touchdowns on them. Meanwhile, Cam Newton led the league with 17 of them, and scored on six of them. It was only a matter of time before he got in. While that was nice, he also found a little rhythm as a passer, completing 19-of-23 passes for 17 yards against the Colts. It was just the second time he’d topped a 59 percent completion-rate or 7.4 yards per attempt since Week 2. The Patriots defense has faced just 57.0 plays per game, which is the fewest in the NFL and hurts overall upside. This is likely to be a very run-heavy game for the Ravens, as they run the ball a league-high 53.0 percent of the time, while the Patriots face a run play on a league-high 51.3 percent of plays. When quarterbacks have dropped back to pass, the Patriots have been bad, plain and simple. Seriously, they’re allowing a league-high 8.81 yards per attempt while no other team has allowed more than 8.49 (no, not even the Jaguars or Jets). This is your reminder that just one quarterback topped 8.00 yards per attempt against them last year. They’re also allowing the 10th-highest touchdown-rate (5.99 percent). They’ve sacked the quarterback on just 4.95 percent of dropbacks, which ranks 22nd in the league. If Jackson struggles in this game as a passer, it won’t be because it was a tough matchup. When these two teams played last year, Jackson rushed for 61 yards and two touchdowns while throwing for 163 yards and one touchdown. The low play count does scare us a bit, but not nearly enough to move Jackson out of the QB1 range.
Cam Newton: It’s now been 109 pass attempts without a touchdown pass for Newton. You’d have to go all the way back to Week 3 to find the last one he threw. To be fair, he looked like a much better passer last week, though it was the Jets defense. Despite the lack of competence out of Newton as a passer, he has been a fine fantasy quarterback, scoring 17.48 or more fantasy points in 5-of-7 games. You don’t want to go into Week 10 thinking he’ll throw with very much efficiency, as the Ravens have been arguably the best pass defense in the league. They have allowed just 6.39 yards per attempt this year, which ranks second to only the Rams. If you were to remove the one game against the Chiefs, that mark would be just 5.95 yards per attempt. That’s just stupid. Volume has been there, as teams have dropped back to pass on 64.8 percent of plays against them (second in NFL), but it contradicts what the Patriots have done on offense, throwing the ball just 49.3 percent of the time. Not just that, but this game is expected to have very low volume all around. The Patriots run just 63.0 plays per game while the Ravens run 62.9 of them. The Patriots allow 58.9 plays per game while the Ravens allow 64.0 of them. That’s obviously not great, and you need volume against the Ravens, as they’ve allowed the fourth-fewest overall fantasy points per offensive play to opponents this year, behind only the Rams, Bears, and Colts. They have allowed three rushing touchdowns to quarterbacks, but the issue is that the Patriots need to get down into scoring position for that to even be a possibility. Newton is nothing more than a mediocre QB2 this week.
Mark Ingram, JK Dobbins, and Gus Edwards: We don’t have any idea on whether Ingram will be available for the Ravens this week, but it’s expected that he will be. That would completely destroy any value this backfield had, as they’d be back to a three-headed monster against a team who’s faced an average of just 57.0 plays per game. The good news is that teams have chosen to run the ball a league-high 51.3 percent against them, which has allowed running backs to rack up 28.1 touches per game against them. We can’t expect that for the Ravens running backs, as Lamar Jackson steals a big portion of that pie (because of that, Ravens running backs have averaged just 24.5 touches per game). This game will feature the two running backs who’ve faced eight-man defensive fronts the most: Damien Harris and Edwards. Both running backs have seen at least one extra defender in the box on 34.7 percent of their carries. To know that Edwards has averaged 4.5 yards per carry despite that is impressive. Of those 28.1 touches, 24.3 of them have been carries, which really does fit what the Ravens do, as they don’t target the running backs in the passing game (just 29 combined targets through eight games). The only running back who totaled more than eight carries against the Patriots and finished with less than 4.0 yards per carry was Frank Gore last week when he totaled just 46 yards on 12 carries. If Ingram plays, none of these running backs are great plays and would all rank outside the top-30 running backs for the week. If Ingram sits again, Edwards would have high-end RB3 appeal while Dobbins would be right there with him, maybe a smidge behind.
