Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Amari Cooper
We are just three weeks away from the end of the regular season, and the NFL is still on pace for a record-breaking campaign with an average of 23.8 points per game per team. The action continues with an 11-game main slate that kicks off on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
In this positional breakdown, I’m looking at four wide receivers at the top of the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
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Model Wide Receivers
- Adam Thielen: $8,600 DraftKings; $8,200 FanDuel
- Amari Cooper: $7,500 DraftKings; $6,600 FanDuel
- T.Y. Hilton: $6,800 DraftKings; $7,900 FanDuel
- Kenny Golladay: $5,400 DraftKings; $6,800 FanDuel
Adam Thielen: Minnesota Vikings (-7.5) vs. Miami Dolphins, 45.5 Over/Under
UPDATE (12/16): Right guard Mike Remmers (back) is questionable but expected to play.
Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard (knee) is doubtful and expected not to play after missing last week and practice all this week. Safety T.J. McDonald (ankle) is questionable but seems likely to play after practicing on a limited basis all week.
On the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, there was some enthusiasm for Thielen as a cash-game play this week, and it’s easy to see why.
After becoming the only NFL player in history to open a season with eight consecutive 100-yard receiving games, Thielen did relatively little in Weeks 9-11, sandwiching the Week 10 bye with 4-22-1 and 7-66-0 performances. But over the past three weeks he’s rebounded, averaging 14.7 FanDuel points per game and putting up an 18-223-2 receiving line.
With a top-three mark of 17.8 FanDuel points per game, Thielen is in fine form. For an undrafted, small-school, average-sized hometown receiver, he’s not bad. Thielen ranks first among all wide receivers with 103 receptions and third with 141 targets, 1,236 yards receiving and 424 yards after the catch.
Thielen has a great matchup against the Dolphins, who are 31st in the league with a 57.9 Pro Football Focus (PFF) coverage grade. On top of that, No. 1 cornerback Xavien Howard (knee) is unlikely to play: He missed last week and has yet to practice this week.
While the Dolphins have used first-round rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick all across the formation, he’s lined up most often as a slot corner, but in Week 14 the Dolphins used Fitzpatrick in shadow coverage on the outside, and it’s likely they could use him in a similar fashion this week against wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
If that’s the case, Thielen would likely run most of his routes in the slot against Bobby McCain and on the outside against Torry McTyer, both of whom are highly exploitable.
- Bobby McCain (2015 fifth-rounder): 54.6 PFF coverage grade, 73.2% catch rate allowed
- Torry McTyer (2017 undrafted free agent): 46.3 PFF coverage grade, 81% catch rate allowed
Thielen should have little problem producing.
As a home favorite, it’s possible that Thielen could see fewer targets in a run-heavy game script, especially since offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was just fired for reportedly not calling enough running plays, but this year at least Thielen has exhibited positive home/road and favorite/underdog splits.
- Home (six games): 17.9 FanDuel points, 83.3% Consistency Rating
- Away (seven games): 17.9 FanDuel points, 57.1% Consistency Rating
- Favorite (seven games): 19.2 FanDuel points, 85.7% Consistency Rating
- Underdog (six games): 16.3 FanDuel points, 50% Consistency Rating
Even if the Vikings run the ball more than they usually do, Thielen should still be able to put up points: He has a +4.50 FanDuel Plus/Minus as a home favorite this year.
For tournaments, use our Lineup Builder to stack Thielen with quarterback Kirk Cousins. Since 2014, No. 1 wide receivers have had a 0.53 correlation with their quarterbacks. The sample is small, but Thielen and Cousins have a 0.71 correlation. As it happens, Thielen and Cousins are in one of our top stacks of the week.
With his elite target volume and strong matchup, Thielen has a position-high ceiling projection on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 wide receiver in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan, Koerner, SportsGeek and Freedman Models.
Amari Cooper: Dallas Cowboys (+3) vs. Indianapolis Colts, 47 O/U
UPDATE (12/16): Right guard Zack Martin (knee) and tight end Geoff Swaim (wrist) are out. Left tackle Tyron Smith (neck) and wide receiver Tavon Austin (groin) are questionable after limited practice sessions all week. Smith seems likely to play. Austin has been out since Week 7.
