BROWNS // RAIDERS OVERVIEW
Let’s get this out of the way first:
Quarterback pricing is not tight this week, and you can roster Andy Dalton in an expected shootout in Atlanta for $500 more than Baker Mayfield on FantasyDraft and FanDuel, and for $100 more on DraftKings. I bring that up because my half-decade in DFS has trained me to realize that people love shiny new toys. And Mayfield is the shiny new toy this week…
Now that that’s cleared out of the way, we can dig into one of the more fun games to pay attention to this weekend.
BROWNS PASS OFFENSE
It was necessary to lay in that disclaimer before beginning this writeup, as there are a lot of unknowns in play here (we’ll get to those in a second). But there is also a lot to like, and this is not remotely like the first career game of Johnny Manziel a few years ago, when he was the “shiny new toy” and was, laughably, the chalk play of the week against this same defensive coordinator in Paul Guenther, who destroyed the weekend of many DFS players when Manziel passed for 80 total yards and two interceptions against the Bengals.
The matchup is non-threatening, against an Oakland defense that ranks 31st in aDOT to begin the season — generating no pass rush (32nd in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate) and giving quarterbacks plenty of time to pick apart this zone-heavy coverage unit. The schematic elements on the back end of this defense should theoretically make it difficult for wide receivers to produce (Guenther was famous for this during his time with the Bengals), but as long as Oakland struggles to generate pressure, they will struggle to slow down wideouts. Through three games, Oakland has allowed the third-most receiving yards in the league to wideouts, while allowing the sixth-most touchdowns.
The unknowns in this spot are obvious. We have a rookie quarterback in his first career start, with boxed-in coaching minds in Todd Haley and Hue Jackson. Optimally, a sharp coaching staff would tailor their playbook this week to add in RPOs and bubble screens and other college-level elements that would make this a comfortable start for Mayfield in a great matchup — but there is no guarantee that Haley and Jackson will do this. Each of these coaches can be great at attacking a defense, but they have historically needed players who “fit what they want to do,” rather than being adept at tailoring their system to their players’ talents. For a final piece of “uncertainty,” Mayfield is working with a number two receiver in Antonio Callaway who is a raw rookie, a number three wide receiver in Rashard Higgins who would not be starting on 90% of NFL teams, and a talented but sloppy tight end in David Njoku.
With all that out of the way, let’s have some fun:
If the greatest attribute Mayfield boasts is his accuracy, his second-greatest attribute is his mental fortitude. Not only is this a guy who breathes football, but this is also a guy who has channeled this passion in all the right ways — carrying extreme confidence and leadership abilities, and bringing energy and positivity to the huddle. These are intangible things, but they are massively important. Mayfield is perfectly equipped to pull this offense together (in spite of working under a negative coaching staff that seems hellbent on tearing their players apart). The “us against the world” narratives make Mayfield a perfect fit for this huddle, and I genuinely believe we are in for a fun ride with this team the rest of the season.
Mayfield’s confidence and “football-breathing” lifestyle also show up on film in the aggressive throws he is willing to take, and in the calm he shows when things start breaking down around him. While you can practically see Sam Darnold “thinking” on about half his plays, Mayfield is letting loose and just plain playing. (Obviously: Darnold and the other 2018 rookie quarterbacks have plenty of time to get to that point; that’s nothing against Darnold as a prospect, but it’s fun to see a rookie step in and read things quickly and react aggressively right away.) There will be growing pains this season…but a weak pass rush and a talent-low zone defense are not the places where these growing pains are likely to get in our way.
Three games into the year, only five players have more targets than the 37 Jarvis Landry has seen. (For those who like fun factoids: Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara both rank above Landry; so do Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.) Landry is lining up everywhere and running routes at all levels of the field. Oakland is holding opponents to a below-average catch rate, but they are bottom five in the NFL in YAC per reception, and Landry should be able to do damage with his work this week.
Jarvis Landry Week 3 route tree:
Last week, Antonio Callaway actually played three more snaps and ran two more pass routes than Landry; and while he will obviously be the first read less often than Landry, he is clearly the number two option in this attack at the moment. In Week 3, Callaway saw 10 total targets — with two deep shots fed his way, and with a lot of short stuff outside the numbers. Early in the season, Oakland has been far, far worse over the middle (and deep middle) than they have been outside the numbers — making this a matchup that sets up better for Landry than for Callaway; but at 8.6% of the salary cap on DraftKings, 8.9% on FantasyDraft, and a jaw-dropping 7.5% of the salary cap (minimum priced) on FanDuel, he deserves attention.
