There are a lot of things to be thankful for around this time of the year and Thanksgiving does a great job of reminding us each and every year. Fantasy Football columns about which players you're thankful for, however, should not be one of those things. Thankfully as fantasy sports articles have become more mainstream and competition has grown, this lazy writing trick has for the most part disappeared. It used to be a staple, however, as a columnist would type up some quick article highlighting the best values of the season and those players who are making their owners the most thankful. As a reader, those articles annoyed me. Playoff time was right around the corner and when I needed the most help, a writer was taking the easy way out before stuffing his face with turkey on Thursday. I promise not to be that guy.
So instead of doing a Thanksgiving themed article on what fantasy players you're thankful for, we're going to do one on pie. Yes, pie. Now I am the type of guy who looks forward most to the sides on Thanksgiving. I love stuffing and green beans and always make a request to have some macaroni and cheese on the table, but for many of you Thanksgiving is all about the pie. Apple, Pecan, and Pumpkin are the staples but those aren't the pies we're going to be talking about today. We're going to focus in on which players are getting the biggest piece of their team's offensive pie and we're going to do it for all 32 NFL franchises!
Now the data collection was a bit tedious on this one, so the meat of the article today will be the data, but let me explain what to look for and I'll provide a quick summary for a few teams that stand out at the bottom of the article.
I've created two sets of tables and positioned them side-by-side for every team so you can see how a team has divided their pie for the entire season and how they have done it since week 7. I've focused on Target % and Red Zone Opportunities % to highlight statistics that are typically most relevant to pass-catchers and running backs.
I think the most interesting way to view this data is through two different lenses. The first lens can be focused on how concentrated a team's offensive production is in a few players. As an example you'll see some teams where two players represent nearly 60% of their team's targets, while other team's the top three options highlighted will represent less than 40%. Teams with a bigger disparity in the size of their slices are going to produce more consistent fantasy players. The second lens which a reader should view the data through is one that assesses the direction of pie slices. As the season wears on are the slices becoming bigger or smaller with respect to your individual player. Certainly some team's offensive pies are larger than others but this article is focused on the size of each team's slices and should help shed some light on how team's play-calling has evolved over the course of the season. With that out of the way let's move onto the pie!
Targets % - Who has the biggest slices of pie?
Chicago Bears - The Bears are one of the few offenses that can support two elite wide receivers because they're so concentrated in their offensive attack. Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall have received over 53% of the targets on the season and that has climbed to 56% since week 7.
Carolina Panthers - The Panthers low volume passing attack has made it difficult for consistent options to emerge in fantasy, but they have a condensed enough box-score that if forced to pass, the opportunities would be significant. The challenge is who is going to get them into a shootout? With two games left against the Saints on their schedule, perhaps there is some hope for Steve Smith and Greg Olsen who have represented 47% of the targets on the season. It should be noted in the 2nd half Olsen's targets have been replaced by LaFell getting a bump. Olsen was dealing with a leg issue that has since cleared up, so I'd expect the trend to reverse with LaFell falling back in line as the third option.
Targets % - Which offenses have the smallest slivers of pie?
New York Jets - The Jets top three receiving options on the season total just 41% of the team's targets. It's a low volume passing attack that spreads it around too much to generate reliable options. Injuries have been a part of the problem but even over the 2nd half of the season to date, the Jets top three receiving options represent just 47% of the targets since week 7. It's very difficult to see a fantasy threat emerging from that wide receiver corps.
Minnesota Vikings - Similar to the Jets, it's difficult to see consistent value emerging from a run-first offense that their top three targets in the passing game have garnered just under 49% of the team's total targets. The only hope is Cordarelle Patterson who has seen his target percentage boost recently and is now up to 18.7% of the targets since week 7.
Baltimore Ravens - Torrey Smith, receiving 23.57% of targets on the year and 23.67% of targets since week 7 is the only reliable Ravens receiving option. Even taking a look at their season-long data against the "since week 7" data and the complementary receivers to Smith are both different. There was some early season hope and excitement for Marlon Brown but the Ravens are simply rotating too many options in.
Red Zone Opportunities % - Who has the biggest slices of pie?
Baltimore Ravens - While the Ravens get stingy with their pass pie slices, they give a big old slice of the red zone pie to Ray Rice. Despite all of Rice's difficulties this year, he's still getting over 36% of the team's entire red zone play-calling and over 40% since week 7. When favorable matchups come along he still possesses goal-line value.
Kansas City Chiefs - The Chiefs entire red zone offense is geared around Jamaal Charles. He's actually seen a "dip" in opportunities since week 7 but still represents 45% of the red zone play-calling on the season. This is why he's the most valuable running back in fantasy football this year.
Minnesota Vikings - It's interesting that two teams who scatter passes around have the most consistent red zone play-calling in the league. It speaks to an emphasis on their running backs but even more so the willingness to de-emphasize the passing game when you don't have a true number one wide receiver in the red zone. Adrian Peterson has represented between 44-47% of the red zone play-calling at all times. If he were on a better offense overall this year or had a better defense to generate short fields, he'd be contending with Charles more seriously for the number one overall running back slot.
Seattle Seahawks - It's astounding to see the Seahawks with 54-55% of their red zone attack either Marshawn Lynch or Russell Wilson (scrambles). It's easy to see why their wide receivers have struggled to generate consistency in a low volume passing attack and one of the reasons I remain more pessimistic on Percy Harvin than most.
Pittsburgh Steelers - Le'Veon Bell has received 39% of the team's red zone opportunities and he missed the first three games of the season. He's been bumped to 46% since week 7, but it just goes to show how significant a part of the red zone play-calling he's been since he got healthy.
Red Zone Opportunities % - Which offenses have the smallest slivers of pie?
Indianapolis Colts - No team spreads it around more inside the red zone than the Colts. On the season their top three in red zone opportunities don't even account for 40% of the team total. While it's improved since week 7 the top three are still shy of 50% combined and Donald Brown leads the way getting 18% of the looks. If you're relying on the Colts offense it needs to come from home-run hitters because the play-calling in the red zone is very spread out.
Significant Changes in Patterns Since Week 7:
Texans Passing Game becomes more concentrated - When you remove a check-down specialist and a top flight receiving running back from the mix, the receivers get more looks. This is just part of the reason Andre Johnson has had a second half resurgence with Case Keenum under center. For the season the Texans top three targeted receivers have accounted for 57% of the team targets but that number has risen to 67% since week 7.
Green Bay's offense more concentrated in the Red Zone - Without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have become even more reliant on Eddie Lacy. Since week 7 he's accounted for nearly 40% of the red zone opportunities.
Giovani Bernard owners shouldn't fear the law - Although BenJarvus Green-Ellis has accounted for 21.62% of the red zone opportunities on the season, he's picked up less than 10% since week 7. It's the Gio Bernard show for the Bengals now.
Happy Thanksgiving from Fantistics!
It wouldn't be a Thanksgiving article without a sincere thank you to all of our subscribers out there. We at Fantistics are very privileged to have such a loyal customer-base and we do not take it for granted. We hope everyone out there gets to spend some quality time with loved ones this holiday season and has plenty to be thankful for! Make sure to get some pie!