Benny Ricciardi analyzes this week’s Thursday night, Sunday night and Monday night matchups for NFL DFS!
Every week, I analyze NFL matchups using readily available information from multiple sources in order to paint the clearest picture possible. I use a combination of offensive and defensive metrics from Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus, Fantasy Pros, and our own proprietary stats from Fantasy Guru and Elite Fantasy in order to identify the best and worst options to use for NFL DFS purposes.
The article relies heavily on statistics to drive the analysis. Every statement is backed up by some tangible fact(s). The goal is to take a week’s worth of research and consolidate it in one place for you to consume easily without including any personal bias of my own. It takes a lot of time to put all of this together, and I hope you guys enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Vegas: Chiefs -9, 54.5 Total
Kansas City Chiefs
The defending Super Bowl champs are loaded up again and primed for another run. As long as Patrick Mahomes is under center, this team is going to be explosive and score points. They finished the season third in offensive DVOA, about 23% above your NFL baseline offense. They take on a Texans defense here that was 22nd in defensive DVOA. The Texans were lit up by QBs, giving up the fourth-most fantasy points last season. They also allowed the 10th most to RBs, 11th most to WRs, and ninth most to TEs. This is a dream matchup for the Chiefs, and the 32 team total here agrees with this statement.
Patrick Mahomes is in play every week but especially against the Texans. They did little in the offseason to address the major need they had on the backend. In fact, even the linebacker core gets a bad pass defense grade, so Mahomes should be able to pick them apart at whatever level of the defense he chooses through the air. These two teams faced off twice last season. Mahomes attempted 35 passes each game, finishing with 273/3/1 in the Week 6 loss to Houston before torching them for 321 and 5 touchdowns in the playoffs. He is obviously expensive, but this is a matchup where he has produced big numbers and the opponent is explosive enough to keep this close. He’s definitely in play in one of the better spots you might find him in all season.
This is the most interesting position to discuss. Damian Williams opted out of the season, and the Chiefs moved on from LeSean McCoy. Those two accounted for 62% of the offensive snaps last year. Talent is one thing, but when talent meets opportunity, special things happen. That is the case here with Clyde Edwards-Helaire. CEH was a late first-round pick, so the Chiefs obviously think highly of him. They loved his pass catching ability. McCoy and D-Will accounted for about six targets per game, and those should go directly to CEH. The #2 back on the team is currently Darrell Williams. I wish I could tell you CEH is also going to get the goalline work, but we really do not know that for sure. It could end up with Williams. I would expect CEH to step into that 62% of snaps vacated by McCoy and Williams, so we should be looking at close to 15-20 touches based on what those guys averaged last year. The kid is in a great spot to produce in his first professional game.
They dealt with injuries throughout the year, but the snaps were very concentrated on four guys. This year should be more of the same. When everyone was healthy, the clear top two WRs in terms of snaps were Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins. Demarcus Robinson was a clear #3 with Mecole Hardman fourth on that list. Hill averaged the most targets with 7.4 per game, and his explosiveness downfield and ability to run after the catch make him a threat on any route. Sammy Watkins finished the year with the second-most targets of the WR group at 6.4, but much of that came early in the year and without Tyreek Hill active. I still expect him to be second in snaps and targets but behind guys like Hill, Kelce, and CEH as the fourth most targeted Chief pass catcher. Robinson and Hardman both saw snaps last year, but Robinson saw more. He also edged Hardman in targets. Hardman is definitely the more explosive of the two, but they averaged just around three targets each last season and that was with Hill injured for parts of the year. Either could catch a TD and be useful in a showdown format, but I wouldn’t be looking to either as a core play. The Texans secondary was absolutely garbage last season, and they grade out in preseason rankings just as bad or worse. The Texans better hope JJ Watt can create massive amounts of pressure. Otherwise, they will get picked apart.
Travis Kelce had another monster year in 2019. He led his team in targets and also led all tight ends in targets at 8.5 per game during the regular season. Kelce absolutely torched the Texans in the playoffs, catching 10 passes on 12 targets for 134 yards and three touchdowns. Now, those are obviously amazing numbers he’s very unlikely to repeat, but this is a linebacking core known more for stopping the run than coverage. On paper, this is an absolutely phenomenal spot for the top target on arguably the most explosive offense in the league. He’s a clear #1 TE on any slate he is available to use him on this week.
