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.
Green Bay Packers
Last Year’s Accuracy
For league wide stats, see this spreadsheet.
Nothing to see here. After a two season playoff drought, Green Bay found itself back on top of the NFC North under the leadership of first year head coach Matt LaFleur. He retains right hand man Nathaniel Hackett as his offensive coordinator. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will also return after operating the bend-don’t-break defense to perfection (18th in yards allowed, but 9th in scoring and T-5th in turnovers).
With how successful the Packers run game was in LaFleur’s first year, it’s really hard to believe that they only posted a 40% run rate in sharp contrast to LaFleur’s first year calling plays in Tennessee. It’s a testament to just how effective LaFleur was at bringing some semblance of balance back to this offense. Also impressive was how Green Bay was near the league average in plays run (1020 vs 1016) despite operating the 5th slowest offense in the NFL. Recording the 3rd highest turnover differential certainly helped that cause as well.
The re-emphasizing of running backs extended to the passing game too, where the Packers’ backs posted the 8th highest target rate in the league. This success came at the expense of the wideouts and tight ends, though that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Davante Adams was once again the only reliable wide receiver for Aaron Rodgers, and even then he missed a quarter of the year with turf toe. The tight ends, led by an aging Jimmy Graham, showed no spring in their step either. Not surprisingly, Rodgers tied for the second highest throwaway rate in the league (defined as throws without a target in this case).
Going into year 2, LaFleur made it abundantly clear that he intends to run the ball more. How else are we supposed to interpret a draft that included multiple offensive linemen, a punishing new running back, and the heir apparent to future HoFer Aaron Rodgers? Meanwhile the best weapon Green Bay added for Rodgers was journeyman WR Devin Funchess. The question isn’t whether the Packers’ run-pass ratio will lean further to the run side, it’s how much? With Rodgers still at QB, LaFleur won’t be calling a 48.5% run rate like he did with the Titans in 2018, but there’s still a fair bit of space between that and the 40.3% run rate the Packers posted last year. A run rate around 42-43% seems to best strike a balance between taking advantage of Rodgers’s skill while still shifting the offense toward Lafleur’s preferred balance.
Along with a likely higher run rate limiting pass attempts, it’s a good bet that the Packers offense won’t run as many total plays this year. As mentioned above, Pettine’s defense excelled at getting the ball back into the offense’s hands which helped to boost what would otherwise have been a very low play total in LaFleur’s clock-killing offense. It’s true that there should be expected growth from the young secondary, but on the flip side the Packers lost multiple key linebackers to free agency. Yes, they had their deficiencies, but they were starters for a reason and Green Bay didn’t really do much to replace them. The question then becomes whether the growth of the key players in the pass rush and secondary can overcome the deficit at linebacker. They’ll also be fighting an uphill battle of turnovers being historically volatile from year to year. It’s certainly possible that the Packers’ defense could repeat especially given Pettine’s history of success, but it won’t be easy.
As for who the reduced passing volume goes to, there isn’t much reason to assume any major change from last year. Losing TE Jimmy Graham might free up some targets, but then with all the tight ends Green Bay has collected it’s possible that LaFleur will start running more 2TE sets as you would typically expect with a more run-focused team. Rookie A.J. Dillon might help the running backs to claim a larger share, but then he also could easily slide in to simply replace Jamaal Williams. Perhaps a healthy Davante Adams combined with Devin Funchess will lead to a larger share for the wideouts, but there was a sizable committee vying for time last year that Adams and Funchess will likely eat into first. All in all it’s fair to expect a split very similar to last year.
Alex Levin – Projections/Redraft
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