NFL DEEP DIVE – WEEK 3

Hi. Andrew Barron here, eager to get into some NFL talk with you all. Many of you know me from the PGA world, but NFL is a DFS game I play just as heavily and a sport I have been following as a fan for much longer. I will be involved in making the weekly projections here this year, which we are really excited about.

We will be powered by the Pro Football Focus premium statistics database, which is something I’ve wanted to be able to use in my analysis for a long time. The point of this column is to use that data to go beyond surface analysis to find the truly best plays, which often will be the chalk but often will not. Find us in slack to keep discussing every week, as a major part of the system is leveraging ownership versus projection as we get closer to lock and have a clearer idea of the week’s total picture.

Now let’s get into it.

QUARTERBACK:

This is starting to feel like the beginning of baseball season when all the teams’ rotations are lined up together, leaving every offense facing either aces or guys who should be in the bullpen. After a very tough assemblage of matchups in week one and a plethora of soft spots last week, we are back to some trickier situations. Let’s wade through it.

Matthew Stafford (FDraft 11.6, DraftKings – 6.2, FanDuel – 7.9) ATL at DET is off to a nice start against what we at least expected to be a two good defenses. His fantasy totals weren’t crazy against the Giants as the Lions rolled them but his efficiency was great. I’m not particularly scared of the ATL defense and with a full, healthy group of weapons, Stafford has excelled when under pressure (nice short route options in Tate/Riddick/Ebron) and when given time (finding MJJ and Golladay downfield). As slight home dogs they are projected to have to keep throwing, and if he can get up over 40 attempts he is looking good for the 300 yard bonus and hopefully hits over on about 1.5 touchdowns.

I’m a little scared of Cam Newton (FDraft 12.3, DraftKings – 6.6, FanDuel – 8.1) NO at CAR as he has really looked bad, missing some wide open throws and not running like he used to, especially in the red zone.

Counterpoint: it sure does look like this Saints defense is going to continue to be the get right spot for ailing offenses for at least another year, and it’s possible he is just working through rust after not having really played for six months due to offseason surgery. The Greg Olsen injury takes away his favorite security blanket, but hopefully it forces more Russell Shepard out there, who is at least fast and should stretch the field. Cam’s best asset is his deep ball, and we’ve seen him make a lot of long plays to mediocre players like Ted Ginn and Philly Brown over the years. Benjamin/Funchess is the slowest WR duo in the league, maybe shaking it up a little is a good thing.

Aaron Rodgers (FDraft 13.7, DraftKings – 7.3, FanDuel – 9.3) CIN at GBThis is going to come down to the health of the offense, as four of the best six or so players were missing by the end of the Falcons game in both starting tackles and their top two receivers. It’s a big if but if all of these guys are back Rodgers should be able to do whatever he wants at home against a solid but unspectacular Cincinnati defense. I wouldn’t worry about blowout risk as the Packers don’t have the personnel to salt away the clock running even if they had the predilection. Latest reports on Nelson have him 50-50, and he is the real key to me as the true (only?) downfield threat of the team.

Tom Brady (FDraft 14.6, DraftKings – 7.7, FanDuel – 9.4) HOU at NE: I think this will strike people as an overpay but that should drive down tournament ownership in a possibly under the radar good matchup. The Texans defense rushes the passer well and should be at least competent against the run. Brady, through two games, is actually significantly better when under pressure, leading the league with a ridiculous 145.4 QB rating, while posting a below average 87.1 when kept clean, per PFF.

While both of these should regress, Brady has always been good under pressure and I do think there are some reasons for the abnormal numbers. He is not a traditionally good deep ball thrower, and when he has had time he has really tried to look downfield for his new weapons, burners Brandin Cooks and Philip Dorsett and linebacker coverage nightmare Rex Burkhead. When pressure is coming he knows it and adjusts at the line to find the weakness, doing a lot of the “use the pass game as the running game” we’ve seen over the years. I may end up shouting this to no one all season, but Cooks is the god mode Julian Edelman, and if they’d put him in that role it would be unstoppable.

Cooks and Edelman are almost identical in size/agility/strength/leaping ability, while Cooks is one of the fastest players in the league and Edelman is just average. Doesn’t that sound like a 7 yard target being taken to the house every other game? I MEAN. Anyway, I think this is an opportunity for the Patriots to return to the offense they have been so successful with over the years, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see 28 points at half time.

