Fantasy Football Primer: Buccaneers vs. Cowboys (Week 1)
Every week, I’ll be writing a comprehensive primer on every NFL matchup and all of the relevant players, matchups, pace and playcalling notes, and injuries. It covers everything you need to know when setting your lineups. But since that article is massive and requires a full pot of coffee, we’re also going to offer these more focused matchup overviews. If you’re looking for the complete primer, here’s a link to it:
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – which allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team, and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Dallas Cowboys
- TB -1.5, O/U 50
- Buccaneers at Cowboys Betting Matchup via BettingPros
Pace and playcalling notes
- This contest should give the Chargers and Raiders a run for their money regarding play volume. Last year Dallas led the league in neutral script pace while the Buccaneers sat at fifth.
- This should be the most-pass-heavy game by far. Last season The Buccaneers were first in neutral script passing rate while also finishing at third once they reached the 20-yard line. Dallas was fifth in neutral passing rate.
Tom Brady: Last year the Cowboys were second in pass defense DVOA yielding the third-lowest adjusted completion rate and 17th ranked yards per attempt. That didn’t stop Brady from shredding them Week 1 with 379 passing yards and four scores. Brady could do it again this year. For as good as Dallas was last year they were vulnerable to play-action passing. They were 13th in play-action completion rate and touchdown rate allowed. Brady was fourth in play-action passing touchdown rate and seventh in play-action passer rating last season.
Dak Prescott: During last year’s Week 1 meeting Kellen Moore dialed up passing plays on 80.8% of their neutral script plays which can’t be dismissed this week. Prescott ended up slinging the ball 58 times for 403 yards with three passing touchdowns. That could easily be the plan of attack again this season. The concern with no Tyron Smith is real against the Buccaneers who were second in pressure rate last season, but Prescott was also excellent against pressure. He ranked seventh in pressured completion rate and tenth in pressured accuracy rating. Tampa Bay finished the year tenth in pass defense DVOA giving up the second-lowest yards per attempt. They did however yield the eighth-highest adjusted completion rate.
Leonard Fournette: Word out of the Bucs camp is the team would like to lighten Leonard Fournette‘s workload some this season. While that can be true, he’ll still be the clear lead back for the Buccaneers. In Weeks 4-14, Leonard Fournette played less than 61% of the team’s snaps in only two games. Over that stretch, he averaged 19.7 touches and 103 total yards per game as the RB5 in fantasy. Fournette was also fantastic in the passing game. In that sample, he led all running backs in targets (63) and was fourth in receiving yards (344).
Dallas was a middling rush defense last year, ranking 19th in second-level and 18th in open-field yards. They faced the seventh-fewest rushing attempts last year but yielded the tenth-highest yards per attempt while sitting at 21st in explosive run rate. They were 30th in red zone run defense. Fournette can and will have to do most of his damage in the rushing department because the Cowboys were first in DVOA against running backs. They were 17th in receptions but held opposing backs to the tenth-fewest receiving yard and fourth-fewest receiving touchdowns.
|Player||Rushing Attempts||Targets||Routes||Red Zone Opportunities|
Ezekiel Elliott is coming off a down season where some of this could be related to the fact he dealt with a partially torn PCL for much of the season (since Week 4). Elliott has amassed 1,938 touches (22 per game) over his six-year career, never handling less than 268 touches in any season, so the worry about tread left on the tires is real. Elliott finished last year as the RB15 in fantasy points per game. His efficiency was dreadful last season, ranking 30th in yards per route run, 45th in breakaway run rate, and 37th in yards created per touch. The Buccaneers were still fifth in adjusted line yards while permitting the fewest rushing yards in the NFL last year. They did show some cracks in the pavement, ranking 26th in open field yards and 29th in explosive run rate. In the first three games of last season before Elliott’s injury, he was the leader of the backfield in every sense. He’s a top 24 running back play on projected red zone role alone this week.
Tony Pollard is coming off a career-high in rushing attempts (130) and targets (46). Pollard was one of the most efficient running backs in the NFL. Last season he was fourth in yards after contact per attempt behind only Rashaad Penny, Nick Chubb, and Jonathan Taylor (minimum 100 carries, per PFF). He was also first in yards per route run at the position. Pollard is more apt to take advantage of the Buccaneers through the air than Elliott. Tampa Bay was 22nd in DVOA against running backs last year, yielding a ton of production through the air. They saw the second-most running back targets surrendering the second-most receptions, fifth-most receiving yards, and fourth-most receiving touchdowns. Pollard and Elliott can both finish as top 24 backs this week but get to the finish line in very different ways. In Weeks 1-3 last year, Pollard was lined up in the slot or out wide on 37.8% of his snaps. Given his explosive abilities as a playmaker and Tampa Bay’s struggles, Moore could deploy him heavily.
