Which Teams Will See the Biggest Rushing Volume Increases in 2020?

by Ikey Azar · Analytics & Advanced Metrics

Dalvin Cook, Marlon Mack, and Josh Jacobs all outproduced fantasy expectations in 2019 due to changes in their team’s offensive philosophies. The Vikings went from a team that ran the ball 357 (No. 27) times in 2018 to 476 (No. 4) times in 2019, the Colts went from 408 (No. 17) attempts to 471 (No. 5) and the Raiders from 387 (No. 24) to 437 (No. 11). A great way to find fantasy value is by locating players on teams primed to increase their rushing volume from the previous season. Here are three such teams based on the advanced stats and metrics. 

Cincinnati Bengals

A disciple of Sean McVay, Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor ran three wide receiver sets 82-percent (No. 2) of the time last year. The Bengals ran an up-tempo offense, ranking No. 7 in pace while finishing above league average in plays per game. The team had stark pass percentage splits in the first half of the season vs. the second of the 2019 season.

Cincinnati Bengals 2019 Passing Percentage Splits

It is reasonable to expect that decrease in volume to continue in 2020 with a rookie QB under center. Only five quarterbacks in NFL history have attempted over 542 passes in their rookie season. Many will point to Kyler Murray last season to make a case for Joe Burrow in 2020. Keep in mind the Cardinals threw 554 passes and were slightly above league average in pass percentage. Bad defense plus the inability to sustain offensive drives curbed the team’s play volumes despite ranking No. 4 in pace of play. The Bengals offensive line had a bad 2019 season, ranking in the bottom third in the NFL in adjusted sack rate, sacks allowed, adjusted line yards, and yards before contact. Considered to be the best linemen in the 2019 draft, Jonah Williams missed all of his rookie season and will return in 2020 to help begin solidifying the offensive line.

Check out Joe Mixon’s 2020 Projection on PlayerProfiler’s “World Famous” Draft Kit:

Joe Mixon is among the most talented running backs in the NFL. He finished No. 1 among qualified running backs with 103 Evaded Tackles. He also finished with a 32.9-percent (No. 4) Juke Rate, and 576 (No. 2) Yards Created. Entering his contract year with the additions of Burrow and Williams, Mixon is primed for a top ten finish. After perplexing usage in the first half of the season, Taylor committed to Mixon in a big way in the second half, which he turned into a 177-817-5 rushing line. An efficient receiver out of the backfield, Taylor has yet to utilize that skillset from Mixon, feeding him only 45 (No. 27) targets in 2019. That is the only thing holding him back from finishing top five in 2020.

Cleveland Browns

With all the hype going into 2019, the Browns severely underperformed, resulting in another complete turnover of their coaching staff. In walks Kevin Stefanski as the new head coach and Alex Van Pelt as offensive coordinator. Offseason moves indicate Stefanski will surely try to replicate what was done in Minnesota last season with a run-heavy, two-TE offense. Cleveland has fixed their below-average offensive line this offseason. Joel Bitonio and J.C. Tretter were still very good last season and it showed, especially in the running game where the Browns ranked No. 10 in adjusted line yards. The team signed free agent Jack Conklin to solidify the RT position and addressed LT by selecting Jedrick Wills with the No. 10 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. With well above-average talent at four of the five spots on the line, the Browns have the makings of an elite group.

The combination of a good run blocking offensive line and elite ability allowed Nick Chubb to run for 1,497 (No. 2) yards in 2019 and makes him one of the favorites to lead the NFL in rushing in 2020. He’s a rock solid RB1, however Kareem Hunt’s presence is holding him back from top five fantasy status. While Hunt isn’t a big threat from a rushing usage stance, he did cut Chubb’s receiving usage to nearly nothing. He can also hurt Chubb’s red zone usage up until the five-yard line as the better receiving back. If either Hunt or Chubb get hurt, the other would be a league-winner.

Cleveland Browns Strength of Schedule Based on Vegas Win Totals per Sharp Football

The Browns also have an ascending defense, fielding a strong front four with an improving secondary that consists of youngsters Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams to add to free agent signings Kevin Johnson and Karl Joseph. Last year’s Vikings actually ranked No. 8 in pace during neutral game scripts, however they were able to easily implement their run-heavy plans due to so many positive game scripts. In 2020, Stefanki’s Browns have a projected top three strength of schedule based on Vegas win totals. This only helps project them to experience the same sort of positive game scripts the Vikings faced in 2019.

Los Angeles Chargers

Anthony Lynn’s Chargers have been among the slowest paced teams in the league since the team hired him as head coach. It seems like Lynn prefers a more balanced pass to run ratio based on his first two seasons. Though last year’s team was so banged up that they had no choice but to throw more. That brings us to 2020, where the Chargers should look more like the 2018 version than 2019, especially with Philip Rivers departing. 

The Chargers selected Justin Herbert with the No. 6 pick in this year’s draft, but he’s initially expected to ride the bench in the early going. In Tyrod Taylor’s three seasons starting for the Bills, he averaged a 94-525-5 line as a rusher. He also finished as a top 10 fantasy QB in 2016 with Lynn as his offensive coordinator, so there’s familiarity there. If Taylor were to start the entire season, he would be hard-pressed to hit 500 pass attempts as part of a slow, conservative group. 

Outside of the quarterback changes, the other offseason moves the Chargers made indicate the same philosophy. They finally attempted to really upgrade their offensive line by trading oft-injured Russell Okung for Trai Turner while also signing Bryan Bulaga to fortify the right hand side of the line. In addition, the Chargers have done well to increase their strength on defense by signing Chris Harris Jr. to pair with Desmond King and Casey Hayward, creating arguably the best cornerback trio in the NFL. Derwin James will be back fully recovered from last season’s injury, they moved back into the first round to select linebacker Kenneth Murray in this year’s draft, and don’t forget they drafted running back Joshua Kelley

Los Angeles Chargers Projected Rushing Strength of Schedule per Sharp Football

In 2018 when the Chargers went 12-4, they were a low output offense. They threw the ball just 512 times and ran the ball 399 times. They faced the No. 9 projected strength of schedule combined with the No. 3 rush defense efficiency schedule. In 2020, the Chargers are also granted a projected No. 6 most favorable rushing schedule according to Sharp Football Stats as well as the No. 5 projected overall schedule based on Vegas win totals.

Los Angeles Chargers Strength of Schedule Based on Vegas Win Totals per Sharp Football

All of this lines up perfectly for a veteran Chargers team that has indicated they want to get back to running the ball and playing good defense as they did in 2018.