Projected Opportunities and Tackles by Team
Projecting fantasy performance is a complex exercise that takes many factors into account. On an individual basis, I consider many metrics including tPOP, QB pressure frequency, and plays on ball (passes defensed or interceptions per target.
However, that’s only part of the equation. I also include in the impact of home stats crews in addition to projected tackle opportunities. By definition, a tackle opportunity is a play in which a tackle can be made, so this excludes incomplete passes and plays that result in a score.
A wide range of things impact tackle opportunities including pace and game flow, run/pass ratios, and penalties. However, we can take stock of the opportunities each offense afforded to opposing defenses last season and use this information to project opportunities for the 2015 season.
Below are the projected opportunities for each defense:
It’s no surprise that three of 2014’s worst teams top the list. With young quarterbacks at the helm for all three teams, their defenses should see loads of tackle opportunities.
Lavonte David has racked up 430 tackles over his first three seasons as a pro, and he should have ample opportunity to continue to pile up numbers this season. One of the league’s most effective tacklers on a per opportunity basis, David’s tPOP of 17.2 percent ranked fourth last season behind only Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner, and DeAndre Levy. Tampa’s projected opportunities also bodes positively for whoever emerges as their other three-down linebacker – Bruce Carter or Danny Lansanah.
There’s also plenty of opportunity in Tennessee. However, unlike Tampa Bay, the Titans’ linebacker situation is far from stable. It appears like Tennessee with enter the season with Zach Brown and Avery Williamson at inside linebacker. Williamson posted one of the lowest tPOP numbers (11.6) among qualifying inside linebackers last season, which bodes poorly for fantasy production. Brown sat out last season with a torn pectoral, but he’s a more dynamic player than Williamson and is the better fantasy bet.
Also of interest in Tennessee is Da’Norris Searcy. Coming over from the Bills, Searcy is likely to finally see an every-down role, and has the potential to be very productive behind a pedestrian linebacker corps. Searcy’s tPOP of 11.5 last season means we could see strong tackle numbers out of the former Bill in Tennessee.
In Jacksonville, Paul Posluszny returns from injury and remains a top 10 fantasy option. You know that. But what about Telvin Smith? As a rookie, Smith started the season as a nickel linebacker and worked his way into an every-down role by Week 12. He especially excelled down the stretch where he put up double-digit tackles in four of his last six games. Smith’s 16.2 tPOP suggests he could be very productive if the Jags elect to use him as a three-down player this season.
Philadelphia comes in just behind the top three in projected opportunities. Again, this shouldn’t come as a huge shocker given the pace of Chip Kelly’s offense. It appears as though the Eagles will use Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks at inside linebacker. Alonso missed all last season, but if we look back to his rookie campaign, he posted a respectable 13.3 tPOP. That’s a mid-pack number, and it’s important to keep in mind that his tackle total of 159 was greatly inflated by the Buffalo home crew. Kendricks was right around the same range, posting a 12.9 tPOP last season. Both players should fare well for the Eagles and produce LB2 numbers thanks to the ample volume.
At the bottom of the list, we see Seattle, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Detroit. That’s bad news for the likes of Bobby Wagner, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, NaVorro Bowman, DeAndre Levy, and Stephen Tulloch. However, I wouldn’t let projected opportunities dissuade me from selecting any of the above. Instead, I’d use this information to break ties if I’m close on two players.
While projected opportunities provide us with an indication of what to expect in 2015, this stat is by no means the whole story. We also need to take into account the tendencies of each stat crew. In conducting extensive research on the topic, my work has shown significant variation from crew to crew across the league. Yet at the same time, individual crews remain very consistent in terms of how they record tackles from game to game.
Therefore, we can take crew tendencies in terms of how many tackles are awarded per opportunity and the solo/assist ratio and apply this to the projected opportunities above. The follow chart displays a breakdown of projected solos, assists, and fantasy points based on a value of 1.5 per solo and 0.75 per assist:
Now a very different picture emerges with the Jets, Redskins, and Giants topping the list. Both the Jets and Giants crews were among the most tackle-happy in the league last season, so this outcome makes perfect sense. The Buffalo crew also awarded tackles at an extremely high rate per opportunity, and the low and behold the Bills sit fifth.
Players on these teams will have value, but it’s important to not overvalue anyone. Just as I mentioned with opportunities, this information should be used as a tiebreaker and not the only factor to consider.
In New York, Demario Davis finally started to emerge for fantasy purposes last season. While he finished as fantasy’s No. 17 linebacker, that number is very top heavy. Davis was 35th in fantasy scoring from Week 6 on. Still, there’s potential for fantasy production here in Todd Bowles’ defense, but Davis will need to improve on his lackluster tPOP of 12.1 percent.
Keenan Robinson supplanted Perry Riley as the fantasy linebacker of choice in Washington. While injury derailed the end of his season, Robinson was a top 20 fantasy linebacker through Week 13. Also, his impressive tPOP of 14.7 percent really stands out.
The linebacker options in New York don’t inspire much confidence. There’s a hodgepodge of players to go along with the oft-injured Jon Beason. Instead, it’s perhaps better for us to turn our attention to rookie Landon Collins, who steps into a paper thin depth chart and is all but guaranteed a starting every-down role. With the Giants’ favorable stats crew, Collins has the opportunities to put up big fantasy numbers in Year 1.
I’m not going to say anything more about Tampa, but the fact that the Bucs show high on both lists potentially makes a case for Lavonte David as the No. 1 fantasy linebacker this year.
Instead, I want to turn our attention to the Bills. Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown are slated to start on the inside, with Bradham likely to get the favorable WILB spot. In terms of tPOP, Bradham posted a solid 13.5 last season, while Brown’s was among the league’s lowest at just 11.5. Given the numbers, Bradham is clearly the better fantasy option in 2015. Giving the Bills stats crew, Bradham is a sneaky player to target for a breakout season.
San Francisco again falls near the bottom of the list, giving more reason to not overvalue Bowman this season. We also see Denver and Miami bringing up the rear. In Denver, Danny Trevathan is coming off an injury-riddled season, but is the favorite for every-down duties. Brandon Marshall is also likely to see subpackages snaps. Trevathan is a dynamic player and Marshall managed an impressive tPOP of 16.2 last season, so I wouldn’t hesitate to take either player. However, Denver’s stingy home crew somewhat limits both player’s fantasy ceilings.
The Dolphins crew awarded the fewest tackles per opportunity last season with just 1.06 tackles recorded for every opportunity. By comparison, the Jets crew led the league with 1.44 tackles awarded per opportunity. That isn’t the best news for Jelani Jenkins, but there is actually good news. Jenkins’ tPOP of 15.0 was among the better numbers in the league last season, suggesting he’ll get his despite the miserly Dolphins crew.
So as you can see, projected opportunities and tackles won’t give you a complete picture of what to expect for IDP purposes in 2015, but both are important factors to consider when building your draft board.
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Assistant Managing Editor and resident IDP maven and DFS junkie of PFF Fantasy.