Extreme Wide Receiver Fantasy Point Variances

Aside from the fantasy playoffs, redraft and dynasty leagues can be viewed from a macro level where you can survive two or three bad weeks or roster decisions and succeed.  That’s quite the contrast from daily fantasy where every option on a slate is put under a microscope and one mistake can make or break your week. 

NFL players have their own tendencies where they perform better in various scenarios whether it be as a favorite or underdog, playing at home or in hostile territory, or when their respective team wins or loses a game.  We’re going to explore which players at each position performed at their best or worst in various situations from last season to try and help us discover ideal roster opportunities in daily lineups.  Note that these figures can vary from year to year when someone who performed better indoors the year before now suddenly performed better outside the following year.  Viewed in another light, these figures can be interpreted as an extension of consistency rankings.  

This piece isn’t just exclusive to DFS and has a place in non-DFS leagues where an available free agent may be in a better spot to perform than a rostered option that should be on the bench for a specific week.  This will be the final part of the three-part series that concludes with the wide receiver position and only evaluates those that played a minimum of 12 games. 

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN A STRAIGHT-UP WIN

Robby Anderson: 5.86: The Jets didn’t win much in 2018 but when they did, Robby Anderson was involved as he registered a touchdown in three of those four victories.  He closed out the campaign strong and given another offseason with second-year starter Sam Darnold, their chemistry can only continue to flourish.

DeAndre Hopkins: 5.57: Opposing secondaries  that were able to somewhat stymie Nuk held him to 82.8 receiving yards and .4 touchdowns in Houston losses.  Those that fell to his wrath allowed 105.27 receiving yards and .82 touchdowns in Houston wins.  Hopkins and Davante Adams were the only two receivers to maintain a floor of 12.4 fantasy points in every game they suited up.

Jordy Nelson: 4.9: We hadn’t been accustomed to seeing Jordy Nelson without Aaron Rodgers and from Week 5-Week 12, it wasn’t a pretty sight.  In three Raider wins that he played, he maintained a double-digit FPPG average while he was boom or total bust in 12 losses.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN A STRAIGHT-UP LOSS

JuJu Smith-Schuster: 8.89: Antonio Brown had a +1.37 FPPG differential in Steeler losses but still posted more fantasy production in games they were victorious.  Meanwhile, JuJu’s variance was much more extreme at a +8.89 FPPG differential in defeats as well as generating more production in those losses.  JuJu had a solid sophomore season as the WR8 in PPR scoring and put on a display in losses that he erupted for over 30+ fantasy points against Kansas City, Oakland, and Denver.

Tyreek Hill: 6.8: He generated 17 catches for 357 yards and five touchdowns in two shootouts against the Patriots and Rams that resulted in Chiefs losses.  Since 2017, Kansas City is 3-5 straight-up when their defense surrenders 30 points or more, a scenario Tyreek Hill thrives in as he has registered 20+ fantasy points in five of those eight matchups.

D.J. Moore: 4.06: His ceiling game of 28.7 fantasy points in a loss to the Lions was the major cause of this variance for the rookie receiver out of the University of Maryland.  His only competition at the position looks to be Curtis Samuel as he looks to build on a successful rookie campaign and possibly take the reins as the #1 receiver in Carolina.  

SMALLEST WIN/LOSS VARIANCE

Alshon Jeffery: +.07: While consistent in this metric in 2018, Alshon Jeffery has shown a more positive correlation in production with Nick Foles throwing him the football vs Carson Wentz doing so since 2017.  Whether Foles remained with the Eagles or not, Jeffery will compete for looks with Zach Ertz, Wentz’s preferred option and the team leader in receptions each season since Wentz was drafted in 2016.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN HOME GAMES

Amari Cooper: 10.37 (Cumulative with Oakland and Dallas): One of the ultimate boom or bust receivers throughout his career in Oakland, that attribute carried over when Amari Cooper was dealt to Dallas.  However, when he did erupt, it was in the friendly confines of the Oakland Coliseum/AT&T Stadium as 68.46% of his receiving yards as well as seven of his eight touchdowns came in home games.  

Brandin Cooks: 8.73: He had a positive correlation in games at Gillette Stadium in his brief stay with New England but as Jared Goff’s home/road splits were drastic, so were Brandin Cooks as his +8.73 FPPG differential at the L.A. Coliseum demonstrated.  He had nearly two times as many receptions in home games at 53 compared to 27 receptions on the road in 2018.

Michael Thomas: 8.52: While the inverse occurred in 2017, Michael Thomas flourished in games at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to the tune of a +8.52 FPPG differential in games at that venue in 2018.  Drew Brees regressed back to his norm in games inside the fast-paced dome last year and that translated to a strong positive correlation in home games for both the future first ballot Hall of Famer and his trusty receiver.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN AWAY GAMES

Antonio Callaway: 8.89: Callaway was a non-factor in games at FirstEnergy Stadium as his 3.89 FPPG average in eight games played strongly suggests.  He was serviceable on road trips as he saw almost double the amount of receptions in road games as well as registering all of his five touchdowns away from Cleveland.

JuJu Smith-Schuster: 8.56: Victim of another strong correlation, JuJu was as useful in games the Steelers played outside of Pittsburgh as he was in games that they were defeated.  He posted crooked numbers in hostile territory with a floor of 14.8 fantasy points and posting 20+ fantasy points in five of eight road matchups.

Alshon Jeffery: 7.68: Like Antonio Callaway, Alshon Jeffery was another receiver that was nonexistent during the home portion of the Eagles 2018 schedule, a variance that became more extreme from 2017.  He saw 6.14 receptions and .71 touchdowns in seven road games vs 3.66 receptions and .17 touchdowns in six games at Lincoln Financial Field. 

SMALLEST HOME/ROAD VARIANCE

Curtis Samuel: +.16: He’s at worse the #3 receiving option for the Panthers behind  Christian McCaffery and D.J. Moore heading into 2019 but was the best in home/road consistency among evaluated receivers.  He was a low-ceiling fantasy option but when given additional snaps beginning in Week 12, Curtis Samuel maintained a solid floor of 11.2 fantasy points in five of those six games.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN GAMES WHEN THE RESPECTIVE TEAM IS A FAVORITE

Amari Cooper: 13.88: (Cumulative with Oakland and Dallas): Amari Cooper will have his breakout games as he has shown but Zeke being the focal point of the Dallas offense reduces his output some weeks.  Two of his three breakouts in 2018 were when his respective team entered the game as a favorite, averaging 71.2 receiving yards and 1 touchdown in four of those instances vs 40 receiving yards and 0 touchdowns in the underdog role.  

Nelson Agholor: 11.03: This variance reoccurring in 2019 would be quite the surprise as Nelson Agholor was rendered useless to the tune of .9 fantasy points in two games the Eagles went in as underdogs.  With the exception of the final two weeks, 2018 was a disappointing campaign that saw his touchdown receptions slashed in half from 2017

Allen Robinson: 6.46: The Allen Robinson that slaughtered the Eagles in the divisional round only appeared once in regular season action as his days of being drafted in the first four rounds may be over.  In fact, in PPR scoring, he finished just 1.4 fantasy points ahead of Taylor Gabriel for the WR1 on the Bears.  His variance exists largely due to the carnage he created against the Lions secondary in Week 10 last year.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN GAMES WHEN THE RESPECTIVE TEAM IS AN UNDERDOG

Tyreek Hill: 20.5: Since 2017, the Chiefs are 4-3 in games they enter getting points from their opponents with Tyreek Hill averaging a ridiculous 31.18 FPPG in six games in that role; he didn’t suit up Week 17 against the Broncos in 2017 as the Chiefs were locked in as the #4 seed.  He’s crossed the pylons at least one time in each of the last six instances he played in a game the Chiefs were underdogs.

