Trendspotting: Week 4

Examining player and team-based trends that could identify valuable DFS options

In the first few weeks here at Trendspotting, I looked at five games projected to be key parts to the week's DFS slate. I had been looking at the three or four highest over/unders as projected by Las Vegas odds and pick one or two "wild cards" with intriguing fantasy potential despite a modest projected point total.

Going forward, instead of examining five games, I'm going to look at 10 individual teams each week. You'll still the same quantity of information, but it will be in a format that allows for more flexibiltiy to discuss teams I want without being forced to pair them with their opponent.

Reader's Guide

  • Green text is a good matchup for that team's offensive players.
  • Red text is a bad matchup.
  • When a player's name is green, it means that he exceeded 2.75x value on his DraftKings salary that week.
  • If a name is red, it means that player was under 2x his value.
  • All reference to fantasy points assumes DraftKings scoring rules unless otherwise specified.
  • All stats reference the full 2016 season, unless otherwise specified.

Looking Back

In order to keep myself honest and not just dish out wild prognostications with no repercussions, I'll be detailing my best and worst calls from the previous week. Ideally, the best calls sound great, and the worst calls weren't big misses, but with the unpredictable nature of this sport, that's far from guaranteed. Here's last week's column for reference.

Hits

I had Dennis Pitta and Melvin Gordon getting 3x, Allen Robinson getting 2.75x, and Jack Doyle going for 4x. In the understatement of the year, I said Marvin Jones was "a fine play." Though I did allude to some positive touchdown regression coming (more on that later; teaser alert), I apologize to you, dear readers, for not being more definitive because I did like me some Marvin last week.

Misses

I had Blake Bortles and Amari Cooper achieving 3x and Theo Riddick getting at least 2.5x from receiving stats alone (hey, at least the receptions were there).

New Features

Allow me to use the examples from Jones and Cooper above to introduce one of the column's new features. In the first, I'm going to attempt to identify touchdown regression candidates each week to help with DFS lineup decisions. In the second, I'm going to identify "funnel" defenses in order to target teams whose defensively styles and skills may lead to a boost in passing production against them.

Targets Lead to Touchdowns

Each week, I'll take a look a few pass-catchers who are producing at an acceptable level but not putting up high-ceiling fantasy numbers due to a lack of touchdowns. We're going to look at pass-catchers only because of the injury-driven turnover of the running back position and the ability to pay for "cheap touches" there in most weeks.

These pass-catchers are potential targets on DraftKings this week in case regression hits. For example, in Weeks 1 and 2, Marvin Jones had double-digit targets in each game, leading Detroit with a healthy 27.6% Target Market Share. But Jones had no touchdowns...until his Week 3 explosion.

The following players have zero touchdowns but have been targeted at least seven times per game, earn at least 20% of their teams' targets, and play on teams who have attempted at least 111 passes (37 per game, top-12 in the NFL).

  • Amari Cooper
  • Brandon Marshall
  • Jordan Reed
  • Dennis Pitta
  • Steve Smith

There are a couple of solid candidates here. Cooper leads the list most likely to score this week due to his talent and opponent (at Baltimore). Marshall has a tough opponent in Seattle this week, but the team may be without Eric Decker, and his head coach insisted to the media this week that he would see more targets (he's already generating a 24.3% share). Pitta and Reed are solid candidates as well. I'm looking to deploy a Joe Flacco-Smith-Cooper mini game stack in GPPs and call it the "Regression Special."

I'd also like to add the following players to this list because of talent, situation, and just narrowly missing the criteria above.

  • Odell Beckham Jr (only 107 team pass attempts)
  • Allen Hurns (18.5% Market Share)
  • Terrelle Pryor (only 97 team pass attempts)
  • Golden Tate (19.0% Market Share)
  • Tajae Sharpe (only 106 team pass attempts)

Beckham is an elite talent. The scores will come but maybe not this week against a very difficult Minnesota team. Pryor is all Cleveland has. He's just as likely to get a rushing score as a receiving one. Hurns is someone who could be a GPP play due to his boom/bust ability and the matchup vs. Indianapolis. Hurns will avoid Vontae Davis for most of the day (while Allen Robinson won't), but Jacksonville is also using Marqise Lee and Julius Thomas, illustrated by Hurns' Target Market Share. Tate's lack of effectiveness is a big story. Perhaps the team tries to get him going in a "get right" fashion against a weak Chicago defense if the game is going comfortably for Detroit.

