Mike Clay


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Examining Offensive Personnel

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

If you were familiar with my work prior to my first contribution here at Rotoworld, it’s likely that you’re aware of my other home, ProFootballFocus.com. At PFF, our team of analysts watch and chart every player on every play of every game (hey, that’s our tagline). Anyways, one of the most interesting items we chart is personnel packages on both sides of the ball.

Knowing which teams put a second tight end or a third wide receiver on the field most/least often is key in determining sleeper/bust value, especially for rookies and free agent acquisitions.

Today, I’m going to examine the teams on the two extremes of utilizing three-plus wide receiver and two-plus tight end packages during the 2011 season. I’ll take personnel changes, including those at the coaching level, into account, of course, so that we can find ourselves a few players deserving of upgrades and downgrades in our preliminary 2012 fantasy rankings.

Note: The data here refers to the player’s official roster position – not where he is lined up on the field. For example, Aaron Hernandez is listed as a tight end on the Patriots’ roster. The data in this article charts him as a tight end, even when he’s split wide or in the backfield. Remember, we’re focusing on personnel packages, not necessarily formations.

Three-plus wide receiver packages

The Leaders:

1. Buffalo Bills (77 percent of snaps) – The Bills dominated this category a season ago, spreading their pass-catchers around more than any other team. Often going without even a single tight end, Buffalo had four wide receivers on the field a league-high 32 percent of the time. The next closest was Chicago at 16 percent. With Donald Jones working more in the slot this offseason – a position already occupied by David Nelson – it’s fair to expect a similar plan of attack in 2012. Steve Johnson and Derek Hagan will see most of their snaps out wide, with Jones and Nelson in the slot. Third-round pick T.J. Graham and finally-healthy Marcus Easley will push for snaps, as well. Because it’s a heavy rotation of such underwhelming talent, only Johnson is worth fantasy consideration.

2. Indianapolis Colts (63 percent) – It’s a completely new regime in Indianapolis and there’s a good chance the Colts will be on the opposite end of this list next season. Wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez are out, while rookie tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen are in. The Colts figure to keep their rookies on the field quite often, especially with only T.Y. Hilton, Donnie Avery, and Lavon Brazill on the wide receiver depth chart behind Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie.

3. Philadelphia Eagles (59 percent) – Considering their consistent, pass-first offensive approach during the lengthy Andy Reid era, it’s hardly a surprise to see the Eagles on this list. Jason Avant is one of the game’s best/underrated slot receivers, which allows the team to go with him over a fullback or second tight end. Clay Harbor has emerged as a pass-catching threat behind Brent Celek, but he’s not going to do enough damage to chip into Avant’s snaps. As always, however, Avant’s only value is as an occasional bye week fill-in. His low ceiling is not worth a draft pick.

4. Detroit Lions (58 percent) – The Lions are an interesting team to monitor. Considering their pass-heavy approach, it makes a ton of sense to see them here. On top of the 58 percent mark, they also split No. 2 TE Tony Scheffler out wide quite often. That said, they figure to run the ball more often in 2012 and added Ryan Broyles to the mix. The rookie currently sits fourth on the wide receiver depth chart, but is certain to push incumbent slot man Nate Burleson for snaps. We might see a little more of blocking TE/FB Will Heller this season, but the three-wide sets aren’t going to decrease much. With Calvin Johnson and Titus Young out wide and Burleson/Broyles in the slot, Detroit’s pass offense has potential to be even more efficient this season.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (57 percent) – This one is most intriguing of the top-five, as Hines Ward has been eliminated from the picture. Of course, the possible holdup here is the change in offensive coordinators from Bruce Arians to Todd Haley. On one hand, Haley’s run-first Chiefs ranked in the lower half of the league in three-plus wide receivers sets. On the other hand, the 2008 Cardinals (Haley was OC) had three-plus wideouts on the field 63 percent of the time, which would’ve been third-highest in 2011. Haley will play to his strengths, which means Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are sure to see significant reps at the expense of Wes Saunders, Leonard Pope, and David Johnson.

The Basement:

1. Houston Texans (21 percent of snaps) – When a team calls a run a league-high 51 percent of the time, they’re sure to keep plenty of blockers on the field. Houston fit that bill in 2011, providing the trio of Owen Daniels, Joel Dreessen, and James Casey with quality reps. Those snaps came at the expense of the team’s underwhelming group of wide receivers, especially when Andre Johnson was out due to injury. In 2012, Johnson and Kevin Walter return, but Jacoby Jones is gone. Replacing him will be a combination of Lestar Jean (undrafted in 2011) and rookies Devier Posey and Keshawn Martin. Houston will, again, lean on Arian Foster and Ben Tate in the running game, leaving the team’s wide receivers to suffer.

2. San Francisco 49ers (22 percent) – Although the 49ers figure to continue on with a run-first attack, a rejuvenated wide receiver unit will call for more three-wide sets going forward. Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, and A.J. Jenkins were added to a unit that combined for one reception in last season’s NFC Championship game. Moss and Manningham figure to work the outside, with Crabtree doing damage in the slot. The additional snaps to the wideouts will primarily be at the expense of Delanie Walker.

3. Baltimore Ravens (24 percent) – The Ravens signed Jacoby Jones and drafted Tommy Streeter, but failed to add an immediate impact player to the wide receiver position. Not much has changed. Expect to see plenty of Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson again this season.

4. New England Patriots (28 percent) – This one is a bit fluky. It’s common knowledge that Aaron Hernandez is really a wide receiver and he plays a high percentage of the team’s snaps each week. Still, there’s something to be learned here for those of you considering a late-round pick of Jabar Gaffney or Deion Branch. Teams can only keep five skill position players on the field at a time (not counting quarterbacks). Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, and a tailback won’t leave the field often, which doesn’t leave many snaps for the newcomers. Also consider that the team intends on using the fullback more often in 2012.

5. San Diego Chargers (31 percent) – This one may surprise you considering the Chargers’ strong pass offense, but there’s a reason Vincent Brown was off the fantasy radar when both Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd were active last season (not to mention that he didn’t play the slot). San Diego chose to keep Randy McMichael on the field over half the time, which didn’t allow many reps for reserve wide receivers. This offseason, they added a pair of pass-catching tight ends to the mix with Dante Rosario and Ladarius Green. However, Eddie Royal was also brought in as an upgrade to incumbent slot man Patrick Crayton. Royal will play more than Crayton did, but the Chargers’ two-tight end attack won’t disappear completely.

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Mike Clay is a football writer for Rotoworld.com and the Founder/Managing Editor of Pro Football Focus Fantasy. He can be found on Twitter @MikeClayNFL.
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