Mike ClayESPN WriterClose
- Fantasy football, NFL badyst for ESPN.com
- Member of Pro Football Writers of America
- Founding director of Pro Football Focus Fantasy
- 2013 FSTA award winner for most accurate preseason rankings
Below are notes covering each of the NFL’s 32 teams from a fantasy perspective. Use these tidbits to make the best waiver-wire, trade and lineup decisions for Week 9. Be sure to check back each week of the season for a new version of the Fantasy 32.
This is a special “regression alert” edition of Fantasy 32 in which I will examine a player from each team who is a strong candidate to score touchdowns at a higher or lower rate during the second half of the season.
Throughout this piece, I’ll be referencing “OTD.” OTD stands for opportunity-adjusted touchdowns. It is a statistic that weighs every carry/target and converts the data into one number that indicates a player’s scoring opportunity. For example, if a player has an OTD of 3.0, it means that a league-average player who saw the same number of carries/targets in the same area of the field would have scored three touchdowns.
Andre Ellington (1.3 OTD) has yet to find the end zone this season. Arizona’s pbading-down specialist hasn’t carried the ball within 17 yards of the goal line but has handled a pair of end zone targets. That’s tied with Rex Burkhead and Christian McCaffrey for most at the position. Ellington missed Arizona’s Week 7 game but is expected back following the Week 8 bye. He sits fourth among running backs in receptions for the six weeks he has been active and, especially with a touchdown or three on the horizon, Ellington remains in the flex discussion in PPR.
Whether you’re dealing with bye weeks or trying to figure out which players benefit from recent trades, we prioritize your waiver pickups this week, including tight ends to grab in a pinch and other players to stash for their potential.
Julio Jones (3.4 OTD) has managed only one touchdown this season. That 2.4 gap is the eighth largest in the NFL. Only five players have exceeded Jones’ eight end zone targets. Jones is fantasy’s No. 17 scoring wide receiver despite averaging 8.7 targets per game (only a slight decrease from 9.1 last year). Jones scored six touchdowns in 14 games last season with a 4.2 OTD, so despite the lack of scoring in 2017, the team is actually trying to feed him more near the goal line. Jones should be on your radar as a player to try to trade for while his value is down.
Javorius Allen (4.5 OTD) ranks 15th in the NFL in OTD but has scored only two touchdowns. Despite his primary gig as a pbading-down back, Allen has handled four of the Ravens’ eight carries inside the opponent’s 5-yard line and also has an end zone target. Alex Collins (0.7 OTD), meanwhile, has yet to score a touchdown this season, but the reason for it is a lack of usage near the end zone. The impressive big man has one carry from the opponent’s 5-yard line and no additional attempts within 28 yards of the goal line. Seriously. It’s possible (likely?) Baltimore will get Collins more work near the goal line, but it’s hard to count on, considering his first 80 carries this year.
A few weeks ago, I advised you to go out of your way to try to acquire LeSean McCoy (5.7 OTD), who had yet to score a touchdown on the season. Two games later, McCoy has three scores under his belt. Though he’s quickly wheeling in his OTD, it’s worth noting that Mike Tolbert (2.5 OTD, one TD) is going to vulture touchdowns if his current usage keeps up. McCoy has seven carries inside the opponent’s 7-yard line, and Tolbert is just behind with four. McCoy entered 2017 as a strong bet for touchdown regression to the mean after he scored 13 times last season despite a 6.9 OTD. He has overcorrected a bit out of the gate this season. Expect the touchdowns to keep rolling in as the season progresses.
Both McCaffrey (3.4 OTD) and Jonathan Stewart (3.3 OTD) have found the end zone twice this season. Their usage suggests more scoring is on tap. McCaffrey has yet to carry the ball within 9 yards of the goal line but has two end zone targets. Stewart hasn’t been targeted within 10 yards of the end zone, but has seven carries inside the 10-yard line. Both players are candidates for a leap forward in the scoring department.
