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Fantasy Football Week 3 lineup advice: Using coverage scheme data to project breakout performances

Both season-long managers and DFS aficionados can gain an edge on the competition by digging into Jacob Gibbs' advanced matchup analysis.
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The next wave of Fantasy football matchup analysis is here, and it involves focusing on defensive coverage scheme tendencies.

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. This analysis also highlighted what a great spot Elijah Moore was in against a man-heavy Miami unit -- Moore's 32.6 DraftKings points in that Week 11 matchup marked his season-high.

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 in Week 3 and found six spots that stand out. 

One matchup Gibbs is especially excited for: A.J. Brown against a blitz-heavy Commanders defense. Gibbs loves the matchups for all of the top wide receivers in Week 3, yet he still wouldn't be surprised if Brown finished as the WR1 in a projected shootout against Washington. 

Gibbs also identified a schematic tendency in the defensive matchup of one of the trendiest Fantasy wide receivers through two weeks. He wouldn't be surprised at all if that player continues his red-hot start to the season in a matchup conducive to the types of routes that the receiver specializes in.

So which players stand to benefit the most from their specific schematic matchups? And is A.J. Brown a must-play in DFS against the Commanders? ... Join SportsLine here to see Jacob Gibbs' weekly Fantasy Football Man/Zone Helper, all from one of the nation's most accurate experts!

This Week 3 schematic matchup article is unlike any that I've ever written. In the 'dream matchup' section, we're going to examine four wide receivers who are priced at or above $8,000 on FanDuel. Obviously, you can't have heavy exposure to all of these guys. Fitting even two of them into the same lineup is not easy.

Also not easy -- the task of choosing among them. I hope to help you in that endeavor in this space. Usually, I try to fit players from multiple different price ranges in. This article offers a more comprehensive look at the WR position, and I'll have an article published on the top Week 3 values on Friday.

These are the receivers whom we will compare today: Justin Jefferson, Cooper Kupp, Stefon Diggs, and A.J. Brown. Before getting into player-level analysis, let's see how their team-level game environmental factors compare for Week 3.

Shootout potential: Who's playing in the game with the highest over/under?

Jefferson -- 53 points
Diggs -- 52.5 points
Kupp -- 48.5 points
Brown -- 47 points

Scoring potential: Which teams have the highest implied point total?

Jefferson -- 29.5 points
Diggs -- 29.25 points
Brown -- 26.75 points
Kupp -- 26 points

There's a clear difference in the team-level upside provided by the projected game environments for Jefferson and Diggs when compared to Brown and Kupp. The difference in Brown's price tag is enough to offset that, but the same cannot be said for Kupp.

Kupp's game does offer more back-and-forth shootout potential, as the Rams are favored by 3.5 points and the Vikings, Bills, and Eagles all are favored by six or more points. Any of those teams could take their foot off of the pedal if the opposition doesn't keep the game competitive. The Rams-Cardinals game presents an awesome schematic fit for both quarterbacks (more on that later), and it could push well over 50 points if both passing games are clicking.

Still, the difference between the projected game environments for Kupp and Jefferson -- who is slightly cheaper and expected to carry a lower rostered rate in DFS -- is absolutely worth noting. No player has a higher projectable top range of outcomes in Week 3 (and beyond) than Jefferson.

Dream matchups

The sky is the limit for Justin Jefferson against an aggressive Detroit defense

We'll kick things off with the man who carries the highest matchup-independent 2022 projection at the WR position. Justin Jefferson's Week 2 wasn't quite as explosive as his Year 3 debut, but he continued to draw massive volume as the clear focal point of the offense. 

It certainly feels as if Jefferson has taken over as an uncontested target hog. Considering what he's been able to accomplish already to this point in his career, it's hard to find a "ceiling" for his perceivable range of outcomes in Year 3.

In Week 3, he faces a Lions defense that uses man coverage at the highest rate in the NFL (40% through two weeks). Jefferson torched this unit for 312 combined receiving yards in two matchups in 2021, and a similar level of production is likely if they try single-man coverage against him in Week 3.

If Detroit can keep this game close, Jefferson should go bananas. His perceivable "ceiling" result is a historic and slate-breaking performance.

Don't lose yourself looking up, though -- there is a clear path to a "floor" game from Jefferson -- all it will take to sink Jefferson's Fantasy outlook is a bad Jared Goff game.

Detroit's offense has been awesome through two games. Amon-Ra St. Brown is a god among men, no one has yet caught a successful tackle attempt against D'Andre Swift on camera, and the offensive line is whack-a-moling opposing front sevens into the ground. The flame that Dan Campbell and Jamaal Williams have awoken in this Lions team will be studied by future leaders for years to come.

