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.
Just when it looked like the Lions had hit rock bottom in 2018 and were poised to bounce back, 2019 happened. To the credit of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, his offense was still respectable despite trotting out a 3rd string QB and a bevy of practice squad running backs by the end of the season. It was the defense that really let Detroit down. Not surprisingly, defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni stepped away after last year and is replaced by former Eagles DB coach Cory Undlin. Undlin and head coach Matt Patricia (whose specialty was supposed to be defense) will have a mandate to get this defense into shape if they want to continue coaching in Detroit.
It’s hard to say if Bevell’s 40/60 run-pass ratio was a result of all the injuries Detroit suffered or simply a continuation of what he had been doing in Seattle post-Marshawn Lynch. After all, despite his reputation as a run-first coordinator, his offense in Seattle actually passed the ball at a 60.2% rate in 2016 and a 59.4% rate in 2017, both very similar to Detroit’s 60.1% rate last year. On top of that, Detroit’s target share splits last year (57.6%/17.7%/20.5%) were almost identical to Seattle’s target share splits in 2016 (57.7%/16.8%/21.7%).
Of course, the injury question still looms heavily overhead. Yeah QB Matthew Stafford missed half the year, but so did multiple running backs and a good chunk of the defensive front seven. If your defense is hurting and you’re down to practice squad running backs, chances are you’re throwing more than you usually would, even with a 3rd string QB. Chances are also pretty good that you’re throwing to those practice squad running backs less than normal.
Like I said above, hard to say how much of the Lions’ offensive balance was Bevell’s new norm versus injuries.
One thing that could tip Detroit’s hand a bit is the overhaul on defense and along the offensive line both through free agency and the draft. I know, this isn’t the first time the Lions have appeared to make all the right moves, but cautious optimism is not unwarranted. Even if you don’t have faith in their defensive moves, the offensive line filling in the few holes they had can only mean good things for the upgraded running back room. I’m sure QB Matt Stafford would appreciate fewer hits as well after breaking his back last season. With even just modest improvement on defense, we should see Bevell’s playcalling tip back a little toward the run as the offense should be more effective at controlling the clock.
As for how the target shares split up, it’s unlikely that there will be much change from last year. Bevell has been very consistent with regard to how much each position group is featured, and there’s very little change in personnel across the Lions’ skill positions. The only notable difference is the addition of rookie running back D’Andre Swift, but even then Bevell has proven to be relatively unfazed by who he has in the backfield as far as target shares are concerned. Swift might lead to a small bump for the running backs by virtue of having a starting caliber running back actually be active for more than 10 games, but I wouldn’t expect anything drastic.
Alex Levin – Projections/Redraft
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