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.
Head coach Sean McDermott will continue his tenure after taking the Bills to the postseason for the second time in three years, a vast improvement over the 17-year drought preceding him. He will keep both his coordinators on board as well. This is an obvious decision regarding defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier after he helmed a top 3 defense. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll did not enjoy nearly the same level of success as the Bills’ offense ranked in the bottom third of the league in both points and yards. Daboll did continue to coax noticeable improvement out of QB Josh Allen, however, which kept him safe from the chopping block (and almost earned him a head coaching gig in Cleveland).
Daboll has always been a run-first OC. Dating all the way back to his first OC gig in Cleveland in 2009, his offense has only finished outside the top 6 in rush attempts once. Meanwhile, last year marked the first time his offense ranked higher than 28th in pass attempts (a whopping 24th). It comes as no surprise then that his offenses in Buffalo have been among the more run-heavy in the league (5th highest run rate in 2018 with 46.4%, 7th highest in 2019 with 45.7%).
However, that small uptick in pass attempts last year didn’t come out of the blue; QB Josh Allen showed noticeable progress in his sophomore year. It helped that the Bills brought in John Brown and Cole Beasley as much needed upgrades to their wide receiver corps. It also helped that the Bills’ offensive line changes prior to last season did have some effect as their PFF grade improved from 26th in 2018 to 21st in 2019. It wasn’t a huge improvement – they’re still a far cry from world beaters – but the improvement was just enough to give Allen a little more breathing room, as shown by his sack rate dropping slightly from 7.6% to 7.2%.
Bringing in those two receivers and trading away the disappointing Zay Jones also led to a boost in the wide receiver target share from 58.1% in 2018 to 62.8% in 2019, along with raising the wide receiver catch rate from 51.4% to 59.3% (ditching Kelvin Benjamin’s 37.1% catch rate may have also played a small role in that). The running back and tight end target shares predictably dropped as a result. The tight ends suffered further due to posting the 2nd lowest catch rate in the league, primarily as a result of rookie Dawson Knox’s 56% catch rate (though backups Tyler Kroft and Tommy Sweeney didn’t help by posting a combined 51.9% catch rate).
The trend toward passing more often seems likely to continue this year after the Bills’ blockbuster trade for Stefon Diggs to give Josh Allen a true #1 wideout. True, they also drafted PFF’s #2 running back Zack Moss, but he figures to slide into the role vacated by Frank Gore. Hopefully the new weapons allow Daboll’s offense to finally start sustaining drives, something the Bills have struggled with the last two years. With the defense able to maintain a solid level of talent despite some high profile departures, it’s likely we see a small uptick in the total plays run this year in addition to a slightly higher pass rate.
With the increased passing volume, the wide receivers are poised to assume the greatest benefit. While it is true that there isn’t much room to go up from their 62.8% share last year (4th highest in the league), they also saw the biggest improvement to personnel with the arrival of Diggs, not to mention a couple more rookie receivers from the draft. Moss is only a small upgrade from Frank Gore on the receiving front and nothing changed with the tight ends. Perhaps tight end Dawson Knox will command more attention as he grows into the promise he showed last year, but it seems more likely that his volume increase will come from other tight ends as he absorbs their playing time.
Alex Levin – Projections/Redraft
Ride or Dynasty