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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:

RUNNING BACK

Positive Trends

1. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

Gurley remains in the positive section of this article due to continued improvement in underlying utilization metrics. Three-week trends:

  • Snaps: 68%, 79%, 96%
  • Attempts: 63%, 66%, 79%
  • Routes / Dropback: 50%, 88%, 85%
  • PPR Points: 19, 21, 19

The Rams have officially opened up the throttle on Gurley’s opportunities as they fight and claw for playoff survival. He is the eighth-ranked running back over the past three weeks in PPR formats with 59 points.

 

2. Boston Scott, Philadelphia Eagles

The diminutive (five feet six inches) passing down specialist has carved out a Darren Sproles type role in the Eagles’ attack over the past two games. He has played 43% and 45% of snaps, taken 31% and 21% of attempts, ran a route on 33% and 40% of dropbacks, and drawn targets on 12% and 16% of Carson Wentz’s passes. With so many injuries to offensive skill position players, Scott will likely remain involved in Doug Pederson’s plans.

 

Negative Trends

1. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

Despite Chubb’s 24 point outing versus the lowly Cardinals run defense, he remains in the negative trend section this week. In a trailing game script, the electric ball carrier still managed 17 attempts (74%) but only ran a route on 22% of Baker Mayfield’s dropbacks. No season-long owner is going to bench Chubb at this but his early-season floor and upside are no longer intact without a big play or a touchdown (especially in PPR formats). Kareem Hunt played 61% of snaps and continues to be the preferred option in the passing game running a route on 65% of dropbacks and garnering 21% of targets.

2. Patrick Laird, Miami Dolphins

After surging to 82% of snaps in Week 14, Laird tumbled back to earth with only 48% against the Giants. Myles Gaskin saw equal snaps and ate into valuable passing down looks with a 38% route per dropback rate versus 31% for Laird. The primary value driver to this backfield is catching balls out of the backfield in bad game scripts and now that is being divided.

Monitoring

Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone, Minnesota Vikings

Dalvin Cook’s availability (shoulder) is in doubt for next Monday night’s game versus the Packers. Mike Zimmer has said Cook might play through the injury, which is a real possibility given the playoff ramifications. In Week 14, Mattison made an appearance in the negative trend section of this column after sharing more work than expected with Boone and Ameer Abdullah when Cook was limited to 46% of attempts. With Mattison missing Week 15 due to an ankle injury, we now know that injury was likely a driving factor in Mattison’s lackluster playing time.

Practice reports will be important to monitor on Mattison and Cook. If both miss the game, Boone becomes a viable flex option against in a plus matchup against Green Bay. If Mattison is a full participant by the weekend, he should the lead option if Cook can’t go.

 

WIDE RECEIVER

Positive Trends

1. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

With Calvin Ridley lost for the season after Week 14, Jones saw a season-high 46% of targets against San Francisco in Week 15. Jones also accounted for a season-high 71% of Air Yards and demanded three looks in the endzone to bring his season total up to eight.

2. Anthony Miller, Chicago Bears

Miller remains in the positive trend section of this column after leading the Bears’ skill position players with 27 points (PPR) in Week 15. Miller’s routes per dropback over the past three games: 100%, 92%, and 97%. In those contests, he has been the target of a Mitch Trubisky pass 34%, 13%, and 26% of the time (including two end zone targets). Miller also has the luxury of playing from the slot (69%, 82%, 75%), which provides solid matchups while opponents try to account for Allen Robinson II. As long as Taylor Gabriel remains out, Miller’s value remains intact this Sunday in a game where the Bears should have to throw the ball to keep up with Kansas City.

3. Breshad Perriman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Perriman also gets a repeat appearance in the positive trend column after last week’s 89% of snaps, 98% route per dropback rate, and 14% of targets. With Chris Godwin and Mike Evans likely out next week (hamstring injuries) and Scotty Miller now on IR, the pass-happy Bucs’ offense will have to continue to rely on Perriman along with O.J. Howard and Justin Watson. Perriman is the most appealing option due to the nature of his targets. His aDOT for the season is 17.1 and that continued in week 15 with a 21.3 mark. He is playing the Mike Evans role and also has two end zone targets over the past two games.

4. Mohammed Sanu, New England Patriots

Sanu’s trends are mostly up over the past three games:

  • Snaps: 22%, 59%, 86%
  • Routes / Dropback: 20%, 53%, 100%
  • Targets: 11%, 3%, 21%

If healthy, Julian Edelman is the lead target on the team, and James White will always be in contention for the No. 2 spot, but Sanu could easily rotate in as the No. 2 option now that he is healthy. It is tough to trust Sanu in Week 16 season-long, but he could be viable punt play in DFS or a good contrarian option from the Patriots passing game in playoff contests.

