Predicting Touchdowns – Fantasy Football Week 10

Predicting Touchdowns – Fantasy Football Week 10

Touchdowns are a fickle beast in fantasy football; yet (much like in real football) they remain absolutely critical to attain in order to build a winning strategy. Can we find players who are more likely to score than others each week?

By looking at how teams are deploying their players in the red zone, we can get a sense of how they may continue to do so in the future.

As we head into Week 10, let’s look at the top 4 projected offenses in terms of implied points scored on the DraftKings main slate and how they use their players in the red zone. I will be using the lines in the Occupy Model for this analysis.

I used Pro Football Reference’s Play Finder to isolate snaps inside the red zone and inside their opponent’s 10 yard line thus far in the 2019 season, this data formed the basis of all the following analysis. You can also look at this red zone opportunity dashboard with PFR’s data for source.

Overview

I wrote a similar piece to this last week, and it helped me focus on what matters when building DFS lineups – finding touchdown upside.

In order to do that, we need to look at how teams are calling plays near the end zone to understand how their touchdowns actually happen.

While touchdowns obviously happen on plays run outside the scoring area every week, they are far harder to forecast. High average depth of target (aDOT) wide receivers will always be threats for long scores all over the field, so that’s not a part of my focus for this article.

This year, I’ve modified my approach to include usage even closer to the goal line (inside 10 yards), since those plays are more likely to result in touchdowns than purely all red zone snaps. I am also using weighted opportunity* – a better fantasy football predictor than raw touches, per Pro Football Focus.

New Orleans Saints, 32.75 Points

Through 8 games, the Saints have run 81 total plays in the red zone (kicks and sacks excluded). Their run/pass split is 42 to 39 – collectively, Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara have seen the most looks, with a combined 26 carries and 10 targets. Michael Thomas – who hasn’t scored less than 16.4 DraftKings fantasy points all season – leads the way in the passing game with 11 total red zone targets.

Moving to inside the 10 yard line, the Saints have a 26 to 23 run/pass split. Michael Thomas leads all Saints with 9 targets this close to the goal line, while Kamara and Murray collectively have 18 carries and 4 targets. Note: Sean Payton loves gadget plays involving his QB3, Taysom Hill – Hill has 3 targets and 2 carries inside the 10 yard line as well. While we won’t use Taysom in fantasy football anywhere, we have to understand his presence does muddy this up slightly. Thomas feels like the safest bet strictly for red zone work in New Orleans for fantasy purposes – especially with a Kamara/Latavius split anticipated moving forward.

Indianapolis Colts, 28.5 Points

Ah, the Colts. They have run 77 total plays (kicks and sacks excluded), with a 34 to 43 run/pass split in the red area through 8 games. The Colts are apparently one of the teams with a passing bias in this part of the field.

The overwhelming favorite target of Jacoby Brissett’s in this part of the field? T.Y. Hilton, who has a team high 10 targets despite missing 2 games (so far). Mired with injuries to Hilton, Parris Campbell (4 targets of his own) and Brissett himself, it will be interesting to see how the Colts use their personnel against the Dolphins. Zach Pascal, both tight ends and Marlon Mack seems to be the safest bets – Pascal has 6 targets, Doyle and Ebron have 5 each, while Marlon Mack has 19 of the 34 rushes alone.

Inside the 10, they’ve run 47 total plays with a 19 to 28 run/pass split. 7 of Hilton’s 10 total red zone targets have come inside the 10, while 5 of Pascal’s 7 have, as well. Eric Ebron is tied with Doyle with 3 targets inside the 10. Marlon Mack remains a safe bet to touch the football – he has 10 of Indianapolis’ 19 total carries inside the 10.

Baltimore Ravens, 28.25 Points

The Ravens have a heavy run bias in the red area, with a 65 to 32 run/pass split in this part of the field. We can attribute most of this to dual-threat QB Lamar Jackson, who has 20 of the 65 carries alone in addition to virtually all of the passing volume (RG3 has one pass in relief of Jackson from Week 1’s Dolphins blowout). Mark Ingram has 24 carries, Gus Edwards has 13, and even rookie Justice Hill has 4. When they do pass, Jackson’s favorite targets are Mark Andrews (7 targets) and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (6 targets).

Moving inside the 10, Baltimore has a 59 to 21 run/pass ratio. All 6 of Marquise Brown’s red zone targets have come inside the 10. Meanwhile, 23 of Ingram’s 24 red zone carries have been inside the 10, while 17 of Jackson’s 20 have, as well. While Ingram feels safe in a matchup like this one against the Bengals, we have to understand a ton of the rushing equity near the goal line belongs to Jackson – therefore, Jackson is actually the best play for exposure to the passing and rushing touchdowns in Baltimore if you have to choose only one.

Kansas City Chiefs, 27.75 Points

Patrick Mahomes will return to action, which is great news for not only his fantasy football owners, but also all the skill position players on the Chiefs. It’s not so great for this piece, since Mahomes’ cannon of an arm actually finds success often from well outside of the red zone itself.

Inside the red area, Kansas City is another team with a passing bias – they have a 40 to 52 run/pass split. Travis Kelce leads the team with 13 red zone targets, no other Chief has more than 6. Kelce also has 0 touchdown receptions in this part of the field – something that just feels due to change any week, now. The running game is so messy here – LeSean McCoy does lead year-to-date with 14 carries to just 9 for Damien Williams; Williams missed 3 games, however, and has seen his percentage of snaps played increase in recent weeks.

Inside the 10, the Chiefs still prefer to pass – they have a 29 to 37 run/pass ratio. 10 of Kelce’s 13 total red zone targets have come inside the 10, while McCoy/Williams lead with 18 combined carries in the run game. Overall, Kelce seems to be the clear favorite option for this offense when they look to finish off a drive.

Conclusion

As we saw last week, we should still have an RB bias, as they see the most overall weighted-opportunity in the red area.

This week’s set of highest implied team total squads offer some interesting options, though – Travis Kelce and Michael Thomas have 2 of the 3 highest raw weighted-opportunity scores inside the red zone in this 4 team sample. We even have a quarterback – Lamar Jackson – who should be heavily prioritized week in and week out once you consider his passing volume in addition to any work he gets on the ground.

I’ll revisit this in Week 11 with the 4 highest implied team total squads on the daily fantasy football main slate. Thanks for reading!

*Weighted Opportunity was designed specifically for RB touches. So while it’s probably not the best metric to use for WRs and TEs, specifically for goal line looks, I think it helps quantify the value of those targets against overall RB volume.