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.
While an 8-8 finish is certainly disappointing after a wild 2018 season, some regression was expected. Head coach Matt Nagy isn’t on the hot seat just yet. Nevertheless, several changes were made on the offensive side of the ball due to severe regression in a couple position groups. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich was released, paving the way for Bill Lazor to fill in as the new OC. Under him, Juan Castillo reunites with Nagy as the new offensive line coach, and John DeFilippo was brought in as the new QB coach as previous QB coach Dave Ragone was promoted to passing game coordinator. The defensive staff is much more stable with Chuck Pagano retaining the defensive coordinator role after coaching a top 10 unit despite injuries to several key players.
While there was a change at offensive coordinator, Nagy plans to continue to run his own scheme and call plays so there shouldn’t be a big enough deviation in scheme to look too far into Lazor’s history. The bigger impact will be that of new O-line coach Castillo. In 2018, the Bears’ offensive line was ranked as a borderline top 10 unit by PFF, with their interior linemen considered to be one of the best groups in the NFL. Behind that stout line, the Bears ran the ball 46.2% of the time and only allowed a sack rate of 6.1%. The 2019 offensive line paints an entirely different picture. Ranked 25th by PFF, the Bears found very little success on the ground. This forced them to frequently abandon the run, dropping their run rate to 38.7%. The weak line also allowed pressure at a high rate, resulting in a 7.2% sack rate.
Positional target shares also saw a significant change between 2018 and 2019, though that may have been more injury-related than scheme-related. Specifically, the tight ends saw more than a 6% drop in target share (18.2% to 11.9%) as a string of injuries left the Bears starting their TE4 by the end of the season. The wide receivers picked up pretty much all the slack, rising from a 54.5% target share in 2018 to a 60.3% target share in 2019. The running backs remained consistent, posting a negligible 0.1% change in target shares.
The Bears enter 2020 at a crossroads. QB Mitch Trubisky theoretically has the faith of Bears brass, but declining his fifth year option and bringing in former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles sure is a funny way of showing it. At this point it seems likely that both quarterbacks will see playing time this year. That type of situation tends not to have a positive effect on teams’ production which usually leads to a heavier reliance on the passing game. Chicago does have the advantage of a very good defense that added a handful of needed (if not particularly exciting) pieces through both free agency and the draft – something that normally helps even out the run-pass ratio – but the question is whether that will be enough to bring the pass rate back down. Perhaps the improvements made to the offensive line, however small (castoff former 1st rounder, two 7th round rookies, and a new coach), will lead to a more effective run game which would also help.
However the run-pass balance works out, Nagy has to be happy about the upgrade at tight end. Sure Jimmy Graham is a bit long in the tooth and hasn’t been truly effective in years, but at this point it can’t be worse than last year’s debacle. Given Nagy’s preference for strong tight end play as the centerpiece of his offense, even just an OK performance from Graham should be enough to raise the tight end target share back up considerably. Little else has changed for the Bears offensively, so a return to their 2018 target shares seems to be the likely scenario.
Alex Levin – Projections/Redraft
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