Snap Count Observations: Season in Review

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Fantasy football would be meaningless if a solitary tool for success existed. If we could predict the future or know what NFL coaches are really thinking, the intrigue, anxiety and eagerness for Sunday NFL action would disappear. Luck cannot be managed and should never be anticipated. Gaining a real edge in fantasy football is about mitigating risk and speculating before the masses.

In 2016, I paid close attention to one tool in particular and wrote about it every week. Snap Counts. A coach can’t lie about snap counts. It is a concrete piece of evidence we can use to formulate patterns and reveal potential fantasy stardom. It can be difficult to move away from perceived notions, even with empirical data staring you in the face. One should not ignore facts. Using snap count observations taught me to be patient and play the game with an open mind. The data can be misleading. It may feel like no true pattern is forming, so using this tool takes some faith. Tread lightly, but do not ignore the data.

Note: The italicized comment under each snap count percentage is the observation I made during the respective week while the comment after is reviewing the season.

Examples of immediate rewards based on snap count observations

Week 2

Davante Adams 76% / Jeff Janis 0%
If you invested in Janis as the potential #3 in Green Bay, cut bait now.

Adams went on to have a great season, Janis, not so much:

2016 Targets Receptions Yards TD
Adams 121 75 997 12
Janis 19 11 93 1

Larry Fitzgerald 89% / Michael Floyd 80% / John Brown 42% / Jaron Brown 42%
John Brown has 2 receptions for 22 yards this season. Sound the alarm! John Brown cannot be in any starting fantasy lineups unless something changes quickly. Be it lack of confidence, poor play or lingering fears from his preseason concussion, John Brown is developing into the biggest bust of 2016 thus far.

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John Brown’s 2016 ADP (34th WR) fell way short of expectations. He ended up as the 77th WR.

Week 3

Jordan Howard 75% / Jeremy Langford 23%
The snap count is misleading because Langford left the game early with an injury. Interestingly, Howard had 6 (rushes/targets) to Langford’s 5 before Langford exited the game. The shift to Howard was underway. The injury may have cemented it.”

Howard only tallied 7 total TDs, but his 1,313 rushing yards were second in the league behind Ezekiel Elliot (1,631).

Quick judgments based on snap counts could have hurt you

Week 1

Danny Woodhead 68% / Melvin Gordon 32%
Melvin Gordon owners are happy today, but a closer look may leave them feeling uneasy. 2 early TDs had Gordon owners doing somersaults, but a clear shift by the offense once Keenan Allen went down with injury is not a good sign for Gordon moving forward. In the 2nd half of the game, in which San Diego started with an 18 point lead, Gordon took a backseat to Woodhead (19 targets/carries to 5). Logic would have the bigger back carrying the load in an attempt to salt the game away. Rather, the Chargers utilized the smaller Woodhead almost 4 times as much! Both players had productive fantasy days, but I feel a lot more confident in Woodhead based on these findings. I don’t want to sound any fire alarms, but if trading Gordon now on the back of his 2 TD day is possible, you may want to explore it.

Gordon’s 2016 campaign was cut short by injury, but his 1,416 yards from scrimmage and 12 TDs through 13 games prove that trading him after week 1 would have been a poor decision.

Tajae Sharpe 96%
The hype was real.  Tajae looked sharp in his first NFL regular season game. Not only was he in the game more than any other WR, he was also targeted on 41% of all WR targets.

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Sharpe only converted 49% of his 83 targets into receptions. 522 yards and 2 TDs does not represent the type of hype I foresaw.

Week 3

Will Fuller 100%
The scouting report coming out of Notre Dame on Fuller has proved to be accurate thus far. He will drop a few passes, but he will also separate himself from defenders and make big plays. He may not reach his full potential, but playing 100% of snaps, at least his opportunities should be consistent.

Fuller had 2 100 yard games and 2 TDs on the season. Both 100 yard games and 1 of those TDs came in the first 2 weeks of the season.

Kenyan Drake 40% / Jay Ajayi 27% / Isaiah Pead 18%
This is an RBBC I want no part of.

Ajayi clearly separated himself from the pack starting in week 6. This included (3) 200 yard games and 6 TDs in the final 11 games of the season.

Patience pays off

Week 2

Matt Forte 81% / Bilal Powell 23%
Thoughts of an RBBC in New York seem fleeting at best. Much like his Chicago tenure, Forte is still a weapon in the running and passing game. Other than providing occasional rest for Forte, Powell only holds handcuff value at this point. However, I am not cutting bait on Powell yet. Forte is 30 years old and with a heavy early season workload, his health and durability remain a concern.

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It may have come too late for some owners but over the final 4 games of the season, Powell averaged 138 scrimmage yards per game and scored 3 TDs.

Week 5

Matt Jones 56% / Chris Thompson 32% / Robert Kelley 12%
Kelley may start playing more in the near future. Head coach Jay Gruden has indicated as such recently and Matt Jones has not shown enough to hold him off.

Kelley assumed the lead back role in week 8 and never relinquished it.  His stats during that span didn’t take the world by storm (76 scrimmage yards per game and 6 TD) but he was a serviceable starting RB in a league lacking stars at the position.

Too late, should have been quicker

Week 5

DeMarco Murray 81% / Derrick Henry 30%
Two weeks makes it a trend. Henry should not be dropped but is no more than a valuable handcuff at this point.

By the end of week 5, Murray had complied 633 scrimmage yards and 5 TDs. It was too late to make a move for him.  

Week 13

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Tyreek Hill 51%
Hill has a relatively high floor considering his consistently low snap count. The Chiefs plan makes sense to me. Hill is small and explosive. Historically, players like Hill cannot hold up to the vigorous demands of a heavy workload in the NFL. Hill will get touches when he is in the game as shown by his 8 targets/carries out of the 25 snaps he played. Hill disappointed this week, but deserves to be in every starting lineup due to his high floor/high ceiling.

Hill should have been owned in all competitive leagues by the end of week 13. As noted above, snap counts did not tell the whole story, but it should have forced us to analyze his performances. From week 6-12, he scored 5 total TDs. He would add on 5 more from week 14-17.

As evidenced by the observations noted above, snap counts alone, may not provide you enough information. The key to using this tool is to have an open mind about your preconceived notions while using the data to dig deeper. Once you feel comfortable with your conclusions, act quickly (Jordan Howard), but manage that with patience (Bilal Powell). Don’t wait too long (Tyreek Hill), but don’t buy all the hype (Tajae Sharpe). As is the case in many aspects of life, finding balance between faith and science will test your mettle. The more tools you have, the easier it will be. For our beloved fantasy football, Snap Counts is a tool I’m glad to have.

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