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5 Stats That Will Help You Win

Looking for a competitive edge? Find out which stats carry the heaviest weight in predicting changes in expected fantasy points, both in-season and year-to-year. Here’s what you need to know.

Sure, higher fantasy scoring typically remain in that generally tier and vice versa. But how can we distinguish ourselves with data that gets often overlooked? What we want to concern ourselves with his is how to use deeper stats for a competitive edge in a manner that isn’t broad public knowledge. I have been keeping track of the most meaningful stats that provide the highest change to fantasy points on a week-to-week, month-to-month, or year-to-year basis. Knowing such is a great tool for finding players who are ideal trade candidates to either buy or sell in dynasty, along with start-up drafts. Here’s what I learned over the past year when looking back. 

Air Yards Differential

I’m sure some of you are well aware of air yards by now, as it was made famously accessible by @friscojosh on airyards.com (it runs on donations so please consider giving if you end up using it regularly). What you are looking for here is a large discrepancy between a receiver’s targeted air yards versus actual receiving yards. 

Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

For example, through weeks 1-5, Mike Evans led the league with 603 air yards but had only 368 receiving yards. His fantasy outputs during that time were 5-10-45-19-0. Seen as unreliable by some, his trade activity spiked in redraft Yahoo! leagues but the majority of dynasty owners rightfully held strong. Anyone who acquired him reaped the benefits tenfold as his remaining weekly outputs came as 20-43-36-12. If you followed the air yards differential, you would’ve easily seen this coming.

Another example was Will Fuller after weeks 1-4 where he accrued 399 air yards but 183 actual yards. This made him the largest air yard differential candidate next to Mike Evans at the time and was going against a suspect Falcon defense. Sure enough, he exploded for 14-217-3 line which is normally unrealistic but it still proves out the methodology. 

Many other factors are at play when looking to trade in dynasty such as age, offense, supporting cast, etc. But when we isolate air yards differential, it nonetheless it creates a beautifully laid out trade window because the player in question is typically “underperforming” in the eyes of the owner at the time. One I recently took advantage of and traded for was Curtis Samuel in week 8 when his air yard differential was high. Since obtaining him in the trade? 16 and 14 fantasy points respectively, and although these were partly touchdown dependent, his air yard use remained consistently high which is more reliable in the long run. 

Significant Vacated Backfield Touches

In what was one of my more accurate articles of the year, I took a dive into how running backs played the following year when there were significant vacated backfield touches – in other words – an important starter or backup running back that got hurt or left the team who left behind over 100 backfield touches. A team losing its number two running back matters, sometimes a lot. You can find the offseason article on it here. This highlighted the following players who would take a major step forward in 2019 such as Dalvin Cook (lost Murray), Chris Carson (lost Davis), Leonard Fournette (lost Yeldon), and Nick Chubb (lost Duke). All players were being drafted lower than their worth at redraft ADP and subsequently were slightly undervalued in dynasty. Another great buying window.

A great mid-season illustration of this is the Houston Texans’ backfield. Granted they made heavy investment into their offensive line (which certainly should be a metric of its own), it predicted Lamar Miller to see heavy use. Turns out they traded for Hyde and Johnson and Miller got hurt. Hyde and Johnson stepped immediately into those now even more bountiful vacated touches from Miller and Blue to put forth respectable numbers so far this year.

Credit: Rotostreetjournal.com

This is possibly the best measure for looking at increased opportunity for running backs on a season-to-season basis. A shifting depth chart behind a starter showed a clear correlation to that starter being relied on more the following season. The vacated touches are especially worth more when they consist of more receptions than carries (Fournette and others inheriting a larger receiving role was foreshadowed in this). Keep an eye on this every year and I will also continue to post my article each offseason on it.

