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.
The Eagles offense hasn’t been bad since Frank Reich left, but it definitely hasn’t been what it was when they won the Super Bowl two years ago. Head coach Doug Pederson is the primary schemer and playcaller, but he does lean on his offensive coordinators to help script sections of the game. After two down years, Mike Groh was fired from the OC position. Instead of hiring a replacement, Pederson will cut out the middle man and simply fill the position himself this year. Jim Schwartz will stay on as the defensive coordinator.
As mentioned above, Groh helped to script some plays but Pederson is the true mastermind of the offense. As a result, there shouldn’t be a huge departure from Pederson’s previous four years in charge. While there has been some variation in both total play count and run-pass balance in that time, we are starting to really have enough data to establish some patterns.
First and foremost, Pederson tends to run a lot of plays. Since taking over, the Eagles have been in the top 10 for most plays run every year and have been top 3 three times, including running the most plays in the NFL last year. Interestingly though, they aren’t getting there through a fast paced offense like most of the other teams in that range. Their secret is an offense that consistently is able to move the ball for lengthy drives and a defense that can consistently stop opponents from doing the same.
With all those plays run, Pederson seems to prefer sticking to a run-pass ratio somewhere in the vicinity of 41/59. He has deviated up to 3% in either direction though to match his personnel and accommodate injuries. Personnel and injuries also seem to be a driving factor in how Pederson features each position group in the passing game. His base offense appears to give the wide receivers a little under a 50% target share, the running backs a target share in the upper teens, and the tight ends somewhere in the low-to-mid 30% range. However, his willingness to deviate as his roster dictates was on full display in 2017 when Philly rode LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi in the running game. Thanks to the offense featuring two old-fashioned power backs, the running backs only received a 13.3% target share that year while the wideouts commanded a 55.9% share, their highest in the Pederson era by over 5%. It was on display again last year when both starting wide receivers missed good chunks of the season due to injuries. With the Eagles trotting out practice squad talent as their replacements, the wideouts were only targeted 41.6% of the time while the tight ends commanded an astounding 38.3% share.
The good news on the volume front is that the Eagles have stayed mostly intact on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Sure they had some typical roster churn, but most of the team has come through poised to once again put up massive volume. There is just one small kink in that plan though. Part of what made Philly’s offense so efficient was their vaunted offensive line. As you may have noticed from the above link, the Eagles lost a couple members of that line to free agency. Piling on with the bad news, the injury bug is biting Philly early this year with guard Brandon Brooks tearing his Achilles tendon. Pederson’s staff has done an excellent job at identifying and nurturing talent on the offensive line, but that’s a lot of talent that needs to be replaced. There will be some dropoff this year, which will likely lead to a less efficient offense and subsequent drop in total plays run.
The offensive line isn’t the only position group getting hit by early injuries. WR1 Alshon Jeffery is at risk of starting the season on the PUP list as he battles a lengthy recovery from his own injury. Spending a first round pick on wide receiver Jalen Raegor should help prevent a complete collapse at the wideout position like last year, but it still means that the wide receivers most likely will not be the featured piece of the passing game. The tight end duo of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert are primed to once again take advantage of the target vacuum, but don’t count out Miles Sanders and Boston Scott in the backfield. Both were targeted extensively down the stretch last year as the running backs recorded a 22% target share after Jordan Howard’s injury. Both have also been repeatedly hyped up.
Speaking of Sanders and Scott, you’ll notice that neither is exactly known for being a between-the-tackles bruiser. Indeed, after Jordan Howard’s departure there is no established “big back” on the roster. This combined with the aforementioned less efficient offense may very well lead Pederson to call a more pass-heavy offense this year as a way to take advantage of the fact that his best playmakers out of the backfield do their most damage in space.
Alex Levin – Projections/Redraft
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