Fantasy Opportunity Breakdown: Cleveland Browns

2019 Coaching Staff

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team this optimistic after firing its coach mid-season the year prior and then ditching its interim coach. Funny what a sudden stockpile of elite players will do for the soul. It’s quite poetic how the team’s prospects have mirrored the meteoric rise of Freddie Kitchens, who somehow managed to go from starting last year as the running backs coach to starting this year as the head coach. While Kitchens does plan to retain the scheme he inherited from Todd Haley as well as play-calling duties, he did bring in former Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken to become his OC. Former Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks will come in as defensive coordinator.

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns

What to Expect

As mentioned above, Kitchens plans to retain Todd Haley’s offensive scheme and continue calling plays. This means the Browns’ 2019 offense should look pretty similar to the 2018 version in structure. However, it’s hard to ignore the hiring of Todd Monken. Monken’s background is in the air raid offense, something he ran to great effect in Tampa Bay last year as the Bucs set franchise records left and right. These two minds creating a gameplan every week is scary enough for opponents, but what will really give defensive coordinators nightmares is the sudden influx of talent GM John Dorsey has brought in. Questionable off-field actions aside, pairing Kareem Hunt with Nick Chubb has to be the most lethal backfield duo in the NFL. Yet, you can’t stack the box to stop them unless you want Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Jr., and David Njoku going to town on your secondary. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Browns could field the top offense in the NFL next year.

In fact, the only thing that might slow down Cleveland’s offense is Cleveland’s defense. Steve Wilks’s resume is a little short on coordinating experience – he had one year as defensive coordinator in Carolina and one year as head coach in Arizona, with moderate success at both on the defensive side of the ball – but if he’s worth his salt at all he’ll be able to make something of the solid defensive pieces the Browns have accumulated. The defensive line in particular almost rivals the Rams as the most talented in football. While the defense as a whole isn’t quite at the same level as the offense, there’s enough to work with that a good gameplan from Wilks could quickly turn games into one-sided affairs. This probably won’t happen every game, but it might be enough to slow down an otherwise torrid pace from the offense.

The Data

There’s no reason to sugar-coat this; the Browns are going to pass early and pass often. Under Kitchens last year, the Browns called a 60/40 pass/run split. Tampa Bay under Todd Monken was even more extreme at a 63/37 split. To be fair, Tampa had no defense and no running game worth mentioning, but nevertheless these are two very pass-happy coaches running the show in Cleveland. Despite this, I don’t expect the Browns to pass at a higher rate than last year. It appears to be the dawn of a new age in Cleveland, and if the Browns are leading more often than not then there’s little reason to suspect they won’t lean on the running game to chew up the clock. If the offense is more pass-happy but spends more time ahead, I would expect a very similar 60/40 split to last year.

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The positional target splits get more interesting. The Buccaneer wide receivers under Monken led the league in positional target share last year at about 67% while the Browns were just above average at about 58%. Reconciling this discrepancy will shape the Browns’ offense more than anything else this year. On the one hand, Monken’s influence will surely bump up the wide receiver target share from last year, and a wideout corps featuring OBJ and Jarvis Landry will demand targets. On the other, Tampa’s stable of running backs was pitiful and their starting tight end was injured halfway through the year, while the Browns boasted a surprisingly deep running back rotation and a rising star tight end in David Njoku. Cleveland’s wide receivers should see their target share creep up, but the sheer volume of talent across the offense should temper that growth.

Fantasy Impact

Cleveland’s offense figures to be explosive this coming year. It should look pretty similar to the offense they fielded last year, except relying a bit more on wide receivers. Any way you slice it though, you’ll want a piece of this offense.

Projected Team Rush Attempts: 415 Attempts
Projected Passing: 385 Completions on 595 Attempts, 30 sacks allowed
Projected WR Catches: 215 Receptions on 355 Targets
Projected RB Catches: 85 Receptions on 115 Targets
Projected TE Catches: 85 Receptions on 125 Targets

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Fantasy Opportunity Breakdown: Cincinnati Bengals

2019 Coaching Staff

After hanging onto the just-better-than-mediocre Marvin Lewis for what seemed like an eternity, the Bengals are finally cleaning house. The fact that it happened was expected (I think many Bengals fans would say overdue). The direction they went was not. While it is true that the current NFL coaching trend focuses on creative young minds who may not have so much experience, Cincinnati’s hire of Rams QB coach Zac Taylor took that philosophy to the extreme; Taylor has all of five games worth of pro-level offensive coordinator experience. For that matter, his coordinators aren’t exactly household names either; defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo served as the interim defensive coordinator on the same 2015 Dolphins squad that Taylor was offensive coordinator for, and Brian Callahan has never served as a coordinator at the pro level…or any level for that matter.

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What to Expect

With so little pro-level experience to draw from with the new coaching staff, it’s hard to say what we should expect from the Bengals. It’s almost a certainty that Taylor and Callahan will put their own spin on their scheme, but given that Taylor will hold play-calling duties it seems likely that the offense will be based on Sean McVay’s playbook. Don’t hold your breath for the same level of offense though; the Bengals have noticeable downgrades at almost every position on the offense, with the notable exception of A. J. Green.

While the offense may not be as effective as the Rams, they will likely be a higher volume offense. Anarumo will have his work cut out for him with a defense that just ranked dead last in the NFL in yards allowed and third worst in points allowed. He doesn’t have much talent to work with (outside of the defensive line) in his effort to improve it either. With all signs pointing to the defense struggling again, Taylor will likely run a bit more pass-heavy offense than his mentor McVay.

