With a healthy dash of context, it could be helpful -- actionable, even -- to know how a defense is being attacked.
Are enemy 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.
Eric Ebron (PIT) at Bills
Ebron is rostered in 82 percent of leagues. If you have him, you’re likely starting him every week as the Steelers’ primary pass catching tight end. I get it. The following analysis is for those in 10 or 12-team leagues -- of tight end premium formats with multiple flex spots -- who might be torn on starting Ebron over another every-week option.
Last week in this space, I highlighted Jordan Reed’s sneaky fantastic matchup against Buffalo. Reed caught three balls for 32 yards and a score against the Bills in Week 13. Not the kind of volume we're hoping for, but it worked out OK. Reed and Ross Dwelley combined for five catches, 62 yards, and a touchdown. The Niners, as we suspected, attacked Buffalo’s defense via the tight end.
Tight ends are seeing 23.9 percent of targets against the Bills, the third highest rate in the league. Tight ends facing the Bills have averaged 8.25 targets and 6.1 receptions per game. That’s not awful. In fact, it’s pretty good. As I mentioned last week, it’s not just elite tight ends getting massive target volume against Buffalo. Seattle’s little used tight ends combined for 11 targets against the Bills; Chris Herndon had seven targets against them in Week 1; and Dan Arnold caught all five of his targets against Buffalo a few weeks back.
Ebron has quietly become one of the most reliable tight ends in fantasy as a key part of one of the league’s most pass heavy offenses. He has at least six targets in six of his past seven games, and 22 targets over his past two outings. He has a strong 16 percent target share on the season, and an 18 percent target share over the Steelers’ past four games. We can’t ask much more of a tight end not named Travis Kelce.
Ebron’s opportunity in a Pittsburgh offense that never stops throwing the ball is seen in his route running. Only five tight ends have run more pass routes this season. To exactly no one’s surprise, Ebron has run 401 routes to teammate Vance McDonald’s 122 routes. This week’s Bills-Steelers clash -- a potential shootout -- gives Ebron as much upside as any tight end in fantasy not catching passes from Patrick Mahomes.
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Dalton Schultz (DAL) at Bengals
Old Schultzy hasn’t made this column in a couple months. I’m glad to have him back because his Week 14 prospects are better than one might think. Schultz, who averages 5.6 targets when Andy Dalton is under center for Dallas, gets the Bengals this week. Praise be.
Schultz has a 14 percent target share over Dallas’ past three games, largely a result of negative game script and one of the NFL’s least efficient rushing attacks. He continues to see a massive snaps share and runs a ton of routes, as Travis Kelce, Logan Thomas, and Hunter Henry are the only tight ends with more routes run in 2020. That’s helped give Dalton -- who runs a solid 49 percent of his routes from the slot -- some kind of floor for much of the season.
Cincinnati has allowed the highest target share to tight ends this year, with 25.38 percent of passes against the Bengals going to tight ends. This has led to big outings for everyone from Trey Burton to Zach Ertz to Evan Engram and Mike Gesicki. Some of those guys -- like Schultz -- have seen lulls this year in both target share and production in 2020. But they delivered against the Bengals, often with spikes in targets.
Tights aren’t just seeing ample opportunity against the Bengals -- they’ve cashed in on their chances. More than 26 percent of the receiving yardage against the Bengals this season has come from tight ends, the highest mark in the NFL. That works out to a tidy 68.5 tight end yards per game against the Bengals. I like Schultz’s shot of exploiting a tantalizing matchup.