Fantasy Football: A Stat to Know About Each AFC 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 we 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 AFC.
Analysis: When Bryant came back, Heyward-Bey's target market share dropped to 5.46%. Now, don't get me wrong, there's a little noise here: the Steelers didn't always have Big Ben under center during this stretch, and the sample size is small. But what this sort of tells us is that there's a clear role in the offense for a Martavis-like field-stretcher. It could end up being DHB if Sammie Coates doesn't get it together, but Coates certainly has the most upside.
Cincinnati Bengals: Tyler Eifert is the only player in NFL history to score 13 touchdowns on fewer than 80 targets in a single season.
Analysis: Look, Tyler Eifert is the real deal. But you can't go into this fantasy football season thinking what he did last year is sustainable. Eifert scored a touchdown on every 5.69 targets. Dez Bryant, known for his ability to score touchdowns with limited volume, hasn't sniffed that kind of rate -- his 8.5 targets per touchdown during his 16-score season in 2014 is his career best.
Analysis: This excludes the fantasy irrelevant Week 17. To give you some context, only 29 wide receivers had more than 5 top-24 PPR performances at the position all season long. Had Aiken continued that pace across all 15 fantasy football games (again, Week 17 is dumb), then he would have had 10 top-24 performances, which was only hit by six wideouts last year. Prorating is dumb, I get it, but it sheds light to what Aiken is capable of in fantasy -- and he did it mostly with backup quarterbacks.
Cleveland Browns: Duke Johnson caught 39 of his 61 receptions in the first half of games last season.
Analysis: The Browns were not great, Bob, last year, so some may think Johnson's reception total -- a top-10 one by a rookie running back in NFL history -- is skewed due to negative game scripts. But Johnson actually had just 15 receptions in the third quarter last year and only 7 in the fourth. He's going to be an important part of that offense this year, negative game script or not.
Houston Texans: From Weeks 1 through 7 last year, the Texans had a 1.79 drop-back-to-run ratio. From Weeks 8 through 16, it was 1.08.
Analysis: The Texans' defense was bad to start last year, ranking 23rd after Week 7 according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. By the end of the season, they shot up all the way to third. Meanwhile, DeAndre Hopkins averaged 14.43 targets per contest during that opening stretch of poor defensive play. Once the unit's performance was better, his targets per game dropped to fewer than 10. The Texans' defense should be better than it was to start last year, meaning passing volume won't be as plentiful overall as it was last season.
Analysis: In Luck's seven games last year, Moncrief scored 97.1 PPR points versus Hilton's 103.8. It's true that Moncrief scored two more touchdowns to help bolster his numbers, but as less of a deep threat in the offense, he also finished with one more reception. Hilton's the safer bet this year, which is why his average draft position is in the middle of the third round, but Moncrief is arguably the better value, going more than two rounds later.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Since 1984 -- Dan Marino's record-breaking season -- 31 quarterbacks have thrown 35 or more touchdown passes in a single season. Of the 27 with next-season data, only 3 threw more touchdowns the following year.
Analysis: Here's the crazy thing about Blake Bortles, who's one of the 31 passers to hit that 35-touchdown mark: his average draft position doesn't exactly reflect someone who's coming off a big fantasy football season. So while he's going to regress in the touchdown department for a lot of reasons (the Jags were the pass-happiest team in the red zone last year, his touchdown rate was a bit of an outlier), he's actually not unfairly priced. Just know you're more than likely not going to get 35 touchdowns from him in 2016.
Tennessee Titans: The Titans ranked 11th in drop-back-to-run ratio last season.
Analysis: Ah, yes -- the exotic smashmouth. That's what head coach Mike Mularkey wants to run this season offensively, and many of the moves they've made show this is the case, especially after trading for DeMarco Murray and drafting Derrick Henry. If you're using last year's overall numbers from Tennessee to project this year's production, you might want to think twice -- given what they ideally want to do, this ratio will be ranked closer to 20th than 10th in 2016.
