Exploiting FBG Tools for DFS Success: Target Stats

Using Footballguys Target Stats data to identify wide receivers with high upside and low-ownership.

Over the summer, I looked back on how Footballguys Target Stats put me onto a huge Week 12 game from Doug Baldwin the rest of the field didn’t see coming. It was a useful article to introduce you to our archive of sortable target data, but looking backwards at last season is of limited utility if you’re looking to cash in Week 5.

Now that the 2016 target data has had a month to stabilize, it’s getting safer to use as a launching pad for some forward thinking. I’m going to share my most relevant takeaways from reviewing this season’s Target Stats to help you find the wide receivers with highest upside in Week 5. But first, if you don’t know where to find our Target Stats, or how to sort them, check out this instructional video I made back in August. It includes a useful Microsoft Excel tip for determining team market share percentages, which I’ll refer to often in my analysis.

High-Priced, High-Owned, Highest Ceiling

Jordy Nelson - Nelson always seems to be priced just below the top-tier of receivers, at a point where most entrants are inclined to spend the few extra bucks to get up to guys like A.J. Green or Julio Jones. But with both Jones and Green facing tough matchups this week, it’s likely Nelson will end up the second-highest owned wide receiver behind Antonio Brown on most DFS sites. The target data points to Nelson being a solid bet to score multiple touchdowns this week, making him a receiver to target in GPPs regardless of ownership.

Despite playing one less game than most of the field due to the Packers Week 4 bye, Nelson is tied for the league lead in receiving touchdowns and red zone targets. His 50% red zone target market share trails only Kyle Rudolph and he's been efficient with those looks, converting four-out-of-eight into touchdowns. The Packers are at home, where they showed in Week 3 they're a much better team, and Vegas has them projected for 28 points against a banged up Giants secondary, playing on a short week. Nelson is just rounding into form after an extended absence and the bye week should have helped him get back to 100%. I expect we'll start seeing some trademark chunk plays in addition to Nelson’s plentiful short scoring opportunities.

Odell Beckham Jr. - After he failed to score a touchdown for the fourth straight game and was limited to 5.3 fantasy points on national television, my first blush reaction was that Beckham would see substantially reduced ownership this week. But it’s apparent we’ll see Beckham’s name pop up as a strong play in countless DFS articles leading up to Sunday, which will make him a fairly popular in tournaments.

Regardless of how many other entrants are on him, Beckham warrants a spot as one of your core GPP plays this week. He owns a team leading 25.7% target market share this season, which is practically identical to the 25.8% share he enjoyed last year when he finished with 80 catches, 1,450 receiving yards, and 13 touchdowns. Supply is clearly not the problem here.

We can chalk up Beckham’s poor Week 4 performance to excellent team defense by the Minnesota Vikings and tough individual coverage from cornerback Xavier Rhodes. In his other three games, Beckham has averaged 6.3 catches and 93 receiving yards. He’s just been a victim of touchdown variance, which will eventually begin progressing towards the mean. Our Ryan Hester recently noted Beckham is one of only two players without a touchdown who averages over seven targets per game, has a target market share over 20%, and plays for a team that ranks top-12 in pass attempts

The Giants matchup with Green Bay figures to expedite said progression. According to Austin Lee’s Normalized Strength of Schedule chart (a fantastic Footballguys DFS tool I can’t wait to feature in the coming weeks), the Packers have allowed the most fantasy points per game to wide receivers, after adjusting to better represent their opponents’ true performance. You’ll no doubt recall Stefon Diggs exploding for a 9-182-1 line in Week 3 against Green Bay, followed by Marvin Jones going nuclear for 6-205-2 in Week 4. With their top cornerback, Sam Shields, still sidelined with the fourth concussion of his career, Green Bay will continue to field the 31st ranked pass defense against opposing WR1s (DVOA).

Antonio Brown - Brown is the first name I’m clicking on in GPPs or cash games, and he should be yours too. His target market share is north of 30%, where it will likely remain all season, but you don’t need target stats to know he can’t miss this week.

Pittsburgh is a huge home favorite, with a 28 point implied team total, facing a Jets defense that forces teams to pass on them, but ranks 30th in pass defense DVOA. Since the start of the 2014 season, Ben Roethlisberger has averaged an absurd 30 fantasy points per game in 16 home contests – over 68% higher than his average in 16 away games. Not surprisingly, Brown has seen his fantasy points per game average increase by 47% in the 16 home games he's played with Roethlisberger over the same span. Don't overthink this – build around the Ben-Brown stack in all formats.

Mining the Middle Tier for Low-Ownership

Amari Cooper - Maybe I’m just quadrupling down on the losses Cooper has dealt me over the first month of the season, but I’m not ready to give up the ghost on his inevitable blow-up game just yet -- especially now that he’s come down in price a bit and the crowd should be looking in a different direction.

Michael Crabtree will garner the most attention of Oakland’s receivers this week for good reasons -- he’s outscored Cooper by a combined 30.6 fantasy points over the last three weeks and he’s still more affordable across the industry. Taking nothing away from Crabtree, who has played remarkably well this season, Cooper is due for a monster game after several near misses on big plays during the first few weeks.

Earlier I mentioned Hester’s nugget about Odell Beckham being one of only two players without a touchdown who averages over seven targets per game, has a target market share over 20%, and plays for a team that ranks top-12 in pass attempts. Cooper is the other. Players -- especially those with Cooper’s skillset -- simply don’t get targeted so often without finding the end-zone eventually.