The Data

Assuming Taylor wants to emulate the Rams’ offense, it makes sense to take a look at what the Rams have been doing under McVay. In McVay’s first year as the Rams’ head coach, he called around a 55/45 pass/run split. This balance skewed a bit more pass-heavy in year two (up to a 57/43 split), but then that’s the difference between playing a 3rd place schedule and playing a 1st place schedule. The Bengals likely won’t have much defense to speak of – which will skew their play-calling a little more pass-heavy – but they will be playing a 4th place schedule. Also, while they might not have quite the same level of talent and depth as the Rams, they do have some blue chip pieces of their own; the 1-2 punch of Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard is not much of a downgrade from Gurley, and while Cincinnati can’t completely replicate the Kupp-Woods-Cooks/Watkins combo, they could do worse than A. J. Green and Tyler Boyd. It’s probably safe to say that the Bengals will only be a little more pass-happy than McVay’s year-one Rams, so we’re expecting around a 56/44 split.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals

The place where the depth concerns come in is determining positional target shares. The Rams have targeted their wide receivers a little more than 60% of the time under McVay. This is in no small part because the Rams’ base offense is 11 personnel with three wide receivers, but part of the reason they can play 11 personnel so frequently is that they’ve had three solid wideouts at all times. The Bengals have Green, Boyd…and that’s about it. The wide receiver target share should still go up a bit if Cincinnati does strive to emulate the Rams, but Cincinnati is more likely to give a few exotic looks given their strength at running back.

Fantasy Impact

There’s a lot of guesswork in trying to determine what the offense will look like under people with minimal experience designing offenses, but based on what we do know it will be based on Sean McVay’s Rams scheme. Implementing that offense could be a bit tricky given the difference in depth, not to mention the lack of defensive talent, so expect something akin to McVay’s scheme but leaning a little more pass-heavy.

Projected Team Rush Attempts: 440 Attempts
Projected Passing: 340 Completions on 525 Attempts, 35 sacks allowed
Projected WR Catches: 190 Receptions on 315 Targets
Projected RB Catches: 90 Receptions on 120 Targets
Projected TE Catches: 60 Receptions on 90 Targets

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Fantasy Opportunity Breakdown: Chicago Bears

2019 Coaching Staff

Well that was a surprise. Many expected first year head coach Matt Nagy to begin the turnaround from the John Fox disaster, but I’m not sure anyone expected the Bears to win the NFC North and come just a few doinks away from the second seed (or, you know, winning the wild card game). While it was a disappointing end to an otherwise miracle season, that doesn’t change the fact that it was an otherwise miracle season. Nagy unquestionably returns to one of the safest head coach seats in football, bringing offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich with him (though let’s be honest, this is Nagy’s offense and Helfrich is just along for the ride). Chicago unfortunately lose defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to the Broncos, though. He will be replaced by former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers

What to Expect

Matt Nagy was brought in as a recognized QB guru to help shape the extremely inexperienced Mitchell Trubisky. While I’m sure that means that someday Chicago’s play-calling will lean more pass-happy, for now that means a strong running game that Trubisky can lean on as he develops. Regardless of whether Jordan Howard is kept or replaced, whoever is paired with Tarik Cohen in the backfield will be the heartbeat of the offense. Also helping Trubisky’s growth will be the continuity of the personnel; almost every 2018 day one starter will also be day one starters in 2019. With this in mind, it seems very likely that the 2019 Bears will look a lot like the 2018 Bears.

In fact, the most notable change with regard to how the offense will perform is actually a change on the defense. It’s tough enough having to follow up Vic Fangio’s top tier coaching, but Chuck Pagano’s resume feels particularly incomplete. Pagano has a pretty solid history as a secondary coach – and to his credit, those secondaries performed rather well on the whole – but he only spent a single season as the Ravens’ defensive coordinator before being scooped up as the Colts’ head coach. His one season in charge of the Ravens defense was great. His six years with the Colts? Not so much. Only once in those six seasons was Pagano’s defense in the top half of the league in yards allowed. The only plausible silver lining is that Pagano’s defense wasn’t a complete dumpster fire given how little talent GM Ryan Grigson was able to acquire. It’s tough to overlook six years of mediocrity when those were the last six years Pagano was in charge of anything, but given the circumstances and level of talent Pagano will get to field with the Bears defense, I’m inclined to believe that there shouldn’t be much dropoff.

The Data

While an argument can be made that Chicago will need to throw more than 2018 (Trubisky’s growth, tougher schedule, etc.), it’s also worth pointing out that the Bears were frequently forced to throw because the run game was that bad. The Bears started the season primarily running a gap blocking scheme, which was not the strength of the offensive line and certainly not the strength of primary back Jordan Howard. To that point, Howard only managed 2.9 YPC running behind a gap scheme last year. If your primary running back is getting less than 3 YPC, you’re going to have to pass if you want to maintain drives. What was lost in the shuffle though was that Chicago switched back to a zone scheme toward the end of the year, which Howard ran for 4.1 YPC behind. If the Bears keep that zone scheme (or if they bring in someone else more adept at running behind a gap scheme), they could easily run the ball more with better success. On balance, it seems likely that Nagy won’t stray much from the 54/46 pass/run play-call ratio he had last year.

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As mentioned above, the 2019 starting lineup will be almost identical to the 2018 lineup. If all the starters are the same and all the offensive coaches are the same, then it stands to reason that the target shares won’t change much either. The only thing that should really alter the balance is Trubisky’s own growth. In Trubisky’s first year under Nagy, he frequently only checked a single read before taking off. If Trubisky has a future in the NFL, he’ll need to do a better job of making it all the way through his progressions. Given that the shorter throws to running backs and tight ends were frequently the first read in an effort to build up Trubisky’s confidence and rhythm, more progressions will likely benefit the wide receivers the most.

