RAIDERS // CHARGERS OVERVIEW
Typically, I try to write up six or seven games of the NFL Edge on Tuesday, and I write up the remaining nine or so games on Wednesday. This week, I was feeling pretty sick on Monday and Tuesday (actually, I’m still in that space, as I sip tea and type this at 1 A.M. on Thursday), and I managed to knock out only three games on Tuesday (which has set me up with quite an interesting, 22-hour “Wednesday”; I imagine my body will be grateful by the time I allow it to sleep and finally fight off this bug…). After I finished putting together those three games on Tuesday and realized I needed to get some sleep, I spent about an hour unwinding and messing around with rosters for this weekend. And as I did so, one team popped off the page more than any other:
It’s not that the Raiders are in “the best spot of the weekend,” or that we should expect this team to yield a pile of monster games. Rather, it’s that the Raiders have quietly been one of the better offenses in the NFL to begin the year (ninth in total DVOA, second in yards per game, and 13th in points per game)…and they have a narrow distribution of work…and they are taking on a Chargers defense that ranks bottom 10 in yards allowed and bottom five in points allowed…and they are priced way too low — at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, on all three sites. The Raiders make some interesting things possible in other spots on your roster this week. And while we won’t be the only ones who will realize this, this certainly appears to be one of the clearer edges on the Week 5 slate — as Oakland gives us a chance to fit in some of the higher-priced guys we want up top, without sacrificing floor or ceiling down low.
Let the fun begin.
RAIDERS PASS OFFENSE
Oakland ranks middle of the pack in passing play percentage and pace of play — though they have shown an ability to go up-tempo when necessary, actually ranking first in the NFL in pace of play when trailing by seven or more points. A best-case scenario for this offense would be for the explosive Chargers to jump out to a lead, and for the Raiders to chase with an up-tempo, pass-leaning game plan. The Raiders rank seventh in yards per pass attempt, and while they haven’t been able to finish drives just yet, the only teams in the NFL with more passing yards this year are the Buccaneers, the Rams, and the Steelers.
The Chargers have fallen off a cliff this year on defense, ranking 28th in adjusted sack rate and 29th in yards allowed per pass attempt. Only five teams have allowed more passing touchdowns than the Chargers so far. Derek Carr plays significantly better when he is able to work with a clean pocket, and that should be the case for most of the game this week.
The biggest issue for the Chargers has been an inability to tackle after the catch, as only two teams have allowed a higher YAC per reception — which interestingly sets up best for Jared Cook, who ranks 14th in the NFL in xYAC/R (expected YAC per reception). His mark of 6.6 is not too much higher than the 5.8 mark Jordy Nelson carries or the 5.5 mark Amari Cooper carries, which is a testament to the scheme Jon Gruden is putting on the field each week, allowing each of these guys room to run after the ball is in their hands. Cook has target counts on the year of 12, four, six, and 13. There is no clear rhyme or reason to when/why these targets will rise or dip, but Cook is essentially the “third wide receiver” in this offense, with 154 pass routes run, compared to 170 for Jordy and 178 for Amari. No one else on this team has run even half as many routes as Cook, and this should be a pass-heavy spot for Oakland.
Amari Cooper should be shadowed by Casey Hayward this week, but Hayward has had a rough start to the season, allowing 11 catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns on 17 targets. Last year, Amari disappointed with a 5-28-0 line the first time these teams met, before posting a 3-115-1 line in the second meeting. Last year’s Chargers defense obviously boasted a much more dangerous pass rush. Amari has seen target counts of 10, five, and 12 across the last three weeks.
Jordy Nelson has risen from four targets each of the first two weeks to eight targets each of the last two weeks — with Jon Gruden changing up the route tree for both Jordy and Amari each week, in order to take advantage of the weaknesses of the defense. Each of these guys is working primarily within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage, and each is seeing equal opportunities in the red zone (three targets inside the 10 for Amari; two for Jordy — both behind Cook and his monstrous seven looks inside the 10, tied with Melvin Gordon, of all people, for the NFL lead). Expect six to eight targets for Jordy again this week, with seven to 10 looks for Amari. Either guy could swing wildly outside that range, but those are “likeliest scenario” bets.
Seth Roberts and Martavis Bryant are essentially splitting snaps, with Roberts seeing a few short-area targets each game, and with Martavis going downfield for target counts to date of four, five, and seven. Martavis has yet to hit, but had he not dropped a wide-open 53-yard touchdown last week, he would have seen his price rise, and he would have been talked up quite a bit this week as an “upside” piece. The upside is there with the work he is seeing — and at his price, the floor is honestly not too terribly scary.
The biggest volume drain on this passing attack is Jalen Richard, who has target counts of 11, zero, seven, and five. Outside of Richard, almost all of the targets will be going to the guys mentioned above, with Cook, Amari, Jordy, and Martavis combining for over 88% of this team’s air yards to date.
