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NFL Football Column: Post-Season Fantasy Football Guide

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January 30, 2013
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Superbowl XLVII Rankings

Mike Clay
Writer, Rotoworld.com

Superbowl XLVII is upon us. If you’ve been participating in playoff leagues this season, this is your final chance to separate yourself from the competition and take home a prize or three.

Down below are my positional rankings and projections for the Superbowl, including extensive analysis of all players I expect to see an offensive touch in the game. That’s right, even the fullbacks are examined.

Standard scoring (non-PPR) is assumed. Snap distribution and average depth of target data is provided by ProFootballFocus.com.

Why are touchdowns not shown as whole numbers? Because only a handful of touchdowns are scored each game, it doesn't make statistical sense to round them to the nearest whole number. Instead, they're shown with one decimal place. The number shown is basically the player's over/under for touchdowns in the game.

Quarterback

1. Colin Kaepernick (SF)
Projection: 18-of-28, 227 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 8 carries, 48 yards, 1 TD

Kaepernick’s 63 percent completion rate is just above league average, but he’s had some bad luck with drops. Take them out of the equation and his adjusted completion rate is 75 percent (NFL average = 72 percent). His average depth of throw sits at 10.4, which ranks as the league’s fourth-highest mark this season. His 1.6 percent interception rate is nearly half of the league average 3.2 percent mark. Each is an impressive feat, especially for a player who just took over as a starter midway through the season. Kaepernick doesn’t rely on his backs very often, targeting a player lined up in the backfield on just 13 percent of his throws. The NFL average is 18 percent. Instead, he looks to his outside wide receivers 47 percent of the time, which compares favorably to the 43 percent NFL average. Of Kaepernick’s 13 passing touchdowns, five have gone to a player lined up wide left, while four have been delivered to a player in the right slot.

Although Kaepernick does a chunk of his damage in terms of fantasy points on the ground, passing the ball won’t be easy against a tough Baltimore defense. The Ravens have allowed three touchdowns through the air only once this season (divisional round vs. Peyton Manning). Over their last 10 games, they’ve allowed fewer than two passing touchdowns eight times. Manning, Tom Brady, and Andrew Luck have combined for four passing scores against Baltimore in the playoffs. After going four straight games without an interception, the Baltimore defense has five over their last three games.

2. Joe Flacco (BAL)
Projection: 20-of-35, 257 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 2 carries, 5 yards

Flacco’s 10.6 average depth of target ranks as the league’s third-highest mark this season. Despite throwing deeper down field more often than his counterparts, Flacco enjoys a 1.7 percent interception rate, which is well below the 3.2 percent NFL average. Although Flacco has been a bit lucky in terms of drops (4.6 percent), his completion percentage sits at a below-average 59 percent. His adjusted completion rate of 67 percent is, of course, well below the 72 percent league average. Flacco has scrambled on one percent of his dropbacks this season. He was at or above two percent each of the last four years. Only seven percent of Flacco’s throws have been directed at an in-line tight end, which is well below the 13 percent league average. Instead he’s three percent above the field in throws to backs and slot receivers.

Of Flacco’s 30 passing touchdowns, zero went to an in-line tight end, while a gigantic 15 went to a slot receiver (10 to right slot). That works out to 8.9 percent of his scores being converted by players lined up in the slot, which is more than double the 4.6 percent NFL average. Flacco has always leaned towards targeting players lined up to his right, and that’s been very apparent this season. He’s gone to a player lined up to his right on 47 percent of his throws. That compares to just 32 percent to his left. The other 21 percent went to backs. Interestingly, he completed a pathetic 43 percent of his throws to receivers lined up wide left. He completed 60 percent of throws to receivers lined up wide right despite a sky-high 16.0 average depth of target (14.8 aDOT to LWR).

The 49ers pass defense hasn’t been especially dominant over the last month or so, but part of the reason for that was their opponents in those games. In their last five games, they’ve faced Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Brian Hoyer (exception), Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Ryan. Brady put up 443 yards, but scored only once despite 69 dropbacks. Wilson scored four times through the air and Ryan found paydirt three times in the NFC Championship game. The Niners have exactly one interception in four consecutive games. After averaging 2.7 sacks-per-game during the first 15 weeks of the season, they’ve managed five total over their last five games.

