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2018 Projections: Wilson, Gurley and Johnson Explode in the NFC West

This series focuses on projecting players that are expected to be fantasy relevant for all 32 NFL teams. The included projections were built using the Excel Projection Machine which is included in the FFDRAFTPREP package.

Though projections are more meaningful when used to explore players’ ranges of outcomes, those presented represent “best guesses.” Please note that the RB3 and WR4 included for each team have been allocated a percentage of rushing or passing attempts that brings the team’s total to 100 percent. As a result, the stat lines and point totals included for these players may be somewhat inflated. Projected point totals are based on PPR scoring. In an effort to cover all teams as expediently as possible, we will be reviewing the projections on a divisional basis. Key assumptions and notes have been included in bulleted lists.

Can Rashaad Penny be a top-12 RB? Will David Johnson edge out Le’Veon Bell as the RB1? Can Brandin Cooks prosper as a Ram? Let’s take a look at the NFC West and see if we can answer these questions.

Los Angeles Rams

RUSHING AND TARGET ALLOCATION

LAR ALLOC

  • The Rams will remain one of the league’s strongest teams with a stout defense and strong offense.
    • The team will finish with above average play volume and a split that leans toward the pass but provides Todd Gurley with ample opportunity.
      • Gurley’s target share has been slightly reduced from the prior season, but his rushing share remains one of the highest in the league.
  • Brandin Cooks will assume the role of the team’s most heavily targeted WR but Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp can expect to see some of the highest target shares for WR2/3s in the league.
    • It’s possible to envision scenarios in which either Woods or Kupp are able to fight their way to the top of the target totem pole.
  • Given the significant passing shares controlled by the three receivers, Rams TEs will struggle for targets. Gerald Everett is projected as the TE1 but will earn under 50 looks.

Fantasy Projections

LAR PROJ

  • The Rams scored 51 times in 2017 and their offense should post more than 40 touchdowns in the coming season.
  • Jared Goff’s solid touchdown-to-interception ratio and passing yards give him a strong chance of finishing as a QB1.
  • Gurley has a realistic shot at being not only the RB1 but possibly the highest scoring player in fantasy. His projection assumes a somewhat efficient season, but nothing overly optimistic for one of the best RBs in the game.
  • Los Angeles projects with the strongest WR trio of any team. All three wide receivers are expected to produce with above-average efficiency, and have the potential to finish as WR2s
    • I haven’t been Cooks’ strongest supporter but I must admit that his projection was surprisingly strong. While I still doubt that he finishes as a WR1, he could very realistically achieve this by garnering another two to three percent of the team’s passing game.
  • There’s really not more that needs to be said. Los Angeles offers up five very solid fantasy options on a team that projects with a winning record and that demonstrated last season it has the ability to produce significant fantasy options.

Seattle Seahawks

RUSHING AND TARGET ALLOCATION

SEA ALLOC

  • The Seahawks project as a middle-of-the-road team and will record a slightly below-average play volume, which will force the team to pass more than it would like.
  • Russell Wilson will control a fifth of team rushing attempts.
    • In the last five seasons, he’s averaged a rushing share of 22 percent.
  • Rookie Rashaad Penny will battle Chris Carson for the role of lead back.
    • Penny is expected to overtake Carson by the end of the season, but it will be a challenge for either back to finish with more than 50 percent of rushing opportunities.
    • Wilson’s ability as a rusher is the main driver of this. In order for either back to control more than 50 percent of rushes, he’d have to take substantial control of the remaining 80 percent early on the season.
  • If C.J. Prosise can overcome challenges with injuries, he could grasp a third-down role. However, it seems more likely that he and J.D. McKissic share the limited work that will be given to receiving backs.  
  • Doug Baldwin has the potential to finish as one of the five most heavily targeted WRs.
    • He could control more than 26 percent of targets. However, he is dealing with a knee injury which could cause the team to control his playing time toward the start of the season.
  • Tyler Lockett and Jaron Brown  can expect a similar opportunity and will need to differentiate themselves in order to significantly outpace the other.1
  • I expect Ed Dickson to earn more playing time than Nick Vannet, but the minimal use projected for the team’s TE position will prevent either from recording high fantasy totals.

Fantasy Projections

SEA PROJ

  • Seattle recorded 43 total touchdowns last season and its offense can expect to record 40 or so scores in 2018.
  • Given a tremendous mix of passing and rushing yardage, coupled with over 30 total touchdowns, Wilson will once again finish as a top-five QB. He is projected with more points than any other passer.
  • Penny and Carson are limited by a projection that substantially splits their work.
    • This makes Carson the more appealing fantasy option as he could become the team’s RB1 but is being drafted rounds after his competition.
  • Baldwin owns a strong projection. Given health concerns, I was careful not to be overly optimistic.
    • Still, his projection positions him with a fantastic shot at finishing as a WR1.
  • If Lockett or Brown can outplay the other and gain an extra three to four percent of looks, a WR3 finish for one of them is certainly achievable.

