Fantasy hints from next-level data

Examining strength of schedule for the remaining fantasy slate

Updated: November 13, 2013, 6:14 PM ET
By Ken Daube | Special to ESPN.com

Alex Smith, Andy Dalton and Russell Wilson Getty ImagesAlex Smith, Andy Dalton and Russell Wilson have varying schedule strength for the duration.

At this point in the season, it's safe to conclude that NFL teams will continue to generally perform along the lines of how they have executed so far. This isn't to say that player value shouldn't be adjusted; it absolutely should be. However, you shouldn't just be making adjustments on those values based upon the player's year to date usage, but also for the remaining schedule that each player faces.

On our site, we show the average number of fantasy points that each NFL team allows to opposing skill positions each week. If you compare those points against averages, and view them along with the remaining schedule, you can further see if your skill position players project to be positively or negatively impacted by their remaining slate.

To help you out in this regard, here are the composite average fantasy points allowed by remaining strength of fantasy schedule (SOFS) for each skill position for the remainder of the season, along with how each number compares to the league average at the position:

On target

Receiving yardage is the most variable form of yardage, which makes sense because so much of it is dependent on where the quarterback elects to throw the ball. Because of this, variations in the number of times a player is targeted by his quarterback can greatly change a player's value. So while your receiver may have scored 10 fantasy points this weekend, you need to know whether it's reasonable to expect that he can repeat that type of performance on a routine basis. If a receiver had one target that he turned into a 40-yard touchdown, you need to realize that he was one quarterback decision away from posting a goose egg. Conversely, if your wideout had 12 targets and finished with 108 yards receiving, his prospects for consistent fantasy production are significantly greater.

Below, you'll see all of the players who are averaging eight or more targets in their past four games, and how many of those targets were on plays that began in the red zone during Week 10.

Note: Targets are not an official NFL statistic. Based on the methodology that stat services use, the number of targets listed may be different than target values listed elsewhere. ESPN Stats & Information's philosophy is to count a target when the analyst thinks the pass was actually intended for the player. Therefore, if a quarterback is obviously throwing a ball away, the analyst will not record a target for that pass. This gives a truer representation of what a target is -- a pass thrown to a particular player, with the intent for that player to catch the ball -- and therefore should be more helpful to the fantasy community.

Fantasy insights based on data through Week 10

• It's amazing to consider, but we probably haven't yet seen the best of Calvin Johnson. Johnson, who leads the league in targets per game over the last four weeks, faces the sixth-friendliest schedule for wide receivers for the remainder of the season.

• While no Kansas City Chiefs receiver qualifies for the list, look for Dexter McCluster's value to rise significantly over the next couple of weeks. Regardless of whether Dwayne Bowe gets disciplined for his latest transgressions, McCluster should improve because the Chiefs have the best schedule for wide receivers the rest of the way. Initially, you may think this is because of two upcoming games against the Denver Broncos. The reality is that the Broncos defend opposing wide receivers better than any of the other opponents left on the Chiefs' schedule, and the Broncos don't do it particularly well.

Harry Douglas' inclusion on the list is primarily driven by a completely uncharacteristic 18 targets in Week 8, which was not only a career high, it represents a total that isn't surpassed by adding the targets of any three consecutive games that Douglas has played from the opening of the 2012 season until that game. Look for Douglas to come back to earth as Roddy White gets healthier.

Cecil Shorts' four targets this week were six fewer than his previous lowest number of targets (excluding the game against the Broncos, which he left early due to injury). Don't bet on that recurring, as Shorts is a sure bet for significant targets going forward. He remains undervalued in most leagues, even if he faces a challenging schedule the rest of the way.

• While Brandon Marshall remains a stud, there's plenty of room for Alshon Jeffery to equal -- if not surpass -- Marshall's production levels in the future. For the season, Marshall is averaging only about one more target per game than Jeffery has seen. The fantasy difference between the two has been completely touchdown-driven, which could reverse itself over time. Even if it doesn't, the schedule that the Chicago Bears face the rest of the way is good news for both players.

Big plays and up close

There were seven NFL players who totaled three or more rushes that gained 10 or more yards each: Mark Ingram (6), Reggie Bush (4), Marshawn Lynch (4), LeSean McCoy (4), Frank Gore (4), Alfred Morris (4) and Adrian Peterson (3).

Meanwhile, there were five players with at least two carries from their opponent's 5-yard line or closer: Andre Brown (4), Morris (2), Lynch (2), Pierre Thomas (2) and Rashad Jennings (2). Of this group, only Morris and Jennings failed to score on at least one of these attempts.

Coming into Week 10, Ingram had only 20 career rushes that went for 10 yards or more, including just one this year. His six such rushes against the Dallas Cowboys this week were a pure statistical anomaly, and he isn't a significant threat to either Thomas or Darren Sproles.

Those who stashed Andre Brown are about to be handsomely rewarded. Not only does Brown step into a New York Giants backfield that has recently been manned by a veritable "Who's that?" of NFL running backs, Brown becomes the clear No. 1 back on a team that faces the third-softest schedule for fantasy running backs the rest of the way.

With four rushes of 10 yards or more this past week, Lynch extended his NFL lead in this category, bringing his season total to 27. Lynch leads McCoy by four in this metric. Look for McCoy, who has the softest schedule in the league going forward, to surpass Lynch in this regard, and for McCoy to finish as the top fantasy running back at the end of the season.

Those in keeper leagues should be stashing Marcus Lattimore on their rosters right now. While Gore has been impressive this season, he's on pace for 288 carries, and he's already 30 years old. Jim Harbaugh is fully committed to running the ball, and projects to sticking with that strategy in the future. Lattimore is that future for the San Francisco 49ers, and sacrificing a bench spot on him now that most byes have passed is definitely recommended.

Red zone play-calling chart

Below is a listing of the percentage of run/pass plays each team has executed this season in the red zone. Pass plays are defined as any play in which the quarterback attempted a pass or was sacked, and all other plays are deemed as a rush.

Ken Daube (@ESPNKenD) is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. He also hosts "Fantasy Football Now" with ESPNNewYork.com's Dave Rothenberg (@RothenbergESPN) on Sundays between 7 and 9 a.m. ET. The show, which answers phone calls and tweets, streams online at ESPNNewYork.com, or can be listened to live via the ESPN Radio app.

Ken Daube

Fantasy Football
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Fantasy Football Now" with Dave Rothenberg on Sundays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET, which streams at ESPNNewYork.com, and can also be listened to via the ESPN Radio app.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.