49ERS // BUCCANEERS OVERVIEW
It is a strange week when a game between two floundering teams with combined records of 5-15 carries the highest Over/Under on the slate — but that is what we have this week, as Nick Mullens and the 49ers travel to take on Jameis Winston and the Bucs.
Tampa has been tremendous at piling up yards this season — ranking first in the NFL in yards per game, in a season in which the Saints, Chiefs, and Rams are all chasing the all-time scoring record. Of course, there are three reasons the Bucs are 3-7 in spite of this ability to rack up yards:
1) They are unable to convert these yards into points as often as they need to, ranking 17th in red zone touchdown offense and eighth in points per game.
2) They are unable to stop opponents, with the worst red zone touchdown defense in football, the highest completion rate allowed, the fourth highest drive success rate allowed, the most points allowed per game, and the fifth most yards allowed per game.
3) They are getting destroyed in the turnover battle, with the second fewest takeaways in the NFL, and with (by far) the most giveaways. I’ve read a few articles that have tried to talk this up as a good offensive system…but part of the reason for all the turnovers is because this team is chucking the ball downfield regardless of coverage, and this is leading to tons of interceptions.
A bonus for the likelihood of this game turning into a true shootout? — the 49ers have the second fewest takeaways in the NFL. If Jameis is able to finish drives (instead of gifting turnovers left and right) in this spot, he could force the 49ers to respond in kind, and this game could turn into an ugly-exciting affair.
49ERS PASS OFFENSE
By now, it is probably embedded in your brain that Tampa tackles well after the catch and allows a middling aDOT, but that they have allowed one of the highest YPA marks in the league (currently 30th) due to all the completions they allow. With no pass rush to speak of (25th in adjusted sack rate), this team meshes well with the 49ers’ passing attack that ranks down at 23rd in adjusted sack rate allowed, and that prefers to attack in the short area of the field.
Through his first two starts, Mullens has focused primarily on passes within 11 or 12 yards of the line of scrimmage, but he was able to hit Pierre Garcon on a couple passes of 15+ yards in Week 9, and he hit Marquise Goodwin in Week 10 on four passes of 10+ yards (going four for four on these attempts). Since Mullens took over for the 49ers, he has pass attempt numbers of 22 and 39, with targets to primary pass catchers on this team shaking out like this:
This team spreads the ball around as much as any unit in football, making it difficult to find massive upside from any individual pass catchers outside of Kittle (more on him in a moment) — and with this team ranking 27th in pass play rate in spite of their 2-8 record, floor/ceiling expectations should be limited among 49ers wide receivers.
Obviously, the matchup here is attractive, so if you feel set on attacking the Bucs with a wide receiver, your best bet is Goodwin — who has not broken above his “four to five target” range a single time this season, but who at least has some downfield usage to his game and could pop off for a big play. Outside of Goodwin, Garcon (if he plays) or Bourne/Pettis (if Garcon misses) will be a solid bet to pile up something like a 4-40-0 line, with some price-considered upside if they score; but against a Tampa defense that is bad because of the high catch rate they allow, volume is the best way to attack.
This brings us to Kittle, who has finished below seven targets only three times all season (games of 4 // 6 // 4), and who will match up against a defense that has allowed the ninth most catches, the second most yards, and the fifth most touchdowns to the position. Kittle leads this team in red zone targets with 11, and he carries the second highest PFF receiving grade among tight ends, behind only O.J. Howard.
49ERS RUN OFFENSE
Even with all the injuries to the Buccaneers’ defense, they have played middling run defense this year — ranking 19th in yards allowed per carry and 19th in rushing yards allowed per game. The “way to attack this defense” is through the air — but with Kyle Shanahan designing a run-focused system, and with the Bucs certainly not a shy-away matchup on the ground, we should expect plenty of volume in this spot for the 49ers’ backs. Tampa has also been slightly below-average this year against pass-catching running backs. With the Bucs’ red zone issues, they have given up more touchdowns to running backs than any other team in the league.
With Raheem Mostert lost for the season and Breida finally recovering his health, Alfred Morris was phased out of this attack before the bye, seeing only 14 out of 73 snaps (19.2%), while Breida played 44 (handling a season-high 17 carries and four targets on 20 pass routes run), and Kyle Juszczyk played 46 snaps (seeing two targets and one carry, while run blocking 22 times).
Shanahan has long been hesitant to feed monster workloads to his backs, so expectations should be held slightly in check for Breida this week; but he projects for 15 to 20 touches in this spot, and he has a healthy 19 carries inside the 20 and five carries inside the five, giving him opportunity to take advantage of the greatest weakness of the Tampa running back defense.
BUCCANEERS PASS OFFENSE
The 49ers have been above-average against the pass this year on a per-pass basis, shaving almost 5% off the league-average catch rate and holding opponents to the ninth lowest yards per pass attempt in the league — but with this team unable to generate consistent pass rush (17th in adjusted sack rate) and unable to force turnovers (only six takeaways on the year; only two interceptions — both of which are better than only the Buccaneers), the 49ers have ultimately allowed the sixth most passing touchdowns in the league. This includes the sixth most touchdowns awarded to wide receivers — and touchdowns will be the name of the game here if targeting the Bucs’ primary pass catchers, as only five teams in the NFL have given up fewer receptions to the wide receiver position.
