Exploiting FBG Tools for DFS Success: Snap Counts

Using Footballguys Snap Count Data to analyze opportunity in DFS.

Regardless of the site you play on or the types of contests you prefer the most, there is one constant in DFS -- opportunity rules.

When a player is projected to receive more opportunity than their salary implies, it’s almost always an indication of value, at least on a point per dollar level. When most fantasy footballers try to project opportunity at the skill positions, they look to historical stats that are readily available on dozens of websites -- targets for wide receivers and tight ends, carries and catches for running backs.

But there is another factor that plays a big role in determining a player’s opportunity to receive said targets and/or carries, and it’s an obvious one that often goes overlooked. Snap counts tell us how often a player is on the field relative to his teammates who play the same position. They’re useful in DFS for three main reasons:

  1. First, the obvious one -- without snaps, there can be no targets or carries that lead to fantasy production.

  2. When a starter gets injured, looking back on how their snaps were allocated throughout the rest of the game gives the best indication on how the team will divvy up playing time at the position moving forward. This is an especially pertinent topic following the slew of serious injuries to fantasy-relevant players we just witnessed in Week 2.

  3. When looked at in conjunction with targets, snap counts are useful in identifying players whose roles are centered around the passing game. If we can predict an increase in snaps for players who have a high target per snap rate, there’s a good chance we may be able to spot an outlier the rest of the field doesn’t see coming.

I’m going to take a look at how snap counts are relevant in DFS this week, but first I want to make sure everyone knows where to find this data on the site and provide an example of how it influenced my decision making for the better when constructing my Week 2 lineups (includes a useful Microsoft Excel tip).

Moving on to some snap count related Week 3 takeaways:

DeVante Parker's Ceiling is Sky High

Based on DeVante Parker’s injury plagued offseason and recent reports he might still be a long way from game shape, it seemed doubtful he’d return to a full complement of snaps in his 2016 debut, but that’s exactly what happened last week at New England. Here’s how the opportunity and production broke down for Miami’s receivers in Week 2:

PlayerSnaps% of SnapsTargTarg/SnapRECYDY/RTD
DeVante Parker 61 92% 13 21.3% 8 106 13.2 0
Jarvis Landry 60 94% 13 21.7% 10 137 13.7 0
Kenny Stills 64 98% 4 6.3% 2 39 19.5 1
Leonte Carroo 3 5% 0 0.0% 0 0 0 0

Parker’s fantasy totals were inflated by the pass heavy game script the Patriots forced upon the Dolphins last week, but the same could be said for all Miami receivers. What matters more is how much Parker was on the field and how much attention he received from Ryan Tannehill in comparison to Miami’s other pass catchers.

Not only did Parker start the game and stay on the field throughout, he was targeted on nearly the same percentage of his snaps as resident target hog, Jarvis Landry. And even though we’re looking at an extremely small sample, it appears the notion Kenny Stills is a significant threat to Parker’s market share can be abandoned, even if Stills did have Miami’s lone wide receiver touchdown.

The season long crowd was so down on Parker by the end of the summer, it became easy to forget just how good he is. Parker flashed the size, speed, and athleticism that made him a star at Louisville, making plays all over the field against the Patriots and coming down with tough catches in tight coverage.

There is very little Parker has done since becoming a starter that’s not to like from a fantasy standpoint. He’s eclipsed 80 receiving yards in five out of seven career starts and his career 17.6 yards per reception suggests a tantalizing ceiling. From Weeks 12-17 last season, Parker ranked as the cumulative WR21 (Fanduel scoring), yet he’s still priced on most sites in low-end WR3 territory.

Vegas has Miami pegged for 25.5 points at home this week and 80% of their offensive yardage has come via the pass through two games. Cleveland let up a 7-114-1 line to Jordan Matthews in Week 1 and a multi-touchdown game to Mike Wallace last week.

