Seven Stats & Expectation Trends for Week 12 (Fantasy Football)
The clock has struck midnight: we are entering Week 12 of the fantasy season. Here are seven things I’ve got my eye on this week. All data is from nflfastR.
While there were plenty of exciting games the weekend past, it was my destiny as a Bostonian to watch the New England Patriots and New York Jets engage in a punt-off. The final score was 10-3, with the game-winning touchdown coming on – you guessed it – a punt return by Marcus Jones with five ticks left.
Surprisingly, this was only the 2nd highest game – in terms of total distance punted – this season. The crown goes to the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a Week 9 slugfest; the Rams punted it nine times, the Bucs six. The total punt distance by Los Angeles – nearly 500 yards, and just over 0.3 miles – is the high mark on the year. The Jets’ performance on Sunday comes in third.
On the flip side, here are more exciting games with far less punting. Those same Rams have the lowest output here with zero yards punted in a 31-27 Week 2 victory over the Atlanta Falcons (Matthew Stafford also tossed two picks). It’s certainly interesting that the same team has both the high and low water marks for punt distance!
We can look at the same metric – distance punted – totaled across each team this season:
It’s surprising to see the Tennessee Titans in first place, but less surprising to see the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos filling out the rest of the top slots. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills absolutely hate to punt; they’ve launched it less than half a mile this season, barely more than the Jets did in Week 11 alone!
It’s certainly fun when your player cashes in a monster touchdown; however, steady production is usually the key to long-term fantasy success. Here are receivers ranked by the percent of points coming from their top 5% of plays (so, if they have had 80 receptions, what percent of points stemmed from four catches):
Jerry Jeudy stays atop this list, but some other names I noticed are Deandre Carter and Tyler Boyd. The former has played over 82% of snaps in each game since the Week 8 bye, even posting a WR14 performance in Week 11. Still, nearly 30% of his season-long output has come from just a handful of catches. With the rest of the Los Angeles Chargers WR corps getting healthier, he is a best-ball long shot at most. In Boyd’s case, the Cincinnati WR has two games inside the top 10 at the position, one game as the WR25, and the rest outside the top 30. Fantasy managers had hoped for more volume with Ja’Marr Chase sidelined, but it appears Boyd’s profile is still boom/bust.
So much of fantasy football goes unseen. For starters, when players draw a DPI (defensive pass interference) call, they don’t get fantasy points for it, even though it achieves real-life yardage for their team! I built a simple model to predict how many points a player would expect if DPI didn’t break up the reception:
We’ll be talking more about Miles Sanders in a bit; the Philadelphia Eagles RB posted his second straight week with just about five fantasy points, and yet he might have doubled that if a 39-yard DPI gain had instead resulted in actual receiving yardage. Donovan Peoples-Jones is an interesting name as well; he’s scored double-digit fantasy points now in three straight weeks.
Another fun hidden stat is players that ‘almost scored.’ That is, they were tackled inside the five-yard line on drives they didn’t eventually find the end zone in. Here are the rushing leaders for the past few weeks:
We highlighted Jamaal Williams last week, and he managed to punch it in three times in a monstrous Week 11 performance. A new face is Miles Sanders, making another appearance on the ‘hidden’ charts for nearly scoring thrice in as many weeks. While his opportunities have dropped a bit since the bye, he’s still seeing nearly 15 chances per game on a team fighting to keep home field advantage. Sanders might be a nice trade target from a fantasy manager wanting to shake things up.
I built a simple model that takes into account targets, air yards, and defensive prowess and predicts what we expect WRs to score on the week. Then, we can see which wideouts score more, in a sense overachieving given their workload. Here are the leaders:
It’s no surprise to see Samaje Perine atop this list. The Cincy RB saw just four targets, and turned them into 52 yards and three touchdowns; that’s 21 points more than what we would expect! Joe Mixon‘s status is uncertain for Week 12, and if he can’t go Samaje is certainly worth a start. If anything, though, I’m trying to trade Perine to Mixon managers; an RB2 overall finish is not likely to be in the cards again. Travis Kelce is in second place on this chart, posting 115 yards and three scores on ten targets. That’s less actionable: we expect Kelce to score over expected each week!
