Fantasy Football: A Stat to Know About Each NFC Team Entering the 2016 Season
We're approaching peak fantasy football draft season, which means there's an even higher demand for usable, actionable information that can be used to gain an edge on leaguemates. And beer. There's also a higher demand for beer.
With that being known, it's important not to look just at surface-level numbers to help tell the story of what could unfold in 2016. Sometimes, you need to dig deeper. Or, in this case, sometimes I need to dig deeper for you.
So, today, let's take a look at one vital fantasy football-related statistic -- a statistic that may not be so obvious -- to know about each team in the NFC.
Analysis: We saw last year how offenses going through a slot receiver can be ineffective, and gaining Nelson back should do big things for Cobb's fantasy outlook. During this four-year stretch, Cobb has scored nearly 0.7 touchdowns, hauled in about 5.5 catches, and has gone for over 71 yards per game with Nelson. Without Nelson, those numbers are 0.4, 5.0, and 57. And he -- Cobb -- is doing this with fewer targets per game in the split.
Analysis: Bennett averaged 7.27 targets per game last year, which is right in line with the workload Miller saw when The Black Unicorn was out. A healthy Kevin White will more than likely lower Miller's target ceiling, but it wouldn't be shocking to see the double-digit round tight end have a fairly significant role in the offense this year. That's especially true when you consider Miller's Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target ranked second among tight ends with 40 to 100 targets last season, behind only Tyler Eifert. Bennett's ranked 22nd.
Detroit Lions: Only five players have a better touchdowns per target rate in the red zone over the last three years than Marvin Jones.
Analysis: For reference, those players are Tyler Eifert, Rob Gronkowski, Dez Bryant, Julius Thomas, and Allen Robinson. Not bad company to be part of. While the sample size may be small, Jones has an opportunity for a big role in the Lions' red zone offense this year, especially considering Golden Tate scored four of his six touchdowns last year from two yards out or fewer on designed plays. (Click here to see why Marvin Jones is undervalued in fantasy football this year.)
Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater finished as a top-12 fantasy quarterback just three times last year.
Analysis: The number above excludes the fantasy irrelevant Week 17, but it's hard to imagine a scenario where Bridgewater becomes a relevant fantasy quarterback in standard leagues. For reference, Nick Foles, in 11 games, had 2 usable, top-12 weeks, while Brian Hoyer, also in 11 contests, had 4.
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan's 3.4% touchdown rate in 2015 was the lowest of his entire career.
Analysis: Ryan has a career 4.5% touchdown rate -- touchdowns per attempt -- which is about league average over the last five years. Based on how players with similar touchdown rates perform the following year, we should expect Ryan to get closer to 4.24% in 2016, which could be the difference of over 5 touchdowns.
Carolina Panthers: Since 2011, 15 teams have scored 50 or more total touchdowns in a given season. Of the 12 teams with next-season data, the average drop in touchdowns scored the following year has been 13.25.
Analysis: The Panthers scored 54 touchdowns last year, which was the seventh-highest total we've seen since 2011. Only one team over this time span -- New England from 2011 to 2012 -- has increased their touchdown total from one year to the next after posting 50 or more. Carolina, a team that ranked seventh in per-play efficiency per NEP, will have a hard time repeating what they did last year offensively, even with a healthy Kelvin Benjamin.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans scored 3 touchdowns last year, but based on Net Expected Points, he should have scored 7.63.
Analysis: Evans' Reception NEP was 102.21 last year, which equates to roughly 7.63 touchdowns. Of all wideouts, that difference -- 4.63 touchdowns -- was the largest, meaning he's the most likely to see positive regression coming this season.
New Orleans Saints: Since Drew Brees became a Saint in 2006, New Orleans has dropped back to pass 31 more times than second-ranked Detroit and 378 more times than third-ranked Indianapolis.
Analysis: There's fear that the Saints' offense can't feed the number of relevant fantasy assets they'll have in the passing game, but consider this: New Orleans has averaged 663 drop backs (attempts plus sacks) per season with Brees. That average is a fringe top-five one in the NFL each season.
