Exploiting matchups is key in fantasy and can help us unearth sleepers, value plays and also alert us to when we should fade or lower expectations for more establish studs. There are a number of statistics and data-based tools to helps us decipher which matchups to exploit and which to avoid, and one of which is the NFL's Next Gen Stats package -- not just the fancy speed numbers you see on television.
Here we'll look where cornerbacks and wide receivers line up, which defenses are particularly susceptible to which player packages and so much more in order to find value with our fantasy players. As the season goes along we'll have even more data to use and a better understanding of the Next Gen Stats. Here are the top matchups that could bring value in Week 11.
Jordy Nelson vs. Josh Norman
It was something of a slow start to the 2016 season for Jordy Nelson. His touchdown production propped up his value for fantasy but it was clear watching the games he did not look like the Jordy Nelson of old. While he still might not be at the dominant form he once held, Nelson has played much better the last three weeks and has been earning much more consistent separation.
In Weeks 1 through 7 Nelson averaged a mere 2.4 yards of separation at target, which is below the league average. He came crashing down to 0.9 yards of separation on the Packers Thursday night win over the Bears in Week 7. However, over the last three weeks, Nelson averaged 3.5 yards of separation at target.
In addition to his improved individual play, the key for the Packers has been their ability to move Nelson around to get him more in more favorable positions. Over the last three weeks the veteran has accumulated 42.7 percent of his yardage in the slot. The two-way release and softer coverage on the inside has certainly helped boost Nelson's separation numbers of late.
Nelson's lineup flexibility will be key to avoiding Josh Norman, who is having yet another outstanding season, in coverage on Sunday night. Norman primarily lines up at left corner (61 percent) and Nelson takes the majority of his snaps (49 percent) at right wide receiver. On a few occasions Norman has shadowed top receivers on their outside snaps, including Terrelle Pryor, Odell Beckham, Marvin Jones and A.J. Green. However, he rarely travels into the slot as evidenced by last week's game against Stefon Diggs. The Vikings star collected 11 of his 13 catches from the slot and was only saw Norman's coverage on two plays, both of came outside where Diggs lined up on just six total passing plays.
If Nelson does draw Norman in coverage, it would set up Davante Adams and even Randall Cobb for big games. Adams is beginning to develop into more of a downfield threat. On the season he averages 24.9 percent share of Rodgers' intended air yards on the season, but that number jumped to 31.8 percent in Week 10 against the Titans.
Randall Cobb should also be in positon to get back on track if Nelson is locked up. Washington allows the sixth-most yards to slot receivers with. On the season slot receivers have recorded 51 catches, 648 yards, and three scores against them.
Dallas passing game vs. the Ravens defense
Dez Bryant has a concerning one-catch for 19-yards clunker stuck between two dominant outings with 110-plus yards and a touchdown. While it's not much of a concern for Dallas because they keep on winning, fretting fantasy owners can't be too thrilled.
Part of what makes Dak Prescott so great is that he won't force the ball to any one player, and will take what the defense leaves open for him. Bryant has also primarily been strictly a downfield threat for the Cowboys since his return from injury. Bryant led all receivers in with Week 8 with 24.1 average air yards per reception and owned a whopping 61.6 percent share of Prescott's intended air yards in Week 10, which trailed only Tyrell Williams' 68.9 percent share of Philip Rivers' on the week.
However, if Bryant is tangled up with Smith's coverage, it could put Cole Beasley, Jason Witten or even Terrance Williams in positon for a big game. Beasley or Witten would be the obvious choices, but the Ravens have not been kind to slot receiver or tight ends, especially. Baltimore allowed 43 measly yards to tight ends over the last month. Beasley could have a solid floor, and is a factor in the red zone, but the Ravens allow the ninth-fewest yards to slot receivers on the year with just 609.
Williams is impossible to trust and has just 49 yards receiving in the last three games total with Bryant back. However, he takes 51 percent of his snaps at the right wide receiver position, and the Ravens have just bled production to that spot with a combination of the now benched Shareece Wright and Tavon Young "holding it down" at left corner. If the matchup dictates to go away from a well-covered Dez Bryant and send some targets Williams' way, we know there is precedent for the rookie finding the favorable spot to exploit.
