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Workload Projections: AFC & NFC East

Preseason Matchup Analysis

By Doug Orth | 7/28/20 |


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: provide thoughts and analysis on some of the issues that played a factor in the way I distributed the workload for each team. Unlike past years, I'll be breaking this into four smaller, more easy-to-digest articles.

Notes: After much consternation, I decided on 15-game workload projections. Although the industry judges players and fantasy projections on year-end totals, the fantasy season ends for the overwhelming majority of owners after Week 16. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to project what teams will do (or if they even need to have certain players suit up) in Week 17 - especially in a year like 2020.

The bolded numbers near the top of the middle three columns are the 15-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 included sacks, while my projections do not - accounting for some of the gap in the play averages under each table. Players with a next to their name have some degree of injury concern.


 Buffalo Bills Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
490 457 478 48.3% 51.7%
QB Josh Allen 464 89 19.5% 0.0%
RB Devin Singletary 163 53 35.7% 11.1%
RB Zack Moss 175 34 38.3% 7.1%
WR Stefon Diggs 4 105 0.9% 22.0%
WR John Brown 2 90 0.4% 18.8%
WR Cole Beasley 82 0.0% 17.2%
TE Dawson Knox 64 0.0% 13.4%

2020 Projected Average Plays per Game: 63.1
2019 Average Plays per Game: 63.6

It appears as if OC Brian Daboll has found his sweet spot with Allen, who averaged 6.4 carries one year after averaging 7.1 as a rookie. Of his 109 carries in 2019, 19.3 percent happened inside the red zone. In 2018, the percentage was 21.3. He has rushed exactly 11 times inside the 10 and five times inside the 5 each year. With the addition of Moss, it's hard to see any of those marks being repeated. However, the big question for Buffalo isn't as much goal-line work - Moss and Allen figure to handle the overwhelming majority of it - but whether the "Frank Gore role" the third-round pick has been ticketed for means the Bills prefer Singletary in the same complementary role he played in the first half of last season. Or did they like what they saw in the second half enough to commit 15 touches per week to Singletary and put Moss in more of a relief role? My prediction: as dynamic as Singletary is, the Bills will quickly learn Moss is a tone-setter. It would not be surprising if the workload is split in such a way that Moss is the better play in non-PPR formats and Singletary is the slightly better option in PPR leagues. Whatever the gap is between the two players in fantasy this year, expect it to be slim.

Diggs is known as one of the better route-runners in the league but proved he was one of the NFL's best deep threats as well last season. It's unclear at this time what part of his game the Bills want to feature in 2020, but it seems reasonable after Allen led the league in uncatchable passes (27 percent) and went 4-for-37 on deep targets not thrown in Brown's direction that Buffalo might want to lean a bit more on the short and intermediate game. It's hard to imagine this passing offense changing all that much in volume even with the addition of Diggs, meaning Brown and Beasley will almost certainly lose about 20 percent of last year's targets (115 and 106, respectively). Knox will also struggle to see enough of an increase in targets to break out, especially if he comes anywhere close to repeating last year's drop percentage of 17.9.


 Miami Dolphins Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
534 398 525 42.7% 57.3%
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick 297 40 10.1% 0.0%
QB Tua Tagovailoa 228 27 6.8% 0.0%
RB Jordan Howard 195 20 49.0% 3.8%
RB Matt Breida 117 42 29.4% 8.0%
WR DeVante Parker 120 0.0% 22.9%
WR Preston Williams 89 0.0% 17.0%
WR Albert Wilson 3 60 0.8% 11.4%
WR Allen Hurns 38 0.0% 7.2%
TE Mike Gesicki 92 0.0% 17.5%

2020 Projected Average Plays per Game: 61.5
2019 Average Plays per Game: 63.9

Miami will almost certainly be a better running team than it was in 2019 because it will be hard to be any worse. From cycling through Kalen Ballage to Mark Walton and Patrick Laird after deciding they didn't always like Kenyan Drake's practice habits, the Dolphins managed to set the stage for a 37-year-old quarterback to lead the team in rushing. If nothing else, Howard provides stability to a backfield that desperately needs it; he is a back who gets a bit more than what is blocked and generally stays healthy (last year was the first time in four pro seasons he didn’t play at least 15 games). He provides almost nothing as a receiver, however, making him something of a polar opposite of Breida, who is a big play waiting to happen and has shown himself to be a good option in the passing game in limited action but always seems to be playing hurt. Their profiles would seem to suggest that while Breida may get "hot" and earn more carries than Howard on occasion, Howard should be a solid bet to get around 15 carries in at least 12 games.

