Seven Stats & Expectation Trends for Week 8 (Fantasy Football)
In this series, I walk through seven trends that I’m seeing evolve as the season progresses. All data, unless otherwise specified, comes from nflfastR.
The Math Behind the Matchups (Passing)
We can break down passing yardage by distance: checkdown, short, mid, and deep passes based on air yardage. Here are the leaders over the last three weeks for QBs and pass-catchers:
From here, we can analyze which defenses perform best against these different types of passes. This performance is vs. expectation: that is, it accounts for the strength of the opposing offense. We don’t want to punish a defense that gives up a large amount of yardage to the Miami Dolphins; we also don’t want to credit a defense that holds the New York Jets to a low passing total.
Here are my takeaways:
- Kyle Pitts has enjoyed a bit of resurgence: he’s averaging 10.2 fantasy points over the past three weeks. Unfortunately, a large chunk of that work has derived from mid-distance passes, which the Tennessee Titans are by far the best at shutting down (as well as being seventh-best against the position according to our stream finder). Pitts can be left to the waiver wire; there are other streaming options at the tight end position this week. Fun fact: Jonnu Smith is actually the highest-scoring tight end on the Atlanta Falcons (one more point than Pitts this season).
- The long and short of it is…the Jacksonville Jaguars have been very susceptible to long and short passes. That’s good news for Jaylen Warren on one hand (averaging 3.7 receptions per game) and George Pickens on the other (over 21 yards per catch — not air yards, per catch — in each of the last two weeks). Neither of these players is producing at league-leading levels over checkdowns and deep passes, but that’s certainly where they make their impact, and they are interesting flex options this week.
- The Cleveland Browns have an argument for the best defense in football, and they’ve put the clamps on just about every type of pass. That’s bad news for Tyler Lockett, who only has two games inside the top 24 at the position this year, and DK Metcalf, who might not even be healthy enough to play. Not to mention Geno Smith, who is averaging just 13.4 points per game on the season. I’m staying away from the Hawks if I can help it.
The Math Behind the Matchups (Rushing)
We can break out yardage for rushers based on where the play took place:
And what defenses allowed:
- The Chicago Bears have excelled at running the ball left and right, and the Los Angeles Chargers, their Week 8 opponent, have given quite a lot of ground to such runs. You should be able to ride the hot hand of D’Onta Foreman, fresh off an overall RB1 performance in Week 7.
- The New England Patriots, previously a vaunted defense, have been having a difficult time stopping runs to the right…unfortunately for the Pats, the Miami Dolphins are one of the best teams running to the right (and running the ball in general!). Don’t be cowed by Raheem Mostert‘s 5.6-point performance in the ugly game vs. the Eagles; he should be in your lineup. It’s difficult to project beyond Mostert, though: Jeff Wilson Jr. had just one opportunity in Week 7, so I’d like to see more of Mike McDaniel’s plan before putting him in my lineup.
- The New York Giants have been a sneakily bad rush defense of late: they’re in the bottom four across all types of rushes here. That doesn’t really impact your fantasy decisions, since the Giants face the New York Jets, and you’re starting Breece Hall no matter what. You probably can’t start Dalvin Cook, whose snap percentage has fallen below 20% in his last two outings (10 total opportunities). But, it’s good to note: expect a monster game from Breece!
In this section, I use a simple regression model that uses air yards, targets, and defensive ability to predict how many fantasy points a player should score, and compare that to how many they actually score. An overachieving player might be one who catches a few TDs on only a couple of targets; an underachieving one sees a lot of targets (against a bad defense) and doesn’t do much with them. Here are the standouts:
Jordan Addison and Mark Andrews top the list of overachievers mostly because they secured two touchdowns, which is generally an outlier performance (Addison also turned a likely interception into a monster TD; if you haven’t seen the play, go check it out). A bit more interesting is Josh Downs, who put up 125 yards and a score on just six targets. Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. Downs clearly has chemistry with Gardner Minshew and is worthy of a flex start as long as the Minshew Mania continues in Indy. But is he likely to reproduce the overall WR3 finish from last week? Certainly less so. I’m trying to trade high off of that performance, especially with Anthony Richardson coming back to the team at some point down the line.