Top Plays: Patrick Mahomes, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Travis Kelce
GPP Only: Tyreek Hill, Chiefs Defense
Deep Flyer: Sammy Watkins, Darrell Williams
The Texans offense ranked 17th DVOA but did come in slightly above your baseline offense. They traded away DeAndre Hopkins, their long time #1 WR, in the offseason. That trade brought back new starting RB David Johnson, as they also let Carlos Hyde walk. The line has another year to gel, and they did take a small step forward last season. They still do not grade out well as a run-blocking unit, but they do grade out with a slight advantage as a pass-blocking unit against this Chiefs front. KC ended last season with the 14th ranked DVOA defense, slightly better than your average NFL baseline defense by about only 2%. They were pretty solid across the board in 2019 but were vulnerable to running backs, who had the seventh-most fantasy points per game against them. I’m not sure the line or David Johnson have the juice to take advantage of this though.
Deshaun Watson played extremely well against the Chiefs last year. He completed 70% of his passes in the first meeting, throwing for 280 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He did add 10 carries for 42 yards and two touchdowns in that game, so he accounted for much of the production in that upset win. Even in the playoff loss, Watson was brilliant, throwing for 388 with two touchdowns and adding another rushing touchdown on six carries for 37 yards. Watson should be trailing in what shapes up to be a higher scoring shootout here, so he projects for a high floor and ceiling in a matchup he’s already produced in, as well.
As mentioned, the offensive line is not the Colts group that took advantage of the Chiefs last year. Sure, you can run on them, but you need the pieces to do it. Not only is the line not great, but David Johnson struggled running the ball last season with Arizona. Think about the difference between what he did at under four yards per carry and what ultimately happened later in the year when Kenyon Drake was inserted as the starter. Maybe David Johnson bounces back to 2016 form as a top RB in the league, but that memory is getting fuzzier by the day.
The other problem I have is that he is stepping into a timeshare where Hyde and Duke Johnson basically saw an equal 50/50 share of the snaps last year. Duke was productive, even more than David was in Arizona last year. I have no idea how the split breaks down this year, but I can tell you I do not think it’s going to be a workhorse situation for David. They could easily end up in a 50/50 split like what happened last year, and the price on Duke Johnson is so much cheaper that I’d prefer him if that is the case.
DeAndre Hopkins saw 1000 snaps last year, and now he’s gone. Will Fuller and Kenny Stills were the other two guys who saw major snaps in 2019. When Fuller is healthy, he’s going to be on the field for almost all the snaps in the game as he was when healthy in 2019. The addition of Brandin Cooks should also put him in that same boat. The Texans will run some 12 personnel, so these two should end up on the outside when that happens. They added Randall Cobb to play the slot in the offseason, which will be the lineup in 11 groupings. They also have Kenny Stills as added depth and Keke Coutee. I doubt those two get much, if any, run unless we see an injury.
Hopkins saw over nine targets a game on average in 2019 with Fuller seeing 6.5 already when he was healthy. His target share could creep up towards what Hopkins volume was, but that still leaves about 10 targets left for guys like Cobb and Cooks to gobble up. Remember, Watson did throw for over 330 yards on average in two meetings with the Chiefs last year, so those targets and yards have to end up somewhere on Thursday. They do have a lot of talent in that receiver group with Fuller and Cooks likely to play most, if not all of the snaps and likely to split 15+ targets between them. We may see another 5-8 targets end up with guys like Cobb and Stills and the rest go to the running backs and the group of TEs we will mention next.
The Texans have three guys who played last year. The main two are Darren Fells and Jordan Akins with Jordan Thomas a distant third. Akins and Fells ended up with about the same number of snaps on the season and even found themselves in two TE sets together at times. Akins had slightly more targets at 3.4, but Fells was a red zone threat who scored more touchdowns, despite averaging a few fewer targets at just three. These guys were not a major part of the offense in 2019, except for the red zone where they vulture a bunch of fantasy production from the wide receivers and running backs. I do not hate Fells as a cheap TE option on a showdown slate, as a TD for either of them at the low prices they command could enable you the cash to pay up and build a winning roster.
