Week 12 DFS Short Yardage Outlooks

A look into short-yardage (and touchdown) outlooks throughout the Week 12 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 12:

Passing Game Notables

The Cardinals

There’s a lot to like about Carson Palmer’s Week 12 outlook. Much of it is his plummeting salary, coupled with our knowledge of what he’s actually capable of. But we also have to love his touchdown outlook; in fact, no quarterback projects by the model to throw more touchdowns than his 2.07. The bulk of that comes from the dark zone, where Palmer has been effective (4 of 9 throws have gone for TDs over the last 3 games) and the Falcons have been, well, the opposite (7 of 10 over that span). There’s cloudiness as to who would catch those scores, as the Cardinals alter their dark zone tendencies from week to week. But stacking Palmer with either Larry Fitzgerald or Michael Floyd makes a ton of sense in a GPP format, where multi-TD performances are king.

The Saints

Drew Brees is a Hall of Fame quarterback, but Drew Brees At Home is probably the greatest that’s ever played. His home splits are almost transcendental: dating back 21 games to 2014, Brees has averaged 2.7 touchdowns and thrown 3+ touchdowns 11 times (52%). Over his last 3 home games, he’s thrown 5 TDs over 10 passes from the dark zone, and it’s to the point that we can even expect success against a shutdown unit like the Rams have become. So whom do we target? Hard to say. Two of those five scores have gone to Willie Snead IV, a surprising development for a guy who rarely sees dark zone work; that recent production might be semi-fluky. I’d be more confident in stacking him with Michael Thomas, who has impressed wildly as a rookie and been used sporadically on quick-hitting routes near the goal line. And if I’m looking to differentiate, I’m looking at Coby Fleener, who’s been a monumental disappointment as a Saint but keeps drawing attention inside the 10.

The Packers

They’re not winning games, but it’s not for a lack of touchdown passes. Only the Saints have thrown more passes or TDs in the dark zone, as the anemic run game has handcuffed Aaron Rodgers into massive volume. Not to mention, game scripts have been strongly featuring Packers passing through four quarters. Simply put, any of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, or Davante Adams could produce a massive TD line on any given week. The common thread among these teams, of course, is parsing the opportunity and assigning it to receivers to target. Adams projects the best (0.63 TDs), though Nelson has been the preferred short-yardage target for most of the year, while Cobb is historically the top option near the goal line. But Packers wideouts, with their volume and dynamism, are often high-floor to go with their top-tier ceilings. Mixing and matching for stacks within this group looks shrewd for any extensive GPP portfolio; even in a tough matchup, fade at your own risk.

Julian Edelman

Edelman is indeed small and wiry, but Tom Brady has a history of squeezing short-yardage production from that profile. Brady loves to utilize Edelman, like Wes Welker before him, on lightning-quick slant and drag routes along the goal line. It’s often too quick to jam and too quick for linebackers to react, and Edelman’s result has been an impressive 51.4% career touchdown rate from the dark zone. At this point, Rob Gronkowski’s Week 12 status looks iffy, and the Patriots’ dark zone volume will again be spread among a corps of Edelman and little else.  And of course, his matchup with the Jets isn’t the daunting task it once was. They’ve allowed a solid nine dark zone TD passes this year, including two to diminutive Browns slot man Andrew Hawkins earlier this month.

Odell Beckham Jr Jr.

Beckham, as usual, projects well in the dark zone this week based on an otherworldly historical profile. Through nearly 3 NFL seasons, Beckham has been targeted 24 times inside the 10-yard line, catching 12 of them – and all 12 have gone for touchdowns. It seems impossible, but Beckham bats 1.000 – on a sizeable 41-game sample – on turning short-yardage catches into scores. He’s done it on a variety of routes, depths, and throws, which makes us confident that he truly can produce a hefty DFS line on any Sunday. Beckham’s 2016 has been uneven, and there are week-to-week questions we can raise about his floor. But few players carry his ceiling, which can’t be overstated as he faces the Browns on a depressed salary.

