How Will Russell Wilson Impact the Broncos' Offense?
I woke up Tuesday morning wondering if Aaron Rodgers might be headed to the Broncos and a few short hours later I was researching how Russell Wilson’s arrival in the Mile High City will impact Denver’s offense. Such is life following the NFL on days like these.
Superficially, Wilson’s arrival is great for the Broncos’ pass-catchers, specifically Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and Albert Okwuegbunam, since Noah Fant was shipped to Seattle as part of the blockbuster trade. Javonte Williams’ outlook is also brighter since the Denver offense should be able to move the ball better and score more touchdowns than it did in 2021. He’s destined for RB1-type numbers if Melvin Gordon leaves in free agency.
But let’s dig a little deeper.
For the most part, quarterbacks control their own production, so Wilson should be fine even though he’s changing teams and playing in a new offense. However, there’s a school of thought that Wilson has been limited by Seattle’s run-heavy ways and will flourish in a pass-happier offense in Denver. He averaged 32.0 pass attempts per game in his last three seasons in Seattle, finishing QB13, QB8, and QB6 (working backward) in points per game during that span.
Let’s take a look at new head coach Nathaniel Hackett to get a feel for what type of pace and run/pass split the Broncos may utilize in 2022.
|2013||BUF||6-10||522||3373||546||2307||E.J. Manuel, Thaddeus Lewis|
|2014||BUF||9-7||579||3856||402||1482||Kyle Orton, E.J. Manuel|
|2018||JAX||5-11||536||3431||416||1723||Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler|
Hackett called the plays for the Bills in 2013-14 and for the Jaguars in 2016-18, and then served as Matt LaFleur’s offensive coordinator in the last three seasons in Green Bay. As a play-caller, his offenses averaged 34.9 pass attempts and 28.6 rush attempts per game while averaging 6.6 wins per season. Green Bay averaged 34.5 pass attempts and 26.5 rush attempts in the last three seasons on 13.0 wins per season.
So Hackett’s offenses played a bit faster—probably because they were trailing more frequently—and were a bit more run-heavy than what we’ve seen from the Packers in the last three seasons, but not markedly so. Still, those 34.9 pass attempts (in Buffalo and Jacksonville) represent a 9.1% increase over Wilson’s 32.0 per game in the last three seasons.
Applying Wilson’s recent rates to 34.9 pass attempts per game would yield the following season:
|Player/Year||Cmp||Att||Cmp%||Yds||YPA||TD||TD%||Int||Int%||Passing FP||Receiving FP||Rec FP/T|
Even if we assume that Wilson’s rushing numbers remain at his career-low levels of 2021, he’d still add 2.16 fantasy points per game on the ground. When this is added to his projected passing numbers, he’d score roughly 356 fantasy points (in 17 games), which would have been good enough for the QB5 finish last season.
So there is good reason to be bullish about the prospect of Wilson’s change of scenery boosting his fantasy numbers. He has a good receiving corps, a bright offensive mind (Hackett) is in charge, and quarterbacks typically drive their own production.
At this point, I’d put him in a tier with Aaron Rodgers, Dak Prescott, and Lamar Jackson, and like those players, he has overall QB1 upside if everything breaks his way (or he runs the ball more than he did last year).
Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton (and Tim Patrick!)
Per Wilson’s projected stats, he stands to provide roughly 30% more (half-PPR) fantasy points to his receivers due to an increase in both volume (thanks to Hackett) and efficiency (thanks to Wilson). From a fantasy-points-per-target standpoint, the projected increase should be roughly 19%.
|Player||2021 Tgt%||2021 FP/T||Proj FP/T||Proj Tgt||2022 Proj FP|
This table shows the target share and fantasy points per target for Jeudy, Sutton, and Tim Patrick in the 10 games that all three players were active. (Sutton’s target share took a nosedive when Jeudy was active but was nearly 28% in the other seven games.)
