For this set of articles I’ll be looking at NFL teams, their offensive coordinators and how their coordinating has or might impact their team’s offense and in turn our fantasy expectations. I’ll be using offensive coordinator info compiled by Mr. Jeff Brubach, which tries to look at the last three seasons of a coordinator’s offensive output.
Let’s start with the world champs. The Seahawks have now had offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for three seasons, so we have a good set of data to peruse.
It’s pretty obvious that Bevell plays to his strengths, which play to the team’s overall strength, the defense. The last two seasons, while the defense has dominated and they’ve brought along the young Russell Wilson, they ran the ball 55% his rookie season and 53.3% his sophomore season. That is a slight trend towards more passing, but still an anomaly in this pass-happy league, which averaged 56.5% pass to 43.2% run last season.
The Seahawks will continue pushing to get more out of Wilson, but with their dominating defense his total passing numbers will not have much room to rise unless there is a rash of defensive injuries that keep the Seahawks needing to come from behind. Wilson should continue to find his fantasy upside with his legs. His 539 yards rushing ranked third for quarterbacks last season, but he was only able to come away with one touchdown. With Marshawn Lynch entrenched as the goal line back Wilson only had two rushing attempts inside the five-yard line.
As far as Lynch is concerned, you can’t get much safer. He has averaged exactly 300 rushing attempts his last three years to go along with 11.7 rushing touchdowns. This fact will not change if he stays healthy and the defense continues to keep the offense close or in the lead. Of course that workload has been large and a breakdown will happen at some point. With this offense you don’t want to lose out on those carries if you own Lynch and he gets hurt, so backing him up with Christine Michael looks like a must.
Wide receivers and tight ends have not had much fantasy success in Bevell’s offense. Last year Golden Tate had the best fantasy season of any Seahawks’ receiver under Bevell’s time there, with 64 receptions, 898 yards and five touchdowns. The receptions and yards were both highs under Bevell while the touchdowns didn’t quite meet the previous high of seven. Tate is gone and we will see the targets spread out once again. Percy Harvin should be in line for Tate’s role, while Doug Baldwin will get an uptick, but volume will not be their friend. Harvin should be used in the run game enough to buoy his stats, but he’ll need to average a decent amount of carries each week for him to truly break out in Bevell’s offense.
We saw what the Seahawks offense could do on multiple occasions, including the Super Bowl, last year. Maybe they’ll ramp up their offense some, but I don’t believe they’ll change their whole system just to put up more points as long as they are winning.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, followed Jim Harbaugh from Stanford in 2011 and has been calling plays ever since. Much like the Seahawks, the 49ers rely on defense and the run game, but to a slightly lesser extent with a 51% to 49% run to pass ratio.
It’s pretty easy to compare the Seahawks and 49ers, but San Francisco is a little more conducive to fantasy receiving numbers since they don’t spread the ball around as much as the Seahawks. If you are the #1 option in the receiving game, you will get your targets. Of course once you drop below that #1 option the pickings get much thinner. This isn’t Peyton’s Broncos we are talking about.
Colin Kaepernick had 416 pass attempts last season, which ranked him 20th in the league. That number most likely won’t change much this year as long as the defense stays near the top, but like Russell Wilson, Kaepernick gets a good chunk of his fantasy value through his legs. He had a similar yardage total to Wilson, but scored four touchdowns. Those yards and touchdowns helped him sneak into the top 10 of many scoring systems even though his passing numbers were suspect.
All signs point to Roman continuing to stay with the same breakdown if he can, so we can rely on them running the ball 500 times and if Frank Gore can stay healthy, he’ll get 250- 275 attempts while Kaepernick becomes the de facto #2 running back. They have a million capable backups, but there is no clear cut handcuff or much precedent for how they would be used if Gore were to go down, but Carlos Hyde looks to be the frontrunner for the Frank Gore role in Roman’s offense.
As I was saying before, the #1 receiver has good fantasy upside for the 49ers. Last season we saw Michael Crabtree go down early and the two main targets became Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. Your clear fantasy winner was Davis who hauled in 13 touchdowns, but his two previous seasons under Roman had resulted in a combined nine touchdowns and a decrease in yards per catch while he took a back seat to Crabtree. With Crabtree healthy for 2014 it will be difficult for both him and Davis to put up good fantasy numbers and Roman’s history looks as though the wide receiver will be the preferred target.
