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Doug Orth | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer


Workload Projections: AFC
Preseason Matchup Analysis
Posted: 7/24/18
AFC | NFC

BAL | BUF | CIN | CLE | DEN | HOU | IND | JAX | KC | LAC | MIA | NE | NYJ | OAK | PIT | TEN

Over the last two weeks, I went through the process of breaking down offensive coordinator tendencies in the AFC and NFC, highlighting backfield and target shares. That work set the stage for this week, as I attempt to use that information to lay the foundation for how much players might be utilized this year. The problem with a lot of fantasy football projections is the math doesn't add up when to a realistic team total in the end. Unless you are keeping a close eye on the overall play total for every team in a computer program (like I do with Microsoft Excel), it's easy to have one team finishing with 800 offensive plays and another going over 1,200 when all the individual numbers are calculated. (As a point of reference, most teams run somewhere between 950 and 1,050 offensive plays per season. A few will exceed that range, while several tend to finish with just over 900.)

Being able to predict opportunity - perhaps the most important variable in fantasy football - is more than half of the battle when it comes to being able to construct accurate rankings. Thus, the goal over the next two weeks: provide analysis on some of the issues that played a factor in the way I divided the workload for each team. While I tried to accurately project how many passes each quarterback might throw, I ask that you pay more attention to the actual number of pass attempts and less to the individual quarterback breakdown. Also, just about every team finishes a season with several more pass attempts than targets, so if you are wondering why the targets and attempts aren't the same, that is why.

The bolded numbers near the top of the middle three columns are the totals for each column. The bolded numbers in the last two columns reflect each team's projected run-pass ratio.

Baltimore

 Baltimore Ravens Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
571 445 567 43.8% 56.2%
QB Joe Flacco 444 18 1 4.0% 0.2%
QB Lamar Jackson 127 46 2 10.3% 0.4%
RB Alex Collins 0 248 58 55.7% 10.2%
RB Javorius Allen 0 47 48 10.6% 8.5%
RB Kenneth Dixon 0 81 34 18.2% 6.0%
RB Patrick Ricard 0 1 5 0.2% 0.9%
WR Michael Crabtree 0 0 121 0.0% 21.3%
WR John Brown 0 3 68 0.7% 12.0%
WR Willie Snead 0 0 78 0.0% 13.8%
WR Chris Moore 0 1 43 0.2% 7.6%
TE Hayden Hurst 0 0 54 0.0% 9.5%
TE Mark Andrews 0 0 42 0.0% 7.4%
TE Nick Boyle 0 0 13 0.0% 2.3%

2018 Projected Total Offensive Plays: 1,016
2017 Total: 1,027

The high totals for Jackson aren't necessarily about Flacco losing his job during the course of the season, although the possibility certainly exists. I'm betting more on the possibility that something like the preseason back injury that clearly affected Flacco throughout the first half of last season will lead to significant snaps for Jackson. Dixon is obviously much more of a threat to Collins than Allen is, but the ex-Seahawk built up a lot of equity with the coaching staff after handling 19.2 touches per game from Week 8 on. If Collins carries over his performance from last season into 2018, Dixon should be considered the odds-on favorite to beat out Allen for change-of-pace duties.

It's really Crabtree and then everyone one else among the receivers and tight ends. Before last season's injury woes (back and concussion), Flacco was able to turn Kamar Aiken into a regular fantasy starter in 2015 before Dennis Pitta, Mike Wallace and Steve Smith all went over the 70-catch (and 100-target) mark in 2016. Volume isn't going to be an issue for Crabtree. Brown is theoretically a great fit for Flacco given the latter's well-documented arm strength, but the former's durability makes him a very unstable player to roster in fantasy. Snead has the potential to be a sneaky fantasy contributor if he can lock down slot duties, but he's going to face some competition for those snaps with Andrews, who reminds me a lot of a young Pitta. Flacco has long been a friend of tight ends and last year was no exception with Ben Watson. Hurst may not be expected to replace the 61 catches, 79 targets, 522 yards and four touchdowns the veteran leaves behind, but the rookie will be asked to fill the same role and provide more big plays.

Buffalo

 Buffalo Bills Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
524 419 519 44.4% 55.6%
QB Nathan Peterman 155 12 0 2.9% 0.0%
QB AJ McCarron 128 3 0 0.7% 0.0%
QB Josh Allen 241 27 0 6.4% 0.0%
RB LeSean McCoy 0 224 71 53.5% 13.7%
RB Chris Ivory 0 111 19 26.5% 3.7%
RB Travaris Cadet 0 27 37 6.4% 7.1%
RB Marcus Murphy 0 14 7 3.3% 1.3%
RB Patrick DiMarco 0 0 12 0.0% 2.3%
WR Kelvin Benjamin 0 0 84 0.0% 16.2%
WR Zay Jones 0 0 72 0.0% 13.9%
WR Jeremy Kerley 0 0 58 0.0% 11.2%
WR Andre Holmes 0 0 32 0.0% 6.2%
WR Malachi Dupre 0 1 8 0.2% 1.5%
TE Charles Clay 0 0 84 0.0% 16.2%
TE Nick O'Leary 0 0 23 0.0% 4.4%
TE Logan Thomas 0 0 12 0.0% 2.3%

2018 Projected Total Offensive Plays: 973
2017 Total: 963

Allen may be the one top quarterback prospect from April's draft who most needs a redshirt year, if only because Buffalo is going to need at least one more offseason to provide him enough weapons to be successful. McCoy turned 30 earlier this month and is already past the 2,000-carry mark that typically spells the beginning of the end for most running backs. He has already told some team personnel he's ready to accept fewer touches going forward in order to stay healthy, so another 340-touch season probably isn't in the cards. The only returning starter on the offensive line that will begin the season at the same position he had at the start of last year is RT Jordan Mills. As such, owners need to distance themselves from the notion Buffalo still possesses one of the best run-blocking units in the league.

