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Workload Projections: AFC & NFC South

Preseason Matchup Analysis

By Doug Orth | 8/3/21 |


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 is to provide thoughts and analysis on some of the issues that played a factor in the way I distributed the workload for each team.

Notes: These are 16-game workload projections. Although the industry judges players and fantasy projections on year-end totals, the fantasy season will end for the overwhelming majority of owners after Week 17 - and not Week 18 - as we enter a brave new world of a 17-game schedule. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to project what teams will do (or if they even need to have certain players suit up) in the final week of any season.

The bolded numbers near the top of the middle three columns are the 16-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 do not include sacks - my projections also will not - so last year's plays per game will be slightly lower than what you might find on others sites.

Players with a next to their name have some degree of injury concern.


 Houston Texans Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
511 410 511 44.5% 55.5%
QB Tyrod Taylor 219 54 13.2%
QB Davis Mills 292 25 6.1%
RB David Johnson 139 42 33.9% 8.2%
RB Phillip Lindsay 117 17 28.5% 3.3%
RB Mark Ingram 51 10 12.4% 2.0%
WR Brandin Cooks 109 21.3%
WR Keke Coutee 37 7.2%
WR Anthony Miller 74 14.5%
WR Nico Collins 65 12.7%
TE Jordan Akins 44 8.6%
TE Brevin Jordan 62 12.1%

2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 57.6
2020 Average Plays per Game: 55.6

* Some look at the Texans and see plenty of targets for a team that could very well trail by double figures in every game. Others might see offensive ineptitude on the level of the 2020 Jets and wonder if even garbage time can make any of these players remotely viable for fantasy purposes. For example, Lindsay is a solid complementary back at the very least. The problem is he is an undersized north-south runner coming off a season in which he saw 14 targets in 11 games and now playing in an offense that will probably not afford him the opportunity to pound away at defenses for more than a half. Then there is Taylor, who has played 14 games over the last three seasons combined and whose one start last year against a bad Cincinnati defense resulted in Keenan Allen posting a 4-37-0 line. Given Taylor's inability to raise the level of play of those around him and Mills' inexperience, this offense might struggle to reach 500 pass attempts in 17 games WITH the benefit of garbage time.

The receiver group actually possesses some talent, but good luck figuring out who the second option behind Cooks will be. Coutee seemed to be someone Deshaun Watson liked more than any member of the previous coaching staff, but he could be that guy. Collins is a size-speed specimen (6-4 and 215 pounds with 4.43 speed), but it's hard to get behind a rookie receiver who was a bit of a one-trick pony at Michigan and had one (maybe two) dominant games in about 2 1/2 years. Taylor is not going to reward that trick nearly as well as Watson would have. The second-best receiver on the roster now could very well be Miller, but he has only been slightly more durable than Coutee. He is my favorite of the bunch, but we are talking about 40 percent confidence in him versus 30 percent for each of the others. He has his own problems, falling behind the rest of his position group in his playbook after arriving from Chicago less than two weeks ago.


 Indianapolis Colts Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
557 458 557 45.1% 54.9%
QB Carson Wentz 499 41 9.0%
QB Jacob Eason 58 9 2.0%
RB Jonathan Taylor 278 47 60.7% 8.4%
RB Marlon Mack 84 7 18.3% 1.3%
RB Nyheim Hines 38 64 8.3% 11.5%
WR T.Y. Hilton 87 15.6%
WR Michael Pittman Jr. 96 17.2%
WR Parris Campbell 8 84 1.7% 15.1%
WR Zach Pascal 47 8.4%
TE Jack Doyle 29 5.2%
TE Mo Alie-Cox 42 7.5%
TE Kylen Granson 44 7.9%

2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 63.4
2020 Average Plays per Game: 63.2

