by Jesse Jones (@majesstik1)
When Nathaniel Hackett took over as offensive coordinator for the Jags in week 9 of the regular season against the Kansas City Chiefs, there was a clear shift in offensive philosophy, with an emphasis on running the football and relying on the defense to try and win games. While this didn't help them actually win any more games, it does give us an indicator of what to expect this year from the Jags offense. The chart below demonstrates the change in offensive play calling from Olson (games in red) to Hackett (games in green), and the drastic differences in their tendencies.
Before we get to the offense and fantasy football talk, let's start on the defensive side of the ball and work our way back to the offense. The Jags continued to add talent on defense by signing 2 elite defensive players, lineman Calias Campbell and cornerback A.J. Bouye - in addition to the usually solid, but not spectacular Barry Church at safety. With holdovers Malik Jackson, Jalen Ramsey, Paul Posluzsny, Telvin Smith, and Tashaun Gipson, it gives the Jags one of the higher rated defense units coming into the season. We already saw the group they had last year reduce points allowed from 28.0 to 22.7 points per game after the philosophy changed in week 9 (chart below), and this trend can reasonably be expected to continue into next year - especially if the offense and the running game continue to eat away at the clock.
Defensive prowess aside, what does this mean for the offense and in particular fantasy football? Well, in the chart at the top of this article, we can see that there was significant improvement from the offense after Hackett took over, mainly in the running game and total offense categories. They ran the ball more, they ran more plays while managing to control the clock better, they scored more points, and they reduced turnovers a smidge (1.86 to 1.78 total turnovers per game). However, there was a tangible difference in INTs thrown (1.29 to 0.78 per game), which is what they need Bortles to maintain heading into this season. Their top two draft picks signaled this run heavy approach is going to be the focus again this year when they drafted 2 studs out of the most talented conference in college football, running back Leonard Fournette and center Cam Robinson, who could end up anywhere but center in his rookie season, since the Jags already have a really good center in Brandon Linder.
So, how do we project this for the 2017 fantasy season? I have included my projections (above) and schedule rating for each of the main FF positions we'll be drafting from (below). Since we can expect Hackett to continue to pound the rock, and if the Jags used their #4 overall pick on a player they intend to rely heavily on, it could mean around 342 total touches for Fournette. That averages out to 21.4 touches per game, and with the yards, receptions and TDs added in, that equals a projected 14.7 points per game. That would put the rookie back at RB11 status and the 57th best player overall in my projections - that's including QBs. Fournette is currently being drafted in the back half of the 2nd round according to myfantasyleague.com (2.9 ADP) and fantasyfootballcalculator.com (2.8 ADP) data which is just a bit higher than where Fournette landed in my projections where he is the 30th best non-QB, or a 3.6 ADP. So, anywhere from back of the 2nd to the middle of the third is a good time to buy your Fournette shares.
With the running game likely to be more effective in 2017, and if Bortles makes any progress as a passer this year, it could open up a lot in the passing game. Allen Robinson could be due for a bounce back year in 2017, and with the emergence of Lee as a playmaker last year - and Hurns coming into this year healthy - they will have several weapons for defenses to account for. Hurns appears to draw the most favorable match-up schedule heading into the year, and is going anywhere from round 18 (MFLs) to round 14 (FFC), so he represents a nice bargain late in drafts. The bonus take away from peaking at the schedule is that the Jags finish the year on the road in San Francisco, who were terrible on defense last year. As a Niner fan myself, I expect improvement, but not enough to stop the upper level of talent from doing what they please against them. A-Rob, Hurns, Lee and Fournette could be key pieces for re-drafters come fantasy championship time, but will have to get through Seattle and Houston first. If you have the depth to withstand those first two playoff weeks, the Jags can be league winners for you.