Week 6 DFS Short Yardage Outlooks

A look into short-yardage (and touchdown) outlooks throughout the Week 6 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 6:

Passing Game Notables

Rob Gronkowski

Martellus Bennett

We may be looking at a pretty even timeshare here: both tight ends are seeing 80% or more of Patriots snaps, and both are crucial cogs to the passing game. That could mean a threat to Gronkowski’s throne as the NFL’s elite dark zone producer from the TE spot. Over three games together, Bennett has drawn 3 of the duo’s 4 targets from inside the 10, scoring on two of them. Still, Gronkowski is the league’s most gifted and feared weapon at the position, and positive progression toward his mean is almost certainly on its way. Most likely, the two will trade off a handful of multi-touchdown outbursts, and one will likely wind up a top-5 tight end scorer each week. They’ll be harder than usual to predict, but the resultant weekly dip in ownership could cement one (likely Gronkowski going forward) or both as upper-crust GPP options in each and every game.

Jordy Nelson

Never especially efficient near the end zone, Nelson has bucked that trend through four 2016 games. He’s dominating attention from there (6 of Aaron Rodgers’ 12 targets) and scoring touchdowns at a great clip (4 of 6). You’d be foolhardy not to expect him to produce at least one against Dallas, a defense that’s struggled to defend the pass from inside the 10-yard line. They’ve allowed six such TDs thus far, including two late ones to Brandon Lafell last week.

Russell Wilson

A perfect storm could be brewing for Wilson’s GPP prospects. His slow start has been frustrating, but he’s been efficient in the dark zone – three of his five passes from there have gone for scores. And he faces a Falcons defense that’s allowed 8 of its 14 dark zone passes go for touchdowns. This game has shootout potential, and Wilson’s value would skyrocket with several easy TD opportunities. His surrounding crew is healthy, Jimmy Graham is integrally involved, and we have yet to see Wilson run the ball near the goal line.

Michael Thomas

Thomas’ underneath work is growing and growing in value, to the Saints and to DFSers. Over the last two games, Thomas has been featured heavily on quick-hitting throws near the end zone. He’s seen three targets from there and scored on two of them. Neither Brandin Cooks nor Willie Snead IV have never been a threat in close, and Coby Fleener is still a lost doe in this offense. Thomas could actually carry the best chance of all the Saints weapons to cross the goal line.

T.Y. Hilton

Dwayne Allen

Jack Doyle

These guys look like solid touchdown bets on sheer volume alone. The Colts have their issues for sure, but finding opportunities to score isn’t one of them. And no team has thrown more from the dark zone over the last three games. Even in a tough matchup, Hilton and his tight end teammates deserve our attention as we seek out multi-touchdown games. Hilton is Andrew Luck’s preeminent all-around target, putting him squarely on the map on all levels of the field. And while Hilton has scored in each of the last three weeks, note that no receiver has been tackled inside the 2-yard line more this year (3 times). Also consider that Luck’s love for peppering TEs with short-yardage throws dates all the way back to Stanford, so Allen and Doyle are in play for short scoring flips.

Zach Miller

With Brian Hoyer under center, Miller has become the passing game’s engine in the dark zone. Over Hoyer’s three starts, four of his seven dark zone throws have gone Miller’s way. It gets even better: Miller scored on 3 of those 4, and in fact carries an 86% dark zone touchdown rate across 20 games as a Bear. As long as Hoyer is quarterbacking, we have to expect Miller to soak up his attention in scoring position. He’s already underpriced industry-wide, and his GPP appeal is high with all of this TD potential. He’ll likely be underowned, too, considering the many tight end bargains on the week’s slate.

Marcus Mariota

It’s not as consistent as we’d like to see, but Mariota is prone to posting games of surprisingly high dark zone volume. Across 17 games as a pro, he’s thrown four or more such passes five times, and this year his sits tied for fourth in the league. In Week 6, he’ll face the Browns, who have allowed a whopping 7 of their 11 dark zone passes thus far to score touchdowns. Mariota’s salaries have swollen a bit across the industry, but not prohibitively so, and my TD projections say he’s totally worth it. He remains a strong cheapie for GPPs, with weekly multi-TD potential and an ownership profile that often blends in and lands in the single digits.