* It might be time to pump the brakes on Taylor a bit. The good news: the man most in charge of Taylor's usage before Thanksgiving last year is no longer with the team (venerable RBs coach Tom Rathman retired). As good as Rathman was at his job, he was a small part of the problem in regards to why it took Taylor so long to emerge. What's the problem? We can almost count on Taylor losing at least 60 percent of the receiving work among Indianapolis running backs to Hines. The secondary issue is that the team loves Mack - this is a coaching staff (specifically HC Frank Reich) who seems to buy into the hot-hand theory - so an in-game change cannot be completely ruled out if Taylor starts slow. Last but not least, it is hard to ignore just how favorable Taylor's matchups were during his breakout. He saw Houston twice, Jacksonville and Las Vegas in four of his final five regular-season games. Taylor's schedule looks quite favorable again this year, but that alone does not negate the first two points. Call them minor concerns, but they are concerns nonetheless.

* Much of what we think about this offense in September will hinge on how long (or if) Wentz will be sidelined. Assuming his foot injury does not keep him out too long (I have projected to return in Week 3), Pittman makes the most sense as the most likely candidate to take over as the alpha of the receiver group. Not only does he have the prototypical size for an X receiver at 6-4 and 223 pounds, but he also proved himself a very capable downfield wideout in college. (We did not get to see it as much last year with his early leg injury and Philip Rivers serving as his quarterback.) Campbell is a special talent who has not been able to buy a break. He is an example of someone who fantasy owners should continue to believe in, and his draft cost is low enough now where it is not a big deal if his luck fails to change.


 Jacksonville Jaguars Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
524 441 524 45.7% 54.3%
QB Trevor Lawrence 524 77 17.5%
RB Travis Etienne 118 79 26.8% 15.1%
RB James Robinson 187 35 42.4% 6.7%
RB Carlos Hyde 48 5 10.9% 1.0%
WR D.J. Chark 121 23.1%
WR Marvin Jones 104 19.8%
WR Laviska Shenault 11 89 2.5% 17.0%
WR Collin Johnson 27 5.2%
TE James O'Shaughnessy 32 6.1%

2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 60.3
2020 Average Plays per Game: 59.6

* While there has been plenty of discussion about the impact Etienne will have on Robinson's rushing workload, what has received minimal consideration is that Lawrence also may be an obstacle. Sure, the No. 1 overall pick will do the majority of his damage from the pocket, but he is very much a threat to keep it for himself on RPOs five or six times per game and break one of those for 20 or more yards. With that said, it's not that difficult to project Robinson for more than 200 carries if the Jaguars turn out to be better on defense than most expect. But there is part of the problem: Jacksonville faces Arizona, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Seattle and Buffalo over the first half of the season. It will be hard to stick with the run in any of those contests. Etienne's role is not nearly as difficult to predict as some are making it: new HC Urban Meyer utilized mismatch weapons like Percy Harvin, Parris Campbell and Curtis Samuel throughout his coaching career. What is harder to figure out is if he will view (and ultimately, use) Etienne differently than he did the other three because the Clemson product enters his program with much more experience as a running back and less as a receiver. Is he a third-down back who lines up in the slot in four-wide packages and only in the backfield when Jacksonville needs a big play? Does he mimic Alvin Kamara in terms of being a complement? Or does he start as a complement but have a legitimate chance to take over the backfield late in the season?

* There is not much clarity at receiver either, outside of the fact Chark, Jones and Shenault will be the top three options. What is clear is there should not be six rounds of separation between them in fantasy drafts. Of all the players I have projected for at least 120 targets, Chark is the riskiest of the bunch. Shenault's role is somewhat in question because it is the same one many seem to have in mind for Etienne. There is no question Etienne's presence figures to cap Shenault's upside, but perhaps it makes more sense for fantasy managers to view him as the likely primary slot option that comes with a bit of rushing upside and not merely as an offensive weapon - the label he got stuck with in college and during his first year as a pro. Jones has a head start on the bunch after spending the last two years with new OC Darrell Bevell in Detroit. Jones may not be lead receiver material, but I also don't believe he's going to be the No. 3 either - especially with Bevell around. He is the most likely of the bunch to be inconsistent on a weekly basis given that he will run more downfield routes than the other two, but that is already factored into this 13th-round ADP.


