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Funneling Fantasy Points: Week 4

Rashod Bateman

Rashod Bateman


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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, along with run-back options on the opposing team. 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.

I’ll do my best each week not to highlight the chalkiest DFS options. Instead we’ll focus on players who can help differentiate your lineup, putting you in position to be right alone or wrong alone. That doesn’t mean this analysis can’t or won’t apply to smaller field DFS contests. But I will make a concerted effort to avoid so-called free squares in DFS in a given week.

Bills (-3) at Ravens

Rashod Bateman (BAL) vs. BUF
DraftKings: $5,600
FanDuel: $6,600

There will be quite a bit of stacking in a game featuring two teams who actually try to score points and pay no mind to the run game. If Ravens-Bills is indeed a shootout -- the game has a league-high 51-point total -- there are ways to get different within the game and take advantage of a back-and-forth affair.

I think Rashod Bateman is the best way DFS players can access a fantasy-friendly environment on the cheap and at depressed rostership. Just last week against the Patriots, Bateman had a season-high 80 percent route participation rate; he caught two of his four targets for 59 yards. Bateman is (probably) never going to pile up targets in a Baltimore passing offense centered on the dominant Mark Andrews -- one that uses a good number of two tight end sets.

Bateman is undeniably explosive. He’s as good a candidate to make a big after-the-catch play as any wideout in the league, as indicated by his NFL-leading 7.2 average yards after the catch over expectation, according to Next Gen Stats. The blazing fast Bateman is averaging a wild 14.5 YAC on his eight receptions through three weeks. Bateman is a big play waiting to happen: His 17.3 average targeted air yards ranks fourth among wideouts through Week 3.

He has been and will continue to be a volatile fantasy option. In redraft, he will be a frustrating week-to-week play. In DFS, his potential payoff is tantalizing.

Bateman has tremendous DFS appeal in this matchup at a reasonable price point against an injury-ravaged Buffalo secondary. I don’t see a compelling reason to play Bateman without Lamar Jackson. If Bateman goes off, Jackson will too.

Gabriel Davis (BUF) at BAL
DraftKings: $6,600
FanDuel: $6,500

A down game against Miami and the prevailing belief that he’s Just A Guy should bring down Davis’ rostership in time for a potentially high-scoring matchup with a burnable Baltimore defense allowing 6.5 yards per play, the second highest mark in the NFL. The Ravens are now the NFL’s eighth most extreme pass funnel defense, according to Rotoworld’s Patrick Kerrane.

Davis, critically, is running almost every route in the Buffalo offense (the missing ingredient in his 2020-2021 usage). His 13.5 average depth of target is down from his career 16.4 aDOT, but it’s high enough to indicate he’s seeing high-value downfield looks from Josh Allen. In his two 2022 games, Davis has 28.5 percent of the team’s air yards; Stefon Diggs leads the Bills with a 34.5 percent air yards share.

Baltimore’s banged-up coverage unit is once again giving up chunk plays on the regular. Only the Seahawks and Cardinals allow a higher yards per pass attempt (7.5) than the Ravens. You can of course stack Davis with Josh Allen, using Bateman as a run-back. Or if you want to get cute -- we like to get cute around here -- you can deploy a Davis-Bateman skinny stack (no QBs) as a relatively economical way to access a game that will include plenty of touchdowns.

Broncos (+2.5) at Raiders

Davante Adams (LV) vs. DEN
DraftKings: $8,300
FanDuel: $7,900

Denver, through three weeks, is the NFL’s most extreme pass funnel defense and it’s not close. Broncos opponents are throwing the ball at a pass rate over expected clip of 20 percent. Sixty-five percent of plays against the Broncos this season have been passes, the fourth highest rate in the league.

The Raiders are going to throw and throw and throw some more this week. They sport the league’s 11th highest pass rate over expected, largely forgoing anything resembling establishing the run. Endless pass attempts for Derek Carr will continue until morale improves.

Adams, after two miserably slow games, might have somewhat depressed rostership in DFS tournaments this week. He’s still the WR2 in expected fantasy points and WR8 in weighted opportunity rating, a combination of a player’s air yards share and target share. What I’m saying is the Vegas passing attack probably won’t run through journeyman Mack Hollins every week. It’s easy to overlook Adams’ usage where it counts: Only Garrett Wilson has more inside-the-10 targets than Adams (6) through Week 3. Adams leads the NFL in targets inside the 20.

