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.
Maybe the Titans’ defense wasn’t what it was in 2018, but Dean Pees still did some excellent work with them in 2019. His decision to retire ends a very successful career that featured a top-12 defense in 11 out of his 12 years leading one. In the wake of his retirement, head coach Mike Vrabel has decided to not hire a new defensive coordinator to replace him, opting instead to spearhead a collaborative effort himself. They are keeping offensive coordinator Arthur Smith though after the Titans offense jumped from being a bottom-5 unit to a top-10 one.
Going into last year, Smith went on record saying that he wanted to keep the same offense his predecessor Matt LaFleur left him. Turns out he really wasn’t kidding. Smith’s run rate dropped less than 2% from LaFleur’s as Tennessee continued to ride the legs of running back Derrick Henry. Smith kept the same slower paced offense, resulting in a similar bottom-5 finish in total plays run. The wide receivers were even similarly featured in the passing game, seeing a small increase from a 56.5% to a 57.1% target share.
That all being said, Smith’s offense wasn’t quite a carbon copy of LaFleur’s. For starters, the already high sack rate was exacerbated to a league worst 11.1% despite a pretty solid offensive line. The running backs also lost a considerable number of targets as scatback Dion Lewis gave way to the Derrick Henry show. Much of the target share the running backs lost shifted over to the tight ends as Jonnu Smith’s slow emergence led to a 4% increase in target share for the tight ends.
After a surprise run to the AFC championship game last year, Vrabel adopted a very simple philosophy for this offseason; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Tennessee’s first three draft picks were almost one-to-one replacements for key free agent losses, and the two biggest names they signed in free agency were their own returning players.
Needless to say, there’s little reason to expect any major changes coming in 2020. Smith is still likely to call a slow, run-heavy offense featuring human battering ram Derrick Henry. The only real changes we should expect to see at all are the effects of Ryan Tannehill becoming the starting QB. From week 7 on, the running backs only posted a 12.2% target share while the wide receivers posted a 60.4% share. That’s a noticeable shift from their year-long totals. Regardless of whether it was because Tannehill was more aggressive than Marcus Mariota or simply had a better connection with breakout star A.J. Brown, it’s clear that the scheme changed a bit when Tannehill took over. Look for that new scheme to carry through into 2020, resulting in a slight bump to the wideout target share and a slight drop in the running back target share.
Looking beyond target shares, Tannehill’s ascension didn’t change the run-pass ratio by much, but it did have a major effect on the sack rate. With Mariota under center, the Titans allowed a 13.5% sack rate. That dropped to 9.8% with Tannehill taking the snaps. That’s still high, but it also means Tennessee probably won’t be allowing a double digit sack rate in 2020 now that Tannehill has had some time to settle in.
Alex Levin – Projections/Redraft
Ride or Dynasty