Fantasy Football: Week 7 Personnel Tendencies
In fantasy football, we look at a ton of factors when retrospectively dissecting 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, their game script by betting odds, and a whole lot more. One thing we don't do a lot of, though, is look 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, running back, 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 run and pass game efficiency.
While shifting our focus forward, 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 Bengals Air it Out with 11
The Cincinnati Bengals are not having a great year. After an 0-7 start, they are basically playing for next year as they look to develop their core players under first-year coach Zac Taylor. Quite a few of those core players are at the wide receiver spot, where Cincy boasts the injured A.J. Green and John Ross. In their absence, we've seen Auden Tate and Alex Erickson frequently join Tyler Boyd on the outside.
That was especially this case this week, as Cincinnati deployed 11 personnel at a 94% clip, compared to 83% through the first six weeks of the season. And in a negative game script, they passed it out of 11 on 74% of their offensive plays in that set -- 5% above their rate for the entire game.
Up against a respectable Jacksonville defense, Cincinnati didn't find a lot of success by using their three receivers. On Andy Dalton's 45 dropbacks, he completed just 22, threw 3 interceptions, and put together a success rate of 38%. For reference, the league average in 11 was 46% on the week.
But this trend has more to do with volume than efficiency. All of those opportunities amounted to 14 targets for both Boyd and Erickson, while Tate garnered six targets. All three managed at least three receptions for 55 yards with Erickson leading the way to the tune of 8 catches for 137 yards (21.7 PPR points).
The expectation is that the Bengals will be in negative game script for the majority of the remaining games, and when they've been down, they have used 11 a league-high 88% of the time. Green is unlikely to play again this week, but even when he returns (if he isn't traded), there should be three fantasy-relevant -- or at least DFS-relevant -- options to choose from on a game-by-game basis. Against the Los Angeles Rams, Boyd is the most expensive receiver at $5,600 on FanDuel, while Erickson and Tate will make for great tournament plays at $5,500 and $5,400, respectively.
The Mahomes-Less Chiefs
Last Thursday night, the Kansas City Chiefs watched their franchise quarterback go down with a knee injury in the second quarter of a game against the Indianapolis Colts. Patrick Mahomes dislocated his knee cap on a sneak close to the goal line, and he's expected to be out with the injury for a minimum of three weeks.
Matt Moore will take over behind center for K.C. after completing 10-of-19 attempts for 117 yards and a touchdown versus the Denver Broncos. What else can we take away from his two-plus quarters of work last week? In terms of personnel grouping there's quite a bit.
After Mahomes' injury we saw a dramatic shift from the 11-heavy approach that dominated up until that point. Kansas City used 12 and 11 on a combined 68% of their offensive plays, meaning they limited the offense to two receivers at that rate. They ran the ball 45% of the time for just a 29% success rate. The Chiefs haven't ran the ball well all year, and while it looks like they'll do it more, that will hurt the potential of guys like Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson. The offense should be more concentrated on the primary weapons: Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins.
And if Thursday's limited sample is any indication, Hill and Watkins' deep-ball game could be impacted by the change at quarterback. Moore's 7.9 air yards per attempt were two yards below that of Mahomes' through the first six weeks. Regardless, the Green Bay Packers represent a stay-away spot in a Sunday night matchup outside of the main DFS slate.
Detroit Versus 12 Personnel
The Detroit Lions' defense got off to a good start in its second year under Matt Patricia. They held the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Chargers to 37 combined points with three turnovers and six sacks through two weeks. However, that success was short-lived as the Lions have allowed 23 or more points in four straight games, their worst performance coming last week in a 42-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
One of the biggest culprits for them has been 12 personnel, when teams send out one back, two tight ends and two wide receivers -- a heavier set than the more popular 11 these days. Minnesota did so on 18 of 71 plays (38%), producing a 72% success rate (75% via the pass and 67% via the run). Dalvin Cook and company averaged 5.5 yards a carry on six attempts, one of which ended in the end zone.
Over all seven weeks, Detroit's opponents sport a 59% success rate out of 12 -- 11% above the league average from that package. They have a 62% rushing success rate on 4.4 yards per attempt and three touchdowns.
The Lions' next opponent, the New York Giants, have one of the best in the league in their backfield in Saquon Barkley. Barkley averages 5.6 yards per carry this year and 5.1 for his career, while the Giants have run out of 12 just 42 times for a 38% success rate and 2.6 yards per carry. However, in the three weeks Barkley has played a full game, the Giants jump to a 58% success rate and 3.9 yards per carry on 12 rushes. At $8,600, he won't come cheap, but the upside could be worth the investment.