PFF Fantasy Factors: One advanced stat to know for every Week 1 matchup

By Jeff RatcliffePro Football Focus

Special to Yahoo Sports

Going beyond the box score and using advanced statistics is what separates the winners from the losers in fantasy football. Sure, we use the raw stats for fantasy scoring, but looks can be deceiving. Knowing what goes into producing these numbers is crucial to forecasting what we can expect out of players in the future.

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At PFF, we have several advanced statistics at our disposal. While we can’t use every single one of them for fantasy insights, several stats can provide a much more nuanced understanding of player production than what the box score displays. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the Week 1 NFL slate and break down one advanced stat that you need to know for each contest.

Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

David Montgomery led the nation with 99 forced missed tackles last season at Iowa State. Of course, astute college fans will point out the fact that Montgomery had to do a lot of work on his own, thanks to a lackluster offensive line. Still, this kid showed he can make defenders miss often at the college level. Being elusive helps from a fantasy standpoint, because all of those extra yards add up to more fantasy points.

Los Angeles Rams @ Carolina Panthers

Over the last two seasons, Todd Gurley leads the league with a combined 44 carries inside the opposing five-yard line, and he’s scored on 21 of those carries. That’s an enormous workload near the goal line, and it’s a big reason why Gurley has been such a massive fantasy success. Goal-line carries are worth their weight in fantasy gold because the closer you are to the end-zone, the more likely you are to score. Of course, Gurley is a big question mark entering this season. That being said, even if his workload is reduced, Gurley is still very likely to continue to get the lion’s share of the red-zone work for the Rams.

Tennessee Titans @ Cleveland Browns

Nick Chubb led the league with an average of 4.47 yards after contact ... and Derrick Henry was second at 4.21. While their numbers were close last season, these two are being viewed very differently for fantasy purposes. Chubb is widely regarded as a top-10 option, while Henry is seen as a risky RB2. Both showed at various points last season that they can generate extra fantasy points after contact. Given their high-level of production, both are good bets to continue adding in that area this year.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Jacksonville Jaguars

LeSean McCoy ranked second-worst out of 62 qualifying running backs in yards after contact last season with just 2.01 per attempt. So we’re essentially at the opposite end of the coin from Chubb and Henry. Just as their numbers are encouraging, McCoy’s are unfavorable for fantasy production. Backs who can’t produce after contact almost always end up being low-ceiling options. While McCoy’s presence in the Kansas City backfield complicates things initially, look for him to fade from fantasy relevance as the season wears on.

Baltimore Ravens @ Miami Dolphins

Lamar Jackson led all quarterbacks in red-zone carries with 38. Second-place was Deshaun Watson with 22. That’s the highest number we’ve seen since PFF began recording data back in 2008, and the only other quarterback to top 30 is Cam Newton (he did so in 2011, 2012 and 2015). Better yet, Jackson did so despite not taking over as the starter until Week 11. Jackson’s rushing prowess gives him very intriguing fantasy potential, as every 40 rushing yards is the same amount of fantasy points as a passing touchdown in most leagues. That being said, Jackson doesn’t offer much upside on that front. Last season, he threw to the end-zone just seven times, which was second-lowest among quarterbacks.

Atlanta Falcons @ Minnesota Vikings

Calvin Ridley saw just five end-zone targets last season, which tied for 57th among wide receivers. Julio Jones led the Falcons with 12 end-zone targets and ranked second only to DeAndre Hopkins with a massive 46 targets when located in the red-zone. So while Ridley actually had more touchdowns than Jones last season, his usage suggests regression is coming. The more work you get in the red-zone, and especially the end-zone, the more likely you are to score as a receiver. Don’t expect double-digit touchdowns from Ridley unless his end-zone targets increase somewhat dramatically this year.

Buffalo Bills @ New York Jets

Only five receivers had a deeper average depth of target (aDOT) than John Brown last season at 17.0 yards per target. Brown was quietly a top-25 fantasy wide receiver over the first 10 weeks of the season with Joe Flacco under center for the Ravens, but his fantasy stock dropped off a cliff after Lamar Jackson took over. Brown’s big aDOT means big-play upside, which we can essentially double-down on in Buffalo with Josh Allen, who led all quarterbacks in aDOT at 11.5 last season. Expect some big plays to come from the Brown-and-Allen combination.

