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Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown: Los Angeles Chargers vs. Carolina Panthers | Week 3

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The Chargers are starting their rookie quarterback for the second straight week after he nearly stole a win from the world champs. Can he get his first victory against the winless and Christian McCaffrey-less Panthers? For the 2020 NFL season, Matt Savoca will be providing his weekly NFL Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown column, going through every single game and offensive and defensive matchup, every week of the season. For your viewing convenience, we have broken up the matchups breakdown into several single columns, each one covering a single game. You can find links to every game right here. We have 13 games on tap for Week 3 NFL DFS and NFL Fantasy Football, so let’s dive in. The entire matchups article will be available in podcast form, every Friday afternoon on the Awesemo Podcast Network. Let’s get into Chargers – Panthers for your NFL DFS lineups.

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Los Angeles Chargers (25.5) at Carolina Panthers (18.5) – Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

Chargers Passing Game

In what has to be one of the most bizarre scenarios to ever lead to anyone’s first NFL start, 2020 first-round pick Justin Herbert performed exceptionally after finding out that complications related to a pain injection (from a previously undisclosed injury, no less) would force Tyrod Taylor to sit for week 2. Taylor still hasn’t been cleared to play, so that means it’s another week of Herbert, but this time, he’ll get a whole week to prep for the 0-2 Panthers.

As mentioned in the weekly data deep dive on Awesemo.com, the Chargers are the least aggressive team on early downs in the entire NFL and are 26th in overall pass plays per game. But Herbert continually took shots downfield against a talented Kansas City secondary, connecting on a third of them. His air yards per attempt was the seventh highest among quarterbacks in week 2. He also showed poise under pressure, completing two thirds of his pressured passes Sunday, and added two red zone carries (getting into the end zone once). The goal line rushing upside was absolutely part of what got him drafted in the top 10 this season, and it was extremely encouraging to see the 6-foot-6, 236-pound Herbert get to the edge and absorb a blow on his touchdown scamper. But there’s still room for improvement, as he threw a terrible interception, throwing across his body into double coverage with a free first down scramble available right in front of him. As stated in the weekly matchups show, he wouldn’t be the first rookie to make a mistake trying to do too much. It would also be encouraging to see his 67% clean pocket completion percentage rise this week; that number ranks 29th among all quarterbacks in 2020.

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This week’s matchup against Carolina looks like it could be a lot easier for the rookie, as PFF grades the Chargers as having the third-highest net passing advantage on the slate and the top net overall advantage (a singular comparing all PFF run blocking, pass blocking, route running, and offensive grades vs. their opponent’s comparable defensive grades) of the entire weekend. Even as the Chargers recalibrate after the loss of center Mike Iupati, the line should not have too much trouble creating holes for their two talented backs or keeping Herbert upright.

Herbert also changed the distribution of targets rather drastically. Keenan Allen commanded 10 targets, posting  an impressive 3.2 yards per route run on seven catches. In terms of true weighted opportunity share, he’s re-entrenched himself as the primary wide receiver and is top 15 among all receivers. After a week 1 that saw him lead the team in opportunity with Taylor under center (four catches on nine targets for 69 yards, 88th in yards per route run), Mike Williams had a quiet day, only catching two balls from Herbert in week 2. Williams and Hunter Henry now have almost identical true weighted opportunity metrics through two games at 23%. That mark is much more impressive for the tight end Henry, currently fourth among tight ends in opportunity share. There’s not much to dislike about Henry’s numbers thus far, ranking top 10 among tight ends in every conceivable volume metric except for red zone targets. The touchdowns are the only aspect of his game that’s lacking right now. Even at $6,000 on DraftKings (fifth among tight ends), he should absolutely be considered this weekend by fantasy gamers.