Benjamin showed flashes of what he could give the offense after he arrived from Carolina in late October, but 2017 was a mostly lost season because his knee wasn't right for about 75 percent of it. Although the Bills need him to contribute everywhere, Benjamin needs to emerge as the red zone maven he appeared to be after his 2014 rookie campaign. He should exceed my target projection if he can stay healthy for 16 games, but durability has not been a strong suit for him over his last three pro seasons. Jones entered the league last year as one of the most sure-handed receivers in the country out of college. His 36.5 percent catch rate as a rookie suggests the game was too big for him in his first season. Much as was the case was early last year, the absence of playmakers around Clay bodes well for him to lead the team in targets. Clay changed his diet in the offseason in his latest effort to do what he can to stay healthy for an entire season.

Cincinnati

 Cincinnati Bengals Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
564 429 556 43.2% 56.8%
QB Andy Dalton 558 44 0 10.3% 0.0%
QB Matt Barkley 6 3 0 0.7% 0.0%
RB Joe Mixon 0 253 50 59.0% 9.0%
RB Giovani Bernard 0 93 58 21.7% 10.4%
RB Mark Walton 0 32 8 7.5% 1.4%
RB Brian Hill 0 0 3 0.0% 0.5%
RB Ryan Hewitt 0 0 2 0.0% 0.4%
WR A.J. Green 0 0 138 0.0% 24.8%
WR John Ross 0 4 66 0.9% 11.9%
WR Brandon LaFell 0 0 70 0.0% 12.6%
WR Tyler Boyd 0 0 35 0.0% 6.3%
WR Josh Malone 0 0 12 0.0% 2.2%
WR Alex Erickson 0 0 12 0.0% 2.2%
TE Tyler Eifert 0 0 58 0.0% 10.4%
TE Tyler Kroft 0 0 44 0.0% 7.9%

2018 Projected Total Offensive Plays: 993
2017 Total: 887

By now, Dalton has pretty much shown us his ceiling and his floor. It should be noted he was just outside of QB1 range from Week 10 to Week 17 and posted a 25:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio after OC Bill Lazor took over play-calling duties from Ken Zampese two games into the season, suggesting he really clicked with his new play-caller despite terrible offensive line play. The Bengals appear ready to make Mixon a true featured back after four straight seasons of giving two backs a fairly large slice of the backfield pie. After drawing David Johnson comps during the draft process in 2017, it's about time to see if a back who has never handled more than 226 carries in a season (including high school) can do so at the highest level.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Dalton's last two poor seasons (2014 and 2016) coincided with Green missing at least four games both years. Last season was a down year by Green's standards, although he too was a better fantasy performer under Lazor. Consistency has been a bit of an issue with him in recent years, but few players are better bets to finish inside the top 12 at their position every season. It's anyone's guess as to whether or not the Bengals will cycle through Ross, LaFell and maybe even Boyd opposite Green, but common sense and draft capital suggest Cincinnati will roll with Ross if a tiebreaker is needed. My low target projection for him reflects his injury history and not a lack of confidence in his abilities. Eifert appears ready for training camp, but expect the Bengals to play it safe with their injury-prone tight end; his history suggests he'll miss at least half of the season. Much like Vernon Davis in Washington behind injury-prone Jordan Reed, Kroft is worth stashing in deeper leagues to protect against another long absence from Eifert. Each of Lazor's three offenses (Miami in 2014 and 2015, Cincinnati in 2017) featured a tight end with at least a 12 percent target share.

Cleveland

 Cleveland Browns Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
542 455 537 45.6% 54.4%
QB Tyrod Taylor 431 69 0 15.2% 0.0%
QB Baker Mayfield 111 9 0 2.0% 0.0%
RB Carlos Hyde 0 141 33 31.0% 6.1%
RB Duke Johnson 0 66 74 14.5% 13.8%
RB Nick Chubb 0 164 15 36.0% 2.8%
RB Matt Dayes 0 0 2 0.0% 0.4%
RB Dan Vitale 0 0 5 0.0% 0.9%
WR Josh Gordon 0 0 114 0.0% 21.2%
WR Jarvis Landry 0 5 121 1.1% 22.5%
WR Corey Coleman 0 0 44 0.0% 8.2%
WR Antonio Callaway 0 1 16 0.2% 3.0%
WR Rashard Higgins 0 0 11 0.0% 2.0%
TE David Njoku 0 0 77 0.0% 14.3%
TE Darren Fells 0 0 7 0.0% 1.3%
TE Seth Devalve 0 0 18 0.0% 3.4%

2018 Projected Total Offensive Plays: 997
2017 Total: 958

Mayfield would not have been my choice at No. 1 in April, but at least the Browns are making a respectable effort to find themselves a long-term quarterback. Armed with perhaps his best supporting cast and offensive coordinator since becoming a regular starter with Buffalo back in 2015, Taylor's running ability and reluctance to throw interceptions makes him a dark-horse QB1 option in fantasy - much like he was as a Bill when given a chance. At the very least, he should serve as a great role model for Mayfield and be a solid "bridge" quarterback. After running the ball 384 times in 2017, expect Cleveland to be among the most run-heavy offenses this year. Taylor will obviously help boost that number, but a team doesn't pony up over $9 million per year for two running backs and draft a third runner in the second round unless it wants to kick up some dust. Chubb is the best pure runner of the group, while Johnson is the most gifted in the passing game. Even if the rookie proves he is the best early-down back of the bunch, money dictates all three will get playing time. It's fair to wonder if the Browns won't try to utilize a New Orleans-like approach going back to the days of Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles.

