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Fantasy Football Trends & Takeaways: Alvin Kamara, Calvin Ridley, Tyler Higbee (Week 5)

Fantasy Football Trends & Takeaways: Alvin Kamara, Calvin Ridley, Tyler Higbee (Week 5)

Hello and welcome to the Week 5 edition of Hoppen to Conclusions! This is where I, Sam Hoppen, will share some of my favorite charts, which are designed to give you an overview of the NFL landscape. These charts, along with the commentary that I provide, aim to help you make start or sit, DFS lineup construction, betting picks, or any other fantasy football decisions. There can be a lot of noise in fantasy football analysis, but these charts have been carefully selected to give you some of the most relevant and useful decision points.

Each of the charts has been designed in a way that you want to target players and teams that are in the top-right quadrant of the chart as denoted by the dotted black lines, which signify the median value for the stat on either the x-axis or y-axis. Before getting to each of the charts and analyses, here are some brief descriptions of what you will find on each chart and how to interpret them.

  • Team Pace and Plays: Compares a team’s average plays per game to its pace over expected, using seconds per play as a measure of pace. On the chart, the y-axis flipped to show faster-paced teams (running plays faster than expected) on top. Simply put, teams (and overall matchups) with more plays and faster pace will offer more opportunities for fantasy point-scoring.
  • Team Pass Rates: Compares a team’s pass rate over expectation (PROE) to its red-zone pass rate. Here we can identify which teams are passing the most when game script isn’t a deciding factor and when they get close to the goal line.
  • Running Back Usage: Compares rushing expected fantasy points per game to his receiving expected fantasy points per game, with the size of the player’s point as his snap percentage. I use expected fantasy points as a measure of one’s workload in that specific area of the game, so it can help us discern which players are getting strong rushing or receiving workloads.
  • Wide Receiver & Tight End Usage: Compares player weighted opportunity rating (WOPR) to his yards per route run (YPRR), with the size of the player’s point as his routes run rate (as a percent of the team’s dropbacks). WOPR weighs both air yards share and target share to evaluate a player’s opportunity, while yards per route run is a measure of one’s efficiency with the routes (and targets) he’s given. The charts show the same information for both the wide receiver and tight end position.

Fantasy Football Trends & Takeaways

Team Pace and Plays

  • This Sunday afternoon we get a matchup of a good team (the Detroit Lions) against a bad team (Carolina Panthers). These are two teams that rank in the bottom half of the league in pace over expected (playing slower than expected) as well as neutral script no-huddle rate. While Carolina’s 71.8 plays per game may seem impressive, their 40.6% play success rate leaves a lot to be desired. Carolina also ranks 26th in PROE at -2.9% this season, and when they do pass they allow the 5th-highest rate of pressure at 41.1%. Facing a Lions defense that is fifth at generating pressure means Carolina could struggle to score if they get down early and are forced to pass. Meanwhile, the Lions’ -7% PROE is second-lowest in the league, so we know how they’re going to handle getting a lead: running the ball and draining the clock. Detroit should have little issue running against the worst-ranked defense in rushing EPA per play, so I expect this game to be an easy victory for Detriot without them feeling pressure to score a ton.
    • Action: bet under 45 total points
  • The Cincinnati Bengals, man. Just an abject disaster of a season so far, and it doesn’t look to be getting better. The Bengals’ 33.2 seconds per play in neutral scripts ranks 30th in the league and, while some other great teams are playing slow (Miami, Buffalo, San Francisco), Cincinnati can’t move the ball to save their life. With a 52.3% drive success rate (percent of drives that earn at least one first down or record a touchdown), the Bengals’ offense is better than only that of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cincinnati still has one of the highest PROE values (see below), but their 40% passing success rate ranks fifth-worst and, a season after ranking 7th in explosive pass rate, they rank dead last with a 3.2% explosive pass rate. You still should start Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Mixon (and Tee Higgins when healthy) in season-long leagues, but I’m not targeting them in DFS by any means.
    • Action: fade all Bengals players in DFS

