Data. Everywhere you look in fantasy football, there are mounds and mounds of data. As advancement in technology has revolutionized the NFL game, fantasy football fans have gone from looking only at yards and touchdowns totals to studying spreadsheets that track complex metrics like yards created after contact and average depth of target.
While these advanced metrics can be useful, they can also be manipulated and over reliance on difficult data can lead casual fantasy owners to be overwhelmed. Sometimes, getting back to the basics with empirical data that is easily understood can also come in handy during fantasy draft season.
Studying snap counts and percentage of snaps played is one of the easiest ways that we can determine one of the most basic, but important questions for potential fantasy success: Is this player even on the field often enough to make a difference? Typically, quarterbacks play nearly every snap, so it’s not imperative to study their snap counts.
However, looking at the snap totals for running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends can certainly tell a different story and be useful when preparing to assemble a championship fantasy roster. Here are some players that could find themselves in favorable situations this year by simply being counted on to consistently be on the field via a reliable percentage of snaps played.
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DeMarco Murray (TEN): 81% – Murray stayed healthy in 2016 and finished second among all NFL running backs in both snaps (861) and snap rate (81%.) Murray also finished as the No. 5 scoring runner in PPR leagues.
While some people are concerned with Murray’s checkered injury history and the potential emergence of Derrick Henry (25.4% snap rate), Murray’s receiving prowess assure he’ll continue to see the lion’s share of playing time for a surging Titans’ offense. Tennessee’s coaching staff has also implied that Murray will remain the team’s workhorse and that makes Murray a pretty safe pick at his current ADP in the second round.
Devonta Freeman (ATL): 58.1% – The Falcons brilliantly employed a one-two punch of outstanding runners, but Freeman is easily the lead back for Atlanta. Freeman out-snapped Tevin Coleman (34%) 604-353 and received more than double the number of targets in the passing game.
Coleman did manage to score 11 touchdowns, but Freeman also dominated red zone, and goal line looks. The loss of Kyle Shanahan could shake up the Atlanta backfield, but Coleman is far more likely to be negatively impacted than Freeman.
Spencer Ware (KC): 53.3% – One of the biggest camp battles to watch will be the Kansas City backfield battle between incumbent Spencer Ware and third-round rookie Kareem Hunt. Ware, who finished 14th among all running backs with 546 offensive snaps in 2016, will enter training camp as the clear favorite. Andy Reid typically likes to stick with a featured back as opposed to a committee, so whoever wins this battle could potentially be a reliable weekly RB2 with top-10 snap rate potential.
Bilal Powell (NYJ): 50.9% – Powel was one of the unsung heroes of fantasy last season, finishing 18th in offensive snaps (531) and as the RB17 in PPR leagues. The Jets’ passing game looks like it will be among the league’s worst, so Powell and fading Matt Forte (46.8%) should be heavily emphasized, but Powell’s fresher legs and all-around ability give him the edge as a sneaky RB2 to target in the sixth round.
Jacquizz Rodgers (TB): 29.9% – Tampa Bay’s backfield was a bit of a mess last season, as no Bucs running back managed to play even one-third of the team’s offensive snaps. Doug Martin (28.3%) is considered the starter but will miss the season’s first three games. Charles Sims (20.9%) excels as a pass catcher but has averaged under 75 rushes per season.
Rodgers led the team’s running backs in snaps (341) and fantasy scoring and should be the favorite to start for the Bucs in Week 1 while Martin serves his suspension. Currently, Rodgers is being selected in the 13th round as the RB55. That makes him a nice bargain as a handcuff for Martin owners, or as depth to open the 2017 season.
Sterling Shepard (NYG): 94.6% – As a rookie, Shepard’s snap rate was second only to DeAndre Hopkins (96.7%) among all NFL wideouts, even outpacing teammate Odell Beckham, Jr. (94.4%.) The addition of Brandon Marshall (86.4%) is scaring people off of Shepard, but Ben McAdoo favors ’11’ personnel and a ton of hurry-up and shotgun formations, so Shepard will simply occupy the slot and could see more favorable coverage versus nickel cornerbacks and linebackers. Shepard looks like an outstanding bargain at his deflated No. 141 overall ADP.
Brandon LaFell (CIN): 92.9% – With 1,010 snaps last season, Brandon LaFell finished fourth in the league in both snaps and snap rate en route to a very quiet WR34 finish. LaFell stepped up when A.J. Green (51%) missed six games, and the Bengals also have Tyler Boyd (68%) and first-round rookie John Ross competing for snaps.
