Marc Trestman: Running Back Whisperer

Marc Trestman: Running Back Whisperer

By TJ Hernandez (Associate Editor), last update Apr 21, 2015

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TJ is a former full-time poker player who has been playing fantasy football for more than a decade. After online poker was outlawed, TJ ended his poker career and dedicated himself to fantasy football. His background in poker statistics and analytics translates to success in both daily and season-long fantasy football.

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Many fantasy football owners tend to follow narratives, some of them false, others birthed of scientific research. When it comes to Marc Trestman, the recent narrative goes something like this: 

“Marc Trestman, The Quarterback Whisperer , travels to lands, near and far, to resurrect passing games and bestow fantasy goodness upon all who trust in him.”

While this narrative does hold value, in terms of its fantasy football implications, it’s important as a fantasy owner to question assumed truths and understand what these narratives really mean for our fake football rosters. By digging through the 10 year history of Marc Trestman, the play caller, we can form an understanding of what Trestman’s love for the passing game really means, in terms of how his quarterbacks tend to distribute the ball, and how this might translate to the 2015 Baltimore Ravens’ offense.


A Snapshot of Trestman's History

Dating back to 1989, Marc Trestman has spent 10 seasons in the NFL as a play caller, either as an Offensive Coordinator or Head Coach, for 5 different teams. Over that span, his offenses have fluctuated when it comes to overall success, but a fairly clear picture has been painted of his infatuation for the passing game.

Offensive Rankings
  Points Scored Total Yards
1989 14 16
1995 1 2
1996 3 6
1998 15 13
1999 30 29
2000 29 24
2002 2 1
2003 26 25
2013 2 8
2014 23 21


Passing Rankings
  Att Yds TD
1989 10 11 16
1995 2 1 4
1996 11 7 8
1998 8 8 20
1999 8 27 31
2000 13 17 23
2002 2 1 8
2003 13 27 32
2013 16 5 5
2014 7 15 9


Rushing Rankings
  Att Yds TD
1989 18 21 12
1995 18 23 3
1996 17 10 4
1998 15 21 6
1999 25 29 10
2000 30 27 29
2002 23 18 5
2003 21 16 12
2013 24 16 17
2014 30 27 26

Trestman has overseen some offensive juggernauts, but has also coached a handful anemic units. What is clear when looking at Trestman’s play-calling history, is that his teams are going to pass the ball, and usually do it well, while the running game tends to fall by the wayside.

In every season as a play caller, Marc Trestman’s offenses have ranked in the top half of the league in passing attempts, and in 6 of those seasons have ranked in the top 10. Similarly, Trestman passing attacks have ranked in the top half of the league in passing yards 60% of the time, and in the top 10 in 5 of his 10 seasons. Passing touchdowns have been on par with passing yardage, ranking in the top 10 in half of Trestman’s offenses, and in the top half of the league 60% of the time.

Conversely, when Marc Trestman is in charge, his team’s offense has ranked in the top half of the league in rushing attempts just once, and that was by a slim margin. His rushing attack has ranked in the top half of the league in yardage just 3 times, and in the top 10 only once. Rushing touchdowns have been relatively abundant in Trestman offenses, but that is somewhat intuitive. Teams that move the ball efficiently through the air have increased red zone and goal line opportunities, which will naturally lead to more rushing touchdowns.

The obvious inference from this data is to target quarterbacks and pass catchers from Trestman offenses in your fantasy drafts and avoid his running backs. Not so fast. A look at ball distribution by position tells a different story.


Ball Distribution

As previously noted, many great fantasy minds, such as fellow 4for4 contributor, C.D. Carter, have spent endless hours examining and explaining the Trestman effect on fantasy QBs. I won’t regurgitate those sentiments, as our historic snapshot already suggests that most Trestman signal callers will have some fantasy value. I will look at how quarterbacks in a Marc Trestman offense tend to distribute the ball among wide receivers and running backs (we generally shouldn’t be targeting many tight ends in our fantasy drafts), and what influence that should have on owners when constructing their fantasy rosters.


Wide Receivers

WR1 Per Game Averages
Receptions Rec Yards Yds/Rec Rec TD PPR FPs
5.5 75.6 14.0 0.44 15.9
WR1 Per Game Averages, By Season
  NAME Games Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP PPR Rank
1989 Webster Slaughter 16 4.1 77.3 0.38 14.0 14
1995 Jerry Rice 16 7.6 115.5 0.94 25.4 1
1996 Jerry Rice 16 6.8 78.4 0.50 18.4 1
1998 Frank Sanders 16 5.6 71.6 0.19 13.8 17
1999 Frank Sanders 16 4.9 59.6 0.06 11.3 34
2000 David Boston 16 4.4 72.3 0.44 14.3 17
2002 Jerry Rice 16 5.8 75.7 0.44 16.1 10
2003 Jerry Rice 16 3.9 54.3 0.13 10.1 30
2013 Brandon Marshall 16 6.3 80.9 0.75 18.8 6
2014 Alshon Jeffery 16 5.3 70.8 0.63 16.4 10

The primary wide receiver in a Marc Trestman offense has averaged 5.5 catches per game and 15.9 PPR fantasy points per game. In 2014, 5.5 catches per game would have ranked 13th among wide receivers, while 15.9 fantasy points per game would have matched Julian Edelman for 16th among wideouts.

Just twice as a play caller, has Marc Trestman failed to feature a wide receiver that didn’t finish as a WR2 (WR24) or better, and in half of his seasons as a Head Coach or Offensive coordinator, the primary receiver in a Trestman offense finished as a top 12 PPR wide receiver.

