Exploiting the Matchups: Week 10 Start/Sit
Exploiting the Matchups: Week 10 Start/Sit

This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.

Welcome to megabye, the one week all season with more than four teams taking a break. Fire up your J.D. McKissics and your Cole Beasleys, and maybe say a quick prayer while you're at it. A reduction in options often makes decisions easier, but it can also mean we're choosing between players that we don't normally consider in the start/sit context.

Before we get into specific players, here are some of my favorite tools for analyzing matchups and determining player valuations each week:

Note: Discussion below mostly is limited to players that are being started in 10-to-90 percent of lineups on Yahoo. There are plenty of other players with good or bad matchups, but we'll focus our energy on the guys most likely to be involved in difficult lineup decisions.

Note, Pt. 2: References to 'fantasy points' are based on scoring with 25/10 yardage and 4/6 TDs, i.e., standard settings on Yahoo, ESPN, FanDuel, etc.

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 QUARTERBACK

A lack of volume limited Brees to low-end QB1 status in many fantasy leagues the past two seasons, but he still put up gaudy numbers in the Superdome, averaging 301.9 passing yards and 2.2 touchdowns in 15 regular-season games. The upcoming matchup is one where 25-to-30 attempts should be enough to do the trick, as Atlanta's much-maligned defense ranks 28th in YPA (8.5), 29th in completion percentage (69.6) and 30th in TD rate (7.6). There's even a good chance for Brees to have his full array of weapons, with Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook and Tre'Quan Smith all returning from ankle injuries for Wednesday's practice.

Garoppolo's fantasy owners have been victims of his real-life team's success, with the quarterback averaging just 28.3 passes as the 49ers have won six of their eight games by a multi-score margin. The two closer games saw him throw for 277 yards on 32 attempts and 317 yards on 37 attempts, the latter occurring last week in Arizona. A matchup with Russell Wilson's squad should be good for both volume and efficiency, with the Seahawks ranking 23rd in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks and 21st in pass defense DVOA (13.5%). Consider it a bonus if LT Joe Staley (leg) returns from his lengthy absence, as planned.

RUNNING BACK

Jones finally emerged from his timeshare with Peyton Barber last week in Seattle, posting an 18-67-1 rushing line and 2-15-0 receiving line on career-high 53 percent snap share. Bruce Arians then said the second-year pro will serve as the starting running back going forward, perhaps finally noticing that Barber has been miserable — 3.3 yards per carry and 4.7 per catch. Jones hasn't exactly been a world beater at 4.1 YPC, but he's at least ripped off gains of 24 and 25 yards on the ground, with a couple other long runs wiped out by penalties. He also has double-digit yards on seven of his eight receptions, thus averaging 5.1 per touch overall.

Jones can afford to lose passing-down snaps to Dare Ogunbowale in this type of matchup, with the Bucs favored by 4.5 points against an Arizona defense that's given up 4.5 YPC (20th) and 126.9 rushing yards per game (23th). The Cardinals admittedly have been better against the run (19th in DVOA) than the pass (28th), but that's mostly just splitting hairs between different levels of stink. More important, the Bucs have the second-largest implied total (28.25) of Week 10.

Singletary finally had his breakout game last week against Washington, picking up 95 yards and a TD on the same number of carries (20) he had in his other four games combined. Meanwhile, Frank Gore was held to 11 carries for 15 yards, including three consecutive stuffs from the one-yard line. Singletary got the rock the next time Buffalo approached the goal line, punching it in from two yards out for his second rushing TD of the season. The rookie also has been useful as a receiver, catching 12 passes for 103 yards and another TD in the three games in which he's played more than 25 or more snaps.

Likely headed for another week as the lead back, Singletary now takes aim at a Browns defense that just allowed the Broncos to rush for 127 yards on 20 carries, including three kneel-downs at the end of the game. Overall, the Browns have given up the eighth-most fantasy point to RBs, allowing 4.9 YPC (31st) and 7.6 YPT (28th) while sitting 21st in run defense DVOA (-2.4%) and 30th in PFF's team run defense grades (57.9).