 Tennessee Titans Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
507 483 507 48.8% 51.2%
QB Ryan Tannehill 507 47 9.7%
RB Derrick Henry 315 26 65.2% 5.1%
RB Darrynton Evans 75 46 15.5% 9.1%
RB Brian Hill 44 7 9.1% 1.4%
WR A.J. Brown 126 24.9%
WR Julio Jones 115 22.7%
WR Josh Reynolds 56 11.0%
TE Anthony Firkser 68 13.4%

2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 62.1
2020 Average Plays per Game: 62.4

* Here is a paragraph from my last article (a pick-by-pick summation of a recent FFPC Pros vs. Joes draft regarding Brown and Jones:

"It seems as though most people have focused primarily on how Jones' arrival in Tennessee affects the upside of Brown. Has anyone seriously considered that Jones, who remains as physically dominant as any receiver in the game, may end up being the primary option? Or at least the 1B to Brown's 1A? It's not a foregone conclusion each of them has about six spike-week games apiece and similar production in the other five. The risk with Jones is his health, which had been a relative non-issue since 2016 before last year. Then again, Brown missed two games last season and is coming off surgery on both knees this offseason. It's a mistake to pretend Jones does not have a chance to match Brown statistically this season."

* Although I despise making comparisons across sports in this column, the Titans are set up like an NBA "superteam" on offense right now. Henry will almost certainly handle 65-70 percent of the carries, while Brown and Jones are near locks to have target shares well over 20 percent. (I have Jones projected to miss two games or else his target total and share might have been higher than Brown's.) In other words, that trio will almost certainly touch the ball on about 75 to 80 percent of the team's offensive snaps, much like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for the Miami Heat about 10 years ago or Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant for the Golden State Warriors a few years ago. The point is simple: all three players are capable of taking a game over by themselves. They may cap one another's upside on occasion, but there will be times when at least two of them go off. Henry's recent workload, Brown's recent knee problems (and playing style) and Jones' troublesome foot and hamstring may be all that stands between this offense being great again or truly special. On the topic of potentially special offenses, how does Tannehill have the weapons he does now and not go among the top 10 quarterbacks?


 Atlanta Falcons Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
606 388 606 39.0% 61.0%
QB Matt Ryan 606 34 8.8%
RB Mike Davis 159 52 41.0% 8.6%
RB Cordarrelle Patterson 43 16 11.1% 2.6%
RB Qadree Ollison 101 16 26.0% 2.6%
RB Javian Hawkins 48 13 12.4% 2.1%
WR Calvin Ridley 162 26.7%
WR Russell Gage 2 107 0.5% 17.7%
WR Frank Darby 49 8.1%
TE Kyle Pitts 101 16.7%
TE Hayden Hurst 57 9.4%

2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 61.9
2020 Average Plays per Game: 64.8

* Davis seems to be gaining traction as a 311trendy pick in the third or fourth round, but it is hard to tell whether his supporters believe he is the most proven option on a relatively unproven depth chart or if they think he will simply repeat what he did last season in Carolina. Arthur Smith should be able to spark the running game, but the new head coach did not bring Tennessee's offensive line with him nor is there any guarantee Davis will be featured. To that end, Davis was sharing time with Rodney Smith near the end of last season. He has also not proven to be durable either, never handling more than last year's 165 carries (or 224 touches) in a season. This has much more of a hot-hand/committee feel to it than most want to acknowledge. Ollison reportedly impressed during offseason workouts and could emerge as the between-the-tackles hammer (at 230 pounds) in addition to a 1B back. Hawkins may be somewhat undisciplined, but he is the only back on the roster with big-play ability. Patterson will also steal some reps and could end up being a bigger contributor than Hawkins, at least early in the season. In other words, Davis should be considered the favorite to handle the bulk of receiving and pass-blocking duties in this backfield. Everything else could be up for grabs.

* Of the 34 receivers who attracted at least 100 targets in 2020, only A.J. Green (7.0) and Jerry Jeudy (9.7) averaged fewer fantasy points than Gage's 11. I think there is a distinct chance he loses snaps to Darby. Gage has two significant advantages though: 1) established chemistry with Ryan and 2) Smith's repeated backing of a larger role in 2021. As good as Pitts is expected to be right away, he will not attract the same kind of volume Julio Jones did. Ridley's targets will undoubtedly increase from last year's 143, but how much higher can that number get in 2021? Considering Atlanta will probably attempt another 600-plus throws this year, Gage should be locked into at least another 100 targets even if Ridley and Pitts surpass my projections above. With that kind of volume, it will be difficult for any capable receiver to finish with fewer than 60 catches. And if he has actually made significant improvement this offseason as has been suggested, he will probably see enough volume to flirt with 80 receptions.


 Carolina Panthers Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
574 423 574 42.4% 57.6%
QB Sam Darnold 574 40 9.5%
RB Christian McCaffrey 282 118 66.7% 20.6%
RB Chuba Hubbard 77 13 18.2% 2.3%
WR D.J. Moore 3 121 0.7% 21.1%
WR Robby Anderson 2 111 0.5% 19.3%
WR Terrace Marshall Jr. 1 85 0.2% 14.8%
TE Dan Arnold 40 7.0%

2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 62.3
2020 Average Plays per Game: 59.8

* There is only one offensive position that features any degree of mystery in Carolina this year, but it comes with several layers. Will Darnold's time with Anderson in New York give the Temple product a leg up on Moore? Or will Moore's incredible talent win out? After leaning on Anderson as the short and intermediate guy and Moore as the more of a vertical receiver for most of 2020, the roles appeared to flip during Moore's last-season surge. Did OC Joe Brady come to some kind of realization and will he stick to it to begin this year? Will Marshall occupy the role Curtis Samuel leaves behind immediately or will he begin mainly as a red zone weapon and grow into a more regular role by midseason?

All of these questions need answers. None of them figures to get answered before Week 1, but we can make some educated guesses. Taking nothing away from the ability Anderson has - as it has now become clear former Jets HC Adam Gase did not come close to maximizing his potential in New York - Moore is a superior talent. Both players should get plenty of lead receiver attention and neither one has to necessarily be stuck in a cookie-cutter role such as possession receiver or field-stretcher, but Moore should see the ball more than Anderson when it matters the most. With that said, it is hard to justify the three-round gap between their ADP. Marshall belongs well behind both from a fantasy perspective, but his time with Brady at LSU should allow him to contribute early. The second-round pick is a much different kind of receiver than Samuel. While he may not come anywhere close to Samuel's 138 opportunities in 2020 (97 targets, 41 carries), Marshall is a reasonable bet to lead the team in receiving touchdowns as the likely slot - a highly athletic 6-3 and 200-pound one at that - who could emerge as Darnold's favorite target inside the 20.

New Orleans

 New Orleans Saints Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
539 429 539 44.3% 55.7%
QB Jameis Winston 516 33 7.7%
QB Taysom Hill 23 57 13.3%
RB Alvin Kamara 196 112 45.7% 20.8%
RB Latavius Murray 139 25 32.4% 4.6%
WR Michael Thomas 93 17.3%
WR Tre'Quan Smith 1 76 0.2% 14.1%
WR Deonte Harris 2 51 0.5% 9.5%
WR Marquez Callaway 66 12.2%
TE Adam Trautman 89 16.5%

2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 60.5
2020 Average Plays per Game: 63.5

* Just enough doubt exists under center that any player listed above could be a significant value at some point early this season. A Hill-led offense probably makes the most sense with Thomas potentially missing as much as half the season - I have him projected to be sidelined through the Week 6 bye - since the Saints have the line and running backs to execute a Ravens-like offense. A Winston-led offense may be best for the long-term, however. The big question: has Winston progressed enough from his days with Tampa Bay that he can lift the play of his supporting cast despite the absence of Thomas? Is he disciplined enough after one year of observing Drew Brees to avoid the tight-window throw and throw short instead? Can a quarterback change his natural inclination mid-career (i.e. make a transition from downfield thrower to someone who embraces checking it down when necessary)?

