What I Learned While Doing Projections For All 32 Teams (2020 Fantasy Football)
There are some exercises that take longer than others. Projections are one of those things that some may believe you plug in some formulas, hit enter, and things automatically appear. That’s not how this works. Well, not for me anyway.
There are some who’ve worked on models for years where it spits out projections based on them, but what I do is go through each team individually, look at the past tendencies of the head coach, offensive coordinator, look at what they’ve done with their personnel and how it may affect the way they approach the game, as well as player benchmarks.
Projections aren’t a perfect process, because there are some opinions inserted, but it’s a much better gauge than simply sitting down and putting names in order, because that’s nothing but opinion. The reason I love projections is because it takes the emotion out of it. You go team-by-team, not looking at players like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kenny Golladay next to each other. I promise, you’ll be shocked by what you come up with once you go through this process.
While doing my projections this year, I decided to write down some of the things that were surprising to me. If they were a shock to me, it’s very likely they’d be a shock to you, so I thought I’d share. Here are the favorite things I walked away with from each team while going through the projections process.
Arizona Cardinals: DeAndre Hopkins is going to have a hard time hitting even 130 targets, and that’s with me projecting a modest 183 targets for Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald. This is your reminder that Hopkins hasn’t seen fewer than 151 targets since back in 2014. Also, Kenyan Drake is gonna crush. If you were to take the starting running back from each week (Drake 8, David Johnson 6, Chase Edmonds 2) for the Cardinals in 2019 and mold them into one running back, they would’ve finished with 287.0 half PPR points. That would’ve been the No. 3 running back just 3.3 points shy of the No. 2 running back.
Atlanta Falcons: It’s either Calvin Ridley is going to approach 120 targets, or Russell Gage is going to see 80-plus targets. Both might be undervalued, but I’m willing to bet on Ridley’s role. The Falcons never replaced Mohamed Sanu‘s targets in the offense, and we can’t pretend that Hayden Hurst will automatically see the 100-plus targets Austin Hooper was on pace for. In the four years Dirk Koetter has been the Falcons offensive coordinator, they’ve ranked top-eight in pass attempts. Ridley could be a breakout star.
Baltimore Ravens: The wide receivers should see a big bump in targets this year, and Marquise Brown is the main beneficiary. Lamar Jackson should come back down to earth and throw for less than 30 touchdowns. However, Jackson rushed for just seven touchdowns to go along with his 1,206 rushing yards. Did you know that quarterbacks, on average, rushed for one touchdown every 96 yards? We can’t pretend like Jackson is average, but even if he was, he should’ve rushed for 12.6 touchdowns, which will help make up for his passing touchdown regression.
Buffalo Bills: It’s going to be hard for Stefon Diggs to take a big step forward without John Brown taking a massive step back. They could just cancel each other’s upside. Cole Beasley‘s role over the middle of the field shouldn’t change much, but even dumping Brown’s/Beasley’s targets down from 219 last year to just 170, Diggs wound up as the No. 38 wide receiver in projections. While I won’t move him down that far, it’s alarming. Unless Devin Singletary starts getting goal-line carries, it’s hard to find upside. The Bills have said Zack Moss will get the old Frank Gore role, which accounted for 11 carries inside the five-yard-line, while Josh Allen had five of them. Singletary had two all season, and one of them came in garbage time.
Carolina Panthers: A lot of mouths to feed. Going to be tough for D.J. Moore to improve on his target numbers. Projections came in just shy of 130 targets. Not many realize he saw 135 last year and finished as the No. 18 wide receiver. He should improve efficiency, but he landed as the No. 15 wide receiver in my initial projections. It’s a new offense and there are a lot of uncertainties in the coaching staff. Many are expecting a lot of plays, but like the Cardinals last year, the defense may not be able to get off the field. If you believe in the coaching staff and want a piece of Moore, Teddy Bridgewater is probably the best value in 2QB/Superflex leagues.
Chicago Bears: David Montgomery is a virtual lock for 240-plus carries. There have been 125 running backs who’ve hit that mark over the last 10 years. Guess how many of them finished worse than RB25? None. That’s his current draft position. Also, there’s plenty of room for Anthony Miller to hit 100 targets, even if Allen Robinson gets 140-plus.
Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow is going to be a better fantasy option than Baker Mayfield in 2020, and it’s not all that close. Don’t worry about which pancake (Green/Boyd/Higgins/Ross) is going to get more targets, take the syrup with Burrow. Initial projections had him come in as the No. 12 quarterback, and I was semi-conservative with them. His mobility continues to be underrated.
Cleveland Browns: Unless Kareem Hunt has a big role, he’s being overvalued. If he does have a decent size role (100 carries, 50 targets), Chubb’s upside is limited unless he averages over 5.0 YPC and scores double-digit touchdowns. There’s no in-between here. You can’t simply compare last year’s stats when Hunt joined the team, because it’s a brand-new coaching staff. Austin Hooper hitting even 70 targets is going to be difficult. Also, did you know Baker Mayfield‘s 7.2 yards per attempt in 2019 was tied with Matt Ryan?
