Run-N-Shoot: Predicting the 2018 Fantasy Carnivals

In fantasy football, volume is king. That’s why we all spend countless hours searching for it. Researching it. “Who’s going to get the most touches? The most targets? The most volume?”

Despite this emphasis on volume, we, as a fantasy industry, spend precious little time assessing volume in a team context. I want that to change. That’s why, in this week’s Run-N-Shoot, I’m aiming to identify those teams who will be a “fantasy carnival” in 2018.

What’s a fantasy carnival? Let’s harken back to 2012, the first time I can recall that term being used (h/t Scott Pianowski). Behind Drew Brees in his prime and three other offensive Pro Bowlers, the Saints finished third in the NFL with 461 points. Yet the Saints defense was atrocious – leading the NFL in points allowed and setting an NFL record in yardage allowed – so the team finished just 7-9. Fantasy owners didn’t mind the team’s record, though, as every Saints game was a carnival, both for Brees, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and all the Saints opponents. Here, just take a quick look at the weekly scores:

Redskins 40, Saints 32
Panthers 35, Saints 27
Chiefs 27, Saints 24
Packers 28, Saints 27
Saints 31, Chargers 24
Saints 35, Bucs 28
Broncos 34, Saints 14
Saints 28, Eagles 13
Saints 31, Falcons 27
Saints 38, Raiders 17
Falcons 23, Saints 13
Giants 52, Saints 27
Saints 41, Bucs 0
Saints 34, Cowboys 31
Panthers 44, Saints 38

Most games in the 30s? For each team? Sign me up.

In today’s pass-friendly NFL, at least 1-2 fantasy carnivals emerge each season. Last year, the Houston Texans were that team, at least until Deshaun Watson tore his ACL. After a string of injuries, the Texans defense was a sieve, allowing an NFL-worst 436 points. Watson, meanwhile, racked up stats in bunches while throwing to his talented wideouts. Here are the point totals from Watson’s 2017 games:

Texans 13, Bengals 9 (Watson’s first game)
Patriots 36, Texans 33
Texans 57, Titans 14
Chiefs 42, Texans 34
Texans 33, Browns 17
Seahawks 41, Texans 38

But this isn’t an article about Watson. The point here is that most players involved in a 2017 Texans game were racking up points because their offense was as good as the defense was bad.

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Entering 2018, which teams are the most likely candidates to emerge as a fantasy carnival? Who profiles like the 2012 Saints or 2017 Texans? Here are my educated guesses:

Chiefs: You know about the offense. Tyreek Hill. Travis Kelce. Kareem Hunt. Sammy Watkins. Patrick Mahomes. That much talent is sure to produce fantasy points in 2018 regardless of the team context.  The most under-discussed aspect of Kansas City 2018, though, isn’t the star power on offense, it’s a defense that’s sorely lacking in talent – undoubtedly Andy Reid’s worst unit since he became Chiefs head coach. Here, check out Kansas City’s likely Week 1 starters:

DE: Chris Jones, Allen Bailey
NT: Xavier Williams
OLB: Justin Houston, Dee Ford
ILB: Reggie Ragland, Anthony Hitchens
CB: Steven Nelson, Kendall Fuller
S: Eric Berry, Daniel Sorensen

Chris Jones is a good player, with a PFF ranking pushing 90 in 2017 to show for it. Justin Houston is above-average as well and still just 29 years old. But everyone else is a point of concern. Kendall Fuller is best-suited in the slot, and the Chiefs are so lacking in talent at corner that they’ve been picking up guys off the street in recent days. Eric Berry is a former All-Pro, but the list of players who have returned to form in year one after a torn achilles is short.

Projection: Combine a subpar defense with an explosive, star-studded offense, and the 2018 Chiefs look a lot like the 2017 Texans (with Watson) and 2012 Saints: an 8-8 type of team that is top-five in points scored and top-five in points allowed. Grab a ticket to the 2018 Chiefs fantasy carnival; it will be a fun ride.

Colts: Rumor has it that Andrew Luck hasn’t been throwing deep downfield. But he’s throwing, and behind the best offensive line of his career, the dynamic T.Y. Hilton, and two solid tight ends, Luck should be just fine in 2018. Even if he’s not all the way back, the mere volume he’s going to enjoy as a result of the NFL’s worst defense is all his fantasy owners will need.

