Compared to a sport like baseball (and even basketball to a lesser extent), there isn’t a wealth of advanced statistics to analyze in football. Sabermetrics have completely revolutionized the way we view and project players in MLB, but the NFL still remains somewhat cut and dry, statistically speaking.
Luckily for us, there are several outlets available today that dive into every part of every play in each game on the NFL docket, and using what those outlets find can be a key part of sustained success at the daily fantasy level. Each Sunday provides you with a blank roster and a full salary cap; taking a deeper look into each player’s usage and advanced matchups will put you ahead of a nice chunk of the field each and every week. The majority of daily fantasy gamers on FanDuel aren’t utilizing certain statistics that can paint a clearer picture of a player’s upside/potential (or lack thereof). Instead of analyzing a particular WR or TE based on his season-to-date reception, yardage or touchdown totals, I’m more interested in the amount of opportunity they’ve been granted. Sure, coming through when your name is called is a big part of keeping your job in the NFL, but we aren’t typically considering players who are on the fringe of holding down an NFL job. Here’s an example that should better illustrate my point.
Throughout this week (and in the few weeks prior), I’ve heard quite a bit of concern regarding Andre Johnson’s touchdown total. That concern is understandable to a degree; Johnson has just one score on the year, and he plays in a run-heavy offense centered around Arian Foster, who eats up a good deal of the red-zone/short-yardage touchdowns in Houston. Also working against Johnson is the Texans QB situation, which currently features a weak-armed Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has attempted 35 or more passes just twice this year (he’s averaging just over 28 attempts per game, a very low total in today’s NFL). For these reasons, I understand why the casual daily player would want to take a pass on the Texans’ aerial attack. Let’s take a closer look to see why Johnson’s Week 9 upside is actually considerably higher than you might think.
Andre Johnson’s 2014 totals through Week 8: 46 receptions, 551 yards, 1 touchdown (8 games)
The reception total is nice, but the yardage/touchdown totals aren’t very appealing. Especially on a site like FanDuel, touchdowns are a critical part of your success, and missing out on them will likely leave your lineup in the dust. Onto the good news.
Andre Johnson’s 2014 Advanced Target Totals (including where he ranks among WRs. All of this data can be found on the RotoGrinders Targets page: 75 targets (9th among WRs), 9.38 Tgts/Gm (10th), 33.19 POW-Tgt (1st)
What do I see here that the casual player will likely overlook? First, I’ll explain a little bit about the POW-Tgt statistic we use at RotoGrinders, a category that Andre Johnson leads among his WR counterparts. POW-Tgt (Percentage of Workload – Targets) is simply the players targets divided by total team targets. Along with his high target total, this number helps to explain why Johnson is still very valuable despite playing on a team with the fifth-fewest total passing attempts. Since Ryan Fitzpatrick targets Johnson more than any other QB targets a particular WR, Johnson’s floor remains very stable compared to the Texans other starting WR, DeAndre Hopkins. Houston’s first-round pick from 2013 has shown more upside to date, but he does have a lower floor then Johnson when you take into account that he’s seen 22 fewer targets.
Also working against Hopkins is the breakdown of red-zone targets between the two. Red-zone statistics are the other key component of the RotoGrinders Targets page, and I utilize these numbers extensively when putting together my own FanDuel lineups. Researching how heavily a player is involved in his team’s game plan when they are in striking distance is vital when deciding between WRs/TEs (as well as pass-catching RBs). I’ll continue using Andre Johnson to illustrate my point; here are his red-zone statistics through Week 8.
12 red-zone targets (tied for 6th w/ Randall Cobb), 1.5 red-zone targets per game (tied for 8th w/ Cobb), 41.38% POW-Tgt (1st in NFL)
When you see those numbers, isn’t it fairly shocking to see Johnson still sitting on one touchdown? He has two more red-zone targets than Jeremy Maclin (who has scored six TDs through Week 8) and has just three fewer than Antonio Brown, who has found the end zone seven times through the air this season. Say what you want about Ryan Fitzpatrick, Arian Foster or the Texans’ run-heavy approach, but the target and workload totals suggest that Johnson’s touchdown numbers should be higher and likely will be trending up sooner rather than later.
Perhaps the most encouraging of those numbers is Johnson’s 41.38% POW-Tgt in the red zone, which ranks higher than any player in the league at any position. When the Texans throw it in close, the numbers suggest there is better than a 4-in-10 chance that throw is heading in AJ’s direction. I’ll take those odds in Week 9 specifically, a week in which #80 is the 14th-priciest WR on FanDuel.
While I only closely examined how advanced statistics pertaining to targets, POW and red-zone usage apply to Andre Johnson, these numbers can be used to examine almost any WR, TE or pass-catching RB. FanDuel weighs touchdowns more heavily than a site like DraftKings (a full-point PPR site that gives bonuses for crossing yardage milestones), which is why I think you absolutely must take a deep look at how involved each of your players are in their teams red-zone plans in addition to their overall role in the offense.
