Fantasy Football Today - fantasy football rankings, cheatsheets, and information
A Fantasy Football Community!

 Log In  | Sign Up  |  Contact      

Workload Projections: AFC & NFC West

Preseason Matchup Analysis

By Doug Orth | 8/9/20 |

DEN | KC | LV | LAC | ARI | LAR | SF | SEA

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 thoughts and analysis on some of the issues that played a factor in the way I distributed the workload for each team. Unlike past years, I'll be breaking this into four smaller, more easy-to-digest articles.

Notes: After much consternation, I decided on 15-game workload projections. Although the industry judges players and fantasy projections on year-end totals, the fantasy season ends for the overwhelming majority of owners after Week 16. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to project what teams will do (or if they even need to have certain players suit up) in Week 17 - especially in a year like 2020.

The bolded numbers near the top of the middle three columns are the 15-game totals for each team. Players who factored into the overall pass attempt-carries-targets breakdown but are not expected to receive a meaningful workload for fantasy purposes have been excluded in the interest of brevity. The bolded numbers in the last two columns reflect each team's projected run-pass ratio. Last year's average plays per game included sacks, while my projections do not - accounting for some of the gap in the play averages under each table. Players with a next to their name have some degree of injury concern.


 Denver Broncos Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
509 451 497 47.0% 53.0%
QB Drew Lock 503 44 9.8% 0.0%
RB Melvin Gordon 209 57 46.3% 11.5%
RB Phillip Lindsay 150 53 33.3% 10.7%
WR Courtland Sutton 2 113 0.4% 22.7%
WR Jerry Jeudy 2 92 0.4% 18.5%
WR KJ Hamler 4 46 0.9% 9.3%
TE Noah Fant 1 80 0.2% 16.1%

2020 Projected Average Plays per Game: 64.0
2019 Average Plays per Game: 59.6

There are a least a handful of reasons fantasy owners will choose to fade Gordon this year. Among them will be his questionable durability (he's missed at least two games in four of five pro seasons), the quality of runners behind him on the depth chart (specifically Lindsay) and an offensive line without much in the way of star power. Here are two reasons why Gordon could surprise: 1) he consistently ranks among the top in the league in broken tackles and 2) Denver is expected to use the same inside zone scheme that Gordon thrived in during his college days at Wisconsin. The fact Gordon performed as well as he did with the Chargers' running outside zone behind what was usually a below-average offensive line should speak volumes. The Broncos may not have an all-star line for him to run behind, but this year's front five looks as good on paper as anything Los Angeles put in front of him. With Denver expected to field one of the league's better defenses, the aforementioned on-the-rise offensive line and Lock still very much in the developmental stage of his career, expect the Broncos to be one of the more run-heavy offenses in the NFL - maybe with enough volume to make Gordon a consistent RB2 and Lindsay a strong flex option.

Perhaps another reason why Denver could be a run-oriented offense is the youth of its key passing-game personnel. Lock, Sutton and Fant are all in their second season, while Jeudy and Hamler are rookies who have been limited to virtual learning this spring and summer. There seems to be a lot of confidence that Fant and specifically Sutton will flourish after building some chemistry with Lock late last year, but it is noteworthy that Fant only attracted 2.8 targets per game in five contests with the young quarterback while Sutton averaged only 56 yards receiving to go along with the 55 percent catch rate in those same games. It is one reason why I initially liked Jeudy to emerge as the team's top receiving threat as a rookie, but I'll admit this offseason is going to make it extremely challenging for rookies - even polished route-runners like Jeudy - to hit the ground running in September. The safe play for fantasy purposes is to bet on Sutton's contested-catch ability and familiarity with Lock over Jeudy's superior route-running, at least for the bulk of the fantasy regular season. I do expect the rookie to be a viable fantasy WR3 by year's end, however.

Kansas City

 Kansas City Chiefs Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
541 379 538 41.2% 58.8%
QB Patrick Mahomes 541 53 14.0% 0.0%
RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire 192 77 50.7% 14.3%
RB Darwin Thompson 62 15 16.4% 2.8%
RB DeAndre Washington 58 21 15.3% 3.9%
WR Tyreek Hill 7 113 1.8% 21.0%
WR Sammy Watkins 1 72 0.3% 13.4%
WR Mecole Hardman 5 63 1.3% 11.7%
WR Demarcus Robinson 39 0.0% 7.2%
TE Travis Kelce 1 125 0.3% 23.2%

2020 Projected Average Plays per Game: 61.3
2019 Average Plays per Game: 61.0

As a collective group, Kansas City running backs have not accounted for more than 314 carries in a season since Kareem Hunt was a rookie in 2017. Maybe Edwards-Helaire shines enough in 2020 that he can bump that number up in the years to come, but the lack of an offseason will likely be too much of an obstacle for most rookies to overcome in their bid to run away with a starting job. On the plus side for the pro-CEH crowd: Damien Williams' decision to opt-out leaves DeAndre Washington, Darrel Williams and Thompson as his only competition. Any one of the three could easily emerge as the primary backup, but it's highly probable HC Andy Reid opts to split duties among them (Thompson on early downs, Washington on passing downs and Darrel Williams in short-yardage) if he needs to go more than a series without the rookie. Either way, I foresee Edwards-Helaire getting used much like Alvin Kamara (roughly 12-13 carries and about five targets per game) and everyone else battling for whatever scraps are left, highly dependent on game script.

Hill had 137 targets in his last healthy year (2018) and Kelce has averaged 143 in two full seasons with Mahomes as the unquestioned starting quarterback. Assuming they can both play all 16 games in 2020, Hill and Kelce should be on the other end of at least 45 percent of Mahomes' throws. There are two ways that number dips closer to 40: 1) Watkins avoid injury for the majority of the year again and plays like he did in the playoffs for at least half of the regular season and/or 2) Edwards-Helaire does exactly what I said above, doing his best Kamara impersonation in which he runs option routes non-stop against overmatched linebackers. The latter of the two has a decent chance of happening, and that is reflected in my projections. I get the hype for Hardman as a hedge for an injury to Hill and/or another disappearing act from Watkins, but his 10th-round ADP is exorbitant for a third receiver when a high-volume wideout like Jamison Crowder and a receiver like Michael Pittman Jr. who should dominate in the red zone is still available.

Las Vegas

 Las Vegas Raiders Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
559 410 553 42.3% 57.7%
QB Derek Carr 535 22 5.4% 0.0%
RB Josh Jacobs 260 48 63.4% 8.7%
RB Jalen Richard 48 36 11.7% 6.5%
RB Lynn Bowden Jr. 47 15 11.5% 2.7%
WR Henry Ruggs III 7 78 1.7% 14.1%
WR Tyrell Williams 45 0.0% 8.1%
WR Hunter Renfrow 94 0.0% 17.0%
WR Bryan Edwards 53 0.0% 9.6%
TE Darren Waller 98 0.0% 17.7%
TE Jason Witten 42 0.0% 7.6%

2020 Projected Average Plays per Game: 64.6
2019 Average Plays per Game: 61.8

While there may be plenty of questions about his involvement in the passing game moving forward, it is all about Jacobs in the running game. In the 13 games in which he played as a rookie - at least half with a significant shoulder injury - Jacobs handled 73.8 percent of the rushing attempts by Raiders' running backs. With Richard and Bowden projected to be his primary backups, the reliance on Jacobs to carry the load on the ground is unlikely to lessen. The Raiders believe he's going to be a star and there are metrics to back up that belief, such as an NFL-high 69 missed tackles forced on runs and 842 yards after contact (seventh in the league) - totals made all the more impressive when we consider he missed three games. Further consider Carr completed just 15 throws that traveled at least 20 yards in the air and the Raiders only had Waller to stretch the field last year. That's one reason why drafting Ruggs made sense: defenses must think twice about putting eight men in the box, which they did 20.3 percent of the time against Jacobs last year.