Arizona Cardinals

RUSHING AND TARGET ALLOCATION

ARI Alloc

  • Arizona won eight games in 2017 but Vegas sees five and half as a more likely outcome in 2018.
    • As a result, the Cardinals will need to rely on the pass while accumulating a modest play total.
  • The projection assumes that Sam Bradford starts the season under center, but is replaced at the midway point in the season due to injury or the team’s desire to move onto Josh Rosen.
    • I reviewed Carson Palmer’s numbers along with Bradford’s, and included my expectations for Rosen when considering the impact that the QB would have on the team’s receivers and offense.
  • David Johnson will be a complete ball hog, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the offense’s total opportunities.
  • Larry Fitzgerald maintains a 25 percent plus target share.
  • Rookie Christian Kirk projects as the team’s second best WR and should be able to play his way into the WR2 role early on in the season.
    • If he is able to emerge as the team’s second option prior to the start of the season, he could build on his allocated target share of 14 percent.
  • Brice Butler and J.J. Nelson will compete for targets and the team’s WR3 role.
  • Though Jermaine Gresham has led the team in TE targets for three seasons running, Ricky Seals-Jones is projected as the TE1.

Fantasy Projections

ARI Proj

  • The above projection gives the team an improvement of three touchdowns (a total of 32) from the prior season.
    • While the team is expected to be less successful, Johnson’s presence accounts for the increase.3
  • I was surprised to see a 270-point projection for the team’s quarterback. I included Bradford, but again, it’s likely that he and Rosen will account for percentages of the projected line.
  • Johnson will be a beast, and looks like the only RB with a real chance of overtaking Le’Veon Bell as the RB1.4
  • Fitzgerald could finish as a WR1 and is projected with a high reception percentage.
  • Outside of Fitzgerald, Arizona’s pass catchers (WR and TE) don’t project as significant fantasy assets.
    • However, Kirk likely has the strongest chance of obtaining a significantly larger portion of the passing game than expected.

San Francisco 49ers

RUSHING AND TARGET ALLOCATION

SF Alloc

  • Despite a losing record, San Francisco significantly outpaced league average play volume in 2017.
    • The team is expected to improve with Jimmy Garoppolo playing an entire season and should be able to manage a similar volume while leaning toward the pass.
  • Jerick McKinnon will be the RB1, but Matt Breida can expect a significant role in both the rushing and passing game.
  • Marquise Goodwin will overtake Pierre Garcon as the WR1 given his talent and youth, and Dante Pettis is expected to outplay Trent Taylor for WR3 duties.
  • George Kittle will have a role in the passing game with Garrett Celek backing him up.

Fantasy Projections

SF Proj

  • With a forecast of 33 offensive touchdowns, the team is expected to improve.
    • San Francisco recorded just 31 total touchdowns in 2017.
  • My Garoppolo projection makes one of the worst fantasy options in the league and could be overly pessimistic.
    • However, this was not intentional and includes an improved touchdown rate.
    • A projection of over 4,200 yards is 13th best among projected QBs.
    • Ultimately, a lack of increased touchdown production and rushing points prevents him from being a viable fantasy starter.
    • I know this will be resisted by a number of readers, given Garoppolo’s strong first year with the 49ers but the truth is, he only averaged 15 points per game. This is where his projection places him.
      • Given his improvement after Weeks 12 and 13, it is fair for one to expect this average to increase.
    • His median historical projection, as calculated in the Stat Explorer, foresees 16.3 points per game as his most realistic outcome.
  • McKinnon could be an RB1, and even if he cedes some portion of his work to Breida, could still finish as a strong RB2.
    • If this were to happen, Breida would make for a solid addition to teams looking to build depth at RB.
  • Goodwin is the only WR I’d feel confident spending any capital on, and would wait till the later rounds to go after Garcon or Pettis.
  • Kittle could earn a higher target share and does have some upside.

  1. This is such an obvious statement, but my point is that the two will begin the season on a fairly equal footing.  (back)
  2. Naturally, this would shift a percentage of targets back to Gresham.  (back)
  3. In the event that you’ve been living under a rock, spent 2017 in a coma, or this is your first year following the NFL, Johnson missed nearly the entire 2017 due to a wrist injury.  (back)
  4. Please note that while I present this assertion as a fact, what I really mean is that when creating projections that are best guesses, Johnson is the only RB that comes close to matching Bell. In real life, there are a number of scenarios that could play out allowing the likes of Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon, or Gurley to beat out both Bell and Johnson.  (back)
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