Seven Stats & Expectation Trends for Week 9 (Fantasy Football)

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Eight weeks down! We are past the halfway mark of the fantasy regular season, and it’s time to set your sights on a playoff berth. Here are some trends I’ve got my eye on; all data is from nflfastR.

Malaise

We know that it’s been a tough year for fantasy scoring. Case in point: Week 8 was the highest-scoring fantasy week (averaged across teams to adjust for those on bye) this season, but would have just been mediocre through the first eight weeks of last year. What’s more, things go down from here. Fantasy scoring tends to fall over the season as injuries stack up and the weather worsens, which slows down aerial attacks. We’re seeing that already: quarterbacks have scored 0.9 fewer points per game in Weeks 5-8 than in Weeks 1-4, and WRs 0.5 points fewer. Unsurprisingly, that loss has been partially offset by running backs, who have seen a whopping 1.8 PPG jump in the last four weeks compared to the first four. That’s the largest such jump in 12 years, partially because many of the top backs started so slowly, and have now returned in full force.

Boom/Bust

Some players are big play mavens, and derive most of their production from a few ‘home runs.’ Here are those rankings among pass-catchers:

Rashod Bateman and Gabe Davis are still far, far ahead of the field, with nearly 80% of their production on just five plays. Bateman was slowed in Week 8 by injury, but we saw the bust downside of Davis: seven targets and just 4.5 fantasy points. Keep on keeping on if you don’t mind riding the lightning; personally, though, I’m looking to trade these players after their next big game. On the other end of the spectrum, Diontae Johnson continues to see volume without production. He’s averaging 9.5 targets per week, and yet his best weekly finish is the WR29; he hasn’t reached the end zone yet this season. With Chase Claypool heading west for Chicago, we can only expect that workload to increase. Despite the putridity of the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ offense, a player with that much talent and volume has to be FLEX-worthy at least (right?). He might even be on waivers since the Steelers are on bye in Week 9.

Let’s check out the same chart, but for runners:

It’s not a huge surprise that big-play Tony Pollard tops this list on the back of his three TD, RB4 performance in Week 8.  Still, if you listened to the podcast earlier this week, Andy, Mike, and Jason were discussing how Pollard was tired after his 14 carries (a career-high), and how Jerry Jones wants Ezekiel Elliott to return in force. It might be a good time to trade Pollard, for the right price; Week 8 was his first performance with 18+ points, and he’s on bye in Week 9. Derrick Henry is the lowest mark on this chart; he’s seen 32 opportunities per week since Week 5, and should only continue to grow stronger as the snow in Vermont begins to fall.

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Finally, the same chart for passers:

Other than future superstar Bailey Zappe, I just wanted to note how incredible it is that Patrick Mahomes is the last name on this list. A player known for big plays is getting it done with volume and is the QB5 on the year (including his Week 8 bye, which moves the ranking downwards).

Spread the Love

Fantasy managers often prefer ‘funnel’ offenses that feed the ball to one player, especially for running backs. Here are teams ranked by how many players they’ve given five carries to:

The San Francisco 49ers are historically leaders in this category, although the buck stops here with the arrival of Christian McCaffrey (and the departure of Jeff Wilson Jr.). More notable are the Washington Commanders, Los Angeles Rams, and Baltimore Ravens, all backfields without a clear #1 and, in the Rams’ and Ravens’ cases, traditionally successful rushing attacks. There are certainly opportunities here for a player to ‘take over,’ but it’s getting less and less likely with each passing week, especially after they all stood pat at the trade deadline. Teams on the other end of the spectrum prefer to funnel the ball to as few players as possible, and the respective RB1s on these teams – Leonard Fournette, Saquon Barkley, Dalvin Cook, Dameon Pierce, Aaron Jones, Nick Chubb, and Joe Mixon – are the beneficiaries.

Here’s the same chart, but for receivers:

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One thing to note here is the Chicago Bears, who sit dead last. This could be good news for Chase Claypool, who arrives on the scene and won’t have to compete with many other players for significant volume. He’s an interesting FLEX going forward, especially if Justin Fields and the Bears continue to improve (more on this later).