Top Plays: Deshaun Watson, Will Fuller
GPP Only: Brandin Cooks
Deep Flyer: Duke Johnson, Darren Fells, Randall Cobb
Vegas: Cowboys -3, 52 Total
The Cowboys offense was ranked #2 DVOA in 2019, and they may be even more explosive this year. It starts upfront with one of the best offensive lines in the league, but they have talent everywhere. Dak Prescott was ranked as a top 10 QB in 2019, Ezekiel Elliot was a top 10 RB, and Amari Cooper was the #9 WR in PFF Rankings. Michael Gallup struggled with injuries but was explosive when healthy, finishing as the #34 overall WR. They drafted CeeDee Lamb, who was a top 3 WR prospect coming out of college, and now upgraded athletically at TE with Blake Jarwin replacing Jason Witten. This is not the easiest of tasks they face. The Rams defense has a lot of turnover and questions in the front, but they do two things well: rush and defend the pass. The two defensive stars are Aaron Donald upfront and Jalen Ramsey anchoring a pretty good secondary. They finished ninth DVOA on the defensive side in 2019. They were stingy across the board to opposing offenses in fantasy points allowed for 2019, so this is a case of strength vs. strength for these two teams.
Dak had a very solid 2019. Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore deserves a lot of the credit, and new coach Mike McCarthy agrees, leaving him in charge of play calling. These two teams met last season in Week 15, and I think we saw the blueprint the Dallas Cowboys are going to roll out in this game when they do. The Rams defense and their pass rush have a major advantage over the Cowboys’ really good offensive line, but in the run-blocking department, the Cowboys are neutral to a slight advantage. They leaned heavy on the run game last year with much success when they beat the Rams. I know that I am talking about the run game when discussing Dak, but remember the two strengths of this defense are the coverage of the secondary and the pressure Donald and company can cause upfront. They were tough on opposing passing games last year, and it’s not the path of least resistance. We will have plenty of Dak games this year, but I do not think this is one of the better times to play him.
I absolutely love Zeke in this spot. The path of least resistance is to run on this stingy pass defense, and we already know the Cowboys have figured that out based on last season. The offensive line is still very good, and Zeke was every bit as explosive last year as he has been in the past. Zeke averaged 22 touches per game last season with over 110 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns in 16 games. RBs were only middle of the pack in fantasy points per game against the Rams, but that was by far the weakest spot of the defense. Zeke had 24/117/2 against the Rams with three catches for 43 yards on four targets against the Rams last year. Those 34 fantasy points on DK were the season-high for Zeke, so he’ll be licking his chops on Sunday.
Dak had only two games all season with under 30 pass attempts in 2019, and the Rams were the lowest attempts by far at just 23. It is why I was scared of Dak, and by extension, why I am not high on the WR group here. In terms of targets, I do not see much difference between last year and this year. They still have Cooper and Gallup, and both guys project for the same massive snap share they saw when healthy in 2019. They add CeeDee Lamb but lose Randall Cobb. Cobb had a really solid season as a #3 WR with over 800 yards. I am not expecting the rookie to match that, but the point is extra targets are available here.
Last year, Amari Cooper was underused and pretty much locked up with Jalen Ramsey in this matchup. He only saw two targets, making one catch for 19 yards. Like Dak, we will have weeks where we use him, but this is not one of them. In fact, I am not a huge fan of any of these wideouts here. The best-case scenario for this passing game is they fall behind and are forced to pass, but even if that happens, it is not an easy matchup. Gallup saw just three targets last year and had one catch himself. That game did work out perfectly, so the WRs were not needed in the lowest passing attempt game of the season, but it was as much a function of gameplan as it was game script.
Randall Cobb played on 65% of snaps last year, and CeeDee Lamb projects to take those in 2019. He has the softest matchup of the WRs if he ends up in the slot. We are not sure who ends up with that job for the Rams, but the outside guys grade out well, so that appears to be the spot to attack if you need to go to the air.
