How much does a fantasy option’s division matter?

With unbalanced schedules, a player's division can have a huge influence on his fantasy prospects.

| 1 week ago
(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

How much does a fantasy option’s division matter?


(“Today’s Crazy Fantasy Stat” is an occasional offseason offering from PFF that highlights something that catches our eye and aids in our preparation for the 2017 fantasy season.)

A couple of weeks ago, in a piece on the players who got the biggest fraction of their fantasy scoring in one big game, giving an artificial impression of full-season performance. The headliner of that list was Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr, whose Week 8 game against Tampa Bay lifted him seven spots on the fantasy ppg leaderboard for the season.

Part of the reason Carr didn’t have as many consistent big games was that, playing in the AFC West, he is scheduled for six games a season against the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, and (now) Los Angeles Chargers. Those three teams have the top two cornerbacks in PFF grades (Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib, both of Denver), and four of the top 10 (Los Angeles’ Casey Hayward and Kansas City’s Marcus Peters). The Chiefs also had Eric Berry, the No. 8 graded safety, and the Chargers had Jahleel Addae, 12th-best. By overall team pass coverage, the Broncos finished 2016 ranked second, the Chiefs fifth, and the Chargers 15th.

For no reason other than an accident of his draft day and a group of teams having a similar strength, Carr has six games a year against some brutal pass defenses (he played in only five of the games in 2016, missing the second Broncos game to injury). On the other side of the coin, Sam Bradford and the Minnesota Vikings have six games a year against the Chicago Bears (the No. 24 team in pass coverage grades), Detroit Lions (27th), and Green Bay Packers (32nd). Even if those teams have made some improvements, it’s not all, let’s say, balanced.

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The Seahawks and 49ers face two of the three best pass rushes a combined four times a year each, but the Steelers and Bengals get two of the bottom seven. The 49ers play three of the eight best run defenses six times a year, but the Panthers played three of the bottom 11. A player’s division has a huge impact on his schedule

We know all this stuff, of course, but in hopes of really visualizing the impact, I looked at the fantasy points per game offered by players in intradivisional games versus games outside their division, to see who was helped and hurt the most by their respective schedules.

Quarterbacks

Hurt: Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders

No surprise, and I’m not going to go into great depth here again, but Carr put up 9.9 more fantasy points per game outside the AFC West than he did inside it. That gap is more than 50 percent bigger than any other quarterbacks’ gap. As long as he’s with Oakland and the Broncos, Chargers, and Chiefs have better-than-competent pass defenses, Carr’s fantasy prospects are going to have a natural ceiling.

Derek Carr’s 2016 production inside and outside the AFC West
  G Attempts Completions Yards TD INT Fantasy PPG
vs. AFC West 5 176 103 1056 4 3 11.0
outside AFC West 10 384 254 2882 24 3 20.9

Hurt: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

You might not expect this, given the other members of the NFC South, but Newton had the second-biggest differential of any quarterback who played more than 10 games, putting up 18.3 fantasy points per game outside the division and only 14.2 inside it. The former would have been a top-10 fantasy quarterback; the latter was worse than Eli Manning. That was mostly due to turnovers — Newton averaged 1.2 passing TDs a game in the division and 1.3 outside, but almost half an interception more per game inside the division (1.2 against 0.8). This seems fairly fluky, given the generally underwhelming nature of the NFC South pass defenses, as you’ll see in about one line.

Cam Newton’s 2016 production inside and outside the NFC South
  G Attempts Completions Yards TD INT Fantasy PPG
vs. NFC South 5 180 91 1114 6 6 14.2
outside NFC South 10 330 179 2395 13 8 18.4

Helped: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

Outside the NFC South, Ryan was a good fantasy quarterback in 2016, putting up 19 fantasy points per game that would have ranked sixth among all quarterbacks. But against the Buccaneers, Panthers, and Saints, he was a superstar, with 26.2 fantasy points per game that was the highest intradivisional rate in the league and would have led all quarterbacks over a full season. This seems more indicative of the NFC South’s struggles than Newton’s numbers, and is a big part of the reason why Ryan could potentially repeat his MVP numbers.

