After watching Avengers: Endgame, I couldn’t stop thinking about the multiverse. Then, my mind drifted to the Projection Machine, which acts as a fantasy football time machine. Every little tweak in the timeline of fantasy football can have a wide range of repercussions that echo across the league. So, in this series, I’ll dial up that Projection Machine to examine players who could experience big swings in fantasy value if certain things break the right way.
Matt Patricia’s Tenure
We only have one year with Matt Patricia at the helm of the Detroit Lions. It is pretty well established that Patricia wants to run the ball. The problem is, when you only manage six wins and you’re playing from behind quite a bit, the run has to take a backseat. Since 2013, teams that finished the year with a half dozen wins have averaged passing plays at a 58% clip. The Lions actually ended up passing a bit more in 2018 and finished with a 59 – 41 pass to run split.
The Lions have a new offensive coordinator in Darrell Bevell. He was the coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks from 2014 to 2017 before taking a year away from football in 2018. During his final two seasons, Seattle threw the ball 58% of the time and was just a bit under league average in total plays run.
What Will Probably Happen…
Let’s roll with the aforementioned pass/run split for this year’s version of the Lions. These numbers check out with the tendencies of both Patricia and Bevell. Pass attempts for Patricia’s 2018 and Bevell’s last two seasons in Seattle fall between 550 and 575.
Kerryon Johnson is leading the way in Detroit’s backfield this season. We’re going to start off with a conservative projection that just gives him a 53% rush share and 11% of the team’s targets. Even the baseline projection is encouraging. Assuming this market share in the offense, he’s up over 210 points. That would’ve been good enough to finish as the RB13 last season.
Coincidentally, Kerryon is now going as the 13th RB off the board in FFPC drafts. Ideally, we want to get our guys with some room to beat out that ADP. What does Johnson’s ceiling look like?
What Could Happen…
If the Lions struggle again in 2019 – and play to win with Patricia already under some pressure – the Lions could end up with a 60/40 split.
Kerryon Johnson has already impressed as a pass-catcher. Ryan Collinsworth recently explained that his profile mirrors that of Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon.
His receiving usage is also criminally underrated. Among running backs who played in at least six games last season, he ranked 20th in targets per game (3.9) and 17th in receptions per game (3.2).
With the departure of Theo Riddick from Detroit, there are targets to be had – 74 targets, to be exact. If the Lions pass more and Johnson emerges as a pass-catcher, what does his ceiling look like in that scenario?
Without increasing his efficiency and just giving him a couple of percentage points of a boost in target share and rushing share, we see a huge jump in points. That increase pushes Johnson up to about 260 points, or RB9 a season ago.
If he can hit RB9 with minimal tweaking on his projection, what would his finish look like given high efficiency? With a few extra touchdowns going his way and a 0.6 bump in his yards per carry, we can get him to about 310 points. That would put him safely inside the top-six RBs.