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Salvatore Marcoccio III | Archive | Email
Staff Writer

Offensive Focus
Run-Pass Ratios for 2011 and the Effect on Your 2012 Draft

We’ve all heard that the NFL is now a passing league, and that run-based offenses are going the way of the phone booth and the CD player. You may be surprised though by just how far this phenomenon has gone. The chart below compares the run-to-pass ratio of all NFL teams for the 2011 season, sorted by the team’s percentage of passing plays.
 Run/ Pass Ratios - 2011
Team Rush Att. Pass Att. Sacks Allowed Total Plays Run % Pass %
Detroit 356 666 36 1058 33.65 66.35
Tampa Bay 346 588 32 966 35.82 64.18
Tennessee 376 584 24 984 38.21 61.79
New Orleans 431 662 24 1117 38.59 61.41
Washington 400 591 41 1032 38.76 61.24
Arizona 389 550 54 993 39.17 60.83
Buffalo 391 578 23 992 39.42 60.58
Green Bay 395 552 41 988 39.98 60.02
New York Giants 411 589 28 1028 39.98 60.02
Dallas 408 570 39 1017 40.12 59.88
Indianapolis 382 534 35 951 40.17 59.83
St. Louis 409 549 55 1013 40.38 59.62
New England 438 612 32 1082 40.48 59.52
Cleveland 415 570 39 1024 40.53 59.47
San Diego 436 582 30 1048 41.60 58.40
Carolina 445 519 35 1059 42.02 57.98
Atlanta 453 594 26 1073 42.22 57.78
Pittsburgh 434 539 42 1015 42.76 57.24
New York Jets 443 547 40 1030 43.01 56.99
Philadelphia 450 554 32 1036 43.44 56.56
Seattle 444 509 50 1003 44.27 55.73
Baltimore 459 544 33 1036 44.31 55.69
Minnesota 448 510 49 1007 44.49 55.51
Cincinnati 455 535 25 1015 44.83 55.17
Oakland 466 524 25 1015 45.91 54.09
Chicago 456 473 49 978 46.63 53.37
Miami 469 469 52 990 47.37 52.63
Kansas City 487 500 34 1021 47.70 52.30
Jacksonville 489 469 44 1002 48.80 51.20
San Francisco 498 451 44 993 50.15 49.85
Houston 546 467 33 1046 52.20 47.80
Denver 546 429 42 1017 53.69 46.31

Only three teams ran the ball more than they attempted to pass it last season: San Francisco, Houston and Denver. And looking ahead, San Francisco with all of their new receiving weapons and Denver with the addition of Peyton Manning (and the subtraction of Tim Tebow) should cross the 50% divide in favor of passing the ball in 2012. Nearly half the teams in the NFL dropped back to pass on at least 59% of their offensive plays. Even the self-proclaimed “ground and pound” New York Jets passed the ball 57% of the time they were on offense. And the Detroit Lions attempted passes on an incredible 66% of their offensive snaps. With the current influx of young talent at the quarterback position and the recent rule changes that favor wide receivers, don’t expect this trend to reverse anytime soon.

While some teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns will likely increase their rushing attempts next season, a good number of teams will actually widen the gap between their run and pass attempts. For instance, Cam Newton accounted for 120 of Carolina’s rushing attempts, a good portion of which came when his receivers were covered or the pocket broke down. As he matures and learns to go through progressions more adeptly and to buy time in the pocket, his pass attempts should increase. Seattle signed free-agent quarterback Matt Flynn, who should be more efficient than the strong-armed but inaccurate Tarvaris Jackson, which should in turn open up the offense more. Also, the young passers in Cincinnati, Minnesota and Jacksonville are all expected to show improvement as they learn on the job, allowing those teams to drop back to pass more.

What does all this mean to fantasy football owners? Let’s look.

