Week 14 DFS Short Yardage Outlooks

A look into notable short-yardage (and touchdown) outlooks throughout the Week 14 DFS pool

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 14:

Passing Game Notables

Donte Moncrief

All he does is catch touchdowns, indeed. Trapped in another rocky year for the Colts offense, Moncrief has disappointed as an overall receiver, averaging 4.1 catches and a meager 44.7 yards per game. I’m a long and avowed Moncrief lover, however, and I have reason to believe that big things are on the horizon. For a guy with Moncrief’s remarkable athleticism and surprisingly strong technical play, an eruption could come at any moment. He’s been dynamite in the dark zone all year, so he stands to reap some rewards anytime the Colts offense steps it up a notch. Over his six full games, Moncrief leads the team by far with six dark zone targets. That’s as many as T.Y. Hilton has seen over his full season – and Moncrief has turned every one into a touchdown. Amazingly four of those six scores have come from within three yards; call him Eric Decker, Jr. That tells us his short-yardage chops are a clear go-to in the Colts’ gameplan. We may not be able to trust in Moncrief’s floor, which is shaky from week to week. But his TD capacity in an offense that can top 30 points on any given week is always notable.

DeVante Parker

His breakthrough has been a mixed bag for sure, with major yardage efficiency but declining target totals for two straight weeks. But the athletic, large-framed Parker has showcased his catch-point ability of late, catching dark zone touchdowns in two of his last three games. Overall, since ascending into a prominent role in the offense four weeks ago, Parker has drawn four of Ryan Tannehill’s seven dark zone targets; only two other receivers have even been looked for there. The Dolphins may be a run-first offense, but when they’re dialing up for chunk plays or matchup-based TDs, they’re angling things Parker’s way. His Week 14 matchup with Patrick Peterson is daunting, but will also drive his ownership levels down drastically – lower than such a dynamic receiver should probably be.

Coby Fleener

Brandon Coleman

The Saints are on the road this week, so we can’t project the wild, tournament-busting numbers for Drew Brees that we’d like to. But he’s still Drew Brees and a weekly candidate to throw 3+ touchdowns, so we’re paying attention. The problem with his GPP stackability is that his targets aren’t as consistent as we’d hope, and the dynamic options (Michael Thomas, Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead IV) come a bit more expensively then we’d like. That’s where these two come into play – they’re cheap, and they’re seeing work in the dark zone. Dating back to his Stanford days with Andrew Luck, Fleener has been a relative TD machine. His 18.8% college TD rate has given way to a solid 8.9% one in the pros, with much of his time spent sharing the field with Dwayne Allen in Indianapolis. And his short-yardage usage rate has upticked lately, with 3 targets from inside the 10 over the last 3 weeks. On the outside, Coleman has drawn two such looks from the dark zone over that span, and scored on both. He’s not a flashy play by any means, but in deep GPPs he’s in position to provide easy 4x or 5x value from the bottom of the salary chart.

Malcolm Mitchell

He’s arrived, seeing heavy play time (85% last Sunday) with Rob Gronkowski out and two-TE sets all but gone from the offense. With his volume strong and his salary still low, Mitchell is a studly Week 14 value play even without a dark zone outlook. But it’s impressive what he’s done there. He scorched Darrelle Revis for two short touchdowns two weeks ago, including an impressive game-winner in the fourth quarter. The Patriots have a lot of mouths to feed, and there’s no guarantee he’ll maintain a role near the goal line, Gronkowski or no Gronkowski. But his college resume as a technically sound high-pointing receiver hints at a solid outlook in this offense, and his recent usage could foreshadow a great connection with dark zone master Tom Brady.

Vernon Davis

Jordan Reed is practicing on a limited basis, but as of Thursday he has yet to take part in any blocking drills, so the massive injury case is looking shaky for Week 14. In terms of value, that’s good news for DFSers, who can take advantage of Davis at a much cheaper price tag. He’s seen solid usage in Reed’s place, and while the dark zone usage hasn’t been there, we know the potential for it. Reed is the team’s centerpiece near the goal line, so if Kirk Cousins finds himself throwing heavily Sunday, we can project some opportunity for Reed. On FanDuel he’s an exceptionally cheap dice roll almost guaranteed to hit cash value, and while his DraftKings price tag is higher, he’ll hit GPP value on either site with just one touchdown.

