Defensive matchups can be the difference between hitting it big in a FanDuel GPP and drawing a bad beat in cash contests. What good is a team's No. 1 receiver if he is going to be stranded on Revis Island or his quarterback is going to be under fire the entire game? On the flip side, who are some under-the-radar players likely to draw soft coverage in games with a favorable game script?
When looking for gold, it's best to have an experienced guide. Thanks to defensive guru Aaron Rudnicki, we might be able to unearth those golden nuggets while avoiding the pitfalls of fool's gold.
To that end, let's take a look at some interesting and avoidable options for Week 1 over at FanDuel.
Kenny Stills, WR, MIA @ WAS ($5,400)
Miglio: Reports swirled during the preseason that Rishard Matthews was pushing Kenny Stills for a starting job in Miami. That very well may be the case thanks to his years-long rapport with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Stills being a newcomer meant a learning curve. Just because Matthews was having a great preseason doesn’t mean Stills won’t play plenty, though, and his deep threat represents a nice GPP option at a good price.
Rudnicki: Washington should be a favorable matchup as they struggled in coverage during much of the preseason. Free agent signee Chris Culliver should provide an upgrade at one corner spot, but DeAngelo Hall is coming back from an Achilles injury and unlikely to be in top form yet. Bashaud Breeland will miss the game while serving a suspension, and is likely to be replaced as a nickelback by David Amerson who struggled mightily as a rookie in 2014. The pass rush also figures to be weakened since Ryan Kerrigan missed the entire preseason while recovering from knee surgery in June, and Trent Murphy is a huge downgrade from Brian Orakpo on the other side. Tannehill should have time to throw, and I’d expect Stills to be matched up primarily with Hall on the right side making this a very favorable matchup.
Louis Murphy, WR, TB vs. TEN ($5,000)
Miglio: Everyone is on the Vincent Jackson train for Week 1, especially with Mike Evans sitting out the last few weeks of preseason with an injury. But what about the third receiver in the group? Louis Murphy had his moments in the preseason, and he could be a real sneaky option in Week 1.
Rudnicki: The Titans secondary has some issues to sort out. Perrish Cox was signed in free agency and should provide an upgrade as a playmaker, but he isn’t a shutdown corner. Jason McCourty is out injured, so the other spot is likely to be manned by Blidi Wreh-Wilson who missed most of the preseason with injuries and struggled in coverage last year. Coty Sensabaugh figures to serve as the nickel corner and has gotten some positive buzz in camp but he is not someone to fear. The Titans pass rush should be more potent this year with the addition of Brian Orakpo to Jurrell Casey and Derrick Morgan, but as a unit it’s still probably no better than average. Assuming Murphy gets enough work as the WR3, I don’t think the matchup will hinder him too much.
Rueben Randle, WR, NYG @ DAL ($5,300)
Miglio: The Giants offense looked terrible in the preseason yet again, and Rueben Randle didn’t exactly shine as a starter. But he will be going up against a banged up Cowboys secondary in a typically high-scoring affair that is slated for a 50.5-point over-under. The Giants are big underdogs to boot, meaning they could be passing the ball plenty in the second half.
Rudnicki: The Cowboys lost their best corner to injury when Orlando Scandrick suffered a torn ACL. For a pass defense that was already pretty bad in 2014, they could be in for a rough start. Starting corners Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are both very beatable. Claiborne in particular could be someone offenses go after since he just returned to the field after suffering a knee injury last year. The remaining corners on the depth chart are all unproven with very limited experience. Weakness in the secondary could be masked by a much-improved pass rush, but Dallas will be without Greg Hardy while he serves his 4-game suspension. It’s also unlikely that rookie Randy Gregory will be ready to make a big impact right away. Assuming most of the attention will be spent on Odell Beckham, Randle should find himself with some favorable matchups in this game.
Richard Rodgers, TE, GB vs. CHI ($4,900)
Miglio: Maybe James Jones winds up with a big role right out of the gate, but chances are the newly re-minted Packer will need a little time to get reacquainted with that offense. With Jordy Nelson out for the year and plenty of question marks behind Randall Cobb in the receiver corps, tight end Richard Rodgers might get a few more targets against the Chicago Bears this week.
