Each week, I’ll be touring the league’s top dark zone outlooks – plays from inside the opposing team’s 10-yard line – with DFS on my mind. I’m always looking for touchdowns (specifically multi-touchdown performances) to take down tournaments, so while the dark zone doesn’t outright decide my GPP lineups, it certainly informs them.
I use a simple but logical formula to project each player’s red zone outlook. I first develop a projection for the team’s overall dark zone snaps, both passing and rushing, by comparing their totals to those faced by their opponents over the last three weeks, then weighting it 60% in the offense’s favor. I then apply each player’s dark zone share to that projection, then apply that projected touch total to the player’s dark zone success rate. Ultimately, the process spits out an often conservative expectation for dark zone scores. And since these are the most common and predictable touchdowns, I come away with a strong expectation for each option’s ability to score touchdowns and tilt contests.
Here’s a rundown of who catches my eye for Week 16:
Passing Game Notables
Like Julio Jones, Amari Cooper is an immensely talented young wideout who, for whatever reason, simply can’t buy his way into his team’s short-yardage offense. Through 30 NFL games, Cooper has drawn just 6 of the Raiders’ 62 targets (9.7%) in the dark zone. That’s right: he “boasts” right around half the workload as distant No. 3 wideout Seth Roberts. More importantly, it pales even further in comparison with Crabtree’s 16 (25.8%); that’s not an overwhelming share of targets, but it’s hefty enough to make us confident he’s the top option from there. He’s been the clear preference of late, and Derek Carr’s Raiders are particularly pass-heavy near the goal line, as their 40 dark zone passes sit third in the league. It adds up nicely that the connection will see notable run in Sunday’s highest-projected matchup (53 points). Obviously, you want to chase intriguing touchdown opportunity in these types of games.
I won’t bore you further with gushing details of the Packers’ dark zone offense, nor the supreme production of Nelson himself. The grizzled veteran and Comeback Player of the Year candidate is in the midst of a fine all-around season, and likely his second-best in terms of touchdown production. Nelson has caught 12 across just 82 catches, largely as a result of his league-best dark zone volume. He’s drawn 14 looks from there (no one else has topped 11) and scored on 8 of them, his most efficient short-yardage scoring in years. You don’t need my blessing to play him this week, even as he prepares to tango with Xavier Rhodes. Just stick the dark zone feather into his cap as you ponder the high-dollar options.
He’s one of the league’s more underrated 2016 breakouts, and he’s reached universal GPP value six times already. Much of that success has come on the back of his touchdown production, which stems from his supreme dark zone play. Throughouttheoffseasonweheard beat writer tales ofBrate’sconnection with JameisWinston,and shrewd season-long fantasy owners made sure to keep an eye on him. Now, through 14 games, he sits tied for second league-wide in dark zone touchdowns (6), primed for a matchup in which Vegas projects his offense to 24.75 points. The opposing Saints have actually been excellent at preventing dark zone TD passes, butBrate’strack record and still-too-low DFS salaries make him a fine dice roll at cheap GPP dynamism.
Like Brate, rookie Henry has also developed into an attractive short-yardage weapon. On the year he’s drawn eight dark zone targets – more than Antonio Brown or Mike Evans – despite missing one game and spending his first two as a buried afterthought. He’s been productive, too, catching six of those targets and cashing in five for touchdowns. All told, Henry has scored in four of the Chargers’ last five games; while his snap-to-snap role isn’t juicy, his TD outlook certainly is. He’s priced a little high for a TD-dependent No. 2, but that should only serve to limit his ownership, especially since DFSers are likely to flock to starter Antonio Gates for Sunday’s cherry matchup with the Browns. Gates projects to more targets and catches, but Henry is more likely to return GPP value on his lower salary. It would actually be a mini-upset if he didn’t find the end zone this week.
Mitchell cooled off drastically in Week 15,disappointinggobsofvalue-chasers with just a single catch. And it’s disappointing to see his salary increase across the industry for Week 16. But the small premium makes sense: Mitchell eviscerated Darrelle Revis and these Jets just four weeks ago. In that matchup, Mitchell beat the future Hall of Fame cornerback for two short-yardage scores in the end zone. Beating Revis is no longer much of a medal of honor, of course, but it’s certainly notable when a DFS-cheap rookie gets the better of him twice. Two weeks later, Mitchell drew two more dark zone looks against the Ravens: a six-yard score and a target from the three-yard line (he caught it and was stopped at the one). Clearly, he’s a prominent part of Tom Brady’s dark zone plans sans-Rob Gronkowski, and while his role isn’t very predictable, it’s noteworthy in this matchup. The Jets have been one of the league’s worst teams at defending the pass near the goal line; on the season, they’ve allowed 16 (tied for fourth-most) of their opponents’ 31 attempts to score. That includes a whopping five of the last six they’ve faced.
