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.
Perhaps it wasn’t the season Minnesota fans were hoping for, but it’s hard to call the season anything other than at least reasonably successful. The Vikings also knocked New Orleans out of the playoffs for the second time in three years, so there’s that. Of course, success tears teams apart just as quickly as failure in the NFL. After a single strong year calling the shots for Minnesota’s offense, Kevin Stefanski will fill the vacancy for Cleveland’s new head coach. Stepping in as the new offensive coordinator will be Gary Kubiak himself after acting as a senior adviser last season. Interestingly, Minnesota did not bring back defensive coordinator George Edwards, instead opting to promote Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer from within to be co-defensive coordinators.
Gary Kubiak has a long and storied history that we could pull numbers from as we pointed out last year. He has not shown a ton of consistency in terms of run-pass ratio – his offenses have spanned everywhere from a 38/62 ratio to 52/48 – but what he does show consistency in is running a fast paced offense with balanced target shares. In 22 years of experience as either a head coach or offensive coordinator, Kubiak-led offenses have recorded under 1040 plays just six times and under 1015 plays just twice. When calling pass plays, he tends to feature wide receivers to the tune of a 55-60% target share, his running backs consistently nab a 20% target share, and his tight ends mop up the remaining 20-25%.
However, in this particular case, the product of the protege may be more relevant than the master’s history. While under the influence of Kubiak, Stefanski called for runs 49.1% of the time. This was the 3rd highest rate in the league, and only barely trailing San Francisco’s 49.2%. The relevance doesn’t end there, though. Despite Kubiak’s influence, Stefanski ran a slower paced offense (especially when leading) that produced a scant 970 plays. His wide receivers’ 45.1% target share was also much lower than that of a typical Kubiak offense. A lack of depth combined with a hobbled Adam Thielen certainly didn’t help, but it is notable nevertheless as the lost targets were shifted over to the running backs, boosting their target share well above that of Kubiak’s typical design.
So will Kubiak pick up where Stefanski left off? Or will he go back to his roots? Based on the moves Minnesota made this offseason, probably somewhere in between. It will be difficult for Kubiak to continue to call such a run heavy offense after the Vikings lost so many of their defensive starters to free agency. They didn’t have enough money to go out and replace them either as their incoming free agent class lacks a certain oomph. They did spend an awful lot of draft picks in an attempt to address the talent drain, but the vast majority were day three picks. Chances are most of them will not be ready to start on day one, much less pick up where last year’s defense left off.
With so much lost talent on the defense, Kubiak won’t be able to sit back and chew the clock like Stefanski did even if he wanted to. A faster offense plus a more pass-oriented offense should provide a massive boost to the passing volume. Don’t expect Kubiak to revert back to his old preferences for positional target shares though. The main stumbling block is the Stefon Diggs trade. After wide receivers were de-emphasized last year under Stefanski, the Vikings traded away arguably their best receiver. Yes, Adam Thielen is still there and finally healthy, but rookie Justin Jefferson probably won’t be able to just step into the WR2 role and replicate Diggs’s production given the lack of offseason training. Neither will free agent pickup Tajae Sharpe.
With the wideouts lacking firepower, we’re likely to continue to see a heavy reliance on both the running backs and tight ends. We shouldn’t be too worried about Dalvin Cook’s contract situation as the new CBA took a lot of the bite out of holdouts, but even if he does follow through with his holdout backup Alexander Mattison has shown some promise. A Mattison-led backfield might cede a few more targets to the quietly solid tight end group, but for the most part those target rates shouldn’t change too much.
Alex Levin – Projections/Redraft
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