Damien Harris, James White, and Rex Burkhead: Harris has seen eight-man defensive fronts a league-high 34.7 percent of the time, which makes things a lot tougher than most have it. He also suffered a chest injury at the end of their Monday night game that has him questionable for Sunday night football. The Ravens are tied for the league-lead and are one of just three teams who’ve allowed fewer than five total touchdowns to running backs. Running backs have combined to average just 24.1 touches per game against them, which is extremely bad for a team that runs a heavy timeshare. Even when the opportunity is there, the Ravens allow the third-fewest points per weighted opportunity. That’s why teams have chosen to run the ball just 35.2 percent of the time against them. This matchup doesn’t bode well for Harris’ role as an early-down back, as just one running back has totaled more than 64 yards on the ground, and it was Miles Sanders who broke a very long run. Even if Harris plays, he’s just a low-upside RB4. White has been phased out of this offense over the last month, though I don’t really understand why. In their last three games, he’s totaled just four carries and 10 targets… combined. Those are numbers that he essentially reached in Week 6 alone. His role should be bigger in this game considering the Ravens have allowed four different running backs to eclipse 35 receiving yards, including 70-plus yards to both Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Antonio Gibson. Considering how tough the Ravens are on wide receivers, the Patriots should gameplan with White as the centerpiece. He’s in the low-end RB3/flex conversation who could have a decent game if they actually use him. Burkhead’s role really depends on Harris’ status, though he has had at least seven opportunities in each of the last three games, including 15 of them last week. If Harris is out, Burkhead should get enough work to be considered as a mediocre RB3.
Marquise Brown: Despite having the 12th highest target share and third-highest air yard share in football, Brown currently sits as the No. 43 wide receiver on the year. It’s no secret that there’s a lack of volume on this team, but even when targeted, Brown is averaging just 13.9 yards per reception, which isn’t enough when we need splash plays. He’s totaled more than 57 yards just four times over his last 20 games, and it’s not like he scores enough touchdowns to make up for it (just three touchdowns in his last 13 games). I’ve said before that you don’t want to miss it when he has that explosion, but can’t we say that about a lot of players who aren’t every-week starts? I mean, Tim Patrick has two 100-yard games this year, while Brown has two in his career. I do believe in Brown the football player, but his situation just isn’t great. Now that that’s over, let’s talk about the good news. When teams throw the ball against the Patriots, it typically goes the wide receivers’ way, as they’ve seen a large 62.4 percent target share, which ranks fourth in the NFL (check MNF results). Not just that, but they’ve allowed a league-high 9.97 yards per target to wide receivers while no other team in the league has allowed more than 9.70 yards per target. The 15.01 yards per reception is also tops in the league, so if Jackson can dial up a few accurate deep balls, this could be that explosion we’ve been waiting for. That might be wishful thinking, but it puts him in the boom-or-bust WR3/4 conversation.
Jakobi Meyers: Meyers has managed to put together quite the string of performances over the last three weeks, racking up 22 receptions for 287 yards on 22 targets. Despite not scoring a touchdown, he’s ranked as the No. 9 wide receiver in half-PPR formats during that time. The only other top-20 wide receiver in that span without a touchdown is Stefon Diggs. Not bad company. However, we need to dial back the expectations for him. Remember when Julian Edelman was “unlocked” with Cam Newton over the first two weeks where he racked up 13 receptions for 236 yards over the first two weeks? Yeah, that was fun while it lasted. Now you look at a matchup with the Ravens, who are expected to have Marlon Humphrey back in the lineup, and you aren’t as excited. Outside of that Chiefs game where they were crushed, the Ravens have allowed just six wide receivers to finish as top-36 options against them. Meanwhile, there have been nine wide receivers who’ve seen five-plus targets against the Ravens and didn’t finish as a top-40 wide receiver. Meyers plays about 85 percent of his snaps at RWR or in the slot, which means he’ll see Marcus Peters and Humphrey almost all the time, which is not a good thing. Volume puts him in the high-end WR4 conversation, but he’s not in a great spot here.