Jason Witten was a plodder who had a decent statistical year in his return. He was old and slow, unlike Blake Jarwin, who has a lot more athleticism. This showed up in his yards per attempt and depth of target numbers. He offers a little more explosiveness to the offense in the middle of the field and should have plenty of room to operate, as defenses need to worry about so many other weapons. Jarwin will likely suffer from the same fate as his passing game brethren here, and that means we should wait for a better spot to play him, as well.
Top Plays: Ezekiel Elliot
GPP Only: None
Deep Flyer: CeeDee Lamb, Blake Jarwin
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams offense was ranked #3 in DVOA for the 2018 season but fell all the way to 16th, barely above an average offensive grade in 2019. They are now without Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks, two major pieces of this offense over those last two seasons. The offensive line took a big regression in PFF grades for 2019, which was a major source of the regression for the offense as a whole. Luckily, the Dallas defense is also one of the weaker parts of their team. It is strength vs. strength on the other side of the ball, but weakness vs. weakness here. Dallas was the 17th ranked DVOA defense, barely above the baseline NFL defense in 2019. Their slow pace of play kept down the fantasy production of their opponents in 2019, everywhere except for TE. Tight Ends torched this Dallas defense and were the only skill group to finish in the top 10 of fantasy points.
Is Jared Goff good? Is he worth $100 Million+? The answer to the second question is absolutely not, but that doesn’t mean the answer to the first part is no. Last year, he sucked. He finished 20th in PFF QB rankings. The line was in shambles and gave him no time, but it was still pretty ugly. Dallas tends to control time of possession and keep their opponents off the field, which is why they do not tend to give up a ton of fantasy points most games to the position. Dallas did force them to go pass happy to catch up when they met last season, and it wasn’t the worst night for Goff. He completed 33 of 51 pass attempts for 284 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. With the projected lack of a rushing attack this year, he may need to sling it that many times to keep LA in this game too. It just doesn’t project to be the best spot to expect upside.
Todd Gurley is out, and we have a bunch of unproven options behind him ready to stake their claim to those vacated snaps and touches. The original talk was of a three-headed monster of a backfield with rookie Cam Akers, Malcolm Brown, and Darrell Henderson. Henderson is banged up and unlikely to be able to go for week one, which leaves Akers and Brown. Word out of camp is they are basically splitting first-team touches, with Akers likely to get a slightly bigger workload. Overall though, it feels like a timeshare.
This was not exactly a spot to attack the Cowboys last year, and if the game goes as it did in 2019, the Rams could be playing from behind. My guess is Akers > Brown if you are looking for a fantasy option, but overall, I am not sold on either of them being that great of a play. No one can tell you for sure how this plays out, but it does not project to be a spot we need to stress over.
The loss of Brandin Cooks is a blow but not one that is totally negative for the remaining core. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are both above average receivers. Woods finished 11th of 122 eligible in the PFF rankings last year, and Kupp was 31st. I am not high on Goff, but I do like his pass catchers a little bit, especially on DraftKings where the catch volume could be high. Woods played 90% of snaps last year, and Kupp was at 80% despite injuries. Those two should be out on the field as often as possible again in 2019. Cooks played 63% of snaps with 43% played by Josh Reynolds. Cooks is gone, but they did draft Van Jefferson and he looks like he has beaten out Reynolds for the #3 WR spot.
Woods averaged over nine targets a game, and Kupp saw over eight. Cooks vacates about five targets per game, and those are likely to be split between Jefferson and possibly a slightly bigger workload for Reynolds. Woods inches out Kupp for the better play on DK due to passing volume expectations, but Kupp has a higher TD expectancy, which normally is something that makes me like a guy more on FanDuel where the TD scoring is needed. The Cowboys top corner Byron Jones is no longer with the team, and they are using a bunch of young guys in a secondary that was not that good last year anyway. I am not super high on Goff here, so I wouldn’t be looking to grab both of these WRs together, but I have no problem using one or the other on lineups between Kupp and Woods. Both have flashed upside, especially when the game plan skews pass heavy.
This could be the softest spot and the one the Rams attack. It was the worst part of the Dallas defense last year, as evidenced by the top 9 fantasy production they allowed to the position. The Rams actually have a lot of young talent here between Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. Each was the main guy at one point last season, but ultimately, Tyler Higbee looks to be the top target. I want to stress word out of camp is the Rams are looking to go with more two tight end sets this year. It makes sense without Cooks, as that was a major reason they went 3 wide so often in order to get all of those above-average WRs on the field together.
