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Touch Opportunity Volatility: Who sees the most consistent touches?

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 09: LeSean McCoy #25 of the Buffalo Bills runs with the ball after a catch in the second quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Rams at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 9, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Fantasy football is a volatile game. There’s no two ways about it. As a fantasy player, the aim is to reduce volatility while sustaining as much upside as possible in your rosters. That’s no easy feat, but there are some data metrics that can assist in the process, including what I’m introducing today: Touch Opportunity Volatility.

Traditional approaches to finding consistency in fantasy football have measure fantasy output in terms of fantasy points. Essentially, the idea is that players who produce roughly the same amount of fantasy points per game are the most consistent options. While this method has its merits, there is one glaring issue: touchdowns.

Unlike touches, dropbacks, and yardage averages, touchdowns are notoriously difficult to predict. Take for example Calvin Johnson’s 2012 season. Despite setting the single-season record for receiving yards with 1,964 on a whopping 122 catches, Johnson scored a measly five times, which was two fewer that Danario Alexander managed on just 37 receptions.

Johnson saw heavy volume, with a position-high 199 targets, including 16 in the end zone, but his efficiency was uncharacteristically low that season. The thing is, Johnson wasn’t an anomaly in the NFL. Touchdown variance is a weekly occurrence on both sides of the mean. For that reason, fantasy points are a problematic metric for gauging future fantasy production.

Instead, we need to focus our attention on more predictable football statistics. In this exercise, we’re going to specifically look at opportunities to touch the football. Touches are the No. 1 factor in fantasy production at running back, wide receiver, and tight end. Simply put, players who touch the ball the most tend to also score the most fantasy points.

At PFF, we define offensive opportunities as carries plus pass routes run. However, simply running a route does not directly correlate to an opportunity to touch the football. Some receivers are better at getting open and therefore see a higher rate of targets per route. So we’re going to modify opportunities to look at just carries and targets. We can call this stat “touch opportunities.”

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