We are in the final month of the year, and the 2018 NFL season is still on pace for a record-breaking campaign with an average of 23.9 points per game per team entering Thursday. The action continues with a 13-game main slate that kicks off on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
In this positional breakdown, I’m looking at four wide receivers at the top of the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
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Model Wide Receivers
- Michael Thomas: $8,600 DraftKings; $8,300 FanDuel
- Odell Beckham Jr.: $8,300 DraftKings; $8,000 FanDuel
- Keenan Allen: $7,400 DraftKings; $7,900 FanDuel
- Courtland Sutton: $4,500 DraftKings; $5,600 FanDuel
Michael Thomas: New Orleans Saints (-10) at Tampa Bay, 54.5 Over/Under
UPDATE (12/8): Left tackle Terron Armstead (shoulder) is out.
Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (ankle, shoulder) is in. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) is questionable but tentatively expected to play after practicing on a limited basis on Friday. Safety Justin Evans (toe) is out, and cornerback Carlton Davis (knee) is doubtful.
Following their 13-10 Thursday Night Football loss to the Cowboys last week, the Saints offer some Super Bowl 53 betting value, and it’s possible some of the team’s skill-position players offer daily fantasy value as well. In each of the past two games, Kamara has been held scoreless and under 50 yards. As a result, we’re projecting Thomas for an ownership rate lower than he’s typically had on the main slate.
With Thomas, there are two primary concerns. Firstly, the game is not at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (the Coors Field of fantasy football). On the road, the Saints offense might underperform on the whole.
But that might not matter to Thomas, who has been a fairly splits-agnostic player throughout his career.
- Home (22 games): 8.6 targets, 6.6 receptions, 82 yards, 0.5 touchdowns
- Away (21 games): 8.9 targets, 6.7 receptions, 80.9 yards, 0.52 touchdowns
The second concern seems more relevant: Thomas has been far less productive since the return of running back Mark Ingram (suspension) in Week 5. His Ingram-based splits for the season are telling.
- Without Ingram (Weeks 1-4, four games): 19.9 FanDuel points, 11 targets, 10.5 receptions, 111.3 yards receiving and 0.75 touchdowns
- With Ingram (Weeks 5-13, eight games): 15.3 FanDuel points, 7.6 targets, 6.1 receptions, 84.4 yards receiving and 0.63 touchdowns
These splits make sense. In Weeks 1-4, the Saints had the league’s eighth-highest pass rate at 63.2%. Since then, they’ve had third-highest run rate at 54.0%. With fewer targets to go around, Thomas has predictably seen lower usage rates and been less productive.
Even so, Thomas is still capable of putting up 25 FanDuel points in any game as the top receiver on the No. 1 team in The Action Network Power Rankings.
In 2016-17, Thomas had more receptions (196) than any other NFL receiver in history has had in his first two seasons. This season Thomas has been even more dominant. Through 12 games, he has almost as many touchdowns (eight) as incomplete targets (14) — and he’s been targeted 105 times.
His 88.7% catch rate is transgressively high, and he’s tied for the league lead with four games of 10-plus receptions. Lining Thomas up all over the formation — 325 snaps wide left, 194 wide right and 179 in the slot — the Saints are strategically scheming each game to get the ball to their alpha receiver, who has teamed up with quarterback Drew Brees for an elite 11.5 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A). Regardless of where he’s been targeted, Thomas has been a strong producer (per RotoViz AY/A App).
With his efficiency, Thomas has top-two ceiling projections among all wide receivers in our Models.
And Thomas has a great matchup this week. It was a while ago and in the non-Ingram era, but Thomas went off in Week 1 for 30.0 FanDuel points against the divisional rival Bucs, who are 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA with a 25.7% mark. The Bucs have allowed a top-two mark of 34.1 FanDuel points per game to opposing wide receivers this season.
On top of that, Tampa Bay’s entire defense is the walking wounded.
In their front seven, middle linebacker Kwon Alexander (knee, injured) is out, as is backup middle linebacker Jack Cichy (ankle, IR). Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) has played limited snaps over the past couple of weeks and is questionable after getting in only a limited practice session on Friday.
