Predicting Touchdowns – Fantasy Football Week 9

Predicting Touchdowns – Fantasy Football Week 9

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 team’s 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 9, 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 these lines for that approach.

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 season, 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.

Seattle Seahawks, 29 points

Seattle has run 87 plays in the red zone in their 8 games. They have a 39 to 45 run/pass split (kicks and sacks excluded) on those plays. Using PFF’s weighted-opportunity formula, WR DK Metcalf is the Seahawk who has seen the most red zone opportunity on the year, slightly edging out RB Chris Carson. Metcalf’s 11 red zone targets have resulted in 2 touchdowns in the scoring area this season. Chris Carson has 5 total red zone touchdowns – 3 resulting from his 24 carries in the scoring area, and 2 from both of his red zone targets.

If we focus on plays run inside the 10 yard line alone, Seattle has run 41 plays. They have a 21 to 18 run/pass split (kicks and sacks excluded) – the rush play calls increase dramatically inside the 10.

Carson’s weighted-opportunity score (w-opp) in this part of the field leads the team by a decent amount – his 16.66 w-opp leads Jaron Brown’s 11.32 by a hefty amount. All 5 of Chris Carson’s overall red zone touchdowns have come inside the 10. Jaron Brown (4 targets), Tyler Lockett (3 targets) and DK Metcalf (3 targets) have 5 touchdowns between them when targeted inside the 10.

Oakland Raiders, 26.25 points

The Raiders had their bye after they played in London, so they only have 7 games played. In those games, they have run 56 total plays in the red zone. Their run/pass split is 29 to 25 (kicks and sacks excluded). RB Josh Jacobs dominates for Oakland down here – he has 21 of their 29 carries alone for 4 touchdowns. Darren Waller (7 targets) and Tyrell Williams (6 targets) trail him in weighted opportunity, however, its worth noting Tyrell has only played in 5 of the 7 games.

Moving inside the 10, Oakland has run 28 total plays in 7 games. They have a 16 to 10 run/pass split, and Jacobs still leads weighted opportunity thanks to his 12 carries and 3 touchdowns. Tyrell Williams has 4 targets inside the 10, while Darren Waller has only 2. Waller, however, has 2 touchdowns on both of his targets, while Tyrell has 2 of his own on his 4 targets.

Minnesota Vikings, 25 points

Ah, the Vikings! The fantasy analyst community dragged this team for how run heavy they were (self included) to start the season, and yet here they are in playoff contention.

Minnesota has run 77 plays inside the red zone. They have a 49 to 19 (!) run/pass split in this part of the field – Mike Zimmer’s run first mentality is even stronger near the goal line. They have 12 rushing touchdowns and 7 receiving down there.

Dalvin Cook leads with 26 carries and 8 touchdowns, while Alexander Mattison has 18 of the remaining carries, and just 1 touchdown. Upon first glance, it appears that Mattison (37% of the carries, 9% rushing touchdowns) is due for some “positive” touchdown regression, while Cook (53% of the carries, 67% of the rushing touchdowns).

When we look inside the 10 yard line, however, we start to understand why this split may be the way it is. The Vikings have run 46 total plays inside the 10 – with a 33 to 9 run/pass split. Cook has 19 carries and 7 of his touchdowns thanks to work in this part of the field, while Mattison’s lone red zone touchdown came on one of his 9 carries inside the 10. Cook’s touches down here represent a slight bump up from his inside the red zone carry share (57% inside the 10), while Mattison’s decrease (27% inside the 10). So while Mattison is involved in this offense in general further away from the goal line, it appears Cook gets the looks when it comes time to finish off a drive.

Adam Thielen is the receiver who gets the most looks in the red zone – his 6 targets (in just 7 of the 8 games) lead the Vikings – and 3 of them have come inside the 10.

Green Bay Packers, 25 points

The Packers have run 79 total plays in the red zone in 2019. This is our first team that actually prefers to pass in this part of the field, with a 29 to 49 run/pass split.

The leader in weighted opportunity, however, is still RB Aaron Jones thanks to his 18 carries and 8 targets, which have resulted in 9 total touchdowns. Right behind him is TE Jimmy Graham, who has 9 targets inside the 20, WR Geronimo Allison with 7 targets, and RB Jamaal Williams with 5 targets (resulting in 4 touchdown receptions) and 4 carries (for one touchdown run).

Inside the 10, Green Bay has run 44 plays, and still prefers to throw. They have an 18 to 25 run/pass split. Aaron Jones (unsurprisingly) leads opportunity with 11 carries and 3 targets in this part of the field. 8 of his 9 touchdowns were on plays from inside the 10 yard line as well. 5 of Jimmy Graham’s 9 targets came in this area, as well as 2 of his 3 touchdowns. 4 of Jamaal Williams’ 5 total scores have also come on plays run inside the 10.

Conclusion

Once again, we find that RBs are most likely to receive opportunities to score as football teams move closer to the goal line. All four teams examined demonstrate this tendency.

Even with a team with a passing play-calling bias near the end zone, their RBs tend to dominate the touchdown production – the Packers show this. We should be rostering RBs on teams with high projected team totals week in and week out for this reason.

Beyond that, honing in on pass catchers who get a lot of red zone work (Metcalf, Thielen, Graham, for example) seems to make sense for DFS lineup construction.

I’ll revisit this again in Week 10 with our 4 projected highest scoring teams on next week’s 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.