Behind these two, David Njoku should soak up a handful of targets. He dropped from seven targets in each of the Browns’ first two games to only two looks last week, though both of those looks came from Mayfield — and while Oakland has started hot against the tight end position, Njoku will be running plenty of routes over the middle of the field. Floor remains a concern, but upside is evident.
BROWNS RUN OFFENSE
The DFS universe is trying to make the running back position easy on us this week, with Carlos Hyde maxing out at 11.33% of the salary cap on FanDuel (and coming in all the way down at 10.3% on FantasyDraft, with DraftKings in between at 11%), after starting the season with touch totals of 24, 17, and 26. Oakland ranks 28th in DVOA against the run and 29th in yards allowed per carry, creating a great spot for Hyde in a game in which the Browns really should be favored, in spite of playing this game on the road, as they are simply the better team between the two.
Mayfield is not likely to show heavy check-down tendencies, as he is an aggressive quarterback and can take off and run if all his receivers are covered; but his presence should open running lanes for Hyde — forcing the defense to respect the pass, and forcing the defense to respect Mayfield’s legs. If Hyde gets 18 to 20 carries this week, he’ll be a strong bet to crack 100 yards for the first time this year. Hyde also leads the NFL with carries inside the five-yard-line with six, and he has rewarded the Browns’ faith with four touchdowns on these looks.
RAIDERS PASS OFFENSE
Through three games, the Browns’ defense ranks fifth in pass defense DVOA and 11th in yards allowed per pass attempt, holding opponents to significantly below-average marks in both aDOT and catch rate, while forcing opponents to pick up their yards after the catch.
This sets up poorly for Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson, who both operate best as big downfield targets that pick up their yards through the air. Jordy has a fluky 10.3 YAC per reception (seventh in the NFL), though his expected YAC per reception (6.9) paints a much better picture of his skill set. Amari’s YAC per catch sits at only 4.4.
On a more positive note for these guys: they are combining for over 50% of the Raiders’ air yards so far, with Jordy seeing 16 targets through three games and Amari seeing 18. This is a creatively-schemed offense that has quietly generated over 300 passing yards per game, though there are still a lot of question marks in trying to target these two, as their roles are fairly interchangeable, and there is no clear picture right now of who will see more targets on a given week.
Jared Cook rounds out the main pieces of this passing attack, with a 19% share of the Raiders’ air yards in spite of an aDOT of only 5.4. He has seen target counts so far of 12, four, and six, and he should be schemed another five to seven looks in this spot.
RAIDERS RUN OFFENSE
Oakland has continued to struggle on the ground to begin the year, ranking 27th in yards per carry. Marshawn Lynch has carry counts of 11, 18, and 19 to start the season, but he has yet to top 65 rushing yards in a game. He has added target counts of two, two, and three, and will likely need a multi-touchdown game in order to do serious box score damage.
Behind Lynch, coach’s pet Doug Martin has continued to soak up looks, with touch counts of six, eight, and nine. His high yardage mark on the season is 43.
Jalen Richard also continues to soak up snaps each week in this timeshare backfield, with another 20 snaps last week, and with 22 total touches on the year.
The biggest concern for the Browns’ passing attack is volume, as the Raiders are unlikely to race out to a lead here, and the Browns could hold Mayfield to around 30 pass attempts as a result. Outside of that concern, I really don’t have any major concerns on this attack. Even if the Browns fail to layer in some college concepts this week, Mayfield should be able to operate smoothly in this matchup with the offense the Browns have been trotting out there to date — and Jarvis Landry should be able to notch double-digit targets. Mayfield will absolutely be on my QB list heading into the weekend, while Landry will have a place on my WR list as well. Behind these two, Callaway is a high-upside play with some consistency concerns, and with concerns over what the Raiders take away on defense (the outside of the field, where Callaway has been most heavily targeted). There are also consistency concerns on Njoku, who has looked disinterested in his route-running early in the year. In spite of these concerns, the upside on both of these guys is legitimately week-winning at their price tags, making them interesting tourney options.
I like Hyde quite a bit this week — and while he would need more guaranteed pass game work in order to truly be a lock-and-load play for me, he’ll at least make my list. I like the way this game shapes up for him.
On the other side, it’s difficult to get a read on the Oakland passing attack, as it was easy to predict last week that Amari Cooper would set up poorly for work following his Week 2 explosion, but it was impossible to predict the big game from a washed-up Jordy Nelson in a very difficult matchup. It seems likely that one of these guys posts a solid stat line this week, but it’s a guessing game as to which that will be — and the floor is still low enough on each that I won’t go hunting myself.
The rest of this Raiders’ attack is spreading the ball around too much to draw my attention. Good games will pop up from this team from time to time throughout the season, but those good games will rarely come from the exact player anyone is expecting.