And the secondary is worse off. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (shoulder, IR) is out. Rookie cornerback Carlton Davis (knee) exited Week 12 early, missed Week 13 and is officially doubtful. Slot corner M.J. Stewart (foot) practiced fully this week and is expected to play, but he’s been out since Week 9: The rookie could have a lot of rust.
Strong safety Chris Conte (knee, IR) is out. Free safety Justin Evans (toe) missed Weeks 11-12, tried to play in Week 13 and managed only 35.7% of the defensive snaps: He’s officially out after missing practice all week. And backup free safety Isaiah Johnson (concussion) suffered a head injury last week: He’s also out.
Against such a defense, Thomas could easily have a 100-yard, two-touchdown performance. On the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, guest Renee Miller mentioned Thomas as a strong candidate for cash games and guaranteed prize pools. For tournaments especially, use our Lineup Builder to stack Thomas with Brees. Since 2014, No. 1 wide receivers on average have had a 0.53 correlation with their quarterbacks. With Brees, though, Thomas has had a 0.67 correlation over the past 12 months.
Although the line has dropped, this game still easily has the week’s highest total, and the Saints have a slate-high implied Vegas total of 32.5 points. Thanks to their magnificent combination of potent offense (26.5 points per game) and poor defense (29.6 points per game allowed), the Bucs have an 8-4 over/under record this season, yielding a league-best 31.2% return on investment for over bettors (per Bet Labs). It’s very possible that we could see the Saints throw the ball more than they usually have over the past two months: The Bucs-Saints game has a top-three pass funnel rating of 72.98.
On Sunday morning, I might look to bet the over on Thomas’ touchdown prop. Only the 49ers have allowed more touchdowns to wide receivers than the Bucs have with 18.
To find the best bets in the props market, use our Player Props Tool, which is powered by our industry-leading projections. Since Week 1, the props with a bet quality of 10 have gone 209-94-11, good for a 67% win rate. Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
Thomas is the No. 1 FanDuel wide receiver in the Levitan, Koerner and SportsGeek Models.
Odell Beckham Jr.: New York Giants (-3) at Washington Redskins, 40 O/U
UPDATE (12/8): Beckham (quad) has surprisingly been ruled out for Week 14 even though he practiced on a limited basis on Friday and wasn’t listed on the team’s final injury report. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard is now in cash-game consideration as the team’s No. 1 option. In his seven games without OBJ, Shepard has averaged nine targets, 6.3 receptions and 73.1 yards per game.
For more on Shepard, check out Ian Hartitz’s breakdown.
Keenan Allen: Los Angeles Chargers (-15) vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 48.5 O/U
UPDATE (12/8): Running back Melvin Gordon (knee) is out.
I’m not an Allen truther, but since returning from his Week 8 bye, he’s been outstanding, averaging 98 yards and 0.8 touchdowns receiving on 11.4 targets and 8.4 receptions per game. He’s even chipped in a two-point conversion and 29 yards on three carries. Over the past five weeks, Allen is the No. 1 fantasy wide receiver with 25.2 DraftKings points per game.
Unsurprisingly, he leads all receivers on the slate with his projected Plus/Minus on DraftKings and FanDuel.
I’m still a little hesitant about Allen. He leads the team with 113 targets, 83 receptions, 996 yards receiving and 958 air yards, but he’s not getting the type of opportunities he got last season. In 2017, Allen averaged 9.9 targets and 1.5 red-zone targets per game. This season, it’s 9.4 and 1.0. Last season, he had a 9.3-yard average depth of target (aDOT). This season, his aDOT has slipped to 8.5.
Allen’s primary problem is that he’s more of a technician and less of an athlete — and that’s why he’s run 53.4% of his routes from the slot in 2018 — but he’s paired with a quarterback in Philip Rivers who is comfortable throwing the ball downfield and letting his pass-catchers make plays. With wide receivers Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams, Rivers has two playmakers who can win on deep balls. A direct comparison between Allen and the Williamses is instructive.
