If you’re a hardcore fantasy manager, you’re always looking for that piece of information that can give you even the slightest of edges.
Well, for the past couple of seasons, I’ve really gotten into matchup data. For example: Which teams are especially weak on the right side of the field? The left? And can I exploit that matchup in any way?
Thanks to the fine folks at NFL Savant, we can see how much yardage defenses are allowing to certain areas of the field using their fantastic (and free) custom stats tool. For example, teams are currently trying their best to avoid Carolina’s top corner in James Bradberry. He plays overwhelmingly on the right side of the field and as a result, Carolina is actually giving up the second-most receiving yards to the left side.
The Panthers play the Bucs this week and for fantasy purposes, it leads to two very natural questions: 1) Which Bucs receiver lines up primarily on that left side, and is he worth a start? And 2) Should I avoid the man who lines up primarily on the right side opposite Bradberry?
It gets a little trickier to answer those questions as I have to go back and watch game tape and also use free route charts provided by Next Gen Stats to help paint a clearer picture of who lines up where and how often.
Look, sometimes the data doesn’t give you a matchup you can exploit. In the above example, both Chris Godwin and Mike Evans move around and play on both sides of the field.
But let’s break down some matchups I’ve analyzed that do provide some findings which could influence your start/sit decisions for Week 6.
D.J. Moore vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs have allowed the sixth-most yards to the left side of the field and Moore primarily lines up on that left side.
This one was kind of a no-brainer. Moore previously saw Tampa Bay in Week 2, a week in which he delivered his most productive day of the year. As the route chart below would indicate, nearly every target he saw came while he was lined up left:
Last week versus Jacksonville, Moore’s 52-yard catch came while he was lined up as an outside receiver on — you guessed it — the left side of the field.
It doesn’t hurt that Tampa Bay has given up the most fantasy points per game to opposing receivers. Fire up Moore as a strong flex play in 12-team or deeper leagues this weekend.
DJ Chark vs. New Orleans Saints
While the defense overall has played well, the Saints have been burned over the top several times this year, giving up the fourth-most yards on deep passes, according to NFL Savant.
Chark, meanwhile, is seeing plenty of deep-shot opportunities from Gardner Minshew, as Chark not only leads the Jags in air yards but possesses the fourth-most air yards in the NFL. His 14.8 air yards per target is a top-15 number and speaks to how the Jags are using him.
Deep pass connections are obviously extremely fickle but much like the principles behind chasing air yards, you want as much exposure to big plays as possible and Chark is that dude for the mustachioed gunslinger in Duval.
Kenny Golladay vs. Green Bay Packers
You may be wrestling with this decision to start or sit Golladay as Detroit is on the road taking on a ferocious pass defense in the Green Bay Packers. I think you can confidently start him as the Packers have allowed the fifth-most yards on deep passes this year.
For his part, Golladay leads the Lions in air yards and has the eighth-most air yards in the NFL. Like Chark listed above, Golladay is also averaging 14.8 air yards per pass attempt, meaning he is seeing plenty of downfield targets.
Golladay may connect on a low percentage of targets but he only needs one to go his way to be a game-breaker in fantasy. Start him as a WR2 and as they say, trust the process.
Robert Woods vs. San Francisco 49ers
It could be another slow day for Bobby Trees as he takes on the Niners. Richard Sherman plays almost exclusively on the right side of the field so it should come as no surprise that San Francisco has allowed the third-fewest yards to the right.
And while Woods does move around a bit, he is primarily lined up on the right side of the field, meaning he’ll have to tangle with Sherman for most of the game:
This again feels like another game where Cooper Kupp could see double-digit targets, leaving the rest of the pass-catchers wanting a bit more.
It’s hard to bench Woods outright but if you have the depth, it’s not as risky as it seems on its surface.
Terry McLaurin vs. Miami Dolphins
Washington taking on Miami is like a half-eaten sandwich being thrown into a week-old pizza box. If it weren’t for fantasy, who on god’s green earth is watching this game??? I’m being dead-serious — who is honestly going to shell out actual U.S. currency to attend this game? Even the people being paid to cover the game don’t want to be there. Hell, a strong case could be made that the players themselves don’t want to be there. But here we are. Moving forward, whenever I tell people that the entire league would collapse if not for fantasy football, I will point to this game right here as exhibit A, B, and C.
Sorry, I blacked out for a second. But anyway, yes, Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard plays primarily on the left side and teams are smartly avoiding the one good player left in Miami.
Terry McLaurin, meanwhile, lines up on that left side for large portions of games and the vast majority of his production has come while lined up left:
He was still able to produce in Week 2 against Byron Jones (who also patrols the left side) but this week, with some to-be-determined quarterback, a new head coach and a team in utter shambles, I would most likely avoid McLaurin if possible.
James Koh is a fantasy football analyst and an award-winning journalist. He’s probably wrong, but you never know. Follow him on Twitter @JamesDKoh.