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.
After an inexplicably long tenure where the Cowboys always felt like they were almost there, Jason Garrett has finally been shown the door in about the most passive way possible (sad clapping noises). Taking his place as the new head coach will be former Packer head coach Mike McCarthy. McCarthy poached Mike Nolan to be his new defensive coordinator, but Kellen Moore will survive the regime change and continue his duties as the offensive coordinator.
So…yeah. I think it might be fair to say that Moore opened up the offense a bit. Instead of following the Garrett/Linehan mold in being a very run-centric team, Moore flipped the script by calling a 42% run rate last year. The result? The Cowboys ranked 1st in yardage and 6th in points. The offensive onslaught combined with Dallas’s dominant O-line resulted in a scant 3.7% sack rate, the 2nd lowest mark in the league. And while we had projected a somewhat fast-paced offense, Moore ran the offense at a breakneck pace which helped the Cowboys record the 6th most total plays in the league.
The surprises didn’t end there. While wide receivers certainly were heavily targeted as expected, Moore placed much more focus on the tight ends than the running backs in the passing game, something we had anticipated to go the other way. The return of security blanket Jason Witten certainly played a part in that, but so did the emergence of Blake Jarwin. Between the two of them, Dallas boasted the 7th highest completion percentage to tight ends in the league.
Moore’s results from last year aren’t the only component we need to consider, however. New head coach Mike McCarthy will attempt to meld his own system that he developed during his 13-year run as the Packers head coach with what the Cowboys ran so well last year. While there are some schematic difficulties that may need to be overcome, the two offenses are pretty similar from a numbers perspective. Historically, McCarthy’s Packers operated with about a 41/59 run-pass ratio, though that started leaning very pass-heavy during his last few years in Green Bay. McCarthy also liked to similarly feature his wide receivers in the passing game, typically with upwards of a 60% target share.
The critical thing to consider here is that Moore will continue to call plays. McCarthy may have some influence on the scheme overall, but he’s already come out and stated that he’s a big fan of Moore’s work and has no interest in fixing something that isn’t broken. The takeaway from this is that the offense should end up being pretty reminiscent of last year. Expect Dallas to continue to run a blazing fast offense while stringing together long drives, resulting in a high total number of plays run. The run-pass ratio might lean a little more pass-heavy this year, however. On top of McCarthy’s influence, the Cowboys suffered major losses in free agency across the entire defense. Sure, they made some free agent signings and put some notable draft capital into replacing their losses, but it’s very difficult to replace the top players at multiple positions all at once.
Speaking of draft capital, Dak Prescott has an unexpected new weapon in CeeDee Lamb. There’s also a large vacuum of targets left behind when tight end Jason Witten moved on to the Raiders. That doesn’t guarantee a shift in target shares though. The Cowboys also lost slot receiver Randall Cobb and signed tight end Blake Jarwin to a sizable extension. It seems that the easiest solution to the target math is that Lamb slides in to take over Cobb’s targets and Jarwin commands the targets Witten left behind. The end result of this should be target shares that mimic last year’s.
Alex Levin – Projections/Redraft
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