The longtime backup appears to have found a niche with Jordan Cameron out of commission.Simshasdrawnfour targets in four of his last five games, decent volume for his near-minimum salaries, but what makes him intriguing is his touchdown potential (he’s caught four over the past four weeks). He caught a dark zone score two weeks ago, then a pair of one-yard TDs from Matt Moore last week, an indication that tight end dump-offs should be expected in the Miami repertoire going forward. For that reason, Sims may be worth a look for major salary relief and gobs of differentiation in the deepest of GPP games. The ultra-reliable veteran isn’t flashy, but a mere 3-catch, 30-yard, 1-TD line would bring home universal 5x-6x value.
Julio Jones has been sorely missed, of course, but not so much in the dark zone. Matt Ryan has never utilized his All-World receiver much near the goal line; much of that, to be fair, is due to Jones’ surprising lack of efficiency from there. In any event, Ryan has always spread his dark zone attention across a wide range of options, but that’s changed over the past three weeks. With Jones, fellow wideout Mohamed Sanu, and starting tight end Jacob Tamme all missing varying degrees of time, Hardy has absorbed 4 of Ryan’s 12 targets from inside the 10. Jones may return forthishigh-projectedmatchupwith the Panthers, but knowing what we know about his dark zone resume, it’s not much of a worry for Hardy’s touchdown chances. Coming at a near-minimum salary, he’s a fair bet to hit GPP value even on 3-4 catches.
Running Game Notables
Don’t look now, but he stands atop an impressive heap as the Dark Zone King of the Moment. Hill has always been an elite short-yardage producer; over his first two NFLseasonshe led the league with 16 dark zone scores, including some downright excellent success rates. And that’s carried over to his current stintasbellcow. Over 4 games without Giovani Bernard around, Hill has taken the NFL’s second-most rushes from inside the 10, good for a touchdown outlook that really boosts his already solid floor. Yet, Hill still comes far too cheaply considering his volume resume and short-yardage profile. The volume minimizes his limitations, and he carries multi-TD upside every week as his team’s engine near the goal line.
The Falcons, as usual, are staring at a super-plus matchup for the coming week, with a high Vegas total (27.25 points) that makes us want in on their likely scorers. And with the teamalwaysleaningrun-heavy near the goal line – and always including its backs in the passing game – those backs are the premier Week 16 targets from the entire game. Dating back to Coleman’s Week 12 return from injury, only one team (Buffalo) has run the ball more from inside the 10; together, the two project to take a robust 4.0 such rushes Sunday. With this efficient duo, we can easily project a two-touchdown minimum. How they’ll divvy up isn’t as easy to figure, but using common DFS sense, we can see that Freeman seems a hair more valuable. Coleman comes at a 22-30% discount and offers similar sheer upside, but Freeman’s dynamism – and short-yardage prowess over a two-season span – check him in at a very solid GPP salary.
You can’t really overstate just how fantastic Howard’s rookie season has been. On a per-touch basishe’sbeen nearly as efficient as Ezekiel Elliott, and his seven touchdowns are impressive considering his late-earned starting role and his team’s 29th-ranked scoring offense. Much of that comes from his impressive dark zone effectiveness; since his Week 4 ascension into the lineup, Howard ranks just 19th in dark zone runs (13) but tied for 7th in touchdowns (6). That’s a success rate that blows David Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, DeMarco Murray, LeSean McCoy, and even Elliott himself out of the water. The lesson to learn is that, when we can project the Bears to score moderately, we should move Howard up our GPP ranks in anticipation of scoring opportunity. (Which is merely a boost, of course, to his already strong, strong weekly outlook. Howard is a gifted, productive young back.) And Week 16 fits the bill – his Bears carry a better-than-typical 21.5-point Vegas projection inaneutral-script matchup with Washington. Howard is priced near his ceiling, but it’s a fairly considerable one this week.
Henry has cut majorly into Murray’s workload of late, and it’s been evidenced most in the dark zone. Dating back to Week 11, the two have split short-yardage carries almost equally (Murray 7, Henry 6), and that volume is particularly relevant this week. The opposing Jaguars have allowed a league-high 7 touchdown runs from inside the 10 over the past 5 weeks, so it seems likely one or both Titans backs will see the opportunity to deliver. Considering that Henry’s overall backfield share is ontherise,andthat the two are almost equally likely to produce multiple scores in a week, the cheaper Henry is making more and more sense as a deep-GPP punt. He comes at a 30-38% discount across the industry, a fine price-slash for such an increasingly similar weekly profile – deep-fried gold in a cherry Week 16 matchup.
One of the generation’s most blah backs has nosed his way into DFS relevance. The lumbering Turbin,chased off of multiple rosters before settling in as a Colts reserve, has shockingly usurped Frank Gore on the goal line. Over the past three weeks, Turbin has taken six dark zone rushes – double Gore’s total – and impressively scored on three of them. Please don’t construe this as a tacit endorsement of rostering Turbin; his floor is devastating, and he’s not to be considered beyond about 2-3% exposure, or outside the most contrarian GPPs. But his touchdown prowess and moderate receiving usage spurred him to universal 6x value last week, and there’s no indication his role will shrink Sunday. And the opposing Raiders have allowed dark zone rushes to convert into TDs a healthy 37.8% of the time. Giventhematchup,andthe 53-point Vegas projection, you could do worse near the minimum salary.