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.
Safe to say that no one in the Ravens coaching staff is losing their jobs due to poor performance last season. Perhaps more surprising is that none of them left for greener pastures after such all-around dominance. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman commanded the top offense in the NFL while defensive coordinator Don Martindale coached up a top 5 defense despite the mass exodus of star players prior to the 2019 season (earning himself quite the payday as a result). And of course, we can’t forget head coach John Harbaugh, who was considered to be on the hot seat just a year and a half ago. There aren’t many more secure HC seats going into 2020.
We commented last year that OC Greg Roman liked to operate a run-heavy offense, but this was something else entirely. Powered by a deep backfield and some Madden-esque moves from Lamar Jackson, the Ravens ran away with the best record in football. Literally. Their 56% run rate led the league by almost 7%, with the runner-up 49ers clocking in at only 49.2%. It certainly helps when you have one of the best offensive lines in the business. The Ravens’ rushing total was boosted by running an impressive 1064 total plays, good for 7th most in the NFL and by far the most of Roman’s career. They managed to achieve this despite operating the slowest offense in the NFL. Of course, they also ran the most plays per drive by a wide margin while Martindale’s defense held opposing offenses to below average plays per drive, so that may have helped.
When they did actually throw the ball, the positional target shares were entirely unique from Roman’s previous coaching stops. Roman’s San Francisco and Buffalo teams primarily featured their wide receivers in the passing game (typically 55-60%, but as high as 71%), with the tight ends garnering a slightly larger split than the running backs for the leftover scraps. We figured the passing game would be less wideout-centric last year given the dearth of proven talent, but posting the second-lowest target share in the league at 41.4% was surprising. Also surprising was the pitiful 14.1% target share for the running backs, given the receiving talent they had in the backfield. This leads us to the league-leading 40.9% target share among the Baltimore tight ends. Given the focus on (and success of) the running game, it should come as no surprise that the Ravens lined up with multiple tight ends at one of the highest rates in the league. Add in the ridiculous depth of talent Baltimore has at the position and it makes sense that they would feature so prominently in the passing game as well.
The Ravens showed no signs of letting off the gas in the run game this offseason. They focused on retaining several key defensive players in free agency while drafting even more defensive talent along with some extra bodies for the offensive line. Combined with adding rookie running back J.K. Dobbins, it’s clear that Baltimore wants to enter 2020 doing exactly what it did in 2019; pounding the rock. However, they may not be doing it at quite as high a rate. While the efficiency with which Roman’s offense ran the ball certainly had the largest influence on the team’s 56% run rate, the lack of receiving weapons also played a role. To that end, Baltimore went and drafted the explosive slot receiver Devin Duvernay. Combined with a now healthy Marquise Brown and breakout TE Mark Andrews, the Ravens should be able to stretch the field in the passing game much more effectively than they could last year. This is still a run-first team through and through, but the run rate should drop a little bit.
With the increased pass ratio, there likely will be some shift in the target shares. The wide receivers still won’t be mistaken for any star studded group, but the improvements made were drastic in proportion to what Baltimore had last year. Given Roman’s historical preferences, it seems likely that the wideouts will see a noticeable uptick in targets this year. Helping this shift along is Hayden Hurst’s trade to Atlanta. Yes, Hurst was only the Ravens’ third string tight end, but he still logged significant playing time thanks to Baltimore’s reliance on 2 tight end sets. Losing him still leaves a vacuum and the wide receivers are primed to steal the biggest chunk of it. Perhaps the running backs could see a slightly increased share as well due to Dobbins’ skills as a receiver, although they had that ability last year and still only received a 14% target share.
Alex Levin – Projections/Redraft
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