The ELO-Scape

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. Here are the RB rankings:

Derrick Henry has climbed to the top, but I want to focus on some of the surprising names. Joe Mixon as the fourth RB might turn heads, but his recent performances have been quite solid and usable: a minimum score of 9.4 points over the last five weeks, and often against good defenses. Antonio Gibson has also had a nice jump in recent weeks after a shaky start to the season, although his future outlook all depends on how the Washington Commanders view it. Sadly, Jonathan Taylor has fallen to the RB15 (in ELO terms); he hasn’t scored more than 12 points since Week 1 and faces a (sometimes) stout New England Patriots defense in Week 9. Let’s check out the tight end rankings just for fun:

With Mark Andrews‘ recent injury woes, Travis Kelce is now far, far ahead of the field as the TE1 in fantasy. Dallas Goedert rounds out the top three; he only has one performance with less than 7.5 points this season.

Hidden Stats

So much in fantasy football goes undetected. One of my favorite statistics tracks how many players ‘almost’ scored on a rushing attempt (tackled inside the 5) on drives they didn’t eventually score on:

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Justin Fields is a really interesting name here. It’s hard to lead this list as a QB, and he’s coming off of QB8, QB5, and QB5 performances in the last three weeks. We’re seeing 11.3 rushes per game in that span (vs. 8.4 to start the season), which gives both a solid floor and an exciting upside for a fantasy signal-caller. Here’s another chart that tells us how many receiving points were wiped out by DPI (using a simple model to project expected points scored):

I’m happy for Scotty Miller, who leads this list; probably the only time we will mention his name this season. More interesting is Parris Campbell, who has sneakily averaged 13.8 fantasy points over the last three weeks. It’s a difficult situation in Indy, but Campbell might be worth a stash to see if the production continues. He has the Patriots this week but faces the sieve-like defense of the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 10.

Over/Underachievers

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:

A.J. Brown had a monstrous performance – 156 yards, three TDs, and 36.6 fantasy points – on 11 targets. That’s not really notable for our purposes, similar to Alvin Kamara, Jaylen Waddle, and Amari Cooper following him on this list: these are all above-average players who we expect to score above expectation. Maybe more impactful is a player like Zach Pascal, who had just two targets but turned them into 57 yards and a touchdown. This was his first performance inside the top 76 on the season, and he can certainly be left on waivers. Let’s look at the ‘underachievers’:

It was a really tough week for Davante Adams, who finished as the WR98 with just three yards on one catch (five targets). That probably doesn’t move the needle much; he’s still a top option at the position. In fact, I don’t see any names that I want to highlight on this chart; most saw a couple of targets but didn’t have any receptions, as opposed to having a lot of targets and just a few receptions.

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Play-calling

It’s important for an NFL head coach’s decision-making to align with our expectations as fantasy managers. What do I mean by that? You want to roster pass-catchers on teams that like to, well, pass the ball! Here are the teams that continue to throw the ball a lot, even when in a ‘positive game script’ (up late).

The Cincinnati Bengals have come full circle; they are the most ‘foot on the gas’ team after insisting on slowing the game down last season. All of their pass-catching options can be rostered and played, even Hayden Hurst if you are desperate at the tight end position. Here are the teams in the opposite position: they insist on running the ball even when down:

The Chicago Bears marked another week at the top of this list, although things might change with Chase Claypool coming to town. It’s no surprise to see the Atlanta Falcons near the top as well, as Kyle Pitts‘ managers know so well. Pass-catching options on both teams (and the Tennessee Titans, in second place here) are dicey at best, although I am curious to see what they scheme up for Claypool.

Streamers

There are plenty of teams on bye this week, so you might be looking for a QB or TE to plug into your lineup. We can use the ‘other side’ of ELO rankings to identify which teams are the worst against both positions:

The Las Vegas Raiders are the second worst against QBs, and they face the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 9. There could be some upside for Trevor Lawrence here, who has had some nice performances of late. Week 8 was a tough one for the former #1 overall pick, but he was facing the Denver Broncos, an elite defense at stopping the pass. Let’s check on potential TE streamers:

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The Atlanta Falcons have been getting roasted by the tight end position, which could mean good things for Gerald Everett of the Los Angeles Chargers. Although he’s been having a solid year – averaging 8 PPG – Everett is coming off of a bye and might be on your waiver wire. Check!

Yes, there are eight sections here instead of the titular seven; I miscounted myself! Hope that you enjoyed it, and let me know your thoughts on Twitter.

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