The NFL landscape changes yearly. The variance spreads from free-agent signings, NFL Draft picks, coaching hires, and more. Understanding what a team’s offensive scheme could look like and meshing that with relevant nuggets from the previous year helps shape our view of teams and players for the upcoming season.
That’s the name of the game here. I’ll be discussing pace, red-zone usage, deep passing, and everything in between. I’m venturing down the rabbit hole to provide context for all 32 NFL teams and the fantasy football players you’ll select this year. Let’s dig in.
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*All data utilized in this article courtesy of FantasyPros, PFF, Football Outsiders, Rotoviz, and Playerprofiler.com unless otherwise specified.*
- After ranking eighth in deep-ball accuracy and sixth in catchable deep-ball rate in 2020, last year, Lamar Jackson dropped to 14th and 20th in these metrics.
Analysis: Lamar Jackson has been working on his mechanics this offseason. A bounce back with his deep ball could be in the works. This would be a ceiling-raiser for Rashod Bateman. Bateman’s final season at Minnesota was wrecked by COVID-19. But the year prior, he was 23rd in PFF deep receiving grade (minimum 10 deep targets) while also ranking ninth in deep receiving yards.
- In 2020, Gabriel Davis was eighth in yards per route run and second in passer rating when targeted deep (minimum 20 deep targets, per PFF). Last year, he was fourth in yards per route run and ranked first in passer rating when targeted at the intermediate level (minimum 20 intermediate targets, per PFF).
Analysis: Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives. The Gabriel Davis breakout is inevitable. Davis has stacked back-to-back seasons as one of the league’s best deep threats and an intermediate assassin. This season, he puts it all together as he snaps his fingers and makes your competitors disappear.
- Last year, the Bengals ranked 25th in overall play volume.
Analysis: Zac Taylor’s donkey ways could lead to frustration with Joe Burrow and the passing game this season. Cincinnati relied upon immense efficiency last year, as they ranked third in net yards gained per pass attempt. While they have the personnel to repeat that, the volume could be capped unless they move away from last season’s philosophy. The Bengals ranked 13th in first-down rushing rate and 28th in neutral script pace. To unlock the aerial attack’s ridiculous upside, Taylor needs to get out of his own way.
- After Week 7 last year, the Browns were sixth in neutral script pace.
Analysis: An up-tempo Cleveland offense for an entire season would be a revelation. It’s doubtful we see that with Jacoby Brissett under center, but it could be in play down the stretch with Deshaun Watson.
- Courtland Sutton ranked eighth in deep targets among wide receivers last year.
Analysis: Courtland Sutton is primed for a beautiful season as Russell Wilson‘s deep threat. Sutton had to deal with lame ducks from Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock last season, who ranked 28th and 33rd in deep-ball accuracy. Wilson finished 11th last year.
- Dameon Pierce lined up in the slot or out wide on 23.7% of his collegiate snaps.
Analysis: Dameon Pierce’s league-winning upside can be unlocked this year if he can grab ahold of the passing downs. Pierce’s three-down skill set is tantalizing. He was 15th in yards per route run in his final year at Florida. He’ll be Davis Mills‘ best friend after allowing zero sacks and one quarterback hit (72 pass-blocking snaps) in college.
- Last year, Jonathan Taylor had 85 red-zone rushing attempts and 26 rushing attempts inside the 5-yard line.
Analysis: While Taylor is still a locked-in top-three pick in redraft, he could see his red-zone numbers regress this year. Over the last 10 years, the NFL leader in these categories has averaged 60 red-zone rushing attempts and 20 totes inside the 5. The last running back to finish with more than 68 red-zone rushing attempts or 22 carries inside the 5 was Arian Foster in 2012.
- Christian Kirk was PFF’s 22nd-highest-graded wide receiver on intermediate targets.
Analysis: Last season, it was fair to say Trevor Lawrence struggled overall. But it was quite prominent in the intermediate area of the field. This area accounted for 20% of Lawrence’s targets, where he had a 74.4 passer rating. Kirk has target-magnet upside this season as Lawrence’s security blanket.
Kansas City Chiefs
- In his rookie season, Clyde Edwards-Helaire ranked 19th in yards after contact per attempt and 12th in missed tackles forced.
