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 Denver’s defense was a bit disappointing given the big names they have, they did enough to allow head coach Vic Fangio and his defensive coordinator Ed Donatell to retain their seats. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello was not so fortunate. His offense was plagued by inefficiency and ineffectiveness, ranking in the bottom 5 for both yards and points. Taking his place as the new OC will be former Giants head coach Pat Shurmur.
Shurmur’s history is a little difficult to track with how often he’s bounced around. He’s spent precisely two years with almost every team he’s coached for, with the lone exception being a three year stint with the Eagles. However, that’s not to say that there isn’t a pattern. Looking back at his last four years (two as the Giants head coach, two as the Vikings offensive coordinator), three of those years produced very similar results from a schematic perspective. In 2016, 2018, and 2019, Shurmur’s offense ran right around 1000 plays (1006, 984, 1012) with a very pass-heavy run-pass ratio (62.2%, 64.0%, 64.2%). His wide receivers typically saw somewhere around 55% of all passing targets (55.8%, 53.0%, 57.7%) while his running backs and tight ends shared a sharp 25%/20% split, though which group got the 25% share has bounced back and forth.
The lone exception in 2017 was much more run game focused as Shurmur’s Case Keenum-led offense only passed 52.5% of the time. That year also saw a different target share split, with the wideouts eating up nearly a 60% target share while the running backs and tight ends saw 20% each. While I would consider the numbers from 2016, 2018, and 2019 more important, Shurmur’s 2017 numbers prove that he can be flexible if the situation dictates it.
Given the plethora of pass-catching weapons the Broncos added between free agency and the draft, it seems Shurmur will stick closer to the numbers his offense produced in 2016, 2018, and 2019. With that in mind, we can expect somewhere around 1000 plays and a very pass-heavy run-pass ratio as a baseline. From that baseline, we can expect a small uptick in number of plays and a slightly more run-heavy shift thanks to the strength of the Broncos defense which should keep games closer and give the offense more opportunities.
The target share numbers should also be pretty similar to Shurmur’s previous stops. The wide receiver group already boasted rising star Courtland Sutton, and now they added two more weapons in the first two rounds of the draft. On the running back side, the addition of Melvin Gordon most likely means that the running backs will claim the 25% side of Shurmur’s traditional 25/20 split with the tight ends. In fact, the running backs may very well claim over that typical 25% target share. The wide receivers have plenty of talent, but at the end of the day it’s very likely that two of the three starters will be rookies. Rookie wideouts are notorious for taking a little time to acclimate to the pro game, so it’s not out of the question that Gordon siphons off some of their targets as a safety valve for sophomore QB Drew Lock.
All the additional weapons should help Lock avoid pressure as he’ll have more places to go with the ball. There was also some shuffling of bodies up front on the offensive line, so it will be interesting to see how his protection is affected. If nothing else it will help to have prize tackle Ju’Waun James back as his replacement was the weakest link to an otherwise pretty solid line.
Alex Levin – Projections/Redraft
Ride or Dynasty