There has been relatively little discussion about Chan Gailey taking over for Chad O'Shea and plenty of assumptions made that the offense will do the same things as last year. It's worth noting that from Weeks 10-17, Gesicki logged 223 snaps in the slot - the fourth-highest total in the league regardless of position over that span. If that kind of usage continues under Gailey, then it's probably not going to matter if Williams' return from an ACL surgery is seamless. Parker's four-year, $40 million contract extension in late December was a pretty clear indication the Dolphins feel he is the lead guy. While that doesn't necessarily mean Williams can't eventually emerge as a 1B to Parker's 1A, it does suggest Miami sees Parker more like a receiver whose second-half pace had him finishing with an 88-1,604-10 line as opposed to the 56-800-8 trajectory he was on before Williams' injury. And most of this conjecture seems to have already embraced Williams' return to form as a given. With virtually no offseason, a new play-caller and a player entering his second season coming off a serious knee injury, it could be October or November before we see the Williams we remember.

New England

 New England Patriots Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
522 476 511 47.7% 52.3%
QB Cam Newton 486 93 19.5% 0.0%
QB Jarrett Stidham 36 6 1.3% 0.0%
RB Sony Michel 179 14 37.6% 2.7%
RB Damien Harris 85 20 17.9% 3.9%
RB James White 59 79 12.4% 15.5%
RB Rex Burkhead 40 16 8.4% 3.1%
WR Julian Edelman 6 117 1.3% 22.9%
WR N'Keal Harry 81 0.0% 15.9%
WR Mohamed Sanu 3 78 0.6% 15.3%
WR Jakobi Meyers 28 0.0% 5.5%
TE Devin Asiasi 33 0.0% 6.5%
TE Dalton Keene 20 0.0% 3.9%

2020 Projected Average Plays per Game: 66.5
2019 Average Plays per Game: 68.4

Tom Brady may be gone, but the same architects for one of the most frustrating running-back-by-committee attacks each year still reside in Foxboro. The major difference this year, however, is how many of the roughly 400 carries that usually get distributed among four or five New England running backs will be taken by Newton. Complicating matters even further is the uncertain status of where Michel is at physically after offseason foot surgery. Does Williams take the job with a strong start if Michel isn't quite ready for Week 1? How much does Burkhead factor into the plans? Michel's fantasy owners likely still have nightmares about the difference in his production last year with Burkhead available versus when he wasn't. And how does White fit into the plans now? It seems unlikely Newton will lean on him as much as Brady did. White has yet to run more than 87 times in a season, so even the slightest hit to his work in the passing game (95 targets in 2019) will hurt.

It would be silly to write off any receiver coming off a 100-catch season, but how much longer can the Patriots continue to ask 34-year-old Edelman to work the middle of the field before he breaks down? Last season was only the second time since 2014 that he was able to play a full slate of games. It's also worth noting that no wide receiver topped 73 catches with Newton as the primary starter in Carolina since Steve Smith hauled in 79 in Newton's rookie year. Harry's inability to separate from man coverage could very well be a long-term concern, but there is some history of Newton being able to work with such receivers (Kelvin Benjamin). Can the kind of trust that needs to get built for a contested-catch receiver like that get built over the course of training camp? Sanu reportedly hired a full-time coach to live with him this offseason as he tries to become more than a "safe" receiver with little big-play ability. Regardless of how much Harry and Sanu step up, Edelman and White are likely very good bets to combine for 200-plus targets again, and the Patriots have to hope they can both hold up.

