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It’s easy to forget that Washington’s roster is oozing — or was oozing — with fantasy football potential before the unmitigated debacle that was the 2013 campaign.
The team’s quarterback was the No. 1 fantasy signal caller at the midpoint of his rookie season, their running back has finished as fantasy’s No. 5 and No. 15 rusher in back-to-back years, their primary wide receiver reeled in 113 receptions in 2013, and their studly tight end last season averaged a stunning 16.4 fantasy points over a five game stretch.
The question, after Jay Gruden‘s hire as Washington’s head coach, is whether the team’s offensive pieces fit the head guy’s West Coast system.
I think it’s important to get some semblance of a feel for how new coaching hires might impact fantasy value, even in the darkest fantasy days of January. We did this last winter when the Bears brought on Marc Trestman, and the further down the rabbit hole we went, the clearer it became that Chicago would be a fantasy football godsend.
Let’s start the analysis with a look at how Gruden’s approach will impact the various pass-catching pieces of Washington’s aerial attack, which ranked a middling 16th in 2013.
Will Pierre Garcon Continue His Ball Hogging Ways?
This is hardly a knock on Garcon. He’s by far and away Washington’s best pass catcher, made clear by his ridiculous 174 targets in 2013, second most to Andre Johnson’s 176 looks. The team’s dearth of pass-catching options gave Garcon one of the league’s highest weekly fantasy floors.
I asked Joe Goodberry, an NFL draft expert and writer for Cincy Jungle — a site that tracks everything Bengals — how Garcon might fit into Gruden’s system that served A.J. Green so very well in Cincinnati.
“If we’re looking at Garcon like we do A.J. Green in the Bengals offense, we could be looking at a wide receiver that was often force-fed the ball because he was their best offensive weapon in Cincinnati,” Goodberry said. “While they might not be similar talents, Garcon stands above the rest of Washington’s receiving options, much like Green.”
Garcon, even during Jordan Reed’s brief but significant emergence as Robert Griffin III’s second option, averaged 10.4 targets per game. That should quell any fears that a healthy Reed — provided he recovers from the aftermath of a midseason concussion — won’t ding Garcon’s value.
Goodberry said Garcon should take Green’s role in Washington’s Gruden-run offense as a key weapon moved around the formation in an effort to disallow the defense from keying on him.
“Gruden found ways to move Green around and get him open while also calling deep shots to Green regardless of coverage or flow of the game,” Goodberry said.
Mark Bullock, a game film analyst who has long tracked Washington, agreed, pointing to Gruden’s willingness to use myriad offensive formations to create favorable matchups.
“Along with being diverse, one of the things I think Gruden does well is feature his best players,” he wrote in The Washington Post. “He’ll move them around to generate the best possible match up and get the ball in their hands.”
Moving Green around the formation didn’t include much usage from the slot, as Gruden put his stud receiver there on about 19 percent of his 2013 pass routes. Garcon lined up in the slot 18.3 percent of the time.
Here’s how Garcon and Green compare, in case you were wondering.
Will Jordan Reed Be Used Properly?
Reed was an almost laughable mismatch before his season came to a halting end in mid-November. The 6-foot-2, 243-pound tight end was too big for safeties to check and too fast for poor linebackers assigned to cover him.
Reed showed every sign of a real and fake football phenom in his limited time on the field in 2013.
It’s tough to gauge how Reed will — or won’t — be used under Gruden, since by every measure, he’s a far superior option to Bengals’ tight end Jermaine Gresham. It’s worth noting that Gresham somehow managed to finish 2012 as fantasy’s 11th highest scoring tight end.
“Jermaine Gresham is one of the more inconsistent players in football. It’s hard to tell if Gruden limited the tight end versatility or Gresham couldn’t do everything needed,” Goodberry said.
More telling is how Gruden used the more versatile Tyler Eifert during his rookie campaign in Cincy. Hardly used as a seam-busting vertical threat, Eifert’s usage was limited — like Gresham’s — to short tosses.
“It makes me lean towards the side that says Gruden doesn’t use the tight end as a weapon and uses them as a check down option instead,” Goodberry said. “That may be good for Reed if he can run after the catch, an area where Gresham excelled and earned most of his statistics.”
Bullock noted that Gruden sometimes split out Gresham as a wide receiver, usually opposite a bunching of pass catchers on the other side of the formation. This, Bullock wrote, often caused confusion and created favorable matchups.
I think fantasy owners should pray to every deity that Gruden deploys Reed in this way, and doesn’t limit him to dump offs and check downs. Reed averaged a silly .5 fantasy points per route run (FPPRR) in nine 2013 games, a sign of extreme efficiency — and maybe one boosted by Washington’s frequent need for garbage time production.
“We like to mix up our personnel groupings and keep defenses off balance hopefully and be diverse in what we do,” Gruden said in a 2013 interview with the National Football Post. “Our goal is to get our best players on the field.”
That might seem terribly obvious, but how often do fantasy footballers watch in agony as team’s best players are rotated in and out of the lineup? If Gruden means what he says, Reed should be a central part of the Washington passing attack in 2014.
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