  1. The bell-cow back is on the extinction list: Running back by committee is a phenomenon that’s likely here to stay (but that’s a matter for another day), so a feature back is more valuable than ever. And a feature back on a team that runs the ball more than most other teams is all the more valuable. Arian Foster, Maurice Jones-Drew, Frank Gore, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Darren McFadden, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Adrian Peterson (health permitting) and Shonn Greene are all featured in offenses that still have at least a fairly even run-to-pass ratio. While Foster, MJD, McFadden and Peterson are elite talents that should be off the board in the early rounds of the draft, marginal or declining talents that are still fed heavily such as Greene, Green-Ellis and Gore still hold great value in the middle rounds. If Rashard Mendenhall or Adrian Peterson begin the season on the PUP list, which is distinctly possible, Isaac Redman and Toby Gerhart are sneaky picks that could pay off nicely during the early bye weeks because they play for teams that have shown a propensity to run the ball more than most others.

  2. Waiting on a QB after the elite are off the board is a good idea: It certainly is not a bad idea to grab one of the truly elite QBs like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford or Cam Newton in the early rounds, as they are capable of monster weeks that will help win your matchups. However, if you cannot land one of them, it would not be a bad strategy to be the last team in your league to draft a starter while stockpiling at other positions. With the proliferation of passing in the league, there will likely be many options that can put up similar numbers by season’s end. These include Michael Vick, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers. All are likely candidates to finish with well over 4,000 yards and between 25 and 32 touchdowns if they stay healthy. On top of that, Carson Palmer (with a full offseason and dynamic talent surrounding him), Jay Cutler (reunited with Brandon Marshall), and even rookies Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck could be capable of joining the 4000-yard club if things break right. It’s a golden age of quarterbacking in the NFL right now, but even teams with below-average quarterbacks, such as Arizona, Washington and Tampa Bay, put the ball in the air for more than 60% of their offensive snaps in 2011, so a decent spot starter can always be found on the waiver wire in a pinch.

  3. Tight end mismatches wreaked havoc on pass defenses last season: The new breed of tight end is much faster and more athletic than the maulers of the past and cannot be covered by linebackers anymore, yet he still possesses enough of a size and strength advantage to dominate defensive backs and safeties. Based on their putting up numbers equivalent to or better than even the elite wide receivers, TEs like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham will be drafted as early as the back half of the first round in many leagues this summer. The second tier of this new breed—Aaron Hernandez, Jermichael Finley and Vernon Davis—will not be very far behind and could all be gone by the end of Round 5. TE used to be a forgotten position in the fantasy football community, outside of a few top-level guys, to the point that many leagues combined the TE and WR positions just to spare teams the indignity of having to waste a pick on a player that may catch 30 balls and score once or twice during the entire season. Now with half the league putting the ball up 60% of the time, the position is deeper and more useful than ever. Also remember come draft day that the position is very deep, as I haven’t even mentioned veteran producers like Antonio Gates and Jason Witten yet, and it’s no longer inconceivable to fill your flex spot with a second TE. Therefore don’t be afraid to have two TEs on your roster within the first eight rounds, if your league allows a flex position.

  4. It goes without saying that the WR position is as deep as ever, also…but I’ll say it anyway: A good number of NFL teams are using three-wide-receiver sets as a base offense in this new era. As a result, the number of “stud” WRs seems to grow each season, while the group of useful WRs expands even more. With the emphasis on the run all but disappearing, the fullback has become obsolete in many of the offenses around the league, which allows three or four wide receivers on the field at once. And much like the new breed of tight ends, modern wide receivers are becoming almost un-coverable. Defensive backs have been unable to keep up with the unprecedented size, speed and athleticism possessed by the young wide receivers coming into the league. The average size of an NFL defensive back is 5’11” and 200 lbs., while Calvin Johnson is 6’5” and 240 pounds yet faster than most of the guys assigned to cover him.

The new-look NFL has changed the dynamic of fantasy draft day for the better. No longer are the first three rounds dominated by the RB position, as those that miss out on a top-tier RB can now turn to one of the elite QBs, WRs or even TEs to help them gain an advantage over the competition. Savvy owners can choose from many viable approaches to dominate their drafts. One can take advantage of the depth at WR, QB and TE in the middle rounds while still employing the “stud RB” strategy early, or one can take a shotgun approach on RB depth by loading up on the position in the middle rounds and hoping a few pan out to compliment the strong WRs, QBs and TEs they drafted in the early rounds. There is now more flexibility than ever, so don’t panic if there is an early run on RB or WR—take what is given and you’ll still be able to fill out a roster nicely in the later rounds.