In less than a season, Washington went from one of the more promising young teams to an unmitigated disaster. Coming off of a 10 win season and their first postseason trip since 2007, they won only three games and had the majority of their coaching staff get fired.
Washington 2014 Schedule
|4||New York Giants|
|11||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|12||@||San Francisco 49ers|
|14||St. Louis Rams|
|15||@||New York Giants|
Per norm, tread lightly when dissecting anything schedule related, but there’s a lot to like here at first blush outside of the NFC West affairs. I’m beyond excited for the Washington fantasy outlook this season because of the type of team I believe they are going to field on offense and defense. Backpedalling a bit, there’s a reason that the Shanaclan was disposed of after last season, and it has to do with their epic collapse offensively.
Washington Offense NFL Rank 2012-2013
Oh my. Washington went from being one the league’s most efficient offenses to being a complete mess. In terms of plays per game, this was an instance where quantity was definitely subpar to quality. Since the offense descended into Hades, their already poor defense that once aided their fantasy output, never stood a chance.
Washington Defense NFL Rank 2012-2013
See, the defense was already bad in 2012; they just weren’t on the field as often. Once the offense caved in on itself, Washington was a beacon for fantasy streaming. Last season, they allowed nine top 12 weekly quarterbacks, 14 top 24 running backs, 15 top 24 receivers and seven top 12 tight ends in PPR formats. They don’t project to be much better this season, signing only Tracy Porter, Jason Hatcher and Ryan Clark as additions, so it can be worrisome to fantasy output if the defense is constantly putting the offense off script.
They also should retain some of that play calling volume with the hire of Jay Gruden as their head coach. Through three seasons in Cincinnati, the Bengals won 30 games, disguising some of the pass heavy, play calling goodness from Gruden, but here are his splits.
[table id=82 /]
RG in Season Three
Whether or not the return of Robert Griffin to begin the season in 2013 was the correct decision was infinitely debated throughout most of last season. We can play that song and dance here, but in the end, he played and the results were a mixed bag just like that argument. Griffin notched five top ten weeks, five weeks below QB20, and three in the middle.
In two fewer games played than his rookie season, Griffin attempted 63 more passes than he did as a rookie. Throwing four fewer touchdowns, seven more interceptions for only three more yards, he suffered regression across the board. He posted an FPAT (Fantasy Points Per Aimed Throw) of .39, which ranked in the bottom 12, right next to Kellen Clemens.
As a member of the Konami Code team, Griffin rebounded to run 86 times last season, rushing for at least 20 yards in nine of his 13 starts and 40 or more yards in five. He failed to score a rushing touchdown however, and has run for only one score in his past 22 games.
Now a full year removed from his injuries and a breath of fresh life coming from Jay Gruden, he should be back on track to fantasy relevance once more. Going back to when he was coming out as a rookie, I had Griffin graded as the third best QB prospect since 1999 in my scoring model that I use when evaluating prospects (Big Ben and Andrew Luck have the highest scores). Evaluating quarterbacks is hard, but the neat thing about the model that I use is that rushing stats are not incorporated into the final score. His final season yards per attempt and touchdown to interception ratios are among the top ten of players in the database.
That’s important here because it’s easy to forget that Griffin has elite pedigree throwing the football. C.D. Carter took a look at the possibilities of what could become of Griffin if he were to become a pocket passer, and the results weren’t glowing based on his NFL success thus far. Now, Baylor ran an open offense in which a lot of his read were predetermined, but Gruden has maximized the strengths of Andy Dalton by opening up his offense while in Cincinnati.
Stretching the field vertically is something Griffin excelled at in college and in his rookie season.Like everything else last season, he took a step back in this area. Going vertical is something that Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay are going to be doing a lot this season based on prior work that Gruden has done with Dalton.
Pass Attempts on Throws Over 20 Yards Downfield
[table id=83 /]
*Table Provided By Pro Football Focus
All of Dalton’s 2013 totals on throws downfield trump both seasons from Griffin combined. The 14 touchdowns Dalton threw on such throws are haymakers. Paired with Griffin’s arm strength, the Washington offense is no longer going to be built on landing body blows to the defense. The reason we know this is going to happen goes beyond only the Gruden/Griffin marriage as well.
Santa Finally Stopped At the Griffin Household
That long ball percentage is going to go up because Washington brought in one of the most productive splash play receivers in the league when they signed DeSean Jackson. Since entering the league in 2008, no player has more touchdown receptions of 30 yards or more and he ranks second in receptions of such length (Pierre Garcon is also on this list).
Reception Leaders of 30+ Yards Since 2008
[table id=84 /]
Jackson is being brought in to make a dynamic impact. Many will be looking for him to be the player he was last season in Philadelphia, but he’s going to very likely be used in a similar fashion that he was used prior to Chip Kelly’s arrival. I won’t just tell you that Jackson had an outlier season a year ago, I’ll tell you why it happened.
[table id=85 /]
Jackson posted career highs across the board because Kelly moved him around so much, feeding him the highest total of targets that come along with a high success rate. He was used in the slot more than ever and had his highest total of receptions come from inside of ten yards from the line of scrimmage ever. Those types of points tacked on to a player that can hit home runs smooths out weekly variance extremely.
