The next wave of Fantasy football matchup analysis is here, and it involves focusing on defensive coverage scheme tendencies. If you're unfamiliar with specific coverage schemes and their impact on opposing offenses, you should check out this Twitter thread in which Gibbs unpacks all of the relevant information for you.
SportsLine Fantasy expert Jacob Gibbs put an emphasis on quarterback and receiver performance when facing specific types of coverages in 2020, and it helped him predict massive performances such as Tyreek Hill's 60.9-point performance on DraftKings in Week 12 and Davante Adams' 47.6-point performance in Week 7. In 2021, this coverage analysis pointed Gibbs towards Ja'Marr Chase and Mike Williams before their eruptions for 58.6 and 36.2 points on DraftKings, respectively, against Kansas City's man-heavy coverage scheme.
In 2022, Gibbs' matchup analysis helped predict A.J. Brown's 155-yard Week 1 output as well the 171-yard and two-touchdown explosion from Gabe Davis in Week 5. In Week 6, Gibbs' matchup data pointed towards Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle as being in a terrific spot against Minnesota's Cover-3 and Cover-6 combo, and the Miami duo dropped a combined 53.7 DraftKings points. In Week 7, Gibbs helped DFS players avoid Deebo Samuel's lowest output (9.4 DK points) of the season. In Week 8, Gibbs nailed the DJ Moore bounce-back spot (season-high 30.5 DK points) and was all over the Dolphins stack against a coverage scheme that was susceptible to downfield attacks. Hill, Waddle, and Tua Tagovailoa combined for over 100 DK points in that game.
Coverage scheme information is among the many data points that go into Gibbs's process; he uses a data-driven approach that has helped him consistently provide accurate rankings at every position. He has proven to be one of the nation's most accurate Fantasy rankers in recent years -- posting the eighth-most accurate results over the past three seasons, according to Fantasy Pros.
Now, Gibbs has analyzed the coverage scheme matchups for every Thanksgiving game and found several that stand out. One matchup Gibbs is especially excited for: Gabe Davis against an aggressive Lions defense that uses a lot of man coverage and has the NFL's highest opponent average depth of target.
"The underlying volume rates have been really encouraging for Davis lately," Gibbs said. "In a matchup perfectly suited for his skillset, Davis brings one of the highest projectable tops to his range of outcomes of any player on the Thanksgiving slate."
On the other side of the ball, the splits for Jared Goff and Amon-Ra St. Brown stand out in a matchup against a zone-heavy Bills defense. The overall offensive environment and Josh Allen's sense of urgency to stand in the pocket and attack Detroit's one-on one coverage down the field will be contingent on Detroit's ability to move the ball and put pressure on the Buffalo offense. Should we expect the Lions to keep this game competitive as double-digit underdogs?
So which players stand to benefit the most from their specific schematic matchups on Thanksgiving? And could CeeDee Lamb bounce back and be a DFS tournament-winner against a Giants defense that blitzes at the highest rate in the NFL? ... Join SportsLine here to see Jacob Gibbs' weekly Fantasy Football Man/Zone Helper, all from one of the nation's most accurate experts!
Gabe Davis and Stefon Diggs bring slate-breaking upside against the Lions
The Lions rank ninth in blitz rate and fourth in man coverage rate, both of which typically result in more aggressive downfield passing. No team has a higher opponent average time to throw (2.99 seconds) or higher opponent average depth of target (9.13 yards). Detroit's opponent aDOT on wide receiver targets is up to 12.3 yards. They have the second-highest opponent passer rating on wide receiver targets of 15+ air yards -- teams have attacked this defense down the field with wide receivers and found great success.
The timing of this matchup aligns perfectly with the recent uptick in usage for a Gabe Davis.