Running Back

1. Ray Rice (BAL)
Projection: 15 carries, 64 yards, 0.6 TD, 3 receptions, 18 yards, 0.1 TD

Rice continues to work as Baltimore’s lead back, but rookie Bernard Pierce’s role is on the rise since the team’s Week 8 bye. Still, Rice has hit the 15-carry mark 13 times this season, including a total of 64 carries in three playoff games. Rice has seen 14 percent of Joe Flacco’s targets this season. He’s been above 16 percent each of the last three seasons, including 19 percent in 2011. One reason for Rice’s drop in targets is that he’s been asked to pass block more often. After staying in to block 22 percent of the time in 2011, he’s up to 29 percent in 2012. Rice usually averages a decent 4.3 yards-per-carry, but he’ll face off against one of the game’s top run defenses this week. Although the Packers had some success against them in the divisional round, the 49ers have shut down the Falcons and Cardinals over the last month, while also neutralizing tough Patriots and Seahawks rushing attacks.

2. Frank Gore (SF)
Projection: 18 carries, 79 yards, 0.6 TD, 2 receptions, 11 yards, 0.1 TD

Gore is the 49ers clear lead back, handling 57 percent of the team’s designed runs on the year – a healthy mark considering the team’s run-heavy philosophy. His role is up a bit since LaMichael James replaced an injured Kendall Hunter as the No. 2 tailback in Week 13. Gore has seen a total of 44 carries in two playoff games, and has eclipsed the 20-carry mark seven times this season. He’s seeing eight percent of the team’s targets, which is down from the 12-to-14 percent range he was in from 2008-to-2010, as well as, the nine percent he saw in 2011. The drop is a bit interesting considering that he’s being asked to pass block only 31 percent of the time this year, which is down from 39 percent one year ago. Gore was not targeted in the NFC Championship and saw only two in the divisional round.

Gore’s 4.7 yards-per-carry mark ranks 12th among qualified backs this season. He’ll have a tough time sustaining that mark against a tough Ravens’ run defense this Sunday. After a mediocre effort slowing the Colts’ backfield in the wild card round, Baltimore did an excellent job containing the Broncos and Patriots rushing attacks over their last two affairs. An awful performance against Dallas back in Week 6 was the Ravens only real black eye on the season.

3. Bernard Pierce (BAL)
Projection: 8 carries, 34 yards, 0.2 TD, 1 reception, 4 yards

Pierce is still second in line at tailback in Baltimore, but his role is on the rise. Now fully installed in the old Ricky Williams/Willis McGahee role behind Rice, Pierce has gone from averaging 3.3 carries-per-game during the team’s first seven games to 9.3 over their last 12. The Ravens call a run 59 percent of the time when he’s on the field. Pierce is averaging an impressive 5.1 yards-per-carry, which ranks fourth among all qualified backs. He’ll spell Rice early and often on Sunday.

4. LaMichael James (SF)
Projection: 5 carries, 24 yards, 0.2 TD, 1 reception, 6 yards

James is working as the 49ers’ No. 2 tailback, but is seeing about 1.5 carries-per-game fewer than what Hunter enjoyed prior to his season-ending injury in Week 12. He’s only carried the ball 35 times, but James has a strong 5.1 yards-per-carry mark. An undersized, speed back, James is not asked to pass block very often and works behind both Gore and Anthony Dixon in short yardage.

5. Vonta Leach (BAL)
Projection: 1 carry, 2 yards, 0.1 TD, 1 reception, 9 yards

Leach has four carries and three targets during the playoffs. Baltimore calls a run 64 percent of the time when he’s on the field.

6. Anthony Dixon (SF)
Projection: 2 carries, 6 yards, 0.2 TD

Gore gets a fair share of goal line and short-yardage carries, but Dixon is right behind him in the pecking order. He’s carried the ball only 23 times this year, but has three touchdowns. Dixon has seen only two carries in the playoffs, but was in the two-to-three range in each of 49ers final four regular season games.

7. Bruce Miller (SF)
Projection: 1 reception, 2 yards

Miller does not have a postseason touch. He did, however, total five carries and 13 targets during the regular season. Ten of those 13 targets came during the team’s final six regular season games. The 49ers call a run 61 percent of the time when he’s in the lineup.

Wide Receiver

1. Michael Crabtree (SF)
Projection: 9 targets, 6 receptions, 76 yards, 0.6 TD

Crabtree saw seven targets against Atlanta in the NFC Championship, his lowest total since Week 12. In the six games between, he enjoyed 63 targets and was never below nine in a single game. Crabtree lines up in the slot on 28 percent of his snaps. He’s wide right 39 percent and wide to the left 31 percent. He’s targeted 24 percent of the time when in the slot, which has resulted in 40 receptions and five touchdowns on 51 targets. Interestingly, his average depth of target is higher in the slot (7.8) than it is when he’s on the outside (7.6). Five of Crabtree’s 25 receptions while lined up wide to the left have resulted in a touchdown. Considering how he moves around the formation, Crabtree is sure to see each of the Baltimore defenders. Corey Graham is the Ravens’ primary slot man, working inside on 60 percent of his snaps. Expect the two to face off all day long. Red-hot Crabtree has a major advantage on the struggling Graham.