Matt Ryan’s 2016 production inside and outside the NFC South
  G Attempts Completions Yards TD INT Fantasy PPG
vs. NFC South 6 209 154 2029 18 1 26.2
outside NFC South 10 325 219 2915 20 6 19.0

 

Running backs

Hurt: LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

This one surprised me, but in standard leagues, McCoy’s gap (19.6 ppg outside the AFC East, 9.8 inside) was nearly two full points bigger than any other flex option (RB/WR/TE), and even in PPR (22.9 vs. 13.0) was a point bigger than anybody else’s gap. In five games against AFC East opponents, McCoy had 71 carries for 278 yards (3.9 yards per carry) and one rushing TD. In 10 games outside the division, he had 6.1 yards per carry and 12 scores. It wasn’t even comparable.

LeSean McCoy’s 2016 production inside and outside the AFC East
  G Carries Yards YPC TD Targets Receptions Yards YPR TD Fantasy PPG
vs. AFC East 5 71 278 3.9 1 18 16 88 5.5 1 9.8
outside AFC East 10 163 989 6.1 12 36 34 264 7.8 0 19.6

Helped: Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals

Bernard (10.8 points) and Hill (8.2) had the two biggest gaps of any running backs in PPR ppg. Both players’ seasons were limited by injury (especially Bernard’s), and neither has anything resembling a guaranteed role in the Cincinnati offense in 2017 thanks to the team’s acquisition of second-round draft pick Joe Mixon, but if the differences continue in 2017, Mixon could see some big benefit.

Jeremy Hill’s 2016 production inside and outside the AFC North
  G Carries Yards YPC TD Targets Receptions Yards YPR TD Fantasy PPG
vs. AFC North 5 77 365 4.7 3 17 15 161 10.7 0 14.2
outside AFC North 10 145 474 3.3 6 8 6 13 2.2 0 8.5
Giovani Bernard’s 2016 production inside and outside the AFC North
  G Carries Yards YPC TD Targets Receptions Yards YPR TD Fantasy PPG
vs. AFC North 2 22 97 2.2 1 12 10 107 10.7 1 16.0
outside AFC North 8 69 240 3.5 1 36 29 229 7.9 0 6.6

 

Wide receivers

Hurt: Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders

In and of itself, this isn’t much of a surprise — Carr struggled against the AFC West, so of course his receivers likely did as well. Except that it wasn’t his receivers, with an “s,” it was just Crabtree. In PPR leagues, Crabtree put up 18.1 fantasy points per game outside the division and only 9.2 in it. Amari Cooper, meanwhile, was essentially the same fantasy producer regardless of divisional opponent, actually putting up slightly more fantasy points per game against his divisional opponents. With Crabtree’s performance more reliant on touchdowns, and the AFC West opponents particularly adept at limiting touchdown scoring, this might make an argument for Cooper as the better DFS option against AFC West opponents in 2017, if forced to choose one.

Michael Crabtree’s 2016 production inside and outside the AFC West
  G Targets Receptions Yards YPR TD Fantasy PPG
vs. AFC West 6 40 22 212 9.6 2 9.2
outside AFC West 10 102 67 791 11.8 6 18.1
Amari Cooper’s 2016 production inside and outside the AFC West
  G Targets Receptions Yards YPR TD Fantasy PPG
vs. AFC West 6 51 32 419 13.1 2 14.3
outside AFC West 10 76 51 735 14.4 3 14.2

Helped: Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings

Diggs’ biggest game of 2016 (his huge Week 2 with 182 yards and a touchdown) came against the NFC North. In fact, all three of his touchdowns came against the division, leading to Diggs averaging 11.1 PPR fantasy points per game more against his division than outside it. His teammate, Adam Thielen, offered nearly 3.0 points per game more as well, so it wasn’t just a Diggs thing; the NFC North just, as mentioned at the top, didn’t do a lot to stop opposing passing games.

Stefon Diggs’ 2016 production inside and outside the NFC North
  G Targets Receptions Yards YPR TD Fantasy PPG
vs. NFC North 4 41 34 367 10.8 3 22.5
outside NFC North 9 68 50 536 10.7 1 11.4

| Fantasy Editor

Daniel Kelley is the fantasy editor for Pro Football Focus. He has previously appeared at SB Nation.