Higbee had a relatively decent start to the season, then fell off a cliff in terms of targets before roaring back to end the season with four games of 11+ targets. He averaged over 100 yards a game during that stretch with no less than 84 yards in any of those double-digit target games, including a 12 catch, 111-yard performance on 14 targets against this same Dallas team last year. You will not find many TEs who get near double-digit targets, let alone above that in four-straight weeks. Austin Hooper, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and George Kittle are some of the highest targeted players at the position, and Ertz was the only one who came close to that many targets over any four-week span during the season. That is impressive company.
Gerald Everett is also a talented guy, but as long as he is behind Higbee, I can’t get too excited. I hope the Rams are not lying about using more two TE sets to get both guys in, but until I see it, I can’t bet on it happening. Higbee is the main guy here, and with this being the way to attack Dallas, he’s high on my radar for this week.
Top Plays: Tyler Higbee
GPP Only: Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp
Deep Flyer: Cam Akers, Malcolm Brown
Vegas: Steelers -5.5, 47.5 Total
The Steelers had to change on the fly when Ben Roethlisberger went down last season. The QB play was atrocious from that point on, and the Steelers had to rely on their revamped defense to stay in games. Roethlisberger is getting older, but he should at least help stabilize the position and take it from a negative to a neutral or better aspect of the team. I mention this because the Steelers offense saw one of the biggest drops in DVOA. They were ninth overall in 2018 but dropped to 31st last season. They managed to go 8-8 with an offense that ranked 25% below league average. That is actually a pretty impressive finish.
Luckily, they face a Giants defense that was 28th overall in 2019, 11% worse than league average. Teams absolutely obliterated the Giants through the air last year with QBs putting up the third-most fantasy points against and wide receivers ending up with the fourth-most. They did bring in James Bradburry at corner to try and solve this problem, but he is slightly overrated and just one piece of what is still a below-average secondary. They are tougher against the run with a big defensive line, but they do not pressure the passer, which has forced teams to try to beat them through the air.
Ben Roethlisberger is not at the peak of his game, but you really can not ask for a better matchup here. The Giants project to struggle with the pass rush and also have a weak secondary, so attacking them through the air is still the best bet for upside. The Steelers project for 26.5 points, which is a pretty healthy total. I know we did not see much of Roethlisberger last year, but think about this for one second. The Patriots were one of the best defenses in the league, and the one game Roethlisberger played, he did throw for 274 yards on them before being hurt in the middle of his second game and missing the rest of the year. That same Patriots defense shut down a lot of QBs last year, so there’s your glimmer of hope. In 2019, we picked on the Giants with aerial attacks all season long successfully, so this is a good spot for Roethlisberger.
James Conner had a problem last year because the offense was very one dimensional, and teams knew it. Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges were both garbage and teams crowded the box because of this. Conner was routinely averaging 15-20 touches and sometimes more before going down in the middle of the season. He returned but never to the full role he had before the injury. This season, the word out of camp is he will.
Despite the lack of a passing game, Conner was still productive, averaging over four yards per carry and averaging double-digit carries through the first eight weeks of the season. He also has great hands, catching 34 of 38 passes and turning them into another 250+ yards and three touchdowns. He is in play for this game based on his projected volume, but his upside relies on TDs and passing game work, as the Giants run defense is pretty stout.
JuJu Smith-Schuster had a hugely disappointing 2019, but a lot of that was due to abhorrent quarterback play. He was primed for a big year, as any fantasy analyst would have told you in August of 2019. He has been showing out at practice and is in line for a big debut to this season. I know the Giants added Bradbury, but I am not convinced that solves the passing game issues this defense had last season. JuJu will also line up all over the formation, so I’m not expecting or even caring about shadow coverage on him here. JuJu should bounce back to the high target load he saw in 2018 and could easily be an upside play with that type of volume.