Jordan Howard (4.1 OTD, four TDs) and Tarik Cohen (1.9 OTD, two TDs) are almost exactly at their expected totals, and the team is a mess at wide receiver, which made this a tricky team for this article. That said, the tight ends are worth a quick look since Zach Miller (2.1 OTD, two TD) was lost for the season, opening the door for Dion Sims (0.5 OTD, one TD) to take over as a starter. A hefty 25 percent of the team’s targets have been directed at the tight end position, and Sims figures to handle 60-plus percent of the looks. The Bears don’t score often, but if Miller’s usage is any indicator, Sims is positioned for a handful of touchdowns. He’s an option in two-TE leagues.
Brandon LaFell (2.4 OTD) has scored one touchdown on 36 targets this season. Though we all would love to see rookie speedster John Ross take on a larger offensive role, the fact remains that LaFell is Andy Dalton’s top target not named A.J. Green. LaFell has handled four end zone targets this season, which trails Green by only two. LaFell scored six touchdowns with a 5.4 OTD en route to finishing 35th among wide receivers in fantasy points last year. He has exceeded his OTD at least slightly during five of his past six seasons, which provides even more optimism for second-half improvement in that area.
Duke Johnson Jr. (1.8 OTD) has scored three touchdowns at the midway point of the season, but his usage suggests he may not be able to match that total during his final eight games. Still the change-of-pace back behind Isaiah Crowell, Johnson has registered two carries from the opponent’s 1-yard line but no additional tries within the 17-yard line. The closest he has been to the end zone on a target is the 15-yard line. A lack of work near the goal line is nothing new for Johnson, who entered 2017 with three touchdowns and a 5.7 OTD in two seasons of work.
Dak Prescott (1.4 OTD) has scored on three of his 23 carries this season. On a per-look basis, Prescott’s 13.0 percent scoring rate is seventh highest in the NFL. Prescott also defied the numbers by rushing for six touchdowns (3.7 OTD) on 56 looks last year, though his scoring rate was a bit more reasonable. Prescott’s rushing production helps add to his QB1 appeal, but don’t be surprised if he fails to match his 2016 touchdown total on the ground by season’s end.
Demaryius Thomas (1.7 OTD) has been targeted 57 times this season but has yet to score a touchdown. Only Pierre Garcon has been targeted more often among players without a touchdown catch this year. After scoring 10-plus touchdowns in three consecutive seasons (31.0 OTD, 35 TDs during the span), Thomas found the end zone six times in 2015 (6.9 OTD) and five times last season (6.0 OTD). Thomas’ targets are down slightly from last season, but he’s still handling 7.1 per game, which is enough to allow WR2 numbers in PPR leagues.
The Lions have run the ball seven times inside the opponent’s 5-yard line this season. Dwayne Washington (2.0 OTD) has handled four of those carries but has failed to score a touchdown. Incredibly, Washington has appeared in only three games and is responsible for four of the team’s five carries inside the 5 during those weeks (Ameer Abdullah handled the other). Abdullah (1.7 OTD, one TD) hasn’t scored much this season, and his usage suggests second-half improvement is doubtful, especially with Washington now healthy and working as the goal-line back.
Green Bay Packers
Jordy Nelson (3.6 OTD) has scored six touchdowns this season. That 2.4 gap ranks as the seventh highest in the NFL. Nelson has registered six end zone targets, which ranks 13th. Davante Adams (2.9 OTD, 5 TDs) also has been fortunate in this area. Packers receivers have tended to defy logic in the touchdown department — at times — during the Aaron Rodgers era, but with the star quarterback sidelined, Nelson and Adams can’t be expected to overcome expectations by such a large margin. Expect roughly five touchdowns between the two going forward.