Raiders receivers vs. Texans secondary
Coming off a bye week and headed to Mexico City for this game, Derek Carr enters a Week 11 showdown as one of the NFL's best deep passers. Carr has a 116.7 passer rating on passes that travel 20-plus yards in the air.
While their run defense has started to show some cracks without J.J. Watt, the Texans pass defense has held up their end of the bargain ranking sixth in a net yards per pass attempt allowed. The perennially underrated Jonathan Joseph is the main cog keeping the secondary in dominant form. Joseph has not allowed a touchdown catch since Week 1 of the 2015 season and is still in shutdown form this year:
Jonathan Joseph in coverage
Passer Rating: 83.3
Joseph takes 86.3 percent of his snaps at left corner on the season. That indicates that Michael Crabtree will draw his coverage most often, as he takes the majority of his snaps (50 percent) at right wide receiver.
Crabtree is having another strong season, and is on pace for his first 1,000-yard campaign since 2012. As one of the best route-runners in the NFL and a top red zone threat, Crabtree can always win on short patterns and in scoring position, as he did against the Ravens earlier this season:
The majority of Cooper's production comes when he lines up at left wide receiver. The second-year wideout has 51 percent of his targets, 50 percent of his catches and 52 percent of his yards when he lines up wide left. Texans right corer Kareem Jackson is a solid player, but he's certainly not as strong as Joseph in coverage.
C.J. Prosise vs. the Eagles
It's been almost a full calendar year since we've seen Thomas Rawls play effectively in an NFL game. Rawls was averaging 7.3 yards per carry against the Ravens way back on the 13th of December in 2015 before suffering a season-ending injury. Since then, Rawls missed the vast majority of the offseason recovering from that ankle malady, averaged 1.3 yards per carry in his only two games this season and sat out seven straight games with a fractured fibula.
Rawls was one of the best pure runners in the NFL during his time as a starter last season. No running back averaged a shorter distance traveled per rush yard gained, as Rawls' 3.5 was ranked first among running backs with 100 or more carries. Next Gen Stats' efficiency metric for running backs shows a relation to power runners who get through open holes and downfield in a hurry.
Indeed, Rawls' proficiency as a sustaining power runner was a crucial element for the Seahawks offense last year. However, to call him anything but a complete wildcard would be disingenuous.
Rookie C.J. Prosise may well hold onto a big role in the backfield even with Rawls' return. Of course, Prosise is not the runner that his counterpart is. He averaged 5.8 yards of distance traveled per rush yard gained in Week 9 against the Bills and 4.8 against the Patriots. It is notable that the rookie did show some ability to run inside, as his efficiency marks improved when he garnered 17 carries as the clear-cut starter.
What Prosise does do, however, is add an additional high-end threat as a receiver. The Seahawks are finding creative ways to get him the ball and lining him up all over the formation. Since his return from injury in Week 7 he has 78 receiving yards when not lined up in the backfield (slot or out wide). His 19.5 yards per reception on those plays leads all running backs who have played 10 or more snaps out wide or in the slot. For context, David Johnson averages 11.6 yards per catch on his receptions when lined up away from the backfield.
Prosise has a massive edge on Rawls as pass-catching asset. In what is a newfound Seattle offense, the dynamic receiving back could have a clear edge in the path to playing time over the power back. The Seahawks are now officially a pass-first team:
Percentage of plays run with a pass attempt
2014: 44.5 percent
2015: 47.2 percent
2016: 57.5 percent
Titans passing game vs. the Colts secondary
Of late their production has only increased. Much of that can be attributed to improvements and changes in the personnel at wide receiver.
It was clear in the first few weeks that the Titans were asking too much of their fifth-round rookie receiver and that Andre Johnson offered nothing to the team:
Titans wide receiver snap share Weeks 1-5
Tajae Sharpe: 87 percent
Rishard Matthews: 52 percent
Andre Johnson: 43 percent
Harry Douglas: 24 percent
Kendall Wright: 13 percent (two games played)
The team clearly wasn't getting enough from that collection of wideouts. So they changed up the playing time distribution, and benefitted from the healthy return of Kendall Wright and Johnson's retirement:
Titans wide receiver snap share Weeks 6-10
Rishard Matthews: 73 percent
Tajae Sharpe: 72 percent
Kendall Wright: 47 percent
Andre Johnson: 21 percent (retired in Week 8)
Harry Douglas: six percent
All of these players have been more effective at creating separation now that they are in more comfortable roles. Even Tajae Sharpe, who sees a lot less of the field, saw his average separation at target jump from 2.2 in Weeks 1 through 5 to 2.9 in Weeks 6 through 10. While he has not cracked 70 receiving yards since Week 1, we did finally see Sharpe get into the end zone for his first career touchdown on Sunday.
