#Trendspotting: Week 11 - The Skeleton Key

Examining player and team trends to identify valuable DFS options and start/sits in season-long leagues

Graphics Tutorial

I've gotten feedback that my graphics aren't as self-explanatory and intuitive as I think they are, so I provided a guide at the beginning of a past version of this article.

Reader's Guide

  • Green text is a good matchup for that team's offensive players.
  • Red text is a bad matchup.
  • If a player's name is green, it means that he exceeded 2.75x value on his DraftKings salary that week.
  • If a name is red, it means that player was under 2x his value.
  • All reference to fantasy points assumes DraftKings scoring rules unless otherwise specified.
  • All stats reference the full 2017 season unless otherwise specified.
  • All fantasy points rankings in the matchup graphics are on a per-game basis to account for bye weeks.

This week, we'll discuss the following topics:

Keep Your Eye On the Targets

Last week's exercise is this space was well-received, so we're going back to the well.

The table below looks at the bottom eight (8) pass defenses in terms of yards allowed per game and shows how those defenses allow targets, yards, and touchdowns. The teams are listed from most yards per game to least. Here are some quick notes on how to decipher the chart:

  • Tampa Bay allows 61.1% of their targets to wide receivers, and they're 23rd in the NFL in yards per game yielded to wide receivers
  • They've surrendered 10 touchdowns to wideouts.
  • The New York Giants have yielded nine (9) touchdowns to tight ends (so much more on this later).
  • Houston allows 26.5% of its total targets and the sixth-most (i.e. 27th-ranked) yards per game to tight ends.
Team RB Tgt% Yds/Gm Rank TD WR Tgt% Yds/Gm Rank TD TE Tgt% Yds/Gm Rank TD
New England Patriots 20.4% 31 3 60.5% 32 9 19.1% 10 5
Indianapolis Colts 17.8% 28 2 63.3% 30 8 19.0% 13 5
New York Giants 19.4% 18 2 58.2% 23 8 22.4% 30 9
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 22.9% 25 2 61.1% 29 10 15.9% 8 3
Kansas City Chiefs 16.5% 1 0 64.9% 31 15 18.7% 28 1
Houston Texans 17.3% 4 3 56.2% 28 12 26.5% 26 4
Philadelphia Eagles 21.8% 21 4 58.0% 25 6 20.2% 22 4
Detroit Lions 59.7% 24 1 59.7% 22 8 16.8% 27 2
                   

Action(able) Items

  • Oakland doesn't target its running backs much (16th-highest ratio in the NFL), and New England isn't bad against tight ends. Sprinkling exposure to both Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree would exploit the biggest on-paper weakness of the Patriots.
  • It's Travis Kelce Week (more on that later), but with yards being a better predictor of success than touchdowns, a nice pivot could be Tyreek Hill. The Giants are ranked lower against wide receivers in yards per game than they are against tight ends.
  • On the other side of that game, Kansas City could be in store for some tight end touchdown regression. They're 28th in yards per game allowed to tight ends but have only yielded one touchdown. They're also 31st in yards per game allowed to wide receivers, making both Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard reasonable plays, despite a low team total. Speaking of Shepard:

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Funnel Watch

A "funnel" defense is one with a stout run defense but a suspect (or worse) pass defense. These units "funnel" production to the exterior and deep parts of the field (places where passing games focus) and away from the short middle (where the running game typically occurs).

Team PaYd/Gm RuYd/Gm NYd/Att Yd/Rush %PassYd %RushYd
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 266.4 109.9 7.2 3.9 70.8% 29.2%
Philadelphia Eagles 249.4 66.4 5.8 3.6 79.0% 21.0%
Arizona Cardinals 245.1 97.7 6.1 3.6 71.5% 28.5%
Houston Texans 253.8 96.9 7.2 3.7 72.4% 27.6%
Cleveland Browns 230.6 86.4 6.8 3.1 72.7% 27.3%
             

Action(able) Items

  • Miami scores 61.3% of its points via passing touchdowns, the highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Tampa Bay yields 70.8% of its total yards via the pass, the ninth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Philadelphia yields 79.0% of its total yards via the pass, the highest ratio in the NFL, while Dallas gains just 59.6% of its total yards via the pass, the fourth-lowest ratio in the NFL.
  • Cleveland's 3.1 yards per rush, the lowest total in the NFL (next-lowest are Minnesota's and Baltimore's 3.4).
  • Cleveland's 72.7% ratio of passing yardage allowed is the second-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Cleveland has allowed 60+ rushing yards to one running back (and none have more than the 66 allowed to Javorius Allen since Week 2).
  • Of all running backs with 10+ touches against Cleveland, the average rushing output is 41.5 yards and total yardage output is 60.9.