The good news if targeting the Bucs’ passing attack is that Jameis has taken the “don’t read the field, just throw the ball” route this year — a path that will likely lead to him becoming a career backup after this lost season, but that has still allowed him to join the “Tampa QB” production parade that has produced 365+ passing yards in eight of 10 games. With Reuben Foster both healthy and not suspended, the 49ers boast one of the tougher run defenses in football, and the Bucs rank seventh in the league in pass play rate, so expect plenty of volume from Jameis in this spot — with plenty of throws on which you wonder if he even opened his eyes before letting go of the ball. Apparently, we cannot predict when a quarterback in this offense will get benched, but surely Dirk Koetter won’t pull the trigger two weeks in a row (right?). Add it all up, and the yardage should be there when it’s all said and done.
The 49ers are allowing a completion rate to wide receivers of only 59.2%, and Jameis is not exactly a tight-window master, but with all the downfield looks on this offense, there will be opportunity for one or two of these pass catchers to join the yardage party. The 49ers attempt to play tight defense over the middle while pushing passes to the boundaries — and with Richard Sherman shutting down the right side of the field, the best way to attack this defense is up the left sideline, where Mike Evans sees the majority of his downfield looks. According to Football Outsiders’ metrics, no team in football has been worse than the 49ers at defending the left third of the field, while Evans has target counts on the year of 7 // 12 // 11 // 9 // 5 // 11 // 13 // 10 // 6 // 7. Julio Jones is the only player in the NFL with more total air yards than Evans this season, and he has enough red zone usage (10 red zone targets; four targets inside the 10) to potentially hit.
With O.J. Howard out for the rest of the season (R.I.P. to one of our favorite players this year), I’m sure a lot of attention will flood to Cameron Brate (we’ll get to him in a moment), but Howard’s four to six targets actually mesh better with what Adam Humphries and Chris Godwin provide for this offense, as Howard has been fed seam routes and sideline routes that carry him upfield and give him opportunities for yards after the catch. Over the last couple games, Godwin has taken a step back in the wide receiver rotation, playing only 40.7% of the snaps, while Humphries and DeSean Jackson have been right behind Evans for the team lead. Humphries has recent target counts of 9 // 10 // 8 // 3 // 5, and he has long been a favorite target for Jameis.
Godwin should still see around four to six targets, in spite of playing limited time. A touchdown would make him a useful piece.
DeSean remains a boom/bust option with a non-awful floor and a high ceiling in tourneys.
As for Brate: the last time he topped four catches or 49 yards in a game was in October of 2017 — and that includes two games at the end of last year in which Howard was on I.R. and the fantasy community freaked out about the opportunity to play Brate as the sole tight end on this team. He went 3-13-0 and 3-37-0 in those games. Unlike Howard, who can post big yardage, Brate’s primary DFS value comes from his red zone usage. He projects for four to six targets in this game with a middling yardage projection, and with decent price-considered upside if he punches in a touchdown.
BUCCANEERS RUN OFFENSE
Peyton Barber topped 85 rushing yards for the first time in Week 10, going for 106 yards and a touchdown against the Giants. With only one game all season above nine receiving yards, he is a touchdown-dependent play against a 49ers team that has allowed a middling seven rushing touchdowns to the position, while allowing an average of 81.9 rushing yards per game to enemy backs. Consider this a slightly below-average spot for a slightly below-average back who will become worthy of a roster spot if he punches in a touchdown, but who will likely turn into a hole on your roster if he doesn’t.
I was hoping that Breida would pop off the page a bit more in this spot, given what he opens up this week in terms of salary — but while he shapes up as a very strong play for his price, his touch ceiling and his up-and-down pass game role (with no games all year north of four targets) keep him out of the truly elite raw-projection conversation. I like what he opens up and what he projects to provide, but he appears to be “in the conversation” rather than a lock-and-load play.
Kittle, on the other hand, really stands out to me this week. I don’t typically pay up for tight end — but so far I’m not seeing a ton of guaranteed price-considered certainty at wide receiver, which could lead to a strong case for rostering a higher-priced guy at the tight end position. Kittle is very much in the conversation this week, with a target projection of seven to nine, and with as much upside as any tight end on the slate. You could also take a shot on a 49ers wide receiver in this spot, or you could take a shot on Mullens, though neither play is for me. (I expect a solid game from Mullens — but with QB pricing so condensed, I prefer to target what I think could be the top score on the slate rather than trying to save a little bit of money at the position. The savings are more substantial on Mullens on FanDuel, but I would still prefer to make it up to one of the true high-upside guys if I could.)
The Bucs’ passing attack is always in play for the “chuck it, who cares” style with which they play — with Jameis likely to top 300 yards and push a couple passes into the end zone, and with at least one of his pass catchers likely to be carried upward with him. I see Evans as the best upside bet in this group with all the air yards he is seeing and with the ways in which the 49ers will be able to use him along the left sideline. He’s always a high-variance play, but this is a spot that mitigates at least some of the variance he deals with.
Behind Evans, Humphries stands out for his solid price-considered floor/ceiling (especially with full-PPR scoring on DraftKings/FantasyDraft), while Godwin is a non-awful play with the touchdown upside he carries. Same goes for Brate (non-awful play, with decent price-considered upside if he scores), though he doesn’t pop off the page for me. DJax, as always, is boom/bust, but he doesn’t typically hurt you too much when he busts, and he should notch at least one more game this year with a big output in the box score.