2. Anquan Boldin (BAL)
Projection: 8 targets, 5 receptions, 69 yards, 0.3 TD

Boldin is Baltimore’s primary slot man, working inside on 57 percent of his snaps. He’s to Flacco’s right 44 percent of the time (19 percent wide), and to his left 54 percent of the time (23 percent wide). Like Crabtree, Boldin moves around a lot, so he’ll see plenty of the 49ers’ top-three corners. Carlos Rogers works the left side in base, but is in the slot on 53 percent of his snaps. Interestingly, there is nearly a 50:50 split on the location of Boldin’s targets. He’s seen 67 while in the slot, compared to 66 while out wide. Five of his seven touchdowns have come while in the slot, including four in the right slot. The left/right distribution is a bit interesting. Despite usually lining up to Flacco’s left, 61 percent of his targets have come when lined up on the right side. He’s targeted on 18 percent of his snaps when lined up to the right, compared to just 10 percent went on the left. Boldin has seen 26 targets during the team’s three playoff games, including at least seven in each.

3. Torrey Smith (BAL)
Projection: 7 targets, 4 receptions, 63 yards, 0.5 TD

Smith only lines up in the slot five percent of the time, but his snaps are split fairly evenly between the left and right side of the field. He’s wide to the left on 48 percent of his snaps, and wide to the right on 46 percent. Interestingly, 65 (53 percent) of his targets have come when wide to the right. That’s compared to 47 (38 percent) when wide left. Check out the splits:

Smith

Wide Left

Wide Right

Targets

47

65

Receptions

16

34

Catch %

34%

52%

YPR

16.5

20.0

Avg. Depth of Target

20.7

20.0

YAC/Catch

2.2

4.8

Drop Rate

11%

2%



Like Boldin, Smith has been much more effective when lined up to the right of Flacco. In case you’re wondering if this is fluky or not, I compared his splits to 2011. Although Smith was more effective when on the left side on a per-target basis, 68 percent of his targets came when lined up to the right, compared to just 26 percent on the left. It’s safe to say this is where Flacco is most comfortable getting his receivers the ball – not a shocker considering he’s a right-handed quarterback. Chris Culliver is San Francisco’s primary corner on Flacco’s preferred side, seeing 96 percent of his snaps at left corner. Tarell Brown plays right corner 90 percent of the time.

4. Randy Moss (SF)
Projection: 4 targets, 2 receptions, 41 yards, 0.2 TD

Moss spends most of his time on the outside, lining up in the slot on only 12 percent of his snaps this season. He’s wide to Kaepernick’s left 58 percent of the time (plus another seven percent in the left slot). All three of Moss’ touchdowns this season have come when lined up on the left side of the formation. It’s on the left side that he’ll see quite a bit of underwhelming Cary Williams, who lines up at right corner on 87 percent of his snaps. Moss is currently going through a pretty bizarre target streak. He’s seen exactly four targets in six of his last seven games, including both playoff contests.

5. Jacoby Jones (BAL)
Projection: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 26 yards, 0.1 TD

Jones plays primarily out wide, kicking Boldin inside in three-wide sets. In fact, only five percent of his snaps (and nine percent of his targets) have come while in the slot this season. Jones lines up to Flacco’s right 58 percent of the time, including 55 percent wide right. In what shouldn’t be a surprise based on earlier revelations, Flacco looks Jones’ way a lot more often when he’s lined up on the right. He’s seen 44 of his 57 targets when on the right side. He has a higher catch rate, yards-per-reception, average depth of target, and YAC mark when to the right. In fact, both of his touchdowns have come when on Flacco’s right, including the can of corn against Denver two weeks back. Jones has totaled seven targets during the team’s three playoff games.

6. Ted Ginn (SF)
Projection: 1 target, 1 reception, 9 yards

He only plays a dozen or so snaps a game, but Ginn is working as the team’s No. 3 wide receiver, ahead of both Chad Hall and A.J. Jenkins. Ginn lines up in the slot just 16 percent of the time. He’s wide to the right of Kaepernick on 43 percent of his snaps. When in the game in three-wide sets, he’ll usually see Chykie Brown or Jimmy Smith in coverage. Ginn has seen four targets on the year. Only one came when he was on the left side of the formation. It was a 34-yard deep ball that fell incomplete. His other three targets were quick screens to the right. He caught all three, but netted only four yards. The 49ers call run 59 percent of the time when Ginn is on the field.