Mark Andrews: Did you know Andrews hasn’t topped 58 yards all season? Even worse, he hasn’t topped 32 yards since Week 5. The teams that Andrews has done well against this year were the Browns (11th-most points allowed), Washington (6th-most), and Bengals (2nd-most). He did have tough matchups over the last two weeks, but it doesn’t get any easier in Week 10, as the Patriots have allowed the fewest points per game (7.3) to tight ends. Granted, they’ve only seen 39 targets through eight games (4.9 per game), but Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, and George Kittle were a sample of the players they’ve played against, and no tight end has finished with more than 10.5 PPR points against them. Kittle was the only tight end who finished with more than three receptions against them, so it’s clear they’re doing a good job at defending the position. In the matchup these two teams had last year, Andrews finished with just two catches for 21 yards on three targets. It’s tough to say any tight end not named Darren Waller is a lock this week, but even so, Andrews has fallen into the low-end TE1 range.
Ryan Izzo: The Patriots tight ends have combined for 16 targets, 10 receptions, and 122 yards this year. That’s through eight games. There is no way you’re considering any of them.
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Spread: Vikings -3
Vikings vs. Bears Betting Matchup
Kirk Cousins: Have we gone back in time to the 2019 season when Cousins attempted just 444 pass attempts? Despite the Vikings defense taking a major step backwards, Cousins is on pace for just 418 pass attempts this year. It’s a good thing he’s throwing a touchdown on 7.2 percent of his passes, because otherwise he’d be outside the 2QB range of quarterbacks. Despite throwing a touchdown that often, he’s been held to fewer than 15 fantasy points in 4-of-8 games. Lack of volume is a concern, right? The Vikings have averaged just 57.5 plays per game this year, which is the worst in the league. That’s a problem when you’re facing the team that allows the second-fewest fantasy points per offensive play. The Bears have allowed a piddly 6.67 yards per attempt, which ranks as the fourth-lowest mark in the league. The 60.2 percent completion-rate they’ve allowed ranks as the second-lowest mark in the league. So, when you combine that with Cousins’ 26.1 pass attempts per game, that’s an issue for his projection. Even in their run-heavy ways last year, Cousins attempted 36 attempts against the Bears, totaling just 233 yards and no touchdowns en route to 7.32 fantasy points. The Bears have not allowed a 300-yard passer all season and have held all quarterbacks to fewer than 20 fantasy points. Keep in mind they’ve played Ryan Tannehill, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Matt Ryan already this year. Brees was the only one who even finished top-15. Cousins is not someone you should be streaming.
Nick Foles: Since becoming the starter in Week 4, Foles has averaged a ridiculously-low 6.09 yards per attempt while throwing just seven touchdowns on 256 pass attempts (2.73 percent touchdown-rate). He has, however, scored 38.48 fantasy points over the last two weeks. How is that? Volume. There should be plenty of plays available for the Bears offense this week too, as they run 66.0 plays per game while the Vikings opponents have averaged 68.6 plays per game. Can the Bears offense actually put points on the board against the Vikings defense that’s allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opponents? The 104.78 PPR points per game they’ve allowed is behind only the Seahawks, Falcons, and Texans. That’s right, the Vikings defense has allowed more overall fantasy points than the Jaguars. Looking at pass attempts only (no rushing), the Vikings have allowed 0.557 fantasy points per pass attempt, which ranks as the fourth-highest mark in football. Knowing the Bears throw the ball a league-leading 66.3 percent of the time, Foles should score actual fantasy points in this game. I’m not willing to throw him in standard 1QB leagues with how bad he’s been, but in 2QB formats? Yep. If you’re playing the showdown slate, Foles would be my choice at quarterback.
Dalvin Cook: The craziest part about what Cook has accomplished is the fact that everyone knows it’s coming. He’s faced eight-man defensive fronts on 31.3 percent of his carries, which ranks as the fourth-most in the NFL. When that’s factored in, he’s averaging 1.69 more yards per attempt than he’s expected to. Only Nick Chubb and Raheem Mostert have higher numbers than him. This game is much different than the last two, where Cook played what might be the two worst defenses in the league against running backs. Meanwhile, the Bears have been the 11th-toughest matchup for running backs. We watched them completely shut down Derrick Henry last week, limiting him to just 68 yards on 21 carries. The prior week they limited Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray to just 84 yards on 20 carries, so the Bears run defense is legit. Not just that, but they’ve allowed a minuscule 1.20 PPR points per target to running backs, which ranks second-lowest in the NFL. Kamara was the only running back who’s been able to top 36 yards through the air against them. When he played the Bears last year, Cook carried the ball 14 times for just 35 yards, though he did score a touchdown and haul in another 35 yards through the air. Sure, Cook is on fire right now, but it’s also worth noting that Cook was coming off three straight 110-plus rushing yard days going into the matchup with the Bears last year and then rushed for 132 yards in the game after that. In a divisional contest, the Bears know what the Vikings are bringing to the table. Cook is still an RB1 but don’t expect a repeat of the last two weeks.