I applied each player’s target share to Wilson’s projections and added the increased efficiency per target to generate a back-of-the-napkin projection for each player. Jeudy’s total (168.0) would have been good enough for a No. 28 finish last year. The numbers for Sutton (No. 48) and Patrick (No. 15) seem to be flip-flopped, but Patrick simply outplayed both Jeudy and Sutton last season.
I thought that perhaps Patrick was just a favorite target of Drew Lock, but his numbers were pretty much the same with and without Lock, so maybe he’s just better at earning targets than the fantasy community gives him credit for. If that’s the case, he’s going to be a great late-round sleeper as everyone targets Jeudy and Sutton due to name recognition. Patrick is currently the WR77 off the board in early drafts coming off of back-to-back 700+ yard seasons.
If Hackett/Wilson funnel some of Patrick’s targets to Jeudy and (especially) Sutton, they are both probably good enough to finish as fantasy WR2-types (i.e. top 24) or better, but Patrick’s ability to earn targets as the team’s theoretical third-option over two full seasons leads me to believe that Jeudy and Sutton are in danger of being overdrafted this summer.
Jeudy is currently the WR39 while Sutton is the WR48. Both players are sure to go earlier than that in 2022 fantasy drafts, but I’m skeptical that either player should be anointed top 30 status given Patrick’s target share and production over the last two seasons.
I guess it’s time to learn how to spell “Okwuegbunam” since the soon-to-be 24-year-old is about to break out. Noah Fant (90 targets, 5.6 per game) was shipped to Seattle as part of the deal, and Okwuegbunam actually outperformed Fant on a per-target basis (1.54 vs. 1.39, half-PPR fantasy points per target). He’s 6’5”, 258 lbs, has 4.49 speed, and his career catch rate (80.0%) is also better than Fant’s (68.3%).
Fant averaged 5.6 targets per game last season, and 4.7 targets per game in 10 games with Jeudy. Those “with Jeudy” splits equate to a 16.6% target share, so applying that somewhat conservative workload to Wilson’s projected stats equates to 98.5 targets for Okwuegbunam. If he maintains his fantasy points per target (1.54), he’s looking at a 151-point fantasy season, which would have been good enough for the TE5 finish in 2021. His efficiency could increase even further since he’ll be getting targets from Wilson instead of Bridgewater and Lock.
I expect his positional ADP will land in the TE10-TE15 range, so he’s going to be a very intriguing breakout pick as drafts approach the double-digit rounds. I’ve moved Okwuegbunam up to TE10 in my Never-Too-Early rankings. Since Pat Freiermuth is currently going off the board as the 10th tight end off the board with pick 108 in early Underdog best ball drafts, I believe that’s a justifiable range for Okwuegbunam.
Meanwhile, In Seattle
Wilson’s departure obviously creates a big hole in the Seahawks’ offense, so DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett both take a major hit for now. There’s a chance that Seattle can find a quarterback to replace most of Wilson’s production, but they’ll be extremely hard-pressed to match or beat Wilson’s numbers since quarterbacks of his caliber are very hard to find.
Gerald Everett is a free agent, so Fant could see an increase in workload, though he’ll probably stick in that 5-6 target range since Seattle tends to be more run-heavy than average. His quarterback situation projects to be pretty similar to 2021.
The Bottom Line
In Denver, things look great for Wilson and Okwuegbunam, who both have top-five upside at their respective positions.
At receiver, Patrick’s consistent production over the last two seasons has me worried about Jeudy and Sutton’s rate of return if their respective ADPs climb too high in drafts. They certainly have enough talent to finish as fantasy WR2-types, but volume appears to be an issue with both Patrick and Okwuegbunam projected to see significant targets. (K.J. Hamler should be back from his ACL tear as well.)
Patrick’s ADP is likely to rise on the Wilson trade news, but he should still be able to outperform his July/August draft position given his consistent production in the last two seasons. He’ll be an attractive sleeper assuming he continues to play starter-type snaps and would have fantasy starter upside if anything were to happen to Jeudy or Sutton.