NFL AutoMattek Absolutes: Week 7
Davis Mattek takes you through his top plays for the upcoming NFL slate. Part of the popular Swolecast, Davis will give insight into his mindset to help you build better NFL lineups.
This is a frustratingly shallow week at the quarterback position. Some of the guys that I have relied on in cash games and in tournaments thus far (Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, Kirk Cousins) find themselves not in the main slate on DraftKings which means that we have to look to some alternative sources. It does appear that Ezekiel Elliot has been granted a stay and will play in this game for Dallas but I do not at all think that means that Dak is not a good play. As we have noted on the Swolecast, you can play Dak and Zeke together as they are not necessarily negative correlation plays. Dak actually averages more FPPG than any other QB on the DK slate and has the best QB matchup when adding pace to the equation.
The matchup against the 49ers is a very strong one because it upgrades the worst thing about the Dallas offense: pace. Due to some of the team’s struggles, Dallas now ranks in the top half of the league in seconds per play and crazily enough is the 3rd fastest team when leading by 6 or more. However, San Francisco runs the fastest offense by far, leading the NFL in seconds per play and they are more than a full second faster than the #2 finisher. The Cowboys have a very healthy team total of 26, a great upgrade in pace against SF who rank 24th in total defensive DVOA and 26th in pass defense DVOA. I think Dak is definitely a cash play on both sites but on FD, I would likely opt for one of Brady/Ryan over him.
Playing a home game against the New Orleans Saints is about the easiest situation that Hundley could have ever asked for in his first starter as a Packer. Sure, it is not optimal to fill in for the greatest QB to ever do it, but this is how you adjust yourself. Despite going from Rodgers to Hundley, the Packers team total is hovering around 21. The Saints defense actually looks decent from DVOA perspective, ranking right about league average but they are allowing the 8th most net adjusted yards per attempt and the 7th highest completion percentage. This does not project as a “Hoyer In Week 5” sort of spot where Hundley can win you your games by himself but I certainly feel more confident in Hundley as a player than I do about Kevin Hogan who grinded out 10 points for us last week.
Hundley as a college player should give us a little insight to why he is a play this week; with value quarterbacks if they can add meaningful rushing upside, it makes their floor so much better than 2x their salary is almost a lock. In college, Hundley had 479 rushing attempts (!!!!) for 1747 yards and 30 touchdowns to go along with 75 passing TD’s to only 25 interceptions. In limited preseason game time, Hundley has 10 passing TD’s to 2 interceptions and 2 rushing touchdowns. I have seen a baseline of competency from Hundley at the previous levels he has played at, he has an All Pro wide receiver and two excellent complimentary pieces, a former pro bowl tight end and two well above average talented running back against a mediocre at best defense while playing at one of the best home field advantage stadiums. I think Hundley is a relatively easy cash game play to make on DraftKings.
Also Consider: Tom Brady and Matt Ryan absolutely have to take precedence on Fanduel and in the Thurs-Mon DraftKings slates. That game has the best total and best-projected game script for all QBs. Marcus Mariota is in an excellent spot against Cleveland but I prefer Dak to him by a good margin especially in cash games because of the 49ers pace and the Titans, if up by 14, will commit harder to the run than me to Jeff Janis.
It seems like every time that the Steelers learn that they win games when they repeatedly give the ball to Le’Veon on the ground and through the passing game, they immediately go away from it in the next game and instead focus on getting literally everyone else involved. Bell had 35 carries and 6 targets against the Ravens and then only 15 carries against the Jaguars. After that horrible game where Ben threw 5 interceptions and the Steelers got dunked on at home by Blake Bortles, Bell then got 32 carries and 6 targets in a win against the Chiefs. If we are following this trend, which would mean that all of a sudden Todd Haley is going to be really interested in 5 wide receiver sets against the Bengals.
Eternal optimist that I am, I think that the Steelers have finally realized the team that they are. They no longer have an elite quarterback and with Martavis Bryant whining about a trade, they really only have 2 elite pieces: Bell and Antonio Brown. The Steelers are at home, favored by 5 points against a Bengals team that does actually have a good defense but as a team do not have the ability to put the Steelers in a negative game script all on their own. Despite Bell’s “struggles” this year (all of which are related to coaching decisions outside of how he played week one), he ranks 5th in defensive-adjusted yards over average rushing and 12th in rushing success rate. He is still great, still averaging 6.5 targets per game and still has a huge share of the teams goalline work.