Now that we’ve covered a few of the vital advanced metrics available on RotoGrinders, let’s look at how we can analyze match ups for pass-catchers as closely as possible. I’m not necessarily referring to a certain receiver’s matchup against a team, but rather his matchup against an opposing corner (or group of corners). To find this data, your first and last stop should be Pro Football Focus. PFF shows you almost everything you could possibly want to know as far as advanced metrics go. They track every play and look at every outcome that derived from those snaps. Personally, my favorite use of PFF’s services are their defensive back statistics; they provide you with the number of times a certain DB is targeted, what percentage of those throws turned into receptions, and much more. Understanding opponent matchups is as important as understanding player opportunity; as nice as Rueben Randle’s target numbers have looked in his last five games (he’s also 5th among WRs in RZ targets on the year), my Week 9 opinion of him changed considerably when it was announced that Colts stud CB Vontae Davis will be suiting up on Monday night. For clarity, Davis is rated as PFF’s 3rd-best overall CB, and is also rated 3rd among CBs in pass coverage (pass coverage is just one aspect of the overall rating, although it’s weighted heavily).
It’s also worth taking into account that it’s rare for one defensive back to be locked onto one receiver. Although Randle will likely see a fair amount of Davis on Monday, Odell Beckham will also likely be forced to match up with him. Had Vontae Davis been ruled out, Randle would have likely spent a large chunk of the game defended by Greg Toler, who is rated 102th out of 107 qualifying CBs in 2014. If Toler had been forced to act as the Colts’ top CB, my outlook for the Giants passing game would have improved considerably. It’s possible that Toler’s poor ratings are a result of teams avoiding Davis, but Toler has been lit up on multiple occasions this season, suggesting his talent is most likely the issue.
Certain defensive schemes call for different use of cornerbacks and safeties, so researching where a particular defensive back plays the largest number of his snaps is key in understanding the matchups of your WRs/TEs. Depending on the defense, a tight end is matched up with either a linebacker or a safety on the majority of their routes. Bigger corners will sometimes be tasked with defending a TE (think back to when the Patriots used Aqib Talib to successfully shadow Jimmy Graham), but the size of your average corner prevents that from being done often. Some teams choose to utilize zone defenses, which makes it harder to gauge matchups, since much of them will be dependent upon what side of the field a WR/TE is lined up on, in addition to the depth of the routes they run. If you can gain an understanding of how teams use their linebackers/defensive backs in coverage, you’ll be at a distinct advantage in daily/weekly NFL leagues.
When deciding between TEs, researching the susceptibility of opposing linebackers and safeties is usually the way to go. If you know the type of formation/scheme a defense is using, it’s not challenging to find out who your TE is likely to match up with. It’s definitely not a perfect science, since coaches can reconsider their plan of attack in game, but you’ll have an idea of what the matchups will likely look like.
Andre Johnson once again provides us with a nice example for analyzing matchups between defensive backs and pass-catchers. By checking out his PFF player page (or by simply watching the Texans play), you can see that AJ lines up on the outside of formations (both on the right and left side) as opposed to in the slot. Why is this important in his matchup with the Eagles? By taking a close look at Cary Williams (right CB), Bradley Fletcher (left CB) and Brandon Boykin (slot corner), you’ll see why I’m confident in Johnson’s Week 9 upside.
Williams and Fletcher stick to their respective sides of the field throughout the game, which is especially nice to know if you have an outside WR that doesn’t move around in different formations. This isn’t the case with Andre Johnson, who spends time on both sides of the field week-to-week. However, in this particular matchup, it’s not much of an issue. Williams comes into Week 9 as PFF’s 87th-ranked CB (out of 107), due in large part to his very poor pass coverage rating. Fletcher hasn’t struggled quite as much overall, but he’s grading out as the #61 CB with an almost equally inept pass coverage grade. Considering that both of the Eagles outside corners are very beatable, Johnson will have the upper hand regardless of which one he’s matched up with. Philly’s slot corner, Brandon Boykin, happens to be the best of the bunch. He graded out as the 2nd-best slot corner last season, and enters Week 9 as the #22 CB according to PFF’s metrics. Johnson won’t have to line up against Boykin (who usually plays only about half the Eagles’ defensive snaps anyway, all in the slot), which only makes it more likely that Fitzpatrick stays glued to his top target. By looking at team statistics, one can also see that the Eagles hold the 6th-best run defense according to PFF’s metrics. On the other hand, the Eagles rank lower in both pass rush (10th) and pass coverage (16th), indicating that beating them through the air is generally the better course of action. Taking all of these aspects into account will only improve your edge.
In short, if you are willing to put in the time it takes to become familiar with the different advanced stats/metrics discussed here, you’ll give yourself a stronger chance at becoming a successfully daily fantasy player. It’s extremely tough to predict the success of football players week-by-week, but making use of these metrics will help you find the ones who are in the best positions to succeed.