With the NFL draft just one month away, it’s time to look into next year’s Fantasy Football notebook. The draft targets for seasonal leagues will be determined using a combination of data and gut instinct. In that vein, and with a bit of a twist, here is the first installment of the 2018 “Fantasy Football Prospectus.”
Here are 130 completely true fantasy statistics from last season that will surprise and confuse fantasy football fanatics. These statistics may or may not lead to the obvious conclusion, but the goal is to keep the fantasy football mind racing.
It’s one thing to have a grasp of analytics, but it’s another thing entirely to use those numbers as building blocks to some higher truth.
The debate will remain: does the data lead to the proper conclusion?
Here is our initial 2018 spring edition of the LastWordOnProFootball series, dedicated to giving fantasy football junkies something to chew over in the off-season.
(All statistical information was taken from PlayerProfiler.)
Fantasy Football Prospectus for the 2018 Season
Wide Receiver Red Zone Thieves
- Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp received 23 red zone targets last season. That was more than Antonio Brown (21), DeAndre Hopkins (19), and A.J. Green (16).
- Rams quarterback Jared Goff ranked third among all quarterbacks with 82 red zone pass attempts.
- Kupp had a 78.1 percent Snap Share, which only ranked 57th among all wide receivers.
- New Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins had 10 red zone targets for the Rams last season.
- If Kupp had received just two of those Watkins’ targets, he would have passed Keenan Allen for the most red zone targets by a wide receiver.
- Kupp’s five receiving touchdowns placed him 27th among wide receivers. However, he only caught 13 of his 23 red zone targets.
- Watkins’ eight touchdowns placed him eighth among wide receivers.
- In summary, Kupp had 24 more targets, 23 more receptions, and 265 more receiving yards than Watkins despite having a lower Snap Share and poor red zone efficiency.
- With a current Average Draft Position (ADP) of 64.6 on MFL10’s on FanBall, Kupp is the 31st wide receiver being drafted.
San Francisco Treat
- Carlos Hyde was fifth among all running backs with 50 red zone touches in 2017. That was more than LeSean McCoy (45), Kareem Hunt (43), and Devonta Freeman (39).
- Hyde was also fifth with 41 red zone carries. That was more than Ezekiel Elliott (40), Hunt (37), McCoy (36), Freeman (34), and Mark Ingram (33).
- Hyde received 11 red zone targets, just two behind Christian McCaffrey and five behind Le’Veon Bell.
- Hyde in now with the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers signed Jerick McKinnon to a four-year, $30 million contract.
- The Vikings ranked 19th in the league with 109 targets to running backs. San Francisco ranked second with 166. (FantasyPros).
- Both Hyde and McKinnon will be 26 years old at the beginning of the 2018 season.
- Hyde averaged -0.2 yards per carry against stacked front defenses.
- McKinnon averaged 2.4 yards per carry against stacked front defense and ran behind a worse run blocking offensive line than Hyde.
- The current MFL10 ADP for McKinnon is 68.5 as the RB27. He is being drafted after Kenyan Drake (35.1/RB18), Tevin Coleman (65.1/RB25), and after Hyde (36.5/RB19).
Zero Running Back: Myth or Reality?
- Production Premium compares the outcome of all pass attempts, carries, and targets to league-average outcomes in those same game situations by yard line, down, and distance.
- Last season, the top four qualified running backs in Production Premium were: Alvin Kamara, Rex Burkhead, Chris Thompson, and Duke Johnson.
- The respective average draft position for each of those running backs in 2017: 118.4, 142.4, 173.3, and 121.7.
- Out of the top 20 running backs by ADP, nine finished outside the top 20 in terms of season long fantasy PPR points.
- Kamara finished third (118.4 ADP), Johnson 11th (121.7 ADP), Dion Lewis 15th (141.3 ADP), McKinnon 17th (136.7 ADP), and Frank Gore 19th (102.4).
- In standard scoring formats, Alex Collins finished 16th with an ADP outside the top 100 running backs drafted as well.
- There is always great late-round running back value. The key is knowing where to look.
Who Would’ve Thunk It?
- Hunt (8.6), Marshawn Lynch(6.6), Bell (6.1), and McCoy (6.1) were all among the top five running backs in Evaded Tackles Per Touch last season.
- The fifth running back? Seattle’s Chris Carson who finished second with 6.8 Evaded Tackles Per Touch.
