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We want to know -- we need to know -- how defenses are being attacked.
Though it won’t translate perfectly from week to week, understanding which NFL defenses qualify as run funnels and which are pass funnels can and should change the way we create our daily fantasy lineups. Is a team’s stalwart run defense forcing opponents to the air at a remarkable rate? How about secondaries so dominant (or teams so bad) that opposing offenses are turning to the run more often than usual?
In this space, I’ll highlight which players may benefit from squaring off against a run funnel or pass funnel defense in a given week. This analysis will improve once we have in-season data with which to work, but using last year’s defensive trends and evaluating offseason defensive roster moves should give us a reasonably solid early-season grasp of how opponents will approach certain defenses.
Analyzing pass and run funnel defenses can often generate DFS stacking ideas, both team stacks and game stacks. I’ll highlight stacking plays -- for DFS tournament purposes -- where I see fit. I’ve found evaluating run and pass funnels is an excellent starting point for exploiting matchups and crafting correlated lineups.
Cardinals at Raiders
Davante Adams (LV) vs. ARI
I’m going to make the brave and controversial argument that you should consider Adams in DFS lineups this week. They don’t teach this kind of contrarian thought in school. You’re either born with it or you’re not.
I kid. But stacking this game with the idea that the Cardinals have a bottom-feeding defense that has no chance of stopping Adams and the Raiders is a good place to start in Week 2 roster building. This game, after all, has the highest total on the main slate.
Adams was his typical target-eating self in his Vegas debut last week against the Chargers, accounting for a mind-breaking 50 percent of the team’s targets and 52 percent of their air yards. He had the highest weighted opportunity rating in the NFL and it wasn’t close. If you’re stacking this game, Adams has to be part of your plans. I am not breaking news here.
Arizona’s defense could be something resembling a pass funnel. The Chiefs in Week 1 were 11 percent over their expected pass rate against the Cards and posted the league’s highest expected points added (EPA) per play. That could be a result of Kansas City refusing to establish the run. But against a Vegas offense that had last week’s seventh-highest pass rate over expected, I expect the Raiders to lean on the pass again in Week 2 (they ran the ball 13 times in Week 1).
Stacking Derek Carr with Adams and Darren Waller -- who ran a route on 83 percent of the team’s drop backs and was targeted six times against LA -- would account for a massive portion of the team’s receiving yardage and touchdowns in a potential shootout.
Hunter Renfrow would be the fancy GPP stacking option alongside Carr and Adams. Renfrow, the Vegas slot guy, will take on an Arizona defense that allowed seven catches for 104 yards and a touchdown to KC slot receivers in Week 1.
James Conner (ARI) at LV
If Vegas is going to play from ahead or if the Cardinals and Raiders go back and forth, Conner should be a main beneficiary. He’s fresh off a week in which he ran the sixth most running back pass routes despite being subbed out in the fourth quarter of a blowout loss. Conner was targeted on a solid if unspectacular 18.5 percent of his routes against Kansas City. He managed seven high-value touches (receptions plus green zone touches) with three quarters of play. That ranked fifth among running backs in Week 1. Cardinals backs totaled a solid 11 high-value touches against Kansas City.
The Raiders last year allowed the seventh most running back receptions (100), and against LA last week, they allowed seven running back receptions on seven targets for 48 yards and a touchdown. Conner most likely will be the only Arizona back running routes and catching passes from Kyler Murray here.
You might also consider slot receiver Greg Dortch, who led the team in targets, catches, and yardage last week, as a run-back option. A massive game stack would include Carr or Murray, Adams, Waller, Conner, and Dortch.
Commanders at Lions
Samuel, who gobbled up ten short targets and managed a touchdown last week, and Dotson, who had a route participation rate north of 90 percent while catching two touchdowns on five targets, are going to be fairly popular in tournaments. Samuel could be chalk in DraftKings’ PPR scoring. They’re far from bad options against a lousy Detroit coverage unit that was gouged for Week 1’s fifth-highest EPA per drop back. In 2021, the Lions were middle of the pack in pass rate over expected against.