New York Jets

 New York Jets Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
531 378 516 41.6% 58.4%
QB Sam Darnold 510 36 9.5% 0.0%
RB Le'Veon Bell 211 78 55.8% 15.1%
RB Frank Gore 91 10 24.1% 1.9%
RB La’Mical Perine 31 15 8.2% 2.9%
WR Jamison Crowder 1 111 0.3% 21.5%
WR Breshad Perriman 76 0.0% 14.7%
WR Denzel Mims 1 70 0.3% 13.6%
WR Josh Doctson 29 0.0% 5.6%
TE Chris Herndon 86 0.0% 16.7%
TE Ryan Griffin 29 0.0% 5.6%

2020 Projected Average Plays per Game: 56.8
2019 Average Plays per Game: 59.8

HC Adam Gase has a reputation for consistently running one of the league's most plodding offenses year after year, but Football Outsiders charted the Jets running a play once every 30.6 seconds in "neutral" situations last year - good for 16th in the league. At least last season, the ability to maintain a drive was a much bigger problem than how quickly the offense snapped the ball. Gore was not added just to be a sounding board or show a young team how to work hard. Whether he or Perine ends up working one series for every two Bell does is a question that needs to be answered, but the odds of Bell averaging 20.7 touches again (311 in 15 games last year) are long. With that said, he shouldn't need that kind of workload to amass 1,250 total yards and four total TDs again. The Jets should be able to field a competent offensive line after overhauling it in the offseason, while the additions of Mims and Perriman should stretch the field a bit more and open up a few more running lanes when Bell gets to the second level.

Darnold didn't have much of a chance last year, coming down with mononucleosis after Week 1 and playing virtually the entire season without Herndon. Crowder was the one constant in this offense when Darnold was healthy - something that should be expected to continue in 2020 given how heavily Gase's offenses have relied on slot receivers. Gase famously called Herndon "a unicorn" shortly after his hire last winter because of his belief in the young tight end's ability to play all three downs. The Athletic's Connor Hughes has reported throughout the offseason that the Jets can't wait to unleash Herndon, and I feel confident in saying I probably don't have him projected for enough targets if he plays 16 games this year. For as good of a prospect as Mims is, the lack of offseason work probably ended whatever hopes he had of overtaking Perriman as the team's top perimeter receiver before December. Perriman has accounted for himself nicely late in the last two seasons. While Mims' route tree is not as limited as some seem to believe, he may end being more of a red zone threat than a do-everything alpha as a rookie.


 Dallas Cowboys Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
539 437 534 44.8% 55.2%
QB Dak Prescott 534 63 14.4% 0.0%
RB Ezekiel Elliott 273 64 62.5% 11.6%
RB Tony Pollard 77 44 17.6% 8.0%
WR Amari Cooper 116 0.0% 21.1%
WR Michael Gallup 114 0.0% 20.7%
WR CeeDee Lamb 86 0.0% 15.6%
TE Blake Jarwin 74 0.0% 13.4%

2020 Projected Average Plays per Game: 65.1
2019 Average Plays per Game: 66.8

The retirement of C Travis Frederick and departure of TE Jason Witten sting a bit from the perspective of the quality of run-blocking Elliott will get in 2020, but it's worth noting Dallas ranked second in Football Outsiders' adjusted line yards metric (4.91), so they can probably absorb the hit there better than most. A slightly bigger concern may be Pollard, who is obviously not a threat to Elliott's status as a starter. However, he is someone who has proven to be good enough that the Cowboys may want to rethink how much they want to subject Elliott to 300-plus carries. Zeke already has three on his resume, so another such season would make him one of only 19 running backs in NFL history to have four. Fantasy owners also can't overlook the fact he has been extremely durable through four straight high-usage seasons; even though he is only 25 years of age, there is bound to be a year in the near future when this Maserati needs to spend some time in the repair shop. Another thing to consider: Elliott's rushing yards per game have declined every year.

It's impossible to know to what degree Cooper was limited by knee and ankle injuries last season, but Gallup averaged more targets than he did. While there's no question Cooper is one of the league's premier receiving talents, his home/road splits - in 2019 and throughout his career - are perplexing and have led to more inconsistency than an alpha receiver should have. Gallup's three-score Week 17 put a nice bow on his breakout second season, but it also accounted for half of his touchdowns for the year. On the plus side, Gallup lined up almost exclusively as the team's "X" receiver - the position that most of the league's top receivers play - in his second year, which should say just how much the Cowboys think of him. Randall Cobb lined up in the slot on 91.9 percent of his snaps in 2019 (Cooper was at 14.2 and Gallup was at 13.5), so any doubts about Lamb being the primary slot option can probably be dismissed. It shouldn't be surprising if this year's trio comes pretty close to copying last year's 119-113-83 target distribution to Cooper, Gallup and Cobb, respectively. How the Cowboys redistribute last year's 126 tight end targets (83 of which went to Witten) will have a huge bearing on whether Cooper and/or Gallup leap into superstardom and/or Jarwin becomes a low-end TE1.

