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.
2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 62.1 2020 Average Plays per Game: 62.4
* Of all the projections in this series, there may not be one
shakier than Denver's. Will the second year in the same system
be the key to bringing out the best in Lock? Is he destined to
be a strong-armed thrower prone to making critical turnovers?
While it is unlikely that the winner of the quarterback competition
will have a huge impact on whether Sutton or Jeudy emerge as the
lead receiver, it will make a difference. (Much like when a backup
quarterback replaces the starter and often feels the most comfortable
with the backup receiver he has been working with at practice.)
Defensive-minded head coaches like Vic Fangio tend to lean on
the quarterback who will avoid the big mistake. To this point
in both of their careers, that sounds more like Bridgewater than
Lock. However, Lock is the superior talent and will be working
with the same play-caller in consecutive years for the first time
since 2017 - his junior season at Missouri.
* A more meaningful fantasy battle exists at running back. While
both backs probably deserve their sixth-round ADP, there seems
to be an overwhelming majority of fantasy managers who see this
as Williams' backfield and view Gordon mostly as an aging obstacle.
Williams should prove to be a Chris Carson-like back in his near
future, but that kind of punishing running style does not lend
itself to a back staying healthy all season. Gordon is also a
very physical runner and has not been exceptionally durable himself,
so there is a path for Williams to emerge as the top option on
early downs. (I have Gordon projected to miss two games and Williams
none, which essentially accounts for the difference in their workloads.)
However, Gordon and/or Boone will almost certainly open the season
as the backs HC Pat Shurmur trusts most in the passing game. The
likely absence of Williams in those situations leaves him with
a relatively slim chance of being a league-winner type because
he just won't have the upside other backs with 50-60 catch potential
do. Conversely, Gordon has a better - albeit small - chance to
pay off big. With that said, there is about a 10 percent chance
he will because Williams is the future at the position for the
team. Gordon's biggest immediate problem figures to be Williams'
physicality, which will make it hard for Denver to take him off
the field near the goal line.
2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 61.5 2020 Average Plays per Game: 64.6
* The majority of the fantasy world would have you believe Edwards-Helaire
was something of a bust last year. It started at the 2020 NFL
Draft when he was selected higher than flashier backs such as
Taylor. (That is a big no-no. How dare actual football people
go against the wishes of fantasy "experts" and not like the players
they feel fit best for their schemes?) Never mind the fact he
was the overall RB11 prior to the addition of Le'Veon
Bell and less than eight fantasy points shy of being the RB6
through six weeks. Congratulations to everyone who knew last August
that Bell would be released less than halfway into the season
and choose a backup role with the Chiefs over potential starting
gigs elsewhere. Blame CEH for failing to score a touchdown on
eight of his nine carries inside the 5 if you want, but also remember
that Kansas City overhauled its offensive line. That overhaul
was not made just because Mahomes was roughed up in the Super
Bowl. HC Andy Reid's history with running backs reaches too far
back to pretend Edwards-Helaire won't "bounce back" from a year
that was not all that bad to begin with.
* Hardman appears to be doing enough early in camp to cement
his place as Sammy Watkins' successor. Reid and Mahomes are saying
all the right things about his improved maturity and attention
to detail. Weekly statistical consistency figures to be a big
issue for him as it was for Watkins during his time in KC, but
the big difference is Hardman has proven to be durable to this
point in his career. Watkins' occasional blowup games as a Chief
make it possible - if not likely - that Hardman will succeed where
Watkins failed as a fantasy receiver during his time in Kansas
City, although he may need to take a seat on occasion for a bigger
body like Demarcus Robinson or Powell on running downs. Much as
it was with Watkins, his path to regular fantasy production features
a couple of potential 140-target roadblocks in Kelce and Hill.