Colts safety Malik Hooker (hip) and defensive tackle Margus Hunt (knee) are in. Safety Clayton Geathers (knee) is questionable but tentatively expected to play after limited practices on Thursday and Friday.
Since joining the Cowboys in their Week 8 bye, Cooper has helped transform the team’s offense.
- Without Cooper (Weeks 1-7): 20 points per game, 1.86 points per drive, 29.4 pass attempts, 18.3 completions, 1.14 passing touchdowns, 0.57 interceptions, 202.4 passing yards
- With Cooper (Weeks 8-14): 22.7 points per game, 2.16 points per drive, 35.5 pass attempts, 26.2 completions, 1.5 passing touchdowns, 0.5 interceptions, 285.5 passing yards
Before Cooper joined, the Cowboys were 3-4. Now, they are 5-1 and slated to win the NFC East. He hasn’t singlehandedly changed the team, but his presence on the field enables the Cowboys to run a functional, balanced offense.
He’s played only six games with the team, but it’s possible that no one means more to the Cowboys and their success than Cooper: In NFL history, only three wide receivers to play as 21-year-old rookies have had 1,000 yards receiving in each of their first two seasons: Randy Moss, Mike Evans and Cooper.
His 2017 season was derailed by the overall incompetence of head coach Jack Del Rio and OC Todd Downing and a debilitating back injury to quarterback Derek Carr, but since joining the Cowboys, he has an NFL-high 642 yards and six touchdowns receiving on a mere 8.8 targets per game.
Cooper doesn’t have a great matchup: The Colts have held opposing wide receivers to a bottom-six mark of 24.1 FanDuel points per game. But the wide receivers to face the Colts who are most comparable to Cooper (based on size, athleticism, ability and role) have had success.
- A.J. Green (Bengals, Week 1): 16.2 FanDuel points, 6-92-1 receiving on eight targets
- DeAndre Hopkins (Texans, Week 4): 27.9 FanDuel points, 10-169-1 receiving on 12 targets
- Josh Gordon (Patriots, Week 5): 12.0 FanDuel points, 2-50-1 receiving on four targets
- Terrelle Pryor (Jets, Week 6): 14.2 FanDuel points, 5-57-1 receiving on six targets
- Donte Moncrief (Jaguars, Week 10): 17.3 FanDuel points, 3-98-1 receiving on four targets
- DeAndre Hopkins (Texans, Week 14): 11.6 FanDuel points, 4-36-1 receiving on 10 targets
For most of the season, the Colts eschewed shadow coverage, but in Week 13 they had cornerback Quincy Wilson shadow Moncrief, and in Week 14, cornerback Pierre Desir shadowed Hopkins. As outside corners, Wilson and Desir will be the defenders Cooper faces most regardless of whether the Colts use shadow coverage, and he is capable of beating both one-on-one.
Wilson has good size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), but he’s allowed an 81.5% catch rate this year. Desir is the better of the two corners with his 72.0 PFF coverage grade and 58.5% catch rate, but he lacks the speed (4.59-second 40) and agility (4.30-second short shuttle) to keep up with Cooper (4.42-second 40, 3.98-second short shuttle).
On top of that, starting safeties Malik Hooker (hip) and Clayton Geathers (knee) are dealing with lingering injuries. They’re both tentatively expected to play, but they could be a half-step slow in lending support against Cooper.
One potential drawback of rostering Cooper is that the Cowboys have tended to hit the under with quarterback Dak Prescott, especially against non-divisional opponents, on the road and against non-divisional opponents on the road.
Under bettors have done well with Dak under center since 2016 (per Bet Labs).
- Under: 27-18 (60%), +2.92 Margin, 15.6% ROI
- Under Outside of Division: 18-10 (64.3%), +2.16 Margin, 24.2% ROI
- Under on Road: 16-6 (72.7%), +5.39 Margin, 39.7% ROI
- Under Outside of Division on Road: 11-3 (78.6%), +3.86 Margin, 50.6% ROI
Even though the Colts play at a fast situation-neutral pace, and even though the Colts-Cowboys game has the slate’s second-highest over/under, history suggests it could be a low-scoring contest.
Even so, Cooper should be in consideration. He has a position-high ceiling projection on DraftKings, and we’re expecting him to have a top-five ownership rate among all wide receivers.