Cleveland's defense figures to be strong enough this season to keep games close, so the volume one might expect from a team with Gordon and Landry as its starting receivers may end up disappointing. If Gordon is all the way back, Landry should still easily top 100 targets, but he may fall well short of the 153 he's averaged over the past three seasons. New OC Todd Haley desperately wanted a seam-stretching tight end throughout his tenure in Pittsburgh and now he has one in Cleveland. Even with the talent the Browns boast at receiver, it would be a small upset if Njoku can't hit my target projection and/or finish as a top-15 fantasy tight end.

Denver

 Denver Broncos Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
563 427 557 43.1% 56.9%
QB Case Keenum 515 45 0 10.5% 0.0%
QB Paxton Lynch 15 4 0 0.9% 0.0%
QB Chad Kelly 33 3 0 0.7% 0.0%
RB Royce Freeman 0 165 37 38.6% 6.6%
RB Devontae Booker 0 141 51 33.0% 9.2%
RB De'Angelo Henderson 0 55 12 12.9% 2.2%
RB David Williams 0 6 5 1.4% 0.9%
RB Andy Janovich 0 5 8 1.2% 1.4%
WR Demaryius Thomas 0 0 136 0.0% 24.4%
WR Emmanuel Sanders 0 1 128 0.2% 23.0%
WR Courtland Sutton 0 0 48 0.0% 8.6%
WR DaeSean Hamilton 0 0 38 0.0% 6.8%
WR Carlos Henderson 0 2 17 0.5% 3.1%
TE Jeff Heuerman 0 0 21 0.0% 3.8%
TE Jake Butt 0 0 42 0.0% 7.5%
TE Troy Fumagalli 0 0 14 0.0% 2.5%

2018 Projected Total Offensive Plays: 990
2017 Total: 1,023

Regardless of whether Keenum's emergence was the latest journeyman quarterback success story for Pat Shurmur or not, there's little question Keenum should bring stability to a position that hasn't it since 2014. Despite the latest reports Booker is the favorite to start Week 1, HC Vance Joseph has already stated he expects two and possibly three running backs to remain involved all season long. I wouldn't be surprised if seventh-round pick Williams or UDFA Philip Lindsay breaks into to the rotation at some point, although Freeman is the best back of the bunch if he has fully healed from his 2016 knee injury.

Thomas has been a volume-dependent receiver for quite some time, and his yards per reception has dropped in four straight seasons. Was it the quarterback play or has his play been slowly deteriorating the whole time? With Sanders ticketed for more work in the slot following the second-round selection of Courtland Sutton, this might be the year Sanders overtakes Thomas for fantasy purposes. Butt should be considered the favorite at tight end in Denver, but Heuerman is running with the first team for now. This is very much a fluid situation, and I can easily see significantly increasing Butt's projected targets as we move along.

Houston

 Houston Texans Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
542 472 537 46.5% 53.5%
QB Deshaun Watson 532 83 0 17.6% 0.0%
QB Brandon Weeden 7 3 0 0.6% 0.0%
QB Joe Webb 3 2 0 0.4% 0.0%
RB Lamar Miller 0 212 45 44.9% 8.4%
RB D'Onta Foreman 0 118 19 25.0% 3.5%
RB Alfred Blue 0 34 6 7.2% 1.1%
RB Tyler Ervin 0 15 37 3.2% 6.9%
WR DeAndre Hopkins 0 0 169 0.0% 31.5%
WR Will Fuller 0 2 78 0.4% 14.5%
WR Keke Coutee 0 1 52 0.2% 9.7%
WR Braxton Miller 0 2 29 0.4% 5.4%
WR Bruce Ellington 0 0 24 0.0% 4.5%
TE Ryan Griffin 0 0 44 0.0% 8.2%
TE Stephen Anderson 0 0 28 0.0% 5.2%
TE Jordan Akins 0 0 6 0.0% 1.1%

2018 Projected Total Offensive Plays: 1,014
2017 Total: 973

HC Bill O'Brien has believed in a strong rushing attack for as long as he's been a head coach, going back to his days at Penn State. Watson's emergence doesn't figure to change that, and it's quite likely O'Brien will look to Seattle's offense - in Russell Wilson's early years - as a model for what he wants his offense to look like moving forward. Foreman's long road to recovery from his Achilles' injury figures to lock Miller into another 200-plus carry season, although the only way my projection for both players happens is if Foreman begins the season on the PUP list - which is what I expect at the moment.

Hopkins has established himself as one of the best receivers in the league after enjoying the kind of season he did in 2017 despite playing with four different quarterbacks. Expecting him to repeat his 96-catch, 1,378-yard, 13-touchdown campaign might be a bit much though. Unfortunately, that is how he is being drafted in fantasy leagues right now. Weeden may be an even worse option at quarterback than anyone Houston threw out on the field last year after Watson got hurt, plus we probably have to expect better injury luck for Fuller and a bigger role for Coutee than any of O'Brien's other recent slot receivers have seen. Houston has a lot of talent at tight end, but none of the options are particularly refined. The Texans have already stated they expect to use a committee at the position anyway.

