Fantasy Football: Week 10 Personnel Tendencies
In fantasy football, we look at a ton of factors when retrospectively dissecting one week and projecting the next. We analyze a player's opportunity in the form of attempts and targets, their matchup against the opposing defense, their game script by betting odds, and a whole lot more. One thing we don't do a lot of, though, is look at a player's opportunity or matchup through the lens of personnel groupings.
By personnel grouping, I mean which type of offensive package his team is deploying on a play-by-play basis. Are they rolling out big sets with frequency, or are they more likely to spread it out with three to four wideouts?
For those who might be a bit unfamiliar, personnel groupings are commonly referred to in numbers like 21. The first of the two figures, the "2", refers to the number of running backs (including fullbacks) on the field, whereas the second, "the 1", indicates the number of tight ends in the formation. So, 21 personnel is very traditional in that you get a fullback, running back, tight end, and two wideouts. Today, that traditional set isn't as popular as it once was, with a trend toward 11 personnel (one back, one tight end, and three receivers) for purposes of efficiency in the passing game.
You can find this personnel grouping information in a neat, sortable format over at Sharp Football Stats. You can see how frequently a team uses (or opposing team faces) each grouping and what kind of success they have found in doing so. You can even narrow it down to run and pass game efficiency.
While shifting our focus forward, we take a look at last week's personnel usage to find a few valuable pieces of data for season-long fantasy owners and DFS players alike.
Let's see what we can find.
Minnesota Without Thielen
Roughly a month ago, I took a look at how often the Minnesota Vikings were using only two-receiver sets with 21 and 12 personnel. My focus was on the impact to the run game and for the two primary pass-catching weapons in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Here, we will do a bit to revisit that, but we're more focused on the tight end part of their recent usage, particularly in the absence of Thielen.
For all intents and purposes, the Pro Bowl receiver has missed the last four games with a nagging hamstring injury. After exiting Week 7, he sat out the next game before returning in Week 9 only to land on the sideline again for the remainder of the game as well as the next one.
Over this four-week span, Minnesota has found different ways to operate offensively, making use of rookie weapon Irv Smith Jr. alongside Kyle Rudolph, Diggs and, of course, Dalvin Cook. During that time, the Vikings have utilized 12 personnel on 33% of plays, 21 on 24%, 13 on 14% and 22 on 13%. They've used three receivers just 14% of the time, with the next-closest team at 36%.
That last rate is half of what it was in the first six weeks of the season with Thielen healthy, while the 12, 13 and 22 have all seen an increase. That's done wonders for the viability of Rudolph and Smith, as the two have combined for 40 targets over the last four. The former's snap rate has held steady around 75% to 80%, but Smith's been consistently at or above 56%, including a 73.7% share in Week 10. The rookie saw two targets inside the 20 and six overall, converting the opportunities into five catches for 34 yards.
Smith is averaging only 5.8 FanDuel points during this time, but his role makes him worth a speculative add in deep leagues, and it puts him in play as a tournament dart throw in DFS if Thielen remains out. At just $4,700, we project him for 2.3 catches, 0.19 touchdowns and 4.9 FanDuel points on 3.3 targets. And as for the more proven Rudolph, he is $200 cheaper and enters the week with a projected 5.1 FanDuel points on 3.4 targets.
The Raiders With Williams
On the opposite side of the injured-receiver coin, the Oakland Raiders have gotten Tyrell Williams back after going without their leading receiver for Weeks 5 and 7 (they had a bye in Week 6). Since Williams returned to the field, Oakland has scored 24, 31 and 26 points with wins over the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Chargers. That's great, but what has his presence done for the types of personnel -- and the related fantasy assets -- Jon Gruden has been using over the last three games?
Since Week 8, here's how often Oakland has used each of the below packages.
Like most teams, Oakland used 11 over 50% of the time, but they are 1 of only 10 teams that have utilized it at a rate lower than 55%. Instead, their 13% rate out of 13 is second in the league behind only the Vikings. Altogether, they are playing: three receivers on 55% of plays, two on 22% of them and merely one on 23% (56%, 11% and 32% in Week 10). From Weeks 5 to 7, those percentages were 48%, 25% and 28%, respectively.
With Williams, Oakland has been more likely to roll out three receivers, probably because of their lack of adequate depth there. And that has played a part in some messed up target distribution.
Since Williams' return, he is tied for second on the team in targets behind Hunter Renfrow's 16, while the two tight ends -- Darren Waller and Foster Moreau -- have garnered a combined 19. Waller's production has dropped off a bit, but he's still among the elite at the position in targets. On the outside, Williams is still posting a snap share above 80%, and according to airyards.com, he's received 35% of the air yards, but he's ceding 10% of his snaps to others with Renfrow commanding a team-high 17% target share. Renfrow is going to take a step back barring a bigger boost to his playing time, but all in all, this is a mess for receivers. Waller ($6,700) is good buy-low guy this week in a great matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Josh Jacobs ($8,000) withstands it all as a solid running back option. Behind two or more tight ends, Oakland has a 56% rushing success rate (average is 43%) on 3.9 yards per carry and two touchdowns over the last three weeks.
The Patriots Without Gordon
In recent seasons, Josh Gordon has been on and off the field as much as -- and probably more that -- any receiver. He's been injured and suspended countless times, and now he's bounced to a different team after being cut by the New England Patriots midseason.
Before departing, Gordon had played in six games for New England, from Weeks 1 to 6. During that time, the team rolled with 11 at a 49% clip, followed by 24% in 21 and 11% in 20 to round out the three most frequent sets. Since then, there have been multiple changes to the roster, including the addition of Mohamed Sanu. Running parallel to those, the Pats have upped their 11 usage to 57%, but they have cut out most of their 20 usage in favor of four receivers. In the two weeks with Sanu, they've used at least three receivers on 81% of snaps.
The Patriots split those two contests, but they have an above-average success rate (51%) in those packages. In 11, Brady's averaged 7.3 air yards per attempt with a 77% pass rate and three touchdowns to one pick.
Sanu has logged 37 and 67 snaps in his first two appearances as a Patriot, and both Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett are at 60-plus snaps in each. Jakobi Meyers has been the fourth guy up, at least until N'Keal Harry is able to get on the field.
All this is to say that there are going to be three New England receivers in play for DFS and season-long leagues. Dorsett is worth a pickup if he's still out there for some reason. But at the same time, it's time to temper expectations for James White or deal him to a desperate owner.
This week, New England draws the Philadelphia Eagles, who allow the eighth-most FanDuel points per game to receivers and surrender 7.9 air yards per attempt and 12 touchdowns against 11 personnel this season.