This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.
Welcome back to Week 2 of Exploiting the Matchups, where we'll start with an annual reminder that it's way too soon to be looking at Defense vs. Position stats. Week 1 teaches us a lot about roles and how coaches intend to use players this year, but the results (in terms of both fantasy points and wins/losses) tend to mean less.
While most of the stuff below focuses on opponent matchups, I'll also blend in a lot of my work from earlier this week in Backfield Breakdown and Target Breakdown, the articles where I look at Week 1 usage and roles for every RB, WR and TE in the league.
Unless otherwise noted, references to 'fantasy points' are based on PPR scoring with 25/10 yards per point and 4/6 points for TDs. Start % comes from Yahoo, as of Wednesday night / Thursday morning.
Derek Carr (vs. ARI) — 32% started
The O-line problems are for real, but they'll be easier to hide in a home game against the Cardinals, after Carr tossed three picks to offset 8.0 YPA in a road loss to the Chargers last week. The Arizona defense had a much worse afternoon against Patrick Mahomes, and DE J.J. Watt (calf) appears in danger of missing a second straight game after missing another practice Wednesday. I was initially surprised to see Vegas with the fourth-best implied total (28.5) of Week 2, but it makes sense given Arizona's shortcomings on defense and fast pace of play on offense.
Running Backs 👍
Antonio Gibson (at DET) — 75% started
The Commanders have been forced to live with Gibson's flaws and in the process may have done a better job identifying his strengths. His receiving-focused role from the preseason carried over to Week 1 with seven catches for 72 yards, in addition to being the team's top rusher (14 carries for 38 yards) with Brian Robinson on the NFI list. Robinson might eventually be the top guy for the ground game, but Gibson is the de facto lead for now, coming off 64 percent snap share and 21 touches in the opener. He gets another favorable matchup after beating up on the Jags, facing a Lions defense that gave up 216 rushing yards and four rushing TDs to the Eagles last week.
Darrell Henderson (vs. ATL) — 53% started
Henderson is on a lot of fantasy teams with two or three quality running backs drafted before him; he should still be more than 53 percent started on Yahoo after playing 82 percent of snaps Week 1. I have him as a mid-to-high-end RB2, even with questions about Matthew Stafford's elbow and LA's offensive line post-Andrew Whitworth. The Rams should bounce back this week in a home matchup against the Falcons, who aren't likely to repeat the Week 1 shutdown of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram (both of whom got banged up during the game).
Wide Receivers 👍
Amon-Ra St. Brown (vs. WAS) — 80% started
At 6-foot-3, Benjamin St-Juste is an atypical slot corner, but that's where the Commanders are playing him after he struggled on the perimeter last season. He took 56 of his 61 snaps in the slot last week, per PFF, and while he was charged with only 28 yards into his coverage, his 48.7 grade looks a lot like his work from last year (53.6). Maybe the Commanders are on to something and St-Juste will turn a corner now that he's in the slot, but mostly it just seems they don't have anyone to play there now that they want Kendall Fuller staying on the perimeter. It sets up nicely for St. Brown, who had 12 targets and a TD last week and should improve upon the 5.3 YPT now that he's facing St-Juste instead of the stellar Avonte Maddox (Philly's slot corner). St. Brown played 42 of his 61 snaps in the slot last week, with 88 percent snap share (27th among WRs), 92 percent route share (25th) and 32 percent target share (8th).
Hunter Renfrow (vs. ARI) — 37% started
The Cardinals used a bunch of different DBs in the slot last week against K.C., including 2020 UDFA Jace Whittaker (called up from the practice squad) and veteran safety Jalen Thompson (who missed Wednesday's practice with a toe injury). Top cornerback Byron Murphy, on the other hand, took 61 of his 70 snaps on the perimeter, per PFF. Murphy isn't good enough to be a problem for Davante Adams, but Renfrow arguably has the even better matchup this week. Really, it's a nice spot for all the Raiders, given Arizona's combination of injury issues and an ugly Week 1 performance.
Tight Ends 👍
Pat Freiermuth (vs. NE) — 42% started
This one admittedly is less about matchup and more about Freirmuth's Week 1 usage. He ranked sixth among TEs in snap share (89 percent), 11th in route share (74 percent) and first in target share (27 percent), catching five of 10 passes for 75 yards. He even caught a pass more than 20 yards downfield for the first time in his career, after seeing just one target that deep all of last season. Freiermuth might actually put up some yardage in his second season, rather than strictly relying on the 5/40/1 type receiving lines we saw last year.