Mike Williams: 11.25: Tyrell Williams departing for Oakland slots Mike Williams as the #2 wide receiver for the Chargers.  Underdog performances against the Rams and Chiefs saw the former 7th overall pick out of Clemson average eight catches for 78.5 yards and two touchdowns, a main contributor to Williams possessing this large differential.

Michael Thomas: 9.14: As Drew Brees saw a +11 FPPG differential in three games the Saints were underdogs, Michael Thomas was just as insulted in that role as he had a floor of 19.9 fantasy points in those matchups.  The Saints should be favored in nearly every game in 2019 with the exception of an NFC Championship rematch against the Rams, a secondary Michael Thomas torched for a 12/211/1 clip in Week 9.

SMALLEST FAVORITE/UNDERDOG VARIANCE

Jordy Nelson: +.29

The Raiders version of Jordy was a sad sight to behold after years of success with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.  Age and injuries have caught up with him and it’s no surprise to see him enter retirement after a successful 11-year career that netted him a Super Bowl ring in 2010.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL AGAINST TEAMS RANKED IN THE TOP HALF IN PASS DVOA

Amari Cooper: 10.29: Back for a third mention, Cooper wrecked havoc on some of the stronger secondaries as he posted 20+ fantasy point performances in five of six occurrences against defenses ranked in the top half in pass DVOA.  It’s maddening that he couldn’t put those performances together against the weaker secondaries but again, Zeke touching the ball as much as he does can be attributed to this issue.

Robert Woods: 8.29: Robert Woods was at his best when the secondaries were of the tougher variety.  While Brandin Cooks better correlated against defenses in the bottom half in pass DVOA, Woods was the opposite as he posted 87.2 yards and .5 touchdowns in 10 games against the top half vs 57.83 receiving yards and .17 touchdowns in 6 games against the bottom dwellers.  

Mike Williams: 7.67: Against 10 defenses that the Chargers faced that ranked in the top half in pass DVOA, Mike Williams saw double-digit fantasy points in PPR scoring in seven of those games.  Despite injuries that hampered his rookie season, Williams rebounded nicely and will syphon some of the 64 targets that Tyrell Williams leaves behind.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL AGAINST TEAMS RANKED IN THE BOTTOM HALF IN PASS DVOA

Calvin Ridley: 8.03: He was on pace for 24 touchdowns at the conclusion of Week 4, a sure sign that regression would and did strike as Calvin Ridley only had four touchdowns in the final 12 games.  He thrived against defenses in the bottom half in pass DVOA, averaging 14.02 yards per catch to complement his 61.7 receiving yards and .9 touchdowns per game vs 10.2 yards per catch, 34 receiving yards, and .17 touchdowns per game against the better half.

Christian Kirk: 6.54: Nearly an identical situation as Calvin Ridley, Christian Kirk was more effective against the weaker defenses in his rookie campaign.  While Ridley knows who will be throwing him the ball in 2019, Kirk awaits to see if Josh Rosen will be traded and the Cardinals take Kyler Murray with the first overall pick in Nashville in a few weeks.

Odell Beckham Jr.: 6.54: His situation certainly improves as he moves on from an aged Eli Manning to a blossoming Baker Mayfield.  Regardless, Eli always made it a point to target OBJ throughout his time in New York, more so against the weaker secondaries that saw the former Giant average 100.33 receiving yards and .83 touchdowns per game against bottom-half pass DVOA defenses last year compared to 75 receiving yards and .17 touchdowns against stiffer competition.

SMALLEST PASS DVOA VARIANCE

Adam Thielen: It was the tale of two seasons as the first eight games saw Adam Thielen average 25.38 FPPG while that number regressed to 13.16 FPPG in the final eight.  Dalvin Cook may have been a factor as Thielen posted a 9.6/111.4/.8 clip in 5 games Cook was inactive vs a 5.91/74.18/.45 clip in 11 games Cook suited up.  Regardless, Thielen posted stellar performances against superior and inferior defenses in 2018, especially in the earlier portion of the campaign.

WHO WERE THE MOST CONSISTENT WIDE RECEIVERS OF 2018?

This portion of the article is reserved for those who demonstrated a consistency in all of the above metrics.  As the WR9 in PPR scoring, Mike Evans rebounded from a disappointing 2017 campaign and reached double-digit fantasy points in 12 of 16 contests in 2018.  With the exception of a variance just shy of three in top-half vs bottom-half pass DVOA opponents, Evans was remarkably consistent with FPPG differentials no greater than 1.25 in the other three metrics.  The Bucs move on from one offensive-minded coach in Dirk Koetter to another in Bruce Arians, one that will continue to benefit Evans moving forward.

As mentioned above, Adam Thielen performed equally well against stingy and porous secondaries.  That consistency also carried over in the other evaluated metrics with variances no higher than three fantasy points.  Thielen has benefitted from Dalvin Cook’s inability to stay healthy in his first two seasons in the league, a positive for Thielen to keep in mind as his ADP currently sits around the end of the 2nd round/beginning of the 3rd round at the time of this writing.

Extreme Running Back Fantasy Point Variances

Aside from the fantasy playoffs, redraft and dynasty leagues can be viewed from a macro level where you can survive two or three bad weeks or roster decisions and succeed.  That’s quite the contrast from daily fantasy where every option on a slate is put under a microscope and one mistake can make or break your week. 

NFL players have their own tendencies where they perform better in various scenarios whether it be as a favorite or underdog, playing at home or in hostile territory, or when their respective team wins or loses a game.  We’re going to explore which players at each position performed at their best or worst in various situations from last season to try and help us discover ideal roster opportunities in daily lineups.  Note that these figures can vary from year to year when someone who performed better indoors the year before now suddenly performed better outside the following year.  Viewed in another light, these figures can be interpreted as an extension of consistency rankings.  

This piece isn’t just exclusive to DFS and has a place in non-DFS leagues where an available free agent may be in a better spot to perform than a rostered option that should be on the bench for a specific week.  This will be part two of a three-part series that continues with the running back position and only evaluates those that played a minimum of 12 games. 

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN A STRAIGHT-UP WIN

James White: 10.43: Dion Lewis heading to Tennessee and Rex Burkhead being injured for most of the season set James White for a career-high 87 receptions in 2018.  Considering his usage out of the backfield and the Patriots unusually lost five regular season games, you’d think this variance would be the inverse.  However, White averaged 5.9 receptions in wins vs 4.4 of them in losses.  

Marlon Mack: 9.25: When the Colts were victorious last season, Marlon Mack played an important role in those games.  He was rarely used out of the backfield which translated into horrible fantasy performances in games the Colts lost as Mack’s 10 carries and 0 touchdowns per game would indicate.  In games the Colts won, he saw 17.5 carries and averaged 1 touchdown per contest.

Philip Lindsay: 8.41: The undrafted rookie out of the University of Colorado turned heads when he averaged 6.14 yards per carry in the first two weeks against Seattle and Oakland.  Lindsay definitely turned heads in Bronco victories as he posted 102.33 rushing yards and 1.16 touchdowns compared to just 47 rushing yards and .22 touchdowns in Bronco losses

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN A STRAIGHT-UP LOSS

Tarik Cohen: 8.63: Matt Nagy utilized his talented pass catching back more than Dowell Loggains did in the Bears mundane offense in 2017.  Tarik Cohen had some solid games in those that the Bears won but he was much more impactful in ones that the Bears lost.  He saw more than double the receptions in Bears defeats at 7.5 per game compared to 3.42 of them in Bear victories.

Christian McCaffery: 7.81 (Excluding Week 17): It’s hard to believe that Carolina was 6-2 at one point before a tumultuous seven-game losing streak ruined the season.  At 30.79 FPPG in PPR scoring during that tailspin, Christian McCaffery was the #1 overall fantasy performer with 215.5 fantasy points, 27.9 points more than Ezekiel Elliott who was #2 in that seven-week span. 