* Most fantasy managers seem to be assuming that New Orleans will run essentially the same offense it did under Brees but with perhaps a few more downfield throws, especially with Thomas sidelined. It is probably an unwise stance to take considering HC Sean Payton transformed the offense into a ground-and-pound unit once Brees went down last season, doing so while essentially minimizing Kamara's receiving ability. However, if we assume the modified Brees offense sticks, Smith would likely be the top target for the Saints. The problem is that while many offenses obviously have plays designed for the Z receiver, most passing games are structured around the X (usually Thomas when healthy). In other words, either Smith is in for a temporary position change (somewhat unlikely) or another player (most likely Callaway) will play the X. From a theoretical perspective, it suggests Callaway should be the primary receiver in Thomas' absence, particularly since he appears to be the only receiver on the roster that comes close to matching Thomas' physical profile.

* Trautman is a second-year player with an incredibly high upside, but his projection seems to be ridiculously high for a player who saw no more than three targets in any game as a rookie. There were certainly reasons for that, but 2021 is presenting a bit of a perfect storm in terms of allowing the former third-round pick to reach my projection. Seeing as how New Orleans has a rather nondescript set of receivers without Thomas, Trautman (6-6, 253) presents an easy and safe target who could end up being the focal point of the passing attack (after Kamara). When we look at the Saints from that perspective and consider Jared Cook saw four targets per game as the third option in this offense, 89 targets for Trautman does not seem as unrealistic.

Tampa Bay

 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Workload Projections
Pos Player Pa Att Carries Targets Carry Share Target Share
596 394 596 39.8% 60.2%
QB Tom Brady 596 26 6.6%
RB Ronald Jones 177 23 44.9% 3.9%
RB Giovani Bernard 54 61 13.7% 10.2%
RB Leonard Fournette 129 26 32.7% 4.4%
WR Mike Evans 118 19.8%
WR Chris Godwin 123 20.6%
WR Antonio Brown 96 16.1%
WR Scotty Miller 2 22 0.5% 3.7%
TE Rob Gronkowski 53 8.9%
TE O.J. Howard 48 8.1%

2021 Projected Average Plays per Game: 61.9
2020 Average Plays per Game: 62.2

* Even with all the talk about Jones and Fournette being below-average receivers, Tampa Bay running backs combined for 84 catches on 119 targets a year ago. That is kind of a big deal when we consider Brady's history with satellite backs and that he recruited Bernard to join what seems like a full backfield. The difference between Bernard and Brady's previous dump-off options (such as Kevin Faulk and James White) is that the Buccaneers are stacked with high-end talent at receiver, making it less likely the former Bengal will be a high-volume target. However, there is also a case to be made that Evans, Godwin and Brown were all around last year - Evans was hurt for most of the season, Godwin missed time as well and Brown signed late - and Brady still kept his running backs highly involved. At least half of those targets should go to Bernard this year, and that is assuming Jones and Fournette stay healthy. As such, there is a very good chance that Bernard is not only relevant in fantasy this year, but that he is also the most productive back on the roster for fantasy purposes.

* Only camp observers know if Howard looks like himself following last year's Achilles injury. His 11-146-2 line in four games was not overly impressive, but his 19 targets are encouraging. It also means he was on pace for 76 targets and a 44-544-8 campaign, which is about what Gronk put together (45-623-7) en route to a TE8 finish. There is probably too much competition for targets to expect either player to manage another top-10 finish, but the odds are favorable Howard will complete a season at some point, right? In addition, would it be all that surprising if the 26-year-old Howard, who got off to a much faster start than Gronkowski did last year, became the snap leader at tight end while the Bucs find ways to keep the 32-year-old fresh? It is not a wild notion, and all it might take for fantasy managers to bump Howard up into high-end TE2 status is a couple of positive reports about his readiness during camp.

East | North | South | West

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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