Touchdown Rate – TD/touch and Yards/TD combined

Welcome to the stat that has the most predictable regression to the average out of any on this list. Touchdown rate is self-explanatory: how many times a player scores per touch (carry, reception, pass attempt) and how many yards they gain per score. This has a year-to-year hit rate of over 70% regressing to the average every… single… year. 

Basically, you want to look at players scoring on the extreme ends, such as the high Aaron Jones (8.2% TD/tch –  67 Y/TD) and the low Leonard Fournette (0.5% TD/tch – 1,126 Y/TD). There is near completely certainty that these numbers regress to the average (different averages for each group between RB, WR, TE, QB) as they continue to do for the rest of the league, especially for higher touch counts. Jones should be scoring less and Fournette more going forward. If it doesn’t occur even in the latter half of the season this year, you can bet the farm it will happen next year. It might not jump multiple percentage points at once, but over time, they will get closer to the average.

Need proof? Here’s some touchdown rates from last year to this year. Note these emphasize targeting extremes. Someone close to the average but still below it can still score less. It’s about finding the extremes to give yourself the best chances for notable change. 

  • Alvin Kamara:
  • 2018: 6.5% and 85 Y/TD (very high)
  • 2019: 1.5% and 362 Y/TD (very low)
  • Ezekiel Elliot:
    • 2018: 2.4% and 222 Y/TD (low)
    • 2019: 3.0% and 163 Y/TD (average)
  • Dalvin Cook:
    • 2018: 2.3% and 230 Y/TD (low)
    • 2019: 4.1% and 142 Y/TD (average)
  • Davante Adams:
    • 2018: 11.7% and 107 Y/TD (very high)
    • 2019: 0% and 537 Y/TD (very low)

Snap Share %

Following snap share percentage is simple; just follow a player’s weekly snap count relative to others on the team at the position. This is more important for second and third string players as a starter usually remains a starter. For example, when Mohamed Sanu got traded away to the Patriots, it affected both receiver corps.

  • Falcons WR snap % before and after Sanu trade:
  • Ridley: 71% to 85%
  • Gage: 18% to 60%
  • Patriots WR snap % before and after Sanu trade:
    • Meyers: 39% to 18%

Skill players on the field for a larger chunk of plays have more opportunity to see the ball and secure a role for themselves going forward. This is particularly effective for noting priority backups to running backs as well and can often tell you more than the depth chart does. E.g. Darrell Henderson has been creeping to the same usage as Malcolm Brown throughout the season which is visible by tracking snap counts. Also, seeing Hunt’s 54% snap usage in his very first week back should make Hunt owners very excited going forward.

Running Back Yards After Contact (YCO) & Yards After Catch (YAC) per Touch

This is more effectively known as “Yards Created” but can be hard to find as such. It measures how many yards a running back is able to create on their own in the form of broken tackles, elusiveness, and falling forward through contact. 

Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

For starters, let’s take a look at a few of the top-8 leaders in YCO/tch and YAC/rec with a minimum criterion of touches/targets:

YCO/tch:

  • 2018: Chubb (#1 overall), Carson, Henry, and Elliott
  • 2019: Chubb (#1 again!), Carson, Henry, Jacobs, Fournette, and Cook

YAC/rec:

  • 2018: Cook, Ekeler, Barkley, and CMC
  • 2019: Cook, A. Jones, Ekeler, Carson, and Kamara.

NOTE: The number of repeat players in the top tier year-to-year is impressively consistent. This identifies rising stars as their ability to create yards will remain as their roles/touches increase over time. 

Dalvin Cook is top-8 in both categories? Not surprising at all. This is perhaps one of the best measures for the ability and effectiveness of a running back on their own merit. You should be tracking this during each season to find players that are trailing off (Todd Gurley – lowest YAC/rec among RBs w/ min. 25 targets this year) and players who are rising to stardom (Nick Chubb – leading YCO/tch among RBs w/ min. 50 carries). 

Thanks for reading. If you liked what you learned, follow me @DavidZach16 for more interesting stats throughout the year. 

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