For the Cash In Carries series, we look at NFL teams who may give you fantasy gold in the 2020 running game.
Like my first set of articles, we take the raw data and examine it for the answers we seek. Which teams will give fantasy owners the best shot at rushing success in 2020, providing cash in carries?
The stats that form the basis of these articles have come from the analysis of a team’s carry performance over the 2019 season. You can find the breakdown of the collection and analysis of these stats in the first article of the series.
Be warned – these articles also use projections of carry numbers in the 2020 season being similar compared to those in the 2019 season.
The third in this series looks at a team who has been boosted by a pair of legends.
If you asked any non-NFL fan for an American football player’s name, Tom Brady would likely be top of the list. Named in the NFL 100 greatest of all time team. One of the most decorated players to play the game. And he was on his way to the Bucs. Not only that, but this news brought fellow NFL all-timer Rob Gronkowski out of retirement. The old Patriots link-up was back. But now it was in Florida.
Brady replaces the outgoing Jameis Winston, who heads out to be Drew Brees’ backup at the Saints. In 2019, Winston became the first player in NFL history to throw over 450 yards in consecutive games. But, in the same season, became the first Quarterback to throw 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. An NFL-high 7 of those interceptions ended as pick-sixes. To sum up, it was history made in the best, and worst, ways.
And so a well-known quarterback replaces another. But all the hype and noise for the passing game means the rushing game has been in the background. And there is reason to believe that the changes could have an effect on both sides of the offense.
HITTING THE CENTRE
Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones worked as a committee in last season’s rushing offense. Ultimately, it was Jones that ended up with more carries – but this could have gone either way. It was that close.
Barber and Jones have similar builds and, as such, they were used in the same style of rushing. And it was interesting to see where exactly their runs were being directed.
|Rush Direction||Ronald Jones||Peyton Barber||Team|
|Left side (Left tackle / Left end)||16.8%||11.6%||16.4%|
|Centre (Up the middle / guards)||61.6%||76.6%||66.3%|
|Right side (Right tackle / right end)||20.8%||11.6%||18.1%|
This huge focus on the centre came at the expense of runs outside on either side. There were several games where the ends got ignored altogether. Close to three quarters of games (11/16) saw one side of the offensive line get under 5 carries. Something more surprising was 3 further games seeing zero carries on one side. That makes 14 out of 16 games with a very unbalanced run game. And those three games with no runs on one side of the line? All right side, and all saw defeats.
LEFT SIDE, STRONG SIDE?
The right side’s lack of involvement may be due to Right Tackle Demar Dotson’s seasonal performance. Dotson was responsible for 5 sacks last year, and was penalised the most on the offensive line. He cost the team 71 yards – 5 false starts and 5 offensive holding calls. In comparison, the starting Centre and Guards cost the Bucs 10 penalties between them.
On the other side of the line is Donovan Smith. He cost the team 5 sacks as well, and added an extra 5 penalties to that list. This would have been 8 had the extra 3 offensive holding penalties been accepted.
Game analysis further highlights the protection issue on the offensive ends, this time with sacks. When there was edge protection, defenders would often get past it. They would then either catch Winston, or cause him to run himself into sacks from the other defenders. This became even more apparent with Tight Ends used for pass routes and not for blocking.
Jameis Winston made 59 runs in 2019. 31 of those were scrambles to get away from those defenders. If you remove those scrambles, there are even fewer outside runs – 23 to the left end and 14 to the right.
So could the Offensive Tackles’ form link with the run direction through the Tampa line?
WIRFS THINGS FIRST
Tampa’s first round pick may go a long way in sorting out Tampa’s protection woes. All-American tackle Tristan Wirfs was the 13th overall pick. Remember the jump out of the swimming pool? That’s just one of his outstanding physical attributes. And his phenomenal Combine performance backed up impressive game tape. He replaces the released Dotson at Right Tackle, and goes straight into the starting position. With that comes some reassurance for Tom Brady for the right-hand side. It should provide confidence from the backfield to begin to direct runs in that direction.
Wirfs joins a line that was well established last year. Two players saw 100% of offensive snaps, and every starter saw over 75% of offensive snaps. And It was injuries that lowered the snaps for Donovan Smith and Alex Cappa – they had 92.8% and 76.3% respectively. The Tampa O-Line has a real chance to develop into a solid unit. And now they have a talisman in Tom Brady behind them which, in itself, is a large incentive.
THE BRADY FACTOR
Having Brady’s experienced head is going to shift attitudes in the locker room. Brady is a proven winner – 19 winning seasons. He knows what it takes to succeed. 19 WINNING seasons. And he has been playing under an NFL icon, Bill Belichick, for his whole career. 19 WINNING SEASONS! His arrival will be a welcome boost of confidence for the whole team.
But this factors in Jameis Winston leaving as well as Brady coming in.
Let me elaborate. Winston faced 241 blitzes in the 2019 season, more than any other quarterback. He ranked amongst the highest in hurrying (7th), QB hits (7th) and sacks (4th). Not only that, but Jameis Winston threw an NFL high 30 interceptions. This was a huge factor in the Bucs’ 41 offensive giveaways – the highest in the NFL last year. Tom Brady, on the other hand, threw only 8 interceptions.
But that is passing related – what does this have to do with the run game? Game management.
KEEP IT SAFE
There is a similarity between Bucs and Patriots score-lines at half times. Both had half time leads in 10 games. However, the differences appear in the second half. Brady threw only two second half interceptions in 2019; Winston threw 10. The Pats won all 10 games they were ahead in at half time; the Bucs only won 6.