Alvin Kamara: 6.54: Alvin Kamara didn’t suit up in Week 17 so he was only part of two of the three games the Saints lost in the regular season.  A large part of this variance is from Kamara’s season-best 43.1 fantasy point performance of 2018 in a Week 1 loss to the Buccaneers.  It will be interesting to see how he is utilized now that Mark Ingram has departed via free agency and replaced with Latavius Murray.

SMALLEST WIN/LOSS VARIANCE

Saquon Barkley: -.4: The rookie out of Penn State was a high floor, high ceiling option that was as reliable in five Giant wins as he was in 11 Giant defeats.  He surpassed double-digit fantasy points in PPR scoring in all but one game last year and exceeded 20 fantasy points a remarkable 12 times.  He is a true gamescript-independent back with a bright future at the pro level.  

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN HOME GAMES

Austin Ekeler: 8.46: Ekeler was nonexistent in games away from the StubHub Center.  In front of the home crowd, Ken Whisenhunt made sure to incorporate his pass catching back in the game plan.  69.2% of Ekeler’s receptions, 80.2% of his receiving yards, and 83% of his total touchdowns all occurred in home games last season.

Sony Michel: 7.35: The Patriots went undefeated at Gillette Stadium in 2018 which translated into an abundance of positive gamescript for Michel to operate.  He saw 19.5 carries for .83 touchdowns in home games compared to 13.29 carries for .14 touchdowns in hostile territory.

James White: 5.95: Gillette Stadium was where White excelled as he had a solid floor of 13.4 fantasy points along with eight of his 12 total touchdowns in 2018 occurring in Foxboro.  Those that rostered him in the divisional round weren’t the least bit surprised when he posted 15 catches against a Chargers defense susceptible to running backs out of the backfield.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN AWAY GAMES

Dion Lewis: 5.34: While Derrick Henry’s splits favored him playing at Nissan Stadium, the contrary applied to Dion Lewis who was more productive in enemy territory.  64.6% of his scrimmage yards along with all of his touchdowns took place outside of Nashville.  He certainly cashed in on his career year in New England in 2017 as he only hit double-digit fantasy points six times with the Titans after doing so eight times the year before.

Peyton Barber: 5.21: The Buccaneers rushing offense wasn’t anything to brag about in 2018 as Buccaneer running backs averaged 3.9 yards per carry, tied for the second-fewest with the Eagles.  Barber averaged 43.25 yards on the ground at Raymond James Stadium but was more useful in road games with 65.63 yards per game and four of his six touchdowns occurring in enemy territory.

Kenyan Drake: 4.33: Drake’s home/road rushing attempts and yards were all but identical but he was more involved out of the backfield in road games as the Dolphins went 1-7 away from Hard Rock Stadium.  Not to mention 67% of his touchdowns came in road affairs, a trend that carried over from 2017 as 75% of his touchdowns were road ones.

SMALLEST HOME/ROAD VARIANCE

Melvin Gordon: -.22: After nearly registering a double-digit variance that favored rostering him in road games, Gordon was the most consistent running back in this metric.  An MCL sprain in Week 12 put a damper on what was an incredible season for the fourth-year running back out of the University of Wisconsin.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN GAMES WHEN THE RESPECTIVE TEAM IS A FAVORITE

Joe Mixon: 11.58: 24.12 FPPG in PPR scoring as a favorite vs 12.54 FPPG as an underdog, no one saw a greater variance in this category than Joe Mixon as his Bengals went 4-1 in games they were favored.  He made his presence felt in those games as he converted 23 touches per game as a favorite into 1.4 touchdowns vs 18.33 touches per game as an underdog into .22 touchdowns.

Marlon Mack: 9.26: As indicated above, there was a strong positive correlation in Marlon Mack’s performance when the Colts won and that correlation is just as strong in games the Colts are favored.  9 of his 10 touchdowns took place with the Colts listed as a favorite along with a +6.67 touch differential for Mack in those games.  

Mark Ingram: 8.7: With the emergence of Alvin Kamara, 2018 was a disappointing season for Mark Ingram who went from 18 touches per game in 2017 to 13.25 touches last year.  Those who rostered him in matchups the Saints were underdogs were burned to the tune of a minuscule 4.9 FPPG when in that role compared to 13.6 FPPG when the Saints were favorites.  He’s bound for a rebound season in a Baltimore offense that should be rush-heavy with Lamar Jackson under center.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN GAMES WHEN THE RESPECTIVE TEAM IS AN UNDERDOG

Ezekiel Elliott: 9.73: Zeke possessed the highest variance as a favorite in 2017 with a +15.8 FPPG differential in games the Cowboys were favored.  He was on the opposite side of the spectrum last season as he posted the highest differential in games the Cowboys were getting points from their opponent.  Zeke averaged 131.75 scrimmage yards per game as an underdog with seven of nine touchdowns in that role.

Kenyan Drake: 6.95: In four games that the Dolphins were favorites, Kenyan Drake saw 7.75 touches for 35.75 scrimmage yards and .25 TDs.  He was much more productive when the Dolphins were underdogs as his 11.83 touches for 72.41 scrimmage yards and .66 TDs indicates.

Jordan Howard: 5.98: His yards per carry dropped from 4.06 in 2017 to 3.74 in 2018 and now finds himself as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.  Not known for his work out of the backfield, he was more efficient in games that Chicago was an underdog with a floor of 11.3 FPPG in PPR scoring.

SMALLEST FAVORITE/UNDERDOG VARIANCE

Christian McCaffery: +.03 (Excluding Week 17): For those running backs that don’t see work out of the backfield, glancing over weekly spreads can be an indicative measure on what to expect from a certain player.  When your running back leads the league in receptions and targets, Christian McCaffery’s has a role whether the Panthers are leading or trailing.  Only he and Zeke had a floor of double-digit fantasy points last season after McCaffery had the highest floor among qualified running backs in 2017.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL AGAINST TEAMS RANKED IN THE TOP HALF IN RUSH DVOA

Ezekiel Elliott: 5.35: Against top 10 defensive rush DVOA opponents in Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, New Orleans, and Philadelphia, Ezekiel Elliott plowed his way for a league-best 105.42 rushing yards per game against top-ranked rushing defenses.  Having one of the better offensive lines in the league was a big contributor as well as slaughtering the Eagles to the tune of 132 yards per matchup on the ground.  That line returns intact with the hopes of getting Travis Frederick back from Guillain-Barré syndrome, something that can only help Zeke heading into 2019.

Kenyan Drake: 3.89: Consistency wasn’t Drake’s cup of tea last season as observed above by posting the second-highest variance in games the Dolphins were underdogs and having seven games where he didn’t reach double-digit fantasy points.  However, this variance is a compliment as he posted two of his three best performances against a Texans defense ranked 1st overall in rushing DVOA and a Colts defense ranked 4th.  The hope heading into 2019 is Brian Flores and Chad O’Shea utilizing him more than his 10.81 touches per game with Adam Gase in 2018.

Marlon Mack: 3.03: Used to seeing Mack’s name in this article yet?  He’s back for a third mention as his +3.03 FPPG differential against the better half in defensive rush DVOA last season was the third highest among qualified backs.  With the exception of two matchups against Jacksonville, Mack fared well against defenses that shut down the run, his primary means of producing on the field and in fantasy lineups.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL AGAINST TEAMS RANKED IN THE BOTTOM HALF IN RUSH DVOA 

Nick Chubb: 12.83: Stout rushing defenses were able to contain the rookie out of Georgia last season.  Inferior rushing defenses were subject to a thrashing as Nick Chubb scored all 10 of his touchdowns against defenses ranked in the bottom half in rush DVOA, something to keep in mind next season as eight matchups are against teams in the bottom half of this metric.  The eight doesn’t include two matchups against a Baltimore defense that suffered heavy losses in free agency.