- Allen (2018): 230.1 DraftKings points, 113 targets, 83 receptions, 996 receiving yards, 958 air yards, seven end-zone targets, five touchdowns
- Combined Williamses (2018): 237.5 DraftKings points, 86 targets, 56 receptions, 1,004 receiving yards, 1,284 air yards, 12 end-zone targets, 12 touchdowns
That’s just unfair. On fewer targets and receptions, the Williamses have outperformed Allen in every way imaginable. When aDOT is taken into account, Allen’s probably the least dynamic receiver whom Rivers regularly targets — and that includes running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler.
When Rivers has thrown to Allen this season, he’s been rather inefficient (per the RotoViz AY/A app):
On top of that, the Chargers are massive favorites: Allen could see minimal usage if the Chargers have a run-heavy game script.
But if Allen is targeted as he has been for the past five weeks, he should be able to put up points. The Chargers have the most explosive passing matchup of the week, and the Bengals are 27th with a 63.5 PFF coverage grade. Without quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, the Bengals could struggle to sustain drives on offense, and on defense they are without edge rusher Carl Lawson (knee, IR), middle linebacker Preston Brown (knee, IR), weak side linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion) and cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick (ankle) and Tony McRae (concussion).
Allen is the No. 1 wide receiver in the Raybon Model for both DraftKings and FanDuel.
Courtland Sutton: Denver Broncos (-3.5) at San Francisco 49ers, 45 O/U
UPDATE (12/8): Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) is out after suffering a midweek injury.
The thesis for investing in Sutton is simple: Demaryius Thomas is now with the Texans, Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) suffered a season-ending injury in the middle of the week and the Broncos are facing the 49ers. As a result, Sutton is likely to have a large target share at a low salary in a great matchup.
For people looking to pay down at the position while still rostering a player with multi-touchdown upside, Sutton is the guy. Since Thomas was traded to the Texans, Sutton’s per-game usage and production have certainly increased.
- With Thomas (Weeks 1-8, eight games): 7.7 DraftKings points, +1.59 Plus/Minus, 4.6 targets, 2.1 receptions, 40.5 yards, 0.25 touchdowns
- Without Thomas (Weeks 9-13, four games): 10.1 DraftKings points, +2.01 Plus/Minus, 5.5 targets, 2.8 receptions, 58.5 yards, 0.25 touchdowns
And now with Sanders out, Sutton should be treated as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver.
And the matchup for Sutton is great: The 49ers are dead last in the league with a PFF coverage grade of 39.0. They have allowed a league-high 19 touchdowns receiving to wide receivers.
Even with cornerback Richard Sherman — who is cementing his Hall-of-Fame case with an epic age-30 shutdown campaign just one year after rupturing his Achilles — the 49ers are unspeakably bad in pass defense. And even Sherman has struggled recently: Over the past two weeks, he’s allowed a 7-152-1 receiving line on seven targets.
With Sherman playing almost exclusively at left corner, opposing quarterbacks have wisely avoided his coverage and instead pivoted to his teammates, who are imminently exploitable.
- Cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and K’Waun Williams have allowed a 63% completion rate.
- Safeties Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt, Adrian Colbert, Antone Exum, D.J. Reed and Tyvis Powell have allowed a 72.5% completion rate.
- Linebackers Fred Warner, Malcolm Smith and Elijah Lee have allowed a 72.8% completion rate.
And the defense is now without linebacker Reuben Foster, who was released after his Week 12 arrest for domestic abuse.
It’s hard to trust a wide receiver tied to quarterback Case Keenum, but aside from Sherman, nothing is going well for this defense, and Sutton has lined up against left corners on only 27.1% of his snaps since the Broncos traded Thomas.
Sutton should be able to avoid Sherman for the supermajority of his snaps and is the No. 1 DraftKings wide receivers in the CSURAM88 and Koerner Models.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 14 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
Pictured above: Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton (14)
Photo credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports