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Workload Projections: AFC & NFC East

Preseason Matchup Analysis

By Doug Orth | 7/20/21 |


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 is to provide thoughts and analysis on some of the issues that played a factor in the way I distributed the workload for each team.

Notes: These are 16-game workload projections. Although the industry judges players and fantasy projections on year-end totals, the fantasy season will end for the overwhelming majority of owners after Week 17 - and not Week 18 - as we enter a brave new world of a 17-game schedule. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to project what teams will do (or if they even need to have certain players suit up) in the final week of any season.

The bolded numbers near the top of the middle three columns are the 16-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 do not include sacks - my projections also will not - so last year's plays per game will be slightly lower than what you might find on others sites.

Players with a next to their name have some degree of injury concern.


 Buffalo Bills Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
586 407 586 41.0% 59.0%
QB Josh Allen 586 98 24.1%
RB Devin Singletary 124 52 30.5% 8.9%
RB Zack Moss 150 22 36.9% 3.8%
RB Matt Breida 27 8 6.6% 1.4%
WR Stefon Diggs 154 26.3%
WR Emmanuel Sanders 68 11.6%
WR Cole Beasley 103 17.6%
WR Gabriel Davis 73 12.5%
TE Dawson Knox 51 8.7%

2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 62.1
2020 Average Plays per Game: 62.9

* Allen was able to 69.2 percent of his passes in 2020 after never failing to record a completion rate higher than 59 percent in either of his two full seasons as the starter in Wyoming or his first two years with the Bills. Three of the most likely reasons for the leap:

1) The arrival of master route-runner like Diggs;

2) A much heavier use of play-action passing (160 pass attempts out of play-action versus 105 in 2019) and

3) Allen's pressure percentage dropped to 21.9 (29.2 as a rookie in 2018 and 23.2 in 2019).

* Diggs flashed the ability to be an alpha in Minnesota but was never allowed to truly spread his wings there. With that said, his greatness was on full display throughout 2020 - not only overcoming the lack of a typical offseason but also doing his part to contribute to Allen's MVP candidacy when he entered the season as a flawed passer in the eyes of many. While Diggs' three-score game in Week 16 slightly altered what was a slightly disappointing season in the touchdown department, his volume is likely here to stay. Sanders showed he still had plenty left with the Saints last year and is almost certain to inherit John Brown's old role. He is also likely to be more durable than Brown was. If that is the case, fantasy owners may need to temper their enthusiasm for Davis for one more year … unless Beasley is a candidate to lose his spot on the roster as some have speculated.


 Miami Dolphins Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
565 395 565 41.1% 58.9%
QB Tua Tagovailoa 531 50 12.7% 0.0%
RB Myles Gaskin 213 70 53.9% 12.4%
RB Salvon Ahmed 54 8 13.7% 1.4%
RB Malcolm Brown 41 6 10.4% 1.1%
WR DeVante Parker 106 18.8%
WR Will Fuller 2 96 0.5% 17.0%
WR Jaylen Waddle 4 81 1.0% 14.3%
WR Preston Williams 44 7.8%
WR Lynn Bowden Jr. 4 30 1.0% 5.3%
TE Mike Gesicki 83 14.7%

2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 60.0
2020 Average Plays per Game: 61.7

* If fantasy managers learned anything from last season, it might be that former HC Brian Flores seems to preferred leaning on one running back, especially when Gaskin was healthy. Only once in his 10 healthy games did his snap percentage dip below 60 and that was 59 percent in Week 16. On four occasions, it was over 70 percent. While things can always change quickly in the NFL (remember how Jordan Howard was guaranteed a heavy workload last year?), this coaching staff committed to Gaskin early last year and rarely backed off. Flores likely appreciated how much Gaskin did for an offense that was lacking at receiver (worst in the league at getting separation) and on the offensive line (four red-graded run-blockers, including former Dolphin Ereck Flowers, per Pro Football Focus). Maybe Brown takes some of the work in short-yardage and at the goal line to keep Gaskin fresh. Still, Miami's lack of urgency in addressing the position is a clear sign Gaskin is a strong candidate for 15 to 18 touches per week in 2021.

