The draft is behind us and free agency has cooled off. Best ball leagues have begun in earnest, as regular degenerates join the true sickos who started drafting in February. With an offseason’s worth of coaching and personnel changes in the books, it’s time to examine trends in snaps pace and overall play volume to see which offenses will play their games — and which will not — on fertile fantasy soil.
UP IN PACE
The Cardinals have been the poster boys for elevated snaps pace and play volume since Kliff Kingsbury took over two years ago. They’ve finished first in both situation-neutral pace and no-huddle rate in each of his seasons as head coach. Last year they produced the fourth-most plays per game, and their contests averaged the second-most combined snaps.
Arizona has since improved their offensive line, and while they swapped out one fossilized receiver for a calcifying one, rookie second-rounder Rondale Moore upgrades their pass catchers. The Cardinals addressed their defensive front seven, but last year’s ninth-worst-graded coverage unit is still weak at cornerback — a recipe for shootouts. In what will potentially be a make-or-break season for the allegedly “fake sharp” Kingsbury, the soil in Arizona remains fertile fantasy ground.
The hiring of Arthur Smith has heightened offensive expectations for a Falcons team that already ranked top 12 in situation-neutral pace, pass rate, and PFF passing grade. Smith’s time as Titans offensive coordinator was marked by even better PFF grades. Tennessee was the sixth-fastest situation-neutral offense a year ago, and their games averaged the seventh-most combined snaps — one spot below Falcons games.
Smith’s Titans also ranked top seven in no-huddle rate during his two seasons as OC. New Falcons OC Dave Ragone also has experience using the hurry-up in his previous stops. The only question is whether Atlanta will maintain their aggressive pass rate, which was well above what Smith deployed in Tennessee. Considering the structure of the Falcons’ offense, their pass-happy approach is unlikely to dip appreciably — and Atlanta’s dicey defense will help steer them toward the air. Even if they throw less often, Smith’s aggressive pace while with the Titans will serve as a play-volume backstop.
The Bengals’ full-season stats don’t do justice to the kind of offense they were on the way to becoming when Joe Burrow was lost for the season. They dropped from 22.7 points per game to only 15.3. They ranked first in plays per game with Burrow, and 31st without him. Their situation-neutral pace plummeted from eighth fastest to third slowest, as the pass rate went from leading the league to 23rd highest.
Now Burrow is back, the Bengals picked the best wideout in the draft, and their defense hasn’t improved to such a degree that game scripts will be less juicy. Cincinnati will need to play fast and score often to stay in games — and they’re equipped to do it. After Zac Taylor’s first year in Cincinnati yielded the seventh-quickest situation-neutral snaps pace and ninth-most plays per game, he then proved last year that it was no fluke. Now we get to see it with even better weapons.
As expected, the Cowboys came out flying last season. During Dak Prescott’s five starts, Dallas ranked first in situation-neutral pace, first in plays per game, second in no-huddle rate, and third in points per game. Prescott led all quarterbacks in fantasy points per game. Those five contests alone produced four fantasy WR1 weeks, five WR2 weeks, and four RB1 weeks. The Cowboys tallied only five WR1, two WR2, and 4 RB1 weeks in their other 11 games.
With Dallas grading bottom-seven in both pass coverage and run defense, the offense needed to keep the gas pinned during weekly shootouts. The Cowboys better addressed their run stopping than the Swiss-cheese secondary, and game scripts should be similarly explosive. It’s no secret we want as much exposure to the again-healthy Dallas offense as possible, and early ADP reflects it. Still, this is not a spot to overthink things, as Cowboys weapons will get more touches than a vaccinated stripper.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last offseason we wondered if Bruce Arians or Tom Brady would become the heavier influence on the Buccaneers’ pace. Brady had piloted consistently fast offenses in New England, and all of Arians’ offenses in Tampa Bay and Arizona finished mid-pack or slower. After starting out 14th in situation-neutral pace through the first eight weeks, the Bucs deployed the league’s fastest offense through the end of the season.