Here are the ‘underachievers’:
Allen Lazard paces the field here. The ‘Lizard King’ tallied just five catches for 57 yards on a whopping eleven targets. It was a depressing outcome for anyone who watched the Thursday Night matchup between the Packers and Titans: Lazard and Aaron Rodgers were just not on the same page. Still, eleven targets are nothing to sneeze at, especially considering that he’s averaged over eight per game since missing Week 8 with injury. He’s too important to hit the waiver wire just yet.
Spread the Love
It’s generally a good idea to roster players on teams that like to ‘funnel’ the ball. That is, teams that throw – or hand it off – to the same players over and over. In this vein, here are teams ranked by how many different players have five or more receptions this season:
The New York Giants sit atop this list with twelve. That’s a pretty significant number, and it will likely grow with the unfortunate injury to Wan’Dale Robinson in Week 11. You’re hard-pressed to start anyone in the passing game for the G-men; indeed, anyone outside of Saquon Barkley. On the other side, the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns have only found seven players with five or more catches this year. In the Bears’ case, the revival of the offense is good news for Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet; the latter has had a TE1 and TE2 performance in the last three weeks! In the Browns’ case, it’s good news for the aforementioned Donovan Peoples-Jones, who will be a really interesting player over the final few weeks of the season.
Here’s the same chart for rushing:
The Los Angeles Rams may move up this chart after the surprise release of Darrell Henderson, but first place goes to the San Francisco 49ers. Running the ball with a platoon of players has always been Kyle Shanahan’s style, and that hasn’t changed with the trade for Christian McCaffrey. In Week 11, CMC saw just seven carries, second to Elijah Mitchell‘s nine; yes, the 49ers won in a blow-out, and CMC also collected six receptions, but he might not be the bell cow out of the backfield that we had hoped. Of course, he’s still in your lineup!
We can split out running back scoring by points gained on rushes and points gained on receptions; naturally, it’s important to roster a back that can do both. Samaje Perine is the player with the biggest differential (over 50 points as a receiver, less than 20 as a runner), but the three most significant backs with more receiving points than rushing points are Alvin Kamara, Austin Ekeler, and Leonard Fournette. The Bucs’ RB has seen his snap count fall off – just 29% before the bye as the rise of Rachaad White appears primed – but Ekeler and Kamara should continue to produce through the air. On the other end of the spectrum sits Nick Chubb, with 137 more points as a rusher than a receiver; he’s seen just 22 targets this season. Chubb is a must-start, but I wouldn’t mind swapping him for an equally elite player with more than one channel to fantasy excellence.
Next, we can see which players have seen the biggest target jump – and decline – in the second half of this season (Week 6 on). For a deeper dive on target trends, check out fellow writer Aaron Larson’s weekly piece.
The two names atop this chart are Parris Campbell and Josh Palmer, each with over four targets more per game in the recent stretch. Both have had solid fantasy production, with Palmer especially posting a WR3 and WR11 finish in the last three weeks. It will be interesting to see if those trends continue with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams getting healthier each week, but for now, Palmer is a very worthy FLEX, if not WR2. The other side of the coin is Curtis Samuel, who has seen 4.5 targets less over the back half of the season; he hasn’t had more than five targets since Week 7. It might be a Taylor Heinicke problem, but Samuel’s snap count has been decreasing as well, and he’s a risky play going forward (just one top-30 finish at the position since Week 2).
Curious Cases of Consistency
We can rank wide receivers by the variance of their weekly performances, and examine the most volatile players:
A.J. Brown, Justin Jefferson, and Davante Adams all represent ‘good’ volatility’: they usually have solid weeks, with some massive weeks in between. Christian Watson remains the outlier here, and he did it again in Week 11: four catches, two scores. He’s been the WR2 and WR5 in back-to-back weeks, despite a previous high water-mark of the WR37. I got burned by this last week, but it’s difficult to roll with Christian Watson against the excellent Eagles’ defense.
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