Diontae Johnson is still banged up, so it looks like James Washington is going to start on the outside here for the Steelers, and given the matchup, he could smash. Rookie Chase Claypool is likely to slide into the #3 role for now until Johnson is able to go and they work out that #2 and #3 WR issue. Washington could be a sneaky upside play here against the swiss cheese secondary of the Giants.
The Steelers added Eric Ebron in the offseason, and word is he will be used all over the formation as a pass catcher. Unlike Vance McDonald, Ebron tends to be on the field running routes and not blocking. They do still have Vance and could end up using some 2 TE sets, but Ebron is the better receiver of the two and thus better for fantasy. The Giants linebackers were garbage last year, except for David Mayo, although he sucked against the pass too. They added Blake Martinez from the Packers, so we will have to see what kind of impact that makes on the passing game. They were relatively decent defending tight ends, but that may also be misleading because of how bad they were at defending WRs. Ebron has some appeal as a red zone target as well, although we have yet to see what the Steelers plan for him is in a live game. The uncertainty makes him more of a GPP play, but I don’t hate it.
Top Plays: JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, Steelers Defense
GPP Only: Ben Roethlisberger, Eric Ebron
Deep Flyer: James Washington
New York Giants
The Eli Manning era ended abruptly last season, and the Daniel Jones era has started. They finished 22nd in DVOA offense, but that includes Eli Manning starts and the fact the Giants were decimated by injuries last year. They have a new coaching staff and scheme, so it’s tough to really know what to expect from them this year. What we do know is the matchup is dreadful for this offense in Week 1. Pittsburgh was a solid young defense in 2019 and should only improve with more time together and a couple additional pieces to fill some holes. The Steelers finished third in DVOA defense last year, 18% better than your baseline NFL team. They can create pressure upfront and have good defenders of the pass on the back end. They held opposing QBs and RBs to a bottom 5 amount of fantasy points, WRs to a bottom 10 amount, and TEs to just the 19th most fantasy points per game, and that was the weakest part of the defense. This one does not project well for the Giants offense.
Daniel Jones played in 13 games last year and had four with 30+ DK points. Those four came against some of the weaker defenses in the league, such as the Jets, Bucs, Redskins, and Lions, who all ranked 7-15th in fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs. When he faced a stiff defense like the one the Steelers had, we saw the young QB struggle. This is a new system with a revamped but still underwhelming offensive line that ranks second-worst in terms of matchup this week. I do not see a big game coming for Daniel Jones under those types of circumstances.
Saquon Barkley is an absolute monster and a clear workhorse back for this offense. Again, we do not know how the new scheme and staff will work, but you can bet a talent like Barkley is going to be a major part of any gameplan. The good news is the volume will be there, whether that is rushing the ball or catching passes out of the backfield. The bad news is the matchup is tough and his offensive line is going to be overmatched. This is nothing new for Saquon, as that is the case in most of his starts.
He averaged over 20 touches a game last season with over 200 carries and 70+ targets in just 13 games. He routinely scores 20+ fantasy points in PPR due to the volume of touches, his passing game prowess, and his ability to get touchdowns. I will never tell you not to play a workhorse back like Saquon, but this is no easy matchup. On volume alone, he is an interesting piece, but by no means a must-play.
This is the hardest part of the offense to figure out for the Giants. They have a lot of talented options here, but how much volume can they truly have. The Giants are not a high powered passing offense routinely looking to sling it 40+ times. They also have an RB in Barkley and a TE we have yet to discuss who are highly targeted options. That makes the pool of potential targets for the WR crew even tighter. Injuries kept one or more of these guys off the field for much of the season in 2019. With a new system and everyone healthy, it’s tough to project where the targets are going to go.
The #1 option according to the beat writers is Sterling Sheppard. He was also the most targeted receiver in 2019 with over eight targets per game. He did have some big games last year and seems to be the favorite target of Daniel Jones, especially late in the year. The price is pretty reasonable for him, although remember, this is a brutal matchup.
Golden Tate and Darius Slayton both saw over five targets on average in 2019. When you look at the snaps played towards the end of the year, Golden Tate and Sheppard were clearly ahead of Slayton in playing time. Slayton was a close third, especially in Week 17 when all three basically played 90% of the snaps. Both guys project to play on the outside here with Sheppard more comfortable and productive from the slot. If either finds the end zone, they are going to be a decent value play, but with a projection of only five targets and a tough matchup, I’m not super high on either of them.