2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 61.8 2020 Average Plays per Game: 63.0
* Instead of doing everything possible to make the job of their
former first-round pick easier and allow him to live up to his
draft slot, Las Vegas has consistently made moves to prevent Jacobs
from doing so. One of Jacobs' strengths was as a receiver coming
out of the 2019 draft. His ability to handle a heavy workload
was a more pressing question. Almost as if his main goal is to
prove the college scouts wrong, HC Jon Gruden has not come close
to utilizing him nearly enough as a receiver and instead asked
him to handle a heavy workload as a runner. Then, almost as if
to double-down on a desire to avoid using Jacobs in the passing
game, Gruden and GM Mike Mayock handed Drake a two-year contract
worth $11 million. The question isn't so much if Drake is the
new Jalen Richard or DeAndre Washington as it is how much work
he will see beyond what that duo became accustomed to in Jacobs'
first two seasons. Gruden loves to run the ball, so Jacobs' running-game
volume probably isn't going anywhere. However, the Raiders have
targeted their running backs at least 110 times in each of Gruden's
three seasons. Drake was not paid as much as he was in free agency
to watch Jalen Richard catch passes. It seems clear Gruden has
no interest in using Jacobs that way. Assuming we can follow the
money to some degree, there could be up to 70 targets for someone
like Drake to absorb.
* Oh, the offseason. There's a good chance by now most readers
have stumbled on the stretch of practices in which Gruden compared
Edwards favorably to Terrell Owens and Randy Moss while Carr made
his comparison to former Fresno State teammate Davante Adams.
Well then. Fantasy managers need to understand something here:
Edwards is not Owens, Moss or Adams and will probably never be
anywhere close to that kind of player. He is also not an 11-catch
receiver either (as he was last year). The likelihood is that
he is the same receiver who was generating a great deal of hype
last summer before getting hurt who is benefiting from a full
offseason. His skill set is not in question; he forced 15 missed
tackles and worked over some of the best secondaries in the SEC
with his physicality on short and intermediate routes in his final
season at South Carolina. There is a distinct possibility he leads
all Raiders receivers across the board and pushes to become a
weekly starter in fantasy as a WR3 or high-end WR4. Is anyone
- even an improved Ruggs - going to steal significant targets
from Waller? Owens, Moss and Adams would. In a league that prides
itself on maintaining competitive advantages, there is little
benefit to be gained by announcing to the world that a player
is performing so well. Coaches want to spring that surprise on
the league in Week 1, not give defensive coordinators a month
to prepare for it. In short, pay more attention to the fact Edwards
is receiving such praise and less about the lofty comparisons.
2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 61.8 2020 Average Plays per Game: 68.4
* One of the shortcomings of most analysts in the fantasy industry
is the inability to recognize that coaches (specifically coordinators)
learn from their mistakes and adapt accordingly. With that said,
history (specifically what does coordinators did in previous stints)
is important because it gives us insight into what they were thinking
at the time. I mention this because it seems as though the overwhelming
majority of fantasy managers believe new OC Joe Lombardi will
bring the Saints' offense to Los Angeles. It is being assumed
that it will be a smashing success because Herbert is a more than
capable triggerman, Ekeler has an Alvin Kamara skill set and Allen
is essentially Michael Thomas although they technically don't
play the same position.
When we look back at Lombardi's history, he spent seven years
on Payton's staff before taking the offensive coordinator job
in Detroit in 2014. He lasted 1 1/2 years in that role. In his
one full year at the helm, Matthew Stafford had one of his worst
statistical seasons and Reggie Bush was not heavily utilized because
Joique Bell and his ability to average 3.9 yards per carry were
so attractive. I choose to believe Lombardi has learned from his
previous time in his current role (and an additional five years
under Payton's tutelage), and I also believe new HC Brandon Staley
isn't going to let Lombardi direct an offense that doesn't focus
on getting the best players the ball. Ekeler will be a first-round
lock for me and Herbert a top-10 quarterback as a result, but
understand Lombardi's history makes it much less of a lock than
what people seem to believe it is.