* Gesicki has been far from disappointing through three seasons, but he also hasn't quite lived up to expectations either. How much of that is a product of playing for three different offensive coordinators is a debate for another day. His talent is not in question and neither are his hands (his two drops in 2020 were the first of his pro career). Gesicki went on a rampage in Weeks 13 and 14 last season with consecutive 20-point fantasy performances, but those efforts accounted for 32.2 percent of his 159.3 fantasy points last season. With all the speed the Dolphins possess now at receiver, it is conceivable this is finally the year it all comes together for Gesicki. The more likely result, however, is that he improves on his career-high six touchdowns from last season but the rest of his passing-game contributions remain about the same before he leaves for big money in free agency next spring.

New England

 New England Patriots Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
525 449 525 46.1% 53.9%
QB Cam Newton 128 25 5.6%
QB Mac Jones 397 34 7.6%
RB Damien Harris 195 11 43.4% 2.1%
RB Sony Michel 104 8 23.2% 1.5%
RB James White 38 77 8.5% 14.7%
RB Rhamondre Stevenson 48 11 10.7% 2.1%
WR Nelson Agholor 92 17.5%
WR Kendrick Bourne 60 11.4%
WR Jakobi Meyers 84 16.0%
WR N'Keal Harry 34 6.5%
TE Jonnu Smith 88 16.8%
TE Hunter Henry 60 11.4%

2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 60.9
2020 Average Plays per Game: 66.7

* The question is not if, but when, Jones is handed the keys to the car in Foxboro. Assuming Jones does not beat out Newton in camp, the most natural time for the transition to take place is after Week 4 once the Patriots welcome back old friend Tom Brady. The next three games (Texans, Cowboys and Jets) provide what should be a favorable stretch for the rookie to introduce himself to the league. Newton could delay it by rediscovering his MVP form, but Jones is easily the better bet to maximize the team's supporting cast for fantasy purposes. While New England may still lack a dynamic playmaker in the passing game, the options Jones will have available to him in 2021 are light years ahead of what Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer dealt with for most of 2020.

* ESPN's Mike Reiss has stated on at least two occasions this summer that Harris is the clear lead back in New England. While skepticism from fantasy owners is justified when it comes to Patriots' running backs, this offense figures to lean on the run regardless of whom is under center. Even better for Harris backers is that he should be working in tandem with perhaps the best run-blocking line in the league this year. While Harris is a great bet to handle at least the workload I projected for him above (and that's with him missing two games in the projection), New England figures to keep its committee backfield very much intact with White still in the fold. White will not likely see the involvement or relevancy he once enjoyed with Brady ever again, but a push for 80 targets and/or 60 catches is possible if the rookie gets the nod early enough into the season.

* HC Bill Belichick and OC Josh McDaniels have long prioritized the middle of the field, which helps to explain why the Patriots so often strive to feature their slot receivers and tight ends. Belichick famously handed Smith the biggest compliment of his career before the Titans' playoff victory over New England two seasons ago when he suggested Smith is "probably the best (tight end) in the league (after the catch)." The Patriots arguably made him their top offensive priority in free agency, giving him $50 million over four years. Given his aforementioned run-after-catch skills and overall athletic advantage over Henry, it seems likely Smith will see more activity between the 20s than the ex-Charger. Inside the red zone, Henry could enjoy a slight advantage.