The Cardinals are a bit more interesting in that they had a new head coach and ex-offensive coordinator in Bruce Arians start last season. He brought along his offensive line coach from Indianapolis, Harold Goodwin, to be the offensive coordinator, but Arians still has play calling duties.
The promise of Arians’ higher-octane offense didn’t quite come to fruition last season, but the numbers certainly improved as competition became a little easier and the players got a better grasp of the offense in the second half. Carson Palmer averaged 36 pass attempts through the first eight games and then 36 attempts again through the last eight. But his fantasy ranking in the first eight was 27th and in the second eight was 5th. So of course his season-long numbers were poor, but there is some light at the end of that tunnel as his per-attempt production went way up in the second half.
Arians has switched from Pittsburgh to Indianapolis to Arizona in three quick years. That’s many different players he’s tried to fit into his offensive plans. His run/pass ratio has gone from 42.7%/57.3% in ’11, 39.7%/60.3% in ’12 and 40.7%/59.3% last season with the Cardinals. Those numbers should greatly benefit the passing game, but of course overall production was down even though the percentages stayed similar. The good news is that we know without a doubt Bruce Arians prefers to throw the ball, so we know what we are getting there.
So who will catch the ball in Arizona? Over the last three years tight ends in his system haven’t had a season with more than 631 yards receiving or three touchdowns. So let’s just move on. The real gems in an Arians offense are the wide receivers. In Pittsburgh he had two 1,000-yard receivers and in Indianapolis he had three receivers top 781 yards, including a 1,300+ yards from Reggie Wayne and seven touchdowns from T.Y. Hilton, who was officially the #3 receiver. So all the early season hype for Michael Floyd does have some basis to it, since more than one receiver can thrive in this offense and both receivers had over 100 targets last year. So the duo of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd feel fairly entrenched in their upside in this offense.
The running back situation is a bit murkier, not in who will run the ball, that’s on Andre Ellington, but to how many touches he and the backups will have. Ellington was the first true receiving threat Arians has had out of the backfield since Mewelde Moore and that showed as he gave him 57 targets. Vick Ballard the year before has the next highest over the last three years with 24 targets. But no one back of his has topped 228 carries in that span. But with Mendenhall gone and no great backup breathing down Ellington’s neck, 220+ attempts and 80+ targets could easily happen. 18 touches a game seems like his baseline, while his upside could be more and still fit into Arian’s past stats.
St. Louis Rams
Over the last three seasons Brian Schottenheimer hasn’t had much to work with offensively, so the numbers are just painful to witness. How much is him versus the talent he’s given is hard to discern, but with Sam Bradford at the helm in St. Louis, the numbers are going to be capped fairly low again.
Over the last three seasons Schotty’s offenses have been below average, but in ’09 and ’10 he had one of the top rushing offenses in the league, which was helped along by the Jets’ defense also being one of the best in the league. Last season he got ahold of Zac Stacy and gave him 250 carries in just 12 games with an added 35 passing targets. They didn’t have enough talent to win many games, but the run-first mantra helped make them a much tougher team to beat week in and week out.
Extrapolated to a full season Stacy would have run the ball 333 times and had 35 receptions. That’s a whole lot of work and something they most likely will want to continue at a similar pace unless Bradford and his receivers make a big step forward this season. Yes, he was injured much of last year and Stacy had a big workload, but Bradford’s record was 3-4 before his injury and then with the non-entity Kellen Clemens at QB they managed to go 4-5 with the more run-focused strategy. Schotty is not afraid to run the ball and the addition of Tre Mason shows that they are committed to doing just that.
Last year Tavon Austin led the wide receivers with 40 receptions and amazingly Jared Cook led the team with 51. Without a dominant go-to receiver, it looks like they will most likely spread the ball out once again with the help of Bradford’s usual 6.5 yards per pass attempt. We will most likely be tempted to grab a Rams’ receiver after a big(ish) game, but don’t do it.
If Shottenheimer and Fisher have their druthers the defense will play at a top level and Stacy will get a ton of work while Mason spells him and works to take his place someday.