Washington Redskins @ Philadelphia Eagles

Jordan Howard averaged 3.7 yards per carry despite seeing sub-package defenses on 82% of his carries last season. Going against sub-packages is an advantage for running backs because there’s at least one extra defensive back on the field compared to base defenses. We’ve seen players like Todd Gurley feast on sub-packages over the last two seasons, seeing heavy sub-package looks and averaging over 5.0 yards per carry in those situations. But Howard just wasn’t able to capitalize on his advantage last year. In a similar offense in Philly this year, Howard just doesn’t offer much upside and should eventually fall well behind Miles Sanders in the fantasy pecking order.

Indianapolis Colts @ Los Angeles Chargers

Mike Williams saw 12 end-zone targets last season, which was four more than Keenan Allen. That was despite the fact that Williams also saw just over half as many targets as Allen at 125-64. Unlike Calvin Ridley, Williams’ double-digit touchdown performance has some sustainability if he continues to see work in the red-zone. Given his big frame and ability to play above the rim, that’s a likely outcome. He’s poised to break out in a big way this season.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Seattle Seahawks

Only Ben Roethlisberger threw more end-zone throws (50) than Russell Wilson’s 48 last season. Wilson posted this number despite attempting 248 fewer passes than Roethlisberger. Just like end-zone targets, the highest touchdown conversion rates come on throws to the end-zone. While the Seahawks were decidedly run-heavy last season, Wilson’s propensity to throw to the end-zone helped maintain his fantasy value in the QB1 range. Look for that to continue this season, especially because the Seahawks went out and got him a red-zone target in D.K. Metcalf.

Detroit Lions @ Arizona Cardinals

Over the last two seasons, Marvin Jones has played 25 games and has seen 29 end-zone targets. Kenny Golladay has 26 games played and 16 end-zone targets over that same span. While Golladay has been the apple of many fantasy players’ eyes, Jones is the guy Matthew Stafford tends to look for more frequently in the red-zone. To be fair, those numbers could shift this season. But if we see a similar pattern, Jones could end up being very undervalued entering the season.

New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott carried the ball inside the opposing five-yard line 11 times last season and scored on just two of those carries. By comparison, Saquon Barkley had 18 goal-line carries and scored on six of them. Now that Elliott is back with the Cowboys, he slides right back in as the odds-on favorite to lead the league in touches. But for fantasy purposes, we want to see more of those touches come near the goal line, along with Elliott converting more of them for scores.

San Francisco 49ers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Under Bruce Arians in 2015, Carson Palmer posted an aDOT of 11.3, which led all passers that season. Palmer had a career year in 2015, ranking fifth among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring. Jameis Winston ranked second in the league last season with an aDOT of 11.3.

Jameis Winston and Bruce Arians could be a match made in fantasy heaven. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jameis Winston and Bruce Arians could be a match made in fantasy heaven. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Better yet, that propensity to chuck the ball downfield meshes extremely well with Mike Evans, who was 10th among receivers with a 16.6 aDOT. Expect fireworks out of this Tampa offense this season, and that starts this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots

Stephon Gilmore shadowed opposing wide receivers in 13 of his 16 games last season, including in Week 15 against the Steelers. In that contest, Gilmore tracked Antonio Brown on 53% of his routes and held him to three catches on five targets for nine yards. And it wasn’t just Brown on Gilmore’s hit-list. Gilmore also shadowed DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, and Stefon Diggs, to name a few. Despite having to go up against some of the league’s best wideouts, Gilmore allowed just 27 catches on 63 targets in shadow situations. That’s bad news for JuJu Smith-Schuster this week.

Houston Texans @ New Orleans Saints

Over the first four weeks of last season, Alvin Kamara led the league with 21 carries in the red-zone. You’ll remember that was with Mark Ingram suspended. Over that stretch, Kamara led all running backs in fantasy scoring a whopping three times. Fast-forward to this season, and Ingram is now in Baltimore. While the Saints did bring Latavius Murray into the mix, Kamara is poised to see a heavy workload to kick off the season.

Denver Broncos @ Oakland Raiders

Only six players saw more end-zone targets than Courtland Sutton’s 14 last season. One of them was Antonio Brown, who led the league with 22. Sutton may not be the preferred wideout in Denver with Emmanuel Sanders back to his pre-injury form, but don’t discount his upside. If Sutton continues to see a heavy workload in the red-zone, he’s likely to outplay where fantasy gamers drafted him. On the other hand, AB will likely see some regression in his overall production. Derek Carr tied for the second-lowest aDOT last season at just 7.1. If that number doesn’t go up, Carr will put a cap on Brown’s fantasy upside.

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