New York Jets

 New York Jets Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
554 388 554 41.2% 58.8%
QB Zach Wilson 542 55 14.2%
RB Michael Carter 155 62 39.9% 11.2%
RB Tevin Coleman 94 12 24.2% 2.2%
RB La’Mical Perine 68 16 17.5% 2.9%
WR Corey Davis 93 16.8%
WR Denzel Mims 78 14.1%
WR Jamison Crowder 74 13.4%
WR Elijah Moore 4 92 1.0% 16.6%
WR Keelan Cole 59 10.6%
TE Chris Herndon 36 6.5%
TE Tyler Kroft 22 4.0%

2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 58.9
2020 Average Plays per Game: 56.6

* The importance of having a veteran quarterback showing the new kid how things are done at the NFL level is probably a bit overrated. The Jets are putting that to the test, however, as none of the three quarterbacks currently on their roster have ever taken a regular-season snap. The inexperience carries over to the man in charge, as new OC Mike LaFleur is running an offense for the first time in his NFL. This level of experience at each level suggests the play-to-play and series-to-series adjustments that are typically a challenge for many veterans may be overwhelming at times for Wilson and LaFleur. It does help Wilson's cause that his supporting cast - especially on the offensive line and at receiver - is significantly better than anything Sam Darnold had to work with during his time in New York.

* Prior to accepting his new job, LaFleur has spent the last seven seasons serving under Kyle Shanahan. Suffice it to say that New York will feature plenty of half-roll boots and outside zone runs - the latter of which is certain to accentuate Carter's running style. While Carter plays bigger than his size (he measured 5-8 and 201 pounds this spring) and has plenty of elusiveness to boot, it is hard to imagine that he will be allowed to assume a workload much larger than what is projected above. That means Coleman will have to stay healthier (eight games in 2020) and show something more than he did last year OR Perine will have to step up so Carter is not overworked. Perine has the ability, but Coleman's history with LaFleur in San Francisco may be enough to give him a leg up on Perine for the bulk of the season.

* Crowder and Mims entered the offseason as clear favorites to start. Neither one is guaranteed anything now. Mims reportedly ran behind Davis and Cole during spring practices. Crowder agreed to a pay cut to stay with the team but may end up running behind Moore at some point early in the season. Moore was the star of offseason workouts and may already be Wilson's favorite target. While spring hype has led to disappointment for fantasy owners far too often, the hype should be justified after he consistently had his way with SEC defensive backs at Ole Miss. Davis occasionally flashed with the Titans but was never able to maintain any level of consistency. Until he proves otherwise, he should be viewed as a complementary receiver despite the gaudy three-year, $37.5 million contract he signed with the Jets this spring.

NFC East


 Dallas Cowboys Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
593 417 593 41.3% 58.7%
QB Dak Prescott 593 69 16.5%
RB Ezekiel Elliott 292 75 70.0% 12.6%
RB Tony Pollard 52 32 12.5% 5.4%
WR Amari Cooper 0 126 21.2%
WR Michael Gallup 0 108 18.2%
WR CeeDee Lamb 4 125 1.0% 21.1%
TE Blake Jarwin 69 11.6%
TE Dalton Schultz 33 5.6%

2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 63.1
2020 Average Plays per Game: 66.8

* Prescott appears to be all systems go for camp this summer after a Week 5 ankle injury ended what was quickly shaping up to be a historic season. The Cowboys' pathetic defense forced Prescott to put the offense on his shoulders far too often, but it seems unlikely the former fourth-round pick would have been able to play all year anyway given how many injuries Dallas dealt with on the offensive line. The defense doesn't figure to be significantly better in 2021, but even a minor improvement on that side of the ball should keep Prescott around 40 pass attempts per game - still a very high average - but nowhere near the 50.3 he averaged in his four healthy games. Perhaps the most important thing fantasy owners need to monitor with Prescott on Hard Knocks and/or during the preseason is how comfortable he looks running. While his scrambling ability is not as important to him as it is for someone like Lamar Jackson, it is the primary reason he is an elite fantasy option when healthy and not just a very good fantasy quarterback.

