The Primer: Week 9 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Line: TB by 5.0
Drew Brees: The rematch from their Week 1 game in New Orleans that resulted in a Saints win, 34-23. Oddsmakers clearly feel differently about it this time round, as the Bucs are currently five-point favorites. Since that Week 1 game, the Bucs have allowed just one of their opponents to top 23 points against them, and that was when Justin Herbert surprised them by throwing for 290 yards and three touchdowns. The Bucs opponents have chosen to throw the ball on 64.1 percent of plays, which is the third-highest number in football, which does bode well for Brees, who needs to rack up the completions to produce in fantasy leagues. In the four games he’s scored more than 15.5 fantasy points, they have one thing in common: He’s completed at least 29 passes in each of them. Both Nick Foles and Teddy Bridgewater were able to complete 30-plus passes against the Bucs, though they both threw the ball 42 times and combined for just one touchdown. Herbert was the only one who finished better than QB12, and he’s also the only one who threw more than two touchdowns against them. The return of Michael Thomas is surely going to help Brees, though we’ve already seen this defense against Brees with Thomas, and that game netted just 160 yards and two touchdowns, though it’s worth noting he looked rusty that game. Brees should be in the middling QB2 conversation.
Tom Brady: Playing in his age-43 season, Brady currently sits as the No. 5 quarterback in fantasy. Remarkable. And now he’s adding Antonio Brown to his arsenal of weapons. This game projects to be a close one between these two teams, which bodes well for Brady. When playing in neutral gamescripts, the Bucs are passing the ball 63 percent of the time, which ranks as the third-highest mark in the league. The Saints are one of just five teams who’ve allowed more fantasy points to the quarterback position than the running back position in PPR formats. Quarterbacks have scored 2.05 more PPR points per game, which ranks second to only the Falcons. It surely helps to know they’ve allowed a league-leading 7.92 percent touchdown-rate through seven games. When you break it down to passing alone, the Saints have allowed more fantasy points per actual pass attempt than any other team in the NFL. Their 0.600 points per attempt is one percent higher than the Texans. Knowing Brady doesn’t do much on the ground (outside of the occasional goal-line plunge), this is important. They also have the element of surprise, as no one knows how they’ll deploy the receivers. Evans has moved into the slot quite a bit with Godwin out, but Brown can play anywhere as well. I’ve been waiting for the Saints defense to turn things around, but now through eight weeks, they are who they are, which is a team that’s allowed every quarterback they’ve played to finish as a top-15 quarterback, including two top-eight performances. Brady should be considered a mid-to-low-end QB1 this week.
Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray: It’s crazy but here’s a stat I found while researching this game: Kamara has a 26.3 percent target share, which ranks ninth among all skill-position players, while no other running back is over 17.0 percent. That’s not going to continue with Michael Thomas coming back, but he has room for regression, and would still be elite. His weighted opportunity is so far over other running backs, it’s kind of ridiculous. The issue he’ll run into this week is the Bucs defense that’s allowed a miniature 2.80 yards per carry on the season, which has prevented every single running back they’ve played to less than 60 yards on the ground. Read that again. Despite playing against Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Aaron Jones, and Josh Jacobs, no running back has topped 60 yards on the ground. It’s not a fluke, either, as they allowed just one running back more than 75 yards on the ground last year. Fortunately for Kamara, they’ve allowed the fifth-most fantasy points through the air to running backs. Teams have targeted their running backs 8.0 times per game against them and they’ve led to 6.4 receptions, 49.1 yards, and 0.25 touchdowns per game. In his last three games against the Bucs (all under the same coaching staff), Kamara has averaged 8.3 targets, 7.0 receptions, 46.7 yards, and 0.33 touchdowns through the air. His opportunity should carry him through into RB1 territory, but he’s not likely to have a “smash” game without finding the end zone multiple times. It should be no shock for you to hear that Murray isn’t a great start this week, as the Bucs limit production on the ground, and that’s where he’s found 68 percent of his production in PPR formats. Back in their Week 1 meeting, he carried the ball 15 times for just 48 yards. He’s just an RB4 this week.
Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette: We flashed back to 2019 once again where Jones is in a timeshare with Peyton Barber Fournette. It “feels” like Bruce Arians wants Jones to lose the job, but at the same time, he’s unwilling to completely remove him from the equation and it’s left fantasy managers clueless. We watched Fournette get a season-high 21 opportunities in a close game last week while Jones saw just 11 of them after he fumbled a pass that he saved from being intercepted by dropping to his knees, but then took a hit that knocked it loose immediately after. It wasn’t really his fault, but again, it feels like Fournette is the guy they want back there. In this matchup, it may not matter much. Of the production the Saints have allowed to running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends combined, we’ve watched running backs account for just 25.8 percent of it, which is the lowest number in the league. They’re allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points per weighted opportunity, right behind the Ravens, Broncos, and 49ers. This is not a defense you want to see on your running back’s schedule. These two combined for just 71 yards on 22 carries in the first meeting between these teams, so it wasn’t great. They did get a break when defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins was announced as out for a few weeks with an MCL injury. He missed some time last year, and without him on the field, they allowed 4.33 yards per carry, which is much better than the 3.57 yards per carry with him. David Montgomery‘s 89 rushing yards last week were the most the Saints had allowed since 2017. Crazy, right? On top of that, they haven’t allowed a running back to total more than 30 yards through the air this year. There hasn’t been a running back who’s finished better than the RB15 this season, so knowing this will be some sort of timeshare, there’s not much upside here. Fournette is the preferred back of the two, but he’s just a high-end RB3. Jones isn’t anything more than a low-upside RB3 this week who might find his way outside of the top-30 running backs.
Michael Thomas: It seems that Thomas will finally return to the lineup after a six-week absence. The Saints have played it safe this entire time, so if he’s out there, we have to assume he’s very close to 100 percent. It’s a big game to return, as the Bucs have been a team that’s been tough to move the ball against. Thomas played them back in Week 1 when he was held to just three catches for 17 yards on five targets. Is that representative of how he’ll do this week? Probably not considering Brees looked very bad in that game. Going back to his two matchups against the Bucs last year, Thomas posted 11/182/2 in the first matchup, and then 8/114/1 in the second game. It’ll be the same cornerback that covered him in those games that will be covering him in this game, Carlton Davis. He’s been very good in coverage this year, allowing just a 51.0 percent catch-rate and 5.31 yards per target, though he has allowed two touchdowns. The Bucs have allowed a massive 14 wide receivers to hit double-digit PPR points, but none of them have topped 21.7 PPR points or finished better than the No. 10 wide receiver. Thomas should be in lineups in his first game back, and though he may not be the No. 1 wide receiver, he should be played as a WR1.
Emmanuel Sanders: He’s expected to be back for this game, which is good news, as the Saints need as many weapons as possible. It seemed like Sanders and Brees started to gain chemistry right as Sanders had to go to the COVID list, as he’d totaled 23 targets over the last two games he played, racking up 18 receptions for 215 yards. With Carlton Davis likely shadowing Michael Thomas, we’ll see Jamel Dean in coverage most of the time. He’s a second-year cornerback who’s played well, allowing just a 56.4 percent catch-rate and 9.6 yards per reception in his coverage, but knowing he’s usually seeing No. 2 receivers, it’s not all that shocking that he’s played well. While the Bucs have allowed 14 wide receivers to post double-digit PPR days, it’s worth noting that nine of those wide receivers saw nine-plus targets, a number that Sanders is very unlikely to get to with Thomas back in the lineup. It’s not likely to be a very big day for Sanders unless he scores, making him a low-end WR4/high-end WR5.
Mike Evans and Chris Godwin: With Godwin out of the lineup, Evans went back and played that slot-heavy role (58 percent), which is something that we need to monitor as the week goes on, because it would be great for his projection because he’s continually struggled against Marshon Lattimore in his career. Evans has topped 55 yards just twice this year, though his seven touchdowns have kept his value up. Now we must wonder what happens with Antonio Brown added to the lineup, as Evans’ 15.4 percent target share isn’t likely to shoot up. The Saints have allowed the 11th-most fantasy points to the receiver position this year, but the odd part is that wide receivers have been targeted just 50.0 percent of the time against the Saints, which is the second-lowest number in the league. When they are targeted, it nets results, as they’ve allowed 10.08 yards per target to the position, which ranks second to only the Falcons. In their Week 1 matchup, Evans saw just four targets and caught one of them for four yards and a touchdown. But again, the thing to watch is Godwin’s availability, as it would change Evans’ role significantly. The Bucs have said we won’t know until Friday, so I’ll come back and update then. For now, Evans should be considered a middling WR2 in fantasy who could be more than that if Godwin remains out. *Update* Godwin is expected to play this week, and they’re just saying it’ll be a pain tolerance thing. Evans should be considered a low-end WR2 now that all three wide receivers are in the mix, while Godwin is a risk/reward WR2/3.
