Fantasy Football: Week 6 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.
Venturing our way into Week 7, 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.
A Two-Receiver Show in Minnesota
In Week 6, the Minnesota Vikings were second among all teams in terms of percentage of plays run out of 21 personnel at 28%. They trailed the Denver Broncos by a single percentage point and ran another 25% out of 12, but they most notably led all teams with a 23% rate out of 22 personnel, when they would have just one wideout on the field. That figure is 6% beyond the next-closest team -- the New England Patriots -- and plays its part in Minnesota deploying a single receiver on 34% of plays (they were in 13 personnel 11% of the time). For comparison, there were three teams who didn't run a single play out of 22 or 13 this week, and the average across the league was a combined 7%.
Pro Football Reference's snap data suggests that Adam Thielen was the one operating in those sets the majority of the time, notching 59 snaps to Stefon Diggs' 45 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Somehow, though, it was Diggs who emerged with the more impressive fantasy showing, turning 11 targets into 7 catches, 167 yards and 3 touchdowns (36.5 fantasy points). Thielen had six catches for 57 yards and a score on eight targets, and his reduced statline is easily explained. On the 22 plays the Vikings ran with a one-receiver look, Kirk Cousins dropped back just seven times, completing six for no more than 9.0 air yards per attempt across 22 and 13 personnel.
Minnesota didn't find much actual success through the passing or running game in those formations, and they are unlikely to return to them outside of positive game scripts like this one. Prior to Week 6, they used only one receiver at an 8% rate, which is barely above the league average (6%) during that time span. What that tells us is that for all the fireworks Diggs produced, he could have done even more damage to the Eagles' weak secondary. And going forward, he could very well do the same in any other plus matchup.
After all, he and Thielen have commanded target shares of 25% and 22% to go with 36% and 45% shares of the team's available air yards, according to airyards.com. Along with Dalvin Cook, the Vikings' pass offense is about as concentrated as they come. This week, they get the Detroit Lions, who just so happen to allow a 50% passing success rate and 11.5 air yards per attempt against 12 personnel. Thielen ($7,100) and Diggs ($6,800) are our models' WR9 and WR18 on FanDuel.
The Bengals' Run D vs. 11 Personnel
The Cincinnati Bengals didn't fare too poorly in Sunday's home loss to the divisional foe Baltimore Ravens. They opened with a kickoff return score, held Lamar Jackson and crew to 23 points (only nine after the first quarter) and ultimately kept it within six points at the very end. But where Baltimore had its biggest was in the run game, where they racked up 269 yards and two touchdowns on 43 attempts. Jackson totaled 152 yards, and Mark Ingram added another 52 on 4.0 yards per carry.
For the game, Cincy was bulldozed for a 58% rushing success rate from all formations, but Baltimore's 14 attempts from 11 personnel were particularly effective. Their dynamic attack rushed to a 64% success rate for 10.9 yards per carry and a score. The Bengals have now given up 5.7 yards per carry against 11, resulting in a 53% success rate -- 4% above the league average. Only three other defenses are giving up more yards on a per-play basis.
It's apparent that Cincinnati is a target in the run game, but they are especially salivating to target in the next two weeks. This coming week, they are at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have only a 36% success rate running out of 11, yet 58% of their attempts have originated in that set. Plus, Leonard Fournette (primarily at least) has averaged 4.4 yards per carry -- it just so happens -- for zero touchdowns. With Fournette, that isn't nothing new, though; the dude is circling touchdown regression with the workload he has seen. Oh -- and did I mention he's our top-projected back and overall player in FanDuel scoring despite the third-highest price ($7,900) at the position? Lock him in.
Week 8 doesn't look much better for the Bengals' run defense. The Los Angeles Rams loom for a road matchup, and the only thing going in Cincy's favor is the uncertainty around who will be starting for LA in two weeks. Todd Gurley missed last week and has been limited, while Malcolm Brown sat out Wednesday with an ankle. Darrell Henderson popped in Week 6, and if neither of the top two backs are healthy, he projects to take advantage of this matchup. Whoever starts should, as the Rams run 71% of their rushes out of 11, all for a 56% success rate, 4.7 yards a tote and six of nine rushing scores. This past week alone, they handed it off 15 times for a 73% success rate and 6.7 yards per carry against the San Francisco 49ers' solid defensive front.
The Giants in Catch-Up Mode
Way back on Thursday night, Daniel Jones and the shorthanded New York Giants did battle with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to the final score of 35-14 in the Pats' favor. On the road at Gillette, the young rookie struggled against Bill Belichick's top-ranked defensive unit, being picked off three times for the first time in his career while completing under 50% of his passes.
Fortunately, not all was lost in the Giants' loss. We got another 31 pass attempts from Jones, who helped Golden Tate -- six catches on nine targets for 102 yards and a touchdown -- to a big fantasy day in the absences Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley.
New York used Tate and two other receivers on 77% of their plays and on 94% of their dropbacks. And that last rate remained constant for the time the Giants spent in more than a seven-point hole. On their 26 dropbacks, Jones was in 11 personnel on 24 of them, and he did well in that sample. Even with the Patriots expecting pass, he wasn't sacked a single time and completed 13-of-24 attempts for one touchdown and an impressive 10.0 air yards per attempt. And when you limit that to throws to only receivers, he was 6-of-8 for 12.8 yards per attempt, 10.8 air yards per attempt and one touchdown.
Since Jones took over in Week 3, the Giants have used 11 personnel at a 72% clip when trailing by any number of points (75% when down by seven or more). Naturally, they own a 78% pass rate, but that's produced five touchdowns on 9.7 air yards per throw, including two to receivers on 12.1 air yards per attempt. Before you point out that this week the Giants are 3.0-point favorites over the Arizona Cardinals, that's a close line that could have the Giants either coming from behind or going back-and-forth with the lead throughout. Kyler Murray is a formidable adversary with the weapons and quick-paced in front of him.
As for as New York's weapons, this all leads to promise for Tate ($6,100) but also Shepard when he returns from a concussion. It doesn't sound like that will be this week, so we get another week with Darius Slayton ($5,400) on the cheap. The first-year wideout saw eight targets a week ago, along with 54% of the team's air yards and a 19.5-yard average depth of target. He's projected for 7.4 FanDuel points but has promise of doing much more. The only thing that might keep him down is the returns of Barkley and Engram. The Cardinals are a defense that can be had from multiple positions in game stacks.