Yards Per Gretch: Week 14
Ben Gretch, Editor in Chief of Fantasy Insiders, takes an ultra-high resolution look at the upcoming NFL week. If you haven’t yet been introduced to Ben’s level of thinking, get ready for great takes loaded with analytical insight.
We’ve reached the part of the season where teams start to make decisions on player availability based on where they are headed. Teams going nowhere might see no need to rush back an injured player. They might start to play younger guys in favor of veterans. The Bucs showing no urgency to put a timetable on DeSean Jackson probably fits both.
Teams that are comfortably headed toward the playoffs may add reinforcements or weigh bringing injured stars back for the end of the regular season against having them healthy for a possible Super Bowl run. The Chiefs adding Kelvin Benjamin or how the Chargers and Steelers will handle Melvin Gordon and James Conner all come to mind.
Similar shuffling has led to a number of memorable fantasy football performances late in past seasons, as lesser-known names get a chance to shine in expanded roles for a brief spell in December. Here in 2018, it all seems to be coming to a head in Week 14, a 13-game slate marked by available touches in numerous offenses and plenty of value in DFS if you can identify where that opportunity will go.
Building lineups in this atmosphere is less about salary constraints and more about understanding correlation, leverage, and how team-level schemes and outcomes can and will help determine who this year’s breakouts will be. Among their WRs and TEs, the Broncos have just four players available that have seen even one target with the team this year, and Courtland Sutton is the only one that has seen more than 25. At the same time, they’ve averaged just 27.3 passes in three games since their bye. Will they be able to control the game on the ground in San Francisco? Or could we see a script that leads to 35+ passes, which would all but guarantee a WR or TE smashing expectation? And what do those potential outcomes mean for players like Jeff Wilson on San Francisco’s side? These are the questions you have to ask as you build your teams this week.
Let’s get to the picks.
Austin Ekeler vs. CIN
We all watched in primetime as Justin Jackson out-played Ekeler and the Chargers leaned more toward Jackson late in a close, important conference game. Then, Ekeler’s price jumped pretty significantly, right as it’s unclear whether he’ll maintain the lion’s share of the work with Melvin Gordon again sidelined.
Week 14 presents a perfect spot for RB production, with Los Angeles returning home as big favorites against a Bengals team that has allowed the most fantasy points to opposing RBs this season, and significantly more in the month since their Week 9 bye than earlier in the season. The script dictates plenty of RB volume, the matchup dictates RB success, and the Chargers as a team and Philip Rivers as a QB utilize RBs so heavily in the passing game that they are perfectly suited to take advantage in multiple ways.
A one-game sample has provided uncertainty, despite the reality Ekeler played a 78% snap share to Jackson’s 22%, out-touching him 18 to 9 in the game including 8 targets to Jackson’s 1. Our ownership projections have Jackson slightly more popular and Ekeler at 7.5% and 10% on DK and FD respectively, presumably on the (admittedly decent) possibility it’s a more even split. All season, Ekeler has operated as a significant part of the Chargers’ offense, even with Gordon in the lineup. He’s racked up 806 total yards, nearly half of which have come through the air on his 37 receptions, and scored 4 touchdowns, 2 of which have been the result of a healthy red zone role that has featured 12 carries and 4 targets inside the 20.
Ekeler’s caught 15 passes over the past two weeks, was producing when Jackson wasn’t even on the roster, and isn’t that expensive relative to his ceiling, just relative to Jackson’s price tag. That people are wary of him just adds to how great of a tournament play he is.
Amari Cooper vs. PHI
Cooper’s handled an impressive 25% target share since coming over to Dallas, seeing 8+ targets in four of five games and clearly operating as the No. 1 WR. His explosive game on Thanksgiving Day is really the only big output he’s delivered, largely because the air yards haven’t really been there. He sports an aDOT of just 8.6.
Week 14 presents an opportunity, though, as Philadelphia comes to town for a huge matchup. The Eagles are more susceptible through the air than on the ground, and the close line could foreshadow a back-and-forth finish that elevates passing volume.
Since coming to Dallas, Cooper’s looked like the player who posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at ages 21 and 22, as he’s caught 75% of his targets and sports an impressive 10.6 YPT, in part because he’s averaging 6.6 yards after the catch on his 30 receptions. If this game allows for a volume boost, we could see big things.
