It happens every week – you take a look at your line up and are left with the question, "who do I start?" We all have our star players that anchor our team, the must start no questions asked players. However, there is a second tier of players on every fantasy football team whose presence in the weekly lineup is determined by the match up with the opposition defense. After the defense and kicker the players who fate lies in the match up will vary based on the fantasy managers draft strategy. This article will explore Targets per Game as an additional metric to be used alongside studying match ups as a tool for optimizing fantasy football lineups.
Matches per game is simply defined as how many looks per game a player is getting. In the receiving game catches is simply not an accurate measurement of a receivers involved in the football game. It is fully possibly for a receiver to have the ball thrown his way over ten times during the course of a game and then walk away with zero catches at the end of the day. Looking at the box score you would completely miss the fact that the player was heavily involved in the indemnity, and therefore has a high potential to put up significant statistical output if he can covert his goals into catches, yards and fantasy points. On the other hand, a scrub who never gets into the game and finishes with zero catches and zero targets, who has essentially no upside, would appear on paper to be similar to the highly targeted player if using catches alone as a metric to evaluate player potential. It is for this reason that we recommend using the targets per game metric to evaluate the upside of your player.
Please note Targets per Game does not apply to quarterbacks or running backs. The beauty of it is that there is not a layer of hidden information in passing or rushing attempts. As Rodger Clemens said, "It is, what it is." What you see is what you get, the number of times a quarterback throws the ball is for the most part his potential for fantasy football upside. Likewise, the number of carries a running back gets is a fairly accurate indicator of his upside.
Lets take a look at this in action. In week 8 Wes Welker was out on a bye for my fantasy football team. I was deciding between starting Devin Hester who was matched up with Cleveland and Mario Manningham who was going against the Eagles. On paper I was committed to starting Hester because I liked the match up better. Looking at Targets Per Game served to solidify my decision. Hester was involved in 13.6% of his team's plays and saw 6.8% of the teams red zone action. Manningham was involved in 10% of his team's action and 5% of the plays inside the Giants red zone. So, not only was there a better match up for Hester, but he is a bigger and more consistent part of the offense. In the end, Manningham chose to sit out week 8 with a shoulder injury so it made my decision that much easier!
You can find a breakdown of player utilization called utilization percentage on various fantasy football sites on the web. This metric tells you the percentage of an offends plays that run through an individual player. Essentially puts this all positions on a comparable level and allows you to compare utilization across positions. Furthermore, they introduce a stat called red zone utilization which is the percent of a team's plays that a player participates within the red zone. It may make sense to target red zone specialists that are a significant standard deviation above the mean for red zone utilization. In other words, if there is a player which red zone utilization percentage is very high, it may be worth an automatic start.
Utilization metrics such as Target per game, Utilization Percentage, and Red Zone Utilization percentage are very useful for fantasy football player evaluation. Do not ever take the rankings you read on the Internet at face value. Always question the validity and look for alternative sources of information before finalizing your decision. If you are deciding between two players ranked within 5 slots of one another, take a look at the utilization statistics to optimize your lineup!