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 season-long formats and unearth value plays for DFS lineups.
Here are the most important utilization trends from across the league:
1. Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
After a blowout loss to the Eagles in Week 8, the Bills made a youth movement in Week 9. Devin Singletary saw increased action in Week 8, but much of it was attributed to the trailing game script where he was the receiving back. While he accounted for 68% of the snaps and ran a route on 72% of Josh Allen’s dropbacks (18% target share), he only saw 15% of the team rushing attempts while Frank Gore still shouldered 45%.
In Week 10, that changed. Singletary’s attempt share skyrocketed to a season-high of 51% while maintaining 61% of the routes per dropback and 20% target share. He also registered his first two carries from inside the five-yard line and had one end zone target. All of this occurred in a game the Bills won by 15 points and only dropped back to pass on 38% of their plays – a script normally reserved for Gore.
2. Damien Williams, Kansas City Chiefs
It is hard to tell if Williams’ trends will hold up given Andy Reid’s willingness lately to ride the hot hand, but as Williams has gotten healthier, his utilization trends have undeniably improved. His snaps have increased each week (28%, 42%, 73%), his rushing attempts spiked in Week 9 (33%, 35%, 67%), his routes per dropback have risen (23%, 41%, 53%), and he has two rushing attempts inside the five versus zero for LeSean McCoy and two for Darrel Williams.
McCoy and Darrel Williams only played 10% and 17% of the snaps, accounted for 17% and 6% of the rushing attempts, and ran a route on 5% and 15% of dropbacks, respectively. It is worth noting Damien dominated snaps and rushing attempts in Week 5 (his backfield mates had 0% of the rushing attempts) only to see McCoy retake the lead duties over the next three games. Reid could still easily return to a hot hand committee style approach.
3. Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jones’ utilization metrics exploded in Week 9 with 55% of the snaps, 69% of rushing attempts, and 36% routes per dropback – all season highs for the second year running back. For the first time, this season Jones started the game ahead of Peyton Barber. After the game coach, Bruce Arians stated, “He’s been consistent [and] he’s been more explosive.” Arians also added, “I think RoJo has earned the right to play a little bit more and start the ballgame.”
Barber saw a season-low 12% of snaps and 15% of the rushing attempts. Dare Ogunbowale’s role was slightly diminished but remained intact with 28% of snaps and 23% of routes per dropback. While the overall mood around Jones should be positive, there are a couple of caveats. His upside could be limited by the presence of Ogunbowale, especially in scripts where the team trails heavily. Jones also hasn’t been much of a factor inside the five-yard line this season. Ogunbowale has an attempt in each of the last two games from inside the five while Jones has zero.
Ty Johnson, Detroit Lions
The Lions’ rushing attack landed in this section of last week’s column due to the three-way committee in Week 8. With Tra Carson missing from the Week 9 equation, we saw something similar to Week 7 when Kerryon Johnson was initially hurt early in the game. Ty Johnson usurped 61% of the snaps, 45% of the rushing attempts, and ran a route on 55% of Matt Stafford’s dropbacks. Johnson also got the lone attempt from inside the five-yard line.
While Johnson still had company from J.D. McKissic (20% of attempts) and Paul Perkins (15%), their utilization in the ground game didn’t pose the same barrier as Carson the week before (48%). If the Lions don’t sign another back this week, Johnson could be in line for similar workloads moving forward.
1. Mohamed Sanu, New England Patriots
In only his second game with the team, Sanu saw 100% of the snaps and routes in Week 9. Even more impressive, he was Tom Brady’s top option in the passing game, with 30% of the targets and 44% of Air Yards. Sanu also garnered one look from Brady in the end zone. It’s tough to see the trend continuing, but with the lack of premium pass-catching options beyond Julian Edelman, there is a scenario where Sanu lands in the No. 2 spot of Brady’s pecking order for the rest of the season.
