Seven Stats & Expectation Trends for Week 5 (Fantasy Football)
Go forth and conquer!
Meh – bad pun. Still, I hope that’s what you did: went ‘forth’ in week ‘four’ to get a victory. Here’s a look at seven crucial statistics for the upcoming Week 5; all data, unless otherwise specified, comes from nflfastR.
Running Backs, Revamped
It’s been a strange year at the position, with some super strange results. In Week 4, Leonard Fournette finished with -3 rushing yards… and 14.9 fantasy points! Impressive, but that’s just the fifth highest fantasy total for an RB with negative rushing yards since 1999 (Darren Sproles holds the crown: -1 rush yards, 21.7 points).
During the offseason I discussed Elo ratings and how they can impact fantasy football. Put simply, they give us a ‘nowcast’, or a rating of how good players are right now, what form they are in today. Here are the current highest rated RBs in the league based on fantasy performance:
Austin Ekeler had been trending up, and he now finds himself atop the mountain, far ahead of anyone else in the field. Jonathan Taylor has fallen all the way outside of the top 10, although this change might be a bit unfair given that he left the game with injury.
Now, you might be thinking ‘why is Saquon Barkley, the RB1 in the land, sitting all the way at twelve?’ Elo rankings are, for better or worse, slow to update, especially in the upward direction.That means it takes a lot of weeks, and a lot of strong performances, to significantly move your rating up. On the flip side, it also takes a lot of duds to lose your hard-earned rating (although it does fall faster than it climbs). If Saquon continues to perform at a high level, he will soon be atop this chart; indeed, he’s one of the highest Elo climbers on the year:
The two players atop this list are Dameon Pierce and Breece Hall, which makes sense when we take into account how the model works. Rookies come into the league with an average Elo of 1200, so strong performances in the first few weeks means the model ‘updates’ these players quickly upwards. They are still outside the top 15; again, gaining the model’s trust to be put into the top 15 takes a long time.
The other side of the Elo equation is defensive rankings. It’s probably unsurprising that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are #1 in the league (despite Clyde Edwards-Helaire going off last week – remember, slow to update), and the Detroit Lions are dead last. The maxim holds true: sit the Cordarrelle Patterson-less Atlanta Falcons RBs against the Bucs, and start Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson next week against the Lions.
So much of fantasy football gets left unsaid, including my personal pet peeve: DPI points. Players that draw defensive pass interference calls move the chains for their team, but earn no fantasy points! I built a model that predicts how many legitimate fantasy points were wiped out by DPI calls:
Michael Gallup had just three targets in his return, but he scored a touchdown and leads this list. He’s an exciting player to watch on a Dallas Cowboys team that is playing surprisingly well without Dak Prescott.
Another important statistic is players that ‘almost scored’, or were tackled inside the five yard line on drives where they didn’t eventually reach the end zone. Joe Mixon continues to lead this list, getting stopped short six times in four weeks. He has an extra few days of rest after Thursday Night Football and, in my opinion, should be considered a top-flight RB going forward.
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 that T.J. Hockenson leads this list: his 33.9 points were the 10th highest of any tight end since 1999 (fun fact: Shannon Sharpe holds the record with 39.4). He saw 12 targets, which is a lot, but not enough to expect his 179 yards and 2 touchdowns! The stars aligned for Hockenson this week: a shootout against a bad defense with the top two receiving options (Amon-Ra St. Brown and D.J. Chark) both out. I’m trading him away if I can, as well as Mo Alie-Cox, who had a massive 85 yard, two TD stat line on just 6 targets.
We can apply the same method to players who scored less than expected:
Allen Robinson leads the way here, but it’s not a really exciting story: he saw only 6 targets, which turned into two catches for 7 yards. It’s been another disappointing year for ARob, and he’s on your bench – or waiver wire – until he starts putting up fantasy numbers. A more interesting name to me is Breece Hall, who snuck onto this chart despite being a running back. He had 6 targets in Zach Wilson‘s return – which many fantasy managers were worried about – and as been a top 20 RB for three weeks straight. Remember, he’s one of the highest Elo climbers on the year!
As the Ballers like to say, fantasy performance comes from talent and volume. For the latter, it’s important to have the right playbook installed, and that often means teams that are willing to be aggressive and throw the ball. Here are the teams that I like to think of as having their foot on the gas; they like to pass the ball even when they are leading late in games.
The top teams are no surprise: the Los Angeles Rams, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens all feature exciting aerial attacks. It’s good to target pass-catching options in these offenses, while avoiding ground-heavy running backs. Cam Akers, for example, has just 4 targets on the year in a pass-heavy offense.
Here’s the opposite, ‘foot on the brake’ teams that stubbornly run the ball even when they are losing late:
In what is a frustrating and familiar reminder to Chicago Bears fans, they sit far atop this list. Justin Fields has attempted just 67 passes on the season; for reference, Josh Allen threw the ball 67 times in Week 3 alone. You can avoid every option in the Chicago passing game, and that probably holds true for the Tennessee Titans, who are second on this list (and who also have Derrick Henry, so it makes sense).
Math Behind the Matchups
We can break down where receiving yards come by area of the field: checkdowns, short yardage, mid-yardage, and deep. Combined with yards allowed by defenses – above or below yards expected – paints an interesting picture for Week 5 matchups.
The Tennessee Titans have been getting burned deep and, although it’s not pictured here, Carson Wentz has been throwing plenty of deep shots. He’s an interesting streaming option, as are his pass-catchers. Meanwhile, Dallas Goedrt surprisingly shows up as the 2nd highest checkdown player in the league, and gets to face the Arizona Cardinals, who are second worst against checkdowns. Finally, the Atlanta Falcons are giving up plenty of yardage to mid-range passing attacks, something that Tom Brady and Mike Evans have been excelling at. Expect a big performance for the Bucs duo coming off the loss.
Here are players ranked by the share of their NFL team’s total fantasy output:
Even after a relative down week, Lamar Jackson continues to lead this list. Cooper Kupp has climbed all the way to second, and continues to be just about the safest fantasy option in the game. A perhaps surprising appearance is Christian McCaffrey; he’s been solid for fantasy but not spectacular, and yet he’s #6 on this list. That tells me that the Panthers offense has just been absolutely anemic, but CMC is still getting the work. If they manage to turn things around at all – or even have a slight uptick, which is more reasonable to expect – he could explode.
Next, we can rank players based on what percent of their fantasy output has come from their top 5 plays:
This tells us the players that are susceptible to ‘boom/bust’ cycles; Rashod Bateman stays atop this list, now joined by Jerry Jeudy. The latter has been the perfect example of boom/bust: two finishes inside the WR20, two outside of the top 85 at the position. These guys are great targets for best ball, but hard to rely on otherwise. On the flip side, Cooper Kupp, Tyler Higbee and Marquise Brown are super dependable because of their high volume. Tyler Lockett actually has the lowest mark, completely the opposite of what we are used to for him, but that’s more a function of him not having any big performances: the best on the season is WR20.
Fine, fine, I’ll highlight some defenses that are good streaming candidates this week. Here are teams ranked by how many tackles for losses they generate, and how many big plays they give up:
And here are the points each defense allows to opposing fantasy positions:
First off, the Buffalo Bills are insane: they are the best defense against QBs, WRs and TEs, and are slightly below average against RBs. They probably aren’t available in your league, but the San Francisco 49ers might be: they are solid-to-great against all of the positions, and get the Carolina Panthers this week. The Jacksonville Jaguars are also worth a look: they have been pretty stout against passing attacks, and draw the Houston Texans; don’t worry, the Jags haven’t been awesome against running backs, so Dameon Pierce can still go off!
Last thing: start your players against the Detroit Lions. They are a very bad defense, which is a very good thing for fantasy.
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Best segment yet.
Thanks for the kind words Troy!