David Montgomery: I recently sat down to look at weighted opportunity among running backs, and Montgomery ranks 12th on the season. If you were to look at only the games he’s played without Tarik Cohen, he’d rank inside the top-five. However, his fantasy points per weighted opportunity rank 79th among the 84 running backs that qualified, slightly ahead of Joshua Kelley. The Vikings are one of just six teams in the NFL who’ve allowed five or less total touchdowns to running backs. The crazy part is that they’ve faced a massive 31.5 running back touches per game, which is the most in football. Just one team (Giants) has allowed more weighted opportunity per game than them. As a whole, they’ve allowed one touchdown every 50.4 touches to running backs, which is ridiculous, and not good for a running back who’s scored just two touchdowns all year on 161 touches. The only running backs who’ve totaled more than 75 yards on the ground against the Vikings were Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor, who racked up 26 carries apiece on run-first teams. What Montgomery needs to latch onto to score fantasy points is the fact that the Vikings have allowed a massive 6.3 receptions per game to the running back position. As long as Montgomery clears the concussion protocol, he should be considered a low-end RB2 due to his massive volume. *Update* As of Friday, Montgomery has still yet to be cleared, though he has another two days considering this game is on Monday night. The backups would be Cordarrelle Patterson and Ryan Nall.
Adam Thielen: The worst part about Thielen’s struggles is that he’s seeing 42.6 percent of the Vikings’ air yards, which ranks as the second-highest percentage in the NFL. It’s extremely hard for a receiver to be consistent in fantasy when his team is on pace for 418 pass attempts. We already know the Bears allow the third-fewest fantasy points per game as a whole, but to know that wide receivers have accounted for just 43.6 percent of the production by skill-position players against them (third-lowest number in the NFL) highlights just how bad this matchup is. It doesn’t help that wide receivers have caught a touchdown once every 57.0 targets against them, which is less often than any team in the NFL. By comparison, the Vikings have allowed one every 10.3 targets. Thielen doesn’t play on one side more than the other but rather flips back and forth, so he’ll see a mixture of both Kyle Fuller and Jaylon Johnson, who’ve combined to allow just 50-of-102 passing for 637 yards and three touchdowns in their coverage. That’s just 6.25 yards per target and a touchdown every 34.0 targets. When these two teams met last year, Thielen finished with just two catches for six yards on six targets, and that was before he suffered his injury that derailed his season. It’s extremely tough to bench Thielen, but lower expectations into the mid-to-low-end WR2 territory. A.J. Brown was the first wide receiver to finish top-20 against them this year.
Justin Jefferson: He’s now seen five or fewer targets in four of his last five games. He’s starting to see why Stefon Diggs was frustrated during his time with the Vikings. The 26.0 pass attempts per game the Vikings have averaged make things insanely hard for the receivers to produce without offering some kind of splash-play potential. Jefferson certainly has that, but the Bears have allowed a league-low three wide receiver touchdowns all season, and they’ve still yet to have their bye week. It’s not just touchdowns, either. They’ve allowed a league-low 57.3 percent catch-rate to wide receivers (no other team is below 61.1 percent) and 7.55 yards per target (fifth-lowest in NFL). They have allowed 27 pass plays of 20-plus yards, which ranks as the 10th-most in the league, and that’s what you have to hang your hat on. Jefferson does move into the slot about 33 percent of the time, which is the weakest link in the Bears secondary, as Buster Skrine has been burned for 35 receptions, 358 yards, and two touchdowns on 46 targets in coverage. Still, there have been just five wide receivers who’ve totaled more than 58 yards against the Bears this year. Jefferson should be considered a risky WR3 who you’re hoping for a big play from.
