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 2020 season as we allow the 2021 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.
Buccaneers vs. Cowboys
One of the few teams returning all five offensive line starters (and all 22 starters, for that matter), Tampa Bay will kick off their bid for back-to-back titles against a Dallas Cowboys defense that allowed the fourth-most total yards and the eighth-most schedule-adjusted adjusted fantasy points to the quarterback position. Dallas made key changes this offseason, namely, replacing Mike Nolan with Dan Quinn and drafting linebacker Micah Parsons 12th overall. Including the all-over-the-field Parsons, they spent each of their first six picks in attempting to shore up their defense, but they’re in for quite the test right out of the gate on Thursday Night Football.
Tampa Bay presents a problem for the young defense in the trenches, where all five durable offensive line starters logged over 1,100 snaps apiece en route to finishing the season with the third-best Adjusted Sack Rate (4.3%). All three wide receiver options —Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown— are playable this week, in that respective order of need. This is also an opportunity for a pure pocket passer like Tom Brady to crack the top-five quarterback plays of the week.
Football Team vs. Chargers
This may be the most intriguing matchup of the week with the Chargers and Joey Bosa set to take on the tackle tandem of Charles Leno (LT) and rookie Samuel Cosmi (RT). It’s possible that the team keeps a tight end in-line this weekend to help with Cosmi’s first live NFL action against Bosa who will pop back and forth from the left-to-right side of the line. The return of Derwin James will be a boon for the defense but it remains to be seen how much that will help in coverage, where the team is going to have to deal with Terry McLaurin. A true “gunslinger”, Ryan Fitzpatrick has been known to force-feed his top options, and he has long been relatively unphased by pressure, losing an average of five points of passer rating when under pressure versus when his pocket is clean (league average is 33 points of passer rating lost when under pressure).
The strength of the offensive line and Fitzpatrick’s “DGAF” attitude in the pocket keep McLaurin a WR1 play in Week 1.
Cardinals @ Titans
In the twilights of their careers, the fourth (A.J. Green) and sixth (Julio Jones) selections of the 2011 NFL Draft could very well be facing off against each other for the final time, albeit in much different roles. Though Green won’t be the 1b focal point that Jones is sure to be every week he’s healthy, it’s the Arizona Cardinals I want to target in this matchup. Although the offensive line is middle-of-the-road, they should have enough heat to keep Tennessee’s moribund pass rush away from the spry Kyler Murray. The Titans finished 2020 28th in pressure% (32.8%) while converting pass rushes into sacks on only 10.5% of dropbacks (30th).
The Titans did sign former Pittsburgh Steeler Bud Dupree but he’s no longer sharing a defensive line with the likes of T.J. Watt, Stephon Tuitt, and Cameron Heyward to take the attention off of his own pass rush. If the Tennessee offense holds up its end of the deal, Arizona has the firepower to propel Kyler Murray into an overall QB1 finish this week.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
Rams vs. Bears
Chicago’s offensive line was trending in the right direction when they were able to select a sliding Teven Jenkins in the second round of the NFL Draft but things have been downhill since then. It turned out that Jenkins needed to have surgery on his back, which forced the team to go out and sign 39-year-old Jason Peters who has dealt with a handful of his own injury concerns since being drafted in 2004(!). On the other side of the offensive line, Germain Ifedi saw improvement in his first season with the Bears after four with the Seahawks, so we shall see if he can continue to build upon that growth.
The Los Angeles defense ranked sixth in aFPA to running backs and first in aFPA to both quarterbacks and wide receivers. This is a new year after minimal changes to the personnel, but they still have the best defensive player in the league, and there’s not much reason to think Chicago will be keeping Aaron Donald from Andy Dalton.
Vikings @ Bengals
In a situation that feels like it was ripped straight from Groundhog Day, the Bengals entered the draft in desperate need of offensive line help. They came away with three selections, none of which are slated to start for the team. OK campers, rise and shine for another season of targeting Cincinnati. Last season this offensive line ranked 24th in adjusted sack rate, 29th in QB Hits Allowed, 31st in adjusted line yards, and 22nd in blown block% (Sports Info Solutions metric that measures any time a blocker does not successfully block the defender they attempted to engage with and, as a result, allows the defender to negatively affect the play).
Minnesota’s defense had a down year in 2020, but Mike Zimmer gets to take on his old team with the help of returning defensive line pieces Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce, who both missed last year for injuries and an opt-out, respectively. The Vikings are questionably the 10th-priced defense on Draftkings’ Sunday main slate.
Favorable Running Back Matchups
Browns @ Chiefs
Kansas City poured resources into their offensive trenches after Patrick Mahomes was last seen running for his life in Super Bowl 55, but that didn’t leave much room for them to work on the defensive trenches. In those same playoffs, these two matched up and Kansas City was able to stifle the running game through most of the first half as the safeties played closer to the line of scrimmage and forced Baker Mayfield to exhibit arm power or bust. It was mostly bust, but remember that Odell Beckham was out in that game and should be back to full health heading into 2021, which I believe is a much bigger story for this offense as a whole than people have made it out to be.
With a full complement of receivers and an offensive line that was already dominant with Jedrick Wills as a rookie, I believe the Chiefs defensive line can get pushed around, turning into a productive afternoon for Nick Chubb and, to a lesser extent, Kareem Hunt.
Saints vs. Packers
Barring Taysom Hill —or Tony Jones— stealing too many goal-line touches, Alvin Kamara has overall weekly RB1 potential and this matchup with the Packers is no exception. The Saints’ offensive line is a strength in both the pass and run game and although they currently rank as my fourth-best OL at the moment, they could be argued for any of the three spots ahead of them. Right guard Cesar Ruiz was the weakest link in the chain last season but looked dominant in limited action through this preseason, making the entire front five formidable.
To kick off the season New Orleans will be facing a Green Bay team with a great secondary and pass rush but a defensive line that can be exploited in the ground game. The aforementioned rookie Tony Jones is set to eventually chop into Kamara’s work in the run game, but Latavius Murray was just cut this week and Jones could take a while to take over that role, leaving Kamara with a massive workload to begin the season.
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:
*All “pressure” info comes from Sports Info Solutions, pace and Adjusted Sack Rate/Adjusted Line Yards come from Football Outsiders