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Funneling Fantasy Points: Week 8

Saquon Barkley

Saquon Barkley

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

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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.

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. A tightly correlated DFS roster means you have to get less right, a welcoming prospect in a wildly difficult game.

Vikings (-3.5) vs. Cardinals
Vikings implied total: 26.25
Cardinals implied total: 22.75

It’s not often we get a matchup between two of the league’s most clearcut pass funnel defenses. That’s what we have here with Arizona and Minnesota -- two teams with good-enough run defenses and burnable secondaries. Only the Falcons are a more extreme pass funnel defense than the Cardinals; the Vikings rank as the fourth most extreme pass funnel.

Even the usually run-heavy Saints reverted to the pass last week against the Cardinals, finishing 2 percent over their expected pass rate as Andy Dalton went ballistic. There’s little question the Vikings, with the league’s sixth-highest pass rate over expected, will attack the Cards through the air.

If you’re set on rolling with Kirk Cousins -- a pocket passer who produces no fantasy points by himself -- you’re going to stack Justin Jefferson and one more pass catcher. Which one? Well, Adam Thielen is the natural second option because Minnesota’s target distribution has narrowed over the past month. Jefferson and Thielen have combined for a 54 percent target share over the past four games (24 percent to Thielen), leaving K.J. Osborn and Irv Smith as distant tertiary pass-game options.

Smith’s appeal lies in his bottom-barrel DFS price tag amid a marked rise in route participation that has made him the team’s primary pass-catching tight end following a slow start to the season. No team is allowing as many tight end receptions (51) as Arizona this season. You might say wait, you idiot, you moron -- the Cardinals have faced a murderer’s row of tight ends, including Dallas Goedert and Travis Kelce. It’s true: I can confirm as much. But they’ve also given up big outings to Juwan Johnson (five catches for 32 yards and two touchdowns) and Noah Fant (six catches for 45 yards). The Cardinals have allowed a whopping nine targets per game to enemy tight ends.

DeAndre Hopkins legally has to be in any Vikings-Cardinals game stack after his dominant performance in his Week 7 season debut. Hopkins commanded 50 percent of the team’s targets and 61 percent of the air yards. These are ludicrous numbers. If Arizona is going to take to the air against the pass-funnel Vikings, Hopkins -- who ran a hefty 42 percent of his routes from the slot -- is nearly guaranteed double-digit targets.

Hopkins, Kyler Murray, and the rest of the Arizona passing attack have a Week 8 matchup that should activate at least some of your salivary glands. Pro Football Focus grades Minnesota’s secondary as the second worst in the NFL this year, and only four teams give up a higher completion rate. No one allows a higher yards per pass attempt (7.9) than Minnesota.

I don’t think Rondale Moore can be considered as part of a game stack because the team has inexplicably used him on the outside in two of the past three weeks. The diminutive Moore is completely ineffective as a boundary wideout. Imagine that. Without heavy slot usage, Moore is barely a fantasy option, much less a guy who can offer DFS tournament-winning upside.

Perhaps Robbie Anderson, who barely saw the field in his first game with Arizona last week, will see more snaps and routes and offer some upside as the team’s lone downfield threat. Anderson’s floor, of course, is zero.

Game Stack Ideas
Jefferson and Hopkins
Cousins, Jefferson and Smith or Thielen, Hopkins
Murray, Hopkins, Jefferson and Smith
Murray, Hopkins, Anderson, Jefferson

Rams (+1.5) vs. 49ers
Rams implied total: 20.75
49ers implied total: 22.25

Your commitment to getting weird with Week 8 DFS roster construction must be unflappable if you’re going to stack this game in large-field contests. There are a few surefire shootouts on the slate -- Saints-Raiders and Lions-Dolphins come to mind -- that will call your name as you piece together your lineups this week.

I doubt anyone in this game, even Christian McCaffrey and Cooper Kupp, will come with excessive rostership on a slate with so many reasonably-priced options in far more attractive environments. I’d say that’s the most straightforward way to stack this game: A mini-stack (no QBs) with two guys who could easily combine for 40 touches. Exceedingly few tournament lineups will include both CMC and Kupp.

McCaffrey, who saw eight carries and ran 12 pass routes on just 22 snaps in his Week 7 Niners debut, is clearly going to be the centerpiece of the San Francisco offense from here on out, for better or worse. On Sunday he’ll square off against a Rams defense that ranks as the NFL’s third most extreme run funnel.

The hope is DFS players won’t pay all the way up for CMC against a relatively solid Rams rush defense that has allowed the NFL’s lowest rush EPA this season. It was against this defense that McCaffrey had 158 total yards on 20 touches in Week 6 as Carolina’s sole source of offense.