New York Giants

 New York Giants Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
558 405 543 42.1% 57.9%
QB Daniel Jones 528 61 15.1% 0.0%
RB Saquon Barkley 272 94 67.2% 17.3%
RB Javon Leake 39 16 9.6% 2.9%
WR Sterling Shepard 95 0.0% 17.5%
WR Golden Tate 3 101 0.7% 18.6%
WR Darius Slayton 1 82 0.2% 15.1%
TE Evan Engram 81 0.0% 14.9%
TE Kaden Smith 32 0.0% 5.9%

2020 Projected Average Plays per Game: 60.2
2019 Average Plays per Game: 64.2

It's unclear at the moment if the Giants are in a better position to handle an injury to Barkley this season or if new OC Jason Garrett is an upgrade over former HC Pat Shurmur as a play-caller. However, they now have little excuse when it comes to providing Barkley a running lane. A left side of projected starting LT Andrew Thomas and LG Will Hernandez should emerge as one of the league's better run-blocking duos in short order. RG Kevin Zeitler graded out as the 13th-best run-blocking guard in the league last year on what was mostly a poor line, suggesting he can improve on that finish in his second year with New York. One of bigger mysteries with the Giants this year is just how much Garrett has changed as a play-caller since he last called plays in 2012. One thing does seem certain, however: his Dallas teams never seemed to have a problem feeding their top back. From DeMarco Murray to Darren McFadden to Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys' top back handled at least 270 touches every year over his last seven seasons in Dallas.

Barkley, Tate, Shepard, Slayton and Engram were never able to take the field at the same time in 2019, so we don't know much more about this passing game than we did at the same time a season ago. Nevertheless, the two most consistent fantasy players of the receiving group for fantasy purposes last year were Engram and Tate. Most fantasy owners know the book on Engram: a target monster who performs at an elite level when healthy but not a player we can count on to last an entire season. Tate got the nod over Shepard as the primary slot option, playing inside over 85 percent of the time he was on the field. Tate rewarded that decision by posting 80 yards and/or one touchdown in eight of the 11 games he played. Slayton took the fantasy world by storm with a trio of two-touchdown games as a rookie, but each of the efforts came against three of the worst secondaries in the league. There's more to his game than just being the vertical threat he was drafted to be, but he figures to be a boom-or-bust option in fantasy for as long as Engram and Tate are healthy and/or able.


 Philadelphia Eagles Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
572 436 566 43.3% 56.7%
QB Carson Wentz 555 53 12.2% 0.0%
QB Jalen Hurts 17 18 4.1% 0.0%
RB Miles Sanders 247 81 56.7% 14.3%
RB Boston Scott 73 41 16.7% 7.2%
RB Michael Warren 35 5 8.0% 0.9%
WR Alshon Jeffery 34 0.0% 6.0%
WR DeSean Jackson 71 0.0% 12.5%
WR Jalen Reagor 5 75 1.1% 13.3%
WR Marquise Goodwin 3 43 0.7% 7.6%
TE Zach Ertz 116 0.0% 20.5%
TE Dallas Goedert 77 0.0% 13.6%

2020 Projected Average Plays per Game: 67.2
2019 Average Plays per Game: 69.0

There's a general perception that HC Doug Pederson prefers a committee backfield approach. After all, Sanders' 179 carries were the most by any running back during his time in Philly. Perception is often not reality and that appears to be the case here. In 2016, Ryan Mathews was a 29-year-old back that had the misfortune of having one of the greatest pass-catching backs in NFL history on the same roster in Darren Sproles. Pederson was just starting to ramp up Mathews' workload late in that season before a neck injury ended his season (and ultimately his career). LeGarrette Blount was well on pace for 200-plus rushing attempts in 2017 before Jay Ajayi became available via trade, and it wasn't long after his arrival from the Dolphins that the "Jaytrain" was getting a steady 15 carries per week. Ajayi was expected to be featured early and often in 2018, but he tore his ACL in Week 5. A couple of months later, Josh Adams emerged with a pair of 20-carry games before Sproles eventually returned from an injury. Jordan Howard quickly emerged as the leader of the pack in 2019 and was also well on his way to 200-plus carries before a shoulder injury put him on the shelf. Pass on Sanders in fantasy this year if you feel as if Philadelphia running backs are snake-bitten, but don't do it because "Pederson likes committees."

