Fantasy Football: The Report, Week 3
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 3's report, knowing that we're dealing with a very small sample size.
|Team||Pass Att||Rush Att||Ratio||+/- 6 Ratio||RZ Plays||RZ Ratio||GL Plays||GL Ratio|
The Arizona Cardinals aren't running many plays, which is hurting David Johnson's fantasy football value -- they've run 13 fewer than any other team. This is largely due to just being inept offensively. On the year, only the Bills have averaged fewer yards per drive than Arizona, and the Cardinals have the lowest yards per play rate in the league. They need to turn things around quickly in order for David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald to thrive in fantasy.
Detroit continues to be a very pass-friendly team, and while part of that is due to game script, their neutral script ratio is still second-highest in the league. The Lions have also been incredibly pass-happy in the red zone -- they've run 17 plays there (the average across the NFL is 18), and only one of those plays has been a rush. This bodes well for Matthew Stafford and his trio of wide receivers.
The Saints have thrown the ball a good bit this year as well. Similar to Detroit, some of that has to do with negative game flow situations, but at the same time, their neutral script ratio of 1.69 (nice) is still a lot higher than the league's average of 1.37. Last year, New Orleans had a pass-to-rush ratio of 1.28 when games had a scoring margin of six points, so we're definitely seeing a more Drew Brees-friendly offense in 2018. This should help Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas continue their early-season dominance in fantasy.
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have been unstoppable to start the year, and it's remarkable to see that he's thrown 10 touchdowns on just 55 attempts. Kansas City actually has the third-fewest pass attempts in football through two weeks. It's another reason to not get worked up over volume for quarterbacks in fantasy football -- on a weekly level since 2011, the r-squared between pass attempts and fantasy points produced among 20-plus attempt passers (so, quarterback starters) has been 0.05. There's basically been no correlation.
It's all about touchdowns, and Mahomes is giving fantasy owners those in bunches.
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||Adj NEP||Adj Pass NEP||Adj Rush NEP||Adj D NEP||Adj D Pass NEP||Adj D Rush NEP|
The Chiefs offense is cruising, but the defense is most definitely not. After two games, the pass defense has a schedule-adjusted Defensive Passing NEP of 42.80. The average across the league is 6.72, meaning the Chiefs, in just two games, have allowed roughly 36 more points via the pass than a league-average secondary would have. They're a matchup to target each and every week in fantasy football.
After facing Pittsburgh and New Orleans, the Cleveland Browns own numberFire's fifth-best overall defense. They're far more legitimate than most realize, and they've got a plus matchup at home this week against the Jets. Sam Darnold has now thrown three picks while being sacked five times in two games. With an over/under south of 40 and the Browns playing at home, Cleveland's a strong defensive streamer.
Dallas isn't a bad choice off the waiver wire, either. They currently rank in the top-10 defensively, and they've got the second-most sacks in the NFL. That could be big against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks this week, who've allowed 12 sacks, the most in the league. Both teams have played at a slow pace this year, with Seattle ranking 22nd in seconds per play while Dallas comes in at 30th. Stemming from this, Seattle's run the fifth-fewest plays, and Dallas has run the second-fewest. That should allow for a high fantasy football floor for the Dallas defense, and if they can get to Wilson like they did Eli Manning last week, then they've got a good ceiling, too.
Team Directional Passing
All numbers below reflect yards per play.
The Pittsburgh offense really hasn't been the reason the team is winless after two weeks, and it's tough to ignore how good of a spot they're in here in Week 3. Tampa Bay has been below average on the perimeter so far this year, partially because of injuries, but partially because the team's cornerbacks aren't tough to beat. Ben Roethlisberger may be on the road -- and he's averaged about nine more fantasy points scored at home than on the road over the last five years -- but the matchup is there for the passing attack this week. That definitely includes Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, but don't sleep on James Washington, who ran just six and five fewer routes than the two Pittsburgh pass-catchers last week, respectively.
