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 13:
Passing Game Notables
I’ve outlined Drew Brees’ Superdome prowess several times. The tl;dr version is that, while home/road splits often don’t hold much water, stark ones like Brees’ (and Ben Roethlisberger’s) are worth noting. At home, he leaps from a moderate, volume-reliant touchdown threat to one who averages 2.8 scores and throws 3+ more often than not (53% since 2014). Historically speaking, he’s a near-lock for 300+ yards and multiple touchdowns. And against a Lions defense that’s allowed an eye-popping 15 dark zone touchdowns on 21 attempts, we can safely expect fireworks. A power-stack of these three makes a ton of sense; Thomas has been Brees’ chief target from inside the 10 all year, while Fleener is poised to feast on the NFL’s worst unit against fantasy tight ends. A sum of 2-3 scores from these two receivers would be a true upset.
See above: Ben Roethlisberger’s home production has been nearly identical to Brees’ over the past 2+ years. He’ll likely excel Sunday, if only on the stat sheet, and we can safely look for a minimum of 2-3 passing scores. Brown is Roethlisberger’s chief target on all levels of the field, and while he’s never been very efficient near the goal line, the sheer volume he projects to seems to guarantee him multiple touchdown opportunities. His salary is manageable – for him – and leaves open a realistic shot at 4x value.
Odell Beckham Jr Jr.
Last week I pointed out the absurd fact that, over nearly three seasons of NFL play, Beckham has managed to score on every single dark zone catch he’s made. That’s 100%, all 13 of them. Now, that’s not the easiest number to apply to a projection outlook, as its connection to target volume is specious. But it makes us feel more comfortable in his ability to turn whatever short-yardage volume he sees into GPP-tilting touchdowns. And since the volume is studly – his nine dark zone targets tie for fifth in the league – there’s little reason not to more-or-less expect an eruption every week.
You’re obviously familiar with Eifert’s 2015 exploits in the dark zone: 9 targets, 8 receptions, 8 touchdowns. And his present volume alone, both inside and outside the 10-yard line, is enough to make for a tournament-tilting pick at a sub-10% salary. This offense has become particularly pass-first near the goal line, and with A.J. Green sidelined for the past three games, Eifert has gobbled up three of Andy Dalton’s six dark zone targets. In fact, no other Bengal has seen multiples. That gives Eifert a strong touchdown floor – he projects to more dark zone targets than any other tight end – and a studly ceiling that far belies his upper-mid salaries. No tight end this side of Rob Gronkowski carries more realistic GPP upside from week to week.
The disappointment has been real and painful, but at least Robinson’s price tag keeps dropping and dropping. And even against Denver, a sub-12% salary is a bit too cheap for his profile of usage and short-yardage prowess. Robinson of course led the planet in dark zone targets and touchdowns last season, and this year he hasn’t faded as much as he seems. He sits tied for the league lead in targets and tied for fourth in TDs; when the Jaguars offense stumbles toward the goal line, he often gets the chance to feast. The matchup is brutal, but Blake Bortles has the resume of a garbage-time king. As a result, Robinson could turn in a solid GPP line at this cost.
Moncrief’s anticipated leap has been uneven; his 5.83 yards per target is abysmal, and he’s yet to top 64 in a game all year. But if nothing else, he’s emerged as Andrew Luck’s primary look from the dark zone. With five targets through six games, he’s actually the league’s most-used receiver from there. Few defenses allow more dark zone fireworks than the Jets, and with Andrew Luck back under center, Moncrief carries a touchdown outlook that would boost a season-best receiving performance into the stratosphere.
Crowder is miniscule (5’8” and 174 pounds) and doesn’t fit the mold of the traditional dark zone receiver. But his superb short-area burst makes him a solid target from there; Kirk Cousins loves to target his second-year man on quick slants and drags near the goal line. Through 11 games this year, Crowder is tied with Jordan Reed for the team lead in dark zone targets (7). He hasn’t been efficient, catching only two and failing to score from in close. But the volume should stay intact and even swell a bit if Reed again sits out. His matchup is iffy, but carries some promise: Arizona slot cornerback Tyrann Mathieu is a bit overrated in coverage and can be beaten from time to time.
