With the draft complete and the bulk of the free agency rush over with, it’s time to start looking ahead to the 2020 season! And with that, I’m back with year 2 of my Opportunity series.
For those who didn’t see this series last year, I try to take a different approach to fantasy projections than your run-of-the-mill rankings. The basis of my process is that the number one indicator of fantasy success is opportunities to touch the ball. Obviously individual player skill can (and will) affect that, but at the end of the day players are at the mercy of playcalling and play design. Therefore, if we want to make accurate projections, we need to look at each coach’s scheme and how they like to spread the ball around.
As a result, this series is very coach-centric. I’ll touch on individual players, but only as they relate to their coaches’ schemes. On a related note, this series will only aim to establish projections on how touches will be split up, not what individual players will be able to accomplish with those touches. That will come later once depth charts settle through training camp. Think of this series more as a basis for realistic expectations.
Make sense? Good. Let’s dive in.
Most of my stats are pulled from Pro Football Reference. Please support them. They are awesome and are my primary source of statistical information.
Las Vegas Raiders
Last Year’s Accuracy
For league wide stats, see this spreadsheet.
No surprises here. Head coach Jon Gruden is only entering year 3 of his 10-year megacontract and he hasn’t screwed anything up so he’s staying. His offensive coordinator Greg Olsen and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther have both been inoffensive so both are being retained as well.
There’s no sugarcoating this. Our projections for the Raiders last year turned out to be pretty bad. The only things we got close were the total number of plays run and the WR catch rate. Of course, it does make it challenging when the entire offense completely shifts gears. Gruden kept very little the same between 2018 and 2019 in terms of offensive balance. The list of similarities only included the RB target share (23.7% to 22.4%) and WR catch rate (69.1% to 68.1%). The list of changes included a complete flip in run-pass ratio (39/61 to 44/56), a significantly improved offensive line (8.6% sack rate to 5.3%), a 7% shift in target shares from the wide receivers to the tight ends, and much improved catch rates for both the running backs and tight ends.
Let’s start with the biggest item on that list, the run-pass ratio. No offense to Marshawn Lynch, but a 32-year-old lead running back who could only stay healthy for six games did not make for a consistent running game in 2018. Entering 2019, the Raiders drafted another bruiser in Josh Jacobs and bolstered their offensive line. The result was that Gruden got to lean on his running game much more and with much greater success. The effectiveness in the run game combined with the improved offensive line also led to a much lower sack rate as defenses weren’t able to tee off against the pass.
The shift in target shares and improved catch rates can primarily be traced to a lack of weapons in the passing game. Specifically, the wide receiver group can apparently get worse than featuring Seth Roberts and a washed up Jordy Nelson in their 2018 corps. Tyrell Williams was hobbled by plantar fasciitis, Hunter Renfrow was a rookie, and…no one else really comes to mind. Of course there’s always what could have been, but the fact is that the Raiders had an abysmal wide receiver corps. QB Derek Carr’s lack of faith in his downfield options was clear in his 6.6 intended air yards per attempt. This small-ball style played a part in the Raiders’ high catch rates across all positions (top 5 for all three position groups), but it also spurred the shift in targets from wide receivers to tight ends as TE Darren Waller emerged as the most reliable receiving weapon the Raiders could find.
The Raiders went into the offseason intent on two things; fixing their wide receiver corps and overhauling their defense. And that’s just what they did. Let’s start with the defense. Last year Guenther’s defense did pretty well against the run but was abysmal against the pass, logging the worst yards per attempt mark in the NFL. After spending some serious draft capital and free agent dollars, this year’s Raider defense will have new faces all over the starting lineup. If the changes work as intended, Gruden could continue to ratchet up the team’s run rate. For reference, he got as high as a 46/54 split with Tampa back in the 00’s. With a stronger defense and the thunder-and-lightning combo of Josh Jacobs and Jalen Richard in the backfield, it wouldn’t be outrageous for him to return to that ratio.
When Gruden does call for passes, the new and improved wide receiver corps will likely cause some disruption in target shares. Rookie standout Hunter Renfrow and a now-healthy Tyrell Williams are joined by three rookie wideouts, all taken in the first two days of the draft. It’s fair to be a tad leery of relying so heavily on rookie receivers especially with a lack of OTAs, but that’s still an awful lot of raw talent Vegas added. Maybe the wideouts don’t return to the nearly 55% target shares of Gruden’s yesteryear, but they sure as heck aren’t going to settle for a 40.7% share again.
For the wide receivers to gain ground, another position will have to lose it. Logically, the position most likely to lose ground is the one that gained the most when the receiving corps fell apart; the tight ends. As mentioned above, the primary driver for the 7% shift in target share to the tight ends was that Darren Waller was the only consistent weapon the Raiders had. Waller isn’t going away, but he now has legitimate competition from the position he stole all those targets from. It’s possible that the running backs will cede some ground as well, but they proved to be pretty consistent despite all the personnel changes between 2018 and 2019 so we shouldn’t expect any major losses from them.
Ride or Dynasty