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 11:
Passing Game Notables
They’re still in a cluster, and it’s still hard to know exactly what to expect near the goal line. But we take comfort that Aaron Rodgers tends to wing the ball plenty in the dark zone to allow for more touchdown potential than any other team can boast. He projects to the second-most dark zone TDs among the slate’s quarterbacks, so we need to be on full alert here. Rodgers spreads the ball around, which makes it harder for us to identify his targets, but creates some payoff opportunity as we put together our GPP portfolios. A quick breakdown of Green Bay’s short-yardage passing game over its last three healthy weeks:
|DZ Tar||DZ TD||Proj DZ TD|
All told, from a TD standpoint, I’m probably most interested in Randall Cobb. He’ll likely see the lowest ownership of the bunch, even in GPP games – odd, considering he projects to the third-most dark zone TDs (0.40) on the slate. He’s the most voluminous target inside the 10, and his historical efficiency rates from there are outstanding. Adams has been great in the dark zone, but no longer comes with a noticeable discount from do-it-aller Nelson, so there’s not much benefit there beyond (very slight) lineup diversity. Nelson, who has been consistently utilized near the goal line all year, slots right behind Cobb. Montgomery is little more than a deep-GPP stab at diversification; he’s slipping from the rotation and the running game. All in all, this situation is somewhat volatile but much less so than with any other team, thanks to the volume in play. A power stack with two of these guys can pay off handsomely.
Marcus Mariota has truly hit the NFL ground running – especially in terms of short-yardage passing. Through 22 games, he’s turned a sterling 52% of his dark zone passes into touchdowns. (For reference’s sake, Aaron Rodgers sits at 38% over that span, and Tom Brady is at 42%.) That’s an awesome resume, if a small sample size, and it gives him and his receivers a sizeable weekly boost in ceiling. What makes things semi-easy for us is that the team has a fairly clear target picture: over the last three weeks, half of his dark zone throws have gone to either Delanie Walker or Rishard Matthews. That makes Walker’s solid Week 11 outlook even sexier, and while Matthews doesn’t have much of a short-yardage reputation, it boosts his appeal as well. Walker belongs in a healthy smattering of your lineups regardless of format – as does Mariota, of course.
Anyone who’s read my writing over the years knows I’m enamored of Moncrief, one of the finest specimens to enter the league over the last decade-plus. He boasts an athletic profile along the lines of some of the NFL’s most explosive threats, like Julio Jones, Andre Johnson, and Vincent Jackson. And he’s now proving what a dynamic weapon he can be near the goal line, emerging as Andrew Luck’s favorite target there (and an awfully efficient one). Across his three full games, he’s drawn four of Luck’s nine dark zone looks, converting three into scores. This week, Luck & Co. will face off with Tennessee’s shaky pass defense, which has allowed 56% of its opponents’ dark zone passes to produce touchdowns. Las Vegas is expecting a stout 28 points for the Colts, and it would actually be a mini-upset if Moncrief didn’t find the end zone. A trip or two into it would boost a solid Moncrief day into the stratosphere.
The Lions defense is a weekly DFS target – even when Darius Slay is active – and this week is no exception. That’s especially true for Thomas, who’s built his NFL name on short-yardage dynamism and faces one of the week’s most attractive DvP (defense v. position) matchup among tight ends. Only the Browns have allowed more touchdowns to the position than the Lions, and a parade of mid-to-low-salaried TEs have found the end zone against them. Even amidst Blake Bortles’ crumbled season, Thomas has turned 2 of his 5 looks from inside the 10-yard line into scores, and the smart money is on another one this week. His potential for multiples makes him a solid GPP play. Robinson is a true wild card – he’s been very uneven all year and will draw plenty of Slay attention – but the upside his high and will be low-owned. Robinson was, of course, the league’s premier dark zone receiver in 2015, and he’s dominating the volume this year (nine targets, four more than anyone else).
This one should be painfully obvious, assuming Rob Gronkowski won’t be risking his lung health against the NFL’s second-worst team. Patriots tight ends haven’t seen the dark zone volume we’re used to – just 6 of the team’s 17 targets – but they’re efficient nearly to the point of dominance. Gronkowski and Bennett have combined to turn half those looks into touchdowns. If Gronkowski sits, Bennett will be a threat to rack up fantasy points from all over the field Sunday, and his TD outlook (especially in close) will tell the tale on whether he produces 10-12 points and holds value or churns out 20-22 and tilts contests on his own. His ownership will be high, but lower in GPPs, where DFSers can benefit more.
Odell Beckham Jr Jr.
