This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.
Before we get into specific players, here are some of my favorite tools for analyzing matchups and player valuations each week:
- Jeff Erickson's value meter
- RotoWire's weekly projections
- RotoWire's weekly composite rankings
- Betting odds
- RotoWire's pages for advanced stats and TE route data.
- Pace stats and DVOA from Football Outsiders
- Next Gen Stats from NFL.com
- Player Grades and Premium Stats from Pro Football Focus
- Personnel Grouping Frequencies and Run:Pass Ratios from SharpFootballStats.com
- Opponent and teammate injuries
- Target share
- Snap counts
- Defense vs. Position stats
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, 4/6 TDs and 0.5 PPR, i.e., standard settings on Yahoo and FanDuel.
- Josh Allen, BUF at MIA
Say what you want about his real-life quarterbacking skills; Allen is a consistent performer for fantasy purposes, thanks to rushing production that bails out his shaky passing. He went over 17 fantasy points in 12 of his last 15 appearances, including five in a row heading into this week. He's QB10 in per-game standard scoring, with 19.03 putting him a tick ahead of Aaron Rodgers (18.96) and Tom Brady (18.75). That tells us more about the flaws of fantasy scoring than it tells us about football, but we might as well capitalize on the situation we're handed.
Allen enjoyed one of his more efficient performances when the Bills hosted the Dolphins in Week 7, completing 61.5 percent of his throws for 7.8 yards per attempt. The rematch doesn't look quite as favorable with Miami coming off back-to-back wins, but the incompetence of the Jets and Brian Hoyer, respectively, played a big role in the recent success. This no-name Dolphins defense should still be viewed as a top-five matchup for quarterbacks, ranking 30th in pass defense DVOA, 28th in net yards per attempt (7.5) and 27th in QB pressure rate (20.1%).
- Damien Williams, KC at LAC
I actually thought this was too obvious to warrant discussion until I saw that Williams is just 65 percent started on Yahoo as of Thursday morning. He should probably be up in the 80s, coming off back-to-back weeks with 73 percent snap share and triple-digit scrimmage yards as the lead back in a superb offense. He even survived a fumble last week, perhaps getting the benefit of the doubt because he's coughed the ball up just one other time in a Chiefs uniform.
Following his pair of big games against defenses that are top-five in DVOA against the run, Williams will take on a Chargers unit that's all the way down at No. 26, allowing 4.4 YPC to running backs. The Chargers also have struggled against RBs in the passing game, yielding a 54-452-3 receiving line, 83.1 percent catch rate and 7.0 yards per target.
- Brian Hill, ATL at CAR
With Ito Smith (neck) on injured reserve and Devonta Freeman knocked out with a foot injury, Hill got 20 carries and two targets in last week's upset win over New Orleans, while Kenjon Barner had just one touch on 11 snaps and Qadree Ollison strictly played special teams. I can't really speak to Hill's ability one way or the other, but it does seem pretty clear he's headed for a sizable workload, against a defense that's given up the third-most fantasy points to running backs. The Panthers are dead last in a slew of run defense stats, including DVOA (14.2%), YPC (5.2) and touchdowns (17). Just make sure Freeman doesn't end up playing.
- J.D. McKissic, DET vs. DAL
McKissic, much like Hill, is the last man standing in an injury-depleted backfield. The former Seahawk got 10 carries and seven targets on 70 percent of snaps last week in Chicago, working ahead of Paul Perkins (18 percent, eight touches) after Ty Johnson suffered a concussion. Assuming Johnson doesn't play, McKissic should see plenty of opportunities against a Dallas defense that's been decent against the run (15th in DVOA, 4.2 YPC) but extremely generous in terms of backfield receiving production. The Cowboys are 31st in RB catches allowed per game (6.6) and 30th in receiving yards (51.9), thanks to a conservative defensive scheme that funnels targets toward running backs and tight ends rather than wide receivers. Dallas gave up the fourth-most catches to RBs in 2018 (100) and the third-most in 2017 (97).
- Honorable Mentions: Marlon Mack, IND vs. JAX; Devin Singletary, BUF at MIA; Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, LAC vs. KC; James White, NE at PHI
- Jamison Crowder, NYJ at WAS
Crowder has become a regular part of this column, drawing an odd mixture of highly favorable matchups and extremely difficult ones. He now lands on the good side for a third straight week, following back-to-back games with 80-some yards and a touchdown. The Washington pass defense has generally been bad (25th in DVOA, 23rd in NY/A), and slot corner Fabian Moreau has been one of the biggest problems.
Moreau has given up 17 catches for 169 yards on 18 slot targets, with 1.61 yards per cover snap ranking 27th among 32 cornerbacks (100-snap min.), per PFF. Moreau has PFF's No. 106 grade among 115 qualified cornerbacks, while Crowder is No. 46 of 120 at wide receiver. In six games with Sam Darnold under center, Crowder is averaging 6.7 catches for 68.5 yards and 0.3 touchdowns on 8.5 targets.