Tarik Cohen: 8.04: He isn’t the primary rushing option in the Bears offense which means he needs to thrive in the passing game.  In six games against top-rated rushing defenses, they contained Cohen to 20 receiving yards and .17 receiving touchdowns per game out of the backfield.  Against the 10 other opponents ranked in the bottom half of defensive rush DVOA, Cohen tripled his receiving yard output and averaged .4 receiving touchdowns in those games.

James Conner: 7.79: Like Nick Chubb, James Conner pummeled those that were unable to shut down running backs.  With a +6.93 FPPG differential in games the Steelers were victorious and a +8.05 differential in games the Steelers covered the spread, it’s no surprise Conner was less impactful in games that featured defenses in the top half in rush DVOA as the Steelers went 2-3 against such opponents with Conner active (2-4 overall) vs 6-1-1 against the bottom half (7-2-1 overall)

SMALLEST RUSH DVOA VARIANCE

Todd Gurley: -.09: Not that you would have considered benching Gurley at any point but there’s a comfort in knowing you’re going to get a consistent level of fantasy production regardless of the opponent.  That’s what Gurley gave his fantasy owners last season with an average of 26.6 FPPG against defenses in both the top and bottom half in rush DVOA.  Now we await further clarification on whether arthritis in Gurley’s surgically repaired left knee will impact him moving forward.

WHO WERE THE MOST CONSISTENT RUNNING BACKS OF 2018?

Naturally, there is more of a positive correlation in running back production in games their respective teams win.  Those that see backfield involvement may see correlations that are stronger in losses, more specifically in PPR leagues than standard ones.  Thus, for determining who was most consistent, three of the other four metrics covered in this article will be used.  However, knowing how your running back is utilized in positive and negative gamescript is critical as you’re not going to roster one that sees no targets in games that you expect a certain team to lose and/or play catchup.

Two running backs stood out above their counterparts in 2018.  Todd Gurley may have burned some unlucky owners in the finals but he was certainly a key component in helping your fantasy team advance to that point.  He was also an automatic roster in the DFS landscape last season regardless of salaries creeping as high as 10K on DraftKings and 11K on FanDuel.  Undoubtedly, Gurley was the most consistent fantasy running back in 2018 as he didn’t possess a variance over one fantasy point in either of the evaluated home/road, favorite/underdog, or top/bottom rush DVOA metrics.  He is an important cog in Sean McVay’s high-octane offense that has the coaching staff and fans praying for a clean bill of health heading into 2019.

Seattle entered 2018 with a crowded backfield that eventually saw Chris Carson emerge as the #1 option.  He will enter training camp as that option but we’ll see how Pete Carroll better utilizes former 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny now that Mike Davis resides in Chicago.  Carson was important in Seattle’s push for a wild card as he had a floor of 13.3 fantasy points in Seattle’s final seven games in which they went 6-1.   In the three metrics being evaluated, Carson had a differential lower than 2.2 fantasy points in each.

Extreme Quarterback Fantasy Point Variances

Aside from the fantasy playoffs, redraft and dynasty leagues can be viewed from a macro level where you can survive two or three bad weeks or roster decisions and succeed.  That’s quite the contrast from daily fantasy where every option on a slate is put under a microscope and one mistake can make or break your week. 

NFL players have their own tendencies where they perform better in various scenarios whether it be as a favorite or underdog, playing at home or in hostile territory, or when their respective team wins or loses a game.  We’re going to explore which players at each position performed at their best or worst in various situations from last season to try and help us discover ideal roster opportunities in daily lineups.  Note that these figures can vary from year to year when someone who performed better indoors the year before now suddenly performed better outside the following year.  Viewed in another light, these variances can be interpreted as an extension of consistency rankings.  

This piece isn’t just exclusive to DFS and has a place in non-DFS leagues where an available free agent may be in a better spot to perform than a rostered option that should be on the bench for a specific week.  This will be part one of a three-part series starting with the quarterback position and only evaluates those that played a minimum of 12 games. 

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN A STRAIGHT-UP WIN

Josh Allen: 11.29: A key to success for the rookie quarterback was the Bills going 5-1 in games he rushed for at least one touchdown.  Defenses that were able to keep him in the pocket were able to shut Josh Allen down as he only averaged 13.8 FPPG in seven Buffalo losses last year.  He’ll need to become a much more effective passer in conjunction with his ability to utilize his legs which should level out this extreme variance.

Dak Prescott: 8.52: Dak had a +4.64 differential in games the Cowboys won in 2017 and that differential increased in 2018.  As Dak goes, so does Dallas as combining passing and rushing touchdowns, he averaged 2.2 touchdowns and .2 interceptions in 10 wins vs 1 touchdown and 1 interception in six losses.

Aaron Rodgers: 6.64 (Excluding Week 17): Certainly a positive regression candidate for 2019, it wasn’t the Aaron Rodgers we’re accustomed to seeing last season as he threw just 25 passing touchdowns, the fewest in a season in which he played 15 games.  Once guaranteed wins for the Packers, the Bears and Vikings are much improved defensively as the team went 0-3-1 with Rodgers averaging 1.25 touchdowns in that span.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN A STRAIGHT-UP LOSS

Mitchell Trubisky: 7.4: Matt Nagy’s impact on Trubisky cannot be understated as the Bears offense in 2017 was simply inept under offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.  The 2nd year quarterback averaged 273 passing yards and 1.66 passing touchdowns in Bears losses this season compared to a horrid 187 passing yards and .62 passing touchdowns in losses in his rookie campaign.  

DeShaun Watson: 3.22: Considering he set the world on fire before tearing his ACL in 2017, regression was bound to hit as he threw for more than two touchdown passes just once last year.  He had five 300 passing yard games, three of them in losses.  Also in games that the Texans lost, Watson averaged 6.48 FPPG with his legs vs 4.79 FPPG in Texan wins.

Patrick Mahomes: 2.79: It’s extremely rare to see an offense score 40 points and 50 points on separate occasions and lose both of those games.  Regardless of the splits, Mahomes undoubtedly will be the first quarterback off the board in every draft come August.

SMALLEST WIN/LOSS VARIANCE

Philip Rivers: +.18: Aside from a rough December, the 15-year veteran was as consistent as he could be last season as he threw for at least two touchdowns in all but three games.  His .18 FPPG win/loss differential was a vast improvement upon the +5.58 FPPG differential he saw in Charger victories last season.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN HOME GAMES

Jared Goff: 10.71: Goff averaged 2.75 passing touchdowns at home vs 1.25 of them away from the LA Memorial Coliseum.  Having played both high school and college ball in beautiful California weather, he fared horribly in two games under 30 degrees last season, averaging a minuscule 6.07 FPPG in those contests.  Keep in mind the Rams take trips to Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland in 2019, venues that can get cold in December if they are required to travel east late next season.

Mitchell Trubisky: 10.64: Trubisky eclipsed 300 passing yards four times in 2018 with three of those occurrences at Soldier Field.  Not to mention throwing for 2.37 passing touchdowns in front of the Chicago faithful vs .83 of them in hostile territory.

Sam Darnold: 9.91: If Sam Darnold played the entire season at MetLife Stadium, he would have measured out as the QB6 in 2018.  To level out this variance, Darnold will need to become more efficient in road games as he threw for 200+ passing yards just once to go along with his .71 passing touchdowns and 1.5 turnovers in hostile territory.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN AWAY GAMES

Patrick Mahomes: 8.36: The Chiefs were a solid defensive unit at the friendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium, allowing just 17.97 points per game.  Removed from there, their atrocious defense that surrendered 34.63 points per game put them in shootouts that assisted the 2018 MVP in generating some of the production that he did in three road losses.

