#Trendspotting: Week 7 - Footballguys

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

Reader's Guide

As you read, you may run into some colors in the text. Blue text is a good matchup for that team's offensive players. Red text is a bad matchup. Some other key items are below:

  • All red/blue highlighting in tables is relative to the entire NFL, even when showing only a limited number of teams.
  • All reference to fantasy points assumes DraftKings scoring rules unless otherwise specified.
  • All stats reference the full 2018 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:

Follow the Targets

In this section, we'll examine how the worst passing defenses in the NFL allow their production.

RBs WRs TEs
Team Tgt% YdsRk TDs Tgt% YdsRk TDs Tgt% YdsRk TDs
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20.4% 30 3 56.6% 29 10 23.0% 32 3
New Orleans Saints 19.3% 14 1 63.2% 32 10 17.5% 3 0
Philadelphia Eagles 22.3% 24 0 63.9% 28 7 13.7% 2 1
Chicago Bears 16.3% 4 1 64.0% 31 6 19.8% 10 4
Minnesota Vikings 17.1% 20 2 58.8% 13 6 24.1% 29 2
San Francisco 49ers 25.3% 21 2 54.9% 21 8 19.7% 23 4
Los Angeles Chargers 21.8% 28 1 55.3% 17 9 22.8% 16 2
Kansas City Chiefs 21.9% 32 3 59.1% 22 6 19.0% 31 1

Commentary

  • New Orleans allows 229.4 yards per game to wide receivers, most in the NFL.
  • New Orleans and Tampa Bay have allowed 10 touchdowns to wide receivers, most in the NFL. Their 2.0 touchdowns per game to wide receivers is the highest per-game average.
  • New Orleans allows74.8% of their total passing yards and 63.4% of their receptions to wide receivers, both of which are the second-highest ratios in the NFL.
  • New Orleans allows 63.4% of its total receptions and 73.2% of total passing yards to wide receivers, both the second-highest ratios in the NFL.
  • Tampa Bay allows 97.2 yards per game to tight ends, most in the NFL.
  • Tampa Bay allows 7.2 receptions per game to tight ends, second-most in the NFL.
  • Tampa Bay allows 21.1 DraftKings points per game to tight ends, most in the NFL.
  • Of all targets against Chicago, 64.0% are to wide receivers, the fifth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Chicago allows 211.2 yards per game to wide receivers, second-most in the NFL.
  • Kansas City allows 7.7 receptions per game to running backs, second-most in the NFL.
  • Kansas City allows 85.0 receiving yards per game to running backs, most in the NFL.
  • Kansas City allows 19.2 receiving fantasy points per game to running backs, most in the NFL.

Action Items

As written in Rent-a-Quarterback this week, Joe Flacco would have a better fantasy outlook if his defense weren't so good. Against Tennessee, Flacco didn't have to counter-punch, making his fantasy day average. But against New Orleans, Baltimore's offense will likely have to play a full four quarters. Flacco is a QB1 in season-long leagues and one of the better cheap quarterback options in DFS. And a savvy DFS stacking partner with Flacco is John Brown. The diminutive speedster is seeing a modest target share at just 17.1% (second on the team behind Michael Crabtree), but he's getting high-leverage targets both in the red zone and deep down the field.

Brown has 924 total air yards, third in the NFL. Brown's average depth-of-target (aDOT) is 19.7 yards, fourth-highest in the NFL among players with at least five targets on the season. In fact, Brown's aDOT is only surpassed by players with 8, 9, and 14 targets. The mix of his target volume and aDOT is a combustible potion, just waiting to explode into a massive game.

Josh Gordon's usage continues to increase, which is something even Bill Belichick acknowledged. Gordon's targets in his three New England games: 2, 4, and 9. Gordon's snap rates in those games: 22%, 26%, 81%. Gordon is a worthwhile lineup filler in GPPs if you're looking to spend up at running back.

David Njoku's usage is on the rise. And some noticed it from the moment Baker Mayfield entered his first game in relief of Tyrod Taylor (please excuse the shameless self-promotion).

But some others have taken notice of the Mayfield-Njoku connection as well:

In his three fully healthy games, Joe Mixon has seen 7, 4, and 7 targets. In Week 7, he gets a Kansas City team that should be sending thank-you notes to Atlanta for being so bad for so long that the 2018 Chiefs are going under the radar. If playing the full slate or the Sunday-Monday slate, Mixon is at the bottom of a pricing tier in DFS, especially on DraftKings. But he has a higher floor and ceiling than some of the backs priced above him and is clearly superior to those priced below him.

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Dealer's Choice

This week, we're replacing "Funnel Watch" with a new section. I sought requests on Twitter for trends and ideas that you, dear readers, wanted to see in this week's column.

