The Runnin' Roman: What Greg Roman Means for Buffalo

The Runnin' Roman: What Greg Roman Means for Buffalo

By TJ Hernandez (Associate Editor), last update May 28, 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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Throughout the offseason, I’ll be exploring the nuances of offensive play callers in new locations. John Paulsen has offered his abbreviated version of what to expect from this year’s coaching turnover, while I’ve already examined the effects of Marc Trestman and Kyle Shanahan in their new landing spots.

The Buffalo Bills overhauled their coaching staff in 2015, bringing in the defensive-minded Rex Ryan as head coach and adding offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who shares Ryan’s affinity for the running game. In 2014, Buffalo’s 26th ranked offense attempted the 13th most passes in the league and ranked 20th in rush attempts. An in-depth look at Roman’s play calling history will shed some light on what we can expect from the Bills offense in 2015, and how specific players might be affected for fantasy purposes.


A Snapshot of Roman's History

Greg Roman has spent the last four years as the offensive coordinator of the 49ers, his only four seasons as an OC in the NFL. Though Jim Harbaugh is an offensive minded coach, Roman was the primary play caller in San Francisco and will serve that role under Rex Ryan.

Overall Rankings
Year Total Yards Points Scored
2011 26 11
2012 11 11
2013 24 11
2014 20 25
Rushing Rankings
Year Att Yds TD
2011 3 8 12
2012 7 4 6
2013 3 3 4
2014 9 4 21
Passing Rankings
Year Att Yds TD
2011 31 29 24
2012 31 23 16
2013 32 30 23
2014 29 30 22

A quick glance at Greg Roman’s play calling shows a coach who has shamelessly favored the run as much as any OC in the league. In every season with Roman as the OC, the 49ers ranked in the top 10 in both rushing attempts and rushing yards, and in three out of four seasons, San Francisco ranked in the top five in rushing yards.

Due to a relentless rushing attack and a couple of scramble-heavy quarterbacks, the passing game suffered in San Francisco under Roman. Over the last four seasons, the 49ers never ranked better than 29th in the league in pass attempts and ranked no higher than 23rd in the league in passing yards.


Positional Breakdown


QB Per Game Averages, 2011-14
Passing Rushing  
Comp Att Yds TD Int Att Yds TD FP/G
17.1 27.7 207.2 1.25 0.5 5.3 29.5 0.19 16.0
QB Per Game Averages, By Season
  Passing Rushing  
Year Comp Att Yds TD Int Att Yds TD FP/G
2011 17.1 27.8 196.5 1.06 0.3 3.3 11.2 0.13 13.1
2012* 18.1 27.3 221.9 1.44 0.5 5.9 34.2 0.31 18.6
2013 15.2 26.0 199.8 1.31 0.5 5.8 32.8 0.25 16.5
2014 18.1 29.9 210.6 1.19 0.6 6.5 39.9 0.06 15.7

*Combined totals for Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick in 2013 is the only instance of a quarterback finishing in the top 15 in the league, in terms of FP/Game, under Greg Roman, and over 25% of Kaep’s fantasy production that season came on the ground. As a whole, the 16 FP/game average output from Roman’s quarterbacks would have equated to QB16 numbers in 2014.


Running Backs

RB1 Per Game Averages, 2011-14
Touches Receptions Total Yards PPR FP
17.9 1.1 82.2 12.0
RB1 Per Game Averages, By Season
Year Touches Receptions Total Yards PPR FP
2011 18.7 1.1 82.8 12.1
2012 17.9 1.8 90.5 14.1
2013 18.3 1.0 79.3 11.9
2014 16.6 0.7 76.1 9.9

The numbers shown reflect the totals for the starting running back in Greg Roman’s offenses. In every one of his seasons Greg Roman had a clear feature back in his offense, namely, Frank Gore. Gore averaged 17.9 touches per game, a total that would have ranked 10th among running backs in 2014. Chris Raybon has pointed out that running back touches correlate with fantasy scoring almost as strongly as any other stat.

There is evidence that Roman’s play calling is detrimental to a back’s PPR value. Frank Gore’s 1.1 catch per game average under Greg Roman would have ranked 34th among backs in 2014. Prior to Roman’s arrival though, Gore averaged 3.6 receptions per game as a starter in San Francisco, a total that would have ranked 7th at the position last season.