Antonio Brown: He’s back. The Patriots didn’t have much time to work with Brown before he got into the game against the Dolphins last year, and Brady targeted him eight times on limited snaps. Those targets turned into four catches, 56 yards, and one touchdown. Brown isn’t someone who lost his talent, only his mind. We also don’t know if he’ll play a full-time role right out of the gate, but I’d expect him to in such an important game. It definitely gives you confidence to know that the Saints have allowed more fantasy points per target (2.26) to wide receivers than any other team in the league. The perimeter cornerback duo of Janoris Jenkins and Marshon Lattimore haven’t been as good as they were supposed to be, allowing 43-of-64 passing for 572 yards and five touchdowns in their coverage. They’ve allowed 11 wide receivers to finish top-36 against them despite seeing just 17.1 targets per game to the position. Brown is far from a sure thing, but as a low-end WR3 with some upside, I’m not opposed.
Jared Cook: He’s now scored in four of his last five games, carrying his value, as Cook hasn’t topped 52 yards since back in Week 1, and has finished with 32 yards or less in 3-of-5 games. Michael Thomas coming back to the lineup surely won’t help his target share, though it may not crush it, either, as Cook has averaged just 4.4 targets per game without Thomas in the lineup. The Bucs haven’t been a hyper-efficient matchup for tight ends this year, allowing just 1.53 PPR points per target, and it’s on a large sample size, as they’ve seen 61 targets through eight games (seventh-most in the NFL). It hasn’t been a matchup to avoid, as they’ve allowed six tight ends to finish with at least 46 yards and/or a touchdown. That’s led to six different tight ends to post top-15 numbers. They’ve had some really tough competition, though, and that’s highlighted by the fact that tight ends average 12.3 percent fewer fantasy points against the Bucs than they do on average, which ranks as the 11th-worst matchup in the league. Cook is in the low-end TE1 conversation but he’s far from a lock for top-10 production.
Rob Gronkowski: After a slow start to the season, Gronkowski has heated up and become an every-week starter. Since Week 3, he ranks sixth among tight ends with 36 targets, behind only Kelce, Kittle, Graham, Engram, and Waller. That’s it. Then you add in the fact that Brady has been getting better by the week, and you have what could be a top-five tight end for the remainder of the season. It also doesn’t hurt that tight ends have seen a league-leading 26.3 percent target share against the Saints this year, which is part of the reason they’ve allowed the third-most fantasy points per game (16.9) to the position. The best part is that with Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, and maybe Chris Godwin, it’s not like the Saints can put a whole lot of their defensive focus on Gronkowski. They’ve allowed six different tight ends to score against them this year, and that’s allowed five tight ends to finish as top-10 options against them. The only tight end who’s totaled more than 50 yards was Darren Waller, who saw 16 targets, so it might be a bit touchdown-dependent, but knowing that Gronkowski has scored in each of his last three games, he’s a must-play.
New England Patriots at New York Jets
Line: NE by 7.0
Cam Newton: His struggles continued in Week 8, but we can’t forget that the Bills defense has been among the best in football for the last few years, so we shouldn’t hold it against Newton all that much. Still, it’s tough to love him when he hasn’t thrown a touchdown since Week 3. Can this week’s matchup help? The Patriots are seven-point favorites against the Jets, which bodes well for Newton. When in a neutral gamescript, the Patriots are running the ball a league-high 55 percent of the time. What do you think that number is going to be in a positive gamescript? Between running backs and quarterbacks, teams have averaged 28.1 carries per game against them. To know that Newton has totaled 59 of the 209 carries by the Patriots, or 28.2 percent, he should have a high carry total in this game. Josh Allen has already rushed for 57-plus yards against them twice this year, and Kyler Murray ran for 31 yards and a touchdown. Not only that, but the Jets have allowed a league-high 71.8 percent completion-rate which should help bring Newton’s confidence level back up to pre-Week 3 levels. If the Jets can’t bring him back, no one can. Newton should be considered a low-end QB1/high-end QB2 who offers a solid floor for streamers, and if he happens to fall into the end zone twice – like he has twice this year – his ceiling is there, too.
