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 game and found seven that stand out. One matchup Gibbs is especially excited for: Amon-Ra St. Brown against a Vikings defense that gets pressure at one of the lowest rates in the NFL.
"Minnesota has just a 19.5% pressure rate in 2022, and Jared Goff has been significantly better when not pressured," Gibbs said. "Goff ranks sixth in passer rating when not pressured but is 29th vs. pressure. And when not pressured, Goff has targeted Amon-Ra St. Brown on 36% of his routes, up from a 25% rate when pressured."
So which players stand to benefit the most from their specific schematic matchups? And could A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith both be in for massive performances again? ... Join SportsLine here to see Jacob Gibbs' weekly Fantasy Football Man/Zone Helper, all from one of the nation's most accurate experts!
Carolina's heavy Cover-3 and Cover-4 use presents a favorable matchup for Seattle's wide receiver duo
Geno Smith's connection with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett has been uber-efficient in 2022 -- both receivers rank in the top-15 in yards per route run -- they rank just 21st and 29th in routes run, though.
With Kenneth Walker almost assuredly set to miss Week 14, we could see Seattle's pass volume increase. And any increase in route volume for Seattle's two stud receivers is noteworthy for Fantasy purposes.
This potential route total increase comes at a perfect time, as Seattle faces a Panthers squad that uses a ton of Cover-3 and Cover-4 (their combined Cover-3/4 rate is 62%, up from a league average of 47%) and ranks 20th in pass defense DVOA. Only Tua Tagovailoa has a higher passer rating than Geno Smith vs. Cover-3, and no quarterback ranks better against Cover-4.
Displayed below are the splits for Metcalf and Lockett when facing Cover-3 or Cover-4 compared to any other coverage scheme with Geno Smith at QB during the 2021-22 seasons.
Facing Cover-3 or Cover-4:
(251-route sample for Lockett, 234 for Metcalf)
Target per route run rate
26.3% -- Tyler Lockett
25.6% -- DK Metcalf
Yard per route run rate
2.37 -- Lockett
2.30 -- Metcalf
Facing any other coverage scheme:
(251-route sample for Lockett, 239 for Metcalf)
Target per route run rate
25.5% -- Metcalf
20.3% -- Lockett
Yard per route run rate
2.14 -- Metcalf
1.74 -- Lockett
Based on these splits, Lockett is the receiver who benefits more from this schematic matchup and both players should be expected to produce at a high level.
A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith could be in for another big game against New York's aggressive scheme
The Giants bring the most aggressive defense in the NFL; if you have read this article even once this season, you probably already know that. New York's defense is such an outlier that we cover them nearly any time that they are on the main DFS slate.
New York is the only team that blitzes over 40% of the time, only five others even have a blitz rate above 30%. Their 47% man coverage rate is also the NFL's highest -- the next-closest mark is 37%.
The blitz rate may be a problem for Philly. Jalen Hurts has improved across the board in 2022, but one area where he's still struggled is against the blitz. No QB has a higher passer rating than Hurts when not blitzed. When blitzed, he falls to 22nd. A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith have nearly identical target rates when Hurts has been blitzed, and it has been Brown (18-348-3 receiving on 28 targets, compared to 21-234-1 on 31 targets for Smith) who has made the big plays.
When facing man coverage, it has clearly been Brown who has benefited the most. Displayed below, you will find Philly's man/zone splits.
Target per route run rate:
Man coverage -- Brown (32.5%), Smith (25.2%)
Zone coverage -- Brown (20.9%), Smith (20.1%)
Yard per route run rate:
Man coverage -- Brown (3.42), Smith (1.85)
Zone coverage -- Brown (2.11), Smith (1.70)
Among 81 players with at least 75 routes run vs. man coverage in 2022, only Ja'Marr Chase (3.78) has a higher yard per route run rate than Brown (3.42). As long as New York's blitzes don't totally disrupt Jalen Hurts' rhythm, this should be another huge game for Brown.
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There might be something here
Justin Jefferson could go for a huge total if Kirk Cousins can deliver the ball to him down the field
The Lions shut Justin Jefferson down in Week 3, it was his worst game of the season. And Detroit has played much better defensively as of late.
Still, though, I would be remiss to not highlight Detroit's fourth-ranked man coverage rate in this space. Any time that Justin Jefferson draws a defense that uses man coverage at an above average rate, it offers him the opportunity for a massive game. In Week 14, he not only draws a man-heavy coverage scheme, but the 52.5-point over/under in the Lions-Vikings game is the highest on the slate -- there's tournament-winning upside in this spot.
Even though Kirk Cousins has seen a major dip in efficiency vs. man coverage in 2022, Jefferson still ranks sixth in the NFL in yards per route run (2.82) vs. man. His 30% explosive reception rate (the percentage of catches that gained 15+ yards) vs. man coverage is the highest in the NFL. Kirk Cousins' apparent lack of trust in his arm has led him to far fewer downfield attempts vs. man coverage in his age-34 season, but when he has targeted Jefferson, his third-year receiver has of course been unstoppable. Since Jefferson entered the league in 2020, no player has a higher yard per route rate vs. man coverage. Ja'Marr Chase (3.54) has Jefferson (3.36) beaten but does not have enough routes run to qualify. Jefferson is quite possibly the hardest single-man coverage assignment in the world -- he is worth getting exposure to if building multiple tournament lineups.
Minnesota's lack of pressure could result in another high-volume day for Amon-Ra St. Brown
On the other side of the ball in this projected shootout, we find Fantasy's newest cheat code -- Amon-Ra St. Brown. The target magnetism we have seen St. Brown display as a 22-year-old is unprecedented, and Detroit's offense should have every opportunity to continue to flow through him again against a Vikings defense that puts no pressure on opposing passers.
The Vikings have just a 19.5% pressure rate, which typically allows opponents to attack down the field against their Cover-4 and Cover-6 schemes. Minnesota has one of the highest opponent average depths of target, and with D.J. Chark healthy and rolling, we could see Jared Goff look to attack this defense down the field. What we have typically seen from Goff when he has time to throw is a willingness to wait for the inevitably open Sun God to shine his light on him.
When Goff has been pressured in 2022, St. Brown has drawn a target on just 25% of his routes. That rate has risen to 36% when Goff has not been under pressure. Perhaps correlated -- Goff ranks sixth in passer rating when not pressured but is 29th vs. pressure. Targeting St. Brown is usually going to be Goff's most efficient option.
Zay Jones could bounce back against Tennessee's secondary
Zay Jones came out of Jacksonville's Week 12 bye hot but came crashing back to Earth in Week 13 against a Lions defense that is playing much better lately. Still, the volume was there. Jones' seven targets were just one off of Christian Kirk's eight for the team lead, and he leads the Jags with a 30% target share and 35% air yardage share in the two games since the bye.
In Week 14, Jones could bounce back against Tennessee's pass funnel defense. The Titans rank first in the NFL in rush defense DVOA but are just 22nd against the pass, and they have struggled specifically against the wide receiver position -- no team has a higher opponent passer rating on wide receiver targets than Tennessee.
The Titans bring a league-low 14.9% blitz rate, which has allowed opponents to take their time and pick on this secondary with the wide receiver position. If the volume rates that we've seen from Jones in the two games out of the bye are in any way sustainable, he could be one of the best values available at his Week 14 DFS price tags.
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