Allen Robinson: It seems like Foles is starting to try and not focus on just one wide receiver, and that’s led to Robinson seeing just 18 targets over the last three games, which pales in comparison to the 11.3 targets per game he averaged over the first six weeks of the season. Still, Robinson has managed to produce at least 70 yards and/or a touchdown in 7-of-9 games this year. He’s only scored once in the last five games, but it helps knowing the Vikings have allowed a league-leading 16 touchdowns to wide receivers this year. The only other team who’s allowed more than 13 of them is the Cowboys. Their cornerbacks for the Week 9 game against the Lions were Jeff Gladney, Kris Boyd, and Chris Jones. Those three combined to allow 18-of-24 passing for 172 yards and two touchdowns in that game. Keep in mind that Matthew Stafford played poorly in that game. There have been 11 wide receivers who’ve finished with at least 13.3 PPR points and a top-36 wide receiver against the Vikings, including five wide receivers who tagged them for 22-plus PPR points. Robinson is a locked-and-loaded WR1.
Darnell Mooney: He’s now seen at least five targets in each of his last six games, including a career-high 11 of them last week. If only Foles were playing better… oh well. The Bears receivers had a treat last week against the Titans secondary who’d allowed the second-most fantasy points to the position, and now they get to go against the Vikings, the team who’s allowed the third-most points to the position. The Vikings are allowing a league-high 2.20 PPR points per target to wide receivers, which bodes well for the pass-happy Bears offense. Even better, they’ve allowed 32 pass plays that have gone for 20-plus yards, which ranks as the fourth-most in the league. Mooney is the primary deep threat for the Bears, so maybe we see him connect with Foles down the field? There have been 15 wide receivers who’ve finished top-50 against the Vikings, which is essentially WR4 or better territory. Given Mooney’s role and targets over the last month and a half, he can be considered as a WR4 who could be even better than that if Foles can put a good game together.
Anthony Miller: When you’re throwing the ball as much as the Bears are, there are going to be multiple wide receivers who have appeal, though that appeal is limited when you have poor quarterback play. Miller has now seen 19 targets over the last two weeks, which is plenty to be fantasy relevant. Will his fumble at the end of Week 9 get his snaps reduced? We’ve seen Miller punished before. He hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 3, so it helps knowing the Vikings have allowed a touchdown every 10.3 targets to wide receivers, which is more often than any other team in the league. The Vikings have rookie Jeff Gladney covering the slot, and though he’s probably the best cornerback they have who’s actually healthy, he hasn’t played well in the slot, allowing 17-of-30 passing for 227 yards and three touchdowns, good for a 114.2 QB Rating. We can’t get too excited because Miller is still the No. 3 in an offense that’s struggled to put points on the board, which gives him a lower floor than we’d like, making him a WR5.
Irv Smith: The good news? Smith has now finished with at least 10.4 PPR points in three of the last four games. The bad news? He’s still failed to top five targets in a game this year. In fact, you’d have to go back to Week 10 of last year to find his career-high of six targets. So, his career-high is typically the number we shoot for when targeting a streamer. Tight ends have accounted for 23.1 percent of the fantasy production by skill-position players against the Bears, which is the second-highest number in the NFL, though that’s on a small number, as the Bears allow the third-fewest fantasy points per game to opponents overall. Tight ends have posted a below-average 6.66 yards per target against the Bears, but they have scored a touchdown once every 11.8 targets, which ranks as the 12th-most often in the league. Based on the competition they’ve played, the Bears are actually an above average matchup for tight ends, ranking 13th overall in adjusted opponent rank. Smith may have caught two touchdowns last week, but he ran just nine routes during that game, which is not nearly enough to be considered a streamer. He’s a hail-mary play in showdown slates, though he’ll probably be more popular than he should be considering the two-touchdown game last week.
Jimmy Graham: How does Graham go from not performing with Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, to producing as the No. 6 tight end through nine weeks? He’s played an extra game, so it’s a little inflated, but still, it’s kind of crazy especially when you consider how poor his quarterback play has been. It certainly helps that he ranks fourth among tight ends in targets and has seen at least five targets in 8-of-9 games. It’s no secret the Vikings are struggling with wide receviers, but they’re also struggling with tight ends, as they’ve allowed a league-high 10.5 yards per target to them. The Packers are the only other team who’s allowed more than 9.2 yards per target. Despite playing lackluster competition, they’ve allowed at least 46 yards and/or a touchdown to seven different tight ends, including 14.9 or more PPR points to three of them. The best part is that no tight end has seen more than eight targets against them. The 76.0 percent completion-rate surely helps. While they’ve allowed just three tight end touchdowns, we know that number is highly volatile, and Graham is tied for the second-most targets (8) inside the 10-yard line (not just among tight ends, either). Given the number of pass attempts we’re expecting, Graham should be given top-10 consideration.
Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans
Spread: Colts -1
Colts vs. Titans Betting Matchup
Philip Rivers: Coming off back-to-back three-touchdown games, Rivers struggled mightily against the Ravens, completing just 25-of-43 passes for 227 yards (5.3 yards per attempt) with no touchdowns. It didn’t help that he was without T.Y. Hilton, but let’s not pretend he’s been a big part of the gameplan every week. If Rivers doesn’t throw three touchdowns, he’s not going to finish as a top-12 quarterback. Will a matchup with the Titans allow you to consider him? The Titans haven’t generated pressure this year and have just a 2.97 percent sack-rate, which ranks as the third-lowest mark in football, but that hasn’t even helped Rivers all that much, as he’s posted an 89.6 QB Rating when in a clean pocket, which ranks 29th among quarterbacks. As crazy as this may sound, Rivers has thrown more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (6) while in a clean pocket this year. What does make you feel better is that each of the last seven quarterbacks who’ve played against the Titans have thrown at least two touchdowns, including Nick Foles last week, though both came in garbage time. It’s extremely difficult to rely on a strictly pocket passer who’s been held to fewer than 15 fantasy points in 6-of-8 games this year, though it’s worth noting that the two games he wasn’t held below that mark came in the two games prior to that matchup with the Ravens. Rivers should be considered a solid QB2 this week, though if he’s off as a passer, you’re in trouble as a streamer.
Ryan Tannehill: We knew the matchup with the Bears was going to be a tough one, but we hoped Tannehill’s efficiency would prevail. It was just the third time in Tannehill’s time as the Titans starter where he’s scored fewer than 17.3 fantasy points. The Colts may have been slipping recently, but they’ve still been one of the most efficient defenses on the season, allowing the third-fewest overall fantasy points per offensive snap to opponents, behind only the Rams and Bears. When you factor in the minimal plays per game (60.1) their opponents have run, they’ve allowed just 74.27 fantasy points per game to their opponents, which is the lowest number in the league. If you were to remove all rushing totals, the Colts have allowed 0.387 fantasy points per actual pass attempt, which ranks as the fifth-lowest in the league, right behind the Bears defense that Tannehill just played. However, when we break down their schedule, there’s a trend. There have been four quarterbacks who’ve averaged at least 7.4 yards per attempt and four who haven’t. Those who have: Gardner Minshew, Joe Burrow, Matthew Stafford, and Lamar Jackson. Those who haven’t: Kirk Cousins, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, and Nick Foles. You can tell they’ve had a relatively easy quarterback schedule this year. We know the Colts limit production to running backs on the ground, which should lead to them leaning on Tannehill a bit more this week. Hearing that five quarterbacks have been able to finish top-16 despite the Colts overall numbers should make you feel better about starting Tannehill as a high-end QB2.
Jonathan Taylor, Jordan Wilkins, and Nyheim Hines: How do we value this backfield moving forward? In the two games since their bye week, here are the touch totals: Wilkins 34, Taylor 21, Hines 12. Did Taylor’s fumble against the Ravens last week get him benched? It’s extremely tough to say, but one thing’s for sure, and it’s that this backfield is a messy timeshare. Opponents have averaged 21.9 carries per game against the Titans, which isn’t great for a three-way timeshare, though it’s Wilkins and Taylor splitting most of the carries. Teams haven’t targeted their running backs very often against the Titans either, as just 14.7 percent of targets have gone their way, which ranks as the third-lowest mark in football. It all adds up to 25.9 touches per game, and bad news for a Colts backfield that’s averaged 32.4 touches per game. It’s been difficult to trust any of them with those 32.4 touches per game, so what happens if we start to eliminate some of them? Production on the ground should be easier to come by, as they’ve allowed a healthy 4.46 yards per carry and a rushing touchdown every 25.0 carries but figuring out which running back to play between Wilkins and Taylor is a chore. It appeared the Colts were disciplining Taylor for the fumble last week, so I’m assuming he’ll be back in the lead role, though it’s clear he has a short leash. Taylor should be treated as a high-end RB3 who likely has the best shot to find the end zone, while Wilkins should also be considered in the RB3/flex conversation with the non-zero percent chance that he’s the starter. Given the lack of production through the air for running backs against the Titans (no running back has caught more than four passes or topped 29 yards), Hines is nothing more than a low-ceiling RB4 who benefits a bit more in PPR formats.