JuJu Smith-Schuster @OAK
JuJu is priced over Tyreek Hill and DeAndre Hopkins on DraftKings, and isn’t exactly cheap on FanDuel either. He’s facing an Oakland defense that has been pretty solid against the WR position, although that might be because teams have had little trouble moving the ball against them in other ways. He’s not what I’d describe as a great price-per-dollar play.
But one thing that’s true in JuJu’s young career is when guys have missed time, he’s stepped up. I wrote about how he did that in his rookie year way back in the first installment of this article:
“JuJu struggled to find consistent targets with both Brown and Bell in the lineup, but had three of his five best games when at least one sat or missed more than a half. His single best game, Sunday night in Detroit in Week 8, came while Martavis Bryant served a one-game suspension. That’s four of the five games where he broke 19 DK points. When the offense had available opportunity last year, they used JuJu in a feature role, and he delivered. Every time.”
The Steelers have been pretty healthy this year, but with James Conner set to miss Week 14, I’m of the mind there’s a decent chance they’ll just go pass-heavy and we’ll see one of those games where both Antonio Brown and JuJu notch double-digit targets. We know Jaylen Samuels will be a popular play this week; fading the Steelers RBs to pay up for JuJu’s upside is a leverage play that adds up in tournaments.
The big question this week is which cheap RBs to target. Here are my thoughts on the candidates.
Jeff Wilson vs. DEN
Wilson racked up 23 touches and 134 total yards in a game where Matt Breida was active, while Matthew Dayes played just one snap as the third RB. He looks like the biggest lock for touches and the safest cash game play of the bunch.
His upside is tied to his potential receiving role, as he caught 8 of 9 targets last week and he and Breida combined for 12 targets overall. Nick Mullens threw for over 400 yards in the loss in Seattle, but at just a 4.21 aDOT, throwing just three passes beyond 15 yards on 48 total attempts.
Jaylen Samuels @OAK
The Steelers ran just two offensive plays after Conner’s Week 13 injury, both of which were Samuels receptions, including a score. Probably our best bet for determining what a backfield split might look like is the Week 10 blowout win over Carolina, where Conner was banged up in the second quarter, missed time, came back for the third, then sat the fourth due to the score.
Conner played a season-low 40% snap share in that one, while Samuels played 31% and Stevan Ridley checked in at 17%. Ridley notably out-carried Samuels 8 to 5, but Samuels was targeted 4 times to Ridley’s 1. My expectation is something similar, with Ridley playing the between-the-tackles role and Samuels mostly playing on passing downs. Keep in mind that Samuels played a hybrid H-back role in college, catching more passes than the number of rush attempts he recorded.
If that does become the split, Samuels will still have plenty of upside on the receiving side, but his floor might not be as high as some expect.
Justin Jackson vs. CIN
I spent a lot of time above on the Ekeler/Jackson dynamic, but while I think Ekeler makes for a fantastic option, I’m still very much on Jackson. The reality is this is such a great spot for RB production that I’d expect both to produce before neither does.
Even if Ekeler remains the lead back, Jackson could easily see an expanded role in the second half of what could be a blow out. This duo should rack up 30 total touches, so Jackson is firmly in play as a tournament option I have just a touch lower ranked than Wilson and Samuels.
Touchdowns Per Gretch
One of my favorite ways to gain context about implied team totals is to apply team scoring tendencies for both the offense and opposing defense. Let’s take a look at the most interesting Week 14 note.
New Orleans Saints (32 implied points) @TB
The Saints-Bucs matchup will be a popular stack target, though weather concerns have brought the total down a full 3-3.5 points since opening around 58.
I’ve talked before in this section about how the Bucs defense is dead last in percentage of points allowed via the kicking game, which is to say teams finish off drives against them with scores. Interestingly, this matchup leans toward higher rushing touchdown equity than passing, relative to league average rates of both, even before considering the weather.
I’m not going to fade the passing games in this matchup, but I’ll certainly have some lineups where I target one of the Saints’ RB duo and stack another contest. One of my favorite alternatives is the Houston-Indianapolis tilt, given those teams combined for over 800 passing yards the last time they met.
That’s it for this week. Good luck in your Week 14 contests!
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