The Bengals held Ingram to 4.0 YPC in Week 6, with the trade-off being a 19-152-1 rushing line for Lamar Jackson (including three QB kneels). The 29-year-old running back still produced 13.4 standard points (15.4 PPR points) in that contest, using a touchdown and two catches to make up for substandard rushing efficiency. The pass-catching production from running backs has been a regular theme for Cincinnati's opponents, with only three teams allowing more receiving yards per game (53.0) and only the Lions allowing more yards per target (8.2). Of course, the Bengals also have been terrible at stopping the run, yielding 4.9 YPC and 108.9 rushing yards per game to RBs. Ingram's standard workload of 12-to-15 carries and a couple targets should be enough to push for triple-digit yardage in this matchup.

WIDE RECEIVER

The Raiders are an ideal fantasy opponent for QBs and pass catchers, fielding a defense that's solid against the run (3.7 YPC) but terrible against the pass (8.8 YPA, 22 TDs), along with an offense that consistently scores enough points to keep things interesting (24 or more in five straight). Coming off last week's career-high 111 receiving yards, Williams is the only player in the league with more than 500 yards and no touchdowns. He was never going to match last year's 11 TDs from 66 targets and seven carries, but what we've seen this year is nearly as fluky. His career receiving line — 83-1,289-10 on 143 targets — feels like a more reasonable estimate of what to expect long term for the ratios between targets, catches, yards and TDs.

It's been a while since we saw a big game from a Cardinals receiver, as coach Kliff Kingsbury has eased up on the pace a bit while moving away from the the pass-heavy approach he deployed in September. Even so, Kirk has drawn at least five targets in every game he's played, also getting a bit of work on the ground (four carries for 45 yards). He's set up well for both volume and efficiency this coming Sunday, with Tampa Bay allowing a league-worst 30.1 fantasy points (45.2 PPR) to WRs while facing a league-high 40.8 pass attempts per game. The combination of a stifling run defense (3.4 YPC, 1st in DVOA) and lousy pass defense (7.7 YPA, 26th in DVOA) encourages opponents to throw the ball more often than they typically would. Expect Kingsbury to take notice.

Disastrous campaign and all, Sam Darnold at least has been able to sustain Crowder's fantasy production, with the slot receiver averaging 5.3 catches for 57.8 yards in the four weeks since his QB returned from mono (not to mention the 14-99-0 receiving line from Week 1). Crowder figures to stay busy in the MetLife Bowl, facing a defense that's now relying on sixth-round rookie Corey Ballentine to operate as the slot corner. Ballentine can't be much worse than the man he's replacing, Grant Haley, but it probably isn't a great sign that the rookie lasted until the 180th overall pick and opened his career as a special teams player. Advantage: Crowder.

TIGHT END

Gesicki is finally getting some attention after last week's career-high 95 receiving yards, bringing his four-week averages to 3.8 receptions for 49.3 yards on 5.0 targets. He's also seen a small uptick in underlying opportunity, running 0.69 routes per QB dropback the past two weeks, compared to 0.60 in Miami's first six games, per PFF. Even in a Miami offense where scoring is rare, the volume puts Gesicki on the streaming radar at a shallow position. It doesn't hurt that the second-round pick put up a 4.54 40-yard dash and 41.5-inch vertical at the 2018 combine, landing somewhere between George Kittle and Vernon Davis in terms of athletic freakishness. 

For the immediate future, Gesicki should be a useful Week 10 starter, with the Dolphins losing Preston Williams (knee) and his 7.5 targets per game right before they face a Colts defense that's given up the 11th-most fantasy points to tight ends. Long term, Gesicki is a great asset in dynasty leagues; an obvious 'buy' target if anyone is still selling.

KICKER 

Owned in 25 percent of Yahoo leagues, Gay is No. 4 at his position with 10.0 fantasy points per game, including no fewer than five in any week. He's missed a few kicks along the way, but 16-for-19 on field goals and 20-for-22 on PATs is good enough for our purposes. Already pushing for regular-starter consideration, the rookie fifth-round pick gets a boost this week against a Cardinals team that's given up at least 21 points to every opponent, ranking 30th in yards allowed (407.6) and 28th in points allowed (27.9).

