Fantasy Football: Week 4 Personnel Tendencies
In fantasy football, we look at a ton of factors when retrospectively dissecting at one week and projecting the next. We analyze a player's opportunity in the form of attempts and targets, their matchup against the opposing defense, as well as their game script by betting odds, and a whole lot more. One thing we don't do a lot of, though, is looking at a player's opportunity or matchup through the lens of personnel groupings.
By personnel grouping, I mean which type of offensive package his team is deploying on a play-by-play basis. Are they rolling out big sets with frequency, or are they more likely to spread it out with three to four wideouts?
For those who might be a bit unfamiliar, personnel groupings are commonly referred to in numbers like 21. The first of the two figures, the "2", refers to the number of running backs (including fullbacks) on the field, whereas the second, "the 1", indicates the number of tight ends in the formation. So, 21 personnel is very traditional in that you get a fullback, a running back, a tight end and two wideouts. Today, that traditional set isn't as popular as it once was with a trend toward 11 personnel (one back, one tight end and three receivers) for purposes of efficiency in the passing game.
You can find this personnel grouping information in a neat, sortable format over at Sharp Football Stats. You can see how frequently a team uses (or opposing team faces) each grouping and what kind of success they have found in doing so. You can even narrow it down to the run and pass game efficiency.
After analyzing Weeks 1 through 3 last week, we now dive into Week 4's grouping rates to find a few valuable pieces of data for season-long fantasy owners and DFS players alike.
Let's see what we can find.
Pittsburgh's Wildcat Week
On Monday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers took a different approach to get their offense going against the downtrodden Cincinnati Bengals. Instead of relying on Mason Rudolph to do all the passing-game work and James Conner to get himself established on your typical run plays, Randy Fichtner made use of wildcat formations with multiple option looks and touch passes on jet sweeps.
The actual stats are unavailable as of this writing, but we should note that the Steelers used two backs at just a 1% clip during the first three weeks of the season. And Conner and Samuels played 38 and 26 snaps, respectively. It's the first time Samuels has logged at least 25 snaps and eclipsed a 40% snap rate this season.
Against the Bengals' bottom-10 rush defense, both Conner and Jaylen Samuels benefited from their massive usage. The two combined for 68 yards on 20 rushes (one touchdown), 140 receiving yards on 16 catches (one touchdown) and Samuels was credited with 3 completions for 31 yards on the passes behind the line. In PPR formats, Conner finished as RB12 and Samuels RB23.
But, going forward, what can we expect from the Steelers'? Head coach Mike Tomlin hasn't ruled out sticking with the wildcat, but he admitted that it is gimmicky. That being said, its success might keep it involved to a degree, or at least produce different wrinkles in which the once-tight-end Samuels could make use of his versatility in what was a stagnant offense.
Samuels is an upside add, especially for Conner owners. Whether or not the wildcat is part of the game plan, he will command some usage with Rudolph still finding his way and the Steelers without the likes of Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. This will be something to monitor, not just for the backfield but for guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald. The lower passing volume puts another ding in Smith-Schuster's already plummeting stock, and the already-injured tight end is more likely to block than head out for a route in those run-heavy sets.
The Lions' Two-Back Packages
The Detroit Lions, though in different fashion, were another team to make use of two running backs this past week. In a tight game against the Kansas City Chiefs, they sent out some combination of backs on 36% of their offensive plays. Their primary personnel grouping was 21, which they ran on 23 of their 72 snaps. The only grouping they ran more frequently (38%) was 11, which they rolled out 48% of the time in the first three weeks. They ran 21 just 15% of the time in those matchups.
Kerryon Johnson appeared to be the primary focus in the offensive game plan. The second-year back doubled up the next-closest back in snaps.
Johnson posted a snap share of 70% on the day, marking his second straight week with at least 70% of the snaps. In the opening two weeks, he failed to play any more than 57.1% of the available offensive plays with the departed C.J. Anderson a part of the team at the time.
What differed from last week to this week was the personnel sharing the field with Johnson. In Week 3, Detroit played Nick Bawden -- basically the fullback -- on 19 snaps to 11 for Ty Johnson and 6 for McKissic. Against the high-flying Chiefs, they opted for McKissic in a pass-catching role.
Limiting our scope to 21 personnel, this week's results were a 78% run rate, a 61% rush success rate and 6.4 yards per carry. Last week (58%/29%/1.9) was not as successful. The passing game wasn't an emphasis in that package, nor did it excel. We could infer that the whole purpose was to chew clock and utilize the talents of Kerryon and McKissic. The two combined for five targets in the passing game as Kerryon tied a season-high with three for two catches and 32 yards.
That means good things for Kerryon owners, as well as those looking to get value from him in close or plus matchups in DFS. The team's third wideout -- Danny Amendola or Marvin Hall -- is hurt most in these situations. In Amendola's stead, Hall logged just 38% of the snaps, so unless the Lions are in negative game script don't expect much from that Week 1 Amendola pickup.
The Bears Under Daniel
The Chicago Bears are expected to be without quarterback Mitchell Trubisky for at least a week if not more time following the team's Week 5 bye. In Sunday's win over the Vikings, he suffered a dislocated left shoulder with a slight labrum tear, and while he's expected back "sooner rather than later" there's a chance we get two more games with Chase Daniel leading the offense.
There are a lot of questions about whether Daniel is a downgrade, upgrade or lateral move for the entire offense, and the fantasy assets attached, but was there anything for us to note from the personnel usage in Week 4? In short, there was a noticeable shift from the one quarter Trubisky played in versus the rest of the game.
In the first quarter, Chicago favored 11 personnel 71% of the time to just 12% in 12 and 18% in 21. Then, with Daniel under center for the next three quarters, the Bears opted for 11 personnel 64% of the time, followed by 12 at 24%, 21 at and 9%. For more perspective, Chicago leaned toward 11 at a 53% clip, 12 at 12% and 21 at 19%.
The three-receiver looks could've been part of the initial game plan until the Bears got ahead. No matter the quarterback, that might have been the case. And their usage when leading was pretty aligned with their season averages, but they did make use of 12 at a higher rate (26%) in that positive game script. They were handed the ball to David Montgomery and sending two tight ends out to block. They dropped back just twice in that set, and even in 11 they had a 63% pass rate with a short 5.9 air yards per attempt.
All in all, we can expect Chicago to be heavier on 12 personnel, especially when they secure the lead with their strong defense on the other side. That should lead to volume for Montgomery, but it's encouraging for his usage in the passing game (five targets against Minnesota). It could also concentrate more looks to Allen Robinson and Javon Wims, who were the only two receivers to log 60-plus snaps, garnering seven and five targets, respectively.
Steer clear of Daniel, Wims and Anthony Miller for now, but Montgomery and Robinson are still very good season-long options, ranking as RB18 and WR21 in our rest-of-season projections. But when they're expected to get ahead, as they are expected to this week against Oakland, both are really solid DFS plays. Montgomery ($5,700) is the seventh-best value at his position, while Robinson is projected for 10.7 FanDuel points at his $6,900 price tag.