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The 3 and Out: Pace, RB Target Share, and WR Air Yards Buy-Low Candidates

The 3 and Out uses a number of RotoViz Apps to uncover significant workload changes; league, team, and player-specific trends; and hidden but powerful statistics.

Before we get into the heart of this week’s article, I want to point out that we launched the NFL Pace App last week. It will quickly become a favorite for our DFS players, but owners in all formats should play around with it. The app has a bunch of filters and allows you to quickly look at overall play volume, seconds per snap, no-huddle percentage, pass-to-rush ratio, and you can toggle between offense and defense. Here are a couple of quick takeaways from five minutes of interacting with the app.

The NFL Pace App – Quick Takeaways

  • Heading into the season, the Cardinals were expected to play at an incredible pace. It was largely assumed that this would give the team one of the leagues’ highest play volumes.
    • With an average of 67 plays per game, the Cardinals are tied for 11th in total play volume.
      • However, play volume doesn’t tell the whole story. Arizona has been frantic, averaging a league-fastest 23 seconds per snap.
  • The Rams have run 72 plays per game — the highest rate of all teams — and are tied with Arizona as the league’s fastest team on a per-snap basis.
  • The 49ers, Vikings, and Ravens are the only teams that have recorded a higher percentage of rushing than passing attempts.
  • One of the preseason concerns surrounding Le’Veon Bell was an expected lack of play volume.
    • The Jet’s quarterback situation certainly hasn’t helped, and the team is averaging just 60 plays per game.
      • Only the Dolphins and Steelers have recorded fewer.

While these takeaways may not directly apply to your teams, play volume and pace may be a way to break ties between your flex options, find teams with players to target, or identify defenses that allow their opponents ample opportunity to score fantasy points.

Running Back Target Share

While searching through stats this week and looking for teams with untapped opportunity, I stumbled upon an interesting finding: Running backs are controlling a higher percentage of their team’s sought-after target share than tight ends. Let’s wrap some context around this statement.

To arrive at this conclusion I did the following:

  • Gathered target share percentages for every player using the RotoViz Screener
  • Determined each player’s target share ranking within their team
  • Isolated to players ranked one through three
  • Determined the percentage of players in this group that belonged to each position.

Here are the results, broken down by team, with the percentage belonging to each position included in the columns.

 

Of the 96 players comprising the table, 65 are WRs, 17 are RBs, and 14 are TEs. Seventeen teams have utilized an RB more heavily in the receiving game than a TE. This drives home an important point that there aren’t many usable TEs to go around, and it also magnifies how valuable do-it-all backs are.

 
Player Team Target Share
Le’Veon Bell NYJ 26
Christian McCaffrey CAR 23
Austin Ekeler LAC 21
Dalvin Cook MIN 20
Chris Thompson WAS 20
Tarik Cohen CHI 19
Alvin Kamara NO 19
Leonard Fournette JAC 18
David Johnson ARI 17
James White NE 16
Kenyan Drake MIA 15
Phillip Lindsay DEN 14
Aaron Jones GB 13
Nyheim Hines IND 13
Nick Chubb CLE 13
James Conner PIT 12
Dare Ogunbowale TB 10

Lots of Air Yards, Fewer Points

Will Fuller went insane in Week 5, scoring 54 fantasy points via 14 receptions, 217 yards, and three touchdowns on 16 targets . While no one saw this gaudy point total coming, there was a signal that a big game or some sort of correction was on the horizon.

In Weeks 1 through 4, Fuller saw 399 air yards, which ranked 11th in the league. Unfortunately, he only converted this total into a 62nd-ranked 183 receiving yards total — of which 27 yards came after the catch.

In 2018, air yards explained 79% of the variance in WR scoring. If a player ranks highly in air yards but lowly in points, better days are likely in store.

The RotoViz NFL Weekly Stats page is a fantastic tool to uncover unique player trends like this one. Under the “Receiving” tab, you can find basically every receiving stat under the sun, including air yards and receiving yards ranks. So using the Weekly Stats page, which other WRs could be in store for a strong mid-season correction?

Players Due For Correction

Curtis Samuel ranks eighth in air yards but 49th in receiving yards. You might not expect it, but he has seen a fair amount of work in intermediate-to-deep portions of the field.

Samuel also ranks 25th in expected points per game but 54th in actual points per game. As a result, he ranks 185th in fantasy points over expectation per game (-2.8). If things turn around, they could do so in a big way.

It’s hard to find many positives in Miami, and it’s always dangerous to shed an optimistic light on DeVante Parker, but he makes for a tremendous “air yards buy-low” candidate. Parker ranks 13th in air yards (487), and only three receivers are being targeted deeper down the field than Parker.

Fantasy owners might prefer a profile with more intermediate targets to help Parker’s conversion rate, especially with Miami’s struggles at QB. As Shawn Siegele highlights in his Week 4 FPOE article, Rosen and Fitzpatrick both rank in the bottom 10 in paFPOE, and they’ve easily accumulated the most negative FPOE when viewed as a unit.

Parker’s inconsistent connection with Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick has resulted in only 201 receiving yards, which ranks 54th among all players. He has also only hauled in 25% of his deep targets and has failed to launch as an NFL player in part due to a low career catch-rate. Nonetheless, Parker’s deep volume provides spike opportunities.

He has averaged nine points per game on an expectation of nine while drawing a team-high six targets per game. Parker’s high team target share and air yardage total provide him ample volume for fantasy success. Now all he needs to do is convert.

Since Week 5 of 2018, Kenny Golladay has never finished as a WR2.

To Golladay’s credit, he has finished as a WR1 in 32% of his active games since 2018 and does have two WR1 performances under his belt this season. More could be on the way. The third-year WR ranks 43rd in receiving yards but 15th in air yards. He also ranks ninth in expected points per game.

Here’s a list of the WRs with the biggest differences between their air yards rank and receiving yards rank. Only players ranking 75th or better in air yards are included.

 
Player Team GMs Yards Rank Air Yards Rank Diff
Zay Jones OAK 5 103 56 -47
Jakeem Grant MIA 4 111 67 -44
Curtis Samuel CAR 5 49 8 -41
DeVante Parker MIA 4 54 13 -41
Bennie Fowler NYG 4 90 57 -33
Kenny Golladay DET 4 43 15 -28
Marquez Valdes-Scantling GB 5 46 20 -26
Robby Anderson NYJ 4 76 53 -23
James Washington PIT 5 71 49 -22
Marquise Brown BAL 5 27 5 -22
Mike Williams LAC 4 48 26 -22
Nelson Agholor PHI 5 59 39 -20
Cody Latimer NYG 4 85 66 -19
Terry McLaurin WAS 4 30 12 -18
Brandin Cooks LAR 5 28 11 -17
Preston Williams MIA 4 54 37 -17
Calvin Ridley ATL 5 32 16 -16
Demarcus Robinson KC 5 33 18 -15
Julio Jones ATL 5 17 2 -15
Chris Conley JAC 5 43 29 -14
D.K. Metcalf SEA 5 37 23 -14
Mike Evans TB 5 15 1 -14
KeeSean Johnson ARI 5 76 63 -13
Image Credit: Steven King/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Curtis Samuel.

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