Dallas Cowboys: Jason Witten has at least 64 receptions in every season since 2003.
Analysis: Witten was a rookie in 2003, meaning he's almost always been a 64-plus reception tight end. And with Tony Romo under center over the last three seasons -- we don't want to skew the data to include Witten's prime -- Witten has averaged 0.44 touchdowns per game. Without him? 0.07.
Analysis: We've written about this before, but DeSean Jackson is one of the most underrated players when it comes to real football. And, generally speaking, his separation and deep ball skills help quarterbacks on the fantasy gridiron. While folks will talk about Cousins' home-road splits, a more important aspect may be Jackson's health. It makes Cousins one of the more intriguing late-round quarterback options.
Philadelphia Eagles: Over the last three seasons, the Eagles ran 342 more offensive plays than the Chiefs.
Analysis: Chip Kelly is out in Philly, and so is his fast-paced offense. While there, the Eagles ranked 13th, 1st, and 3rd in offensive plays run. The Chiefs -- a team that had now Eagles head coach Doug Pederson as offensive coordinator during this time -- ranked 14th, 30th, and 31st in total plays run. Clearly a good defense and overall game script will impact this, but it's important to know that Philadelphia players are inherently going to see less volume than they've seen over the last three years. And that matters for fantasy football.
New York Giants: Of all running backs with 100 or more carries last year, Rashad Jennings ranked first in Success Rate.
Analysis: Success Rate measures the percentage of positive Net Expected Point gains made by a player, meaning Jennings was making plus plays at a higher rate than any other relevant back in football. That includes David Johnson, who ranked second. The advanced metrics love Jennings, and given his mid- to late-round average draft position, you probably should, too.
Arizona Cardinals: John Brown scored 9 or more PPR points in all but one game last year.
Analysis: Brown's a much more consistent fantasy asset than folks realize given his size and speed. But here's a bonus for you: Michael Floyd was actually the best Arizona Cardinals' wide receiver from Week 6 on last year, both in terms of total points scored (PPR) and average points per game. If you recall, Floyd was slow to start last year due to a hand injury -- it wasn't until the Week 6 game against Pittsburgh where he seemed right, playing 75% of the team's snaps. He'd be the guy to target amongst the group this year for ceiling, while Brown could provide a better-than-expected floor.
San Francisco 49ers: Torrey Smith saw more than five targets in just two games last year.
Analysis: If you take a look at the Eagles' stat above, you'll see what Chip Kelly can do to the volume of an offense. With Anquan Boldin gone, no true experienced threat to take away looks, and a team that will surely be in negative game script situations often, there's a chance Torrey Smith ends up seeing a career high in targets -- he hit just 62 last year, but saw 137 three seasons ago in Baltimore.
Los Angeles Rams: As a rookie last year, Todd Gurley saw more rushing attempts in losses than in wins.
Analysis: As much as I wanted to just thank Jeff Fisher for this and move on, let's dig in. The downside for Gurley is that he may not see action in negative game scripts given he wasn't a big receiving threat last year. But for a Rams team that went 7-9 in 2015, Gurley still saw more second-half carries (116) than first-half ones (112), and he had just three fewer touches in the fourth quarter (61) compared to the first (64). The Rams will run the ball regardless of game script, though there's the chance that they're worse than 7-9 this season, which could certainly hurt Gurley if he doesn't become the passing-down back.
Seattle Seahawks: Thomas Rawls' 5.65 yards per carry last year was the second-highest average the NFL has ever seen from a rookie running back with 100 or more carries.
Analysis: Rawls' rookie yards per tote rate was only worse than Maurice Jones-Drew's, who saw a 5.67 yards per carry average in 2006. And it's not as if we're looking at a sample size of 30 or 40 running backs -- there are literally hundreds that fit this criteria. Rawls was also highly efficient from a Rushing NEP per rush perspective, but his Success Rate was lower than expected. This indicates that Rawls buoyed his averages a bit with big plays, which means regression should hit in Year 2. That is, of course, if he can stay healthy and on the field within what now looks like a crowded backfield.