His dark zone volume is strong – seven looks on the season, behind only five other receivers – and his efficiency has always been stunning. This year, 3 of those 7 targets have scored, which is actually a downgrade from his career 50% rate. (In fact, of the 22 receivers with 20+ dark zone looks over that span, only Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas boast better touchdown rates.) Beckham’s matchup with an underrated Bears secondary isn’t ideal, but his outlook for both enormous chunk plays and touchdowns is always elite.
Here’s a desperation stab at GPP diversification if I’ve ever seen one. The Rams will be in a negative matchup and breaking in a rookie quarterback, so their passing game projects to nearly nothing useful on the surface. But for what it’s worth, no team has attempted more passes from the dark zone over its last 3 games than the Rams’ 14; in fact, no one else has thrown more than 11. If nothing else, Britt and Kendricks may have strong play-calling on their sides. They were each targeted on 4 of those 14 passes, and if the trend holds, my projection model gives each 1.3 dark zone looks. Britt’s price has ballooned along with his production, but 100 yards and a touchdown would land DFSers some unexpected, low-owned value. Kendricks, however, would make a lot more sense with his low salary.
Running Game Notables
His inclusion here is obvious; Blount tends to benefit wildly from Patriots blowouts, and it seems like a foregone conclusion that he’ll play a big role in hammering the 49ers. New England projects to score a whopping 31.75 points and currently sits as 13-point favorites. When’s the last time we’ve seen such a clear projection of an NFL game and its lead running back’s fantasy value? It would be a serious upset if Blount didn’t tear through San Francisco’s weak defense, and my model gives him a stout 1.72 dark zone touchdowns. And that’s not an inflated number. On the year, Blount is second league-wide in dark zone rushes with 23, and his 47.8% TD rate from there is third among all rushers with 10 or more opportunities. In a week packed with strong running back value up and down the slate, Blount should be high-owned in cash games but less so in GPPs, where he can really tilt things with an (expected) 100-yard, multi-TD line.
I don’t know what’s going on either. Head coach Doug Pedersen keeps “rewarding” strong running back performances by reshuffling the rotation. But while we don’t know what to expect week-to-week from Mathews, we know he’s typically the most trusted option, and that he’s been deep-fried gold in the touchdown department. Mathews has already scored 7 times from inside the 10, despite lacking a stranglehold on the backfield. And while a date with the Seahawks seems daunting – and it is up and down the field – there’s potential to be mined in the dark zone. Only one team (Cleveland) has faced more dark zone rushes than Seattle, and while they’ve only allowed 25% to produce TDs, that’s an awful lot of opportunity in play. With his tiny salary and likely low ownership, Mathews is a very shrewd GPP stab at a cheap TD or two.
All told, no one has been more effective from near the goal line than Murray. He’s found pay dirt on 7 of his 10 attempts, highest of all backs with 10 or more tries. He dominates the role despite a crowded backfield, claiming seven of the Raiders’ last eight dark zone rushes. Simply put, there’s a lot to like about Murray’s GPP prospects. He’s priced low enough that a two-touchdown game would virtually shove him into universal 4x value.
One way or another, Bell will find the end zone. He went touchdown-less for his first five games before scoring twice last Sunday, and it’s easy to look at that as a dam bursting. As the league’s most versatile back, Bell has seen a carry or target on 10 of the Steelers’ 28 snaps from the dark zone since his Week 4 return. The efficiency hasn’t been there, of course, and Bell has never been a huge TD guy. But his volume – especially as projected in a matchup with the pitiful Browns – can definitely produce multiple scores at his career rates. In other words, just a typical Bell game should land him across the goal line at least once. That would be a GPP-turning feather in the cap of what should be a monstrous all-around performance.
Assuming Matt Jones is indeed out of Washington’s immediate plans (he was a healthy scratch last week), Kelley should remain in the driver’s seat on all levels of the field. He’s performed beautifully in the role, and Chris Thompson is a low-volume rusher who doesn’t see much usage. That’s especially true near the goal line. Over his two starts, Kelley has claimed all six of the team’s dark zone rushes. His Sunday tangle with the Packers projects solidly for him: the model gives him 0.64 short touchdown runs, tied for sixth-highest on this slate. Considering Washington sits as a 2.5-point favorite, Kelley looks like a solid bet at a score, which would all but seal up universal 3x value or better.
Gore is in play this week due to matchup, as the Titans can’t stop opposing runners. But there’s GPP potential beyond his yardage outlook. Gore dominates the Colts backfield, especially in the dark zone, where he’s taken 11 of the team’s 17 rushes. His efficiency has been roughly average, but this has the looks of a high-flying, defense-free game that Vegas projects to produce a week-high 53 points.
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