Officially the poster boy for this year’s #RegressionAlert article, Will Fuller V (2.4 OTD) has scored on seven of his 13 receptions this season. That includes exactly two scores during three of his four outings this season. The 4.6 gap between Fuller’s OTD and touchdown total is largest in the NFL. Fuller has scored on 29.2 percent of his 24 looks, which is, by far, the league’s largest mark among the 229 players with at least 20 looks this year. In fact, the next closest player is Marcedes Lewis (19.0 percent) and Fuller’s rate is more than double all but three players (Lewis, O.J. Howard, Nelson). Fuller’s absurd touchdown barrage has included catches on all three of his end zone targets, as well as post-catch runs of 1, 3, 4 and 6 yards. He has been targeted nine times while within 12 yards of the goal line and seven have gone for touchdowns. Yes, Deshaun Watson has the Houston offense rolling on all cylinders, but it’s important to remember that scoring is about opportunity — not talent. Same as even the best we’ve ever seen in the NFL, Fuller simply can’t and won’t be able to sustain anything close to his current scoring pace. In order to continue to provide starting-caliber production in fantasy, Fuller will need to see more than 5.5 targets per game, though he did hit a season high with eight against Seattle on Sunday. Granted, Watson wasn’t under center, but Fuller scored only twice despite a 4.8 OTD in 2016. DeAndre Hopkins (3.5 OTD), meanwhile, has seven scores and also should come back to earth along with Watson and Fuller in upcoming games.
Marlon Mack (2.0) has scored three touchdowns this season, but his usage suggests he won’t come close to that mark in the second half, baduming his role doesn’t change much behind Frank Gore. Mack is responsible for three of the team’s five carries inside the opponent’s 5-yard line during the six weeks he has been active. However, all three of those tries came in Week 1. Since returning from injury in Week 5, Mack has scored twice despite having a 0.7 OTD and no carries or targets inside the opponent’s 10-yard line (his touchdowns came on a 22-yard run and a 29-yard catch and run). Mack won’t be a viable fantasy starter as long as Gore is the lead back.
Marqise Lee (1.7 OTD) has handled 47 targets as the Jaguars’ No. 1 wide receiver this season but has yet to find the end zone. His usage, which includes a pair of end zone targets, suggests he should have closer to two touchdowns. Lee also has handled three additional targets within 5 yards of the opponent’s goal line. Lee nearly matched his 3.8 OTD with three scores last year and finished 41st at the position in fantasy points. He’ll be on the flex radar moving forward.
Kansas City Chiefs
After breaking onto the NFL scene with six touchdowns during his first three games, Kareem Hunt (3.5 OTD) has failed to find the end zone even once during his past five outings. Despite the scoring drought, Hunt’s OTD is incredibly still well below his touchdown total. Hunt has carried the ball only three times inside the opponent’s 5-yard line and has been targeted twice while inside the opponent’s 15-yard line.
Los Angeles Chargers
Keenan Allen (3.4 OTD) has been limited to one touchdown this season despite the fact that he’s tied at sixth in the NFL with eight end zone targets. Allen’s poor scoring luck appears even flukier when you consider that he entered the year with 16 career touchdowns and a 13.6 OTD. Despite his scoring woes, Allen enters the Chargers’ Week 9 bye 13th among wide receivers in fantasy points. He’s a good bet to find the end zone more often in the second half, and thus should be a player you’re targeting in trades.
Los Angeles Rams
Robert Woods (1.0 OTD) is yet another player who has failed to score a touchdown despite hefty involvement in his offense. Woods has been targeted 44 times, though only two have come in the end zone. Woods’ OTD suggests he won’t be a good source of scoring, but considering he sits 46th among wide receivers in fantasy points without a single touchdown, it’s fair to expect even better fantasy production in future weeks. He’ll be in the flex discussion when the matchup is right.
Jay Ajayi (1.4 OTD) ranks fifth in the NFL with 138 carries but has yet to score a touchdown this season. Ajayi was traded to the Eagles on Tuesday, but his scoring struggles point to the overall ineffectiveness of the Miami offense. The Dolphins are the only team yet to run the ball at least once inside the opponent’s 5-yard line (each of the 31 other teams have at least two). Common sense suggests the Dolphins will manage at least a few carries near the end zone in the second half, but considering that they rank dead last with an average of 1.3 offensive touchdowns per game, there may not be many. Expect Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams to struggle for touchdowns in the second half.