Eli Manning: 6.1: The addition of Saquon Barkley and having ODB for most of 2018 helped Eli put together a better campaign then the dud from 2017.  However, it was the tale of two quarterbacks as road Eli outshined home Eli last season.  Away from MetLife Stadium, Manning threw twice as many touchdowns and committed half as many turnovers compared to playing at home. 

Kirk Cousins: 3.2: Minnesota invested $84 million in guarantees in Kirk Cousins and didn’t get their money’s worth in the first year of the three-year deal.  Other than the two road games against the Packers and Rams, his two best performances of 2018 and the main contributor of this home/road split, it was a less than stellar campaign that was encapsulated by a week 17 loss that knocked the Vikings out of playoff contention.

SMALLEST HOME/ROAD VARIANCE

Ben Roethlisberger: -.06: Big Ben’s spot in this category is shocking considering his splits over the last few years heavily favored him playing at Heinz Field.  He quietly had a great 2018 as the QB3 with his 22.44 FPPG in an offense with James Conner as the starting running back in place of a disgruntled Le’Veon Bell.  The question now becomes how the offense performs without Antonio Brown lining up as a Steeler.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL AGAINST TEAMS OVER .500

Marcus Mariota: 9.84: Truth be told, Mariota has been mediocre at best since coming into the league in 2015.  However, he fared much better against teams that made the playoffs last season as he only surpassed double-digit fantasy points against those under .500 just once in seven opportunities.

DeShaun Watson: 6.5: While the Texans went just 3-4 against opponents with a winning record, the second-year quarterback rose to the occasion in those matchups as he posted 25 fantasy point performances in four of those seven games.  

Jared Goff: 5.85: Aside from being stymied by a tenacious Chicago defense in Week 14, Goff three for over 300 yards against every other opponent that was over .500.  This was a substantial improvement from 2017 as he only did so in two of seven opportunities and continues to show why he was the #1 overall selection in the 2016 draft.

LARGEST DIFFERENT AGAINST TEAMS AT .500 OR BELOW

Josh Allen: 11.2: No one feasted on inferior opponents better than Allen as they had no answer for him scrambling out of the pocket.  Line him up against better competition and they not only kept him in the pocket but prevented him from scoring more than 15 fantasy points just once against an opponent over .500

Aaron Rodgers: 6.34 (Excluding Week 17): Mentioned above as having one of the higher variances in straight-up victories, Rodgers was more successful against weaker opponents, going 5-3 against those under .500.  We’re not used to seeing him struggle against stiffer competition as the Packers went 1-5-1 against those with winning records.

Matt Ryan 6.22: Like the Packers, the Falcons also struggled against opponents over .500 as they went 0-6 against those teams.  Unless it was against the Saints, Matt Ryan was rendered useless against winning competition.  Against those under .500, Matt Ryan eclipsed 20 fantasy points in 9 of 10 opportunities, a big contributor to his QB2 performance of 2018.

SMALLEST WINNING/LOSING RECORD VARIANCE

Case Keenum: -.28: If Case Keenum was consistent in one particular category, it was being awful as his 14.49 FPPG last season would indicate.  John Elway and the Broncos have not remedied their quarterback situation since Peyton Manning retired and will now start their fifth different quarterback in Joe Flacco come September 8th, 2019.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN GAMES WHEN RESPECTIVE TEAM IS A FAVORITE

Derek Carr: 6.69: Yes, the Raiders we’re favored twice last season and one of those games was the shootout against the Browns in which Derek Carr went off for 33.58 fantasy points.  2019 shows promise with the acquisitions of Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams, both substantial improvements from the options that were available to Carr in 2018.

Josh Rosen: 5.87 (From Week 4 On): Things can only improve for an Arizona offense that finished dead last in a multitude of offensive metrics.  In 12 of the 13 games that Josh Rosen entered the matchup as an underdog, he averaged 9.57 FPPG, a main contributor this variance is as high as it is given Rosen only played in one game as a favorite.

Mitchell Trubisky: 5.20: Seeing Trubisky’s name for the third time in this article should hint at his inconsistency.  In games as a favorite, he threw for 2.1 touchdowns vs just .75 of them in the four games that the Bears were underdogs.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN GAMES WHEN RESPECTIVE TEAM IS AN UNDERDOG

Drew Brees: 11.04: The Saints were anything but underdogs in 2018 but when put in that role, Drew Brees put on two of his best three fantasy performances in that role against the Falcons in Week 3 and the Rams in Week 9.  His 29.59 FPPG as a dog trailed only one quarterback to be described below.

Patrick Mahomes: 9.77: When put in the underdog role, the Kansas City offense averaged 42.75 points per game.  Of course their defense put them in a position to have to score at will.  In the four games the Chiefs were not favored, Mahomes averaged a remarkable 34.27 FPPG.

Marcus Mariota: 9.37: It’s almost inexplicable how bad Marcus Mariota performed as a favorite.  His 7.49 FPPG is nearly eight fantasy points worse than the next quarterback with the least fantasy production in that role in Josh Rosen.  It’s extremely difficult to bank on Mariota playing as well as he did against stronger competition in 2019 but also a guarantee he will fare much better against inferior competition.

SMALLEST FAVORITE/UNDERDOG VARIANCE

Baker Mayfield: -.36: Mayfield’s final two games should give the Dawg Pound plenty of hope as he slaughtered the Bengals as an 9.5-point favorite as well as held his own against the Ravens as a 7-point underdog in a game that Baltimore needed to win to advance to the postseason.  Cleveland may have finally figured out the quarterback fiasco that has plagued this franchise for the better part of two decades.

WHO WAS THE MOST CONSISTENT QUARTERBACK OF 2018?

Three quarterbacks come to mind based off the evaluated metrics in this article, the first being the overall #1 pick in the 2018 NFL draft.  Baker Mayfield performed admirably in his rookie season and closed out the second half strong once Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were removed from the equation and replaced with eventual head coach Freddie Kitchens.  With an average of 18.29 FPPG, he didn’t have a variance of over two fantasy points in any metric listed above and now has Odell Beckham as a target heading into 2019.

Philip Rivers was just as reliable as Mayfield as he also didn’t exceed a two point variance in any of the above evaluations.  Remove the final four weeks from the equation and Rivers had a solid floor of 15 fantasy points in the first 12 games.  He was far more consistent than 2017 when he was most efficient in games that the Chargers either won straight-up or were a favorite.

The massive home/road splits were always associated with Ben Roethlisberger but his 2017 splits were volatile in numerous categories.  His win/loss, home/road, and favorite/underdog were at a minimum of 5.6 fantasy points.  Fast forward to last season and he displayed more balance in his QB3 campaign as no variance was greater than three.

Perfect DraftKings Lineup: Defensive and Other Lineup Construction Trends

This five-part series concludes with notable defensive trends as well as some overall lineup construction trends.  While it may not feel or look like it, defense still has a vital role in the league; look no further than Super Bowl 53 when Brian Flores completely shut down Sean McVay’s octane offense.  Defense does win games even in a league that is predicated on offense nowadays as this first trend illustrates.

NO DEFENSE IN THE PERFECT LINEUP LOST ITS GAME

The first two weeks hilariously contained defenses in the perfect lineup that played to ties.  However, coming as no surprise from Week 3 on, the perfect defense won their game straight up.  By predicting who will win games, it can eliminate half of the available pool of defenses to select from.  It’s very rare that the top defense in a week lost its game to the point that it hasn’t happened in fantasy football since Week 4 of 2015 when Detroit amassed 24 fantasy points in a loss to Seattle.

