SAINTS // GIANTS OVERVIEW
One of the most enjoyable things about putting together the NFL Edge is the way I get to sort of gradually see, as I move through all the games, how the slate shapes up. (I guess it’s the same journey you get to take yourself if you wait for the NFL Edge to begin your research.) And it stands out to me this week that Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara each rank in the top five in the NFL in targets per game…and they have a good matchup against the Giants…and we have uncovered a number of solid values throughout our exploration of this slate. Not to say that jamming in Thomas/Kamara is guaranteed to be the “right way” to approach this slate; but it looks doable, and it will be an interesting approach to play around with. (As always on a week like this: finding other guys at the high end of the price range to pivot toward in tourneys is also an interesting approach to play around with.) The NFL is saving a couple of the best games for last this week — with Saints // Giants || 49ers // Chargers the last games to kick off. These games will draw heavy ownership interest, and this is a week in which no winnings will be safe until the final whistle blows.
The Saints are essentially a “zero edge” offense right now — the sort of offense that gives a boost to the casual DFS player and keeps them coming back, as the only way to really get this spot “wrong” is to overthink it. For that matter: the Saints could conceivably be considered worse than “zero edge” right now, as we — being sharper DFS players than most of our competition — learn to get into the habit of thinking and researching deeply into each game to uncover all the little gems available on the week…which can lead to overthinking…which can lead to the casual player having a small edge over us in spots like this one.
In the interest of “not overthinking,” then:
With Mark Ingram out, the Saints have been forced to become one of the pass-heaviest offenses in the NFL. After ranking 20th in pass play rate last season, New Orleans ranks fourth in 2018. And one year after ranking first in DVOA on the ground, New Orleans ranks 15th. As a team, the Saints are averaging only 3.9 yards per carry — good for only 19th in the NFL.
Because Sean Payton is a good coach (and because the Saints have Drew Brees), they have adjusted by going pass-heavy. And because Sean Peyton is a good coach: he is mercilessly targeting his two best weapons. The combined target totals for these two have been 29 // 19 // 30.
With the Giants boasting no pass rush to speak of (28th in adjusted sack rate), teams have been attacking them downfield, and only two teams have faced a deeper aDOT through two games of the year. It will be interesting to see how the Saints adjust here (if at all), as they have been using Michael Thomas in more of a possession role so far, with an aDOT of only 7.2 (surrounded by names like Randall Cobb, Cole Beasley, and Cooper Kupp), though he has the ability to go downfield, which could open a little more yardage upside this week. Thomas’ greatest value has been his red zone role in the league’s second highest-scoring offense — with six targets inside the 10 and nine targets inside the 20. He ranks behind only Smith-Schuster and Kamara inside the 20, and no one has more targets inside the 10.
Through three games, Kamara has target totals of 12, six, and 20, with carry totals of eight, 13, and 16. He is the main piece of this offense right now, which puts him in great shape against a mediocre Giants defense, on a team with one of the highest Vegas-implied totals on the slate. As with Thomas, the biggest bonus for Kamara is his red zone role, with more targets in the red zone than any other player in the league, and with more carries inside the 10 than any other player. With Kamara and Thomas on the field together, the Saints have a hard time not scoring when they reach the red zone, and these two are the main pieces this team is using to cross the goal line.
Behind Thomas and Kamara, pass routes run in Week 3 looked like this (out of 53 total pass plays available):
Ginn has seen at least six targets in every game with the Saints going so pass-heavy, and this is as good a spot as any for him to hit, against a Giants defense that can be attacked deep. With a number of lower-upside “five to eight target” guys in play this week, don’t forget about the upside Ginn brings to the table on his six to eight looks.
The Giants have also seemingly fixed their tight end issues this season — but Ben Watson has target counts of four, five, and six through three games, and matchup shouldn’t be a concern.
Behind these guys, the Saints’ offense still carries upside — but good luck guessing if it’ll be Meredith, Hill, or even Smith or Carr who will see a red zone target this week.
GIANTS PASS OFFENSE
The Saints have been dismantled through the air so far — to a point where they benched Ken Crawley last week for P.J. Williams, and then benched Williams partway through the game for Crawley. The Saints are generating no real pass rush (they rank 20th in adjusted sack rate), and Marshon Lattimore is the only corner who is holding his own against opposing wide receivers. With Evan Engram set to be sidelined with an MCL sprain and Cody Latimer more space-eater than anything in this offense, the Giants will give us flashes this week of Shurmur’s Vikings pass attack from last season, in which Thielen and Diggs were the primary guys every week. Look for Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard to each see a large chunk of Giants targets against the Saints.