Facing Cincinnati isn't the easiest matchup in the world for opposing passers, but they've been poor against the tight end position. And, looking at the chart, you can see that they've allowed their highest yards per play through the air to the middle of the field. In Week 1, both Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron finished as top-seven tight ends against the Bengals. In Week 2, Mark Andrews was able to find the end zone. Maybe it's rookie Ian Thomas' turn, as he played 95.5% of Carolina's snaps in Week 2 while filling in for Greg Olsen. He ran the second-most routes at the tight end position last week, which is a great sign that he could potentially do work as a receiver for the Panthers moving forward.
If there's one area of the field that Denver may be able to exploit against the Ravens, it's the middle. Emmanuel Sanders has played 71.0% of his snaps from the slot this year, and Tyler Boyd is coming off a game against Baltimore where he caught 5 of 8 targets for 77 yards from that section of the field. Baltimore's pass defense numbers look great all around, but part of that is because they played Buffalo in Week 1. If there's one Denver pass-catcher to target this week, it's Manny.
Jarvis Landry was somewhat of a disappointment in Week 2, catching 5 of 7 targets for 69 (nice) yards. On Thursday night, things should turn around for him. Landry's played over 65% of his snaps from the slot, and when he's lined up there, he'll face off against Buster Skrine, who's allowed 8 catches for 93 yards and a score this year from the slot. He's part of the reason the Jets have been far worse at defending middle-of-the-field passes than perimeter ones this year. Perhaps this is the game Landry finally finds the end zone.
Malcolm Butler has had a rough start to the season. According to Pro Football Focus, no player has allowed more yards this season, and only nine players have faced more targets. Keelan Cole is the most logical play at wide receiver for Jacksonville at this time, as he's played the most snaps at the position for them this year. But Dede Westbrook has lined up on Malcolm Butler's side of the field on a higher percentage of his snaps, and he's got the speed to create big plays. Westbrook's not a locked-in play this week, but teams in a pinch could consider him.
Team Directional Rushing
All numbers below reflect yards per play.
The Giants haven't been very effective at running the football so far this year. Part of that is due to matchups, but a big piece of it is poor offensive line play. And, unfortunately, they may not be able to get a whole lot of push this week against a Houston Texans' rush defense that's been above-average in rushing yards per allowed at every area of the field.
Indianapolis could be super one-dimensional against Philadelphia this weekend. The Colts have been a fairly below-average rushing team so far this season, while the Eagles rank second in Success Rate -- or the percentage of positive expected points runs -- allowed to opposing running backs. This could lead to more shorter passes to Nyheim Hines out of the Colts' backfield -- Hines played over 39% of Indy's snaps in Week 2 despite the team being in a positive game script.
No team has allowed a higher Success Rate to opposing running backs than Oakland, and as you can see in the chart above, they've been gashed on the ground. They'll get Miami this week, a team with two running backs that have higher-than-average Success Rates. In fact, of the 38 running backs with 15 or more carries so far this year, Frank Gore ranks 3rd in Success Rate, while Kenyan Drake is 11th. At home, the Dolphins could go with a ground-and-pound approach this week.
Running Back Usage
|Player||Att||Rush %||Targets||Target %||Snap %||Last Wk Rate||RZ Att||RZ Targets||GL Att|
I think you have to be a little concerned about Kareem Hunt. He ranks eighth in the league in rushing share, so that side of things isn't a big deal. What's worrisome is that he's seen only 3.6% of KC's targets so far, and he's without a goal-line rush. The Chiefs have run eight plays within their opponent's five-yard line, and none of them have been to Hunt on the ground. This is really a big week for him, but he's going up against a defense that currently ranks first in Success Rate allowed to the running back position. The thing that he has going for him is that it should be high scoring, meaning he could fall into some fantasy points.
Jamaal Williams is third in the NFL in rushing share, but he's got a below-average Success Rate and hasn't forced a missed tackle this year, per Pro Football Focus. He's a strong pass-blocker, but with the return of Aaron Jones this week -- who was one of the most efficient running backs last year according to numberFire's metrics -- Williams could see that share dip a bit. And with little involvement in the passing game, the fear is that his fantasy value could disappear. It's definitely something to watch.
We currently have six running backs with target shares north of 20%. That's not normal. Since 2011, only two running backs have finished with that high of a percentage of their team's targets: Christian McCaffrey last year, and Matt Forte in 2014. It doesn't mean that you need to be selling Chris Thompson or James White, but do know that regression is very likely.
