The Primer: Week 9 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
Denver Broncos at Atlanta Falcons
Line: ATL by 4.0
Drew Lock: It was good to see Lock get in a solid performance before this week, as we needed some sort of confidence to play him. He’s now thrown for at least 248 yards in each of the last two games, which may not sound like much, but those were the second- and third-highest marks of his career. The Falcons have allowed a league-leading 1.72 PPR points per offensive play to their opponents, which is a full 6.4 percent higher than any other team in the league. It should come as no surprise that they’ve allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to their opponents (the Seahawks opponents have run a lot more plays). The Broncos offense ranks as the fifth-worst fantasy scoring offense, so this matchup should boost everyone’s stock. The Falcons are one of five teams who’ve actually allowed more fantasy points to quarterbacks than running backs in PPR formats. The 8.58 yards per attempt they’ve allowed is tied for the highest mark in the league. We’ve seen Lock throw the ball 81 times over the last two weeks, which is a great thing considering the Falcons are one of four teams who’ve allowed a 70-plus percent completion-rate. They’re also facing a pass play on 63.1 percent of plays, which is the fifth-highest mark in football. Teddy Bridgewater was the first quarterback who failed to score at least 18.4 fantasy points and finish as a top-15 quarterback against them this year, highlighting how good the floor should be. Lock is in the high-end QB2 streaming conversation in what’ll be the best matchup of his season.
Matt Ryan: Well, he got Julio Jones back and everything was going extremely well, but now he may be without Calvin Ridley, who’s been a massive part of this offense. Without Ridley out there, Ryan found himself scrambling quite a bit, and even salvaged his fantasy day with a rushing touchdown. It’s now four of the last five games where Ryan has failed to throw more than one touchdown pass. The Broncos have allowed 1.52 more fantasy points per game to quarterbacks than they have to running backs, which is the fourth-highest number in the league. That might sound odd, but running backs typically outscore quarterbacks. This indicates that the Broncos are more of a funnel defense who teams should choose to throw the ball against, especially knowing they might be without their best cornerback A.J. Bouye, who suffered a concussion in Week 8 on a hit that was delivered by his own teammate. The Broncos are known as a stiff defense under Vic Fangio, but that hasn’t really been the case, as five of the last six teams they’ve played have scored at least 26 points, with Cam Newton‘s Patriots being the only exception. Oddly enough, the only quarterback who finished worse than QB17 against them was Patrick Mahomes, which was the game that took place in what was essentially a blizzard. It’s not all great though, as Mahomes was the only quarterback who averaged more than 7.8 yards per attempt, but it helps when 5-of-7 quarterbacks threw the ball at least 38 times. Ryan should be considered a low-end QB1/high-end QB2 whose team will struggle to run the ball.
Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay: What have we learned about the Broncos backfield over the last two games? That Lindsay has carved out a much bigger role in the offense. Despite not getting cleared until Sunday, Lindsay played 29 snaps while Gordon played 36 of them. Lindsay appears to be the preferred back on early downs, while Gordon is clearly the preferred receiver, as he’s run 47 routes over the last two games while Lindsay has run 22 of them. Gordon has also out-targeted him 11-3. If you look at the 84.9 PPR points per game the Falcons allow to running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends, you think that’s a great thing for the running backs, right? Well, just 26.7 percent of that production has gone to running backs, which is the third-lowest mark in the league. They’ve allowed just 8.9 fantasy points per game on the ground to running backs, so if you want production, you’ll want it through the air, as they’ve allowed 14.0 PPR points per game through the air to them. This is clearly Gordon’s strengths, as he’s received 68.4 percent of the Broncos running back targets. There have been six running backs who’ve finished top-24 against the Falcons, and all of them finished with at least four receptions. Meanwhile, no running back has rushed for more than 89 yards, and they’ve allowed just three touchdowns on 145 carries. Gordon is the preferred back this week, though he’s just a high-end RB3 now that he’s in a timeshare. Lindsay can be considered a middling RB3 whose role is expanding, though this matchup doesn’t really suit the role they have him in. *Update* Lindsay apparently hurt a few of his toes in the Week 8 game and was limited in practice for much of the week. It’s something to stay up-to-date with, but it does seem like they expect him to play.
Todd Gurley and Brian Hill: Some wondered where Gurley was at points of the game last week, as he was seemingly off the field a lot. He played just 36-of-70 snaps and didn’t get a single target, so if you didn’t sell-high prior to that game, you might be out of luck. Fortunately, he found the end zone for the eighth time in eight games and has now scored a touchdown in 6-of-8 games despite a lack of involvement in the passing game. He’s yet to finish a game with fewer than 15 touches, so there’s value, even if he’s dependent on touchdowns. The Broncos are not a team to expect touchdowns against, as they’ve allowed just two rushing touchdowns on 144 carries this year, or once every 72.0 carries, which is less often than any other team in the league. They’ve also allowed just one receiving touchdown, so we’re talking about three total touchdowns on 177 touches. When you break it down to weighted opportunity, the Broncos are the second-best run defense in the league on a fantasy points per opportunity basis. There have been seven running backs who’ve finished with 12-plus touches against the Broncos, with five of them finishing as top-20 running backs. Those who didn’t were Ronald Jones, who caught just two passes, and Frank Gore, who caught just one pass. Gurley needs to find the end zone or he’s going to finish outside the top-25 running backs. Consider him a touchdown-dependent low-end RB2/high-end RB3. Hill has received at least 10 carries in two of the last three games and has seen at least two targets in every game but no more than three. He’s someone you can usually play in a pinch as a desperation RB4 but against the Broncos, there should be better options.