Indianapolis

Indianapolis Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
616 403 610 39.5% 60.5%
QB Andrew Luck 579 46 0 11.4% 0.0%
QB Jacoby Brissett 37 5 0 1.2% 0.0%
RB Marlon Mack 0 171 29 42.4% 4.8%
RB Jordan Wilkins 0 104 18 25.8% 3.0%
RB Nyheim Hines 0 48 63 11.9% 10.3%
RB Robert Turbin 0 24 4 6.0% 0.7%
RB Christine Michael 0 5 2 1.2% 0.3%
WR T.Y. Hilton 0 0 129 0.0% 21.1%
WR Chester Rogers 0 0 81 0.0% 13.3%
WR Ryan Grant 0 0 62 0.0% 10.2%
WR Deon Cain 0 0 37 0.0% 6.1%
WR Daurice Fountain 0 0 15 0.0% 2.5%
TE Jack Doyle 0 0 80 0.0% 13.1%
TE Eric Ebron 0 0 76 0.0% 12.5%
TE Erik Swoope 0 0 14 0.0% 2.3%

2018 Projected Total Offensive Plays: 1,019
2017 Total: 938

As it has for most of his career, the offense will continue to revolve around Luck and go as far as he can take it. I'll be the first to admit 575 pass attempts and 46 carries is an optimistic projection for a player who hasn't proven he can take a hit or fall on his surgically repaired shoulder without incident yet, but the difference between this season and last season is Luck's confidence in the recovery. He will be a frequent target of mine after the top three to five quarterbacks come off the board in drafts. The running game should be vastly improved because of the resources the Colts have poured into their offensive line in recent years, but their defense might be a year away from supporting an offense that can run the ball 450 times. Given HC Frank Reich's history of committee backfields, Mack is going to need to be awfully impressive in training camp and during the preseason to surpass my projections for him. Even if he does that, Indianapolis drafted Hines with the hope he could be what Darren Sproles was for Reich and Eagles HC Doug Pederson in Philadelphia in 2016.

Hilton was about as easy of a bust candidate as there was in 2017 once it became clear Luck's return was going to be delayed. This year, he is about as obvious of a rebound candidate as there is so long as Luck stays healthy. His projected target total is conservative for that reason. Grant may be the public's favorite for No. 2 duties since he got $5 million in free agency, but Rogers is a favorite of GM Chris Ballard. A lingering hamstring injury kept Rogers from making much of an impact in 2017, but this is the second straight offseason in which he has impressed the coaches and front office. He needs to be getting drafted more often in fantasy. While the arrival of Ebron figures to create panic for potential owners of Doyle, the latter is a player everyone seems to love in Indianapolis - including Luck. Reich figures to use plenty of two-tight sets moving forward, and there should be enough for both players to be worth using more often than not in fantasy.

Jacksonville

 Jacksonville Jaguars Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
545 501 543 47.9% 52.1%
QB Blake Bortles 541 55 0 11.0% 0.0%
QB Cody Kessler 4 2 0 0.4% 0.0%
RB Leonard Fournette 0 317 54 63.3% 9.9%
RB T.J. Yeldon 0 77 48 15.4% 8.8%
RB Corey Grant 0 43 21 8.6% 3.9%
RB Brandon Wilds 0 2 3 0.4% 0.6%
RB Tommy Bohanon 0 5 9 1.0% 1.7%
WR Marqise Lee 0 0 90 0.0% 16.6%
WR Donte Moncrief 0 0 76 0.0% 14.0%
WR Keelan Cole 0 0 72 0.0% 13.3%
WR Dede Westbrook 0 0 70 0.0% 12.9%
WR Rashad Greene 0 0 9 0.0% 1.7%
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins 0 0 71 0.0% 13.1%
TE Niles Paul 0 0 16 0.0% 2.9%
TE James O'Shaughnessy 0 0 4 0.0% 0.7%

2018 Projected Total Offensive Plays: 1,046
2017 Total: 1,054

The Jaguars appeared to become more of a passing offense late in the season as Bortles began to earn more trust, but it's still going to be hard to buy into the possibility he is anything more than an athletic quarterback with erratic decision-making skills being supported by a physical running game and top-notch defense. Nevertheless, the coaching staff feels comfortable enough with him to increase his responsibilities and aggressiveness, which can only help remain firmly on the QB2 radar. Fournette is reportedly at 223 pounds - his lowest weight since high school - and down from 228 last season. With Chris Ivory no longer around to take some of his "big-back carries," Fournette is primed for 300-plus rushing attempts if he can avoid the ankle problems that have slowed him in each of his last two years. A lean-and-mean Fournette along with an improved offensive line and all of the volume a fantasy owner could ask for makes the No. 4 overall pick in 2017 a prime candidate to join the elite fantasy players at his position this season.

It remains to be seen whether or not Jacksonville made the right decision in keeping Lee at about $4.5 million per year less than Allen Robinson signed for in Chicago. As it stands right now, the Jaguars have four complementary receivers, all of whom can probably enjoy one or two fantasy WR1 days during the course of the season. Moncrief (one-year deal worth $9.6 million) and Lee (four-year deal that averages $9.5 million per season) are getting paid like low-end WR1s, but both could easily get outperformed by Cole and Westbrook in any week and perhaps over the course of the season. The one pass-catcher who should be a regular fantasy starter is Seferian-Jenkins. Bortles reportedly forged an instant connection with his new tight end, so it would be a minor upset if he doesn't at least double his three touchdowns with the Jets in 2017.

