Exploiting Defensive Injuries and Other Tidbits for the Fantasy Playoffs

December 6, 2018 | insideinjuries | No Comments

One of the basic tenets of drafting a fantasy football team is seeking opportunities that others might overlook. During preseason drafts the final roster isn’t always set, so we often draft one or two “speculative” players with the hope they will get an opportunity to move up the depth chart. At this point in the season, though, the waiver wire is picked clean and many owners have gathered handcuffs and added most of the available depth to their bench. So, we need to find another way to add some opportunity to our bench.

Inside Injuries and other fantasy football analysis sites spend most of their energy and resources on players from the four major offensive positions in fantasy football – quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends; and rightfully so, that’s where the scoring is at! But you can also find hidden value by examining the injury lists of the defensive teams opposing your players. Don’t just look at the teams starting against your usual starters either. Once you’ve identified a team weakness due to injury, check your bench and the waiver wire for potential opportunities for a big performance. You just might find the kind of opportunity that will win you a championship.

Let’s look at some examples of how you might do that for the fantasy semi-finals and championship games, and I’ll offer you some little tidbits of information you can also exploit.

If you own players from the LA Rams’ offense, you are undoubtedly feeling confident as we enter the fantasy playoff weeks. Quarterback Jared Goff is ranked at QB4, Todd Gurley is a consensus RB1 with tremendous pass-catching ability and game-changing speed, and both Robert Woods (WR15) and Brandin Cooks (WR12) can break off a big play at any time. If you’re fortunate enough to have a first round bye then you’re simply overjoyed at the Rams’ schedule for Weeks 15 & 16. It just doesn’t get any easier than the Eagles and Cardinals for those two weeks; it just isn’t fair.

The Eagles may be the single most injured team in the NFL these days – especially on defense with four cornerbacks – Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddux, Jalen Mills, and Chandon Sullivan – on injured reserve. This devastating list of injuries has left the Eagles with one of the poorer groups of cornerbacks and safeties in the NFL according to the grading system at Pro Football Focus. CB Rasul Jenkins is the only member of the Eagles’ secondary who grades out as elite, with the rest of the starting group being either average or well below. While the Rams’ receivers should have their way with the Eagles’ secondary in Week 15, it’s the Cowboys that face Philly in Week 14.

The Dallas passing game has been completely different with the addition of WR Amari Cooper, who has quickly become the go-to target on third down. He’s also added a big play dimension to the Cowboys’ pass offense, something that’s been sorely missing since the demise of Dez Bryant. Rookie Michael Gallup is one player who could see a boost in performance against the Eagles in Week 14, but I wouldn’t view him as anything more than a deep sleeper. He’s been getting an increasing number of targets in each of the last four games, and while he hasn’t really converted that into big production yet, this could be the game in which it happens.

The Texans are the team that could benefit from facing the Eagles’ poor secondary in Week 16, so that’s where fantasy owners should be looking for potential value for their fantasy championships. Quarterback DeShaun Watson has been completing passes at a 65.5% clip, but he’s averaging just 26 pass attempts per game and hasn’t thrown for more than 239 yards since Week 5. However, he’s averaging 7.9 yards per completion and producing plenty of touchdowns (13 in the last 7 games), so his efficiency makes up for his lack of volume. Unfortunately, the only two Houston receivers worthy of discussion are DeAndre Hopkins and Keke Coutee, and both should be plenty productive against the Eagles in Week 16 as long as they are healthy. This is especially true in Coutee’s case, as he’s been banged up for most of the season. While it would be nice to say that Demaryius Thomas could see an uptick in production against the Eagles, it would be foolhardy to do so. Thomas is a mere shell of his former self these days, and it doesn’t matter who covers him; he’s just not worth the risk. Sorry, but there is nothing to see here; move along.

Here’s a tidbit for owners of Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan. Over the past four weeks, the Falcons have failed to top 20 points on the scoreboard. The problem really isn’t with Ryan, though, as he’s averaged 282.5 passing yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game. The real issue has been pass protection, as Ryan has been sacked 36 times and is on pace for a career-high 48. Two of the games in question featured Ryan attempting 52 and 47 passes, which is well above his combined 60 attempts in the other two games. When deciding whether Ryan will be productive, the key is to look at the pass rush of his opposition to see whether they can disrupt his game. This week, the Falcons will face the Green Bay Packers. Let’s examine the Packers’ defense to see if they are worth exploiting in Week 14

The Packers have two traits that make it a bit tough to predict how things will go against the Falcons. On the one hand, they have one of the best pass rush units in the NFL and are currently tied for second overall in sacks with 38. On the other, their secondary has been hit hard with injuries and the play of the safety unit has been quite poor in the wake of Ha Ha Dix’s departure via trade earlier in the season. Given the Falcons’ pass protection problems and the stellar play of the Packers’ pass rush, I’m going to err on the side of caution and advocate that you seek value elsewhere this week. The Falcons’ passing game has been too shaky to rely on against what is an elite pass rush team.

You may be able to find some value in the Giants’ pass offense in Week 14. The Redskins placed starting cornerback Quinton Dunbar on injured reserve this week. That means Fabian Moreau will move into Dunbar’s outside role and rookie Greg Stroman will take over the slot coverage. The big beneficiary will likely be Sterling Shepard Jr. working out of the slot against either Stroman or the very weak linebacker corps of the Redskins. The other beneficiary could be Odell Beckham Jr., who will likely be covered by Moreau and not Josh Norman. While Norman is easily the Redskins’ best cornerback in coverage, he doesn’t have the speed to keep up with Beckham. Moreau has the speed but lacks the coverage skills to keep Beckham in check. Look for Moreau to get plenty of help from the Redskins’ safeties. Washington could elect to put Norman on Shepard Jr. in the slot, which would leave Russell Shepard as the receiver in single coverage. Shepard is likely sitting on your waiver wire, so if you’re desperate at receiver, he may be worth a last minute claim.

Let me stress again that these are deep-league and desperation type plays for the most part since the better receivers from most teams are already sitting on fantasy rosters. However, if you’ve lost a key member of your team to injury in the last week or during the practice week, you’ll need an edge somewhere. This kind of analysis is also useful in situations where two receivers are evenly ranked and you cannot decide between them. A look at the injury list of the defense you’re facing could tip things in favor of one starter over another. Good luck in Week 14!

*By Tim McCullough