2. Emmanuel Sanders, San Francisco 49ers
Sanders appeared in the monitoring section of this column last week after running a route on 100% of the team’s dropbacks (something no other 49er receiver had done this season) and accumulating 23% of targets in his first game. Now we have another strong data point from Week 9 where Sanders ran a route on 97% of dropbacks and saw 24% of the targets, which both led the team. Kyle Shanahan has given Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel, and others an opportunity to step into the lead role this season, but no one has been able to stake a claim. Sanders, who is right at home in this scheme, is the clear number two option in this passing game behind George Kittle.
3. Zach Pascal, Indianapolis Colts
Pascal made this same section of the column last week, but he deserves mentioning again with Parris Campbell now out for the season (broken hand) and T.Y. Hilton likely out another two to three games with a calf issue. Pascal was trending positively before these developments, and that carried into Week 9 with 94% of snaps, 97% routes per dropback, and 16% of the targets. He is also now tied for the team lead in end zone targets for the season with 21% (4). Whether the Colts have Jacoby Brissett or Brian Hoyer under center in Week 10, Pascal will likely be one of the top targets if you are desperate.
A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
Brown’s routes per dropback surged to 80% in Week 9, setting a new watermark for his season. He also led the team in targets for the second time in three weeks with 18%. Corey Davis (13% of targets), Adam Humphries (10%), and Jonnu Smith (13%) were all still factors in the 10 point loss to the Panthers, but the Titans could be rewarding their best playmaker (16.5 yards per reception and 6.3 yards after the catch per reception) with an increased role down the stretch.
Kelvin Harmon, Washington Redskins
With the Redskins already playing for 2020, Harmon could be in line for more work late in the season. Harmon’s snaps (16%, 26%, 49%) and routes per dropback (20%, 16%, 41%) are up over the past three weeks, and that could continue as the team gets a look at Dwayne Haskins whom Harmon has worked with throughout the season as part of the second-team offense.
1. Vance McDonald, Pittsburgh Steelers
McDonald appears to finally be returning to full health after battling a shoulder injury early in the season. He has played 77% and 81% of the snaps over the past two weeks, and his routes per dropback have been elite (89% and 92%). While the passing game isn’t the same with Mason Rudolph at the helm, the same can be said for many offenses across the league with all of the quarterback injuries. McDonald is a solid streaming option over the next couple of weeks if you are the Zach Ertz or Evan Engram owner.
2. Ben Watson, New England Patriots
While Watson will never be mistaken for a centerpiece of this offense, it is worth noting his 100% snap rate and 83% route per dropback rate in Week 9. Watson only posted an 11% target share, but he is all the team has at tight end, and his quarterback is healthy. Watson is another streamable option if you are in a pinch.
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
Eifert’s snaps (71%), routes per dropback (78%), and targets (17%) burgeoned to season highs in Week 8 versus the Rams. Previously, his routes per dropback were hovering around the 50% mark most weeks. Whether this will turn into a trend or if it was a one-week matchup situation is unknown at this point. Typically, the Bengals have three wide receivers in the 80-100% snap range each week. However, this past week, Alex Erickson only reached 61% as head coach Zac Taylor opted for more 12 personnel looks with Eifert and C.J. Uzomah.
Jacob Hollister, Seattle Seahawks
The journeyman tight end played 80% of the snaps in Week 9 and ran a route on 74% of Russell Wilson’s dropbacks. In Week 8, Hollister took a back seat to Luke Willson, who played 72% of snaps and ran a route on 54% of plays. However, Hollister has been the most targeted tight end over the past three weeks for Seattle with 15%, 10%, and 14% target share. Once Josh Gordon enters the fold, there may not be much room left for Hollister even if the trend holds next week, but it is worth monitoring in deeper formats.
Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills
Knox was another component of the Bills’ youth movement along with Devin Singletary on Sunday versus the Redskins. The rookie tight end played a season-high 76% of the snaps, and his routes per dropback are trending slightly up over the past three games (47%, 51%, 57%).