This offseason the Oakland Raiders made a play for the most hyperbolic broadcaster on television, awarding him with a 10-year, $100 million deal. Thus, Jon Gruden, aka Chucky, will be back on the sidelines in east Oakland coaching a fridge full of left-overs and microwaved seconds.
The leftover talent includes Amari Cooper, Marshawn Lynch, Jared Cook, and a solid offensive line. Then, true to Gruden form, older veteran “seconds” have been added to fill in the roster with the likes of Jordy Nelson, Doug Martin, and Derek Carrier. There were a couple of young receivers such as the mercurial Martavis Bryant and potential diamond in the rough Ryan Switzer also added to the mix. And, of course, they still have lemon Derek Carr parked in the garage.
Gruden has had some success with pop gun armed quarterbacks in the past, but they usually have some mobility to work with as well, like with Rich Gannon and Jeff Garcia. However, like Carr, Brad Johnson wasn’t the most mobile of men, and he was able to put up a 3,800 yard, 26 TD effort back in Gruden’s Tampa days in 2003. But, that was the end of “run good” for Gruden and his QBs. 2003 was the last season Gruden had a QB play all 16 games. The corpse of Jeff Garcia made it through 13 games in 2007, the rest of the QBs played 11 or fewer games. Leaving Brad Johnson’s single-season and 3 years of Rich Gannon as the only successful QBs of the Gruden eras. Comparatively thinking, Carr isn’t nearly as bad as some of the bodies that have been on the field for Gruden, but he’s also coming off a back injury. If he can make it 16 games, he has a legitimate chance of reaching 3,800 yards and 25 TDs. Why? Because the only 4 instances of a QB playing all 16 games for Gruden reached those benchmarks, and those were during less pass-friendly years.
The chart below is mini NFL depth chart and noted player milestones under Gruden in his previous coaching career. It also shows the number of games played in parentheses next to the player. If there are no parentheses, the player played all 16 games. In cases where there wasn’t an RB who played enough games, there may be an FB listed twice.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson is also back in OAK to reunite with Derek Carr, who was under Olson’s tutelage during his rookie year. With Gruden calling the plays, Olson will likely play more of game plan contributor and QB coach. Even still, Gruden will still have his hands on approach to mentoring his QB. Carr is coming off an abysmal year after playing through 3 broken bones in his back. However, he should fit right in with Gruden’s dink and dunk game plans. Both Gruden and Carr have career Yard Per Attempt averages of 6.5 yards. Olson is only slightly higher with 6.7 YPA for his QBs.
One of the first things that really stands out when you look at Gruden’s play calling tendencies and distribution of opportunity is how much the running backs and fullbacks are involved in running and catching the ball. Although, there haven’t been many 1,000 yard rushers or 10 TD scorers in this group since the days of Ricky “Running” Watters in Philly. Since Watters, Gruden’s only thousand yard back was Tyrone Wheatley during the 2000 season. Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams have each crossed the 10 TD threshold in the 2007 and 2005 campaigns. Other than these instances, most seasons have seen the work spread among 2 RBs and a FB. Guys like Kevin Turner and Jon Ritchie have been pass catching mavens at FB, while horse plows Mike Alstott and Zack Crockett have crushed goal line defenses for short yardages TDs. Michael Pittman and Charlie Garner have been heavily targeted options out of the backfield, but have never accounted for more than 12.5% of the receiving TD share.
Looking back at the arsenal of runners Gruden has coached has me scratching my head a little trying to “comp out” this current backfield. Lynch and Martin have not been the most prolific pass catchers in their day, and appear to mostly resemble a Wheatley/Cadillac backfield. OAK signed Keith Smith away from DAL, who has only managed 2 carries and 8 receptions over his 4-year career. Hold-over backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington could fit the pass-catching role, but how many snaps are available for them behind the six million dollars Lynch/Martin combo? And, which one makes the roster?