Michael Crabtree

Seth Roberts

Intensive DFSers are familiar with the short-yardage exploits of Crabtree and Roberts. Amari Cooper is an electrifying talent in many ways, but he’s still not a focal point inside the 10. Across 21 NFL games, he’s been looked at from there just 4 times. Over that span, Crabtree (11) and Roberts (7) have combined to soak up more than half the team’s targets. Both make for intriguing stack plays against a Kansas City defense that’s been thrown at a lot in the dark zone. Roberts has been more efficient, but he’s a deep-GPP stab only; Crabtree is a more universal option.

Jacob Tamme

For several years now, Julio Jones’ brilliance has failed to transfer into the dark zone. There’s nothing he can’t do on a football field, it seems, except for produce near the goal line. Since 2013, Jones has drawn just 18.7% of Falcons targets from inside the 10, and his 23.1% touchdown rate is very poor. With the Falcons offense looking like a semi-juggernaut, we want in on their likely scorers. That makes Tamme a shrewd GPP stab. He’ll see next to no ownership while facing the Seahawks, but more importantly, he’s Matt Ryan’s premier target in the dark zone. Over the last three weeks, Tamme has seen 4 of Ryan’s 10 looks from there. There’s a nonzero chance he makes up for a three-catch Sunday by scoring on two of them.

Running Game Notables

DeMarco Murray

Murray would be enough of a dark zone threat on his rushing, where he’s seventh in attempts and tied for fifth in touchdowns. But he also figures into his team’s passing-game plans near the end zone. He’s already received five targets from there, more than any other back. All told, his 14 looks (rushes + targets) lead the league, so you’re hard-pressed to find a safer TD bet on this week’s slates. My model projects Murray to 1.38 touchdowns, and that could be low-balling him against a Cleveland defense that’s weak against the run.

Carlos Hyde

The 49ers are nightmarishly bad, but Hyde’s value has never been higher. Chip Kelly’s pace-up offense manages to find the dark zone more often than many think, and Hyde is their engine there. He’s taken a carry or target on 11 of the team’s 21 snaps from inside the 10. We don’t know quite what Colin Kaepernick will bring to a Chip Kelly offense, but we know he won’t be trusted with the offensive keys – that’s Hyde’s game, both in the dark zone and out.

Ryan Mathews

Mathews is always a name (and salary) to monitor in putting together a GPP portfolio. Over his three full games, he’s fourth league-wide with 10 dark zone rushes. It’s clear where Doug Pedersen’s preferences lie near the goal line – Carson Wentz has thrown just five passes from there. The Eagles may or may not see gobs of scoring opportunity at Washington, but we know when they do, it’ll be Mathews with the ball in his hands more often than not. That kind of clear pathway to 4x value puts Mathews into GPP conversations.

LeSean McCoy

McCoy’s a fantastic play this week for many reasons – and one is his untapped touchdown potential. He’s scored at a decent clip thus far, with three scores in five games. But consider that he’s been tackled at the 1-yard line a league-high 4 times. Facing the 49ers, McCoy projects to an overwhelming share of the Buffalo backfield on all levels of the field, and it would be an upset if he didn’t see multiple short shots at the goal line.

Tevin Coleman

One of the season’s more surprising (to me) subplots has been the wonky (and wildly successful) two-man backfield in Atlanta. Last year, Devonta Freeman monopolized the opportunity in all facets; in 2016, Coleman has split passing-down work and cut deeply into that share near the goal line. He’s taken five dark zone rushes thus far (to Freeman’s nine) and scored on three of them. Obviously, rostering a back facing Seattle always carries a strong degree of risk, so Coleman is a GPP-only option anyway. But matchup be damned, he’s a strong one.

Frank Gore

My projection model is in love with Gore, especially this week. And the primary reason for that is his projection of 1.15 dark zone touchdowns, second-highest of the week’s slates. Much of that is owed to his matchup; the Texans boast a generally sound defense, but it’s declining due to key injuries and has been run on in the dark zone a robust 25 times (14 over the last three weeks). Gore fully dominates the Colts backfield, and he’s scored on two of three dark zone rushes over that same span. His outlook is rarely sexy, but the numbers suggest it is this week. His multi-TD potential is well worth a small chunk of your portfolio.

Jonathan Stewart

Stewart’s likely return to action won’t come with a lot of fanfare – he’s an aging, marginal workhorse whose short-yardage role is undermined by a crowded backfield. But someone is likely to score a short touchdown or two on the Saints this weekend. No team has been run against more in the dark zone (22 attempts), and only the Chargers have allowed more ground scores from there. It’s anyone’s guess as to how that opportunity would be divvied up, and Stewart has never been an elite short-yardage producer. But, again, somebody is going to, and Cam Newton is awfully expensive.

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