Sound harsh? Here, have a look at the Colts projected starters on defense:

DE: Kemoko Duray, Jabaal Sheard
DT: Denico Autry, Al Woods
OLB: Najee Goode, Darius Leonard
MLB: Anthony Walker
CB: Kenny Moore, Pierre Desir
S: Clayton Geathers, Malik Hooker

Hooker has draft pedigree but is young, 22, and raw. Sheard and Woods had solid PFF rankings in 2017, but both are playing new roles due to a chance in defensive scheme. Everyone else profiles as a liability.

Projection: The Colts emphasis on drafting young talent on offense shows, as they re-emerge as a top-five offensive unit. But Luck throws 650 times for the 6-10 squad, as they finish dead last in the NFL in total defense. Make sure you start all your Colts each week, and bet over on the O/U game totals (until Vegas adjusts), starting with the Bengals in Week 1.

Seahawks: Things change quickly in the NFL. Kam Chancellor, retired. Michael Bennett, traded. Earl Thomas, holding out. Richard Sherman, on 49ers. What has been a vaunted Seattle defense for many years now profiles as a liability. Check out the current depth chart:

DE: Branden Jackson, Frank Clark
DT: Jarran Reed, Nazair Jones
OLB: Barkevious Mingo, KJ Wright
MLB: Bobby Wagner
CB: Shaquill Griffin, ?
S: Brad McDougald, Tedric Thompson

Bobby Wagner, 28, remains one of the NFL’s best linebackers. But the rest of this defense? #NotGood. Everyone knows the Legion of Boom is no more, but the typical fan probably doesn’t realize just how bad this secondary now is. Byron Maxwell was expected to start at corner, but he just got put on IR, and it’s unclear who’s going to replace him. With the end of Thomas’ holdout nowhere in sight and two no-names at safety, this may be the NFL’s worst secondary. The front four is similarly lacking in talent, too.

Russell Wilson, meanwhile, remains a special player. For his sake, I wish Seattle’s passing tree were a bit broader – they’re probably one playmaker and/or one stud o-lineman short. But if Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett can stay healthy (with Baldwin already proclaiming he’s at 85%), they’ll have monstrous numbers. Same for whichever running back emerges.

Projection: Seattle finishes as a bottom-7 unit on defense, helping Wilson eclipse 600 passes for the first time in his career.  All those fantasy owners who avoided Lockett due to getting burned in the past get burned again, as he goes 65-1050-7.

Raiders: Oakland’s defense was bad in 2017 even with Khalil Mack. Now that he’s gone? Hide the women and children; it will be ugly in Oakland:

DE: Tank Carradine, Bruce Irvin
DT: PJ Hall, Justin Ellis
OLB: Emmanuel Lamur, Tahir Whitehead
MLB: Derrick Johnson
S: Karl Joseph, Marcus Gilchrist
CB: Gareon Conley, Rashaan Melvin

Bruce Irvin and Derrick Johnson are the only players on this defense with any sort of success in their careers. But Irvin is 30 and was mediocre in 2017 even with Mack garnering all of the attention, and the Chiefs let Johnson, age 35, go because his best years are behind him.

On offense, meanwhile, I’ve never been a Derek Carr guy. His career best YPA is just 7,0, an abysmal figure in today’s pass-friendly NFL, and Oakland, like Seattle, strikes me as one playmaker short on offense. But this defense is going to be atrocious, so the volume will be there every week, even if the Raiders star-power on offense isn’t high enough to make them a true “carnival.”

Prediction: Oakland’s defense finishes 31st overall and the rabid fan base rebels as the team finishes 4-12 on its way to Las Vegas. Derek Carr again proves that Mack deserved the big-money contract, not him, but Carr throws over 600 times for the first time in his career, and despite poor efficiency numbers, the volume for Jordy Nelson, Amari Cooper, and Jared Cook helps them all profit at their current ADPs.

Others:  Much like the 2017 Texans, sometimes a fantasy carnival emerges as a result of injuries on defense. So be aware of injuries to defensive players on good offenses like New England and Green Bay. Sometimes, the elimination of 2-3 defensive players is all it takes to turn a solid defense into a fantasy carnival.  And no matter how you feel about a real-life carnival, everyone loves a fantasy carnival.