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QUARTERBACK

Don't be fooled by Goff having his two best fantasy performances of the season in back-to-back games before a Week 9 bye. Most quarterbacks have enjoyed similar success against the Falcons and Bengals, while Pittsburgh has been one of the toughest matchups since the first two weeks of the season, even holding Lamar Jackson under 15 fantasy points (his only game with fewer than 21). The Steelers have vaulted up to No. 6 in pass defense DVOA (-6.6%), forcing multiple turnovers in seven straight games. The matchup is especially problematic for a Rams team with PFF's No. 29 grade for pass blocking, as Pittsburgh holds the No. 1 pass-rush grade while ranking fourth in sack rate (9.4) and second in QB pressure rate (30.3). Tom Brady (Week 1) and Russell Wilson (Week 2) are the only signal callers to reach 20 fantasy points against Pittsburgh this year.

RUNNING BACK

Falcons-Saints might sound like a shootout waiting to happen, but a blowout is just as likely — if not more so — in the 2019 rendition (Act I) of this NFC South rivalry. The Saints are sixth in run defense DVOA (-21.0%) and have limited RBs to 3.8 YPC, while the Falcons are 24th in run offense DVOA (-20.1%) with Freeman managing just 3.4 per carry. The best chance for fantasy production is a boatload of dump-offs, but even that won't be a sure thing if Ito Smith (neck) is ready to return. In any case, the Saints have allowed a league-low 4.6 YPT on throws to running backs, with 56 passes yielding 258 yards and no touchdowns.

Drake is a dangerous man with the ball in his hands, and he made me look stupid for doubting him last week. He's the best pure runner on the Arizona roster, but that doesn't mean he'll get more work than a now-healthy David Johnson, whose receiving skills are even better than Drake's. DJ also has a three-year, $39 million contract that's fully guaranteed through 2020, giving the Cardinals extra incentive to keep him happy. A split workload against the Tampa Bay defense spells trouble, as only the Saints and Patriots have allowed fewer fantasy points to running backs, and only the Jets have been better in terms of YPC (3.4). The Bucs also have given up the third-fewest catches (32) to the position, perhaps because it's so easy to pick on their defensive backs.

WIDE RECEIVER

I have a hard time benching a player with Boyd's combination of talent and steady volume, but it's something I'd seriously consider this week if not for the fact that my FLEX alternatives are Gesicki and J.D. McKissic. Everything going on around Boyd works against him, with rookie fourth-round pick Ryan Finley making his first NFL start against a surging Baltimore defense that goes four deep at cornerback with Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr. It was Humphrey who had primary coverage on Boyd in the Week 6 matchup, helping to limit him to three catches for 10 yards on seven targets. Regardless of A.J. Green's availability, Boyd has a terrible setup for per-target efficiency.

Metcalf is exactly who everyone hoped he would be, and his snap shares from the past two weeks — 92 and 95 percent — show a nice foundation for the surge in production. My hesitance for Week 10 has nothing to do with the signing of Josh Gordon and everything to do with the San Francisco defense. The 49ers are No. 7 in fantasy points allowed to WRs, but they've been truly elite in terms of efficiency — 52.1 percent catch rate (No. 2) and 6.7 YPT (No. 3). Among 94 cornerbacks with 150-plus coverage snaps, San Francisco has three in the top third of the league for yards allowed per cover snap: Richard Sherman (0.61) at No. 2, Emmanuel Moseley (0.84) at No. 18, and slot corner K'Waun Williams (0.98) at No. 31, per PFF. On the other hand, San Francisco struggled against the run the past few weeks, perhaps opening things up for Chris Carson to handle more of Seattle's volume on offense.

TIGHT END

Following last week's season highs for targets, catches and yards, Witten is on pace for a 68-642-4 receiving line, essentially duplicating his per-game production from 2016 and 2017. It's enough to warrant ownership in many fantasy leagues, but that doesn't mean he should be started Week 10 as anything more than a desperation play. The Vikings have been a brutal matchup for tight ends the past few seasons, with this year's excellent work marked by zero touchdowns and 6.1 YPT (t-3rd) on a league-high 86 targets to the position. Even the heavy volume is a product of circumstance, as Minnesota already faced Austin Hooper, Darren Waller, Evan Engram, Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce. None of the bunch scored a touchdown, and only Waller cracked 80 yards.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Donabedian
Jerry was a 2018 finalist for the FSWA's Player Notes Writer of the Year and DFS Writer of the Year awards. A Baltimore native, Jerry roots for the Ravens and watches "The Wire" in his spare time.
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