Week 9 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 9:

Passing Game Notables

Donte Moncrief

You’re already targeting him for cash game purposes, but Moncrief carries strong 4x appeal as well – much of it on the back of his touchdown outlook. The Packers have only faced nine passes from the dark zone thus far, but they’ve allowed TD success on six of them – a rate that sits second-worst in football. Obviously, that means the Colts shouldn’t need much volume to give us confidence they’ll come through. The clear beneficiary would be Moncrief; he’s deeply and profoundly gifted, and he’s been quite productive near the stripe. Dating back to last year, Moncrief has turned 5 of his 7 targets from inside the 10 into touchdowns – a rate that few elite dark zone guys could approach. That outlook would only magnify if T.Y. Hilton misses Sunday’s game or is limited. Luck will almost certainly find himself in a high-paced, high-scoring game, and it would be an upset if Moncrief didn’t see at least one opportunity.

Emmanuel Sanders

Demaryius Thomas

Take your pick; these guys look equally likely to cross the stripe this week. You know all about the Raiders defense: it’s bad, and the cornerbacks have especially been toasted badly all season. That’s held true in the dark zone, where only seven teams have allowed more touchdown passes. They did a fine job against Mike Evans last week, but there should be plenty of opportunity in play Sunday. Sanders leads the league in dark zone targets, while Thomas has come on with three of his own over the last three weeks. You’ll probably be looking into these guys as cash plays, but the lower-owned of the two (probably Sanders) could make for a strong TD-chasing pick in your tournament.

Virgil Green

Still, the sneakiest way to take a stab at the Raiders’ pathetic defense is by spending the near-minimum on Green at tight end. Predictably, the Raiders have been gashed by TEs again: they’ve allowed four TE touchdowns from the dark zone over the last four weeks. Green doesn’t need more than 1-2 catches and a TD to reach GPP value, and with the upside for multiple scores, he could sting your more conservative opponents.

Travis Kelce

On the topic of tight ends, let’s look at Kelce’s dark zone emergence of late. He and Jacob Tamme lead all TEs in looks from inside the 10, and he’s scored three short touchdowns thus far. The Jaguars are a pretty stingy defense against the position, but Kelce registers the week’s second-highest dark zone TD projection. In a game that should see Kansas City moving consistently toward the Jacksonville goal line, Kelce is worth some attention.

Odell Beckham Jr Jr.

The outburst is coming. Beckham has lagged in returning on his investments thus far, but soon he’s going to start hitting his markers – and if he has to do it with touchdowns, he will. And while this week’s matchup with the Eagles gives us pause, it’s just about as good a week as any. Philadelphia’s defense has been top-notch, but lately they’ve been thrown on a ton near the goal line (a league-high 10 dark zone attempts over the last 3 weeks). If we connect the opportunity with Beckham’s otherworldly talent and career dark zone resume (a studly 45% touchdown rate from there), we have a potential GPP monster with a multi-TD game in reserve. Please note that, over his 2+ seasons, Beckham has somehow scored on every single catch he’s registered from inside the 10.

Allen Robinson

Julius Thomas

Along similar lines, I continue to expect Robinson’s touchdown eruption any day as well. Like Beckham, he’s simply been too dominant in the dark zone over the course of his 2+ seasons to keep coming up empty. Last year he turned 10 (a league-high) of his 18 (also a league-high) dark zone targets into TDs, and thus far he sits tied for third behind a couple of guys have played an extra game. And I’m a fairly sturdy believer in positive progression toward the mean. No, this isn’t the same promising Blake Bortles we (kind of) saw last season. But it’s still a voluminous passing game that sees plenty of garbage time, and Robinson remains one of the league’s premier “go up and get it” weapons. I could easily see a score or two against Kansas City’s talented yet gamble-prone cornerbacking crew – especially if Jacksonville trails for much of the game. (They will.)

Thomas will never again see the astounding dark zone numbers he saw from the receiving end of Peyton Manning’s throws. But he doesn’t have to be, if our goal is merely to gain an occasional GPP advantage in favorable matchups. (It is.) Over the last three weeks, Thomas and Robinson have been the Jaguars’ engine near the goal line, and Thomas’ three dark zone targets have produced two touchdowns.

Anquan Boldin

He’s clearly near the end and his role is definitely slipping, but that role is still a semi-juicy one. Over the last three weeks, 3 of Boldin’s 16 targets have come in the dark zone. His longtime prowess in physical play and catch-point acumen is still capable of paying off. He’s only usable in deep, deep GPPs, where owners can devote a tiny portion of their portfolios to hoping for a four-catch, two-touchdown line. Don’t be put off by the matchup – shutdown cornerback Xavier Rhodes will spend his afternoon doing battle with Marvin Jones Jr on the outside.


