Fantasy QB Projections Introduction
If you’ve landed here directly, I encourage you to read part one of the series projecting the AFC North and NFC North. … where I discuss my projection methodology and define the metrics used to measure team performance. You can also check out my projections of the AFC South and NFC South.
Now, to the wild, wild West divisions!
The 2015 Broncos are the textbook example of what a suffocating defense can achieve, despite an abysmally poor offense. They ransacked their way to a 12-4 record while having a Pythagorean Expectation of 9.7 wins. Winning 2.3 games above P.E. is an outlier result, and Denver places 8th in the last ten years in that category. Oddly, Peyton Manning led three of those eight teams.
Given the announcement of Trevor Siemian as the Week 1 starter this season, it appears Gary Kubiak has decided to pocket the House’s money and continue playing nickel slots. Looking at his past teams, I think he will do all he can to mimic the 2011 & 2012 Houston Texans. Both of these squads played solid defense and relied on a stout running game to make the playoffs.
These teams snapped the ball leading by 3.85 and 1.82 points per offensive play, respectively. Last season, the Bad QB Frankenstein of Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler were snapping the ball down by 0.21 points per play… most of which was their own doing.
Currently they are projected for 9.5 wins, and given the weakness of the schedule after Week 4, this is probably an accurate number when accounting for the pain they’re likely to experience under center (again) this season.
Kansas City Chiefs
Looking at the Chiefs’ schedule, it’s hard to deviate from the course Andy Reid has taken this offense on the past three seasons. In those years, here is how his offense looked:
Each had a similar Point Differential script, with the mean falling at 3.16, 0.40, and 3.06 points per offensive snap in their favor the past three seasons. Bottom line – this team is staying out of bad scripts and doing what they’d prefer to do with their playcalling.
I expect this to remain consistent in 2016, since the Chiefs have a favorable schedule, and how they’ve handled their offense recently has no reason to change. Their most difficult defensive opponents (HOU, CAR, DEN) are road games, meaning that their home schedule is filled with teams they should beat. Once again, Alex Smith is a sneaky great QB2 at QB3 pricing.
I’m not sure if anyone has divined what Oakland was doing on offense in the 4th Quarter last season. See for yourself the horrific disparity in playcalling:
All told, the Raiders called for a pass on over 74% of their 4th Quarter plays. Only Jacksonville (77.1%) attempted to pass the ball more in that frame. This, despite being down 4.65 points per offensive snap on average (19th). Typically, teams in this range of Point Difference Per Snap are calling 58-62% Pass. Derek Carr’s YPA cratered down to 4.9 yds per attempt in the 4th, versus 6.8 through the other three quarters combined.
I expect Oakland to correct this by sprinkling DeAndre Washington in with Latavius Murray, who looked worn down at the end of games in 2015. I also expect they won’t suddenly misplace the rush plays in their playbook whenever they’re behind on the scoreboard.
San Diego Chargers
San Diego struggled to stop the run last year – that’s absolutely no secret. Early returns from this preseason indicate that they’ll continue to fight the same issue. One way they can combat it is on the scoreboard. Simply by virtue of being ahead, teams will opt to run less and pass more to catch up.
One way they’ll attempt to deploy the “offense as defense” approach is by giving Ken Whisenhunt the keys to the playbook again, reprising his 2013 role. Let’s see how that worked out for them:
On their way to a 9-7 record, Whisenhunt dragged perhaps the most efficient Tomlinson-free season out of Philip Rivers in his career. Something we should immediately note when looking at the above Game Split Plot is that the Chargers were run-heavy compared to their other seasons.
Something of note with San Diego is the slow death of this team. Over the past decade, here is how their personnel (and output) have decayed, demonstrated by Pythagorean Expectation:
As the years wear on, the offense scores less and less, while the defense surrenders more and more. Perhaps the re-hiring of Whisenhunt is the organization acknowledging that Philip Rivers is in the twilight of his career, and if they want to win, they need to do it quickly.
Other interesting bits are how Philip Rivers performs with Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead on the field. Here are splits with each player, respectively:
It appears that Allen and Woodhead keep Rivers from throwing so many interceptions, and significantly so. Yardage and efficiency boosts are also worth recognition. Ultimately, I’m very high on Rivers’s prospects this season with a full cast at his disposal.
First and foremost, I have huge concerns about Carson Palmer’s ability to handle a full season as he enters his 13th NFL campaign. I think most fans noticed that he struggled mightily in the last month of the season, and then into the postseason. I decided to lay out his weekly fantasy points for last season, and don’t look now, but I think I see a cliff:
Now, it’s entirely possible that Palmer was injured late in the season and the Cardinals chose not to disclose the injury. If that’s the case, then Palmer is probably healed up and ready to roll. If not, then I question his Top 10 viability.