Bad, right? What most don’t realize is that the Patriots have allowed a league-leading 8.58 yards per attempt to opposing quarterbacks. Crazy, right? The reason we haven’t seen big totals against them is due to a few reasons. One being their opponents have averaged just 58.9 plays per game (second-lowest) and have thrown the ball just 47.6 percent of the time (lowest in NFL). There’s just one other team (Cowboys) who’s seeing a pass play less than 51.7 percent of the time. When you combine the Jets minuscule 61.1 plays per game, that’s not great. It also seems likely that Darnold will be without his best receiver for this game. There hasn’t been a quarterback outside of Russell Wilson who’s finished better than the QB17 against them, which includes Patrick Mahomes. Let’s be real, you’re not playing Darnold in redraft or on showdown slates.
Damien Harris, James White, and Rex Burkhead: Through four games as the starter, Harris has two 100-yard rushing games to his name. That’s something Michel had done just once over his last 20 games. The downside is that Harris is being treated like Michel in the passing game and has seen just two targets through four games. That drags his reliability down, especially in games with negative gamescripts. Fortunately, this week shouldn’t be one where we have to worry about that. The Patriots are seven-point favorites against the Jets, which screams to Harris’ role. When in the lead, the Patriots run the ball 63 percent of the time, which ranks as the third-highest mark in the league. The Jets run defense is better than most give it credit for, as they haven’t allowed a single rushing touchdown over the last three games, and if you were to remove one 80-yard touchdown where Raheem Mostert were shot out of a cannon, they’d be allowing sub-4.0 yards per carry. Still, we can’t overlook the fact that they traded away their best run-stopping linebacker Avery Williamson this week. There have been just three running backs who’ve totaled 15-plus carries against the Jets; here are their finishes: Melvin Gordon 23/107/2, Myles Gaskin 18/91/0, and Kenyan Drake 18/60/1. If there’s one game where you should feel confident Harris will hit 15 touches, it’s this one, so consider him a low-end RB2 who may get some goal-line carries syphoned by Cam Newton. What in the world has happened to White’s role? His opportunities in his first three games were 8, 11, 13, which is normal for him. He’s received just one and six opportunities the last two weeks. They need to get back to involving him, as this was a defense he caught seven passes for 59 yards against last year (in the same scheme). Running backs have averaged the second-most weighted opportunity against the Jets, so he should get back into the back-end RB3/flex conversation, though it does take some projecting. Burkhead’s opportunities have been somewhat consistent, but outside of the games that White missed, he hasn’t offered any upside, making him just a desperation RB4.
Frank Gore and Lamical Perine: Over the last two weeks, we’ve watched Gore get 21 carries to Perine’s 19, which is trending in the right direction for Perine to eventually overtake him as the lead back, and it’s better when you see Perine has received all five of the targets between the two, as those are the most valuable for a team that’s continually behind. The pass routes run have gone Perine 31, Gore 13 in those two weeks, so it’s not a fluke. Teams have chosen to run the ball a league-leading 52.4 percent of the time against the Patriots, though part of that percentage is due to them continually being ahead. The league average for run percentage when leading? 52 percent. The Patriots run defense has fallen apart since their bye week, allowing 480 yards on 92 carries (5.22 yards per carry) with six touchdowns over the course of three games. Okay, who were the opponents? The Broncos (without Melvin Gordon), 49ers (without Raheem Mostert), and the Bills. I don’t see Dalvin Cook or Derrick Henry in there. But with the lack of projected plays and 50/50 timeshare on the ground, we can’t confidently say either of them get more than 12 carries. Considering Gore has averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and hasn’t scored a touchdown on his last 218 carries, he’s nothing more than a boring RB4 in a much better matchup than most know. As for Perine, he has a bit more one-play upside and has involvement in the passing game, though the Patriots have allowed the fourth-fewest points through the air to running backs. He should be the preferred one but is still stuck in the high-end RB4 territory.