- Marquise Brown, BAL vs. HOU
Cornerback play has been a problem in Houston for a few years now, but there's another matchup that's equally as promising for an opposing wideout who draws a lot of deep targets. The Ravens are No. 1 in PFF's pass-blocking grades and No. 2 in ESPN's pass-block win rate, while the Texans have relied on one player for 39.2 percent of their QB hits. That one player, of course, is J.J. Watt, who will miss the rest of the season with a pectoral injury. Even with Watt in the lineup for eight of nine games, the Texans are 11th in PFF's pass-rush grades, 18th in pass-rush win rate, 29th in QB pressure rate (18.7) and 24th in sack rate (5.6). Lamar Jackson should have plenty of time to find Hollywood deep downfield.
Note: Brown was held out of Thursday's practice with an ankle injury, but it's likely just a matter of maintenance, rather than a new issue.
- Phillip Dorsett, NE at PHI
It's been a while since Dorsett did anything to help fantasy managers, but his top-three role doesn't seem to be in any danger, considering he played 93 and 99 percent of snaps in two games after the Mohamed Sanu trade. Down to 26 percent ownership on Yahoo after a bye week, the Patriots' lone deep threat lands in a nice rebound spot, likely drawing a matchup with Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby, whose mark of 1.72 yards per cover snap places 110th among 120 CBs (100-snap min.), per PFF.
Appearing thoroughly washed up after a string of injury-plagued seasons, Darby has given up a 21-256-2 receiving line on 32 targets, with his struggles in coverage augmented by seven missed tackles, per PFF. The Eagles have lined him up to the left side of the offense (RCB) ever since he returned from a hamstring injury for Week 8, accommodating Jalen Mills in the LCB spot. Darby thus figures to see a heavy dose of Dorsett, who has lined up wide left on 72.3 percent of his snaps since the Sanu trade, per PFF.
- Honorable Mentions: D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, CAR vs. ATL; Terry McLaurin, WAS vs. NYJ; John Brown, BUF at MIA; Michael Gallup, DAL at DET; Deebo Samuel, SF vs. ARZ; Ted Ginn and Tre'Quan Smith, NO at TB
- Jared Cook, NO at TB
Cook returned from an ankle injury last week with season highs for targets (10), catches (six) and receiving yards (74), handling his second-largest snap share (71 percent) while running a route on 39 of 52 QB dropbacks (75 percent), per PFF. That gives him straight appearances with at least a dozen PPR points, dating back to October when Teddy Bridgewater was still starting at QB and Cook hadn't yet injured his ankle. We shouldn't count on that consistency from here on out, but Week 11 offers a prime opportunity to continue the hot streak, with the Saints facing a pass-funnel Tampa Bay defense that's given up the second-most fantasy points (14.9 per game) and second-most receiving yards (77.2) to tight ends.
- Daniel Carlson, OAK vs. CIN
Carlson had five consecutive games with exactly seven fantasy points, finally ending the streak when he scored nine in last week's win over the Chargers. He's had some issues on longer kicks, but he's made 25 of 26 PATs and hasn't missed any field goals inside of 45 yards. With Oakland carrying the largest implied total (29.5) of Week 11 against a Bengals squad that's given up the fifth-most fantasy points to kickers, Carlson temporarily grades out as a top-10 choice at his position. He's still just 13 percent owned on Yahoo, and that's after he bumped up by eight percentage points at the beginning of the week.
- Honorable mentions: Brett Maher, DAL at DET
- Kirk Cousins, MIN vs. DEN
Cousins enjoyed an excellent stretch of play in October, but the overall picture is still a bit frustrating for fantasy managers, featuring unreliable efficiency against good teams and unreliable volume against bad ones. The Broncos are a problematic opponent in both regards, entering Sunday as 10.5-point underdogs despite ranking 12th in pass defense DVOA (-0.5%), eighth in NY/A (5.8) and third in opposing-QB fantasy scoring (11.7). The Vikings have a league-high 61 percent rush rate when playing with a lead, and they have the second-highest rate (52 percent) even if fourth quarters are excluded. It will be hard for Cousins to have a big game unless the Broncos —quarterbacked by Brandon Allen — score a few touchdowns of their own.
- Matt Ryan, ATL at CAR
Ryan and Jameis Winston are outliers among the top-10 fantasy quarterbacks, relying on sheer volume rather than rushing stats or high-end efficiency. I don't doubt that Ryan will get his usual 35-to-45 pass attempts, but he'll have a hard time converting those opportunities into yards and touchdowns without the help of Austin Hooper (knee) and Devonta Freeman (ankle). A tricky road matchup compounds the problem, with Carolina ranked third in pass defense DVOA (-12.8%), fourth in NY/A (5.6) and 11th in opposing-QB fantasy scoring (15.6).
