A lot of fantasy football rankings and projecting boils down to how one distributes rush attempts and targets to a team’s RB/WR/TE. There are macro-variables (e.g., how many plays will the team run? what is the rush/pass split?), rate variables (what is the player’s catch rate?, what is their yards per target?) and kinda but not completely fluky TD projecting. But, for the most part, each season’s non-injury based breakouts and disappointments can be tied to a larger rush and/or target percentage than estimated by the consensus.

There is a big difference between projecting players and writing articles on players. When I project players, my goal is to be as unbiased and evidence-based as possible. I will make qualitative adjustments to the analysis of past games which typically drives my models based on news like player role changes, injuries, team offensive strategy changes, etc. But, at the end of the day, I do not particularly care about making a ‘case’ for a given player. The projections are the projections.

When you are writing about a player, you are typically taking a stance. No point in writing articles like, “I think the ADP has effectively estimated the value of this player!”, right? This stance on the player likely starts from some compelling piece of evidence to the analyst. But once the decision is made and they write an article, it is only natural to become like a prosecutor who only looks for information that supports their case. This opens up possibilities where ‘facts’ are brought up that support the narrative but actually have no statistical merit. If enough writers use the same logic to support points, it eventually becomes adopted as ‘industry wisdom’. 

I bring all this up because it feels like I have read a lot of content this preseason making cases for players because there has been RB/WR/TE turnover on their team and there are missing targets to distribute. I am going to venture that 100% of articles touting Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard note that Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson had 179 targets in 2018 and are no longer on the team. Here are the Google results for “179 targets humphries jackson“. This extends into other hypotheticals like “If Antonio Brown does not play because of frozen feet or helmet loyalty, Tyrell Williams becomes more valuable!”.

I think this one boils down into two opposing views:

  1. Common Narrative: When targets disappear, this materially changes the target rate for players especially those who have similar roles.
  2. My View: A player’s raw targets will go up with more playing time. But, unless there is a signifcant change to a team’s pass game philosophy, a player’s targets per snap are generally sticky. (Additional Note: if a player’s role changes, that also impacts other metrics – e.g., moving a player from outside to in the slot will increase targets but you also need to take yards per target down).

So in the cases above, I do think Godwin and Howard have target increases vs 2018 because they are projected to play more snaps. Additionally, Godwin is projected to get some slot work which helps his target rate (but hurts his YPA). Tyrell Williams, however, has been a deep threat his whole career and I see any targets that would have gone to Antonio Brown largely redistributed to intermediate-threat WRs with some uptick for RB/TE.

To test my assumption, I looked at all RB/WR/TEs in 2017 and 2018 who 1) did not change teams from previous year and 2) had 100+ Snaps in both years. I then plotted their target per snap difference in Year 1 vs Year 2 against the percentage of their team’s targets that returned from the previous year.

The average returning share of previous year targets is 69% with the 2018 Buccaneers the high at 97% and the 2017 49ers the lowest at 20%.

As you can probably tell by the dotted trendline, there is no relationship (correlation (r) is .03 ) between a team’s returning share of previous year targets and returning players’ targets per snap.

So next time you see a factoid like “but someone has to replace the 179 targets that went to Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson last year”, just disregard it and focus on the rest of the analyst’s case.

 

  1. The Scrant Dog

    The Scrant Dog says:
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    So on the surface, Vacated Targets do not mean anything by themselves and require you to look at specific players snap share more closely?

    • Exactly. Vacated targets means nothing. Extra snaps = extra targets. Typically role change or pass game philosophy will change targets/snap (maybe maturation/gaining QB trust too?)

  2. CMUTIMMAH says:
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    Trend Lines.

    Math.

    Challenging the lowest common denominator theories.

    GIVE ME MOORRRRRRRRRRRRR!

    When Calvin Johnson retired, Detroit people were talking about how all of those targets were going to feed to Marvin Jones. I had said “Well… maybe, but how many drives will stall out now that Calvin kept alive? Wouldn’t all of those route tree throws that Calvin have be more likely to flow to WRs that fit those routes better than Jones?” Then the season started and Jones came out hot. DOH! But after a few weeks, he faded and my theory held true. Seeing the theory in math form though makes sense.

    Snaps = Target Share. But vacated players/targets lead to guys getting more snaps and more targets, so there’s still correlation, just not based on a players contribution to the percentage of total offensive production. If a guy is a factor on 30% of the plays he is on the field for, likely that percentage drops when he is on the field more. It will always regress to the mean positional factor, I would assume. Food for thought for a future analysis?

    For example:

    Detroit Lions (since I had the Calvin anecdote before)
    X – 20% of passing production
    Y – 20%
    Z – 40%
    TEs – 15%
    RBs – 5%

    Something like that year over year within a coach’s system. Lions are a bad example though because I think their personnel groups are going to be vastly different this year with more 2 TE sets and a new OC… but I think you get the point?

    • We are on same page. It is true that, when a guy has a notable projected snap increase, to look at their rush/target usage to determine if it scales. think about a 3rd/4th WR who comes in on obviously passing situations becomes full-time. He’s not going to have the same targets/snap. I look at a lot of that and make adjustments. A clear example amongst TEs is Mark Andrews who was very productive in limited snaps because he was used predominantly in passing situations.

  3. CMUTIMMAH says:
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    One more thing – an analysis on TE snaps vs production…

    I do this during the year to try to find TEs that are increasing their roles when playing against defenses that can’t stop TEs. I have had some reasonable success punting TEs in drafts until the later rounds and having a stream TE option when available on the wire.

  4. Many says:
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    Based on this article, would you consider Willie Snead to be a sleeper candidate based on the fact that somebody needs to catch passes in Baltimore? (When Lamar does throw that is)

    • The Scrant Dog

      The Scrant Dog says:
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      It depends on if you believe he will increase his snaps. He played 70% last year with 90 targets. IF you expect 20% more snaps from him, you’ll see 100 target season.

    • My model likes Willie Snead. I think he has a low ceiling because of the team’s passing volume. I’d avoid except in super deep drafts.

  5. titan says:
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    just noticed that the xls download link of the “rudy proj vs fantasy pros vs ADP” link does not show the far right vs adp column. Can that be altered so the xls download link is the same info as what the site shows? Rudy/Razz rank, then vs. ECR delta, then vs. ADP delta?

    • thanks. put a note into FantasyPros on it.

  6. titan says:
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    you put a note into fantasy pros or do I need to?

    I just checked the link again on this page: https://football.razzball.com/projectionsvsfantasypros_preseason

    still shows “razzball rank” and “ECR rank” and “Razzball rank to ECR rank Delta”

    Instead of “Razzball rank” and “Razzball to ECR delta” and “Razzball to ADP delta” as the view on the link above shows.

    I didn’t know if the download link was from you or them….

    Thanks for looking into it Rudy. I want use that overall page as my draft board for my half ppr league

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