Seven Stats & Expectation Trends for Week 4 (Fantasy Football)
Three strikes, you’re out!
Hopefully that’s not what you’re telling your fantasy lineup after the first three weeks of the season. It was a wacky Week 3, and here are seven things I saw to get you ready for Week 4. All data, unless otherwise specified, comes from nflfastR.
A common refrain from fantasy managers this week: “I had so many points on my bench!” Players like Khalil Herbert, Samaje Perine and Jamaal Williams were all endowed with higher workloads when their respective starting running backs exited with injury. We can quantify this effect if we assume that ‘bench RBs’ are the players ranging from RB25 – RB48 coming into a week; that is, good enough to roster, but not relevant enough to actually start. Using this paradigm, Week 3 of 2022 was the fourth-highest scoring RB bench week of the last decade.
It’s delightful when you start a WR who breaks off a monster touchdown, solidifying solid performance on just a single play. The downside, of course, is when the big play doesn’t come, and your team is left high and dry. Here are players ranked by how many of their receiving fantasy points come from their five biggest plays:
Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay, two Baltimore Ravens, sit atop this list, with nearly 90% of their fantasy points coming from just five plays. This is, frankly, a troubling recipe for future performance, as it is for Jahan Dotson, Tyler Boyd and Mike Williams, who round out the top five. On the flip side, Marquise Brown, Cooper Kupp, Courtland Sutton and A.J. Brown have all been productive fantasy WRs without needing production to come from just a few highlights. Their safe workload is in place, and when they do break off a big gain – especially likely for Hollywood and A.J. Brown – the upside will be even better.
We can perform the same sort of balance test on running backs, specifically isolating which players have far more points as a runner than receiver (and vice versa). Leading the first category is Nick Chubb, with 85% of his points coming in the ground game; this is followed by Khalil Herbert and, surprisingly given last year’s usage as a WR, Cordarelle Patterson. On the flip side, Austin Ekeler has scored just 25% of his fantasy points as a runner, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire is second with 37%. It’s great to see these players getting involved in the passing game, but ideally they would be getting work done on the ground as well. D’Andre swift has had a nice balance – 62% of his points have come as a runner – and hopefully we see him back on the field soon.
Acts of Aggression
It’s generally a good idea to start fantasy players in aggressive offenses, since this leads to more opportunities to amass points. I like to think about ‘Foot on the Brake’ teams, or teams that run a lot even when they probably should be passing (25% or lower win probability in the 2nd half). If you don’t see your team on this chart, that’s a good thing; they don’t have enough plays in this situation (losing by a lot in the 2nd half) to qualify!
The Chicago Bears number is, frankly, shocking. They are running most of the time when down bad in the 2nd half. This leads the league by far, with the Tennessee Titans in a distant 2nd, although that makes a bit more sense: the Titans have Derrick Henry and the Chicago Bears don’t! Anyways, here is another sign that you can safely drop all of the Chicago passing game options: Justin Fields, Darnell Mooney, and Cole Kmet can hit the waiver wire. On the other end, the New York Jets hate to run the ball, so continue to roll with their exciting fleet of pass-catchers.
Similarly, we can track teams by their rate of passing on first down (x-axis) and proficiency in those passes (y-axis):
The New Orleans Saints are really going for it: they pass nearly 65% of the time on first down, and are pretty dang good at it, too. I’ve talked about the emergence of Chris Olave, and his rise should continue. On the other end, the San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns much prefer to run the ball, which is good news for their ground game options. The New York Jets are funny: passing a ton, but not for very many yards.
This chart gives us the players with the highest share of their team’s fantasy points:
Lamar Jackson has obviously been incredible to start the season, and he is way ahead of the rest of the pack with 36.6% of all Baltimore Ravens scoring. The offense – obviously the passing, but also the rushing – is all running through him, and he’s an early season candidate for both NFL and fantasy MVP. There are bunch of other quarterbacks on this chart, which makes sense, but the RBs and WRs are even more impressive (since these positions score less in fantasy). Cooper Kupp, Khalil Herbert, Saquon Barkley and Nick Chubb have been the undisputed focal points of their respective offenses and should continue to get the work.
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:
My main takeaway this week is to not go chasing what are likely hard-to-replicate performances. Laviska Shenault took two targets and turned them into two catches, 90 yards, and a TD, while Mack Hollins took 10 targets and caught 8 of them for 158 yards and a score. In Laviska’s case, it’s unlikely to see consistent fantasy production similar to this week with the same workload. Mack’s target share was impressive, but the eventual performance was still an ‘upside’ case, and eventually, Hunter Renfroe will return to the lineup. You probably don’t want to be starting the fourth pass-catching option on the only 0-3 team in the NFL.
We can apply the same technique to players that scored far less than expected:
Jahan Dotson leads the way, converting 8 targets into just 2 catches for 10 yards in Carson Wentz‘ doomed ‘revenge game’ against the Philadelphia Eagles. I know that I mentioned Dotson has a very high proportion of points coming from just a few big plays but, as an explosive rookie who has been seeing a consistent workload (18 targets through three weeks) on a pass-happy team, he’s an excellent player to stash. The same goes for second-year receiver Elijah Moore, who saw 10 targets in Week 3, and who might have been dropped to waivers after a disappointing start to the season (especially alongside the emergence of Garrett Wilson).
So much in fantasy is left untold. Here are the pass-catchers who have ‘almost scored’ the most: tackled inside the five on drives where they didn’t end up scoring eventually.
Ja’Marr Chase is my main takeaway here. He had an awesome Week 1 but has disappointed since, and is a great trade target if his fantasy manager wants to ‘shake things up’. He’s seeing nearly 12 targets per game, and if he converted these three ‘almost touchdowns’ (a feat he is certainly capable of) he would have just 4 points less on the season than Jaylen Waddle (and more than Tyreek Hill).
One fun statistic to consider is fantasy performance in ‘Garbage Time’, or late in games when a team is down (or up) a lot. Here are the most prolific passers:
The Miami Dolphins‘ dynamic duo is skewed by that barn-burner against the Ravens in Week 2; lots of that production was technically labeled as garbage time because the Phins were down so much. Of course, they came back to achieve improbably victory, so their presence here is a bit misleading.
More salient are the many New Orleans Saints and New York Jets who show up on this chart. Both of these teams have pretty difficult schedules coming up – the Saints play the Vikings in Bengals in two of their next three weeks, the Jets have the Dolphins and Packers soon – and there’s a good chance that the garbage team patterns repeat themselves. Probably more importantly, though, is that these teams have demonstrated a willingness to let the ball fly when all hope seems lost, which is a crucial element for fantasy and something we saw the inverse of with the ‘Foot on the Brakes’ chart earlier.
Defenses to Target
No, I don’t mean D/STs that you can pick, up, but defenses that you want your players to face! This chart compares negative plays generated by a defense (x-axis) and big plays given up (y-axis).
The Washington Commanders are pretty terrible at both, and face the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4. There are plenty of borderline fantasy options on the Cowboys with Dak Prescott still out – Tony Pollard, Noah Brown, Michael Gallup – and they all have a good chance at breaking off a big play. The Tennessee Titans are, surprisingly, right behind the ‘Manders in terms of big plays allowed, which bodes well for a Colts offense that has struggled at times. Speaking of the Colts, their defense has been surprisingly stingy, helping them to a shocking win over the Kansas City Chiefs last week. I’m sitting all Titans options outside of Derrick Henry in this divisional clash.
Questions? Let me hear it on Twitter.