Analysis: Last season, fantasy managers were in the dark about Edwards-Helaire’s struggles after gall bladder surgery. His efficiency metrics tanked, and he looked like a shell of his rookie-season self. While he didn’t pay off on his rookie-season hype, he was far from bad. Now he’s been running as the clear No. 1 back for this backfield the entire preseason. While he will concede third-down work to Jerick McKinnon and Isiah Pacheco possibly, there’s still plenty of target-earning potential along with rushing attempts available for Edwards-Helaire. Last year, Kansas City was third in the NFL in passing rate (58%) on first and second downs.
Las Vegas Raiders
- Last season, Brandon Bolden (fourth) and Ameer Abdullah (15th) both ranked inside the top 15 among running backs in yards per route run (minimum 20 targets).
Analysis: The James White role in Josh McDaniels’ offense has been bountiful for fantasy. Even last year, before White was sidelined for the season, he was RB23 and RB9 in the first two games. Since 2015, White finished outside the top 33 running backs in fantasy points per game just once. Over that span, he was a top-24 running back twice. Bolden and Abdullah are both worthy of final-round selections and exposure in best ball, especially on sites that utilize PPR scoring.
Los Angeles Chargers
- Keenan Allen has seen his yards per route run drop in each of the last five seasons.
Analysis: Allen’s role as a target vacuum is cemented in this offense. But if we’re looking for a ceiling play, it’s easily Mike Williams. Williams finished last season ranked 23rd in PFF receiving grade and 19th in yards per route run. His early-season dominance in 2021 can return with a vengeance this year. If it does, Williams will be a league-winning fantasy football selection.
- Jaylen Waddle finished last season seventh in route win rate and sixth in win rate against man coverage.
Analysis: Tyreek Hill is no slouch, but even he didn’t post figures like this last season. Hill was 29th in route win rate while slipping to 56th against man coverage. It’s within Waddle’s range of outcomes to outscore Hill this season.
New England Patriots
- Prior to last season, DeVante Parker was a top-35 wide receiver in yards per route run against man coverage in back-to-back seasons.
Analysis: DeVante Parker might be a nauseating selection these days in fantasy football, but he does possess upside in the Patriots’ offense. New England needed a wide receiver that could beat man coverage consistently outside of Jakobi Meyers. Parker can be that missing piece. Mac Jones has been electric against man coverage, ranking seventh in completion rate against man last season. If Parker and Jones develop an early rapport this season, he could lean on him further as the year progresses.
New York Jets
- Michael Carter was top 20 last year in yards per route run (16th) and yards after contact per attempt (eighth) among running backs (minimum 20 targets, 100 carries).
Analysis: We’re hearing camp reports that Carter could be the lead back for the Jets, or at least challenge Breece Hall for the crown. While Hall’s draft pedigree does give him a more likely path to the lead-dog role eventually, don’t expect Carter to go quietly. Both rushers can be solid fantasy football picks this year, especially if Zach Wilson surprises.
- Last year, Chase Claypool was 30th in slot yards per route run and 16th in slot YAC per reception (minimum 10 slot targets).
Analysis: The Steelers are putting Claypool in a fantastic position for the flash we saw in his rookie season to return. Claypool has lined up in the slot 83.3% of his snaps this preseason. His raw athleticism and size opposite slot corners make him an automatic mismatch.
- In 2021, Derrick Henry manufactured his lowest yards after contact per attempt since 2017 and the lowest breakaway run rate since his rookie season.
Analysis: The 24.4 touches per game over the last three seasons could finally be catching up with the Tennessee mountain man. The Titans’ season again rests upon King Henry’s wide shoulders, and this could be the year we see him crumble.
- The Cardinals have ranked seventh and eighth over the last two years in red-zone rushing rate.
Analysis: Last year, James Conner ranked second to only Jonathan Taylor in rushing attempts inside the 5-yard line. In 2020, Kenyan Drake finished third in the NFL with 21 totes inside the 5. Yes, it will be hard for James Conner to repeat his 18 total touchdowns from last year; but in the Cardinals’ offensive system, he could come extremely close to it.
- Since 2010, rookie tight ends that have finished with at least a 75.0 PFF receiving grade and 1.9 yards per route run in their first season:
Analysis: Kyle Pitts crushed in his rookie season. But thanks to only one receiving touchdown, he finished as the TE11 in fantasy points per game. In his sophomore season, it could be lift-off time for Pitts. With health complying in feature roles like Pitts, Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Zach Ertz, and Mark Andrews averaged 115 targets, 77 receptions, 1,047 receiving yards, and 10 receiving touchdowns. Gronkowski (1,327) and Graham (1,310) each blew up in the receiving yardage category, while Gronkowski (17), Graham (10), and Andrews (10) each logged double-digit scores with top-five tight end seasons. If Marcus Mariota can muster league-average quarterback play (or better), Pitts could blow sophomore expectations out of the water.
- During Ben McAdoo’s four seasons as the Giants’ offensive coordinator and head coach, they ranked 13th, fourth, first, and third in neutral script pace.
Analysis: As crazy as it is to say, Ben McAdoo could be a godsend for this offense. During McAdoo’s two seasons as offensive coordinator in New York, the Giants were top 13 in points and total yards. He was also a big proponent of running an up-pace offense, which we love. More play volume equals more opportunities for the skill players we covet.
- Since 2020 with Luke Getsy as the Packers’ pass-game coordinator, Aaron Rodgers was third and fourth (13.2-14.5%) in screen rate (minimum 100 dropbacks). Last year, Justin Fields was 39th out of 44 quarterbacks (minimum 100 dropbacks) in screen rate (6.2%).
Analysis: Last year, Matt Nagy and Co. made things incredibly difficult for Fields. He wasn’t afforded any easy completions on screens, which will change with Getsy in the building. Trestan Ebner and Velus Jones could emerge as viable flex plays or DFS punts this season.
- The Dallas Cowboys play six games (TB, WAS x 2, PHI x 2, TEN) against teams with at least two corners that finished inside the top 50 for zone coverage rate with at least 59.7% of their snaps in zone.
Analysis: Dalton Schultz will be the primary beneficiary of Dallas’ zone-heavy schedule. Last year, Schultz ranked ninth in yards per route run against zone with 63.4% of his target volume against this coverage type. Add in that the Cowboys are starved for pass catchers, and Schultz looks like a smash value in the middle rounds of drafts.
- In Weeks 12-18 last season, Detroit was 13th in EPA per play and seventh in EPA and success rate per dropback. In that stretch, Jared Goff was 13th in EPA per play and ninth in CPOE.
Analysis: The Lions’ offense took flight down the stretch as Jared Goff began to show glimpses of above-average play and evoked Rams memories. The 2022 squad is stocked to the brim with talent, skill players, and a top-tier offensive line. While Goff isn’t a sexy fantasy selection, he’s a viable late-round best ball target. He’ll also have streamer appeal this year for redraft leagues.
Green Bay Packers
- In his final collegiate season, Christian Watson ranked seventh in yards per route run and 10th in yards after the catch per reception on screen targets among all FBS and FCS wide receivers (minimum five screen targets).
Analysis: While everyone is drunk on Romeo Doubs hype, we need to be reminded of Christian Watson’s talent. During his final collegiate season, Watson also proved that he could be a hand-in-glove fit for what the Packers want to do in the screen game. Heavy integration into this part of the offensive game plan can also help ease his transition to the NFL level. Asking a physical freak to catch easy passes and create? Yes, please. Watson has ranked 12th, seventh, and 17th in YAC per reception over the last three seasons among all FCS and FBS wide receivers with 50 or more targets.
Los Angeles Rams
- Cooper Kupp was tied as the highest-graded receiver on deep targets. The previous season, Allen Robinson was immediately ahead of Gabriel Davis as the fifth highest.
Analysis: As long as Matthew Stafford‘s arm holds up, expect the Rams to chuck the ball downfield this year. Last year, Stafford was ranked third in deep attempts and led the NFL in deep passing yards. Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson are two of the best field stretchers in the game. Tutu Atwell and Van Jefferson also have the speed to work into the mix for deep bombs.
- Justin Jefferson
- Slot yards per route run ranks (minimum 10 targets)
- 2020: fifth (2.99)
- 2021: 13th (2.18)
- Percentage of targets from the slot
- 2020: 31.4%
- 2021: 25.8%
- Slot yards per route run ranks (minimum 10 targets)
Analysis: The ceiling for Justin Jefferson this season is massive. Jefferson against any corner is unfair, but matching him up inside with a nickel or linebacker is easy money. In Kevin O’Connell‘s new-look offense, Jefferson could move inside more. Last season, Minnesota was 28th in 3-WR set usage (47%). The Rams were first in the NFL (86%). Even if K.J. Osborn is the starting slot, he and Jefferson could rotate.