The Broncos' backfield split continues to be a fantasy football headache. Royce Freeman, in a negative game script, played the fewest snaps among the three backs this past week. That's not great. If there's one thing to feel good about as a Freeman owner, it's that he's leading the team in goal-line attempts with two. But having players who can be game scripted out is never fun.
You could put Derrick Henry in that bucket, too. He has just one target this year versus teammate Dion Lewis' nine, and Lewis also has two more rushes on the ground. What's even scarier is that Lewis has essentially been playing two-thirds of Tennessee's snaps, while Henry's been on the field for the remaining one-third. Henry can't be trusted at this point in fantasy football.
There's a lot of ambiguity in the New England backfield right now. In a negative script versus Jacksonville last week, Rex Burkhead saw his snap rate fall to 24.6%. He did play two more snaps than rookie Sony Michel, but James White dominated running back snaps as the lead pass-catcher of the group.
Now, Burkhead was iffy to play all of last week with a concussion, so that combined with the game flow didn't help things. But what's gone on with the Patriots in their first two games isn't great for Burkhead. A huge reason he was an attractive asset in fantasy football this year was because New England -- prior to this season -- had the most goal-line rushes in the NFL over the last three years combined. Burkhead would be the hypothetical goal-line back for them since Michel has documented fumbling issues, and James White is primarily a receiving back.
The Patriots have only had one goal-line play in two games, and it was a pass. So Burkhead's value has taken a hit. That should bounce back moving forward, and if you're a believer that Burkhead saw limited snaps due to his injury and the game situation on Sunday, then he's probably a buy candidate.
Wide Receiver Usage
|Player||Targets||Target %||Snap %||Last Wk Rate||RZ Targets||< 10 Targets||GL Targets|
Michael Thomas' pace is otherworldly. In two games, he's seen 30 targets and has caught 28 of them. His 28 receptions are the most that the NFL has ever seen through the first two weeks of the season. And what's more insane from a fantasy perspective is that he also leads the league (or is tied with the league lead) in targets from within the opponent's 10- and 5-yard line. He's looking like a draft-day steal.
This is probably pretty obvious, but DeSean Jackson isn't going to keep this up. He's third among wide receivers in fantasy points scored, but he's seen fewer than 15% of Tampa Bay's targets, and he's played only 43.5% of their snaps. You may want to hold onto him for a plus matchup this week against Pittsburgh, though.
Chris Hogan is off to a not-so-desirable start. Without Julian Edelman, you'd think Hogan would see a pretty high target share in New England's offense. Instead, he's been targeted on just 13.5% of the Patriots' pass attempts. He scored a pair of touchdowns last week, but usage is more important than a flukey three-reception, two-score game. A plus matchup this week against the Lions may help, but the arrow is pointing down for Hogan.
Similar to David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald is actually seeing decent market share numbers. He's been targeted on almost 25% of Arizona's passes, giving him the 21st-highest target share in the league. The Cardinals, to reiterate, just haven't run many plays. You can't really sell him right now, but a high share is something to at least feel optimistic about.
A player flying under the radar a bit in fantasy football is Robert Woods. He currently leads the Rams in target share, and he's been on the field for 97% of their offensive snaps thanks to the Rams deploying 11 personnel on nearly all of their offensive plays this year. He hasn't found the end zone yet, but that will come.
Tight End Usage
|Player||Targets||Target %||Snap %||Last Wk Rate||RZ Targets||< 10 Targets||GL Targets|
Eric Ebron has played about 60% fewer snaps than teammate Jack Doyle, and his target share is roughly 7% lower. Not only that, but Doyle's run 81 routes while Ebron's at 34. If this type of usage continues, then Doyle will outscore Ebron this year. It's just a matter of time.
Piling on the Arizona bashing, Ricky Seals-Jones could be a super usable tight end option if not for his offense. He's got a near 20% target share through two games, something we've seen from just five other tight ends. It just hasn't translated to a lot of fantasy production because the Cardinals haven't run many plays.
