We’re officially in the second half of the 2018 NFL season, and we’re still on pace for a record-breaking campaign with an average of 24.1 points per game per team. The action continues with a 10-game main slate that kicks off on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
Ordinarily in my positional breakdowns, I touch on every fantasy-relevant player, but starting now, I’m going to focus only on the players 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.
I’m doing this for a few reasons.
- I’m lazy. I just freed up 20 hours in my schedule. Someone’s about to get back on #TeamSex.
- I’m hoping to make the breakdowns easier to consume, more actionable and less noisy.
- I’m looking to create more value for FantasyLabs members. To this point, I’ve provided as much information as I can for free to everyone. By being more judicious in what I share, I’ll ensure that Labs subscribers maintain their edge.
- I’m lazy. Really lazy.
Plus, on the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, guest Evan Silva and I jokingly made a beer-backed wager as to whose treatise would be longer this week: His matchups column or my four-volume positional analysis.
I don’t want to brag — because it’s nothing to brag about — but I’m just starting the third piece, and the win is already mine.
From now on, I’m just taking victory laps.
For updates on Vegas spreads and over/unders, check out The Action Network Live Odds page.
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Model Wide Receivers
This week, there are nine — NINE! — DraftKings and FanDuel wide receivers at the top of our individual Pro Models.
- Adam Thielen: $8,900 DraftKings; $8,900 FanDuel
- Tyreek Hill: $8,000 DraftKings; $7,800 FanDuel
- Julio Jones: $7,900 DraftKings; $8,500 FanDuel
- Keenan Allen: $7,300 DraftKings; $7,400 FanDuel
- Stefon Diggs: $6,800 DraftKings; $7,300 FanDuel
- Jarvis Landry: $6,500 DraftKings; $6,600 FanDuel
- DeSean Jackson: $5,000 DraftKings; $6,600 FanDuel
- Michael Crabtree: $4,800 DraftKings; $6,300 FanDuel
- Courtland Sutton: $3,900 DraftKings; $5,500 FanDuel
Per usual, let’s start at the top of the salary scale and go down from there.
Adam Thielen: Minnesota Vikings (-5.5) vs. Detroit Lions, 49 Over/Under
UPDATE (11/4): Wide receiver Stefon Diggs (ribs) is expected not to play. Running back Dalvin Cook (hamstring) is expected to play 8-12 snaps.
The spread opened at -7 but has since moved down even though the Vikings have gotten the supermajority of the tickets and money. In other words, the Vikings are on the wrong side of reverse line movement, which means that some caution is warranted when it comes to Thielen — but we are talking about the only player in NFL history to open a season with eight consecutive 100-yard receiving performances. For an undrafted, small-school, average-sized hometown receiver, he’s not bad.
Thielen leads the league with 96 targets, 74 receptions and 925 yards receiving. He’s second among all wide receivers with 302 yards after the catch. A masterful technician, Thielen has run 61.9% of his routes from the slot, where he leads the league with 59 targets and 47 receptions. Lions cornerback Darius Slay has historically shadowed Diggs, which means that Thielen will run most of his routes against cornerback Nevin Lawson, who has been the team’s primary Y defender since the Week 6 bye. In his two games since shifting to the slot, Lawson has “earned” subpar Pro Football Focus (PFF) coverage grades of 44.5 and 41.2. He’s entirely exploitable.
And on the outside, Thielen figures to run most of his routes against cornerback Teez Tabor, who has an NFL-low 30.7 PFF coverage grade. In his four games as a starter, he’s allowed 13-231-3 receiving on 16 targets.
With players like these, it’s not a surprise that the Lions are 30th against the pass with a 35.0% mark in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Regardless of where he lines up, Thielen has a great matchup against the Lions.
Thielen’s dominance this season is unfathomable. Not since Week 1 has Thielen scored fewer than 26 DraftKings points. Even though he is the slate’s most expensive wide receiver, he’s still arguably undervalued because Thielen’s +10.9 Plus/Minus is order of magnitudes greater than that of any other receiver. Besides a few low-priced non-relevant No. 3 receivers who get almost no usage, Thielen is the only wide receiver in the league with a 100% DraftKings Consistency Rating.
