Fantasy Football: The Report, Week 1
What is The Report? It's a comprehensive, statistical look at how teams and players are functioning offensively, with notes as to what it all means for the fantasy football future. Each week, The Report will feature charts on team play-calling tendencies, player usage close to the end zone, deep ball rates, and so much more. With added commentary, the purpose is to not only hand you information, but provide actionable information to crush both season-long and daily fantasy football.
Let's dig into Week 1's report, which will display numbers from the 2017 season. Post-Week 1, all numbers in The Report will reflect the 2018 season. And before you ask: yes, early on in the season, we'll have small sample size alerts everywhere. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try and dissect the data and give it some context.
|Team||Pass Att||Rush Att||Ratio||+/- 6 Ratio||RZ Plays||RZ Ratio||GL Plays||GL Ratio|
There've been coaching and personnel changes throughout the league, so taking these numbers at face value is foolish. There are still some takeaways from last season that could help us here in Week 1, though.
The Lions have a new head coach in Matt Patricia, but they don't have a new offensive coordinator. That's still Jim Bob Cooter. And under Cooter's watch, Detroit had the highest neutral game script pass-to-run ratio last season, all while being one of the most pass-friendly teams in the red zone close to the goal line. The Lions did boost their offensive line and add Kerryon Johnson in the draft, but that's not enough to assume they'll all of a sudden become this massively run-heavy squad.
In Week 1, the Lions face the Jets as strong touchdown-plus favorites. New York may have somewhat of an underrated secondary, but if Detroit runs their offense even remotely like they did a season ago, Matthew Stafford should be able to provide a high floor for fantasy owners.
No team ran fewer goal-line plays than the Bengals last year. Actually, no team ran fewer overall plays than Cincinnati did. Since 2011, four teams with next-season data have run fewer than 950 plays in a season (the Bengals ran 927 last year). Of those four teams, each saw an uptick in plays run the following season, and the average increase among the group was 65. Since volume drives fantasy football, that's a big deal.
The Bengals are three-point road underdogs against the Colts here in Week 1, but Indy enters the season as numberFire's worst-ranked defense. With the skill position potential in the Bengals' offense, it could be a good start to the season for Andy Dalton and company.
There's often a lot of variance in the way teams score touchdowns. Yes, offenses with good quarterbacks will see more passing scores, but sometimes you get what happened in New Orleans last year. The Saints had as many rushing touchdowns as passing touchdowns, which is something that's happened 17 times over the last seven seasons. Among the 13 teams where we've got next-season information, the average increase in passing-touchdown-to-rushing-touchdown ratio was 1.30.
It's just difficult to sustain that type of split in the NFL. And for New Orleans specifically, it's not as though they were this team that relentlessly pounded the rock close to the goal line. In fact, they ranked 19th in pass-to-run ratio within the opponent's five-yard line and 13th in red zone pass-to-run ratio last season. Drew Brees had one of his better seasons from an adjusted net yards per attempt standpoint, too.
We should be buying the New Orleans passing attack, even in games where they're heavy favorites, like in Week 1. Because touchdown variance is very real.
Schedule-Adjusted Net Expected Points
To learn more about numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, check out the glossary. (Note: Negative figures for defense are good.)
|Team||NEP||Pass NEP||Rush NEP||D NEP||D Pass NEP||D Rush NEP|
The Seahawks' defense ranked 13th in schedule-adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points last year, but they lost key pieces to the unit this offseason and may struggle to finish that high in 2018. The defensive line took a big hit with the loss of Michael Bennett and Sheldon Richardson, making them nothing but ordinary as a pass rushing team. In turn, not only will it be difficult for them to be the run-heavy team they want to be -- negative game scripts won't allow for it -- but they make for a much easier matchup for fantasy purposes.
They're slight dogs against the Broncos here in Week 1, and if you need to dig deep for a quarterback streamer, you could do worse than Case Keenum. With Minnesota last year, Keenum, among relevant quarterbacks, ranked 16th in quarterback rating when under pressure (per Pro Football Focus), but in a clean pocket, he was a top-10 passer. If you're a believer that it'll take this Seattle D a little time to get back to their ferocious ways, then Keenum makes sense as a sleeper in Week 1.