The real riser here is Rishard Matthews, who has played 88, 89 and 82 percent of the snaps the last three games. He's been the clear lead receiver with 26 percent of Mariota's intended air yards over the last two games:
In Week 10, Matthews will once again be in an ideal spot. Tajae Sharpe should be the one who finds himself tangled up with Colts top cornerback Vontae Davis. Hardly shadowing this season, Davis takes 79.8 percent of his snaps at right cornerback. Sharpe aligns at left wide receiver on 54 percent of his plays. Matthews, on the other hand, takes 43 percent of his snaps at right wide receiver.
The Colts also struggle to defend the tight end positon. Indianapolis allows the fourth-most yards to tight ends out of the slot and the 10th most yards to tight ends lined up out wide. Delanie Walker is one of the biggest threats as a move tight end in the NFL. So far this season Walker accumulates 47 percent of his yards when lined up out of the slot and 11 percent out wide. He's only lined up as a traditional tight end on 37 percent of his snaps.
Todd Gurley vs. the Dolphins
It has not been the year many expected for Todd Gurley. The Rams starting running back averages a measly 3.1 yards per carry and is on pace for just 915 yards on the ground. In their first year in Los Angeles, the team has skewed far more run heavy than anyone could have expected. The Rams run the ball on 40.2 percent of their plays this season, which ranks 17th in the NFL.
Much of the issue lies not with Gurley himself, but with the lackluster supporting cast around him, especially at quarterback. Despite Case Keenum throwing up some surprisingly productive games, no team has respected him enough to do anything but dedicate mass resources to stopping the run.
Excluding red zone carries, 41 of Gurley's rush attempts have come against stacked boxes (eight-plus defenders), the sixth most among NFL running backs. He hasn't been able to make the best of a bad situation, as he averages 2.1 yards per carry against stacked boxes, which ranks 34 out of 39 who have 10 or more carries against eight men boxes.
With problems on the offensive line compounding Gurley's already tough situation, he just cannot find room to run. The league average for distance traveled per rush yards gained is 4.1. Gurley has only come in under that mark in just two games this season:
Todd Gurley's rushing efficiency (distance traveled per rush yard gained)
Week 1 - 6.3
Week 2- 5.5
Week 3 - 4.6
Week 4 - 7.1
Week 5 - 4.8
Week 6 - 3.3
Week 7 - 4.4
Week 9 - 4.0
Week 10 - 4.3
The two games where he did check in with a better than league average efficiency were the only two contests where he averaged over four yards with 4.1 in Week 6 and 4.0 in Week 9. However, they are also the only two games where he saw fewer than 15 carries, with 14 and 12 respectively.
Is it all on the situation? Mostly, but Around the NFL sage Chris Wesseling notes that when watching game film, he sees "Gurley misreading open holes at the line of scrimmage this season." Wesseling theorizes that while Gurley's individual talent is still not in question, "it can be argued that he has been forced into bad habits by an overpowered offensive line and an anemic aerial 'attack'."
There is a changing variable for Gurley's outlook this week, as the team will finally start No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff at quarterback. Nevertheless, it's unlikely that Goff's presence will be enough for teams to stop dedicating extra resources to slow down Gurley. Anyone who watched the preseason knows exactly why it took Goff so long to see the field. He's hardly ready to start dictating defensive game plans.
The Dolphins travel to Los Angeles this week to take on the Rams. Miami has a league-average run defense, giving up 4.2 yards per carry to running backs on the year which ranks 16th on the season. However, over the last month they've allowed just 3.79 yards per carry. As the team improves overall with Jay Ajayi reviving the offense, it's clear the front seven is more engaged and flying to the football.
At some point, Jared Goff might be enough to fix the issues that have plagued Gurley all year. It does not look like it will be a one-week fix, however.