Jerry Jeudy: If we were to remove the blizzard game from his resume, Jeudy has totaled at least 55 yards in 5-of-6 games, but he’s yet to show any ceiling, as he’s failed to top five catches or 73 yards in a game. He did see a career-high 10 targets last week, which gives us a lot more confidence heading into a pristine matchup with the Falcons. They have allowed a ridiculous 10.15 yards per target to wide receivers this year. Keep in mind that’s the average. To give perspective, Tyreek Hill is averaging 9.9 yards per target this year. Calvin Ridley is averaging 9.7 yards per target. You now understand why this is a matchup to attack. The average reception by a wide receiver against the Falcons goes for a league-leading 15.27 yards, which bodes well for Jeudy who’s known to stretch the field. His role changed drastically with Tim Patrick out of the lineup, as he ran just 10 percent of his routes from the slot last week. Prior to that game, he’d run 75 percent of his routes from the slot. There are plus matchups all over the field against the Falcons, so it really shouldn’t matter where he lines up. There have been 14 wide receivers who’ve posted top-40 wide receiver performances against them. Jeudy should be considered a low-end WR3 who should have the best game of his young career.
Tim Patrick: Knowing he was listed as questionable last week, I’m expecting him to return from his hamstring injury this week. He’s been relatively stable over his last four games, finishing with at least three catches and 43 yards in each of them, including two games with 100-plus yards. Now going against the Falcons, it should pique your interest. He plays most of his snaps at RWR, which means he’ll see the most of rookie A.J. Terrell in coverage. Just like the rest of the Falcons cornerbacks, he’s been someone to attack, allowing 25-of-32 passing for 364 yards and two touchdowns in his coverage. If Patrick gets back to practice in full at some point this week, he should be considered a WR4 this week. He does come with some risk coming off a soft tissue injury, though.
KJ Hamler: We saw a big change last week in the Broncos offense, as Hamler was the primary slot receiver. Does that change if Tim Patrick returns to the lineup? It’s something we need to pay attention to as the week goes on, as the Falcons slot cornerback Isaiah Oliver has been horrendous in coverage this year, allowing 476 yards and four touchdowns on 46 targets in coverage. We can’t start him with any confidence just yet, especially considering he saw just three of Lock’s 41 attempts last week, but we’re trending in the right direction for production. If he continues in the slot, he could be a big surprise this week.
Julio Jones: He’s now been back in the lineup for three weeks, and in those games, he’s racked up 29 targets, 23 receptions, 371 yards, and two touchdowns. It’s safe to say that Jones hasn’t lost a step in his age-31 season. The Broncos have not been a team to shy away from with wide receiver matchups, as they’ve allowed seven different wide receivers to total at least 81 yards against them. There have also been five receivers who’ve totaled at least seven receptions. Their top cornerback, A.J. Bouye, suffered a concussion last week and might not be available, but based on where Jones lines up most of the time, he’ll see rookie Michael Ojemudia. He’s seen 41 targets in his coverage, allowing 26 receptions for 391 yards and two touchdowns on them, which is good for a 110.9 QB Rating. Knowing the Falcons will not be able to run the ball against the Broncos, this could be a game to expect double-digit receptions for Jones. While that’s a lofty projection, it’s certainly within the realm of possibilities if Ridley sits this game out. In the three games Ridley didn’t play last year, Jones saw 20, 15, and 13 targets.
Calvin Ridley: He suffered a mid-foot sprain in Week 8, which has his status for Week 9 up in the air, but my guess would be that he sits this one out considering their bye week is right after this game. I’ll come back and update if we get news that suggests otherwise.
Russell Gage: His targets have been inconsistent all year, going 12, 9, 3, 3, 5, 5, 4, 7, 3. If Ridley is forced to miss this game, it could lead to more targets, especially knowing the Falcons will struggle to move the ball on the ground against the Broncos. There’s also the possibility that slot cornerback Bryce Callahan has to move outside if A.J. Bouye is forced to miss this game. That would move rookie Essang Bassey back into the slot, who’s allowed 14-of-16 passing for 138 yards and a touchdown in his coverage. If Bouye is cleared of his concussion, it would severely downgrade Gage’s matchup, as Callahan is one of the better slot guys in the league. We’ll adjust expectations for Gage based on Ridley’s and Bouye’s availability as the week goes on.
Noah Fant: We all know that Albert Okwuegbunam has earned more playing time, but what did that mean in Week 9? Not too much. Fant played well ahead of him, running 33 routes and seeing nine targets, while Okwuegbunam ran just 12 routes and saw one target (though it did go for a touchdown). Fant’s role is safe which is wonderful for this week’s matchup. The Falcons have allowed more fantasy points to the tight end position than any other team in the league. It certainly helps that they’re allowing a league-high 82.0 percent catch-rate and a touchdown every 7.6 targets (2nd-most often). Every starting tight end not named Ian Thomas has produced at least 55 yards and/or a touchdown against the Falcons, including Robert Tonyan, Jimmy Graham, Dalton Schultz, Greg Olsen, and Irv Smith. That’s hardly an elite collection of tight ends, so go ahead and lock Fant in as a rock-solid TE1 this week.