* In Prescott's four healthy games last season, Cooper was the overall WR1 (with a league-high 51 targets) and Lamb (27 targets) was the overall WR17. There seems to be a rush to anoint Lamb as the best fantasy option of the bunch in 2021, but it seems more likely that transition may not happen for another year if Cooper's offseason ankle surgery doesn't cause him to miss significant time. (Lamb and Cooper essentially battled to a draw in targets and fantasy points across 12 non-Prescott games.) Thanks to his heavy slot usage, Lamb will consistently see more advantageous matchups than Cooper, but such was the case last season as well. A potential monkey-wrench in the hopes of those dreaming of a world dominated by Cooper and Lamb is the Cowboys' reported desire to move Gallup across the formation more often. The former third-round pick was bewilderingly pigeonholed into a downfield boundary receiver role a year ago but has reportedly taken a "big leap forward" per HC Mike McCarthy, who also hinted that Gallup could see more slot work in 2021.

New York Giants

 New York Giants Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
556 415 556 42.7% 57.3%
QB Daniel Jones 556 62 14.9%
RB Saquon Barkley 271 83 65.3% 14.9%
RB Devontae Booker 71 19 17.1% 3.4%
WR Kenny Golladay 106 19.1%
WR Darius Slayton 72 12.9%
WR Sterling Shepard 80 14.4%
WR Kadarius Toney 11 66 2.7% 11.9%
TE Evan Engram 85 15.3%
TE Kyle Rudolph 37 6.7%

2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 60.7
2020 Average Plays per Game: 57.3

* Lost in the disappointment of Jones' second season was the impact Barkley's absence had on the entire offense. Much like Christian McCaffrey in Carolina, defenses must devote an inordinate number of resources to making sure Barkley doesn't find his way out of an impossible situation and bust a long run against a defense designed specifically to stop him. Much has been made about Barkley's reluctance to answer questions about his return from ACL surgery in a recent episode of the Rich Eisen podcast. However, it is just as likely that HC Joe Judge - a graduate of the Bill Belichick and Nick Saban school of coaching - has asked his star running back to say as little as possible regarding his health. New York could take it easy on Barkley to begin the season, but I find it highly unlikely - based on some of the workouts he has shared via social media - he won't be ready to play Week 1. I will consider it a gift if he falls in my lap at the end of the first round of fantasy drafts until further notice.

* There's no question Golladay will be the alpha receiver for the foreseeable future thanks to his four-year, $72 million contract, but New York now has an embarrassment of riches at the position - especially after spending a first-round pick on Toney. Even if they bring the rookie along slowly, the Giants will have still have five legitimate receivers (including Barkley and Engram) on the field in base personnel. Golladay is very good at the contested catch, but he is least likely of the bunch to create separation consistently. While the former Lion should be the preferred receiving option in the red zone due to his size, it could be a different story between the 20s. Slayton will probably suffer the most statistically as a result of Golladay's arrival because they both primarily win downfield, while Shepard is almost certain to take a hit since Toney will quickly prove he is more capable of making something happen after the catch.


 Philadelphia Eagles Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
526 434 531 45.2% 54.8%
QB Jalen Hurts 480 137 31.6%
RB Miles Sanders 195 49 44.9% 9.2%
RB Kenneth Gainwell 74 50 17.1% 9.4%
WR DeVonta Smith 1 99 0.2% 18.6%
WR Travis Fulgham 71 13.4%
WR Jalen Reagor 4 80 0.9% 15.1%
TE Dallas Goedert 105 19.8%

2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 60.0
2020 Average Plays per Game: 62.6

* The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane surmised in late May that it remains to be seen" if new HC Nick Sirianni will install RPO (run-pass option) elements into the offense this season. It's an interesting sentiment in that Hurts has already proven he is a solid fit in that kind of offense and also because Sirianni has never called his own plays despite spending three years as the offensive coordinator with the Colts. (HC Frank Reich handled those duties.) Sirianni can draw upon his experience working with a somewhat similar skill set in Jacoby Brissett, but it's a bad sign that the rookie coach is already suggesting Hurts will need to fit into his system as opposed to expressing a willingness to tweak his playbook. While there is more talent available to Hurts this season than he had to work with in 2020 (namely Smith), Sirianni's proclamation - albeit a laughable one - that Hurts will have to compete for a starting job in camp with Joe Flacco and possibly even Nick Mullens is a clear indication the coach has his doubts about last year's second-round pick. While Hurts' dual-threat ability makes him an upside QB1 in fantasy, he is also probably the most likely QB1 candidate to get benched during the season.

