Receiver plays are a week-to-week thought process in NFL DFS, due to a variety of outside factors impacting receiver performance. One of the best ways to predict who will break out is by examining their secondary opponents for that individual game. Every week of the season, Sam Smith will take a look at advantageous matchups for receivers against vulnerable secondaries, whether it be schematic advantage or merely a weaker cornerback head up on a star receiver. Let’s get into some NFL Matchups and give out some NFL DFS picks for your fantasy football lines, Week 10 on DraftKings, FanDuel, Yahoo and FantasyDraft, including Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders
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Saints vs. Falcons — Michael Thomas vs. Atlanta’s Entire Secondary, but Especially Isaiah Oliver
I try to avoid top-five receivers in this column so as to provide a little more below-surface insight. However, this week, the Atlanta matchup is screaming louder than any other. Michael Thomas is, by most metrics, the leader in the clubhouse when blending massive volume with high efficiency. No receiver with eight games has more targets, receptions or yards and no receiver, period, has more of the latter two. Only twice has Thomas seen single-digit targets and only once has he caught fewer than eight passes. In other words, his volume is as sure a thing as there is right now.
Even more impressive is the efficiency at said volume. Thomas is averaging over 10 yards per target and his 2.88 yards per route run is tied for third. And while it is nice that Drew Brees is back, the passer has not mattered much, as Thomas’ numbers have been consistent across the board. It also has not mattered where he lines up. While Thomas primarily sets up wide, slightly favoring the left, he has also played just shy of a quarter of his snaps from the slot. And when he has lined up in the slot, Thomas has dwarfed others in terms of his efficiency. He leads all other qualified receivers with 3.40 yard per slot route run, .62 yards more than anyone else. He has also caught all 26 catchable slot targets for 299 yards, 13th-most despite playing the 39th-most slot snaps.
All of this is to say that Thomas will get cracks at everyone on Atlanta. I am not picking favorites here, there will be mismatches all over the field, especially with Desmond Trufant potentially missing yet another game. In his absence last game (week 8), the Falcons mixed up their defensive backfield a bit, sending slot corner Damontae Kazee back to free safety and moving Trufant’s replacement Kendall Sheffield into the slot. Results were mixed. Seattle threw the ball only 20 times, but Russell Wilson had 9.2 yards per attempt and threw a pair of touchdowns. So even at low volume, Atlanta’s secondary makes for good NFL DFS fades.
Isaiah Oliver has the big target on his back this week, even with the entire secondary struggling mightily. He plays on the right almost exclusively, which will be opposite Thomas most of the time, and Oliver is also simply the most vulnerable cover on the team in general. He has the highest yards per coverage snap, the fewest snaps per target and the fewest snaps per reception allowed. Oliver’s allowed completion percentage is OK—66.7 percent—but receptions he does allow are going for chunk yardage. With his volume of targets mixed with Thomas’ production, that seems the most obvious matchup to exploit this week. But again, Thomas should feast all over the field. For NFL DFS purposes, he is as lock as locks can get.
Ravens at Bengals — Marquise Brown vs Dre Kirkpatrick (if He Plays) or B.W. Webb
Baltimore’s offense is both delightfully fun to watch and a real pain for fantasy purposes. Outside of Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram, there really is no consistent play week to week. Mark Andrews provided that for a time, but he is coming off back-to-back two-catch, sub-40-yard games. And Baltimore’s offense, while first in points and second in yards, is 29th in pass attempts and 20th in passing yards. It makes for a tough pass-catching crew to diagnose.
That being said, I love Marquise Brown in his matchup with the Bengals this week. Brown is one of only two Ravens wide receivers with more than 20 targets (Willie Snead), as the Ravens first, fourth and fifth place holders in targets are all tight ends. Brown’s volume and availability have been spotty, but he has proven himself one of the better deep threats already. He ranks 11th in yards per route run at 2.29, and of those in the top 10, only Tyreek Hill has seen fewer targets. That speaks to the chunk yardage Brown has amassed, despite missed time and relatively low opportunity.
Even with the big play ability, Brown’s low target share would scare me off if not for the opponent. Cincinnati has been one of the worst deep ball defenses all season, and they ranked dead last in DVOA against deep throws heading into this past week. Free safety Jessie Bates has not played particularly well, allowing a rating of 137.5 when targeted, but he has seen very few targets (15.7 coverage snap per target). So the deep ball struggles fall more on the corners (and on the pass rush, but that is another story).
Of Cincinnati’s corners, William Jackson III has played the best, allowing just over one yard per coverage snap and a 53.6 completion percentage. And since he plays on the right and Brown slightly favors the other side, I focusing on the left. As of now, it is not totally clear who will be starting alongside Jackson. It seems Dre Kirkpatrick is going to need more time as he still is not practicing, which would place B.W. Webb opposite Brown. Both have struggled, but Webb has allowed more big plays, evidenced by 11.7 yards per target.
Regardless of who lines up across from Brown, neither can match his elite speed. Brown may not see the huge targets, but those mismatches on the outside point to serious home run potential. The game script could lead to a run-heavy Baltimore blowout, to be sure. However, that does not mean Brown cannot pick up major fantasy points in the first half. Look to the first game of the season against Miami where Brown buried the Dolphins early. For my eyes, this screams NFL DFS bounce back for the rookie.
49ers vs. Seahawks (MNF) — Emmanuel Sanders vs. Jamar Taylor
This is a strange matchup choice on my part, I will admit. For one, the 49ers are a run-first offense, so volume could be a concern. Secondly, Jamar Taylor is a slot-exclusive corner for the most part, and Sanders is not a slot receiver in the Cooper Kupp, Tyler Lockett sense. He plays roughly a third of his snaps from the slot, and in two games with San Francisco, has seen far more of his production come when split out wide. But Seattle has a pretty sizable dip in coverage quality moving from outside in. Shaquill Griffin has been solid, only allowing receptions every 13.3 snaps and just over a yard per coverage snap. Tre Flowers‘ numbers are similar, albeit with fewer snaps per target and per reception.
Only Taylor’s individual numbers look ugly on paper. He is seeing targets every 4.4 snaps out of the slot (second-fewest), receptions every 6.1 snaps (fewest) and his 2.0 yards per slot coverage snap are third-worst in all of football. On top of that, the two guys ahead of Taylor in that last category are not full-time designated slot corners. So basically, Taylor has the most exploitable volume of targets of any nickel in the game right now.
Let’s get back to Sanders. Sure, his slot volume is not particularly high relative to slots around the league, but among active 49ers receivers, his efficiency is far and away the best. He is the only 49ers receiver with at least 20 targets (23), the only one with more than 10 slot receptions (19), the only one with more than 100 slot yards (235) and has .34 yards per slot route run more than any other active receiver.
Of course, that is all taking into account Sanders’ time in Denver. If we look back just on Sanders’ two games in San Francisco, we still see higher volume. In those two games, he had the most snaps out of the slot, the most yards per route run, scored the only slot touchdown and was tied for the most receptions. Deebo Samuel saw more targets, but it amounted to half as many yards per route.
All of this is to say that Sanders has enough volume to suggest he will get his cracks at Taylor. Seattle does not shadow, so Taylor will handle Sanders whenever he ventures into the slot. And history, both recent and season-long, suggests Sanders is the 49ers receiver most equipped to exploit that mismatch. Sanders will get his on the outside, but I see his NFL DFS value far more against Taylor inside.