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.
Nothing new to see here. Kliff Kingsbury returns for year two of his Arizona rebuild as both head coach and offensive coordinator after some eye-opening improvement on the offensive side of the ball. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph returns as well, although his seat is likely to be considerably hotter than Kliff’s after the defense actually posted worse numbers than they did in 2018.
We finally have a full year of NFL-level Kliff-ball behind us, and the quickest way to sum up his offensive scheme is simply to say that we were pretty accurate last year in terms of ratios. Run-pass ratio, sack rate, target share distributions, catch percentages, you name it and our projected ratios were almost spot on (aside from tight end catch percentage, which would have been perfectly accurate with just four fewer tight end receptions). Despite this, the actual counting stats were all much lower than we had projected. This can be traced to a significant discrepancy in total plays run. Kingsbury had come in promising a fast-paced, college-style spread offense, and to his credit he did deliver on the fast-paced part as the Cardinals were the 4th fastest offense in the NFL. Unfortunately, Arizona was only middle-of-the-pack for offensive plays per drive while ranking dead last in defensive plays and time per drive. With Joseph’s defense unable to get off the field, Kingsbury wasn’t able to run the high volume of plays he was hoping for.
The good news for Cardinals fans is that Arizona definitely tried to address this issue. Between a handful of front seven free agent signings and a defense-heavy draft, Arizona worked feverishly this offseason to upgrade their ability to actually slow down opposing offenses. It likely won’t be a miracle cure, but it should be enough for the Cardinals’ defense to not be the worst in the NFL at getting off the field. That alone should lead to a sizable bump in total plays run for the offense.
Of course, one other teeny tiny thing that might help was trading for DeAndre Hopkins (and special kudos to GM Steve Keim for pulling it off for pennies on the dollar). If you thought Kingsbury did a good job of improving the offense last year, just wait till you see what he can do with a bona fide star in his prime at wideout. On top of likely helping to extend drives (and thereby providing an additional boost to the number of plays run), fielding Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, and Christian Kirk will likely push the already league-leading 66.6% target share for Arizona’s wideouts closer to 70%. There’s already some precedent for that as Kingsbury’s wide receivers recorded 78% of all catches while he was coach at Texas Tech.
The one thing the Hopkins addition is unlikely to do is change the run-pass ratio very much. Back at Texas Tech, Kingsbury’s offense typically ran around a 40/60 split despite running an air raid offense with a weak defense. Even then, Kingsbury shifted to more of a 45/55 split toward the end of his tenure. In his first year in the NFL, Kingsbury once again was running his air raid offense with a weak defense, yet still only topped out right around that same 40/60 run-pass ratio. With any improvement to the defense at all, that ratio will likely start creeping its way to higher run rates. And before you ask, no, losing David Johnson likely will not make that big of an impact. After all, the whole reason he became expendable was Kenyan Drake bursting onto the scene.
One last note worth mentioning; while the Cardinals’ offensive line did improve somewhat over their 2018 performance, they didn’t really do anything to further improve the situation. The only notable addition was drafting a 3rd round tackle. To their credit, however, QB Kyler Murray was at fault for nearly half of his sacks, per PFF. Perhaps he’ll be able to help himself out now that he has a full year of experience under his belt.
Alex Levin – Projections/Redraft
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