I love diving into the advanced analytical side of football -- it adds a whole new layer to watching games and it makes it all the more satisfying in the few instances in which the wildly unpredictable game that is Fantasy football actually goes the way we expect it to.
By nature of having 22 players on the field at once, football isn't a game that is as easily captured in advanced analytics as others. Still though, the Fantasy football community remains hungry for content, and as a result, new, interesting, and occasionally even actionable stats seem to pop up each year.
Without a doubt, the question that I receive more than any other on Twitter during the NFL season is "Where do I find the stats you're citing myself?" And it is a fair question -- I do have a tendency to tweet some pretty obscure stats.
Given the questions I received each time I brought some of these new stats to Fantasy Football Today in 5, I decided to bring them all to one easy-to-find location this offseason.
Now, not every stat in here is going to be super-highly correlated with future Fantasy production -- some of them are more descriptive than predictive, and that's fine. Any additional context we can find (as long as we understand the nature of the stat providing that context) can be valuable and worth considering.
To the best of my knowledge, the stats that we'll cover today represent the most up-to-date and useful Fantasy football data available. Familiarizing yourself with these stats and where they're found -- and more importantly, why they matter -- will present you with an edge in all of your future Fantasy football endeavors.
Here are the stats I focus on, and why I believe they are important.
Target market share
What it is: Market share refers to the amount of a team total that one player is responsible for in any given stat. It can be used in reference to many different stats, but is most commonly used to refer to targets. So, a player's target market share simply refers to the percentage of a team's pass attempts that were targeted at that player.
Why it matters: Few stats correlate more closely with Fantasy scoring than raw targets, so why not just use that? Well, raw target totals are still important, but a team's overall play volume and passing attempts affect target totals and can fluctuate greatly on a year-to-year basis. Unpredictable variables such as how often a team plays with a lead or how many quick-paced opponents a team faces impact a team's overall play volume and passing attempts, which in turn impact a player's target total. Target shares remain rather predictable though, as long as the surrounding offensive pieces haven't changed drastically.
Where to find it: You also can simply divide a player's targets by his team's passing attempts in the games he played in, but sites that provide the metric include Airyards.com, RotoViz and PlayerProfiler.
Air yards and aDOT
What they are: These two go hand in hand to display how far a pass travels downfield from the line of scrimmage. Air yards measure the cumulative total of all passes, while aDOT represents the average depth of target.
Why they matter: Just as targets represent the amount of opportunity a player has to record receptions, air yards represent the amount of opportunity to record receiving yardage. Targets correlate more highly with Fantasy scoring (0.76 correlation rate in 2020), but air yards (0.68) certainly have earned their place at the table as one of the most important Fantasy stats. It is important to remember that not all air yards are created equal, though. Davante Adams' 1,329 air yards from Aaron Rodgers were certainly far more valuable than the 1,620 often-uncatchable air yards Jerry Jeudy saw from Drew Lock and company in 2020, for example.
Where to find them: Airyards.com and FTNFantasy.com. Pro Football Reference has air yards for quarterbacks only.
Targets per route run (TPRR)
What it is: Yes, this stat really is as simple as its name suggests. To find a player's target per route run rate, you simply divide their target total by their route total. Voila, you just solved for the most highly-correlated Fantasy stat available!
Why it matters: As I just mentioned, TPRR correlated more highly with Fantasy scoring in 2020 than any other opportunity-based stat I use. Among players with at least 60 targets, the correlation between targets per route and Fantasy points per route was 0.816. For reference, the correlation between raw targets and Fantasy points was 0.763.
The cutoff point of 60 targets is admittedly arbitrary, but the reasoning for finding a cutoff point was not. Because we're examining a rate stat, the volatility increases rather drastically the lower the target total is, which in turn increases the randomness of the correlation results.
