Fantasy Football 2022: Usage and expected value for four key players in Week 1

Welcome to week 1, fantasy managers! I’m ecstatic to share a new weekly series focused on leveraging my Expected Fantasy Points model to assess each player’s value based on their usage from the previous week(s). To arrive at this metric, my model will utilize historical play-by-play data to calculate each player’s expected fantasy value based on the down, distance to the goal and yard line of their opportunities.

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Naturally, the type of opportunity will also affect the expected value. Targets, for example, are significantly more valuable than rush attempts, especially for running backs. On the other hand, rushing opportunities are more valuable than pass attempts, giving dual-threat quarterbacks the edge for fantasy. My model will take all of this into account to arrive at the following metrics each week:

  • Expected Fantasy Points (or xFP)

  • Fantasy Points Over Expected (or FPOE = Actual Points - Expected Points)

As an example, let us take a look at Austin Ekeler’s usage from last season. With heavy involvement in the passing game (15 percent target share) and the red zone, Ekeler’s value came in at 17.7 Expected PPR points per game (RB3), behind only Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor. His actual production was 21.5 PPR points per game, meaning Ekeler was both extremely efficient and exceeded his expected value. That gets us to the following numbers (per game):

  • Expected Fantasy Value: 17.7 xFP

  • Actual Fantasy Production: 21.5 PPR

  • Fantasy Points Above Expected: +3.8 FPOE

You might be wondering, why do these metrics matter?

First off, Expected Points is rooted in volume, which can be a strong signal for future fantasy success. We want to identify players who are used heavily, even if it doesn’t immediately translate into top-12 production. Fantasy Points Above Expected signals efficiency and is much less stable. While a player might finish with +5.0 points above expected one week after scoring a 50-yard touchdown, their FPOE could swing in the other direction if they fail to replicate that efficiency the following week.

Knowing that efficiency will fluctuate, we want to target players who rank highly in Expected Fantasy Points, and do not rely too heavily on Points Above Expected to produce! Each week, we will use this premise to highlight which players to target and fade.

Since we do not have any game data to analyze yet, below are four players whose usage I am confident in heading into Week 1. Let’s dive in!

Chart data courtesy of nflfastR

Mike Williams - Los Angeles Chargers, WR

One of my favorite wide receivers to target in this year’s draft is Mike Williams, who finished last season as the WR14 in PPR points per game (15.4). Even more impressive, he also ranked as the WR12 in fantasy usage with 14.5 Expected Fantasy Points, ahead of players like Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman. In 2022, I fully expect this to remain unchanged as Williams should continue to operate as a primary target downfield and in the red zone. And while the presence of Keenan Allen might be a cause for concern, keep in mind that both Allen and Williams were WR1s in Expected Fantasy Points in 2021:

Keenan Allen Mike Williams 2021 Expected Fantasy Points. (Photo by nflfastR)
Keenan Allen Mike Williams 2021 Expected Fantasy Points. (Photo by nflfastR)

In other words, they can clearly coexist as the 1A and 1B for Justin Herbert. In addition, the Chargers are heading into their second year in Joe Lombardi’s system, which means this offense should be much more familiar and comfortable with the offensive scheme going into 2022. Therefore, Williams is just one of many Chargers players I am comfortable taking at their current ADP.

D’Andre Swift - Detroit Lions, RB

Because of an injury-plagued season and the mini breakout of Amon-Ra St. Brown, D’Andre Swift’s outstanding 2021 campaign was slightly overshadowed. However, in 13 games, Swift finished the year as the RB9 in PPR points per game (16.1), ahead of players like Aaron Jones and Dalvin Cook. In addition, he was also one of the most versatile and efficient receivers at the running back position, finishing as the RB2 in both Target Share (18.2%) and Yards-After-the-Catch share (29.2%) behind only Alvin Kamara. And considering how much more valuable targets are compared to rush attempts, his unique usage truly gives him a sizable ceiling in PPR leagues. Factor in Detroit’s stellar offensive line and Swift is clearly primed to have another RB1 season, with the upside to finish in the top five if his usage continues to improve.

Cole Kmet - Chicago Bears, TE

By now, you have likely already heard that Cole Kmet is one of the most obvious positive regression candidates after failing to find the end zone on 94 opportunities last season. To put that into perspective, since 2013, we have seen 141 TE seasons with at least 75 total opportunities (targets + rush attempts). Of those 141 seasons, only two of them finished with 0 touchdowns: Jared Cook in 2015 and Cole Kmet in 2021.

Therefore, I fully expect Kmet’s fantasy efficiency to regress closer to the mean after scoring -2.13 Fantasy Points Above Expected in 2021. Despite his inefficiency, Kmet still ranked as the TE12 in Expected Fantasy Points at 9.26 per game. In other words, he should have finished as a TE1 had he scored anywhere close to the average number of touchdowns last season.

Cole Kmet 2021 Expected Fantasy Points. (Photo by NFLFastR)
Cole Kmet 2021 Expected Fantasy Points. (Photo by NFLFastR)

The more encouraging part of his outlook, however, is his path to even more targets this year. With a very mediocre depth chart behind the Bears’ top two receiving options, this offense will likely run through both Darnell Mooney and Kmet this season. So, if you missed out on drafting an elite TE, Kmet is an outstanding later-round option.

Jalen Hurts - Philadelphia Eagles, QB

If you are looking for a quarterback who could finish as the overall QB1 without the premium draft price tag, Jalen Hurts is the player to target this year. First off, Hurts had by far the highest rushing floor last season, averaging 6.8 Expected Fantasy Points on his rushing opportunities, which ranked higher than both Lamar Jackson’s (6.6) and Josh Allen’s (5.8) rushing xFP. To put this in simpler terms, Hurts provided fantasy managers with an absurd baseline of nearly 7 fantasy points per game due to his rushing production alone. And while he is not known as a prolific passer, he still ranked as the QB15 in adjusted yards per attempt with 7.1.

Entering the 2022 season, I expect his elite rushing usage to remain mostly unchanged, while his passing numbers are due to improve. With the addition of A.J. Brown and a potential second-year leap for DeVonta Smith, Hurts is in a perfect situation to produce for fantasy managers as both a rusher and a passer this season.

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