* Sanders' ability to hit the big play was likely what saved him from being an overwhelming disappointment in fantasy last year. He broke off three runs of at least 74 yards - two resulting in scores - while playing only 12 games. Those plays were responsible for 26.5 percent of his rushing yards and 33.3 percent of his touchdowns. The promotion of Hurts predictably sparked the running game, but much of that success came via the threat of the RPO. If Sirianni is being serious about not making the RPO a key part of a Hurts-led offense, Sanders will have no choice but to rely on an offensive line that can be dominant when the right side of it is healthy. He will likely need to get it done as a runner because Philadelphia spent a fifth-round pick on Gainwell, who figures to assume a role similar to the one Nyheim Hines enjoys in Indianapolis.

* There has been a steady drumbeat all offseason that Zach Ertz will not be on the roster this fall. It would certainly be good news for Goedert's target share if his longtime teammate's time in Philly were over. However, the optimism surrounding Goedert needs to be tempered just a bit if only because he didn't exactly tear it up with Hurts as the quarterback. With that said, Ertz's likely departure would leave Goedert and Smith as the unquestioned top options in the passing attack.


 Washington Football Team Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
559 396 564 41.5% 58.5%
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick 551 57 14.4%
RB Antonio Gibson 229 58 57.8% 10.3%
RB J.D. McKissic 64 57 16.2% 10.1%
WR Terry McLaurin 143 0.0% 25.4%
WR Curtis Samuel 13 102 3.3% 18.1%
WR Adam Humphries 46 0.0% 8.2%
WR Dyami Brown 39 0.0% 6.9%
TE Logan Thomas 83 0.0% 14.7%

2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 59.7
2020 Average Plays per Game: 62.6

* For a player who compiled a significant amount of his numbers - including both of his 100-yard rushing games - against the Cowboys' woeful defense last year and is still reportedly rehabbing the toe injury, Gibson is typically being drafted as a player most expect to be a solid RB1 option with elite upside. The optimism is warranted considering his talent, but early drafters seem to be disregarding any concerns about his toe AND the presence of McKissic. While McKissic may fade into the background with Alex Smith no longer around to check it down to him (McKissic out-targeted McLaurin 59-52 with Smith at the controls), it still takes a substantial leap of faith to ignore the threat of a running back coming off an 80-catch season. McKissic held a 197-22 advantage over Gibson on third-down snaps in 2020 and the Memphis product still finished as the overall RB13 in fantasy. To Gibson's credit, HC Ron Rivera talked up how much he has improved with the finer points of playing running back over the last year. If Gibson closes the gap on McKissic on third down and maintains his firm grasps on the first and second, then the sky is truly the limit. One last consideration: Washington's defense could be dominant in 2021. If that happens, McKissic's role will likely fade away naturally and allow Washington to play conservatively. In such a scenario, Gibson likely becomes a true workhorse.

* McLaurin doesn't possess quite the same physical profile as other receivers that have thrived with Fitzpatrick, but he certainly ranks among the best of the bunch at stretching the field and getting open. The third-year receiver reportedly played through two high-ankle sprains last season and still churned out 87 catches, 1,118 yards and four touchdowns despite questionable quarterbacking. Fitzpatrick is far from elite, but his willingness to make tight-window throws and push the ball downfield could be just what McLaurin needs to go from budding superstar to an elite fantasy option. Samuel should be a perfect complement in many ways in that he isn't a threat to McLaurin's status as the lead dog but is also quite capable of making defenses pay if he doesn't get the respect he deserves. Samuel's presence is also a low-key threat to McKissic because the former has proven he can handle a few carries per game out of the backfield and is the more dynamic threat with the ball in his hands as a receiver.

East | North | South | West

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.

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