Ultimately, TPRR is a representation of a player's ability to demand targets from his quarterback. It displays the percentage of his routes on which he is targeted. Changing factors within an offense can cause a player's TPRR rate to fluctuate; no stat is perfect. But generally speaking, especially among the top receivers, TPRR rates remain fairly constant -- at least compared to many more frequently used Fantasy stats.
Where to find it: You can find full 2020 TPRR data on SportsLine. I provide more context on the stat in this article and examine 10 players with encouraging TPRR trends heading into the 2021 season in this follow-up piece.
Yards per route run (YPRR)
What it is: As with TPRR, the name is self-explanatory.
Why it matters: YPRR actually correlates with Fantasy points per route run at an even higher rate than TPRR, which should come as no surprise. Yards per route run is a descriptive stat -- it tells the story of what happened, while stats derived from volume-based metrics such as targets and air yards tell a story of what could have happened or what is most likely to happen in the future under similar circumstances. Like TPRR, YPRR can be a way to pinpoint players who will likely excel if given more opportunity. However, being a descriptive stat, it is less likely to remain steady year over year. Essentially, a player's ability to convert air yards into receiving yards and then yards after the catch is much more unpredictable than a player's ability to simply demand targets from his quarterback.
Where to find it: Pro Football Focus offers the data behind a paywall. PlayerProfiler displays YPRR rates in individual player profiles, but I don't believe they have it compiled for free in any one location.
Pace and play volume
What they are: The two are often mistaken for one another or lumped together, but they do not mean the same thing. Pace refers to how quickly an offense operates on a second-per-snap basis. Play volume refers to how many snaps are played on offense in a game or season. Pace can affect an offense's play volume, but an offense's ability to move the chains is more important.
Why they matter: Pace and play volume are really only things I concern myself with when an outlier type of team is involved. What I mean is that each year, only a handful of teams play at a pace that is fast or slow enough to matter on a game-by-game basis. Given the matchup-based nature of the stat, it isn't overly relevant on a season-long scale. Still, though, identifying games where the pace may be higher or lower than normal is important if playing DFS or placing bets on games. Pat Thorman of Establish The Run goes into even more detail regarding the importance of pace and play volume here.
Where to find them: Football Outsiders is the most popularly used site for pace. Specifically, their situation-neutral pace stats are frequently referenced in DFS discussion during the season. Pro Football Reference has the cleanest layout of play volume data, and you can even customize for specific splits, such as play volume when winning or losing.
Red zone/end zone stats
What they are: Red zone carries and red zone targets refer to the instances in which a player received a rush attempt or target from inside the opponents' 20-yard line. There's also data to display attempts and targets from inside the 10-yard line and 5-yard line. You may even hear a player's "red zone target share" referenced, which refers to the percentage of his team's total red zone targets that he accounted for.
End zone targets are exactly what they sound like -- they represent the amount of times a player was targeted while in the end zone. Even if the pass came from outside of the red zone, if the pass-catcher was in the end zone, it counts as an end zone target.
Why they matter: Predicting touchdowns is a fool's errand, and a player's red zone data can be highly volatile on a year-to-year basis. Factors such as playing in a prolific offense or being the focal point of an offense certainly help, but red zone usage remains too unpredictable for me to recommend using it as anything other than a descriptive stat. That doesn't mean it has no utility, though -- descriptive stats can be quite illuminating if you understand the context. The most glaring example can be found in Davante Adams' red zone data, which was a focus of mine when I suggested you take him as the WR1 in 2020. In this case, the result was the third-most receiving touchdowns in NFL history -- so don't discount descriptive data just because it isn't as relevant as predictive metrics. Leave no stone unturned, my fellow stat-loving nerds!
Where to find them: Pro Football Reference has red zone data for free. Pro Football Focus is the only site I am aware of that hosts end zone target data, and it is behind a paywall.
Slot rates and slot targets
What they are: A player's slot rate refers to the percentage of his total routes that came from the slot. Slot targets are simply the amount of targets that came on a play in which the offensive player lined up from the slot.
