Daily Fantasy Football: Sannes' Situations to Monitor for Wild Card Weekend
The Thanksgiving DFS slate is always one of the best of the year. Not only do we get a distraction from chaos around the house, but its just truly the optimal format.
Outside of this year, we get three games each Thanksgiving with staggered start times. The three games give us enough palatable plays to feel good about our lineups. The staggered starts mean we can see how the early games play out and late swap accordingly based on whether we need to get weird or not.
This weekend, we get two Thanksgiving slates on back-to-back days. Bless this new playoff structure.
Of course, you can also opt to play the Saturday through Sunday slate on FanDuel, featuring all six games. There's less variance with more games on the slate, so you won't find me pushing back on that strategy. But getting two three-game sweats in two days is too good for me to pass up.
And, believe me, we need a reduced game count this weekend. Even with just six games on the menu, we still have moving pieces galore in each, some of which won't be solidified until an hour and a half prior to kickoff. How those things break will have a pretty dramatic impact on how we view each game.
With that in mind, let's dig into the situations impacting our two glorious three-game slates. We'll go game-by-game here, analyzing the key cogs that will influence our decisions and see how that shifts our view of the players involved relative to others on that day's slate.
Colts at Bills
We'd be stacking the Indianapolis Colts at the Buffalo Bills on a full slate. Here, we've got just two other games, and those both have massive, massive issues. So you bet your bottom we're going to load up on this pupper.
Thursday's injury report also made that a bit easier. Both Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley returned to limited practices, putting them -- especially Diggs -- in line to play this weekend. If Diggs had sat, we'd have been forced to lower the expected efficiency of the Bills' offense, which would have been a bummer. Instead, it's full steam ahead.
Assuming Diggs is good to go, Josh Allen is far and away the top quarterback on the slate. Nobody else is even in the same tier as him. Even with Allen a lock to be the most popular quarterback, you just suck it up and lock him in.
As far as stacking goes, you've got options. It flew a bit under the radar last week with so much going on elsewhere, but John Brown returned and played 46.9% of the snaps. That immediately makes him a top-notch value option at $5,700.
We've got a six-game sample on the Bills this year with a fully healthy Brown and Beasley. Here's where the targets went in that time with a "deep" target being at least 16 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
|With Brown Healthy||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Obviously, as long as we get confirmation that Diggs is good to go, he's the top receiver on this slate and the entire weekend. But Brown's salary can go a long way, and his role has been good.
The $5,000 range at wide receiver is largely barren both Saturday and Sunday. But Brown's at the high end of that range with both a floor and a path to upside (70 or more receiving yards in five of seven fully healthy games). He's a player we can build around.
If Beasley's unable to go, it would enable us to take swings at Gabriel Davis, though those would be more of a prayer than Brown lineups. Davis does have five targets in four straight games and has played hefty snaps whenever one of the top three guys have been out. Davis would have a low floor, but he'd be in play if there's no Beasley.
Perhaps the bigger benefactor from a Beasley absence, though, would be Dawson Knox. With Beasley out last week, Knox set a new season-high with eight targets, three of which were deep. He now has eight deep targets the past four games after not having any prior to that. He operates in the same area of the field as Beasley, making him more of a direct fill-in. Tight end is brutal on Saturday, and Knox's salary is just $4,900. He's very much in play, especially if Beasley can't go.
On the Colts' side of things, we can feel pretty good about them being competitive here. Home/road splits can be worrisome for teams that play indoors, but the Colts actually averaged more points per game on the road this year (28.9) than at home (27.5). That gives us the green light to rank Jonathan Taylor first among all backs on the slate.
Since Taylor's snap rate spiked in Week 11, he has basically become Derrick Henry. Here's a comparison of the two with Taylor's splits being his past six games and Henry's being the full season. Here, "adjusted opportunities" is carries plus two-times the player's target total because a target is worth twice as much as a carry for a running back on FanDuel. "RZ share" is the percentage of the team's carries or targets inside the red zone.
|Running Back||Adj. Opp.||Yards From Scrimmage||RZ Share|
Obviously, this doesn't mean we should rank Taylor ahead of Henry straight up because his sample is 10 games smaller than Henry's. But it does allow us to be aggressive in our exposures with Taylor, even with his salary up to $8,800.
