Week 8 DFS Short Yardage Outlooks

A look into short-yardage (and touchdown) outlooks throughout the Week 8 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 8:

Passing Game Notables

Jack Doyle

By now, you’re probably bored of reading about Andrew Luck’s short-yardage love for his tight ends. But it can’t be understated as a true skeleton key for pinning down the Colts’ expectations in favorable matchups. Consider just how indicative it is:

  • Over three seasons at Stanford, 32 of his 82 touchdowns (39%) went to tight ends. And it wasn’t just Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz – Luck spread TD passes around to six different TEs.
  • Since his 2012 arrival, Colts TEs have drawn 28% of team targets in the dark zone. That’s a rate not far behind those of the Saints and Colts notched while employing Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, respectively.
  • This season, Colts TEs have already seen a healthy 32% dark zone share - a number that's always remained strong with or without Donte Moncrief in the lineup.

As a result, Doyle and Dwayne Allen have thus far combined to catch 6 of Luck’s 14 touchdown passes. That’s a great TE outlook against a Kansas City defense that’s allowed the fourth-most TD throws from the dark zone. Assuming Allen sits again – he’s week-to-week with an ankle sprain and one of the league’s brittlest players – Doyle is easy chalk at tight end. And much of that value comes from his elite dark zone outlook. Luck projects to throw more from the dark zone than anyone this week, and Doyle projects second among TEs (to Kyle Rudolph) in TD opportunity.

Kyle Rudolph

The Vikings don’t throw much in the dark zone, but when they do, they specialize it pretty heavily in Rudolph’s wheelhouse. As a Viking, Sam Bradford has thrown eight passes from inside the 10, and half have been sent to Rudolph. (No other Minnesota player has seen more than one.) Who’s going to step them from hooking up this week? The Bears, who just allowed three dark zone touchdown passes to the Packers – and two more to end inside the 2-yard line? By my projections, the smart money is on Rudolph crossing the goal line, which is nearly all he’ll have to do for GPP value on his meager salary.

Demaryius Thomas

The Broncos’ starting wideouts, who dominate whatever passing game is afforded to Trevor Siemian, have flip-flopped of late in usage. Emmanuel Sanders was the clear target a few weeks ago, but Thomas has taken the lead since, and it’s extended into the dark zone. Over the last three weeks, Broncos quarterbacks have thrown 7 passes from inside the 10-yard line, and 4 have gone Thomas’ way. (He’s scored on two of them.) That dominance jibes well with recent history – from 2012-15, Thomas drew 24.4% of the team’s dark zone looks, and crushed Sanders 26-16 over their two seasons together. The Denver offense isn’t erupting under caretaker Siemian, but it’s still seeing plenty of scoring opportunity. If we can peg Thomas as the main touchdown beneficiary, we have a pretty strong GPP target.

Marvin Jones Jr

Golden Tate’s resurgence has been the big story, and rightfully so, as Jones can no longer be considered the team’s target dominator by any measure. But Jones remains a solid tournament play on his touchdown potential. He’s been targeted on 7 of Matthew Stafford’s 19 dark zone throws thus far, and 4 of those have come from inside the 2-yard line. It seems clear his short-yardage skills are very highly valued. Tate has certainly nosed into the volume race, but Jones remains the team’s most likely bet to find the end zone. That and his shrinking ownership rate make him potential GPP gold.

Amari Cooper

Well, finally. After more than a season of dazzling play between the 10-yard lines, Cooper is finally starting to see opportunity near the goal line. This is important, not only because Cooper is a great catch-point talent and always a threat to create a touchdown. But also because the Raiders are simply addicted to dark zone passing. Over the last 3 games, they’ve thrown the ball on 11 of 14 short-yardage snaps. Cooper has seen a modest three of those targets and hasn’t scored, but he’s come within an inch of two easy TDs along the edges of the end zone. Even at his elevated cost, he’s absolutely worth GPP attention. I hate to look at players with the mindset of “he’s due,” but Cooper looks very close to another TD eruption. You won’t want to be caught without him when it happens.

Mohamed Sanu

It’s almost comical at this point, the Falcons’ refusal to throw touchdowns to Julio Jones. Dating back to 2013, he’s drawn just 20% of Matt Ryan’s targets from inside the 10, resulting in consistently disappointing TD rates. The issue has broken wide open this year: Jones has been looked at just twice in the dark zone, and both throws have gone incomplete. Other Falcons, however, have scored TDs on 5 of 19 short-yardage targets. Headlining that crew is Sanu, who leads the team with six targets, including three over the last three weeks. When you expect Atlanta to score – and you should against a flailing Packers defense – Sanu should be your GPP target. He seems fairly likely to find the end zone Sunday and makes for an intriguing pivot from Jones, with his enormous discount and superior scoring opportunity.


Running Game Notables

Christine Michael

The New Orleans defense is being predictably gashed by opposing running games, so they’re always a defense to target in fantasy. In fact, from a touchdown standpoint, there’s no one more target-able. They’ve already given up a league-high 10 short scoring runs, including 8 over the last 4 weeks. Michael is a Week 8 no-brainer as he simply is the Seattle backfield, at least as far as the run game goes. As a result, he’s the team’s default engine near the goal line. Over the last three weeks, he’s gotten the call on 6 of the Seahawks’ 11 snaps from inside the 10. You can’t talk me out of him finding the end zone this week, so don’t try.

David Johnson

I won’t waste bandwidth describing how good Johnson is; you’ve seen, you’ve heard, you know. But I will point out that he’s now also the premier DFS touchdown back. He’s the Cardinals’ engine near the goal line, with a league-high 20 dark zone rushes that account for 53% of the team’s plays from there. (And it’s comforting to note that 7 of those rushes have come from inside the 4-yard line.) His 30% conversion rate is subpar, but that kind of volume renders his moderate efficiency moot. The Cardinals will move the ball – even against the Panthers, probably – and Johnson will reap the heftiest chunk of the reward.

LeGarrette Blount

Still, no one has seen opportunity to rival Blount. He’s taken 17 of the Patriots’ 20 dark zone rushes, scoring 7 times. Most of his damage has been done in second halves of in-hand games, which is a bit of a concern this week. Buffalo hosts this Sunday’s game and may not flinch. Still, I’m perfectly happy rolling the dice on another Blount score. The Patriots are favored, and he has found the end zone in six of seven games.

Ezekiel Elliott

His prodigious rookie season has mostly extended into the dark zone. He’s seen more short-yardage touches than most workhorses, even bell cows like LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte. And he’s been moderately efficient, scoring 3 times on his 11 attempts. All told, only two teams have run from inside the 10 than Dallas – when they move the ball deep, they turn to Elliott. That volume makes him a weekly fixture here, even in a tough matchup.

Jerick McKinnon

Matt Asiata

Running in Adrian Peterson’s place, these two are splitting dark zone work fairly evenly. McKinnon has taken 7 of the pair’s 12 attempts, but there’s a catch: Asiata has always been far more effective from there. Over his 4+ seasons, he’s converted on 37% of his dark zone carries, with McKinnon lagging under 14%. McKinnon is an electrifying talent, but a better touchdown bet he is not. Asiata should claim more and more of the short-yardage work as the season wears on, and is always a threat to score on a strong, usually favored Vikings team. Shrewd DFSers will note McKinnon’s higher public perception and consider Asiata, who comes cheaply and would far exceed GPP value with just two specific plays.

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