Derrick Henry: Through eight games, Henry is on pace for 364 carries, 1,686 yards, and 16 touchdowns on the ground. Unfortunately, he’s going to have weeks like the one he did in Week 9 where when he struggles to find room on the ground, he’s not going to live up to his RB1 status. He’s only been targeted 18 times through eight games, and those targets have netted just 10 receptions. So much for the “increased passing game usage” we were told this offseason. We’ve also seen a decrease in snaps for him over the last few weeks, as he’s been on the field for just 33 and 29 snaps the last two games (52 percent of snaps). He was never a full-time player, but he was playing 68 percent of the snaps in Weeks 1-7 and played 43-plus snaps in 5-of-6 games. There are just two teams in the league who’ve allowed less than 500 yards on the ground to running backs this year. The Bucs and the Colts. It’s not like teams haven’t tried to run the ball on them, either, but the 3.12 yards per carry they’ve allowed just limits production. If you just look at production allowed on the ground, the Colts ranks as the No. 1 defense in the league. The 62.0 rushing yards and 0.5 touchdowns they allow per game amount to just 9.2 fantasy points. As a whole, running backs have averaged just 24.5 touches per game against the Colts. That’s led to just 732 total yards through eight games (91.5 total yards per game), while no other team has allowed fewer than 802 total yards to the position. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Henry is the only running back to rush for 100-plus yards against Matt Eberflus’ defense, which is now a 40-game sample size. That was in Week 13 last year when Henry was trashing the entire league, and the Colts found him to be too difficult to stop, as he racked up 149 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. You’re playing him as an RB1, but this is not a cakewalk matchup.
T.Y. Hilton: We found out yesterday that Hilton would be playing in this game, which is odd considering it’s a short week and he was out just a few days ago due to not practicing. Either way, he’s coming back to a great matchup with the Titans who’ve allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to wide receivers. They were struggling with Johnathan Joseph, so they cut him. They did activate Adoree Jackson off IR but he’s not going to play this week. That means Hilton will see a lot of Malcolm Butler and Breon Borders in coverage. That duo has combined to allow 43-of-70 passing for 517 yards and a touchdown, which isn’t terrible but also isn’t great. Knowing that Hilton has finished as the WR50 or worse in 6-of-7 games, you shouldn’t feel the need to play him, though his five-plus targets in 5-of-7 games forces us to at least consider him. He’s a mediocre WR4 who’s failed to live up to expectations.
Zach Pascal: He’s playing a full-time role, but it hasn’t led to usable production. He’s totaled at least 44 yards in four of the last five games, but he’s yet to top 58 yards on the season, and he’s scored just twice on 46 targets. The crazy part is that he’s the only wide receiver on the Colts who’s caught a touchdown this year. The Titans got a boost in their secondary last week, as they acquired Desmond King from the Chargers to cover the slot. He’s been a solid slot cornerback for a few years, allowing just 9.3 yards per reception over the course of his three-plus years. He’s allowed a fairly high 77.4 percent completion-rate in his coverage, but he’s kept the play in front of him. Pascal is just a low-ceiling WR5-type option in this matchup.
Michael Pittman and Marcus Johnson: With Hilton out of the lineup, both receivers saw seven targets against the Ravens, though it didn’t amount to much production. There are just two teams in the NFL who’ve seen higher than a 62.5 percent target share to wide receivers: The Seahawks and the Titans. Wide receivers have seen a massive 65.3 percent target share against the Titans this year. Outside of the Seahawks, there’s no team who’s allowed more points to wide receivers than the Titans. Much of the production they’ve allowed has been on the perimeter, which is where these two play most of the time, though Pittman has been sliding into the slot a bit more since his return. After cutting Johnathan Joseph, the Titans now have Malcolm Butler and Breon Borders starting on the perimeter, as they patiently await the return of Adoree Jackson, who’s been practicing with the team, but won’t return this week. Now that we know Hilton is returning, Pittman is the preferred option, as he has a better shot to score. It should also be noted that no receiver with fewer than seven targets has finished better than WR36 against the Titans, so volume is necessary. Pittman should be considered a touchdown-or-bust WR5 while Johnson is more of a big-play-or-bust WR6 who’s likely to see decreased snaps.