Team Pass Rates

  • In the past two seasons with Kellen Moore as their offensive coordinator, the Dallas Cowboys had a PROE of -2%. Through four weeks of 2022, Dallas currently sits at -2.6%, but just had their highest single-game PROE of the season in Week 4. Dallas’ schedule is about to ramp up, though. After starting the season with the easiest schedule (per ESPN’s FPI), their rest-of-season schedule is the second most difficult. I mention this because Dallas hasn’t been forced to push the ball through the air as all three of their wins this season have come by at least 20 points. According to PFF, Dallas’ tough schedule is based more on facing better offenses than an elite stretch of defenses, so one can hope that these opponents will push Dallas to pass more. This would benefit CeeDee Lamb greatly, as he’s seen more than six targets in a game just twice this season after failing to do so in only three games last year. This has benefit Jake Ferguson, who has exactly seven targets in three of four games this season, putting him at a solid 18.5% target share (second on the team). Ferguson is still only running a route on 58.7% of the team’s dropbacks, giving him a solid 0.28 TPRR, so hopefully we see that increase. Michael Gallup (77% routes run) and Brandin Cooks (80% routes run) are still on the field, but they are most dependent on the Cowboys’ pass volume increasing. Still, I’m buying into the Cowboys’ passing attack if I’m in need of receiving production.
    • Action: buy Dallas Cowboys pass-catchers
  • Heading into the season, fantasy prognosticators were excited at the prospect of the Baltimore Ravens’ new-look offense under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken. In the first two weeks, Baltimore’s PROE was at 0% and 3.0%, but the Ravens’ tendencies have reverted to their old self with PROE totals of -4.6% and -9.2% in the past two games. This could be a symptom of Baltimore dealing with injuries to their wide receivers (Odell Beckham has been out the past two weeks while Rashod Bateman was out in Week 4). On the bright side, the decreased passing has come with an increase in rushing for Lamar Jackson. Jackson has totaled nine and six designed rushes in the past two games after having just six designed rushes in the first two games combined. Though he only had four targets, Zay Flowers had a 13.8-yard average depth of target in Week 4, which is encouraging after Flowers was targeted very close to the line of scrimmage in Week 3. Flowers, who is running a route on over 90% of the team’s dropbacks and has a very healthy 28.4% target share is the only worthwhile part of the Ravens’ passing attack outside of Jackson and Mark Andrews.

Running Back Usage

  • Alvin Kamara returned to action for the New Orleans Saints on Sunday and his usage was interesting, to say the least. For the sixth time in his career, Kamara recorded at least 10 receptions (he finished with 13 catches on 14 targets), but it only resulted in a mere 33 yards. He added to that 11 carries for 51 rushing yards and, most notably, handled 92.3% of the running back touches for the Saints. With Jamaal Williams out, both Kendre Miller (two touches on a 7.6% snap share) and Tony Jones (zero touches on a 16.7% snap share) were relegated to irrelevance. The Saints recorded just one offensive play in the red zone on Sunday (a four-yard catch by, who else, Kamara), so it remains to be seen how the Saints use their backs near the goal line. While I don’t expect the volume of the workload to continue for Kamara, I do think the Saints will continue to give him the vast majority of the touches. Even if most of the touches are receptions, that’s valuable enough to be a fringe RB1 the rest of the way.
  • Philadelphia’s backfield was one of the more oft-discussed backfields of the offseason as they brought in both D’Andre Swift and Rashaad Penny after letting Miles Sanders walk in free agency. With Penny a healthy scratch in Week 1, Kenneth Gainwell was given 82% of the running back touches. Then he got hurt and missed Week 2, opening the door for Swift. Since then, it’s been Swift’s backfield as he has earned 31, 18, and 18 opportunities in the last three games. Gainwell has still been involved with 38% of the backfield touches in the past two weeks, but this is pretty clearly Swift’s backfield for now. Swift’s 4.75 HVTs per game ranks ninth among running backs with at least two games played this season. That said, it’s pretty evenly split between Swift and Gainwell in the receiving game as they have run a route on 48% and 42% of dropbacks, respectively, over the past two games that they’ve played together. In the end, this is currently a two-man backfield on an offense that should continue to be near the top of the league in scoring, making each of them worth a roster spot (and worth a starting spot in Swift’s case).
  • They were supposed to be better than this. They were the chosen ones. The Lions talked all offseason about how the ways in which they used Jahmyr Gibbs would shock the world. And that just…hasn’t been the case. It’s frustrating to see the Atlanta Falcons, notorious for ignoring draft capital in player usage, treat Bijan Robinson like a workhorse and the key engine of their offense. Granted, that’s the Falcons’ dream game flow (running the hell out of the ball) and he was a much better prospect coming out, but Atlanta has consistently used Robinson in passing situations (he’s tied for the team lead in targets so far). Using lookahead betting lines, Detroit is more than a three-point (or more) underdog in just three of their remaining 13 games. Gibbs’ value proposition (in both fantasy and to the Lions) is as a pass catcher. While he’s run a route on 44.5% of the team’s dropbacks, David Montgomery (known much less so as a receiving back) is at a 44.7% rate – make it make sense. All this to say, if you can find someone who still believes in Gibbs’ preseason prospects and hype, try to sell.