Tom Brady (at NO) — 73% started
The Saints have handed Brady four of his nine regular-season losses as a Buc, with the lone win over New Orleans being a playoff game in which he threw for 199 yards on 33 attempts. The defenses in this game have just as much talent as the offenses, especially after Tampa lost WR Chris Godwin (hamstring) and LT Donovan Smith (elbow) to injuries in Week 1. Smith might be able to play this week, but he started the week absent from practice, as did Godwin, Julio Jones (knee) and Russell Gage (hamstring).
Running Backs 👎
David Montgomery (at GB) — 56% started
The first issue here is a Green Bay defense that looks strong on paper and should bounce back from a mediocre Week 1 in a favorable matchup at home (Chicago's implied total of 16.0 is worst of Week 2). The second issue is that Khalil Herbert stole nine carries (including a three-yard TD) last week, after never seeing more than four carries in a game when Montgomery was healthy last year. Maybe it's a one-week blip, or maybe the new coaching staff wants the backup to have a larger role. I'd guess the latter, given that Herbert was just as effective as Montgomery last year and is under contract for two more years after this. For now, Monty is more RB2/3 borderline than solid RB2.
Rashaad Penny (at SF) — 36% started
While we can't put too much stock in Pete Carroll saying Kenneth Walker (knee) will return this week, Penny is unlikely to thrive even if his rookie teammate misses another game. The Niners still have an argument for the best front seven in the NFL, and the Seahawks appear to again have a subpar offensive line. Penny is a talented rusher, but he may nonetheless have a lot of games like Week 1 (67 scoreless yards).
Wide Receivers 👎
Rashod Bateman (vs. MIA) — 50% started
Bateman can still be started as a WR3 where needed, but this is a good week to bench him if you have another option in the same tier, as he's likely to see shadow coverage from Xavien Howard. The Dolphins put their top corner on DeVante Parker for nearly all of the Week 1 win over the Patriots, and Bateman is more obviously Baltimore's No. 1 than Parker is New England's. Howard finished top 25 in PFF's cornerback grades three of the past four seasons, and he held Parker to nine yards last week.
Adam Thielen (at PHI) — 51% started
The Eagles have three good cornerbacks in Darius Slay, James Bradberry and Avonte Maddox, backed by a solid safety duo of Marcus Epps and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Their front seven appears somewhat less impressive, especially after giving up 181 rushing yards to the Lions last week. Thielen isn't washed up and will still have some big weeks this year, but Monday night is more likely to be a repeat of Week 1 with a handful or so of targets while Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson hog the ball.
Tight Ends 👎
Dawson Knox (vs. TEN) — 65% started
Knox's status as a three-down TE in an elite offense all but ensures him of a handful of touchdowns if he stays healthy, and likely more than that. In terms of yardage/consistency... he's still not there in Year 4, struggling to get open and draw targets (two last week) in an offense where Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis have no problem doing just that. The matchup with Tennessee should favor Diggs, Davis and the slot receivers again, while Knox likely will run more of his routes against the Titans' excellent safeties, Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker. The rest of the Tennessee defense is less impressive, to say the least, essentially relying on DL Jeffery Simmons to pick up slack for an otherwise lackluster front seven (it could be a good week for Devin Singletary).
For Shallow Leagues (40-66 percent rostered)
QB Matt Ryan (vs. JAX)
RB Jamaal Williams (vs. WAS)
WR Curtis Samuel (at DET)
WR Tyler Boyd (at DAL)
TE Albert Okwuegbunam (vs. HOU)
K Dustin Hopkins (at KC)
D/ST Bengals (at DAL)
For Medium-depth Leagues (16-39 percent rostered)
QB Jared Goff (vs. WAS)
RB Rex Burkhead (at DEN)
RB J.D. McKissic (at DET)
WR DeVante Parker (at PIT)
WR Robbie Anderson (at NYG)
WR Nico Collins (at DEN)
TE Evan Engram (vs. IND)
K Jake Elliott (vs. MIN)
D/ST Giants (vs. CAR)
For Deep Leagues (0-15 percent rostered)
QB Marcus Mariota (at LAR)
RB Eno Benjamin (at LV)
RB Zack Moss (vs. TEN)
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones (vs. NYJ)
WR Zay Jones (vs. IND)
WR Parris Campbell (at JAX)
WR Sterling Shepard (vs. CAR)
TE Hayden Hurst (at DAL)
K Matt Ammendola (vs. LAC)
D/ST Panthers (at NYG)