- Among running backs that faced a base front defense at least 65 percent of the time, no player had a lower yards per carry average against base front defenses than Houston’s Lamar Miller (3.4).
- The following running backs had at least 100 carries last season: Derrick Henry, McCoy, Lynch, Jay Ajayi, Elliott, and Leonard Fournette.
- The following running backs also had at least 100 carries last season: Giovani Bernard, Collins, Javorius Allen, Latavius Murray, and McCaffrey.
- Each of those 11 running backs averaged at least three yards per carry against stacked defensive fronts.
- Henry ranked second with an average of 12.8 yards per carry against stacked defensive fronts.
- Cohen averaged a mind-blowing 17.5 yards per carry against stacked defensive fronts, yet he only received 86 carries during the season.
- Graham Barfield created a metric called “Yards Created”, which measures yards created above and beyond what was blocked. In 2017, the following running backs ranked in the top 10 in Yards Created: Hunt, Lewis, McCoy, Melvin Gordon, Jordan Howard, Bell, Lynch, Fournette, Todd Gurley, and Jordan Howard.
- Also found in the Yards Created Top 10? Collins of the Ravens, who ranked eighth.
- From Weeks Eight through 17, Collins had six top 15 PPR running back finishes. During that same time period, McCoy and Ingram had five, Gordon had four, and Hunt had three.
- Over the last five weeks of the season, a fifth-year player ranked 10th among all running backs in PPR scoring.
- This same player also tied Kamara with 32 targets, while having just three fewer receptions (24).
- This player was also third among running backs with a 7.5 Yards Per Carry average against stacked fronts. He is currently being drafted as the 51st running back in Dynasty Startup Leagues.
- That running back is Giovani Bernard.
Quarterback’s Best Friend
- The five quarterbacks with the best protection rates in 2017 were: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, and Deshaun Watson.
- Their respective fantasy points per game rankings as a starter? Seventh, 13th, ninth, 30th, and first.
- The only quarterback that failed to produce at a QB1 level was Flacco.
- Flacco had a preseason back injury and suffered a brutal concussion in Week Eight. He is basically free in all current best ball leagues.
- The Ravens have added speedster John Brown and veteran Michael Crabtree via free agency.
- The bottom five quarterbacks with the worst protection rates were: Matthew Stafford, Trevor Siemian, Brett Hundley, Russell Wilson, and Carson Palmer.
- Their respective fantasy points per game rankings as a starter? 10th, 31st, 33rd, 2nd, and 20th.
- Last season, the Seahawks defense only ranked 11th in yards allowed per game. The prior five seasons? 5th, 2nd, 1st, 1st, and 4th.
- With the Seahawks losing multiple defensive players to free agency, Wilson may be asked to produce even more than recent seasons.
- Cleveland’s rookie DeShone Kizer was fourth among all quarterbacks with 77 Deep Ball Attempts. His 32.5 Deep Ball completion percentage was slightly below league average.
- In 2015, over 50 percent of Tyrod Taylor‘s touchdown passes came on passes of 20 yards or more. That season, he was one of the best deep throwing quarterbacks in the league.
- Taylor is now the starting quarterback for the Browns.
- Chicago Bears rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky‘s Deep Ball completion percentage was 36.7 percent which was well above the league average of 32.7 percent.
- The Bears have added free agents Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and have Cameron Meredith returning from injury.
- Watson had 48 Deep Ball attempts in just seven games last season.
- He completed 41.7 percent of those passes which ranked sixth among qualified starting quarterbacks.
- Watson’s 48 attempts were more than Dak Prescott had in a full 16 game schedule.
- With Watson as the starting quarterback, wide receiver Will Fuller was a top 10 fantasy wide receiver.
- In four games with Watson, Fuller averaged 69.8 receiving yards, 1.5 touchdowns, and 20.9 PPR fantasy points per game.
Tarik the Freak
- It is criminal how underutilized Tarik Cohen was in 2017. He only garnered a 35.9 percent Snap Share, which was 55th among all running backs.
- Despite this, Cohen ranked 10th among all running backs with 71 targets. He finished 11th at the position with 53 receptions.
- Cohen was also the seventh-best running back in Breakaway Run Rate. This measures the percent of carries that were 15 yards or more.
- Against base front defenses, Cohen finished 12th at 4.4 yards per carry. Against stacked fronts? Cohen was first overall with an amazing 17.5 yards per carry.