What Wentz did amid a rash of injuries at receiver last year was nothing short of incredible. The bad news is Jackson and Goodwin haven't come close to finishing a season in a while and Jeffery could begin this year on the PUP list. The good news is Philadelphia attacked the position early and often in the draft and focused on speed with all three of those picks, meaning another extended absence from Jackson shouldn't cripple the offense like it did last year. Another piece of good news? Few - if any - teams rely on the receiver position less than the Eagles, who have seen the team target share at the position hold steady in the high-40s over the last two years. Some of that is due to the injuries Philadelphia has suffered at receiver, but some it is because the Eagles have one of the best tight end rooms in the league. For as good as Goedert already is and how good he will likely become, last year's finish has led to the perception he is on the verge of a TE1 season. It's easy to forget that while the Eagles love using two tight ends, much of Goedert's production came with Ertz limping to the finish line and Greg Ward serving as the No. 1 receiver. It's at least one year too soon to fade Ertz. Tight ends tend to age relatively well and it has been well-documented how strong Ertz's connection is with Wentz.


 Washington Football Team Workload Projections
Pos Player Pass Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
499 401 483 44.6% 55.4%
QB Dwayne Haskins 473 41 10.2% 0.0%
RB Derrius Guice 133 21 33.2% 4.3%
RB Adrian Peterson 131 7 32.7% 1.4%
RB Antonio Gibson 66 53 16.5% 11.0%
RB J.D. McKissic 17 38 4.2% 7.9%
WR Terry McLaurin 1 110 0.2% 22.8%
WR Antonio Gandy-Golden 65 0.0% 13.5%
WR Steven Sims 3 85 0.7% 17.6%
TE Logan Thomas 52 0.0% 10.8%

2020 Projected Average Plays per Game: 60.0
2019 Average Plays per Game: 55.3

Before the arrival of Christian McCaffrey, HC Ron Rivera endorsed the two-back approach with his teams in Carolina. That may be the only bit of clarity we will have entering the season at running back in Washington. Nothing should be considered off the table, including Peterson getting released before the opener or sharing carries with Guice. McKissic may be asked to assume the old Chris Thompson role or may not make the final roster. Same with Bryce Love. Speaking of McCaffrey, Rivera famously compared Gibson's skill set to that of the All-Pro. For good measure, Washington also signed Peyton Barber to provide more competition. About the only thing I feel confident in saying is that Guice and Gibson will make the team and have roles. Guice should lead an early-down committee at the very least, while Gibson's role could range anywhere from Cordarrelle Patterson to Guice's complement. The bigger problem for fantasy owners: this mess might be worth sorting through if it was the Saints, but we're talking about a team that averaged 16.6 points and 55.3 plays last season. Even with the talent the team added in the offseason, the offense needs to make huge strides just to get to average.

Rivera must have left his heart in Carolina even after taking the Washington job, as he compared another one of his former pupils (D.J. Moore) to a member of his current team (McLaurin). There are some parallels with that comparison, however, and it would not be a stretch to see the Ohio State product make the same kind of second-year leap Moore did. Unlike Moore, McLaurin won't have the benefit of a player like McCaffrey to occupy the defense's attention. That's not meant to diminish Sims, who established himself as a trusted target for Haskins late in the season out of the slot. Especially after Kelvin Harmon tore his ACL this summer, Sims should enter camp with a sizeable edge over the competition to be McLaurin's sidekick. Gandy-Golden figures to be thrust into a major role as a result of Harmon's injury and has freakish size (6-4, 223), but his tape suggests he is more of a contested-catch option and less of the deep threat he was at Liberty. The team also seems genuinely excited about Thomas emerging as the starter at tight end. While he has improved statistically every year since making the conversion from quarterback, he is another player where it feels like the team is trying to speak his ability to be a solid pro into existence.

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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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