With each takeaway ends the opportunity to use the ball again. Tom Brady led the league in throwaways (40) and scrambled the least (3) of all full-season Quarterbacks. He threw a maximum of one interception in a game. He would rather get rid of the ball than risk that interception. The ball stays with him, so he can run the next play.
This ball protection should keep the ball in the Bucs’ hands for longer. As a result, it should change game scripts compared to last season – especially in second halves. Therefore, if the Bucs hold the lead, the rush game becomes a vital tool to wind down the clock. With that comes the chance for those rushers to make more of an impact.
BARBER SHIPPED OUT
Jameis Winston accounted for 59 rushes (14.43%) in 2019. Of those, scrambles accounted for 31 (6.9%), and 10 (2.2%) were kneels. That leaves 5.33% of intended rushes that he has taken with him.
In addition, committee member Peyton Barber departs the club, heading for Washington. He takes a large 37.65% of carries with him. Breshad Perriman also takes 0.49% to the Jets, while receiver John Franklin goes with 0.24%.
In total, that gives 43.71% of available carries this season based on last year’s figures.
The only player who brings in carries is Tom Brady. He made 26 rushes in 2019, equivalent to 5.82% of the Patriot’s rushes. And just 3 were scrambles – the lowest from a Quarterback who played every game last season.
So, when Brady’s incoming carries are added in, that gives 37.89% of carries. Even with kneels and scrambles taken out, that amount is third in the NFL for carries available next season. It places the Bucs behind the Chargers and Rams, who both lost their lead backs at the end of 2019.
So who will benefit?
THE OLD GUARD
RoJo was already the top rusher – how can he possibly benefit any more?
Well, his areas of improvement will not only come from the freed up carries. Those offensive line adjustments and the game script changes will also help.
Out of last year’s main backs, Jones will have seen the biggest boost by shoring up the ends of the line. He saw greater run volume to the outside than Barber did. 12.7% of Jones’ runs went in those directions, compared to 5.2% of Barber’s. Barber’s primary run route was through the centre of the line, making 76.6% of rushes in that zone. Jones only made 61.6% of his runs in the same place.
Jones’ efficiency was also higher than Barber’s. 42.5% of Jones’ runs picked up over 4 yards, whereas only 35.6% of Barber’s did the same. This is further emphasised by Jones’ 15.7% of rushes that got over 8 yards. Barber only managed that type of yardage on 7.1% of his.
WHEN TO GO WITH ROJO?
It is unsurprising that RoJo, as a former committee back, ranks below other teams’ lead backs. In other circumstances, Barber’s departure should have been good news. Firstly, it would allow Jones the freedom to move into the lead-back role. He could also demonstrate his skills at a higher volume
But now he has also got Ke’Shawn Vaughn to contend with. The rookie coming in signals that Tampa could continue the committee – denying Jones his shot. IF the Bucs went with a lead back, his experience and proven ability gives Jones the edge, at least for the moment. Given the current uncertainty, his ADP has stayed low.
He places at RB32 – a 7th round pick in many leagues. However, some drafters took him as high as the 5th round – and as low as the 9th in others. Clearly the lack of backfield clarity is having diverse effects on his drafting position. Even so, it is a gamble taking him at his predicted ADP. His returns are reliant upon the Bucs’ approach next season. I’d be much happier taking him as an 8th round pick or below until things clear up.
THE FRESH FACES
Nobody has arrived at Tampa from other NFL teams. The Bucs have opted for rookies, including several undrafted free agents. They took Louisiana’s Raymond Calais with a 7th round pick, but this next player will be a hot favourite to see action.
Based upon highlights and hype, Vaughn is going to give Jones a run for his money. Of similar stature to Jones and Barber, Vaughn possesses the speed and shift. Therefore he should be a natural fit to do what the Bucs backs did last season.
His game film shows impressive acceleration in getting around the outside of the line for sweeps. He got used for passing screens because he could get in that space. He also shows a remarkable ability to turn corners and find gaps, no matter how small they seem. The film even showed him breaking through a block to make himself a hole. For runs beyond the secondary, the defenders hit him and he keeps on going at speed. A red zone attempt shows him breaking into the endzone – with 4 defenders hanging off him.
His stats back up the film. Vaughn transferred away from Illinois to Vanderbilt after two years of limited usage. And it was here he took off, with over 1000 yards in his final two college years. Clearly, the move exposed his talent – and now he looks to stake his claim in the Tampa Bay backfield. As teams return to practice, it will be interesting to see how Vaughn settles into the squad. Can he can transfer that skill set into the NFL as smoothly as he can find the gaps in the line?
VAUGHN ON THE BOARD
As the ADP board stands, Vaughn resides in RB47, and looks to go in the 12th round. As it stands, he is below RoJo. This may just come down to knowing the player. Players are not able to train together in these unrivalled times. So when it comes to squads decisions, this may mean fantasy owners go with what they know, rather than unknowns. RoJo’s strong season may also affect people’s view of his prospects next year.
Although this goes against Vaughn, there have been some who have already been convinced. Vaughn has gone as high as 6.01, with many more draft picks in the sample compared to other Running Backs in similar positions. Clearly, he too has divided opinions with fantasy drafters.
However, as a 12th round player, he may have gone under the radar. Many other unassuming drafters could have missed the memo about his potential. As such, he does offer great value if you can get him in the 12th. In short, if he justifies those earlier picks, then your later pick could have gotten yourself a bargain.
To finish, I hope this article gives you an idea about how the Bucs shape up in the rush game this year. I look forward to seeing how the situation unfolds.
As always, Keep Rushing!