Further Commentary

Regardless of their opponent this season, Cleveland's ground game has been strong. With Jacksonville projected to score over 22 points, the natural thought is to look to the passing game. Allen Hurns will be out, leaving plenty of targets for Marqise Lee once again. But a surprise candidate for production could be Marcedes Lewis. Look at how Cleveland allows its targets, receptions, and yards.

CLE vs. TEs

Additionally, the only game in which Blake Bortles has thrown for multiple touchdowns this season was the game in which Lewis scored three times. Lewis is a GPP dark-horse this week.

"Runnel" Defense

Sometimes, the funnel effect can happen in reverse, where a team is very good against the pass but poor against the run (hence, "runnel" defense) Side note: I didn't create this term; I saw it on Twitter last season, but I can't recall who posted it. If you know, drop me a line so I can give proper credit.

Team RuYd/Gm PaYd/Gm Yd/Rush NYd/Att %RushYd %PassYd
Jacksonville Jaguars 120.7 165.1 4.6 4.6 42.2% 57.8%
Baltimore Ravens 125.9 184.7 4.2 5.5 40.5% 59.5%
Los Angeles Chargers 135.1 208.7 4.7 5.5 39.3% 60.7%
Los Angeles Rams 118.0 204.1 4.5 5.6 36.6% 63.4%
Atlanta Falcons* 113.7 198.2 4.3 5.4 36.4% 63.6%
New Orleans Saints* 110.9 201.4 4.7 5.6 35.5% 64.5%
             

Action(able) Items

  • Jacksonville's rush defense has been great since their acquisition of Marcell Dareus, but they're still more susceptible to the run than the pass.
  • Isaiah Crowell is nursing a shoulder injury, so keep an eye on Duke Johnson Jr. If Crowell can't go, Johnson makes for a nice contrarian DFS option as he'll be game script-independent due to his dual-threat abilities.

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What's New?

Here at #Trendspotting, our matchup charts show a whole season's worth of data on each team. But trends can be short-term items as well. Whether it's due to a player acquisition, an injury, or perhaps a team just quitting on their coach, things happen to teams that change the way the play. Here's a look at a couple of those instances.

Galloping vs. the Broncos

It wasn't long ago (the Week 8 column, to be exact) that we were saying this was a matchup to avoid. But since Orleans Darkwa came to town and put up 112 rushing yards on 27 carries, things have changed. Perhaps Darkwa and that bitter, shocking loss to the Giants was the "inciting event" here; since then, Denver's offense has looked terrible, and its defense has lost its edge as a result.

Since Week 6 (including that game), Denver is allowing 28.7 fantasy points per game to running backs, fourth-most in the NFL. The individual numbers aren't egregious, but look at what the following tandems have done:

  • Dion Lewis/Rex Burkhead: 24 carries, 91 yards, 1 touchdown
  • Rex Burkhead/James White: 6 receptions, 38 yards, 2 touchdowns
  • Corey Clement/Jay Ajayi/LeGarrette Blount: 29 carries, 165 yards, 3 touchdowns

The following is an indictment on the entire defense, but the run game hasn't helped matters.

Disgruntled Players Don't Play Well

The "inciting event" here is easy; the team has given up on its head coach. It started in Week 6, when slot corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was suspended for an argument with his coaches. From that point forward, the following has happened:

  • Fellow corner Janoris Jenkins also got suspended for an internal conflict (Week 10).
  • The Giants have yielded six touchdowns to wide receivers.
  • The Giants have allowed 60+ yards to seven wide receivers.
  • The Giants have allowed 5+ receptions to three wide receivers.
  • They have allowed 9+ receptions to two wide receivers.
  • They have allowed 15.0+ yards per reception to seven wide receivers.

