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Examining Meaningful Splits in Fantasy Football: QB & TE

Aug 13, 2019

“(Peyton) Barber scored six touchdowns through 11 games with (Jameis) Winston and he scored zero touchdowns in five games without him.”

This will be the first of a three-part series where I examine meaningful splits for players based on other players being in or out of the lineup. Today we will focus on player splits with a quarterback or tight end teammate in and out of the lineup. It isn’t enough to just look at a player’s prior seasons to determine what their value is going forward. We must try to take into account coaching, player, and other team changes that happen from season to season. In this series, I will focus on some of the player changes we should consider for this upcoming season.

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Exclusion Player: Lamar Jackson

Splits Player(s): Baltimore Ravens Running Backs

A glaring example will be my first topic of this article, Lamar Jackson. If you look at last season as a whole for the Ravens, you are doing yourself a great disservice. It was very clearly a tale of two halves. Things changed drastically when Lamar took over the starting job in Baltimore.

This instance is a little different in that I am comparing Lamar Jackson games started to games he didn’t start, rather than games he was active or inactive. Also, we are looking at entire skill positions and not just one specific player to split stats on.

Below is a table comparing Ravens running back totals with Joe Flacco under center and Lamar Jackson under center.

Per Game Averages
Ravens RB Stats Games RB DVP Rush Att Rush Yds YPA Rush TD Rec Rec Yds YPR Rec TD TD FP Non-TD FP FP
Joe Flacco Start 9 23.6 22.2 79.1 3.6 1.2 7.3 53.1 7.2 0.3 9.3 16.9 26.2
Lamar Jackson Start 7 16.4 27.6 149.7 5.4 0.6 2.4 18.4 7.6 0.0 3.4 18.0 21.5

The running backs had an extra five carries and 70 rushing yards per game with Jackson at the helm. Even with Jackson averaging a historic 15 carries per game as a quarterback, the running backs still had plenty to feast upon. The yards per attempt also increased from 3.6 to 5.4 under Lamar. This is all while noting that the average opponent defense vs RB was significantly softer with Flacco under center. We all know and expect these running backs to be more efficient and receive higher volume under Jackson. If they dial back his rushes per game (which they should), some of those plays will become passes, but some will become running back carries.

The two areas of downfall for the running backs with Lamar starting were receptions and touchdowns. Receptions per game dropped from 7.3 to 2.4 under Lamar. This drop-off is even more astonishing than I thought it would be before I started this research. Part of this dip comes from the fact that the Ravens went from a high-volume offense to a low-volume offense under Lamar. The Ravens threw the ball 41.8 times on average under Flacco, and 22.6 times on average under Lamar. A lot of this was planned, but some were due to game script. With a record of 4-5 under Flacco, the Ravens were playing catch-up often. At 6-1(OT loss to the chiefs), the Ravens were never chasing down their opponents at the end of games.

How about all of those touchdowns? Yes, Lamar Jackson did vulture four touchdowns from the running backs in the seven games he started. With the slower pace under Lamar and the lack of touchdowns from all of the skill position players, you would think they scored fewer points per game. They actually scored slightly more points per game with Jackson starting.

Where did these touchdowns go? In nine games under Flacco, the Ravens scored zero defensive and special teams touchdowns. In seven games under Lamar, they scored four. I do expect Lamar to hurt the touchdown upside of the running backs a little bit, but I don’t think it will be as drastic as what we see in the table above.

Factoring everything in, these Ravens running backs have a big opportunity to carry a massive load this season. I will be drafting a lot of Ravens running backs this season. In best ball, I have a few tournament lineups where I have taken two or three of Mark Ingram, Justice Hill, and Gus Edwards.

Exclusion Player: Lamar Jackson

Splits Player(s): Baltimore Raven’s Wide Receivers

Per Game Averages
Ravens WR Stats Games WR DVP Rec Rec Yds YPR Rec TD TD FP Non-TD FP FP
Joe Flacco Start 9 14.8 14.7 183.2 12.5 0.8 4.7 25.7 30.3
Lamar Jackson Start 7 16.4 6.3 71.3 11.3 0.4 2.6 10.3 12.8

I will not need to spend as much time on this one. Lamar Jackson starting really hurts the value of all Baltimore Ravens’ wide receivers. This was astonishingly bad production for a position group. The group of John Brown, Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and Chris Moore is by no means a good one, but we’re not certain that this year’s group is much better. It isn’t like the Ravens were suddenly playing great passing defenses under Lamar either. The average opponent defense vs WR was about the same under both quarterbacks. There should be a little bit of improvement in Lamar’s passing ability this year, but this is still going to be a run-focused team. Outside of Marquise Brown or Miles Boykin as a very late-round pick, I will be staying away from these receivers for fantasy purposes.

Exclusion Player: Carson Wentz

Splits Player(s): Zach Ertz

Per Game Averages
Zach Ertz Stats Games TE DVP Snaps Tgt Rec Rec Yds YPR Rec TD FP
With Carson Wentz 11 12.7 61 9.6 7.5 79.5 10.7 0.5 14.9
Without Carson Wentz 5 15.8 66 10.0 6.8 57.8 8.5 0.4 11.6

Zach Ertz had a great season in 2018, finishing as the overall TE2 in PPR and Half-PPR formats. He reeled in 116 receptions for 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns. Ertz did this while playing five games with Nick Foles and 11 games with a banged-up Carson Wentz. Wentz was coming off a torn ACL & LCL in 2017 and also was dealing with back issues through most of the 2018 season. Even with Wentz hampered by injuries all season, Ertz still performed much better with Wentz starting.