Jakobi Meyers: In the limited opportunities Meyers has had, he’s played well. Going back to last year, he’s caught 37-of-58 targets for 484 yards, though he’s still yet to find the end zone. Here are the six games he’s played and seen at least four targets:
|2019 – W6||4||4||54|
|2019 – W7||5||5||47|
|2019 – W12||9||4||74|
|2019 – W13||7||3||46|
|2020 – W7||6||4||60|
|2020 – W8||10||6||58|
As you can see, he’s been a usable fantasy player in those instances, even though he didn’t score. The downside is that the best cornerback the Jets have is Brian Poole, who covers the slot, which is where Meyers played 57 percent of his snaps last week. Still, he’s not solely in the slot, so we should see a mix of cornerbacks in a secondary that’s allowed 15 wide receivers to finish as a WR4 or better. Knowing they’ve allowed a 71.2 percent completion-rate to receivers should help confidence for Newton to sling it towards Meyers when he drops back. Meyers has a 57.1 percent target share among the Patriots wide receivers over the last two weeks. He’s not a bad bye week replacement as a WR4.
Damiere Byrd: He’s the only other receiver who played a full-time role last week, though it didn’t lead to much. He hasn’t topped four targets in each of the last three games, and in a game the Patriots are projected to win big, we shouldn’t expect a whole lot of passing. When targeting Byrd, Newton has a 68.2 QB Rating, which could be the reason he’s started to look at others. The lone good news is that Byrd plays on the perimeter almost all the time, which is where the Jets have allowed a ton of production. Byrd does play most of his snaps at LWR, which means he’ll see the most of Blessuan Austin, who’s allowed 21-of-33 passing for 224 yards and two touchdowns, though he’s certainly better than Pierre Desir (on the other side). Byrd is just a hail-mary WR5 in a plus matchup, though there’s just not enough projected volume.
Jamison Crowder or Braxton Berrios: Depending on which one of these guys are in the lineup, here are the targets for the starting slot receiver for the Jets: 13, 8, 4, 10, 10, 13, 7, 11. That’s a pretty dang big role, and though Berrios doesn’t produce the way Crowder does, he’s usable in a pinch. Did you know Crowder is the only player in the NFL who’s seen eight-plus targets in every game he’s played. The Patriots have Jonathan Jones covering the slot, and though there’s been some hits and misses in his coverage, he’s been decent overall, allowing 26-of-43 passing for 317 yards and two touchdowns. That’s just a 60.5 percent completion-rate, which is very low for a slot cornerback, though the 12.2 yards per reception is rather high. It’s been a mixed bag with slot receivers against them, as we watched Tyreek Hill, Tyler Lockett, and Hunter Renfrow post top-20 numbers against them, but also watched Cole Beasley, Jerry Jeudy, and Kendrick Bourne held outside the top-50 receivers. But knowing how often the Jets have targeted these two, you can play the one who starts. Crowder would be a WR3 with a solid floor while Berrios is more of a low-end WR4 with a decent floor in PPR formats, as he just hasn’t shown much of a ceiling.
Denzel Mims: We’ve now seen Mims for two games in the NFL and both have netted 42 yards. He had tough matchups in both the games, as the Bills and Chiefs are tough on wide receivers. The Patriots were in that conversation last year, but this year has been a bit different. Wide receivers have seen a massive 62.4 percent target share against the Patriots this year, which ranks third in the NFL. The issue is that teams aren’t passing a whole lot against them, as evidenced by the piddly 26.6 pass attempts per game. When targeted, wide receivers are averaging 2.00 PPR points per target and 9.78 yards per target against them, which are both top-six in the league. We don’t know if Stephon Gilmore will play in this game, but if he does, I don’t even know if they give Mims the shadow treatment, especially given his injury Gilmore’s dealing with. The lack of pass attempts is the biggest concern this week, as the Patriots are likely going to take the air out of the ball. If Crowder is held out, I’d like Mims a bit more, but it’s tough to say he’s more than a WR5.
Ryan Izzo: There has been no game this year where a Patriots tight end has seen more than three targets. Izzo has seen 15 of the 16 targets available, so he’s the one if you’re playing on a showdown DFS slate. It hasn’t taken much to produce against the Jets this year, as tight ends have averaged a massive 2.26 PPR points per target, which ranks as the third-highest mark in the league. With a 54-target sample size, it’s fair to say they’re struggling to stop tight ends. In season-long leagues, you aren’t considering him, but he might be the best tight end in this game for showdown slates, which is laughable.