Last year's New York Giants weren't very good across the board, but they weren't second-worst-team-in-the-league bad like their draft slot indicated. Per numberFire's Net Expected Points model, New York played more like the fifth- or sixth-worst team, and that was with a slew of injuries across the offense. Even if they hadn't picked up Saquon Barkley in this year's draft, the G-Men were bound to be much better in 2018 than in 2017. They'll face Jacksonville during this first week of the season, and while that's clearly a tough matchup, don't lose hope if they underperform. A Week 2 game against Dallas could be a big one for the offense.
Baltimore had the third-best overall defense last season, and they're really solid throughout. Though they were just slightly above average at stopping the run a season ago, according to Pro Football Focus, they ranked fifth in missed tackles on run plays. And the rush defense wasn't nearly as effective when Brandon Williams was sidelined last year. They allowed 12 top-20 running back performances in PPR formats, but four of those outings came during the four games Williams missed.
Why bring this up? Because Baltimore is going up against Buffalo in Week 1. The Bills could be pretty one-dimensional to start the season given their inexperience at quarterback, which means they'll want to rely on LeSean McCoy a good bit on the ground. That may be easier said than done. Baltimore is the top defensive play here in Week 1.
Team Directional Passing
All numbers below reflect yards per play.
It's a Rob Gronkowski week. The Texans, New England's Week 1 opponent, surrendered the highest yards per play to the middle of the field last year and the fifth-most fantasy points to the tight end position. The Houston defensive line can generate push, and the D did add Tyrann Mathieu this offseason, but the lack of alternative pass-catchers in New England's offense should allow Gronk to eat this week.
Larry Fitzgerald should benefit in a plus slot matchup this week as well. Washington was worst through the middle of the field last year, and Fitz should avoid Josh Norman given his slot role. For what it's worth, when the Cardinals faced the Redskins in 2016, Fitzgerald caught 10 of 11 targets for about 80 yards. He's a PPR dream with Sam Bradford, who's historically not been much of a risk-taker, opting for shorter passes.
Tennessee's another team that didn't fair as well on passes to the middle of the field last year, and that makes Danny Amendola an intriguing sleeper in Week 1. The Dolphins don't have a whole lot of proven pass-catchers rostered with Jarvis Landry out of the picture, and with Landry gone, Amendola will take on a lot of the team's slot work. With the Titans as slight road favorites, Miami could face a negative game script and more passing, too.
You should be targeting and playing all Los Angeles Rams players this week. Brandin Cooks should draw a lot of Gareon Conley, who was a first-round pick in 2017 but only played a pair of games. And then Cooper Kupp should match up against Leon Hall -- who's 33 years old -- in the slot. (Yes, there's someone covering Cooper Kupp who's older than him.) Oakland's D is the third-worst in the league according to numberFire's metrics, providing a cushy matchup for LA.
The perimeter for the Chargers offense should be wide open this week. Kansas City lost Marcus Peters over the offseason, and their new top corner, Kendall Fuller, has manned the slot across his career. That means he'll more than likely see a lot of Keenan Allen, which would leave Tyrell Williams to see subpar corners Orlando Scandrick and Steven Nelson. He's a deep play if you're desperate at wide receiver this week.
On the other side of the field, Patrick Mahomes could have a rough debut. Sammy Watkins may end up being shadowed by Casey Hayward, which makes him an auto-sit. You've got to play Tyreek Hill given his explosive ability, but if you're a Mahomes owner, streaming the position in Week 1 is probably your best choice. The Chargers gave up just one top-10 performance after Week 1 last year, and it was to Tom Brady.
The same goes for Jimmy Garoppolo. Minnesota finished as one of the best teams in football against the pass last year, allowing the third-fewest points per game to the quarterback position. As you can see in the chart, they did a really good job all over the field, specifically on the outside. That's thanks to Xavier Rhodes. It's unlikely that he'll shadow in this contest, but there's a clear downgrade for Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon.
Team Directional Rushing
All numbers below reflect yards per play.
When looking at Houston's rushing matchup, it may get you excited for Lamar Miller. But keep in mind that New England added Danny Shelton this offseason, and the Texans may have the worst offensive line in football. Miller should see volume, but he may need to do most of his work through the air to have a strong outing. He's likely a lower-end RB2 this week.
Speaking of New England, one thing we know they do well is attack an opposing defense's weakness. Running into a strong defensive line over and over again probably isn't what they're looking to do this week. With Julian Edelman sidelined, Rex Burkhead coming off a knee injury, and Sony Michel likely not playing a huge role, pass-catching running back James White is a very interesting Week 1 chess piece for New England's air attack. In PPR formats, he has flex appeal.
