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Workload Projections: AFC & NFC West

Preseason Matchup Analysis

By Doug Orth | 8/8/21 |

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 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.


 Denver Broncos Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
564 430 564 43.3% 56.7%
QB Drew Lock 158 10 2.3%
QB Teddy Bridgewater 406 22 5.1%
RB Melvin Gordon 147 38 34.2% 6.7%
RB Javonte Williams 198 23 46.0% 4.1%
RB Mike Boone 45 16 10.5% 2.8%
WR Courtland Sutton 124 22.0%
WR Jerry Jeudy 2 118 0.5% 20.9%
WR KJ Hamler 6 56 1.4% 9.9%
WR Tim Patrick 38 6.7%
TE Noah Fant 99 17.6%
TE Albert Okwuegbunam 39 6.9%

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.

Kansas City

 Kansas City Chiefs Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
600 384 600 39.0% 61.0%
QB Patrick Mahomes 600 56 14.6%
RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire 204 76 53.1% 12.7%
RB Darrel Williams 72 15 18.8% 2.5%
RB Jerick McKinnon 30 12 7.8% 2.0%
WR Tyreek Hill 11 148 2.9% 24.7%
WR Mecole Hardman 3 72 0.8% 12.0%
WR Byron Pringle 39 6.5%
WR Cornell Powell 35 5.8%
TE Travis Kelce 1 147 0.3% 24.5%
TE Noah Gray 32 5.3%

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 D'Andre Swift and Jonathan 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.

Las Vegas

 Las Vegas Raiders Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
567 422 567 42.7% 57.3%
QB Derek Carr 567 36 8.5%
RB Josh Jacobs 240 31 56.9% 5.5%
RB Kenyan Drake 115 57 27.3% 10.1%
WR John Brown 46 8.1%
WR Henry Ruggs III 7 75 1.7% 13.2%
WR Bryan Edwards 81 14.3%
WR Hunter Renfrow 41 7.2%
TE Darren Waller 154 27.2%
TE Foster Moreau 30 5.3%

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.

LA Chargers

 Los Angeles Chargers Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
581 407 581 41.2% 58.8%
QB Justin Herbert 581 61 15.0%
RB Austin Ekeler 166 105 40.8% 18.1%
RB Joshua Kelley 64 10 15.7% 1.7%
RB Larry Rountree III 113 12 27.8% 2.1%
WR Keenan Allen 149 25.6%
WR Mike Williams 109 18.8%
WR Josh Palmer 53 9.1%
WR Tyron Johnson 36 6.2%
TE Jared Cook 70 12.0%

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.


 Arizona Cardinals Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
545 457 545 45.6% 54.4%
QB Kyler Murray 545 118 25.8%
RB Chase Edmonds 161 73 35.2% 13.4%
RB James Conner 111 26 24.3% 4.8%
RB Eno Benjamin 33 9 7.2% 1.7%
WR DeAndre Hopkins 169 31.0%
WR A.J. Green 86 15.8%
WR Rondale Moore 13 74 2.8% 13.6%
WR Christian Kirk 54 9.9%

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.

*The following is an excerpt from last week's FFC Pros vs. Joes article:

"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 San Francisco."

The following is a shortened version of Hopkins' recent comments about Green when asked about the ex-Bengal.

"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.

LA Rams

 Los Angeles Rams Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
605 404 605 40.0% 60.0%
QB Matthew Stafford 605 33 8.2%
RB Darrell Henderson 198 37 49.0% 6.1%
RB Xavier Jones 89 16 22.0% 2.6%
RB Jake Funk 46 5 11.4% 0.8%
WR Robert Woods 14 138 3.5% 22.8%
WR Cooper Kupp 2 136 0.5% 22.5%
WR DeSean Jackson 40 6.6%
WR Van Jefferson 1 74 0.2% 12.2%
TE Tyler Higbee 75 12.4%
TE Jacob Harris 2 46 0.5% 7.6%

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 darling.

San Francisco

 San Francisco 49ers Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
494 511 494 50.8% 49.2%
QB Jimmy Garoppolo 113 6 1.2%
QB Trey Lance 381 101 19.8%
RB Raheem Mostert 144 14 28.2% 2.8%
RB Trey Sermon 194 22 38.0% 4.4%
WR Deebo Samuel 8 92 1.6% 18.6%
WR Brandon Aiyuk 2 116 0.4% 23.4%
TE George Kittle 1 123 0.2% 24.8%

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.


 Seattle Seahawks Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
538 473 538 46.8% 53.2%
QB Russell Wilson 538 74 15.6%
RB Chris Carson 231 52 48.8% 9.7%
RB Rashaad Penny 78 28 16.5% 5.2%
RB Alex Collins 65 6 13.7% 1.1%
WR DK Metcalf 130 24.2%
WR Tyler Lockett 6 120 1.3% 22.3%
WR D'Wayne Eskridge 6 60 1.3% 11.2%
WR Freddie Swain 23 4.3%
TE Gerald Everett 77 14.3%

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.

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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