Late-Game Fantasy Flow
Washington was trailing on the scoreboard for 58 percent of their offensive snaps, and nearly 32 game minutes (31:55) in 2014. The biggest knock on Alfred Morris is he’s sensitive to poor game scripts. According to the RotoViz Game Splits App, he has averaged 9.7 points (0.5 PPR) when his team is loses by at least seven points, versus 15.5 in all other situations.
It is a tough wart to ignore for a back who caught roughly one pass per game last season (17) – although that almost doubled his prior career total (20). However, he remains hard to discount. In standard leagues, he’s produced RB5, RB14, and RB13 finishes, and his worst PPR result was the RB20 in 2013. It’s dangerous to say “there’s nowhere to go but up” for Dan Snyder’s bunch, but bear with me.
They hired offensive line guru Bill Callahan, who was last seen helping to mold the Cowboys into the NFL’s dominant blocking brigade. In fact, over the last seven years, Callahan-coached offensive lines have averaged a 5th-place ranking in PFF’s run blocking grades. He has a few pieces to work with, and Washington’s run blocking essentially has nowhere to go but up (24th-“best”).
Washington jettisoned underrated pass catching back Roy Helu, and drafted Matt Jones – on whom the jury is still out. New general manager Scot McCloughan is a sharp executive and made solid offseason moves on both sides of the ball. As is typical for this time of year, reports have generally been positive – right down to the enigmatic Robert Griffin III. While there’s a long way to go, head Coach Jay Gruden has credited new quarterback Coach Matt Cavanaugh’s tutelage for Griffin’s progress.
Vegas is projecting a 2.5-game jump in wins, and the beneficiary of this improvement will be Morris. Despite last season’s debacle, he finished sixth in rushing attempts. That’s also where he ranked in first-half handoffs. Unfortunately, he had the 13th-most second half attempts, during which time Washington was losing on 72.4 percent of snaps. He ranked 24th in fourth-quarter handoffs.
If his team can hang in more games, and help him reverse the trend that saw him lose both opportunity and efficiency as contests went along, Morris could be one of 2015’s most unexciting bargains. His ADP in MyFantasyLeague standard scoring drafts since June 1st is the RB14 in the mid-fourth round, behind Carlos Hyde and Melvin Gordon. He’s the RB18 in MFL10s during that same timeframe. I’m happy to pick him in that area, and am excited to do it when he slides further down – which is typical.
Martin’s fantasy value is experiencing something of a dead cat bounce. His MFL10 ADP is at its highest point of the offseason, jumping more than three rounds – into the seventh – since late May. Spurred on by articles like this one by the prescient Shawn Siegele, drafters are dusting off their burnt hair and bravely giving Martin another shot. If nothing else, it’s still a relatively inexpensive move.
Whether or not they go worst-to-first in the NFC South, the Buccaneers will improve on their two-win 2014 season. Vegas projects a significant uptick of four full games. Considering that they were losing on an NFL-high 85.7 percent of their fourth quarter snaps, and could only spit out a league-low 59 handoffs during those final stanzas last year, there’s real potential here.
The league average for fourth quarter rushes in 2014 was 113.5, and 23 teams had at least 100. Martin has looked nothing like that muscly hamster we barely remember now, yet there is reason to believe he can bounce back. But even if you can’t get over your nuked eyebrows, and will never again own Martin, at least light a late candle for Bobby Rainey – because more volume is coming.
I dove into the fine points on the underrated Ivory a month ago, but he fits this game script theme as well. The Jets were losing for 80.1 percent of their fourth quarter snaps a year ago, during which time Ivory only managed to accrue 17.7 percent of his seasonal carry total and 18.4 percent of his rushing yards. While he did rank 18th in carries for the season, he saw the 14th-most during the first half of games, compared to the 29th-most after halftime.
New York’s secondary is night-and-day improved, they crush opposing running games, and Todd Bowles knows how to scheme pressure. Geno Smith now has a “Ryan Fitzpatrick floor” if he doesn’t progress under Chan Gailey. After a four-win 2014, Vegas is predicting 7.5 victories – and, by extension, more Ivory opportunity.
