NFL Week 6 Picks: Expert Late Slate Predictions for Panthers vs Rams
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images. Pictured: Tyler Higbee.
NFL Odds & Picks
Higbee has gone over this number in three of five games and is averaging 58 receiving yards per game, but there are a handful of factors that make this a good time to sell high:
1) The Rams project for their most positive game script of the season. They have the second worst average point differential (-7.2) and have spent just 31.6% of their time of possession with a lead.
However, that should change as they are 10.5-point favorites against the Panthers at home. This should lead to a reduction in pass attempts for Matthew Stafford, and, in turn, a decrease in targets for Higbee.
The Rams’ pass rate drops from 75.5% when tied or trailing to 59.4% when leading, and Higbee’s target share drops from 26.4% when tied or trailing to 22.9% with a lead.
2) His average depth of target (aDOT) is insanely low.
Higbee’s aDOT this season is a paltry 3.8. Not surprisingly, he’s averaging just 8.8 yards per reception. His aDOT has been higher than 3.8 only once in five games, which puts into context just how little of a margin for error he has in terms of going over.
On average, he’d need seven catches to clear 56.5 yards; six receptions would net just 52.8 yards. (His over/under for receptions is 5.5, juiced to the over.)
3) Higbee is listed as questionable with an ankle injury. He missed practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday and Friday. The last time he played through a questionable tag was in last year’s NFC Championship Game, and he lasted just 14 snaps.
In 2020, he played through a questionable tag twice and his 43% average route participation rate in those games was significantly lower than his 55% rate in games in which he was not listed on the injury report. It was the same story in 2019: He played through a questionable tag once, and his 21% route participation rate was only three-quarters of his season-to-date average of 28%.
4) His pass-blocking rate is trending up. With the Rams offensive line continuing to struggle to protect Stafford, head coach Sean McVay deployed Higbee as a pass blocker on a season-high 19.1% of pass plays last week.
Per data from PFF, left tackle Joseph Noteboom has allowed a league-high 23 pressures while right tackle Rob Havenstein is not far behind with 16 (tied for sixth), so Higbee's usage last week could be the start of a trend.
5) Carolina represents a tough matchup. Despite facing three tight ends who currently rank inside the top 15 in receiving yards per game (David Njoku, 4th; Zach Ertz, 8th; George Kittle, 15th), the Panthers haven’t allowed more than 47 yards to one this season.
They’ve done this despite playing the eighth-most zone coverage, which tight ends tend to be more productive against than man. Interim coach Steve Wilks was the defensive passing game coordinator, so not much should change here despite the firing of defensive coordinator Phil Snow.
Baker Mayfield threw to tight ends on 19% of his targeted throws this season. P.J. Walker has looked to tight ends on just 7.9% of the 137 targeted throws in his career.
What’s more, Walker has targeted Thomas four times in his career — none were completed. Walker had two more completions to Giovanni Ricci on one drive last week than he’s had with Thomas in two full games, plus parts of eight others.
Not to mention the Rams represent literally the toughest matchup in the league for tight ends from a catches and yards perspective. Raheem Morris’ defense is allowing 2.4 receptions and 19.4 yards per game to the position, both of which are the lowest marks in the league.
To top things off, Thomas is losing snaps. After running a route on 49% of the team’s dropbacks from Weeks 1-3, he’s done so just 18% of the time over the past two weeks. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo survived the Matt Rhule purge, and I can’t imagine interim head coach Steve Wilks going to McAdoo and saying, “You know what we need to do? Design more route concepts to free up Ian Thomas.”
Thomas has been passed up on the receiving depth chart by not only Tommy Tremble (55% route participation the last two weeks), but also Ricci (27%). Who’s next? Stephen Sullivan? Colin Thompson? Josh Babicz?
Although Thomas is averaging just 8.0 routes per game over the last two, I’m still projecting him for 10 routes. Here’s how my projected probabilities break down for his receptions:
- 0 receptions: 29%
- 1 reception: 38%
- 2+ receptions: 33%
The “true” odds for his reception prop should be -203, so I’d bet it up to -200. Thomas’ median reception goes for six yards, so there is value on his yardage prop down to 6.5.