7. Tandon Doss (BAL)
Projection: 1 target, 1 reception, 7 yards, 0.1 TD

Doss works as Baltimore’s No. 4 wideout and handles a few extra snaps in the red zone. He’s seen only one target over the team’s last two games after handling three in the wild card round. He’s lined up to Flacco’s left 56 percent of the time. He works the slot on 21 percent of his snaps. Despite a manageable 12.0 average depth of target on the year, Doss has hauled in only seven of his 18 targets for a dismal catch rate of 39 percent. Baltimore passes the ball 76 percent of the time when Doss is on the field.

8. Chad Hall (SF)
Projection: 1 target, 1 reception, 2 yards

Hall has played one snap for the 49ers this season. It came last week in the win over Atlanta. He was targeted on the play five yards down field to Kaepernick’s right, but was unable to corral the pass. He figures to work ahead of Jenkins as the team’s sparingly-used No. 4 wideout this week.

Tight End

1. Vernon Davis (SF)
Projection: 5 targets, 4 receptions, 53 yards, 0.4 TD

After combining for 11 targets during a six-game stretch spanning from Week 12-to-17, Davis has totaled 11 targets in a pair of playoff games. He is lined up in the slot 18 percent of the time, and is out wide on seven percent of his snaps. Of his 67 targets this season, 45 (67 percent) have come when positioned as an in-line tight end. Davis was in-line when scoring all six of his touchdowns this season.

2. Dennis Pitta (BAL)
Projection: 6 targets, 4 receptions, 46 yards, 0.4 TD

Pitta works as the Ravens’ primary receiving tight end, lining up in the slot on 44 percent of his snaps. He’s in the backfield on five percent, out wide three percent, and locked in as an in-line tight end on 48 percent. Interestingly, he’s seen 68 of his 104 targets (65 percent) while in the slot. That’s compared to just 18 while in-line, and a combined 18 when in the backfield or out wide. Pitta’s target/snap numbers are very telling. He’s targeted on just five percent of his snaps when in-line, but that figure jumps to 31 percent when in the backfield, 33 percent when out wide, and a noteworthy 21 percent when in the slot. If you see Pitta lined up anywhere but with his hand in the dirt, keep an eye on him. There’s a better than one-in-five chance the ball is going his way. All but one of Pitta’s eight touchdowns on the year came when he was in the slot. He lines up to Flacco’s right 49 percent of the time, and 49 percent of his targets come on the right side. The 49ers weren’t afraid to put slot corner Carlos Rogers on Tony Gonzalez last week, so it’s fair to expect Pitta to see some of Rogers in the Superbowl.

3. Delanie Walker (SF)
Projection: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 27 yards, 0.2 TD

Walker is the definition of move tight end, working in the backfield (13 percent of snaps), out wide (13 percent), in the slot (18 percent), and in-line (57 percent). Of Walker’s 44 targets on the year, 16 (36 percent) have come while in-line to the right. This is also where he lined up when hauling in each of his three touchdowns. Walker has 11 drops this season. His drop rate of 25 percent is worst in the NFL at all positions.

4. Ed Dickson (BAL)
Projection: 2 targets, 1 receptions, 15 yards, 0.1 TD

Dickson was relegated to second on the tight end depth chart this season, but he still played 49 percent of the offensive snaps. Used primarily as a blocker, Dickson blocked on 64 percent of his snaps, which is well above Pitta’s 37 percent mark. The Ravens call a run 54 percent of the time when Dickson is in the lineup. Dickson lined up in the slot just 14 percent of the time, spending 84 percent of his snaps in-line. He lined up to Flacco’s right 53 percent of the time, catching an impressive 16-of-19 targets for 223 yards. When to the left, he caught 7-of-13 targets for 59 yards.

Kicker

1. Justin Tucker (BAL)
2. David Akers (SF)

Tucker and Akers were very close in fantasy scoring during the regular season, but Tucker made 91 percent of his field goals, compared to 69 percent mark from the struggling Akers. Lean towards the up-and-coming rookie over the declining veteran.

Team Defense

1. San Francisco 49ers
2. Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens defense is playing very well, but I give a slight edge to the Niners here. The 49ers had more sacks and interceptions during the regular season, and allowed 71 fewer points. Also, I’m picking the 49ers to win this game, so, to put it plainly, I’m going with the defense I expect to give up fewer points.

Mike Clay is a football writer for Rotoworld.com and the Founder/Managing Editor of Pro Football Focus Fantasy. He can be found on Twitter .

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