5. Danny Amendola, Detroit Lions

The veteran slot receiver’s opportunities spiked in the first game since the loss of Marvin Jones. Amendola played 86% of snaps, ran a route on 90% of dropbacks, and was heavily targeted (30%). Amendola’s targets haven’t dipped below 20% over the past three contests. The Lions are low on pass-catching options due to injury and he will likely remain a Top 2 option for the team along with Kenny Golladay, who will demand defensive attention.

6. Steven Sims, Washington Redskins

This preseason there was hype around Trey Quinn as a potential fantasy sleeper out of the slot position in Washington. It took some time, but a viable slot option has now emerged and it is Sims rather than Quinn. Sims has posted eight and 16 PPR points over the past two weeks on the back of increased utilization. His snaps (71% and 70%), routes per dropback (100% and 94%), and targets (26% and 39%) have skyrocketed. Sims is seeing optimal matchups operating inside (77% and 93%) as opposing defenses respect the vertical speed of Terry McLaurin.

7. Greg Ward, Philadelphia Eagles

Ward earned a spot in the monitoring section last week after stepping into the spotlight on Sunday night versus the Giants. My co-host on the Fantasy Football Hustle, Brian Drake, preferred the former Houston quarterback over the more highly touted J.J. Arcega-Whiteside during our show last week. He was right. Ward garnered over 20% (21%) of Carson Wentz’s targets for the second consecutive week, including the winning touchdown reception in the end zone. Ward is playing in two-wide sets, but getting plenty of protection in the slot (51% and 56% of routes). Arcega-Whiteside continues to see slightly more routes (91%), but Wentz isn’t looking his way yet (5%). If Nelson Agholor remains out in Week 16, Ward will continue to see opportunities.

Monitoring

Christian Blake, Atlanta Falcons

The young receiver didn’t garner much of Matt Ryan’s attention in Week 15 (3% of targets) but was the primary recipient of increased playing time (85% of snaps and 89% routes per dropback) due to Calvin Ridley’s season-ending injury in Week 14. Blake has drawn the attention of Ryan as recently as Week 13 when he put up 13 PPR points on 18% of targets. Julio Jones is the main entrée, and Austin Hooper is the second course but Blake could have some value in deeper formats as the third option. Russell Gage continues to work in Mohammed Sanu’s old role at slot. Olamide Zaccheaus and Justin Hardy continue to rotate in sparingly.

Albert Wilson, Miami Dolphins

Wilson was at the center of preseason love after playing well in a limited role in early 2018 but injuries derailed his season. In Week 15, that changed with Wilson finally healthy and able to play a prominent role (80% of snaps, 83% routes per dropback, and 17% of targets). He only makes the monitoring section due to Isaiah Ford showing well in Week 14 and Allen Hurns receiving limited playing time in Week 15 due to injury. This situation could remain fluid, but Wilson can make plays if the Dolphins choose to continue to feature him.

 

TIGHT END

Positive Trends

1. Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles

Goedert’s opportunities spiked in Week 15 after the loss of Alshon Jeffery in Week 14. He played 84% of snaps, ran a route on 81% of dropbacks, and saw 14% of targets. This offense needs other weapons outside of Zach Ertz, and Goedert is likely in line for a solid workload versus the Cowboys.

2. O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Howard’s snaps and routes per dropback are holding steady, but his targets are up over the past three games (18%, 10%, and 17%). With Mike Evans and Chris Godwin both likely out due to hamstring issues in Week 15, Howard should be one of the top two targets on the team.

 

Monitoring

Irv Smith, Minnesota Vikings

Owning a piece of the Vikings passing attack is a questionable proposition due to their run-heavy approach (49% of plays – third-most in the NFL). Serving as the third or fourth option in that sort of passing attack is even more questionable. So, this is more of a public service announcement for dynasty owners or those in the deepest of formats.

With that out of the way, Smith (71% and 65%) has out-snapped Kyle Rudolph (64% and 54%) two consecutive games. His routes per dropback are also superior (84% and 60% vs. 61% and 52%), and he has three end zone targets versus zero for Rudolph. It is tough to tell if this is due to winning game scripts (13 and 29 point victories) where the Vikings wanted to rest Rudolph or if the changing of the guard is occurring, but it is a situation to monitor moving forward.