11 OF THE 17 DEFENSES WERE FAVORITES

Like the fans, Vegas is still learning about the 32 teams early on that for as bad as the Bills were offensively in the first half of 2018, they possessed a competent defense that everyone in suicide pools and DFS discovered as 17-point underdogs in Week 3.  Go back to Week 1 in 2017 and Jacksonville made the perfect lineup as six-point underdogs against an awful Tom Savage that ultimately gave DeShaun Watson the starting job.  

Once the first few weeks play out, Vegas has a better pulse on the teams and it shows as no defense heading into their respective perfect game was worse than 3.5-point underdogs.  This trend is an extension of the one listed above and further reduces the pool of suitable options.  It would take balls to start a double-digit underdog as a fantasy defense, the type of balls that less than a percent of people in the Milly Maker had who started the Bills as 17-point dogs.

15 OF THE 17 DEFENSES WERE PRICED NO MORE THAN $3000

Two viable defensive strategies proved effective in 2018.  Rostering the Bears defense each week would have given you nine double-digit fantasy point performances, the most in the NFL.  The other option was rostering the defense against a Cardinals offense that allowed a league-high 10 double-digit fantasy point performances.  Implementing these strategies would be costly as most weeks, the Bears or whoever the Cardinals dueled with were the priciest defenses on the board.

Luckily the best defense on the main slate was over $3000 just twice, demonstrating that paying down at that position can be just as effective as paying up for what are considered to be the top defensive options heading into the week.  Chiacgo and Miami were the top two defenses on the Week 9 main slate with a difference of $1300 in salary and three fantasy points.  That extra salary could find better use in helping to pay up for some top-tiered talent at other positions.  Especially when the top-priced defense was never the perfect defense at any point in 2018.

13 OF THE 17 DEFENSES HELD THEIR OPPONENT UNDER THEIR TEAM TOTAL

In its simplest form, the primary goal of a defense is to keep another team off a scoreboard.  Targeting games with low game totals is one way to go about this process.  Like running back, there is a stronger correlation in utilizing the team totals by rostering defenses against opposing offenses not expected to generate much offense.  The Cardinals were dead last in a variety of offensive categories and metrics last season that it made them a weekly piñata as they only exceeded their team total three times.  

Of course just keeping opponents off the scoreboard won’t be enough to earn a spot in the perfect lineup.  Pitching a shutout nets 10 fantasy points but every defense needed an additional boost to get on the exclusive list.

15 OF THE 17 DEFENSES FORCED MULTIPLE TURNOVERS

Ultimately, the goal of selecting a fantasy defense is identifying the one that has the best chance to hold an opposing offense to as little points as possible while scoring a defensive touchdown.  Forecasting which one will register a pick 6 or special teams touchdown can be as much of a science as meteorologists trying to predict the weather.  Even with the increase in technology and tools, you’d think that they be able to give an accurate report on a daily basis.  Selecting a defense can feel the same way as there have never been more databases and tools for fantasy players to access.  Yet, there are so many variables in 60 minutes of football that determine success and failure for fantasy defenses.  

Let’s not forget the low frequency of defensive/special teams touchdown that occur year after year.  There were 83 occurrences in 2018, an average of 5.18 per week.  Let alone trying to predict who’s going to return a kickoff or punt to the house will be enough to drive one bonkers and is simply not a viable option.

The best course of action in finding a defense that can score a touchdown is selecting ones that best create opportunities to allow that to happen.  12 of the 17 perfect defenses sacked the quarterback at minimum three times, all opportunities that force precious turnovers that increase the opportunity for a defensive score.  In the 15 games in which a defense forced multiple turnovers, nine of them did so in games they scored a defensive touchdown.

Playing on the road, inclement weather, backup quarterbacks, porous offensive lines, and increased wind speeds are just some of the variables that can influence turnovers.  If cognizant of these factors, it can help place you in the best spot to roster the best defense in what can be tough position to project.

OTHER NOTABLE TRENDS

15 OF THE 17 PERFECT LINEUPS FEATURED GAME STACKS

Each main slate featured at least one team stack and that was nearly identical for game stacks as only two of them didn’t feature one.  Of the 21 game stacks that occurred, the most common was an RB+WR which occurred four times followed by an RB+TE and WR+WR stack happening twice.  A variety of other game stacks from WR-WR+WR to QB-RB+WR found their way into the perfect lineup as well as unusual combinations from WR+DEF to RB+DEF.

Stacking as many players from both teams in matchups with low spreads and high game totals is a commonly applied strategy.  Regular season matchups like the Saints-Rams, Chiefs-Rams, and Chiefs-Patriots come to mind though the former two unfortunately weren’t on the main slate.  Like Al Zeidenfeld cleverly professes in these situations, “Play all the dudes.”

Ryan Fitzpatrick and DeSean Jackson formed a stack along with an opposing, underpriced stack of Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara at a Mercedes-Benz Superdome known for some shootouts in Week 1.  The following week saw another shootout where Jesse James and JuJu Smith-Schuster slaughtered a Chiefs defense that hardly played any in 2018 against a Steelers defense that had no answer for the duo of Mahomes and Kelce.  

More often than not, you will have the two or three-player game stacks that frequent the perfect lineup.  The RB+WR variety makes sense in that a running back slaughters a team on his own while the opposing offense utilizes a wide receiver in an effort to play-catch-up; Ezekiel Elliott and Golden Tate in Week 4 are the perfect illustration of this theory.  When the stars align and both offenses are clicking, nothing beats having pieces of both teams in a lineup and watching the DK points accumulate.

THERE WERE ONLY SIX INSTANCES OF BACK-TO-BACK ENTRIES IN THE PERFECT LINEUP

Recency bias plays a factor each and every week in any cash game or tournament.  The competition gets gitty when an Amari Cooper or a Tarik Cohen goes off the week before and then is highly disappointed when these players fail to meet the expectations bestowed upon them from the prior week’s performance.  

Observing from a macro level, taking all of the fantasy positions in 2018 other than the kicker, there were 28 occurrences in which a top-3 performance was duplicated the following week.  This doesn’t include perfect lineup figures but encompasses all of fantasy football players in full-point PPR leagues last season.  Of those 28, just three of them stretched multiple weeks with Todd Gurley posting top-3 performances at his position four weeks in a row along with Drew Brees and Zach Ertz doing so in three-week stretches.  

In terms of frequency, the running back position saw the most with 12 posting top-3 performances in consecutive weeks while the wide receiver had just two in Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill.  With bell cow backs making up a majority of the 12, this reinforces two ideas that were discussed earlier regarding paying up for the top-tiered running backs and paying down at the wide receiver position with the inconsistency at the top of the fantasy point leaderboard for receivers each week.  

There are some variables that impact the low number of back-to-back top-3 performances in the DraftKings perfect lineup.  First, playing on Thursday, Sunday, or Monday night removes those respective players from eligibility on that week’s main slate.  That number of six back-to-back top-3 performances could certainly be higher if the main slate wasn’t limited to just the Sunday afternoon block of games.  Second, salary increases to those who excel the prior week make it more difficult to insert them the following week and still put together the best possible lineup.  Of those six repeat perfect lineup occurrences, running backs represented four of them (Barkley, Gurley, McCaffery, Mixon) while the wide receiver (Thielen) and tight end (Kelce) made up one each.

This teaches us the importance of when the masses zig in one direction, zag in another one.  Naturally it’s easier to go with what’s comfortable and select the player that had an incredible performance the prior week vs the contrary that didn’t post double-digit fantasy points.  If the same players kept repeating their dominant performances, fantasy football would be so easy and predictable that fantasy football analysts wouldn’t be needed and everyone would be printing money in DFS. Another way to understand recency bias is why pay an additional $600-$1000 in salary for a player that excelled the prior week that more likely than not will come back to earth or fall way short of projections? 