2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 62.6 2020 Average Plays per Game: 65.9
* It has been fascinating to watch how quickly the fantasy industry
has been to tout Conner as a sleeper pick this season after spending
the better part of the last three years knocking him - specifically
his durability. Of course, he costs less in draft capital now
than at any point since he broke out in 2018, so he is easy to
love from that perspective. The problem is he has never played
more than 13 games. Some physical therapists I trust have suggested
Conner's cancer treatments from a few years ago may have left
him in a state where it is more difficult for him to recover from
or avoid injuries. Over the last two seasons, he has not averaged
more than 13 carries per game and still had trouble staying on
the field. Conner's new supporters also forget he signed for one
year and $1.75 million, which suggests there was almost no market
for his services and indicates Arizona isn't expecting him to
be much more than a situational player. Could Conner thrive as
the goal-line back and serve as a solid backup to Edmonds? Definitely.
The bigger threat to Edmonds' potential rise to lead back status
might be Benjamin, who
has caught his coach's eye this summer.
"NFL teams don't draft players like Moore unless they have
a plan on how they are going to use him, and HC Kliff Kingsbury
is not hiding his intention to manufacture touches for the second-rounder.
My vision for Moore is as a player who receives one or two handoffs
per game via the jet sweep and perhaps three or four catches on
screens and hitches. He is so ridiculously strong and explosive
for a player of his size that he could make that kind of role
work (for fantasy purposes) in the same way Deebo Samuel has in
"I probably haven't played with anyone of his caliber. ...
I know you guys are probably going to take that and run with it.
... The reason I say that, A.J. still has a lot in the tank. The
other two (likely) Hall of Famers I played with (Larry Fitzgerald
and Andre Johnson), I'd say, were at the end of their career.
They taught me a lot, but I feel like A.J. is still in his prime."
My comments about Moore pretty much lay out my expectations for
him as a Samuel-like weapon. Hopkins' comments about Green are
interesting from the perspective that they came after a few practices
at training camp. Hopkins did not need to go into the detail he
did, as he could have settled for how much leadership he provides
or something of that sort. Maybe Green cannot stay healthy yet
again or maybe he was doing everything he could to get out of
Cincinnati the last two years. Either way, it could be a big mistake
to let him fall into the last round of any draft as the likely
No. 2 option in this offense. Maybe he is no longer capable of
being a weekly starter in fantasy, but I would rather spend a
late pick on him, wait three weeks and be wrong as opposed to
letting him go to another fantasy squad and take advantage of
all the attention Hopkins and Murray draw every week.
2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 63.1 2020 Average Plays per Game: 66.4
*With Cam Akers (Achilles) done for the season, it appears to
be Henderson or bust in 2021. Is it that easy though? HC Sean
McVay has proven he can scheme up a running game if he needs to
- a task that became much easier for him when the Rams traded
for Stafford. When Henderson has been trusted with a heavy workload,
he has typically delivered. The problem is he has not been able
to convince McVay he is feature-back material - at least when
it comes to his durability. If that is the primary reason for
his sporadic usage, it is hard to argue with the coach's stance.
Despite being a part-time back, Henderson has not finished either
of his NFL seasons despite logging 197 touches combined over his
brief pro career. He was more durable in college, but his breakout
season (2018) was the only time he handled more than 154 touches
in a season dating back to his high school days.
The first half of the season will be key for Henderson, and it
has very little to do with who Los Angeles plays in September
and October. It will be at this time the former third-round pick
needs to prove he can either play through pain or avoid contact
to the point where he can convince McVay he can handle more work.
(Of course, this all assumes the Rams do not add a veteran back,
which remains a very strong possibility.) Fantasy managers should
expect a moderate dose of Jones to keep Henderson as fresh as
possible until then and maybe even through the Week 11 bye. The
tail end of the season does not bode well for the Rams running
game, however, so don't expect Henderson to be a fantasy playoff
2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 62.8 2020 Average Plays per Game: 62.9
* There is no such thing as a guarantee in fantasy, but I feel
confident in saying the road to thousands of fantasy championships
will go through San Francisco this season. Two very specific occurrences
will need to happen to ensure that it will be five or six 49ers
who come up big in December and January as opposed to one or two.