New Orleans Saints
- Last season, Jameis Winston was fifth in aDOT (10.0) and second in big-time throw rate (7.1%) behind only Kyler Murray (minimum 100 dropbacks).
Analysis: Pairing Jameis Winston with Chris Olave, a downfield maven in college, could be a masterstroke given Winston’s downfield propensity. Last year, Winston had the seventh-highest deep passing rate (13.7%) in the NFL (minimum 20 deep passing attempts). In Olave’s collegiate career, 40.8% of his receiving yardage and 60% of his receiving touchdowns came on targets 20 or more yards downfield. Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry can eat defenses up underneath while Olave takes the top off.
New York Giants
- During Saquon Barkley‘s tenure, the Giants have never finished higher than 21st in adjusted line yards or 24th in second-level yards.
Analysis: If this front five can stay healthy, it could easily be the best offensive line Saquon Barkley has ever run behind in the NFL. The pieces added in the offseason are a perfect match for the Giants’ return to a zone-heavy approach. Of the projected Giants’ starting offensive linemen, Evan Neal (29th, 2021), Andrew Thomas (35th, 2021), Mark Glowinski (ninth, 2021), and Jon Feliciano (ninth, 2020) have recorded a top-35 season in PFF zone run-blocking grades in the NFL or college (minimum 100 run-blocking snaps). Barkley is primed for a big bounce-back season.
- DeVonta Smith ranked 29th in yards per route run against zone coverage last year, immediately ahead of Cole Beasley, Chris Godwin, and Terry McLaurin (minimum 10 zone targets).
Analysis: DeVonta Smith could see a role change in 2022. Last season, he operated as the Eagles’ field stretcher. Smith ranked sixth in aDOT and ninth in deep targets. In 2021, A.J. Brown was 12th in passer rating when targeted deep (120.0, minimum 10 deep targets). Brown is an excellent deep threat, and we could see him take the downfield mantle from Smith in 2022. Smith excelled last year, carving up zone coverage. With Brown in town, the Slim Reaper could see his role evolve into an underneath zone-busting assassin.
San Francisco 49ers
- Trey Lance was second among quarterbacks in aDOT last season (minimum 80 dropbacks).
Analysis: Trey Lance will do something Jimmy Garoppolo was allergic to: push the ball down the field. Last year, among 35 quarterbacks with 20 or more deep attempts, Garoppolo ranked third lowest in deep-ball rate (7.6%). Lance went deep on 18.3% of his attempts, which was third highest behind only Drew Lock and Russell Wilson (minimum 10 deep attempts). Lance is surrounded by an elite cast of skill-position players with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk — that can each get deep in a hurry.
- Since 2006, running backs that have eclipsed 4.00 yards after contact per attempt in a season (minimum 100 carries):
Analysis: Rashaad Penny is one of the best pure runners in the NFL. I know this sounds hyperbolic, but his efficiency last year is proof. Since 2006, no running back with at least 100 rushing attempts has eclipsed 4.50 yards after contact per attempt in a single season except Rashaad Penny. With Kenneth Walker starting the year already recovering from an injury, Penny could be given enough of a head start to hold him off all season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Last year in six of Julio Jones‘ 11 games played, he logged 60% of the snaps or more. In those contests, he finished with 2.18 yards per route run and a 78.0 PFF receiving grade.
Analysis: Julio Jones isn’t washed. In that small sample, which we infer were possibly his healthiest games all year, Jones proved he still has it. Last year, among all wide receivers (114 wide receivers) with at least 35 targets, that yards-per-route-run mark would have been tied for 10th with Tee Higgins. His PFF receiving grade would have ranked 23rd, immediately behind Terry McLaurin. If health complies, Jones will be a smash value in 2022.
- Last year, Carson Wentz ranked sixth in deep-ball completion rate and fourth in deep-ball accuracy rate.
Analysis: Terry McLaurin has never played with a deep-ball thrower like Wentz in the NFL. The list of pop gun-armed quarterbacks is long. McLaurin has never caught a pass from a signal-caller that’s ranked higher than 25th in deep-ball completion rate. Wentz might be a trainwreck quarterback at this stage of his career, but he can still fuel McLaurin’s fantasy output by tossing deep.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant, which allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team and how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.