But the team is still quarterbacked by Jared Goff. And his splits suggest that this is not a good schematic matchup. The Vikings use more Cover-6 than any team in the NFL, and they rank second in Cover-4 use. 62% of their defensive plays have come from those sets, up from a league average of 24%.

Cover-4 is the coverage scheme that Goff has been at his worst against as a Lion. Cover-6 is the third-worst. It's also worth noting that these are the two schemes that Amon-Ra St. Brown has fared the worst against.

If Detroit doesn't show up in the way that we have seen across the first two weeks, this could be more of a Dalvin Cook game. Really, you should at least consider trying to fit Cook into any lineup that you make with another elite WR rostered over Jefferson. If you roster Cooper Kupp, you are making an indirect bet that he will drastically outperform Justin Jefferson on a per-dollar basis. Any time that Dalvin Cook finds the end zone rather than Jefferson, your Kupp lineup gains leverage on the Jefferson builds without Kupp even doing anything.

Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp should slice up Arizona's blitz-heavy scheme

We're picking on the Arizona defense for the third-straight week. Even against quarterbacks who excel when blitzed, Vance Joseph's Cardinals have brought the blitz at a league-high rate in 2022.

In Week 3, Arizona faces the only QB who has better numbers against the blitz than Patrick Mahomes since the start of 2021.

Matthew Stafford's passer rating when blitzed is 48% above the NFL average, while he actually ranks 2.5% below average when not blitzed. His top weapon when blitzed -- Cooper Kupp, of course. 

Kupp has drawn a target on 29% of his routes when not blitzed, which rises to 39% when blitzed. He and Stafford should make quick work of this Cardinals defense, and they could do it repeatedly if the Rams defense continues to struggle and Kyler Murray quickly moves the chains and gets the ball back to the Rams.

Stefon Diggs again is a top-three WR in a matchup against Miami

Stefon Diggs looks as healthy and explosive as we've ever seen him. There are 6-7 wide receivers who appear on track for truly historic output in 2022, and Diggs has as good of a case for the top spot as any of them. He leads all receivers in target per route run rate through two weeks! This type of volume in Buffalo's offense will truly be a cheat code if it sustains.

Diggs should again be expected to draw targets at a massive rate in a Week 3 matchup against Miami's man-heavy coverage scheme. The Dolphins have used man coverage on 35% of their defensive plays, which is the third-highest rate through two weeks. Their rate since the start of 2021 is 45% -- no other team is above 38% during that time.

Man coverage is a bad idea when Stefon Diggs is the man who needs to be covered.

Diggs vs. man coverage (2020-2022)

31.5% -- Target per route run rate
2.75 -- Yards per route run

Diggs vs. zone coverage (2020-2022)

25% -- Target per route run rate
2.30 -- Yards per route run

You might think that Miami used man coverage less against Buffalo in 2021, which is why Diggs didn't go all the way off in those matchups. Nope -- the Dolphins actually used man coverage 55% of the time against the Bills last year! The real problem was their inability to put enough points on the board -- 11 in total, across two games -- to keep Buffalo honest offensively.

That isn't expected to be a problem with the 2022 version of Miami's offense, which carries a healthy 23.5-point implied total into this game.

Everything checks out for Diggs in Week 3 -- his team-level factors rival Jefferson's for the best at the position, his 2022 volume rates are the best in the NFL, and he's notably cheaper than both of the wide receivers that we have mentioned to this point -- he's my top projected point-per-dollar option at the WR position in Week 3.

It shouldn't surprise anyone if A.J. Brown finishes as the Fantasy WR1 in a matchup against Washington

A.J. Brown comes at a slight price discount and a potentially not-so-slight rostered rate discount to Diggs, and he's my favorite top-end WR to target in tournament play. If Washington's offense continues to play as well as it has through the first two games, Brown could easily push for 40-plus DraftKings points in Week 3. Washington's ability to keep the Eagles playing aggressively on offense is the only real question that I have in this spot. A bad Jalen Hurts game can come at any time, but nothing about this matchup makes it feel likely -- as long as the Eagles remain aggressive in their playcalling, Hurts should continue to pile up absurd Fantasy totals. He and Brown are my favorite QB-WR pairing for tournaments this week -- followed closely by Carson Wentz and Curtis Samuel, who pair oh-so nicely with Brown. For a more detailed look at how to stack this game, be sure to check out Friday's DFS stacking article!

We love attacking Washington's defense with opposing WR1s. In Week 1, Christian Kirk went for 6-117 on 12 targets; in Week 2 it was Amon-Ra St. Brown piling up 9-116-2 on 12 targets.

Brown isn't used in the slot quite as often as those two, but the Eagles have emphasized that facet of his game more than we ever saw in Tennessee.