Kirk Cousins (FDraft 11.4, DraftKings – 6.1, FanDuel – 7.6) OAK at WAS: I like the Stafford play more but this projects similarly. While Oakland’s secondary is bad, it is also big, which I think could be trouble for the very large dudes Terrelle Pryor and Jordan Reed that are Washington’s deep threats. Add to that the fact that if they get up at all they will absolutely try to mitigate the Cousins effect by pounding the ball into a suspect front seven behind an excellent offensive line.

I think you can make an argument for Jacoby Brissett (FDraft 10, DraftKings – 4.8, FanDuel – 6.5) CLE at IND as tournament worthy salary relief in week with a very tight cap, especially with a very cheap wide receiver I’d like to pair him with that I’ll mention below. Myles Garret and Jamie Collins are the only real players on the Cleveland defense and both are likely to miss. The secondary is entirely tiny people who should be primed for getting burned deep. If he can add 30-40 yards on the ground to a couple deep shots he should be able to pay off that cheap tag.

Oh, and just full disclosure, I personally will continue to look towards Russell Wilson (FDraft 11.9, DraftKings – 6.3, FanDuel – 7.8) SEA at TENbecause I think the breakout is coming, but I will not be as heavily invested as I was the first two weeks. Absolute GOAT QB analyst Cian Fahey mentioned a mechanical flaw he noticed this week, something about dropping the shoulder further to wind up. Not my area of expertise or even competency but if he’s concerned so am I.

WIDE RECEIVERS:

Deandre Hopkins (FDraft 11.7, DraftKings – 6.2, FanDuel – 7.5) HOU at NE: So much volume in a game they should get killed in. I think the Texans will have to pass and it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Hopkins to hit 15-18 targets. I think he’ll see a lot of Stephon Gilmore, who is big, fast, and good, and I don’t care. Too much volume for the money to pass up, at least for cash games (aka H2Hs, 50/50s, double-ups, triple-ups, etc.).

Alshon Jeffery (FDraft 11, DraftKings – 5.9, FanDuel – 7.5) NYG at PHI: Fairly similar argument to above, perhaps less guaranteed volume but a better QB and a likely softer opponent, especially if Janoris Jenkins remains out. Even if the 5’10” Jenkins is in, I don’t know how he handles the 6’3” with 10.25” hands Jeffery consistently (how he has bottled up Dez Bryant all these years remains a mystery to me). Alshon got the Josh Norman treatment week one and then got THIRTEEN targets last week.

Rashard Higgins (FDraft 7.8, DraftKings – 4, FanDuel – 5.1) CLE at IND: No idea who this guy is but he’s 4k on a tough salary week and is a number 1 receiver! His combine numbers are much more those of a possession guy than a downfield threat, which should actually stabilize the floor. I have him projected for around eight targets against a woeful secondary, gotta do it.

Bring it back in that game, I’m really into pairing Jacoby Brissett with Donte Moncrief (FDraft 7.4, DraftKings – 3.8, FanDuel – 5.4), who is fast/tall/can jump and is going against the tiny people in Cleveland’s secondary. I wrote him up last week as a tournament play, and while the connections weren’t there he was targeted eight times, more than T.Y. Hilton. I don’t think Brissett is accurate enough to hit a burner like Hilton in stride on a bomb, meaning Moncrief’s vertical ability should be the more effective route to working downfield.

Mohamed Sanu (FDraft 8.8, DraftKings – 4.5, FanDuel – 5.4) ATL at DET: Not that the outside cornerbacks in Detroit are world beaters, but they are better than Quandre Diggs. Hilariously, Diggs is PFF’s no 1 rated cover corner through two weeks, but I’m going to chalk that up to sample size/Carson Palmer/Eli Manning more than some sort of career turnaround at this point. Sanu runs 61% of his routes into the slot where Diggs lives, and is a bargain for a team expected to score.

Green Bay Wide Receivers CIN at GB: This is a situation to monitor based on the injuries. If Jordy Nelson (FDraft 14.6, DraftKings – 7.8, FanDuel – 8.4) can go he is a nice tournament option as the favorite target of the league’s best QB, especially if the offensive tackles return, hopefully giving Rodgers more time to find his man. If Nelson is out then Randall Cobb (FDraft 11.3, DraftKings – 6, FanDuel – 6.4), himself questionable, and Davante Adams (FDraft 10.6, DraftKings – 5.6, FanDuel – 6.8) get big bumps in projected targets, making them worthy of cash game consideration. As of this writing Nelson is considered a go in our projections, but check back later in the week as we get more clarity because that will change things heavily.

