Looking at the Fantasy Passing Game Potential of Run First Offenses
There are several teams around the league that are so run-heavy, that they legitimately beg the question: Do I want a single pass catcher from this team on my fantasy roster?
Arthur Smith's complete neutralization of Kyle Pitts and the Bears comical rushing attempt totals remain top of mind for fantasy players looking to find value in the mid to late rounds. Below I take a look at three rush first offenses and assess whether their wide receivers or tight ends can breakthrough to be fantasy contributors on your team.
Chicago Bears: 558 total rush attempts in 2022, +181 rush attempts to pass attempts
Yes, you are truly reading that right. The Bears had nearly 200 more rush attempts than passing attempts in 2022. The next highest differential, which will you see directly below, was the Falcons at 144. And after that? Well, scroll a bit further down but it was the Ravens at +38. Literally 4 times less. From a yardage standpoint, the Chiefs had 2.28 times the number of passing yards as the Bears. Absolutely hilarious. Long story short, the Bears prefer running the football. It's kind of their thing. Will year three of Justin Fields change that?
You would certainly have to think so. Will they still be run heavy? Yes, definitely. Will it be nearly +200 to their passing attempts? It simply can't be. If Luke Getsy wants to keep his job he will have to create a more balanced offense in 2023. Which means there will be targets to be had for their pass catchers. That doesn't mean it's going to create fantasy relevance; Cole Kmet was last year's top target with 50 catches and 544 yards. But it will create more opportunities.
With those additional opportunities, I do see some life for Cole Kmet and DJ Moore. Kmet just got paid. And while money doesn't always indicate targets, in a run first offense, paying off your tight end that can also catch passes means his pivotal role in the offense is secure. Kmet's ADP as the 13th TE off the board is about right, but there is upside here if the Bears can get more production out of the offense.
DJ Moore flashed his potential in the Bears first pre-season game scoring a 62 yard touchdown. But it should also be noted that that pass was two yards behind the line of scrimmage and thrown behind him. You're counting on this offense taking a massive leap if you are considering Moore as a starting fantasy wide receiver. It's certainly possible, but there's no way I'm overpaying for Moore or counting on him for anything other than depth.
The reality is, this year is make or break for Fields, and that means the Bears have to open up the playbook. I'd expect them to pass at least 50 more times than they did last year which creates a potential PPR floor for Kmet and Moore with an upside if Fields progresses. That being said, I'm not buying too much stock in either player, and leaving the rest of the depth chart (sorry, Darnell Mooney) on the waiver wire.
Atlanta Falcons: 559 rush attempts in 2022, +144 rush attempts to pass attempts
Arthur Smith is going to Arthur Smith; if you don't believe that simple fact, that's on you. It's a particularly hard life lesson I learned when I drafted Kyle Pitts last year. It doesn't matter if Smith had early 90's Jerry Rice on his team, he's only going to pass to set up the run.
You simply have to respect his commitment to the game plan. And, to be fair, the Falcons should have won that division last year with this exact script. Hell, he had the combination of Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson and Caleb Huntley damn near running 5 yards per carry. So, no, I don't expect Arthur Smith to change. And he's certainly not going to change after drafting Bijan Robinson 8th overall. This team will probably run more than 559 times next year.
So do you take a look at Drake London or Kyle Pitts with a shaky Desmon Ridder at quarterback and an offense who wants to run it 600 times? Actually yes. Well not, Kyle Pitts. Until we see Arthur Smith leverage him as a true pass catcher or cog in this offense, he can't be trusted as a fantasy asset. But Drake London saw a 31% target share from Desmond Ridder during his four starts. And these weren't garbage time plays, all four games were close. From those 36 targets, London caught 25 balls for 333 yards. He will be the main pass catching option in this offense, and despite the number of passes, he should be a fantasy asset with a decent floor. If Ridder can improve (a decent "if" to be fair,) London could easily get himself into the high WR2 rankings.
Baltimore Ravens: 526 rush attempts in 2022, +38 rush attempts to pass attempts
You had to assume the Ravens would be on this list. It's actually kind of wild that their differential is so much lower, but there were some game scripts that necessitate a lot passing. To be clear, the coaching staff definitely hated having to do that passing, and would prefer the near +200 differential the Bears put up as they suck the life out of you with 3 yard gains. The Harbaughs love methodical rushing attacks.
So yes, in 2023, this will remain a run first offense. But the Ravens also know that they will have to pass to win games. Lamar Jackson showed significant improvement over his 2021 hiccup and his metrics were much closer to his 2019 MVP year than his 2021 down year. In my opinion, the biggest issue with the Ravens 2022 passing game was the lack of talent on the outside. When Demarcus Robinson and Devin Duvernay are pacing your wide receiver production, it's a personnel issue more than a QB issue.
The good news is the Ravens addressed this in the off season. With a hopefully healthy Rashod Bateman, the Ravens added Odell Beckham Jr, last seen slicing up defenders in the Super Bowl before an unfortunate injury. And they added Zay Flowers, an electric receiver out of Boston College who simply got yards in college. These improvements spell big things for Jackson; I think he will thrive in 2023. But will any of the pass catchers emerge?
The answer is yes, because of Mark Andrews of course. With significantly more talent on the outside, I see Mark Andrews as a major weapon and differential play at the tight end position. He won't get to Kelce's level, but I think he will easily outpace the rest of the tight ends. For Ravens receivers, it's much murkier.
I do think there is potential here. Both Flowers and Beckham have shown a connection with Jackson in camp. And it's easy to forget that Rashod Bateman cleared 58 yards in each of the first three games of 2022 while adding two touchdowns. The problem is I don't see a clear WR1 here. All three of these receivers likely have big days depending on the game plan and coverage, but none are consistent enough to be trusted in fantasy. Still, expect an uptick in passing efficiency for the Ravens, and keep your eye on their receivers if one begins to take ahold of the target share.
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