LaFell isn’t going to repeat his lofty playing time from 2016, but he is firmly entrenched as the starter, and his presence will make it very difficult for Ross, who ran a record 4.22-second 40 at the NFL Combine, to consistently get on the field. LaFell looks like a nice sleeper at WR70, while Ross is a candidate to be over-drafted.
Dontrelle Inman (LAC): 89.9% – Another serious injury to Keenan Allen (2.5%) forced Inman to play the ninth-most snaps (958) among NFL wide receivers, but Inman finished as the WR47. With Allen back healthy and the addition of 2017 first-round selection Mike Williams joining emerging star Tyrell Williams (83.6%), the Chargers have a surplus of talented wide receivers. Inman is, at best, the fourth wideout for the Chargers and barely worthy of being selected in deep fantasy leagues.
Terrelle Pryor (WAS): 87.3% – Pryor finished 11th in snap rate for Cleveland last season and moved into a much better situation with Washington, who produced three top-37 PPR wide receivers last season. Pryor is slated to be the Redskins WR1 and take over the starting role vacated by Pierre Garçon (76%). Jay Gruden will mix in multiple formations and pass catchers, so Pryor’s snap rate is likely to decline, but the upgrade from Cleveland’s quarterback to Kirk Cousins should help Pryor maintain WR2 status.
Brandin Cooks (NE): 76.6% – The Patriots gave up first- and third-round picks to acquire dynamic Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round pick from New Orleans. It’s highly unusual for Bill Belichick to surrender significant draft capital, but that should tell us that Cooks is going to be an important part of New England’s offense. Julian Edelman (78.1%) led New England with 875 snaps and will remain a high-volume option.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski (31.6%) has battled injuries but will continue to be a major focus. The Patriots have averaged 611.5 pass attempts over the past six season, and if Cooks can take over for Chris Hogan (74.1), he has WR1 potential.
Tavon Austin (LAR): 72.8% – Kenny Britt (78.2%) led the Rams in playing time in 2016 but left for Cleveland. Austin is expected to take over as the Rams’ WR1, but there are doubts if the undersized Austin will be able to be effective as an outside receiver facing No. 1 cornerbacks after averaging 8.68 yards per catch dating back to the 2014 season. With an ADP currently at No. 199 overall, Austin is largely going undrafted, but along with rookie Cooper Kupp, could be in a position to see big roles and be worth a final roster spot.
Kyle Rudolph (MIN): 92.1% – Rudolph was fourth among NFL tight ends in offensive snaps (969) and snap rate, and was second in fantasy scoring, yet he’s currently the sixth tight end off the board in ADP. Sam Bradford returns as quarterbacks, which bodes well for Rudolph. The Vikings receiving corps is also in transition, which should assure Rudolph is Bradford’s primary target in the passing game.
Jack Doyle (IND): 68.4% – The Colts ran a lot of ’12’ sets and traded Dwayne Allen (55.7%) to New England. This frees up Allen’s 611 snaps to be absorbed by Doyle and late-round sleeper Eric Swoope (22.3%.)
Doyle was 2016’s TE13, and an increased role gives him top-10 potential. Allen finished 2016 as the No. 23 scoring tight end, so Swoope also has breakout potential at his current TE28 ADP.
C.J. Fiedorowicz (HOU): 60.4% – In Bill O’Brien’s first two seasons coaching Houston’s offense, tight ends were an afterthought, accumulating less than 13% of the Texans’ targets. In 2016, Brock Osweiler failed to grasp O’Brien’s complicated offense and instead chose to throw panicked passes to his tight ends, who jumped up to a 30.5-percent target share.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback for the Texans look for the overall number of passes intended for Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin (45.1%) to plummet. This makes Fiedorowicz a dicey fantasy pick this season.
Austin Hooper (ATL): 39% – With Jacob Tamme (31.7%) no longer in Atlanta, Hooper is expected to take on the vast majority of Tamme’s 329 snaps. Levine Toilolo (54.9) led the Falcons’ tight ends in snaps but is a blocking specialist who drew only 19 targets. Currently the TE19 in early ADP, Hooper has top-15 potential and is a nice target for fantasy leaguers who wait to address the tight end position.
Ben Watson (BAL): N/A – Another season-ending injury to Dennis Pitta (71.5%) frees up 811 offensive snaps for Baltimore’s tight ends. Last year, the Ravens led the NFL in pass attempts and Pitta was the No. 8 PPR tight end.
Watson, who missed 2016 with an Achilles injury, is the favorite to command the most playing time, but Crockett Gillmore (21.7%) could also see significants snaps. If a Ravens’ tight end emerges as the starter in the preseason, he stands to play a pretty significant role and makes for an intriguing late-round value pick.
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Jody Smith is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jody, check out his archive and follow him @JodySmithNFL.