Fantasy Football: 5 Offenses That Will Operate Differently With More Wins in 2020
In fantasy football, team efficiency and playcalling matter. Good offenses score points, and teams that spend the majority of the game trailing may have to abandon the run -- and still may not score.
That's why, last week, I examined the connection between 2020 win total over/under projections and the game scripts a team faced that season.
I found that when teams were projected to win 2.5 more games than they did the previous year, they found themselves in a trailing game script an average of 51.7 fewer plays than they did the previous year.
Now, I want to dive deeper into the offenses for the teams that are implied -- per win total lines at FanDuel Sportsbook -- to win at least 2.5 more games in 2020 than they did in 2019. To be clear, these teams are expected to see more wins and, in theory, fewer negative game scripts.
What is the impact of that in fantasy football? Was there a big difference in how each offense was run last year in neutral game scripts compared to negative game scripts? Just to be clear -- I defined a "trailing" game script as when a team was losing by 10 or more points and a "neutral game script" as when a game is within 7 points.
Let's take a look.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2019 Wins: 7 | 2020 Projected Wins: 9.5
Of each of the teams that is projected to see a big increase in the win total column, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers saw the biggest difference in pass-to-run ratio when trailing versus a neutral game script.
They ran the ball 22.8% of the time when trailing and 41.2% of the time when in a neutral game script. Also, when in a neutral game script, the Bucs favored running the ball with Ronald Jones. Jones saw his rushing share jump from 35.6% in negative game scripts to 45.3% in neutral ones. The players giving up carries to Jones were Jameis Winston and Dare Ogunbowale. Together they lost 10.7 percentage points of their rushing shares when going from a trailing game script to neutral game script.
Tom Brady is definitely not a mobile quarterback, and he isn't a threat to eat into anyone's carries on the team. When you add that to the expected jump in win total, we can expect the Buccaneers' backs to get run the ball more in 2020. With Winston's 13.2% rushing share and the 38.1% rushing share Peyton Barber up for grabs, both Jones and rookie Ke'Shawn Vaughn could get a decent rushing share.
Last year, Jones wasn't only the preferred back on ground in neutral game scripts, but he also was the preferred passing-game back, as well. When trailing, the Bucs targeted Ogunbowale 10.3% of the the time and Jones 4.6% of the time. In neutral game scripts, the target shares flipped -- Jones was at 9.0% and Ogunbowale at 6.3%.
Vaughn comes into the offense with known receiving skills and could totally phase out Ogunbowale while also eating into the targets for Jones.
The big notable takeaway for the Buccaneers when it comes to the passing offense is the difference in tight end and wide receivers targets in the two game script scenarios.
In trailing game scripts, the Buccaneers targeted the tight end position 23.6% of the time. In neutral game scripts, they targeted the position only 16.2% of the time.
When looking at specific players, it seems that Cameron Brate was the guy being cast aside when the game was close. His target share dropped by 8.9 percentage points (down to 6.0% total) in neutral game scripts. This spells bad news for O.J. Howard as he will likely be the second tight end on the field now that Rob Gronkowski is on the team.
The beneficiaries of the tight ends losing targets in neutral game scripts were the wide receivers. Wide receiver targets as a whole were up 5.7 percentage points in neutral game scripts. There should be no fears of Gronk eating into the targets of Mike Evans or Chris Godwin. Even if the Bucs are passing less often overall because they figure to be in more neutral or leading game scripts, Tampa coach Bruce Arians prefers to target his wide receivers when the game is close.
The shift to more neutral game scripts is good news for Evans, Godwin, and maybe even Jones if he can hold off Vaughn for lead-back duties. Tight ends Gronkowski and Howard may not be as important to the offense in 2020 if the team isn't trailing as often as it was in 2019.
2019 Wins: 3 | 2020 Projected Wins: 6.5
Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia wants to run the ball.
When the Lions are losing, they can't run like they want to. When trailing, they ran the ball only 28% of the time, which ranked 22nd in the league in such scenarios. That number jumps to 42% (13th in the league) when looking at neutral game scripts.
Kerryon Johnson is the only back on the team still on the team that handled more than a 10% rush share in neutral game scripts in 2019. There is room for rookie D'Andre Swift to make an immediate impact in the rushing offense, especially because it seems the Lions are hesitant -- based off last year's workload as well as the draft capital invested in Swift -- to give Johnson a workhorse role.
In terms of passing, the Lions tended to target the wide receiver position more -- and the tight ends and running backs less -- in neutral game scripts.
|Position||Trailing Target Share||Neutral Target Share||Difference|
The bump for wide receiver targets in neutral game scripts is good news for Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones but not necessarily Danny Amendola. In trailing scenarios last year, Amendola (21.4%) actually had a higher target share than Golladay (17.9%). However, Golladay got bumped up to a 21.6% target share in neutral game scripts while Amendola's target share fell 5.4 percentage points -- down to 16.0% -- in those situations, the largest such drop on the squad.