- While in college at North Carolina A&T, he accumulated a 49.8 percent (89th percentile) College Dominator Rating. This means he accounted for over 40 percent of the Aggies’ total yards and touchdowns during his time in college.
- The new Bears head coach is Matt Nagy, who was the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs last season.
- Nagy’s former running back, Kareem Hunt, finished with the exact same amount of receptions as Cohen.
- Hunt also had double the Snap Share (70 percent) as Cohen.
- Hunt’s College Dominator Rating at Toledo was only 28.7 percent.
Keep ‘Em Separated
- The more separation a receiver can make from defenders, the more likely they receive targets. Target Separation is an important statistic when projecting wide receiver fantasy production.
- The following receivers ranked in the top 25 last season in both target separation and total receptions: Jamison Crowder, Tyreek Hill, Randall Cobb, Doug Baldwin, Robby Anderson, Golden Tate, and Kupp.
- The fantasy points per game finish for those players respectively: 40th, seventh, 33rd, 15th, 23rd, 14th, 28th.
- Adding in a Top 20 finish in Yards After Catch narrows the list to Crowder, Hill, Cobb, Tate, and Kupp.
- Crowder battled through a hip and hamstring strain all season. He is now catching balls from Alex Smith, who prefers throwing in the short to intermediate area of the field.
- As per RotoViz, over the last three seasons, Cobb played 25 games alongside Jordy Nelson. In those games, he has caught a total of four touchdowns.
- Over that same time period, Cobb has played 18 games without Nelson. In those games, he has six touchdowns catches.
- Since 2014, Cobb has averaged 4.48 more PPR fantasy points, 19.6 more receiving yards, and caught double the amount of touchdowns when Aaron Rodgers has been the quarterback.
- Cobb will be playing this season without former Green Bay wide receiver Nelson, who signed with the Oakland Raiders.
- Rodgers is completely healthy.
Tight Ends? Be Early or Be Late
- The top five tight ends in PPR fantasy points per game last season were: Rob Gronkowski (17.3), Travis Kelce (15.6), Zach Ertz (14.5), Evan Engram (11.6), and Jack Doyle (11.4).
- Their respective ADP’s were: 17.9, 39.9, 87.8, 162.8, and 124.5.
- The top five tight ends in PPR fantasy points per game in 2016 were: Jordan Reed (14.1), Kelce (13.8), Kyle Rudolph (13.1), Ertz (13.1), and Greg Olsen (12.8).
- Their respective ADP’s were: 40.0, 61.5, 175.2, 112.8, and 51.3.
- The following tight ends had ADPs above 100 in 2017: Hunter Henry, Doyle, Eric Ebron, O.J. Howard, Charles Clay, Cameron Brate, and Engram.
- The respective number of TE1 weeks for each were: Henry (five), Doyle (eight), Ebron (five), Howard (four), Clay (five), Brate (eight), Engram (nine).
- The top four fantasy tight ends in standard leagues over the last five weeks of the season were: Gronkowski, Kelce, Ebron, and Engram.
- Number five and six? Ben Watson and Trey Burton.
- Watson signed a one-year free-agent contract with the New Orleans Saints. In his last season with the Saints (2015), Watson finished as the fifth best tight end in PPR formats and the sixth-best tight end in standard scoring leagues.
- Burton signed a four-year, $32 million contract with the Bears. Chicago’s new head coach is Matt Nagy, who was the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs in 2017.
- The total tight end production from Kansas City’s tight end position last year? 108 receptions, 1,338 receiving yards, nine touchdowns.
- Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant had 69 receptions last year. That was the lowest 16 game total of his eight-year career.
- Last season, Bryant ranked 73rd among all wide receivers in Production Premium.
- When Bryant entered the league in 2010, his 4.57-second 40-yard dash measured in the 38th percentile of all NFL wide receivers. Bryant turns 30 years old in November.
- He averaged only 1.17 yards of separation per target last season. That ranked 80th among all wide receivers.
- Bryant’s nine dropped passes were seventh most among wide receivers.
- Bryant finished 29th in PPR formats with 11.7 fantasy points per game. He was the ninth fantasy wide receiver drafted last year with an ADP of 23.25.
- Bryant’s only top 10 positional finish from a stats standpoint? He finished eighth with 11 Red Zone receptions.
Air Yards Matter
- Josh Hermsmayer’s Rotoworld article explains why air yards are a great predictor of fantasy points. They are an almost pure measure of quarterback and coaching intent. In essence, Hermsmayer states that air yards illustrate who the quarterback and coaching staff want to target.
