Target Decoder Week 9: Tyler Conklin is Rockin’
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It’s the coldest comfort to roster a receiver or tight end or running back who sees a glut of targets and fails to convert them into fantasy production.
Everything aligned for the player: He ran a bunch of pass routes, he saw a good number of looks from his quarterback -- maybe even a high-value target or two. It didn’t end with fantasy points on the scoreboard so it was, you believe, a failure.
“Process” can sound like the official excuse of the loser -- a word you blurt out when things go sideways. “The process was right,” the loser says, “and the results didn’t follow.” Whatever you think of a process for spotting worthy borderline fantasy options, it remains vitally important. Figuring out how to identify streaming plays or desperation options in fantasy football is the first step to benefiting from unforeseen production from said players.
In this space we’ll examine the intriguing cross-section of defenses most vulnerable to certain positions and how pass catchers are being used in their respective offenses. Mostly we’ll focus on tight ends and running backs whose weekly prospects might look slightly less hideous with some much-needed context.
With every passing week, our understanding of defensive shortcomings and pass catchers’ roles will improve, and with that, players highlighted in this space will be more viable in 12 and 14-team fantasy leagues.
Week 9 Targets: Decoded
Tyler Conklin, TE, Minnesota Vikings @ Baltimore Ravens
I’ve pulled my interns out of the content mines and instructed them to investigate why Tyler Conklin is rostered in just 32 percent of leagues. I will submit a comprehensive report with their findings. Until then, Conklin should be treated as a set-it-and-forget-it Week 9 option against Baltimore.
We like tight ends in high-scoring, fantasy friendly game environments. That’s precisely what we have in Conklin: The Vikings-Ravens throwdown has the week’s third highest total (49.5). Conklin’s usage -- especially over the past month -- has been better than even the most ardent Conklin truther would have predicted after Irv Smith’s season-ending injury. Conklin has run a route on a very nice 69 percent of Kirk Cousins’ drop backs this year. That number has jumped to 73.6 percent over the Vikings’ past four games.
Conklin’s targets haven’t been overwhelming -- he’s seen 4.38 targets per game, good for a target on 17.3 percent of his routes -- but he’s out there as part of a Minnesota offense averaging the seventh most passing yards per game. What I’m saying is you could do worse -- way worse.
The Vikings face Baltimore’s extreme pass funnel defense in Week 9. Nearly 78 percent of the yards gained against the Ravens this year have come via the pass -- the highest in the NFL through eight weeks. And as faithful Target Decoder readers know, the Ravens are giving up gobs of opportunity to enemy tight ends, who have commanded a 25.8 percent target share against Baltimore, the NFL’s second highest rate.
Discounting Travis Kelce and Darren Waller combining for 17 receptions, 214 yards, and two touchdowns against the Ravens in the season’s first two weeks, consider Baltimore six catches for 74 yards to Colts tight ends in Week 5 and seven grabs on 11 targets to Chargers tight ends in Week 6. C.J. Uzomah made the most of his three looks against Baltimore in Week 7, racking up 91 yards and two touchdowns.
Conklin and Adam Thielen are primed to exploit the Ravens’ middle-of-the-field defensive deficiencies in Week 9. Both guys have as much touchdown upside as any non-elite pass catcher this week. We’re once again rockin’ with Conklin.
DFS Spin: Conklin will probably be chalky against Baltimore, though a variety of viable low-priced tight end options on DraftKings should put a firm cap on Conklin’s Week 9 GPP usage. I like him quite a bit in lineups with Lamar Jackson and Marquise Brown (or Rashod Bateman if you want to go galaxy brain).
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Jeremy McNichols, RB, Tennessee Titans @ Los Angeles Rams
Forget for a moment that McNichols might be reeling after the Titans lost Derrick Henry for the season and immediately sought out the services of a running back we first used in fantasy leagues during the second George W. Bush administration.
Sorry to get political.
Adrian Peterson is widely expected to serve as Tennessee’s lead ball carrier this week against the Rams, in a game that has the Titans as 7.5-point road underdogs. In an offense that desperately wants to establish the run as hard as humanly possible, Peterson will certainly see upwards of 15 or 20 carries in some of the Titans’ remaining games.
The Titans, however, probably won’t be in position to force feed their new 36-year-old offensive centerpiece in Week 9 against a Rams passing attack that should eviscerate Tennessee’s bottom-feeding secondary. Against a pass-funnel Titans defense, Matthew Stafford and company should make mincemeat out of a coverage unit allowing the fifth most passing yards through eight weeks.
That works out well for McNichols, a capable pass catcher who has led the team this season with 21 grabs on 27 targets. His unpredictable usage should be far more predictable with Henry sidelined. It was Henry who had led the team in running back pass routes this year. McNichols, whose route running numbers have been all over the place in 2021, should absorb all -- or almost all -- of Henry’s 15 routes and 2.5 targets per game. The Athletic’s Joe Rexrode, who covers the Titans, said this week that he expects McNichols to be Tennessee’s pass-catching back, if you were in need of confirmation.
Week 9 could be kind to whoever is catching passes out of the Tennessee backfield. The Rams, for the second straight year, have forced opponents to funnel targets to tight ends and running backs. A mere 57 percent of targets against LA have gone to wideouts, one of the league’s lowest rates through Week 8. Running backs, meanwhile, have seen a 19.9 percent target share against the Rams. Only seven teams have given up more running back receptions than LA. That nearly 20 percent RB target share looks even better when one considers the number of offensive snaps Rams opponents are logging (67.2, the sixth most in the league) and how many pass attempts quarterbacks notch against LA (40.4, the second highest).
If the Titans are forced out of their preferred high-T, run-heavy offense, McNichols will be one of the primary beneficiaries. With enough bad game script, I think he could push for double digit targets against a Rams defense allowing 7.6 running back targets per contest.
DFS Spin: McNichols, like Peterson, has an undeniably wide range of outcomes in Week 9. Both might be considered “thin” DFS plays. If the Rams run away from the Henry-less Titans, McNichols is set up nicely for 5-7 receptions. Presuming such with a Stafford-centric stack makes McNichols a reasonable run back option. He’ll have precious little rostership too.