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Cover the Field: Favorable Receiver vs. Secondary Matchups for NFL DFS Week 9

Sam Smith

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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 9 on DraftKings, FanDuel, Yahoo and FantasyDraft.

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D.J. Chark vs. Whichever Houston Corners are Healthy, So Probably Gareon Conley

Chark has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. He was little-used in year one, seeing only 31 targets and catching fewer than half of them. Now, with rookie Gardner Minshew throwing him the ball, Chark has already far surpassed his target, reception and yardage totals from last season and is now a legitimate number one on a solid offense; Jacksonville ranks eighth in the league in passing DVOA, per Football Outsiders.

Let’s put some more numbers to Chark’s emergence. He is ninth in yards per route run, which places him seventh in total yards despite ranking only 11th in catches and targets. He is also one of only two players with 10 catches of at least 20 yards and has yet to drop a catchable deep pass. Only Stefon Diggs has more deep-ball yards. That deep threat has been a real boon for Jacksonville, as Minshew has a rating of 130.6 when targeting Chark, fifth among receivers with at least 40 targets.

And fortunately for them this week, the Texans have real questions in their secondary. Houston’s cornerback corps is absolutely dumbfounding, both in terms of quality and insofar as we never know who is available. Of their regular five corners, only Gareon Conley appears to be healthy. Phillip Gaines is on IR, Johnathan Joseph and Bradley Roby have drifted in and out of the lineup and rookie Lonnie Johnson exited Sunday with a concussion. Truth be told, except for Gaines, any of those four could start this week. And honestly, only Roby has been any good this season. He is the only one of the five with a targeted rating below 100 and a yards per coverage snap average in the top two-thirds of the league. Johnson is second-best in that stat and he ranks at exactly the 33.3 percentile.

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But again, the only guy we know is going to play is Conley, so he is the focus of this section. Houston recently invested draft capital to acquire Conley, which makes me think they would start him even if everyone else is healthy. However, the mediocrity in this cornerback room is pretty evenly distributed, so does it really matter who Chark lines up on a play-by-play basis? He will have a mismatch no matter what. Focus on Conley for the health and touchdown volatility, Johnson for the inexperience and touchdown volatility and Joseph because, well, he is too old and slowed to defend most players consistently, as evidenced by fewer than five snaps per target. That especially holds true against Chark’s 4.3 speed. No matter who the matchup is, Chark is a strong NFL DFS play.

Amari Cooper vs. DeAndre Baker

Poor DeAndre Baker. He has been picked on in this column quite a bit, and to his credit, he has started seven of eight games as a rookie. That is an accomplishment in itself. But come on. Baker’s matchups are consistently when of the easiest picks week to week. He’s allowed at least four catches in five games, at least one touchdown in four and 100 yards in three. Overall, his yards allowed per coverage snap is sixth-worst among corners with at least 66 coverage snaps, his five touchdowns tied for second-worst and his targeted rating of 153.6 is worst by a sizable margin. Think about that: quarterbacks have a near-perfect rating whenever they throw Baker’s way. And this is no longer a small sample size. He has seen 39 total targets, or one every 6.8 coverage snaps.

That is enough pouring on Baker. Instead, let us focus further on his opponent, namely Amari Cooper. Cooper ranks second in the league in yards per route run despite sitting 24th in targets and 13th in receptions. He is averaging 16.3 yards per reception and his targeted rating of 142.2 is second among qualified receivers. Only Mecole Hardman beats him in that category, and Hardman has only 28 targets. So Cooper, as far as high-volume receivers go, is arguably the most efficient.

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For NFL DFS purposes, Cooper has been a little more subject to variance than one would prefer. He has three games with fewer than 50 yards, including one with one catch for three yards when he was injured. However, his ceiling games have been as explosive as any, and given the matchup, Cooper should feature in a lot of NFL DFS lineups. He also brings plenty of consideration for a Dak Prescott stack.

Tyreek Hill vs. Xavier Rhodes

For all the stuff Hill brings along, he is indisputably one of the league’s preeminent play-makers. And he is a versatile one at that, both in terms of play design and his positioning. In three games, Hill is takings snaps from the slot about half the time. Ordinarily, I would see these slot matchups as prime spots to take advantage of Hill’s elite burst. However, with the Vikings, it is a little different. The Vikings slot corners have performed well this year in coverage. All three—Mike Hughes, Jayron Kearse and Mackensie Alexander—have targeted ratings below 83, none have surrendered a touchdown and only Alexander has allowed more than a yard per coverage snap. As such, I am not terribly concerned with the Vikings ability to defend Hill when he ventures inside.