On Sunday morning, I might look to bet the over on Thielen’s yardage prop. He’s hit the over in seven of his eight games this year, and his matchup is just so advantageous.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 169-80-6, good for a 66% win rate.
Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
Thielen leads all wide receivers in our Models with his median and ceiling projections, and he’s the No. 1 FanDuel wide receiver in the Levitan Model.
Tyreek Hill: Kansas City Chiefs (-9) at Cleveland Browns, 52.5 O/U
Hill (groin) exited Week 8 with an injury, but he sandwiched a limited session on Thursday with two full practices on Wednesday and Friday. Hill wasn’t listed on the final injury report, so he’s fully expected to play this weekend.
Although they suffered their first defeat against the spread last week, the Chiefs have dominated this season. On a per-game basis, they have…
- Outscored their implied total by 8.7 points (No. 1 in NFL)
- Exceeded their game total by 8.9 points (No. 2)
- Surpassed their spread by 8.6 points (No. 1)
The Chiefs lead the league in scoring at 36.3 points per game, and Hill is a key contributor to their success, leading the team with 44 receptions, 705 yards receiving, 922 air yards and seven touchdowns receiving. Additionally, with his eight all-purpose touchdowns, Hill leads all wide receivers in scoring. For all of his volatility, Hill has crossed the 50-yard threshold in each game this year.
Throughout his career, Hill has had notable reverse favorite/underdog splits (in point-per-reception scoring).
- Favorite (28 games): 13.3 PPR points, 6.1 targets, 4.1 receptions, 1.3 carries, 67.8 yards, 0.39 scrimmage touchdowns
- Underdog (11 games): 21.1 PPR points, 7.5 targets, 5.8 receptions, 1.4 carries, 87.4 yards, 1.09 scrimmage touchdowns
Additionally, even though the Browns just fired head coach Hue Jackson and have been laughably bad over the past two decades, they are no laughing matter on defense under coordinator and now interim HC Gregg Williams. The unit is first in the league with 22 turnovers, and it has top-three marks in time (2:16), plays (5.1) and yards (27.7) per drive. The Browns are first against the pass (-20.6% DVOA), which is remarkable considering that just last season they were 26th (21.6%).
This marked improvement in pass defense is due to the development of 2017 No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett as an edge rusher (one sack per game) and especially the reconfiguration of the secondary: No. 4 overall pick Denzel Ward has replaced Jason McCourty as the No. 1 cornerback. Jamar Taylor has been supplanted on the outside by cornerback E.J. Gaines. Slot cornerback T.J. Carrie has relegated Briean Boddy-Calhoun to the second team. Jabrill Peppers has shifted from free safety to strong safety, moving Derrick Kindred to the sideline, and Damarious Randall is now playing Peppers’ former position.
It’s likely that Ward will shadow Hill for much of the game, and the rookie has been quite good through his first eight starts, ranking eighth among all cornerbacks with his 83.3 PFF coverage grade and holding receivers to a 54.2% catch rate on the 59 targets in his coverage. With his elite athleticism (4.32-second 40 time), Ward might be one of the few corners in the league (read: universe) fast enough to hang with Hill in single coverage.
But who am I kidding?
Regardless of Hill’s splits and matchup, he warrants locked-in exposure in guaranteed prize pools. Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown faced Ward for much of the game last week, and he scored 25.4 DraftKings points on 6-74-2 receiving. The Chiefs move Hill all over the formation, and they should be able to scheme him open at least a few times. This year Hill has run 41.0% of his routes from the slot, where Ward has played just 7.9% of his coverage snaps. From Hill’s perspective, if Ward follows him into the slot, that’s great. If he doesn’t, that’s even better.
Hill has 2,573 scrimmage yards and 24 all-purpose touchdowns since stealing the No. 1 job from an injured Jeremy Maclin in Week 10 of the 2016 campaign. Since last season, Hill has been a top-five receiver with 18.8 DraftKings points per game, and he’s about to run most of his routes against a rookie making his ninth start.