How many times would Melvin Gordon have to top 30 total touches and receive all but one of his teams rushing attempts before the sites started to treat his salary like they do with Fournette, Elliot and the other elite running backs? He is being downgraded by about $1,000 in this matchup against the Broncos but he is averaging more FPPG than Lesean McCoy, Ezekiel Elliot, and CJ Anderson and is exactly tied with Le’Veon Bell. One of the biggest lessons that I have learned in my many years playing fantasy football is that we overrate our ability to rank matchups. Yes, there historically have been defenses that are so good against the pass or run that they ruin normally great fantasy players regularly. The Broncos, on the surface, do appear to be so good at defense that Melvin couldn’t possibly be a play for $7,000 on DraftKings but that is before account for his insane volume.
The Chargers are actually favored by 1.5 points and are playing at “home” (the college soccer stadium that the Chargers play in doesn’t seem to really provide much home-field advantage), so that is always a good check to mark off when looking at analyzing RBs. MG3 has the 8th most rush attempts in the league but no one else on his team has more than 17 and his primary backup has missed two straight games with a hamstring injury. Gordon has the 3rd most targets at the running back position behind only Christian McCaffery, James White and Andre Ellington who have barely any rushing responsibility. DVOA ranks the Broncos as a slightly above average cumulative defense which will definitely test the Chargers but Gordon’s volume overall is just so good that he cannot be ignored for this price. He is receiving 39% of his team’s total offensive plays (including punts and turnovers), which is an outstanding number this late in the season. Gordon is by no means a LOCK the way he was against the Giants but he is in the same tier of play as our next two players.
Ingram was an absolute stone lock must play last week and he absolutely came through as the chalk. He also received a commiserate price hike on both sites as a result of his heroics against the Lions. When something like this happens, i.e a super chalk cheap running back ends up being the highest scorer of the week, it is often hard to tell if the public will chase the high score or be turned off by the massive price increase. In Ingram’s case, I am expecting that his ownership will be similar to last week, hovering around 40% because there are enough concerns about volume, Brees’ on the road and price hike. The Saints are favored by 5.5 points on the road, which is honestly insane given the dynamics of how NFL betting works. Even if the Packers cover, it seems unlikely that the Saints offense would be so bad that Ingram has a total floor game here.
Ingram, outside of the results, showed me everything that I wanted to see with the departure of Adrian Peterson. If you actually take a second to think about this current Saints team, this is the least congested the offense has ever been with Ingram on the team. The Saints had only two running backs with touches on Sunday against the Lions. Last year it was Ingram, Tim Hightower and Travis Cadet. The year before it was Khiry Robinson and CJ Spiller in the mix as well. In 2014, Pierre Thomas was taking away meaningful work from Robinson and Ingram. In 2013, Ingram was behind Thomas and Darren Sproles in the backfield hierarchy. The same holds true for 2012 and 2011, when Chris Ivory was also thrown in this mix. I really don’t think that fantasy analysts are talking about this enough. 7 years into his career, Ingram is really going to have a chance to be a bellcow for the rest of the season. He played 66% of the snaps on Sunday against the Lions, had more targets than Kamara and doubled him up in carries as well.
McKinnon, unlike Ingram, is not as good of a play this week as he was last week. While the backfield is clearly Ingram’s in New Orleans, McKinnon is definitely in a split with Latavius, he just has the better side of it. McKinnon has played 90 receiving snaps this year to Murray’s 41. From Fox Sports’ Vikings blog “McKinnon out-snapped Latavius Murray once again, but the latter closed the gap a bit this week. McKinnon had an 11-snap edge, but had just one more carry than Murray. McKinnon was more effective, however, racking up 69 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, while Murray gained just 28 yards on 15 carries.” The biggest edge for McKinnon, especially in the format that we play is that he is the primary pass catching back. He has 6 targets in back to back weeks, while Murray has only 5 targets on the year.