The lone lingering concern with Taylor is what his role will look like in a negative script. The Colts are 5-1 in that sample, and their lone loss was against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game they led most of the way. If they fall behind, it's possible Nyheim Hines gets more run. That's the downside.
But what may go overlooked is that there's room for expansion with Taylor, too. Last year in the playoffs, we saw the snap rates of Henry, Aaron Jones and Damien Williams go through the roof. They were their teams' best backs, and they didn't leave the field as a result. When everything's on the line, you don't have to worry about workload anymore. The best players see their roles expand.
The Colts last week showed us that they think Taylor is their best weapon. His snap rate there -- in a must-win game -- was 82.1%, his highest rate of the season by more than 10 percentage points. So although there's some risk if they trail early, the upside here more than offsets it.
The lower-salaried route for exposure here would be via TY Hilton, who is $6,200. Hilton started the year in a rough spot, but since returning from his injury, he has been getting fed volume downfield.
|Past 7 Games||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Hilton has averaged 2.5 deep targets per game in that span. He traditionally does not play as well outdoors as inside (which is true for all receivers), so we should downgrade Hilton from our baseline expectations. However, his salary helps alleviate those concerns a bit. Taylor is far and away the top target on the team, but Hilton is easily second on that list.
The ancillary pieces are truly just taking stabs. Neither Michael Pittman Jr. nor Zach Pascal has gotten consistent volume, hurting both their floor and ceiling. Pascal would likely grade out slightly higher due to his deep target share, but the Bills' pass-catchers are the better routes for low-salaried access to this game.
Rams at Seahawks
Early in the week, things were looking pretty bleak for the Los Angeles Rams. It was possible they wouldn't have either Jared Goff or Cooper Kupp, and left tackle Andrew Whitworth still hadn't been activated from injured reserve.
We're still waiting for final word on Goff, but things are looking up elsewhere. Kupp is off the COVID-19 list, and Whitworth is officially ready to go. That makes this game a whole heck of a lot more interesting.
Although the Rams are playing things tight to the vest with Goff, it does seem likely he'll go. He was throwing seemingly without impediment prior to practice Thursday, and he was limited all three days. It's no lock that Goff plays, but we can at least proceed under the assumption that he will be out there.
That's big for the Rams' offense, but it's not as big as Whitworth's return. The downturn of the Rams' offense overlapped almost perfectly with when Whitworth got hurt back in Week 10. Here are their splits with and without him based on numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is the expected-points model we use with Passing NEP per drop back including deductions for expected points lost on negative plays such as sacks, incompletions, and interceptions.
|Rams in 2020||Passing NEP/P||Rushing NEP/P|
The passing splits do include the one game with John Wolford, but Goff's Passing NEP per drop back in those games was 0.04, and Wolford was at -0.02. Not having Whitworth was a massive negative for everyone involved.
As such, we should expect the Rams' offense to come back to life with Whitworth and Kupp back in the fold. That's huge for Cam Akers, who might be the best value of the weekend.
Akers checks in at $6,100. That's despite averaging 27.0 adjusted opportunities per game over his past four, resulting in 109.0 yards from scrimmage. Despite being just two weeks removed from a high ankle sprain, Akers played 65.8% of the snaps in Week 17. With more time having passed since the injury, Akers could have an even bigger role this week. As long as you expect the Rams' offense to be competent, Akers is the second-best back on the slate, trailing only Taylor.
The receiver situation is a bit muddier, largely because it's hard to tell which split is most legit. It does seem, though, as if our most relevant sample is from Weeks 13 to 16, after Van Jefferson's snaps increased a bit and before Kupp missed Week 17. In that time, Josh Reynolds basically disappeared.
|Weeks 13 to 16||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Reynolds had just one or two targets in three of four games in that span. The only problem is that he did have 10 targets in the other game... and that one outlier was against this same Seattle Seahawks defense.
This puts us in a bit of a pickle. Reynolds had 10 targets in both games against the Seahawks during the regular season, and his salary is $4,800. But they cut down his snaps down the stretch for a reason. Reynolds can be considered, but his floor is non-existent.
