Alvin Kamara Should Be an Active Receiver in Week 3, and the Falcons Want It That Way
- The Atlanta Falcons give up a ton of production to opposing running backs, but it's by design: Since the start of 2017, they have allowed the sixth-fewest pass plays of 20 yards or more.
- Alvin Kamara should be the beneficiary of the Falcons' defensive scheme and has a massive DFS ceiling in Week 3.
- If the Falcons are able to continue to limit big plays, betting the under on the 53.5 Vegas total could be a wise move.
I’ll be leveraging my experience as a fantasy analyst with a statistics background and a high school football coach to identify aspects of one matchup every week that you can take advantage of while setting your fantasy football lineups and/or placing bets on the upcoming slate.
This week, we’re focusing on the NFC South showdown in Atlanta.
A Running Back’s Dream
Whether you are researching the upcoming contest between the Saints and Falcons from a betting or fantasy perspective, one of the first things that likely stands out is just how much production Atlanta allows to running backs in the passing game.
Since the start of the 2017 season, no team has allowed more targets or receptions from running backs than the Falcons. They are surrendering an average of 9.1 targets, 7.1 receptions and 52.1 yards per game to the position.
Alvin Kamara is one of the best running backs in football right now, and he has made his money early on as a receiver. In the same time frame mentioned above, Kamara is first or second in every major receiving category at his position: targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns.
This appears to be a matchup made in heaven for Kamara and the Saints.
A Beautiful Design
While this seems to be a flaw in the Falcons defense at first glance, it is actually part of a fantastically designed Cover 3 alignment. In 2017, no team ran Cover 3 more than Atlanta, which utilized the coverage on a whopping 46.4% of pass plays, according to Pro Football Focus.
I talked a little bit about Cover 3 in my Week 1 article, but here is a great visual from PFF to explain the coverage.
One of the most important parts of any coverage is not letting receivers get behind the defense. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s easier to accomplish in zone, where defenders can start out more deeply and keep their shoulders square to the line of scrimmage in order to see the field.
The Falcons are incredibly well-coached in this technique and rarely get beat for long plays. Since the start of 2017, they have allowed the sixth-fewest pass plays of 20 yards or more.
This is especially valuable against the Saints, who have by far the most pass plays of 20 yards or more over that time frame with 97.
Because the Falcons do a great job of staying on top of routes, they naturally funnel a lot of production to running backs, who typically run the lowest depth of target routes. This is by design, and Atlanta has done a great job of limiting the efficiency of these plays. Their linebackers ranked fourth-best in yards allowed per coverage snap in 2017, according to PFF.
This occasionally results in some stat lines such as the one Christian McCaffrey just put up — 14 receptions for 102 yards — but it also has the Falcons sporting one of the best yards per attempt against in the league.
Even though it ranked just 20th in defensive pass DVOA in 2017, Atlanta has the seventh-best YPA against since the start of 2017 at 5.75. They league average is 6.18. The Falcons were eighth in points allowed in 2017.
Buy Kamara, Sell the Game
Because of how the Falcons defense is designed, it is likely that Kamara will see plenty of receptions on Sunday. This gives him loads of upside for daily fantasy, where he is the highest-priced running back on DraftKings and second-highest on FanDuel. He is our highest-ranked PPR running back for Week 3.
Overall scoring in this game, however, is a different story. The Falcons opened as three-point favorites in a game with a 53.5 over/under. Neither game between these two teams last year even got to 40. The Falcons’ defensive approach is a big reason why, limiting those big plays that give the Saints such high point totals.
This appears to be a great total to go under on early in the week, before sharp money bets it down too far.