Fantasy Football 2017: Volume Leads to Victory
It’s time to put on my captain obvious cape and swoop in to save fantasy seasons everywhere. It doesn’t take significant mental acuity to realize that the most consistent fantasy performers are the players that get significant playing time on a week-to-week basis. So how is it that fantasy owners drift off target? Where do the best-laid plans of mice and men truly go awry?
The problem is hype. For the players on the field, hype is the ultimate asset. For the fantasy owners off the field, hype is nothing but a distraction. It can cause an owner to focus on a player’s most recent performance and neglect all of the other pertinent information about that player. Turning to the data is the best way to remedy this issue.
Ewww…. data. Trust me, we’re going to keep it simple. No formulas, no computer coding, no subscriptions to analytics websites. The easiest way to consistently perform throughout the fantasy season is to focus on volume. For receivers, volume implies a focus on snap count percentages and targets. For running backs, volume suggests an analysis of snap count percentages and carries. These numbers are not meant to replace common sense, but to act as a light in the dark, a rope line in a snowstorm, a well in a des…you get the idea.
Examining the snap count data and the fantasy football scoring leaders from 2016, some clear conclusions can be drawn. Looking at the running back position in 2016, fifteen of the top-20 scoring fantasy backs also finished in the top-20 for snap counts. This affirms what we might assume–the running backs who stay on the field for the most plays generally score the most fantasy points. There are exemptions to the rule, but those exceptions are typically limited to receiving backs like Bilal Powell and the talented duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
Surprisingly enough, snap counts don’t play as large a role in the production of wide receivers. In general though, it seems that most consistent WR1 and WR2’s will have over a 75% snap count percentage per game. Again, there are some exceptions to the rule. Brandon LaFell and Chris Conley (prior to his injury) consistently recorded snap percentages higher than 90%, but are not fantasy relevant receivers.
The snap count percentages will also alert fantasy owners when a receiver or running back is moving up or down on the team’s depth chart as the season progresses. If you see a player’s snap percentage increase week after week, it’s a sign that the coaches are giving them a bigger role, thereby increasing the player’s fantasy relevance.
Targets are a far more important metric in determining the fantasy potential of a wide receiver than snap count percentages. Targets remind fantasy owners that a player doesn’t necessarily have to be flashy to win them a contest–even the Browns have to throw to somebody. When searching through the waiver wire or highlighting potential trade options, look at the receiver’s targets and target share. Despite the player’s recent performances, if the targets are there it suggests that the receiver has his quarterback’s trust and is a significant part of the gameplan.
Through the first five weeks of 2017, a perfect example of where this analysis could be useful is with Amari Cooper. He has been on a massive 3-game slump, devoid of fantasy points. But let’s look at his snap counts and targets. On the season, Cooper has a 91.9% snap count percentage. He also boasts a solid 6.6 targets a game, which would likely be higher if EJ Manuel hadn’t been the quarterback in Oakland for week 5. All of these signs point towards Cooper having a resurgence at some point during the season.
Take advantage of these simple statistics to single out the correct free agent acquisitions, to make trade decisions, and to set your lineup on a week-to-week basis.
If the main goal of this article were to point out the obvious, this paragraph could be considered the pinnacle. Running backs need carries to be consistently successful. Think of each carry as a lottery ticket. If somebody approaches you on the street and strangely asks you “how many free lotto tickets do you want?,” your answer would likely be “all the lotto tickets!!!” In the same manner, you want your starting running backs to get all the carries for their team.
This isn’t feasible of course, but running backs who split carries evenly with other backs on their team are a fantasy owner’s worst nightmare (see Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls). Those running backs may have a good game every few weeks, but fantasy owners should chase consistency instead of the occasional explosive performance. Look to trade or acquire running backs who get consistently get significant carries, even if they have been under-performing as of late (see Jay Ajayi and DeMarco Murray). Eventually the touchdowns and great games will come.
Top-15 RB Snap Count Percentage through Week 5:
Top-20 WR Targets through Week 5:
*Already had Bye week
Casey Birch covers the NFL for MyFantasySportsTalk.com, you can follow him on twitter @Calan24
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