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What Does Team Scoring Mean to Fantasy Football?

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Jul 10, 2020

Alvin Kamara has a great chance to finish as a top-six running back in 2020

One thing that continually blows my mind is just how little thought some put into what team or coach a player plays for. A few years ago, I wanted to find out just how much team scoring mattered to fantasy football? Can a player on a bad team be a fantasy superstar? And if so, what are his range of outcomes, and even more importantly, what’s most likely?

It seems elementary to understand that the more points a team scores, the more fantasy points that will be available to that player, but many overlook this simple equation. How do I know that? Well, everyone drafted David Johnson as a top-five pick in 2018, and then in 2019 took Saquon Barkley as the No. 1 overall pick, as well as Le’Veon Bell with the No. 8 overall pick.

It’s not to say you’re crazy for taking those players there, but understanding what team scoring means should help you decide between two players. This can apply to players you’re viewing as potential breakout candidates or those who should be considered as high-bust potential.

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The research behind this study goes through the last eight years of data on the top 36 running backs and wide receivers, top 24 quarterbacks, and top 12 tight ends, which gives us a rather large sample size of 288 running backs and wide receivers, 192 quarterbacks, and 96 tight ends. This is based on a per-game basis, as injuries can severely impact fantasy outcomes at year’s end. I’ve also eliminated those who played in less than four games, as that small of sample size can skew the final results. Let’s go position-by-position, as the results were significant at certain positions.

RUNNING BACKS

RB Finish # of Players T-6 Off. T-12 Off. T-18 Off. T-24 Off. Bottom-10
Top-6 48 39.6% 70.8% 85.4% 95.8% 6.3%
Top-12 96 32.3% 60.4% 76.0% 90.6% 11.4%
Top-18 144 29.2% 52.8% 70.1% 86.8% 18.8%
Top-24 192 24.0% 44.3% 64.1% 81.3% 23.4%
Top-30 240 22.5% 42.9% 62.5% 80.4% 23.8%
Top-36 288 22.9% 43.4% 62.2% 80.6% 25.0%

 

This chart tells a story, and it’s that team-scoring matters a lot to running backs. Let’s do the math here: There are 32 teams in the NFL. The top-12 teams make up just 37.5 percent of the league, yet somehow, 70.4 percent of top-six running backs have come from those teams. To simplify the information, a running back is twice as likely to finish as a top-six running back if he’s on a top-12 scoring offense.

Christian McCaffrey was the third player in the last eight years to finish as a top-six running back while on a team outside the top-18 in scoring, highlighting just how unrepeatable that season is/was. Him and Saquon Barkley are the only players over the last three years who’ve been able to crack the top-six while on a team that’s outside the top-15 scoring teams. Bottom line – if you’re looking for breakout elite production, start scoping out the high-scoring teams.

Even moving beyond the elite tier of running backs and extending it to the top-12 at the position, we say top-12 scoring offenses (again, just 37.5 percent of the league) produce 60.4 percent of the RB1s. If you can predict which teams will finish top-12 in scoring, you can likely identify which running backs should be in your first few rounds. Of the 96 running backs who’ve been RB1s over the last seven years, just 11 of them have come from bottom-10 scoring offenses. Players going near RB1 territory who I’m concerned about because of this include Austin Ekeler, Le’Veon Bell, Leonard Fournette, Melvin Gordon, and Josh Jacobs.

The primary takeaway from running backs is that team-scoring absolutely matters, and it should factor into your drafting process. If you know a running back is extremely talented but on a horrible offense, you must understand that it’s very unlikely he finishes inside RB1 territory, and even more rare for him to finish top-six at his position. A 6.3 percent chance, to be clear. If you’re on the clock and are left deciding between two running backs, go with the one who has the better quarterback, as his offense is likely to score more points. This process helped us find Aaron Jones and Chris Carson last year. Players who are on projected top-scoring offenses this year that are being drafted outside of the first few rounds include: Clyde Edwards-Helaire/Damien Williams, Chris Carson, Todd Gurley, Mark Ingram/JK Dobbins, Jonathan Taylor, Raheem Mostert, and Ronald Jones/Ke’Shawn Vaughn.

WIDE RECEIVERS

WR Finish # of Players T-6 Off. T-12 Off. T-18 Off. T-24 Off. Bottom-10
Top-6 48 31.3% 56.3% 83.3% 91.7% 10.4%
Top-12 96 37.5% 62.5% 83.3% 91.7% 10.4%
Top-18 144 34.0% 58.3% 77.8% 89.6% 14.6%
Top-24 192 31.8% 56.8% 76.5% 89.6% 15.1%
Top-30 240 27.9% 52.1% 69.6% 86.2% 18.3%
Top-36 288 25.7% 48.3% 67.7% 84.3% 19.5%

 

This chart doesn’t pop as much as the running back chart did, though there are still things tilting towards the higher-scoring offenses. We’ve already established that the top-12 offenses make up just 37.5 percent of the teams in the NFL, so when you see that 60-of-96 WR1s (62.5 percent) over the last eight years have come from those teams, you should understand the importance of team scoring. Extending it to the top-18 offenses, we see them account for 80-of-96 WR1 (83.3 percent) performances. Over the last three years, there have been just two receivers who’ve finished as WR1s on a bottom-10 scoring team. Odell Beckham in 2017 and DeVante Parker in 2019.