Instead, it's best to just take the easy route with Robert Woods and Kupp, favoring Woods between the two. The Saturday slate is lacking in super high-salaried plays, allowing us to live in the mid-range, which is where we find both Woods ($6,700) and Kupp ($6,400). Tyler Higbee can be worth some swipes, but he is likely fourth on the Saturday slate at the position behind Knox and the two tight ends in the late game.
The first two times these teams met, the Rams' defense kept DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in check. Neither had more than 66 yards in either game. As such, it's hard to justify being into this Seattle passing offense. But the salaries here help a ton.
Metcalf is $6,900 with Lockett at $6,800, and Russell Wilson is just $7,400. That's way down from where they were in the regular season, as they should be given the matchup and recent performance. But this does shape up as a good spot to buy back in.
Wilson, specifically, is enticing, especially with the non-Allen quarterback situation on the slate super murky. The matchup is tough, but Wilson averaged 0.13 Passing NEP per drop back when facing top-10 pass defenses this year by numberFire's metrics. That's higher than the league-wide mark of -0.02. Even with this being the third time they've faced, we can still expect Wilson to move the ball.
Additionally, Wilson tends to run more when the stakes are higher. He averaged 8.0 rushes for 54.5 yards per game in two playoff outings last year, more than doubling his average of 21.4 yards per game during the regular season. If you can get rushing production at $7,400 on a thin quarterback slate, your eyes should light up.
Wilson's not going to be on par with Allen, by any means. But he's at least worth considering as your second choice in non-Allen lineups.
As for Metcalf and Lockett, Lockett has the better floor. He also had more volume in the two games against the Rams with 21.9% of the overall targets and 35.7% deep. That's a plus.
The appeal of Metcalf is that this is just a three-game slate. That means there aren't a ton of players who can truly make you regret not using them; Metcalf is one of them. As such, if you're gunning exclusively for ceiling (which you have incentive to do on a slate like this), Metcalf grades out better. If you're multi-entering and using Wilson, you should have shares of both Lockett and Metcalf, favoring Metcalf by a bit.
Chris Carson's situation is tough. His snap rate had been on the rise, but then in Week 17 -- a game the Seahawks wanted to win for a shot at a first-round bye -- Carson played just 46.2% of the snaps. In full games since returning from his injury, Carson is averaging 87.8 yards from scrimmage per game. Among the "lead" backs on this slate, Carson ranks just fifth, especially with a higher salary than both Akers and Ronald Jones.
Buccaneers at Washington
Although this game has a higher total than the Rams versus Seahawks, there may be more paths to failure. Both sides contribute to that pessimism.
The Washington side is obvious; they're just not that good offensively. They ranked 29th in schedule-adjusted passing offense, and that's not a Dwayne Haskins thing; Alex Smith's Passing NEP per drop back was -0.08, just 0.02 better than Haskins' mark. It's possible that Taylor Heinicke could get the start after taking the majority of reps in practice Thursday, but it's hard to envision anybody lighting it up in this offense.
The pessimism around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is not as blatant because they are objectively a good offense. The issue is that they've truly struggled this year when facing tough defenses.
Tom Brady's output was heavily dependent on his matchup. Against bottom-12 defenses by numberFire's metrics, Brady averaged 0.59 Passing NEP per drop back, the best mark among 44 qualified quarterbacks. Against top-10 units, that fell all the way to -0.09, which ranks 28th. Washington ranks fourth against the pass, which is why this is a relevant discussion.
The biggest issues seemed to pop up against defenses that could generate a pass rush, and that's the strength of Washington's unit. Although this doesn't mean we should expect the Buccaneers to fall flat, it does give us one additional path to failure.
That's not enough to make this game a cross-off; such a thing doesn't exist on a three-game slate. But it might be enough to get us to favor the Rams versus the Seahawks if we're looking to rank the games.
The other damper here is that the market shares won't be thinned out for the Bucs. It seems likely that Mike Evans will be good to go after he returned to practice Thursday, though he is listed as being questionable. When healthy, Evans has been the guy getting the best volume of the pass-catchers since Antonio Brown joined the fold.
|Weeks 9 to 16||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Evans gets the high-leverage targets and would thus be the top option, but he's clearly not at full health. We should rank Evans highest of the group, though he should be downgraded a bit due to the injury.