Kansas City

 Kansas City Chiefs Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
593 405 589 40.6% 59.4%
QB Patrick Mahomes 588 47 0 11.6% 0.0%
QB Chad Henne 5 3 0 0.7% 0.0%
RB Kareem Hunt 0 262 79 64.7% 13.4%
RB Spencer Ware 0 55 12 13.6% 2.0%
RB Charcandrick West 0 14 32 3.5% 5.4%
RB Damien Williams 0 6 10 1.5% 1.7%
WR Tyreek Hill 0 16 104 4.0% 17.7%
WR Sammy Watkins 0 0 116 0.0% 19.7%
WR Chris Conley 0 0 38 0.0% 6.5%
WR Demarcus Robinson 0 0 15 0.0% 2.5%
WR De'Anthony Thomas 0 1 18 0.2% 3.1%
TE Travis Kelce 0 1 128 0.2% 21.7%
TE Demetrius Harris 0 0 27 0.0% 4.6%
TE Tim Wright 0 0 10 0.0% 1.7%

2018 Projected Total Offensive Plays: 998
2017 Total: 948

During his early days as the head coach with the Eagles, HC Andy Reid took a highly athletic, rocket-armed quarterback from an option-based college offense named Donovan McNabb and asked him to throw short. Mahomes wasn't an option quarterback at Texas Tech, but most of the rest applies. The main difference? Hill, Watkins and Kelce are significantly more talented than anybody Reid had in Philadelphia (Terrell Owens being an obvious exception). Hill, Watkins and Kelce all do their best work downfield. If Reid caters to his talent, there is the potential for this group to put up some freaky fantasy numbers. The Chiefs' pursuit of Damien Williams and Kerwynn Williams in free agency suggests there is some doubt Ware will be ready for the season. His healthy return is perhaps the only thing - outside of Reid's frustrating tendency to forget about the running game in three or four games per season - keeping Hunt from potentially improving on his rookie season. Reid is mentioned he would like to see Hunt more involved in the passing game this season, further solidifying what should be another banner season from a Reid running back.

Most owners tend to believe a new quarterback will lean on the team's established No. 1 receiver because that is what the old quarterback did. (While it's not necessarily poor logic, quarterbacks will tend to favor whichever receiver they have worked with the most - something that's not always easy to tell based on media reports. If we follow the money once again, Kansas City didn't decide to pay Watkins an average of $16 million per year to be Robin to Hill's Batman. At the bare minimum, he should be Hill's fantasy equal. (Early reports make it sound as if Mahomes is already leaning toward Watkins as his favorite receiver.) While it is remotely possible Kelce's looks could take a hit with another cook in the kitchen, it is unlikely since Kelce has hovered around a 22 to 23 percent target share in each of the last three seasons.

Los Angeles Chargers

 Los Angeles Chargers Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
553 439 549 44.3% 55.7%
QB Philip Rivers 553 17 0 3.9% 0.0%
QB Geno Smith 0 2 0 0.5% 0.0%
RB Melvin Gordon 0 293 74 66.7% 13.5%
RB Austin Ekeler 0 48 47 10.9% 8.6%
RB Justin Jackson 0 70 14 15.9% 2.6%
WR Keenan Allen 0 1 149 0.2% 27.1%
WR Tyrell Williams 0 0 77 0.0% 14.0%
WR Mike Williams 0 0 64 0.0% 11.7%
WR Travis Benjamin 0 8 51 1.8% 9.3%
WR Artavis Scott 0 0 9 0.0% 1.6%
TE Virgil Green 0 0 34 0.0% 6.2%
TE Braedon Bowman 0 0 24 0.0% 4.4%
TE Sean Culkin 0 0 6 0.0% 1.1%

2018 Projected Total Offensive Plays: 992
2017 Total: 1,002

Rivers' ability to fly under the radar in fantasy year after year is utterly amazing; he has finished as a QB1 in five straight seasons, yet he is usually available for owners as a QB2. His ability to consistently overcome poor offensive line play is remarkable, and that's before we take into account the fact he hasn't missed a game since becoming a full-time starter in 2006. Last season's 28 touchdown passes were his fewest in five seasons, but he countered that with his lowest interception total (10) since 2009. Gordon has supposedly earned a reputation as a compiler who is good enough to keep his job but not good enough to put his stamp on games consistently. If that is the case, why is he ranked second in the NFL with 116 forced missed tackles since entering the league in 2015? Still think he's a compiler? I challenge you to name more than one offensive lineman he's played with in multiple seasons during his pro career. Most people can't without doing an online search, and it's a key reason why he has yet to top four yards per carry in a season. The Chargers should have more than a few leads to protect this season, so I suspect this will be the third time in as many years Gordon will see more carries than he did the previous season. Should anything happen to him over the course of the season, Jackson should be able to fill in more than adequately. As such, Jackson is well worth adding as a handcuff.

