How Chip Kelly Impacts the 49ers' 2016 Fantasy Outlook

How Chip Kelly Impacts the 49ers' 2016 Fantasy Outlook

By TJ Hernandez (Associate Editor), last updated Aug 10, 2016

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Chip Kelly may be the most polarizing play caller in the NFL, resulting in many strong narratives that follow him. When people hear the name Chip Kelly, these thoughts might come to mind:

  • Fast-paced
  • Makes any quarterback fantasy relevant
  • Poor with personnel
  • Run-heavy, no wait, pass-heavy!

With a sample size of just three seasons as an NFL coach, and maybe as much roster turnover as we've ever seen in such a short period, it might be too early to define Kelly as anything but “unique”. By looking at Kelly’s play-calling history, specifically his pass/run splits and how he has distributed touches, we might be able to determine which narratives surrounding Kelly may be rooted in truth and if any have been birthed from false perceptions.


A Snapshot of Kelly’s History

Win-Adjusted Rush Rates
Year Team Rush % Pass % League AVG Rush % aRush% aRush% Rank
2013 Eagles 47.4% 52.6% 41.7% 46.0% 6
2014 Eagles 42.1% 57.9% 41.8% 40.6% 18
2015 Eagles 40.2% 59.8% 40.9% 40.9% 15
Rushing Rankings
Year Team Attempts Yards TD
2013 Eagles 4 1 2
2014 Eagles 7 9 5
2015 Eagles 11 14 10
Passing Rankings
Year Team Attempts Yards TD
2013 Eagles 27 9 5
2014 Eagles 5 6 12
2015 Eagles 6 12 20

Going back to Kelly’s time at Oregon, there’s a notion that he leads a run-first offense, and on the surface, the numbers seem to support that idea. On average, Kelly’s Eagles have finished seventh in rush attempts, with two seasons ranked inside the top-10. In each of the last two years, though, Kelly’s teams also ranked in the top-six in pass attempts. The inflated attempts in both the running and passing game are a function of pace. We’ll get back to that idea shortly. Whether Kelly prefers to run the ball or throw it can be explained better when we adjust his pass/run splits for wins and losses.

Earlier in the summer, I introduced Win-Adjusted Rush Rate (aRush%), a metric which takes a team’s pass/run splits and compares those splits to the league average in both wins and losses. Over his short tenure in the league, Kelly has been right down the middle. He tends to run slightly more than expected in wins and slightly less than average in losses, but there is no strong deviation from the league average in either scenario. (Although Philadelphia ranked sixth in aRush% in 2013, quarterbacks Nick Foles and Michael Vick combined for 93 rush attempts that season, which skewed the numbers quite heavily.)

A final note on Kelly’s history as an NFL is the pace at which his teams run plays. Per, the Eagles have averaged one play every 22.5 seconds over the last three years, and have had the fastest-paced offense in every season under Kelly. This naturally has led to an increase in play volume, highlighted by the fact that Philadelphia ranked in the top-two in total plays in each of the last two seasons. 

More volume hasn’t necessarily meant more scoring though -- none of Kelly’s teams ranked in the top 10 in percentage of drives that resulted in a score, and his offenses have averaged 69 scoring drives per season, which would have ranked ninth in 2015.



The following numbers reflect cumulative production of all quarterbacks.

QB Per Game Averages
Completions Attempts Yards TD Int FP AY/A
22.9 36.5 277.7 1.71 1.00 19.2 7.3
QB Per Game Averages, By Season
Year Team Completions Attempts Yards TD Int FP AY/A
2013 Eagles 19.4 31.8 275.4 2.00 0.56 23.6 9.1
2014 Eagles 24.0 38.8 286.3 1.69 1.31 18.2 6.7
2015 Eagles 25.3 38.9 271.3 1.44 1.13 15.9 6.4

Another idea surrounding Chip Kelly is that whoever starts at quarterback for him is going to flirt with top-12 fantasy numbers. Even with the debacle that was the 2015 season, where the Eagles finished 26th in team quarterback fantasy scoring, quarterbacks have posted top-12 fantasy weeks 48 percent of the time under Kelly. Over the last three seasons, only 12 quarterbacks have posted QB1 numbers at a higher rate than Kelly’s signal callers. 

If there is a concern, it’s that Kelly’s quarterbacks performed progressively worse during his time in Philadelphia. No quarterback was going to be able to repeat what Nick Foles accomplished in 2013, but when Kelly was given the ability to hand-pick his rosters, efficiency and fantasy scoring steadily declined at the quarterback position throughout Kelly’s stay in Philadelphia.


