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.
This year just felt like the physical embodiment of Murphy’s Law for the Redskins. The defense regressed, the rookie quarterback did not appear ready for the big league, and approximately everyone was injured. Jay Gruden stood no chance. Taking his place as the new head coach will be Panthers castoff Ron Rivera. Rivera brings with him Scott Turner from Carolina to be the offensive coordinator. His defensive coordinator will be Jack Del Rio, who last coached at the NFL level in 2017.
Turner doesn’t have much history himself to look at here. He’s called all of four games so far in his young career, and those were the last four games for the 2019 Panthers. Calling plays down the stretch for a team that has given up and is just trying to push a player into the record books is not a good gauge of what Turner will do when given the reins at the start of a season. However, Scott Turner has followed his father Norv Turner around to a few different stops since 2013. Given the time the younger Turner has spent riding his dad’s coattails, we’re assuming Norv Turner’s scheme will be a good place to start for projecting what a Scott Turner offense will look like. Specifically, we’ll focus on the time they spent coaching together.
Moreso than most other coaches, Norv Turner likes to fit his scheme to his players rather than trying to force his scheme onto them (something Scott has already indicated he will follow suit with in Washington). In his last two coaching stops (Carolina and Minnesota), the elder Turner’s offense has ranged everywhere from 973 total plays to 1077, and his run-pass ratio has been as even as 49/51 and as lopsided as 36/64. Of course, even with such a wide range, there are still tendencies. Last year with the Panthers was the only time between Norv Turner’s last two stops where his offense ran more than 1011 total plays. Take away the one outlier and Norv has only called an average of 993 plays per year between Minnesota and Carolina. Correspondingly, Norv’s offenses are typically pretty slow paced outside of last year’s breakout.
Norv’s preferred run-pass ratio is less clear. In his last five years of coaching, he’s posted two years of very pass-heavy splits (62%+ pass rate), one year of a very run-heavy split (49% run rate), and two years of fairly moderate splits (42/58-ish). Digging into some of the reasons why there’s such variety does shed some light on the situation though. First off, the year with the 49% run rate was Adrian Peterson’s last great season in 2015. It made sense for Norv to ride his premier weapon. On the flip side, his two pass-heavy seasons coincided with a terrible RB/O-line situation (2016 Vikings) and a terrible defense with a very skilled pass-catching back (2019 Panthers). While it’s clear that Norv was willing to make significant adjustments to his scheme as talent dictated, it appears as though his base offense was somewhere around a 42/58 split.
While Norv’s overarching scheme has bounced around quite a bit, his positional target shares have been surprisingly consistent. In his five combined years between Carolina and Minnesota, Norv’s wide receivers have commanded between a 52.6%-56.7% target share every year. Four of his five years have seen his running backs end within 2% of a 23% target share, with the only exception not being far off at an 18.2% mark. The tight ends have seen a little more variety ranging from 16.3% to 25.2%, but the only two years Norv’s tight ends commanded over 20% of the targets were the pinnacle of Kyle Rudolph’s career. Take those away and the other three years were within 1.5% of a 17.5% share.
At the very least, Turner should boost the total plays as Washington’s 885 last season ranked as the 10th lowest total in the NFL over the last 30 years. However, if Scott does end up following in his father’s footsteps it’s likely that his offense will still be near the bottom of the league in total plays. On top of what will likely be a slow offensive pace, the younger Turner will have his work cut out for him as he takes over last year’s worst offense in the NFL. Surprisingly, Washington didn’t land any offensive upgrades in free agency, instead opting to bolster their depth at the expense of losing a couple highly paid offensive linemen. Even their offensive draft picks aren’t likely to be major impact players right away.
The same cannot be said for the defense. Rivera piled onto his already-impressive collection of defensive line talent with second overall pick Chase Young. If the defense can actually stay healthy this year then they should be able to quickly get the ball back to the offense, allowing for more drives and more plays. This ties in well with perhaps the deepest position group on the Redskins offense; running back. Health is once again a major question mark, but if the group can finally stay healthy then this team is perfectly suited for a classic ground and pound offense complementing a lockdown defense. This style of play would be beneficial for the growth of sophomore QB Dwayne Haskins and the extraordinarily young wide receiver corps. Again, this all hinges on the health of the running backs (namely one Derrius Guice), but if the group can maintain some semblance of durability then that should be the best-fitting scheme.
While the overarching scheme will likely be in for some major overhaul, the positional target shares actually might stay relatively stable. Washington’s position groups came pretty close to matching Norv’s averages in 2019. Under the assumption that Scott won’t stray too far from his father’s footsteps, there’s little reason to expect Scott to push for any major change. Washington just lost its top two tight ends this offseason, leaving the position group a shell of its former self. And while the running backs boast a deep rotation, the main backs are known better for being punishing rushers than elusive receivers. If the tight end target share falls below Norv’s average and the running backs just about match the average, then it follows that the wideouts will exceed their average. Those variations match up pretty well with the positional target shares we saw in Washington last year. Like we mentioned above, this all assumes that Scott Turner will indeed follow in his father’s footsteps, but given what little data we have on Scott that’s about all we have to work with.
Alex Levin – Projections/Redraft
Ride or Dynasty