Taking Ertz’ pace with Wentz over a full season, Ertz would have trailed Kelce by only five points in Half-PPR scoring in 2018. The average opponent defense vs TE was just slightly tougher against Wentz too. Dallas Goedert is nipping at Ertz’ heels and there are weapons all over the field for Philadelphia, but expect any dip in volume to be made up for by an increase in catch percentage and yards per reception from last season. You should feel safe taking him as a top-3 tight end option for the 2019 season.

Exclusion Player: Jameis Winston

Splits Player(s): O.J. Howard

Per Game Averages
O.J. Howard Stats Games TE DVP Snaps Tgt Rec Rec Yds YPR Rec TD FP
With Jameis Winston 4 11.3 50 5.8 4.5 68.8 15.3 0.5 12.125
Without Jameis Winston 5 13.4 44 4.4 3.2 58.0 18.1 0.6 11

O.J. Howard played in 10 games in 2018, but there are only nine games listed in the table. In week 4, Howard only played 15 snaps in the first half and then exited the game. Winston only played the second half, so I excluded this game from the table. As we can see from the table, Howard was targeted a little over four times per game with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, while he saw close to six targets per game with Winston.

Howard had 15.3 yards per reception with Winston and 18.1 yards per reception with Fitzpatrick. Both are outstanding, but the numbers with Fitz are slightly skewed due to a 75-yard touchdown that should have been about a 20-yard completion if the Eagles hadn’t missed several easy tackles. The 194 fantasy points Howard was on pace to score over 16 games with Winston would have landed him in fourth place last year among tight ends. There was a negligible difference in defense vs TE among the groups of games played with and without Winston. Winston and Howard seemed to have a very good connection when both were on the field, and I expect big things from the pair under Bruce Arians in 2019.

Exclusion Player: Jameis Winston

Splits Player(s): Peyton Barber

Per Game Averages
Peyton Barber Stats Games RB DVP Snaps Rush Att Rush Yds YPA Rush TD Tgt Rec Rec Yds Rec TD FP
With Jameis Winston 11 11.7 38 15 60 3.9 0.5 1.9 1.5 6 0.1 10.6
Without Jameis Winston 5 21.6 39 13 43 3.2 0.0 1.6 0.8 4 0.0 5.1

While the schedule was much harder for running backs in games Jameis Winston played in, Barber’s yards per attempt went from a horrid 3.2 without Winston, to a ho-hum 3.9 with Winston. Barber also averaged two more carries and 17 more rushing yards per game with Winston. The biggest difference here is the touchdowns. Barber scored six touchdowns through 11 games with Winston and he scored zero touchdowns in five games without him. I think this Bucs offense will score more in 2019, but which running backs will be getting the touches?

Barber started the first drive of the first preseason game along with Winston. He played eight of the 12 snaps in that drive, including the first seven and the touchdown pass to Chris Godwin. Ronald Jones got the other four snaps in this drive. Both running backs looked decent in their limited appearances. Figuring out which way the touches go in this backfield will yield a cheap RB2/RB3.

Exclusion Player: Greg Olsen

Splits Player(s): Christian McCaffrey

Per Game Averages
Christian McCaffrey Stats Games RB DVP Snaps Rush Att Rush Yds YPA Rush TD Tgt Rec Rec Yds YPR Rec TD FP
With Greg Olsen 9 15.8 60 12.2 65 5.3 0.6 7.7 6.6 57 8.7 0.6 22.2
Without Greg Olsen 7 18.7 61 15.6 73 4.7 0.3 7.9 6.9 50 7.3 0.1 18.4

McCaffrey faced a slightly tougher schedule with Greg Olsen in the lineup. He got a little less work with Olsen in the lineup too. McCaffrey averaged 3.5 fewer carries and 0.2 fewer targets per game when Olsen played. However, McCaffrey was much more efficient with his touches when Olsen was there to block or take attention away in the passing game. He went from 4.7 rushing yards per attempt without Olsen to 5.3 yards per attempt with Olsen. His yards per reception jumped from 7.3 to 8.7. The drop in volume and increase in efficiency kind of canceled each other out.

The big difference again came with touchdowns. McCaffrey averaged 0.4 touchdowns per game without Olsen and 1.1 touchdowns per game with. The 22.2 fantasy points per game McCaffrey averaged with Olsen in the lineup would have had him second in Half-PPR scoring, only to Todd Gurley. Gurley is expected to see a decent reduction in volume, so it is easy to see why some people have McCaffrey at number one overall in their rankings.

Next time, we will take a look at player splits with a running back teammate in or out of the lineup. Spoiler alert: Melvin Gordon being out had a big effect on several players.

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Steven Roy is a featured writer for FantasyPros. For more from Steven, follow him on Twitter @Rockhead_Roy.

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