Hoppen to Conclusions: Week 4 Insights and Analysis
Hello and welcome to the Week 4 edition of Hoppen to Conclusions! This is where I, Sam Hoppen, will share some of my favorite charts, which are designed to give you an overview of the NFL landscape. These charts, along with the commentary that I provide, aim to help you make start or sit, DFS lineup construction, or any other fantasy football decisions. There can be a lot of noise in fantasy football analysis, but these charts have been carefully selected to give you some of the most relevant and useful decision points.
Each of the charts has been designed in a way that you want to be targeting players and teams that are in the top-right quadrant of the chart as denoted by the dotted black lines, which signify the median value for the stat on either the x-axis or y-axis. Before getting to each of the charts and analyses, here are some brief descriptions of what you will find on each chart and how to interpret them.
Note: neutral game-script is defined as plays outside of the two-minute warning with a win probability between 20% and 80% for the offensive team.
- Team Pace and Plays: Compares a team's average plays per game to its neutral-script pace, using seconds per play as a measure of pace. On the chart, the y-axis flipped to show faster-paced teams (fewer seconds per play) on top. Simply put, teams (and overall matchups) with more plays and faster pace will offer more opportunities for fantasy point-scoring.
- Team Pass Rates: Compares a team's neutral-script pass rate to its red-zone pass rate, with the size of the team's point showing its pass rate over expectation (PROE). Here we can identify which teams are passing the most when game script isn't a deciding factor and when they get close to the goal line.
- Team Game Script: Shows the distribution of a team's plays based on their win probability throughout their games - where there is a higher bubble for a team is where the team ran more plays under the win probability. This can help explain potential play-calling and usage decisions.
- Running Back Usage: Compares running back snap percent to his high-value touches (carries inside the 10 and receptions), with the size of the player's point as his total opportunities per game.
- Wide Receiver/Tight End Usage: Compares player weighted opportunity rating (WOPR) to his targets per route run (TPRR), with the size of the player's point as his receiver air conversion ratio (RACR). WOPR weights both air yards share and target share to evaluate a player's opportunity while RACR divides a player's receiving yards by his air yards to evaluate his efficiency in the opportunity he is given. The charts show the same information for both the wide receiver and tight end position.
Team Pace and Plays
- Once again, the Green Bay Packers will be featured in a game with two offenses that are below-average in plays per game and pace. The Packers will host the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are currently reeling after two straight losses and no sign of turning it around. Outside of Najee Harris (more on him later) and Chase Claypool, the Steelers are in shambles while the Packers' offense is centered around the trio of Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, and Davante Adams. I expect fantasy points to come at a premium in this matchup of two historic franchises.
- This week's matchup of the highest combined plays per game is the Monday Night Football game between division rivals Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers. Unfortunately, this means that the players from this game are off the main DFS slate, but you should have confidence in starting almost any player from this game in season-long leagues. This includes some fringe players like Hunter Renfrow, Bryan Edwards, and even Derek Carr, who is currently the QB9 on the season.
- The only game that features two teams in the top-right quadrant of fast and voluminous offenses is the Sunday Night Football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots. I can't think of any other reason why people would watch this game other than the pace and play of these offenses, but maybe that's just me. In any case, I think the Patriots' passing attack will be set up well facing off against a pass-funnel defense.
Team Pass Rates
- The Buffalo Bills are back to their pass-happy ways. After a slower start to the season against the Steelers, Buffalo has blown out its last two opponents with a combined score of 78 to 21 thanks to Josh Allen lighting it up through the air. The Bills are now ranked ninth in pass rate over expected and second in neutral-script pass rate, a welcome sign for those who invested in their passing attack. While this doesn't make their running backs useless, it will be difficult to trust either of them on a weekly basis given how even the split in opportunities can be.
- A welcome surprise in the way of increased passing has come from the Philadelphia Eagles. With Jalen Hurts entering the season as the Eagles' starter, many expected them to utilize Hurts' rushing ability more, but that doesn't seem to be the case as he is averaging four fewer carries per game in starts this year than he did in his starts last year. Facing off against the Kansas City Chiefs this week, we should see a game with plenty of passing, making this game one to target for DFS stacks.
Team Game Scripts
- While I mentioned the Eagles' pass rate above as a positive, it appears as though their Week 1 performance against the Falcons was more the exception than the rule. In the past two games, Philadelphia's EPA (expected points added) per play on offense and defense rank among the league's worst, meaning we should expect them to be in more negative game scripts. Miles Sanders is still the lead back, but this would bode well for rookie Kenny Gainwell, who has been a decent threat in the passing game and has a snap share of just over 30% on the season.
- The Panthers get their first real test of the season this week after facing two rookie quarterbacks and Jameis Winston in their first three games. In their Week 4 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, Carolina is a four-point underdog, so this should give us a first look at how Carolina deploys their offense in a more neutral or negative game script environment. The already above-average pass rate is encouraging, but I will be keeping a close eye on this game especially in the first week without Christian McCaffrey.