I expect that as McKinnon continues to be the better running back, the more work that he will earn. It is possible the team won’t want to entirely turn over the reigns to McKinnon (that has been the case in the past with Fat Matt Asiata actually having the more productive share of the backfield) but playing at home to the Ravens is a really good floor spot for McKinnon. Ingram is clearly the superior play to me but with a seemingly 4-target, 15 carry for floor for McKinnon against a defense that has fallen to 16th in rush defense DVOA, I don’t want to ignore him at this price. McKinnon’s insane physical gifts have just now started to translate into fantasy points and as a 5.5-point home favorite, I am expecting another decent workload for him and think he is a top 5 play at the position again this week.
Also Consider: Todd Gurley will again go under owned this week at home to Arizona but I saw some encouraging trends from him after the disaster Seattle game. He was not involved as a receiver last week but Tavon Austin and Malcom Brown only accounted for 5 total plays, which is a step in the right direction. Gurley is the best under-owned expensive RB in tournaments. If Ezekiel Elliot does in fact play this week against the 49ers, he would be cash game eligible especially on FD and has one of the highest projectable ceiling of the week. Whoever starts out of Leonard Fournette or Chris Ivory is a fantastic play against a Colts team that has allowed the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL. Fournette would be a very good play but if he is out, Ivory becomes the lock of the week and would be 100% owned for me in all formats. Lesean McCoy has the most touches of any player to not score a touchdown yet this year and leads his team in target share. The Bucs defense is 30th in total defensive DVOA and McCoy will really not be owned. He is cash game viable and an awesome GPP target.
This is now my 3rd time writing up Larry Fitzgerald this year and he has followed a similar pattern to Le’Veon Bell. It appears that he has broken out of his lack of volume and has a giant target game, and then goes back to doing worse than the twin J. Brown’s. He currently holds a 25% target share of all the teams passing work, which is right about what we would expect from him. No one else on the team has more than 16% and the 2nd place finisher is running back Andre Ellington. Realistically, playing guys like Fitzgerald really doesn’t #MakeItMove but his least targets in a game this year was 7 and he now has 4 double-digit target games through 6 weeks of the season. Carson Palmer and the Cardinals as a whole have regressed as a team but father time has not slowed down Fitzgerald.
Pro Football Focus has Fitzgerald’s individual matchup graded as a top-20 WR/CB matchup this week as he faces off in the slot against Nickell Roby who is legitimately 7 inches shorter than Fitzgerald. I don’t like go to go #ScoutTwitter in my column very often but the tactical advantage that the Cardinals get out of playing Fitz against these smaller slot corners cannot be overstated. He has made up for his diminishing athleticism by using his size and route running to effectively always be open regardless of coverage. While the Cardinals don’t have an outrageous team total and the Rams don’t have an overtly bad defense (in fact they are a great DST play this week), Fitzgerald’s volume, price and individual matchup make him a fantastic play.
Playing DT this week is akin to playing a relatively inefficient backup point guard who is filling in for a team that is dangerously thin. Thomas will give you the equivalent of 45 minutes of playing time with only one break of time at the beginning of the 4th quarter. Emmanuel Sanders got injured last Sunday night and has already been ruled out of this week’s game against the Chargers. With Sanders being ruled out, he takes away 42 targets and 23% of the total target share for the Broncos. Bennie Fowler will fill in for that role a little bit but outside of him, no other WR on the roster has more than 4 targets. An 8 target game seems like the absolute floor for Thomas here with upside for a truly outrageous, Deandre Hopkins-esque game.
The matchup against the Chargers is also fairly positive as well. The Broncos are on the road and underdogs, always a situation that we want with taking wide receivers on a team that prefer to run and control time of possession. The Chargers rank 17th in total team defensive DVOA but 21st in DVOA against WR1’s and PFF’s WR/CB matchup chart has him against Casey Hayward who he has 4 inches and 30 pounds on. Similar to Fitzgerald, it is not really the matchup that is drawing our attention to DT but the circumstances that should lead him to seeing a heavier than normal volume.
Wide receivers against the Browns are not as large of locks as they have been in years’ past as the corpse of Joe Haden has been replaced by Jason McCourty who has been one of PFF’s best-graded cornerbacks this season. That being said, one of Decker or Matthews are likely to be in for a more than usable DFS game. Matthews costs $1,200 more than Decker does on the year but has also out-targeted him 38 to 26. Given the difference in salary and concerns about the individual matchup for Matthews, I can see the reasoning for taking Decker instead and in my personal cash game lineup, it will likely come down to to 1. If I take Dak or Hundley at QB and 2. If Leonard Fournette sits, allowing us to play Chris Ivory and opening up the salary options.