As has been typical for Detroit's opponents, Josh Allen has been more likely to target his perimeter receivers when facing man coverage:
Target per route run rate splits
Facing man coverage -- 29.4% for Diggs, 18.4% for Davis
Facing zone coverage -- 25% for Diggs, 15.9% for Davis
Davis is likely to be my most-rostered player on the main DraftKings Thanksgiving slate -- his $5,300 price tag is a joke. Diggs is tougher to know what to do with at an $8,000 price point. Double-stacking the two with Allen is certainly viable, and I hope to make at least a couple of Diggs lineups where I fade Davis. I definitely don't want to be underweight on him relative to the field, so here is to hoping that his projected rostered rate comes in at a reasonable level after a disappointing Week 11.
CeeDee Lamb should pile up targets vs. New York's blitz-heavy defensive attack
To begin the 2022 season, no one was being emphasized in the way that CeeDee Lamb was on first downs. Cooper Rush and the Dallas offense were extremely intentional about force-feeding the ball to their top wideout. That has not been the case since Dak Prescott resumed control of the offense. In fact, over the past month, it has been Dalton Schultz who has been the focal point on first downs.
That's irritating -- first down targets are outright more valuable in Fantasy, and they offer some indication of a team's intentionality in featuring a player. At the price point that Thanksgiving lineup builders are forced to consider paying to roster CeeDee Lamb, there is typically more security felt in a player's role.
At this point, I'd like to mention how extremely lopsided CeeDee Lamb's rates are vs. the blitz. Lamb has been targeted on 40% of his routes run vs. the blitz, no player has a higher rate. When Dak Prescott has been at quarterback, that rate has risen to 42% -- he's been targeted on nearly half of his routes run when Dak has been blitzed! When not blitzed, Lamb has just a 22% target per route run rate, compared to a 29% rate for Schultz.
It's almost like Dak throws to Lamb if he has to, but he prefers to lock in on Schultz. It feels counterintuitive, but the splits feel too drastic to be coincidence.
I bring this up because two of the three defenses that Dallas has faced over the past month rank in the bottom-eight in blitz rate -- this could explain the discrepancy in the first down target rates for Schultz and Lamb recently. The third team is the Green Bay Packers, who blitz at the second-highest rate in the NFL. You might remember that Lamb hung a career-high 41 DraftKings points on them just two weeks ago.
On Turkey Day, Lamb will face the only defense that blitzes more than the Packers.
The Giants bring the blitz 41% of the time, making them the only team with a rate above 40%. With Lamb drawing targets on over 40% of his routes vs. the blitz, my math tells me that the end result should be a Thanksgiving plate stuffed as full as Lamb can handle.
Mac Jones has really specific splits vs. Cover-4 and Cover-6, the two schemes that the Vikings use significantly more than the league average
The Vikings have some of the NFL's most specific coverage tendencies, and Mac Jones has some of the NFL's most specific passing tendencies against those specific coverage schemes. How fun! There's an ever-present chance that the Patriots will give us another 10-3 thriller and none of this will matter, but for the scenario in which Kirk Cousins doesn't fall apart in a prime time showing against one of the NFL's best defenses, we should cover how New England might choose to attack this defense through the air.
The NFL's average Cover-6 rate is 8.4%. Minnesota (30.2%) and Seattle (27.3%) are the only two teams with a rate above 20%. For more context on each specific coverage scheme, check out this Twitter thread. Typically, Cover-6 results in an increase in downfield passing. That has been the case for Minnesota's opponents this season, but it has not been the case for Jones. And it isn't always the case -- quarterbacks usually take their time to throw against Cover-6, but they aren't always going to find their man down the field -- often, running backs end up soaking up a lot of targets vs. Cover-6 because their QB decides to bail on the deep ball and just take what is there.
That has certainly been the choice that Jones appears to be the most comfortable with.
His career average depth of target when facing Cover-6 is 4.8 yards, which is by far the lowest among qualified passers -- remember, aDOT usually rises against Cover-6. New England's running backs have been targeted on 31% of their routes vs. Cover-6 in Jones era, up from 22% vs. any other coverage scheme.
The other scheme that Minnesota uses at a high rate is Cover-4. The Vikings rank 10th in the NFL in Cover-4 usage -- clearly, it isn't as significant of a factor as their Cover-6 tendencies, but it is the only other scheme that they use at a notably high rate. Jones has actually been one of the league's most efficient passers (75% completion rate -- 3rd-highest among 36 qualified passers) vs. Cover-4 and Cover-6, but his upside is also limited by his risk aversion against these schemes.
