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Opportunity Is (Almost) Everything: Part I

Opportunity Is (Almost) Everything: Part I

Author: Matt “TheJerk” Morrisson (@DynastyJerk)

Hello all, and welcome back to another mid-week Dynasty Owner article…

Today, I’m going to delve into a topic that I’ve wanted to write about for a while now.  A little background on me…I am a numbers person.  I love mathematics, statistics and all science in general.  I was taught at a young age that these subjects are, literally, the future of our world.  With that instruction, I took an interest in data (specifically data recording) very early on in my life.  I applied myself in Algebra, Stats, and Calculus classes much more than I did in History, Geography or Languages.  I like numbers, and I like dabbling in “number crunching.”  Believe it or not, data is what drew me towards fantasy football initially.  I had zero interest in the NFL all throughout the early 2000s and rarely watched a game other than the Super Bowls.

Towards the end of that decade, fantasy football began to show up on my radar.  My interest peaked, not from the game aspect, but from the statistical side.  I joined a couple free leagues in 2007, and my fantasy career accelerated every year after that.  Hell, my interest in statistics is what allowed me to start doing rankings and articles for Dynasty Owner.  Obviously nowadays I watch the NFL and enjoy the games themselves, but if it wasn’t for fantasy football, I wouldn’t be as involved.  (It doesn’t help that my home team packed up and left for California)

At any rate, a few years ago I came across a few underutilized metrics that, I think, can help bridge the gap between opportunity and fantasy production.  So often we compare Player x to Player y without having the full context of their seasons.  I am guilty of comparing players that I know haven’t had the same opportunity.  These metrics are also a great way to see which players are on the field but aren’t receiving the opportunity you would expect.  This article will be limited to players in my Top 100 updated rankings.  Also, Week 9 stats are not included for this article as I wouldn’t have had enough time to update all players.  So, without further ado, today I will be talking about player’s…

  • Total Opportunities
  • Opportunities per Snap
  • Fantasy Points per Opportunity
  • Salary Compared to Opportunity

Quarterbacks

First, let’s start with the quarterbacks, and I’ll also define some of these terms.  When it comes to quarterbacks, I define an opportunity as any play that they attempt a pass or a rush (hence an opportunity for fantasy points.)  I do understand that rushing attempts for quarterbacks are more valuable than passing attempts, and they should be weighted accordingly, but I’m going to keep it simple for this article.  I’ll be using my Top 15 ranked quarterbacks for this section.

(QB Opportunities = Pass Attempts + Rush Attempts)

Player, TeamSalaryOpportunities
Joe Burrow, CIN$9,047,534365
Josh Allen, BUF$5,295,760335
Kyler Murray, ARI$8,789,661318
Patrick Mahomes, KC$4,106,447318
Daniel Jones, NYG$6,416,014306
Swipe to see more on mobile

When looking at quarterback opportunities, no one in my Top 15 has more opportunities than Joe Burrow.  Burrow (365) tops the list followed close behind by Josh Allen (335).  This shouldn’t come as a surprise as both the Bengals and Bills are in the top half of the league in passing percentage, and both quarterbacks aren’t afraid to tuck the ball and run. 

So, we’ve looked at total opportunities for quarterbacks, but this stat can still be misleading.  Total opportunities don’t account for players that have missed time this season (i.e. Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott or Drew Lock).  In order to even the playing field, I’ve started to look at opportunities per snap. 

Player, TeamSalaryOpp/Snap
Dak Prescott, DAL$30,144,0000.67
Josh Allen, BUF$5,295,7600.64
Kyler Murray, ARI$8,789,6610.63
Gardner Minshew, JAC$677,7210.63
Deshaun Watson, HOU$3,463,5700.63
Swipe to see more on mobile

Opportunities per snap is total opportunities divided by the total number of snaps a player is on the field.  Using this metric, we can determine how often a player is receiving opportunities based on their time on the field.  For example, Dak Prescott continues to lead Top 15 quarterbacks in Opp/Snap.  Before Dak was injured, he had an opportunity in 67 percent of the snaps he was on the field for.  Essentially, the only plays that aren’t considered opportunities are when quarterbacks hand the ball off.  That really isn’t surprising because we knew Dallas was on a historic offensive pace before disaster happened.  Either way, Dak was receiving an amazing amount of opportunity.  Opp/Snap for quarterbacks can be closely related to a team’s run/pass percentage.

We can go one step further with our analysis if we decide to look at a player’s points per opportunity. 