On Sunday morning, I will probably look to bet the over on Cooper’s yardage prop. With the Cowboys, he has had 75-plus receiving yards in four of six games, yet his yardage prop has never been higher than 74.5.
To find the best bets in the props market, use our Player Props Tool, which is powered by our industry-leading projections. Since Week 1, the props with a bet quality of 10 have gone 214-96-11, good for a 67% win rate. Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
Coming off a slate-best Week 14 performance in which he scored 44.7 FanDuel points — 15.7 more than any other wide receiver — Cooper has a position-high 99% Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 wide receiver in the Raybon Model.
T.Y. Hilton: Indianapolis Colts (-3) vs. Dallas Cowboys, 47 O/U
UPDATE (12/16): Hilton (ankle) is questionable and a game-time decision to play. Right guard Mark Glowinski (ankle) is out after not practicing all week.
Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee (hamstring) is questionable. He hasn’t played since Week 9 but could see action after practicing limitedly all week. Defensive tackle David Irving (ankle) is out. Defensive end Randy Gregory (personal) missed practice on Thursday and Friday with a private matter and is questionable to play.
Hilton (ankle) missed practice every day this week and is officially questionable to play. Although he’s tentatively expected to suit up, he should be considered a game-time decision.
Given the uncertainty surrounding Hilton, it might be hard to roster him, especially since the Cowboys rank fourth with an 87.6 PFF coverage grade. The Cowboys are one of the few teams this year yet to use a cornerback in shadow coverage, instead almost exclusively keeping Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie and Anthony Brown at the right, left and slot corner positions, respectively.
While in the past a healthy percentage of Hilton’s routes have been of the slot variety …
- 2017: 36.8%
- 2016: 57.4%
- 2015: 27.9%
- 2014: 40:2%
- 2013: 44.0%
- 2012: 42.7%
… this year he’s run a career-low 26.6% of his routes out of the slot, so he should see a supermajority of his action against Jones and Awuzie, who have been stout this year in pass defense. The Cowboys are sixth against No. 1 wide receivers in Football Outsiders’ DVOA with a -11.9% mark, and they are second against No. 2 wide receivers (-29.7%). No matter which side of the field Hilton lines up on, he will be facing someone who at worst is a competent defender.
This year, the Cowboys have held opposing wide receivers to a bottom-five mark of 30.0 DraftKings points per game.
But Hilton is a home favorite with quarterback Andrew Luck. While he’s always been his best in that spot, he’s been especially strong as a Luck-benefacted point-per-reception (PPR) home favorite producer since 2015 (per the RotoViz Game Splits App).
- Home favorite with Luck (14 games): 21.2 PPR points, 9.8 targets, 6 receptions, 104.9 yards and 0.79 touchdowns receiving
- All other situations (45 games): 12.5 PPR points, 8.0 targets, 4.3 receptions, 67.8 yards and 0.22 touchdowns receiving
A big-play specialist with deep speed (4.34-second 40 time) and a team-high 98 targets, Hilton has the ability and opportunity to go off in any game, and he’s an under-appreciated touchdown threat, ranking top-10 in the league with nine targets inside the 10-yard line. Because of his uncertain game-day availability, he could have a lower ownership rate than he otherwise would, and without tight end Jack Doyle (kidney, IR), Hilton should have a heightened target floor.
In the five games since the team’s Week 9 bye, Hilton has been a top-five producer with 18.7 DraftKings points per game and a +8.09 Plus/Minus on the strength of 36-633-2 receiving line. Injury concerns aside, he is in fine form.
Hilton is the No. 1 DraftKings wide receiver in the Levitan, Koerner and Raybon Models.
Kenny Golladay: Detroit Lions (+2.5) at Buffalo Bills, 40 O/U
UPDATE (12/16): Right tackle Rick Wagner (concussion) is out, as are wide receiver Bruce Ellington (hamstring) and running back Kerryon Johnson (knee). Left tackle Taylor Decker (shoulder) is questionable but likely to play after practicing on a limited basis all week.
I’m conflicted about Golladay. By the end of the season, he’ll likely have 1,000 yards receiving, and he should enter 2019 as the presumptive No. 1 wide receiver for the Lions. He has a great combination of size (6-foot-4, 218 pounds), speed (4.50-second 40) and agility (7.00-second three-cone).