Or, in graphic form, they've done this:

Player Wk Rec Yd TD FPs
Marquise Goodwin 10 1 83 1 17.1
Kendrick Bourne 10 3 42 0 7.2
Louis Murphy 10 2 48 0 6.8
Aldrick Robinson 10 1 12 0 2.2
Robert Woods 9 4 70 2 23.0
Sammy Watkins 9 1 67 1 13.7
Cooper Kupp 9 3 54 0 8.4
Tavon Austin 9 0 9 0 4.3
Pharoh Cooper 9 1 9 0 1.9
Doug Baldwin 7 9 92 1 24.2
Paul Richardson Jr 7 2 61 1 14.1
Tyler Lockett 7 4 29 0 8.4
Amara Darboh 7 2 29 0 4.9
Demaryius Thomas 6 10 133 0 25.3
Emmanuel Sanders 6 5 76 0 12.6
           

Keep in mind, they had a bye in Week 8, so those stats above took place across just four games.

Houston, We Have a Wide Receiver Problem

Yes, it's a cheesy paragraph header. But that doesn't change this:

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The Weakest Links

Last week, we discussed Tampa Bay vs. wide receivers and how many double-digit PPR weeks they have allowed. Robby Anderson and his 18.5 PPR points make that total 17 now. That's 17 double-digit PPR performances allowed in nine games.

Two weeks ago, we discussed Green Bay vs. wide receivers. Last week, after Detroit's top tandem torched the Packers on Monday Night Football, we made mention of it again (kept it brief, lest it appear we were gloating). Now, a 6-88-0 performance from Dontrelle Inman and a 2-57-1 from Josh Bellamy have truly confirmed that this is something we should be following. This week, the beleaguered Baltimore offense led by Joe Flacco, Mike Wallace, and Jeremy Maclin get to face Green Bay. Wallace makes for an intriguing GPP play, particularly in a stack with Flacco. It's a pairing that would be incredibly low owned.

Your Weekly Look at The New York Giants And Their Incredible Touchdown Streak

The Giants have allowed a tight end touchdown in every game this season and have allowed a total of 10 scores in 9 games. This is a Travis Kelce "explosion spot." Kelce should be on the radar in all formats. He has a cash game floor and a GPP ceiling. But the way this silly game works, it wouldn't surprising if Demetrius Harris provided us with a 4-50-1 that siphoned away some production from Kelce.

Player Wk Rec Yd TD FPs
Garrett Celek 10 4 67 1 14.7
Tyler Higbee 9 1 8 1 7.3
Gerald Everett 9 1 44 0 6.2
Derek Carrier 9 1 5 0 1.0
Jimmy Graham 7 3 51 1 12.6
Luke Willson 7 1 13 0 1.8
Nick Vannett 7 1 12 0 1.7
Jeff Heuerman 6 2 24 1 9.4
Virgil Green 6 1 24 0 2.9
A.J. Derby 6 1 10 0 1.5
Hunter Henry 5 3 42 1 11.7
Antonio Gates 5 2 23 0 3.3
Cameron Brate 4 4 80 1 16.0
O.J. Howard 4 2 63 1 13.3
Zach Ertz 3 8 55 1 13.5
Trey Burton 3 2 7 0 1.7
Eric Ebron 2 5 42 1 12.7
Darren Fells 2 1 3 0 0.8
Jason Witten 1 7 59 1 15.4
           

Kansas City is Good, But Not for the Reasons We're Used To

Typically, this is a team that "gets by" on offense and plays solid defense. This season, though, their offense has been excellent, and much of that has been out of necessity. The tweet below is from last week, so some of the numbers for the other teams might have changed, but the point remains.

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New England Patriots (vs. Oakland Raiders) - Game in Mexico City

NE vs. OAK

Notes

  • New England is averaging 301.6 passing yards per game, most in the NFL (second-most is Seattle's 267.8).
  • New England is averaging 7.4 Net Yards per Pass Attempt, fourth-most in the NFL.
  • Oakland is allowing 7.4 Net Yards per Pass Attempt, fourth-most in the NFL.
  • New England gains 73.6% of its total yardage via the pass, the fifth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • New England gains 30.3% of its passing yards via its running backs, the ninth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Oakland allows 27.3% of its passing yards to running backs, the 11th-highest ratio in the NFL.

