The NFL changes in a hurry. Remember 2012? Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris were the toast of the fantasy football rookie class, looking like super stars in the making. Then ... sorry, it's almost even too hard to write about. 2013 happened. RGIII looked like a shell of his former Offensive Rookie of the Year self, and Alfred Morris repeatedly fell victim to Shanahanigans (curse you Roy Helu and Darrel Young!) So what's in store for 2014? Well, for starters former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden slides in as head coach, and he promoted 28-year-old wunderkind Sean McVay to be his offensive coordinator.
How will this all shake out fantasy-wise? It's still early, but using GameRewind I dove into the game film to see what might be in store for RGIII, Morris and the rest of the gang as they try to rebound from their 2013 season.
Gruden and McVay will be running a West Coast scheme similar to what the Shanahans used in Washington. However, Gruden's approach to the West Coast offense is far more traditional than what was trotted out by Washington of late. Gruden's offense relies more heavily on well-designed, precisely run routes by wide receivers, with the quarterback making the appropriate progression reads to find the open target. Gruden is adept at using his personnel and formations to create matchup issues to aid his quarterback -- something made evident by the early success of both Andy Dalton and A.J. Green under Gruden in Cincinnati.
Throwing everything in but but the read-option?
Under Gruden's guidance, Andy Dalton improved his touchdowns and yards per attempt in each of his three professional seasons. His interceptions also rose each year, but that isn't as much on Gruden. Dalton too often telegraphed throws right into the arms of eager defenders. Gruden's offense will put more responsibility on RGIII to make reads and run the offense -- something the young signal-caller appears more than willing to take on.
Griffin had his struggles last season fundamentally, but if he can correct those faults and buy into what Gruden and McVay concoct offensively, the fantasy results could be significant.
Below is a prime example of a classic Gruden design to create space for A.J. Green. Green is lined up outside to the right with tight end Jermaine Gresham in the slot. Antoine Bethea is covering Gresham, with Cassius Vaughn lined up off Green.
At the snap, Green and Gresham run a slight pick route, which causes Bethea to cut under Vaughn, giving Green the only split second of separation he needs. Green slips behind the linebackers and picks up 22 yards after Dalton hits him over the middle with Vaughn still playing catch up.
In Washington, Pierre Garcon should receive the biggest boon from these types of groupings. With a roster dangerously thin on top-notch pass-catchers, Gruden will likely scheme to put the ball in Garcon's hands as frequently as possible. And when he doesn't, Griffin should be able to find athletic second-year tight end Jordan Reed open over the middle. A lot.
I watched a lot of Bengals tape between last season and now, and one thing I routinely found was Cincy's big tight ends -- Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert -- routinely open over the middle of the field and frequently without the ball. Dalton, whether a product of locking onto his first read or misreading the coverage, constantly overlooked these playmakers in the middle of the field.
In the above screen grab, Dalton is going to fake the ball to BenJarvus Green-Ellis before hitting Mohammed Sanu on the out route on the bottom of the screen. Dalton completes the pass and moves the chains, but missed a potentially monster gain by ignoring Gresham over the middle. It's impossible for me to know who was supposed to be Dalton's first read, but he play faked to the right, making it seem like Gresham would have been the natural choice as Dalton turned his head back around. Whatever the reason, Dalton opted for Sanu over Gresham.
Last season in Cincy, Gruden had at least two tight ends on the field for roughly 56 percent of the team's plays. He moved Gresham and Eifert all over the field, which he'll likely do with Reed as well. Before missing the final six games of the season with a concussion, Reed had a five-week stretch where he averaged 10.38 fantasy points per week. That could become a more consistent figure once Gruden and McVay (Reed's tight ends coach last season) scheme ways to get him in space.
Fantasy impact: Gruden turned Andy Dalton into a top-five fantasy quarterback last season, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks Dalton is as naturally talented as Robert Griffin III. A return to top-10 fantasy form is not out of the question for the Baylor product, based purely on his passing production potential under Gruden (Dalton has a career high of 183 rushing yards in a season, Griffin had 138 against the Vikings alone in 2012.) Washington needs to add more playmaking pass-catchers, which is why they landed former Cardinal Andre Roberts in free agency. Gruden and McVay will have to find ways to make Garcon and Reed productive if they want this offense to work, which means both should produce in fantasy in 2014 as solid No. 2 options at their positions, with some upside.
The Alfred Morris Mystery
The arrival of Jay Gruden in Washington creates a lot of questions surrounding one of fantasy football's rising stars in Alfred Morris. How will he fit into Gruden's pass-happy offense? Will he function well in a power-running scheme as opposed to the zone-blocking of the Shanahans? What happened to his beloved Mazda Bentley? OK, we at least know his "Bentley" is doing all right, but I'll try and shed some light on the other questions.
