NFC South: Team Tendencies & Trends
The 2017 NFL draft left both fans and analysts asking the same questions. How will each prospect be used? Is their landing spot a good fit? To try and answer this, each division will be reviewed through the lens of games scripts being impacted by wind. Stats filtered by wind speed should give some hints as to what can be expected. With known teams trends and coaching tendencies, game situations that can be exploited by fantasy owners will be highlighted. First up, the NFC South.
Drafted: Brian Hill – RB – RD 5, Eric Saubert – TE – RD 5
Atlanta waited until the fifth round to draft an offensive players. The offensive continuity is good for fantasy owners. But, the loss of their offensive coordinator after their best season is noteworthy. Matt Ryan’s 2017 performance proves that he’s a solid NFL starter. A deeper look into his metrics at varying wind speeds reveals consistent fantasy outputs. But, what about the upcoming season?
Since 2008, Ryan has steadily improved and keeping the Falcons competitive. Attempts and Adjusted Yards per Attempt trend upwards indicating an efficient use of his weapons. Take note of the jump in pass attempts after 2011. Did they draft a wide receiver that year? While the trends show an overall improvement, look at the timeline. Ryan’s AY/A go up by 18.1% during the 2015 and 2016 seasons while his attempts dropped by 12.5%. All while working in Shanahan’s system. All signs point to regression, but who will be the most affected?
The market share chart for both running backs and tight ends paints a standard picture over the last 15 years. The ‘Shanahan Effect’ indicates an increase in running back targets. This partially explains Tevin Coleman’s emergence and flex-appeal in 2016. But as the offense changes under Steve Sarkisian, who favors power run schemes, Coleman’s usage might dip. However, the offensive continuity should keep fantasy owners reasonably excited with respect to their potential output in 2017.
Drafted: Christian McCaffrey – RB – RD 1, Curtis Samuel – WR – RD 2
Starting with the Falcons might be burying the lede as the Panthers’ additions have been the most fascinating projecting forward. Christian McCaffrey raises the most questions as the Panthers have never drafted a player like him. At first glance, the data isn’t in his favor.
Since 2008 and continuing throughout Cam Newton’s career, running backs have seen an average 15.8% market share. This is a 7.5% drop from years prior. Even worse, Cam’s tendency to run the ball in higher wind speeds increases subsequently decreasing running back targets. But everyone saw Newton’s 2016 season. The hits. The plea to Goodell. The lack of swag compared to Carolina’s 2015 campaign. If their draft indicates a shift in offensive philosophy, are there any hints provided by the data?
Newton’s 23% decline in QBR is part of the regression to the mean expected by analysts. Of course, this is a bit of an over-correction. But surprisingly, only 10.3% different than his 2014 performance. His average adjusted yards per attempt and rush attempts decreased by 25.2% and 25.3%, respectively. To sum up, from a passer rating perspective Newton played nearly as well in 2016 as he did in 2014 with shorter passes and less rush attempts. Both of these aspects work towards McCaffrey’s and Samuel’s favor as the Panthers look to insulate their franchise quarterback with quick weapons.
New Orleans Saints
Drafted: Alvin Kamara – RB – RD 3
New Orleans’ addition of Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara adds a dynamic element to their previous ground and pound approach. However, the now crowded backfield is a fantasy quagmire for the brave and bold to roll the dice. Who’s the work horse back? Who’s going to be in at the goal line? Even if Kamara’s pass catching skills will be his primary role, it’s crucial to see how much he’d be used by Drew Brees.
Sean Payton’s system highlights the running back and tight end positions showing a near even split at 24.4% and 24.8%, respectively. Surprisingly, with Brees these numbers have decreased by 9.7% on average with increased wind sped over the last couple of seasons. But the opportunity is still there for Alvin. With the positive scheme fit and pass happy quarterback, Kamara’s situation bodes well for fantasy production. His only issues are an aging legend and a running back at odds with the head coach. The bigger question is how will Michael Thomas return to the field after an 1100 yard rookie campaign? Part of the answer depends on how close his quarterback is from submitting to Father Time.
Brees’ home/road splits have become a talking point over the last few seasons. The data bears that out. Since 2014, his adjust yards per attempt at baseline conditions (primarily at home in the dome) have increased by 11.7% and 9.1%. At the next wind speed bracket, he’s trending in the opposite direction (10.0% and 15.8%). The lack of depth in target would indicate a shift from an outside receiver like Thomas, whose average yards per target in 2016 was 9.4, to a slot receiver like Willie Snead. With the addition of Tedd Ginn Jr., wind speed conditions should garner some attention prior to using any of the Saints in 2017.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Drafted: O.J. Howard – TE – RD 1, Chris Godwin – WR – RD 3, Jeremy McNichols – RB – RD 7
The biggest addition to the Bucs is the arrival of DeSean Jackson during the free agency frenzy. The speedster should draw attention away from Mike Evans and elevate Jameis’ game. But has D-Jax’s quarterback situation really improved? From a wind speed perspective, Tampa Bay plays in negligible weather conditions (0-4 MPH) roughly 43.8% of their games. This is aided by the domes in New Orleans and Atlanta. While this bodes well overall, there are certain situations to avoid rostering the homerun hitter at the flex spot.
Compared to Kirk Cousins, Jameis Winston doesn’t air out the ball nearly as much. However, he’s displayed an average 16.9% improvement at high wind speeds. This being Winston’s third season, the lack of sample sizes must be taken into context with the data. In addition, similar to the McCaffrey situation in Carolina, Winston has never had an offensive weapon like D-Jax before. So while his usage is difficult to predict, the only concern moving forward is Winston’s ability to get the ball to Jackson in high wind speed conditions. From a volume standpoint, Jameis remains minimally affected. This works in all the wide receivers favor, including Chris Godwin, but the tight ends take somewhat of a hit.
With tight ends seeing at best a 19.9% market share and that percentage dropping by 4.4% under increased wind speeds, O.J. Howard might have to battle for targets. The emergence of Cameron Brate only compounds the issue. With nearly a 2.5X average increase in targets, it’s difficult to envision a total phase out of Brate in Howard’s rookie year. Overall, Jameis Winston is the real fantasy winner out of the 2017 draft. The additional weapons should make Winston a popular mid-to-late round target come August and September.