Running Game Notables

Jonathan Stewart

Yes, Cam Newton tends to gobble up short-yardage opportunity, but Stewart is still going to score this week. The Rams defense is generally stout, but Stewart’s outlook can bludgeon them with opportunity. Carolina has shifted strongly toward a preference to run near the goal line – they’re tied for the eighth-most dark zone rushes on the overall year, but lead the league over the last three weeks. Their 15 attempts have allowed for both prime backfield participants to eat. Newton has vultured five of those runs, but Stewart has easily led the way with nine of his own. He’s scored on 4 of them, by the way, far above his putrid career rate of 29%. Most importantly for these purposes, that kind of volume outlook insulates Stewart against a sudden drop-off. Even if he loses the goal line role out of the blue, there’s still plenty of room in this offense for him to see at least an opportunity or two each week. So, follow me here: the floor of his ceiling looks strong, bolstering him as a GPP staple with solid 4x potential.

Devontae Booker

It was only one week spent in dominance of the backfield, but Booker’s usage spoke volumes. You know by now that he commanded 19 of the running backs’ 22 rushes, but it’s also noteworthy that he rook 5 of their 6 dark zone runs. (Also, take note that 4 of those 5 came from inside the Chargers 5.) Booker wasn’t very efficient overall in his first start, but that’s a great thing for our purposes. His underwhelming performance and elevated salary will drive his ownership down wildly, from over 70% to probably 15-20%. Since we virtually know Booker will score at least once – the Oakland run defense is fairly pitiful and often gashed near the end zone – we have a hot little GPP potato on our hands.

Matt Forte

Jay Ajayi

This game will almost certainly be a semi-ugly, borderline unwatchable matchup in many ways. These two teams have a way of bringing that out in the game. But we do know that its lead backs carry strong touchdown outlooks, so don’t move past it. Over a three-game span, the two teams have combined to run the ball 21 times from inside the 10, and these two backs have predictably led the way. Ajayi has taken 7 of the team’s 10 attempts and scored 3 times; that’s nice, but Forte has been given all 11 of the Jets’ rushes. (He’s also notched three touchdowns over that span.) Ajayi is obviously the stronger cash play – he’s cheaper and fresh off a dazzling two-game stretch, so he’s prepped for Chalk City. But Forte should go largely ignored, and you should be looking to take advantage. The team has clearly lost faith in quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, especially in the dark zone, so Forte should again serve as their motor. His TD chances seem nearly odds-on this week.

Terrance West

I’m not reading anything at all into West’s Week 7 clunker. He went against an awesome Jets run defense and trailed for much of the game. Rest assured: there’s no reason to expect a switch-up is in the works. Most importantly to West’s quest for touchdowns, there’s no real competition on roster that profiles as a short-yardage back. If he winds up ceding some of his backfield time, it will almost certainly come on passing downs and not in any sort of interior role. Barring injury or a blowout loss, West looks on track to find the end zone at least once Sunday.

Carlos Hyde

As we discussed last week, few teams roll out the red carper for short touchdown runs quite like the Saints. They’ve allowed 11 dark zone TD runs on the year – including a whopping 9 over the last 5 games. Hyde has been quite effective himself from in close, scoring on 5 of his 10 attempts altogether. Assuming he suits up and sees the lion’s share of backfield time, it would be difficult not to wind up in the end zone at least once.

Melvin Gordon III

The fact that Gordon isn’t yet a good NFL running back hasn’t registered in his opportunity. The Chargers, whose backfield talent was iffy even before Danny Woodhead was hurt, have treated Gordon like a low-rent LaDainian Tomlinson, asking him to thoroughly dominate the team’s running game. He’s always in the mix for 85-90% of rushes, and through 8 games he’s been handed the ball on 19 of their 20 dark zone runs. No, he hasn’t been particularly efficient (a good-not-great 42% touchdown rate), but he’s broken up his share of DFS contests on TD volume (a league-high 8 from inside the 10-yard line).

Tim Hightower

He’s slicing through Mark Ingram II’s market shares – especially in the dark zone. Over the last three weeks, the Saints have run the ball from inside the 10-yard line 13 times – second in football – and Hightower has won the carry battle 7-3. It’s indeed concerning that he’s been remarkably poor at the job and still sits without a touchdown, but things tend to progress toward the mean. The weakling 49ers should spend much of Sunday on their heels, and Drew Brees & Co. shouldn’t have much trouble moving into their dark zone. From there, I expect Hightower to get the call at least twice, and a multi-TD day would go a long way in your tournament.

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