Hill is tied for first with nine Pro Trends on FanDuel, where he’s the highest-rated wide receiver in the Koerner Model.
Julio Jones: Atlanta Falcons (+1.5) at Washington Redskins, 48 O/U
Jones leads the league with 2,256 yards receiving since the start of the 2017 season. As the #NeverJulio Twitter movement likes to point out, he hasn’t scored a regular-season touchdown since Week 12 of last year, but even so he’s been plenty productive.
Since morphing into his top-shelf self in 2014, he’s managed to play as the No. 3 fantasy wide receiver, averaging 20.5 DraftKings points despite scoring only 0.34 touchdowns per game. He’s the all-time NFL leader with 96.7 receiving yards per game: Even when he doesn’t score, Jones is good enough to have a top-five week at the position. And in his 19 games with a touchdown since 2014, he’s rocked out with 30.8 PPR points per game. Julio is second on the slate with his 0.30 market share of targets and first with his 0.46 share of air yards.
After suffering through OC Steve Sarkisian’s growing pains in 2017, when the Falcons ranked just 23rd with a 50.0% red-zone conversion rate, the Falcons have come alive this season, placing sixth with a 69.6% mark. At some point, the team’s improved scoring ability will translate into Julio touchdowns.
Although the Redskins are fifth with an 85.0 PFF coverage grade, there’s nothing troubling about this matchup for Julio. Left cornerback Josh Norman was an All-Pro cover man with the Panthers in 2015, and that year Julio dusted his division rival with a 16-266-1 receiving line in two games. They haven’t faced each other since, and Julio would probably love nothing more than to score his first touchdown of the season against his former foe.
Across from Norman is right cornerback Quinton Dunbar (shin) who missed Weeks 7-8 with a nerve injury in his leg. He’s expected to play, but he could be limited, and if he doesn’t play then he will be replaced by backup Greg Stroman, a seventh-round rookie who has allowed a 10-190-2 receiving line on 17 targets and 113 coverage snaps.
Whoever Julio faces, he could have a big game.
Jones has a position-high 11 Pro Trends on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 wide receiver in the Bales Model.
Keenan Allen: Los Angeles Chargers (-1) at Seattle Seahawks, 47.5 O/U
UPDATE (11/4): Running back Melvin Gordon (hamstring) is expected to play after practicing fully on Friday.
Allen is the No. 1 FanDuel wide receiver in the Freedman Model — and at first glance, I kind of disagree with my Model.
Allen leads the team with 56 targets, 41 receptions and 506 yards receiving, but he has just one touchdown. Last year, Allen averaged 9.9 targets and 1.5 red-zone targets per game. This year, eight and 0.71. Last year, he had a 9.3-yard average depth of target (aDOT). This year, his aDOT is an uninspiring 7.5. On a per-game basis, Allen was the No. 3 fantasy wide receiver in 2015-17 with an average of 20.2 DraftKings points. This year, he has regressed all the way to 14.9 DraftKings points with a -2.33 Plus/Minus and 14.3% Consistency Rating.
Allen’s primary problem is that he’s more of a technician and less of an athlete (he’s run 54.2% of his routes from the slot this year), but he’s paired with a quarterback in Philip Rivers who is comfortable with 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 sadly instructive.
- Allen (2018): 56 targets, 41 receptions, 506 yards, 436 air yards, three end-zone targets, one touchdown
- Combined Williamses (2018): 56 targets, 37 receptions, 736 yards, 898 air yards, nine end-zone targets, eight touchdowns
That’s just unfair. On the exact same number of targets, the Williamses have massively outperformed Allen. He’s not as slothlike as unofficially retired tight end Antonio Gates, but when aDOT is taken into account, Allen’s probably the least dynamic receiver on the team — and that includes running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler. When Rivers has thrown to Allen this year, he’s been rather inefficient (per the RotoViz AY/A app).
