With fantasy draft season in full swing and most NFL rosters set, it’s time for a final preseason examination of emerging trends in snaps pace and play volume. Prior to Week 1 — before the scheme, injury, and role uncertainty resolves — is not the optimal time to project how fast and voluminous every offense will be. We can, however, focus on items we are confident in — and identify critical unknowns — so we hit the ground running when the season kicks off.
As always, “situation-neutral” is meant to provide context, and it refers to plays while the game is within seven points during the first three quarters (minus the final two minutes of the first half).
Up In Pace
Projecting the Ravens to increase their tempo and pass rate is not much of a leap. Since Lamar Jackson took over as the starter in Week 11 of 2018, their situation-neutral pace ranks 31st. They haven’t finished a season higher than 29th since then, and Baltimore ranked 29th in average play-clock seconds remaining last year. The Ravens have had a 4% no-huddle rate since 2018, which would have finished third lowest last season. Their situation-neutral pass rate during that time is 48% — which also would have ranked 30th in 2022.
Exactly how much quicker and pass-heavier Baltimore will be to start the season is unknown, but their offseason moves are a strong indication. The Ravens imported several receivers with actual hands and an adaptable play-caller known for fast-paced, spread offenses. When Todd Monken was in Tampa Bay, the Bucs ranked fourth, fourth, and 11th in situation-neutral pace. In his final two seasons there, they passed at the second- and 11th-highest clip on a situation-neutral basis — while their no-huddle rate finished fifth and sixth highest.
After successfully utilizing heavy doses of tempo during his time at the University of Georgia, Monken labeled the challenges of working his preferred pace into an NFL offense as “a speed bump, not a hurdle”. Jackson described the offensive install as “like a college system — but it’s definitely fast”. Baltimore was “breaking the huddle in a matter of seconds and getting to the line of scrimmage with as much as 25 seconds left” during training camp practices. The Ravens’ pace essentially has only one direction to go, and all signs point to Monken already cranking it up.
Deshaun Watson’s return to the field was a near-total disaster last year, but it did offer glimpses of what is widely expected to be a pass-heavier — and likely faster-paced — offense in 2023. Despite his shaky re-acclimation, Cleveland’s middling situation-neutral pass rate began to trend up with Watson. They sandwiched a Week 16 weather apocalypse in between a 67% pass rate in Week 15 (sixth), 54% in Week 17 (14th), and 61% in Week 18 (12th) to close the year.
The Browns also increased their pace during the final month, ranking 14th in situation-neutral seconds per snap (29.4) after plodding at the 25th-fastest clip before then. Their play-clock seconds remaining ranked 23rd when Watson took over (8.4), and the final six games included weeks where they averaged 9.1 (14th), 9.7 (10th), 9.8 (seventh), 10.8 (fourth), and 11.6 marks (fourth). Now there is plenty of buzz about Cleveland not only throwing more often — but whispers of using more tempo.
The dot-connecting involves freshly drafted UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and newly imported offensive assistant Bill Musgrave — both of whom have ties to no-huddle godfather Chip Kelly. Thompson-Robinson says the Browns’ revised playbook is similar to Kelly’s at UCLA, and Musgrave’s shotgun-heavy offense at Cal was also influenced by his time with Kelly in Philadelphia — something HC Kevin Stefanski didn’t shy away from when discussing Musgrave’s hire. If there’s one thing we know about Kelly’s Eagles, it’s that they played lightning fast — and even a small bump in pace will seriously juice what’s already set to be a pass-heavier offense.
By the end of last season, Jaguars games were reliably voluminous from a total-plays perspective. Their contests produced the sixth-most combined snaps, although Jacksonville’s offense was only mid-pack (62.9 overtime-adjusted plays per game; 18th). While that average was weighed down by a Week 18 rock fight against the Josh Dobbs-led Titans, in which the Jags only needed 47 snaps, there is evidence that 2023 will see Jacksonville ratchet up the pace and play volume.
Prior to their Week 11 bye, the Jaguars were 14th in situation-neutral pace and 18th in pass rate. They jumped to sixth in pace and seventh in pass rate after that, driven by a blossoming quarterback who found a wheelbarrow for his balls during the bye. When Trevor Lawrence returned from his week off, he leaped from 26th in yards per attempt to 11th, from 21st in PFF passing grade to fifth, from 19th in big-time throw rate to fifth, from 14th in EPA per play to fifth, and from 13th in adjusted completion percentage to fourth.
Jacksonville won six of their final seven games to grab a playoff spot, where they earned a comeback win before hanging with the Chiefs in Arrowhead. Now they’ve added a legitimate alpha wideout in Calvin Ridley to further juice the passing game. The Jaguars’ upward trajectory is not news, and it is reflected by their rising draft costs — but we can also look forward to additional play volume to buoy production, and an elevated pace to unlock more shootouts.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers already were a fast offense, ranking fourth, fourth, and 11th in situation-neutral pace during Justin Herbert’s three years in the league. While coordinating the Cowboys, Kellen Moore’s offense played faster than that every year. Dallas also deployed significantly more no-huddle under Moore than the Chargers have the last three seasons. Now Moore resides in Los Angeles.
Chargers games were fairly voluminous, producing the third-, sixth-, and 13th-most combined plays during Herbert’s first three seasons. Moore’s Cowboys topped that every year, despite catering to Cro-Magnon handoff fetishists in Dallas. Thankfully, he won’t have to deal with similar shackles in Los Angeles, where Herbert was chucking it at the third- and sixth-highest rate during neutral situations the last two seasons.
Herbert will also be throwing downfield more often under Moore than his boat-anchor former OC Joe Lombardi. Herbert’s average depth of target turtled to 6.9 yards last season (39th) — significantly lower than Dak Prescott’s rates with Moore in charge (8.3, 8.3, 8.6, and 9.8). Los Angeles pumped out plenty of plays the last three years, finishing first, first, and seventh in overtime-adjusted snaps. Now, an anticipated increase in tempo should inject additional combined play volume into their games. The Chargers were already among the fastest of the fast. Moore will make them faster.
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