O-Line Rankings and Matchups to Exploit: Week 1
Evaluating offensive line play regarding its effect on fantasy football output has been a stone unturned throughout the course of our game within a game. Here at 4for4, we’re dedicated to looking at fantasy pieces from all angles, and that includes the positive and negative impact an offensive line has on that team’s fantasy assets.
Below I’m going to be digging into specific weekly matchups between offensive lines and the opposing defense's aFPA —one of the many useful tools available to us here at 4for4. Many sites publish raw fantasy points allowed by position, but 4for4 goes a step further and adjusts those numbers for a defense’s relative year-to-date schedule strength. For now, the aFPA numbers are from the 2019 season as we allow the 2020 season to shape into form. Once we have some reliable numbers and patterns the aFPA stats will begin to reflect this season (starting Week 4).
Let’s begin by diving into the passing game to see what o-line/defense match-ups we can exploit.
Favorable Quarterback Matchups
By comparing a team’s offensive line ranking to the aFPA of their opponent for the week, we can look for beneficial discrepancies to attack for offensive players and team defenses. The higher the “Difference” column, the better the matchup for a quarterback; the lower the difference, the better the matchup for the defense.
Steelers @ Giants
Pittsburgh will heave a sigh of relief Sunday when they can officially turn the calendar on what was a disastrous offensive performance in 2019. With Ben Roethlisberger back at the helm, the team takes on the New York Giants, who allowed the third-most points to offenses last season. Without any real threats for New York to get after the quarterback, the aging but still upper-echelon Pittsburgh o-line shouldn’t have any trouble keeping Roethlisberger upright for the majority of the game, presenting a prime opportunity to buy-in on this offense before the inevitable Big Ben injury later in the year.
While WR/CB matchups can be a fickle mistress, Diontae Johnson should see a majority of his snaps against Isaac Yiadom, who allowed 14.3 yards per catch and a 65.2% completion rating (98th/111 qualifying cornerbacks according to Sports Info Solutions) during his 2019 season.
Patriots vs. Dolphins
Cam Newton’s New England reign will be eased in by a soft opening week jaunt against an intriguing —yet still rebuilding— Miami team. The Dolphins averaged a little over six quarterback pressures per game (well below the NFL average of 11.25/game) so we can expect Newton to have plenty of time with the ball in his hands, and we’ve seen in the past what that can mean for defenses. The only problem is, we can’t be certain where the ball is going outside of Julian Edelman and James White. Both make for very high floor plays in Week 1 —especially with a barren running back room— but I wouldn’t feel confident in anyone else.
Ravens vs. Browns
Lamar Jackson kicks off the season against a bevy of teams that ranked in the bottom-10 aFPA to the quarterback position, including this Cleveland team (23rd). Baltimore will try to rekindle the flame that saw them lead off 2019 by boat-racing the Dolphins to a merciless 59-10 victory, resulting in a 324 yard, five-touchdown performance by the QB. No one is confusing Cleveland for a team that is actively tanking, but they could have some issues getting to the quarterback after finishing 24th in pressures. Though to be fair, Myles Garret —who still led the team in pressures— missed some time after attempting to murder Mason Rudolph, which would have certainly impacted those numbers.
At this point in the season, it would be difficult to pull the trigger on any pass-catcher outside of Mark Andrews, but at some point in these first few games, someone will emerge as the third option after he and Marquise Brown if Jackson is going to be running the ball less.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
Bills vs. Jets
The Jets threw a lot of money (and a first-round pick) at the offensive line, which will bode well for future success, but in the craziest offseason I can remember, completely ignoring continuity along the o-line is assuredly not a good thing (Jets only return one starter from last year). Couple that with a great (and improving) defensive line and it could be a spooky day for Sam Darnold. Mekhi Becton will be lining up in his first professional two-point stance against Jerry Hughes (44 pressures in ‘19) on one side of the line, while George Fant lines up against Trent Murphy (36 pressures) on the other. While Mekhi Becton has a bright future ahead of him, Fant has logged nearly the same amount of snaps as a heavy/jumbo package tight end (454) than he has as a pure offensive tackle (477) over the last two seasons in Seattle. Both will be tested early and often.
49ers vs. Cardinals
Arizona got a steal when they selected developmental offensive tackle, Josh Jones, in the third round of the NFL Draft, but that’s not going to do much good against Nick Bosa and the 49ers this Sunday. With Jones still learning the ropes, Bosa will be spending most of the afternoon battling left tackle D.J. Humphries who had a resurgent 2019 after injured-riddled 2017 and 2018 seasons. The Cardinals would theoretically be in good shape if they can keep Bosa out of the backfield but they also have Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, and rookie first-rounder Javon Kinlaw to deal with. Center Mason Cole is the weak link of the offensive line, so pressure could be coming from all angles, making for a difficult week to roster Kyler Murray
Favorable Running Back Matchups
The RB table will work just the same as the above QB table; high “Difference” numbers mean an offense has a favorable matchup, the lower the number, the least favorable.
Colts @ Jaguars
As eight-point favorites against a team that is clearly attempting to tank, Indianapolis has all of the stars aligning for a big rushing week, but do we know who is going to get the ball? I would venture to think Jonathan Taylor would lead the backfield, but not to the extent of the role he will have later in the year. Consulting our half-PPR running back rankings, Taylor is listed as the RB23 and Marlon Mack at RB29. They are projected to combine for nearly 30 touches but at something like a 55/45 split, it’s going to be tough to trust either one of them. Still, if you wanted to take a stand on one or the other while people are ignoring the backfield, it’s noteworthy that the Jacksonville defensive line allowed 4.62 Adjusted Line Yards per attempt last year (27th) while the Indianapolis offensive line mustered 4.41 ALY (12th) so somebody could break a few long runs off.
Raiders @ Panthers
What a tale of two off-seasons. The Las Vegas Raiders head to their new home in Nevada after drafting firepower all over the offensive formation, while the Panthers head into the Matt Rhule era by drafting 100% defensive players with their seven picks, the first time a team has ever done that. It’s a tall task to ask these players to gel so quickly after the incumbent defense allowed the most rushing yards (2,296) and the highest yards per carry (5.2) en route to allowing the second-most points per game (29.2) in 2019.
It seemed obvious that Josh Jacobs’ passing game role was being further capped after he was targeted only 27 times in his rookie season, but then Las Vegas surprisingly released Theo Riddick and traded away Lynn Bowden, clearing room in the pecking order. He may not be Alvin Kamara out there, but a few extra targets would go a long way towards Jacobs being in RB1 consideration. He is ranked as the RB6 heading into this game.
Chargers @ Bengals
The Chargers made some sweeping changes along the offensive line, most notably adding Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga to the right side of their line. The new-look o-line will be tested when they travel to take on a Bengals team that features a good pass rush headed by Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, but a linebacker crew that’s in the running for worst in the league. Los Angeles should be able to get Austin Ekeler outside the tackles which will portend success against an all-around terrible tackling team. I predict there will be weeks when the Chargers will want to pound the ball between the tackles with Justin Jackson or Joshua Kelley, but don’t think that will be the case Sunday.
Running Backs with Bad Matchups
As opposed to breaking down every bad match-up through the rest of the slate, here are some running backs I’m looking to avoid because of their poor offensive line and the strong defensive fronts they will be facing:
- Kenyan Drake, Cardinals
- Jordan Howard, Dolphins
- Antonio Gibson, Washington
- James Robinson/Devine Ozigbo, Jaguars
*All “pressure” info comes from Sports Info Solutions