But here’s the thing: There are six teams on bye, so the slate is thin, and all of the receivers on the slate who have more than Allen’s eight targets per game are either more expensive or projected for higher ownership.
Additionally, even though the Seahawks are third against the pass with a -12.3% DVOA, their three starting cornerbacks have PFF coverage grades lower than 70 and a combined catch rate allowed of 66.0%.
It’s not ideal for the Chargers to be on the road in Seattle, where the Seahawks have a true home-field advantage, but the Chargers are coming off the bye and should be rested and ready.
Plus, it’s encouraging that two of the three receivers to score 20-plus DraftKings points against the Seahawks have played primarily in the slot.
- Emmanuel Sanders (Week 1): 32.5 DraftKings points, 10-135-1 receiving on 11 targets
- Cooper Kupp (Week 5): 21.0 DraftKings points, 6-90-1 receiving on nine targets
Thanks to his high ceiling and low ownership projections, Allen has the position’s second-highest leverage score on FanDuel at 96%. Allen’s the kind of receiver I tend not to like, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a viable GPP play this weekend.
For tournaments, use our Lineup Builder to stack Allen with Rivers. Since 2014, No. 1 wide receivers on average have had a 0.53 correlation with their quarterbacks. With Rivers, Allen has had a nice 0.69 correlation.
Stefon Diggs: Minnesota Vikings (-5.5) vs. Detroit Lions, 49 O/U
UPDATE (11/4): Diggs (ribs) is expected not to play. Running back Dalvin Cook (hamstring) is expected to play 8-12 snaps.
Diggs (ribs) is in something of a precarious situation. Last week he had a 10-119-1 receiving performance on 11 targets, but he also sustained an injury, which caused him to miss the entire week of practice. On Thursday, Diggs said that he “absolutely” expects to play this weekend, but he’s officially questionable. We tentatively expect him to suit up, but Diggs has struggled mightily in the past when he’s played through injuries, and his projected matchup with Slay is unlikely to be easy.
But Diggs still deserves GPP exposure if he’s active. He has a position-high 98% leverage score on FanDuel, and he’s fourth in the league with his 85 targets. He won’t be matched up against Slay for 100% of his routes, and the other Lions corners are beatable (as mentioned above in the Thielen section). Plus, Diggs has had success in the past against Slay and the Lions secondary, catching 78.4% of his targets for a combined 29-352-1 receiving line in four games.
While Thielen has emerged as the No. 1 receiver on the Vikings, Diggs is still one of the most dynamic receivers in the league.
With his high target volume, Diggs has a position-high floor projection on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 wide receiver in the Bales, CSURAM88 and SportsGeek Models.
Jarvis Landry: Cleveland Browns (+9) vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 52.5 O/U
UPDATE (11/4): Wide receiver Antonio Callaway (ankle) suffered an injury in the Thursday practice and sat on Friday. He is officially questionable but seems unlikely to play. Wide receiver Rashard Higgins (knee) got in limited practice sessions on Thursday and Friday and could play through his questionable tag after missing the past three games.
The only player in the league with more targets than Landry’s 94 is Thielen. Landry is actually running more of his routes out of the slot this season (70.2%) than he ran last season (64.8%), but with No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield at quarterback, Landry is being used much more aggressively. For instance, this season 24.7% of Landry’s targets have come more than 15 yards down the field; in 2014-17 with Miami, he saw such targets at only an 11.0% rate.
Landry’s production with Mayfield has been neither prolific nor consistent, but their connection is improving. Landry has a weak 54.5% catch rate on the quarterback’s passes, but he is locked in as Mayfield’s No. 1 option. The rookie has targeted Landry a personal-high 66 times and given him 10-plus targets in each of his five starts. With his dependable and top-end target volume, Landry always has an elevated floor.
With Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley gone, running backs coach-turned-interim OC Freddie Kitchens is now overseeing the offense. He has no play-calling experience at any level, so he could be a stone-cold disaster, but he’s a Bruce Arians disciple who has eight games to show 32 teams what he can do. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him take a nothing-to-lose YOLO approach with the offense, which could result in extra opportunities and enhanced production for Landry.