Antonio Brown (FDraft 17, DraftKings – 9, FanDuel – 9) PIT at CHI: There has been a lot of talk about Chicago being able to shut down opposing no 1s, with data to back it up, but I think if we dig closer we see that it is more that they shut down deep passes, still running a Cover 2 scheme which drops two safeties. My argument for Mike Evans last week was that Desean Jackson would be the one running into this area, allowing space for the intermediate routes Evans and Jameis Winston love to hook up on. Same argument this week with Martavis Bryant likely drawing the deep help, allowing Brown to shred underneath. He is fully priced and therefore tournament only, but I think it is going to be an interesting play at lower ownership given the Ben road splits/need to spend at running back in optimal lineups.

Pittsburgh and Tampa switch opponents this week, and so does my reasoning for top GPP target from the respective teams. Mike Evans should draw the bulk of the attention of Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith, allowing Desean Jackson (FDraft 9.1, DraftKings – 4.6, FanDuel – 6.4) TAM @MIN to take the top off against the really fast but really inconsistent Trae Waynes, just like Bryant did last week. Tavis converted four targets into 91 yards and a touchdown, and I think Desean can do similar damage this week at a bargain price.

RUNNING BACKS:

Running back, for me, is much less about some kind of physical mismatch as it is workload, expected game script, and access to touchdowns. With wide receivers and even quarterbacks I can often find reasons to get wacky if I find something beyond the box score, but for the most part with RB I don’t overthink it and play the Vegas sheep role. There are other ways to get weird. This week specifically it is going to make sense to pay up for secure volume at running back in cash games unless some injury opportunities pop up.

Melvin Gordon (FDraft 14.3, DraftKings – 7.6, FanDuel – 7.6) KC at LAC: Get used to this in the write-ups this week but Gordon is a workhorse and I want that security at RB with so many tough situations. Played 83% of snaps last week after 76% in week one, and while the Chargers did not run the ball as much, he picked up work in the passing game with seven receptions on eight targets. This Kansas City team seems awfully overrated to me, and both PFF and DVOA grade them as a below average run defense. I actually think the Chargers should win this game at home, provided the massive Tyreke Hill plays don’t show up.

Ty Montgomery (FDraft 13, DraftKings – 6.9, FanDuel – 7.2) CIN at GB86% of snaps after 90 in week one. The price is more fair but if any of the other GB offensive weapons are missing that will mean more work for Montgomery. GB is not a run down the clock team so I think he is pretty safe for five-six targets and a dozen rushes regardless of script, and he will DESTROY that if specifically Cobb is out.

Le’Veon Bell (FDraft 16.6, DraftKings – 8.8, FanDuel – 8.7) PIT at CHI: Back to 30+ touches last week, 92% of snaps. This is the premier feature back in the league, and his holdout and some early season meh performances have him at a reasonable price. I do think the Chicago defense is pretty solid, and Pittsburgh is on the road, so I don’t know if I’m quite there in cash games unless some more salary relief opens up. But that offensive line is really good, the 40 dong is coming, and in tournaments I’d rather be a week early than a week late.

Jay Ajayi (FDraft 14.5, DraftKings – 7.7, FanDuel – 8.2) MIA at NYJ: The Jets are really bad, Cutler doesn’t look like a total trainwreck, Ajayi gets ALL the rushes (94% of snaps/88% of attempts last week), and he just ran all over a pretty good Chargers defense on the road. A little pricey for a guy who won’t get much if any receiving work but the matchup will not be better all year, save when the Jets visit Miami in four weeks and he’s 9k.

C.J. Anderson (FDraft 10.9, DraftKings – 5.8, FanDuel – 6.9) DEN at BUFCeeeej was actually out there for 73% of snaps last week, and the rushing breakdown thus far is 60/25/15 Anderson/Charles/Siemian. It feels like he’s 97 years old considering the lifespan of RBs and the fact that he’s been hurt a lot, but he’s only 26 and I do think they will keep giving him much more of a workload than Charles for as long as he can handle it.

That said they just lost 1st round pick Garett Bowles and are back to having the worst starting tackles in the league, Trevor Siemian still sucks, and they travel cross country to face a Bills team that is pretty bad but should have an at least passable defense. That’s enough question marks to make me look elsewhere in cash games but I can see the tournament appeal.

Darren Sproles (FDraft 7.7, DraftKings – 3.9, FanDuel – 5.2) NYG at PHI and Duke Johnson (FDraft 8.4, DraftKings – 4.2, FanDuel – 5.7)CLE at INDThese dudes are both either the 2nd or 3rd receiving options on their teams, are practically free, and allow for some wacky lineup construction. Duke may actually play snaps at wide receiver this week. Fun tournament plays.

