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. Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals
Since a late third-quarter fumble by David Johnson in Week 10, Kenyan Drake has dominated the Cardinals running back opportunities. In week 11 he hogged 90% of snaps, 64% of rushing attempts (Kyler Murray and Christian Kirk had the rest, not David Johnson), 76% of routes per dropback, and 21% of the targets. The tough matchup versus the 49ers limited Drake to 14 PPR points, but the utilization metrics are formidable enough to support RB2 performances down the stretch (after a Week 12 bye) if Kliff Kingsbury continues to ride the hot hand. There is some speculation that David Johnson is still nursing early-season injuries despite not appearing on the injury report heading into Week 11. Chase Edmonds could also return after the bye week, but for now Drake appears to have the confidence of his coaching staff and should be considered the top option in Arizona.
2. Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
Hunt found his way into the monitoring section of this column after Week 10, and now he moves up into the positive trends section. For the second consecutive week, he was one of the Top 3 receiving targets on the team (24% and 22%). He also found his way on to the field for 54% of the team snaps after playing 55% the week before. The coaching staff is making a concerted effort to get him and Nick Chubb onto the field at the same time (81% and 73% of snaps). With the Browns winning back to back games for the first time this season, the plan is likely to remain intact.
3. Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos
Reports surfaced Sunday morning that Lindsay would see more of the work than Royce Freeman in their Week 11 tilt versus the Minnesota Vikings. Those reports turned out to be accurate as Lindsay saw his highest snap percentage (65%) of the season. Lindsay’s attempt share hovered around his season-long 51% range (48%), but Freeman’s plummeted to 24%. Over the season, Freeman had been the lead receiving option out of the backfield with routes per dropback rates over 50% in six of nine contests. That also came to a halt with Lindsay garnering 55% and Freeman dropping to 29%. The Broncos’ offense is a low-octane unit, but Lindsay could be headed towards enough volume to warrant more exposure in lineups over the coming weeks.
4. Kallen Ballage, Miami Dolphins
Despite his inefficiencies (1.9 yards per attempt), the second-year back has found himself sitting alone atop the Dolphins’ depth chart. Over the past two weeks, his snaps (82% and 77%), rushing attempts (77% and 69%), routes per dropback (64% and 46%), and targets (12% and 13%) have soared. With Mark Walton released, these trends are unlikely to be deterred. Myles Gaskin would be next in line but has only played 8% and 10% of snaps over the past two games. The Dolphins offense isn’t an exciting fantasy proposition, but Ballage has a shot at a 10 PPR point floor moving forward via blunt force.
5. Bo Scarbrough, Detroit Lions
The Lions’ coaching staff showed a preference for a bigger back in Week 8 when Tra Carson accounted for 48% of the team rushing attempts. However, an injury forced Carson to IR following the game. Over the past three weeks J.D. McKissic and Ty Johnson have shared the load, alternating positions as the leading rusher. In Week 11 Bo Scarbrough (6’1” and 235 pounds) was added to the mix and leapfrogged both backs to lead the team with 50% of snaps and 50% of rushing attempts. Scarbrough didn’t see a target in the passing game but did pick up one carry inside the five and likely has earned a spot in the rotation as the back the team will lean on in close or leading game scripts.
Jonathan Williams and Jordan Wilkins, Indianapolis Colts
With Marlon Mack exiting the game with a fractured hand that will keep him out indefinitely, Williams stepped to the forefront of the Colts running attack to compile 16 PPR points. Williams led the team with 37% of attempts after Mack’s exit versus 9% for Nyheim Hines. Jordan Wilkins was not active due to an ankle injury, but Frank Reich stated Monday that the two backs would likely split Mack’s role until he can return. Nyheim Hines will stay involved as the receiving specialist.
1. Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers
The rookie receiver out of South Carolina has led the team in targets each of the past two weeks (24% and 20%) with George Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders either limited or missing from action. At 88% and 83% his routes per dropback have surged to their highest marks of the season. If Kittle (knee) or Sanders (rib cartilage) continues to miss time, Samuel will be in line for more work. At a minimum he has established himself as the third option moving forward when the team is fully healthy.
2. Kelvin Harmon, Washington Redskins
Harmon found his way into the monitoring section last week. In Week 11, he took another step forward, playing 92% of snaps, running a route on 93% of dropbacks, and leading the team in target share with 17%. Yet another offense that is tough to get excited about with Dwayne Haskins leading the charge, but Harmon’s utilization is trending up with the team out of contention.
3. Marcus Johnson, Indianapolis Colts
Johnson has emerged onto the scene over the past two games playing 80% and 92% of snaps due to the rash of injuries to T.Y. Hilton, Devin Funchess, and Parris Campbell. In Week 11 versus the Jaguars, Johnson tied for second on the team (with Eric Ebron and Nyheim Hines), accounting for 17% of targets. Johnson also has an end-zone target each of the past two games.
Week 11 came with a rash of injuries that need to be monitored heading into Week 12 that could lead to extended opportunities for multiple players.
Auden Tate of the Bengals suffered a concussion and a cervical strain leading to a spike in Alex Erickson’s routes per dropback and targets (82% and 16%).
Chiefs’ receiver Tyreek Hill suffered a hamstring injury and is scheduled to undergo an MRI. Mecole Hardman played 76% of snaps and ran a route on 86% of dropbacks – a shift from earlier in the season when Demarcus Robinson played more in this scenario.
Patriots’ receiver, N’Keal Harry saw his first regular-season action of the season playing 43% of snaps, running a route on 42% of dropbacks, and garnering 9% of targets. Mohamed Sanu may have tweaked his ankle late in the second quarter, and Phillip Dorsett left the game with a concussion.
Alshon Jeffery was unable to suit up for the Eagles due to an ankle injury. Nelson Agholor ran a route on 98% of dropbacks and saw 20% of targets. Jordan Matthews ran a route on 96% of routes and saw 18% of targets.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is dealing with a concussion and knee injury following the Steelers heated Sunday night matchup versus the Browns. Diontae Johnson also left the game with a concussion. James Washington’s routes per dropback reached a season-high of 92% in their absence.
1. Noah Fant, Denver Broncos
Fant made this column two weeks ago before the Bronco’s bye week. He returns after posting season highs in snap rate (86%), routes per dropback (83%), and target share (23%) in his Week 11 matchup versus the Vikings. Since the departure of Emmanuel Sanders to the 49ers, Fant has become a Top 2 option in the Broncos passing attack. In Week 11, Fant saw four endzone targets.