Fantasy Football: Week 5 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.
Heading into Week 6, we take a look at last week's personnel usage to find a few valuable pieces of data for season-long fantasy owners and DFS players alike.
Let's see what we can find.
The Rams Mix It Up
The Los Angeles Rams are not out to the fastest of starts in 2019. They are 3-2 after consecutive losses, and Sean McVay's offense ranks sixth in scoring and eighth in our power rankings. Their 29.2 points per game are down from 32.9 a year ago, when they finished second in points per game despite Cooper Kupp's long absence.
Kupp has been a fantasy monster thanks to his red zone usage and much more. But Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods have struggled to a combined 51 catches and 1 touchdown, not to mention fantasy ranks of WR22 and WR37.
Cooks is practicing on a limited basis after suffering a concussion this past week -- an injury that caused him to play a season-low 46 snaps against the Seattle Seahawks. Josh Reynolds played 29 snaps in his absence, but it was the Rams' tight ends who benefited most. While Gerald Everett went off for 7 catches (11 targets) and 136 yards, Tyler Higbee hauled in all three of his targets for 47 yards. Both had catches of at least 20 yards.
A shift in personnel usage had a lot to do with it.
After seeing an uptick in 11 personnel in a high-scoring, come-from-behind game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4, McVay and company opted for three receivers at a far lower rate in Week 5 in favor of two tight end sets. They even used 13 (three tight ends) on 3% of their offensive plays.
And to clarify, Seattle was already among the top five teams in frequency of 12 personnel against at 25%.
Including this past week, the Rams' usage of 11 personnel is down nine percentage points from a year ago, and their use of 12 has increased from 8% to 11%. After averaging 81% of their runs and 94% of their passes out of 11 last year, they are at 71% and 84%, respectively, so far with increases in both (particularly running) in 12.
While the Rams deviated from what we've come to expect from them in Week 5, I think there isn't as much to this -- and that includes the love for Everett. As we see, the rates aren't that far off the rest of the season, and that might just account for Cooks' injury. Plus, their rushing success rate is 10 percentage points higher than their passing success rate for the year with both tight ends out there.
This week's opponent, the red-hot 49ers, has held teams to only a 24% passing success rate out of 12 compared to (a still low) 35% mark out of 11. So it follows that they are tied for second against tight ends, having allowed only 3.2 fantasy points per game and 87 yards on 22 targets. Proceed carefully with Everett, especially with his price up from $5,100 to $6,000 on FanDuel.
Houston's Big Week 5
Like Gerald Everett, the passing combo of Deshaun Watson and Will Fuller connected over and over this last Sunday, and their week ended in two giant fantasy outings. For Watson, he finished with 41.24 fantasy points, but Fuller had 39.7 of his own.
You have probably seen Fuller's full route tree by now, and if you have it is quite the masterpiece.
Will Fuller was effective at all levels of the field, finishing with 3 deep receptions for 109 yards & 2 TD on targets of 20+ air yards.@Will_Fuller7 accounted for 49% of team yards (136), averaging 4.0 yards of separation when targeted.#ATLvsHOU | #WeAreTexans pic.twitter.com/fiZcu8lvrZ
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 6, 2019
Fuller excelled at all levels, doing his own DeAndre Hopkins impersonation more than being the home run threat he has come to be known as. But how did this all transpire? Did the Texans use more receivers to act as decoys over the top?
Somehow, some way, the Texans -- following the Rams' footsteps -- actually used more two tight end looks. Against the Atlanta Falcons, a season-high 46% of their total plays were out of 12 personnel, including 42% of their passes. In the week prior, Houston used it 12 11% of the time and on 13% of their dropbacks. They owned passing success rates of 80% and 79% in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively.
They have used 12 personnel on 23% of their offensive plays to this point, which is actually down from a year ago (35%). But with all the success, if they stick to it, what could that mean in future weeks?
On top of more on-field success, it could lead to more games like this from Fuller. Per airyards.com, Fuller's 48% target share in Week 5 eclipsed his first four weeks by 30 percentage points and led all receivers in Week 5. It helps that usual third receiver Keke Coutee got only 4 targets on 32 snaps.
Hopkins could benefit, as well. After all, he is third in the league in target share and still managed a 24% rate in spite of the Fuller game.
The two tight ends themselves -- Darren Fells and Jordan Akins -- are not particularly great talents, nor are they utilized in the same manner as a Darren Waller. But they have combined for a 17% target share and 5 of Watson's 11 passing touchdowns. They boast seven red zone targets between them, accounting for 41.1% of such looks. Both have an edge over one another, as Akins has two more targets but Fellas has one more score to his name.
Unless you're in a super-deep league, the two tight ends don't matter. But for DFS purposes, they are a threat to score two touchdowns and help someone take down a tournament. This week, Akins ($4,600) is the cheaper of the two as the Texans face the Chiefs, who have allowed a league-high 54 targets to the position this season.
The Jets Versus 12 Personnel
In Week 5, the New York Jets surrendered 31 points to the Philadelphia Eagles. But notice how I didn't reference the Jets' defense or Eagles' offense. That's because the Eagles only tallied 265 total yards on the offensive side, while their defense scored 14 of their points. Really, Philly's offense struggled a bit in this one despite the final score and positive game script.
We get all the gripes about the Eagles' three-headed backfield, but the Jets kept their rushing attack to 84 yards on 29 carries. And a lot of their success came against Philadelphia's 12 personnel, featuring Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.
On 19 runs out of that personnel grouping, the Eagles were held to a 26% rushing success rate and 2.7 yards per carry. For the week, the league averaged 4.2 yards and a 46% success rate when running out of 12 personnel. For the year, those figures sit at 4.2 and 48%, respectively. Either way you look at it, New York excelled against the run versus that set.
But, in opposite fashion, they allowed the Eagles a 61% success rate, 9.4 air yards per attempt and a 111.3 passing rating on 18 passes thrown out of 12. Again, the league put up a 52% success rate on passes to go along with 8.5 yards per attempt, 8.3 air yards per attempt and a 112.4 passer rating in Week 5. Compared to the full-year data -- 50% success rate and 8.3 air yards per attempt -- that's still well above average.
Not so surprisingly, Philly's tight end duo combined for 6 catches, 68 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets. And mind you, that accounts for 34.5% of Carson Wentz' 29 attempts.
The Jets will now face the Dallas Cowboys, who are in full rebound mode and boast a top-five implied total heading into Week 6. If they are scoring as much as the experts think they will, look at Jason Witten ($5,000) as a cheap tight end target in DFS. He has at least four targets in every game this year, and Dallas has a 65% success rate on their 17 dropbacks out of 12 personnel.