NFL Matchups: Run/Pass Frequency or Run/Pass Proficiency?
One of the biggest factors to consider in daily fantasy is the matchup of your target player. If you are targeting a QB or WR, the general wisdom is that you want that player to be facing a team that is bad against the pass. If you target a RB, general wisdom says you want that player to be facing a team that can’t stop the run. What people ultimately mean by this is a team that gives up a lot of yards and touchdowns against the run or the pass depending on who you are looking to target.
This sort of thinking seems correct. But what if the far more important factor to look at is whether a defense is frequently run on or frequently passed on, regardless of how good that team is against either the pass or the run?
Let’s examine two defenses. Defense A is terrible at defending the run, giving up 5.2 yards per carry to opponents, but is only run on 40% of plays. Defense B is good at defending the run, only giving up 4.2 yards per carry, but is run on 52% of plays. Which team is a better matchup for an opposing RB?
Player A is an exactly average NFL RB on an exactly average NFL team, so we can project his performance based solely on his opponents defensive statistics. Let’s say this player averages 20 carries a game, and his team has run the ball on 45% of snaps.
Projection against Defense A: (20*(40/45)) = 17.8 Carries, 17.8*5.2 = 92.44 Yards
Projection against Defense B: (20*(52/45)) = 23.1 Carries, 23.1*4.2 = 97.02 Yards
Interesting! So even though Defense B is much better at stopping the run than Defense A, they give up nearly 5 more expected yards to Player A. That only equates to half a fantasy point, but the real advantage is much larger. A player with more touches is also going to get more touches in the red zone, which will increase his chance of scoring a TD. That will also add a point or two to a player’s fantasy point expectation. A few points in expectation does not sound like a lot, but when all you really want is about 2 fantasy points per $1000 in salary in daily fantasy, you are actually saving a large amount of salary.
It gets more extreme for WRs because daily fantasy sites tend to award a half or full point per reception. Let’s examine another hypothetical. Defense A is passed on only 50% of plays, But gives up 14.2 yards per reception. Defense B is passed on a massive 65% of plays, but only gives up 12.2 yards per reception. We are projecting Player A, who is an exactly average WR on an exactly average team, which we will assume is 5 receptions per game and passes the ball 57% of the time.
Projection against Defense A: (5*(50/57)) = 4.38 Receptions, 4.38*14.2 = 62.28 Yards, 10.6 Fantasy Points
Projection against Defense B: (5*(65/57)) = 5.7 Receptions, 5.7*12.2 = 69.56 Yards, 12.66 Fantasy Points
Now we get a 2 fantasy point difference just on yards and catches, despite defense A again being just awful against the pass.
When we look at this math, it seems like that it isn’t lack of proficiency against the pass or run that we should target, but rather the frequency a team is run or passed against when looking at what matchups are favorable and unfavorable.
This is why I like Branden Oliver so much this week in the NFL, especially over a comparable Andre Williams. Both are about the same price on DraftKings and FanDuel, both are running backs replacing injured starters, and both are on teams with high point projections this week. But Oliver’s matchup against the Raiders is clearly much better than Williams matchup against the Eagles. The Raiders lead the league in opponent run play percentage at a whopping 55%, while the Eagles’ opponents have only run the ball 42% of the time. With the Chargers expected to run the ball so much, we can expect Oliver’s production to be much better than Williams, whose Giants will run the ball much less against an Eagles.
It’s also why I like Russell Wilson a lot this week. A lot of people look at the Dallas defense and see they are really bad against the run, which they are. But the Cowboys are passed on much more than they are run on, their opponents pass the ball 60% of the time on them, ranking at the top end of the league. Wilson should pass the ball a lot this week and should do the same damage scrambling against the Cowboys as he did against the Redskins last Monday night.
- Matchup is one of the most important factors is daily fantasy decision making.
- Most amateur and professional daily fantasy players will consider the weakness or strength of an opposing defense against the pass or run, but the frequency a team is run or passed on is just as an important if not more important.
- Even teams who are proficient against the run or pass can be better matchups than teams that are extremely poor at defending the pass or run if the proficient team is passed on more
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