On the other end of the late-game rushing spectrum, Bell accrued 31 percent of his attempts, 37 percent of his yards, and 57 percent of his touchdowns in the fourth quarter last year. His best attributes have been a nose for the end zone, and the opportunity to sniff it. All but one of his rushing touchdowns came from the inside the four yard line, with five originating from the one.
Forget about Bell’s offseason surgeries, advancing age, 34th-ranked PFF rushing game grade (-1.2), and the two-year streak of averaging fewer than four yards per carry (3.9). Even if you discount the Lions adding Ameer Abdullah’s dynamic skills to their backfield, will Bell get the chance to do what has supported his fantasy value over the last two seasons?
Detroit won 11 games 2014, and their Vegas projection for 2015 is 8.5 victories. If Bell somehow overcomes the well-documented knocks on his outlook that he can actually control himself, it still won’t be enough to return equity on an already depressed draft cost if his team slumps.
Whoever the lucky Week 1 lead dog is, he’ll have the benefit of a mauling offensive line, efficient passing game, and – judging by last season – a coaching tendency to pound the rock. What he probably won’t have is a DeMarco-esque workload and game script. Dallas was losing on the fourth-lowest percentage of fourth quarter snaps last season. They ranked 18th in total snaps, 31st in fourth quarter snaps, and still produced 132 fourth quarter rushing attempts (7th-most).
While they did make defensive additions, the Cowboys will be without several of their highest-graded defenders due to defection (Henry Melton, Anthony Spencer, Sterling Moore) or four-game suspension (Rolando McClain, Greg Hardy). Dallas walked a fine game script line last year and rolled up 12 wins. Vegas thinks they’ll shave two and a half off of that total this time around.
With games against the rising defenses of the AFC East, offenses on the upswing in the NFC South, plus the Seahawks, and a trip to Lambeau – their strength-of-schedule outlook is a far cry from a 2014 slate that was the NFL’s easiest (114-142 record). More dogfights equate to more fourth quarter passes. They only had 112 of those last year, when the league average was 163. Their passing game is a surer bet than any single running back currently on their roster.
Last year, NFL offenses ran 604 fourth-quarter plays while leading by at least three touchdowns. They passed on 144 of them (23.8 percent). The only teams to throw at least 27 percent of the time in those situations were the Colts (36 percent), Patriots (32), Eagles (31), Packers (29), Dolphins (29) and Broncos (27). Those six teams totaled 40 more passes, while already smacking their opponents around, than the rest of the league combined.
Over the last five years, New England has passed in that blowout situation at a 29-percent rate, and Green Bay at a 32-percent clip. Philadelphia has done it 31-percent of the time under Chip Kelly – the same rate as Indianapolis has since Andrew Luck arrived. With Peyton Manning in Denver, their pass percentage with a big late lead is 25-percent – well above the league average each year.
That last one is interesting considering that Gary Kubiak is now the Broncos head coach. Since he took over at the Texans in 2006, his teams have passed in the fourth quarter while up 21-plus points less than half as often as Denver did over the last three years (12 percent). While calling the Ravens offense last year, they ran 20 out of 20 times in that situation.
That may mean more for Brock Osweiler than for Manning himself, as the old war horse will probably be rested more often during blowouts. Perhaps Denver doesn’t even have many blowouts this season. But while it’s not groundbreaking to say the passing offenses that stay aggressive in garbage time are worth investing in, it can’t hurt to keep them in mind when deciding between similarly ranked players.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Chargers only threw 15-percent of the time when up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter over the last five years. Although Mike McCoy has been in charge since 2013 (14 percent), Philip Rivers has been a constant. With several factors pointing to San Diego employing a run-heavy game plan, it’s conceivable that their myriad pass catchers will hurt for volume.
Below is a run-down of the teams who ran at least 20 plays while up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter in 2014. Although this information will not dramatically alter strategy, and the best offenses – already desirably fertile fantasy ground – are the ones that tend to run the most plays in blowouts, it is a useful tool to have on your tiebreaking belt.
Buying a Brandon LaFell garbage time touchdown at the same price point as a Brian Quick late-game run block may just turn out to be a DFS bankroll boon.
|Team||4th Qtr. Plays While up >= 21 Points||Pass Percentage|
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman