The 2014 NFL season may still be a distant dream, but it's never too early to start thinking fantasy football. During the offseason, the Fantasy Film Study is going to take a look at how coaching changes could shift the fantasy prospects of various teams. This week, using Game Rewind I tackled how the hiring of Norv Turner could impact the likes of Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph, among others. So kick back, grab your fantasy notebook and get ready for some studying.
Turner runs a version of the Air Coryell offense, which tries to force the defense to defend the entire field through a combination of mid- to deep-range passing routes and a power running game. The offense sends players in motion to create space and allow them to avoid being jammed at the line of scrimmage so their deeper routes have time to develop. Ideal personnel include a fast receiver able to win deep jump balls, a pass-catching tight end capable of stretching the middle of the field, and a power back able to grind out yards between the tackles and catch the ball in space.
Feed the ball to All Day, all day?
Turner's offense in Cleveland last season was not the norm for Norval. The Browns led the league in pass attempts, throwing the ball on 68 percent of their offensive snaps -- with Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell rotating under center. Yikes. Even with a talented duo of pass-catchers in Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, that's not the way Norv likes to conduct business. Historically speaking, he prefers around a 55-45 split between passing and running. Norv's 2010 San Diego Chargers offense finished first in points and second in yards while passing just 56 percent of the time. That's great news for Adrian Peterson and bad news for fantasy owners going against him in 2014.
Everybody knows Peterson can run. Turner witnessed it first hand when All Day thrashed the Chargers defense for an NFL-record 296 rushing yards in 2007. Over the last two seasons in Minnesota, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has mixed blocking schemes against opponents with varying results. In 2012, Peterson set the rushing world on fire and came nine yards short of toppling Eric Dickerson's long-standing single-season record of 2,105 rushing yards. Last year, Peterson endured his lowest yards per carry average since 2009 (4.5), and was routinely hit at or behind the line of scrimmage. Turner's scheme focuses more prominently on power running, with offensive linemen pulling to create mismatches at the second level, and creating cutback lanes which Peterson should be able to exploit.
In the screen grab below, Chris Ogbonnaya followed his blocks into the middle of the pile for a minimal game, even though the cutback lane was wide open. While Peterson will likely miss his share of cutbacks, having watched him closely for his entire career, I believe he'll turn more than enough of these opportunities into fantasy gold next season.
The real boon for Peterson's fantasy output from Turner, however, will come in the passing game. Just look at what Turner told KFAN, a sports radio station in Minnesota.
Peterson averaged around 35 receptions with just 5.65 yards per catch on mostly ill-designed swing passes and check downs during the last two seasons under Musgrave. From 2011 to 2013, the top two backs in Norv Turner-led offenses averaged a combined 87 catches and 7.62 yards per catch. What's the secret to Norv's success? A healthy mix of well-timed screen passes and craftily-designed plays like the one below.
Here, the Browns line up in an 11 personnel package (one running back, one tight end) with Josh Gordon and Greg Little split wide to the left. The Browns found success running the ball early on in this game, and at the snap Brandon Weeden fakes the handoff to Ogbonnaya. The safeties and linebackers crash into the box at the fake.
The play fake puts safety Louis Delmas and linebacker DeAndre Levy on their heels once they realize it's a pass. Greg Little is Weeden's first read, and he holds the two defenders with his eyes, forcing them both to commit back to the middle of the field to cover Little. This leaves Ogbonnaya unmarked as he slips out of the back field into the wide open flat for the easy score. These plays were not limited to the red zone, however, as Turner routinely put Ogbonnaya in space to help move the chains -- a role fantasy owners would love to see Peterson fill this fall.
Fantasy impact: Between the added benefit of the power running scheme and an emphasis on using running backs in the passing game, we may collectively be too low on Adrian Peterson heading into fantasy drafts (and that's with him as the third or fourth rated running back). Yes, Toby Gerhart (or another backup) will eat into Peterson's reception total, but tacking on 400-plus receiving yards and a few touchdowns to All Day's usual rushing output could have him back in contention for another fantasy rushing title.
Flash! A-AH. Savior of the ... fantasy universe?
Cordarrelle Patterson, aka "Flash," stole fantasy hearts (and likely several fantasy championships) when he averaged 16.1 fantasy points per game over the final four weeks of last season. One of those hearts belongs to our own Michael Fabiano who included Patterson on his Fantasy"Man Crush" list for 2014. Many will be high on the talented second-year player entering fantasy drafts, but just how high should he be taken?
Patterson's ability in the open field is likely a key reason why Turner immediately installed 10 plays designed for Patterson after landing the gig in Minnesota. Patterson's longest touchdown from the line of scrimmage traveled just eight yards in the air -- a back-shoulder fade against the Detroit Lions in Week 17. The rest of his touchdowns (not including his three rushing scores) were from five, two and negative-four yards from the line of scrimmage (the latter being his epic 79-yard screen pass TD against the Ravens).
The only part of Patterson's game holding him back from fantasy super-stardom in 2014 is his ability to win 50-50 balls downfield. He has the raw athleticism and size to make these plays, but he didn't show it on tape in 2013. Granted, this is a skill learned over time, so there's reason for optimism that Turner and his staff can coach Patterson into the stud fantasy owners believe he can be. Until then, expect to see Patterson employed often as the highlighted player in sneaky screens like the one below.
Here, instead of a traditional bubble screen, the center, guard and tackle all clear out to pave the way for the wide out. If Patterson gets this kind of blocking, he'll be taking these plays to the house instead of 39 yards downfield as Travis Benjamin did here.
As for the rest of the wide receivers, the arrival of Turner bumps Greg Jennings up to a stable WR3 in fantasy drafts. The veteran posted an unspectacular line of 68/804/4 in 2013, and Jennings should do well enough in Turner's system to produce slightly above that line in 2014. Just don't you dare select him until the late, late rounds. I don't care if he can still do pushups with a jet ski on his back.
Fantasy impact: Patterson is definitely a sleeper to target in the middle rounds, and as the offseason rolls along, if you believe he'll have an Alshon Jeffrey-esque sophomore season, you're going to have to reach for him. I'm going to wait and see if I can't nab him as a low-end WR2 or high-end WR3 around the seventh round. Jennings deserves to be rostered at the end of drafts for wide receiver depth. Other than that, only the arrival of a dominant signal-caller would cause a rise in value for the rest of the Vikings.
The return of Rudolph
Kyle Rudolph's 2013 season was cut short by injury, but even before that unfortunate incident he was turning in a disappointing campaign. Rudolph was on pace for a 14th-place fantasy finish among tight ends, right between Coby Fleener and Brent Celek. A far cry from what fantasy owners were expecting when they selected him last August.
After watching the tape, I definitely foresee an increase in production coming for Rudolph. Just don't expect him to repeat Jordan Cameron's production from last year. Cameron is leaner and faster than Rudolph, and thus able to stretch the field more capably. Check out his 53-yard catch and run against the Ravens in Week 2. What Rudolph lacks in speed, he makes up for with his huge frame and route running. Watch how he uses his body to create separation in the video to the right, and then bulldozes his way into the end zone. Norv will find a way to work with Rudolph. He just might not be as explosive.
Fantasy impact: While a top-five finish may be a bit optimistic, fantasy owners have every reason to believe Rudolph will find himself among the top-10 fantasy tight ends in 2014. He might not produce as well as Jordan Cameron did under Turner, but Turner's use of tight ends and Rudolph's size will equate to plenty of targets and plenty of fantasy points for the Notre Dame product in 2014.
Who's my quarterback?
That's the ultimate question for Vikings fans (and fantasy owners) heading into 2014. Whether the Vikings nab a big name in the 2014 NFL Draft or via free agency remains to be seen. A top-talent will certainly bode well for the players I've covered above, but even a serviceable starter will help these guys produce under Norv. Again, Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell played significant snaps for the Browns last season and that didn't slow down Josh Gordon or Jordan Cameron. And they didn't have Adrian Peterson running the ball, either.
The biggest fantasy gainer from the arrival of Norv Turner in Minnesota is without a doubt Peterson. I'd tell you to watch how he recovers from his groin surgery, but we all know Peterson heals about as quickly as Wolverine. The sky is the limit for Patterson under Turner, but come draft day the price may be too high to warrant the risk that he produces just average numbers in Year Two. I'll be targeting him around Round 7, but go with your gut if you want him. It's your team, after all. Rudolph should rise back into a low-end TE1 role, but don't reach for him too early in drafts. The quarterback situation remains in flux, but thanks to last season we know Norv can produce fantasy superstars without one under center.