Mike Evans: Mike Evans‘ consistency in fantasy football is astounding. Over the last eight seasons, he’s hit 1,000 or more every year. He’s finished as a top 20 wide receiver in weekly fantasy scoring in every season but one. Last season he ranked 11th in red-zone targets and second in total touchdowns at the receiver position while his per route metrics began to slip. He was 49th in yard per route run and 88th in route win rate last year. Mike Evans was muted during their Week 1 meeting last year securing three of his six targets for 24 receiving yards. This was due to Trevon Diggs following him on 81% of his routes, limiting him to three targets, one reception, and ten receiving yards. Moving Evans into the slot is an option that the Buccaneers used in many weeks last year to relieve him of shadow corners. Diggs only moved inside on 8.3% of snaps last year. Diggs allowed a 56.4% catch rate and 70.1 passer rating last year.
"…doing it the smartest way I can…In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter that much. I would love to be there for the entire season, but I think what's more important is being there for the second half of the season. Being there for what I missed last year.
— Rick Stroud (@NFLSTROUD) September 6, 2022
Currently it sounds doubtful we’ll see Chris Godwin in Week 1. Even if he’s active it’ll likely be a limited role, so you shouldn’t be starting him this week. This means Julio Jones and Russell Gage will be Brady’s main weapons outside of Evans.
Last year in 6 games he played at least 60% snaps:
(possibly his healthiest)
78.0 PFF rec grade
2021: WRs (114 WRs) with at least 35 tgs this would have been:
YPRR: 10th tied with Tee Higgins
PFF Grade: 23rd behind Terry McLaurin
Julio IS NOT WASHED. pic.twitter.com/NFRB5cOQG6
— Derek Brown (@DBro_FFB) August 17, 2022
Julio Jones might not be the same player he was during his prime, but he’s definitely not washed up. Last year Jones ranked 25th out of 90 wide receivers (minimum 50 targets) in yards per route run (1.84). For added context, this was immediately ahead of Stefon Diggs and Diontae Johnson. Yes, this was also his career’s lowest yards per route run, but even a watered-down version of Jones isn’t a scrub. Jones will operate outside on about 86% of his routes. If Diggs is in Evans’ back pocket then he’ll see more Anthony Brown. Brown allowed a 57.7% catch rate and 82.9 passer rating. That passer rating was aided greatly by his four interceptions as he allowed six receiving touchdowns (tied for eighth-most among cornerbacks).
Russell Gage is a talented player that Brady could lean on this week. He was 17th in yards per route run (minimum 50 targets) and 12th in route win rate last season. He was the WR31 in fantasy points per game last year proving he could be a leading target for an offense last year after Calvin Ridley was out. He’ll likely run out of the slot for at least half of his snaps against Jourdan Lewis. Lewis last year allowed a 65.5% catch rate and 81.8 passer rating.
CeeDee Lamb: Queue up the band. CeeDee Lamb‘s breakout party is about to begin. Last season Lamb was 13th in yards per route run in the regular season (minimum 50) while excelling as a bully after the catch. He was fifth in missed tackles forced among wide receivers. He was peppered in Week 1 last year with 15 targets for seven receptions and 104 receiving yards (one touchdown) as the WR13 for the week. The team moved him into the slot on 40.7% of his snaps which could happen this week. That means Lamb will see one of my favorite corners to pick on in fantasy for nearly half of his routes, Sean Murphy-Bunting. Murphy-Bunting allowed a 67.2% catch rate and 110.4 passer rating last year. When Lamb is outside, he’ll match up with a combination of Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean. Davis gave up a 55.1% catch rate and 80.9 passer rating last year. Dean was even more impressive with a 52.4% catch rate surrendered and a 62.3 passer rating in coverage.
Jalen Tolbert and Noah Brown: Despite Grandpa Jerry’s musings, I doubt that Michael Gallup is active in Week 1, so that leaves Noah Brown and Jalen Tolbert flanking CeeDee Lamb. Brown might be a solid NFL player, but there’s no way a player with a career 1.15 yards per route run is gracing my Week 1 fantasy lineup even in dynasty formats. No, thank you.
Jalen Tolbert dominated at South Alabama with a 96th percentile college dominator and 95th percentile target share (33.4%). Over his final two collegiate seasons, he was seventh and sixth in receiving yards among all FBS wideouts. As good as Tolbert is, running nearly all of your routes against Davis and Dean is a tall task in your first NFL game.
Update: Michael Gallup has been ruled out for Week 1.
Cameron Brate and Kyle Rudolph: Cameron Brate and Kyle Rudolph likely split routes and snaps this week, so neither is anything more than a deep league dart. Brate is the one to consider if going in this direction. Last year he was fourth among tight ends in red zone targets. If he snags a touchdown and does little else, he’s likely a top 15 tight end for the week. Dallas ranked 13th in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns allowed last year.
Dalton Schultz: Last year Dalton Schultz was the TE5 in weekly fantasy scoring. In his first season with a featured role, he ranked 11th in yards per route run and 14th in targets per snap. With teams looking to avoid Tampa Bay’s corners last year, the Buccaneers faced the ninth-most tight end targets allowing the sixth-most receptions. Tampa Bay utilized zone between 63-67% with their outside corners last year. Why does it matter for Schultz? Heavy zone defense = Schultz eats. Last year among all tight ends with at least ten zone targets, he was seventh in yards per route run against zone. He saw 64.8% of his target volume against zone, which was the third-highest mark in this sample.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant, which allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team and how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.