News & Analysis

Week 1 fantasy options most helped and hurt by the blitz

By Scott Spratt
Sep 6, 2017

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GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 24: Adam Thielen #19 of the Minnesota Vikings leaps over Quinten Rollins #24 of the Green Bay Packers in the third quarter at Lambeau Field on December 24, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

The first few weeks of the NFL season will tell us a lot about the tendencies and new players that will inform fantasy matchup decisions, but there are a number of more stable team situations that one can already count on for specific trends. This column will focus on team blitz rates and their impact on where quarterbacks throw the ball. Research I did over the offseason showed that some players provide security blankets for their quarterbacks against blitz-heavy teams while other players see fewer targets. Here are the players to target and avoid this week based on their opponents’ blitz tendencies.

Players to target

Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings suddenly have some exciting young skill-position talent with both Dalvin Cook and Laquon Treadwell presumed to be in their base starting lineup. However, it’s the boring members of their passing game who should provide the fantasy lever for their blitz matchups. Kyle Rudolph is one of the few all-around tight ends who is also fantasy-relevant, and facing the blitz-heavy Saints, he will be blocking more than usual. That makes slot receiver Thielen a nice play. He saw the fifth-biggest increase in target share against blitzes among fantasy-relevant pass catchers last season.

James White, RB, New England Patriots

White, Chris Thompson, and Devonta Freeman saw the biggest decreases in target share against blitzes among fantasy-relevant backs last season, and all three of them will face conservative defenses this week. Thompson and Freeman actually should see the biggest boost with their opponents, the Eagles and Bears, projected to have the two lowest blitz rates this season, but Thompson is likely too marginal (except in deeper leagues) and Freeman too obvious to recommend in Week 1 when (almost) everyone plays and almost everyone is healthy. White is a clearer start-or-sit decision, and he should be in your lineups. Andy Reid’s Chiefs have blitzed less than an average team every season since he arrived in 2013, and they were in the bottom five at 22.2 percent last year. Meanwhile, the Chiefs’ quality will make it less likely the Patriots run up the score and rely heavily on their power backs to run clock in CG time.

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