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 during the regular season, examining which positions are seeing the most opportunity against a certain defense in an exercise that might serve as the tiebreaker in your weekly agonizing start-sit decisions.
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.
D’Andre Swift (Lions) at Jaguars
Swift was largely written off — including by this analyst — when he played a comically low six offensive snaps in Week 3. The rookie then played 23 snaps in Week 4 against the Saints, running 15 pass routes, and catching all four of his targets for 30 yards and a touchdown. Not quite a monster week for Swift, his Week 4 usage was encouraging to those who thought he might be buried behind Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson all year.
The Lions get the Jaguars and their Swiss cheese defense this week in a game featuring one of Week 6’s highest over/unders (54.5 points). Jacksonville’s defense is being shredded by pretty much every position, including running backs in the passing game: 22 percent of targets against the Jags this season have gone to backs. Colts running backs in Week 1 combined for a mind boggling 17 catches against the Jaguars; Dolphins running backs caught six balls in Week 3; and Joe Mixon caught six or six targets against them in Week 4. David Johnson and Duke Johnson combined for five targets against the Jaguars last week.
If he retains the Lions’ primary route running duties out of the backfield in Week 6, Swift will see coverage from some of the worst cover linebackers in the NFL. Myles Jack, who missed Week 5, has been targeted 17 times, allowing 13 receptions, 156 yards, and a touchdown. Jaguars linebacker Joe Schobert, meanwhile, has allowed 17 catches on 17 targets this season for 243 yards. The team’s other linebackers have struggled covering opposing tight ends and running backs too. The shifty Swift should have little issue burning these guys — if given the chance.
Running back-needy fantasy managers in deeper formats would do well to consider Swift as a flex play in Week 6, in hopes he once again leads the Lions in running back pass routes and targets in a fantastic game environment.
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Dalton Schultz (Cowboys) vs. Cardinals
Try not to lose faith in Schultz after last week’s gut punch of a stat line. Schultz still ran 29 pass routes (13th most among tight ends) against the Giants. That he came away with one catch on three targets shouldn’t rattle you into replacing Schultz with a waiver wire add this week.
Arizona’s defense is a deceptively good matchup for tight ends. And yes, I’m aware that tight ends have a whopping total of 15 catches against the Cardinals in five games. Tight end target share has been consistently solid against the Cards — 23.17 percent of targets against them have gone to tight ends. That’s the seventh highest rate in the league. They didn’t do much against the Cardinals in Week 2, but Washington tight ends drew 10 targets against Arizona, led by Logan Thomas. Detroit tight ends saw 11 combined targets against the Cardinals in Week 3, and Ian Thomas saw six targets and caught a touchdown in his Week 4 matchup with Arizona.
Schultz is 12th in tight end air yards through five weeks, though his air yards per target (6.4) remains low. It’s not all that surprising. He’s running plenty of routes from the slot, catching short passes and occasionally posting decent yards after the catch. Andy Dalton under center for the injured Dak Prescott isn’t a ding for Schultz’s fantasy value since the Cowboys Offense will likely have to keep throwing to compensate for the team’s startling defensive deficiencies.
Dallas has an implied Week 6 total of 25.75 points. We can expect Schultz and the other Dallas pass catchers to reap the benefits of a high-scoring game.
Jeff Smith (Jets) at Dolphins
Smith, fresh off seeing a team-leading 11 targets in the Jets’ apocalyptic offense, goes against a Dolphins Defense this week that’s been on-and-off generous to opposing receivers in 2020. Miami has given up more yardage to wideouts than all but five teams, thanks mainly to downfield shots. The Dolphins give up 7.7 yards per attempt, the fifth highest mark in the NFL. Wideouts have been targeted against the Dolphins 98 times through five games; only five teams have seen receivers pile up more targets against them.
Smith has been on the field for 95 percent of the Jets’ snaps the past couple weeks, more than any other offensive player. Maybe that’s an indictment on the Jets. Whatever it is, let’s go with it. He’s seen a 27 percent target share over those two weeks, equaling franchise player Jamison Crowder’s target share.
If game script is as horrid as I think it’ll be for the Jets this Sunday, Joe Flacco will throw a bunch and Smith — functioning as the team’s 1B receiver — will have another game with a chance to put up a solid stat line.
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.