THE AVERAGE COST OF THE FLEX POSITION WAS $4135

8 of the 17 perfect flex spots went to running backs who averaged 22.5 touches at an average cost of $4587.  $203.86 per touch isn’t too shabby for trying to squeeze in a player with the last remaining salary available.  Tarik Cohen made it twice as a flex option while those that were in the fantasy playoffs in redraft leagues may recall Derrick Henry’s two games of dominance, one which landed him as a perfect flex off 34 touches and a steal of a $5000 salary in Week 15.

Double tight ends had its spots as five occurrences featured two tight ends making the cut.  Being that it was the most recent main slate, no one would have expected Blake Jarwin’s three touchdown performance in Week 17.  He paired with George Kittle as Kyle Shanahan did whatever it took to feed Kittle towards a record.

Four wide receivers were perfect flex options with two of them pairing with an opposing receiver to form game stacks.  DeSean Jackson and Michael Thomas both went off in a Bayou shootout that saw the Bucs shock the Saints to open the season.  Kenny Golladay has his way with the Panthers secondary while D.J. Moore did his best to duplicate that performance in Week 11

Back around 2015 when both FanDuel and DraftKings invested heavily in television advertising, DK’s commercial would ask who your million dollar player would be.  That commercial referred to the flex position and that low-rostered player that would be the difference maker.  It came in the form of Jesse James, Calvin Ridley, Maurice Harris, and Blake Jarwin at various points of last season.  That commercial still holds credence to this day as 13 of the 17 main slates had one player, not including the quarterback or defense, that was priced under $4000.  

CONCLUSION

While this series was intended to serve as an aid in roster construction, don’t treat it as gospel as these trends as well as offensive and defensive philosophies are subject to change each season.  The NFL is very much a copycat league as those who were looking for a head coach this offseason were trying to find the next Sean McVay.  By the end of the 2019 season, teams with coaching vacancies could be looking for the next Frank Reich or Brian Flores or whoever is the hot name enjoying success and implement their philosophies.

What we know heading into 2019 is that the NFL has become a passing league with quarterbacks and wide receivers posting record numbers in 2018.  While rushing attempts decreased, running backs experienced great success with their utilization out of the backfield which in effect has taken a toll on the tight end position as illustrated in part four of the series.

We can take this knowledge and gear our first few lineups of 2019 towards these trends.  After the first few weeks play out, we can reassess those trends and adjust our lineup construction philosophies if need be.  Staying flexible is an important attribute to have as some of the trends I described may change when I compose this writing following the 2019 season.  As long as we remain keen to what is transpiring on the field, we can remain prepared to generate the best possible lineups in an effort to build the perfect one.

Perfect DraftKings Lineup Tight End Trends

We continue our five-part series with the fourth installment that analyzes a tight end position that leveled out after a horrendous 2017 season.  As many in redraft and dynasty leagues can attest, finding a reliable tight end was quite the endeavor in 2018 after the position was already a dumpster fire the year before.  In fact, 2015 saw 15 tight ends maintain an average of double-digit fantasy points in PPR scoring but that number has dropped to only 13 of them in 2016 to just eight and nine in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

While overall tight end targets and touchdowns have decreased each season since 2015, overall tight end receptions and yards saw a slight bump in 2018 after experiencing the same decreases as the aforementioned targets and touchdowns.  There were 209 tight end touchdowns in 2015 and since that season, that number hasn’t eclipsed 200.

As we discussed in part two of this series, the running back has been integrated more and more into the passing game over the last few years.  Receiving touchdowns from the running back have increased from 94 in 2016 to 108 and 120 in 2017 and 2018, respectively.  Circa back to 2016 when total running back and tight end receptions were nearly identical with 2,516 of them at running back and 2,484 at tight end.  Since that season, running back receptions are up an average of 242 per year while tight end receptions are down an average of 169.  

This helps explain some of the reasoning why tight end fantasy production has been on the decline.  The running backs are syphoning work from their tight end teammates, especially when some of them are the best offensive asset on their respective teams and deserve additional work.  It also validates taking a top-tier tight end in fantasy drafts as early as the second round when Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, and George Kittle all led their offenses in receptions and targets.  The drop off after those three is pretty significant and one can only hope Eric Ebron continues what was an unexpected 2018 season and O.J. Howard rebounds from his season-ending foot and ankle injuries.

This first tight end trend should come as no surprise after reading the intro to this article.  While you were able to find bargains that did pay off, there was safety in paying up for the top options that delivered more than they disappointed.  

12 OF THE 22 PERFECT TIGHT ENDS REPRESENTED THE TOP FIVE IN SCORING AT THE POSITION IN 2018 IN FULL POINT PPR FORMATS

The struggle at this frustrating position could also be felt in the DFS community.  For the first half of 2018, rostering Zach Ertz or Travis Kelce yielded excellent returns as they represented the perfect tight end in five of the eight weeks when both were available on the main slate.  These two continued to dominate in the second half but an injury to Jack Doyle opened the door for the usually unreliable Eric Ebron to post his best season at the NFL level which generated two spots on the list.  Kittle had a December to remember as the top tight end in the final month and one that helped make money for those that rostered him in Weeks 14 and 17.

Ertz, Kelce, Kittle, and Ebron combined to make up half of the perfect tight ends with soon-to-be free agent Jared Cook sneaking into the list in Week 4 to complete the 12 occurrences from the top 5 at the position in 2018.  Pending the Week 1 schedule, the former three should represent the priciest options on the first main slate of 2019.

15 OF THE 22 TIGHT ENDS WERE PRICED UNDER $6000

Even the better tight end options had some pricing errors that made them so enticing, they couldn’t be passed up.  Travis Kelce was inexplicably priced under $6000 in Week 2 as he went off for 32.9 DK points.  Eric Ebron wasn’t correctly priced until week 13 as the DFS community took advantage of this low cost with Jack Doyle lost for the year.  George Kittle was slightly discounted at $5500 when he destroyed the Broncos to the tune of 210 yards and a touchdown.

As maddening as the position could be, 15 of the 17 weeks in 2018 featured at least one tight end not named Ertz or Kelce that scored 20+ fantasy points; Weeks 8 and 15 had no one eclipse that mark.  Like the wide receiver, this shows there were some perfect options that didn’t require breaking the bank in order to get to the coveted bell cow backs.  Austin Hooper took advantage of a Buccaneers defense that was extremely inept against the position prior to defensive coordinator Mike Smith being fired at the low cost of $3500.  Kyle Rudolph had dominated at Ford Field to the tune of 17.56 FPPG in his last three at that venue prior to the 2018 matchup that saw him continue that trend with a 36.2 DK point performance.  $3400 was the cost to roster his best performance of the year.

THE AVERAGE NUMBER OF RECEPTIONS PER GAME FOR THE TIGHT ENDS WAS 7.73 

This figure is nearly identical to the average number of catches for the perfect receivers.  The ceiling was 16 catches by Zach Ertz who slaughtered the Texans while Eric Ebron needed three touchdowns off as few as four touches to cement his spot in perfection.  There’s no secret here, paying up means obtaining a solid floor of volume while rolling the dice on a cheaper option can pay off but is certainly a riskier proposition; ask those that rostered Matt LaCosse and Anthony Firkser who both posted goose eggs in favorable matchups in Week 13 and 15 respectively. 

HOUSTON, CLEVELAND, OAKLAND, DENVER, AND MIAMI EACH ALLOWED TWO TIGHT ENDS IN THE PERFECT LINEUP

All five of these teams have been repeat offenders in the top 10 in FPA to tight ends since 2017.  Cleveland’s spot on this list should come as no surprise as they’ve been inside the top 10 in FPA in each of the last three years.  The Browns looked to have remedied their issues in the first eight games but allowed 17.81 FPPG in the second half to the position.  Pending where Jared Cook lands in the offseason and Gronk’s decision to continue to suit up or retire, the Browns tight end schedule eases up in 2019 as they would only face two tight ends inside the top 10 in FPPG in 2018 in George Kittle and Vance McDonald.  

