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With a healthy dash of context, it could be helpful -- actionable, even -- to know how a defense is being attacked.
Are opposing offenses peppering the middle of the field against a certain defense, leading to a glut of tight end opportunity? Are wide receivers having their way against a defense, commanding a massive target share? Are running backs seeing plenty of dump off opportunities against a particular defense?
These are questions I’ll address in this space, examining which positions are seeing the most opportunity against a certain defense in an exercise that might serve as the tiebreaker in your agonizing start-sit decisions.
We’re going to glean from 2019 target data to start, but with every passing week, our understanding of how offenses are going after defenses should improve. Context will be key, as a bunch of targets to Travis Kelce doesn’t mean Tyler Eifert is going to see the same kind of opportunity against the same defense. If only it were that easy.
Devin Singletary (Buffalo Bills) vs. Raiders: In 12-team leagues, you might be torn on using Singletary in the flex this week after he got the backfield gig to himself in Week 3 and failed to cap off an otherwise productive day with a touchdown. Fantasy managers in 10-team leagues might not consider Singletary this week, depending on roster construction. But wait!
Singletary’s peripherals, even with rookie Zack Moss in the lineup, have been encouraging, bordering on spectacular. In Week 1, he out-snapped Moss 59 percent to 45 percent, seeing seven targets to Moss’ four, and running 26 routes to Moss’ 20 routes. Yeah, Moss caught the touchdown. The opportunity belonged to Singletary though. In Week 2, Singletary again out-snapped, out-targeted, and ran more routes than the rookie. Moss, in fact, didn’t run a single route that week, seeing eight carries to Singletary’s 10.
With Moss out of the Buffalo lineup last week, Singletary drew five targets (16 percent target share) while running the fifth most routes among running backs (36). TJ Yeldon went without a target and got three totes. That’s a long winded way of saying that even if Moss is activate for Week 4 against the Raiders, Singletary looks an awful lot like the primary pass-catching back for the Bills.
Running backs have seen 32.3 percent of the targets against the Raiders through Week 3. Only the Panthers have allowed a bigger target share to backs. You may furrow your brow and say, but wait dear fantasy analyst, didn’t the Raiders play Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara in the season’s opening weeks? You would be correct, dear fantasy analysis consumer. But CMC saw just four targets against the Raiders in Week 1. Kamara had nine targets in Week 2, and perhaps most tellingly, Rex Burkhead saw 10 targets against Vegas in Week 3. Patriots backs totaled 14 targets against the Silver and Black. No defense has been beat for more running back receiving yards than the Raiders.
Vegas linebacker Cory Littleton has been taken advantage of by opposing runners this year, allowing 14 receptions on 19 targets for 130 yards. All of five linebackers have given up more catches this season. Vegas linebacker Nicholas Morrow has been less terrible, giving up six catches on 12 targets for 59 yards and a touchdown. Singletary could continue the running back pass-catching onslaught against Vegas if he gets matched up with Littleton. He should see solid opportunity either way.
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Dalton Schultz (Dallas Cowboys) vs. Browns: A mere six tight ends ran more pass routes than Schultz last week against Seattle. In Week 2, only seven tight ends ran more routes than Schultz. He’s a mainstay in a high-powered offense that averages a league-high 76.7 offensive snaps per game. It’s hard to ask for much else from a fantasy tight end plucked off the waiver wire two weeks ago.
Schultz, with 16 targets (16 percent of the Cowboys’ target share) over his two games as starter, gets a prime matchup this week against Cleveland. Nearly 26 percent of targets against the Browns this year have gone to tight ends — the fifth highest rate in the league. That comes out to 31 tight end targets over three weeks. Only the Saints and Falcons have allowed more tight end receptions than the Browns.
It didn’t amount to much, but last week Logan Thomas had seven targets against the Browns, finding himself open on most of those looks. He didn’t get many catchable balls from Dwayne Haskins, infuriatingly enough.
Opponents using their tight ends against Cleveland is hardly a mystery: the team has struggled to fill injury gaps at safety and linebacker, leaving backups and special team players to cover tight ends. Safety Andrew Sendejo has been targeted seven times, resulting in five receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown. Fellow safety Karl Joseph has given up seven grabs for 59 yards and a score on just eight targets. Meanwhile, Browns linebacker B.J. Goodson is the most targeted linebacker in the NFL, allowing 18 catches for 167 yards and a touchdown on 25 targets through three weeks. Schultz will likely see coverage from some combination of Goodson, Joseph, and Sendejo this Sunday.
Dallas has an implied total of 29.75 points. Good process says we play tight ends on teams with high totals. Let’s go.
Greg Ward (Philadelphia Eagles) at 49ers: It’s something less than fun to tout a guy catching passes from Carson Wentz, but here I am, doing just that.
Despite their best efforts to improve their receiver grouping this season, the Eagles are once again left with Ward as the presumed No. 1 option. We saw Ward last week command a 25 percent target share, the 11th highest of Week 3. The converted quarterback ended up with 72 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals while running 46 routes, more than all but six wide receivers in Week 3.
Ward in Week 4 goes against a 49ers defense that’s seen 68 percent of opponents’ targets go to wideouts. Only two teams — Seattle and Philadelphia — have a higher rate. It’s not quite the opportunity that it might seem because the 49ers are allowing 63 offensive plays per game, the ninth lowest in the NFL.
I’m not sure we can put much stock in the Giants’ Week 3 performance against the Niners. The entire New York offense was a raging dumpster fire — an unholy sight that should inspire a new horror movie franchise. Their main wideouts, Darius Slayton and Golden Tate, each saw a meager seven targets. It wasn’t so bleak in Week 2, when the practice squad guys playing receiver for the Jets saw 25 targets against the 49ers. Arizona receivers, led by DeAndre Hopkins, saw 27 targets against the Niners on the opening Sunday.
Alshon Jeffrey is expected to miss another week in his long, slow comeback from offseason foot surgery. DeSean Jackson is banged up, as per usual. Jalen Reagor is out for at least another month. That leaves Ward and rookie John Hightower — who ran more routes than Ward in Week 3 — as the team’s lone healthy wideouts. With the Eagles likely to face heaps of negative game script (they’re 7 point road underdogs) this week, you could do worse than Ward as a flex play in deeper formats.
C.D. Carter is co-host of Living The Stream, owner of DraftDayConsultants.com and author of fantasy football books, including How To Think Like A Fantasy Football Winner. He can be found on Twitter @cdcarter13. He never logs off.