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 10:
Passing Game Notables
Yes, all of them are in play; it’s hard to tell from week to week who’s going to dominate Aaron Rodgers’ touchdown attention. But you definitely want in on this passing game, which has thrown more dark zone passes (18) and touchdowns (9) than anyone over the last three games. When Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, and Ty Montgomery have been simultaneously healthy over that span, here’s how the dark zone work has shaken out among the weekly contenders:
|DZ Tar||DZ TD|
Since I’m not interested in taking abstract guesses – but I’m very much into stockpiling TDs to win in tournament play – I’m looking to power-stack Packers this week. The Titans have been gashed in the dark zone of late, with six of their opponent’s nine pass attempts going for scores. When I consider cost, usage, and efficiency all together, I’ll probably push my chips in on Cobb, who’s a little underpriced and historically great in the dark zone, and Adams, who caught a 1-yard touchdown last week and was targeted on a conversion attempt. That would help avoid some of the Nelson chalk while still prowling for maximum dark zone value.
Along similar lines, GPP enthusiasts will also be tasked with decoding the Saints’ dark zone tendencies. Here are their last three games in a dark zone nutshell:
|DZ Tar||DZ TD|
We know confidently that Drew Brees & Co. will look to throw often despite the suffocating Broncos pass defense across the field. We also know they’ll throw near the goal line – over a 3-game span, the team has thrown 17 passes from inside the 10, second only to the Packers and the third-place Rams boast just 12. But who will be targeted? This was an easy question a few weeks ago, when the team was riding the underneath game of rookie Michael Thomas to short-yardage scores. Now it’s not so simple: over that three-game span, nine different receivers have been thrown to in the dark zone, only one (backup running back Tim Hightower) more than twice. Going forward, the smart money is still on Thomas, who’s suddenly Brees’ favorite overall receiver and has been extremely efficient in short yardage (four TDs on six targets overall). But if I’m looking to go contrarian in taking down a huge tournament, I’m merely cross-stacking Brees with one of his RBs – probably the cheaper Hightower – and just benefitting from the overall volume. Brees will get his attempts, and one (or more) of the backs will fill in most of the gaps. That speaks volumes in a high-flying offense like this. Their 25.5-point Vegas projection is fair, but in a Superdome matchup, that seems like more of a floor.
Finally, Evans dominating the dark zone is a thing. Considering his size and catch-point ability, we’ve all been waiting for the Buccaneers to treat him as the primary force near the goal line. And while he’s always been solid from there, we’ve wanted more before treating him as a locked-in top-tier wideout. It’s finally happened – over the team’s last five weeks, he’s drawn three of Jameis Winston’s seven dark zone targets, and scored on all three. The touchdown ceiling in place here is very ripe, even at his Week 10 salaries. Still, if we’re hunting down all the potential TDs we can, Brate looks like a fair power-stack option alongside Evans. He’s priced fairly well considering his consistent share of Winston’s dark zone attention – of those four remaining non-Evans looks, Brate has seen three and scored twice.
Trevor Siemian has been throwing quite a bit in the dark zone himself (12 attempts over his last three). He’s just not doing it very well (one touchdown over that span). That’s bad, of course, but it creates tons of appeal for progression to the mean. A dark zone conversion rate of 8.3% is unlikely to hold for long, so if Siemien keeps up the volume, a handful of Broncos targets should be able to benefit. The smart money is on Sanders, who has seen 6 of those 12 looks and a whopping, league-high 13 on the season. And of course, his outlook could hardly be rosier: only six teams have faced more dark zone passes than the Saints’ 22. I certainly can’t guarantee that Siemian and Sanders will hook up for a score or two this week. But I’m definitely confident they’ll see anywhere from 1-3 opportunities to do so.
Remember when Britt was an ultra-promising freak of nature in Tennessee, consistently winning jump balls and serving as a weekly multi-touchdown threat? I hesitate to say Britt is reliving those days – how much upside can you have catching balls from Case Keenum? – but he’s certainly doing notable dark zone work with what he has. Over the last four games, Los Angeles has thrown 12 passes from inside the 10-yard line, and Britt has been the target on a team-high 4 of them. For the record, that’s more opportunities than have been given the likes of Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr Jr., Brandon Marshall, or Rob Gronkowski. And Britt has been very productive with them, scoring on 2 of the 4 and being brought down another time at the 1-yard line. You certainly don’t want to pin many cash-game hopes on the Rams offense, but Britt makes for a fine GPP play at his still-low salaries. He takes on a beleaguered Jets secondary that, over the same 4-game span, has allowed 7 of its opponents’ 15 dark zone passes to score. Britt could bring home GPP value by simply fulfilling recent trends and catching a short TD or two.
Hooper bears watching from a touchdown potential standpoint, assuming of course Jacob Tamme sits again this week. Matt Ryan is targeting his tight ends solidly near the goal line: thus far, 8 of his 28 dark zone looks have gone to either Tamme or Hooper. And Hooper’s short score last week was no one-off event. He actually boasts a strong touchdown resume from college, where as a junior he caught 6 scores across just 34 attempts as part of the Stanford Tight End Movement. He’s pricier than I’d like for a TD-dependent flier, but makes for an intriguing stab at multiple scores.