Here are a couple of the responses:

Commentary

The blue circles show why @MichaelJFitch1 asked this question. The New Orleans offense has done nearly everything it has wanted to do this season, while Baltimore's defense has been stifling. Because New Orleans gains 75.7% of its total yardage via the pass, the sixth-highest ratio in the NFL, let's look at how they distribute their targets, receptions, and yardage vs. how Baltimore allows it.

It seems that wherever New Orleans has blue (strong for an offense), Baltimore has red (strong for a defense). If Baltimore has a weakness, it might be against tight ends. Baltimore allows 28.0% of its total passing yardage to tight ends, the highest ratio in the NFL. And that includes games against Tennessee, Denver, Cincinnati, and Buffalo, teams who don't utilize their tight ends often.

The problem with looking to exploit that matchup is that New Orleans gains 19.4% of its passing yardage via tight ends, the 18th-highest ratio in the NFL.

Action Items

It's difficult to determine which Saints to use. If they game plan toward their opponent's weakness, Ben Watson should be involved and would make for an educated guess of a GPP dart in DFS. Michael Thomas also fits the mold of a GPP play because he's an elite player with a high-end target share whose ownership should be suppressed by the difficult matchup. Alvin Kamara seems like a stay-away in DFS because the backs around him all have better cash game and GPP appeal.

Snaps Carries Targets
Player Wk 3 Wk 4 Wk 6 Wk 3 Wk 4 Wk 6 Wk 3 Wk 4 Wk 6
Jordan Howard 62.2% 53.2% 51.4% 82.8% 44.0% 63.6% 5.7% 3.8% 3.3%
Tarik Cohen 40.5% 46.8% 48.6% 17.2% 52.0% 22.7% 8.6% 30.8% 30.0%
Team Total 74 62 70 29 25 22 35 26 30

Commentary

Cohen's usage has been on the rise lately. Some speculated that the spike in Week 4 vs. Tampa Bay was specific to game-planning against a pass funnel defense, but Cohen's usage remained high in the Week 6 game after the team's bye. The opponent for that game, Miami, is not a pass funnel defense like Tampa Bay is.

Between the bye week planning and the opponent, it could be that this split, or something close to it, is here to stay. Cohen's effectiveness is even more reason for Chicago to maintain usage of both players.

New England is the type of opponent that suggests Cohen will be involved. Kareem Hunt got behind their defense last week for a long score. New England allows 60.8% of its total points via passing touchdowns, the second-highest ratio in the NFL. Cohen is an intriguing DFS GPP play and mid-RB2 with RB1 upside in season-long PPR leagues.

Bonus fact: Chicago allows 68.8% of its total points via passing touchdowns, the highest ratio in the NFL.

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Yards vs. Touchdowns

We're going to try something new this week. If you've read this column before, you know that we often investigate and compare how teams gain their yardage and how they score their points. But we've never compared those before.

In this section, we'll look at where teams rank in terms of the percentage of their yardage gained vs. where they rank in the percentage of points they score. It stands to reason that if a team gains the majority of yardage in one manner, they should score the majority of their points in that same manner. Hopefully, you'll get the hang of it as we go.

Passing Offense
Team PaYd% Rank PaTD% Rank RkDelta
New Orleans Saints 75.7% 6 36.7% 22 16
Pittsburgh Steelers 78.8% 2 42.1% 17 15
Baltimore Ravens 74.8% 10 35.3% 24 14
New York Giants 74.9% 9 35.9% 23 14
Arizona Cardinals 71.0% 16 29.3% 29 13
Oakland Raiders 75.2% 8 38.2% 20 12

Commentary

This table is sorted by the far-right column. That column subtracts each team's ranking in passing touchdowns ratio by their ranking in passing yardage ratio. These are teams that all gain the vast majority of their yardage through the air but don't score a significant portion of their points via the pass. In other words, these teams could see more passing touchdowns in the near future.

Passing Defense
Team PaYd% Rank PaTD% Rank RkDelta
Kansas City Chiefs 72.7% 9 34.9% 29 20
Philadelphia Eagles 77.4% 3 41.0% 20 17
Minnesota Vikings 74.2% 6 40.5% 23 17
New Orleans Saints 80.7% 2 47.1% 12 10
Dallas Cowboys 71.2% 15 40.8% 22 7
San Francisco 49ers 74.0% 7 46.9% 13 6

Commentary

Similar to the table above, these teams allow plenty of yardage through the air but not a lot of scoring in the same fashion. These teams could allow more passing touchdowns in the near future. For example, New Orleans is allowing 80.7% of its total yardage via the pass, the second-highest ratio in the NFL. Further investigating this matchup, we can see that Baltimore likes to attack via the deep ball, while New Orleans tends to face deep passes at a high rate:

  • Baltimore attempts 8.2 deep passes per game, fifth-most in the NFL.
  • New Orleans faces 7.0 deep passes per game, 11th-most in the NFL.
  • New Orleans faces a deep pass on 20.2% of attempts they face, the seventh-highest ratio in the NFL.

