Passing Distribution Chart

A common misconception among fantasy owners is many may believe that certain NFL teams, as a whole, will improve and therefore will generate more touches for everyone.

Looking at NFL offenses from the last 3 seasons, the number of offensive plays called by all 32 teams from 2014 through 2016 averaged 61.8 plays per game. For clarification, this is the total of rush attempts plus passing attempts.

Skeptics may wonder if this 61.8 “average” means that bad teams had less offensive plays; and teams that are offensive juggernauts had tons more, right? Not quite. The differences were minimal.

For example, in 2016 the Super Bowl champion Patriots called 64.5 offensive plays per game and ranked #4 in yardage. However, Houston called slightly more plays (64.9) yet ranked a dismally low #29.

On the other side of the coin, Atlanta called a mere 59.9 plays per game but were ranked #3 on offense. Kansas City had an identical 59.9 plays but were ranked #19.

It was more about what each team did with their offensive plays than the number of plays themselves. Quality versus quantity.

This may be hard to accept since we often think that good teams are on the field longer and bad teams are on the field less. Another sticking point to skeptics may be that the NFL has changed to a pass-heavy league over the years. Surely there must be more plays called in today’s NFL?

To satisfy this argument, I pulled data from 40 years ago spanning 3 consecutive seasons. During the 1974 through 1976 NFL season there were 26 teams playing a 14-game schedule. The average number of offensive plays called per game was an amazingly similar 62.6 per game.

History has shown that approximately 62 offensive plays per game is basically what each NFL team has to work with each weekend.

With this in mind, rather than thinking in terms of more touches, fantasy owners should try to adjust how each offense will be redistributed among its players. This can be a challenge since we all have our favorite players and envision them having a bigger role.

Based on the “usage chart” published back in January, as dominating as some of the fantasy elite are, they actually touch the ball less than you might imagine. A lead RB may garner the most touches hovering near 25% or more. Meanwhile the team’s top WR factors in to a sobering 10% of the touches.

Just to clarify, I’m not suggesting that certain players will not get more touches. But since touches will have to be taken from their teammates, this is where the redistribution should be factored into our fantasy projections.

To aid us in this redistribution of expectations, it may help to see how each team divided their passes last season. This can help gauge which positions on each team benefit most in the passing game.

The first 2 columns in the distribution chart show the play calling ratio between rush attempts vs pass attempts. The Top-5 pass-happy teams from 2016 are shaded in green. The bottom-5 pass-challenged teams are shaded in red.

The other 3 columns show how those receptions were divvied up between the skill positions. Again, the Top-5 teams from 2016 are shaded in green and the bottom-5 are shaded in red.

Click Here to view/download an excel version of the chart above.

Here are some notable observations:

Arizona was tied for 5th in their pass-happy play-calling, which just makes David Johnson’s accomplishments as the lead back even more impressive. Obviously he made the most of his run attempts, but adding nearly 900 yards in receptions is evident in these hidden percentages.

In Philadelphia, the addition of Alshon Jeffery has him climbing up the 2017 rankings. But it is concerning that the Eagles were last in the league in throwing to the WR position. Carson Wentz will need to improve on his 246.2 passing yards per game as well – which was a ranking of 23 among starting QB.

Another team to watch may be the Denver Broncos. Former Chargers OC Mike McCoy takes over which may indicate that RB and TE targets may increase to the detriment of the WR core.

Don’t ever draft a Jets TE.

Have you ever wondered why a Patriots WR not named Edelman always seem to disappoint despite being in such an explosive offense? For one, as the chart indicates, the Pats are pretty balanced in the run vs pass play-calling. Needless to say, the remaining passes are earmarked for either the TE or RB.


How will players be used in 2017? This is the great unknown. Seasonal percentages contained in the chart can be used as a baseline of sorts.


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Joe Mica

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Joe has been passionate about fantasy football since 2001. He has experience as an owner as well as a commissioner in H2H, auction, redraft and IDP leagues. He has written fantasy football columns since 2010. Submit any fantasy football questions you may have to me on twitter @JoeFMica

One thought on “Passing Distribution Chart”

  1. Great work as always Joe. I’ve wondered myself why exactly Alshon Jeffery is climbing in everybody’s rankings when I honestly think he’s going to a slight downgrade in quarterback play as far as targeting wide receivers goes.

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