Fantasy Impact

The Bears return almost all of their 2018 starting lineup in 2019, so the scheme shouldn’t change very much; we expect Chicago to continue to pass just a little more than they run, with a disproportionately large target share going to running backs thanks to Tarik Cohen. Ultimately, if there are any major changes, it will depend on Trubisky’s growth.

Projected Team Rush Attempts: 475 Attempts
Projected Passing: 355 Completions on 520 Attempts, 35 sacks allowed
Projected WR Catches: 185 Receptions on 290 Targets
Projected RB Catches: 100 Receptions on 130 Targets
Projected TE Catches: 70 Receptions on 100 Targets

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Fantasy Opportunity Breakdown: Carolina Panthers

2019 Coaching Staff

The Panthers finished a disappointing 7-9 last season, but don’t let the record fool you. After all, it’s rather difficult to win when your star QB spends half the season physically unable to throw the deep ball. The Carolina brass certainly was not dissuaded as it stayed the course with long-time head coach Ron Rivera. Norv Turner was also kept on as offensive coordinator as he managed to find reasonable success despite the handicapped QB.

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What to Expect

The fascinating thing about the last three Panther offensive coordinators is that they all basically run the same offense. Sure there are some personal tweaks here and there, but Rob Chudzinski, Mike Shula, and Norv Turner all run an Air Coryell offense that features a power running game and deep shots down the field. After all, what else would you run with a cannon-armed QB who runs as well as any running back?

Of course, the caveat of having a premier dual-threat QB is that he’s going to take a beating, which is precisely what sunk the Panthers’ season. After nine weeks, the Panthers were sitting pretty on a 6-2 record. In week 10, though, Newton took a shot to his throwing shoulder, aggravating an injury that had been nagging him since week 7. The result? Seven straight losses as Newton was suddenly unable to push the ball down the field, a rather important aspect of a scheme that relies heavily on vertical routes. Turner will have to do a better job of protecting his QB if he hopes to revive the Panthers offense. The good news is that Newton will be at full health for the start of the new season. With a healthy Newton, a rising star in Christian McCaffrey, and an up-and-coming wide receiver corps, the Panthers should field one of the more explosive offenses in 2019.

The Data

The exact balance of passing plays vs. running plays is a bit tough to predict for the Panthers offense. Norv Turner has frequently adjusted the balance to match his team’s strengths, so there’s no clear cut answer there. Even assuming he calls plays similarly to his predecessors in Carolina doesn’t give a definitive answer at first glance as the ratios bounce all over the place. When you start to dig though, there is one thing that sticks out; the Panthers throw the ball a lot more when Newton isn’t healthy. This past season, the Panthers ran pass plays almost 59% of the time. In 2016, when Newton was playing with a partially torn rotator cuff, the Panthers passed 57% of the time. The Carolina pass percentages in 2015 and 2017 with a healthy Newton? 50% and 52%, respectively. Injuries are tough to predict, which makes this part of the projections particularly tricky. Complicating the issue is that star running back Christian McCaffrey is just a little smaller than you’d like a feature back to be at 205 lbs, and the Panthers don’t have a good 1B option behind him. Ultimately, a healthy Newton means more running plays, but the ratio might not drop all the way back down to a 50/50 split. Expect more of a 53/47 pass/run ratio.

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The other interesting dynamic at play is the turnover at the skill positions for Carolina. For a while, the Panthers passing attack was dominated by Steve Smith out wide and Greg Olsen up the seams, while Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams split the backfield. Steve Smith gave way to a short era featuring Kelvin Benjamin, but for the most part Newton’s supporting cast was pretty stable. This has not been the case the last couple of years; the wide receiver corps has gotten much younger and now boasts several new faces, Greg Olsen has struggled to stay on the field due to foot injuries (and has looked like a ghost of his old self when he does play), and the two-headed backfield has been replaced by do-everything back McCaffrey. With all the change, target shares have been fluctuating wildly as everyone jockeys for position in the new order. Predicting how it will turn out will be difficult, but there are a couple things we can keep in mind.

First, Christian McCaffrey received a huge boost when Newton hurt his shoulder. Through week 10, McCaffrey was averaging 6 receptions per game. From weeks 11-16, that number skyrocketed to 8.7. If Newton stays healthy, McCaffrey will struggle to replicate his record-setting pace from last year.

Second, the likelihood that Olsen comes back fully healthy at this point seems slim, but if he does he could easily command a huge target share. Carolina tight ends have been targeted well under 20% of the time while Olsen has struggled with injuries the last two seasons. Before that though, Olsen pushed the group to target shares as high as 30%.

Finally, the wide receiver corps is very young and still has much to improve on. D. J. Moore in particular led all Panther wideouts in targets despite being a rookie. Second year receiver Curtis Samuel also really started to heat up toward the end of the year after struggling with injuries to start his career. If the group continues to improve, it will be difficult to deny them targets. The group is still going through changes though as “veteran” (relatively speaking) receiver Devin Funchess is being allowed to leave in free agency.

Fantasy Impact

If Newton can stay healthy, the Panthers offense should return to a more run-heavy approach. It’s hard to envision a scenario where McCaffrey isn’t peppered with targets, but the degree to which that happens depends on the health of Olsen and the growth of Moore and Samuel.

Projected Team Rush Attempts: 475 Attempts
Projected Passing: 320 Completions on 505 Attempts, 35 sacks allowed
Projected WR Catches: 160 Receptions on 280 Targets
Projected RB Catches: 95 Receptions on 125 Targets
Projected TE Catches: 65 Receptions on 100 Targets

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Fantasy Opportunity Breakdown: Buffalo Bills

2019 Coaching Staff

There’s some coaching continuity in Buffalo for a change. Despite a down year in terms of standings, head coach Sean McDermott was retained due to the promise the Bills showed on the field. Namely, the defense was surprisingly effective and rookie QB Josh Allen routinely put the offense on his back. More importantly for our purposes, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was retained to continue working with Allen, hopefully turning him into the franchise QB Buffalo drafted him to be.