New England Patriots: During the first seven games of the 2015 season, Tom Brady never finished lower than fantasy football's eighth-ranked quarterback in a given week. During the final eight weeks, he was a top-eight passer just twice.
Analysis: Brady averaged 26.63 fantasy points per game over this seven-game stretch, which was easily more than any other quarterback. Part of the reason for his regression down the stretch for Brady was certainly personnel based, yes, but he also had a fairly unsustainable touchdown rate that came back to earth. After all, it wasn't until Week 11 -- two games after the dominant opening start to the season -- where Brady had lost both Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis.
Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill scored 16.5 or more fantasy points just three times last year.
Analysis: For reference, 20 relevant signal-callers averaged 16.5 or more fantasy points per game last year. Tannehill ended the year with just three top-12 performances, the same number as Josh McCown, Colin Kaepernick, Teddy Bridgewater, and Brock Osweiler. It's hard to envision him making this gigantic leap this year, but it's also interesting that he has two wide receivers being drafted in the higher rounds. If this isn't the year, maybe there just won't be one for Tanny.
Buffalo Bills: In his 12 games played last season, LeSean McCoy saw fewer than 15 carries in a contest just twice.
Analysis: Across an entire season, McCoy's workload from last season prorated to over 270 carries, which would've ranked third in the NFL. McCoy's consistency in PPR leagues was pretty out of control last year, too, as he finished as a top-30 running back in 11 of the 12 games he played. If not for folks being afraid of things like age (he's 28, by the way, so we shouldn't care much about that) and injury (the running back position inherently has this risk), McCoy would more than likely have a higher average draft cost.
New York Jets: Since his rookie year, Eric Decker has scored a touchdown in exactly half of his games played.
Analysis: Decker's played 78 contests since his rookie year, and he's found the end zone in 39 of them. And this isn't say he's simply scored 39 touchdowns in 78 games -- he's scored at least one in 39 of 78 contests. While regression will more than likely hit both Decker and teammate Brandon Marshall this season, don't discount the fact that Decker knows how to find the end zone. And his consistency -- he had at least 80 yards or a touchdown in every contest last year -- can't be understated, either.
Oakland Raiders: Of the 168 running backs who have carried the ball 300 or more total times since 2000, Latavius Murray has the seventh-worst Success Rate.
Analysis: Let's not sugarcoat this: Murray hasn't been great over his first two NFL seasons. Of the 15 guys who had 200 or more carries last year, Murray ranked 14th in Rushing NEP and 13th in per-rush efficiency. His Success Rate so far in his career -- which measures the positive runs made in terms of NEP -- has been an atrociously low 35.82%, when the NFL average during this time has been 39.03%. So not only has he been inefficient, but he's done so very inconsistently. The hope is that things can turn around this year with an improved offensive line and more positive game scripts, which is certainly still a possibility.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos dropped back to pass 645 times last year, 13th-most in the NFL.
Analysis: Peyton Manning was the second-least efficient passer in the league last year, ahead of only Nick Foles, but despite having such a good defense and poor quarterback play, the Broncos threw the ball quite a bit in 2015. This is a simple reminder that this probably won't happen in 2016, which means, even with a similar target market share in the offense, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders may not see the volume we've become accustomed to them seeing.
Analysis: Using our Rushing NEP metric, among the 28 backs with 50 to 100 carries last year, Spencer Ware outperformed his teammates more than nearly every other back in the league. He was second overall among backs with 50 or more carries in per-rush efficiency, and his 50.00% Success Rate within this cohort was fourth best. Though he won't be the Chiefs' primary runner with Jamaal Charles returning, he's easily the handcuff to own in that backfield.
Analysis: Rivers was a legitimate top-five quarterback with a healthy Allen last year, but as you can see by the numbers, his points per game averaged dropped well below quarterback streamer range when Allen went down. With Allen back and healthy and the addition of Travis Benjamin, Rivers is a very good later-round option this season.