Funnel Watch

A "funnel" defense is one with a stout run defense but a suspect (or worse) pass defense. These units "funnel" production to the exterior and deep parts of the field (places where passing games focus) and away from the short middle (where the running game typically occurs). The following table should help illustrate funnel defenses.

All figures below are defensive (yards allowed) stats.

TeamPAYd/GmRuYd/GmNY/AttYd/Rush% PassYd% RushYd
Green Bay Packers 307.3 42.7 7.6 1.8 87.8% 12.2%
New York Jets 284.0 71.7 8.3 3.3 79.9% 20.1%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 272.0 98.0 7.8 3.5 73.5% 26.5%
Pittsburgh Steelers 332.0 75.3 7.7 3.8 81.5% 18.5%
New York Giants 262.3 77.3 6.1 3.2 77.2% 22.8%

As you can see, Green Bay is absolutely dominating against the run, meaning that teams are taking to the air to move the ball against them. Nearly 88% of the yardage they have allowed has come via the air. For context, Pittsburgh's figure (81.5%) is second-most in the league. The yardage delta between Net Yards per Pass Attempt (hat tip to ProFootballReference for that statistical measure) is also most in the league.

These are the defenses we want to break ties in favor of when making DFS decisions about key cogs in various passing games around the league.

San Diego Chargers (Team Total 28.75 / 1st)

  • New Orleans has allowed 300+ pass yards or multiple touchdowns in each game.
  • Since 2013, Philip Rivers averages 68.5 more pass yards and 4.0 more fantasy points per game vs. the NFC.
  • New Orleans has allowed 448 rushing yards, most in the NFL and 5.0 yards per rush, third-most in the NFL.
  • In the last two weeks, Melvin Gordon has played 83.7% of the offensive snaps for San Diego and has 47 total touches, sixth-most in the NFL.
  • New Orleans has allowed 6+ receptions to four wide receivers.
  • Notable performances against: Sanu/Hardy (5-57-1), Shepard (8-117-0), Beckham (8-86-0), Cooper 6-137-0, Crabtree (7-87-0). Note: Sanu was injured halfway through the Week 3 game, leaving Hardy as his replacement.
  • In the last two weeks, Tyrell Williams has the most targets on the team and a 24.2% Target Market Share, 22nd-highest in the NFL.
  • In 2015, New Orleans allowed 18.2 fantasy points per game to tight ends, worst in the NFL.
  • New Orleans has allowed just 6.9 fantasy points per game to tight ends, sixth-fewest in the NFL.
  • Notable performances against: Tamme (3-28-0), Donnell (4-24-0), Walford (3-25-0).
  • Last week, Hunter Henry played 100% of San Diego's offensive snaps in the absence of Antonio Gates.

Cash Plays (looking for 2.75x value)

  • Melvin Gordon ($6,300) - Target: 17.3 fantasy points
  • Philip Rivers ($6,900) - Target: 19.0
  • I'm staying off Travis Benjamin ($5,900) because there's another receiver who I view about equally for much cheaper...

GPP Plays (looking for 3.75x value)

  • Tyrell Williams ($4,400) - Target: 16.5

Washington (26.75 / 2nd)

  • Cleveland has allowed 275+ passing yards (300+ twice), 2+ passing touchdowns, and at least 3.3x value to each quarterback they have faced.
  • Washington has accumulated 81.4% of its total yards via the pass, second-most in the NFL.
  • Washington averages 6.5 yards per play and 7.7 Net Yards per Pass Attempt, both third-most in the NFL.
  • Cleveland hasn't allowed a big performance to an opposing running back this season but has played against three multi-back committees. They allow the 19th-most rushing yards and the 13th-most yards per carry.
  • In his career, Matt Jones averages 3.1 more PPR fantasy points per game at home than on the road and 6.0 more PPR fantasy points per game in wins than in losses.
  • Cleveland has allowed at least 2.75x value six times and six touchdowns to wide receivers already this season.
  • Notable performances against: Landry (7-120-1), Matthews (7-114-1). Jamison Crowder profiles similarly as a player who can work the interior and intermediate parts of the field.
  • Cleveland has allowed 4+ receptions to a tight end in every game.

