O-Line Rankings and Matchups to Exploit: Week 3
Evaluating offensive line play regarding its effect on fantasy football output has been a stone unturned throughout our game within a game. Here at 4for4, we’re dedicated to looking at fantasy pieces from all angles, including an offensive line's positive and negative impact 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 matchups we can exploit.
Editor's Note: Check out the complete set of Week 3 rankings here.
Favorable Quarterback Matchups
Falcons @ Lions
The Falcons' offensive line and scheme are built with the run in mind, but they’ll have a chance to push the ball through the air against a Lions defense ranked 30th in adjusted sack rate (2.8%) despite having Aidan Hutchinson screaming down from the edge. Hutchinson actually leads the entire NFL with his 13 pressures, but only one other player on the team has more than three (Charles Harris, seven).
If Atlanta chooses to take to the air more often, Desmond Ridder could be a surprising fantasy contributor in a game that has the fourth-highest total (46.5) of the week. The Falcons have thankfully upped their pace over the first two games this season, decreasing their seconds per snap from 28.8 (30th) to 26.4 (18th) while keeping a healthy 15.9% no-huddle rate (ninth). Though their neutral-game pass rate is still atrocious, at 46.5% (29th), it’s still slightly better than the 44.4% they put forth in 2022. In games where they’re not beating the Panthers by 14 points—as they did in Week 1—we can presume that the team will lean more on the passing game, as they did in Ridder’s four starts in 2022 when their neutral pass rate “jumped” to 48.3%.
Ridder’s six scrambles (tied for fourth) through two games is a positive sign we can expect a heightened week-to-week floor after he failed to hit 10 fantasy points in three-of-four starts last season.
Chargers @ Vikings
Rashawn Slater is back and doesn’t look like he’s lost a step. Through 93 pass-blocking snaps, Slater has allowed only one pressure, while his 0.7% blown block rate ranks seventh out of 53 qualifying tackles. While sophomore left guard Zion Johnson has been a little inconsistent next to him (one sack allowed in each game), the line as a whole has allowed the 11th-best league-wide pressure rate (29.8%).
The Chargers have accrued the fourth-most scrimmage yards in the NFL, and thankfully (for fantasy purposes), their spotty defensive play has ranked 30th and 32nd in points and yardage allowed, marking this game against the Vikings as an absolute goldmine.
In game No. 1 without Austin Ekeler, the Los Angeles rushing attack was chopped down at the knees, resulting in 18 RB rush attempts for 48 yards (2.6 YPA). The Chargers seemed to realize this wasn’t working, as their neutral-script pass percentage jumped from 59.4% in the first half up to a whopping 73.3% in the second half. If Ekeler remains out for this Week 3 battle, we might see a sped-up Chargers offense taking to the air early and often in a game that would surprise most if it didn’t end up being the week's highest-scoring. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are must-starts, while managers in a tough spot can take a flier on Gerald Everett.
Cowboys @ Cardinals
Another year, another batch of injury questions for the Cowboys offensive line. When healthy, the Dallas O-Line could easily be considered one of the very best units in the NFL, but there always seems to be something nagging somebody, and it’s felt like that for a handful of seasons now. There may be good news on the way, though, for two different players. Guard Zack Martin was having tightness in his groin during the Cowboys' Week 2 win over the Jets and ended up being taken out of the game in the fourth quarter. The removal was deemed to be “just a precaution”, and we can take that at face value, as the team was up by three scores at the time.
In further good news, Tyler Smith is slated to make his season debut in Week 3, bolstering the line ahead of the team’s face-off against a Cardinals defensive line that has an impressive pressure rate to this point of the season (33.3% - 13th). That does come with a caveat, though, as that mark has come against the Commanders and Giants, two offensive lines that currently sit in the bottom 10 of our offensive line rankings.
The Cowboys have also had an easy early-season road, and that should continue here in Week 3, particularly if their line is fully healthy for the first time this season. CeeDee Lamb is an obvious play, but there could be some room here for a FLEX performance out of Michael Gallup, with Brandin Cooks possibly missing another game due to a knee injury that flared up in practice last week. Jake Ferguson also makes for a good tight end streamer, as the Cardinals finished last season ranked 30th in aFPA to the tight end position and have allowed eight targets to the opposing team’s No. 1 TE in back-to-back games.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
Browns vs. Titans
The Titans' offensive line had issues with rookie first-round pick Peter Skoronski, and things only got worse with him out of the lineup. The 11th-overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft missed the Week 2 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers to undergo a “medical procedure,” and there is still no update on his timeline for a return. In his place, Xavier Newman got the start but lasted only five snaps before allowing a sack and being replaced by Dillon Radunz, who would then allow three more pressures.