First of all, yes, Gruden loves to pass. In 2012 and 2013, he only ran the ball 41 and 44 percent of the time, respectively. If you need more proof, look at the table to the right detailing Cincy and Washington's rushing production the last two years. Yet, in both of those years, Gruden didn't have a runner like Alfred Morris. That's not to discredit the immensely talented Giovani Bernard. They're just different runners, and I think Morris can thrive in Gruden's system with his combination of between-the-tackles power and outside speed.
Many have pointed out Washington's line may be a tad undersized to run Gruden's power-scheme, yet I think the lighter, more athletic "Hogs" could thrive executing power-runs like the one below.
Here, right guard Andrew Whitworth pulls across the line to serve as Bernard's lead blocker. Right guard Mike Pollack bursts to the second level to get a hat on Manti Te'o. The result is a relatively easy 13-yard gain.
Gruden also loves to run power stretch plays, which are a little closer to what Morris is accustomed to running. They look a lot like this 37-yard run by Morris against the Falcons, and he should have no trouble picking up gobs of yards on those type of runs. Back to the screenshot above, what's important to note is that this play originated in the shotgun, and has shades of the read-option. This may seem like a shock since Gruden insisted the Bengals draft Dalton over Colin Kaepernick because Dalton fit what Gruden wanted to do schematically, but it appears as if Gruden was adapting to the league last season and designed a few plays of this nature. After the handoff, Dalton even scampers a few yards to the right to sell the fake. Making things more intruiging, is that McVay stated in an interview with CBSDC that Gruden will adjust his scheme to fit the players in the Washington offense. So will we see RGIII running it 15 to 20 times a game? Not likely. But it also isn't likely that we've seen the last of the read-option in Washington.
One more nugget to know about Gruden is that he likes to get his running backs involved in the passing attack. This varies between screens, checkdowns and more cleverly designed routes like the one below.
Notice the dotted line patterns. They look strikingly similar to the routes used in the A.J. Green screen grab above, albeit flipped across the field. The only new wrinkle is that instead of Bernard leaking out as a late check down option, he's running a designed wheel route against the Cover 1. LaRon Landry is the lone safety, and he slides over slightly to respect the dual threat of Green and Gresham on the bottom of the screen. This forces Pat Angerer (highlighted in red) to cover Bernard alone in space. The result is a 21-yard completion to Bernard. Gruden is very smart when it comes to tricking the defense with twists on his owns schemes and plays like this.
The only caveat to this kind of play design: Will Gruden trust Morris to run this route? That remains to be seen. Morris seems to have solid hands, as he's converted 71 percent of his targets into receptions over the last two years. Granted, that was a total of 28 targets. Not exactly the 104 Jamaal Charles received last season. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, this could be the prime space for the speedy Roy Helu to swoop in and return to his vulture/Shanahanigan form by scooping up all of Morris' potential catches. It's worth watching in the preseason and training camp to see if Morris gets more opportunities in the passing game. If he does, his fantasy value rises accordingly.
Fantasy impact: Morris may not be the focal point in Gruden's attack, but he's proven he can deliver in fantasy even when the rushing attack is playing second-fiddle. In 2013, Washington rushed on only 41 percent of their offensive plays and Morris still turned in a top-15 fantasy finish -- despite all of the vultured touchdowns (curse you Roy Helu and Darrel Young!) If the touchdowns return and he catches a few more passes, he's worth nabbing as a low-end RB1 with upside, as other owners may sleep on him after last season. Meanwhile, RGIII probably won't run as often, but he'll still take off now and again. Hopefully in more advantageous situations so he can avoid the big hits that rocked him last season.
There are a lot of "ifs" surrounding the Washington Redskins in fantasy this season, but also a lot of promise. Both RGIII and Alfred Morris have the opportunity to return to their top-10 or even top-5 fantasy form under Gruden, but for that to happen much has to fall into place. Griffin needs to adapt to the offensive and still be a threat to run, and Gruden needs to recognize that Morris is the motor running this offense, and deserves some attention in the passing game as well. Meanwhile, Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed present relatively safe No. 2 options at their positions, with some upside.
Fantasy owners will likely be down on most of these players after witnessing the dumpster fire in Washington that was rumored to be visible from space. However, from those ashes several fantasy phoenixes could arise to help you reclaim (or defend) your fantasy crown. Keep an eye on this team as we approach the regular season, as there's reason for hope in Washington once again.
Previous Film Studies:
-- Alex Gelhar writes fantasy and features pieces for the NFL. You can follow him on Twitter @AlexGelhar for fantasy nuggets, football analysis and NCAA Tournament overreactions.