Hayden Hurst: We’re starting to see some consistency out of Hurst, who’s now totaled at least 51 yards and/or a touchdown in six of the last seven games. The matchup against Carolina hadn’t been a great one for tight ends, but Hurst walked away with five catches for 54 yards. It helps his target floor if Ridley is out of the lineup, though it might decrease the overall upside of the offense. Unfortunately, the matchup against the Broncos isn’t a great one. They’ve still yet to allow a tight end 50 yards this season, and that includes games against Jonnu Smith, Eric Ebron, Rob Gronkowski, Hunter Henry, and Travis Kelce. In fact, just one of those tight ends (Smith) scored a touchdown, and that was back in Week 1. They’ve allowed a 78.3 percent catch-rate, which is high, but the receptions have gone for just 9.56 yards. Hurst is someone who you’re playing almost every week, though he’s more in the high-end TE2 conversation this week rather than the TE1 conversation.
Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
Line: LAC by 1.5
Derek Carr: When we went through The Primer last week, we didn’t know there’d be 50 MPH wind gusts for Carr against the Browns, so try not to hold that game against him too much. Carr has still totaled at least 19.26 fantasy points in 4-of-6 other games this year. We watched Carr throw the ball just 24 times last week, though that’s not likely to happen this week. The Chargers opponents have thrown the ball on 63.4 percent of plays, which ranks as the fourth-highest number in football. It really doesn’t make much sense considering they’ve allowed a minuscule 6.76 yards per attempt. The only quarterbacks who’ve averaged more than 6.9 yards per attempt against them were Tom Brady (8.0) and Teddy Bridgewater (8.4), so it does require quite a few pass attempts to rack up yards against them. Because of that, touchdowns will be paramount to his fantasy production. The Chargers have allowed a 5.13 percent touchdown-rate, which is above the league average, and they did trade away Desmond King this week, which will impact their ability to slow down slot receivers. Given the high total in this game, you should be able to expect respectful QB2 numbers out of Carr, but his floor is lower than most in that range due to his lack of mobility.
Justin Herbert: The Chargers seem to be trusting Herbert more and more, as he’s now thrown 43 passes in each of the last two games. The downside is that the Chargers are throwing the ball just 52 percent of the time in neutral gamescripts, which ranks as the fifth-lowest number in the league. Considering they’re favorites in this game, do we see Herbert’s pass attempts come down? They really shouldn’t considering the Raiders are one of just four defenses who’ve failed to sack the opposing quarterback on at least 3.5 percent of dropbacks. Prior to playing in the Wind Bowl in Week 8 against Baker Mayfield, the Raiders had allowed Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and Tom Brady all top-five performances against them. The only quarterbacks who’ve failed to average at least 7.9 yards per attempt against the Raiders were Mayfield (wind) and Cam Newton (bad). It also doesn’t hurt to know that they’ve allowed four quarterbacks to rush for 20-plus yards, and three of them to rush for touchdowns, as Herbert has flashed some mobility. He should remain in fantasy lineups as a QB1 who’s playing much better than a rookie rightfully should. He’s finished as a top-seven quarterback in each of his last four games.
Josh Jacobs: Despite Jacobs not getting a whole lot of work in the passing game, he ranks fifth in weighted opportunity per game among running backs. Unfortunately, it’s been David Montgomery-esque, as he’s finished as a top-12 running back just twice while finishing outside the top-30 running backs three times. He’s failed to top three receptions or 25 yards through the air in each of the last six games, so we need to look at what the Chargers have allowed on the ground. It’s not great to see that they’ve allowed just two touchdowns on 130 carries this season, keeping their overall fantasy numbers down, but they’ve allowed 4.80 yards per carry, which ranks as the seventh-highest mark in football. We’ve seen both James Robinson and Ronald Jones run for 110-plus yards against them. They’re two of just three running backs who’ve seen 14-plus carries, while the other was Joe Mixon who finished with 69 yards on 19 carries. Again, Jacobs hasn’t been used a whole lot in the passing game as of late, but running backs have been targeted 24.5 percent of the time against the Chargers, which is the second-highest mark in the NFL, to only the Raiders themselves. Knowing Jacobs has reached 18-plus touches in 6-of-7 games, he should offer a solid RB2 floor against this Chargers run defense that’s struggled a bit more than the overall numbers suggest due to lack of touchdowns.
Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley: With Jackson healthy throughout the week, we saw this split return to the way it should be, as Jackson led the running backs with 41 snaps and 22 opportunities, while Kelley played just 21 snaps and had eight opportunities. In fact, Troymaine Pope out-snapped and out-touched Kelley in a game that was close throughout. Jackson is the clear starter here while Pope and Kelley battle for backup reps. The Raiders have turned things around against the run as of late, as no running back has topped 66 yards on the ground over their last four games, which includes matchups with Kareem Hunt, Ronald Jones, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. That’s quite the change from the first three games where they allowed a top-two running back in each game. The game against the Browns last week was the first one they didn’t allow at least one running back to hit double-digit PPR points, so it’s not like it’s a must-avoid matchup, either. Teams have continually targeted running backs against the Raiders, as they’ve accounted for a league-leading 26.3 percent target share. The Raiders are still allowing the second-most points per opportunity to running backs, so touches are the most important thing to find. Jackson and Pope shared the receiving role last week, combining for 12 targets between them, so that should provide the floor we’re looking for in a low-end RB2/high-end RB3, which is how Jackson should be viewed. As for Kelley, he’s nothing more than a desperation RB4 play right now who could continue losing touches to Pope.