Running Backs

RB1 Per Games Averages
Touches Receptions Total Yards PPR FP % of RB Touches
20.1 2.6 98.8 15.3 63.2%
RB1 Per Games Averages, by Season
Year Player Touches Receptions Total Yards PPR FP % of RB Touches
2013 LeSean McCoy 22.9 3.3 134.1 20.7 78.9%
2014 LeSean McCoy 21.3 1.8 92.1 12.6 69.4%
2015 DeMarco Murray 15.8 2.9 68.3 12.4 44.0%
Total RB Per Game Averages
Touches Receptions Total Yards PPR FP % of Team Touches
31.1 5.5 159.4 27.2 59.5%
Total RB Per Game Averages, By Season
Year Touches Receptions Total Yards PPR FP % of Team Touches
2013 29.0 4.0 168.9 26.8 57.3%
2014 30.6 4.4 149.3 24.4 57.1%
2015 33.7 8.0 160.0 30.3 64.1%

While Kelly may not be as run-heavy in his pass/run splits as some narratives suggest, he does use his running backs almost as much as any coach in the league. Of course, volume numbers are always going to be inflated in a Chip Kelly offense, so to get a grasp on how much he really uses his backs we can examine the overall touch share.

On average, Kelly’s backfields have accounted for 59.5 percent of team touches, a number that would have ranked seventh in the league in 2015. Probably the main reason that some perceive Kelly as a run-heavy coach, other than the inflated volume numbers, is the fact that he relied so heavily on one back early in his NFL play-calling career. From 2013-2014, LeSean McCoy accounted for 74 percent of all backfield touches, a touch share that was eclipsed by just one back in 2015.

Given multiple running back options and a struggling DeMarco Murray in 2015, though, and Kelly’s lead back accounted for just 44 percent of running back touches. Despite a waning touch share for his lead back, as a group Kelly’s running backs saw their touches skyrocket, catching 128 balls and gobbling up 64 percent of all team touches, by far the most in the league. 

It appears as though Kelly would prefer a lead back, but even if that option doesn’t emerge, touch volume on the team level will remain high.


Wide Receivers

WR1 Per Game Averages
Targets Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP % of Team Targets
8.2 5.3 76.0 0.56 16.2 22.8%
WR1 Per Game Averages, By Season
Year Player Targets Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP % of Team Targets
2013 DeSean Jackson 7.9 5.1 83.3 0.56 16.8 25.4%
2014 Jeremy Maclin 8.9 5.3 82.4 0.63 17.3 23.4%
2015 Jordan Matthews 7.9 5.3 62.3 0.50 14.4 20.3%
WR2 Per Game Averages
Targets Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP % of Team Targets
5.1 3.0 44.2 0.38 9.8 14.3%
WR2 Per Games Averages, by Season
Year Player Targets Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP % of Team Targets
2013 Riley Cooper 5.3 2.9 52.2 0.50 11.3 16.9%
2014 Jordan Matthews 6.4 4.2 54.5 0.50 12.6 16.8%
2015 Nelson Agholor 3.4 1.8 21.8 0.08 4.3 7.1%

As I briefly mentioned in regards to running backs, the distribution of targets has fluctuated quite significantly in Kelly’s three years in Philadelphia. Although Kelly’s primary wide receiver has hovered around eight targets per game, the overall passing volume has changed, leading to noticeable swings in target share. Kelly’s propensity to spread the ball around caps the upside of any single receiver, but it also means that his offense could produce multiple viable pass catchers for fantasy purposes. 

Assuming the average target share for Kelly’s number-one receiver, we can expect at least one wide receiver to rank near the top-15 at his position in percentage of team targets. The degree to which a second receiver is involved relies heavily on how Kelly deploys running backs and tight ends in the passing game. 


Tight Ends

Primary TE Per Game Averages
Targets Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP % of Team Targets
5.5 3.6 43.1 0.19 9.0 15.2%
Primary TE Per Game Averages, by Season
Year Player Targets Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP % of Team Targets
2004 Zach Ertz 3.6 2.3 29.3 0.25 6.7 11.5%
2005 Zach Ertz 5.6 3.6 43.9 0.19 9.1 14.5%
2006 Zach Ertz 7.5 5.0 56.9 0.13 11.4 18.1%

Besides the increase in running back targets over the years, the ascension of Zach Ertz and the ever-steady presence of Brent Celek heavily contributed to the decrease in target share for wide receivers under Kelly. As a group, Philadelphia tight ends accounted for 23.6 percent of team targets over the last three seasons, the seventh most in the league during that time. Similarly, Kelly’s tight ends accounted for 28.4 percent of all red zone targets, also the seventh highest target share for tight ends in the league. Whether it’s a committee approach or a single playmaker, Chip has shown a tendency to favor the tight end in his passing game.