The Rams ranked dead last in yards allowed up the middle last year, but they went out and signed Ndamukong Suh over the offseason to plug up the middle. If teams can run past the defensive line, they should find space against LA's linebackers, but that won't be easy against this new-look defensive line. As a result, Marshawn Lynch -- someone who was undervalued in fantasy drafts this summer -- is more of a flex play this week. You're hoping he can find the end zone.
And speaking of Suh, Miami was strong against rushes up the middle last year, but that'll take an obvious hit this year without him. It won't help that they're facing Tennessee in Week 1, who have a lethal 1-2 punch with Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. Given the potential for a positive game script for the Titans (they're road favorites), Henry, who'll play more of an early-down role for them, should be in RB2 territory this week.
Running Back Usage
|Player||Att||Rush %||Targets||Target %||Snap %||Last Wk Rate||RZ Att||RZ Targets||GL Att|
You don't see Christian McCaffrey's name on the list above because he didn't hit the 120-carry mark last season. He should this year, though. Or, that's what the preseason told us, as CMC played 89% of Carolina's first-team snaps. In 2017, he was on the field for a little over 70% of the team's snaps.
The real key for McCaffrey will be goal-line touches, which he saw in the preseason. Jonathan Stewart dominated attempts close to the end zone last year, finishing with 15. McCaffrey had two. And as you can see from the chart above, that's far less than the majority of higher-volume backs. Things could really work in McCaffrey's favor this year, which is why we saw his average draft position spike to the first round as August concluded. He's a great play at home this week against an average Dallas rush defense.
Jamaal Williams handled about 40% of Green Bay's rushes last season, but that number should be much higher to start 2018 with Aaron Jones suspended for two games. He'll get a Bears D in Week 1 that ranked in the top-10 overall according to numberFire's schedule-adjusted expected points model last year and, unless you've been living under a rock, you know that the Chicago defense is stronger now with the addition of Khalil Mack. But just remember that volume drives fantasy production at non-quarterback positions, and considering the Packers are at home as strong favorites, Williams should see plenty of rushes. And, for what it's worth, he converted four of his eight goal-line looks into scores last year. He's a solid start in Week 1 -- I'd consider him an RB2.
One thing to keep an eye on with Alex Collins is his goal-line work. Javorius Allen actually out-attempted him when close to their opponent's end zone last year, and that includes when Collins gained a larger share of the backfield in Week 5 (8 goal-line attempts versus 5). Collins has a high ceiling in Week 1 against Buffalo, but if he cedes some of that goal-line work, that may cap his upside this year and make him a sell candidate entering Week 2.
Wide Receiver Usage
|Player||Targets||Target %||Snap %||Last Wk Rate||RZ Targets||< 10 Targets||GL Targets|
Golden Tate only saw eight red zone targets last year after seeing 17, 17, and 14 over the three seasons prior. That's a little scary given Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay are in the Lions offense -- the number may not rise dramatically in 2018 -- but Tate's got a good matchup in Week 1 against Buster Skrine in the slot. Per Pro Football Focus, Skrine allowed the ninth-most slot receptions last season. You should feel confident in Tate's floor as a WR2.
Amari Cooper struggled last season, and he finished the year with just a 17.20% target share in the Oakland offense. He missed a pair of games, but even if we extrapolated that share, he would've failed to reach the 20% mark, something he hit during his first two years in the league.
The Rams now have Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib starting at cornerback, making for a really tough matchup on paper. Given we're not even sure what this new Jon Gruden offense is going to look like, you should be downgrading Cooper for Week 1. He's start-worthy, but more so as a flex instead of the WR2 you drafted him as.
One secondary that has low-key issues is Carolina. It's looking like their primary starters at cornerback will be rookie Donte Jackson and third-year James Bradberry, who, according to Pro Football Focus, allowed the second-most receiving yards last season. That should create a plus matchup for the only receiver with a locked-in role on the team right now, Allen Hurns, now that Dez Bryant and his 26% target share is out of the picture. The only problem is that Hurns has traditionally played in the slot, which is where Cole Beasley plays. The matchup is there for the Dallas passing attack, but they may be more of a daily fantasy tournament play than a season-long one. There's just a lot of question marks in the offense.
