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  • Advanced Research in Daily Fantasy Football

Targets, Touches and Opportunity

Jon Bales (JonBales)

Jonathan Bales is the founder of RotoAcademy and author of the Fantasy Sports for Smart People book series.

Every year, fantasy football rankings change significantly as owners see which players are lighting it up in the preseason. At times, the games and outcomes really mean something. But many times they don’t. Typically, fantasy owners should be more concerned with preseason usage than assessing talent levels.

While we all like to think we’re pro-caliber scouts, the truth is that it’s really difficult to decipher the difference between an above-average and average player, which is why we use stats.

But that task is even more difficult when watching only a handful of games; the sample is so small that we really can’t gain too many meaningful insights. Sure, it might look like Chris Johnson has regained his burst or Matt Forte is running tentatively, but what can we really determine from a game or two? Not much.

In truth, it’s players’ workloads that we should be watching closest in the preseason. On a week-to-week basis, workload is the most important aspect of potential production for daily fantasy players. It doesn’t matter how awesome you think that fifth-round rookie running back might be if he never touches the ball.

Workload matters more for different positions, though. In the NFL, a running back’s workload is absolutely the most important factor in his projection. That’s because the deviation in potential efficiency is so small; a great running back might average 5.0 YPC and a poor one just 4.0 YPC. That 20 percent drop in efficiency is nothing compared to the difference in workload for a workhorse running back and a change-of-pace player. To a lesser extent, the same is true for quarterbacks. There’s a relatively minor deviation in efficiency, but workloads can differ in a big way. Take a look at Matthew Stafford versus Russell Wilson circa 2012.

Meanwhile, efficiency matters more for wide receivers and tight ends. The workload is still crucial, but you also want to target receivers who catch the ball at a high rate and are efficient in terms of yards and touchdowns when they do get looks.

Even so, efficiency isn’t nearly as predictable as workload. Heading into any game, we can be way more confident in our projection of a quarterback’s attempts than we can in our projection of his yards per attempt, for example. Because of that, we should give more weight to the workload projection. It’s the same sort of idea as why it’s generally inadvisable to pay for kickers; even if we know there will be a big deviation in production, there’s little week-to-week consistency, and it’s a mistake to “pay” for a position or player we can’t accurately predict.

RotoGrinders Targets and Touches

The majority of the workload data you’ll need is right here at RotoGrinders. You can see all targets and touches for running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends. There’s also ‘percentage of workload’ information that alerts you to each player’s market share of his team’s targets.

When using the target/touch tool, you want to search for players who are being heavily involved in the game plan, yet haven’t actually performed all that well as of yet. In most cases, they’ll continue to see the same workload, but with greater efficiency, and thus better overall production.

The reason that you want to fade players who have already made the most of their looks is that their salary will likely be high, yet they’re probably going to regress. Let’s look at an example:

  • WR1: 5 receptions, 15 targets, 80 yards, 1 TD
  • WR2: 5 receptions, 5 targets, 80 yards, 1 TD

If we aren’t looking at target data, we might rank these two receivers evenly. But there’s a huge difference. Although WR1 has been far less efficient, he’ll probably offer much better value than WR2 because he should see more opportunities moving forward. Workload + Efficiency = Total Production.

Three Tools to Help You See Workload

Injuries

While injuries are debilitating in season-long fantasy, they can be extremely valuable to daily fantasy players. That’s because most professional backups are underrated, offering daily players value. A backup might seem horribly inferior to the starter, but in most cases, there’s not a dramatic difference.

However, backups typically come with low price tags in daily fantasy, even after they’re thrust into the starting lineup. We saw this with Eagles rookie running back Bryce Brown in 2012. He was priced well below many change-of-pace backs who projected at single-digit touches, making an easy decision for advanced daily fantasy players.

Backup NFL running backs are particularly valuable. Remember, backs are extremely dependent on their workload for production. But it’s not like teams will completely stop running the ball if the starter is out. Whereas a backup tight end who is forced into the starting lineup can just be avoided in the passing game, offenses aren’t going to just stop running when the starter goes down. The backup will see his touches.

Running backs are also dependent on their offensive lines. That means that two backs will typically post comparable efficiency in similar situations, i.e. the backup is very likely to at least approach what the starter did in most non-Adrian Peterson scenarios. But they’ll never be priced like that on daily sites, hence the value.

Ultimately, workload is probably the most underrated aspect of production, while efficiency is the most overrated. You always want your players to play as effectively as possible, obviously, but it just doesn’t matter if Player A has a 70 percent catch rate if Player B has three times as many targets.

Make sure you monitor workloads at RotoGrinders.



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About the Author

  • Jon Bales (JonBales)

  • Jonathan Bales is the founder of RotoAcademy and author of the Fantasy Sports for Smart People book series.

RotoGrinders.com is the home of the daily fantasy sports community. Our content, rankings, member blogs, promotions and forum discussion all cater to the players that like to create a new fantasy team every day of the week. Our goal is to help all of our members make more money playing daily fantasy sports!

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