Chris Herndon: Earlier this year, we knew he was getting targets, but just wasn’t efficient with them. Even that has gone away, as he’s seen just nine targets over the last five games combined. He’s turned them into a minuscule four receptions, 38 yards, and no touchdowns. Not only has Herndon been terrible, but so have tight ends against the Patriots, as they’ve allowed the second-fewest points per game to the position. The 1.45 PPR points per target they’ve allowed ranks as the fifth-lowest mark in the league while the 56.8 percent completion-rate to them ranks as the fourth-lowest mark. There’s no scenario that should have you playing Herndon.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
Line: GB by 5.0
Aaron Rodgers: You can’t pin last week’s loss on Rodgers, as he was near perfect, completing 27 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions. The run defense just couldn’t stop Dalvin Cook and it kept the Packers offense off the field. Still, it was the fifth time this year Rodgers has posted 22-plus fantasy points, as he now sits as the No. 6 quarterback on the year. The first thing I noticed about the matchup with the 49ers was that they’ve allowed a league-leading 276 yards on the ground to quarterbacks this year, though we haven’t seen Rodgers take off and run very often, which is evidenced by his 54 yards through seven games. I mentioned last week that the 49ers defense has looked good at times but have struggled when playing good competition.
|Player||PPG Rank||Finish vs. SF|
On paper, the 49ers defense has allowed the 11th-fewest points, but when you look at that competition, you can see why they look better than they are. Losing linebacker Kwon Alexander this week didn’t help matters, either. It’s not a smash spot for Rodgers, though, as the 49ers have allowed just one quarterback to average more than 7.05 yards per attempt on the year. We have a Packers team that’s down their top-three running backs and traveling to the west coast to play on a Thursday night. That doesn’t seem ideal for their efficiency. Rodgers played against this defense (albeit a better version) twice last year and finished with just 430 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions in the two games combined (both games were in San Francisco). Rodgers remains in the QB1 territory this week due to the lack of run-game and likely increase in pass attempts this week even though his recent history against them isn’t great.
Nick Mullens: Now that we know Jimmy Garoppolo is out for at least a month, this is Mullens’ team. He’s completed 70.4 percent of passes and averaged 8.7 yards per attempt this year, so it’s tough to say he’s a downgrade, though he has a much shorter leash (as evidenced by his benching in Week 4). The Packers have allowed the third-highest completion-rate (71.5 percent) in the league, so when teams do drop back to pass, it typically nets a completion. They’ve also allowed 8.00 yards per attempt, which is the sixth-highest mark in the league, and a 5.61 percent touchdown-rate, which is the 12th-highest mark in the league. The main issue against them has been lack of plays, as opponents have averaged a league-low 58.4 plays per game. All in all, their games net just 122.5 plays (2nd-lowest in NFL) while the 49ers’ games average 125.6 plays (7th-lowest). It’s all amounted to just 30.6 pass attempts per game against them, so this game shouldn’t be one that has a lot of fireworks for 49ers fantasy players. We’ve also received more and more bad news as the week’s gone on, as he’ll not only be without Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, but he’ll also be without Brandon Aiyuk and Kendrick Bourne, who both went to the COVID list. Mullens was going to be fine for 2QB formats but after learning of all these players missing, he really shouldn’t be used. The 49ers should lean on their run-game if they want to take advantage of the best matchup on the field and keep Rodgers off it.
Dexter Williams and Tyler Ervin: After the injury to Aaron Jones and the COVID spread in the Packers backfield, they’re down to Williams and Ervin as the top-two options on the depth chart. Williams hasn’t played a snap all year while Ervin has been used primarily as a receiver. Williams was a sixth-round draft pick last year who netted five carries that totaled just 11 yards all year. Ervin has been in the league for four-plus years but has never totaled more than 12 touches in a single season. This ought to go great. Despite all the injuries they’ve dealt with, the 49ers defense is no joke, as they’ve still allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends combined. Running backs have averaged a minuscule 3.42 yards per carry against them and have scored a touchdown once every 51.3 carries. Despite seven different running backs getting double-digit carries against them, including four of them with 16-plus carries, the 49ers haven’t allowed more than 88 yards on the ground, and have allowed more than 63 yards just once. On top of that, there have been no running backs who’ve topped 35 yards through the air. All in all, there have been just four top-24 performances against them, so this is hardly a matchup you need to attack. It’s going to come down to who has the best shot at a touchdown, and considering Williams is 5-foot-11 and 212 pounds while Ervin is 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds, I’d say it’s Williams. Still, he’s nothing more than an risky RB3 this week while Ervin more of a flex/high-end RB4. *Update* Jones is questionable for this game and would obviously be a must-play if he’s active, so pay attention to reports later in the day.