Through two weeks, the Titans have a 28th-ranked 12.2% adjusted sack rate after coming out of the offseason as the only team in the NFL to return only a single starter from the previous season (center Aaron Brewer). The O-Line unit is predictably taking some time to gel, and that process is likely to make them a team to target through much of the season. Heading to Cleveland on Sunday afternoon to take on Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith will be a recipe for D/ST fantasy points.
Chiefs vs. Bears
The Bears, who have already been performing as a bottom-five unit once again, are now placing left tackle Braxton Jones on IR, where their left guard, Teven Jenkins, has been since a leg injury forced him there prior to Week 1. It’s a shot to the unit that the team can ill-afford it, as they already rank 31st in adjusted sack rate (13.1%) and 21st in pressure rate allowed (34.9%) after finishing the 2022 season as the 32nd-ranked team in both categories.
This unit will now get to face off against Chris Jones, who accounted for six pressures and two sacks in his first game back from his contract dispute. In case you were curious, the Chiefs are $3,900 on DraftKings this week and are still available in 24% of Yahoo leagues.
Favorable Running Back Matchups
Ravens vs. Colts
The Ravens' backfield is almost always a nightmare to predict. We were certain we had it all figured out, with a potential fantasy steal in the fifth/sixth round, but J.K. Dobbins, sadly, only lasted a little over one-half of one football game before it was sadly announced that he would once again miss almost an entire season of football. In his steed, we’re left with the headache of deciding between Gus Edwards and Justice Hill, but the Ravens may have shown their hand a little more than we’re giving them credit for.
While the touches since the second half of Week 1 are practically identical (19 for Edwards, 20 for Hill), Hill has been out in a route on 29 of Lamar Jackson’s 69 dropbacks (42%) and has been targeted three times (3-12-0) while Edwards has run 15 routes for zero production. Hill also has eight carries from within the opponent’s red zone, including five from within the 10-yard line, as Edwards has only one; a carry from the 1-yard-line that turned into a touchdown that has made the choice between the two much more difficult for many fantasy managers.
It’s true that Edwards’ 5.2 YPA is far higher than Hill’s 2.6 YPA, but we see that their yards after contact per attempt is exactly the same (2.4) if we remove rushes from within the opponent’s 10-yard line, which filters out some of that noise. Justice Hill should be in your FLEX spot consideration here in Week 3.
Update: Hill suffered an injury in Wednesday's practice and may miss this game. If that ends up being the case, start Edwards and disregard the recent Kenyan Drake signing.
Panthers @ Seahawks
Nothing much has been going right for the Panthers offense in the year 2023, but they’ll have a great shot at getting the ground game going against the Seahawks here in Week 3. The Carolina offensive line ranks in the top 10 of both adjusted line yards (4.27 - ninth) and running back yards before contact average (2.16 - sixth); they just might not have a starting running back who can take ample advantage. Through the first two weeks of the season, Miles Sanders is averaging 1.81 yards after contact per attempt, a mark that ranks 47th out of 56 qualifying RBs, one year removed from him ranking 32nd/62 with a 2.91 mark, behind the best offensive line in the NFL.
On the other hand, Chuba Hubbard is averaging 5.36 yards after contact per attempt (2nd/56), gaining 15+ yards on 27.6% of his rushes, which ranks 18th/56. Sanders has zero such rushes on 32 attempts. Hubbard’s 1.48 yards per route run is also nearly doubling Sanders’ 0.79, one year after Sanders ranked dead-last in the metric. We could start seeing a heavier rotation as soon as this week, and if that is the case, Hubbard is in a positive situation that is being overlooked in Fantasyland.
Running Backs with Bad Matchups
As opposed to breaking down every bad matchup through the rest of the slate, here are some running backs I’m looking to avoid because of their poor offensive line and/or the strong defensive fronts they will be facing: