At FantasyLabs, we eat, breathe, and sleep football. So from September to February, we’re breaking down all facets of the game, looking for in-roads to the DFS and betting spaces. As part of our commitment to delivering outstanding football coverage, we’re monitoring player usage against fantasy impact to see which players are trending up and down.
We are in the home stretch of the 2022 NFL campaign. Just five weeks remain in the regular season and teams are gearing up for a playoff push. The AFC South and NFC North are the only divisions that look to be locked up, with much on the line for the remaining teams in the other divisions. Those are important factors to take into consideration, as player usage may change for some contenders once they lock up playoff positions.
As usual, we’re reconciling usage trends with actual fantasy output to see which superstars are trending up and which are regression candidates as we prepare for next week’s action.
NFL DFS Player Usage Trends
Christian McCaffrey (RB, San Francisco 49ers) – Week 12 Snap Count 44/70 (62.9%)
Christian McCaffrey would make any team better. So when the San Francisco 49ers acquired him earlier in the year, it elevated them to a top contender. Five games into his tenure as a Niner, we’re starting to get a better idea of what McCaffrey’s ceiling is with his new squad.
McCaffrey was the be-all and end-all with the Carolina Panthers. The former Pro Bowler played at least 80.0% of the snaps on a weekly basis, a threshold he’s crossed only once with the 49ers, and was the preferred option in the rushing and passing game. Now that he’s surrounded by a more competent supporting cast, we’ve seen McCaffrey’s usage take a hit.
In five games with the Niners, McCaffrey’s usage ranges from 29.1% to 81.1%. The low end of the spectrum is a reflection of only having a few days to get acclimated to his playbook, but the high end appears to be the exception and not the rule. Otherwise, McCaffrey’s usage has hovered around 60.0%, including 62.9% in Week 12.
Deebo Samuel, Elijah Mitchell, and now Jordan Mason are all getting touches out of the backfield, with Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle needing looks in the passing game. Kyle Shanahan has incorporated everyone into the game-planning, and the Niners are better because of it, but McCaffrey doesn’t have the same fantasy ceiling that he did with the Panthers.
Zonovan Knight (RB, New York Jets) – Week 12 Snap Count 30/63 (47.6%)
Twelve weeks into the season and the New York Jets have re-invented their offense. Zach Wilson was benched in favor of Mike White, precipitating a season-best 466 yards against the Chicago Bears in Week 12. Moreover, rookie running back Zonovan Knight got made his first professional appearance, emerging as the lead rusher in a crowded backfield.
Knight led Jets running backs with a 47.6% snap count, out-pacing Michael Carter (30.2%) and Ty Johnson (23.8%). It was a triumphant debut for the NC State Wolfpack alum who set a franchise record with 103 yards from scrimmage in his debut.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg for Knight, who’s expected to remain the first option for the Jets. He doubled Carter and Johnson’s carries against the Bears, also earning the most targets in the passing game among running backs. With this new and improved version of the Jets and a captivating inauguration, we’re anticipating more of Knight in the game planning moving forward.
One game is too small of a sample size to draw any meaningful conclusions, especially since Carter left that game early with an ankle injury, but Knight should be a low-cost option on everyone’s radar, particularly in the short term. Keep an eye on his usage over the coming games to get a better idea of how high this Jet can fly.
Michael Pittman Jr. (WR, Indianapolis Colts) – Week 12 Snap Count 64/64 (100%)
The Indianapolis Colts have one of the worst scoring offenses in the league, accumulating the third-fewest points per game. Still, there are a couple of standout play-makers that are ideal progression candidates to end the season. Among those is wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.
Pittman barely takes a play off. The former second-round pick has participated in 96.8% of plays or more in eight of his 11 games this year, including 100% against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night football. In doing so, he’s made himself a bigger target for Matt Ryan and is the preferred outlet in the passing game. Pittman Jr. leads the team in nearly every receiving category, with a 23.3% target share.
The hazard with wideouts is their production is contingent on quarterback play, and that appears to be limiting Pittman’s fantasy production this season. The Colts can’t find the endzone, scoring touchdowns on a laughable 45.5% of red zone drives and diminishing Pittman’s fantasy stock.
However, with the amount of time he spends on the field and the passes that are thrown his way, we’re anticipating more robust fantasy production from the Colts’ top receiver in the latter part of the year. Eventually, Pittman’s fantasy output should start to catch up to his solid underlying metrics.