McLaurin, after seeing a humble 7.8 percent target share (and being targeted on just 7.1 percent of his routes) against Jacksonville, should carry very little Week 2 rostership. I don’t think McLaurin, who in 2021 had one of the league’s highest weighted opportunity ratings and got massively unlucky on downfield targets, is suddenly Washington’s WR2 or WR3. If the Commanders’ Week 1 pass heaviness (only three teams had a higher pass rate over expected) McLaurin could be in line for a hefty dose of targets in a potential back-and-forth affair.
At 48.5 points, this game features the third-highest total on the main slate.
Amon-Ra St. Brown (DET) vs. WAS
Obviously 2021 was no fluke. With the Detroit offense at full health, St. Brown in Week 1 remained a target vacuum against Philadelphia. Only seven receivers had more expected fantasy points than St. Brown in Week 1, as he turned a 32.5 percent target share into eight catches for 64 yards and a score. He is a living, breathing PPR scam.
A high-scoring matchup with a Washington offense that seems intent on moving the ball through the air this season could precipitate another massive target day for St. Brown, a zoomer favorite who seems Jarvis Landry-esque in his ability to command targets. He now gets a matchup with a Commanders defense that was the 12th most extreme pass funnel of opening week. The Commanders in 2021 were the NFL’s fourth most extreme pass funnel defense.
Just last week, Jacksonville receivers running routes from the slot -- led by Christian Kirk -- totaled nine catches on 13 targets for 128 yards against the Commanders. Trevor Lawrence targeted his slot guys on 36 percent of his attempts against Washington.
The fancy way to go here is to use a skinny stack with one Commanders receiver and D.J. Chark, whose deep ball usage makes him the kind of volatile option we want in large-field tournaments (a skinny stack is when we use two opposing players but not their quarterbacks).
Chark was second on the Lions last week with a 21.62 percent target share. And three of Chark’s eight looks were of more than 20 yards downfield -- the third highest mark in the NFL last week. Too fancy? Maybe. Maybe not. We’re looking into it very strongly.
Bengals at Cowboys
Joe Mixon (CIN) at DAL
Fresh off a career pass-catching performance against the Steelers (seven catches on nine targets and a 59 percent route participation rate), Mixon should be fed early and often against the down-bad Cowboys this week. He may lack appeal in massive DFS contests because he’ll draw high rostership.
Mixon, who last week led all running backs in expected fantasy points while handling 80 percent of Cincinnati’s carries, now gets a Dallas defense that gave up 141 rushing yards to Tampa (4.27 yards per carry) last week. The Cowboys allowed the seventh highest EPA per rush attempt and the 12th highest rushing success rate against the Bucs. The Cowboys in 2021 were neither a run nor a pass funnel, but against the Bucs they were decidedly a run funnel. The usually pass-first, pass-only Bucs had opening day’s seventh-lowest pass rate over expected.
The idea here is that the heavily-favored Bengals (seven points as of this writing) could be slightly more run-heavy than usual in positive game script against Cooper Rush and the Cowboys. A bulky Week 1 workload could portend good things for Mixon even if he remains an inefficient runner.
Noah Brown (DAL) vs. CIN
You could choose a range of Dallas pass catchers as a runback alongside a Bengals stack or a humble skinny stack with Mixon. I chose Brown because my brain is large -- too large, many are saying. Dalton Schultz and, of course, CeeDee Lamb would also suffice as run-back plays if you’re targeting this game.
Brown in Week 1 against Tampa ran a pass route on 85 percent of Dallas’ drop backs on his way to five grabs for 68 yards. Two of those receptions came from Cooper Rush following Dak Prescott‘s thumb injury and subsequent exit.
The Bengals last week were the league’s seventh most extreme pass funnel defense. Only four defenses were more extreme pass funnels in 2021. There’s every reason to believe Dallas will be forced to drop back and sling it in what should be tremendously bad game script. Rush is no Dak, but he might not be awful. He piled up 325 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick in his lone 2021 start.
Rush’s 9.3 adjusted yards per attempt in 2021 suggests he’s not shy to push the ball downfield, and his atrocious 2021 completion rate over expected (-9.1) suggests he could be a turnover machine in Week 2. In any case, Brown should again run a bunch of routes and could approach or eclipse double digit targets -- the sort of opportunity that isn’t incorporated in his DFS pricing.