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What to Expect

The key in Buffalo is fixing the offensive line. The Bills bled talent from their O-line during the offseason and it showed as PFF ranked the Bills’ O-line 26th by the end of the season. Josh Allen was constantly under pressure and the line couldn’t open holes for the running game to take pressure off him. That’s not an easy thing to deal with for veteran QBs, but it’s especially tough on a rookie QB who isn’t known for finesse and doesn’t have much in the way of receiving talent to throw to. The Bills have hired a new offensive line coach to try to address the issue, but they’ll need some more talent at the line positions as well. Failure to fix the issue will end with Allen on his back and the coaching staff out the door.

Improving the O-line enough so that Allen isn’t constantly running for his life will also be critical for Daboll to run his preferred scheme. Daboll hasn’t spent much time as an NFL offensive coordinator – certainly not much recently, at least – but what little data there is on him shows dedication to the running game; his offenses finished outside the top 6 in rush attempts only once in five years, but never finished better than 28th in pass attempts. For that matter, his passing game isn’t even very efficient as it has only recorded a yards per attempt number better than the bottom 25% once. His running game is a little better – typically around the middle of the pack – but it has still been rather inconsistent across his coaching career. This is a little alarming as the top two RBs on the roster are both on the wrong side of 30 and both coming off the worst years of their respective careers. The defense should give the offense plenty of chances, but the Bills need to surround Allen with a lot more talent before the offense will be able to begin pulling its weight.

The Data

Before last year, Daboll’s previous stint as an NFL OC was with the Chiefs back in 2012. While we can glean some insight from looking at his offenses back then, it’s a wide enough gap that we will primarily be considering Daboll’s offense with the Bills last year. Despite being known as a run-first coordinator, the Bills actually only had 468 rush attempts last year against 540 passing plays (including 41 sacks) under Daboll, approximately a 54/46 pass/run ratio. That doesn’t account for the fact that Allen was the team’s leading rusher on the season, so it’s fair to say that Daboll actually called an even higher percentage of pass plays. Which way that ratio goes from here depends on what kind of talent the Buffalo front office can surround Allen with. I’m sure Daboll would love to take some pressure off Allen and return to his preferred run-heavy approach, but that would require either a late-career resurgence from LeSean McCoy or new blood at the running back position, not to mention the improvements required along the offensive line. Given where the team roster stands right now, it seems likely that the pass/run ratio isn’t dipping any lower than last year.

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It also seems likely that the wide receivers will continue to dominate targets in the passing game. Last year, Buffalo wide receivers were targeted about 60% of the time while the running backs and tight ends both saw a little under 20%. There is an argument to be made that the tight end group was just young and that there will be improvement moving forward, but no one in the group looked like a future star. The running backs are on the opposite end of the spectrum in age, and both spent time injured last year. They could see improvement this season with some better health, but both McCoy and Chris Ivory have reached the dreaded big 3-0. It’s fair to think that their bodies could be breaking down (especially Ivory, who has been a bit injury-prone his whole career). Meanwhile, Zay Jones and Robert Foster aren’t exactly household names at the wideout position, but both certainly proved to be capable this past year. Allen’s penchant for throwing deep also adds to the wide receiver target share. Unless there are some significant personnel changes in Buffalo, expect Jones and Foster to continue to anchor the passing game.

The final point worth noting is the effect Kelvin Benjamin had on Josh Allen’s accuracy and the catch percentage of the wide receiver group as a whole. Despite finishing solidly as the second most targeted player on the Bills, Benjamin finished fourth in receptions with a pitiful 37.1% catch rate. With him in, the wide receivers only compiled a 51.4% catch rate. Without him, the group catch rate rose to 55%. Make of that what you will, but I think Allen will see at least a little improvement in that area with Benjamin gone.

Fantasy Impact

Buffalo has a strong defense that, in theory, should provide the offense with plenty of attempts and complement Brian Daboll’s run-first approach. In practice, the Buffalo front office has to fill holes across the offense if they hope to see any real improvement. Any notable acquisitions could alter the balance, but for now it seems likely that the Bills will enter 2019 with a very similar offense to what they had last year.

Projected Team Rush Attempts: 465 Attempts
Projected Passing: 305 Completions on 505 Attempts, 40 sacks allowed
Projected WR Catches: 175 Receptions on 310 Targets
Projected RB Catches: 65 Receptions on 95 Targets
Projected TE Catches: 65 Receptions on 100 Targets

Updates

Update 1: The Bills have been active early in free agency. In addition to a couple of defensive moves, the Bills signed RB Frank Gore and TE Tyler Kroft. Gore shouldn’t have much impact on how the team operates (quite frankly I’m not sure what prompted the Buffalo front office to sign yet another 30+ year old back), but Kroft might. Kroft had some success as Tyler Eifert’s backup in Cincinnati, and his surprisingly large contract (up to $21 million over 3 years) indicates that Buffalo has a particular role in mind. Most of Kroft’s production will probably come at the expense of the tight ends already on the roster, but don’t be surprised if he siphons off some of the running backs’ target volume.

Update 2: Buffalo’s early involvement in free agency continues as they welcome new receivers Cole Beasley and John Brown. There still isn’t a true #1 wide receiver on the roster, but it’ll be tough to defend the sheer volume of #2 receivers the Bills have accumulated. Surrounding Josh Allen’s cannon arm with wideouts also would indicate a bit more willingness to fire downfield.