Rudnicki: The Bears defense was a mess in their third preseason game against the Bengals as they could not make any stops or get off the field. Antrel Rolle is a proven player at one safety spot, but he has looked a step slow at times and appears to still be adjusting to his new team. Rookie Adrian Amos is expected to start at the other safety spot, and even though he’s a converted corner with solid cover skills you have to image Aaron Rodgers will find ways to take advantage of his inexperience.
Leonard Hankerson, WR, ATL @ PHI ($4,500)
Miglio: Julio Jones is the chalk. Roddy White is recovering from surgery. The Eagles are going to score a lot of points, and the Falcons may need to chuck the ball a lot to keep pace. Could Leonard Hankerson be in for a huge day?
Rudnicki: The Eagles swapped corners with the Seahawks this year, but likely got the better player in Byron Maxwell. He may not be as effective in his new surroundings though. Nolan Carroll is an experienced corner with good size, but not someone offenses are going to stay away from. The biggest weak spot in this defense right now could be at nickel corner. Jaylen Watkins was released, rookie Eric Rowe doesn’t seem ready, and E.J. Biggers is more of a special teams player. If Atlanta goes to a 3-WR formation to try and keep up with the Eagles offense, whoever winds up facing the No. 3 corner in this game could be a very inviting target.
Charles Clay, TE, BUF vs. IND ($5,000)
Miglio: The Bills spent a fortune to bring Charles Clay in, and he looked great during the preseason. At just $5,000, Clay seems like a great GPP option and a decent cash game play.
Rudnicki: The Colts could rely on several different players to match up with Clay, but both safeties figure to see quite a bit of him. Dwight Lowery and Mike Adams are both listed at just 5’11”, so Clay’s size advantage at 6’3” should give him a clear edge over either player. Adams is a quality cover safety with tons of experience, but he’s also 34 years old and probably not fast enough to stick with Clay in man coverage. Given the Bills injuries at RB, I would expect Clay to serve as a reliable target for Tyrod Taylor and take advantage of a Colts secondary that is strong on the outside but vulnerable down the middle.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, HOU vs. KC ($7,800)
Miglio: DeAndre Hopkins hasn’t quite reached Megatron status in terms of being uncoverable, and his quarterback is Brian F. Hoyer. The Chiefs had a pretty good defense last season, too. This smells like a trap.
Rudnicki: Chiefs have a deep secondary and should be able to give safety help to whoever winds up covering Hopkins since he’s their main weapon until Arian Foster returns. Brian Hoyer also could be in for a rough outing while going against potent pass rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.
Torrey Smith, WR, SF vs. MIN ($6,100)
Miglio: San Francisco’s new offense was brutal during the preseason, though we should always take that with a grain of salt.
Rudnicki: The Vikings have a lot of pieces in place to be a top defense. They are deep enough at corner that this year’s 1st round pick Trae Waynes is only 4th on the depth chart and can be brought along slowly. Xavier Rhodes was very good in coverage a year ago, and figures to be matched up with Smith most of the time. Throw in one of the best safeties in the league in Harrison Smith and a front seven that can pressure the QB, and I would agree this is probably a good matchup to avoid.
Jimmy Graham, TE, SEA @ STL ($6,900)
Miglio: Outside Rob Gronkowski—who plays on Thursday—Jimmy Graham is by far the most expensive tight end of the week. He should see plenty of targets from quarterback Russell Wilson this season, but how effective will he be against a tough Rams defense in Week 1?
Rudnicki: The Rams secondary is likely the weak spot of their defense, but the front seven is so dominant that it doesn’t tend to hurt them. With a defensive line that can put a ton of pressure on opposing QBs, it wouldn’t be surprising if Seattle wanted to keep Graham in to block more than usual.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, IND @ BUF ($7,800)
Miglio: Buffalo had the third-best pass defense last season, and Rex Ryan figures to improve that unit all around. T.Y. Hilton was dealing with a concussion not too long ago, and that seems a bit pricey for a guy who seems like a better GPP than cash option.
Rudnicki: The Bills plan for CB Stephon Gilmore to shadow the #1 WR they face each week. With rookie Ronald Darby starting on the other side, look for him to get plenty of safety help. That could result in plenty of 1-on-1 matchups between Hilton and Gilmore in this game (assuming the Bills coaches also view Hilton as the bigger threat compared to Andre Johnson). While the coaches hope he can develop into a shutdown corner, Gilmore is not quite at that level yet and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Hilton got the better of him here. That being said, Andrew Luck will likely want to take advantage of Darby whenever possible.
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