Henry Ruggs: When the Raiders drafted Ruggs, I thought to myself, “They better have a plan for how to use him effectively.” Watching him average 21.1 air yards per target tells me that the don’t. He’s averaging a robust 11.1 yards after the catch, which is the second-most in the NFL among those who have at least 10 receptions. He’s great with the ball in his hands; they need to get more creative getting the ball in his hands, and not 20-plus yards down the field. The matchup with the Chargers hasn’t been one where receivers rack up catches, as just two receivers have finished with more than five receptions against them. Since the Raiders only like to target Ruggs down the field, we want to look at the 20-plus yard plays the Chargers allow. Nope, doesn’t help much. They’ve allowed just 19 pass plays of 20-plus yards, which ranks as the fifth-lowest in the NFL. However, when they allow a big one, they allow a BIG one, as they’ve allowed six of those 19 plays to go for 40-plus yards. The issue with playing Ruggs is that he’s failed to see more than five targets in a game and hasn’t topped four targets since Week 1. You know what’s going to happen, right? You’re going to bench him and he’s going to catch one of those 50-plus yard touchdowns and you’re going to say, “I knew it,” but in reality, the process was bad starting a player who’s averaging just 3.6 targets per game. He’s a boom-or-bust WR5.
Nelson Agholor: He’s still a full-time player but the nine targets in Week 7 appear to be an outlier after he finished with just two targets in Week 8. It surely didn’t help that the wind was gusting up to 50 miles per hour, but we’ve seen four or less targets for him in 6-of-7 games this year, so it’s hard to say that Week 8’s two targets were not the norm. The Chargers aren’t a team you need to attack with receivers, as there have been just five top-36 performances against them all season. Agholor shouldn’t be in lineups right now.
Hunter Renfrow: His matchup was upgraded this week when the Chargers traded away slot cornerback Desmond King, which moves them down to a third-string slot cornerback because Chris Harris is out for the year as well. That means Tevaughn Campbell will be covering Renfrow when he’s on the field, a second-year undrafted free agent who’s seen just five targets in slot coverage this year. On those five targets, he’s allowed five receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown. The issue with trusting Renfrow is that he’s not a full-time player and has run 25 or less routes in each of the last three games. He’s got the best matchup on the field, but will the Raiders exploit it? Renfrow has totaled at least 42 yards in four of his last five games despite his lack of playing time, so he is on the WR5 radar.
Keenan Allen: Coming into Week 9, Allen ranks second in the NFL with a massive 30.9 percent target share, and that’s despite missing a full half of that game against the Saints. He’s the No. 8 wide receiver in points per game since Herbert took over. There’s very little reason to doubt Allen as a bonafide WR1 in fantasy right now. The Raiders matchup is going to be an interesting one considering they’ve faced minimal wide receiver targets. Wide receivers have just a 51.0 percent target share against the Raiders, which ranks as the third-lowest mark in the league. That’s allowed them to hold receivers to the 13th-fewest points per game against them. However, when you look on a per-target basis, they’ve allowed the 11th-most fantasy points per target (1.89), which is right next to the Seahawks. Here are the receivers who’ve seen seven-plus targets against the Raiders this year:
Four of the receivers hit 17.5-plus PPR points, including three of them who finished as top-10 receivers. Allen should remain in lineups as a low-end WR1 who’ll get targeted (outside of the game he left early, he’s seen at least 10 targets in every Herbert start).
Mike Williams: Just when you’re out on Williams, he pulls you back in. After breaking scoreboards with 5/109/2 against the Saints, he finished with 1/4/0 against the Jaguars, forcing many to bench him last week. Well, he returned with 5/99/1 against the Broncos. It’s hard to fade Williams with the upside he presents on a weekly basis. Herbert is playing well, and Williams can sky over any defender to snag multiple touchdowns. They move him back and forth on the perimeter, so he’ll see a mixture of Trayvon Mullen and Nevin Lawson. Those two have combined to see 62 targets in coverage, allowing 43 receptions for 498 yards and five touchdowns. That’s good enough for a 120 QB Rating. Perimeter receivers have a better matchup against the Raiders, plain and simple. Receivers have only averaged 18.0 targets per game against them, suppressing the overall numbers, but knowing how top-heavy the Chargers are with targets, that may be enough. Williams should be considered a semi-volatile WR3 that I’d probably choose if torn between two options.
Darren Waller: Coming into Week 9, Waller has a 27.3 percent target share, which ranks sixth among all NFL players. There was no other tight end with higher than Travis Kelce‘s 23.4 percent. If you have a chance to buy low on Waller, do it. The Chargers have been a team to attack with tight ends, as they’ve allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per target (2.07) to them, and that was with Desmond King over the middle of the field (he’s gone now). There have been four tight ends who’ve posted top-eight numbers against them, including a nine-catch, 90-yard, one-touchdown performance to Travis Kelce. Teams have averaged 39.0 pass attempts per game against the Chargers, so if Waller’s target share holds up, we could be looking at 10-11 targets. You’re starting him in redraft as a high-end TE1 and he should be considered a rock-solid floor play in DFS.