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Fantasy Opportunity Breakdown: Baltimore Ravens

2019 Coaching Staff

There was some speculation earlier in the year that head coach John Harbaugh was on the hot seat after a slow start. A quarterback switch later and Harbaugh gets a nice extension instead. His offensive coordinator was not so fortunate. Marty Mornhinweg’s tenure as the Ravens’ offensive coordinator was marred by inconsistency. His offense struggled to pick up yards more often than not, and the surprisingly high points scored numbers were bolstered significantly by some of the best starting field position in the league (courtesy of the Ravens defense).

cs5kq5eocpl3pubjegxuWith Mornhinweg opting to leave instead of taking a demotion, Greg Roman will take his place after being promoted from his previous position as tight ends coach and run game coordinator.

What to Expect

Seeing as how the Ravens offense finally hit its stride when they started running the ball more, there is reason for optimism after putting the run game coordinator in charge of the whole offense. Roman’s coaching history fits the bill as well. In six seasons as offensive coordinator of the 49ers and Bills, Roman’s teams rarely threw the ball, never finishing higher than 29th in pass attempts. However, they’ve only finished outside the top 3 in rush attempts twice, and never outside the top 10. More importantly, Roman’s offenses run with volume and efficiency; his teams have finished outside the top 5 in yards per carry only twice in six years. With a mobile QB like Lamar Jackson and a veritable army of running backs and tight ends, this offense should continue to focus on the run game.

Speaking of Jackson, Roman might be the perfect coordinator to mold the raw-but-talented Jackson into a true NFL quarterback. After all, this won’t be the first time that Roman gets to take advantage of a dual-threat QB; his previous stops featured Tyrod Taylor and Colin Kaepernick.  There is some risk that Jackson’s inexperience could make the offense rather one-dimensional and predictable – the primary reason for the playoff collapse against the Chargers – but, then again, is that really all that different from Kaepernick’s early years? Besides, a strong running game is a defense’s best friend. Given how tough the Ravens’ defense already is, a clock-chewing running game will allow the stingy Baltimore defense to hide mistakes from Jackson’s growing pains.

The Data

As mentioned above, Greg Roman really emphasizes a strong running game. His offenses have typically finished with right around a 50/50 pass/run ratio, and it hasn’t exactly been uncommon for his teams to finish with noticeably more rush attempts than pass attempts. This is a major departure from the classic west coast pass-heavy style that previous coordinator Mornhinweg liked to run, but it’s a change that makes sense. The Ravens boast a deep stable of running backs in addition to their new dual-threat QB and wide selection of high-pedigree tight ends. Meanwhile, they enter 2019 with their top wide receiver being…Willie Snead? Gee, why are they focusing on the run game?

With this in mind, it’s likely that Roman will de-emphasize the wide receiver position compared to what he’s called in the past. While in Buffalo and San Francisco, Roman’s wideouts typically saw target shares between 55-60% with a high water mark of 71%. Given the extreme lack of wide receiver talent in Baltimore compared to the other skill positions, Roman’s scheme should bend a bit and drop the wideout target share to the lower 50% range, possibly as low as 50% depending on how the Ravens approach free agency and the draft. I would expect the tight end group to pick up the slack. Historically, Roman’s tight ends have seen target shares in the mid-20% range. Baltimore’s group has more depth than anything Roman has had to work with before, and his promotion to offensive coordinator was from the tight end position coach so he should be particularly familiar with this group. It’s not far-fetched to think that the Baltimore tight ends could reach a 30% target share next year.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns

The last consideration to make when looking forward to the coming year is the number of plays the offense will run. Under Mornhinweg, the offense was frequently near the top of the league in plays run. In fact, they led the league in that category last year (1135). Going off Roman’s history, expect the Ravens to slow it down a bit this year. The Bills offense under Roman ran about the league average number of plays (just a hair over 1000 plays in both 2015 and 2016), while the 49ers matched that twice and actually dipped all the way down to the 960 range twice.

Fantasy Impact

In a league that has progressively become more pass-centric, the Ravens will be dialing it back with a punishing run game and stout defense. Of the passes that Baltimore does throw, the tight ends should command a rather large share given the depth at the position and lack of depth at wide receiver. However, someone has to catch the ball out wide, so there’s some sleeper potential for those willing to take the risk.

Projected Team Rush Attempts: 500 Attempts
Projected Passing: 300 Completions on 480 Attempts, 35 sacks allowed
Projected WR Catches: 135 Receptions on 245 Targets
Projected RB Catches: 70 Receptions on 95 Targets
Projected TE Catches: 95 Receptions on 140 Targets

Updates

Update 1: Free agency is hitting the Ravens defense hard. Four key starters (Eric Weddle, C. J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, & Terrell Suggs) signed elsewhere, leaving gaping holes in the Baltimore defensive lineup. I have faith that defensive coordinator Don Martindale can continue to coach up a high-level defense, but his job just got a lot tougher watching all that talent walk out the door. We’ve adjusted our offensive projections to slightly favor the passing game.

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Fantasy Opportunity Breakdown: Atlanta Falcons

2019 Coaching Staff

Dan Quinn returns as head coach, but just by the skin of his teeth. It wasn’t all that long ago that the Falcons took the league by storm en route to a Super Bowl appearance, albeit one with an unfortunate result. Sadly, they just haven’t been able to put it together since. The defense held together the following year, but the offense just couldn’t repeat the magic sans Kyle Shanahan. Last year, Steve Sarkisian finally managed to piece the offense back together, but the defense was absolutely ravaged by injuries.

In a bid to hold his job, Dan Quinn decided to start over fresh by firing all his coordinators. Quinn himself will take over defensive play-calling while Dirk Koetter returns from a stint as the Tampa Bay head coach to resume his old roll as offensive coordinator.

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What to Expect

What we learned during Koetter’s run as Tampa Bay’s head coach is that he might not be the best head coach out there (though his front office didn’t do him any favors with a talent-deficient defense), but he does know his way around an offense. In fact, his tenure in Tampa really just looked like a microcosm of his entire career. Sometimes he has a stud running back with no passing game worth mentioning. Sometimes he has a high-flying passing attack with a patchwork backfield. No matter what he’s working with, however, he finds a way to make his offense work. This time, he faces a mandate to keep the Falcons’ existing blocking scheme while implementing his own playbook. There will be some challenge with that, but Koetter has proven flexible in the past.

What’s particularly interesting in this case is that Koetter already has experience working with his “new” QB. Back in 2012, Matt Ryan was just coming off an impressive 4th year in the league. He was certainly showing promise, but still needed just a bit more to make the leap to elite status. Koetter came in and gave him that push, leading to a prolific stretch for the Falcons’ offense. Unfortunately, the Falcons were weighed down by a complete lack of defense during Koetter’s run, which led to the release of the entire coaching staff after the 2014 season.

This time around, Matt Ryan is already established as one of the premier passers in the league and is surrounded by weapons to throw to. Devonta Freeman’s injury history and the loss of Tevin Coleman aren’t good for the running game, but Ito Smith looked good in limited usage last year. Overall, this should be the most talented backfield Koetter has had to work with since his time with Maurice Jones-Drew. Koetter should be able to hit the ground running, and Atlanta’s offense should continue to chug along without missing a beat. The only concern is the possibility of a defensive resurgence. Keep in mind, the Falcons’ defense looked pretty good in 2016 and 2017 before getting decimated by injuries last year. If the defense returns to form, it may limit the volume of the offense.

The Data

Koetter’s coaching history is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of pass/run ratio. He’s rarely had talent in both the running and passing games at the same time, so his offenses tend to end up heavily focused on one or the other. His first two years with the Buccaneers sported a fairly typical 55/45 pass/run ratio as Koetter leaned heavily on Doug Martin to ease his young QB Jameis Winston into the NFL. Going back further, he actually called more run plays than pass plays a few times while with the Maurice Jones-Drew-led Jaguars. On the flip side, he racked up well over a 60/40 pass/run ratio during his latter two years in Tampa (didn’t have a true lead back) and his original stint in Atlanta (slew of past-their-prime running backs). The 2019 Falcons clearly have a higher concentration of talent in the passing game, but there should be enough talent in the running game to keep the passing game from tilting that ratio even more. We expect right around a 60/40 split.

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For that 60% of the plays going to the air, it seems likely that the vast majority of those will be targeting wide receivers. Koetter’s air attack relied heavily on wideouts in Tampa; the group only dropped below a 60% target share once in four years, and its 67% target share last year actually led the league. It’s fair to say that those numbers might have been influenced by the Bucs’ abundance of wideout talent, but then it’s not like the Falcons are too far off. In fact, there’s a pretty solid argument that Koetter is working with basically the same pieces across the entire starting lineup; Mike Evans to Julio Jones, DeSean Jackson/Chris Godwin to Calvin Ridley, Adam Humphries to Mohamed Sanu, O. J. Howard to Austin Hooper, and Chris Sims to Ito Smith. The point of this being that looking at the Tampa Bay offense from the past few years is probably a better sneak peak at the 2019 Atlanta offense than one would think. Compiling the last 3 years, the Bucs’ wideouts typically own between 60-65% of the targets, the tight ends are usually around 20%, and the running backs take in only around 15%.

Fantasy Impact

While a healthy defense may dampen the volume of the aerial attack, the Falcons will most likely still be a pass-happy team. It’s not unreasonable to think that Matt Ryan may join the 5000-yard season club, but even if he doesn’t this will be a good offense to own some pieces from.

Projected Team Rush Attempts: 410 Attempts
Projected Passing: 385 Completions on 575 Attempts, 40 sacks allowed
Projected WR Catches: 245 Receptions on 380 Targets
Projected RB Catches: 70 Receptions on 95 Targets
Projected TE Catches: 70 Receptions on 100 Targets

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Fantasy Opportunity Breakdown: Arizona Cardinals

2019 Coaching Staff

No one really expected the Cardinals to do well last year, but somehow the Cards managed to fall short of the low bar set for them. The Steve Wilks era lasted all of one year, with offensive coordinator Mike McCoy not even lasting that long after being fired following a week 7 beatdown at the hands of the Broncos. Interim OC Byron Leftwich couldn’t do much better, which isn’t necessarily surprising given the lack of talent outside of David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.

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The Cardinals look to the 2019 season with new head coach Kliff Kingsbury – who was just fired from Texas Tech – to tutor Josh Rosen and hopefully turn him into the franchise QB Arizona drafted him to be. Kingsbury will be his own offensive coordinator while Vance Joseph will run the defense after being fired from his position as the Broncos head coach.

What to Expect

There are questions about Kingsbury’s ability to be an NFL-caliber head coach. After all, what was the Arizona front office thinking when they signed a coach who went 35-40 at the college level? However, keep in mind that recruiting is a big part of being a college coach; if you have a team stacked with future NFL talent playing against Division III Podunk University, Bill Belichick himself would have troubles pulling off the upset. Suffice to say that Kingsbury was not adept at recruiting while at Texas Tech. His recruiting classes rarely strayed from the mid-40s rankings, which is on the low side for a major Big 12 school.

Fortunately for him, recruiting isn’t his job with the Cardinals. His job will only be to coach. There might still be some questions about his ability to be a head coach – which may limit his longevity at the NFL level – but there’s not much negative you can say about his ability to scheme an offense. During his tenure at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders never fell out of the top 20 in total offense and never fell out of the top 10 in passing offense. While it is true that his best years came with Patrick Mahomes at the helm, his offenses ran just fine while talent-deficient as well. This is important on a team like the Cardinals, and gives some hope that Arizona might provide some fantasy relevance in 2019. If nothing else, one of the byproducts of Kingsbury’s air raid offense is the tendency for lots of plays, yards, and high-scoring games. Essentially, we may be looking at something of a Kansas City-lite.