Catch-and-run weapons like Brown excel against this defense, as Washington is aggressive in bringing the blitz and regularly leaves their secondary short-handed. The Commanders are one of just five teams to blitz over 40% of the time in 2022.

Since the start of 2020, no player has been more productive against the blitz than Brown. He's averaged 4.01 yards per route run on 279 routes run vs. the blitz in that subset -- Kupp is a distant second at 3.43 yards. Brown has drawn a target on 33.7% of his routes run vs. the blitz since 2020, up from 25.2% when not blitzed.

In 2022, Jalen Hurts has been blitzed on 24 dropbacks. He's thrown for 153 yards on those dropbacks -- 107 of them were accounted for by Brown.

Washington also uses man coverage at a top-12 rate. Any increase in man coverage is a W for Brown. Only Kupp has been more efficient against man coverage since the start of 2021 than Brown. Since the start of 2020, only Jefferson and Davante Adams rank ahead of him in yards per route run rate vs. man.

You'll notice that in most of these per-route metrics, Brown is at the very top of the list. He's not just up there challenging guys like Kupp and Jefferson, he's often ahead of them. He very well might be the best Fantasy WR available now that he's in a better offensive environment -- I'd like to be early to the party if that's the case, so I will be aggressively targeting Brown at a discounted price tag in a positive matchup.

Diggs projects as the best per-dollar play, Brown is my favorite tournament bet of the bunch, Jefferson brings the highest ceiling from a raw point total perspective, and Kupp's projection is almost as exciting while offering less risk of a low-volume passing day. As of Thursday afternoon, my plan is to roster Brown and Diggs at a higher rate than the field. I'll have a few game stacks that strategically build around Kupp and Jefferson in ways that should maximize upon a scenario in which the opposing team put points on the board and keep the Minnesota and L.A. passing offenses aggressive. Again, I'll cover that in more detail in Friday's stacking piece -- you really should check that out if constructing multiple tournament lineups.

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There might be something here

Another positive schematic fit for Curtis Samuel

I don't expect this week to be the one that Curtis Samuel to slows down.

The Eagles have used Cover-4 twice as often (30% rate in 2022) as the NFL average. Only the Packers and Vikings have a higher rate. Really, Philly just uses a ton of zone -- they're fourth in zone coverage rate (75%) since the start of 2021. They keep everything in front of them defensively -- no team has a lower opponent average depth of target than the Eagles since the start of 2021.

With the way that we've seen the Commanders pass-catchers used so far, this scheme feels like a natural fit for Samuel.

Carson Wentz has performed well since the start of 2021 when facing the mix of coverage schemes that Philly uses at an above average rate, and his average depth of target has dropped relative to the league average against those coverages.

Everything again is pointing towards Samuel bringing one of the 24 best weekly outlooks at the WR position. I have no idea how long the target rates that we've seen thus far will sustain -- given the information that we currently have available, Samuel ranks as the WR21 in my most recent Week 3 rankings and will again be at the core of what I'm doing in DFS.

Kyler Murray's splits against Cover 3 suggest a bounce-back game could be coming

Since the start of last season, no quarterback has a higher passer rating against Cover-3 than Kyler Murray. The first two defenses that he's faced in 2022 rank 31st (12.4%) and 28th (23.1%) in Cover-3 use.

His third opponent ranks second -- only the Colts (66.7%) have a higher Cover-3 rate than the Los Angeles Rams defense (58.8%).

The Rams have looked plenty beatable through the air in 2022. They rank first in rush defense DVOA but are 27th against the pass. Combine that fact with Arizona's tendencies against Cover-3, and I'm expecting a really pass-heavy game plan from the Cardinals. Since the start of 2021, Arizona ranks 11th in dropback rate against Cover-3 -- compare that to just the 25th-highest dropback rate when facing any other coverage scheme.

The Cardinals appear quite familiar with Murray's strengths and weaknesses. In addition to their rise in pass rate vs. Cover-3, we've seen them go extremely run-heavy against Murray's worst schemes -- I detailed this prior to their offensive implosion against Kansas City in Week 1.

Okay, so we're expecting big things from Murray, and an increase in receiving volume for his pass-catchers seems likely. Marquise Brown's career rates against Cover-3 don't stand out, but it is worth noting that Murray's pass-catchers who have benefited the most from Cover-3 matchups are the perimeter receiver group and his tight ends. Murray's slot receivers have seen similar target rates but been less efficient against Cover-3, while the RB position has seen a downtick across the board.

Murray and Zach Ertz stand out as the best per-dollar ways to get exposure to the positive matchup, while Marquise Brown makes for a decent tournament play in spite of poor underlying per-route data through his first two games with the Cardinals.

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Jacob GibbsDFS Guru