Hunter Henry's unfortunate ACL injury paves the way for Allen to see more than the 159 targets he saw a year ago. I chose to go lower with him primarily because I expect the Chargers to rely more heavily on their defense and running game because they should be able to do just that. Williams and Williams - and to a lesser extent Benjamin - should all be viable in fantasy because they aren't going to need a lot of targets when so many of their catches will be downfield. They figure to be inconsistent for as long as Allen stays healthy, but they'll likely hit big when Rivers gives them more than a handful of targets. Green is viewed as a potential sleeper pick in part because owners see opportunity in an offense that likely made Antonio Gates a future Hall of Famer and allowed Henry to thrive as a rookie two seasons ago. The sad part is Green is entering his eighth season as a pro and played in a historically good offense a few years ago but has never attracted more than 37 targets. Bowman has a better shot to be a regular fantasy contributor in my opinion.

Miami

 Miami Dolphins Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
584 397 578 40.5% 59.5%
QB Ryan Tannehill 511 24 0 6.0% 0.0%
QB Brock Osweiler 46 2 0 0.5% 0.0%
QB David Fales 27 3 0 0.8% 0.0%
RB Kenyan Drake 0 173 55 43.6% 9.5%
RB Frank Gore 0 144 36 36.3% 6.2%
RB Kalen Ballage 0 44 42 11.1% 7.3%
WR DeVante Parker 0 0 116 0.0% 20.1%
WR Kenny Stills 0 0 88 0.0% 15.2%
WR Danny Amendola 0 0 67 0.0% 11.6%
WR Albert Wilson 0 7 73 1.8% 12.6%
WR Jakeem Grant 0 0 18 0.0% 3.1%
TE Mike Gesicki 0 0 70 0.0% 12.1%
TE MarQueis Gray 0 0 5 0.0% 0.9%
TE A.J. Derby 0 0 8 0.0% 1.4%

2018 Projected Total Offensive Plays: 981
2017 Total: 962

Tannehill may not ever become anything special as an NFL quarterback, but he deserves a bit more respect than he gets. His offensive lines have been consistently poor throughout his NFL career, while Parker's injury woes have robbed him of the opportunity to play with a potentially very good receiver. Tannehill was on pace to enjoy a career year in 2016 before injuring his ACL, and the decision to rehab it last offseason cost him 2017 when he tore it in training camp. HC Adam Gase has worked marvels with similarly talented quarterbacks in the past, and it should come as no surprise if Tannehill picks up where he left off in 2016 if he can stay on the field. Owners were understandably seduced by Drake's incredible finish to last season, but he has never been a featured back in college or the pros in large part because he couldn't hold up physically. He should be considered the favorite to lead the Dolphins in carries this season because he is perhaps the best offensive weapon they have, but I cannot imagine a scenario in which Gore isn't stealing substantial playing time. Few run inside or pick up the blitz better than Gore - two areas that tend to catch the eyes of coaches.

Miami has a deeper receiving corps than at any time in recent memory. However, the only way that's going to make a difference is if Parker can avoid injury long enough to fulfill his potential and Amendola can be a serviceable replacement for Jarvis Landry for at least 10 games. Wilson's projection is an acknowledgment both of those occurrences are unlikely to happen. Either way, Wilson is probably going to have a bigger role than most expect and a good bet to beat my projection. Gesicki is the most likely tight end from the 2018 draft class to be this year's Evan Engram. There just aren't a lot of people in the world who check in at 6-6 and 250 pounds with a vertical jump of over 40 inches and possess soft hands. Gesicki's floor should what Julius Thomas did in 14 games last year: 41 catches on 62 targets. His upside? Something approaching what Engram did with the Giants.

New England

 New England Patrtiots Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
612 434 610 41.5% 58.5%
QB Tom Brady 594 31 0 7.1% 0.0%
QB Brian Hoyer 18 5 0 1.2% 0.0%
RB Sony Michel 0 175 34 40.3% 5.6%
RB Rex Burkhead 0 137 41 31.6% 6.7%
RB James White 0 36 68 8.3% 11.1%
RB Mike Gillislee 0 32 2 7.4% 0.3%
RB James Develin 0 1 9 0.2% 1.5%
WR Chris Hogan 0 2 95 0.5% 15.6%
WR Julian Edelman 0 6 112 1.4% 18.4%
WR Jordan Matthews 0 0 42 0.0% 6.9%
WR Kenny Britt 0 0 58 0.0% 9.5%
WR Cordarrelle Patterson 0 9 10 2.1% 1.6%
TE Rob Gronkowski 0 0 112 0.0% 18.4%
TE Dwayne Allen 0 0 18 0.0% 3.0%
TE Jacob Hollister 0 0 9 0.0% 1.5%

2018 Projected Total Offensive Plays: 1,046
2017 Total: 1,035

Brady has attempted more than 600 passes only once the last four seasons, but this year could be an exception considering his personnel. Each of the Patriots' top three backs is above-average in the passing game, and the offensive line - even one led by the venerable OL coach Dante Scarnecchia - may have trouble in the early going getting used to each other, making the conditions more favorable for a quick-hitting, short-passing game. The backfield is seemingly a puzzle to be figured out every year, but there's very little in HC Bill Belichick's (or OC Josh McDaniels') recent history to suggest either one wants to feature Michel in any way, shape or form. New England re-signed Burkhead to a three-year contract in March, and he appears to be the favorite for goal-line work. As usual, White figures to see the bulk of the work in passing situations. Michel should lead the team in touches when all is said and done, but he'll need to avoid the fumbles that plagued him in college to do so.