The Data

Kingsbury’s offenses at Texas Tech spent most of their time around a 60/40 pass-run ratio, though this dropped to more of a 55/45 ratio toward the end of his tenure. While the air raid offense certainly lends itself to a pass-heavy split, a very weak defense also played a part in that. Proportionately, the Cardinals have far more talent on defense than Kingsbury ever worked with at the college level. However, DC Vance Joseph has an inconsistently mediocre record between his one season as the Miami defensive coordinator and two seasons as Denver head coach. The Cardinals’ NFC West opponents won’t make Vance’s job any easier either; the Rams are NFC favorites, and the Seahawks and 49ers are no slouches themselves. Arizona is likely to frequently find themselves trailing, which will lead to more pass-heavy game scripts.

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers

Of course, the real question is where will all those passes be going? If Kingsbury’s time at the college level is any indication, the answer is mostly wide receivers. A whopping 78% of all Texas Tech completions in the Kingsbury era went to wideouts. Running backs brought in a respectable 17%, but tight ends saw less than 5% of all completions during that time (almost all of which came during the 2013 season when Jace Amaro led the team in receiving). This type of split is unlikely to continue in Arizona due to the dearth of wide receiver talent, but it still provides insight as to the type of scheme Kingsbury likes to run. The biggest difference we’re likely to see as he adjusts his offense for the NFL is that the running back split should noticeably increase. After all, if your offense features one of the best receiving backs in the NFL while also lacking receiver talent, it makes sense that your running back will see a few more targets than usual.

Also worth considering; the Cardinals offensive line gave up the 5th most sacks in the NFL last year. Unless Arizona can find some significant upgrades to the O-line either through free agency or the draft, I don’t see any reason for that to improve. Yes, Kingsbury’s scheme should be better, but if the offensive line is still bad and you’re still throwing the ball a ton then you’re still inviting a beatdown on your QB.

Fantasy Impact

Arizona will be running a pass-happy offense while likely playing from behind more often than not. The bulk of those throws will likely go to wide receivers, but keep an eye out for a prolific receiving year for RB David Johnson to cover some of the talent deficiency plaguing the Cardinals.

Projected Team Rush Attempts: 420 Attempts
Projected Passing: 335 Completions on 555 Attempts, 50 sacks allowed
Projected WR Catches: 200 Receptions on 345 Targets
Projected RB Catches: 90 Receptions on 135 Targets
Projected TE Catches: 45 Receptions on 75 Targets

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Fantasy Opportunity Breakdown: Team List

Everyone likes to talk about how great players are, how much potential they have, and therefore how good they’ll be in fantasy. In a perfect world, they’d be correct. However, success isn’t just a bunch of skill with a dash of luck; players still need the opportunity to perform if they hope to get any production. So the question is, how do players get more opportunities? While it is true that certain levels of skill simply demand the opportunity to make plays, most players are dependent on the scheme. No matter how good your running back is, he just isn’t going to be that good on a team that only runs the ball 10-15 times per game. Conversely, if you’re Tom Brady’s slot receiver, chances are you’re in for a good year.

With scheme being so critical, you can’t project your players until you understand their coaches. Now that the offseason coaching carousel has made its rounds, it’s time to dive back into the wonderful world of fantasy football. Listed below are links to our Fantasy Opportunity Breakdowns for all 32 teams. Each one delves into the tendencies of the coaching staffs to project how many rush attempts, pass attempts, and receptions by position group each team will have. While we won’t fully dig into individual players just yet, this will provide the basis for determining how many touches we expect players to get and, by extension, where there may be over-saturation (leading to busts) or vacuums (leading to sleepers).

We’ll be updating the links as we go, so if a link isn’t there yet check back later.

Arizona Cardinals
Atlanta Falcons
Baltimore Ravens
Buffalo Bills
Carolina Panthers
Chicago Bears
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Dallas Cowboys
Denver Broncos
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Rams
Miami Dolphins
Minnesota Vikings
New England Patriots
New Orleans Saints
New York Giants
New York Jets
Oakland Raiders
Philadelphia Eagles
Pittsburgh Steelers
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tennessee Titans
Washington Redskins

Starts and Fades: Week 16

Well everyone, this is it. The rabble have lost. All that remains are the elite fantasy GM’s to duke it out for the coveted championship (the real championships, not those fake ones that end in week 17). Maybe you got here through a dominant draft. Maybe you got here by deftly playing the waiver wire. Maybe you got here by sheer luck. The how doesn’t matter anymore; what does matter is that you made it to the top of the mountain.

However, if you wish to hoist the trophy you will need to defeat one last challenger. This is no easy task this year given the list of key players who will not be available for championship week: Lamar Miller, Odell Beckham, Jr., Devonta Freeman, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, A. J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Marvin Jones, Kerryon Johnson, Josh Gordon, Jay Ajayi, Cooper Kupp, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jerick McKinnon, Le’Veon Bell, James Conner, Sammy Watkins, and Marshawn Lynch. Do you have the skills to navigate this minefield and reach the finish line? That’s where we come in.

Before we make our picks for championship week though, let’s take a look at how we did last week.

Last Week’s Starts: David Johnson, Ken Dixon, Doug Martin, Dalvin Cook

Johnson’s 3 YPC mark was disappointing against a soft Falcons defense, but he did rack up over 100 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown as we predicted. Dixon handled a fairly substantial number of carries for being a backup running back, but was not as involved in the passing game as we would have hoped. His 1 catch for 2 yards didn’t add much to his 11 carries for 48 yards. Contrary to our belief that the Raiders would keep it close with the Bengals, the Bengals ran roughshod over the Raiders. This worked out about as well for Martin as you would expect (9 carries for 39 yards). Cook was actually allowed to touch the ball this week, and now we see why Defilippo was not retained as OC. Cook galloped to 136 yards and 2 touchdowns, chipping in another 27 yards on his lone catch.