Jerick McKinnon and JaMycal Hasty: After Tevin Coleman returned for a measly six snaps, he was injured again, leaving the backfield to Hasty and McKinnon this week. Once Coleman left the game last week, we saw McKinnon lead the backs with 35 snaps, though Hasty was not far behind with 29 of them. The roles were clear, as Hasty received 12 carries to McKinnon’s three, but McKinnon saw four targets to Hasty’s one. Of the fantasy production the Packers have allowed to skill-position players, 46.8 percent of it has gone to running backs. There’s no other team in the league who’s allowed more than 41.7 percent of the production to running backs. Sure, Dalvin Cook racked them for 200-plus yards and four touchdowns last week which boosted the numbers, but they’d been the worst in the NFL against running backs before that game. They’re the only team in the NFL who’s allowed more points per game to running backs than to wide receivers, and it’s a full 3.5 points per game. In fact, running backs outscore quarterbacks against the Packers by a league-leading 18.07 fantasy points per game. Crazy, right? It certainly helps that they’ve allowed a rushing touchdown every 15.9 carries, which is easily the most often, as just one other team (Raiders) has allowed a rushing touchdown more often than every 20.3 carries. The Packers have also allowed a ridiculously-high league-leading 16.2 PPR points per game through the air alone to running backs. It’s not even a ton of volume, but rather the efficiency, as running backs have averaged a ridiculous 2.22 PPR points per target. No other team has allowed more than 1.93 points per target. The 8.69 yards per target also ranks as No. 1 in the league by a full 16.8 percent. The 14 total touchdowns they’ve allowed suggests we should see at least one touchdown by a 49ers running back in this game, if not two of them. The 1.18 PPR points per opportunity they’ve allowed to running backs is 18 percent higher than the closest team (Raiders). Hasty should be treated as a low-end RB2 only because he may be gamescripted out (five-point underdogs) and has a very small role in the passing game, but his upside is top-12 this week. McKinnon is someone who’ll have a role regardless of gamescript and should be played as a low-end RB2. Yes, I think it’s possible that both 49ers running backs finish as top-20 options this week.
Davante Adams: His targets in weeks where he’s played the entire game: 17, 10, 16, 12. This is ridiculously high. He hasn’t disappointed, either, finishing as a top-two wide receiver in three of those games. There have been two wide receivers who’ve been targeted more than 10 times against the 49ers and the results will be well-received by Adams’ managers. D.K. Metcalf torched them for 12/161/2 last week, and it was DeAndre Hopkins back in Week 1 when he tagged them for 14/151/0. There have only been two other receivers who’ve topped five receptions against the 49ers, so it’s not like it’s a matchup that nets multiple fantasy-relevant receivers, but this is clearly not a matchup to run from for those who see elite targets. There’s no shadow cornerback to worry about, so go ahead and start Adams as you normally would. Considering their lack of run-game here, I’d guess Adams sees at least 10 targets which makes him a lock in showdown slates.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling: As expected, his role continues to decline as his target totals over the last four weeks have gone 8, 5, 4, 1. We don’t know if Allen Lazard is coming back this week, but there’s a chance, which would only decrease the chance Valdes-Scantling has to see a solid share of targets. The 49ers have allowed just 7.64 yards per target and 11.76 yards per reception to wide receivers, so it’s not like you should feel the need to play someone like him in this game in redraft leagues. The 49ers have allowed five pass plays of 40-plus yards, so Valdes-Scantling could make sense in a showdown tournament lineup, but that’s about it.