Why they matter: In an offseason research piece from 2020, I found that slot targets were worth nearly 11 percent more Fantasy points on average than perimeter targets in 2019. So, any time a player is set to potentially see more or fewer slot snaps than in previous seasons, it is worth considering. Some "slot specialists" -- Sterling Shepard and Cooper Kupp come to mind -- have proven to be particularly dependent on slot targets. I examined some of those specifically slot-sensitive players heading into 2020 and will publish a similar piece on SportsLine this offseason.
Where to find them: I will publish the data that I believe to be the most important for Fantasy football in 2021, but that article series won't have all of the data, of course. If you want the complete data, you can find it on Pro Football Focus behind a paywall.
What they are: If you listened to FFT in 5 in 2020, you most likely heard me talking to Adam Aizer about man and zone coverage stats. This data displays how frequently teams use man or zone schemes on defense, as well as how quarterbacks and their pass catchers perform against man and zone coverage.
Why they matter: Similar to pace and play volume data, man/zone splits are opponent specific stats that really only come into play with the outliers. Using them for season-long research is a dubious proposition, but it can certainly be useful if playing DFS or betting player props. Familiarizing yourself with which teams are employing man or zone coverage schemes at the highest rates can be useful in both a general and specific sense. Generally speaking, a zone-heavy matchup favors running backs, tight ends, and short-yardage targets, while a man-heavy matchup favors perimeter receivers and downfield weapons. Specifically, some players have proven to be notably better against man or zone schemes. For example, Kirk Cousins has been the best quarterback in the league when facing man coverage for two straight seasons, but ranks in the bottom half of the league in most metrics against zone coverage.
Where to find them: To my knowledge, this data isn't publicly available anywhere yet, which is a shame. It adds a fun new layer to watching games, and I could give you plenty of anecdotal evidence of the data being "predictive" during the 2020 season from personal use. I don't have any correlation ratios recorded yet, but I hope to make that information public this offseason.
Man and zone data seems like the intuitive next step forward in matchup-based research. I spent most of the 2020 season looking forward to bringing this information to CBS and SportsLine users, and I'm super pumped to be able to publish a series on the subject in the upcoming months.
Press coverage stats
What they are: Press coverage stats display how often a team uses press coverage on defense and how offensive players fared when facing press coverage.
Why they matter: Press coverage stats are similar to man and zone coverage stats, but come into play even less often. Basically, it is only relevant for a few outliers who perform notably well or poorly when facing press coverage; even then, knowing who those players are is only important if they happen to be facing one of the few teams that use press coverage at an especially high rate. Such instances do come into play occasionally throughout the season, but press coverage stats are really only useful for serious DFS and prop betting types.
Where to find them: Press coverage data isn't publicly available, but -- you guessed it -- I will have an article published on it later this offseason.
Yards before/after contact
What they are: Yards before contact refers to the amount of yards from the line of scrimmage a ball carrier accounts for before a defender makes contact. Likewise, yards after contact displays the yardage gained after the first point of contact.
Why they matter: This is yet another stat that really only comes into play randomly on a game-by-game basis when outliers are involved, so it is one to focus on for DFS and sports betting rather than season-long research. I look forward to digging into this data a bit deeper this offseason to see how outlier running backs or offensive lines performed against outlier defenses. It's possible that there's little connection, and that these stats are nothing more than interesting descriptive ones.
It seems somewhat intuitive that offensive lines and running backs who excel at creating yards before contact would fare better against defenses that give up lots of yards before contact, though. And one could easily come to the conclusion that running backs who don't go down easily and chew up yards after contact would fare better against defenses that don't tackle well and give up high yards after contact totals. I plan on providing a deeper look at the topic on SportsLine later this offseason.
Where to find them: If looking for running back stats, Pro Football Reference includes yards before and after contact for free in their "advanced rushing" data. If looking for offensive and defensive yards before/after contact data, Football Outsiders includes that in their offensive and defensive line DVOA data.