Last Week’s Fades: Aaron Jones, Mike Evans, Kenny Golladay

It’s hard to judge our prediction for Jones. On the one hand, his 25 yards on 3 carries was impressive against a stout Bears front. On the other hand, those 3 carries were all he got before leaving the game with an injury. We can speculate all day what a full game of Jones would have resulted in, but ultimately you were better off heeding our advice. The same could not be said for Evans and Golladay. Despite facing daunting matchups, both Evans (4/121/0) and Golladay (7/146/0) managed to post solid yardage.

Overall, last week was very much a mixed bag. We’ll aim to even out our performance for the championship week.

Starts

Titans D/ST

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Defenses are a prickly thing in fantasy. There’s rarely any point in carrying backups, but that means you have to balance weekly performance against long-term utility; is it worth starting the top option one week if it means you’re starting the Oakland defense the next week? For the championship though, defenses get a lot simpler. There’s no thinking “what about next week?”, simply “who will be good this week?” This week, that’s the Titans. I know it does’t mean much to say that they are fresh off shutting down Jacksonville and an OBJ-less Giants, but then it’s not like the Redskins are a juggernaut either. Washington’s offensive line has been decimated, they’re down their top two tight ends and primary deep threat, and are currently starting their fourth string QB, a 32-year-old career journeyman who hadn’t started a game since 2011 and wasn’t even a member of the team three weeks ago. Oh, and Tennessee is at home. The Titans have been up and down all year, but they should be solid this week.

Elijah McGuire

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The Jets’ running back corps is waging a war of attrition and losing. Of course, the silver lining is that for every running back that goes down, another must step up. The next man up this time is McGuire, and since his only competition at the moment is satellite back Trenton Cannon, McGuire is likely to have a strong grip on the title of lead back. He’ll be leading the running game against the visiting Packers, who have only been average against the run. McGuire is unlikely to be on the leaderboards for top running back of the week, but if you need an RB2 this week he should see enough volume to rack up at least some points. He may even find his way to the end zone.

Jamaal Williams

New York Rangers v Detroit Red Wings

Opposite McGuire on Sunday will be fellow backup running back Williams. Unlike McGuire, Williams absolutely has the potential to be on the leaderboards this week. Williams will act as the feature back in the wake of Aaron Jones being placed on IR and is likely to see almost every offensive snap on the Aaron Rodgers-led offense (his only competition is Kapri Bibbs, who was just picked up this week). That may not mean as much this year as it has in the past, but having Rodgers as the QB still opens a lot of running room for whoever lines up in the backfield with him. The Jets are also a bottom-10 defense against the run, something Williams should easily be able to take advantage of.

Tyler Lockett

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Seattle Seahawks

For a guy who’s supposed to be a boom-or-bust WR3/4, Lockett has been amazingly consistent this year. You can usually expect 3-5 catches, at least 50 yards, and a better than 50/50 chance of a touchdown. All this despite the extremely run-heavy approach the Seahawks have adopted. He’s got an excellent matchup this week too. For as good as the Chiefs’ offense has been this season, their defense has been equally poor. Lockett is likely to find room against the porous Kansas City secondary and reach double-digit touchdowns for the first time in his career as he enters this game with 9 on the season.

Fades

Gus Edwards

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Baltimore Ravens

Edwards has been remarkably consistent lately, failing to crack 80 yards only once since taking over as the lead back and reaching 100 yards rushing 3 out of 5 weeks. On a team that desperately wants to play strong defense and run the ball, he’s been just what the doctor ordered. However, he may not see the same usage this week. The Chargers defense is fairly average against the run in terms of efficiency (4.3 YPC), but they’re top 10 in total rushing yards allowed per game. That’s because the Chargers’ offense is a juggernaut that is nearly impossible to stop, forcing teams to pass to keep up. Edwards has no role in the passing game, so if the Ravens find themselves behind he will lose work to Ken Dixon and Ty Montgomery.

Leonard Fournette

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On the surface this appears to be a good matchup for the up-and-down power back as Miami has been a bottom-10 run defense this year. However, Fournette’s situation is not as rosy at it seems. For starters, home Miami and road Miami are two entirely different animals. Since the Dolphins’ bye, they shut down LeSean McCoy and Sony Michel at home while getting blown up by Marlon Mack and the Latavius Murray-Dalvin Cook one-two punch on the road. This game will be in Miami. Second, calling the Jaguars’ offense dysfunctional is an understatement, and the Dolphins’ defense is wildly opportunistic. Lastly, the Jaguars brass has made a clear statement that they are looking to put Fournette in bubble wrap for the rest of this year; he has not topped 15 carries two weeks in a row now. Fournette may be able to find his way to the end zone, but that’s about all the upside he has as he won’t see the touches to put up any significant yardage.

Jaylen Samuels

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With James Conner missing another week due to a high-ankle sprain, Samuels will get another opportunity to act as the feature back. He hasn’t necessarily been anything special in the role, but he hasn’t done anything to lose it either. Besides, who are we fantasy-goers to complain about being able to pick up a feature back off waivers at the start of the playoffs? However, this week probably won’t go quite as well for Samuels as the last two weeks. The Saints boast the top run defense in the NFL and are second in YPC allowed. Samuels may find his way into the end zone, but his yardage is unlikely to be very high.

Of course, all this is a moot point if you’re fortunately enough to have Samuels in a Yahoo league. Given the wasteland at tight end right now, even a bad game from Samuels is worth starting in the TE slot.