Stacking Jimmy Garoppolo alongside McCaffrey would make sense if this game shoots out or the 49ers face a wave of negative game script for the third straight week. Garoppolo has been quietly efficient in low-volume passing performances against LA in recent meetings. Last season, he had a stellar 9.71 adjusted yards per attempt in two meetings against the Rams. Last month against LA, Jimmy G posted a 9.6 adjusted yards per attempt on 27 throws. If anything close to that sort of efficiency holds up in a slightly more pass-heavy script, Garoppolo and McCaffrey could be a very productive PPR duo on DraftKings.

I’m obliged to mention Brandon Aiyuk as part of a 49ers stack if Deebo Samuel (hamstring) is sidelined. Aiyuk has been something of a target hog when Deebo is out.

Kupp is the entire Rams offense. That’s not changing, and it doesn’t bother me that the Niners are the league’s sixth most extreme run funnel. LA has shown no interest or ability to establish the run this year. Only six teams have a lower EPA per rush than the Rams.

The anticipated return of downfield burner Van Jefferson could, maybe, loosen opposing secondaries that have crept closer and closer to the line of scrimmage to snuff out the screen passes Kupp magically turns into big gains. Without Jefferson, the Rams have had no one to scare opposing safeties and corners into giving a little cushion.

Jefferson’s return could also mean Kupp -- who had 19 targets the last time these teams met -- returns to a full-time slot role in LA’s down-bad offense. His 66 percent slot rate from 2021 has dropped to 51 percent through Week 7. More routes from the slot would be a boon for Kupp against a 49ers coverage unit getting scorched by enemy slot receivers. The Niners give up the third-highest yards per reception to slot receivers, per Sharp Football’s Rich Hribar, with both JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman posting big stat lines in Week 7 against San Francisco.

If you’re intent on including Matthew Stafford in a Rams-Niners game stack, you’re going to have to include Jefferson or Allen Robinson or Tyler Higbee. If the immobile Stafford is going to have a GPP-worthy day, at least two of his pass catchers are going to come along for the ride. This game’s Vegas total, for whatever it’s worth, has risen by three points since Monday.

Game Stack Ideas
McCaffrey, Kupp
Garoppolo, McCaffrey, Aiyuk if Deebo is out, Kupp
Stafford, Kupp, Jefferson or Higbee or Robinson, McCaffrey

Seahawks (-3) vs. Giants
Seahawks implied total: 23.75
Giants implied total: 20.75

The teens are calling this matchup “straightforward” and “self-evident.” I’ll never understand how the kids are talking these days. They are a species unto themselves.

Seattle’s defense is a massive run funnel and has been since the start of the season. A mere four teams qualify as a more extreme run funnel, and all but two of the Hawks’ opponents this year have been under their expected pass rate. Nearly 38 percent of the yards gained against Seattle have come on the ground, the 12th-highest rate. Saquon Barkley, seeing 74 percent of the Giants backfield’s high-value touches (receptions plus touches inside the ten) has an excellent chance to go off here.

It’s not just Barkley’s rushing production we’re chasing; it’s his pass-catching upside too. Seattle’s defense has allowed the fourth most receptions to running backs (44). Some of the league’s best pass-catching backs have had PPR explosions against the Seahawks in recent weeks: Alvin Kamara caught six passes for 91 yards in Week 5 and Austin Ekeler reeled in a dozen catches for 96 yards and a touchdown in Week 7. Barley, with the sixth most running back pass routes this season, should be immune to any negative game script the Giants face in Week 8. In a back and forth affair, Barkley has 25-touch upside.

Seahawks run-back options against the pass-funnel Giants defense depend on how much you’re willing to spend. Tyler Lockett should see a target bump with DK Metcalf sidelined with a knee injury. Metcalf, after all, has accounted for 25 percent of the team’s targets for 33 percent of Seattle’s air yards. Against the Chargers last week with Metcalf sidelined, Lockett enjoyed a 33 percent target share and had the week’s 15th most wide receiver expected fantasy points. Another week of recovery from a hamstring injury that reportedly hobbled Lockett in the first half of Seattle’s Week 7 game against LA should bolster his Week 8 prospects against a Giants defense allowing the 11th-highest EPA per dropback.

Then there’s Marquise Goodwin, the only Seahawks wideout besides Metcalf and Lockett to record a reception in Week 7. The hyper-athletic Goodwin caught four passes for 67 yards and two scores against the Chargers, his latest out-of-nowhere statistical explosion in a career full of them. Goodwin had a 32 percent air yards share against the Chargers -- a number that could possibly increase with Metcalf’s absence. Against LA, Goodwin was used as the downfield threat with a 15.6 average depth of target, far higher than Lockett’s 5.1 aDOT.

Goodwin’s eminently affordable DFS price tag makes him a stacking candidate alongside Lockett and Geno Smith if you’re convinced this game is going to feature a truckload of yards and points.

Game Stack Ideas
Geno, Goodwin, Lockett, Barkley
Goodwin or Lockett and Barkley