The one guy who is still in play even with Evans is Rob Gronkowski. He's the other guy -- outside of Evans -- getting money looks, and he helps fill tight end. He also carries the lowest salary of the group at $6,000. Tight end is rough on Saturday, so Gronkowski likely belongs at the top of the heap whether Evans plays or not.
If Evans does wind up sitting, then you can bump up Chris Godwin and Brown significantly. Godwin is $7,800 with Brown at $6,500, so we could just take the salary savings and ride with Brown. They'd just be tough to stomach at their respective salaries unless we get confirmation before lock that Evans is out.
We're not going to know at initial lock whether Leonard Fournette will be active or not. That plays a key role in how we view Ronald Jones. However, even with that ambiguity, we still need to plan around finding ways to have Jones in a healthy number of our lineups.
The reason the Fournette side of things matters is that Jones has been a bellcow when Fournette has been out or limited this year. Here's Jones' workloads in each split.
|Jones in 2020||Adj. Opp.||Yards From Scrimmage||Red-Zone Share|
|With Fournette Active||16.2||68.5||20.0%|
|With Fournette Out/Limited||28.5||114.5||37.1%|
Jones' 28.5 adjusted opportunities in games without Fournette would lead the slate for each back's most relevant sample. He's a legit featured back when Fournette is out of the equation.
The problem -- as mentioned -- is that we aren't going to know before Saturday's first game kicks off whether Fournette will be active or not. But neither will our competition. As such, there are big advantages to having Jones lineups on the possibility that Fournette does not play. Fournette's being a healthy scratch in Week 14 showed us that it's a possibility, and it's one we should account for.
Jones is a justifiable play even if Fournette is active. So if we have Jones in a lineup, and Fournette plays, we can keep him in there. But we can also swap some of those Jones lineups to Antonio Gibson, who is $6,200 on the other side. We've got flexibility here, and we should use that to our advantage.
Even after accounting for the possibility of getting Jones with no Fournette, Jones is still ranked lower than Taylor and Akers for the Saturday-only slate. But the upsides of an expanded role are enough to make Jones the number-three back on the slate, ahead of Gibson and Carson.
It'll be tough to find gems on the Washington side with the projected efficiency so low. Gibson grades out ahead of Carson because there's a chance he's one of the players whose snap rate shoots up in a must-win game. But we're not getting discount salaries on Terry McLaurin and Logan Thomas to account for the offense's potential issues.
McLaurin is $7,100 with Thomas at $6,400. They've both gotten decent volume, so you can understand why they're there. Here are the team's target shares with Smith from Week 7 on, the time when Cam Sims' role expanded.
|With Smith Since Week 7||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
In a vacuum, that volume would justify their salaries. But when you add the context that it comes in Washington's poor offense, it's tougher to get excited.
Thomas is still going to be one of the top tight ends on the slate, but that's simply by default with so few other options. He's behind Gronkowski in this game, as well.
McLaurin's not just dealing with a bad offense; he's also clearly not healthy. He's listed as questionable again for this week and has been on and off the injury report since Week 12. In that stretch, he has averaged just 49.4 receiving yards per game, down from 87.1 per game before that.
McLaurin definitely isn't out of consideration due to the slate size. However, if this were a full slate, he'd be an easy avoid. As such, if you do put McLaurin in your player pool, it should be in a limited capacity as it does take a leap of faith to expect a ceiling game in this spot.
Ravens at Titans
For Jackson, the appeal is obvious. Since returning from the COVID-19 list, he has averaged 11.2 rushes for 86.0 yards per game. The points from the rushing yardage alone is equivalent to more than two passing touchdowns. And when they have thrown, Jackson has averaged 0.41 Passing NEP per drop back. Those mid-season woes? They're gone.
Jackson and his rekindled efficiency will be facing the league's 27th-ranked pass defense. Although part of Jackson's resurgence has been due to a soft schedule, that schedule doesn't get any tougher here. That's why Jackson's the top option, and he's the top guy for the full six-game slate, as well.
The Baltimore Ravens have played four games since Andrews and Willie Snead returned from the COVID-19 list. Andrews' role has been superb in that time. Here, we'll go with raw targets rather than target share because Jackson has averaged just 20.8 pass attempts per game in this span.
|Past 4 Games||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Andrews is the top stacking option by a decent margin. He's the highest-salaried tight end on the slate, but with no Travis Kelce or Darren Waller available, Andrews deserves to be there. He's worth prioritizing at times even with the unique roster construction he requires.