Brandon Aiyuk: Who would’ve thought all it took was Jimmy Garoppolo getting hurt to unlock Aiyuk? It seemed the whole offense came alive with Mullens, as Aiyuk finished with eight catches for 91 yards and a touchdown in a smash spot against the Seahawks. This matchup is going to be a lot tougher, as the Packers have slowed wide receivers quite a bit. Of the fantasy production the Packers have allowed to skill-position players, just 42.2 percent of it has gone to wide receivers, which is the lowest mark in the league. By comparison, the team they played last week (Seahawks) allowed 63.3 percent of production to wide receivers, which is the highest mark in the league. In fact, running backs have outscored wide receivers against the Packers, which is something no other team can say. There have been just three receivers who’ve topped 60 yards against them and every one of them saw at least eight targets. The expectation should be that Aiyuk draws Jaire Alexander in coverage, the Packers top cornerback who’s allowed just 15/134/1 on 26 targets in coverage this year. Aiyuk should be considered a low-end WR3 for this game, as he should still see six-plus targets. *Update* Aiyuk has been ruled out for this game after being placed on the COVID list. Kendrick Bourne: I’d advocated pretty hard for Bourne last week, saying you could even start him in DFS cash games. He did not disappoint against the Seahawks, racking up eight catches for 81 yards on 10 targets. His day could’ve been even bigger if Garoppolo didn’t completely miss him running down the seam with his hand in the air for what would’ve been a long touchdown. He’s seen at least five targets in every game Deebo Samuel has been out of the lineup, though I’m not sure this is a week to fire him up in lineups. Receivers have averaged just 18.0 targets per game against the Packers, and it’s led to the seventh-fewest points per game to the position. There have been just five receivers all year who’ve totaled more than four receptions against them, which means you’re left looking for a touchdown most of the time. Bourne has just one touchdown on 40 targets this season. The only good thing that I can say is that if the Packers have Jaire Alexander shadow Aiyuk, it would leave Bourne with a better matchup against Josh Jackson, though even he’s been better than in years past. Bourne is just a WR5 for this game. *Update* Bourne has been ruled out for this game after testing positive for COVID.
49ers wide receivers available for this game: Now that we know the 49ers will be without Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Kendrick Bourne, we’re left searching for the players who are actually available to play in this game. The 49ers released Dante Pettis earlier this week, so he’s not even available. The only one we know has a role for sure is Trent Taylor, who’s actually coming off a season-high five targets. He’s the safest play among the bunch, even if his matchup in the slot isn’t a great one. Richie James is another receiver who should see plenty of playing time if his ankle injury is okay, as he’s the only other receiver on the active roster. We should see them call up River Cracraft and/or Kevin White off the practice squad, though it’s difficult to expect much out of them. Taylor is the only one I could see giving any real consideration due to the target floor he should have.
Robert Tonyan: It was good to see Tonyan have a solid game, as he’d been disappointing ever since his three-touchdown game against the Falcons in Week 4. He’s remained efficient all year, averaging a rock-solid 11.4 yards per target, and there may be more targets available in Week 9 given the Packers’ shortage at running back. Will those targets be worth a whole lot? It’s tough to say they will be considering the 49ers have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points per target (1.41) to tight ends. They’re allowing a minimal 6.57 yards per target and have allowed just one touchdown on 49 targets to this point. Heck, even the one touchdown was to a backup tight end (Adam Shaheen). There’s been just one tight end who’s totaled more than four receptions, and just two tight ends who’ve topped 22 yards against them, so there’s not much of a floor here. It’s tough to overlook him considering Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones are out, which frees up 7.6 targets per game. Tonyan should be on the high-end TE2 radar, though he’s far from a “safe” play.
Jordan Reed and Ross Dwelley: We aren’t sure if Reed will be activated to play for this game, but he did start practicing last week, and the 49ers could really use him on the field with no George Kittle and Deebo Samuel. If he’s not activated, it’ll be Dwelley’s job. The Packers haven’t been a matchup to attack, as they’ve allowed just 11.0 percent of the production to skill-position players go to tight ends, which ranks third-lowest in the NFL. It certainly doesn’t help that they’ve seen just 13.6 percent of the target share, which ranks as the second-lowest number in football. That’s allowed them to allow the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to the position, but from an efficiency standpoint, it hasn’t been a bad matchup. They’ve allowed 10.3 yards per target to the position, which is the second-highest mark in the league. The 79.3 percent completion-rate ranks as the third-highest mark in the league, behind only the Falcons and Eagles, two matchups we target with tight ends. The 49ers will target their tight ends out of necessity, so if Reed suits up, he’s in the streaming conversation, but remember he’s just weeks removed from a knee injury that was expected to sideline him for two months. He could be forced to leave early if his knee swells up, so he’s a risk/reward TE2. If he’s held out, Dwelley enters the high-end TE2 conversation. *Update* Reed is expected to be available, even if it’s in a limited fashion. No matter what, the 49ers are going to need thier tight ends to step up with all the injuries/COVID popping up. There’s so much unknown in this game, you have to ask yourself, “Would I be able to sleep at night knowing I didn’t play Reed?” Yes, yes I would because I already know the worst-case scenario. Dwelley is still likely the safer play.