Commentary

While on the topic of how New England deploys its running backs, it's happening...

  Week 7 Week 8 Week 10
Player Snaps Carries Targets Snaps Carries Targets Snaps Carries Targets
Rex Burkhead 17.6% 19.4% 14.3% 31.4% 12.9% 43.8% 59.0% 35.7% 37.5%
Dion Lewis 35.1% 41.9% 14.3% 34.9% 48.4% 12.5% 34.4% 50.0% 0.0%
James White 31.1% 12.9% 71.4% 23.3% 3.2% 37.5% 18.0% 7.1% 37.5%
Mike Gillislee 17.6% 25.8% 0.0% 15.1% 35.5% 0.0% INACT. INACT. INACT.
RB Total 74 31 7 86 31 16 61 28 8
                   

What's happening, you say?

New England is changing the guard at running back. Way back in Week 2 when Burkhead was fully healthy, he was running routes from a receiver position and being thrown 50/50 jump-balls in the end zone in New Orleans. After a long recovery from a rib injury, the team's most versatile back is being used more than any other.

While what we saw in the Week 10 usage above is notable, something that can also be ascertained from that table is that the Patriots didn't run that many plays. They were up big in the game and didn't have to play a "pace up" style. Usage changes in blowouts. To show that Burkhead's snap count wasn't inflated by "mop-up duty," let's look at the snaps for these players in the first half only.

This usage also happened right out of a bye week. If I can get 60% or more of the New England running back snaps, I'm starting that player against almost any opponent. And unlike many of New England's productive backs of the past few seasons (LeGarrette Blount and White, for instance), Burkhead is multi-dimensional. He's the "skeleton key" of this offense; he opens it up in many ways, to do whatever it wants without telegraphing a play via personnel.

In DFS, he's a viable cheap option in all formats (particularly at DraftKings, where his price is lower relative to others at his position). And in a traditional league, go procure his services via trade or free agency. Burkhead will swing fantasy leagues in December.

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Philadelphia Eagles (at Dallas Cowboys)

PHI at DAL

Notes

  • Dallas allows 104.7 rushing yards per game, 12th-fewest in the NFL.
  • Dallas allows 4.3 rushing yards per attempt, 10th-most in the NFL.
  • Philadelphia scores 48.8% of its total points via passing touchdowns, the eighth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Dallas allows 46.8% of its total points via passing touchdowns, the ninth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Zach Ertz has three games with 10+ targets, tied for the most in the NFL with Travis Kelce and Evan Engram.

Commentary

Dallas appears to be good against the run, but it's due to a lack of volume. That shouldn't be an issue for Philadelphia, who gains 36.3% of its total yardage via the rush, the ninth-highest ratio in the NFL. Sean Lee is out for Dallas, brightening the outlook for Ertz. For DFS purposes (on sites where you can play this game in your preferred slate), Ertz makes for a nice pivot from Kelce, whose matchup (as described above) will lead to high ownership.

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Minnesota Vikings (vs. Los Angeles Rams)

MIN vs. LAR

Notes

Commentary

This game is a great DFS stack option. Both teams play fast, both defenses are perceived as good but have stats bolstered by a poor strength of schedule, and both have offensive playmakers all over the field. Minnesota's wide receiver duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are both in play. Call it a hunch, but I prefer Diggs due to the potentially lower ownership after Thielen's big game last week. Both Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray are in play as well, though both members of the Minnesota rushing duo are GPP plays in DFS simply because we aren't sure of the usage (especially in terms of touchdown potential).