Hogan stands a great chance of being a fantasy WR1 over the first four weeks of 2018 as the only proven receiver Brady has at his disposal while Edelman serves his suspension. While it's never just as easy as saying he'll inherit the 19.5 percent target share Brandin Cooks leaves behind, it's a reasonable expectation should Matthews prove he can't win on the outside consistently once Edelman returns. Edelman has pretty much been a lock for about 10 targets per game since he first broke through in 2013. Gronkowski should be considered the heavy favorite to lead the team in targets considering he'll have a four-game head start on Edelman, and there's no reason to believe his opportunities near the goal line are going to drop anytime soon.

New York Jets

 New York Jets Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
542 421 535 43.7% 56.3%
QB Josh McCown 141 19 0 4.5% 0.0%
QB Sam Darnold 376 23 0 5.5% 0.0%
QB Teddy Bridgewater 25 0 0 0.0% 0.0%
RB Isaiah Crowell 0 186 25 44.2% 4.7%
RB Bilal Powell 0 105 46 24.9% 8.6%
RB Elijah McGuire 0 86 41 20.4% 7.7%
RB Trenton Cannon 0 2 4 0.5% 0.7%
WR Robby Anderson 0 0 121 0.0% 22.6%
WR Quincy Enunwa 0 0 82 0.0% 15.3%
WR Jermaine Kearse 0 0 63 0.0% 11.8%
WR Terrelle Pryor 0 0 58 0.0% 10.8%
WR Chad Hansen 0 0 14 0.0% 2.6%
TE Chris Herndon 0 0 38 0.0% 7.1%
TE Jordan Leggett 0 0 26 0.0% 4.9%
TE Clive Walford 0 0 17 0.0% 3.2%

2018 Projected Total Offensive Plays: 963
2017 Total: 937

While offseason reports make it sound as if Darnold could be the Week 1 starter, the Jets would be doing themselves a favor by making sure the rookie is ready and not using an artificial deadline such as the season opener to usher him into the lineup. I don't think it's reasonable to suggest he'll stand on the sidelines for more than a month, and I don't think the Jets will wait until Weeks 9 and 10 (perhaps the softest two-game stretch in their schedule) to make the change from McCown. Crowell figures to be the clear early-down workhorse, but it remains to be seen if New York's defense will be good enough to allow him to build up volume. To hear the coaches tell it, McGuire is the new third-down back at the very least … and perhaps more. How Powell - arguably the team's best all-around back - is seemingly getting pushed out of the rotation is beyond me.

The Jets have good depth at receiver, but the team is clearly leaning towards making Anderson its top option. If he can stay out of trouble off the field, New York may be poised to make him a star. Three-wide sets should be the base formation this season given the lack of experience at tight end, and Enunwa - assuming he doesn't have a setback with his neck - may actually end up serving as the team's de facto tight end given his size and ability to work the middle of the field. Enunwa's return figures to hurt Kearse the most, although Pryor can easily overtake Kearse if he proves 2017 was just an injury nightmare in Washington. If that ends up being the case and Pryor rediscovers his 2016 form, Anderson's projected target total will be too high. Herndon is clearly the most talented tight end of the group, but the Jets seem convinced they'll be using a committee at the position.

Oakland

 Oakland Raiders Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
540 436 535 44.7% 55.3%
QB Derek Carr 532 26 0 6.0% 0.0%
QB EJ Manuel 8 4 0 0.9% 0.0%
RB Marshawn Lynch 0 168 37 38.5% 6.9%
RB Doug Martin 0 122 15 28.0% 2.8%
RB DeAndre Washington 0 48 36 11.0% 6.7%
RB Jalen Richard 0 62 45 14.2% 8.4%
RB Keith Smith 0 3 6 0.7% 1.1%
WR Amari Cooper 0 0 124 0.0% 23.2%
WR Jordy Nelson 0 0 86 0.0% 16.1%
WR Martavis Bryant 0 0 46 0.0% 8.6%
WR Ryan Switzer 0 3 49 0.7% 9.2%
WR Marcell Ateman 0 0 17 0.0% 3.2%
TE Jared Cook 0 0 66 0.0% 12.3%
TE Lee Smith 0 0 3 0.0% 0.6%
TE Derek Carrier 0 0 5 0.0% 0.9%

2018 Projected Total Offensive Plays: 976
2017 Total: 928

HC Jon Gruden earned a reputation for driving quarterbacks crazy during the offseason and even the practice week in his first stint as a head coach, but he usually got the results he desired. Carr may not have another season like he did in 2016 (28 touchdowns, six interceptions), but he's better than what he showed last year. (His Week 4 back injury played a huge role in that.) Gruden rolled some eyes by saying he was trying to throw the game back to 1998 shortly after his hire, but all that likely means is Oakland will try to restore the run-pass balance it enjoyed on offense in 2016. With four capable backs on the roster and not much differentiation among the group (two early-down pounders, two scatbacks), it's going to be hard to have much faith in any of them on draft day. If the Raiders end up cutting either Washington or Richard - a distinct possibility since most teams don't like carrying four running backs and a fullback - the winner could be a serviceable flex option in fantasy.

For the first time since Cooper arrived in Oakland in 2015, the team has no reason not to make him the focal point of its passing attack. It's not as if Cooper hasn't had opportunities before - he's never had a target share lower than 21.6 percent - but a reliance on Michael Crabtree near the end zone and in other clutch situations has generally led to former No. 4 overall pick to disappoint at the end of each year. Barring another injury-plagued season, he will have no such excuses in 2018. Nelson is almost impossible to project; two years ago, he was a 97-catch, 152-target, 14-touchdown receiver who could not be guarded. Last year, he was an aging player tagged as a product of Aaron Rodgers' greatness who was exposed once Brett Hundley was forced to play. Is there any chance he becomes the new Crabtree and steals Cooper's thunder? Sure. However, it seems unlikely. If Gruden did anything well in his first stint on the sidelines, it was the ability to design plays to get his best players the ball. Gruden talked up Cook this spring, but the latter has long been a seam-stretching tight end who isn't a factor in the red zone and struggles with consistency. The odds are long Gruden will be the one to change that reputation.