Jermaine Kearse

The Seahawks aren’t throwing much in the dark zone – just six attempts over the past three weeks – as they re-establish their strong running game. But it’s noteworthy that four of those looks have gone to Kearse, a more-valuable-to-the-Seahawks-than-to-fantasy type whom Russell Wilson has always appreciated. Kearse has been lost in the shuffle all year, falling well behind Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham in the pecking order. But if this current span is any indicator, he’s worked his way heavily into their touchdown plans. He’s been targeted 3 times from inside the 5, by two different passers – clearly, his short-range end zone ability is on the team’s radar. Kearse will never be a safe bet to score a touchdown, of course. But he’s a dirt-cheap stab at one.

Daniel Brown

Deonte Thompson

Yes, ick. The Bears passing game is helmed by Matt Barkley and anything but sexy, with these two operating as the chief options on the outside and no one of note to draw attention away. But they’ve (kind of) produced over the last two weeks, and the offense has indeed managed 21 and 26 points in those games. An average NFL team runs about 60 plays in a game, with a handful coming from inside the 10, after all. Each of these minimum-salaried options has drawn three such targets over that span, reminding us that an offense with such a dearth of options should be examined closely. Whoever avoids Darius Slay in the dark zone could be in line for a dirt-cheap touchdown and hold GPP value, seemingly against all common logic we know about good football players.

Running Game Notables

David Johnson

There’s really nothing he can’t do. Johnson, who was much-maligned during his NFL Draft run-up as a poor and inefficient inside runner, has firmly established himself as a short-yardage king. On the year his 28 dark zone rushes sit just behind league leader Melvin Gordon III’s 29, as the Cardinals clearly value ultra-dynamic playmaking in short yardage over mere size. He’s not particular efficient with his opportunity – he’s scored on just 8 of those 28 runs – but the sheer volume and dynamism he brings gives him an odds-on weekly shot at multiple scores. There’s a reason he’s topped universal 3x value in 7 of 8 games, after all. In addition to his goal line running, Johnson has drawn 5 targets from inside the 10 – tied for fourth-most among running backs – and it seems no DFS salary can really contain him.

Devonta Freeman

Tevin Coleman

Obviously, you want in on the Falcons’ dark zone offense, which finds the end zone at a solid rate for its high opportunity. On the year, only the Saints have run more snaps from inside the 10. And the Falcons are courteous enough to DFSers that their touchdown chances are generally predictable. We know they’ll run the ball from in close at a fairly strong clip, and that Freeman will lead the duo in volume. Over their 9 games together, he holds a 19-7 rushing edge and a 5-2 receiving edge. Still, while Freeman is clearly the stronger cash option, Coleman offers more GPP value. He’s been much more efficient than Freeman from in close and therefore just about as likely to find the end zone on a given week. A TD or two would go much, much further for the low-cost Coleman.

Rob Kelley

He isn’t exciting, the converted fullback who edged past hot mess Matt Jones into the starting Washington job. But like Alfred Morris before him, the unsexy Kelley has proven efficient as a complementary part of an offense. Two factors make him an intriguing weekly play: his cost, which has yet to rise noticeably, and the fact that he dominates the scoring opportunity in the backfield. Over his 5 games as starter, he’s been given 11 of the team’s 12 dark zone rushes and scored 4 times. That means the right game script would set him up for easy cash value on just a moderate rushing day. His current price tag is generally fair, but it doesn’t quite include his actual upside.

Ryan Mathews

He’ll go nearly un-owned this week, but if he’s healthy, he could be a serious coup in GPPs. Mathews is perma-hurt and always a threat to drop out of a game or even scratch unexpectedly, which scares away ownership even in good scenarios. But those who are in on his short-yardage usage and chops will stick a toe into the pool this week, as he comes cheaply and offers scoring upside. Even in limited time – he’s lost a full game and parts of others to various nicks – Mathews has taken 20 carries from inside the 10, as many as Ezekiel Elliott and more than Matt Forte. In an offense that strongly favors the run in short yardage, an active Mathews should always be viewed as a threat to cross the goal line. He’s posted two multi-touchdown games already, and he’s even turned two duds of under 20 yards into salvageable lines on the backs of TDs.

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