Mike Clay

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012


This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Fantasy Football Fest in Atlantic City. There were dozens of players in attendance (Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, and Phil Simms among them), several fantasy football experts in the house (Matthew Berry, Dave Richard on the list), and whole lot of people trying to sell their innovative product.

The Atlantic City Convention Center proved to be a good fit for the event. There were video games (including Tecmo Bowl), live drafts, lingerie football players, and even a few informative panels.

Although the Matthew Berry/LeSean McCoy/Michael Vick panel certainly stole the show, the fine folks at ReedPOP allowed us (“us” being Jeff Ratcliffe, Bryan Fontaine, and host Jim Day) to put on a panel of our own. The topic? Next-generation statistics in Fantasy Football. As if you needed to ask.

Today, I’m going to review half of my part of the presentation. This discussion related to the value of knowing where players line up on the field and how they produce from each of those positions.

In the other half of the presentation, I did a detailed analysis of Average Depth of Target.

Eli Manning and the slot man

 

% of Aimed Throws

 

Slot Data

Year

Back

Wide

Slot

In-Line

 

TD/Aimed

aDOT

2008

16%

49%

26%

10%

 

6.5%

9.7

2009

15%

48%

28%

10%

 

6.7%

10.5

2010

17%

49%

24%

10%

 

9.4%

10.0

2011

20%

47%

25%

9%

 

8.1%

11.8

NFL Avg

19%

42%

26%

13%

 

4.6%

9.3



What we’re focusing on here is new data available to fans that we’ve really never seen before. Thanks to a site like Pro Football Focus, we can look at how many snaps a player is seeing, where they’re lining up on the field, and what their job is on each play.

In the above chart, we’re taking a look at Eli Manning’s usage of his slot man.

A quick explanation of the chart: ‘Back’ refers to any player lined up in the backfield with Manning. ‘Slot’ refers only to players lined up in the slot. ‘Wide’ is the players lined up outside of the slot man, usually the split end and flanker. In-Line is simply the in-line tight end, which is any time a tight end has his hand in the dirt.

What jumps out here is the high touchdown and Average Depth of Target (aDOT) numbers produced by Manning’s slot man over the years. That is despite the fact that Manning doesn’t throw to the slot man much more than the NFL average of 26 percent. Each of the last four years, Manning’s slot receivers have a touchdown rate and aDOT above league average. The rate over the last two seasons is nearly double the league average.

So who are these slot receivers? That leads me to our next chart:

 

% of Targets

 

Slot Data

Year

Back

Wide

Slot

In-Line

 

TD/Aimed

aDOT

Steve Smith 2008

0%

44%

56%

0%

 

2.1%

9.0

Steve Smith 2009

0%

30%

70%

0%

 

3.8%

10.2

Steve Smith 2010

0%

47%

53%

0%

 

7.9%

10.6

Victor Cruz 2011

0%

24%

76%

0%

 

7.0%

11.9

NFL Avg

19%

42%

26%

13%

 

4.6%

9.3



After Steve Smith produced strong fantasy numbers while in the slot from 2008-to-2010, we probably should’ve seen Victor Cruz’s 2011 breakout coming. Of course, this time last year, we didn’t know if Cruz was even going to earn regular snaps. In fact, he barely played the first two weeks. Smith’s touchdown rate isn’t overly impressive in 2009, but that’s mainly due to the heavy volume of targets. He scored seven touchdowns that year. Prior to a season-ending injury, his scoring rate was very high (7.9 percent) in 2010, as was Cruz’s in 2011 (7.0 percent). You’ll also notice that the combined four-year aDOT is well above league average.

So what’s the point? Cruz can sustain his fantasy production; it will simply come a little differently. The explosive plays will drop a bit, but his aDOT and touchdown numbers will remain strong. Manning makes excellent use of his slot man and that’s Cruz’s gig long-term, especially if Rueben Randle develops on the outside.

Stat

Total

Back

Wide

Slot

In-Line

% of Targets

100%

19%

42%

26%

13%

Completion %

65%

79%

58%

65%

69%

Yards-Per-Attempt

7.6

6.2

8.0

7.8

7.7

Avg. Depth of Target

8.8

0.3

12.7

9.3

7.6

YAC/Completion

5.4

8.1

4.3

4.7

5.1

TD-Per-Target

4.5%

2.5%

5.0%

4.6%

5.8%

INT-Per-Target

3.1%

1.2%

3.9%

3.6%

2.6%



Our next slide is a simple split of league average for players lined up in our four different offensive zones. Focusing on Wide vs. Slot, we see higher yards-per-attempt, average depth of target, touchdown, and interception rates for outside receivers. On the other hand, the slot receivers enjoy a higher catch rate and yards-after-catch production.

Slot receivers are generally better bets in PPR, while guys who line up out wide will do more damage in yardage/TD-heavy leagues.

One final note here - you’ll notice that tight ends have the best touchdown rate on a per-target basis, while backs have the worst. This is hardly a shock, as tight ends generally see additional work inside the red zone.

The Patriots tight end and “tight end”

Our final pair of charts will focus on the variation in production based on where a player is lining and what their job is on each type of play. Although the application of this type of data to fantasy football advice is dependent on role changes and injuries, there is definitely a lot to be learned about each team’s offensive philosophy. At the very least, you can use this data to win bets against your buddy by making projections on each individual play.

Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez make for good examples.

Rob Gronkowski

Year

Back

Wide

Slot

In-Line

% of Snaps

1%

4%

34%

61%

% of Pass Routes

2%

6%

53%

39%

% of Targets

3%

7%

48%

43%

         

Target-Per-Snap

27%

20%

17%

8%

Target-Per-Route

36%

26%

20%

24%



Notice from our chart that if Gronkowski is lined up with his hand in the ground, there's an eight percent chance he'll be targeted on the play. However, if he runs a route, that percentage jumps to 24 percent.

On the other hand, if he's in the slot, there's already a 17 percent chance he'll see a target before the ball is even snapped. If it's a pass play, there's a 20 percent chance the ball is coming his way.

So, if you own Gronkowski in Fantasy and you see him lined up with his hand in the dirt, you shouldn’t be as excited as you'd be if he were in the slot.

Aaron Hernandez

Year

Back

Wide

Slot

In-Line

% of Snaps

8%

29%

35%

29%

% of Pass Routes

9%

28%

42%

21%

% of Targets

10%

14%

44%

32%

         

Target-Per-Snap

17%

7%

17%

15%

Target-Per-Route

24%

12%

24%

34%



As shown by the above ‘percentage of snap’ data, Hernandez is basically a wide receiver. He's lined up in the slot or out wide 64 percent of the time, plus another eight percent in the backfield. That means he’s lined up with his hand in the dirt only 28 percent of the time!

He is Tom Brady's target a whopping 33 percent of the time when he runs a route as an in-line tight end, something he did 127 times last year.

We see he isn't quite as involved when lined up out wide. Despite playing the same number of snaps and actually seeing more pass routes out wide than he does in-line, he's targeted on only 12 percent of those routes, compared to 34 percent in-line.

If you own Hernandez, your base case scenario is him running a route after starting with his hand in the dirt.



Mike Clay is a football writer for Rotoworld.com and the Founder/Managing Editor of Pro Football Focus Fantasy. He can be found on Twitter @MikeClayNFL.
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