Christian McCaffrey (FDraft 11.4, DraftKings – 6.1, FanDuel – 6.8) NO at CARI’m on record with a number of what I feel are valid reasons for being down on McCaffrey long term, but the Panthers are using him more than I expected, with 18 and 12 touches in his first two games, against teams with real linebackers. If the Panthers indeed have more Russell Shepard out there just running straight downfield and Ed Dickson blocking, it should open up more space for McCaffrey to run around and do things. Add to that the potential to have (rightly) beleaguered Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro as his man to beat in the open field a couple of times and I see a much clearer path to the big plays this week.

TIGHT ENDS:

Travis Kelce (FDraft 11.3, DraftKings – 6, FanDuel – 7.1) KC at SD: Tight end is pretty ugly this week, and I don’t mind paying up for a little security. I like the Chargers defense but it is better on the outsides, you can’t consistently throw to Tyreek Hill, and I have Kelce projected for the 10th most targets regardless of position on the main slate.

Zach Ertz (FDraft 9.3, DraftKings – 5, FanDuel – 6.5) NYG@ PHI: If you can’t make Kelce work, I have dad runner Zach Ertz projected for the 12th most targets regardless of position. Whether it is organizational philosophy or whatever, the Giants allowed the 2nd most yards/game to TE last year for the millionth year in a row and have thus far given up TDs in consecutive weeks to Jason Witten (Ertz’s ceiling) and Eric Ebron. If Jenkins is back and does work on Jeffery this workload could get obscene.

For tournaments I don’t mind saving a little money with Eric Ebron (FDraft 6.4, DraftKings – 3.3, FanDuel – 5.2) ATL at DET: I liked this guy a ton coming out based on his measurements, and if he can stay healthy he should be at least a souped up version of last year’s Anquan Boldin role. Atlanta is nothing special against the tight end.

Rob Gronkowski (FDraft 12.7, DraftKings – 6.8, FanDuel – 8.4) NE at NO: Always has to be mentioned for tournaments, I think stacking him and Brady won’t be all that popular and he’s just so big that if the Texans can do anything against the run he will be the next red zone option.

IF (big if) the Packers get both tackles back and one of Jordy or Cobb misses I think we can go back to Martellus Bennett (FDraft 7.8, DraftKings – 4, FanDuel – 5.6) CIN at GB: He was no doubt bad even when running routes last week, but I think the absence of Bulaga and Bakhtiari forced him to block more than they would normally plan on. Drops happen, the guy is really talented.

DEFENSES:

There are people out there who still actively target low team totals when picking a defense. Approximately 73% of offenses scored between 14 and 34 points in a given game last year, which is a difference of TWO fantasy points for your defense. We want pressure, pace, and putrid playmaking (that means bad QBs, sorry was going for the whole alliteration thing). Tournament winning defenses almost always have a touchdown, and that is going to come from turnovers.

Steelers: Mike Glennon has been just as bad as you’d expect so far, and while the Steelers aren’t the most talented defense in the world, they do look to rush the passer and play man, with a number of corners that gamble for picks. GTO.

Packers: I will continue to attack the Bengals, who have chosen (chosen!) to let notoriously bad under pressure QB Andy Dalton go to war without an NFL offensive line. On a somewhat related note, I want to stake my claim or buy my stock or whatever on/in rookie CB Kevin King looking like a future all pro. The guy is an absolute freak for a corner, with his closest size/speed comparison being more Martavis Bryant than any CBs. Remember how Julio torched the Packers for the first couple drives and then went quiet last week? That’s right, they put King in the game.

Eagles: Eli seems ticketed for the glue factory, the offensive line isn’t doing him any favors, Odell Beckham is hobbled, Engram (who I like) is too small to credibly play TE next to a horrible line, and Brandon Marshall already retired. The Eagles front seven is legit great and gets consistent pressure only rushing four, and whatever about the corners as long as they can catch the passes thrown right to them.

Bills: This is my fun shot in the dark tournament play. Trevor Siemian isn’t good, the tackles as mentioned above are the league’s worst pair, and Buffalo has a reasonable defense that can create pressure. Traveling across country to face a perceived weak opponent, away from the huge home field advantage that is the altitude, riding high after a couple wins against pretty good teams…seems like a good chance to come out and play like crap.

Go and get it everybody.

Find me on Twitter @andrewmbarron or in the FanVice Premium Slack @hotmajik if you wanna talk strat/make jokes/argue