What Does Team Scoring Mean to Fantasy Football?
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, then took Saquon Barkley as a top-two pick in both 2019 and 2020. Heck, people were drafting Le’Veon Bell at No. 8 overall when he signed with the Jets in 2019.
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.
The research behind this study goes through the last nine 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 324 running backs and wide receivers, 216 quarterbacks, and 108 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 fewer 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.
|RB Finish||# of Players||T-6 Off.||T-12 Off.||T-18 Off.||T-24 Off.||Bottom-10|
This chart tells a story, and it’s that team scoring matters a ton 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 fantasy running backs come from those teams. To break this down simply, a running back is twice as likely to finish as a top-six running back if he plays for a top-12 scoring offense.
James Robinson was just the fourth player in the last nine years to finish as a top-six running back while playing for a team that was outside the top-18 in offensive scoring. What did it take for him to get there? An 87 percent touch share when he was on the field for the Jaguars, a number that really doesn’t exist in today’s NFL, highlighting why he was an outlier in this study. If you’re looking for a true breakout candidate who has elite upside, start by looking at the teams who are projected to score the most points.
Even if we move to the top-12 running backs on a per-game basis, the top-12 offenses – that make up just 37.5 percent of the league – account for 60.2 percent of RB1 production. If you can correctly predict which teams will finish top-12 in scoring, you can identify which running backs should be drafted in the first few rounds. Of the 108 running backs who’ve finished top-12 in the last nine years, just 13 of them have come from bottom-12 scoring offenses, which amounts to 1.4 per season. Knowing it’s possible Christian McCaffrey might be on a bottom-12 scoring team, that means you might get one more. If you think you can correctly identify that one player, more power to you, but the odds are stacked against you. Players going in/near RB1 territory whose offenses concern me this year include Saquon Barkley, Antonio Gibson and D’Andre Swift.
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 7.4 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, Chris Carson, and Jonathan Taylor the last few years. Players who are on projected top-scoring offenses this year that are being drafted outside of the first few rounds include: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, J.K. Dobbins, Ronald Jones/Leonard Fournette, Raheem Mostert/Trey Sermon, Chris Carson (again), and Zack Moss.
|WR Finish||# of Players||T-6 Off.||T-12 Off.||T-18 Off.||T-24 Off.||Bottom-10|
This chart may not be as dramatic as the running back chart, but there’s still a ton to take away from it. The number I’m drawn to is the 84.3 percent of WR1s come from top-18 scoring offenses. Think about that for a minute… 91-of-108 WR1s over the last nine years have come from top-18 scoring offenses. What that stat highlights is that it’s highly unlikely for a receiver to be part of a below-average offense and produce WR1 numbers. Which wide receiver has done that in each of the last two seasons? Allen Robinson. It sure helps that he’s received 150-plus targets in each of the two seasons, but he’s still defying odds.
When looking at early 2021 ADP, we can try to identify wide receivers whose offense may lack upside to get them into the WR1 conversation despite being drafted as a top-24 option. Allen Robinson continues to defy odds, but it’s a knock against him. He needs to hope Justin Fields takes over sooner rather than later, though Andy Dalton is an upgrade over what they had. Terry McLaurin should benefit from Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, but will they be a top-18 scoring offense? Kenny Golladay going to the Giants shouldn’t be considered a great thing for his fantasy value, as I’m not sure the Giants are a top-20 scoring offense.
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 75.4 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. Last year, this article helped us identify D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Calvin Ridley, and Diontae Johnson as values with WR1 upside. Players who are on projected top-scoring offenses this year that are being drafted outside of the top three rounds include: Chris Godwin/Antonio Brown, Amari Cooper/CeeDee Lamb, Odell Beckham Jr., Cooper Kupp, and Ja’Marr Chase/Tee Higgins.
|TE Finish||# of Players||T-6 Off.||T-12 Off.||T-18 Off.||T-24 Off.||Bottom-10|
At a position where only the top-12 matter, it’s tough to say anything with much certainty, though top-12 offenses continue to shine, producing 61.1 percent (33-of-54) of the top-six tight ends in fantasy football. Again, those teams make up just 37.5 percent of the teams in the NFL. However, we do see 19.4 percent of the top-12 finishers come from bottom-10 scoring teams, which is the highest rate at any position. It’s still a knock against those on low-scoring teams because bottom-10 makes up 31.3 percent of the league, but not nearly as much as the knock for those at wide receiver and running back. Team scoring matters to the tight end position, yes, but not as much as the other positions.
|QB Finish||# of Players||T-6 Off.||T-12 Off.||T-18 Off.||T-24 Off.||Bottom-10|
“Duh, Mike.” 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 nine years, there’s been just three quarterbacks who’ve posted top-12 numbers while on a bottom-10 scoring offense, and exactly zero quarterbacks to finish top-six. Even lowering the bar a bit to a top-18 scoring offense, 98 out of 108 QB1s over the last nine years came from those offenses who were average or better.
The quarterback position is the most important one on the football field and it shows in this study. Of the 108 quarterbacks who have finished inside the top-12 over the last eight years, only 54 of them could’ve played in top-six offenses (obviously, because six teams multiplied over nine years). The craziest stat of this whole thing is that 42 of those 54 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 77.8 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 2.8 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 2021?” 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.
|1||Kansas City Chiefs|
|4||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|5||Green Bay Packers|
|11||San Francisco 49ers|
|12||Los Angeles Rams|
|15||New Orleans Saints|
|20||Los Angeles Chargers|
|21||Las Vegas Raiders|
|24||Washington Football Team|
|26||New York Giants|
|28||New England Patriots|
|29||New York Jets|