Matt’s Musings | NFL Data Study, Week 11


Every Monday, I find myself in a bit of NFL data purgatory. We’re waiting for the week to come to a proper ending, and the data is still yet to be finalized. It’s a great time, however, to look at some historical trends and do some digging on some things we can leverage in the upcoming week. This piece will be out Tuesdays but won’t have the same format or topic each week. The formula will change as I poke around with the data we have access to here. It’ll just be my musings on something that caught my eye. If there’s something to it, I’ll give you some way to leverage the conclusions in fantasy for the upcoming week.



How to Measure Aggressiveness

There is so much analysis about every part of the NFL that it’s hard to keep up with. Pass rate over expectation is one such measure that is important in an intuitive way, especially for fantasy. With our quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends, we want offenses to throw even when they’re “not supposed to.” That measure of aggressiveness is certainly important but it’s ubiquitous at this point and not necessarily something I want to spend too much time discussing. 

Another way of measuring the aggressiveness of a passing attack is to quantify how often they throw past the first down marker.

There’s an interesting dynamic happening here from a macro level. Historically, teams have passed beyond the first down marker at about a 31% clip with a standard deviation of about 3%. That means that, given a normal distribution, we’d expect to find about two-thirds of the league (20 – 22 teams) between 28% and 34% on early downs. We essentially have that, but there’s only one team that sits a full standard deviation below that number while there are nine teams above that number. In other words, teams are passing more (which we knew) but they’re also pushing the ball further down the field, especially on early downs than ever before. 

Aggressiveness in Context

Being aggressive is something we like from a fantasy perspective. And, in reality, it’s something that teams should be actively pursuing on some level, but not all “aggressiveness” is created equally. Yes, the Jaguars are 8th in the league in early down throws past the first down marker, but they’re always playing from behind. In fact, one way that I quantify teams is by looking at the play-by-play data and just averaging the scoring margin that they’re facing on a per-play basis. When we combine them, we can cluster teams into four groups:

  • More aggressive throws, better point differential
  • More aggressive, worse point differential
  • Less aggressive, better point differential
  • Less aggressive, worse point differential

The final way we’re going to contextualize this is by looking at what type of coverage these targets are facing on deep throws. Teams that are more aggressive will be more willing to throw into tight coverage on these deep passes. 

That’s from the team level. If we narrow down to the pass-catcher level, we see the following wide receivers with 10+ such targets.

There’s plenty of crossover between the two lists, but it’s interesting that Mike Williams is on a team (the Chargers) that doesn’t show up in the team-level leaderboard. 



Key Takeaways

From a macro perspective, we know that we’re in a passing league. In the fantasy/DFS space, it’s important to invest in teams that have some aggressiveness in their game plan. A zoomed in look at the top 10 in throws past the first down marker illuminates some things for us. 

All 10 of these teams are a full standard deviation above the historical average for throws past the first down marker. There are situations to monitor, though. Cam Newton potentially taking over the reins in Carolina will be one team to keep an eye on. Does their identity change with the return of Newton, or do they continue to be aggressive on early downs? The Ravens are over three standard deviations above the historical league average. It’s hard to imagine that continues, but they march to the beat of their own drum anyway.

Previous NFL FAAB Strategy for Week 11 Next Splits tool update for Week 11 – Fantasy football players to watch