Cash Plays

  • Kirk Cousins ($6,500) - Target: 17.9

GPP Plays

  • Kirk Cousins ($6,500) - Target: 24.4
  • Matt Jones ($4,300) - Target: 16.1

Pittsburgh Steelers (26.5 / T-3rd)

  • Kansas City has allowed an opposing Quarterback Rating of 51.5, lowest in the NFL.
  • Ben Roethlisberger is completing 59.3% of his passes. If that holds, it would be the lowest of his career.
  • In seasons where Roethlisberger has thrown at least 400 passes, he has only finished below 63.0% on two occasions (2006 and 2008)
  • Since 2013, Roethlisberger averages 26 more yards, 1.1 more touchdowns, and 5.5 more fantasy points in home games than in road games.
  • If only counting 2014 forward, he's 56 yards, 1.7 touchdowns, and 9.1 fantasy points better at home.
  • Kansas City is 24th in fantasy points allowed to running backs, 24th in rushing yards allowed, and 18th in rush yards per attempt.
  • Kansas City has allowed at least 3.5x value to three running backs and allowed 5+ receptions to two running backs this season.
  • DeAngelo Williams is second on the team in targets; LeVeon Bell should inherit that role and potentially more as a pass-catcher with reports suggesting Bell could line up at wide receiver.
  • Kansas City has allowed the ninth-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers, but that's what can happen when one-third of your opponents had a quarterback play the worst game of his life and entered the game dinged up at receiver to begin with.
  • Kansas City has allowed 100+ yards to two receivers and 6+ receptions to three receivers (two of those were Keenan Allen, who only played a half, and Travis Benjamin, who was only the primary receiver for a half).

Cash Plays

  • Antonio Brown ($9,700) - Target: 26.7

GPP Plays

  • LeVeon Bell ($7,500) - Target: 28.1

Frankly, I like both of these players in either format. It's just that Bell isn't necessary in cash, and multiplying Brown's salary by 3.75 gave me a point total so high, my eyes nearly popped out of my head.

CAROLINA PANTHERS (26.5 / T-3RD)

  • Since 2014, Cam Newton has averaged 3.2 fewer fantasy points per game vs. Atlanta than against the rest of the NFL. More context, Newton averages 6.7 more fantasy points per game when playing his other division rivals (New Orleans and Tampa Bay) than the rest of the NFL.
  • That said, Atlanta has allowed 3+ passing touchdowns, 280+ passing yards, and at least 3.5x value to quarterbacks in each game this season. They are 32nd in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks.
  • Atlanta is 23rd in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers despite the presence of Marcus Trufant.
  • Trufant plays shadow coverage on the outside when opponents have a receiver worth shadowing.
  • Notable performances by "shadow-worthy" receivers against Atlanta, dating back to last season, from most current to least: 2016 - Cooks (2-13-0), Cooper (5-71-0), Evans (5-99-1); 2015 - A. Robinson (3-57-1), Evans (5-61-1), Hilton (2-21-0).
  • Trufant seems to do best against smaller, shiftier receivers. Kelvin Benjamin is a lot more like Evans than he is like Cooks or Hilton.
  • Atlanta is 32nd in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to tight ends.
  • Dating back to 2015, the biggest performances by tight ends against Atlanta have come in the same game that Trufant has shut down a WR1. In the Evans games listed above, Tampa tight ends combined for 6 catches and 64 yards and 6 catches, 47 yards. Tight end performances in the "red" games above were: 2016 - Fleener (7-109-1), Walford (6-50-1); 2015 - J. Thomas (6-79-0), Fleener (3-45-0)

Cash Plays

  • Cam Newton ($7,800) - Target: 21.5
  • I'm staying off Greg Olsen ($6,000) because of the other options and because...