Perhaps some of those RB targets find a new home. Quick little narrative on the backfield: Lynch (Oakland) and Martin (Stockton) are both from the area, so perhaps this is a little more incentive for Doug to get his career back on track playing in front of family and friends.
In every year except his first year in Philly, Gruden has had a 1,000-yard receiver. In 2001 both Hall of Famers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice topped the thousand yard mark, the only such occurrence during Gruden’s play calling tenure. The WR1 in Gruden’s offense has been the focal point, as Gruden’s WR1 has eaten 34% of the receiving yards pie, while hoarding another 34% of the TDs. Both figures nearly double that of the next biggest eater, the WR2. During a May 23rd press conference, Gruden proclaimed Amari Cooper will be the “main vein” of the offense. If Cooper can stay healthy and get his confidence back, then he could have an explosive year. He’s definitely worth buying at his current 4th round price tag. If OAK throws the ball anywhere near 560 times, and gets 25 of those throws into the end zone, Cooper should see around 145 targets and has a chance at 9-10 TDs. Not too shabby for a 4th round pick in fantasy drafts.
With all the attention Cooper will get, there is still a reasonable piece of the pie left for Jordy Nelson. During Gruden’s first go-round with OAK, the WR2 in those offenses accounted for 17% of the target share, as well as 18% of the receiving TDs. Going back to the 560 attempts and 25 TDs from before, that’s around 95 targets and 5 TDs for Jordy.
Unfortunately, for Martavis Bryant (or whoever the 3rd WR will be), there isn’t going to be much pie left over after the top 2 receivers in this offense get their slices. Using the same 560 pass attempts and 25 TDs in the above examples, Bryant is looking at 55 targets and 2 TDs.
At first glance, the TE in Gruden’s offense does not appear to be a premium buy. However, Gruden has had a lot of blocking TEs that were occasionally used as pass catchers. When you go back and look at Gruden’s previous run with the Raiders, Rickey Dudley had two seasons that really jump out. In 1998 and 1999 he eclipsed the 500-yard mark and scored 5 and 9 TDs respectively in each year. Dudley was a catch first TE, much the same way the Raiders current top TE Cook is. Typically, Gruden’s offenses will pepper the RBs with targets, but neither of the top 2 RBs nor the FB on this offense has been a juggernaut in the targets and receptions category.
If Lynch and Martin dominate backfield snaps, they aren’t likely to get the full slice of targets normally earmarked for the RBs, thus leaving a larger slice available for Cook. Especially if Cook lines up off the line of scrimmage, or in the backfield at times. If we shift a little of the 28% of RB targets toward the 13% TE share, then Cook could easily reach 70 targets, if not into the mid-80 range and 4-5 TDs are well within reach.
This still is not premium production, but Cook should easily beat his ADP of TE19 in MFL10s, making him a nice late round value snag. Another thing working in Cook’s favor is Gruden progressively used the TE more as his coaching tenure wore on, including a 21% target share in his final year.
A few more quick hits on Gruden’s tendencies. His QB’s range between 5.1 to 7.8 in YPA, averaging 6.5 yards. Michael Pittman saw 121 targets as a RB in 2003. The most targets seen by a WR1 in his offense are 153 by Tim Brown in 1998 and Irvin Fryar in 1997. Three times both the WR1 and WR2 saw 100+ targets (1996, 2001, 2002). The most targets by a TE was when Rickey Dudley saw 77 in 1998.
Thanks for reading
NorCal native Jesse Jones has been obsessed with fantasy football since joining and winning his first league in 1994. He has been a leader in looking for an edge, while others showed up to drafts asking for a cheat sheet and a pencil. He’s been writing his own rankings and mining data to build spreadsheets for 12+ years. Jess puts in hundreds of hours of research and analysis each offseason to build his own database and identify targets for Redraft and Bestball. During the season Jess pours countless hours into DFS research. All of his analysis and findings are passed onto you as the reader.