As significant home dogs, the Browns will likely need to throw to keep pace with the Chiefs, and they at least have a good matchup. The Chiefs have allowed a top-two mark of 33.7 DraftKings points per game to opposing wide receivers, and they are once again expected to be without safety Eric Berry (heel). Edge rusher Justin Houston (hamstring) and linebacker Anthony Hitchens (ribs) are also both questionable.
Intriguingly, the Chiefs have allowed two wide receivers this year to score 25-plus DraftKings points, and both of them play primarily in the slot.
- Keenan Allen (Week 1): 27.8 DraftKings points, 8-108-1 receiving on 11 targets
- JuJu Smith-Schuster (Week 2): 34.1 DraftKings points, 13-121-1 on 19 targets
With a pass-heavy game script, Landry has the potential to have a volume-fueled Allen/JuJu-esque performance.
And maybe the Browns will be able to keep this game closer than expected: Teams generally see something of a bounceback after the in-season dismissal of underachieving coaches.
Landry is the No. 1 FanDuel wide receiver in the Raybon Model.
DeSean Jackson: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+6.5) at Carolina Panthers, 55 O/U
As the Red Hot Chili Peppers say, “Blood sugar crazy, she has it: FitzMagic, FitzMagic.” The Bucs have brought back the Beard, and my alliteration game is ON.
After quarterback Jameis Winston throw four interceptions in Week 8, he was replaced by backup Ryan Fitzpatrick, who brought the Bucs back to the cusp of victory with 194 yards and two touchdowns on an efficient 11-of-15 passing. Fitz is slated to start in Week 9, and that’s good news for D-Jax. Amazingly, five of Jackson’s seven receiving touchdowns with the Bucs have been thrown by Fitzpatrick, even though Winston since last season has attempted many more passes (590-307).
In fact, this year Fitz has clearly been at his best when targeting Jackson.
Although Jackson is splitting time with second-year breakout Chris Godwin and is yet to play the supermajority of snaps in any game, he’s a key contributor to a wide receiver unit that leads the league with 286.4 yards and 58.4 PPR points per game.
While D-Jax reportedly asked for (or demanded) a trade earlier this season, he’s likely satisfied now that Fitz is starting, given that he’s exhibited staggering quarterback-based splits over the past two years. While these splits are apparent even in the games with quarterback changes, I’ve removed such games from the sample so the trend may be better seen.
- Jackson with Fitzpatrick (six complete games): 17.7 DraftKings points, 6.3 targets, 4.7 receptions, 80.3 yards, 0.67 touchdowns
- Jackson with Winston (11 complete games): 9.8 DraftKings points, 6.3 targets, 3.2 receptions, 48.8 yards, 0.09 touchdowns
That Jackson has the same number of targets with each quarterback is incredibly telling. For Jackson at least, Fitz has easily been the superior passer. If not for a random rushing touchdown D-Jax got in Week 6, his fantasy average with Winston would be even lower.
As I mention in The Action Network Bucs-Panthers betting preview, I expect a lot of points to be scored in this game. For one, it has a slate-high 70.16 pass-funnel rating. On top of that, Bucs games have a 6-1 over/under record in Fitzpatrick’s seven starts, good for a nice 69% return on investment for over bettors (per Bet Labs). If the Bucs find themselves in a shootout, D-Jax will probably get a couple of high-leverage targets with touchdown potential.
On the season, Jackson is first in the league with 0.45 PPR points per snap and third with 3.0 yards per route (PFF). He’s the No. 1 DraftKings wide receiver in the CSURAM88 Model.
Michael Crabtree: Baltimore Ravens (-2.5) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 47 O/U
UPDATE (11/4): Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and right tackle James Hurst (back) are out, and left guard Alex Lewis (neck) is questionable. He has missed the past two games, but he practiced limitedly on Thursday and Friday and seems likely to play.