Running Back Usage
- Najee Harris' usage is unmatched and he's in another tier of his own. On Sunday, Harris notched 19 targets, the second-most targets in a game for a running back since 1950. Granted, he got a lot of these targets because Diontae Johnson missed the game and JuJu Smith-Schuster left the game with an injury, but it's great to know that he will still be involved. Despite this massive workload, Harris is only RB9 in PPR leagues, but this was the concern with him all offseason in that he can see an elite workload and not be efficient with the touches. According to Austin Gayle of PFF, Harris has been hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 70% of his carries, the highest rate in the NFL. You aren't sitting Harris for any reason other than injury, but expectations clearly need to be tempered on a week-to-week basis.
- While the low pass rate for the Cincinnati Bengals is not exciting for their pass catchers, Joe Mixon has been a major beneficiary. Mixon's near-80% snap rate is among the top five running backs in the league and no other Bengals running back has seen a snap share over 25% in a single game. Though he isn't getting many high-value touches, his 24.7 opportunities per game rank third among all running backs. If that usage continues, it would be his highest mark in opportunities in his career (his previous career-high was 24.2 opportunities per game in 2020 when he only played 6 games).
- Javonte Williams saw a season-high four targets in Week 3, which is the most targets that any Broncos running back has seen all season. Despite that, Williams is still running far fewer routes than incumbent starter Melvin Gordon. Gordon's routes per dropback rate of 54% this season is quite good for a running back and is well ahead of the 31% routes per dropback rate that Williams is seeing. What also adds to the confusion of this backfield is that Williams also has four carries inside the ten compared to just three for Gordon (all of which came in Week 3). I still believe that Gordon is the 1A in this offense and that Williams won't have a full grasp on the backfield unless Gordon gets injured, but the near-even split makes Williams an interesting DFS dart throw any week with his efficiency.
Wide Receiver Usage
- I'm talking about the Bills a lot this week and there's a reason for that. Despite how well they've played the last two weeks, Stefon Diggs has not been returning the first-round value that many drafters invested in him. But, his underlying stats are extremely encouraging and make him a great buy-low target right now. First of all, he is averaging just 0.2 targets per game fewer this season than he did last year when he led the league in targets and still has the highest target share on the Bills at 27%. Second, his aDOT (average depth of target) has risen 2.5 yards this year - he's getting some deeper targets, he just needs to connect with Allen on them. Finally, Allen has a -1.7% CPOE (completion percentage over expectation) when targeting Diggs, the only one of his receivers with a negative value this year.
- What a year that Brandin Cooks is having! He's currently the WR6 in PPR leagues (61.7 PPR points) and has almost scored as many points as all Chicago Bears wide receivers combined (61.9 PPR points). As you can see on the chart, Cooks' 0.93 WOPR leads the league and shows extremely elite usage. Another positive sign for Cooks is that Davis Mills - the rookie quarterback replacing the injured Tyrod Taylor, who is out for at least two more weeks - targeted Cooks 11 times in their Thursday night matchup against the Panthers last week. The Texans are going to be passing often, which makes Cooks a great value for the rest of the season.
- With the Patriots passing as much as they are, it's worth taking a deeper look at their receiver group. Jakobi Meyers leads the way in air yards share (29%), target share (25%), and routes per dropback rate (96%). Averaging nearly 10 targets per game, Meyers is the clear WR1 in this offense and is a high-end WR4 for the rest of the season. Agholor is not far behind Meyers in air yards share (27%) or routes per dropback (91%), but lacks the target upside with a 15% target share. Fortunately, these two play very different roles with 87% of Meyers' routes coming from the slot and 97% percent of Agholor's routes coming from out wide (per PFF), which means they can coexist in this offense. Bourne is the clear third in this offense and probably isn't worth rostering unless one of the other two get injured.
Tight End Usage
- Through the first two weeks, George Kittle showed little in the way of fantasy production, which, rightfully, made managers worry. I'm here to tell you that those fears should be put aside (for now). In Week 3, Kittle was second on the team in targets with nine and looked like his old self on this run. His routes per dropback rate of 82% this week was the second straight week above 80% after only a 60% rate in Week 1. He will still need to be efficient to compete with some of the other top tight ends and competing with an improved Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk doesn't help, but the arrow is pointing up for Kittle.
- Dalton Schultz is currently the TE5 in fantasy football. Let that sink in for a second. A guy who went undrafted currently has more fantasy points than two players that were drafted in the first four rounds. That said, I don't think that this is an aberration and it looks like Schultz has been the biggest benefactor of Michael Gallup's injury absence. Schultz has run a route on more than 50% of Dallas' dropbacks in every game this season and is currently third on the team in targets with an average of five targets per game. He is more than just a bye-week replacement at this point as he seems to have eclipsed Blake Jarwin on the depth chart.