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We want to know -- we need to know -- how defenses are being attacked.
Though it won't translate perfectly from week to week, understanding which NFL defenses qualify as run funnels and which are pass funnels can and should change the way we create our daily fantasy lineups. Is a team's stalwart run defense forcing opponents to the air at a remarkable rate? How about secondaries so dominant (or teams so bad) that opposing offenses are turning to the run more often than usual?
In this space, I'll highlight which players may benefit from squaring off against a run funnel or pass funnel defense in a given week, along with run-back options on the opposing team. This analysis will improve once we have in-season data with which to work, but using last year's defensive trends and evaluating offseason defensive roster moves should give us a reasonably solid early-season grasp of how opponents will approach certain defenses.
Analyzing pass and run funnel defenses can often generate DFS stacking ideas, both team stacks and game stacks. I'll highlight stacking plays -- for DFS tournament purposes -- where I see fit. I've found evaluating run and pass funnels is an excellent starting point for exploiting matchups and crafting correlated lineups.
Eagles (-6.5) at Commanders
A.J. Brown (PHI) at WAS
There are a lot of avenues to galaxy braining if you, like me, think the Eagles are going to dismantle Washington this week. Philadelphia, coming off their humiliating of the Vikings on Monday night, sport an implied total of 27 points, the fourth highest of Week 3 as of this writing.
A.J. Brown, the alpha to end all alpha wideouts, is the obvious play here if Jalen Hurts shreds a Commanders defense that ranks as the second most extreme pass funnel in the NFL after Week 2. Washington has given up 531 passing yards to Trevor Lawrence and Jared Goff. The red-hot Hurts -- who has the league's highest yards per attempt -- should have no issues carving up the Commanders.
Brown, meanwhile, has a 35 percent target share (third highest in the league) and a 49 percent air yards share (second) through two games as an Eagle. He could very well run wild against a Washington secondary that Pro Football Focus grades as the league's fifth-worst coverage unit. The Commanders are bleeding production against opposing slot receivers -- Christian Kirk in Week 1 and Amon-Ra St. Brown in Week 2. Brown notably has run 27 percent of his routes from the slot in the season's first two weeks.
It's Quez Watkins, however, who leads the Eagles with a 72.7 percent slot rate. The problem: Watkins has a low 64 percent route participation rate through two weeks. He made the most out of his two Week 2 targets, catching both for 69 yards (his early-season air yards per target sits at 33). The speed merchant shapes up as a highly volatile DFS option who might fit well in large-field rosters.
The true galaxy brain DFS player will use Miles Sanders as leverage against an Eagles passing offense that's sure to be popular in Week 3 contests. Sanders, through Week 2, has 41 percent of the Eagles' running back rushing attempts. Boston Scott is second with 11 percent. Sanders has seen 50 percent of the backfield's high-value touches (receptions plus green zone touches). If he goes off against a Commanders defense allowing the sixth highest EPA per rush, that means fewer touchdowns for the highly-rostered Eagles.
Curtis Samuel (WAS) vs. PHI
All the easy PPR production in the Washington offense belongs to Samuel through two weeks. He's gobbling the team's short-area targets with a 3 average depth of target. Commanders offensive coordinator Scott Turner is using Samuel in a decidedly versatile way, even getting him five carries in the team's two games. This week he faces an Eagles defense that profiles as a slight pass funnel.
Washington is and will likely remain unfailingly pass heavy. They're fifth in pass rate over expected this season; 78 percent of their yardage has come through the air, the fourth highest rate in the NFL. We have no reason to think Washington is going to suddenly establish the run. Against the heavily-favored Eagles, they won't be able to. It could be an old-fashioned bloodbath at FedEx Field, which will function as a home field for Philadelphia on Sunday.
That means continued volume for Samuel, who has a team-high 23 percent target share. Another two or three quarters of sideways game script for the Commanders should generate double-digit looks for Samuel. His PPR upside means he doesn't have to score a touchdown to pay off on DraftKings.
There's also Terry McLaurin as a low-rostered run-back option alongside an Eagles stack. McLaurin has done close to nothing in two games, but he leads Washington with a 27 percent air yards share. McLaurin's average targeted air yards (15.7) is the seventh highest in the NFL. If Carson Wentz finally connects with McLaurin on a deep ball or two, McLaurin would pay off handsomely. And again: Hardly anyone will roster him.
Falcons (+1) at Seahawks
DK Metcalf (SEA) vs. ATL
I'm accessing my galaxy brain here.
The main appeal of stacking this miserable Atlanta-Seattle matchup is across-the-board low rostership in large-field DFS contests (or any contests, really). No one is champing at the bit to stack a game with a stomach-churning total of 41.5 points.
Nevertheless, we persist. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, ever the troll, might be ready to let Geno Smith cook after a decade of refusing to let Russell Wilson cook. Smith hasn't exactly lit the world aflame through two games, but he leads the league in pass rate over expected and ranks 15th among QBs with 6.8 yards per attempt. PFF grades him as the NFL's seventh-best passer. Geno, by some measurements, has exceeded our wildest expectations in the regular season's first two games.