- The top five wide receivers in Air Yards last season were Antonio Brown (1,103), DeAndre Hopkins (1,101), Julio Jones (964), Marvin Jones (915), and Mike Evans (909).
- Their respective rankings in Fantasy Points Per Game: Brown (first), Hopkins (second), Julio Jones (10th), Marvin Jones (14th), and Evans (19th).
- In 2016, Crabtree was 12th among wide receivers with 735 Air Yards. That equated to 45.9 Air Yards per game. Crabtree only played 13 games in 2017 and totaled 461 Air Yards, which equated to 35.4 Air Yards per game.
- Crabtree is now with the Ravens.
- Last season, Flacco battled multiple injuries. In 2016, Flacco was completely healthy and threw for the 2,327 Air Yards which ranked 11th among all quarterbacks.
- Last season, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr only threw for 1,871 Air Yards.
- Crabtree will be the top receiving target for the Ravens in 2018.
In Russell We Trust
- The fantasy points per game finishes for Russell Wilson since 2012 are as follows: 11th, 8th, 3rd, 3rd, 11th, 1st.
- Seattle’s rushing offense has ranked 25th and 23rd the last two seasons.
- As per FootballOutsiders, Seattle’s offensive line ranked 31st in Pass Blocking in 2017.
- From Week 3 through Week 14, Wilson had 10 games of fantasy QB9 production or better. In nine of those games? Wilson was a QB5 or better.
- Wilson’s Protection Rate on PlayerProfiler was 82.2 percent, which ranked a mind-blowing 37th among all NFL quarterbacks.
- With a poor offensive line and one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL, Wilson always finds a way to finish as a QB1.
Don’t Ring The Bell Long Term
- Since 2014, the Pittsburgh Steelers have played 46 games with Le’Veon Bell. They have won exactly 32 of those games, with a 69.5 percent winning percentage.
- Since 2014, the Steelers have played 14 games without Le’Veon Bell. They have won exactly 10 of those games, with a 71.4 percent winning percentage.
- In those games with Bell, the Steelers average 0.61 rushing touchdowns per game, 1.85 passing touchdowns per game, and 277.8 passing yards per game.
- In those games without Bell, the Steelers average 1.14 rushing touchdowns per game, 2.1 passing touchdowns per game, and 337.4 passing yards per game.
- So, in 14 games without Bell over the last four seasons, the Steelers have averaged more rushing touchdowns, more passing touchdowns, 60 more passing yards and won games at a better rate? (RotoViz).
The Rx is Rex
- Rex Burkhead became an integral part of the Patriots offense in Week Eight of the 2017 season.
- Week Eight was also the last time running back Mike Gillislee received a carry until Week 16.
- In the games that Burkhead played in 2017, New England averaged 42 more rushing yards per game.
- In the six games Burkhead did not play, the Patriots had eight interceptions. In the ten games he did play, they had four interceptions.
- In his last six games of the year, Burkhead had 21 targets, 18 receptions, and seven touchdowns.
- Burkhead’s ADP in MFL10’s is currently 105.9. He is the RB40 and being drafted behind teammate James White.
Everything Is Better With Keenan Allen
- In 2015, Philip Rivers played eight games with Keenan Allen, and eight games without him.
- In the eight games with Allen, Rivers averaged 344.3 passing yards, 2.25 passing touchdowns, and 26.7 fantasy points per game.
- In the eight games without Allen, Rivers averaged 254.88 passing yards, 1.38 passing touchdowns, and only 18.44 fantasy points per game.
- Through those eight games in 2015, Allen was averaging 8.4 receptions, 90.6 yards, and 0.5 touchdowns per game.
- Through those eight games? He was a top-three fantasy wide receiver in both standard and PPR formats.
- In 2017, Allen played a full season with Rivers. He averaged 6.4 receptions, 87.1 yards, and 0.4 touchdowns per game. He finished as the WR3 in both standard and PPR formats.
- If Allen plays a full season with Rivers, he is a lock for high WR1 status.
- Allen is currently being drafted as the WR6 with an ADP of 16.4. The wide receivers being drafted before him: Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham, Michael Thomas, and Julio Jones.
- Allen is almost four years younger than Brown, has a better quarterback than Hopkins, is in a better offense than Beckham, and had more red zone targets and receptions than either Thomas or Jones.