Carr is coming off a season in which he became only the seventh quarterback in league history to attempt at least 300 passes and complete 70 percent of them. He did it with a receiver-turned-tight end, a rookie slot receiver and virtually nothing else at wideout after Williams. The lack of a typical offseason isn't going to help Ruggs turn into the clear No. 1 option at receiver this team so desperately needs him to be any sooner, but it's important to remember that while he is scary fast, he is more than just a deep threat. OC Greg Olson recently suggested Ruggs will begin in the slot, which either bumps last year's top receiver (Renfrow) outside or to the sideline much more than expected. Such a move makes no sense if Las Vegas is trying to get its best players on the field. Even without a downfield threat to play off of last year, Renfrow turned heads over the second half of the season (74-1,008-8 full-season pace and a 77 percent catch rate over his last eight outings). While Waller still figures to be the primary weapon in the passing game in 2020, the arrival of Witten probably ruins whatever benefit he was about to derive from Ruggs' presence. His 23.8 percent target share from last season will take a sizeable hit as well.

LA Chargers

 Los Angeles Chargers Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
487 428 476 46.8% 53.2%
QB Tyrod Taylor 417 72 16.8% 0.0%
QB Justin Herbert 70 18 4.2% 0.0%
RB Austin Ekeler 170 85 39.7% 17.9%
RB Justin Jackson 71 29 16.6% 6.1%
RB Joshua Kelley 90 6 21.0% 1.3%
WR Keenan Allen 116 0.0% 24.4%
WR Mike Williams 84 0.0% 17.6%
WR K.J. Hill 3 41 0.7% 8.6%
TE Hunter Henry 75 0.0% 15.8%

2020 Projected Average Plays per Game: 61.0
2019 Average Plays per Game: 62.3

Los Angeles running backs' full-season pace projection in eight games under OC Shane Steichen last year: 384 carries for 1,738 yards and 16 touchdowns AND 150 catches on 192 targets for 1,508 yards and six TDs. Some of that extreme volume was the product of Philip Rivers not being a threat as a runner AND his willingness to check it down to the backs. The good news is Ekeler's role shouldn't change much from last year when he logged 224 touches - including 92 receptions - and set the fantasy world on fire. The bad news is how different those touches might look this year. Mobile quarterbacks like Taylor tend to tuck and run a lot more than they dump it off to the running back. In other words, while Ekeler will still be the recipient of plenty of designed dump-offs and screens, the number of his "unplanned" catches should drop considerably. Also of note: Steichen only allowed Ekeler to carry the ball more than 10 times once. Jackson or Kelley could easily emerge as an every-week flex starter given the expected volume in the running game, assuming one of them can outperform the other in camp. Good luck trying to figure out which one; the limited media availability that will be commonplace this month is unlikely to shed much light on position battles such as this one.

It's a safe bet that Chargers quarterbacks are not going to match the 597 throws they made last year, assuming the expectation they will emulate the Ravens' offense come to fruition. That means fewer targets for everybody, but Allen will remain a priority. Even when Los Angeles barely went over 500 pass attempts in 2018, the three-time Pro bowler was targeted 136 times and caught 97 passes. He's enjoyed a target share of at least 23 percent in four of the last five seasons (he only played one game in 2016). It's where the targets fall after Allen and Ekeler that should be a bit of a concern. If Taylor's history with Charles Clay in Buffalo is any indication, Henry should come reasonably close to matching last year's career-high 76 targets. With that said, he has suffered from the same kind of durability issues Clay has in his career. Those three good - if not great - short-range targets have managed to keep Williams stuck in a mostly field-stretching role early in his career, and that's not great news given Taylor's history. In three years as Buffalo's quarterback (his last time as a full-time starter), Taylor completed 33 percent of his passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air.


 Arizona Cardinals Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
549 412 537 42.9% 57.1%
QB Kyler Murray 530 85 20.6% 0.0%
RB Kenyan Drake 228 81 55.3% 15.1%
RB Chase Edmonds 72 22 17.5% 4.1%
WR DeAndre Hopkins 126 0.0% 23.5%
WR Larry Fitzgerald 91 0.0% 16.9%
WR Christian Kirk 7 89 1.7% 16.6%
TE Dan Arnold 56 0.0% 10.4%

2020 Projected Average Plays per Game: 64.1
2019 Average Plays per Game: 62.5

After talking about this backfield situation in some detail a couple of weeks ago, allow me to bring a bit more attention to some of the highlights. Two Arizona backs ran with eight men inside the box on less than 10 percent of their carries (only three other qualified backs in the league could make that claim last year). Some of that is a function of running four-wide sets 318 times in 2019 - 223 times more than the next-closest team - some of that is having a mobile threat like Murray keeping the backside pursuit at bay and some of that is HC Kliff Kingsbury giving his offense the ability to make adjustments - running against lighter boxes and passing against heavier boxes - on the fly (112 RPO plays - good for the second-highest total in the league). Touches were not a problem for Drake following his trade from Miami; it's at least somewhat notable he saw at least 22 carries in both of Arizona's wins. The Cardinals are very likely to be protecting more leads in 2020, so Drake's ceiling is extraordinarily high if Kingsbury continues to rely as heavily on a workhorse as he did last year.

It is somewhat remarkable the Cardinals only attempted 554 passes in 2019. With conditioning likely to be a problem for defenses - especially early in the season - there is a high probability many offensive coaches will subscribe to the "more is better" philosophy, which makes me believe Arizona will be one of the teams that push the pace even more. It's probably fair to ding Hopkins a bit in fantasy this year because he will be playing for a different team, but he could easily make up for what he loses in targets (150 last year) by scoring more touchdowns (seven) as the team's clear top option in the red zone. In Fitzgerald's brilliant 16-year career, he's never finished with fewer than 103 targets or 58 receptions. He could easily continue the streak in 2020; quarterbacks love the idea of knowing they can count on a catch if they throw it in the general vicinity of a receiver. Fitzgerald does that as well as any receiver in league history. This year will be the first time in three pro seasons Kirk won't be expected to emerge as the team's primary receiver by the end of the season. Much like Calvin Ridley opposite Julio Jones, it wouldn't be a total shock if Kirk thrives with Hopkins demanding so much attention. Arnold drew praise from Murray following his Arizona debut in Week 15 and needs to be on the radar of deep-league owners.

LA Rams

 Los Angeles Rams Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
599 392 589 39.6% 60.4%
QB Jared Goff 583 37 9.4% 0.0%
RB Cam Akers 178 44 45.4% 7.5%
RB Malcolm Brown 54 6 13.8% 1.0%
RB Darrell Henderson 81 29 20.7% 4.9%
WR Robert Woods 15 134 3.8% 22.8%
WR Cooper Kupp 4 119 1.0% 20.2%
WR Josh Reynolds 5 52 1.3% 8.8%
WR Van Jefferson 2 39 0.5% 6.6%
TE Tyler Higbee 83 0.0% 14.1%
TE Gerald Everett 77 0.0% 13.1%

2020 Projected Average Plays per Game: 65.4
2019 Average Plays per Game: 66.1

We talked about the woeful run blocking the Rams had a few days ago here in the Falcons' section, but allow me to tweak a few things to highlight just how bad the blocking was in LA. Using 600 snaps as the threshold, Los Angeles' highest-graded run-blocking linemen were: David Edwards (60th), Andrew Whitworth (110th), Rob Havenstein (118th) and Austin Blythe (140th). Everyone else on the roster was either injured or deemed not good enough to play ahead of that bunch. The Rams did nothing of note to address the line in the offseason, adding only No. 250 pick OG Tremayne Anchrum. To HC Sean McVay's credit, he realized around Week 11 that he needed to rely more heavily on two-tight sets and double-team blocks and less on outside zone runs to beat the six-man fronts that were often overpowering the Rams at the line of scrimmage, but better personnel is needed too. While Todd Gurley may not be quite what he was even two years ago, drafting Akers and hoping Henderson improves with another year under his belt is unlikely to be enough to rejuvenate the rushing attack.