Crabtree is the typical past-his-prime imported-from-another-team wide receiver the Ravens seem to love. He’s the modern-day Dread Pirate Roberts, wearing the mask formerly worn by Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith, Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin. Eventually he’ll be replaced by someone like Alshon Jeffery. Someone once told me time is a flat circle. I don’t know what that means, but I think it makes sense here.
Also, given that I just lifted that last paragraph from the Week 6 article, time really is a flat circle, and I still don’t know what that means.
Crabtree leads the team with 69 targets, 38 receptions and 315 routes. He has eight-plus targets in six of eight games. For the year, he has 11.8 DraftKings points per game and at least 10 points in six starts. Crabtree isn’t likely to have a big performance, but not many receivers with his target volume are as cheap as he is or as likely to have low ownership.
Since last season (including playoffs), the Steelers defense has been significantly worse without Pro Bowl linebacker Ryan Shazier, allowing 26.0 points and 355.8 scrimmage yards per game to opponents. In his two starts against the Steelers since Shazier’s injury, quarterback Joe Flacco has averaged 316 yards and two touchdowns passing per game. Some of that production will make its way to the team’s most targeted receiver.
Crabtree is the No. 1 DraftKings wide receiver in the SportsGeek and Freedman Models.
Courtland Sutton: Denver Broncos (-1) vs. Houston Texans, 45.5 O/U
UPDATE (11/4): Running back Royce Freeman (ankle) is expected not to play.
With the recent trade of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas — “What is dead may never die” — Sutton is slated to play as the No. 2 receiver in the Broncos offense right away. Emmanuel Sanders will still get his share of the targets, and HC Vance Joseph (the worst ATS coach in the league) is still in charge, but even so, the future is bright for Sutton, who has either 50 yards or a touchdown in each game over the past five weeks.
Although he’s been a distant No. 3 option to this point in the season, Sutton is impressively top-10 in the league with eight end-zone targets. Under the assumption that Sutton’s target volume will significantly increase with Thomas gone, he could have a massive breakout if his aggressive end-zone usage rate holds.
Sutton led the team as a redshirt freshman with 49 receptions for 862 yards and nine touchdowns. His market share numbers were impressive, as he captured 33.9 and 47.4 percent of SMU’s receiving yards and touchdowns. After a strong sophomore season (76 receptions, 1,246 yards, and 10 touchdowns; 39.3 and 45.5 percent of receiving yards and touchdowns), Sutton was eligible for the NFL draft but returned to SMU for his junior year, which was solid: 68 receptions, 1,085 yards, and 12 touchdowns.
Sutton is a potential first-round prospect, and he had an excellent combine. He’s not a speedster, but his agility drills were outstanding for a player of his size. Given that Sutton was on the SMU basketball team for the second half of the 2015-16 season, he plays football with an aggressive “my ball” mentality and is a big-bodied polished route runner with downfield ability: In his 2016 breakout, he was second among draft-eligible players with 16 deep receptions (PFF).
With good size and great college production, Sutton is in an elite cohort. Of all the first- and second-rounders to enter the NFL over the past decade, here are the big-bodied wide receivers (at least 6’0″ and 200 pounds) with multiple 1,000-10 receiving seasons in college.
- Corey Davis (2017, 1.05)
- Josh Doctson (2016, 1.22)
- Amari Cooper (2015, 1.04)
- Sammy Watkins (2014, 1.04)
- Davante Adams (2014, 2.53)
- Justin Blackmon (2012, 1.05)
- Michael Crabtree (2009, 1.10)
As a multi-year spread-system producer who relies more on size and technique than speed, Sutton is highly comparable as a prospect to Adams and Crabtree, except he’s bigger.
Given the salary savings and roster flexibility he offers, Sutton has a position-high ownership projection and will likely be rostered in excess of 30% in GPPs.
Sutton is the No. 1 DraftKings wide receiver in the Levitan, Koerner and Raybon Models.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 9 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
After this piece is published, FantasyLabs is likely to provide news updates on a number of players. Be sure to stay ahead of your competition with our industry-leading DFS-focused news blurbs.
Pictured above: Courtland Sutton
Photo credit: Matt Kartozian, USA Today Sports