It’s not quite analytics, but Adams making noise about needing more targets in the Raiders offense could create the all-important squeaky wheel narrative in Week 4. When the wheel squeaks, we listen. I don’t think this Raiders-Broncos game has to turn into a barnburner for Adams to see a load of looks from Carr. We won’t get many chances to exploit fantasy skepticism of Adams; this is our chance.

That this is an objectively bad matchup for Carr and Adams might make them a worthy stack, banking on DFS players largely fading the duo in large-field contests. The Broncos have given up the sixth lowest EPA per drop back and their secondary is graded by PFF as the fourth best. No matter, we’re stacking Raiders.

Javonte Williams (DEN) at LV
DraftKings: $6,600
FanDuel: $6,900

Vegas is among the defenses that through three weeks are neither pass nor run funnels. The Raiders are something of an everything funnel, unable to effectively stop the pass or the run. So far this year they’ve allowed 5.8 yards per play; only ten teams have been more generous. The Titans gouged Vegas for 6.6 yards per play in Week 3.

Courtland Sutton is the clearest run-back option alongside a Carr-Adams stack (Raiders are allowing the fourth highest EPA per drop back). A less obvious option is the dude listed above: Javonte Williams, who has seen 70 percent of the Denver backfield’s high-value touches (receptions plus touches inside the ten) while Melvin Gordon has a 25 percent HVT rate.

Williams might lose out on some goal line touches but he’s far and away the team’s primary pass-catching back. He is second in the league with 21 running back targets and has the second highest targets per route run rate (41 percent) among all backs. No RB has a higher weighted opportunity rating than Williams.

On Sunday he’ll go against a Vegas defense allowing the fourth most running back receptions (21) in this young season. The Raiders have allowed an average of 8.66 running back targets in three games.

If the Broncos and Raiders push each other -- or if the lifeless Raiders force Denver into negative game script -- Williams should run plenty of routes. His history of commanding targets could bring a glut of PPR production. Obviously this will be most useful on full PPR DraftKings.

Browns (-1.5) at Falcons

Amari Cooper (CLE) at ATL
DraftKings: $6,300
FanDuel: $7,500

You might notice Falcons game stacks are a mainstay of this column. That’s because the Atlanta defense stinks, and we appreciate that very much.

Cooper, who has dominated the Cleveland passing offense with a 31 percent target share and a 49 percent air yards share, has every chance to put up another good stat line this week. Trailing only Cooper Kupp and CeeDee Lamb in weighted opportunity rating, Cooper should have no issue against a Falcons secondary allowing 7.1 yards per pass attempt (tenth most). The Falcons are the 11th most extreme pass funnel defense.

This is undoubtedly a Nick Chubb game. Every DFS player with a pulse -- maybe even those without one -- will want to jam Chubb into every lineup against a Falcons defense allowing the highest rush EPA through three games. The Best Pure Runner In Football could make minced meat of the down-bad Falcons.

On the off chance that the Falcons make defensive adjustments to stop the run -- Atlanta defenders said they know the Browns will want to establish -- or get out to a lead and force Cleveland into a more pass-heavy game script, Cooper profiles as leverage against a highly-rostered Chubb. Asking “what if” is a crucial part of building large-field DFS rosters that are drastically different from chalky lineups. What if this is a Cooper game, not a Chubb game?

Drake London (ATL) vs. CLE
DraftKings: $6,100
FanDuel: $6,300

I’ll concede London could come with a fair amount of rostership on DraftKings, where his price is curiously (infuriatingly) low. Maybe I’m off base, however, assuming DFS players won’t flock to a Browns-Falcons matchup -- even if it has the third highest total (48) of Week 4 as of this writing.

The Browns are in fact a run funnel defense. The Bears and 49ers are the only teams that have faced a lower pass rate over expected in the season’s first few weeks. So yes, Cordarrelle Patterson -- who’s seen 53 percent of the Falcons’ rushes -- is in play here. I’m a little queasy about C-Patt though. He’s outperforming his opportunity so far and he’s (maddeningly) not part of Atlanta’s passing offense, running a route on a meager 26 percent of Marcus Mariota‘s dropbacks and seeing seven targets in three games.

That leaves London, the team leader in target share (34 percent), air yards share (35.7 percent), and weight opportunity rating. He faces off against a Browns secondary that’s neither terrible nor intimidating; they allow the 12th highest EPA per drop back and the fifth highest yards per completion (11.5).

In a matchup with sneaky fantasy appeal, London would likely be the primary beneficiary of a back-and-forth contest. A London-Cooper skinny stack -- mini-stack, if you will -- is a highly correlated way to get exposure to a game with a surprisingly high total.