Along with a quicker pace, Tampa Bay boosted their 61% situation-neutral pass rate to 65% after Week 8. Their yards per play, which ranked 21st through eight weeks (5.6), leapt to second highest down the stretch (6.5). The improvement in offensive efficiency did take a toll on their plays per game rate, which fell from an above-average 65.8, to only 61.8 after Week 8. Despite the dip in play volume, the Bucs still spawned high-scoring games — and with their elevated pace, efficiency, and pass rate likely to stick, there’s little reason to think they won’t again produce fantasy-friendly environments.
Washington Football Team
Despite a clown car at quarterback, Washington quietly featured one of the league’s most voluminous offenses last season. While their contests produced a middling 128.4 combined plays (19th most), they averaged 65.7 snaps per game (eighth most). Pairing a suffocating defense with a fast-moving offense tends to result in a plethora of play volume for that team, if not for their opponents.
Washington’s snaps pace was ninth quickest on a situation-neutral basis, and they upgraded a defense that ranked third best by both DVOA and PFF grading. Ryan Fitzpatrick legitimizes an offense that already featured a top-10 pass rate during neutral situations. With an improved receiving corps and a defense refortified on the second and third levels, Little Danny’s team with no name should be swimming in snaps.
DOWN IN PACE
We are well aware of the Ravens’ run-heavy attack and its dampening effect on play volume. Last year they handed off at the highest situation-neutral rate, which aligned with their ground-based approach in 2019. Baltimore produced the 25th-most plays per game a season ago, and their league-slowest situation-neutral pace exacerbated the situation. They ranked second slowest in 2019.
Ravens games yielded the fourth-fewest combined snaps last year, and the seventh fewest the year before. It is possible, and perhaps likely, that they throw more often after spending premium draft capital at wideout. It’s less likely they pick up their offensive pace, and Baltimore almost never goes to the hurry-up. Absent a quicker snaps pace and an increased pass rate, we’re staring at more low-play-volume contests for an offense with a widening target tree.
Green Bay Packers
Despite the Packers receiving an MVP season from the now-estranged Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay yielded another top-heavy group from a fantasy angle. Of course Davante Adams and Aaron Jones were elite producers, and Robert Tonyan was relevant due to an unsustainable touchdown rate. There was little else to speak of, as the Packers’ ancillary pieces received sporadic scraps from an offense producing the fifth-fewest plays per game.
Green Bay operated at the second-slowest situation-neutral pace, and only Patriots games featured fewer combined snaps than Packers games. They essentially ditched the hurry-up, from which Rodgers once thrived. In terms of fantasy value, the two big guns are now dependent on Rodgers having a change of heart. Tonyan is also reliant on a Rodgers return and avoiding scoring regression, and A.J. Dillon likely needs Rodgers back and a Jones injury. Factor in that everyone will exist in a low-play-volume environment, and paying up for Packers becomes surprisingly risky.
Unless Klint Kubiak’s apple fell far from the Gary Kubiak tree, the Vikings are staring at another year of paltry play volume. With handoff fetishist Mike Zimmer still in charge, it might not matter if Minnesota’s new offensive coordinator wants to push the pace more than his dad. When the elder Kubiak took over as OC two years ago, the Vikings’ situation-neutral pass rate dropped from seventh highest to 24th. They produced the 27th most plays per game. Last year, their pass rate ranked 27th.
Minnesota’s failing defense, which has since been refortified, was the main reason their games produced a mid-pack average combined plays. It certainly wasn’t the Vikings’ situation-neutral pace, which ranked 25th quickest. Minnesota also upgraded their offensive line, which will likely be seen by Zimmer primarily as another reason to have Kirk Cousins hand off. Fortunately the offensive touch tree isn’t sprawling, and the main targets can cover their draft cost on limited overall play volume — but this is not a fantasy landscape to dig for ancillary options.