Tyler Eifert

Eifert hasn’t been a factor in the dark zone since his return, but recent developments have really swung that outlook his way. He was already woven deeply into the passing game, drawing 23.7% of overall targets, and that number will swell further with the losses of A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard. From a dark zone standpoint, that probably means an extra short-yardage look per game – and we know of Eifert’s historical prowess from there. Through his first two years, Eifert turned a whopping 9 of his 14 dark zone throws into touchdowns. With that kind of resume, it seems overtly likely he’ll pick up that role going forward, and even with lesser efficiency he’d be a dynamite weekly target. Last season, Eifert would’ve been a top-three season-long tight end on a per-route basis even without his bevy of TDs.

Cameron Brate

It’s not surprising that Brate has become such a consistent touchdown producer. The team and its media spent the offseason praising his rapport with Jameis Winston and their short-yardage connection. It’s come to fruition: Brate sits second league-wide to Jordy Nelson in dark zone TDs (5), and he’s reached universal 4x value 4 times in his 10 games. His Week 12 date with Seattle seems daunting, but tight ends have had success against them of late. It’s not a prohibitive matchup for Brate’s value potential.

Austin Hooper

Hooper is attractive because the Falcons project to 27.5 points, and their dark zone targets tend to spread up and down the line. In other words, targets like him notoriously vulture short-yardage scores from Julio Jones and find their way into surprising value. With Jacob Tamme done for the year, rookie Hooper could be looking at a prominent dark zone role. Through 10 games, 8 of Matt Ryan’s 26 dark zone throws (31%) have gone to tight ends (for reference’s sake, Jones has seen just 3). Hooper is an absurdly cheap buy-in to the high-scoring matchup of the slate.

Running Game Notables

Melvin Gordon III

You already know about his touchdown prowess, but many are underappreciating his GPP credentials. DFSers tend to flock to high-reception options like Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson to fill their high-dollar spots in high-scoring tournament play. That’s sound, but it leads many to overlook old-fashioned TD projections – numbers we can’t project as cleanly as touches and yardage, but which carry even more weight in boosting a GPP score. Gordon’s efficiency has its warts, but he always represents an odds-on stab at securing multiple TD chances from an offense that flirts with explosiveness.

Jeremy Hill

Bernard is done for the year, and he leaves a surprising amount of dark zone opportunity on the field. Historically used between the 20s, Bernard has actually seen 9 carries-plus-targets from inside the 10. That’s a workload that will fall almost entirely upon Hill, one of the NFL’s most effective short-yardage rushers since entering the league. Through 2+ seasons, he’s scored on 20 of his 57 runs from the dark zone, a 35.1% rate that bests those of LeGarrette Blount, DeMarco Murray, and Marshawn Lynch over that span. Hill will be widely owned this week, so his GPP value is largely muted. But his touchdown outlook certainly puts him into position for tournament-value scoring.

Wendell Smallwood

He’s talented, he’s earned the trust of the staff, and he may be the last man standing. Both Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles face iffy health outlooks for Week 12, so Smallwood could stand to inherit a hefty rushing load Sunday. Most importantly for GPP purposes, he’s also in line to lead a backfield that’s third in the league with 31 dark zone rushes through 10 games. Mathews has produced seven short-yardage touchdowns on his own; if Smallwood takes that role, he’ll be odds-on to find the end zone as well.

Latavius Murray

Murray has enjoyed a rushing resurgence of late, but his dark zone outlook has been strong all year. The Raiders are relatively pass-happy near the goal line, but Murray has been given 9 of their 11 dark zone runs in his full games. The efficiency has been there, too, as 7 of his overall 11 have scored. Few backs can boast that blend, and while Murray faces a stiff test v. Carolina, it’s easy to envision a script that hands him 2-4 carries near the goal line. That provides a ceiling that can tilt a GPP contest.

LeSean McCoy

Mike Gillislee

The decidedly run-first Bills don’t change their stripes near the goal line. And over the last 3 games in which both McCoy and Gillislee were healthy throughout, they’ve taken a combined 8 rushes from inside the 10. The Jaguars are generally run against heavily in the dark zone, and they’ve already allowed nine such touchdowns. This Week 12 outlook is a bit murky: McCoy is expected to play through a dislocated thumb (and resulting surgery), but Gillislee makes for an upper-tier safety net.

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