What about the rise of David Johnson, you ask? Let’s see how those weekly fantasy point plots match up:
Very interesting indeed. It appears that Bruce Arians might’ve gone more run-heavy late in the season to rest Palmer (with a first-round bye looming) and ride his new-found workhorse.
Does it bear out? Not really. If anything, Arizona went even more pass-heavy with leads late in the season.
What did change was the complexion of which positions were targeted.
|RB %||WR %||TE %||TOT|
|WK 1-12||16.9 %||69.6 %||12.4 %||378|
|WK 13-17||19.6 %||69.3 %||9.5 %||179|
You have to wonder if the profile of the offense changed with the “arrival” of David Johnson, and if it’ll stick in 2016. I’m tempted to think it will, given Johnson’s dominance at the end of last season, and Arians’s long-documented disgust for TEs.
Los Angeles Rams
Where offense goes to die. Don’t roster any of these QBs… not even in Superflex.
I’m joking… or am I? In all honesty, I would consider Keenum as a QB3 in deep leagues (14-team, or 10/12-tm 2QB + SF). If he is injured, or becomes so ineffective that the Rams turn to Jared Goff, I would avoid the Los Angeles passing game until they can prove potent enough to offer weekly production. I think they will ride Todd Gurley until he is mincemeat (which means plenty of targets), and then ride Malcolm Brown until the same result occurs.
Las Vegas has the Rams projected for 7.5 wins. I think that’s about two games more than it should be, given the state of the passing game and the inability of the head coach to at least try +EV methods.
Behold, The Los Angeles Football Clippers!
I think we all feel something changed philosophically with this offense during the Week 8 bye last season. What was it? Many conjecture that Russell Wilson “just became hyper-efficient,” but he was already a high-efficiency player before this. What we do know is that the offensive line struggled the entire first half of last season. Their star RB, Marshawn Lynch, also struggled with injuries before ultimately hanging it up with a sports hernia. Jimmy Graham was a misfit toy, then a horrible knee injury put him on ice.
I decided to check out Russell Wilson’s fantasy point output for each week of the 2015 season, and here is what I found:
It’s almost as if Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell found a crate of Shake N Bake Nano-bubble Offense in a C-Link closet and injected it into the scheme. Oddly, that may actually be the case. Let me show you:
|RB %||WR %||TE %||TOT|
|WK 1-8||18.5 %||48.9%||30.0 %||233|
|WK 10-17||14.1 %||59.2%||22.4 %||255|
What might strike you as odd, though, is even though Seattle cranked up the WR targets after the bye, Russell Wilson’s aDOT actually decreased by almost a full yard (9.6 YPT down to 8.8 YPT). If we watched the film, we might see that they settled even more firmly into West Coast concepts. Either way, the paradigm shift was considerable, and the results were amazing.
I expect they’ll continue down this path, and have projected Wilson as such.
San Francisco 49ers
It’s going to be a long year for Niners fans, again. As Warren Sharp has noted in his Football Preview, San Francisco has the most difficult schedule of any NFL team in 2016. It’s entirely possible this team starts 0-7 heading into their bye, which likely means Blaine Gabbert is benched for Jeff Driskel to play out the string. Las Vegas projects the Niners for 5.5 wins, which feels relatively accurate given their schedule. I wouldn’t be surprised if they struggle to a 4-12 record, however.
As we’ve seen in Philly the past three seasons, there is a ton of fantasy value to be had in the QB position under Chip Kelly. He’s managed to make anyone taking snaps in his offense viable due to sheer play volume. His offense works, even if his teams mutiny on him frequently. You can’t make an omelette, etc.
In order to project what San Francisco might do this season, I peered back into the past three Eagles seasons for insight.
The only real difference between these seasons is that the 2015 team played from nearly three points behind every snap, whereas the 2013 and 2014 teams snapped the ball with a one point lead on average. Otherwise, the splits are relatively stable. I expect Chip to maintain the status quo with the Niners, including poor passing efficiency.
But what this team lacks in efficiency, they will manage with play count. It’s like the old engineering conundrum of throwing man-hours at a problem (or money) until it’s fixed. Chip found the point of diminishing returns in Philadelphia in just over two seasons. How long will he have before it confounds him this time?
This wraps up QB projections for both the AFC West and NFC West. If you haven’t, please check out the articles for the AFC & NFC North divisions (including The Method), as well as the AFC & NFC South divisions.
As always, if you have questions or challenges regarding my projection methodology, please feel free to find me on Twitter (@FantasyADHD).