Player, TeamSalaryPoints/Opp
Russell Wilson, SEA$35,000,0000.97
Patrick Mahomes, KC$4,106,4470.87
Deshaun Watson, HOU$3,463,5700.75
Justin Herbert, LAC$6,644,6880.75
Kyler Murray, ARI$8,789,6610.73
Swipe to see more on mobile

This is the number of DO fantasy points divided by the player’s total opportunities.  I like to think of this as how efficient a player is.  Given that this is an efficiency rating, it should be no surprise who stands at the top of the list…Russell Wilson.  Russ is so efficient this year, that he is averaging 0.97 fantasy points per opportunity.  This means for every one opportunity he has, (passing or rushing attempt) he is getting 0.97 fantasy points.  That is a truly amazing statistic and one that I almost didn’t believe.  It is most unbelievable because the second quarterback on the list is Patrick Mahomes at 0.87 points/opp.  Mahomes is having a phenomenal season again, but Wilson’s efficiency is unmatched.  Here’s another way to explain it…Russ has six more fantasy points than Mahomes this year, yet he has had 27 less opportunities (Mahomes hasn’t had his bye yet).  Remarkable.  Coming into this season, analysts were questioning if Wilson would be able to stay as efficient as he was the years before.  I heard it many times…”no player can have low volume and be that efficient for that long.”  Last year Wilson’s points/opp were 0.73.  So, not only did he keep up the efficiency, but he has become much more efficient.  I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I want to give one final example for context.  Remember Patrick Mahomes’ season in 2018?  He finished with the second most fantasy points of any quarterback since at least the mid 1990s.  Well, Mahomes’ points/opp in 2018 was 0.87.  He’s on his same pace from 2018, but Russ’ season has been on a different level.  I don’t expect the 0.97 efficiency to continue, but then again, we’ve heard that before.

Ah but, like almost everything with Dynasty Owner, we have to think further.  We have to go deeper and find a way to bring salary into the equation.  This is where our mathematics runs out of steam.  I can prepare hundreds of stats for you, and they may all be true.  However, at the end of the day there are too many variables in Dynasty Owner to boil a player’s value down to one single formula.  I do feel like the best statistic we can look at to determine value is Dynasty Dollars per point (DD/point).  The fellas at Dynasty Owner have done a great job developing this statistic, and it is very useful.  The one thing it cannot account for though is a team’s available salary.  Let me put it this way…Who is the number one quarterback everyone would like to own?  The answer is clearly Russell Wilson or Patrick Mahomes.  They have been and will most likely be the best quarterbacks for the rest of the season but owning Russ for $35 million a year hamstrings the rest of your team.  Is he worth that price?  He is, but most teams are unable to afford him with their current lineup.  In the same way, would everyone like to own Daniel Jones?  Of course, they would.  He is on a steal of a contract for a quarterback and he is young, but the truth is that he is not providing enough fantasy points to justify starting him.  Jones is averaging only 0.39 points per opportunity this year.  That’s roughly half as efficient as Kyler Murray, Deshaun Watson and Justin Herbert.

One final point before we move onto running backs:  I’ve heard a lot of discussion this year about whether Justin Herbert or Joe Burrow is better.  There are way better scouts and talent observers than me so I’m not going to be the decisive vote on that, but what I will say is Herbert has done more with the opportunity he has received.  Here’s how both players compare…

Player, TeamSalaryOpportunitiesSnapsOpp/SnapPointsPoints/Opp
Justin Herbert, LAC$6,644,6882554510.571900.75
Joe Burrow, CIN$9,047,5343655940.611930.53
Swipe to see more on mobile

Herbert has taken 143 less snaps, has 110 less opportunities, and yet he has only three less fantasy points than Burrow.  Wow.  Let us also not forget that Herbert is $2.4 million cheaper than Burrow.

Now let me show you the five least efficient quarterbacks in my Top 15.

Player, TeamSalaryOpportunitiesSnapsPointsPoints/Opp
Tua Tagovailoa, MIA$7,568,859265480.31
Sam Darnold, NYJ$7,561,929209372710.34
Drew Lock, DEN$1,752,704156277600.38
Daniel Jones, NYG$6,416,0143065031200.39
Joe Burrow, CIN$9,047,5343655941930.53
Swipe to see more on mobile

I feel bad including Tua on this list because he has the smallest sample size possible…one game.  Regardless, he is on here.  Burrow makes the list based on his massive volume so far, but the other three quarterbacks have all been disappointing and this efficiency rating reflects that.

Running Backs

Using this same method, let’s look at running backs.  For them, I define an opportunity as any rushing attempt or target.  I will be using my Top 35 ranked running backs for this section.

(RB Opportunities = Rush Attempt + Targets)

Through eight weeks, who do you think has the most opportunities?  The answer shouldn’t be too surprising.  It’s Derrick Henry.  Despite ranking 38th in targets for running backs, Henry still leads in total opportunities.  There are no real surprises in the Top 5 as all are high volume running backs. 

