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Admittedly, I’m a little late to the party in the “Does defense really matter?” debate, but I’m going to throw my two cents into the hat. I touched on the effect defenses have on daily fantasy performances earlier this season, and I’m running it back using Football Outsiders’ DVOA to evaluate how defenses perform against different skill position groups.

If you’re unfamiliar with DVOA, you can find out more here. Football Outsiders reports DVOA statistics for NFL teams for both offensive and defensive statistics. I’ll be utilizing this data to analyze player performance based on defensive matchup.

Team Defense DVOA Percentile Ranks

I’ve reported percentile ranks for each NFL team for defense DVOA, pass defense DVOA and DVOA versus each position group.

Football Outsiders reports DVOA versus No. 1 wide receivers and No. 2 wide receivers separately according to statistical and subjective determination. I’ve also grouped wide receivers into these categories based on target share, air yards and receiving production.


Results

For my discussion of each position group, I’ve broken down our sample into quartiles based on defensive matchup. Quartiles separate a sample population into four equal groups. In our case, those four quartiles are separated based on percentile rank.

It’s important to keep in mind that each quartile represents NFL defenses, while reported statistics for each quartile reflect a particular position group’s performance against those defenses.


No. 1 Wide Receivers

No. 1 wide receivers command a large percentage of their team’s target share, air yards and total offensive production. As a result, defense DVOA, pass defense DVOA and DVOA vs. WR1 generally report similar results for each quartile.

In general, major differences in wide receiver production exist at the extremes of defensive matchup. Top 25th-percentile defenses tend to suppress WR1 production while bottom 25th-percentile defenses tend to produce the highest Plus/Minus and Consistency Ratings.

Players Who Fit Our Trend in Week 10

The following No. 1 wide receivers draw advantageous matchups against defenses with positive DVOA Plus/Minus splits in total defense, pass defense and pass defense against No. 1 wide receivers. These players boast a current Plus/Minus of +2.95.

  • A.J. Green (foot, doubtful): $7,600 DraftKings
  • Julian Edelman: $6,800 DraftKings
  • Jarvis Landry: $6,200 DraftKings
  • Allen Robinson (groin, questionable): $5,000 DraftKings
  • Marquise Goodwin: $5,000 DraftKings
  • Corey Davis: $4,500 DraftKings
  • Josh Doctson: $4,300 DraftKings

No. 2 Wide Receivers

Position-specific DVOA ranking has a huge effect on No. 2 wide receiver performance. Defenses in the top 50th-percentile of DVOA vs. WR2 dramatically reduce production for these receivers, producing Plus/Minus scores around +1.00 compared to a control Plus/Minus of +2.46.

By contrast, defenses in the bottom 25th-percentile concede the highest average actual points, Plus/Minus and Consistency Ratings to No. 2 wide receivers by a wide margin. Equally importantly, average expected points is similar across all four quartiles, which indicates that DraftKings is not adequately adjusting player salaries according to this trend.

Players Who Fit Our Trend in Week 10

The following No. 2 wide receivers draw advantageous matchups against defenses with positive DVOA Plus/Minus splits in total defense, pass defense and pass defense against No. 2 wide receivers. These players boast a current Plus/Minus of +7.18 and average actual points of 17.23.

  • Tyler Boyd: $7,500 DraftKings
  • Taylor Gabriel (leg, questionable): $4,900 DraftKings
  • Tre’Quan Smith: $4,600 DraftKings
  • Jamison Crowder (ankle, questionable): $4,200 DraftKings
  • Antonio Callaway (ankle, questionable): $4,000 DraftKings
Taylor-Gabriel

Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Taylor Gabriel

Gabriel and Robinson are nursing injuries for the Bears, which could elevate rookie Anthony Miller against the Lions. Miller is one of our top waiver wire adds this week and could be in line for a breakout game if Robinson or Gabriel sit out on Sunday. Stay up to date on the statuses of Robinson and Gabriel with our Injury Report.

Boyd also stands to gain from an injury to Green, who is doubtful for their matchup against the Saints. Both receivers fit our trend this week, which could signal another big day for Boyd if Green does not play.


Tight Ends

DVOA data on tight ends is particularly noisy due to the volatile nature of the position. Still, defenses boasting top 25th-percentile ranks in defense DVOA and pass defense DVOA report significant declines in average actual points and Plus/Minus for opposing tight ends.

However, DVOA vs. TE data reports dramatic improvement for tight ends facing subpar defenses. Defenses in the bottom 25th-percentile concede by far the highest average actual points, Plus/Minus and Consistency marks to tight ends, while all other quartiles only report mediocre results.

Much like our data on No. 2 wide receivers, the data suggests that DraftKings is not adequately adjusting salaries for these players, which means there could be substantial value in targeting tight ends in advantageous defensive matchups.

Players Who Fit Our Trend in Week 10

The following tight ends draw advantageous matchups against defenses with positive DVOA Plus/Minus splits in total defense, pass defense and pass defense against tight ends. These players boast a current Plus/Minus of +2.95 and average actual points of 9.56.

  • Greg Olsen (foot, probable): $4,900 DraftKings
  • Jordan Reed: $4,400 DraftKings
  • Trey Burton: $3,900 DraftKings
  • Vance McDonald: $3,600 DraftKings
  • Ricky Seals-Jones: $3,000 DraftKings
  • Vernon Davis: $2,800 DraftKings
  • Jesse James: $2,700 DraftKings
  • Antonio Gates: $2,600 DraftKings
  • Virgil Green: $2,500 DraftKings
  • Ian Thomas: $2,500 DraftKings

Running Backs

Football Outsiders reports DVOA vs. running backs based on receiving production. Because of this, I chose to limit our running back sample to players with at least 25 pass targets this season. Of course, we cannot strictly isolate receiving production for running backs each week, but pruning the sample to highly-targeted running backs is a decent start.

Our entire sample of running backs with at least 25 pass targets boasts an impressive Plus/Minus score of +3.67. That on its own is a big finding because it suggests targeting high-volume receiving running backs is inherently valuable in DFS.

Moreover, running backs facing bottom 25th-percentile defenses in defense DVOA and pass defense DVOA boast ridiculous stat lines this season. Those quartiles boast average actual points higher than 19.50 and Plus/Minus scores of at least +6. Additionally, defenses ranking in the top 25th-percentile in DVOA vs. RB have dramatically reduced running back performance, conceding by far the lowest average actual points, Plus/Minus and Consistency scores this season.

Among high-volume receiving running backs, it seems defensive matchup has a dramatic effect on individual player performance.

Players Who Fit Our Trend in Week 10

The following running backs draw advantageous matchups against defenses with positive DVOA Plus/Minus splits in total defense, pass defense and pass defense against running backs. These players boast a current Plus/Minus of +5.51.

  • Melvin Gordon: $9,000 DraftKings
  • Joe Mixon: $7,700 DraftKings
  • Tarik Cohen: $5,500 DraftKings
  • Chris Thompson (ribs, questionable): $5,400 DraftKings
  • Duke Johnson Jr: $4,700 DraftKings
  • Austin Ekeler: $4,000 DraftKings

News Updates

After this piece is published, FantasyLabs is likely to provide news updates on a number of players mentioned here. Be sure to stay ahead of your competition with our NFL news feed.

Photo Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Pictured Above: Tyler Boyd