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 — we’ll focus on tight ends this week — 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.
Evan Engram (Giants) at Washington
Here's something Evan Engram drafters, in all their various states of misery, might not know: he has the third most targets and has run the third most pass routes among tight ends this season. All that opportunity has added up to a TE16 first half of 2020 for the uber athletic Engram.
Fresh off an 11.1-point outing against Tampa in which he saw 10 targets — continuing a season of disastrous efficiency — Engram in Week 9 gets a Washington defense that has proven vulnerable to tight ends for much of 2020. Tight ends have seen 25 percent of the targets against the Football Team, the fifth highest rate in the league through Week 8. Twenty-eight percent of receiving yards logged against Washington has come via tight end, the league's highest rate.
You may or may not recall Engram playing these Football Teamers a few weeks ago in New York. Engram tallied just three of seven targets to Giants tight ends that day, ending with two catches for 30 yards. Not exactly inspiring, I know.
But a look at tight end opportunity against Washington reveals an encouraging pattern: Eagles tight ends combined for 17 targets against Washington in Week 1; Arizona's little used tight ends saw five targets in Week 2; Cleveland tight ends combined for seven targets in Week 3; and in Week 5, Rams tight ends caught six of six targets for 102 yards against the Football Team. There's no question that Engram could see a good number of looks against Washington this week — it's just a matter of what he does with that opportunity.
Much of that tight end success has come against Washington linebacker Jon Bostic, the guy who knocked out Andy Dalton in Week 7 for no discernible reason. On 27 targets against Bostic this season, he's given up 21 catches for 186 yards. Pro Football Focus grades Bostic 107th in pass coverage among linebackers this year. The rest of the team's linebackers grade out well in coverage, per PFF, but Bostic has been a major liability against tight ends.
The problem with Engram, of course, is that Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is using Engram like he used the statue of Jason Witten in Dallas. Engram's 5.3 yards per target is a travesty. That he hasn't been deployed as a consistent downfield threat is a disservice to the Giants and those who drafted Engram in the middle rounds of their fantasy draft. There is a glimmer of hope though, as Engram has seen a few downfield shots come his way over the past couple games. His yards per target has ticked up to 6.3 over that stretch — not much, but it's something. Engram's 124 air yards over his past two games account for 41.8 percent of his total 2020 air yards. Maybe — just maybe — Garrett is willing to experiment with his big, fast tight end as a deep threat. In a matchup against a vulnerable Washington defense, we might find out.
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Greg Olsen (Seahawks) vs. Bills
Any Seahawks pass catcher not named D.K. Metcalf or Tyler Lockett is going to be a fringe fantasy option because the team's target tree is so incredibly narrow. Keep that in mind if — in desperation — you're snagging Greg Olsen off the waiver wire and playing him in Week 9.
The matchup is right though. Buffalo opponents have gashed the Bills all season via the tight end, with 25.8 percent of targets against the Bills going to tight ends. Only three teams have a higher rate of tight end targets against them. Even Chris Herndon — quite miraculously — got in on the act in Week 1, catching six of seven targets for 37 yards against the Bills. Mike Gesicki, Darren Waller, and Jonnu Smith have gone on to have big days against Buffalo. The seldom-used Ryan Izzo somehow caught two balls for 24 yards against the Bills last week.
Olsen, meanwhile, has played 66 percent of Seattle's offensive snaps this season and drawn 11 percent of the team's target share. He remains the only Seahawks tight end running pass routes consistently, averaging 27.4 routes per game. Olsen could see coverage this week from Tremaine Edmunds, who has surrendered a mind-boggling 21 receptions for 357 yards and three touchdowns on 24 targets this season. Buffalo linebacker Tyrell Dodson has also struggled in pass coverage, allowing 12 catches on 14 targets.
In a game with the week's highest over-under (54.5) — an important aspect of tight end streaming — Olsen looks like someone who could take advantage of Buffalo's glaring weakness — one Russell Wilson might know about. Olsen is on the waiver wire in 85 percent of Yahoo leagues.