What This Means for 2016

If there’s one thing that we can count on for the 49ers offense this year, it’s that there will be many more touches to go around than last season. Although San Francisco ranked fifth in the league in pace of play (one play every 25.8 seconds) in 2015, they ran just 969 offensive plays, the third fewest of any team. Kelly will run an even faster paced offense and will be more willing to throw when necessary than the past coaching regime, as the 49ers ranked 11th in aRush% last season.

One often overlooked impact that Kelly has on his team is how aggressive he teaches his defense to be. Kelly’s gambling approach on defense resulted in defensive units that allowed the most yards and eighth most points over the last three years, but also the fourth most turnovers -- Philly ranked dead last in forced turnovers before Kelly’s arrival. Those turnovers not only put Kelly’s offenses in favorable scoring situations, but also mitigate game script concerns that might have fantasy owners hesitant to invest in the 49ers offense -- San Francisco is projected to win just six games this year.

When looking at Kelly’s offenses in Philadelphia, the 2014 iteration seemingly represents the 49ers’ current roster the best. 

Regardless of who emerges as the starter at quarterback in San Francisco, the competition between Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick will result in a mediocre passing talent under center, just as Kelly endured when he split reps between Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez two seasons ago. Despite painfully average efficiency (4.3 percent touchdown rate, 6.7 adjusted yards per attempt), Kelly coaxed the 13th-most team fantasy points from his quarterback duo that season. No matter who Kelly’s signal caller is throwing to, Chip’s system should offer a streaming option at worst with potential for high-end QB2 upside.

After Torrey Smith, who is the clear number-one receiver in San Francisco going into 2016, there isn’t a clear second target for Kelly’s quarterbacks to throw to. Similar to the Jordan Matthews/Riley Cooper and Brent Celek Zach/Ertz combos in Philly, the tight end and number two receiver spots could very well be filled with a committee approach.

Smith isn’t known as a volume receiver -- he’s only averaged over seven targets per game in one of his five seasons in the league -- but it’s worth noting that in 2013 DeSean Jackson posted the highest targets per game mark of his career under Kelly. If a clear second receiving option doesn’t emerge in San Francisco, a target share well over 23 percent is within Smith’s range of outcomes. Should Smith approach that target share, his historical yardage and touchdown rates combined with the volume in Kelly’s offense suggest a ceiling that would have approached overall WR13 numbers last season. As of this writing, Torrey is being drafted as the WR42, giving him the room to outperform his ADP more than any other wide receiver in 2016.

With a ‘wide open’ competition for the WR2 spot and uncertainty about who the starting tight end will be, Kelly could very well choose to distribute targets somewhat fluidly among the pass catchers after Torrey. In that scenario, no wide receiver besides Smith is likely to be an attractive upside candidate, as no number-two wideout under Kelly has surpassed a 17 percent market share. 

For anyone that desires upside late in drafts, the tight end position is the spot to gamble on in Kelly’s offense. Ertz reached a target share over 18 percent in 2015, which ranked eighth at the position just behind Rob Gronkowski. Vance McDonald fits the profile of one of Kelly’s early-career red zone favorites, but Garrett Celek has the early edge in camp. Luckily for fantasy owner, both players are going undrafted.

The final piece to the 49ers puzzle is the running back. When Kelly has had the opportunity, he has been an advocate of the workhorse approach, and we’ve already shown that the backfield touch pie is going to be as large as any in the league. Carlos Hyde detractors will argue that he hasn’t proven to be much of a pass-catcher and that the 49ers will be facing unfavorable game scripts for running backs the majority of the time. 

A rebuttal to that reasoning is that LeSean McCoy saw 340 touches with just 28 catches in 2014 while Darren Sproles almost doubled up Shady in targets. Even if Shaun Draughn does siphon a noticeable chunk of the passing work, there aren’t any running backs beyond Draughn that figure to dip into the backfield touch share enough to make a real impact.

Returning to the idea that Chip’s defense will generate turnovers and keep games close, even if the 49ers lose more than they win, the running backs are likely to stay involved. 

Over the past five seasons, 69 teams have generated at least 26 turnovers (the fewest turnovers of any Chip Kelly defense) and only two of these teams (2.9 percent) had an average point differential of negative seven points or more. Of the 91 teams that generated fewer than 26 turnovers in that time, 21 of those teams (23.1 percent) posted a point differential of at least negative seven points per game or worse.

In other words, a team that is willing to gamble on defense and generate turnovers will likely be in close games, even if they are losing the majority of those contests. To this point, Philadelphia led the league in running back touches last season while winning seven games, just one more than San Francisco is projected for in 2016.


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Filed Under: Preseason, 2016

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