I’m not too concerned about Parker’s primary matchup against Browns cornerback Joe Haden. While Haden has rebounded from a poor 2015 so far, he’s not the shutdown corner he used to be. Haden was beaten on a deep ball in Week 1 and Wallace got inside on him for one of his touchdowns last week. Also, Haden usually sticks to one side of the field. Parker should also see some opportunities while in Jamar Taylor’s awful coverage when he lines up to the left.

This is a situation where I want to be ahead of the curve in GPPs and use Parker at fairly low ownership while his price remains depressed.

Matt Asiata Should Not Scare You Off Jerick McKinnon

The Vikings running back situation in the wake of Adrian Peterson’s season-ending knee injury is one where the snap count data is a little deceiving and requires further investigation. Here’s how the workload was divvied up in Peterson’s absence last week:

PlayerPosTeamSnapsRush AttRush YdsTargetsRecRec Yds
Jerick McKinnon RB MIN 28 2 2 1 1 -1
Matt Asiata RB MIN 21 6 14 1 1 11

McKinnon, the newly minted starter in Minnesota, barely out-snapped Asiata and received four fewer total touches as the Vikings salted away the win over the visiting Packers, which would suggest something close to a 50-50 workload split. But fortunately for us, we don’t have to rely on a sample of less than half a game to figure out how the Vikings plan to deploy their running backs moving forward. Peterson was suspended for 15 games during the 2014 season, while Asiata and McKinnon occupied the spots behind him on the depth chart.

The majority of fantasy analysts realize this too, of course, which is why my Twitter timeline was flooded with tables depicting how the Vikings split the backfield work between Asiata and McKinnon in Peterson’s absence two years ago:

 GamesRush AttRush YdsYPARush TDTgtsRecRec YdsRec TD
Matt Asiata 15 164 570 3.5 9 63 44 312 1
Jerick McKinnon 11 113 538 4.8 0 41 27 135 0

There’s a major problem with looking back at the full 2014 season to project what the Vikings will do moving forward. McKinnon began the season as a small school rookie, who came into the league still learning the position after playing as a triple-option quarterback through his junior season at Georgia Southern. Even though he was the best-measured athlete at the 2014 Scouting Combine, there was no way Minnesota was going to trust a rookie with such little experience playing running back as a workhorse beginning in his second pro game.

What the season long splits don’t tell you is that McKinnon was in fact deployed as a workhorse for an extended period during his rookie year.

By limiting the window to Weeks 6-12 of 2014, we get a very different picture of how the Vikings viewed their backfield hierarchy in Peterson’s absence (keep in mind McKinnon played his last game of the season in Week 12 due to injury):

 GamesRush AttRush YdsYPARush TDTgtsRecRec YdsRec TD
Matt Asiata 5 23 48 2.08 3 19 13 100 0
Jerick McKinnon 6 83 372 4.48 0 25 19 80 0

As McKinnon earned the trust of the coaching staff, it became clear the Vikings did not envision their backfield as a 50/50 platoon with Peterson sidelined. McKinnon handled over 78% of the team’s rushing attempts from Weeks 6-12. For context, the only running back to exceed a 78% market share of his team’s carries in 2014 was DeMarco Murray.

The rub, of course, is McKinnon failed to score a single touchdown over the six-game sample, and despite being otherwise phased out in favor of McKinnon, Asiata’s role at the goal line remained unchanged. Asiata had five carries from inside the opposing team’s five-yard line during this period, while McKinnon had only one. It’s unlikely Asiata will relinquish his role as goal line vulture after posting a top-5 goal line touchdown conversion rate in 2014.

Despite the fact McKinnon probably won’t enjoy short scoring opportunities, he shapes up as a strong GPP play this week, especially in PPR scoring formats. He’s still priced as a backup despite his designation as a starter, and I don’t expect huge ownership due to the Vikings matchup at Carolina, the perception McKinnon will be mired in a timeshare with Asiata, and the availability of Charles Sims and Theo Riddick as inexpensive running back options.