When looking at early 2020 ADP, we can try to identify wide receivers who may lack upside to finish as a WR1 despite being drafted inside the top-24 at their position. Keenan Allen is one who worries me, as the team finished No. 21 in team-scoring last year, and we cannot pretend that Tyrod Taylor/Justin Herbert will be an upgrade over Philip Rivers. Terry McLaurin is a favorite of many, though his chances of finishing as a top-12 receiver are very slim. The same can be said about D.J. Chark. Meanwhile, Allen Robinson and Courtland Sutton are two who could be flirting with bottom-10 territory.

There’s a steep drop-off at the running back position once you get outside the elite territory, but it’s not as steep at wide receiver. If a receiver is on a top-12 scoring offense, they have a great chance to finish as a WR1, while those on bottom-10 scoring teams are facing an extremely uphill battle. All the way down to the top-24, there’s still 77.8 percent of them who come from top-18 scoring offenses (account for just 56 percent of the league). Like running backs, you ideally get players attached to high-scoring offenses. If torn between two players in the same area, lean towards the one in the higher-scoring offense. Players who are on projected top-scoring offenses this year that are being drafted outside of the first few rounds include Marquise Brown, D.K. Metcalf/Tyler Lockett, T.Y. Hilton, Calvin Ridley, and Diontae Johnson.

TIGHT ENDS

TE Finish # of Players T-6 Off. T-12 Off. T-18 Off. T-24 Off. Bottom-10
Top-6 48 33.4% 60.4% 72.9% 85.4% 18.8%
Top-12 96 23.9% 46.9% 70.8% 85.4% 19.8%

 

At a position where only the top-12 matter, it’s tough to say anything with much certainty, though top-12 offenses shine here as well, as 60.4 percent of TE1s come from just the top 37.5-percent scoring teams. It’s worth noting that Rob Gronkowski skewed the numbers a bit, finishing as a top-six tight end in points per game in 6-of-7 years on a high-scoring Patriots team. We still see nearly 20 percent of TE1s come from bottom-10 scoring teams, so it’s definitely not impossible for them, as that amounts to 2-3 per season. Scoring matters to the tight end position, but not as much as the running back and wide receiver positions.

QUARTERBACKS

QB Finish # of Players T-6 Off. T-12 Off. T-18 Off. T-24 Off. Bottom-10
Top-6 48 52.1% 89.6% 97.9% 100.0% 0.0%
Top-12 96 38.5% 74.0% 90.6% 100.0% 3.1%
Top-18 144 31.2% 61.8% 81.3% 94.4% 10.4%
Top-24 192 26.6% 51.6% 71.9% 90.1% 15.6%

 

This is the position that might be the most obvious, as the quarterback controls what the offense produces in the end. But the question most should ask themselves is, “can a quarterback put up top-12 numbers even if he’s on a low-scoring team?” To answer that question, I give you an emphatic “no.” Throughout the last eight years, there’s been exactly zero quarterbacks to finish top-six while on a bottom-10 scoring offense.

Lowering the bar even more, there have been just three quarterbacks who’ve been able to finish top-12 over the last seven years while being a part of a bottom-10 scoring offense. To be fair, one of them came last year when Josh Allen finished as the No. 10 quarterback in points per game while managing the league’s No. 23 scoring offense. It took him nine rushing touchdowns to get there.

The quarterback position is the most important one on the football field and it shows in this study. Of the 96 quarterbacks who have finished inside the top-12 over the last eight years, only 48 of them could’ve played in top-six offenses (obviously, because six teams multiplied over eight years). The craziest stat of this whole thing is that 37 of them finished as top-12 quarterbacks. Quarterbacks control their own team, as well as their own fantasy finish, no matter who their running back is. If you project a team to finish as a top-six scoring team, there’s a 77.1 percent chance that team’s quarterback will be a QB1. If you project a team to finish as a bottom-10 scoring team, there’s just a 3.1 percent chance they finish as a QB1.

WHAT IT ALL MEANS

After seeing the charts above, you likely understand that team-scoring matters quite a bit to fantasy football. While some positions matter more than others, when torn between two players, lean towards the one in the better offense. But Mike, which teams will be high scoring in 2020? I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have some projections as to who will finish where, which you can find below. Use this as a loose guide when putting together your rankings and know that history doesn’t lie; you want players on high-scoring offenses.

Projected Finish Team
1 Kansas City Chiefs
2 New Orleans Saints
3 Baltimore Ravens
4 Seattle Seahawks
5 Dallas Cowboys
6 Green Bay Packers
7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
8 Indianapolis Colts
9 Philadelphia Eagles
10 Arizona Cardinals
11 San Francisco 49ers
12 Minnesota Vikings
13 Atlanta Falcons
14 Pittsburgh Steelers
15 Cleveland Browns
16 Tennessee Titans
17 Los Angeles Rams
18 Detroit Lions
19 Houston Texans
20 Carolina Panthers
21 Buffalo Bills
22 New York Giants
23 Cincinnati Bengals
24 Chicago Bears
25 Las Vegas Raiders
26 New England Patriots
27 Denver Broncos
28 Jacksonville Jaguars
29 Miami Dolphins
30 Washington Redskins
31 New York Jets
32 Los Angeles Chargers

 


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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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