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Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Buffalo Bills)

LAC vs. BUF

Notes

  • Buffalo yields 42.9% of its total points via rushing touchdowns, the highest ratio in the NFL (next-highest is only 29.6%!).
  • Buffalo has allowed 11 rushing touchdowns to running backs, most in the NFL (no other team has allowed more than eight).
  • The L.A. Chargers score 53.9% of their points via passing touchdowns, the fourth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Melvin Gordon III percentage of snaps in the past three games (Weeks 7, 8, and 10) - 69.0%, 58.9%, 68.1%
  • Austin Ekeler percentage of snaps in the past three games (Weeks 7, 8, and 10) - 31.0%, 30.4%, 33.3%
  • Gordon percentage of running back touches in the past three games - 63.3%, 71.4%, 58.3%
  • Ekeler percentage of running back touches in the past three games - 36.7%, 14.3%, 41.7%

Commentary

Assuming the health of Philip Rivers, the Chargers should move the ball via the air but have little resistance finishing the drives on the ground. While Ekeler had a nice outing against Jacksonville, that may have been matchup-driven. As mentioned above in the "Runnel Defense" section, Jacksonville's run defense has improved since acquiring Marcell Dareus. And with their excellent cornerbacks, passing to quick targets out of the backfield is one of the more effective ways to move the ball against them. This week, the Chargers face the team that lost Dareus, a Buffalo team whose front is quite soft. Look for Gordon to have a bounce-back effort. He's a great GPP play with many potentially scared away due to Ekeler's big game.

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Oakland Raiders (vs. New England Patriots) - Game in Mexico City

OAK vs. NE

Notes

  • For the season, New England allows 21.2 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, third-most in the NFL.
  • Since Week 6, New England is allowing 15.6 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, 10th-fewest in the NFL.
  • New England is allowing 52.3% of its total points via passing touchdowns, the second-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Oakland is gaining 73.0% of its total yardage via the pass, the seventh-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Among tight ends this season, only Travis Kelce (3) and Jared Cook (2) have multiple games with 100+ receiving yards.

Commentary

New England is improving against the pass, but this game has "on-paper shootout" written all over it. Oakland will move it through the air, and New England will let them. All three of Oakland's main pass-catchers are in play. Aside from the Cook stat above, note in the "Keep Your Eye on the Targets" section that led off the column that the Patriots don't allow a lot of yardage to tight ends. Most of the damage done against them is via opposing wide receivers. With all of the receiving options being viable, perhaps all roads lead back to Derek Carr here.

With many useable options priced below him and elite, reliable players above him, Carr is in a "no-man's land" price range, making him a solid target for GPPs. If you have him in a traditional league, you're starting him because you likely don't have another quarterback with better prospects this week.

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Los Angeles Rams (at Minnesota Vikings)

LAR at MIN

Notes

  • Since Week 6, Minnesota has allowed 42+ rushing yards to one running back.
  • Minnesota has allowed two rushing touchdowns to running backs this season.
  • Minnesota has allowed 80+ rushing yards to two running backs this season (the last of which was in Week 4).
  • Minnesota has allowed 3+ receptions to eight running backs.
  • Minnesota has allowed 40+ receiving yards to three running backs.
  • Over their last three games, Minnesota is yielding an average of 6.7 receptions and 53 receiving yards per game to running backs.
  • Todd Gurley is averaging 5.3 targets per game, 12th among running backs.
  • Minnesota is allowing 72.4% of its total yardage via the pass, the third-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • The L.A. Rams average 7.9 Net Yards per Pass Attempt, most in the NFL.
  • Cooper Kupp is third in the NFL with 15 red zone targets (Davante Adams and Jimmy Graham have 17 each). But only 5 of those 15 have been from inside the 10 yard-line.
  • Per the Football Outsiders Pace Stats referenced in the Minnesota section, the L.A. Rams are the fastest team in neutral situations, in seconds per play in the first half, and in seconds per play when up or down by six points or fewer.

Commentary

Minnesota is stout against the run but beatable against the pass; the Rams pass better than they run (and better than any team in football on a per-play basis). We've already mentioned a couple of times that this game should be played fast. It's a contrarian spot for Gurley due to the Minnesota run defense, but when might you get Gurley at lower ownership? As for the Rams wide receivers, despite Robert Woods setting the world ablaze recently, Kupp is the preferred play here. Woods' huge games came against very easy matchups against Houston and the New York Giants. A tougher Minnesota defense will get L.A. back to what they were doing before they could do anything they wanted.

Another reason to like this game: many think the Rams have performed above their potential, but an argument can be made that they could be scoring even more points than they are due to how infrequently they get inside the 10 yard-line relative to the number of red zone trips they make.

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