Jerick McKinnon (1.7 OTD) has found the end zone on four of his 106 looks this season. That includes four of 84 looks (1.6 OTD) in four games since Dalvin Cook went down for the season. During those four games, McKinnon has scraped together two carries inside the opponent’s 5-yard line. That’s equal to Latavius Murray’s total. Murray sports a 1.3 OTD since Cook has been out but has scored only one touchdown. McKinnon entered 2017 with seven career touchdowns and a 6.8 OTD. He may be better than Murray, but the two continue to split carries. Expect McKinnon to score less often.
New England Patriots
James White (2.4 OTD) has scored one touchdown this season, which is one-third of his total from February’s Super Bowl win against Atlanta. In fact, including the playoffs, White scored on nine of 150 looks with a 5.3 OTD last year. He handled three carries inside the opponent’s 5-yard line and managed one end zone target. In eight games this season, White has managed 79 looks, one of which was a carry inside the 5 and one that was an end zone target. White’s usage has clearly been pretty similar to last season, but the touchdowns haven’t gone his way. Expect that to fix itself in the second half. He remains in the RB2 discussion in PPR.
New Orleans Saints
Mark Ingram (5.0 OTD) has scored four touchdowns, and Alvin Kamara (2.1 OTD) has three this season, but the usage of both players suggests the scoring gap should be wider. Ingram has carried the ball seven times inside the opponent’s 5-yard line, whereas Kamara has only twice. Kamara hasn’t been targeted while inside the opponent’s 12-yard line but Ingram has twice. Ingram has actually been one of the league’s busiest players near the goal line over the past 3½ seasons. During the 2014-16 regular seasons, Ingram’s 26.5 OTD ranked seventh in the NFL. He scored 25 touchdowns during the span. Ingram remains the Saints’ lead and goal-line back. Expect more of the touchdowns to go his way in the second half, though both backs are viable fantasy starters.
New York Giants
Last season, Sterling Shepard found the end zone on eight of his 65 receptions and, considering his 5.1 OTD, was a strong bet to regress to the mean in 2017. In five games this season, Shepard has scored only once. His 1.7 OTD, combined with the team’s loss of Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall for the season, suggests Shepard will be in better shape in the touchdown department in the second half.
New York Jets
Jermaine Kearse (1.9 OTD) paces the Jets with four touchdowns this season. The late-offseason acquisition from Seattle has hauled in two of his four end zone targets. His other touchdowns required post-catch scampers of 2 and 6 yards. Kearse has no additional targets while within 13 yards of the goal line. Kearse’s 17 percent target share, combined with a dip in touchdowns, figures to keep him on the outside looking in at flex value in the second half.
Michael Crabtree (3.7 OTD) has scored six touchdowns, and his 10 end zone targets trail only Dez Bryant (13) and Jimmy Graham (11) for most in the NFL. Though the hefty amount of work in the end zone is nice, Crabtree has managed only two additional targets while within 15 yards of the goal line. He has scored on 11.5 percent of his 52 looks, which is the league’s ninth-highest rate. All targets considered, Crabtree’s usage simply won’t allow him to sustain his current scoring pace. The veteran wideout found the end zone eight times last season with an 8.2 OTD and 17 end zone targets. He scored nine times with a 6.9 OTD and 15 end zone looks in 2015.
Though the Eagles have been scoring almost at will this season, they actually have both a lucky and an unlucky player in the touchdown department. Starting with the former, Nelson Agholor (2.1 OTD) has found the end zone five times this season. The third-year receiver has scored on two of his three end zone targets, but has seen only two additional looks within 17 yards of the goal line. Agholor’s three other scores required post-catch runs of 19, 20 and 30 yards. Agholor scored three times with a 5.2 OTD during his first two NFL seasons. On the other side of the coin, we have LeGarrette Blount (5.5 OTD), who ranks eighth in the NFL in OTD, but has scored only three touchdowns. Only Carlos Hyde (10) has more carries inside the opponent’s 5-yard line than Blount (eight), who paced the NFL with 24 in the category last season. The Eagles have scored 83 percent of their touchdowns through the air this season. Assuming that normalizes a bit in the second half, Agholor will suffer and Blount and newcomer Jay Ajayi will reap the benefits.