Wide Receivers

WR1 Per Game Averages, 2011-14
Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FPs
5.1 65.9 0.39 14.0
WR1 Per Game Averages, By Season
  NAME Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP PPR Rank
2011 Michael Crabtree 4.8 58.3 0.27 12.3 28
2012 Michael Crabtree 5.3 69.1 0.56 15.6 16
2013 Anquan Boldin 5.3 73.7 0.44 15.4 17
2014 Anquan Boldin 5.2 66.4 0.31 13.7 24

Given the lack of passing volume under Greg Roman, it’s no surprise that the 49ers wide receivers have been less than spectacular fantasy options over the last four seasons. No wideout has finished as a WR1 under Roman, and the top receiving option has averaged 5.1 receptions per game, equal to the 22nd best total among receivers in 2014.

WR2 Per Game Averages, 2011-14
Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FPs
3.6 45.1 0.44 10.6
WR2 Per Game Averages, By Season
  NAME Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP PPR Rank
2011 Vernon Davis 4.2 49.5 0.06 11.2 9 (36)*
2012 Vernon Davis 2.6 34.3 0.31 8.4 22 (65)
2013 Vernon Davis 3.5 56.7 0.87 14.2 4 (20)
2014 Michael Crabtree 4.3 43.6 0.25 10.1 51

*Numbers in parentheses indicate Vernon Davis' PPR Rank among wide receivers

2014 was the only season where a wide receiver was the secondary target in a Greg Roman offense. In his first three seasons as an OC, tight end Vernon Davis posed as the de facto WR2.

No receiver besides Anquan Boldin started more than 5 games for the 49ers in 2013, and from 2011-12, San Francisco’s actual WR2 averaged just 2.5 receptions per game. With Boldin and Michael Crabtree both on the field for all 16 games in 2014, Davis posted just 26 receptions in 13 games.


What This Means for 2015

Greg Roman’s play calling history may be a function of personnel, but he is stepping into a fairly similar roster situation in Buffalo, under a head coach that historically relies on defense and ball control. Although the Bills ranked 20th in rushing attempts in 2014, the addition of LeSean McCoy and a new coaching staff should result in an offense comparable to the San Francisco units of the past four seasons.

Regardless of who wins the camp battle between EJ Manuel and Matt Cassel, the starting quarterback in Buffalo is not going to be a redraft target heading into the season. Neither Manuel nor Cassell possess the rushing upside of Colin Kaepernick that made Kaep a viable fantasy option at times, and Roman has done nothing as a play caller to suggest that he will count on mediocre quarterback play to be the backbone of his offense.

Sammy Watkins will be the clear primary target for whoever the starting quarterback may be in Buffalo this season, while Percy Harvin and tight end Charles Clay will likely jockey for position as the secondary pass catching option behind Watkins. Harvin has averaged 4.9 catches on 7.1 targets per game over his career, while Clay has posted 4.2 catches on 6.2 targets since becoming the primary tight end in Miami in 2013.

Greg Roman has shown a willingness to lean on a tight end as a secondary target, but Vernon Davis has the makeup of a wide receiver, while Charles Clay lacks the physical gifts of Davis.

LeSean McCoy is the player with the most fantasy value in Buffalo, and while Greg Roman will lean on his feature running back, there are questions about McCoy’s PPR value. Although Shady caught just 30 balls on 39 targets in 2014, he has averaged 3.5 catches on 4.4 targets per game since becoming the Eagles starter in 2010.

Frank Gore is nowhere near the threat out of the backfield as Shady McCoy, but Gore’s steep decline in receptions coincided with Roman’s arrival in San Francisco. A similar fate could be ahead for McCoy in 2015. Fewer catches would mean a much bigger reliance on touchdowns for McCoy’s fantasy value, and week to week scoring that is more volatile than top pass catching backs.

It’s fair to expect Fred Jackson to be the odd man out in Buffalo in 2015. Jackson’s age (34) combined with the signing of LeSean McCoy and an offensive coordinator that leans heavily on his feature back means there probably won’t be enough touches to go around to make FJax the reliable fantasy option that he has been in previous seasons.

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