Brown doesn't require an alteration to the default roster construction with his salary at $6,300. That's enough to make him viable even as a standalone play.
It's just hard to deem Brown as a core play even with his improved role of late. His scoring has been buoyed by touchdowns as he has six across the past six games. He has exceeded 50 yards just twice, so if he doesn't hit paydirt, things could be rough.
Again, that's not to totally poo-poo using Brown; he's mid-salaried exposure to the best game on the slate. It's more to say that we shouldn't overreact to the positive fantasy outputs in his gamelogs.
A similar word of caution belongs to JK Dobbins. Dobbins went off for 28 FanDuel points in Week 17, which could lead us to think he's one of the guys who could get a boost in a must-win game. But Dobbins' volume has been steady for a while now.
Dobbins has effectively been the team's lead back for his past six games now. He has double-digit carries in all six of those, and Mark Ingram has been squeezed out of the equation. But even with that volume, Week 17 was still the first time Dobbins had topped 85 yards from scrimmage in that stretch. That's certainly not bad! But it's not how you generate a ceiling.
It's a short slate, so the upside necessary to be a difference-making play is lower. That helps Dobbins. But given the total on this game and what Dobbins did in Week 17, he's likely to be more popular than he should. It's definitely scary, but being underweight on Dobbins relative to the field seems to be the optimal move here.
The problem with fading Dobbins is that he's one of the few potential value backs on the slate, and Derrick Henry's salary is $10,200. We're going to want to get there; we just have to figure out how.
First, it's worth mentioning that Henry is not an absolute lock-button play if you're doing just one lineup. He's close, but there are some flaws.
You could point to Henry's Week 11 performance against the Ravens -- when he had 132 yards from scrimmage -- as a pro for Henry. But 37 of those yards came in overtime, and the Ravens didn't have Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell in that game. We shouldn't use Henry's output there as justification for his salary.
Henry is the top play of the weekend at running back. That'll always be the case for him when guys like Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey aren't available, especially with Alvin Kamara in a dicey situation. It's just worth noting he doesn't need to be the first player you lock in if you have a single bullet.
We've got a 10-game sample this year with those two plus AJ Brown all healthy. In those games, Brown has been the top option, but Davis and Smith have gotten a healthy number of high-leverage targets.
|With All Healthy||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Davis is $6,400, and Smith is $5,200. They're both among the top options on the slate at their respective positions. Brown is fully in play, too, but the opportunity cost tied to him with an $8,400 salary is much higher.
As for Tannehill, the matchup is certainly tough, but that's not a huge detriment here. Tannehill averaged 0.23 Passing NEP per drop back against top-10 pass defenses for the season. His biggest issue is volume when the Titans get a positive script. With the Ravens expected to put up points, that's less of a concern. That's why Tannehill should sit a firm second on our list at quarterback for Sunday, and it's why everyone in this game is worth consideration.
Bears at Saints
The New Orleans Saints are 9.5-point favorites for this game, the largest spread of the entire weekend. It's a spread that's fully justified.
The primary reason is that the Saints are finally healthy. Michael Thomas is returning from injured reserve, and Alvin Kamara is expected to be activated from the COVID-19 list prior to Sunday's game. It'll be just the fourth time this year that all three of Thomas, Kamara, and Drew Brees are healthy at kickoff.
Given the expected health of Thomas, it's borderline shocking to see his salary at $6,800. Sure, Thomas' target share in games with Kamara and Brees -- 20.7% -- is disappointing. But he got hurt in one of those games, the Saints won in a blowout in another, and Brees got hurt in the third. We haven't seen a fully healthy game out of this trio yet the entire season. Sunday will be different.
As a result, Thomas is the top wide receiver play on Sunday's slate. You could argue for putting him there even before accounting for salary, but adding in the salary just solidifies things. If you have one lineup, Thomas should be one of the first guys you lock in.
Kamara's a bit less of a priority. If he had missed last week's game due to being a close contact, it'd be one thing. But Kamara actually tested positive for COVID-19, meaning there could be some conditioning issues. He also won't be able to practice before the game, though that's far less of a concern than the positive test.
