WR vs. CB Matchup Analysis: Divisional Round
One of the keys to NFL DFS success is locating the highest upside at the wide receiver position. Which wideouts have the easiest matchups against the opposing secondaries? Which receivers will fly under the radar and make the difference in large-field tournaments? Each week this NFL season, ChrisGimino will explore his favorite WR plays on the slate, with the sort of insight and knowledge that only he can provide!
Michael Thomas and Saints vs. Eagles
The Eagles chose to double team Michael Thomas back in Week 11, allowing him just 4 targets. Thomas was successful anyway for fantasy (4/92/1). Since then, the secondary has eroded with injuries and the Eagles have been somewhat reliant on scheme to get the job done. If we operated under the assumption that Thomas could work one on one with Rasul Douglas all game, this would be a blood bath. The Eagles run defense causes the second highest percentage of blown blocks, and has enticed teams run against them at the leagues lowest rate. This is set to be a high volume passing attempt game for Drew Brees, and Thomas would get enough chances to absolutely embarrass Douglas, the player charged with allowing the TD to Thomas in their first meeting. I don’t see how the Eagles let that happen, and I can see Thomas needing to produce with high efficiency over high volume in this game.
The Saints will still throw it though, and that is going to open up opportunity for the primary back Alvin Kamara and their secondary WR options. Ted Ginn is the player we should be looking at first and foremost. Additional attention from safeties will leave the Eagles exposed to two options: Pressure the QB and force quick release, or risk allowing Ginn to get over the top for the deep ball. Ginn is also more than capable of operating in a shorter area if needed, but the deep ball on a short slate represents our best chance of success with him. Given that Brees has been afforded the fourth-highest rate of clean pockets and seen just the third-highest rate of QB pressure in 2018, I can see the probability of having time to throw downfield being high. For this reason, either Ginn or rookie Tre’Quan Smith is going to have the chance to get deep and /or see an elevated target share thanks to the double teaming of Thomas. This is a spot to watch. As a GPP dart, we can also have some interest in Keith Kirkwood.
T.Y. Hilton vs. Chiefs
At the Macro level, the Colts are underdogs on the road in some of the harshest conditions. Arrowhead in January is no picnic, and the Colts offense will be dealing with one of the NFL’s truest home field advantage situations. I expect that to mean a high volume of quick passes when they go to the air.
The Kansas City secondary has a reputation of being a big play machine thanks to allowing the most raw explosive plays in the NFL this season, but their late season trend in this category has been downward and their percentage was just 10th-highest in the NFL overall. They have far more to worry about stopping the run these days. Andy Reid has had a lot of nice things to say about DB Charvarius Ward, who will wind up having to cover T.Y. Hilton at certain points in this game (Hilton moves around, and no single DB will have him full time). Ward really struggled in two starts on the road, but performed admirably against CIN and OAK at home. Unfortunately, T.Y. Hilton is a much tougher opponent than any of the WRs those two teams unleashed. Both Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett serve as better comparable matchups, and Ward was hit up for 5 receptions and 110 yards against those players in Week 16. Hilton has a full bag of tricks he can use on Ward in this game, including running routes within 10 yards of the line where 53% of his targets are thrown. This just isn’t a good look for the Chiefs if they can get Hilton matched up on him often.
Steven Nelson is the alternative outside cover option that we’ll see on Hilton. Which Steven Nelson you ask? The one who allowed the third-most yards (766) and 11th-most touchdowns in pro football. In a game the Colts have a strong chance of trailing later in the game, expect a high volume of targets for Hilton unless the Chiefs make a concerted effort to ensure the targets go elsewhere. Even if they try, I’m not sure how successful they’ll be. Nobody can cover him on this defense.
Tyreek Hill vs. Colts
I am not going to have a high exposure to Tyreek this week, and it’s a decision that is always accompanied by panic. The sheer explosiveness of his game should make us all nervous. I have a few bullet points on why I like the idea of other Chiefs securing the production, and not him. Firstly, Pierre Desir is a fine cornerback, with a positive yards downfield vs. IND (8.1%) thanks to the Colts scheme. They willingly give up a high success rate of passes to RBs and TEs in exchange for the avoidance of damaging big plays. Hill can certainly be impactful in the short area, so I’m not suggesting he’ll be shut down. I am mostly suggesting we might not see his peak performance without huge plays. The last point on Hill is the game script. I expect the Chiefs to be quite effective with Travis Kelce, who will see the league’s most TE friendly fantasy defense. 65.89% of TE targets were successful, and the Colts allowed the second-highest rate of TE targets. Kelce figures to be the primary weapon for KC in this game. If they happen to open a lead using his talents, I will be looking for the Chiefs to leverage their running game and home crowd advantage to a high degree. A big KC lead would certainly hurt the game script for Hill. I don’t feel great about it, but we have to plant our flag someplace on a loaded 4 game slate. Mine won’t be with Hill.
