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NFL preseason Week 3 fantasy football utilization news and notes

Aug 29, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts (8) catches a pass during warmups before their game against the Cleveland Browns at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy football performance occurs at the intersection of efficiency and opportunity. While most fantasy players can recite empty efficiency stats such as yards per carry and yards per reception by memory, some don't have a real grasp on opportunity.

That is where utilization comes into play. We can better understand a player's role in the offense by analyzing the drivers behind snap counts based on different game situations and coaching tendencies. These drivers can help us identify sleepers, busts, upside targets and floor targets for our season-long fantasy drafts. We can also use this information for preemptive waiver wire pickups, start-sit decisions and DFS roster construction.

We specifically want to know if running backs are on the field for early downs, passing downs and short yardage. Each of those opportunities provides a different amount of value depending on the scoring format. With wide receivers and tight ends, we want to know how often they are in a route versus the number of team passing plays. Snaps don't matter as much; in fact, they can be misleading for tight ends, which may be blocking and have little opportunity to score fantasy points.

It is essential to understand which players come off of the field in different personnel groupings. For example, a third wide receiver on a team that uses 11 personnel (three wide receivers) on only 50% of neutral-script plays (within three points excluding plays in the last two minutes of each half) will be game-script dependent.


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Below, I have broken down notable utilization observations using PFF's proprietary database for the third week of the preseason. Each week of the preseason will provide another data point to consider as we fine-tune fantasy rankings and tiers for upcoming drafts.

Data notes and acronyms:

1st/2nd = First and second downs.
LDD = Long down and distance (third and fourth down with over seven yards to go).
SDD = Short down and distance (second, third and fourth down with two or fewer yards to go).
2MIN = Two-minute offense (hurry-up offense).

Arizona Cardinals

Their game was canceled due to Hurricane Ida.

Atlanta Falcons

Did not play: Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley

Notes:

  • Russell Gage and Mike Davis only played the first snap of the game on offense – a 27-yard catch and run by Kyle Pitts, who lined up outside Hayden Hurst on the left side of the formation in 12 personnel before working his way underneath the offensive line post-snap into the right flat.
  • Pitts played two out of four plays on the opening drive – both from 12 personnel with Hurst lined up as the inside tight end.
  • Hurst played 100% of the short-lived first drive snaps.

Takeaways:

  • Although a small sample size, the Falcons appear prepared to design unique looks for Pitts, who should operate as the No. 2 target behind Ridley, so that he can reach his full ADP potential.
  • Hurst is a late-round sleeper at tight end because he may not often come off the field as the primary in-line option.
  • Gage appears locked into the No. 2 receiver role after only playing one snap.

Baltimore Ravens

Did not play: Justice Hill, Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman, Sammy Watkins

Notes:

  • J.K. Dobbins suffered a knee injury and is out for the season, leaving 200-plus carries open for Gus Edwards, Hill and Ty'Son Williams.
  • Edwards handled the remaining snaps with the starters on the first drive, and Williams took the second series before exiting the game.
  • Mark Andrews was in a route on all of Lamar Jackson's passing attempts and received a target on half of them.

Takeaways:

  • The Ravens could bring in an additional back to help ease the burden on Edwards, but for now, Hill and Williams are in line for more work. Consider Edwards an RB2 who should go in the fifth round of 12-team leagues. Ravens beat reporters are indicating Williams is the RB2 in Baltimore, making him worth a waiver wire pickup if your team needs help at the position.
  • With Brown, Bateman and Watkins all on the mend, Andrews could splash big in Week 1 DFS as a target hog.

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