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.
Nobody gets very excited over a 2-14 season, but head coach Zac Taylor has no reason to sweat yet. The Bengals front office brought in Taylor knowing full well that there would be a full rebuild. His seat will probably be safe from anything short of a mutiny for at least another year. He’ll keep his offensive coordinator Brain Callahan and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo with him for year 2 of the rebuild.
Safe to say this offense did not look anything like what we thought it would last year. To start with, this offense ran far more plays than we had projected. The combination of running the 6th fastest offense while simultaneously recording the 12th most plays per drive allowed the Bengals to post the 9th most plays in the league. It is worth mentioning that the speed of the offense was likely heavily influenced by the fact that Cincinnati was trailing for the vast majority of the year; their pace splits were much faster in the second half of games or any time they were behind. On the rare occasion when the Bengals did manage to build a lead, they dropped to being the 19th fastest offense.
Spending most of the year trailing also made quite an impact on the run-pass ratio as their 63.3% pass rate tied for the 5th highest in the league. It didn’t help that the pieces Cincinnati brought in to bolster their abysmal offensive line proceeded to suffer a series of injuries, preventing any real improvement and forcing Taylor away from the running game. Interestingly, this type of situation usually results in a larger target share for running backs as a means to slow down the pass rush. The exact opposite happened in Cincy. Despite an inability to run block for most of the season, Taylor opted to avoid featuring all-star talent Joe Mixon as a receiver out of the backfield as the Bengals running backs were targeted at the 4th lowest rate in the league (14.3%). Adding insult to injury, the Bengals wide receivers were targeted at the 2nd highest rate in the league (63.1%) despite missing star receiver AJ Green for the entire season.
If nothing else, you can’t say the Bengals’ brass didn’t try to address the issues on defense. After pouring money and draft picks into fixing it, the unit should see some serious improvement this year. Probably not instant elite status, but even a return to average would be huge boon for Cincinnati. It would also be a huge help in relieving rookie QB Joe Burrow of some pressure, who will be taking over the offense without the benefit of OTAs (and possibly a good chunk of preseason, depending on how the virus plays out). Not much was done about the offensive line situation, but then just being healthy would be a huge upgrade for them. Under the assumption that one awful year does not establish a trend, it seems as though Taylor and co. are aiming to shift to be more run-heavy this year.
When they do pass, it’s very likely that Taylor will continue to heavily feature wide receivers. Hopefully A.J. Green and John Ross are actually healthy this year, but if they aren’t the Bengals have prized rookie Tee Higgins waiting in the wings. If Cincinnati can field those three receivers along with Tyler Boyd, they might just feature the largest wideout target share in the league. With what little is left over, it’s hard to say if the tight ends will continue to be featured much more than the running backs or if that imbalance will even itself out. The entire depth chart at running back is very talented in the receiving department which made it all the more baffling that they simply were not used that much in the passing game. The departure of tight end Tyler Eifert may help clear the way this year, though it’s hard to say by how much since C.J. Uzomah proved to have reasonably reliable hands as well.
One last note on the offensive pace. While it is true that the Bengals slowed down their offense considerably on the rare occasion that they were nursing a lead last year, Burrow will be coming in from one of the fastest offenses in the FBS. With little offseason to prepare before he’s thrust into the starting gig, Taylor would be wise to fit his offense to what Burrow is comfortable with. Expect to see another year of high play totals regardless of team improvement.
Alex Levin – Projections/Redraft
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