I’m anticipating a big yardage total for Cooper this week to go along with his first touchdown catch. The Raiders are at home, with an implied team total over 27 points. San Diego heads into this game ranked 28th in pass defense DVOA to opposing WR1s, and that was before it was learned their top cover corner, Jason Verrett, is out for the season with a partially torn ACL. Perhaps the Verrett news will nudge Cooper’s ownership up higher than it otherwise would have been, but with options like Emmanuel Sanders (great play this week), Jordan Matthews, and Crabtree available for slightly less on most sites, Cooper -- and his untapped GPP winning upside -- should still go largely overlooked (think somewhere in the 8% range on most sites).

Randall Cobb - Cobb will be about 2% owned this week, which is justifiable given his ranking as the cumulative WR75 on a per game basis. But with only four weeks in the books (and three games for the Packers), the target data hasn’t totally stabilized yet. We know what Cobb’s role in Green Bay’s offense has looked like over the years, and (like Beckham and Cooper) his usage thus far points to statistical progression.

In 2014 -- the last year Nelson played a full season -- Cobb saw 24% of the Packers targets. This year, his market share has dipped to 19%, which has resulted in nearly two less targets per game. Cobb has also suddenly disappeared from the Packers red zone plans. From 2014-2015, Cobb ranked third in the NFL in total red zone targets. This year he’s seen only three out of Green Bay’s 16 opportunities from inside the 20.

This isn’t me telling you to bet on red because black came out the last three times. Scott Barrett’s research suggests the Giants are susceptible to slot receivers, and the game logs back it up. New York has given up eight catches to Cole Beasely and touchdowns to both Willie Snead and Jamison Crowder this season. Everything I mentioned about the implied game script for the Packers when writing up Jordy Nelson applies to Cobb as well, but the ownership gap will be substantial between the two. Cobb (and/or Richard Rodgers) are great ways to go contrarian with your Aaron Rodgers stack this week.

Tyrell Williams - Williams’ ownership has generally hovered in the 10-15% range over the last two weeks, but back-to-back mediocre performances in great on-paper matchups with the Colts and Saints should scare people off him in an even better matchup with Oakland’s horrendous pass defense.

Normalized Strength of Schedule lists the Raiders as giving up the second-most adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers. Williams should be covered by Oakland cornerback Sean Smith on the majority of his routes. Per Pro Football Focus, Smith has ceded the fifth-most fantasy points per route defended this season.

While there seems to be a general consensus in the fantasy community Travis Benjamin has become San Diego’s WR1 in Keenan Allen’s absence, the target data tells a different story. Williams and Benjamin have seen an identical 28 targets this season. Benjamin has scored eight more fantasy points than Williams (Fanduel scoring), but those tables will turn soon enough if Williams continues receiving the bulk of the opportunities when San Diego gets within scoring range.

Williams’ eight red zone targets are tied for the league lead. Five of those targets have come from inside the 10-yard line, where only Emmanuel Sanders and Larry Fitzgerald have seen more chances. While Williams has yet to convert any of those short scoring opportunities into touchdowns, the league average touchdown conversion rate on targets from inside the 10-yard line currently sits at 34%. Math suggests Williams is due, and I’m inclined to believe we’ll see progression soon considering he’s six-foot-four and has a measured vertical jump of 39.5 inches.

Lowest Price, Highest Upside

Sammie Coates - It seems we’ve officially witnessed Coates moving ahead of Markus Wheaton on the Pittsburgh wide receiver depth chart. Coates got his first start of the season against the Chiefs last week and responded with six catches for 78 yards on eight targets. He played more snaps than any Steelers receiver besides Antonio Brown -- 12 more than Wheaton and 15 more than Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Coates has never seen more than five targets in any of his previous five career regular season games, so projecting him to maintain last week’s target volume is risky. But the Steelers need a vertical threat to replace Martavis Bryant, and they’ve found one in Coates who has caught a pass of at least 40 yards in every game he’s played this season. Not surprisingly, he leads the NFL in yards per target among pass catchers with at least 20 targets:

PlayerTeamTgtRecYdsY/RY/TTD
Sammie Coates PIT 20 13 282 21.7 14.1 0
Julio Jones ATL 35 22 488 22.2 13.9 3
Marvin Jones DET 36 23 482 21.0 13.4 2
Alshon Jeffery CHI 25 17 317 18.6 12.7 0
Martellus Bennett NE 20 15 247 16.5 12.4 1
Demaryius Thomas DEN 27 21 332 15.8 12.3 2

Another encouraging sign for Coates continuing to see his role increase comes from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin:

Sammie Coates got his first start at receiver, and showed some things other than just being a deep ball guy”, Tomlin said. “I think we’ve all seen consistency from him in that area through the regular season and preseason. But we’re starting to see consistency in other areas”, Tomlin continued, pointing to “the rounding out of his game”, and saying that “he took advantage of that opportunity to start to display some of those things”.

We’ve already covered Ben Roethlisberger’s home-road splits, the Steelers high implied team total, and how bad the Jets have been against wide receivers, but this tweet from Rotoworld’s Ray Summerlin drives home how truly awful New York has been at defending what Coates does best.

Coates might only need two catches to return value at his bargain basement price across the industry.