Evan Engram ended 2018 – with no Odell Beckham – as a guy who saw solid volume, especially for a TE. He was actually second on the team last year in targets behind Sheppard. When healthy, he was productive and targeted. TEs had the best production against this stingy defense in 2019. Engram projects for 80% of the snaps or more, as he played when healthy earlier in 2019. His 6.8 targets per game were sixth in the league for TEs in 2019, and he should continue to be a major focal point for his young QB. This is not an elite spot for him by any means, but he’s priced in line with Tate and Slayton on DK and projects for more targets at the same price point for a tougher to fill position.
Top Plays: Saquon Barkley, Sterling Sheppard
GPP Only: Evan Engram
Deep Flyer: Golden Tate
Vegas: Pick, 41 Total
The Titans offense surprised a lot of people last year by being super-efficient and tough to stop. They finished the season ranked sixth overall in DVOA offense, 13% above the average NFL team. They used a combination of a pounding running game behind a bruising back and a stout offensive line to set up one of the deadlier play action passing attacks of 2019. Journeyman Ryan Tannehill proved he could lead a team if the scheme was right, and things worked out very well for this offense. They face a Denver team here that had a solid defense, which was slightly better than average and ranked 13th overall DVOA. The Broncos defense did not allow any position to score better than 20th in fantasy points against them last season. It had a lot to do with the slow pace of play, but that does not project to change in 2020. As you can see by the super low total, this is not the ideal game to be heavy on for DFS.
Ryan Tannehill put up the third-best PFF score of any QB in the league last year, and no, that is not a typo. He attempted just 23 passes though per game, averaging about 200 yards passing and 1.8 TDs passes per game. He lacked upside even in games where he projected for it. Against a solid Denver defense that projects to match the slow pace of play of the Titans, I am not expecting much upside here either.
The best play on the Titans is Derrick Henry, but I’m a little bit nervous here. On FanDuel, he is always a better option because the touchdowns are more heavily weighted over there. His lack of pass catching makes him a slightly less interesting play on DraftKings. He had games with 30 carries in the playoffs last year, so on volume, we have to respect that. He really does not share carries with any other back, although he will lose snaps and touches if the Titans fall behind and are forced to throw. He also had one of his worst games last season against this same Denver defense. They lost an all-pro on that offensive line and already project negatively against the Denver front seven in the trenches. Henry is so tough to tackle and has breakaway speed, so he can always rip off a long run. He will have to do that at least once to make value here and arguably still might fall short if he struggles with the rest of his touches or the Titans fall behind. I do not want to dismiss him as a GPP option, but realize that game script could really crush his chances of producing here in a tough matchup.
It is really tough to get excited about any pass catcher in an offense that averages under 25 attempts per game. AJ Brown saw the most targets last year with just over five. He’s also the most explosive of the Titans receivers, so he is the likeliest to catch a big long TD pass off one of those play action passes. The Broncos bought in AJ Bouye in the offseason to be their #1 corner. He is talented but has slipped from his peak in recent years. I still rank this secondary as above average and expect the front seven to be able to create some pressure to help them out anyway. Brown has GPP upside, but it’s going to be on low volume and require a couple big plays.
As stated above, Brown saw just over five targets and was followed closely by Corey Davis with just under five. Davis actually saw more snaps than Brown did last year, but both guys were well clear of Tajae Sharpe and Adam Humphries. Sharpe has since moved on, leaving Humphries as the clear #3 WR. Again here, I can not back any of these guys in a low scoring game against a very good defense and on a team that projects for very low passing volume.
The Titans use a lot of two TE sets, but they tend to run more often out of them. Jonnu Smith is the #1 TE here, but he does have some competition from Anthony Firsker and Geoff Swaim. Jonnu was the top receiving TE option last year, seeing the most snaps and targets. He played 70% of snaps last season but averaged only 2.8 targets per game. Let other people take the chance on him; that volume is way too low to justify it.