Despite the decrease in target share to the tight end position, T.J. Hockenson actually saw an increase of 5.7 percentage points in target share in neutral game scripts compared to trailing ones.
The Lions' running backs are going to be difficult to trust even with the likely bump in rushing attempts simply because of the split backfield. Now add in the fact that the position isn't targeted as heavily as the other skill positions in neutral game script, and it gets even uglier for Johnson and Swift unless one of them can pull away into a clear lead-back role.
Golladay and Jones remain good values in fantasy drafts with their bump in target share in neutral game scripts, and Hockenson is worth a late-round flier late to see if he can continue to become more involved in the offense in favorable game scripts.
2019 Wins: 2 | 2020 Projected Wins: 5.5
More neutral game scripts for the Cincinnati Bengals is good news for Joe Mixon. Mixon saw a 74.3% rush share in neutral game scripts in 2019 and a 70.0% rush share in trailing game scripts. He also saw more opportunities in the passing game. He got a 9.0% target share in neutral game scripts last year, compared to a 6.1% target share in trailing game scripts.
The Bengals targeted the running back position only 13.0% of the time in trailing game scripts, the second-lowest rate in the league a season ago. That rate rises to 16.0% in neutral game scripts, though it's still ninth-lowest mark in the league.
In terms of wide receivers, the data is a little skewed because of A.J. Green being out all of 2019.
Based on last year's numbers, Tyler Boyd is the biggest beneficiary of more neutral game scripts: his target share jumped three percentage points in those situations. John Ross may already be the fourth wide receiver on the team in Cincinnati with the drafting of Tee Higgins and the return of AJG, and he also lost 3.2 percentage points to his target share in neutral game scripts.
Mixon clearly has the most to gain for the Bengals if they find themselves in more close games in 2020, and depending on how Green looks after the long layoff, Boyd could further establishes himself as the go-to wideout with more favorable game scripts.
Los Angeles Chargers
2019 Wins: 5 | 2020 Projected Wins: 8.0
The Philip Rivers-led Los Angeles Chargers targeted the running back position the most in the league in both neutral and trailing game scripts a campaign ago. The Chargers also ran the ball the second-lowest amount in the league in neutral game scripts, at only 35.0%.
Obviously, Rivers is no longer there. So the question is -- did the Bolts target their backs so much because of game plan or because of Rivers?
If the high passing work for running backs drops because of Rivers leaving, and the rushing rate stays so low in neutral game scripts, Austin Ekeler could struggle to pay off on his second-round draft capital.
The wide receivers were more heavily utilized in neutral game script. In trailing game scripts, they were targeted 46.5% of the time, the third-lowest rate in the league. That number jumped 6.7 percentage points in close games, rising to 53.2%.
Keenan Allen, in particular, saw more targets in neutral games. Allen's target share rose 8.3 percentage points -- to 29.4% -- in such game scripts. Mike Williams, on the other hand, lost four percentage points to his target share in neutral game scripts compared to when the team was behind.
Ekeler really needs to see more work on the ground in neutral game scripts to produce elite numbers once again, assuming Tyrod Taylor (or Justin Herbert) doesn't target him as much as Rivers did in 2019. And Allen is looking like an undervalued receiver heading into 2020 given his near 30.0% target share in close games last season.
2019 Wins: 6 | 2020 Projected Wins: 8.5
The Cleveland Browns were most the run-heavy team when in trailing game scripts in 2019 with a rush rate of 37.8% in the split. However, they were not nearly as run heavy in neutral game scripts. Their run rate increased to just 39.4% in neutral game scripts, which ranked 12th-lowest in the league.
New coach Kevin Stefanski joins the team from the Minnesota Vikings, and he took a different approach to game script with the Vikings. Minnesota ran the ball only 26.0% of the time when trailing (seventh-lowest) but ran the ball at a rate of 45.0% in a neutral game scripts (sixth-highest).
We see a similar difference in how these two teams targeted positional groups in different game scenarios.
In close games, the Browns' receivers were targeted 63.0% of the time and tight ends 13.0% of the time. In the Vikings' offense, wide receivers were targeted only 47.0% of the time in neutral game scripts and tight ends 25.0% of the time.
It is not as if the Browns simply had superior talent at the wide receiver position compared to the Vikings as both squads had potent one-two punches as the position.
With Stefanski implementing his offensive scheme and the Browns likely seeing more neutral game scripts in 2020, we can expect the beneficiaries to be Nick Chubb and Austin Hooper. The wide receivers may not be as heavily utilized by the Browns in 2020 unless we see a change in scheme from Stefanski.