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NFL playcaller impact: Players to upgrade, downgrade in fantasy football

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Earlier today, we released a thorough and stat-heavy analysis of 13 seasons of offensive playcaller data. The article focused on the historical trends of each of the NFL's current 32 playcallers but not specifically on how those trends will affect fantasy football in 2020 and beyond.

That is exactly what will be addressed here, as I take a closer look at the 13 key fantasy takeaways from our new historical playcaller database.

Use this novel and unique information to find an edge in your 2020 fantasy leagues.

UPGRADES

1. Buccaneers QB Tom Brady

Brady is moving from Josh McDaniels' high-volume, pass-heavy scheme to a pass-first, vertical offense under head coach Bruce Arians and playcaller Byron Leftwich in Tampa Bay. There's been a lot of chatter about Brady's conservative play the past two seasons, but that's unlikely to continue in 2020. If we combine Leftwich's 2019 playcalling with Arians' scheme from 2009 to 2017, we get 10 consecutive offenses ranking top-10 in aDOT, eight of which finished top-four. Age and a lack of rushing production are concerns, but Brady's passing upside puts him in the QB1 mix.

2. Falcons, Rams and Giants passing games

Falcons playcaller Dirk Koetter is extremely pass-friendly, with his offenses ranking at or near the top of most passing categories over the past decade. That includes total passing yardage and touchdowns, as well as WR targets and TE touchdowns. The likes of WR Russell Gage and TE Hayden Hurst stand to benefit in a big way behind Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.

Significant contributions from the QB, RB and WR positions are no secret under Rams playcaller Sean McVay, but we've also seen high-end TE production during his time in Washington and in 2019 with the Rams. Jared Goff, Darrell Henderson, Cam Akers, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee are all potential fantasy starters.

Giants playcaller Jason Garrett hasn't called plays since 2012, but he was extremely pass-heavy at that time. The numbers show substantial fantasy production from the QB, WR and TE positions, not to mention that the balanced 2019 offense he oversaw ranked third in passing yardage and sixth in passing TDs. Daniel Jones, Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, Darius Slayton and Evan Engram stand to benefit.

3. Cowboys rookie WR CeeDee Lamb

His name might be Lamb, but the presence of new coach Mike McCarthy might make Dallas' first-round pick look like a lion as a rookie. McCarthy won't be calling the plays, but we can't ignore his influence, as he operated pass-heavy or pass-first offenses nearly every season while in Green Bay. None of those units ranked lower than eighth in three-wide receiver sets, which suggests Lamb will be a near-every-down player between Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. As for Dallas' actual playcaller, granted he has only 16 games under his belt, but Kellen Moore tops all active playcallers in total fantasy points per game.

4. RBs: Chargers' Austin Ekeler, Raiders' Josh Jacobs, Saints' Alvin Kamara and 49ers' Raheem Mostert

Chargers playcaller Shane Steichen rolled out a run-heavy scheme that leaned heavily on its RBs in the passing game (35% target share) and overall (No. 1 in fantasy points) during his eight games calling plays last season.

Raiders RBs have ranked near the top of the league in snaps, targets and touches during Jon Gruden's two most recent seasons as playcaller. High OTD and low TD marks suggest more scoring is on the way for Jacobs.

Saints playcaller Sean Payton's offensive prowess is no secret, but check this out: His RBs finished first in fantasy points per game for six consecutive seasons from 2013 to 2018 before falling to 10th in 2019.

49ers playcaller Kyle Shanahan's RB units have finished top-10 in fantasy points four of the past five seasons. Granted he has relied on committee attacks, but rushing volume and overall efficiency have been outstanding. Mostert, Tevin Coleman and/or Jerick McKinnon stand to benefit.

5. Colts' RBs and TEs

Playcaller Frank Reich operates a shotgun-heavy, conservative passing game that is reliant on its RBs and TEs more so than its wideouts. In four seasons as a playcaller, all four of his TE units and three of his RB units have finished top-12 in fantasy points. A committee is expected in the backfield, but Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines and Marlon Mack (in that order) should all be drafted (though Taylor's third-round summer ADP is too rich). Don't sleep on Jack Doyle at tight end, as well as Trey Burton in two-TE leagues.

6. TEs: Jaguars' Tyler Eifert and Eagles' Zach Ertz

Eifert finally held up healthwise last season and now figures to benefit from new playcaller Jay Gruden, who has seen his past four TE units rank in the upper half of the league in most relevant categories, including fantasy points. Consider Eifert in two-TE leagues.