Pittsburgh

 Pittsburgh Steelers Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
601 416 596 40.9% 59.1%
QB Ben Roethlisberger 578 0 0 0.0% 0.0%
QB Landry Jones 23 0 0 0.0% 0.0%
RB Le'Veon Bell 0 258 86 62.0% 14.4%
RB James Conner 0 101 22 24.3% 3.7%
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint 0 29 2 7.0% 0.3%
RB Stevan Ridley 0 8 1 1.9% 0.2%
RB Jaylen Samuels 0 14 26 3.4% 4.4%
WR Antonio Brown 0 0 163 0.0% 27.3%
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster 0 0 104 0.0% 17.4%
WR James Washington 0 4 73 1.0% 12.2%
WR Justin Hunter 0 0 14 0.0% 2.3%
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey 0 2 6 0.5% 1.0%
TE Vance McDonald 0 0 65 0.0% 10.9%
TE Jesse James 0 0 29 0.0% 4.9%
TE Xavier Grimble 0 0 5 0.0% 0.8%

2018 Projected Total Offensive Plays: 1,017
2017 Total: 1,027

It's unclear what the move from former OC Todd Haley to first-time play-caller Randy Fichtner was supposed to accomplish other than appease Roethlisberger, but a good bet is Pittsburgh will throw more often since Fichtner has been his position coach since 2010. Regarding Bell this season, I've said it before and I'll say it again: he is coming off his most inefficient season as a rusher in four years and did not break a run longer than 27 yards. Since 2000, in the 16 instances in which a back saw such 400-plus touches one year and played the next, the average drop-off has been about 110 touches, 800 total yards and 7.5 touchdowns. I don't recall any of the other backs skipping one - much less two straight - preseasons. Perhaps less "football work" in the spring and summer ends up being the way to combat such heavy workloads from running backs, but there is much more history to suggest Bell will hold up all season.

There's no reason to project Brown for fewer than 10 targets per game until he gives us reason to do so, pure and simple. The Smith-Schuster hype train has been running hot for several months, but the easy thing to forget is that Brown missed two games and Martavis Bryant seemingly checked out around midseason. If Washington proves to be an upgrade over 2017 Bryant and someone like McDonald becomes a more important part of the offense, there may not be much room for target growth for Smith-Schuster. McDonald has never been able to prove he can stay healthy for very long, and plenty of his former fans in San Francisco would suggest catching the ball consistently has also been an issue. However, Pittsburgh is a team that has been searching for a playmaker at tight end for years, and McDonald gave it plenty of reason to believe he can be the guy to end that search with his play at the end of last season.

Tennessee

 Tennessee Titans Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
544 450 541 45.3% 54.7%
QB Marcus Mariota 527 78 1 17.3% 0.2%
QB Blaine Gabbert 17 3 0 0.7% 0.0%
RB Derrick Henry 0 218 36 48.4% 6.7%
RB Dion Lewis 0 135 67 30.0% 12.4%
RB David Fluellen 0 2 4 0.4% 0.7%
RB Akrum Wadley 0 9 8 2.0% 1.5%
WR Corey Davis 0 0 109 0.0% 20.1%
WR Rishard Matthews 0 0 87 0.0% 16.1%
WR Taywan Taylor 0 5 43 1.1% 7.9%
WR Michael Campanaro 0 0 21 0.0% 3.9%
WR Tajae Sharpe 0 0 13 0.0% 2.4%
TE Delanie Walker 0 0 101 0.0% 18.7%
TE Jonnu Smith 0 0 43 0.0% 7.9%
TE Phillip Supernaw 0 0 8 0.0% 1.5%

2018 Projected Total Offensive Plays: 994
2017 Total: 939

The 2016 season seems so long ago for Mariota, who took advantage of a soft schedule that year to overcome the same conservative offensive philosophy that seemed to doom him last season. In comes new OC Matt LaFleur, who brings with him a plethora of experience learning the game from Kyle Shanahan. Does that mean Mariota is a lock to fulfill his potential this season? Not at all. But it does seem reasonable a very talented passer with great mobility will be allowed to show off his entire athletic arsenal for the first time. Lewis had not played more than nine games in any of his three previous seasons (2012, 2015 and 2016) until last year, so the Titans will be doing themselves a favor by not keeping at or below what I have him projected for above. Conversely, Henry could handle more work, but I think it will be a balancing act for the coaching staff throughout the first half of the season.

Davis will be helped immensely by the fact he didn't have to deal with offseason surgery this spring and can participate fully in training camp in the preseason. He should be a star in this league at some point in the near future. Matthews continues to be an underappreciated asset in fantasy. For a player easily capable of 800 receiving yards and 4-5 touchdowns, he remains a great value pick at his 11th-round ADP. Walker's time as Mariota's favorite option may be coming to an end soon, but I'm going to keep projecting him for 100-plus targets until he starts showing signs of slowing down. He's been targeted at least 102 times in each of last four years.


AFC | NFC


Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”. Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.







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