Goff was blitzed 219 times (third-most in the league), threw more 58 more passes within nine yards of the line of scrimmage than he ever had and still experienced a two percent dip in completion percentage in 2019. His deep-ball accuracy nosedived from 2018 as well. It's hard to see any of those numbers rebounding dramatically given the team's aforementioned lack of offseason moves. Kupp averaged 43.9 snaps in the slot in Weeks 1-10 (the games the Rams relied heavily on 11 personnel as their base offense). That number dropped to 27 per game starting in Week 11. As one might expect, Kupp experienced roughly a 10 percent drop in slot production (catches and yards). His overall targets dropped by four per game and his receiving yardage fell off 36 yards per game. His 16-game pace from Weeks 11-17: 82 catches on 98 targets for 843 yards and 11 TDs. If a couple of those numbers don't look sustainable, you're not alone in thinking so. Whereas Kupp's best game from Weeks 11-17 was the 7-99-1 line he posted in the finale, Woods averaged 7.5 catches for 94.7 yards over his last six games (he missed Week 11). The most troubling thing about Higbee I didn't discuss much here is this: he had 2 1/2 years (battling Everett) to become the clear leader at the position and was not able to do much more than split snaps over that time. Can his supporters honestly believe five games overcomes what the coaching staff saw (or didn't see) in practice from him for 3 1/2 years?

San Francisco

 San Francisco 49ers Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
531 445 522 45.6% 54.4%
QB Jimmy Garoppolo 519 35 7.9% 0.0%
RB Raheem Mostert 184 21 41.3% 4.0%
RB Tevin Coleman 121 21 27.2% 4.0%
RB Jerick McKinnon 70 37 15.7% 7.1%
WR Deebo Samuel 12 83 2.7% 15.9%
WR Brandon Aiyuk 6 60 1.3% 11.5%
WR Kendrick Bourne 33 0.0% 6.3%
WR Trent Taylor 43 0.0% 8.2%
WR Jalen Hurd 57 0.0% 10.9%
TE George Kittle 116 0.0% 22.2%
TE Jordan Reed 35 0.0% 6.7%

2020 Projected Average Plays per Game: 65.1
2019 Average Plays per Game: 63.3

In three seasons as the team's head coach, Kyle Shanahan has had a different leading rusher each year. None of them have reached 1,000 yards, but each of them enjoyed a career year - up to that point of their career anyway - in the season before San Francisco moved on. The 49ers let the first leading rusher walk in free agency (2017 - Carlos Hyde) and traded the 2018's leading rusher Matt Breida) during this year's draft. If this isn't sounding like the greatest news for Mostert, it's because it's not. Shanahan has a strong propensity to stick with a running back for as long as he's maximizing the scheme, but he's not afraid to change up at a moment's notice. Most people will point to Coleman being a threat - and typically reference his 105-yard, two-score performance in the NFC Divisional Round as evidence - but let's not forget San Francisco still has McKinnon on the roster. While he has become a punchline for some, there's a reason he is still on the roster - Shanahan believes he is a mismatch weapon at the very least. I also find it curious the 49ers were able to get two of the better college free-agent running backs to sign with them (JaMycal Hasty and Salvon Ahmed), suggesting Coleman could be on the way out if he doesn't show well in camp.

