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

Identifying value plays in Fantasy Football by projected opportunity

Fantasy football is about speculation. Whether it's evaluating early-round picks and determining which is less likely to bust or looking at late-round picks and assessing their likelihood to "hit," the owner who builds his team with the most hits and the fewest misses generally comes away with a successful season.

It's often said that a fantasy asset is a combination of opportunity and efficiency. However, one of those factors is more valuable than the other. An efficient player without volume has a defined ceiling; however, a player with a significant role on his team (even if he's inefficient) will continue to give your fantasy team chances to accumulate points.

The purpose of this article is to identify players with more opportunity than their peers at similar ADPs. So we're going to rank players in a metric I'm calling "Expected Opportunity Fantasy Points" (EOFP, which will be described below) and then compare that to Average Draft Position to find players who are outliers in either direction.

The Methodology

Below are the steps I took to calculate EOFP. All fantasy points and rankings considerations were done using PPR scoring. All cut-offs (i.e. top-36, top-48) used fantasy points per game:

  1. Determine fantasy points per target for the top-36 running backs over the last five years
  2. Determine fantasy points per carry for the top-36 running backs over the last five years
  3. Determine fantasy points per target for the top-48 wide receivers over the last five years
  4. Determine fantasy points per target for the top-16 tight ends over the last five years
  5. Determine fantasy points per pass attempt for the top-18 quarterbacks over the last five years
  6. Determine fantasy points per carry for the top-18 quarterbacks over the last five years
  7. Apply the figures above to 2017 projected targets and touches

The results of this assessment are below:

The projections used for pass attempts and rush attempts were the average projections of David Dodds, Bob Henry, Maurile Tremblay, and Jason Wood shown here on the site. The projections used for targets were done by Justin Howe. Justin took it upon himself this season to create his own projections for number of passing plays and rushing plays for each team based on team tendencies. From there, he assigned a percentage of each to each player on the team. Doing such an exercise can really help with fantasy analysis and determining a range of outcomes for each team and player. Justin told me about this undertaking in the offseason, and I wanted to utilize it in a column, so give him 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).

At this point, projected stats for each position were multiplied by the averages shown above. Those totals represent EOFP, and they were ranked and compared to our site's consensus Average Draft Position. Each player was assigned an ADP rank among his positional peers. The "delta" of those shows players expected to receive more (positive number) or less (negative number) projected workload than their ADP suggests.

Let's take a look at the results. Here in Part I, we'll discuss the "onesie" positions of tight end and quarterback. Then in Part II, we'll cover running back and wide receiver.

First, A Disclaimer

It seems like common sense, but I feel compelled to say here that not all opportunity is created equal. When you look at the graphics below, it might seem like I'm saying Charles Clay will out-produce Jimmy Graham or that Carson Wentz will outproduce Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, and Derek Carr. These wouldn't be hot takes; they'd be laughable predictions.

Part II will expand upon this notion more, but this exercise is best used for unearthing middle-to-late round fantasy picks, as the early rounds are mostly littered with players from elite offenses whose efficiency due to talent and offensive unit trumps any mild lack of opportunity they might have relative to a top option on an average-to-poor offense.

The "too long, didn't read" version of the disclaimer is simple: a passing attempt by (or a target from) Aaron Rodgers is worth much more than an attempt by (or target from) Blake Bortles. Now, on to the study.

Tight Ends

Crafting with Clay

Charles Clay obviously sticks out like a sore thumb with not only the highest EOFP-to-ADP delta of the top-40 projected tight ends but also as a top-10 option in gross EOFP. At first glance, this seems optimistic, but note that Clay's ranking here is based on 91 projected targets. He had 87 last season, and Buffalo has lost Robert Woods (76 targets) and Marquise Goodwin (68) while adding nothing at the tight end position to compete with Clay. There are few reasons why Clay would ever be taken off the field when healthy. For reference, excluding the game he missed, Clay played on 87.6% of Buffalo's snaps last season.

Red Zones and Rookies

Kyle Rudolph has always been considered excellent in the red zone, but he's on his way to becoming one of the most leaned-upon tight ends in football, particularly if Minnesota's improved-on-paper offensive line isn't as improved as many think, leading to plenty of short passes like last season.

Part II will highlight this more, but this study doesn't account for touchdowns, which makes touchdown-dependent players appear overvalued when measuring by EOFP. That makes Jesse James' appearance here interesting. James is considered by many to be an unathletic player who can't do much after the catch but can catch touchdowns with his height and huge frame. Yet James shows up with a notably large EOFP-to-ADP delta, implying he'll be getting plenty of looks relative to the other tight ends being selected outside the top-24.

Stop me if you've heard this from your favorite fantasy expert: O.J. Howard is overvalued because rookie tight ends struggle, and Cameron Brate isn't bad enough to simply be cast aside in favor of a rookie.

Quarterbacks

Attempting to Predict the Unpredictable

Quarterback is the most predictable position in fantasy football, so unearthing true out-of-nowhere surprises is difficult. But there are still surprises each year, mostly due to the inherent randomness of touchdowns. If trying to identify which passers will throw a surprisingly high number of touchdowns in 2017, why not start with those projected to throw an un-surprisingly high number of passes? After all, you can't throw a touchdown pass without throwing a pass first!

Is the assumed second-year progress and the addition of weapons in Philadelphia enough to enable you to tell a story which ends in Carson Wentz being a fantasy surprise? If Joe Flacco can progress from his 3.0% touchdown rate in 2016 to his post-rookie-season-through-2015 rate of 4.1%, he'll end up being a great bargain. Such an improvement would have meant 7.5 additional touchdowns in 2016.

Both players are worth late-round dart-throws due to anticipated volume. They'll probably each have a handful of fantasy-relevant weeks.

The Fantasy Football Yo-Yo

Matt Ryan progressed from his low 2015 touchdown rate to his superhuman 2016 rate, making him an ideal candidate to once again cross the "regression line" but this time in the wrong direction. His opportunity is modest here, likely due to the offensive coordinator change and the team's desire to maintain offensive balance with its dynamic running back duo.

Runaway Value

Tyrod Taylor has the fewest projected pass attempts and the most projected rush attempts among the top-25 projected quarterbacks. There may not be a conclusion to be drawn from this, but it's noteworthy nonetheless. Taylor's rushing prowess allows him to maintain a floor; more touchdowns (passing or rushing) would boost his ceiling as well.

Until Next Time...

Remember, volume matters. In part II, we'll look at the vital positions of running back and wide receiver and identify some players who are bargains at their current prices. Drafting these "depth players" can help fantasy owners overcome down weeks from their stars, bye weeks, injuries on their way to fantasy championships.

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