If we add splits vs. Cover-4 to our Cover-6 data subset, it is again the RB group that stands out among Jones's pass-catchers. Jones has just a 6.7-yard aDOT vs. Cover-4, which is well below the average (7.7). Displayed below are the target per route run rates when facing Cover-4 or Cover-6 for New England with Jones at QB since the start of 2021.
Target per route run rate vs. Cover-4 or Cover-6 with Mac Jones at QB:
32% - Brandon Bolden
31% - Rhamondre Stevenson
24% - Jonnu Smith
21% - Damien Harris
19% - Jakobi Meyers
14% - Tyquan Thornton
13% - Nelson Agholor
12% - Hunter Henry
11% - DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne
It doesn't look great for the downfield targets. It does look great for Rhamondre Stevenson, an option Jones has leaned on heavily regardless of matchup.
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There might be something here
Jared Goff and Amon-Ra St. Brown set to benefit from specific zone schemes that Buffalo specializes in
Cover-3 is far and away the NFL's most prominent coverage scheme. The NFL average rate is 35%, and all but two teams use it at least 25% of the time; the Bills (23.6%) are one of those two teams. Buffalo instead uses each of Cover-2, Cover-4, and Cover-6 at just above a league average rate.
Jared Goff's rates fall between 5-10% below the league average vs. Cover-3 since the start of 2021, and he's been right around the average when facing the other zone schemes. If you collect a subset of 'anything but Cover-3,' Goff's rates are actually above the league average.
We've seen similar splits from Amon-Ra St. Brown. Since the start of 2021, both his target and yard per route run rates are 39% above the wide receiver average vs. any coverage scheme other than Cover-3. When facing Cover-3, his target per route run rate sits 20% above the WR position average, while his yard per route run rate is 23% above the average. In 2022, he has averaged a massive 2.87 yards per route run vs. any scheme other than Cover-3, compared to a 2.42 rate vs. Cover-3.
Goff has struggled as of late, and Buffalo's defense is no joke. This matchup isn't necessarily a "fit" for St. Brown, the best times to roster St. Brown is when he's facing defenses that use a lot of man coverage and blitzes. Still, on a three-game slate, it is worth knowing that he and Goff have been better vs. the zone schemes that the Bills run at above average rates than against Cover-3.
If he's not shadow covered by Trevon Diggs, Darius Slayton could put up a monster receiving line vs. man-heavy Dallas coverage scheme
You may have noticed Darius Slayton's name as a surprise inclusion in the tweet featuring the highest first down target shares from the past month as we dug into CeeDee Lamb's outlook. Slayton has played exceptionally recently and has earned consistent targets as the only Giants player capable of separating down the field.
The production hasn't been huge as the Giants just don't pass the ball enough to facilitate much Fantasy upside, but Slayton's recent rate stats are exciting. Over New York's past four games, Slayton is tied with Wan'Dale Robinson with a team-high 22% target share, and his 34% air yardage share is by far the highest on the team.
Unfortunately Robinson is now out of the picture (torn ACL), and the Giants do not have another receiver with any data points that suggests he is capable of drawing targets. Slayton could fill a Chris Olave-like role going forward, and in games where the Giants are forced out of their conservative offensive approach, there will be massive upside available to him.
This could be one of those games, as the Cowboys are listed as 10-point home favorites. If New York falls into an early hole, I would expect plenty of deep shots for Slayton against a man-heavy Dallas coverage scheme. Opponents have not found success when throwing deep against the Cowboys, but Dallas does rank in the top-half of the league in opponent average time to throw and depth of target. This feels like a spot where Slayton could just pile up a ton of empty air yards, especially if Trevon Diggs is his primary defender in coverage. Diggs has used shadow coverage in the past two matchups.
There's definitely a scary floor projection, but the upside is undeniable for Slayton with the role that he's expected to play in a matchup that is likely to funnel targets his way.
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