Hunter Henry: I think we can all agree that Herbert has been amazing since becoming the starter, right? Well, it hasn’t amounted to much for Henry, who’s the No. 17 tight end since that time, behind guys like Eric Ebron and Mike Gesicki, and he hasn’t appeared to be moving in the right direction, as he’s failed to record more than four receptions or 39 yards in each of the last four games. The matchups he had were against the Bucs (15th), Saints (30th), Jaguars (29th), and Broncos (12th), so competition wasn’t holding him back, as that’s one of the better schedules he could’ve had. This week he’ll go against the Raiders, who rank as the 14th-toughest matchup for tight ends. The 1.70 PPR points per target they’ve allowed ranks 19th, so volume hasn’t been the issue, either. The only tight ends who’ve finished better than TE20 against them were Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski. Both had at least eight targets. Henry has still seen seven-plus targets in 5-of-7 games, so he’s still on the TE1 radar, but he’s part of the low-end TE1 conversation.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys
Line: PIT by 13.5
Ben Roethlisberger: After totaling at least 18.2 fantasy points in each of his first four games, Roethlisberger has struggled over the last three games and has been the No. 25 quarterback during that time. What better than a matchup with the Cowboys? The 13.5-point spread indicates a blowout, which could have some concerned about a lack of passing. The Steelers are throwing the ball 65 percent of the time in neutral gamescripts, which is the highest mark in the league. Not enough? When leading they’ve thrown the ball 51 percent of the time, which is still well above the league average of 48 percent. This game could net plenty of fantasy points for Roethlisberger, as he’s averaged 65.3 offensive plays per game while the Cowboys have seen an average of 66.6 plays per game. The Cowboys are allowing a touchdown on 6.88 percent of passes, which ranks as the third-highest mark in the league, so it doesn’t even take many passes to do damage. They’re one of four teams who’ve allowed less than a 61 percent completion rate, but a big part of that is due to teams pushing the ball down the field. There have been three quarterbacks who’ve finished with 28.5 fantasy points against the Cowboys (Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Matt Ryan), while there have been five quarterbacks who’ve finished with less than 17.0 fantasy points (Kyle Allen, Baker Mayfield, Daniel Jones, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff). Which group do you put Roethlisberger in? He’s certainly a safe floor play, though his ceiling might be limited due to lack of competition. He should be considered a relatively safe low-end QB1.
Ben DiNucci: The Steelers allow a league-low 57.2 percent completion-rate to their opponents, which is nearly three full percentage points lower than the next closest team (Chiefs at 60.1 percent). When the Steelers allow a completion, it goes for a league-leading 12.9 yards a pop. Will DiNucci have time to drop back and throw the ball down the field? The Steelers are the gold standard for pass rush, as they generate more pressure than anyone in the league and have generated a sack on a league-leading 11.5 percent of dropbacks. DiNucci was under pressure 40 percent of the time last week and completed just 4-of-13 passes for 32 yards in those instances. You’re not playing any Cowboys quarterback.
James Conner: He’s now totaled at least 15 carries in each of his last six games and has caught at least three passes in four of his last five games, so opportunity is not an issue. This is a matchup that looks very good for Conner on paper, as the Steelers have run the ball 43.8 percent of the time (ranks 12th-highest) and the Cowboys have faced a run play on 49.9 percent of plays (ranks second-highest). Then you add in the fact that the Cowboys have allowed a robust 4.97 yards per carry (3rd-highest in NFL), you have what should be a 100-plus rushing yard game. The 19.9 fantasy points per game they allow on the ground alone is more than seven teams allow to running backs as a whole. Running backs haven’t been targeted much against the Cowboys, yielding just a 14.2 percent target share, which ranks as the second-lowest mark in the league. Even when targeted, they’re averaging just 1.07 PPR points per target. Because of that, running backs have averaged just 5.4 PPR points per game through the air, which is the lowest in the NFL. Still, that doesn’t matter much, as running backs have averaged a massive 35.3 touches per game against the Cowboys. Running backs have averaged 14.7 percent more fantasy points per game against the Cowboys than their seasonal average. This matchup goes right into Conner’s strengths and he should be played as a mid-to-low-end RB1.
Ezekiel Elliott: He may sit as the No. 4 running back on the season, but that’s not the running back you’re looking at anymore. Over the last three games without left tackle Tyron Smith and Dak Prescott (for 2.5 games), Elliott has totaled just 204 total yards on 53 touches and hasn’t scored a single touchdown. Since the start of Week 6, Elliott is the No. 32 running back in fantasy, right behind Lamical Perine. Not only do the Steelers allow the ninth-fewest fantasy points per game to their opponents, but just 26.9 percent of the production they allow to skill-position players goes to the running back position, which is the fourth-lowest mark in the league. That amounts to just 18.0 PPR points per game to opposing teams of running backs, the second-lowest number in the league. It’s everywhere. Not only are they allowing just 4.02 yards per carry on the ground but running backs haven’t been getting targeted in the passing game, either. The 13.5 percent target share ranks as the lowest in the NFL. When you know that, it should come as no surprise that running backs have averaged just 22.6 receiving yards per game and have scored one receiving touchdown against them. As a whole, the Steelers have allowed just 101.3 total yards per game to running backs, which is the second-lowest mark in the league. When you start removing the valuable scoring opportunities that Elliott was getting, we have a problem. Speaking of opportunity, running backs have averaged a league-low 22.3 touches per game against the Steelers. Elliott is incredibly tough to bench considering how many touches he gets, but it’s time to officially lower him into middling RB2 territory. The hope is that he gets a garbage time touchdown.
