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.
Robert Tonyan (GB) vs. Texans
Tonyan followed up his week-winning performance against Atlanta with a 25-yard flop against Tampa. Here’s the thing: the entire Green Bay offense was some mixture of a disaster, a debacle, and a catastrophe. A debacsastertastrophe, perhaps.
Still available in 23 percent of leagues (I know, not your league), Tonyan could hardly be in a better spot this week against Houston. The kids are calling it a smash spot. Nearly 24 percent of targets against the Texans this season have gone to tight ends -- that’s the seventh highest rate in the NFL. Results have followed, as only five teams allow more tight end catches and five teams give up more tight end yardage.
Tonyan’s role in the Green Bay offense remained intact last week against the Bucs. He was one of two Packers tight ends who ran pass routes -- he ran 23 while Marcedes Lewis ran 10. Tonyan saw four targets against Tampa, catching three. Lewis got two targets, one of which could have been a 70-yard touchdown. Tonyan’s pass routes have not been empty routes, like we see with tight ends in pass heavy offenses who run a bunch of routes but see few targets. Tonyan has been targeted on 21.12 percent of his routes over his past three games. For context, Zach Ertz over that span has seen a target on 19 percent of his routes. Travis Kelce has been targeted on 23.4 percent of his pass routes over his last three games. Long story much shorter: Tonyan’s usage is excellent.
We watched last week as Titans tight ends commanded 14 targets against these Texans. Anthony Firkser went ballistic, turning nine targets into eight catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. In Week 5, Jacksonville tight ends saw a combined 10 targets against Houston. Pittsburgh tight ends also drew 10 targets against the Texans this season. Houston opponents have tormented linebacker Zach Cunningham in coverage this season with 19 targets against him that have resulted in 17 receptions for 219 yards. Only two linebackers have allowed more receiving yardage in 2020.
With the Packers sporting a 29.75 point implied total, Tonyan enters Week 7 with a tremendous ceiling.
Jimmy Graham (CHI) at Rams
The dusty Graham delivering duds in two of the past three games shouldn’t send fantasy managers scouring the depths of the waiver wire -- not this week, at least.
Graham’s Week 7 matchup is a deceptively good one: tight ends have 48 targets against the Rams through six games, as only seven teams have given up more tight end receptions. Tight ends have a 23.73 percent target share against LA, the fourth highest in the league. And it’s not just the game’s elite tight ends -- see George Kittle in Week 6 -- seeing solid opportunity against the Rams. Little-used Buffalo tight end Tyler Kroft saw six targets against them in Week 3 and Evan Engram had 10 targets against the Rams in Week 4. Rams opponents have shied away from wideouts, a position that’s seen a low 50 percent target share against LA this year. Instead, they’ve showered running backs and tight ends with targets.
Graham, available in 42 percent of leagues, has been as involved in the Bears Offense as anyone outside the game’s top tight ends. He’s run the seventh most pass routes and commanded the sixth most targets through six weeks. Graham, in the year 2020, trails only Darren Waller, Tavis Kelce, George Kittle, and Zach Ertz in tight end receptions.
Chicago’s Week 7 matchup sets up nicely for Graham. The Bears enter as 5.5-point road underdogs likely to once again be forced into a pass-heavy game script. Unless you’re in the shallowest fantasy league on the planet, you’re not going to find a better waiver option than Graham in this plus matchup.
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James White (NE) vs. 49ers
White quietly has 15 receptions and 103 receiving yards on 17 targets over the two games since he returned to New England’s lineup. And here’s something: he leads the team with a 28 percent target share over those two contests. Probably that says more about New England’s lifeless passing attack than it does about White. Nevertheless!
He remains, as always, a PPR option, and one with some upside in Week 7.
Running backs have seen 20.5 percent of the targets against the Niners in 2020, the 12th highest rate in the league. While the 49ers have stymied offenses on the ground -- only the Bucs have allowed fewer rushing yards through six games -- opposing offenses have found some success attacking San Francisco with the screen game. Dolphins running backs in Week 5 caught seven of seven targets for 71 yards against the Niners, and Miles Sanders caught two of five targets for 30 yards the week before.
White, meanwhile, ran 19 pass routes last week against the Broncos, catching eight of nine targets in a pass-heavy game script. Damien Harris was the only other Pats running back to run a route against Denver -- he only ran two. In Week 4 against the Chiefs, White ran 27 pass routes on his way to seven catches on seven targets. Rex Burkhead ran 11 routes. Like almost any other pass catching back, White will require negative script against the 49ers. The Patriots are 2.5 point home favorites so that might be hard to come by if you believe the team can fix whatever’s wrong with them over the next six days. Niners’ opponent’s struggles on the ground -- only one back has eclipsed 63 rushing yards against them in 2020 -- could work out for White this week. He profiles as a PPR cheat code against the 49ers.