April 24, 2024

Secret Leaders

7 min read

Hidden Gems

By Tim Lazenby

In the National Football League, greatness is often measured by the obvious statistics.  Players like Cooper Kupp and Ja’Marr Chase were heralded for historic seasons among wide receivers.  Looking at the numbers, like touchdowns and receiving yards, it is quite apparent.  The same can be true of any position.  At quarterback, players like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are recognized due to their touchdowns and interception ratio.  Among running backs, Jonathan Taylor and Austin Ekeler dominated with their yardage and touchdowns.  And at tight end, Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce reigned supreme.

But, there are many statistics that are not so easily discovered.  In dynasty fantasy football, we need to look for the hidden numbers and potential, as these players will be on our teams for years to come.  Drafting or trading by looking at obvious stats can be expensive, but if we look a little deeper, there are players in the league who were the best at what they did going largely unnoticed in 2021.  Below I’ve listed three players at each skilled position who lead the league in something most managers will find surprising.

Wide Receivers

Contested Catches

Although there are many wide receivers who caught more and scored more touchdowns, among contested catches, Terry McLaurin led the league with 25.  It’s even more impressive when you consider he caught 77 total in 2021, meaning he fought for every inch.  This can be looked at negatively as some would say there is a lack of separation, but I choose to look at the bright side.  I want a receiver who can catch those 50/50 balls.  And although he’s not looked fondly among many, Carson Wentz is an improvement over Taylor Heinicke.  So McLaurin should do even better next year catching from, arguably, his best NFL quarterback yet.

Catch Percentage

Target share is a big proponent when looking at wide receivers.  The chance at more targets means the chance at more fantasy points.  But, it is also more important to catch the balls that come your way.  A target not caught nets you nothing.  Many rookies gained acclaim last year, but Rondale Moore was seen as a disappointment by many.  Despite the haters, you should know that he led all wide receivers in 2021 in catch percentage with 84.4%.  Finding a cheap option that catches better than four out of five should be one readily sought after.

Red Zone Target Share

Not too many elite dynasty wide receivers are taking more of a hit to their value than DK Metcalf.  Aside from what can be looked at as a down season, he now loses his NFL lifelong option at Russell Wilson.  Although the number might go down, Metcalf led the league last season with a 36.5% red zone target share.  One could even argue that with a lesser option at quarterback, they will need to lean on Metcalf more than ever for success in 2022.

Running Backs

Least Drops Among Eligible Players

In fantasy each year, the running back position is more and more valuable when catches are made.  While only a handful are elite at the position, there are even fewer who have sticky gloves.  Of all the running backs in the NFL, only 25 of them had at least 50 targets thrown their way.  And of those 25, only one player did not have one single drop.  Although he’s a free agent, JD McKissic will certainly garner interest as an excellent pass catching running back.  And if he returns, much like Terry McLaurin, his play should improve with an upgrade to quarterback.

Average Yards After Contact

A team’s ability to establish the running game is well known to be important, and there are a limited number of rushers who are pure power runners.  Hindered mostly by injuries, not only last season but his entire career, Rashaad Penny truly soared at the end of the 2021 season.  While his first place average yards after contact isn’t likely to remain at a whopping 4.2, it is a good sign that the former first round pick has plenty left in the tank.  Whether he stays in Seattle or signs elsewhere, he’s surely shown enough to get the ball often to start next season.

Red Zone Attempts

Among running backs, it is truly difficult to find many categories that Jonathan Taylor did not lead.  Arguably the most elite option at running back, Jonathan Taylor is insanely expensive in dynasty and redraft formats alike.  There are others, however, who also did well last season.  In 2021, the running back with the most red zone attempts may shock you.  Damien Harris, after Taylor, had the most red zone attempts with 30.  His touchdowns in the red zone were also impressive, ranking him third in the league.  Despite the emergence of Rhamondre Stevenson and the carousel of other backs that Bill Belichick loves to use, Damien Harris is leaned on more than almost any other running back when it matters the most.

Tight Ends

Average Yards after the Catch

Tight end is a finicky position to be sure.  Finding massive fantasy relevance at the position is a tall task and finding one at a discount is an even bigger mountain.  Although there are many with more yards after the catch, when you consider per reception, Jonnu Smith led all tight ends last year with 8.3.  As Mac Jones grows, Jonnu Smith is certainly to be rewarded.  And if Hunter Henry misses any time, Jonnu Smith is sure to shine.

Snap Count

Take a guess which tight end ran the most snaps in 2021.  Mark Andrews?  Kyle Pitts?  Travis Kelce?  What if I told you it was Dalton Schultz with 993?  In fact, only three other non-quarterbacks ran more than Schultz; with first place Cooper Kupp leading Schultz by only 31.  It’s truly insane to consider that Dalton Schultz ran more snaps than the likes of Aaron Rodgers and among tight ends, it wasn’t even close.  As well as he did last season, Dalton Schultz can certainly only do better with how much he is on offense with the Cowboys.

Red Zone Targets

As tight ends are usually the most touchdown dependent position in fantasy football, finding one who is used inside the 20 yard line is a must.  With a higher probability of getting that six points plus yards, you should know that Dawson Knox led all tight ends last year in targets and receptions inside the 20; equalling 8 of his total 14 touchdowns.  And while his touchdown ratio should fall next season due to its lack of stability, his usage in the red zone should continue moving forward as no one attempted more red zone passes last season than Josh Allen.


Time in the Pocket

Pocket passers are usually less than desired when it comes to fantasy.  A quarterback without rushing upside is completely dependent on what his receivers can do.  Time in the pocket is often associated with more opportunities to make the perfect pass, but it also allows the quarterback time to make his own play.  Among all starting quarterbacks, surprisingly, Jalen Hurts led the way in time between the snap and either throwing the ball or pressure.  With so much time on his hands, Hurts ran more than any other quarterback last year, while generating more yards than anyone else at the position and scoring double digit rushing touchdowns.

Average Net Yards Gained

One of the signs of a good quarterback is net yards gained per pass.  Short catches are great, but longer stretch plays can allow more probability of a touchdown.  True pocket passes are becoming more rare in the league and it may surprise you to know that Jimmy Garoppolo led the National Football League in average net yards gained in 2021 with 7.68.  While much of this can be attributed to weapons such as Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, Jimmy G’s talent certainly can’t be overlooked completely.  Although Garoppolo is moving on from San Francisco, he’ll find a home and have success and a price fantasy managers can get on board with.

Red Zone Completion Percentage

There’s not a lot more satisfying than a receiver catching that perfect ball for a touchdown.  The quarterback has to remain calm and collected in general, but in the red zone, it takes even more prowess to succeed.  In 2021, none other than Jameis Winston led the league inside the ten yard line with a completion percentage of 77.78%.  That’s right.  Over three quarters of all balls he threw in the red zone were caught and of all his touchdowns, only three were caught beyond the twenty yard line.  While it’s only a sample size, as he was hurt for a portion of last season, he’s shown the capability before and at his price point, it’s an obvious choice.

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