We’ll start with Shepard, who surprisingly checks in at a high-water mark of only 10.33% of the salary cap on FanDuel. Not only can we expect the Saints to score points, but we can expect Marshon Lattimore to be on Odell Beckham roughly 80% of the time, while Shepard will soak up extra targets over the middle in the absence of Engram. I’m penciling in Shepard for seven to nine targets, but there is genuine upside for double-digit looks, after he saw seven targets on only 29 Eli Manning pass attempts last week, with Engram leaving in the second quarter.
Beckham will draw shadow coverage from Lattimore on the 80% of snaps he runs outside of the slot — but there really isn’t a corner who can win against Beckham in man coverage, and expectations should be high for him this week. He comes into this game averaging an elite 11.33 targets per game (to put that into context: only four players averaged double-digit targets in 2017), and this pass-heavy game script against a bad pass defense plays perfectly into his favor. Beckham slots in as one of the safest, highest-upside plays on the slate.
Last week, as expected, the Giants’ pass attack took a step forward in their first non-poor matchup of the year, with Eli Manning completing 86% of his passes and racking up 297 passing yards on only 29 attempts. The one drawback in this spot for the Giants is that they have been focused on short passes so far, and the Saints have been far more beatable deep; but this is a very winnable matchup nonetheless, with game script almost certain to favor the pass — making Beckham and Shepard strong plays in Week 4.
GIANTS RUN OFFENSE
Entering Week 4, the Saints rank first in the NFL in DVOA against the run, and dead last in DVOA against the pass — and they also boast the second highest-scoring offense in the NFL, which should put pressure on the Giants to turn to the air more heavily as this game moves along.
So far this season, Saquon Barkley has seen interesting usage in the pass game, with five targets against Houston and six against Jacksonville, compared to 16 targets against the Cowboys. The biggest difference presented by the matchup against the Cowboys was that they run an extremely zone-heavy scheme that focuses on clogging up the short areas of the field. This effectively took away what the Giants like to do most, and allowed them to open extra looks for Saquon. This week, against one of the man-heaviest coverage units in the league, we’re likelier to see Saquon in the five to eight target range as Eli attacks more heavily with receivers — keeping Saquon’s ceiling intact, but making it a bit tougher for him to hit. Against a pass funnel defense in Houston last week, the Giants still gave Saquon 18 carries, so the work should be there — and as he showed in Week 1, he can score from anywhere on the field. But he’ll likely need to hit one of those big plays in order to really bring the week-winning upside we should be hunting for in his price range.
While I don’t want to “overthink” this spot, I do want to “think” it. And there is at least one major concern for the Saints this week — which is the slow-it-down philosophy Pat Shurmur has brought to this Giants team. After running one of the fastest offenses in the league last year, the Giants currently rank 27th in pace of play, and only four teams are allowing fewer opponent plays per game. There is no reason for us to be concerned about the Saints shutting down the Giants…and while this theoretically contributes to shootout potential, this will also lead to a lot of long, slow Giants drives — and could lead to the Saints running more like 55 to 60 plays than the 64, 66, and 79 they have been able to run thus far. That’s a small ding to this Saints offense, and it will eat into the PPR and half-PPR production of Thomas and Kamara a little bit. Obviously, the overall upside remains, and their red zone roles don’t change. They remain two of the top raw plays on the slate.
Behind these guys, Ginn is a very intriguing piece — in tourneys, of course, but even borderline in cash, as he joins several other guys in the “five to eight target” discussion. Watson is worth a mention, but is probably not a guy I’ll be looking to. Brees joins a small pool of other quarterbacks as clearly-superior plays this weekend.
Another piece of the “five to eight target” discussion is a guy I expect to see at least seven to nine looks in Shepard. He stands out to me at first pass through this slate as one of the stronger price-considered options available. His role is secure, and the Giants should be passing plenty.
I also love Beckham as an appropriately-priced player with week-winning upside. I could also see a tourney shot on the upside that Barkley carries every week; though Shepard and Beckham stand head and shoulders above any other pieces on this offense this week.
FRIDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
Cody Latimer is now out this week for the Giants, in addition to Evan Engram. Latimer — as noted above — is more space-eater on this offense than impact player, but this further shortens the target distribution for the Giants. Shepard, OBJ, and Saquon will be heavily involved.