Instead, the focus has to be on Minnesota’s two wide corners, and especially Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes is far from the All-Pro he was two years ago and trails teammate Trae Waynes in some worrying metrics. Their yards per coverage snap are near identical, but Rhodes is allowing a much higher completion percentage (85 to 68.6), a much higher rating (124.7 to 98.4) and the same number of snaps per reception despite seeing targets 23.6 percent less often. Plus, Rhodes has a whopping seven penalties to Waynes’ three. In other words, he has been the greater liability in 2019.

Rhodes has not done much coverage against small, quick receivers this year. He and Waynes have stuck to their sides exclusively from week 3 on, and I mean exclusively. Rhodes has three total snaps on the left side, none out wide, and Waynes has taken three on the right. So sure, Hill should get his run at both guys. But looking back at Rhodes’ history, he has had his struggles against players of Hill’s style. The most recent example was Arizona’s Damiere Byrd in a preseason game, where he burned Rhodes for multiple big gains.

Now, one can dismiss that as Rhodes playing loose in the preseason, but Rhodes is more typically tasked with bigger, stronger, up-and-down receivers like Julio Jones. At 6-foot-1 and nearly 220, Rhodes’ size does not lend itself to hanging with Hill. As such, I see Rhodes as the bigger mismatch in this one, and Hill could feast for a big NFL DFS day against Minnesota.

Side note: I am not overly concerned about who Kansas City has at quarterback. Just this past week, Andy Reid schemed Matt Moore into a shootout with Aaron Rodgers, and the Packers’ pass defense has performed comparably to the Vikings—Packers rank eighth by pass defense DVOA, Vikings 12th.

Tyler Lockett vs. Vernon Hargreaves

This year perhaps more than ever has seen pigeon-holed slot receivers enter the league’s upper echelon. Chris Godwin, Cooper Kupp and Lockett have all excelled while seeing a disproportionate number of slot targets. Lockett in particular has seen a big uptick this year as a slot receiver, as he is on pace for career highs in yards, targets and receptions while playing 70 percent of snaps as a slot receiver. He ranks eighth in the league in slot targets, but second in slot receptions and yards, trailing only Kupp. Only four of Lockett’s slot targets have resulted in incompletions. Only one game has seen Lockett fall short of the 50-yard mark, and he still scored a 44-yard touchdown.

This is a long list, but goes to show that Lockett is one of football’s most consistent slot threats. And given his opponent this week, that could be a huge leg up for Seattle.

Tampa has a bit of a mess with its slot corner situation. M.J. Stewart was the primary slot cover early on, but Sean Murphy-Bunting handled the bulk of it in week 6, and Stewart was a healthy scratch this past week. Now it seems Tampa is trying out a bunch of options there with Murphy-Bunting, Hargreaves and safety Jordan Whitehead all getting their shots. Most recently, Hargreaves was the primary slot corner, playing just over 50 percent of defensive snaps there. If Tampa continues to scratch Stewart, the safe bet is probably for Hargreaves to matchup with Lockett more than anyone. Of course, Tampa does not shadow so Lockett will probably also see Murphy-Bunting and Whitehead a fair amount, but Hargreaves has the most consistent snap count and also the most exploitable slot coverage numbers.

In seven games, Hargreaves has only once played double-digit slot snaps. However, in his limited time in slot coverage, he is seeing targets every 3.2 snaps and receptions every 5.3 snaps. His 2.15 yards per slot coverage snap is third-worst among 66 qualified defensive backs. That said, it may be better to look at his numbers from his only game as Tampa’s primary slot corner. Against Adam Humphries and Jonnu Smith—the players with most of Tennessee’s slot targets—Hargreaves allowed three catches on five targets for 38 yards. Those numbers are a far cry from his abysmal season numbers, so it stands to reason Tampa will try Hargreaves out there again, especially since Seattle’s firm number one plays primarily out of the slot.

Frankly, it is tough to trust Tampa to slow down any potent passing offense. Seattle will try to run the ball, but Tampa’s pass funnel will inevitably draw Russell Wilson to throw more. And this season, few quarterbacks have been better than Wilson. As such, expect a healthy dose of Lockett mismatches in the slot and a higher-volume day for Wilson. Those two combined make Lockett an excellent NFL DFS play this week.

Sam Smith is a writer and editor with Awesemo.com. He has been immersed in the world of professional sports data since 2015, while also writing extensively on the NFL for a multitude of blogs and websites. With Awesemo, Sam looks to blend his sports and editorial expertise with Awesemo's data to bring you the best fantasy information possible. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samc_smith.

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