RAIDERS RUN OFFENSE
The Chargers rank 18th in yards allowed per carry to begin the year and 22nd in DVOA, while ranking 23rd in adjusted line yards. This is a good spot for the Raiders’ rushing attack, with game flow being the one potential concern, as Marshawn Lynch will see his usage dry up if Oakland falls too far behind.
Lynch has finally taken over the bulk of the backfield work for the Raiders, with ascending touch counts on the year of 13, 20, 22, and 23 — compared to six, eight, nine, and five for Doug Martin. Lynch has hauled in three receptions in back-to-back games, giving him a nice floor boost, and he has scored a touchdown in three of four weeks, with all three coming on carries inside the 10. Expect another 15+ touches for Lynch in this spot, with upside for 20+ if the Raiders can keep this game close. Lynch is appropriately priced on all three sites if he sees around 15 touches, and he is underpriced if he sees 20+ — making him a solid all-around play.
CHARGERS PASS OFFENSE
The Chargers have been unsurprisingly strong through the air this year, ranking 11th in yards per pass attempt and 13th in passing yards per game. Philip Rivers has impressively tossed 11 touchdowns to only two interceptions, while leaning heavily on his running backs — with Melvin Gordon seeing only two fewer targets than Keenan Allen so far (34 vs 36), and with Austin Ekeler chipping in 14 targets of his own.
The clear leader on this offense right now is Gordon, who steps into a glorious spot against a Raiders defense that has allowed four rushing plays of 20+ yards this year (only two teams have allowed more), while giving up a league-leading three rushing plays of 40+ yards. Oakland ranks 31st in yards allowed per carry and 28th in DVOA against the run.
Ekeler continues to share the field with Gordon a few times each game, while playing around 30% of the team’s snaps and typically being schemed the ball when he is on the field. This team seems intent on getting the ball in Ekeler’s hands at least 10 times per game — a mark he has hit or exceeded three times already. He’ll be mixed in as a moderate floor, solid-ceiling salary saver.
When the Chargers turn their attention downfield, they’ll be taking on a Raiders defense that has allowed the fourth-most pass plays of 20+ yards (behind only the Bucs, Chiefs…and Chargers), and that has especially struggled with downfield passing and yards after the catch. As “recency bias” would have it, this is again a better spot for Mike Williams and his aDOT of 17.0 than it is for Keenan Allen and his aDOT of 8.6. While Keenan has the sexy target counts, each guy is seeing just over 26% of the Chargers’ air yards — making Williams the better upside bet. Keenan obviously has a higher floor. As always, he’ll need a couple touchdowns or a spiked-target game to pay off his lofty salary, as he is rarely used downfield. Spiked-target games are in his range of outcomes, making him a tourney consideration.
Tyrell Williams will remain involved as the fourth option in the air (behind Keenan, the running backs, and Mike Williams), with a secure workload now that Travis Benjamin is back on the shelf. Williams should see three to five downfield targets, with upside for something like a 4-80-1 game if everything goes just right.
I am not sure yet what pieces of the Raiders I will end up with this week on my main roster, but I do know that they will be a core piece for me on the weekend. I have even considered breaking character and spreading my bankroll across 12 to 15 tourney teams that each bet on a different portion of the Raiders while loading up on various high-upside guys in other spots on the roster. From a pure floor perspective, you could genuinely justify rostering all of Carr, Lynch, Cooper, Nelson, and Cook in cash games on DraftKings, with tighter pricing — knowing that this group as a whole has a “20th percentile floor” of more than 3x its salary, with clear upside for 4x. These five players together cost just over $25k, and they have combined to average over 87 points per game on the year on DraftKings — with potential for this likely shootout to spike that production. (Leaving floor out of the equation and focusing instead on upside, it makes more sense to try to isolate which Raiders plays you feel are likeliest to hit for a big game, and to then target other upside pieces from there. I’ll likely “take the win” by going more Raiders-heavy in cash this week, with anywhere from three to five pieces of this team, while building a totally different main roster in tourneys that isolates two Raiders pieces and tries something different from there.)
On the other side, Melvin Gordon stands out as a clear top play on this slate, with Austin Ekeler a strong salary saver behind him. One of these guys will almost certainly pop off for a long run in this game, and each guy has strong floor and ceiling for his price.
Behind these guys, I like Mike Williams again (hmmm…), with longer-shot interest in Tyrell Williams. Keenan Allen does not stand out to me as a top high-priced wide receiver, but he’ll likely go overlooked with guys like Julio Jones and the Vikings receivers in such better spots, creating a game theory case for playing him. Philip Rivers should post another strong game in this spot as well, though I’ll be happy to take the savings on the quarterback on the other side of this game.