Diontae Johnson: Week 8 was the first full game Johnson has played with Roethlisberger where he didn’t see at least 10 targets, so don’t overreact to one bad week against a great Ravens defense. The matchup is certainly not an issue this week, as the Cowboys have allowed 14 receiving touchdowns to wide receivers this year, which ranks as the second-most in the NFL to only the Vikings. The 2.10 PPR points per target they’ve allowed ranks as the fourth-highest mark in the league. Johnson plays on both sides of the formation, so he’ll see a mixture of Trevon Diggs and Anthony Brown, who have combined to allow 46-of-74 passing for 661 yards and five touchdowns in their coverage this year. There’s actually no cornerback in football who’s allowed more yards in his coverage than the rookie Diggs. The perimeter receivers (Johnson and Claypool) have better matchups than Smith-Schuster this week, so you should expect a bounce-back performance. Start him as a low-end WR2 this week.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: He’s finally seeing the targets that we thought he would as the perceived No. 1 receiver on the Steelers, as he’s racked up 22 of them over the last two weeks. He’s still failed to top 85 yards in any game this season and he’s scored just one touchdown over the last six games, so it’s not like he’s a locked-and-loaded WR2 like we thought he’d be this year. Now, the matchup this week is a great one for the Steelers, and you want to find where the production is going to go. The Cowboys have allowed a touchdown every 10.4 wide receiver targets, which is the second-most often in the NFL, and they’ve allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per target. Of the 12 wide receivers who’ve finished top-36 against the Cowboys, three of them have been slot-heavy like Smith-Schuster, but just one of those three topped 48 yards (Tyler Lockett). They have Jourdan Lewis defending the slot, a cornerback who’s allowed just 19 receptions for 163 yards and one touchdown on his 30 targets in coverage this year. That’s just 5.43 yards per target, which isn’t ideal for Smith-Schuster who’s struggled with efficiency himself. His recent surge in targets does keep him in the WR3 conversation, but his matchup is tougher than Johnson’s and Claypool’s.
Chase Claypool: After seeing just one target in the Week 7 game, Claypool got back on track in Week 8, totaling nine targets in a tough matchup against the Ravens. He turned them into 5/42/1, which was his third game with 13.2-plus PPR points in their last four contests. He’s averaging a robust 16.3 yards per reception, so we know the big play is one of the best tools in his game. The average wide receiver reception against the Cowboys goes for 14.17 yards, which ranks as the fifth-highest mark in the NFL. The perimeter cornerbacks have struggled quite a bit, particularly Trevon Diggs, who’s allowed a league-high 513 yards in his coverage. The Cowboys may get Chidobe Awuzie back this week, but he’s allowed 60 yards and two touchdowns on just six targets in coverage this year. There’s risk that the Steelers don’t throw enough to support three fantasy-relevant wide receivers, but you should take that risk as a high-end WR3 with Claypool.
Amari Cooper: Sigh. After starting out the year so consistent and looking like a steal at his third- or fourth-round ADP, Cooper is in a bad spot. He’s totaled 79-plus yards in 6-of-8 games but is now coming off a season-low one catch for five yards. Now onto a matchup with the Steelers, which sounds awful. However, if you’re looking for production against them, it’s been through the wide receiver position, as they’ve accounted for 60.1 percent of the fantasy points scored by skill-position players against them, which ranks as the second-highest mark in the NFL to only the Seahawks. Not many realize it, but they’ve allowed the fifth-most fantasy points per target (2.03) to wide receivers. Cooper is running most of his routes on Joe Haden‘s side of the field, a veteran cornerback who’s been good, though not untouchable, allowing 288 yards and two touchdowns on 38 targets in coverage. Still, there have been just five wide receivers who’ve totaled more than 66 yards against the Steelers, and we know it’ll be tough for Cooper to catch a touchdown if they don’t have any. He should be considered a weak WR3 who doesn’t have a whole lot of upside.
CeeDee Lamb: In six games with Dak Prescott under center, Lamb totaled at least five receptions and 59 yards in every game. In two games without him, Lamb has totaled four catches for 27 yards… in the two games combined. He has seen five targets in each of the last two games, so he hasn’t been forgotten or anything. It should be known that wide receivers have outscored running backs by a massive 22.2 PPR points per game against the Steelers, which is the second-highest number in the league, so this is somewhat of a funnel defense, though their secondary isn’t horrible. They’ve allowed 11 wide receivers to score double-digit PPR points against them, and it needs to be noted that four of them were slot-heavy. Randall Cobb (4/95/1), Willie Snead (5/106/0), Greg Ward (4/26/1), and Jerry Jeudy (4/62/0) were all able to reach that point, but as you can see, none of them totaled more than five receptions, so it’ll require some yards after the catch for Lamb, who should be considered a WR4. It does help that Mike Hilton, the Steelers slot cornerback, has been ruled as doubtful for this game.
Michael Gallup: Seemingly out of nowhere, Gallup received a season-high 12 targets against the Eagles last week. It makes sense with Darius Slay monitoring Amari Cooper most of the game, but it also reminded you why Gallup isn’t a great play right now. On those 12 targets, he finished with seven catches for a measly 61 yards. The one part that does benefit his role is the team-high 13.9 air yards per target, which does present more one-play upside. The Steelers have allowed a robust 14.70 yards per reception to wide receivers, which ranks as the third-highest in the NFL, so it can happen. The issue is that there’s been just one non-slot receiver who’s posted a top-36 finish without seeing at least 8 targets, and that was Will Fuller, who finished as the No. 30 wide receiver, and required a touchdown to get there. Gallup is a boom-or-bust WR4/5 option.
Eric Ebron: Since the start of Week 2, Ebron ranks 13th among tight ends in targets, eighth in receptions, 12th in yards, and 14th in touchdowns. That’s all despite already getting his bye week out of the way. He hasn’t seen fewer than four targets in that span, though he also hasn’t topped eight targets, either. However, the thing you want to latch onto is the fact that he’s totaled at least 43 yards in five of the last six games, which provides streamers with a steady floor. There have been four tight ends who’ve seen more than four targets against the Cowboys, and all of them finished as a top-nine tight end that week, which included Hayden Hurst, Logan Thomas, Austin Hooper, and Greg Olsen. They’ve allowed 2.07 PPR points per target, which ranks as the seventh-highest mark in the league. The concern here is so many plus matchups for the Steelers that some pass catchers will be left behind. Still, we have to play the safety Ebron has showed as a low-end TE1/high-end TE2.