Despite the strong play of McCourty, the Browns still rank dead last in defensive DVOA against the pass, 32nd in DVOA against WR1’s and 31st in DVOA against “other WRs” per Football Outsiders. I am not going to be scared off of playing a lead wide receiver against a really bad football team because they have one corner back that has played well for 6 weeks after previous samples of him not playing well. Matthews’ has a top 10-target share in all of football and is just simply underpriced whereas Decker is properly valued but still a break-even play at his salary this week.
Every week part of the game on DraftKings has been trying to nail down which cheap wide receiver has realistic TD or 5-catch game upside and it appears that Smith-Shuster might be the guy this week. Per the SB Nation Steelers blog “Rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster (44 snaps) once again played more snaps than Martavis Bryant (33 snaps). Eli Rogers (13 snaps) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (5 snaps) both barely sniffed the field on offense.” Smith-Shuster was once held in super high regard in scouting circles but like many other USC wide receiver products, things got difficult for him towards the end of his career and he ended up not going until late in the 2nd round.
He has a well above average height adjusted speed score and had a collegiate dominator rating that would suggest a multi-year professional career. As Martavis Bryant continues to whine about playing time, the Steelers have threatened to trade him rather than give into his demands and with Antonio Brown distracting the Bengals; Smith-Shuster should have the ability to get free for his normal 4-6 targets per game. The upside here would be if he replaces Bryant entirely on the outside and sees upwards of 8 or so targets. He is by no means a lock but a potential piece of the puzzle if no value presents itself.
Also Consider: Antonio Brown remains basically the best tournament play week in and week out as people focus on higher priced running backs instead of the elite wide receivers. He has three games over 30 points this season and is always in play to do so again. Dez Bryant is a great stack option with Dak this week as he is priced back up to 7.8k on DK and this will likely be the game in which Dallas runs their most plays all season. Marquise Lee is a cheap alternative to Eric Decker and Smith-Shuster with meaningful target volume in a plus matchup.
Playing Engram is definitely a bet that volume is worth more than efficiency. The popular narrative this week seems to be that the Giants give up to tight ends more than any other team (they do rank 23rd in DVOA vs. the tight end position) but Evan Engram is the rare tight end who actually projects to lead his team in target share the rest of the way. With all of the starting wide receivers out last week against Denver, received 7 of 19 passes that the Giants threw. Seattle does have a top 10 defense by DVOA and I would expect them to handily beat a talent-strapped Giants team. I think that personally, I am going to opt for our next tight end in cash games but Engram is sort of like the Melvin Gordon of tight ends. His team is bad and they don’t project to score a lot but Engram is clearly at the top of the pecking order.
Doyle started out as sort of a joke as he runs like a dad, has a super dad name and doesn’t really look like he belongs out on the field. However, even though he has missed a game, he is 2nd on the team in target share and tied for 3rd with Rob Gronkowski in target share amongst all tight ends. He has the same sort of volume argument that Engram has but he comes at an even cheaper price and has a much better matchup against the Jaguars. The Jags have elite level boundary defenders but they allow 6.3 targets per game to opposing tight ends. Doyle is certainly not a slam-dunk play the way that we had with Zach Miller and Cameron Brate last week but he fits comfortable in most roster constructs and has a decent floor.
Defense Special Teams
1. Los Angeles Rams – The price for the Rams defense on DraftKings honestly feels like a mistake. They rank 9th in defensive DVOA on the year, they are playing at home against Carson Palmer’s rapidly deflating arm and they are favored by 3.5 points. All of the things that you need to justify making a good DST play are here and yet they are less expensive than the almost-league worst Bucs, the freaking COLTS and even the Saints.
2. Carolina Panthers – The Panthers defense projected to be one of the best in the league this year if Luke Keuchley could stay healthy and he is struggling with concussions right now but this matchup against the Bears is at worst, a good floor spot. The Bears are not passing enough to really damage your defend and Trubisky doesn’t exactly look ready.
3. New York Jets – The Jets are a great tournament DST option because I do think there is a load of upside here and they are a little overpriced relative to the slate. As we go through the bye weeks, there will be less and less optimal spots to pick defenses. The Jets are not a great defense and are on the road but they are facing the QB who cares the least about footballing, which is an elite spot to gamble on DST touchdowns.
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