Player, TeamSalaryOpportunities
Derrick Henry, TEN$10,278,000179
Ezekiel Elliott, DAL$15,000,000178
Josh Jacobs, LV$2,983,350172
Todd Gurley, ATL$6,000,000160
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, KC$2,705,393159
Swipe to see more on mobile

Once again, opportunity alone does not tell us the whole picture.  All this really shows us is which players are getting the most volume and not necessarily which ones are producing.  Let’s see how the Top 5 changes when we add snaps.

Player, TeamSalaryOpp/Snap
Cam Akers, LA$1,543,2580.58
Derrick Henry, TEN$10,278,0000.57
Dalvin Cook, MIN$1,588,3340.56
Josh Jacobs, LV$2,983,3500.55
Ronald Jones II, TB$1,767,9770.54
Swipe to see more on mobile

Once again, it is not surprising that Derrick Henry is in the Top 5 due to his heavy volume.  The Titans are fifth in the NFL in rushing percentage.  It stands to reason that if a team has a primary running back and they are run heavy, that primary running back will rank high in opportunities per snap.  Henry, Cook, Jacobs and Jones are all good examples of this.  However, Cam Akers is the clear outlier.  How could Akers rank first in the category when he’s only been on the field for 64 snaps.  The answer is simple.  When Akers is on the field, he is receiving more opportunities than any other running back within the Top 35.  Take from that what you will, but he is clearly being used at a high rate, when he actually plays.

I guarantee this one will surprise you.  Who do you think leads the Top 35 running backs in points per opportunity (efficiency rating)?  That player is D’Andre Swift.  He is currently averaging 1.30 fantasy points per opportunity (rushes plus targets).  To put that in context, the number two player in efficiency is Alvin Kamara at 1.28 points/opportunity.  If Swift had the same number of opportunities as Kamara and stayed on the same efficiency pace, he would lead all running backs in fantasy points this year.  Obviously Swift has a small sample size as far as opportunities go, but he shouldn’t be penalized for that.  He has been one of the most efficient players in all of football this year, and it’s time he deserves some praise and hopefully some increased usage.  I was so shocked when I saw him at the top of the list that I simply wrote “SWIFT!!!” in my rough draft.  I will be upgrading him in my rankings, and I look forward to tracking his Points/Opp throughout the season and his career.  Here is the rest of the Top 5. 

Player, TeamSalaryPoints/Opp
D’Andre Swift, DET$2,134,7281.30
Alvin Kamara, NO$964,4431.28
Dalvin Cook, MIN$1,588,3341.18
Chris Carson, SEA$616,2821.14
Aaron Jones, GB$650,4841.13
Swipe to see more on mobile

Every running back in the Top 5 is cheap to own for this year and have long careers ahead of them.  It’s an interesting trend, but it’s also nuanced because four of them are set for very large contracts in 2021.  It’s also unfair to large salary running backs like Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, and Saquon Barkley as they have all been inefficient for reasons unrelated to their play.  Let’s look back at 2019 and see how all three of these players would stack up to 2020’s Top 5.

***2019 Statistics***

Player, TeamOpportunitiesPointsPoints/Opp
Christian McCaffrey, CAR4294821.12
Ezekiel Elliott, DAL3723230.87
Saquon Barkley, NYG2902510.87
Swipe to see more on mobile

Every player in the top five has been more efficient than McCaffrey was last year, but don’t get too excited about that for a few reasons.  First, this is a small sample size, and it’s unlikely that they will all remain above 1.13 points per opportunity all season.  Second, not one of these players will get close to McCaffrey’s total volume last year.  In 2019, CMC had 429 opportunities which equals 25.2 a game.  The closest player in this Top 5 is Kamara at 21.8 opportunities a game.  This may go without saying, but a truly elite player is formed when they can combine top level efficiency with high value opportunities.  McCaffrey, Kamara, Cook, Carson and Jones all provide that when they are healthy and should all continue to be considered elite running backs.

As was the case with the quarterbacks, this is not the whole story.  We play on the truest dynasty platform ever made.  We are Dynasty Owners.  We have salary caps to consider and long-term contracts to weigh.  It is encouraging that many of the most opportunistic running backs this year are cheap, but that will be changing next year with at least eight elite running backs likely to sign contracts over $12 million.

Finally, here are the least efficient running backs inside my Top 35.

Player, TeamSalaryOpportunitiesOpp/SnapPointsPoints/Opp
Cam Akers, LA$1,543,258370.58190.51
Josh Jacobs, LV$2,983,3501720.551110.65
Le’Veon Bell, KC$1,050,000370.47240.65
Devin Singletary, BUF$974,5001230.35810.66
Kenyan Drake, ARI$8,483,0001290.41870.67
Swipe to see more on mobile

Thanks for making it all the way through.  In next week’s article I will be discussing wide receiver and tight end opportunities and efficiencies. Take care and be safe.

TheJerk

Follow us on Twitter: @Dynasty_Owner

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