FANTASY PLAYS: Is Coutee for real? Seeking reliable trends
Winning in daily fantasy football often requires determining which trends are trustworthy and which trends are mirages.
Attempting to predict the future requires accurately processing data and here are a handful of data points — some reliable and a few unreliable — to pay attention to moving forward:
— Running backs in the passing game versus the Falcons. In the history of the NFL, six running backs have caught 14-plus passes in a game, and that has happened twice already this year against the Falcons defense. The loss of Deion Jones cannot be overstated because the defensive scheme always included conceding catches to backs, then chasing them down with speedy linebackers. In 2017, the Falcons ranked 21st in the passing game against RBs, according to Football Outsiders' Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) metric. They rank 15th this year. After allowing the second-most receiving yards to RBs last year, they have allowed the third-most yards receiving to the position thus far in 2018.
James Conner is the lucky back to face the Falcons this week and he ranks second among RBs in routes run. He has run one fewer route than league-leader Alvin Kamara.
— Keke Coutee emerging as a dependable target for Deshaun Watson in Houston. Of the 11 passes Coutee caught in his NFL debut, only one was caught more than 10 yards downfield. Six of the passes were caught behind the line of scrimmage and 96 of his yards were gained after the catch. Amazingly, that number was the highest of the week, topping players like Rams receiver Cooper Kupp (89) and Minnesota's Stefon Diggs (11).
Watson is hurt by playing behind one of the league's worst offensive lines, which means finding quick targets is a must — he has been pressured on the fifth-most snaps of any quarterback this season and has been sacked at the fourth highest rate. With defenses focusing their attention on DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, Coutee presents a unique threat out of the slot with his combination of speed and athleticism. The coaching staff was "really excited about" Coutee heading into the week after raving about him in the offseason. Since there really is no tight end threat on this team, there is room for a third option in the passing game, especially with running back Lamar Miller ailing.
In college, Coutee gained 38 percent of his yards on targets thrown 20-plus yards downfield, so there is some upside as well. He does not appear to simply be a flash in the pan, as this offense has been lacking this sort of X-factor.
— Washington as a top 7 rushing defense. Only six teams have allowed fewer rushing yards per game so far than the Redskins. Of the teams in the bottom seven, only two have allowed more than 4.0 yards per carry: the Rams and the Redskins. To this point, the Redskins rank second in time of possession (33:31) behind only the Eagles, and the Alex Smith-led Chiefs ranked 10th in time of possession last year.
One could argue the Redskins are more committed to the run this year and they lack downfield threats so they will continue to rank among the best. However, the NFL leader in time of possession last year was the Eagles, and they only averaged holding the ball for 32:48 per game. Even if the Redskins finish as one of the best in the category, they are due for some regression. Pro Football Focus (PFF) grades them as the 32nd rated rushing defense. Washington plays New Orleans on Monday night, meaning both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram will have a shot to become the first backs to rush for more than 61 yards against them this year.
— Calvin Ridley's TD trends. Over the course of the last two weeks, Ridley has scored a whopping four touchdowns, a TD once every 3.5 targets. Naturally, that is unsustainable, and Ridley ranks third on the team in target market share (15.1 percent). Even if throwing out the first week, he would barely edge out Mohamed Sanu for second in target share (19 percent versus Sanu's 18 percent). Meanwhile, Julio Jones has still been targeted at a 33 percent rate for the season and a 27 percent rate over the course of the last three games.
Undoubtedly, Ridley is going to be valuable moving forward, but the team has needed to make up for a lack of running game recently. With Devonta Freeman out, Tevin Coleman has managed just 84 rushing yards on 29 carries in his last two contests combined. According to DailyRoto's red zone tool, Coleman has enjoyed six red zone touches combined over the last two weeks and seven total over the last three. Out of all those touches, he has converted exactly zero of them into scores. This led to Ridley converting on his red zone targets that otherwise would not have existed — and at an extraordinary rate.
Since Week 2, Ridley has been targeted five times in the red zone and has scored on four of those targets. Strangely, Jones has not been targeted in the red zone since Week 1, and he was targeted four times in that game. Looking back to last year, Jones was targeted on 31.2 percent of the team's red zone targets. With Ridley in town, the number may not stabilize at 30 percent but Jones certainly will garner more than 17.4 percent of the red zone looks over time.
Sell high on Ridley if an offer arises, otherwise just set reasonable expectations and do not expect this TD barrage to continue at this sort of outrageous rate.
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