Rookie sensation JuJu Smith-Schuster (2.1 OTD) has scored four times already this season. He has found the end zone on 11.1 percent of his looks, which ranks 11th out of 229 players with at least 20 looks this year. Smith-Schuster scored one of the season’s most improbable touchdowns on Sunday night when he caught a 97-yarder that required 72 yards after the catch. Smith-Schuster’s other touchdowns have required post-catch runs of at least 5 yards, as he failed to haul in his lone end zone target this year. If the rookie’s playing time and target share keep up, he’ll be on the WR3 radar, but it’s fair to expect a dip in touchdown rate.
San Francisco 49ers
Among all players who have yet to score a touchdown this season, Pierre Garcon (1.0 OTD) ranks first in receptions (40) and Marquise Goodwin (3.1 OTD) ranks first in OTD. Despite all those catches, Garcon has yet to be targeted within 7 yards of the goal line this season. Goodwin has seen six end zone targets and four additional looks within 10 yards of the goal line. Goodwin has obviously has the worse luck, as the high-value targets have been there, which makes him a better bet to bounce back in the second half. Garcon, meanwhile, has never eclipsed six touchdowns in a season and is a poor bet for any more than two or three scores in the second half.
Both Tyler Lockett (2.0 OTD) and Paul Richardson (2.9 OTD) caught six pbades and went over 100 receiving yards during Sunday’s win against Houston. Of course, Richardson scored two touchdowns and Lockett had none. That’s par for the course this season, as Lockett has still yet to find the end zone, whereas Richardson has been extremely fortunate with five scores. Richardson has scored on 13.9 percent of his 36 looks, which is the league’s fifth-highest mark. Needless to say, he’s a strong bet for regression to the mean. He entered this year with two career touchdowns and a 2.8 OTD. Lockett, meanwhile, scored six times (3.0 OTD) as a rookie, but only once last year (2.3 OTD). He’s not getting much work near the goal line, but his overall target load is enough to expect improvement in the second half. Don’t be surprised if both Richardson and Lockett end up scoring right around two or three touchdowns the rest of the way.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
O.J. Howard (1.3 OTD) has found the end zone on three of his 20 looks through seven career NFL games. Howard’s 15.0 percent scoring rate ranks third in the NFL behind only Fuller and Lewis. Howard failed to catch either of his two end zone targets — instead, leaning on post-catch runs of 2, 4 and 34 yards for the three scores. Howard has been targeted a grand total of four times while within 25 yards of the goal line. Barring an increased role in the pbading game, Howard will disappoint in the touchdown column in the second half.
Delanie Walker (3.2 OTD) ranks third in the NFL in targets among players without a receiving touchdown this season. He’s one of six tight ends with an OTD above 3.0, and each of the five other players have scored at least four touchdowns. Ouch. Walker does have a rushing score, but he hasn’t caught a touchdown after managing at least six during three of the past four seasons. Despite his scoring woes, Walker sits 11th among tight ends in fantasy points. With some better scoring fortune in the second half, Walker has a shot at his third consecutive top-five fantasy campaign.
Chris Thompson (1.6 OTD) exploded out of the gate this season with four touchdowns in his first three games. Since that point, he has managed one touchdown in four games. Though his touchdown rate has obviously regressed quite a bit, it still has a ways to go. The 3.4 gap between Thompson’s touchdown total and OTD is highest among running backs. Thompson has zero carries inside the opponent’s 7-yard line and has been targeted only once within 7 yards of the goal line. His rushing scores came from 7 and 61 yards out and he needed 8-, 17- and 24-yard post-catch runs on the receiving touchdowns. Thompson, who entered 2017 with eight career touchdowns, sits eighth at running back in fantasy points, but his declining touchdown production renders him as no more than a fringe RB2 option.