Oakland and Denver fall victim to facing Travis Kelce twice a year which explains part of their heartache.  Still, the Broncos allowed a tight end playing his first game in the NFL in Will Dissly and an aged Antonio Gates to have their best performances of the season while the Raiders let a cornucopia of Ravens and Colts tight ends destroy them.  The Dolphins will benefit from a retired Gronk if that indeed happens but still deal with Zach Ertz and an Indianapolis offense that almost doubled up every team in touchdowns thrown to the position last season.  The Texans have dates with that same Colts offense and Travis Kelce who the Texans have failed to contain in three of four career matchups.

CONCLUSION

When August comes around and you get to the second round of redraft leagues, you will be faced with the decision of taking one of the big three tight ends or playing the crapshoot at the position.  That’s the same scenario DFS players will face weekly in 2019.   

Playing the defensive matchups can work to your advantage as the last trend indicates where paying down is viable.  However, that’s the headache in what can be an unreliable position.  Will you pay up for the consistent Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz, or let it ride on a cheaper option in a favorable matchup?  Hopefully our struggle is alleviated with the emergence of more reliable tight end options as the 2019 season unfolds.

DFS in Review: Perfect DraftKings Lineup Wide Reciever Trends

Part 3 of the series reviews a wide receiver position that rebounded from a real life and fantasy perspective from 2017.  As a whole, wide receiver receptions, yards, and touchdowns saw sizable increases in 2018.  Also notable, wide receiver rushing attempts and rushing yards had substantial bumps from the prior year.

As you will discover from this piece, the position can be a roller coaster to evaluate each week.  44 different receivers made the perfect lineup out of a possible 55 occurrences.  Compared to the running back and tight end positions that saw 62% and 64% of its respective slots represented by different players, 80% for wide receivers shouldn’t be too surprising.  Especially when you consider there are at least two reliable receivers on most teams vs a single bell cow back or tight end that is heavily relied upon.

Some of these receiver trends aren’t as concrete as those that were presented in the previous two articles of the series regarding the quarterback and running back positions.  The wide receiver position displays more variables that show the fickle nature of the position.  At times, these variables can make it feel rather unpredictable as the trend below and others discussed in this article will illustrate.

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THE PERFECT WIDE RECEIVERS COMBINED FOR A RECORD OF 29-24-2

Tyreek Hill was the WR1 in Week 10 in a win that he did nearly all of his damage when the game was still within reach for the Cardinals.  In opposite fashion, Taylor Gabriel caught two touchdown passes in what already a rout against the Buccaneers.  Remaining cognizant to how coaches and coordinators approach and utilize their passing games in positive gamescript can be critical when a game gets out of hand.  Some may like to keep the foot on the gas while others may be content running the ball and draining clock. 

Negative gamescript can move one from six DK points and WR63 for the week and boost him all the way up to 23 DK points and WR8 on a deep throw in hopes of a late rally.  Of the 50 perfect receivers that did score a touchdown in their respective games, 30 of them did so when their team was trailing.  This isn’t breaking news but sometimes, a reminder of the obvious can be a cure for the overthinking that is possible on a week-to-week basis.  In this case, rostering receivers that are expected to be in a close game or playing from behind.

Defenses that possess a strong competency in stopping the run may be more targeted via the wide receiver.  Take the Saints as they surrendered the fourth fewest FPA to running backs but hemorrhaged the most fantasy points per game to opposing receivers.  These stout rushing defenses can funnel additional passing attempts and create more opportunity for damage through the air, especially when the secondary is a porous one.  The Saints allowed four perfect receivers with their inability to contain the position.

As evidenced, a lot goes into deciding which receiver to choose.  Where the perfect running backs show a positive correlation towards winning their respective games, it’s nearly a 50/50 proposition with their wide receiving counterparts.  Of course, none of this matters if there isn’t opportunity to make a difference on the field.

THE AVERAGE NUMBER OF RECEPTIONS PER GAME FOR THE WIDE RECEIVERS WAS 7.96 

Targets are fantasy gold that create opportunities for wide receivers to produce.  Without them, that receiver serves no purpose in lineups, especially when running backs are seeing increased touches and roles in the offense.  With the limited amount of opportunities they have each week, it is critical for receivers to capitalize on those balls thrown to them.  

For those that achieved perfection, the average number of receptions per game was 7.96 off 10.23 targets.  Michael Thomas saw a perfect lineup ceiling of 16 receptions in Week 1 while Tyrell Williams needed as few as three of them to do his damage.  Of course, Tyrell needed more than three receptions for 118 yards to get on that list by scoring two touchdowns on the day.  It’s no surprise that 50 of the 55 wide receivers on the list posted at least one touchdown. 

35 OF THE 55 WIDE RECEIVERS WERE PRICED AT $6000 OR LOWER

Considering 21 of the 34 perfect running backs, not including flex options, we’re priced over $7000, inexpensive wide receivers needed to be rostered and were available each week.  In fact, at least one perfect wide receiver was priced as low as $5000 in all but one main slate in 2018; Week 2 was the only week that featured all receivers over $6000.  

Needless to say, a wide receiver under $6000 won’t land a team’s #1 option in most cases.  However, a team’s second or third made the perfect lineup in 15 of 17 weeks as 44 different receivers made the list.  Targeting susceptible cornerbacks comes into play in identifying those cheap receivers that have favorable matchups.  P.J. Williams, M.J. Stewart, and Jalen Mills were just some of the corners that were weekly targets in the 2018 DFS landscape.  One secondary fell victim to more perfect receivers than the other 31 teams and resides in a division with strong quarterbacks and receiving corps.

CAROLINA ALLOWED SEVEN PERFECT WIDE RECEIVERS

In one corner sits Matt Ryan with his lethal perimeter receivers in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.  In another contains the surgical duo of Drew Brees and Michael Thomas.  Don’t forget about Jameis Winston and his trio of talented receivers in Mike Evans, Adam Humphries, and Chris Godwin; it remains to be seen if DeSean Jackson returns in 2019.  That’s a tall order of firepower for any secondary to endure in 6 of 16 games.  

The damage inflicted upon a Panther secondary that was in the top 5 in FPA to perimeter receivers wasn’t just limited to divisional foes.  Kenny Golladay got the best of them at one point as well as a pair of Seattle receivers in David Moore and Tyler Lockett that both posted 100+ receiving yard games en route to the perfect lineup.  Odell Beckham Jr. threw a touchdown pass on top of the carnage he created opposite James Bradberry and Donte Jackson.

Carolina’s 2019 schedule outside of divisional play features some tough perimeter receiver matchups to include Davante Adams, T.Y. Hilton, DeAndre Hopkins, the Rams duo of Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, and the aforementioned Tyler Lockett.  For what has been an Achilles heel for this defense the last two years, the Panthers need Jackson to continue to develop as he enters his second year in the league and Bradberry to shut down opposing receivers not just named Mike Evans.

CONCLUSION

DeAndre Hopkins and Antonio Brown were the only two receivers to eclipse 300 fantasy points in PPR scoring in 2017, the fewest receivers to hit that benchmark since 2012 when Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall were the only two to do so.  In 2018, five other receivers joined Brown and Hopkins in this club, reiterating the aerial revolution that is sweeping the NFL.

As long as this pass-first mentality continues, the state of the wide receiver shouldn’t bottom out as it did in 2017 and maintain its current upward trend.  Even with the running backs more involved in the passing game, the current household names at the receiver along with the ascension of some younger stars projects a bright outlook for the position for the next few years.