The fantasy community faces a conundrum: Almost everyone believes in the individual talents of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard — but they can’t all possibly be fantasy relevant in 2019, right?
I am here to say that those three can all have elite seasons. Yes … even with Jameis Winston, the turnover king. Where does my confidence come from? My confidence comes from Tampa Bay going out and stealing a brilliant man out of retirement, new head coach Bruce Arians.
The Coaching Change
Bruce Arians has worked with some excellent quarterbacks over the years: Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck (his rookie season), and Carson Palmer. Now he gets Winston, a player many have already given up on due to his reckless playing style.
Look at that group of Arians-coached quarterbacks. Do you notice the one big similarity? They are all gun-slingers who throw a lot of interceptions. Manning, Roethlisberger, Luck, and Palmer all consistently landed in the top 10, if not top five, for most interceptions thrown in a season throughout their entire careers. Arians is not afraid to take risks or to let his QB take risks – he actually seems to encourage it.
And we have evidence of how Arians’ coaching paid off in a big way: Palmer was deep into his career before he had Arians as a coach. He improved in almost every significant passing category once he joined the Cardinals.1
Jameis Winston’s Career
Winston receives a lot of flak for his playing style, but one thing that he does consistently well is pass for a lot of yards.
- 2015 – 535 attempts, 4,042 yards, 22 TDs
- 2016 – 567 attempts, 4,090 yards, 28 TDs
- 2017(13 games) – was on pace for 544 attempts, 4,313 yards, 23 TDS
- 2018 (11 games) – was on pace for 550 attempts, 4,352 yards, 28 TDS
If you extrapolate Winston’s 16-game paces in his last two seasons, he would be the No. 1 QB in passing yards among all QBs in the history of the NFL in their first four seasons. He would beat out the current No. 1 QB in this category — Peyton Manning — by 379 yards. Winston would also be No. 6 on this list in passing TDs — with only Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Palmer, and Derek Carr ahead of him.
It wouldn’t be unheard of for Winston’s career arc to follow a similar path as Palmer’s after being paired with Arians. In fact, Winston has some advantages that could make him an even better Arians QB than Palmer was.2
Receiving Production under Arians
This also won’t be the first time Arians has had an elite group of skill players to work with. There are many examples of Arians proving he can produce multiple great fantasy receivers in his offense, but the 2009 season with the Steelers shows just how productive a few guys can be if they are talented.
In 2009, Roethlisberger only had 506 passing attempts on the season. Yet here’s what his top receivers did with those attempts:
- Santonio Holmes – 138 targets , 1248 yards, 5 TDs
- Hines Ward – 137 targets, 1167 yards, 6 TDs
- Mike Wallace (rookie season) – 72 targets, 756 yards, 6 TDs
- Heath Miller – 98 targets, 789 yards, 6 TDs
Projected Passing Volume in 2019
The Tampa Bay offense threw the ball 625 times in 2018. The Cardinals threw the ball 595 and 646 times during Arians last two seasons in Arizona. We can all agree that Arians had a better defense and run game in Arizona than he will have this season in Tampa Bay. Looking at this historical data, we should predict that TB will throw the ball a minimum of 600 times.
Using the RotoViz Projection Machine, I projected out the target share for each offensive weapon. Evans saw 22% of the Bucs’ targets last season, while Godwin saw 15%, and Howard 12% in games played.
With DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, and Jacquizz Rodgers leaving town, there are 224 vacated targets from last season. That is the third most vacated targets in the NFL. There is plenty of room for the big three to receive an increase in target share — especially Godwin. I have Evans projected to jump up from 22 to 24%. Godwin from 15% to 19%, and Howard from 12% to 15%. Giving a combined nine-percentage-point increase to the big three is very realistic when 35.8% of 2018 targets are now vacated.
Let’s look a little more closely at how each receiver will get these additional targets and how the new volume should impact their fantasy scoring.
The Case for Mike Evans
Evans … is Evans. He is going to put up great numbers. Over the last four seasons, Evans has averaged 1,304 yards and 7 TDs per season. He saw 22% of team targets go his way last season, and we have no reason to expect this target share to go down — as you read above, there is a ton of room for his target share to increase. We have seen Evans receive 30% target share just two seasons ago.
For more reasons on why you should trust Evans this season, go read Kate Magdziuk’s most recent article — she has him as the WR1 in 2019.
The Case for Chris Godwin
Godwin had 95 targets — a 15% target share — last season while fighting for snaps in a crowded receiver corps with Evans, Jackson, and Humphries. Godwin has a firm grasp of the WR2 role in 2019 and will have plenty of opportunity to break out. Arians has gone on record raving about Godwin, stating that he will “never come off the field” and that “he can be close to a 100-catch guy.”
The Case for OJ Howard
Bruce Arians may have never produced a dominant fantasy TE but he also has never had a talent like O.J. Howard at the position.
Howard only played 10 games in 2018, but his efficiency metrics compared favorably with the top TEs in the league:
Only Travis Kelce and George Kittle had more receiving fantasy points over expectation (reFPOE) than Howard, and no TE with at least 30 targets had more receiving fantasy points over expectation per attempt (reFPOEPA).
In other words, Howard is an elite talent; he will be utilized in this offense.
The best part about this situation is that Both Evans and Howard have shown that they do not require a massive target share to produce. In 2018, Howard led all TEs (min. 30 targets) in receiving yards per reception at 16.6 yards. Evans led the entire league in receiving yards per reception at 17.7 yards (min. 75 targets). Evans had over 1,500 yards on only 138 targets last season. Only two other WRs had over 1,500 yards — Julio Jones who saw 170 targets and DeAndre Hopkins who saw 163 targets. Even if Godwin does steal some targets away from Evans and limit the number of targets going to Howard, both should be able to produce beyond their target-based expectations, as they’ve been two of Winston’s most efficient receivers.3
But with the run game expected to be lackluster and the defense expected to be average at best, I expect Winston to pass for a minimum of 600 attempts on the season. Based on historical data, we should expect Winston to throw for at least 4,200 yards. There will be plenty of targets and yards to go around for the big three to all produce at a high level. Don’t be scared of this offense; the reward will be well worth the risk. Go draft these league winners.