GPP Plays

  • Kelvin Benjamin ($7,100) - Target: 26.6

Detroit Lions (24.5 / T-10th)

  • Chicago has faced the most rushing attempts this season and has allowed 40.0% of their total yardage via the run, fourth-most in the NFL.
  • Modest though it was, Dwayne Washington averaged 3.8 yards per carry on 10 attempts vs. Green Bay. All other running backs vs. Green Bay have combined to average 1.7 yards per carry.
  • Detroit doesn't run too much (their 70 rush attempts are ninth-fewest in the NFL), but they are efficient when they do, averaging 4.3 yards per carry, eight-best in the NFL.
  • Despite the rushing attempts against, Chicago has allowed at least 2.8x value to quarterbacks twice.
  • Detroit gets 75.6% of its yardage via the pass, 10th in the NFL, and passes on 60.6% of their plays, ninth.
  • Chicago is only allowing 60.0% of its yardage via the pass, fourth-fewest in the NFL, but they have allowed four passing touchdowns.

Cash Plays

  • Matthew Stafford ($7,500) - Target: 20.6
  • Marvin Jones ($7,300) - Target: 20.1

GPP Plays

  • Dwayne Washington ($3,800) - Target: 14.3

Dallas Cowboys (24.5 / T-10th)

  • San Francisco has allowed 300+ passing yards and multiple passing touchdowns in its last two games.
  • San Francisco has allowed 100+ rushing yards to a running back in each of its last two games.
  • San Francisco has allowed 100+ receiving yards to a wide receiver in each of its last two games. They have also allowed four touchdowns to wide receivers in the last two games.
  • San Francisco has allowed 100+ receiving yards and a touchdown to a tight end in its last two games.
  • Despite allowing just 185 yards and zero points in Week 1, San Francisco ranks as follows in terms of fantasy points allowed: 20th vs. quarterbacks, 15th vs. running backs, 12th vs. wide receivers, and 28th vs. tight ends.
  • Ezekiel Elliott has 20+ rush attempts in each game. Elliott's yards per touch this season: Week 1 - 2.5; Week 2 - 3.8; Week 3 - 5.0.
  • Dak Prescott has just one passing touchdown on 99 attempts, the lowest touchdown percentage in the NFL. Prescott has seen pass-catchers go down inside the five yard-line twice, had a dropped pass inside the five, and had a touchdown overturned by replay. The positive regression is coming.
  • Dez Bryant is unlikely to play, making Cole Beasley the de-facto number one receiver.

Cash Plays

  • Ezekiel Elliott ($6,900) - Target: 19.0

GPP Plays

  • Dak Prescott ($5,700) - Target: 21.4
  • Cole Beasley ($3,900) - Target: 14.6

Denver Broncos (23.5 / T-14th)

  • Tampa Bay has allowed 100+ scrimmage yards or 1+ touchdown to three running backs this season. Both of the 100+ yards backs had 95+ receiving yards.
  • Tampa Bay has allowed 300+ passing yards twice and multiple pass touchdowns in all three games (seven in total, all to wide receivers).
  • On a note related to each point above, I hope you read the "Funnel Watch" section.
  • Fun with inappropriately small sample sizes: Trevor Siemian is averaging 13 fantasy points in home games and 32.1 in road games. [insert smiley emoji here]
  • On a more serious note, Siemian's attempts and yards have increased in every game despite two game scripts in the last two weeks where a team could have protected a rookie quarterback if they wanted to.
  • Emmanuel Sanders has a 31.5% Target Market Share, fifth in the NFL. He has nine more targets than Demaryius Thomas.

