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 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.
First, a quick note about Jacob Hollister, the Seattle tight end who was highlighted in this space last week: after running four routes and catching one pass for six yards, Hollister exited Week 10’s game against the Rams with a possible concussion. He was evaluated for a concussion and did not re-enter the game. Barring long term effects of the head injury, I think we could still see Hollister become the team’s TE1 in the season’s final month and a half.
Logan Thomas (Washington Football Team) vs. Bengals
You wouldn’t have to look far for tight ends who have run more pass routes than Logan Thomas in 2020 because, you see, there are none. Running a hefty 37 routes per game through Week 10, Thomas’ peripherals continue to shine, even if his on-field production remains a bit spotty.
The difference between a tight end like Thomas and an elite guy like Travis Kelce is that Thomas has been targeted on 14.11 percent of his routes while Kelce has been targeted on 23.76 percent of his routes. Maybe that’s why Kelce was a second round pick in August and Thomas was a late-round flier.
Alex Smith under center for the Football Team has been OK for Thomas — he has six targets in each of the past two games. His Week 10 usage was encouraging: exploiting the soft zone defense Detroit played for much of the second half, Thomas averaged 11.1 yards per target, his second highest single-game mark of the season. He ended up with four grabs for 66 yards.
This week he takes on a Bengals Defense allowing the seventh most tight end receptions along with 8.44 tight end targets per game. Tight ends have seen 24.44 percent of the targets against the Bengals this season, the fourth highest rate through Week 10. Even when tight ends don’t put up solid stat lines against the Bengals, they have the opportunity. We saw Eric Ebron get six targets against Cincy in Week 10. He caught two for 33 yards. So it goes.
The hyper-athletic Thomas should fare well against Bengals linebackers like Germaine Pratt, who has given up 19 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown on 23 targets this year. Fellow Cincy linebacker Josh Byrnes has allowed 12 receptions for 135 yards on just 14 targets. Washington coaches in recent weeks have worked to isolate Thomas on linebackers who simply can’t keep up. Expect more of the same in Week 11.
The (apparently) rejuvenated Washington passing game should continue churning out yardage against a middling Bengals secondary. Thomas, in fantasy football’s worst position, is a luxury fantasy managers should keep in their lineups. His matchup is quietly excellent.
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Nyheim Hines (Colts) vs. Packers
Just when it seems someone emerges for the Colts, they take a backseat to someone else, leaving fantasy players screaming into their pillow about the process.
Nevertheless, we’ll keep trying. Nyheim Hines in Week 10 led the Indy backfield with 12 rushes and six targets in the team’s demolition of the Titans. For one night, Colts beat writers’ indignation over Hines’ usage was soothed. That righteous indignation could be cooled for at least one more week as the Colts take on a Packers Defense allowing gobs of opportunity to pass catching running backs.
Backs have seen 23.64 percent of the targets against Green Bay this season — only four teams have allowed a higher rate. Giving up six running back receptions per game, pass-catching specialists Alvin Kamara (13 catches on 14 targets) DeAndre Swift (six catches on six targets), Duke Johnson (five catches on five targets), and Jerick McKinnon (four catches on five targets) have had success against the Packers.
Hines’ prospects get a boost from an excellent game environment: at 51.5 points, this game has the third highest over/under of the week. A back-and-forth affair could create more opportunity for Hines, who leads Colts running backs with 148 pass routes this season (16.44 per game).
I don’t think this means fantasy managers should start Hines over backs with a big share of their team’s carries and/or goal line duties. But he makes for an intriguing PPR option against a Green Bay defense that has proven vulnerable to some of the league’s preeminent pass catching backs.