Most experienced fantasy football managers understand the concept
of game script, but many don’t consider it enough when putting
together their team on draft day.
For those not fully familiar with the term, game script or game
flow ultimately refers to the score differential at any point in
the game and this margin often determines fantasy output for players
at all positions.
When an NFL team gets up 21-0 in the second quarter, there is a
tendency from that point on to utilize the run and avoid mistakes
that would allow the other team to get back in the game. It’s
a “positive game script” for the team in the lead.
Example: If the Vikings are up 21-0 early in the 2nd quarter, Dalvin Cook would likely benefit the most moving forward. Flipping that
script, however (Vikings down 21-0), puts Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen in line for a big second half as the Vikings are looking
to play catch-up by throwing the ball more and thus rack up catches
and yards as a by-product.
Utilizing game script likelihoods is something I would highly recommend
as a draft modality, but like all considerations, ground rules are
needed. Here are a few of those ground rules to keep in mind:
1. Running Backs on Winning Teams Carry Less Risk than Losing
Conversely, running backs on teams that fall behind early get quickly
into a “negative game script” and become high risk for
falling flat, fantasy-wise. The exception to that would be a high-volume
reception friendly RB who will accumulate catches and yards no matter
what. Those players, however, are few and far between.
2. QB-RB Correlation Doesn’t Matter Much if the Defense
This is something we touched on above. In order for running backs
to thrive, they need their teams to establish a lead and be able
to hold on to it. When teams are unable to do that, it creates a
“shoot-out” game. From a fantasy perspective, shoot-out
games are great for QB, WR, and TE production as offenses continue
to be aggressive throughout the game in an effort to out-point opponents.
That said, RB production is typically minimized in a shoot-out,
at least from the standpoint of carries and yards. There is some
benefit in terms of greater touchdown opportunity, but altogether
you would prefer to have top tier running backs who play on teams
that play from ahead and create defensive stops.
3. Take Note of Team Defense Projections Before You Draft
So, which defenses last season allowed 24 points or more per game
In the case of Herbert, it underscores why he is so valuable in
fantasy football. He produces elite offensive numbers – yes
- but he does so often in conjunction with his defense also giving
up lots of points. This creates a lot of “shoot-outs”.
The Chargers, realizing this about themselves, sought to beef up
their defense this offseason with the additions of Khalil Mack and
Derwin James. That could create better game scripts for Austin Ekeler
this season, although his usage on passing downs makes him somewhat
bulletproof when it comes to those scripts.
The data is also the reason why Swift is valued above Josh
Jacobs by most re-drafters. Detroit plays from behind (a lot),
but Swift is built to still score points in spite of that as he
averages roughly 5 catches a game and had two receiving scores in
2021. Jacobs, on the other hand, is involved frequently in “shoot-out”
scripts which create fewer opportunities. As a receiving back, he
catches about 3.5 balls a game and had no receiving TDs in 2021.
In the case of Swift vs. Jacobs, probable game scripts become the
primary reason for their difference in value.
4. Continuing with the Need for Defense-Based Projections…
Just as there are ten teams who allowed 24 points or more per game
in 2021, there were also six teams who gave up less than 21 points.
Buffalo Bills: 17.0
New England Patriots: 17.8
Denver Broncos: 18.9
New Orleans Saints: 19.7
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 20.8
Tennesse Titans: 20.8
Diving more deeply into this, you have three teams who stand out
that prefer a game script that involves plenty of rushing backed
by good defense. Those three would be the Patriots, Titans, and
Saints. All three ranked in the top eight in rushing attempts last
year and projecting numbers for guys like Derrick Henry and Alvin Kamara have this game script in mind.
In the case of the Patriots, they prefer the same script, but utilize
such a diverse committee of runners that value ceilings for all
of their running backs are capped.
Similarly, the Bills get into positive game scripts for running
backs, but Josh Allen’s
unique role in that offense as both passer and rusher limits the
ceilings of Devin
Singletary and James
Further, one reason that fantasy football fans were so excited about
Javonte Williams when Russell Wilson signed, was that Wilson would
have the ability to lead Denver to points early and then a stingy
defense could work on holding that lead while Williams took advantage
of the positive game flow. The re-signing of Melvin Gordon changed
that some and the fact that AFC West games may end up all being
“shoot-outs” no matter how good the defenses are, cools
expectations for Williams some.
As for Tampa Bay, their data projects lots of rushing opportunities,
but they had the second fewest carries in the entire league last
season. Translation: Tom Brady does what Tom Brady wants to do.
He is thus the kryptonite to all theories regarding game scripts.
Say what? Why are we talking about Bortles in the summer of 2022?
Because constant negative game scripts made Blake Bortles the QB4
in fantasy football in 2015 as he amassed nearly 4,500 yards and
35 TDs based on always playing from behind.
That year, Robinson was the largest beneficiary of game scripts
as a wide receiver having his career year on a really bad NFL team.
Bortles won a lot of games for fantasy managers in in 2015 (he was
also top-10 in 2016), but few remember him as fantasy elite. Candidates
for this season to be Bortles-like based on scripting would be:
Throw in corresponding wide receivers like Elijah
St. Brown, Christian
Kirk, and Brandin
Cooks and you’ve got a good list of guys whose numbers will
benefit from the negative game scripts affiliated with their teams.
That makes them all solid draft targets even if TD numbers aren’t
what they might be on a better team. Then again, Bortles threw for
35 TDs in 2015, so even that’s called into question.
One person who won’t be this year’s Allen
Robinson? That would be Allen
Robinson given that for the first time in his career, he’s playing
for a team with the likelihood of positive game scripts. Good for
This gives you another angle to chew on heading into your drafts
these next couple of weekends. Fantasy football, after all, is about
more than just who are the most talented players. It’s about
the narrative established within the actual games in which they
play. So, draft away and best of luck as you consider all facets
of fantasy football strategy.