Six Facts to Know Through Week 7

Jake Locker may be the most underrated quarterback in football.

I only got to know these numbers in July.

That’s when I came to numberFire, and that’s when I started writing as the Editor-In-Chief of the site. I wasn’t a pro with net expected points, and I certainly never thought to use the metric when it came to fantasy football analysis. I had read plenty about it; the left side of my brain always needs to be fed with sports analytics. But I never got creative with the idea, and certainly never thought about how much of an impact it could make on predicting fantasy football.

Over the last three months, however, the analytics combined with my love for fantasy strategy has helped me in this fake football world more than I could have ever imagined. The algorithms pinpointed Donnie Avery as a legitimate option in Week 3 against the Eagles. Yeah, you know – the one where he went off for 141 yards on seven catches. I remember when the numbers saw Geno Smith’s Week 3 performance against Buffalo from a mile away, too. And that was when Buffalo was healthier, and when Geno Smith was nothing but a lucky “late hit at the end of the game” quarterback.

I’ve seen our analytics work time and time again. But for some reason – for a reason I can’t explain – I went against them last week with one of my picks.

I made the mistake of looking at just fantasy points against, drawing the conclusion that Nick Foles was a good play against Dallas’ “bad” secondary. The Cowboys, as I noted, had given up the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in all the land, including three 400-yard passing games. A great matchup for Foles, right?

Wrong. According to our metrics, when you adjusted for strength of schedule, the Cowboys pass defense actually ranked eighth-best in the NFL. Perhaps that explains why Foles and company couldn’t get anything going through the air.

It’s just one of the many examples as to why these predictive statistics are real. They work. And it’s why this column, each and every week, can help you pinpoint things he rest of your league may not be aware of.

Jake Locker ranks 10th in passing net expected points per pass.

I know it bores you when I do this, but I have to in case we’ve got some new readers on the site: net expected points (NEP) is a metric that looks at how many real points a player is contributing to his team’s output. It looks at each game situation and can say “this team is expected to score X amount of points on this drive given their in-game circumstances.” When a player helps move that NEP positively, he helps his personal expected point valuation.

So far this season, even with two games missed and a poor showing in Week 1, Jake Locker ranks as the 10th-best quarterback within this metric. To put this another way, Jake Locker has made more of a quarterback impact through the air for his team than over two-thirds of the NFL's passers have for theirs.

And actually, we’re seeing how this translates to the fantasy football landscape. As I noted yesterday, Locker is averaging 18.2 fantasy points in his five games played this season. When you remove the aforementioned poor performance against the Steelers in Week 1, Locker’s average jumps up to 21.25. That number would place him around the third-best fantasy quarterback in the entire NFL.

That’s not to say he should be valued that highly, but he’s clearly someone to keep an eye on. In deeper leagues, for what it's worth, I added him as a backup quarterback this week on my Sam Bradford and Jay Cutler teams.

Dallas ranks fourth in defensive passing net expected points.

I suppose I’ll continue talking about the Dallas defense, because this seems to be the biggest discrepancy between “fantasy points against” and our deeper analytical rankings. The Cowboys have allowed more fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks than all but two teams, but they’ve actually prevented the fourth-most points from being scored on them through the air. When you adjust for strength of opponent, you'll find the Cowboys with a -24.20 Adj. DPNEP score, meaning a different pass defense in their situation would have created a 24-point swing in the wrong direction for their team.

Much of this could be due to turnovers: they rank fourth in the NFC with nine interceptions. But it also has a lot to do with strength of schedule (that’s why it’s adjusted), as they’ve faced Robert Griffin III, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Sam Bradford this year.

You may feel super confident about Matthew Stafford this week against them, and like I talked about the other day, Stafford’s been great this season. However, don’t be blinded by the fantasy points against statistic.

Fred Jackson still has the best success rate among 50-plus attempt runners.

When a player makes a play that contributes positively towards his NEP, it’s deemed a “successful” one. On Fred Jackson’s 86 rushes this season, 44 of them have been successful, good for a 51.16 percent rate. Keep in mind that running back success rates are typically low, as it’s more difficult for them to dramatically impact their team’s net expected points on a play given the nature of the short-yardage position.

I say “still” because I mentioned this very fact back in my Week 2 column. Jackson’s kept it up, surprisingly with his old legs, and it’s placed him as our ninth-best running back option for Week 8.

Demaryius Thomas has the best target net expected points in the NFL.

While we often look at reception net expected points here at numberFire – that is, how many points a player is contributing on receptions only – another metric to analyze is the target net expected points one. Quite obviously, this one looks at how well a player is contributing on all targets.

Though some have been disappointed that Demaryius Thomas has been “left out” at times in the Broncos’ offense, keep in mind that he has a catch rate that’s on par with Wes Welker, and clearly, Thomas is a receiver who catches the ball deeper down the field than Welker. There’s no need to be truly frustrated, especially when you consider Thomas’ worst game was a five-reception, 52-yard contest against the Giants in Week 2. Thomas has been one of the best receivers in the game this year.

Chris Ogbonnaya ranks ninth in the NFL in running back targets.

”Silent G” continues to be an interesting player to watch, especially with Willis McGahee’s struggles. Though Ogbonnaya has only toted the rock 16 times this year, his efficiency has been through-the-roof thanks to his late-down role. Perhaps a chance to get lead back touches could leapfrog him to more fantasy relevance.

The real reason Ogbonnaya has been a relatively decent bench guy in fake football is because of his work in the passing game. Though he was blanked against the Packers last week, Silent G had seven receptions the week before, and has two more games with four and five catches. He’s up to 32 season targets now, and has the sixth-most in the NFL at running back over the last five weeks.

There’s not a whole lot of competition in the Cleveland backfield, giving him at least some opportunity in the future.

Tampa Bay has the second-best rush defense in the league.

The Bucs rank 11th against fantasy running backs, but much of that has to do with what backs are doing in the receiving game against them. They’ve yet to allow a rushing touchdown to an opposing running back, and have forced their opposition to well under a four yards per carry average in four of their six games.

This just goes to show, once again, that we can’t solely rely on fantasy points allowed to make sound judgments in this game. They rank second in adjusted rushing net expected points according to our metrics. This week the Bucs get Carolina, but it’s Thursday Night Football, so we’ll probably see the touchdown-less DeAngelo Williams score six times. (Not really, but really.)