For this to happen, Garoppolo and Mostert's durability issues
must continue. Neither is a big ask since the former has played
more than six games only once in four years with San Fran, while
the latter has played in more than 11 games only once over that
same span. Lance's running ability and HC Kyle Shanahan's creativity
should thrust him into fantasy QB1 status almost immediately if/when
he is named the starter. The running game would then become even
more of a focal point than it is already, likely splitting about
35 carries/game between Lance, Sermon and Mostert (if healthy,
Wayne Gallman, Elijah Mitchell or Jeff Wilson if he's not). If
Mostert struggles to stay healthy once again and Lance is starting
at that point, it would open up even more work for Sermon than
he is expected to get already. (It has been suggested the rookie
will take on the role of Tevin Coleman to begin the season, which
would imply he could start.)
Samuel figures to remain productive regardless of who is taking
snaps for the 49ers, but Lance's presence under center should
open up the deep ball for Aiyuk. Kittle has already been wildly
productive regardless of the quarterback, so it would only help
to have someone as strong-armed as Lance throwing him the ball.
None of this explains why I want to invest so heavily in the 49ers,
however. Of the aforementioned San Francisco players, I have only
one red matchup for the entire group in my color-coding chart.
The final four weeks of the fantasy season are especially kind.
Cincinnati, Atlanta, Tennessee and Houston represent one of the
softest slates available I can ever recall seeing. Assuming the
49ers can stay relatively healthy on defense in 2021, they should
be able to keep all but the most dynamic offenses somewhat in
check. Even if they struggle to do so in some of those games,
none of those four opponents can realistically expect to shut
down a three-pronged Shanahan rushing attack that maybe only the
Ravens can match.
2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 63.2 2020 Average Plays per Game: 60.9
* It seems as though the common assumption by many fantasy managers
is that a first-time coordinator will simply bring the offense
from his former team to his new one. While there is some truth
to that notion, a more accurate statement would be that the new
coordinator is bringing elements or ideas from the previous team.
It would be a mistake for new OC Shane Waldron to have Metcalf
run the same routes as Robert Woods, for example. As long as HC
Pete Carroll is around, the Seahawks will emphasize the running
game more than most teams. Even though Waldron was the passing
game coordinator for the Rams, it is the Rams' run and play-action
game (and making it all look the same to the defense) that I expect
Seattle to copy the most. In my opinion, fantasy managers who
loved Cam Akers this summer before his injury should really love
Carson. Why? Carson is at least on par with Akers as a runner.
The fear that Wilson puts into a defense surpasses anything the
Rams ever had with Goff. Seattle's offensive line is certainly
more talented than what Los Angeles relied on over the last two
years and the threat of Metcalf should keep an extra defender
out of the box.
* Do you remember the last time Seattle had a tight end that
was anywhere close to his prime? Maybe a 31-year-old Jimmy Graham
in 2017? A short stint or two when Will Dissly was healthy? Wilson
has a history of leaning on the position when he has one he likes
- especially in the red zone. The 27-year-old Everett represents
the best combination of youth and talent Wilson has had at his
disposal at tight end in his career. Not since Graham have the
Seahawks had a tight end that can line up in the slot and be considered
a viable threat. In that aforementioned season, Graham scored
10 touchdowns. Granted, that team did not have a monster like
Metcalf on the roster, but that is even more reason to love Everett's
fit in this offense. The Seahawks love what Everett brings as
a route-runner and after the catch. As much as Metcalf is a mismatch
for just about any corner, Everett is almost certain to create
more separation near the goal line against a linebacker. Expecting
the former Ram to match what Graham did in Seattle is unrealistic,
but it is easy to imagine a scenario in which he pushes for 50
catches and 7-8 scores. After all, the Seahawks have had questionable
options at tight end in each of the last two years and still targeted
the position more than 100 times.
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.