Finding fantasy value using PFF’s advanced numbers

All about the numbers. Brandon Marianne Lee treks through the PFF data to find some surprising fantasy outputs.

| 8 months ago
(Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

(Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Finding fantasy value using PFF’s advanced numbers

Last winter I was bopping around the Fantasy Sports Trade Association conference, socializing with friends and colleagues when our own Jeff Ratcliffe asked if he could speak with me. He wanted me to work with Pro Football Focus and he wanted to get the ball rolling in January.

I was thrilled. Later that afternoon I called my husband. “Honey, Pro Football Focus! The stats everyone in the world uses! They’re the best! This is huge!” (Yes, I used all exclamation points while speaking on the phone.)

That’s what we (I can see “we” now) are known for, and we like that. Sure, we have great articles like this one (wink, wink). We have a ton of great tools. But all of those articles and tools are based off of our data. That’s what makes it different.

Every day I look over a variety of data points in an attempt to find that golden nugget that will help fantasy players win that championship. And since we’re at the midway point of the season, I thought I would share some of the more surprising findings.

Numbers may never lie, but context will always set the scene.

So far this season, 67.1 percent of Jameis Winston’s passing yards have been in the air, which is the most in the league.
Only 45.9 percent of Matthew Stafford’s yards have come in the air, the lowest in the league.

The Lions have a ton of receivers who specialize in yards after the catch, so I am not surprised to see Stafford at the bottom of the list. Last season Golden Tate only had 5.8 average depth per target, but 6.0 yards after the catch. This year after a slow start, he’s averaging 7.7 average depth per target and 8.4 yards after the catch, second most in the league. Even Marvin Jones averages 5.8 yards after the catch, 19th among wide receivers.

However, this heavy reliance on receivers to create yards could very well be why we’re seeing some volatility in Stafford’s fantasy numbers. If a receiver were to injure his knee or ankle, then it would be much more difficult to breakaway and generate those extra yards.

The Tampa Bay receivers are leaving yards on the table, which means Winston has even more potential for fantasy points if his receivers can generate more yards on their side. Interestingly, Adam Humphries averages 8.3 yards after the catch, the third-most among wide receivers. Unfortunately, he only has 37 targets on the season. It’s Mike Evans who only averages 1.4 yards after the catch. If Russell Shepard and Adam Humphries can get more targets, forcing the defense to pay attention to anyone else on this team, perhaps Evans can generate more yards.

Another Winston bonus: He faces the Saints in Week 14 and 16. Although he’s currently outside of the top-10 fantasy quarterbacks on the season, your fantasy playoffs may have a new signal-caller.

Top running backs based on our signature stats

Every year, the top four running backs at three of our signature stats are consistent fantasy players with upside. I’m going to list out the players at the top of these categories because I believe that these are the player that you should trade for. Some are obvious and will be too expensive (David Johnson), but some of them are attainable and barring injury, will make the difference at the end of the season while you push towards a championship.

  • First, elusive rating. This signature stat measures a runner’s success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers. This is about the back’s talent, not just the situation.
    Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins – 88.6 elusive rating (20 total missed tackles on 93 touches)
    Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears – 77.6 elusive rating (27 total missed tackles on 117 touches)
    David A. Johnson, Arizona Cardinals – 65.5 elusive rating (46 total missed tackles on 192 touches)
    Spencer Ware, Kansas City Chiefs – 55.3 elusive rating (22 total missed tackles on 119 touches)
    Ware suffered a concussion, so this may be a time to buy low. Howard just had a big game versus the Minnesota Vikings wherein he carried the ball 26 times for 153 yards and a touchdown. He also caught all four of his targets for 49 yards. Some of the Howard owners might be frustrated with his inconsistent usage, so you should still reach out and see what you can get.
  • Another useful stat is breakaway percentage, the measurement that shows the runners with the highest percentage of their yardage coming on big plays (runs of 15 yards or more).
    LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills – 50.7 percent (13 breakaway runs on 111 attempts)
    Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns – 48.3 percent (10 breakaway runs on 106 attempts)
    Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons – 41.1 percent (10 breakaway runs on 116 attempts)
    Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals – 39.4 percent (5 breakaway runs on 104 attempts)
    All four of these are decent trade targets because the perception of these players varies wildly. McCoy owners may not want to deal with his injury. Crowell owners aren’t thrilled that he’s a Brown. Freeman owners will want a pretty penny (as they should), but Hill owners never know when to start him so they may be very frustrated.
  • And for the PPR crowd, take note of the top players according to yards per route run. This signature stat takes into consideration the number of snaps a player went into a pattern, providing a better indicator of production than yards per reception, or even yards per target.
    Duke Johnson, Cleveland Browns – 1.83 YPRR
    James White, New England Patriots – 1.76 YPRR
    Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers – 1.71 YPRR
    Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions – 1.63 YPRR
    Trading for Bell is only possible if you’re willing to give up a top wide receiver, but Johnson, White and Riddick are not big names. These are the perfect players to target rest of season. Go get these players.

Get value at the slot receiver position.

The top down-the-field players are known commodities. Amari Cooper, A.J. Green, T.Y. Hilton, Antonio Brown, Marvin Jones, etc. You will decimate your team if you try to trade for one of these players.

But, the slot position is filled to the brim with consistent fantasy producers.

Washington’s Jamison Crowder has 365 receiving yards in the slot, the fourth-most in the league. He and Detroit’s Anquan Boldin have four touchdowns in the slot position, best in the league.

Cole Beasley of Dallas and Willie Snead of New Orleans are tied with a 82.9 catch rate in the slot, the best in the league.

Other high-performing slot receivers include Jordan Matthews, Mohamed Sanu, Quincy Enunwa, Andrew Hawkins, Sterling Shepard and Tyler Boyd. None of these players will cost much in a trade, but all of their production looks to be on the upswing.

Brandon Marianne Lee is a PFF Fantasy contributor, a SiriusXM host, co-founder of Her Fantasy Football and was a finalist for FSWA's Newcomer of the Year in 2014.

  • Taylor

    Excellent article. Thanks for your input.

  • guest

    This is very helpful – reminiscent of prior seasons, back when this content was available under the $25/season fantasy football package, instead of built into a $1,000/season premium stats package. Would be nice if you’d post some more of this – the site was may more helpful when the articles provided insight into the premium stats, even if you were disseminating all of them.

  • geo2209

    Should we really be targeting James White with Dion Lewis now practicing?