Levitan's Leverage: Top Week 9 Fantasy Football Matchups, Situations

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The offensive environment in Sunday’s Rams-Saints game is truly unique. We have some two of the best offensive schemers behind the clipboard, a few of the league’s worst defensive backs in the secondary and a fistful of the game’s most talented skill players. Navigating this game will be the key to the slate.

The point of this column is to use the news, snap counts, usage, matchups and trends to both be a little contrarian and avoid whiffs. Note that I am discussing the DraftKings main slate only, aka the 10 Sunday day games.

SITUATIONS TO CAPITALIZE ON

Tre’Quan Smith cementing No. 2 WR duties

Tre’Quan Smith ($4,200) has separated himself in the wake of Ted Ginn’s knee injury. The third-round rookie has run a route on 45 of Drew Brees’ ($6,100) 54 dropbacks over the last two weeks, compared to just 18 routes for Cam Meredith ($3,500) and 13 for Austin Carr ($3,000). Smith’s production has been weak during that span as he’s posted a meager 6-62-0 line on 10 targets. But that’s largely due to Brees attempting a total of 53 passes. In Sunday’s game against the high-flying Rams, which projects as one of the highest-scoring we’ve seen in the last few years, Brees will almost certainly be forced into 35-plus attempts.

Smith is in a great spot to capitalize on that increased volume as he squares off against a Rams secondary struggling badly since Aqib Talib’s ankle injury. Marcus Peters is allowing a 138.7 passer rating when thrown at, 11th-worst among 117 qualifying CBs. Sam Shields (128.4) and Troy Hill (118.9) aren’t far behind. Smith, who recorded a 15-189-1 preseason line on just 17 targets, has gone 10-191-2 on 17 regular-season targets. Sunday marks his best matchup, role and game environment to date.

Travis Kelce and position scarcity

The putrid state of the fantasy tight end position has been discussed throughout the season. It’s caused us to reach on rotational players like O.J. Howard ($4,300) and Vance McDonald ($3,700). It’s forced touchdown-dependent options like Kyle Rudolph ($3,600) and Jimmy Graham ($4,700) into play. We’ve taken airballs on the likes of David Njoku ($4,600) and C.J. Uzomah. So with Zach Ertz, Rob Gronkowski, George Kittle, Jack Doyle/Eric Ebron and Jared Cook all off this slate, Travis Kelce ($6,600) stands out like a bottle of water in the desert. He’s seen at least five targets in every game this season and is averaging 8.7 per game while playing with arguably the league’s most efficient quarterback. This week, Kelce gets a Browns team which has certainly improved against tight ends but hasn’t been tested by many. The only true pass-catchers they’ve faced at the position hit them for 5-67-0 (O.J. Howard) and 8-110-2 (Jared Cook).


MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT

Cooper Kupp against P.J. Williams

The Rams said Cooper Kupp (knee) could have played last week if necessary, so we can expect him to be close to 100 percent for Sunday’s shootout in New Orleans. We should also expect a pass-centric gameplan from dominant play-caller Sean McVay, as the Saints are operating as one of the league’s biggest funnels. They’re currently 2nd in rush defense DVOA vs. 29th in pass defense DVOA. And when Jared Goff ($6,000) drops back to throw, his best matchup will undoubtedly be Kupp ($6,000) vs. Saints slot corner P.J. Williams, who somehow has kept his job despite getting flamed weekly while sinking to PFF’s No. 116 CB among 117 qualifiers. With Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple on the outside, Kupp’s volume projection rises. Of course, we know that Kupp is also Goff’s favorite red-zone option as he leads the team with 14 targets inside the 10-yard line over the last two seasons.