Ertz has become a very intriguing value pick in early 2020 fantasy drafts, which is shocking when you consider that Doug Pederson's offenses rank first in both offensive snaps and tight end target share over the past five seasons. His past three TE units have led the NFL in fantasy points.

7. Cardinals WRs

Arizona playcaller Kliff Kingsbury distributed 70% of his targets to his wide receivers last season, which was tops in the NFL and second highest among active playcallers over the past five seasons. And that was before the team's offseason acquisition of superstar DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins, Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald stand to profit most in an offense that will finish among the league leaders in four-wide sets.

DOWNGRADES

1. QBs: 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo and Vikings' Kirk Cousins

For the most part, the aforementioned Shanahan has had pass offenses light on volume but heavy on efficiency. That hasn't led to much fantasy success, as only two of his 10 QB units have finished better than 18th in fantasy points per game. We see a similar trend for Cousins in Minnesota, as we know HC Mike Zimmer wants a run-heavy scheme and playcaller Gary Kubiak hasn't had a QB unit finish better than 15th in fantasy points per game since 2010.

Garoppolo and Cousins both ranked top-eight in pass TDs, completion rate and YPA last season but finished 22nd and 18th, respectively, in fantasy points per game. Neither is an attractive QB1 target in 2020.

2. WRs: Bills' Stefon Diggs and Seahawks' DK Metcalf

Diggs wanted out of run-heavy Minnesota, but life may not be much better in Buffalo. Brian Daboll ranks last in fantasy points per game and second to last in both touchdowns per game and pass TD rate among active playcallers over the past five seasons. His WR units have ranked 28th, 31st, 23rd, 31st, 27th and 18th in fantasy points.

Out west, Metcalf will need to overcome the second run-heaviest playcaller of the past five seasons in Brian Schottenheimer. Only two of low-volume Schottenheimer's past 10 WR units have finished better than 17th in fantasy points per game. Metcalf is a popular breakout candidate, but his ceiling may be lower than it appears.

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3. Gase closed? Downgrade Jets' Le'Veon Bell and Chris Herndon

We can't really sugarcoat it: Adam Gase's offenses have been brutal in fantasy football. They rank third from the basement in fantasy points per game and second to last in snaps per game over the past five seasons. Bell will benefit from a vastly improved line, but his volume is expected to decline and Gase despises running the ball near the goal line (11 total carries inside the 5 over the past three seasons).

Herndon is an intriguing post-hype sleeper, but Gase's past four offenses have seen his TEs rank 24th or lower in routes, targets, receptions, receiving yards, YPR and fantasy points. Herndon remains no more than a late-round dart throw.

4. RBs: Cardinals' Kenyan Drake and Jaguars' Leonard Fournette

Seeing Drake here may seem strange, but consider this: In Kingsbury's first season calling NFL plays, Cardinals RBs ranked 29th in touches and 25th in OTD but 17th in yardage and fifth in touchdowns. That has regression written all over it. Drake is expected to handle a generous share of the backfield snaps, which may bail him out, but perhaps his ceiling is more capped than we thought.

Meanwhile, new Jaguars playcaller Jay Gruden ranks 31st in TDs per game among the 32 active playcallers. None of his six offenses has ranked better than 17th in RB rushing yards or 13th in RB targets, with only one finishing better than 16th in fantasy points. Fournette will enjoy some TD regression to the mean, but his volume is likely to decrease.

5. Dolphins TE Mike Gesicki

Is Gesicki this year's O.J. Howard? By that I mean is he a high-pedigree third-year TE seemingly on the verge of a huge leap forward who will be derailed by a tight end-unfriendly scheme? It seems very possible considering that new Dolphins playcaller Chan Gailey relies heavily on four-receiver sets and ranks dead last in TE target share over the past five seasons. Three of Gailey's past five offenses have failed to target the tight end more than 31 times. This is troubling and makes Gesicki more of a TE2 target.

6. Ravens offensive rookies J.K. Dobbins and Devin Duvernay

Baltimore playcaller Greg Roman has built his past six offenses around a run-heavy attack led by a mobile quarterback. That's led to significant rushing (and fantasy) contributions from his QB and occasionally significant contributions from his tight ends, but not so much his RBs or WRs. Whereas his backs have been heavy on rushing volume, they've severely lacked targets (25th or worse in five of the seasons) and fantasy points (19.5 average finish in fantasy points during his six seasons). The scheme has also led to Roman's WR units finishing near the basement in most categories, which includes dead last in fantasy points last season. Dobbins' fifth-round ADP is out of control, especially with Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards in the fold. Duvernay is best as a dynasty stash.