Somewhat surprisingly, David Njoku is one of those tight ends who's seen 20% or more of his teams targets. And none of his 14 targets have been in the red zone, hence his low fantasy football ranking among the position to start the year. The Browns haven't been effective through the air offensively, and they've run just eight red zone plays in total, tied for fewest in the league. Similar to RSJ, if the passing attack can start to turn things around, Njoku should benefit greatly. Especially with Josh Gordon out of the picture.
In 2017, Jimmy Graham had 14 targets within the opponent's 5-yard line, which was the most any player's seen in recent history. He was reliable in fantasy football because of that single reason -- he scored 10 times. Graham ended up posting a decent game this past Sunday, but that contest also went into overtime. He's still only seeing about 15% of Green Bay's targets, and he's been held without a red zone target. There's plenty of upside there, but the start to his season is mildly concerning.
Deep Ball Passing
|Player||15+ Yd Att||15+ Yd Att %||15+ Comp %||15+ % of Tot Yds||15+ Yd TD %|
We're seeing quarterbacks throw it deep at a crazy rate this year. A season ago, among the 35 passers with 200 or more attempts, Deshaun Watson led the league in percentage of attempts that went 15 or more yards through the air at 25.98%. So far in 2018, five relevant quarterbacks have exceeded that mark, including Watson himself.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is one of those signal-callers. He's completed over 70% of his deep-ball passes, with 52% of his yards coming on those tosses. For some perspective, since 2011, the highest completion rate on 15-plus air yard throws has been 58.72%. And the highest percentage of yards stemming from those throws is 44.18%. Fitzpatrick is going to regress eventually.
Derek Carr has a crazy-good 80.6% completion rate this year, but much of that can be attributed to his conservative passing -- only Andrew Luck and Alex Smith have thrown the ball deep at a lower rate than Carr this year. You'd like to see the Raiders push the ball down the field more, but it does mean that Amari Cooper could benefit more in PPR formats if he's peppered like he was in Week 2.
Nick Foles has been kind of brutal so far in 2018. According to Net Expected Points, only seven starting quarterbacks have been worse than Foles on a per drop back basis, which is scary considering Foles has been in fairly favorable matchups. But he's been especially bad on deep ball passes, completing just 21.4% of his throws that have gone 15 or more yards through the air. That's the worst completion rate in the NFL if you remove Blaine Gabbert from the sample.
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||Total Difference|
Todd Gurley has seen insane usage in the red zone this year, leading to so many scores. He has 15 red-zone attempts, when the second-ranked back, Adrian Peterson, has eight. Gurley also has four goal-line attempts, tying him for the league lead. So while he should have between 2 and 3 fewer touchdowns than he has based on his yardage totals, we've got to put that into context -- he's in arguably the best situation in football.
On the other side of the list is Christian McCaffrey. His touchdowns should come -- he's seen four red-zone and one goal-line attempts, and he's been targeted in the red zone as well. And as we know, he's seeing a crazy-high percentage of team targets while still maintaining a good-enough 36% rushing share.
And I'm intrigued by Jordan Howard, too. He's yet to see a goal-line rush in 2018, but Chicago's run four plays from that area of the field, which is about average. They just happened to have thrown it on three of those plays, with the fourth being a Mitchell Trubisky run. The Bears have plenty of question marks offensively -- specifically at quarterback -- but they've averaged 29.4 yards per drive in two games, which is just slightly below average. They're not that bad on offense. Howard should see opportunities eventually.
Wide Receiver Touchdown Regression
|Player||Rec Yds||TD||Should Have||Difference|
|Odell Beckham Jr||162||0||0.97||-0.97|
A.J. Green now has 4 touchdowns on 11 receptions. He clearly the top regression candidate at wide receiver, but do note that his usage close to the end zone has been strong this year. He has four red-zone targets, but three of those have come within the 10-yard line and two of them at the goal line.
With Todd Gurley scoring so much for the Rams, their wide receivers have been left out. I already talked about Bobby Woods earlier, but Brandin Cooks is having a low-key amazing start for LA, hauling in 12 of his 17 targets for 246 yards. With positive regression coming, it's not a bad idea to shoot a trade offer to the Cooks owner in your league.