New England Patriots
Last year’s train-wreck Patriots averaged the fourth-fewest plays (61.2) and entered Week 15 with the league’s fifth-slowest situation-neutral pace. During the previous 10 seasons, they ranked 1st, 1st, 2nd, 6th, 2nd, 2nd, 4th, 1st, 1st, and 3rd in pace. With Cam Newton behind center, New England deployed the second-highest situation-neutral run rate (46%) after years of pass-happy attacks under Tom Brady.
Over the final three weeks of the season, however, the Patriots ranked first in pace and first in no-huddle rate during neutral situations. Of course, their offense still stunk out loud and New England averaged a league-low 54.3 plays during that stretch. With significant personnel upgrades and a more traditional pocket passer drafted in the first round, it’s not unthinkable that the Patriots return to their up-tempo ways with a tight-end-centric attack. If they do, there is a gaggle of underpriced options who stand to benefit from a more voluminous offense.
New York Giants
Only the Jets scored fewer points than the Giants last year, and despite premium free agent and draft capital investments at wideout, their bottom-five offensive line, pocket-unaware quarterback, and relic offensive coordinator remain. Across-the-board improvement is about as likely as Dave Gettleman understanding CryptoPunks, but stranger things have happened than New York taking steps forward in one or two areas. Gettleman did finally trade down, after all.
While the Giants finished the season ranked second in situation-neutral no-huddle rate (21%), and were top 12 in snaps pace, their smoldering crater of an offense averaged only 60.4 plays per game (30th). Presumably to keep turnover factory Daniel Jones comfortable, New York went no-huddle on 42% of snaps at home, versus 14% in road games. If the offensive line, which ranked 31st in pass blocking efficiency, can keep Jones clean more often, there is potential for significant increases in play volume and fantasy opportunity. There are, however, quite a few “ifs” in the equation.
Heading into the Panthers’ first season under Matt Rhule, we greedily had visions of Joe Brady’s up-tempo LSU offense dancing in our heads. While Carolina supported a trio of fantasy-relevant pass catchers, the plodding Teddy Bridgewater-led offense mostly fired blanks. They finished 24th in scoring, while creeping along at the league’s fourth-slowest situation-neutral pace.
Bridgewater has since claimed they “didn’t practice two-minute” — and it bears out in the Panthers ranking 31st in no-huddle rate (3%). Perhaps Rhule was trying to protect Carolina’s ultra-young defense by holding the ball as long as possible. They did finish ninth in time of possession, for all the good it did them. It’s anyone’s guess if Brady gets to step on the accelerator with new quarterback Sam Darnold (who looked competent during scripted early-game no-huddle plays), or if last year’s pace approach will linger. If the Panthers hope to meaningfully improve on their 26th-place ranking in plays per game, they’ll need to loosen the reigns.
Will Sean McVay return to his ultra paced-up approach now that he’s featuring Matthew Stafford, as opposed to hiding Jared Goff? Stafford has plenty of experience using tempo and no-huddle during his years in Detroit. The Rams already averaged the third-most snaps per game, and an increased pace could land them in Cowboys territory from a play-volume standpoint.
The Saints have been consistently slow paced in recent seasons. Now that they no longer benefit from Drew Brees’ efficiency, will Sean Payton need his offense to play faster under LASIK Winston and Taysom Hill, or will he take a more conservative, deliberately-paced approach — further limiting play volume in Saints games?
Las Vegas finished mid-pack in plays per game, but it was owed more to their horrendous defense spawning shootouts than their own pace — which ranked sixth slowest. Raiders games produced the second-most combined points, and their opponents deployed the league’s fastest situation-neutral pace. If Jon Gruden doesn’t step on the accelerator, an already unexciting fantasy offense will likely feature less play volume.
New Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing has one season of experience as an OC. In 2017, his Raiders finished 30th in situation-neutral pace and 30th in plays per game. It’s unlikely he will dictate a tempo turnaround in Tennessee by himself, but coupled with the Titans’ pass-catcher defection and already ground-based approach, any damping of their aggressive pace from recent seasons (fourth fastest last year) would have an outsized effect on play volume.