In musing about how to jumpstart a stagnant Seattle offense, Carroll said the team must "make sure the ball is going to DK down the field." That would be a welcomed departure from Metcalf's maddening usage through Week 2: His yards per target (5.5) is miles short of his career mark (8.7) and his air yards per target has dropped from 12.6 in 2021 to 6.2 this season. Hence, Metcalf is fantasy's WR57 after two weeks.
The Seahawks, quite shockingly, aren't even pretending to establish the run. Through Week 2, 77 percent of their yardage has come through the air. Only six teams have a higher rate.
Some more downfield opportunities against an Atlanta defense allowing the seventh highest EPA per play could give Metcalf some semblance of a ceiling, and at his depressed DFS price point, that makes him a sneaky tournament option. The Falcons, in keeping with the theme of this column, have seen the tenth highest pass rate over expected against them this year.
Tyler Lockett, who eclipsed 100 yards in Week 2 thanks to a 37 percent target share and a 70 percent air yards share, is also a nice option in a skinny stack (no quarterbacks) with a Falcons pass catcher. Lockett, unlike Metcalf, is seeing some downfield looks (10.8 air yards per target in Week 2). I would suspect Lockett will have higher rostership than the down-bad Metcalf in Week 3, however.
Drake London (ATL) at SEA
I take no pleasure in reporting Drake London leads Falcons pass catchers in expected receiving points, target share (by a wide margin), targets per route run, and yards per route run. While Kyle Pitts is used as a pass blocker and asked to regularly beat the opponent's best defenders, London is shaping up as Atlanta's unquestioned top pass catcher. London, in fact, has the fifth highest targets per route run rate (35 percent) among wideouts. He's a legit target commander.
London's DFS price point remains too low for the role he has in Arthur Smith's hideous offense. And in Week 3, he gets a matchup with a horrific Seahawks secondary giving up the NFL's highest EPA per dropback and the seventh-highest dropback success rate. Seattle's two starting cornerbacks are among Pro Football Focus' bottom-20 graded corners. They're bad against the pass. Real bad.
Maybe London will have a decent amount of rostership. I don't think it will be overwhelming by any means considering the ugliness of this Week 3 matchup. If Marcus Mariota and the Falcons are going to have any success through the air against Seattle, London is going to have a solid -- maybe a spectacular -- outing. The other avenue in a skinny stack with a Seahawks pass catcher is Kyle Pitts instead of London. DFS players will certainly be off the generational tight end and a burgeoning squeaky wheel narrative could magically will the Falcons to force some targets to their best player.
Colts (+5.5) vs. Chiefs
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC) at IND
The Colts through two games are a massive run funnel defense. Only six teams are more extreme run funnels, as Indy opponents have run the ball on nearly 49 percent of their offensive snaps, thanks to plenty of neutral and positive game script.
Next up is Edwards-Helaire, who through Week 2 leads the Chiefs with a 34 percent rushing share, lighting up opposing front sevens to the tune of 7.7 yards per carry. CEH has 48 percent of the KC backfield's high-value touches (receptions plus touches inside the ten). He's in the top-12 in rush yards over expected per attempt. He trails only D'Andre Swift in yards before contact. It's all (finally) looking up for the former first-round pick.
CEH's numbers are a bit skewed by the Chiefs' Week 1 dismantling of Arizona. He was pulled in the fourth quarter. That deflated his usage numbers and inflated Isiah Pacheco's. In a competitive Week 2 affair against LA, Edwards-Helaire accounted for 50 percent of the team's rushes and led the backfield in targets and receptions.
Though Edwards-Helaire isn't dominating backfield touches -- Jerick McKinnon remains involved, even in the green zone -- he could very well be in line for a good number of carries against an exploitable Colts run defense. And like Miles Sanders in the Eagles-Commanders game, CEH represents leverage against popular Chiefs passing stacks.
I should mention Marques Valdes-Scantling and Mecole Hardman have fleeting large-field fantasy appeal because Patrick Mahomes has long tormented Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who has inexplicably refused to deploy the two high safety defensive scheme that has limited Mahomes over the past year.
Hardman leads the team in air yards (132), with MVS second (96) through Week 2. It's Hardman who has Kansas City's highest air yards per target. He also leads the Chiefs with three targets of more than 20 yards downfield.
Michael Pittman (IND) vs. KC
This game could have sneaky contrarian appeal because the Colts offense has made our eyes bleed in the season's opening weeks.
Pittman is shaping up as a go for Week 3 after missing the team's Week 2 shellacking with a quad injury. If he suits up, the Colts should be forced to the air early and often against the Chiefs, the sixth most extreme pass funnel this season. Every offense turns pass heavy against Andy Reid's team.
Pittman in Week 1 was dominant, taking in a 27 percent target share and a 37 percent air yards share. That resulted in a 9/121/1 line against the Texans. Even if the Colts can produce some neutral script against KC, expect Pittman to see double-digit targets.
Ashton Dulin is also interesting, especially if Pittman is again sidelined. The unheralded Dulin -- the subject of much Frank Reich praise this summer -- is tied for fifth in targets per route run through Week 2. That's not entirely due to Pittman's Week 2 absence; Dulin was targeted on 50 percent of his Week 1 routes against Houston. He's clearly carving out a spot in the Colts passing attack, however toothless. Throwing Dulin into a lineup with a few Chiefs is hardly the worst idea you'll have while making Week 3 DFS rosters.