Cash Plays

  • Emmanuel Sanders ($6,400) - Target: 24.0

GPP Plays

  • Trevor Siemian ($5,400) - Target: 20.3

Houston Texans (23.5 / T-14th)

  • Tennessee has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to running backs.
  • Per PFF Fantasy, DeAndre Hopkins has quite literally the perfect matchup against Tennessee cornerback Perrish Cox.
  • Notable WR1 performances against Tennessee: Cooper (4-62-0), M. Jones (8-118-0), Diggs (7-103-0); it's worth noting that Tennessee yielded 8-102-0 to Michael Crabtree last week.
  • Tennessee has been tough against quarterbacks; notable performances against: Carr (249-1-1), Stafford (260-1-1); the latter of which was saved from "red status" by 31 rushing yards.
  • DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller are both seeing over 23% of the Target Market Share for Houston.
  • Last week, Ryan Griffin surprisingly led the team in targets with 10, besting both Hopkins (8) and Fuller (7). Going from New England's outstanding cornerbacks to Tennessee's very poor corners should bring those targets back to the wideouts (Griffin had just two in each of the first two games).
  • Citing Rich Hribar's "Worksheet" again this week, Will Fuller has seen 16 of his 25 targets travel at least 15 yards in the air; that 64% clip is the highest in the NFL.

Cash Plays

  • DeAndre Hopkins ($8,400) - Target: 23.1

GPP Plays

  • Will Fuller ($5,300) - Target - 19.9
  • I'd very tempted to recommend Brock Osweiler ($5,800), but I don't know if Tennessee can keep up their end of the bargain to make this game back-and-forth enough to demand a ton of passing from Houston.

Kansas City Chiefs (21.0 / 21st)

  • Pittsburgh has allowed 300+ pass yards in every game this season (one of only two teams to do so); Pittsburgh is 27th in total yards allowed, 29th in total yards per play, 31st in passing yards allowed, and 26th in Net Yards per Pass Attempt.
  • Pittsburgh is likely to be without two starters (safety Robert Golden and middle linebacker Ryan Shazier) and could also be missing another role player (nickel corner/safety Sean Davis).
  • Pittsburgh has allowed 21 receptions to running backs (the seven per game is tied for second-most in the NFL); two running backs have 100+ scrimmage yards against Pittsburgh - both achieved it receiving.
  • Kansas City has targeted its running backs in the passing game 24 times this season, eight-most in the NFL (a 21.1% clip, 11th-most).
  • Pittsburgh is 10th in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers but faced A.J. Green in a monsoon and bracketed him in way that allowed Tyler Boyd to accrue 6-78-0. DeSean Jackson went for 6-102-0 in Week 1.
  • Pittsburgh is middle of the pack, 19th, in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. They allow six tight end receptions per game, tied for third-most in the NFL, and 69 yards per game, 11th-most.
  • Travis Kelce is second on the team in targets (21, 18.4%) and first in receiving yards (197).

Cash Plays

  • None

GPP Plays

  • Alex Smith ($5,600) - Target: 21.0
  • Travis Kelce ($4,800) - Target: 18.0

Cleveland Browns (18.75 / T-26th)

  • Washington has allowed 8.1 Net Yards per Pass Attempt, third-worst in the NFL, and 4.6 yards per carry, ninth-worst in the NFL.
  • Washington is 28th in fantasy points allowed to running backs and 30th allowed to wide receivers.
  • If the five passes that he threw last week are removed from the equation (because not even he can be a target of one of his own passes), Terrelle Pryor has a 33.7% Target Market Share, second-highest in the NFL.
  • Pryor runs and catches the football -- and should do so quite often again this week. Before dismissing Pryor because of his young quarterback, consider...
  • Washington has allowed at least 2.7x value to each quarterback they've faced.

Cash Plays

  • Terrelle Pryor ($4,300) - Target: 11.8

GPP Plays

  • Isaiah Crowell ($4,400) - Target: 16.5
  • I also think Pryor is a great candidate for 3.75x or more, but his ownership is likely going to be far too high to make him a prime GPP option.
  • Crowell is a nice pivot off a high-owned Pryor if you think this offense will have any juice. Washington is being gashed by the run, and Hue Jackson loves to run the ball, so there's some potential for Crowell here. I don't like this game, but even if you remove his longest run in each game, Crowell is still averaging 3.4 yards per carry. And that's with an 85-yard run (and 130 total yards) removed from a three-game sample.

Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail hester@footballguys.com