- Not-so-Honorable Mentions: Kyler Murray, ARZ at SF; Carson Wentz, PHI vs. NE; Jared Goff, LAR vs. CHI; Baker Mayfield, CLE vs. PIT; Mitchell Trubisky, CHI at LAR
- Ronald Jones, TB vs. NO
Jones came up big for his fantasy managers last week, but not without a few warning signs hinting at problems ahead. He was limited to 46 percent snap share, with Dare Ogunbowale handling some passing downs and Peyton Barber tying for the team lead of 11 carries. Jones did his damage on a seven-yard touchdown run and eight receptions, buoyed by an overall uptick in volume as the Bucs ran 78 plays on offense. He also rode pine after a fourth-quarter fumble, allowing Barber to score the game-winning touchdown from one yard out. Coach Bruce Arians may be pleased with Jones' development as a pass catcher, but that doesn't mean the second-year pro will crowd Ogunbowale and Barber out of the picture.
In any case, none of the trio is likely to have much luck this week, facing a Saints defense that's given up the fourth-fewest fantasy points (14.6) to running backs, ranking seventh in run defense DVOA (-17.0%) and sixth in YPC against RBs (3.8). There's a serious mismatch taking place in the trenches, with Tampa Bay sitting 25th in PFF's run-blocking grades while New Orleans is No. 3 for run defense.
- David Montgomery, CHI at LAR
Montgomery face-planted in a friendly home matchup last week, finishing with 60 yards, zero targets and zero touchdowns right when fantasy managers had finally begun to trust him. His long gain on the day went for just nine yards, and his snap share dropped to 60 percent after back-to-back weeks in the 70s. If that's what can happen in a home game against a bad team with the Bears nursing a lead, I don't think we want to see what happens on the road against a top-10 defense when the Bears are 6.5-point underdogs. Chicago's implied total of 16.75 points is the second-lowest of Week 11, and the Rams are third in DVOA against the run (-24.2%), 10th in fantasy points allowed to RBs (19.3) and fourth in YPC allowed to RBs (3.6).
Note: Montgomery was held out of Thursday's practice after "rolling" his ankle Wednesday.
- Not-so-Honorable Mentions: Kareem Hunt, CLE vs. PIT; Phillip Lindsay, DEN at MIN; Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice, WAS vs. NYJ; Latavius Murray, NO at TB; David Johnson, ARZ at SF; Jordan Howard, PHI vs. NE; Sony Michel, NE at PHI
- WR Marvin Jones, DET vs. DAL
Jones salvaged his Week 10 with three catches for 41 yards on a last-ditch drive in Chicago, but he otherwise was nearly invisible, drawing the target on six of Jeff Driskel's 46 pass attempts. Now playing with either Driskel or a banged-up Matthew Stafford (back), the 29-year-old gets a tough matchup against a Dallas defense that's given up the second-fewest fantasy points (20.7) to wide receivers. The Cowboys' style of play should favor increased involvement for McKissic and T.J. Hockenson, potentially at the expense of Jones and Kenny Golladay.
- WR Dede Westbrook, JAX at IND
There's a lot of hype surrounding Westbrook with Nick Foles back under center, as there were multiple signs throughout the offseason and preseason suggesting the slot receiver would be the veteran quarterback's favorite target. That may well end up happening, but the Week 11 matchup looks better for Leonard Fournette and D.J. Chark. Colts slot cornerback Kenny Moore has bounced back from an October knee injury to justify his four-year, $33 million contract, allowing just 85 yards on 15 passes into his coverage the past three weeks, per PFF. Moore's mark of 0.57 yards per cover snap in the slot is second-best among 32 cornerbacks (100-snap min.), with his recent work including a 3-16-0 receiving line from JuJu Smith-Schuster in Week 9.
- Not-so-Honorable Mentions: Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, CLE vs. PIT; Will Fuller (hamstring) and Kenny Stills, HOU at BAL; Alshon Jeffery (ankle), PHI vs. NE; Allen Robinson, CHI at LAR; Zach Pascal, IND vs. JAX; Josh Reynolds, LAR vs. CHI
- Mike Gesicki, MIA vs. BUF
Gesicki made me look stupid for listing him as an 'upgrade' last week, with six targets against the Colts producing three catches, 28 yards and a lost fumble. He's still positioned for decent volume in an offense that has few other options, but the upcoming matchup doesn't provide much cause for optimism regarding efficiency. Buffalo is No. 1 in fantasy points allowed to tight ends (5.1) and No. 4 against QBs (13.0), ranking ninth in pass defense DVOA (-3.1%) and third in NY/A (5.2). Gesicki did catch four passes for 41 yards in the first meeting between these teams, but Evan Engram is the only other tight end with more than three receptions in a game against the Bills.