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Chargers Running Game

Austin Ekeler came alive in week 2, in part due to his work in the receiving game. His 16 rushes (down from 19 a week prior) were boosted by four receptions, which he turned into 148 total yards. Without a touchdown and playing on less than 56% of snaps, Ekeler still scored the 18th-most fantasy points at his position. He’s still avoiding tackles at an elite level, with an evaded tackles per touch rate that’s top five among all running backs.

Joshua Kelley is less involved (38% of snaps, but 48% of team opportunities) but highly effective on this run-oriented offense. He added an additional two receptions on three targets on his way to a top-25 finish of his own. Kelley’s four red zone touches place him 12th at the position, and he ranks top 30 in both breakaway runs and evaded tackles. Justin Jackson, who missed the first two weeks of this season, is practicing, and may also get mixed in as a change-of-pace back.

Panthers Passing Game

Teddy Bridgewater faces the unenviable tasks of trying to lead an NFL offense without its top playmaker in Christian McCaffrey on a roster that has struggled in pass protection (19th in protection rate). The Panthers are aiming to play an above-average tempo (13th in pace of play) offense that focuses on successful passes on early downs (No. 1 in true neutral early-down completion rate), and now they’ll have to do so without their leader in short-area targets. This is exactly what we want from an offense for fantasy football. It’s hard to say if Mike Davis’ eight receptions on eight targets were due to game script (the Panthers were down huge late against the Bucs) or because of the intended style of play. Regardless of the number of carries he receives, Davis will likely fill most of McCaffrey’s 12% (seventh overall) true weighted opportunity share in the passing game, making him fantasy relevant simply for his receiving work.


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The Panthers receivers are intriguing for fantasy football. D.J. Moore is likely near his peak of opportunity, as his 31% true weighted opportunity share ranks third among all wide receivers. Moore is top five in air yards, targets, completed air yards and top 15 in total receptions. He’ll see some of Casey Hayward, who has struggled mightily in 2020 according to PFF Grades (95th ranked coverage grade), as well as Chris Harris (though Harris still plays primarily in the slot, 87%), but it’s not enough to keep away from the matchup, especially given the immense expected volume. Awesemo.com’s projections are right in line with WR16 salary on DraftKings.

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Robby Anderson is also in the top 20 of receivers in volume and has been highly efficient on his touches. His 3.07 yards per route run is third among all wide receivers, and his three red zone targets rank fifth. Moreover, he’s being highly respected at the line of scrimmage, being offered nearly 5.5 yards of cushion per route run by cornerbacks (10th most in the NFL), and yet he continues to create separation at the point of target, earning an average of 3.67 yards of separation at target (third best). Anderson looks like one of the steals of free agency.

Curtis Samuel has only 13% of the team’s weighted opportunity, but he’s the only other relevant name in the passing game. He’ll be lined up against Harris the most, so breaking free may be tough, but the former hybrid player should have some built-in usage in the running game as well. As the 55th-highest-priced wide receiver, Samuel presents an intriguing upside relative to his expected usage. Awesemo’s projections are bullish on him this weekend.

Panthers Running Game

Mike Davis will be first in line to take the bulk of the snaps at running back. While it seems evident that he’ll have a receiving game role, it should be noted that Davis did not receive a single carry when coming on in relief of McCaffrey. While the most likely explanation is that the Panthers, in hurry-up mode, had no use for running, the possibility also exists that this backfield is much more of timeshare than expected. Trenton Cannon would stand to gain in this scenario, though it’s hard to project that after seeing Davis’ usage a week ago. The Panthers have the fifth-highest run blocking advantage on the slate, so it’s very possible the Carolina offensive line will be able to create enough lanes for Davis so he can succeed as a rusher as well. Even as the 22nd-highest-priced back on the slate, and with high ownership, Davis must be in all fantasy football types and DFS contests.

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A middling athlete who was offered his first sports analytics position at age 14, I've been working on NFL and fantasy football data science since 2017. With a particular passion for data visualization and dashboard building, I love to make data accessible by using graphs and charts to communicate ideas that are difficult to explain with words alone. You can contact me by e-mailing [email protected]

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