Christian McCaffrey against the Bucs

Alvin Kamara is undoubtedly a very strong play at $7,300. That will leave Christian McCaffrey ($7,800), another strong play in the $7K RB range, somewhat overlooked. Much like actively seeking wideouts coming off a Patrick Peterson matchup, we can seek out running backs coming off a Ravens matchup. In fact, McCaffrey is coming off three of the most difficult matchups a running back can face; at Washington, at Philadelphia, vs. Baltimore. Now he’s home to face a Bucs defense teetering on worst in the NFL and a front sinking under the weight of injuries to MLB Kwon Alexander, DT Gerald McCoy, DE Jason Pierre-Paul and DE Vinny Curry. Over the last month, the Bucs have allowed 31.8 DK points to Joe Mixon, 14.0 to Nick Chubb, 21.2 to Tevin Coleman/Ito Smith and 33.4 to Tarik Cohen. CMC’s massive pass-game role (on pace for 100.5 catches) keeps his floor/ceiling combo among the best in the league. This week’s game environment against the Bucs makes it far more likely he finds a path to his sky-high ceiling.


CONTRARIAN GPP STACKS

Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Jordan Reed

All the ownership Sunday will center around Rams at Saints, Bucs at Panthers and Chiefs at Browns. And that makes sense as it’s difficult to find players outside of those games who can come close in projected ceiling. However, one place we can find one of the biggest weekly spike chances is in Julio Jones. This spot at Washington sets up really well as the Redskins have dominated up front lately, rising to 6th in YPC allowed while holding Christian McCaffrey to 8-20-0, Ezekiel Elliott to 15-33-0 and Saquon Barkley to 13-38-0. The Falcons can’t run the ball with Tevin Coleman/Ito Smith anyway, so look for a Julio-based gameplan. The Redskins are allowing the fourth-most fantasy points to perimeter wideouts this season (via ESPN).

In order for Jones to get his usual 10-13 targets, he’ll need the Redskins to stray from their Adrian Peterson-powered 1995-esque run, run, run gameplan. The best game script would be early struggles from the Washington offense, Julio domination and then Alex Smith forced to be more aggressive than he wants to be. If that happens, he can have success in the middle of the field through Jordan Reed, particularly in light of injuries to Chris Thompson (ribs) plus the Falcons starting MLB, FS and SS. The oddly healthy Reed is quietly at a huge 20.6 percent target share – he just needs more Smith attempts and red-zone chances to spike.


GPP FADE

Sammy Watkins against the Browns

Sammy Watkins was five percent owned in last week’s Milly Maker and went off for 33.7 DK points. This week, he’ll likely be somewhere closer to 20 percent owned. This is a classic spot where we don’t have a role change or significantly better matchup yet we do have a massive ownership shift. In other words, Watkins will play the normal role he’s played all season – the only difference this week is he had a great game seven days ago. So while I think Watkins is fine for the same reasons I did last week (talented player, special offense, every-down role), there’s little reason to think his Week 9 output will be closer to Week 8 than Weeks 1-7. The Browns sport the league’s top-ranked DVOA pass defense and are 6th in yards per pass attempt allowed. So while Watkins is certainly in play for cash (noted below), his inflated ownership relative to floor for GPPs is an easy fade.


CASH GAME CONSIDERATIONS

(No particular order)

QB: Patrick Mahomes, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Jared Goff, Ryan Fitzpatrick
RB: Todd Gurley, Christian McCaffrey, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, Phillip Lindsay (if Royce Freeman is out), Chris Carson, Nick Chubb, Austin Ekeler (if Melvin Gordon is out)
WR: Adam Thielen, Michael Thomas, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Kenny Golladay, Sammy Watkins, D.J. Moore (if Torrey Smith is out), Tre’Quan Smith, Courtland Sutton
TE: Travis Kelce, Jordan Reed, Greg Olsen, O.J. Howard, Austin Hooper, Kyle Rudolph (if Stefon Diggs is out)
D: Bears, Dolphins, Chiefs, Jets, Bills, Broncos

SUNDAY’S EDITOR’S NOTE: Diggs is officially inactive for today’s game vs. the Lions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Gordon, Diggs and Freeman are questionable for Sunday and Torrey Smith has been ruled out.


I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is adamlevitan) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.