Amari Cooper vs. Rams
The Cowboys must now take the road to face a Rams defense that is fierce up front and strengthened by the return of Aqib Talib in the secondary. QBs enjoyed the second-fewest clean pockets in 2018 against this unit, and Dak Prescott was pressured at the seventh-highest rate. The projected game flow is that of the Cowboys being behind, and perhaps later in the contest forced to go to the air. Early in the contest, they will no doubt be riding Ezekiel Elliott. The confluence of the Cowboys trailing in a playoff environment and the existence of Aaron Donald make me very concerned for how well they can perform as this game draws to a conclusion. This would very much be damaging to the upside of Amari Cooper. Cooper is certainly well on the table as an option worth using this week based on his projected workload, but in terms of matchup he will no doubt be aligned with Talib at some point. This is something he didn’t have to worry about in Oakland as much, as Talib was busy stealing the chain of Crabtree on the other side of the field. Talib has been graded above 70 by PFF in 8 seasons since 2008, including this season. It’s a tough individual matchup for sure, and I think we’re taking the worst of it if we make Cooper a primary GPP weapon for us this weekend.
Robert Woods vs. Cowboys
Anthony Brown is the weak link in the Cowboys secondary, and the Rams would be wise to attack him with their strongest WR asset Robert Woods. His rating allowed of 109.25 was the highest allowed among Cowboys starters. The Cowboys defense ranked 25th in explosive pass rate allowed, while allowing a high rate of success in both the 0-9 and 10-19 yard depths this season. This is suitable for Woods, who saw 88% of his targets 19 yards or closer to the line of scrimmage. No team lined up with three WRs more often than the Rams did in 2018, and that will put Woods in the slot all day long. I like him a great deal in the Divisional round games.
Alshon Jeffery and Eagles vs. Saints
This is one of the toughest matchup and teams to assess on the whole slate. They got blown up by this defense in Week 11, but BDN was not at the helm in that game. The Eagles run game leaves something to be desired, with a 31st ranking in yards before contact and facing a Saints D that has seen the third-lowest run % against them through the course of the season. It’s going to have to be the passing game that gets it done if the Eagles are going to be competitive, and I expect them to show up much better than they did in their prior meeting.
Of their WR matchups, Alshon Jeffery has the most challenging individual cornerback to face. Marshon Lattimore has shown vulnerability at times this season, and Jeffery does sport a three-inch height advantage in addition to his wide catch radius. He’s sort of an ideal archetype to face a guy like Lattimore who is likely to contest his targets vs. letting him get wide open. Per PlayerProfiler, Lattimore has allowed a 111 passer rating in coverage. He’s allowed almost 800 yards this season, which was fifth-most in the league. You don’t have to fade Jeffery this weekend due to the matchup. It’s not as bad as you think.
Last week we talked about the Bears having seen few snaps against two TEs and how Golden Tate might have a chance as a result. He came through, but unfortunately the Saints don’t have that same tendency to force their opponents into 11. The Eagles will likely revert back to some form of two-TE sets more often. I don’t think that means Golden Tate can’t have a good game. I just think it means we should not expect some 10-catch kind of game. Tate still only played on 62% of snaps. His individual matchup with P.J. Williams is good, and it only takes one TD to get there on these playoff slates. I’ll be aiming at building my rosters with less Tate this week, but won’t be mad at anyone who wants to roll the dice on the Eagles ramping him up into the offense even more. I’m just going to trust the personnel they’ve used to get them to this point, and bank on seeing plenty of that second TE over Tate.
Julian Edelman and Patriots vs. Chargers
Desmond King is an all-pro slot corner. The idea that we’d want to play Julian Edelman against him isn’t common sense, but I think we can do it if we want to get fancy. Why? We really haven’t seen a slot DB who can truly impact his target totals, that’s why. I don’t think King is going to be the first one. The issue might be that Edelman doesn’t have the same YAC upside with King closer on his tail, but I don’t think he can overcome the timing and game planning edge the Patriots hold over their opponents at all times. Edleman has 10 targets in six of his last eight games, and the two lower target games came against the Jets. He scored in both. On a PPR site like DK, I would fully expect Edelman to be in the mix for his usual 15-20 DK points in the absence of a TD. He should have some upside beyond that as well if he can shake King in the end zone for a score. I won’t be betting heavy on the Patriots passing game, but will mix in some lineups with Edelman despite the very challenging matchup.
Keenan Allen and Chargers vs. Patriots
One of the easiest fades on the board for me this week is Keenan Allen, who will be moving around I suspect but won’t be able to shake the scheming of the Patriots anywhere he goes. Stephon Gilmore and JC Jackson are perfectly capable of shadowing their outside WRs when Allen is in the slot, allowing additional support on Allen that should make it difficult for him to find open space on a regular basis. His only recent matchup vs. the Patriots saw him produce a lack luster game in 2017, and I have no reason to believe the matchup is presenting substantial upside from that. The Patriots allowed just the 24th-highest rate of pass success in the NFL, while performing quite poorly in some run game metrics. I would think the Chargers would be strategizing ways to capitalize on the Patriots weakest unit, and based on rush success rate (50.41%, second highest) that would be their rush defense. You know the cliche… the Patriots take away your biggest weapon. I think that holds true this weekend for Allen.