Dallas Cowboys: Mike McCarthy hasn’t had his team finish better than No. 12 in rushing attempts since back in 2000, his first year as an OC. With that being said, there are enough targets for all three Cowboys receivers to get 100, provided none of them get over 125. The Cowboys receivers totaled 347 targets last year, so there’s plenty available. It’s also possible because Jason Witten and Blake Jarwin combined for 124 targets last year. Jarwin and Dalton Schultz are not getting near that number.
Denver Broncos: Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy should combine for just over 210 targets or so, which makes it tough to decide which way they swing. Both receivers are excellent at what they do, but this is still a run-first team under Vic Fangio. Loved the hire of Pat Shurmur as the offensive coordinator and it should be a much more efficient offense, but not one that’ll be extremely fast paced. Also, Drew Lock is not a breakout candidate, but rather a streamer in good matchups.
Detroit Lions: Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has been an offensive coordinator for 13 years. His offenses have never finished better than No. 9 in pass attempts but have ranked bottom-four on six occasions. Hasn’t been top-15 since back in 2009. Stafford’s 8.6 YPA in 2019 was BY FAR his career high. Was never over 7.9 before that, and just once was he over 7.6. Despite dealing with QB issues, Lions WRs averaged 14.8 YPR in 2019, which is massive and due for regression in 2020.
Green Bay Packers: Davante Adams has averaged 11.0 targets per game over the last two years! He’s certainly in the running for WR1, especially knowing the Packers didn’t add any top-tier talent. There’s still plenty of room for Aaron Jones to be an RB1, even if I give A.J. Dillon and Jamaal Williams seven total touchdowns.
Houston Texans: The Texans haven’t fallen below 64.2 plays per game in each of the last seven years. If David Johnson can’t hold up or is inefficient, Duke Johnson can be a league winner. There are 150 targets up for grabs after the departure of DeAndre Hopkins. Brandin Cooks is a WR3, even if Will Fuller is on the field. If Fuller should miss any time, Cooks would be a must-start. Jordan Akins might even be a factor in fantasy with all the targets available.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts running backs combined for 399 carries last year. Jonathan Taylor can be a 250-carry running back, even with Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines getting 8-10 carries per game. If Michael Pittman is the “X” receiver, like the Colts have stated, it’s going to hinder Parris Campbell‘s shot at a breakout. Pittman would have sneaky eight touchdown upside.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Jay Gruden has had one team rank better than No. 12 in pass attempts through nine years as a head coach/offensive coordinator. In fact, 7-of-9 ranked No. 18 or worse, including each of the last three years. It’s difficult to see this team lack pass attempts with how bad the defense is likely to be, but it’s worth noting that Gruden isn’t pass-happy. I tried to be conservative in my projected targets to wide receivers, as there are a lot of question marks, but DJ Chark might be undervalued. Even giving 185 targets to the combination of Dede Westbrook, Laviska Shenault, and Chris Conley, Chark still netted 116 targets. He was the WR24 in my conservative projection. There’s certainly upside for more.
Kansas City Chiefs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire will be highly efficient with his touches, but he’ll need to be, as more than 225 touches may be difficult to come by. This offense is jam-packed with talent and it’s hard to start taking away touches from the proven vets like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. I don’t think Damien Williams starts like some have suggested, but he’s not completely going away. I pegged him at 131 touches, while Edwards-Helaire is at 221. There’s risk associated with drafting him as a top-15 running back, but I like being attached to this offense.
Las Vegas Raiders: Josh Jacobs is still going to have a very difficult time racking up the receptions. Not only did they have every opportunity to target him last year with minimal talent on the roster, but they re-signed Jalen Richard (who had nearly twice as many targets as Jacobs), then acquired Henry Ruggs, Lynn Bowden, Bryan Edwards, and Jason Witten. Ruggs, Bowden, and Witten are all guys who’ll be targeted around the line of scrimmage. Jacobs has the talent to catch the ball, but like Joe Mixon, his team may not choose to use him correctly.
Los Angeles Chargers: Keenan Allen may have a hard time hitting 1,000 yards, even inflating his targets to 125. In order to get to those 125 targets, I had to give him an ultra-high 24.4 percent target share in the Chargers offense. The pass attempts are going to dip significantly and it’s going to affect everyone on the offense. When you learn that Allen hasn’t scored more than six touchdowns in each of the last six years, it’s tough to find him finishing as a top-24 receiver.
Los Angeles Rams: Robert Woods is being underrated, especially if he starts scoring a few more touchdowns. Rams running backs combined for just 38 receptions, 283 yards, and two touchdowns through the air in 2019, a number that is sure to rise in 2020. That would directly impact the number of targets the tight ends would receive. Tyler Higbee had two games with more than 48 yards over the first 58 games of his career, then posted 84-plus in five straight to close out the season. His emergence came when Gerald Everett was dinged up.