Top Plays: None
GPP Only: Derrick Henry
Deep Flyer: AJ Brown
I do not think stats tell us the whole story about this Denver Broncos team in 2020. Looking back at a team that had a couple different WRs, a different starting RB, and was breaking in a young QB and TE does not paint the best picture. Drew Lock only started for a few games late in the season, Cortland Sutton was only the #1 WR for a small time after Sanders was traded, and Noah Fant didn’t figure out how to play the position until a couple weeks into the season. Throw in the addition of Melvin Gordon and the rookie WRs they drafted, and looking back really is not going to give us much insight about what to expect moving forward. The good news is they do not have the toughest matchup. The Titans ranked just 18th in defensive DVOA last year. They played slow but still allowed league average production to QBs, RBs, and WRs with TEs actually doing the best and scoring in the top 10 fantasy points allowed against them. This is a low scoring projection for the Broncos though, so I’m not looking for massive upside here either.
Is Drew Lock good or a product of some soft late-season matchups? The real answer is I don’t know, and it does not matter for this week. We will likely revisit this argument against some of the better defenses later on in the season, but the Titans are not projected to be much better than they were last year, and last year they were below average. Lock had one game where he slung it 40 times in a 23-3 loss to Kansas City. He averaged under 30 attempts in the other four starts he made and had low yards per attempt. Taken together, the conclusion to draw from those numbers is the Broncos babied him. Nothing wrong with doing that for a rookie QB, but we do not have enough of a sample size to really make any major discoveries about whether or not he can play at this level. I am not as scared of the matchup as I am of the pace and probably gameplan the Broncos install. I just do not see Lock, who has not really flashed a high ceiling, having one here.
This could be a very interesting situation developing here. Melvin Gordon is the big name they decided to bring in this offseason, but he’s been outplayed in training camp by incumbent Phillip Lindsay. They keep trying to replace or lighten the load on Lindsay, and he keeps playing above expectations. Last year, he had a 50/50 split in snaps with Royce Freeman.
Coach Vic Fangio was quoted as saying both Lindsay and Gordon should play enough that designating a starter is irrelevant. That’s never fun for us as fantasy players. Lindsay had two 100-yard rushing performances last year and a two TD game with 80 yards. Those were the only three 20+ fantasy point performances he had in 16 games for 2019. He did get the slight edge in snaps last year to Freeman, but I’m not sure he remains the slightly higher edge of a 50/50 split. He is priced exactly the same as Gordon on DK, and I’m not pretending to guess which of the two plays more. We can guess, but nothing analytically backs up anything here until we see how the coaches handle that split. Unfortunately, it makes me stay away from both guys until we know how the roles will play out.
I love Courtland Sutton and think he’s going to take a step forward. He emerged as the true #1 WR earlier in the year but took a step forward after the trade of Emmanuel Sanders. He averaged just shy of eight targets per game, and no other returning player was targeted even half that much with the exception of Noah Fant at TE, who we will discuss in a minute. Even with a low volume of passes coming from his QB, Sutton was dominating the market share of those targets. He saw 10+ in two of the last three weeks of the season with Lock under center, so the two have established chemistry. I do not know how rookie Jerry Jeudy will be used or whether KJ Hamler, DeSean Hamilton, or Tim Patrick end up as the WR3. What I can say is the secondary WRs in this offense last year saw 3ish targets per game with the TE, RBs, and WR1 seeing more per game. If the talented rookie in Jeudy is going to change that, they either need to raise the volume of passes or consolidate all the other WR targets into Jeudy, because Sutton is going to remain the #1 target in a likely low volume passing attack.
Noah Fant is a talented guy. He’s young and started to figure out how to be productive last season. The good news is he is the clear #1 option, playing 70% of snaps last season. The bad news is that even as the second-highest targeted returning pass catcher, that number was still barely four targets per game. He did have some flashes of brilliance and found the end zone three times, but he never had a dominant type game. He did have two big fantasy games, but it took a 75- and 48-yard catch with a TD and 100 yards total in both to be relevant. Every other week, you were disappointed if you used him. He does have TD upside, and on a smaller slate like this primetime one, he is in play because of that potential TD. With the low volume of targets though, I’m not looking to chase this or be heavy on him.
Top Plays: Cortland Sutton
GPP Only: Phillip Lindsay, Denver Defense
Deep Flyer: Noah Fant
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