Seven Stats & Expectation Trends for Week 16 (Fantasy Football)
Alexa, play ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by the Bee Gees, because that’s what you (hopefully) did during the first round of the fantasy football playoffs. Let’s circle up now for the semifinals; here are seven things that I saw that could help you this weekend. All data is from nflfastR.
Things Fall Apart
Are you the #6 seed? Did you sneak into the semifinals thanks to Zay Jones and now face the juggernaut #1 overall seed? That same #1 seed that outscored you by 500 points this season?
Fret not. As we’ve seen year after year, players come out of the woodwork at the end of the season. Last year it was Rashaad Penny and Amon-Ra St. Brown; this year, Jerick McKinnon is making his case (averaging 5.9 PPG through Week 13, now the back-to-back RB1 in two separate weeks, mostly thanks to receiving work). We can quantify this by looking at the total correlation of player scoring for each week compared to other weeks in the season. This gives us a sense if players perform similarly to how they have in the past, or if wacky stuff starts to happen. Here’s that correlation over the end of the season:
Clearly, correlations start to fall near the end of the season and drop off of the mountain in Week 16. That means that, to borrow the classic line, past performance is not indicative of future results. If you’re the underdog, you have hope, and if you’re the favorite, you need to stay vigilant. Championship-winning performances are bound to come out of nowhere.
Big Play Mavens
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 20% of plays (so, if they have had 50 receptions, what percent of points stemmed from ten catches):
The dam finally broke. After four straight weeks of the WR8 or better (and eight total touchdowns in that span), Christian Watson returned to Earth with a 6.6-point performance in the first round of the fantasy playoffs. He leads all pass-catchers in big-play proclivity, with nearly 60% of his total scoring deriving from a couple of deep shots. Now, that’s not to say that he is an auto-sit in your semifinals tilts, but you should certainly be wary. There’s just no player who is as boom/boost as Watson right now.
Donovan Peoples-Jones is a name to highlight on the other end of the spectrum. Known historically as a big-play receiver, he has made his living off of steady volume: over six targets a game (and just two total touchdowns) since his Week 9 bye. He’s an excellent FLEX option if you need a steady floor of points.
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:
We sang Zay Jones‘ praises last week, and he responded with a monster 6-109-3 performance, good enough for the WR1 on the week. He’s been electric since his Week 11 bye, posting 18.5 PPG and three top-ten WR performances. Now, I think you can keep rolling with the ‘Spot Start’; he’s only marked as an overachiever here because he managed to score thrice on just eight targets. He’s still getting the volume and is the main option in a suddenly electric offense. A more concerning name is C.J. Uzomah, who was the TE4 this week after notching 41 yards and two touchdowns. And yet – that output came on just two targets and 51% of snaps. This was Uzomah’s first time inside the top 25 at the position, and he can be avoided in Week 16, even with the tight end landscape as barren as it is.
Here’s the same chart, but for players that scored less than expected:
Lament ye Hockenson managers, for the Minnesota Vikings tight end mustered up just 6.8 points in the greatest comeback in NFL history. Still, he saw nine targets and has been averaging 8.1 per game since switching alliances in Week 9. He’s a must-start at the position each week. Nelson Agholor also makes an appearance after six targets turned into one catch for three yards, but it feels wrong to recommend any New England Patriots right now.
I’ve talked about ELO rankings and how they are useful for giving a sort of ‘now-cast,’ or current tier for players. They take into account player performance and defensive strength, and we can get ratings for both players and the defenses they faced. For example, if you’re streaming a quarterback in this crucial week of fantasy playoffs, here are the worst defenses against the position in terms of ELO:
Hold your nose. The bottom three defenses (Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Las Vegas Raiders) all face questionable quarterbacking in Week 16: Sam Darnold, Zach Wilson, and Kenny Pickett. I can’t advocate streaming any of these signal-callers in single-QB leagues, but they might be solid QB2 options in Superflex formats. That’s especially true if you’re missing Jalen Hurts or Kyler Murray.
Here’s the same chart for running backs:
If you had any doubts about riding the Jerick McKinnon hot hand, they should be dispelled: he faces off against the Seattle Seahawks, who have the worst ELO against the position. He’s locked into your lineup, just as Alvin Kamara should be with the 2nd-worst Cleveland Browns unit.
It’s a Trap!
ELO can help us identify positive player matchups; by the same token, it can warn us when a player is facing a very stout defense. Here are the toughest defenses against the run, according to ELO:
The San Francisco 49ers have looked like contenders of late, and are rated as the best rush defense in the land. Brian Robinson Jr. has been decent for fantasy, but he played just 38% of snaps last week and now draws the fearsome 49ers; his backfield mate, Antonio Gibson, hasn’t cracked the top 35 at the position since Week 11. Robinson is fine if you really need a start, but there may be better options elsewhere.
Here’s the same chart for tight ends:
The Los Angeles Rams haven’t been doing much right this year, but they have been able to lock up opposing tight ends. That’s bad news for fan favorite Greg Dulcich, fresh off of a 1.6-point performance in Brett Rypien‘s first start. Greg D can probably be avoided in this tilt.
Here’s a table that tells us which players have the highest share of their team’s total fantasy scoring:
Justin Fields, the QB5 on the season, leads the way with 30% of the Chicago Bears‘ point total, and Derrick Henry isn’t far behind with 28.3%. This is exactly what you want to see from fantasy players: they soak up all of a team’s scoring, so it’s difficult for them to get scripted out. Fields is a sure-fire start this week, as is Joe Burrow, the QB4 on the season who also managed to sneak onto this list.
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