Miami Dolphins: There’s been just three occasions (in 14 years of coaching) where a Chan Gailey team ranked outside the top-13 in rushing attempts. They’ve ranked 22nd or worse in pass attempts in 9-of-14 years. None of his offenses passed the ball more than 59 percent of the time. Since 2000, Gailey has coached eight teams. Seven of them finished 28th or worse in tight end targets. Mike Gesicki has averaged 6.4 yards per target in his career, so don’t think he’s “elite” enough to change Gailey’s scheme.
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings wide receivers combined for just 201 targets last year, which was second lowest in the NFL behind the Ravens. It’s going to be tough for Justin Jefferson to make a big impact without an injury to Adam Thielen. Irv Smith and Kyle Rudolph will cancel each other’s upside, no matter which one is the favorite, which I believe is Smith. I have them down for a combined 109 targets, which is not enough for a timeshare.
New England Patriots: The Patriots haven’t run less than 65.7 plays per game since 2010, which leaves a lot of room for production. Tom Brady averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt last year. That can easily be topped no matter who’s under center. The Patriots are likely to run the ball 400-plus times. If Sony Michel gets hurt or benched, Damien Harris will have a massive role. News came out last week that Michel had surgery on an ailing foot, adding to the list of concerns. Don’t sleep on Harris.
New Orleans Saints: Don’t forget about Latavius Murray, who’s more than just a handcuff. It’s difficult to find Jared Cook 80-plus targets. Alvin Kamara has caught exactly 81 receptions every year. The touchdowns dropped to below the league average last year, something that we know won’t continue in the Saints offense. Why? The running backs scored at least 14 rushing touchdowns in each of the previous five years. That number was just 10 in 2019. Also, Drew Brees came in at No. 16 after projections, which isn’t great considering his QB9 ADP. While I won’t rank him that low, he’s being overvalued.
New York Giants: Jason Garrett had higher than a 58 percent pass ratio just twice in his coaching career (2012, 2013). Just once did his WRs see more than a 60 percent target share. This will make it difficult for the Giants wide receivers to top the 332 targets they saw last year. I’m anticipating around 280-300 to the combination of Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, and Darius Slayton. It’s going to be difficult to project them on a weekly basis.
New York Jets: Adam Gase. Since leaving Payton Manning, none of his teams have finished better than No. 18 in passing yards. None of his last four teams have finished better than No. 18 in rushing attempts. How does this happen? He’s run less than 60 plays per game in three of the last four seasons.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles ran 68.5 plays per game last year, a number that likely comes down with improved efficiency, especially from the WRs. Still, plenty of volume available in this offense. It’s worth noting that Boston Scott had four carries inside the five-yard line, which is not far behind Miles Sanders, who had six of them (Jordan Howard 8, Carson Wentz 2). If the Eagles don’t add another running back of note, Sanders is going to be a top-12 running back. Scott might be undervalued, too.
Pittsburgh Steelers: After running at least 63.3 plays per game since 2011, the Steelers offense dipped to just 58.6 in 2019. So, when you combine the slowed-down offense with the bad quarterback play, you have much fewer targets to go around. It’s possible that there’s a full 100 targets more available in the offense. JuJu Smith-Schuster should clear 130 targets and Diontae Johnson should clear 100 targets rather easily. Both are being undervalued in early ADP. Early projections have both 10 spots higher than their current ADP.
San Francisco 49ers: If Kyle Shanahan went away from the timeshare, or even just went with a two-man timeshare, Raheem Mostert could explode. There are not a lot of targets to go around among the wide receivers, so it’s going to be tough for more than one fantasy relevant one. I can’t find more than 60 targets for any receiver outside of Deebo Samuel.
Seattle Seahawks: Could there be a DK Metcalf explosion? Tyler Lockett hasn’t ever seen more than 110 targets, and last year was the first he saw more than 71 targets. If he’s capped at last year’s number, there’s an avenue where Metcalf gets 120 targets. Even if they give Carlos Hyde/Rashaad Penny 10 carries a game, Carson should still net 200 carries. Will Dissly and Greg Olsen will cap each other’s potential at the TE spot.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs WRs averaged 16.0 YPR in 2019, which is ridiculously high. By comparison, Tom Brady‘s WRs haven’t averaged more than 13.7 YPR in any of the last seven years. Unless everyone’s career averages go WAY down, Brady will throw for 4,400-plus yards, which moved him up in my rankings. He projected as the No. 9 quarterback.
Tennessee Titans: The Titans have run exactly 58.8 plays per game in each of the last two years, which is very problematic for elite fantasy production without insane efficiency. Here are a list of the teams who ran fewer than 61 plays per game in 2019: Redskins, Steelers, Titans, Broncos, Jets, Vikings, and Browns. Not much fantasy relevance on those teams. Even projecting them for a bump up to 60.2 plays per game in 2020, Ryan Tannehill came in at QB18, while A.J. Brown came in at WR21. There’d need to be a major philosophy change for them to take the leap into the elite tier.
Washington Redskins: Even if we project the non-Terry McLaurin Redskins receivers for 190 targets, which is a lot, McLaurin himself should be in the 120-target vicinity. He went from No. 28 in my rankings, all the way up to No. 18 in my projections. While it’s risky drafting him that high with the questionable quarterback play, targets matter more than anything. Also, their running back situation is gross.