WR2 Per Game Averages
Receptions Rec Yards Yds/Rec Rec TD PPR FPs
3.8 51.3 13.5 0.31 10.8
WR2 Per Game Averages, By Season
  NAME Games Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP PPR Rank
1989 Reggie Langhorne 16 3.8 46.8 0.13 9.3 35
1995 J.J. Stokes 12 3.2 43.1 0.33 9.5 < 36
1996 Terrell Owens 16 2.2 32.5 0.25 6.9 < 36
1998 Rob Moore 16 4.2 61.4 0.31 12.2 22
1999 Rob Moore 14 2.6 44.4 0.36 9.2 < 36
2000 Frank Sanders 16 3.4 46.8 0.38 10.3 31
2002 Tim Brown 16 5.1 58.1 0.13 11.7 28
2003 Tim Brown 16 3.3 35.4 0.13 7.5 < 36
2013 Alshon Jeffery 16 5.6 88.8 0.44 17.7 8
2014 Brandon Marshall 13 4.7 55.5 0.62 13.9 35

As is usually the case, unless a team has tremendous talent at the wide receiver position, or a top tier fantasy quarterback, the second wide receiver in an offense tends to be inconsistent, especially for fantasy purposes. Without considering the roster, it appears that a team’s second wide receiver hasn't sponged up much of The Trestman Effect. (While Trestman’s most recent stint with the Bears did produce two relevant fantasy wideouts, the production from the wide receiver position was most likely an effect of Trestman being provided with two uber-talented players, rather than a trickle down effect of his play calling.)

3.8 receptions per game would have ranked 47th in 2014, between Eddie Royal and DeSean Jackson. 10.8 PPR FPs per game would have tied Larry Fitzgerald for 40th among wideouts.


Running Backs

RB Per Game Averages
Touches Rec Yards PPR FP
17.9 4.3 88.6 16.0
RB Per Game Averages, By Season
  NAME Games Touches Receptions Total YDS PPR FP
1989 Eric Metcalf 16 15.1 3.4 64.4 12.9
1995 Derek Loville 16 19.1 5.4 86.6 18.8
1996 Terry Kirby 16 11.6 3.3 62.4 10.9
1998 Adrian Murrell 15 19.5 1.2 80.7 12.5
1999 Adrian Murrell 16 15.1 3.1 55.5 8.1
2000 Michael Pittman 16 16.1 4.6 81.1 14.3
2002 Charlie Garner 16 17.1 5.7 118.9 21.7
2013 Matt Forte 16 22.7 4.6 120.8 21.0
2014 Matt Forte 16 23.0 6.4 115.4 21.4

*Note that the 2003 season has been omitted. 2003 was the only season that Marc Trestman didn't have a clear feature back, as he generally split run and pass situations between Tyrone Wheatley and Charlie Garner.

The feature running back in an offense lead by Marc Trestman has been nothing short of a workhorse. 17.9 touches per game would have ranked 8th in the league in 2014, right between Eddie Lacy and Justin Forsett (foreshadowing at it’s finest). Only 3 running backs in 2014 bested the 4.3 receptions per game that Trestman running backs average, and 16 PPR fantasy points per game would have yielded overall RB8 numbers last year.

There is strong evidence that Marc Trestman will almost always utilize his feature back in the passing game, and that the averages are not skewed by a couple of running backs that were over utilized in the passing game. A Trestman feature running back has averaged less than 15 touches per game (12th in 2014)  just once, and has caught at least 3 balls per game (12th in 2014)  in every season except for one.*

*Even in the 2003, with split duties and limited playing time, Charlie Garner managed 48 receptions on 70 targets.


What This Means for 2015

The hiring of Marc Trestman in Baltimore suggests an overall change in offensive philosophy for the organization. In 2014, the Ravens ranked 11th in rushing attempts and 17th in pass attempts. With Trestman at the helm, expect those numbers to flip flop. C.D. Carter recently warned against chasing passing volume, but Marc Trestman’s history indicates increased passing volume accompanied by efficiency and favorable fantasy ranks for his quarterbacks and pass catchers.

As the current roster stands, there is not a clear front runner to be the main wide receiver in Baltimore. Every primary receiver in a Trestman offense has stood at least 6’2”, except for Webster Slaughter in 1989, who is 6’1”. Outside of Jerry Rice, who was the top target in a Trestman offense 4 times, the number one target in a Trestman offense, on average, has been in their third year.

While Steve L Smith is a great receiver in his own right, he faded over the second half of 2014, and doesn’t fit the traditional mold of a Trestman primary target. Unless Baltimore trades up in the draft to get a top wide receiver, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Marlon Brown, who stands 6’5”, 215 pounds, is entering his third year, and had an impressive rookie season, emerge as the tall, young primary receiver that Trestman has favored in the past.

Justin Forsett is coming off of a career year, and a top 10 fantasy season, and fantasy owners should be giddy over the prospects of Forsett in a Trestman offense. With a run-first Gary Kubiak calling plays, Justin Forsett ranked 8th among running backs in touches per game, but ranked just 16th with 2.8 receptions per game.

While his rushing attempts are likely to come down with Trestman wearing the headset, questions at wide receiver and a change in philosophy means that Forsett’s usage in the passing game should more than compensate for his expected drop in rushes. Forsett’s 44 catches last season is likely his floor this year. It should also be noted that Marc Trestman has stated that he plans on sticking with the zone blocking scheme that benefited Justin Forsett so much in Gary Kubiak’s system in 2014. Even without the rushing volume, fantasy owners can look forward to similar efficiency from Forsett in a scheme that saw him average 5.39 yards per carry last season, the best mark in the league for backs with at least 100 rushes.

If Trestman brings the passing success that we have become accustomed to, increased red zone opportunities and a huge uptick in receptions could yield another top 10 PPR season for Forsett.



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