Shanahan's offense is often a blessing for tight ends, but it comes as a bit of a curse for Kittle in that the rushing attack is so efficient and productive that tight ends like Kittle don't get quite the volume in the red zone that players of his caliber typically do. At this point, the only thing keeping him from being the best tight end in fantasy is his five-score ceiling. He'll break through soon, and it could be as soon as this year. One reason for that: Samuel's foot injury. Jones fractures can take up to 12 weeks to heal, which has already put Samuel in danger of missing the start of the season. Even worse, 15-20 percent of Jones fractures do not heal without surgery. There is a distinct chance Samuel begins the season on the PUP list if San Francisco ultimately exercises extreme caution AND a distinct chance we don't see the 2019 version of Samuel again until 2021. Many early drafters have prepared for the possibility of Samuel being limited by drafting Aiyuk, but it's almost as likely the little slot/big slot combination of Taylor and Hurd take on a much bigger load than anyone expects. The same case can be made for Bourne. The early August addition of Reed should not be overlooked either, although his injury history and standing on the depth chart behind Kittle makes any chance of him providing a consistent meaningful fantasy impact slim.


 Seattle Seahawks Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
491 439 486 47.2% 52.8%
QB Russell Wilson 484 72 16.4% 0.0%
RB Chris Carson 236 37 53.8% 7.6%
RB Carlos Hyde 48 5 10.9% 1.0%
RB Rashaad Penny 53 9 12.1% 1.9%
RB DeeJay Dallas 20 17 4.6% 3.5%
WR Tyler Lockett 5 117 1.1% 24.1%
WR DK Metcalf 3 112 0.7% 23.0%
WR Phillip Dorsett 50 0.0% 10.3%
TE Greg Olsen 62 0.0% 12.8%
TE Will Dissly 29 0.0% 6.0%

2020 Projected Average Plays per Game: 62.0
2019 Average Plays per Game: 65.4

The Seahawks are one of the few NFL teams that believe in a power rushing attack and have been stubborn with it for years, almost to a fault. Some of the blame belongs on the front office's inability to find and develop blue-chip talent on the offensive line and/or unwillingness to spend some money on a young pass-blocking anchor in free agency. The expectation is that Carson will be ready for Week 1 after avoiding hip surgery in the offseason. There's a good chance most of us will be flying blind regarding his status this summer, however, as reporting on topics such as how Carson is running in practice will be hit-and-miss with limited media availability. Hyde makes for a decent and necessary handcuff, if only because Carson's durability was a question mark even before the hip injury. The ship hasn't quite sailed yet for Penny in Seattle, but he is expected to begin his third season with the team on the PUP list after tearing his ACL late in 2019. He's unlikely to make the same kind of push for playing time he was late last season once he is cleared to return.

Just when it appears as if the Seahawks will have no choice but to turn the offense over to Wilson because the defense is falling apart, they go and pick up Jamal Adams. The former New York Jet is not a cure-all by any means (especially for what figures to be a questionable front four), but the back seven should be good enough now to compensate, meaning Seattle should be able to remain conservative on offense against the majority of opponents. Few quarterback-receiver combos have better chemistry than Wilson and Lockett, who would be considered one of the best wideouts in the league by now if Seattle had ever made the passing game more of a priority. OC Brian Schottenheimer expects to move Metcalf around the formation more in 2020 and expand his route tree. One of the biggest knocks on him entering the 2019 NFL Draft was a perceived lack of ability to be much more than a vertical threat. If Metcalf proves those doubters wrong, he should smash last year's 58-900-7 line. All of Seattle's injuries at tight end last season may have made people forget Wilson has a history of leaning on that position in the red zone. Olsen - even this aging version of him - will be one of the better ones he's had to work with. Health permitting, one more TE1 season from Olsen is a strong possibility.

East | West | North | South

Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured in USA TODAY's Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He is also a high-stakes player who often appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio shows, such as Sirius XM's "Fantasy Drive." Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Draft Buddy - Fantasy Football excel draft spreadsheet