Even with the conditioning concerns, Kamara's the second-best back on the Sunday slate, trailing just Henry. He has averaged 7.3 targets per game in his three with Brees and Thomas, and we know what he can do on that volume. We should lower Kamara due to the situation, but he's still one of the best plays we've got.
There is at least some possibility the Saints don't get Kamara back for Sunday. If that happens, you should lock Latavius Murray into every lineup. In two games without Kamara last year, Murray averaged 153.5 yards from scrimmage and had 50.0% of the team's red-zone opportunities. He's only $5,400. In that situation, you don't overthink it; you plug in Murray and go from there.
Assuming both Thomas and Kamara are active, though, it'll be tough to find value on the Saints. Emmanuel Sanders' $6,200 salary is more in line with where it should be if Thomas were out. Jared Cook is viable at $5,900 given that he has 37.5% of the team's deep targets in games with Thomas, Kamara, and Brees, but the more optimal route seems to be saving salary on someone like Smith. Here, the main appeal is the studs, and we should likely scrounge for value elsewhere.
The second reason the Saints are so heavily favored is that this is a difficult Chicago Bears team to trust. Sure, the offense ticked up over the final month, but a large majority of that was due to the schedule they faced.
Mitchell Trubisky has 315 drop backs this year; none of those have come against top-12 pass defenses by numberFire's metrics. The Saints rank third there, so this is going to be a new beast for Trubisky.
Even against middling competition, Trubisky faltered. His 124 drop backs against top-20 pass defenses resulted in 0.03 Passing NEP per drop back, much lower than the league-average mark of 0.09 in that split. There's a real chance the Bears just can't move the ball here, making the Saints' defense a priority at $4,600.
The potential for suckitude also hurts the outlook for David Montgomery and Allen Robinson, whose workloads would otherwise make them standout plays. Montgomery is tied with Henry for the most adjusted opportunities per game in his most relevant sample, and he leads the slate with 43.4% of his team's red-zone chances. It's just hard to project many of those in a game where they could struggle big time.
That doesn't take Montgomery off the map. It's well within the range of outcomes for the Bears to keep this game close, and we know Montgomery will get work even in a negative script. It does, though, increase the incentive for us to find the salary to get up to Henry or Kamara instead of settling for Montgomery at $8,400.
The biggest downside of Robinson is the offense. The salary is more than acceptable at $7,200, and his workload is elite. It's just tough to seek him out in this offense when we can instead save $400 and ride with Thomas. You should include Robinson in game stacks with Thomas and Kamara, but he's not as desirable as them or the Titans' receivers.
We could potentially squeeze out some value here, though, depending on the status of Darnell Mooney. Mooney racked up 13 targets in Week 17 but hurt his ankle late and has missed the first two days of practice. If Mooney plays, he's just a middling option at $5,400 because he is wildly inefficient with the volume he gets. Instead, the bigger implication would be if Mooney were to sit.
Over the past five games, Mooney has 20.1% of the team's targets and 31.8% of the deep looks. That volume would be up for grabs if Mooney can't go. Some could go to Cole Kmet, who has an 18.3% target share in that time. He's an option at $5,300, though he'd grade out behind Jonnu Smith.
The guys gobbling up Mooney's snaps would be Anthony Miller and Javon Wims. With Mooney getting banged up last week, Miller ran 27 routes, per Pro Football Focus, and Wims ran 24. Wims is the outside receiver, making him more of the direct replacement for Mooney. However, we know Miller can get some deep targets, and we've seen him produce at one point in his career. The floor on Miller is putrid, but he is in play as a punting option at $4,700 if Mooney can't go.
Browns at Steelers
How do you forecast a game when one team will be without its head coach and offensive play-caller?
It's not a rhetorical question. I'm asking you. What are we supposed to do here?
The Cleveland Browns won't have Kevin Stefanski, meaning offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will call plays. The Browns will also be without stud guard Joel Bitonio and wide receiver Khadarel Hodge due to COVID-19, and receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones is in flux due to a concussion. Life is never easy with this team.
We're going to have to do plenty of extrapolation on this side. Luckily, the Pittsburgh Steelers are easier to figure out.
