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Land of Opportunity: Finding Value in Projected Workload, Part II

Identifying value plays in Fantasy Football by projected opportunity

As Part I highlighted, the purpose of this article is to identify players with more opportunity than their peers at similar ADPs. Part I covered quarterbacks and tight ends. Below are the running backs and wide receivers.

Methodology Review

You can check out Part I for a full run-down on the methodology of EOFP, but here's a quick graphic to summarize.

Again, the projections used for carries and pass attempts were the average projections of David Dodds, Bob Henry, Maurile Tremblay, and Jason Wood. The projections used for targets were done by Justin Howe. Please give Justin a shout on Twitter and thank him if you like this column (or even if you don't, because his time was spent on this valuable endeavor nonetheless).

And remember, we had a disclaimer in Part I. The general theme of it is that a passing attempt by (or a target from) Aaron Rodgers is worth much more than an attempt by (or target from) Blake Bortles. In other words, opportunity isn't everything; I am not saying Quincy Enunwa will outscore Doug Baldwin, despite Enunwa's name being higher on the list in the second graphic below. Now, on to Part II.

RUNNING BACKS

The Two Musketeers?

It's interesting that 2017 fantasy drafts are starting with a "big three" at running back when this list very clearly shows that there are only two true alpha dogs. This study shows just how important the receiving game is to running backs, especially in PPR formats. Ezekiel Elliott is projected for less than half of the total targets as David Johnson and LeVeon Bell, thereby relegating him from "big three" to "next eight" status.

I've Been Told It's a Passing League

As shown in the Methodology section above, a target is worth significantly more fantasy points (1.50) than a carry (0.61). Further highlighting this are Ty Montgomery and Bilal Powell. Out of the all backs projected for at least 100 carries by our site projections, Montgomery ranks 27th in projected carries, while Powell ranks 32nd. Meanwhile, Justin has those players ranked 12th and 5th, respectively, in projected targets.

Theo Riddick and Danny Woodhead, not surprisingly, are projected for more targets than carries. This drives their EOFP-to-ADP delta in the positive direction despite a low carries total.

Zero RB Band-Aid

The player with the highest EOFP-to-ADP delta, surprisingly, is Shane Vereen. It may seem like a stretch to take Vereen around the RB36 range (his EOFP rank) rather than the RB62 range (his ADP), but is Paul Perkins going to take the three-down job for the Giants? Vereen is a perfect Zero RB "glue guy." He probably won't become a plug-and-play RB1 with an injury to a teammate, but his standalone value makes him startable early when the other backs on your Zero RB squad haven't had circumstances go their way yet.

Role Playing?

We assume Mike Gillislee will play the big back role in New England. But this exercise confirms that it's a very touchdown-dependent role, with Gillislee coming in at 47th in EOFP (152 carries, just 12 targets), compared to his current RB29 ADP.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Not All Opportunity is Created Equal

Touchdowns are such a big part of fantasy football, and they are hard to predict - especially among pass-catchers. Players like Jordy Nelson, Dez Bryant, and Michael Thomas all have negative EOFP-to-ADP deltas here. That's not to say that these players are poor values, as the ability to score six fantasy points at a time isn't captured by this exercise. For top-end players, this exercise can be misleading because being on an elite offense means touchdowns do come at a higher rate and with less opportunity. But this exercise should at least make fantasy owners think twice about the true ability to score touchdowns of touchdown-dependent players.

Conversely, Justin has Pierre Garcon projected for the ninth-most EOFP among all wide receivers. Sure, San Francisco will struggle to score this season, but by the time Garcon is being drafted, how many players are mortal locks for a handful of scores or more? This late in drafts, take what is more predictable – the volume.

Can't Wait Until My Opponents Draft These Guys

Run in the opposite direction of Brandon Marshall and DeVante Parker, both of whom are being drafted as WR3s despite Justin having them projected for fewer than 100 targets.

Tyreek Hill ranks pretty low here, confirming why I'm not a fan of him at current price. After all, Kansas City won't be throwing the ball in bunches. But unlike most receivers, Hill has some rushing value. If you were to use the 0.61 fantasy points per carry mark used for running backs, Hill would acquire 17.5 more EOFPs, giving him a total of 221.8. Such a total would propel him from 37th to 26th, making his EOFP-to-ADP delta "only" -6, instead of -17.

Stats and Narratives Intersecting in Baltimore

I've discussed the situation in Baltimore throughout this offseason. They pass a lot, and their missing targets from 2016 have to go somewhere. Thus, Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin show well here. Here's a quick "for-and-against" on Maclin, in particular, with the "for" written by yours truly. Adding to the notion that Baltimore will pass often is the season-ending injury to Kenneth Dixon (and subsequent lack of depth of traditional running backs). Danny Woodhead will need to be utilized, and the majority of his involvement won't come via handoffs.

Which Ugly Duckling Will Turn Into a Swan?

This study shows that even players on bad offenses can be targeted heavily. Looking at the offenses of the L.A. Rams, New York Jets, and Cleveland Browns (teams that have five of the top-eight receivers in EOFP-to-ADP delta), which show a path to improvement? First, let's get the Jets out of the way. They'll change quarterbacks and running backs like underwear and are basically a disaster at almost every position.

L.A., however, has a supreme talent in Todd Gurley and a new offensive-minded head coach in Sean McVay. They also acquired Andrew Whitworth from Cincinnati to sure up their left tackle spot. Jared Goff remains a question mark, but reports say that Goff is learning the offense faster this season than last. Tavon Austin (yes, really) nearly made his way on to the top photo of this article due to his talent and opportunity (side note: you should own some shares; he's basically free), but Austin's skill set as a short-distance receiver is still worrisome. That said, Austin already has the fifth-highest EOFP-to-ADP delta at the position, and that doesn't even include any rushing opportunity. If we did the same exercise for Austin as Hill above, he would move up six spots in EOFP ranking and would become the highest EOFP-to-ADP delta (33).

Edit: with the Rams acquisition of Sammy Watkins, the projected target distribution changed since the publication of this article, making Austin a less valuable commodity.

The Best Blend of Opportunity Value and Expected Impact

Kenny Britt rose above the pile of stink that was the Rams offense to record the best season of his career despite being in the worst passing game situation in the NFL. This season, he moves to a team that lost Terrelle Pryor (140 targets in 2016), Gary Barnidge (81), and Andrew Hawkins (54).

If you haven't checked out the work of Scott Barrett yet, you really should. In terms of simplifying the complex and making easily understandable graphics (which if you read me, you know I like the graphics), he's outstanding. Check out these tweets from Scott.

The main knock on Britt is that he's in a terrible offense. Sure, Cleveland's quarterbacks aren't going to be mistaken for Hall of Famers, but Cody Kessler was better last year than he's given credit for, and Britt has already established rapport with rookie DeShone Kizer. And we can't forget that Britt was in an even worse offense last season! He overcame that and difficult defensive matchups to produce a stellar-if-unspectacular season.

He's being selected barely inside the top-50 receivers, even behind his own inferior teammate Corey Coleman. A rise from WR50-to-fringe-WR3 is certainly in Britt's crosshairs.

The Takeaway

In general, opportunity is more important than efficiency. The middle-to-late rounds present decisions between second and third options on high-end offenses and top options on middling-to-poor offenses. When it gets down to these decisions, remember that even the most efficient players can't accumulate huge numbers without volume.

Conversely, players with opportunity who lack efficiency still have a chance to break through and produce useable fantasy weeks purely from touch volume. Identifying these players can make the difference between unearthing a gem and picking a player who you'll be sending back to the waiver pool early in the year.

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