Action Items

  • Doesn't Baltimore host New Orleans this week? The Ravens are among the teams that could score more via the pass, while the Saints are among those who could yield more.
  • While Brown's skill set (being small in stature but very fast) makes him boom/bust by nature, the big play appeal is always welcome in DFS GPPs. Flacco-Brown makes for a nice stack.
Rushing Offense
Team RuYd% Rank RuTD% Rank RkDelta
Tennessee Titans 37.5% 7 13.8% 24 17
Miami Dolphins 32.3% 13 4.6% 30 17
Chicago Bears 35.5% 9 12.9% 25 16
Seattle Seahawks 39.3% 3 16.8% 19 16
Dallas Cowboys 46.2% 1 19.5% 16 15
San Francisco 49ers 37.3% 8 16.2% 22 14

Rushing Defense
Team RuYd% Rank RuTD% Rank RkDelta
Detroit Lions 39.6% 2 13.1% 27 25
New England Patriots 29.2% 14 4.1% 31 17
Tennessee Titans 36.5% 6 16.8% 20 14
Baltimore Ravens 30.6% 11 15.6% 23 12
Los Angeles Rams 28.8% 16 15.3% 26 10
Seattle Seahawks 36.9% 5 20.5% 15 10

Commentary

  • Miami gains 32.3% of its total yardage via the run, the 13th-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Miami has scored one rushing touchdown, tied for fewest in the NFL.
  • Detroit allows 36.9% of its total yardage via the run, the second-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • Chicago gains 35.5% of its total yardage via the run, the ninth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • New England allows 29.2% of its total yardage via the run, the 14th-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • New England has allowed one rushing touchdown, tied for fewest in the NFL.
  • San Francisco gains 37.3% of its total yardage via the run, the eighth-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • The Rams allow 28.8% of their total yardage via the run, the 16th-highest ratio in the NFL.
  • The Rams have allowed three rushing touchdowns, tied for fifth-fewest in the NFL.

Action Items

Both Miami and Chicago appear destined for at least one rushing touchdown this week. However, both have committees, which makes predicting the player to score that touchdown difficult. As discussed above, Chicago is looking more like a 50/50 split, which makes Cohen the more exciting asset due to his explosive playmaking and the thought that this won't be a run-dominant game script.

San Francisco is another committee, but Monday night's game in Green Bay showed us that Alfred Morris might be on his way out. That leaves Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert. Breida is the better player, and with increased health (remember, he was questionable to play all week but played anyway), perhaps he starts to get the majority of the touches against the special teams veteran Mostert.

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Playcalling Preferences

In this section, we'll look at how teams call plays. Because game script and red zone can skew pass-to-run ratios, the percentages below only show plays called when the game is within seven points in either direction and plays run between the 20s.

This week, we sorted them by the DEFENSIVE play calls against percentages and filtered out teams we're not discussing.

Passing

Offensive Team Pass% Defensive Team Pass%
Carolina Panthers 52.0% Philadelphia Eagles 67.5%
New Orleans Saints 65.3% Baltimore Ravens 65.0%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 69.5% Cleveland Browns 65.0%

Commentary and Action Items

Carolina doesn't pass much, but Cam Newton doesn't need passing plays for fantasy value. Add in Philadelphia's struggles against the passing game, and Newton's ceiling rises. Pass funnel defense + unknown/widespread Carolina target distribution = "naked Cam" GPP lineups.

New Orleans passes on 65.3% of its neutral script plays, the eighth-highest ratio in the NFL. Baltimore faces passes on 65.0% of its neutral script plays, the fifth-highest ratio in the NFL. As mentioned in "Dealer's Choice" above, New Orleans is going to throw, but we don't know to whom they will throw. It could be an "all roads lead to Drew Brees" situation.

Jameis Winston couldn't have asked for a better start to his suspension-delayed season. After a bye week, he got Atlanta, a team opponents throw against often and successfully. Now, he gets Cleveland. Despite allowing 66.0% of its total yardage via the pass, the eighth-lowest ratio in the NFL, Cleveland faces passes on 65.0% of neutral situations, the fifth-highest ratio in the NFL.

Considering Tampa Bay is the pass-happiest team in the NFL by nearly every measure (368.4 yards per game, most; 82.1% of total yards, highest ratio; 9.2 net yards per attempt, most; 68.1% of total points via passing touchdowns, highest ratio), this is a dream spot for Winston and his pass-catchers.

Take your pick on the Tampa Bay wide receivers. If you envision Cleveland keeping pace (and with Tampa Bay's defense, that's quite possible), then any Tampa Bay wide receiver is in play. It's worth noting that WR1s and WR2s have had success against Cleveland.

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


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