Because of what they've done all year long, we know how the Steelers are going to attack this game; they're going to air it out, and in doing so, they're going to lean on their big three at wide receiver. That certainty is a massive comfort here.
We've seen some shifts in how the Steelers use those pass-catchers throughout the year. The most relevant sample for them seems to be from Weeks 10 through 16. In that time, James Washington's snaps were up from where they were in the middle of the season. We can toss out Week 17 due to absences for Ben Roethlisberger and Eric Ebron, both of whom will play this week.
|Weeks 10 to 16||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
The reason to have some skepticism around that sample, though, is because of Chase Claypool. Claypool was the guy who lost work in that time to Washington, seeing his snap rate decrease into the low 60% range from the high 70% range. That's a bummer.
But that also doesn't mean it'll stick. Mike Tomlin, himself, said the reduction in his snap rate was to have Claypool avoid hitting a rookie wall. That's not something you do unless you value that player and want them to contribute down the line. This week, "down the line" has arrived.
Even with the reduced snap rate, Claypool still had 32.7% of the team's deep targets in the split above, averaging 2.4 deep looks per game. We know he can haul those in and turn them into big plays. Even if we assume Claypool sticks in his current role, he's justifiable at $6,100; if we assume it inflates with the season on the line, he's a rockstar.
Claypool isn't quite as big of a priority as Michael Thomas because there are some floor concerns. But Claypool is right there with Davis as a top-tier receiver play on the slate after Thomas, and we should actively try to be overweight on Claypool in case that role does rebound.
There's some value in Ebron, as well. His shares are good for a tight end at $5,500, and those don't account for how pass-happy the offense is. His 6.8 raw targets per game in that stretch are more than Andrews in his most relevant sample. Ebron isn't as talented as Andrews, so there's a reason for the salary discrepancy, and he has some drop issues. But Ebron's likely the second best value tight end on the slate, trailing just Jonnu Smith.
It is at least worth mentioning that James Conner's role has bounced back a smidge in recent weeks. Conner played 61.8% and 64.2% of the snaps, respectively, the final two games and had 13 total targets. It still didn't lead to more than 66 yards from scrimmage in either, so Conner's far from a quality play, and you'd rather use a mid-range receiver in the flex than Conner if that's the choice. But the snap rate at least makes Conner an option, which would not have been the case previously.
As for the Browns, we at least know where the ball is going here. That's a plus, and it allows us to utilize some of their pieces even in a difficult spot.
Specifically, the Browns can get us some value via their pass-catchers. In the games they've played with Austin Hooper and without Odell Beckham (omitting Week 16), Jarvis Landry has gotten fed overall while Rashard Higgins has monopolized the deep balls.
|With Hooper, Without Beckham||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Landry's salary is $6,600 with Higgins' at $5,500. Because the Browns' offense could be completely dysfunctional, it's likely better to lower our salary exposure to the team and ride with Higgins, but Landry is obviously an option if you have the salary to spare.
The other name to keep an eye on here is the aforementioned Peoples-Jones. Peoples-Jones missed practice Wednesday and Thursday due to a concussion, so this may wind up being moot. But before then, he had at least 50 receiving yards in three straight games and was solidifying himself as the team's third receiver. Peoples-Jones' salary is $4,800. Miller would be the preferred super low-dollar play if Mooney can't go, but if Mooney and Peoples-Jones both play, then Peoples-Jones holds the edge.
Nick Chubb is a tough cookie to diagnose. On one hand, he gets a downgrade due to the decreased projected efficiency for the offense. On the other, he's another guy -- like Taylor -- who could get a snap increase in such a high-leverage game. Chubb averaged 0.17 Rushing NEP per carry this year compared to Kareem Hunt's mark of 0.00, so it's clear who the team's best back is; we just don't know if they'll view things the same way.
This uncertainty -- and the potential for the offense to lag -- is what keeps Chubb from sniffing the same tier as Henry and Kamara. We also know his floor is lower than Montgomery's due to the workload gap. But there's a scenario where the Browns just keep Chubb on the field at all times, and if that happens, he'll be a bargain at $7,700 no matter how much the Browns struggle. It's enough for us to rank Chubb third on the slate, ahead of Montgomery and all the value options.