I’m sure the staff in Washington is cognizant of this, so maybe Jackson rolls some of those targets over. In all likelihood that won’t happen to the degree in which it did in Philadelphia because Washington also brought in fifth year receiver Andre Roberts, who is pretty handy the slot himself.
Andre Roberts Career Slot Production
[table id=86 /]
*Slot Usage Provided By Pro Football Focus
Roberts has some flexibility, but he’s going to eat the lion’s share of slot targets in this offense. He’s set up in a situation to be a key contributor in a real football sense. As the fourth option in the passing game, fantasy folks don’t want attachment because the volume just isn’t going to exist.
Those two new pieces in the passing game stand to impact Pierre Garcon to a degree. In 2013, Garcon was a fantasy fugazi, stacking the most hallow production in the league while being a subpar target in terms of fantasy production for his team. Despite leading the NFL in targets (182), Garcon only posted seven top 24 weeks, failing to meet the criteria to be a king of consistency at wide receiver.
Just how crazy was the volume that the Washington passing game had in 2013? They trailed by two or more scores in the first half in eight different games, tied for most in the league with Houston and Jacksonville. They also trailed by two or more scores in nine different games while in the second halves of games, creating the most off script offense in the NFL by a large amount. Garcon had the fourth highest target percentage change in the NFL out of neutral game situations.
Most Pass Attempts in 2013 While Trailing
Garcon should see an efficiency increase to offset some of his volume regression with Jackson opening holes in the defense and Roberts occupying intermediate defenders. With those additions, I still see Garcon holding on as a strong WR2 in fantasy football.
All of the additions make things sketchy for Jordan Reed. He was a strong performer in terms of targets for his team, but was also lateral in that production with teammate Logan Paulsen. The Shanaclan has a long history of elevating tight end play with the way their offense is constructed on throwing off of the running game. 78 percent of Reed’s targets came trailing and over a third came down ten or more points. C.D. Carter interviewed Bengals writer Joe Goodberry, who alluded to not having much faith in Gruden using his tight ends as true weapons in the passing game. I came to the same conclusion in the Bengals Team Outlook with the change to Hue Jackson.
Before pointing to personnel, Gruden also inherited two first round tight end selections that were among the best pass catching prospects at the position over the past decade. Reed is a solid receiver, but not the explosive talent that many consider him. retaining tight end coach McVay to call plays helps his cause, as well as Jackson clearing space, so there is still promise for him to ascend. I personally can’t buy him at the cost of a single digit selection based on good faith, but I do believe he will provide lower end TE1 output.
What Happens to Alf?
Morris, like Griffin, had a pretty large falloff in terms of fantasy production, but maintained his level of play peripherally. I frequently caution the use of cumulative data and centering your draft on season long production and projections for reasons exactly like Morris.
In 2012, Morris finished as PPR RB8, but had only five top 12 weeks. He closed 2012 with a 42 point week 17 that was hallow for almost everyone in fantasy outside of daily leagues. In this past season, Morris still had nine top 24 weeks in PPR, but only one was in the top 12.
Morris was completely neutered by so much off script offense since he’s a sledgehammer that has no involvement in the passing game. He was still amongst the top 12 backs in terms of fantasy rushing production, but was a bottom five back in terms of receiving production. His overall output adding up masks his weekly ceiling in PPR leagues.
— Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) June 16, 2014
As mentioned in the game splits in the lead off, Gruden has been a balanced play caller, but only because the Bengals were a good overall team during his tenure. Pointing to the amount of carries that Cedric Benson or BenJarvus Green-Ellis had doesn’t paint the best picture because those backs played regularly in neutral game situations. Take a deeper look at Gruden’s splits as the game situation changes.
Morris is a talent I enjoy, but as Pat Thorman states, he’s consistently running uphill for fantasy production because he’s completely dependent on game script that we can’t anticipate being consistently favorable. The overall effect that reception bonus scoring has on running backs is a big deal, and one that deflates the value of Morris in the first three rounds. If he’s steadily falling lower and lower, I may bite as a RB2 because I’m expecting a lot of points to be scored by this offense, but I want backs that can’t be removed from the game by game flow.
The interesting part of many attaching themselves to Roy Helu this year because of the Gruden hire is that he was horrendous in the passing game a year ago. That was in an offense that had limited options and was in spots to play up to a back of his supposed strengths. He’s also entering the final year of his rookie contract form the previous coaching staff, so the team really doesn’t have much long term investment in giving him a large role.
2014 Fantasy Relevant Projections
Best Option to Crash through their projection without injury: Morris – If Washington rebounds overall, closer to their 2012 form, he’ll have more opportunity to trump his ADP.
Biggest Risk to fall through their projection: Garcon – I would’ve said Griffin here, but as quarterback, you can overcome any plummet that can occur. With so many new players in house, and if Reed stays on the field, Garcon’s target share could fall lower than expected. Not the most elite touchdown producer that could push him to the bottom of WR2 status.
Best Waiver Wire Option: Helu – He’s the default choice here since the rest of this offense is going to be selected in your drafts. He’ll need a Morris injury to make a true impact.
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