Tight End Usage
|Player||Targets||Target %||Snap %||Last Wk Rate||RZ Targets||< 10 Targets||GL Targets|
The strong cornerback play from the Rams may force the ball inside more, which could benefit Jared Cook in Week 1. Cook saw over 15% of Oakland's targets last year, but was only able to score twice on his 86 targets. That's a big reason he didn't have a bigger fantasy season. But with not a lot of proven pass-catchers on the Raiders' roster, he could actually be in store for a lower-end TE1 week as passes are funneled his way.
His role wasn't very big last year, but David Njoku could be a beast in Week 1 (and beyond, if we're being honest). Pittsburgh has issues at inside linebacker and safety, which may allow Njoku to run free this week. And in a game where the Browns may have to throw the ball a good bit to keep pace with the Steelers' offense, he makes for a really good play in both season-long and daily fantasy formats.
Ricky Seals-Jones isn't on the list above because he barely played last year. He hit the 30% snap share mark in just two games for Arizona, but he was uber-efficient when he played: he had the highest yards per reception rate of any rookie tight end since 1996, and among all tight ends with 50 or more routes run last year, Seals-Jones was first in yards per route run.
He'll get Washington this week, a team that ranked sixth-worst at defending the tight end position last year from a fantasy perspective. Like I said earlier, Larry Fitzgerald is in a fantastic spot here in Week 1, but RSJ is a nice sleeper and tight end streamer for folks as well.
Deep Ball Passing
|Player||15+ Yd Att||15+ Yd Att %||15+ Comp %||15+ % of Tot Yds||15+ Yd TD %|
Carson Wentz threw it 15 or more yards down the field at the fifth-highest rate in football a season ago, while Nick Foles ranked closer to 20th. With Foles starting in Week 1, that may benefit players like Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz more than deep-ball specialist Mike Wallace. A more conservative approach to the game for Philadelphia makes sense.
Deshaun Watson tossed it deep at an obnoxious rate last year -- a higher rate than anyone in football -- and 38.20% of his yards came from those types of throws, which ranked second in the league. There's some regression coming, as we all know. That doesn't make him a bad play in Week 1, though, with New England (his opponent) now Malcolm Butler-less and the game sitting with the highest over/under of the week.
Alex Smith is a decent play in Week 1, with Arizona lacking playmakers in the secondary outside of Patrick Peterson. Just don't expect him to repeat his deep-ball numbers from last year, where 50% of his touchdowns and over 40% of his yards came on throws that traveled 15 or more air yards. He doesn't have the same type of personnel to throw to as he did in Kansas City.
Earlier this month, there was an interesting quote from Bears head coach Matt Nagy -- who coached Alex Smith's deep-ball offense last year -- about Mitchell Trubisky's tendency to throw the ball deep instead of checking down within this new offense. Nagy mentioned, "Yeah, that's never going to stop. Not in this offense.”
Trubisky threw it deep on fewer than 17% of his passes last year, but over 40% of his touchdowns came on longer tosses. Their Week 1 opponent, Green Bay, has a new-look secondary with inexperience (but, whew, there's talent), which makes Trubisky a high-risk, high-reward option this week. Andy Dalton and Tyrod Taylor are safer, smarter streaming options, though.
Running Back Touchdown Regression
Regression analysis doesn't always have to be so complicated. As you'd expect, there's a decent correlation between yards gained and touchdowns scored. The regression analysis in The Report looks at running back and wide receiver yards gained, shows how many touchdowns they've scored, and then finds how many touchdowns they should have scored based on trends from the last seven NFL seasons.
|Player||Rush Yds||TD||Should Have||Difference||Rec Yds||TD||Should Have||Difference|
These charts will come in handy as the season progresses, but I've got to mention that Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara combined to score 7.61 more touchdowns than they should have last year based on their yardage totals. The two backs should rank higher-than-normal given their talent and the offense they're playing in, but touchdown regression will more than likely hit them both here in 2018. (Easy to say for Ingram, as he'll be suspended for the first four games of the year.)
Wide Receiver Touchdown Regression
|Player||Rec Yds||TD||Should Have||Difference|
There were actually a lot of higher-profile receivers who underperformed in the touchdown column last year based on their yardage totals. Julio Jones is an obvious one, as he should've scored five to six more times than he actually did. But Keenan Allen, Michael Thomas, Adam Thielen, Marquise Goodwin, and T.Y. Hilton are all positive regression candidates in the touchdown department this year. And it's part of the reason why we should expect passing to rebound overall in 2018.