by Alex Levin
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.
Last Year’s Accuracy
For league wide stats, see this spreadsheet.
Yeah, the Dolphins ranked at or near the bottom of the league in most major categories across both offense and defense. You know what they also did? Not come in dead last. For a team that was widely considered to be among the worst in NFL history amid a complete teardown and rebuild, winning five games is actually pretty impressive. Head coach Brian Flores’s job was likely never at risk regardless of outcome this season, but that sort of result is positive nonetheless. Less positive is that Flores will be working with new coordinators after defensive coordinator Patrick Graham left and offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea was fired. Chan Gailey was lured out of retirement to call the shots on offense moving forward while Josh Boyer was promoted internally to lead the defense.
Well, we had no playcalling history to draw from for O’Shea last season and our projections were predictably inaccurate. The good news is that Chan Gailey has a long history for us to draw from, probably longer than most of the people frequenting this sub have been alive. For our purposes here, however, we’ll be focusing on Gailey’s more recent exploits, specifically his stints with the Bills and Jets. On top of these being his last two stops, Gailey will be reuniting with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick who was with Gailey for both teams.
First and foremost, Gailey runs a slow offense. Outside of a fluky 1074 plays with the Jets in 2015, his offense has not topped 1003 plays run in his last five years of calling plays, bottoming out at 954. Even taking his 2015 season into consideration, his offense was still just average in terms of pace. He was only able to run so many plays because of an elite Jets defense that gave the offense plenty of opportunities. With the plays Gailey’s offense did run, they pretty consistently hovered around a 41/59 run-pass ratio. The lone exception was C.J. Spiller’s breakout year in 2012 where Gailey went with a much more run-heavy 45-55 split.
When Gailey does call for pass plays, his offense is extremely WR-centric. Mindbogglingly WR-centric. His wideouts in his last five years calling plays posted the following target shares: 74.4% (2010), 67.0% (2011), 62.8% (2012), 74.7% (2015), and 71.5% (2016). No one in the NFL even comes close to matching those numbers. Of course, in order for one position group to dominate targets like that another position group must be neglected. For Gailey, that’s been his tight ends. His tight end group recorded a 10.0% target share in 2011 and reached as high as 15.3% in 2012, but otherwise they typically post around a 5% target share. His running backs have mopped up the rest, consistently right around a 20% target share.
Not surprisingly, the team that intentionally tanked by shedding all of its old big money contracts and picking up as many draft picks as possible made a lot of noise this offseason. Obviously they picked up their QB of the future, but other than that their main focus was in the secondary and in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Nine of their eleven picks along with the biggest contracts of their offseason spending spree were spent there. This kind of investment should lead to a couple major improvements, assuming the players work out. The first is that the defense should be much improved, leading to more opportunities for drives and less impetus to always come out throwing. The second is that the offensive line might actually be decent at blocking this year. This should make running the ball more successful, give passing plays time to develop, and lower the sack rate.
Of course, these improvements need to be taken into consideration against a new baseline. The improved defense should help boost the number of offensive plays, but Gailey typically runs far fewer plays than the Dolphins did last year. The improved offensive line should make it easier to run the ball, but Gailey will likely give the run rate a boost by nature of his scheme anyway. On top of all that, there is likely to be some pretty drastic change in the positional target shares. As noted above, Gailey is known for featuring his wide receivers, and he’s got two pretty solid options in DeVante Parker and Preston Williams. Sound familiar? Those two might not have the same talent level as Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, but they certainly aren’t bad. They should lead the wideouts to a sizable improvement in target share.
Determining exactly how big that boost might be is more tricky. As noted above, Gailey usually gets his running backs reasonably involved in the passing game and more or less ignores his tight ends. However, the Dolphins enter 2020 with a ragtag group of running backs and a prime talent at tight end. Gailey has proven that he’ll at least get his tight ends involved if the talent is there, so while Mike Gesicki likely won’t be featured he shouldn’t be ignored either. The running backs are harder to justify matching Gailey’s historical averages. I’m sure he’ll be able to eek some sort of receiving production out of the three-headed monster of Jordan Howard, Matt Breida, and Patrick Laird, but it’s not exactly a sexy group. They will likely fall short of the 20% mark that most of Gailey’s running backs have achieved.
One final note. I don’t generally like to project injuries since they are usually random, and even when I do project injuries my assumption is that someone from the same position group can step up and cover for whatever time is missed. That is a difficult thing to do for the Dolphins wide receivers. The projected top five wideouts for Miami all have significant injury histories, specifically histories of soft tissue injuries which tend to be recurring. With a high likelihood of several missed games for all of them, I’m making an unusual alteration to my projections that the running backs and tight ends will see small boosts in targets as the likely wide receiver injuries force the other positions to feature more prominently.
Alex Levin – Projections/Redraft
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