Fantasy football is a game governed by 10 percent “how good is this player” and 90 percent “how many chances to make plays will this guy receive?” Opportunities—which come in the form of pass targets for wide receivers and tight ends—are king in terms of predicting fantasy football scoring.
However, efficiency does still matter for pass-catchers. While targets are the best predictor of fantasy scoring, receivers can produce on just five targets, whereas that’s almost never the case with running backs. The deviation in efficiency is greater for pass-catchers than it is for running backs.
Of course, you want your receiver to gain a lot of yards every time he catches the ball, but it isn’t like you need to be seeking out players who have a high yards per reception at all costs.
Like running backs, pass-catchers thrive on opportunities. And remember, this is without even considering the points they garner from receptions. Even in a standard format, the correlation between targets and scoring is much stronger than that between yards per reception and scoring.
Considering that DraftKings is a PPR scoring site, the value of targets increases even more. Players like Julian Edelman can thrive on bulk targets and receptions without scoring, which isn’t as much the case in standard scoring formats.
EFFICIENCY MATTERS MORE IN CERTAIN AREAS
It’s really difficult to predict efficiency—not as challenging to predict opportunities—which is another reason we should place more emphasis on the latter stat on a weekly basis. We know Julio Jones is unlikely to see only two or three targets in a game, but we don’t know for sure if he’ll have two catches for 20 yards or 10 receptions for 150 yards and two scores.
However, the one place where it’s easier to predict efficiency is in the red zone, where there’s a very strong correlation between weight and scoring for pass-catchers.
Simply put, light guys have an extremely difficult time scoring in the red zone and heavy guys have a much easier go of it. Thus, I think if the goal is to maximize touchdown probability, we should be balancing red zone workload and efficiency pretty evenly, whereas opportunities matter a whole lot more outside of the red zone.
There are a few takeaways when it comes to the importance of workload for pass-catchers.
1. Opportunities drive fantasy scoring at all positions.
Opportunities aren’t as important for pass-catchers as they are for running backs, but they still matter a whole lot. Projecting targets is the most important thing you can do when searching for pass-catchers, especially wide receivers. Tight ends see a greater percentage of their fantasy scoring come in the red zone, which is why you really need to emphasize touchdown-scoring opportunities and ability in that area.
2. Efficiency isn’t that important as a predictive stat, until the red zone.
It is difficult to predict efficiency overall, but much easier once an offense approaches the goal line; certain types of players—namely big ones—are much better at scoring than others. When you can match up size and red zone efficiency with opportunities, that’s ideal, especially at the tight end position.
3. Defensive tendencies can help predict efficiency and opportunities.
There are certain situations in which we should be examining efficiency more than usual, primarily when a wide receiver is set to be matched up on a shutdown cornerback. I like to use Pro Football Focus to see how often a cornerback shadows a top receiver and how frequently he just stays on one side of the field. In the latter scenario, a receiver might have a perceived poor matchup but not actually be in that bad of a spot in terms of efficiency. Plus, he’ll be more likely to get targeted when he’s matched up on the defense’s weaker cornerback.
4. Injuries affect targets a lot.
Finally, as with running backs, injuries matter a lot when it comes to the distribution of targets. However, it isn’t as simple as “plug in the backup.” When a No. 1 receiver goes down, someone new is going to jump into the starting lineup in his place. However, it’s very often the No. 2 receiver or the tight end who is asked to pick up the majority of the slack. This changes for different teams, but either way, the idea is that injuries offer value opportunities you can exploit if you can accurately predict an offense’s new target distribution.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is bales) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.