O-Line Rankings and Matchups to Exploit: Week 5
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. These numbers will continue to strengthen through more data points as the season progresses and when compared to a team’s advantages within the trenches will expose fantasy pieces we may not have otherwise considered.
Let’s begin by diving into the passing game to see what o-line/defense match-ups we can exploit.
Favorable Quarterback Matchups
Saints @ Football Team
Coming off of an overtime loss to the New York Giants, New Orleans heads to Washington to face off against a surprisingly underwhelming Football Team defense. Though the pass rush is still getting pressure at a rate that ranks them in the top half of the league, the secondary is hardly holding up their end of the bargain as teams have picked them apart through the air thus far. The puzzle of this matchup gets interesting when we look at this hodgepodge group of receivers the Saints are currently boasting. Marquez Callaway has been the de facto “number one” receiver, yet nearly half of his year-to-date fantasy production came on one single 58-yard reception in Week 4.
The best way to attack this matchup would be to play fringe starters who could blow up and deliver big points for teams looking for pure ceiling plays; namely, quarterback Jameis Winston or tight end Juwan Johnson. The upside with Winston is clear after his five-touchdown performance in Week 1 and Johnson is the only Saints player with multiple targets from within the opponents’ 10-yard line.
Bills @ Chiefs
With a 56-point game total and two of the most exciting quarterbacks in the league going at it, this Sunday Night Football tilt is sure to give us plenty of fantasy fireworks. Buffalo’s offensive line has kept Josh Allen clean so far, keeping their adjusted sack rate down at 4.2% (sixth-best) and they should remain sturdy this week against a Kansas City pass rash that has put pressure on the quarterback on only 26.9% of dropbacks, the lowest rate in the league. While no one would ever consider sitting Allen or Stefon Diggs, there are two sneaky options that have turned into consistent producers after coming out of draft season as afterthoughts; 34-year old Emmanuel Sanders and third-year tight end Dawson Knox. Sanders has at least six targets in every game this year while Knox has accumulated six touchdowns over the team’s last seven games, including the playoffs.
The duo makes for a great tight end and WR3 play, respectively.
Cowboys vs. Giants
Dallas is coming off of a week in which the offensive line truly dominated the Carolina Panthers’ front line and created gaping holes for both Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard to the tune of 210 yards on 30 carries between them. The return of left tackle Tyron Smith and right guard Zack Martin propel this group back into formidable territory and they’ll continue to flex on defenses this Sunday when they invite a Giants team that pressures the quarterback at the seventh-lowest rate in the league. Both Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb are top-15 options in our half-PPR rankings while Dalton Schultz is beginning to truly run away as Dak Prescott’s number one tight end option.
New York currently ranks 27th in aFPA to both the tight end and wide receiver positions, making the trio must-starts in Week 5.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
Ravens vs. Colts
The Colts are sadly trending in the direction of the Eagles and Cowboys in years past; super talented groups that are plagued by injuries to the point that they never all seem to be on the field at the same time. Injuries across the line have forced Indianapolis to scramble to put together a cohesive unit, but one of the hopeful saviors, Eric Fisher, has been part of the problem. Since joining the team and recovering from his torn Achilles, Fisher has led the league in blown block% in the passing game (blown blocks are a Sports Info Solutions metric that measures any time a blocker does not successfully block the defender they attempted to engage with) with a mark of 10.7%. Ranking second on that list of 193 qualifying offensive linemen with a mark of 10.6% is the man on the other side of the line; right tackle Julie’n Davenport. In the three years I have been keeping an eye on this statistic I have never seen two teammates rank this highly (or lowly, depending on how you’re looking at it).
Carson Wentz has been pressured 66 times on the season, the most in the league despite ceding some time to Jacob Eason back in Week 2. Baltimore’s defense ranks as a top-five unit this week, and for good reason.
Patriots @ Texans
For all the maladies surrounding the Houston Texans they actually have an improved offensive line, though “improved” does not necessarily mean “good”. The issues along the line are mainly in the interior where former right tackle Tytus Howard is still attempting to get his feet under him in his first year as a guard after never playing the position in his college or professional career before Week 1 of 2021. Howard has a long way to go (for a deep dive on his development I suggest this article) and this week against Bill Belichick’s defense should give him plenty of new looks to explore.
Howard will be tasked with keeping rookie third-rounder Davis Mills upright and out of harm’s way, which will be quite the task. Through 76 dropbacks, Mills has already taken eight sacks and ranks dead last in PFF’s turnover-worthy play rate (6.9%), allowing five of those throws to turn into interceptions.
Favorable Running Back Matchups
Rams @ Seahawks
Last week Darrell Henderson took back the RB1 role in Los Angeles after missing Week 3 with a rib injury. While Sony Michel was limited to three carries and a fumble, Henderson pieced together 116 total yards on 19 touches and sets himself up as the team’s bell cow ahead of this matchup against a Seahawks team that currently ranks 28th in aFPA to the running back position. That should pair nicely with an offensive line that boasts an adjusted line yards mark of 4.76, the seventh-best in the league.
The Rams are playing with fire with their lack of depth but as long as the line led by the ageless wonder Andrew Whitworth stays healthy, they will stay in contention for one of the best units in the league.
Packers @ Bengals
Though Cincinnati has been fairly limiting to opposing rushing attacks thus far in the season, they have also taken on some of the worst offensive lines in the league, namely the Vikings, Bears, and Steelers. The Packers, on the other hand, have survived injuries to absolute studs David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins and still proceeded to open holes for Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, allowing them to combine for 229 yards rushing over the last two games. As of this writing, Jenkins is heading into Week 5 questionable, but the team has proven depth at this point and shouldn’t stop us from starting Aaron Jones as a top-three option or AJ Dillon as a desperation RB4/flex.
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:
- Malcolm Brown/Myles Gaskin, Dolphins
- Josh Jacobs, Raiders
- Miles Sanders, Eagles
- Melvin Gordon, Broncos
*All “pressure” info comes from Sports Info Solutions, pace and adjusted sack rate/adjusted line yards come from Football Outsiders