I want to note Jameson Williams, who sits on the other end of the spectrum after his goose in Week 7. The Detroit Lions got run off the field by the Baltimore Ravens, but Williams saw six targets; funnily enough, this was the highest total of his young career. Now, Jameson has had low catch rates before: last season he had nine total targets and just one catch, although that catch did go for 41 yards and a score. And therein lies my point: Jameson Williams doesn’t need a lot of reps for something special to happen, and he appears to be working his way back into the offense. It’s hard to start him at the moment given the abysmal numbers, but he’s a player that is worth keeping your eye on, and he’s a decent option in best ball leagues.
Big Play Mavens
Volume is an important aspect for fantasy: we generally want players who are seeing a lot of work vs. players who make a couple of big plays out of their few opportunities. Here are players ranked by how many points they’ve scored from their top 20% of plays:
I will continue sounding the alarm on DeVonta Smith, who has scored 14.9 total points in the last three weeks. He’s got just one top-12 performance on the year (Week 2, WR7, 21.1 points) and hasn’t found the end zone since Week 3. Of course, he’s a super-talented wideout with an excellent quarterback in a high-potential offense, and he will return to the end zone eventually. My point is merely that his yardage and catch rate are not high enough to justify starting him when he doesn’t score a touchdown, hence his high ranking on this chart. His 17-game pace is 78 catches for 930 yards, far off the 95 catch, 1,196 yards marks of last year’s WR10 finish. I don’t think you’re crazy if you want to start DeVonta Smith. But I also don’t think you’re crazy if you think you have better options, especially against back-to-back divisional matchups (Washington Commanders and Dallas Cowboys).
On the other side of things sits Darren Waller who, after a disappointing start to the season, has strung together 12.9 fantasy PPG over the last three weeks. He found the end zone for the first time in Week 7, which propelled him to his first awesome finish, but he’s on pace for 85 catches and 923 yards this season. That is, very similar to DeVonta Smith‘s pace, but at the tight end position. Waller is the TE5 and could keep climbing, and I’m trying to get him on my rosters wherever I can.
I enjoy looking at the players that take up the ‘biggest slice of fantasy pie’ on their NFL team:
Let’s talk about Ja’Marr Chase, who sits near the top of this list. He’s the WR8 on the season, although it hasn’t felt that way, since the finish is mostly propelled by his 44.7 point explosion in Week 5. But Chase is seeing insane usage: 12.2 targets and 8.3 catches per game. He’s basically guaranteeing that any points the Cincinnati Bengals do score go through him. Here’s a crazy stat: Chase is on pace for 142 catches and 1,575 yards, which are better marks than his 128-catch, 1,455-yard rookie season that landed him as the WR5. The difference is he hasn’t scored outside of those three touchdowns in Week 5…but he’s one of the few players with a chance at the overall WR1 the rest of the way.
Balance in All Things
In the modern NFL, it’s important to have running backs that can also produce in the passing game. With this in mind, we can look at players who tend to get it done on the ground vs. through the air.
Among the most balanced players are Alvin Kamara and Bijan Robinson, who have nearly identical points scored on rushes than on passes. Kamara has 8.8 receptions per game (!!!) this season; Bijan has a pair of touchdowns through the air. Compare that to David Montgomery, who has a similar total number of points, but nearly 65 more points on the ground than via receptions (just six catches on the season). The Detroit Lions are clearly committed to running the ball with Montgomery (he’s got 22 carries in the four games he’s been fully healthy this year) and he’s a super valuable fantasy player; I would just side with players that also get involved in the passing offense.
The Correlation Game
Fantasy football is often about matchups. Maybe you’re projected to beat your opponent, but their most explosive player is Patrick Mahomes. Perhaps to try to ‘cap’ their roster’s potential, you opt for Rashee Rice in the flex instead of Jaylen Warren. After all, if Mahomes has a monster game, Rashee Rice could participate in the upside, and you could be able to ride the wave.
This all comes down to correlation: do players tend to score together, or when one scores a lot does the other tend to score a little? Here’s a guide of teams’ top scorers, excluding quarterbacks (since they are generally very positively correlated with pass-catchers!).
It’s a bit surprising that Kendrick Bourne and Rhamondre Stevenson are so correlated. but that’s a nice potential offset if you’re playing against Rhamondre. On the other end, Mark Andrews and Zay Flowers are quite negatively correlated, which means they are probably not a good idea to start together if you roster them both!
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