Dalton Schultz: He was a favorite of DiNucci in their first start together, racking up eight targets, six receptions, and 53 yards in what was a great matchup for tight ends. It was the first time in a month where Schultz recorded more than 35 yards, so we’re not completely in the clear, but it was good to see signs of life out of him. Unfortunately, this is not a week to think it continues, as the Steelers have allowed just 4.93 yards per target to the tight end position and there’s been just one touchdown on the 54 targets they’ve faced. When you add in a league-low 48.1 percent completion-rate to the position, it amounts to just 1.09 PPR points per target to the tight end position, which is the second-lowest number in the league. Schultz is not someone you should be streaming.
Miami Dolphins at Arizona Cardinals
Line: ARI by 4.5
Tua Tagovailoa: As expected, it was a very conservative gameplan for the Dolphins in Tagovailoa’s first start, though the defense made it worse than expected. He threw just 22 passes against the Rams that netted a minuscule 93 yards. Even his touchdown pass was cringy, as DeVante Parker needed to make a tough catch. There should be many more opportunities for Tagovailoa this week, as the Cardinals have faced 69.3 plays per game, which ranks as the second-highest mark in the NFL. To this point, the Dolphins have averaged just 60.3 plays per game, the fifth-lowest number in the league. The play selection against the Cardinals has been to throw the ball 59.8 percent of the time, while the Dolphins have thrown the ball just 54.9 percent of the time. No quarterback has thrown the ball fewer than 31 times against the Cardinals, though it hasn’t amounted to tremendous success, as they’ve allowed just two quarterbacks to finish better than QB15 this year, and one of them was Russell Wilson. The only quarterback who averaged more than 7.85 yards per attempt was Matthew Stafford. So, when you see that just one quarterback has thrown for more than 276 yards despite the large number of plays against the Cardinals, it should worry you. This isn’t a week where you should feel the need to stream Tagovailoa; he needs to show his potential in the NFL first.
Kyler Murray: He’s been so ridiculously consistent in fantasy football this year, it’s kind of remarkable, finishing as a top-six quarterback in 6-of-7 games, and even in the one game he didn’t, he still finished with 23.1 fantasy points in what was a high-scoring week for quarterbacks. He’s only thrown a touchdown on 5.1 percent of his passes, so it’s not overinflation of touchdowns, which is important considering the Dolphins have allowed a touchdown on just 2.96 percent of passes this year, which ranks second to only the Bears. It’s crazy because outside of that Week 2 game against Josh Allen, they’ve allowed just four passing touchdowns in their other six games. It helps that they’re generating an average pressure-rate of 36.0 percent, which ranks as the sixth-highest mark in the league. Their 6.57 percent sack-rate ranks 13th, so they are converting a lot of that pressure to sacks, and Murray has struggled mightily under pressure, posting a 34.4 QB Rating in those instances, which is the third-worst mark to only Baker Mayfield and Teddy Bridgewater. It’s definitely not a bad thing to see that Cam Newton rushed for 75 yards and two touchdowns against them, though, and they knew that was coming. It seems the Dolphins defense has played well against quarterbacks who can’t evade pressure, but have struggled against every quarterback who has some mobility (Allen, Newton, Russell Wilson). You’re starting Murray as a top-five quarterback every week, plain and simple. Do you need to play him this week in DFS? It’s not out of the question, though he’s also not a lock considering how well the Dolphins have played as of late.
Matt Breida and Jordan Howard: We heard on Tuesday night that Myles Gaskin is going to miss at least three weeks with an MCL sprain. The Dolphins traded for DeAndre Washington, but he won’t be able to play in this game, so we should expect Howard to be active, though I’m expecting Breida to act as the Gaskin in the offense against the Cardinals. This is what can best be described as an average matchup. They’ve allowed 4.43 yards per carry (14th-highest) and 6.29 yards per target (8th-highest), but have allowed a touchdown just once every 34.0 touches, which ranks 22nd. There have been nine running backs who’ve seen double-digit carries against the Cardinals, though just five of them were able to finish as top-24 running backs. It’s not a game to expect a lot of yardage on the ground, as no running back has been able to total more than 84 yards on the ground, though there have been five running backs who’ve been able to total at least 20 yards on the ground. With touchdowns being hard to come by against them, this isn’t great for someone like Howard. As for Breida, he’s been a competent receiver over his time in the league, but he’s never been trusted in a big role (hasn’t topped four targets since Week 15 of 2018). Breida is the preferred play but he’s a semi-risky RB3, while Howard is a touchdown-dependent RB4. *Update* Breida is not expected to be available for the Dolphins this week, as he’s dealing with a hamstring injury. Howard moves into the low-end RB3 conversation.