It’s been mostly a season to forget for Walford, who hasn’t made a second-year step whatsoever in terms of usage or efficiency. But in an offense that throws heavily near the goal line – only New Orleans and Green Bay have thrown from the dark zone more this year – he presents a minimum-salary grasp at a potential touchdown producer who’ll be less than 3% owned. Over the last 3 weeks, Derek Carr has thrown 12 passes from inside the 10 and spread things out wildly. Walford actually leads the team with three targets over that span, as Amari Cooper just isn’t a part of their short-yardage plans. Walford is an option only in the deepest of GPPs, but with the understanding that tournament value is only two catches and a TD away.
Running Game Notables
He’s indeed a very one-dimensional fantasy option, and you can’t lean much on him when the Patriots are overwhelmingly expected to throw a lot. Matchups with close Vegas spreads are iffy for Blount, as he can only really contribute fantasy-wise when the Patriots spend the day locked into the opposing dark zone. Well, welcome to Week 13, where Blount sits as a 13.5-point favorite and should see ample opportunity. Dating back to last season, Blount averages roughly 45% more DFS production when the Patriots are favored by 10 or more. That boost would be present in the dark zone, as well – consider that Blount’s touchdown production leaps by 0.57 scores in these matchups. Blount stands as arguably the slate’s best stab at multiple touchdowns, and he comes by that outlook cheaply.
He’s certainly underwhelmed this year, in every facet, but take some heart in history. He’s been among the league’s elite in terms of dark zone efficiency since entering the league, boasting a career 35% conversion rate on the ground. And with the Bengals’ playmakers dropping like flies, Hill is left with stark competition for the short-yardage workload. He may never again be the efficient all-around producer he was as a rookie; the last two years have called that firmly into question. But his true outlook lies pretty closely to that of last season, when he churned out 11 touchdowns. His Week 13 matchup isn’t very conducive to a big day, but he’s always capable of a multi-score line that tilts GPPs from his tiny price point.
Murray hasn’t been a particularly efficient back as a pro, that’s for sure. But his 2016 has brought great promise in the worlds of both receiving production and short-yardage workload. The Raiders are a pass-first team from near the goal line, but nearly every other call is a Murray run. Over the past three weeks, he leads the NFL in dark zone rushes (12) and touchdowns (4). That’s certainly enough to make us confident that a game of moderate scoring – say, 2-3 Raiders TDs – would almost certainly feature at least 1-2 Murray opportunities for short scores. And for what it’s worth, Vegas projects Oakland to 26 points, right in the meaty part of that curve.
Kelley is Washington’s clear-cur feature back, and it’s hard to complain about the results thus far. Unsurprisingly, the former fullback has been particularly impressive near the goal line. Over his 4 games as a starter, Kelley has drawn a robust 9 rushes from inside the 10 – tied for sixth-best in the league over that span – and scored 4 times. That’s important for a one-speed runner that lacks dynamism; it gives him floor when his rushing efficiency could drop off at any moment. In other words, even if Kelley is suddenly exposed as a reserve talent and starts turning in 15-carry, 35-yard lines, his propensity to find the end zone is a big and relatively realistic boost. Those chickens could come home to roost in Week 13, when he faces a notoriously tough Cardinals defense that could all but erase his yardage output. In a game Vegas projects to produce a healthy 49.5 points, Kelley’s touchdown outlook could rescue him from a bust of a day.
Ryan Mathews is out, and his role is up for grabs. And thus far, the meatiest part of that role has been his short-yardage workload; through 10 games, Mathews has taken 20 rushes from inside the 10, sixth-most in football. In his place, rookie Smallwood is by far the most logical choice to project most of that opportunity onto. He’s a talented runner, he’s trusted by the coaches, and he’s been more effective from there than Darren Sproles. Smallwood may not boast the same dark zone prowess Mathews did, but as the likely feature back in a run-first offense designed to hide a rookie quarterback, his overall outlook is rosy.
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