It’s going to happen soon: Bryant, one of the planet’s preeminent touchdown men, will start finding the end zone with at least a little more regularity. Over his 6+ NFL seasons, no wide receiver has caught more dark zone TDs than Bryant’s 24, and his 44.4% conversion rate is unmatched. Dak Prescott is learning the NFL ropes, as well as his playmakers themselves, and thus far Bryant has blended in with his teammates in usage. But that doesn’t seem likely to hold – a healthy, focused Bryant is simply too much for defenses to consistently shut down and quarterbacks to consistently ignore. GPP players will find strong appeal this week as Bryant faces the Steelers. The DFS world will again flock the chalk to running back Ezekiel Elliott, but shrewd players will take Bryant’s discount and contrarian appeal.
Running Game Notables
I’m writing his name on my screen in Sharpie, as it seems nothing will slow down Gordon’s dark zone barrage. No one in the league has even approached his 26 rushing attempts, and only one back is within 2 touchdowns of his total (9). It doesn’t look fluky, either: among backs with at least 10 dark zone rushes, Gordon sits 1st in first downs created and a respectable 7th in yards per attempt. That means he’s not bumbling to these numbers on the heels of a sackful of inefficient one-yard plunges. He’s the Chargers’ clear motor near the goal line, and he’s yet to do them (or DFSers) wrong. This week, he projects to 0.75 dark zone TDs; that’s his lowest projection in over a month, but it’s merely a byproduct of factoring in the Dolphins’ above-average dark zone run defense. I’m absolutely favoring Gordon’s recent history – and the Chargers’ 26.5-point Vegas expectation – and rostering him confidently.
The Seahawks defense remains stout, if no longer suffocating, but they’re certainly seeing work near the goal line. Over the last 3 weeks, no defense has faced more rushing attempts from inside the 10 than Seattle (17). Teams aren’t having much success (only three of those runs have scored), but the volume suggests there’s something there to target. Besides, 5 of those 14 failures came from the ancient and ineffective Tim Hightower being stymied repeatedly at the goal line. Blount’s efficiency (8 scores on 18 attempts thus far) is solid enough that I expect him to turn strong opportunity into a short touchdown or two. The Patriots have lived in opposing dark zones, and this week shouldn’t be much different. All told, no running back can even approach Blount’s projection of 1.93 dark zone scores, an unusually high number for my model to spit out.
This week features an abnormally high number of bell cow backs who pull the same ultra-heavy duty near the goal line. Still, some carry stronger touchdown outlooks than others. Some lack efficiency – like DeMarco Murray, who’s been a volume king but scored on just 6 of his 19 dark zone rushes. Or David Johnson, who’s posted an even worse 30% rate. Or even Ezekiel Elliott at 29%, or LeSean McCoy, who brings up the rear of the bunch at an anemic 21%. But others have been sneaky-effective from the dark zone and warrant your GPP attention, while the DFS world chases the volume of the above guys. Like Jonathan Stewart, who’s taken over the lion’s share of goal line work from Cam Newton and has scored four times from the dark zone since his return. Or Christine Michael, who’s struggled mightily as a runner of late but has found the end zone on nearly half (42%) of his opportunities – the league’s third-highest rate among runners with 10+ dark zone rushes. (The top two are Latavius Murray, who’s off this week, and Carlos Hyde, who seems unlikely to suit up.)
It’s hard to tell from one week to the next which Saints back Sean Payton will feature in the dark zone. But even more so than their dynamic passing game, you want in on their RB options this week. The Broncos have been gashed lately by the run, and that’s spilled over into the dark zone, where they’ve allowed three scores over the last three weeks. Given the Saints’ offensive volume and tendency to rely heavily on their backs, it seems like a given that either Ingram or Hightower will find the end zone. Obviously, though, I’m more on board with the cheaper (and more touchdown-likely) Hightower in GPP play. Over a 3-week span, he’s grabbed 9 of the team’s 16 dark zone runs (compared just 3 for Ingram), plus 3 dark zone targets for good measure.
Overnight, Bernard has taken the short-yardage role away from the bruising Hill, after 2+ seasons of the opposite arrangement. It’s interesting, though, that the two are sharing overall rushes pretty evenly. This shift would be understandable if Hill were faceplanting and Bernard dominating the backfield, but that’s not the case. It seems that, at least at the moment, Bernard is truly the team’s preferred choice near the goal line. This could even out at any moment – Bernard has no real dark zone resume prior to this span to speak of, and short-yardage running is right in Hill’s wheelhouse. But for the time being, shrewd DFSers can take advantage of those who don’t know this recent split and merely assume Hill is the correct GPP play. Feel free to take a shot at Bernard holding serve – you’ll carry strong upside for not only yardage and receptions, but also for touchdowns.
More articles from Justin HoweSee all
Why Austin Ekeler is an RB1 Bargain
Why Leonard Fournette Still Looks Like a Headache
3 Late Running Backs You Should Target
More articles on: Daily FFSee all
10 Things I Wish I Knew When Starting DFS - Freeman
DFS Coverage: Super Bowl - Staff
DFS Coverage: Conference Championships - Staff
More articles on: FanDuelSee all
Cracking FanDuel: Divisional Round - Knotts
Cracking FanDuel: Week 18 - Knotts
Cracking FanDuel Week 17 - Knotts