A.J. Brown: Even when Brown is in a tough matchup, like he was last week against the Bears, you cannot fade Brown. He makes things happen after the catch unlike anyone in the league, as he looks like a linebacker with wide receiver agility. He’s constantly breaking tackles and earning yardage. Against the league’s No. 1 defense against wide receivers, he turned four catches into 101 yards and a touchdown. He’s totaled in-between 7-9 targets in every game this year, so the opportunity is rock-solid. Based on how close the defenders have been when he’s caught the ball, Brown’s expected yards after the catch is 3.7 yards per reception. Instead, he’s averaging 6.7 yards after the catch. That 3.0-yard gap is the best in the NFL. He also led the NFL in that category last year, so it’s not a fluke. He’s going to see a lot of Xavier Rhodes in coverage this week, a cornerback who appears to be back on the right track of his career after being what was likely the worst cornerback in football last year. Still, when Rhodes gets beat this year, he’s been beat big, allowing 16.7 yards per reception and a touchdown every 20 targets. Are the Colts a good defense? Yeah, but there’ve still been 13 wide receivers who’ve finished top-36 against them, including two who posted top-12 numbers (Allen Robinson and Tee Higgins), so you’re good plugging in Brown like you normally would.
Corey Davis: We talked about it last week, but Davis had the toughest matchup on the field against the Bears and was likely to end his streak of 11.9 PPR points in every game. We did not expect a big fat zero in fantasy lineups, giving fantasy managers flashbacks to his pre-2020 days. He only saw three targets in the game, so we couldn’t have expected much anyway. It was an off day for the entire offense, so let’s not overreact too much. The matchup with the Colts this week doesn’t look great on paper, as they’ve allowed the 11th-fewest fantasy points to the wide receiver position, but the level of competition has been relatively bad, as wide receivers have actually averaged two percent more fantasy points against them than they do on average. Davis’ primary matchup will be with sophomore cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, who’s allowed 19-of-29 passing for 266 yards in his coverage, though he’s yet to allow a touchdown in his coverage. Even going back to his rookie year, he’s allowed just two touchdowns on 85 targets in coverage, so it’s not likely we see a massive game out of Davis, but it’s also not nearly as bad of a game for him as it was last week. Davis should be considered a mid-to-high-end WR4 this week.
Trey Burton and Mo Alie-Cox: This is not only a timeshare, but a three-way one, it seems. We are going to catch a break in Week 10 though, as Jack Doyle suffered a concussion and won’t be cleared in time to play this game. That opens up the full-time tight end role, as Doyle continually out-snaps Burton and Alie-Cox. The three of them have combined for 61 targets over the first eight games, which is just a mediocre 21.9 percent target share, so when there are three of them, you need to avoid them. With Doyle out for roughly half the game last week, Burton ran a rock-solid 23 routes last week while Alie-Cox ran 16 of his own. The Titans defense has struggled to contain tight ends this year, allowing 9.1 or more PPR points to 6-of-8 tight ends they’ve played. The two who failed to get there? Dawson Knox and Drew Sample, who combined for four targets. When you see the 75.5 percent completion-rate and 2.10 PPR points per target to tight ends, it’s fair to consider Burton a decent high-end TE2 streamer in this matchup with no Doyle in the lineup. We could see Alie-Cox make an appearance on the stat sheet, too, but suggesting two tight ends from the same team typically leads to disaster.
Jonnu Smith: It was good to see Smith get into the end zone against the Bears last week, but we aren’t in the clear just yet. He saw just two targets in that game, which brings his total to just 10 targets over the last four games. This is a real problem, even for someone as efficient as Smith. Sadly, the Colts are the only team in the NFL that has yet to allow a touchdown to a tight end. It’s not just that, either. They’ve allowed a piddly 5.18 yards per target to the position, so when you combine that with the lack of touchdowns, it amounts to just 1.09 PPR points per target, which is second-best to only the Steelers. It’s not on a tiny sample size either, as tight ends have seen 56 targets against them. There have been just two tight ends to finish top-20 against them, and both of those tight ends saw 10 targets. T.J. Hockenson finished with 7/65/0 while Austin Hooper finished with 5/57/0. Smith hasn’t run more than 21 routes since back in Week 3, so a big performance seems unlikely, leaving him in the low-end TE1/high-end TE2 conversation, and if he doesn’t find the end zone, it’s likely to be a bust.