Fantasy performance occurs at the intersection of efficiency and opportunity. While most fantasy players and fans can recite empty efficiency stats such as yards per carry and yards per reception by memory, most don’t have a true grasp of a player’s opportunity.

Opportunity is the lifeblood of fantasy performance. Thanks to statistics such as average depth of target (aDOT), Air Yards, routes run, and quarterback dropbacks, we now have a more contextual view into the game.

The goal of this weekly column is to identify trends within the underlying utilization data that contribute to opportunity. By evaluating key metrics and data beneath the opportunity surface, we can formulate preemptive strategies for playoff formats and unearth value plays for DFS lineups.

Here are some of the most notable trends across the NFL playoff landscape.

 

RUNNING BACK

Marshawn Lynch and Travis Homer, Seattle Seahawks

Homer served as the primary back for the second consecutive game with 68% of snaps, 42% of attempts, and a 58% route per dropback rate. Lynch outscored the younger back with 11 PPR points versus only three for Homer despite less opportunity. Lynch has played 31% and 28% of snaps over his first two games back and has seen 40% and 23% of attempts. Beast Mode has taken both carries inside the five (one each week) but given way to Homer in the passing game, only running a route on 19% and 22% of Russell Wilson’s attempts.

Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers

Mostert has survived the return of Matt Breida over the past two games by retaining his snaps at 54% each week. He has seen a slight reduction in attempts (52%, 48%, and 42%), but it has coincided with an uptick in routes per dropback (39%, 41%, and 54%). Mostert also owns both rushing attempts from inside the five over the past two games. Tevin Coleman and Breida split the backup rushing duties with 21% and 17% in Week 17, but Coleman dominated routes per dropback (42% vs. 4%).

Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

Vikings’ head coach, Mike Zimmer, claimed Cook wouldn’t have limitations in the Wild Card game after his first full practice in two weeks last Thursday. He wasn’t lying. Cook saw a season-high 28 attempts (70%), including a whopping five attempts inside the five against the Saints. Cook was in a route on 70% of Kirk Cousin’s dropbacks and saw 10% of the team targets.

 

WIDE RECEIVER

Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings

Thielen headlined the wide receiver list in this column for Wild Card weekend after surpassing Stefon Diggs in routes per dropback in Week 16. He took another step forward against the Saints, emerging from the game 26% of targets (No. 1 on the team) while running a route on 91% of dropbacks. Despite seeing shadow coverage from Marshon Lattimore often, he came through with 20 PPR points. Thielen is healthy and is the Vikings No. 1 passing option heading into the divisional matchup against the 49ers this weekend.

D.K. Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks

After posting a donut in many fantasy championship games in Week 16, the rookie receiver has dropped 20 and 29 spots in the last two games. He and Tyler Lockett both ran a route on 100% of dropbacks (second consecutive game for Metcalf) and each saw 30% of Russell Wilson’s targets. Metcalf has also led the team in Air Yards each of the past two games with 53% and 44%. Metcalf and Wilson are a perfect match for one another and have found their groove.

David Moore, Seattle Seahawks

Since the departure of Josh Gordon, Moore has steadily been building steam with 5, 5, and 8 PPR points. More importantly, his utilization trends are up across the board.

  • Snaps: 18%, 72%, 68%
  • Routes per dropback: 22%, 75%, 69%
  • Targets: 6%, 5%, 13%

Given the vertical nature of his role (15.7 aDOT) and Russell Wilson’s deep ball accuracy, Moore sees enough playing time to consider as a contrarian play against Green Bay in the divisional round.

Allen Lazard, Green Bay Packers

Lazard appeared in this column for Week 17 and came through with 17 PPR points. Over the past few weeks, he has moved past Geronimo Allison for the No. 2 role at wide receiver. Routes per dropback:

  • Lazard: 72%, 81%, 79%
  • Allison: 61%, 47%, 63%

Over this period, Lazard has posted 6%, 23%, and 15% target shares (second on the team over the past two weeks). Davante Adams remains the clear target hog, but as competition stiffens in the playoffs, the Packers air game may have to pivot, and if that happens, Lazard is in line to be the biggest beneficiary.

A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans

Despite only registering one fantasy point in PPR formats against the Patriots, Brown still led the team in snaps (97%) and routes per dropback (100%). Brown continues to serve as the alpha pass receiving threat on the team. However, the Ravens pose another stiff test versus wide receivers with a loaded secondary. To further complicate things, the Ravens allow the lowest time of possession to opponents (42%), and the Titans allow their opponents an average of 52%. The Titans run the third-least amount of plays per game (58.9), meaning there are plenty of obstacles stacked against this emerging stud wide receiver in the divisional matchup.

Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans

Davis played 80% of snaps, the most action he has seen since Week 6. Over the past two weeks (must-win situations), he has run a route on 91% and 89% of team dropbacks. He has reclaimed the No. 2 role behind A.J. Brown but will face the same challenges mentioned above for Brown in the divisional round versus the Ravens.

Kenny Stills, Houston Texans

Stills has seen 23%, 4%, 25% and 20% of the team targets over the past four games when Will Fuller has missed all or most of the action. He was in a route for 100% of Deshaun Watson’s dropbacks for the Wild Card game versus the Bills. If Fuller misses more time, expect Stills to have a solid opportunity to contribute in a potentially high-scoring affair versus the Chiefs.

 

TIGHT END

Darren Fells, Houston Texans

Teammate, Jordan Akins, missed the game after showing up on the injury report late last week with a hamstring issue. For the season, the duo has combined for 19% of the team’s targets with Fells accounting for 10%. With Akins out in the Wild Card game, Fells saw 20% of targets while running a route on 82% of dropbacks, topping his previous season-high of 70%. If Akins misses another week, Fells could be in line for 15 to 20% of targets in a potential shoot out versus the Chiefs.

Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings

The veteran tight end was fading down the fantasy stretch as Irv Smith often matched him in snaps and routes per dropback. Yet with the season on the line, the Vikings leaned into Rudolph heavily with 92% of snaps versus 55% for Smith. Rudolph’s routes per dropback are still problematic (67%) on a team that runs the eight-least plays per game and favors the run second-most in the league (only 51.3% of plays are dropbacks) but he does lead the team in end zone targets (9) for the season.