Chase Edmonds: We know Kenyan Drake is out for this game, which gives Edmonds a chance to shine in the lead role. There’s been just one game since Kliff Kingsbury where Edmonds has totaled double-digit carries, and in that game, he rushed for 126 yards and three touchdowns. While that’s not going to happen again, the matchup he has this week is close to as good as it gets. The Dolphins have allowed a massive 4.96 yards per carry to running backs, which ranks as the fourth-highest mark in football. When running backs play against the Dolphins, they score 10.2 percent more than they do on average. This bodes well for Edmonds who’s averaged 6.1 yards per carry in his backup role. We also know that he has the passing-down work locked in, as he’s averaged 5.3 targets per game over the last four games, and that was with Drake in the lineup. He’s averaged 6.94 yards per target while the Dolphins have allowed 6.63 yards per target to running backs, so this matchup appears to be a dream on paper for the spot-starter. This might be the weirdest stat ever, but the Dolphins have faced just one running back who’s received more than 11 carries. That running back was Chris Carson, who scored 25.0 PPR points and finished as the No. 4 running back on the week. Edmonds should be treated as an RB1 this week.
DeVante Parker: What can we really take away from Tua’s first game as the starter? Not much. No wide receiver finished with more than five targets or 15 yards. Parker himself saw just two targets, though he made his one catch count, bringing it in for a touchdown. He’s now seen just 13 targets over the last three games, which is far from ideal for a receiver that was drafted as a low-end WR2/high-end WR3. The Cardinals have not been a friendly team to wide receivers, as there have been just seven of them who’ve finished as top-40 options against them. The only team who had more than one receiver finish top-40 was the Cowboys, when Dak Prescott was still the starter. Will Parker be the best performer for the Dolphins? We might see the Cardinals stick Patrick Peterson on him, which wouldn’t be ideal considering he’s the cornerback who just shut down D.K. Metcalf a few weeks ago. He has allowed 15.1 yards per reception in his coverage but is also limiting receivers to just a 56.8 percent catch-rate. Targets will likely be necessary, and that’s something that’s not guaranteed without Fitzpatrick under center. Parker should be considered a risky WR3.
Preston Williams: Over the last three games the Dolphins have played, Williams has seen the same number of targets (13) as Parker but turned in two more receptions and 51 more yards. Does that mean he’s been a good prediction or projection? No. He’s still totaled 26 or less yards in five of his last six games and caught just two passes in his first game with Tagovailoa under center. The Cardinals are potentially going to shadow Parker with Patrick Peterson, which would still leave Williams with a slightly below-average matchup against veteran Dre Kirkpatrick, who’s allowed a respectable 8.42 yards per target and a touchdown every 22.5 targets in his coverage. As mentioned in Parker’s notes, the Cardinals have allowed just seven top-40 receivers against them this year. Knowing Parker hasn’t finished better than the No. 49 wide receiver in 5-of-7 games, he should remain out of starting lineups as anything more than a WR5.
DeAndre Hopkins: The bye week likely came at the right time for Hopkins, as he’s been playing through an ankle injury the last few games. Still, he’s posted 100-plus yards in 4-of-7 games, and currently sits as the No. 4 receiver in PPR formats. Remember at the start of the year when the Dolphins allowed both Stefon Diggs and John Brown 18-plus PPR points and it seemed like they wasted money/draft capital on a secondary that was not as good as expected? Well, it’s crazy to think about how quick they turned things around, but the Dolphins have now allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points per target on the season. So, how have they allowed the 12th-most fantasy points to the position? Well, because teams have heavily targeted their receivers against them, as they’re averaging 23.9 targets per game. Hopkins himself has a 43.2 percent share of the Cardinals targets, so he’s going to be heavily targeted in this game. Byron Jones is the cornerback he’ll see much of the day, the Dolphins prized free agent acquisition who’s paid off since returning from injury, allowing just 13-of-23 passing for 125 scoreless yards. You’re starting Hopkins as you normally would, but he’s not a must-play in DFS cash games this week.
Christian Kirk: Through Kirk’s first two seasons, he totaled six receiving touchdowns. Through six games in 2020, he’s recorded five touchdowns, including four over their last two games. Are they a fluke? It’s very likely considering he’s caught just seven passes in those two games. He is reaping the benefits of Hopkins’ presence, that much is true. Receivers have just a 59.3 percent catch-rate against the Dolphins, which ranks as the third-lowest number in the league, but it does help that they’ve seen 23.9 targets per game to help make up for that. Kirk primarily lines up at RWR, which means he’ll see Xavien Howard in coverage much of the game, one of the Dolphins stars on the perimeter. He’s allowed some big plays in his coverage this year (19/304/2) on 36 targets, but has also made impactful plays, intercepting a league-high four passes. Kirk is coming off three games against the Jets, Cowboys, and Seahawks, so we should’ve expected big numbers. He’s more of a low-end WR4 this week.
Mike Gesicki: It never fails. If I like Gesicki, he busts. If I don’t like him, he produces. He’s been extremely hot-and-cold this year, as evidenced by his finishes: 24, 2, 15, 45, 7, 76, 41. It feels like he’s overdue for one of those top-10 finishes, right? The Cardinals were the matchup to target with tight ends last year, but that hasn’t been the case in 2020. All of their vital signs are below average, allowing just 6.09 yards per target (25th), a 64.8 percent completion-rate (21st), a touchdown every 27.0 targets (26th), and 1.48 PPR points per target (26th). Teams have tried to target tight ends 7.7 times per game, so it’s not a lack of trying. The one area of hope is that they’ve played a very weak schedule to this point, but again, no tight end has finished better than TE8 or finished with more than four catches or 53 yards. Gesicki should be considered a weak streamer this week, though if it’s anything like I’ve expected to this point, he’ll crush.
Dan Arnold: Not only are you not considering playing any Cardinals tight end, but the Dolphins have not been a matchup to target with tight ends, as they’ve allowed just 11.2 percent of production to skill-position players go to tight ends.