In each of his two seasons at Northern Illinois, he had 1,100-plus yards from scrimmage and 10-plus touchdowns. I actively want to see him succeed.
But he’s in a bad spot this week. The Bills rank third in pass defense (-11.8% DVOA), and the Lions are on the road, where they’ll miss the climate-controlled confines of Ford Field. In particular, Golladay is likely to see a lot of Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White, whom the team has periodically used in shadow coverage, especially against big-bodied receivers.
Last week, the Cardinals showed that Golladay can be taken out of the game when shadowed by a top-notch corner. In Week 14, Golladay ran 60.0% of his routes against shutdown cornerback Patrick Peterson, who held him to zero targets in his coverage. On the other 40.0% of his routes, Golladay managed a 2-5-0 receiving line on four targets.
White isn’t quite as good as Peterson, but he’s done fine work this year in shadow coverage (per PFF).
- Davante Adams (Packers, Week 4): 76.6% of routes, 4-46-0 receiving on seven targets
- Corey Davis (Titans, Week 5): 55.2% of routes, 0-0-0 receiving on one target
- DeAndre Hopkins (Texans, Week 6): 69.4% of routes, 2-27-1 receiving on three targets
- T.Y. Hilton (Colts, Week 7): 55.0% of routes, 1-8-0 receiving on one target
- Josh Gordon (Patriots, Week 8): 81.8% of routes, 2-15-0 receiving on three targets
- Robby Anderson (Jets, Week 14): 90.9% of routes, 3-51-1 receiving on four targets
For his career, White has allowed a catch rate of just 50%.
In Weeks 1-8, the Lions seemed to be a team on the rise with an exciting group of skill-position players in Golladay, wide receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones and rookie running back Kerryon Johnson.
Golladay is the last man standing.
In Week 9, the Lions traded Tate to the Eagles. Jones (knee, IR) hasn’t played since Week 10, and Johnson (knee, out) hasn’t played since Week 11. Even wide receiver Bruce Ellington (hamstring), who emerged over the past month in Jones’ absence, will miss this game.
Golladay’s splits based on the presence and absence of these players might be instructive.
- With Tate, Jones & Johnson (Weeks 1-8): 14.1 DraftKings points, +2.17 Plus/Minus, 6.3 targets, 4.3 receptions, 68.1 yards, 0.43 touchdowns
- Without Tate, with Jones & Johnson (Weeks 9-10): 14.1 DraftKings points, +3.23 Plus/Minus, 8.5 targets, 4.5 receptions, 62 yards, 0.5 touchdowns
- Without Tate & Jones, with Johnson (Week 11): 28.3 DraftKings points, +16.1 Plus/Minus, 15 targets, eight receptions, 113 yards, one touchdown
- Without Tate, Jones & Johnson (Weeks 12-14): 8.2 DraftKings points, -5.97 Plus/Minus, 6.7 targets, 3.3 receptions, 48.3 yards, zero touchdowns
The samples are small and thus potentially unrepresentative because of randomness and matchups, but the splits make sense.
With two strong receivers around him and the support of an improved ground game, Golladay was efficient with his opportunities in the first half of the season. Without Tate, Golladay saw more targets, but he also saw more defensive attention, so his production stayed the same. In Week 11, without Jones but with Johnson, Golladay enjoyed a massive increase in targets, and while he was the secondary’s primary focus, the defense couldn’t sell out to stop him because the running game was intact.
But since Week 12, with an inefficient LeGarrette Blount-based ground game, Golladay has been the team’s lone playmaking threat, and he’s fallen victim to the inability of his own offense and the attention of opposing defenses. He’s had three tough matchups in that span against the Bears (cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller), Rams (Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters) and Cardinals (Peterson in shadow coverage) — so it’s possible to explain away his recent shortfall in production — but it’s not as if his matchup this week against White is much easier.
Golladay always has the ability to score a long touchdown, and over the past three weeks, he has a dominant 0.40 market share of air yards, so while he’s still very much the alpha in an offense bereft of other options, he’s a GPP-only play. Fortunately, we’re projecting him for less than 5% ownership.
Babytron is the No. 1 DraftKings wide receiver in the Bales and Freedman Models.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 15 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.