It’s true the Vikings have struggled on the ground, averaging a league-low 47.5 rushing yards through two games, but McKinnon’s value as a pass catcher shouldn’t be understated. According to Pro Football Focus, McKinnon averaged the most targets per route run at running back last season. The Panthers are favored by seven points at home against the Vikings and had a 7-2 record against the spread in their 2015 home conetsts. Minnesota will be without their starting left tackle, Matt Kalil, which isn’t going to help them defend Carolina’s pass rush. Sam Bradford will have to get the ball out quickly more often than not, and McKinnon should benefit on checkdowns, where he's always a threat to break a big play.

The setup may not be ideal for McKinnon, but he’s in a spot where talent, opportunity, and game script have converged -- and he’s super cheap. If it weren’t for the bunk notion Asiata will play a significant role, the crowd would be all over McKinnon, who averaged a hyper-efficient 1.14 PPR fantasy points per touch in 2015. When that type of back is in line for 12-15 carries and 3-5 catches at about 20% above the minimum price, he belongs in your GPP portfolio.

A Few More Snappy Plays

  • Larry Fitzgerald has played more snaps than any Cardinals skill position player and has been targeted on the highest percentage of his snaps. He leads the team in market share of targets, yardage, and touchdowns. Fitzgerald has converted all three of his league-leading three targets from inside the 10-yard line into touchdowns this season. He’ll be covered primarily by Nickell Robey in the slot this week. Fitzgerald has seven inches and 53 pounds on Robey.

  • Jacob Tamme has played 73% of Atlanta’s tight end snaps and leads the team in targets per snap. He has received exactly eight targets in each of Atlanta’s two games and ranks behind only Jason Witten, Jordan Reed, and Greg Olsen in tight end targets. If you’re playing the Sunday-Monday slate, you can do far worse than Tamme in a potential shootout with the Saints.

  • Kelvin Benjamin has only played 67% of Carolina’s snaps, but has been targeted by Cam Newton on a monstrous 20.2% of his snaps. That target per snap rate is sure to regress but it’s not a reason to fade Benjamin this week. Benjamin has a physical mismatch against Minnesota cornerback Trae Waynes this week.

  • Theo Riddick dominated snaps in the absence of Ameer Abdullah last week and trails only Marvin Jones in target per snap rate for Detroit. He’s essentially a must play in PPR formats, and he should see enough total touches to pay off his modest price tag regardless of scoring rules.

  • Jordy Nelson has played 90% of Green Bay’s wide receiver snaps through two games after not playing at all in the preseason and he’s being targeted on a team leading 16.4% of his snaps. Fitzgerald and Nelson are the only two players to receive more than two targets from inside the opponent’s 10-yard line through two games. As he continues to get his legs back under him, expect Nelson to start delivering more of his trademark big plays. He’s in a nice spot this week with Green Bay’s implied team total bordering on 28 points.

  • Phillip Dorsett’s snap count increased from 73% in Week 1 to 84% in Week 2, and should continue to rise in Donte Moncrief’s absence. With Moncrief on the shelf, 12% of Andrew Luck’s season to date targets are up for grabs and Dorsett should be a beneficiary. As long as he avoids Jason Verrett in coverage on the majority of the snaps, Dorsett is a great play at home vs. San Diego in what projects as one of the week’s highest scoring games. News on the severity of Moncrief’s injury didn’t break early enough for sites to raise Dorsett’s price, adding salary relief to his list of Week 3 benefits.

  • Charles Sims played 62% of Tampa Bay’s offensive snaps in the absence of Doug Martin last week. It’s a number that should rise with Martin sidelined, making Sims another must play on PPR sites. Sims has been targeted on 11.6% of his snaps, which is near the same rate as Tampa’s primary slot receiver, Adam Humphries (12.1%).

  • Like Nelson, Victor Cruz is a veteran receiver returning to action after an extended layoff. And like Nelson, he’s immediately been on the field for over 90% of his team’s snaps. Cruz has the same number of targets as teammate Sterling Shepard (12) and is the only Giants wide receiver to record multiple red zone targets. Cruz should line up opposite Washington cornerback Bashaud Breeland on the majority of his routes this week. Breeland has been absolutely roasted in coverage in each of his first two games.