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Wide Receiver Usage

  • Calvin Ridley got off to a blazing-hot start this season with a receiving touchdown as part of an eight-catch, 101-yard performance in the season opener. Since then, Ridley has recorded just seven catches for 110 yards and another receiving touchdown. In those three games, he has had eight, seven, and two targets (though Ridley was also targeted 40 yards downfield Sunday which resulted in a 40-yard defensive pass interference penalty). Still, Ridley ran a route on every dropback Sunday (and leads the team with an 89% routes run rate this season), so he’s consistently on the field. In London, I suspect the Falcons’ heavier use of man coverage is what led to a scheme-driven approach to Christian Kirk (eight catches on 12 targets for 84 yards) having the bigger day. The Jaguars also needed just 30 pass attempts to win on Sunday, and the Bills will put much more pressure on Jacksonville to score while being a more zone-heavy defense that Ridley can find the gaps in. He should have no issue bouncing back in their second London game.
  • Things are pretty bleak in New York, but let’s put their wide receiver group under the microscope real quick. So far, no Giants wide receiver has recorded more than six total targets in a single game. In fact, so far this season, Giants wide receivers as a whole are earning a 58.3% target share, the 10th-lowest rate in the league. The receiver with the most stable workload so far has been Darius Slayton, who has run a route on 80% of the team’s dropbacks and has been above a 70% rate in every game this season. That said, his five-target-per-game average is fourth on the team overall. Parris Campbell is averaging 5.2 targets per game but has just a 4.0 aDOT that severely limits his ceiling. He’s also seen his route participation drop in each of the past two weeks at the expense of the guy who I think is the most intriguing of the bunch, Wan’Dale Robinson. Robinson missed the first two games of the season as he was still recovering from his late-season ACL tear in 2022. He was eased in with a 24% routes run rate in Week 3 but ran a route on 63% of dropbacks in the Monday Night Football debacle. It makes sense that Campbell’s workload suffered with Robinson back as he also has an appallingly low 3.4-yard aDOT. Still, I’m intrigued by the second-year receiver if he can start to separate himself and earn more targets as a potential PPR threat.
  • So far this season, the Las Vegas Raiders have been the most concentrated passing attack in the league by a long shot. Three of their players — Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, and Josh Jacobs — make up a whopping 77% of the team’s total targets this year. All three of the players mentioned have at least 25 targets this season, with Adams leading the bunch with 50 total targets (in four games, that number is absurd). This past week, Aidan O’Connell filled in for an injured Jimmy Garroppolo and showed the same tendencies. The Vegas trio combined for 28 of O’Connell’s 39 attempts, so the trend should hold regardless of who is under center for the Raiders. The only other name to keep an eye on, should there be an injury, is Hunter Renfrow. In the one game that Meyers missed, Renfrow ran a route on 76% of dropbacks (but only earned one target). Until that time comes, though, he can remain on the waiver wire.

Tight End Usage

  • Tyler Higbee, fresh off of a new contract extension, had his highest-usage game of the season. Though it still wasn’t his best fantasy performance, Higbee was targeted a team-high 11 times in the overtime game against the Colts. So far this season, Higbee has consistently run a route on around 90% of the team’s dropbacks, but he has consistently been the team’s third receiving option (sometimes fourth behind Kyren Williams). Now, the Rams are closer to getting Cooper Kupp back, and, not for nothing, Higbee got his thumb banged up a little bit in Week 4 (though it doesn’t appear to be serious). Since the start of 2022, Higbee has just three receiving touchdowns and with the Rams leaning more run-heavy in the red zone (see chart above), it seems unlikely he’ll have a touchdown-heavy season.
  • This offseason, the thesis behind Chigozeim Okonkwo improving as a fantasy asset was driven by the expectation that he’d run a route on more than his rookie-season rate of 32% of dropbacks. So far, that’s more than doubled with a routes-run rate of just over 70%. Regretfully, that hasn’t come with an increase in targets as he’s gotten just 13 targets across four games this season. Tight end is a bleak position once again, but you can do much better than Okonkwo at this point, especially with Tennessee

Quick Hops

  • Josh Jacobs‘ 11 HVTs were third-most on the week thanks to his eight receptions. The buy-low window on him is long gone and he looks like he’s back to his former RB1 status.
  • The Cardinals threw the ball 41 times against the 49ers on Sunday (by far a season-high). This turned into a big day for Michael Wilson, who caught all seven of his targets for 76 yards and two touchdowns. He looks legit and I’m adding him where I can.
  • In the first game without Mike Williams, Josh Palmer (100% of routes run) and Quentin Johnston (71% of routes run) saw massive bumps in usage. That said, Palmer led the team in targets with eight while Johnston only earned three, bringing his season-long total to 11 targets. I still believe Johnston could win out in this position battle long-term and think there’s a new buy-low opportunity on him given the Chargers head into their bye this week.

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