Greg Roman's Run-Centric Attack: Fantasy Football Implications for Ingram, Jackson and the WRs - Roto Street Journal
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Greg Roman’s Run-Centric Attack: Fantasy Football Implications for Ingram, Jackson and the WRs

Ushering in the Lamar Jackson era, the Ravens have turned to Greg Roman to call their offensive shots. And he may just be the perfect man for the job.

Over the past two seasons, Roman’s been on Baltimore’s staff as the TEs coach and run-game coordinator, and the team decided to promote him this January to replace the demoted Marty Mornhinweg.  Roman’s impact was stark and the gig is seemingly earned, with the Ravens improving from the 26th and 28th ranked rushing teams (2015 & 2016) to the 11th and 2nd ranked (2017 & 2018) under his watch.

This will be Roman’s seventh NFL play-calling gig. Previously, he served under the other Harbaugh (Jim) as the 49ers offensive coordinator for four seasons (2011-14), called the shots for the Bills in 2015, before being unceremoniously (and undeservedly) canned by Rex Ryan after two games in 2016. Uncoincidentally, both of these team’s featured dynamic, dual-threat QBs in the mold of Jackson.

Unapologetically run-centric, Roman’s attack is unlike any other in the league, especially in today’s age of inflated passing games. Thus, the move projects to be a major boon for Mark Ingram and Lamar Jackson as a runner, though the Aerial Pie could be minimal here.

Below is a breakdown of Roman’s scheme and success, as well as the most crucial fantasy football takeaways.

Scheme / System – Run, Run, and Run Some More

Though lacking a “West Coast” or “Air Coryell” style aerial backbone, Greg Roman’s offenses have consistently featured the same spine:

Running the football.

Obsessively run-heavy, Roman has never ranked outside the Top-9 in rushing attempts or Top-eight in yardage. Similarly, all of these teams have ranked in the bottom-four of pass attempts, with 4 of 5 ranking second lowest or dead last:

While this “ground-and-pound” approach may seem ancient and uncreative, Roman’s run concepts are anything but. He’s incredibly innovative in the blocking patterns, formations and packages, as well as his run designs.

From pistol, to jumbo, to three tight-end, Roman constantly switches up the offensive package to keep defenses off-balance. In fact, while with San Francisco, whereas most teams ran out of “11 personnel (1 back, 1 tight end)” Roman was one of only three coordinators to go 11 person under 50% of the time, and only one under 30%. He was also the only coordinator to use four personnel groupings over 15% of the time, as San Francisco had 21 personnel on 26 percent of plays, 22 personnel on another 26 percent of plays, and 11 personnel on 21 percent of plays.

In addition to a constant rotation of groupings, Roman’s run-gamess thrive by using a wide variety of blocking patterns and designs, centered around his opponents’ weaknesses. Roman’s lineman are equipped with a rotation of power, outside zone, pin-pull, and counter/trap/wham variations. Often, he’ll mix where others never have, tossing a pulling guard into a jet sweep, for example.

When asked what word describe Roman’s offense, now-Michigan HC Jim Harbaugh used: “Innovative.”

“I believe he’s changed a lot about football in terms of bringing the traps back to football, bringing the counter back to football, bringing wham plays back into football.”

Indeed, the passing game has taken a back seat in Roman’s offense. When deployed, Roman naturally uses a heavy dosage of play-action, typically funneling looks to one “Alpha” WR along with a seam-stretching TE. He likes to soften defenses up with the run, before looking for explosive chunk plays.

Based on early OTA installation periods, Roman appears to be staying true to his run-centric roots. Still, many questions about the scheme’s sustainability now linger after Baltimore’s harrowing Wild-Card playoff loss to the Chargers. Roman’s hoping to counter these doubts with a more “balanced,” “unpredictable,” and “streamlined” attack with simpler verbiage.

He hopes to gain “quicker communication and the ability to play quicker at the line of scrimmage… reimagined their schemes, personnel groupings and plays. We can play fast, we can play slow.” More control of the tempo, particularly during no-huddle, could mean more total offense and quicker chunk plays. Roman‘s also reached out to coaches, such as former Navy and Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson – the master of the option offense – for more run-game innovation.

Still, any shot at “unpredictability” and “balance” will hinge upon Jackson’s necessary growth as a thrower. Last year, the team threw the ball just 36% of the time in Jackson’s starts, compared to a 64% run ratio. They will be more equipped to achieve more in both the run and pass games, with Mark Ingram and lightning-quick rookie Justice Hill now added to the backfield stable, and speed-demon rookie WRs Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Miles Boykin. But Jackson remains Priority Number One.

With an offense unlike any other in the league, the fantasy takeaways of Roman’s hire are massive, and fairly clear:

Fantasy Football Takeaways

1) Mark Ingram Should be a Workhorse

Carries should not be hard to come by in Roman’s run-centric attack, and newly signed Mark Ingram appears to be in line for the largest slice of Ground Pie after signing a three-year, $15 million deal this offseason.

Ingram is a downhill bruiser who runs low to the ground, breaks tackles, constantly falls forward, and churns out positive gains. With soft hands, Ingram offers three-down versatility, and he has the vision and patience to thrive in any blocking scheme.

In short, Ingram’s an ideal fit for Roman’s creative and complex run scheme that requires runners who can thrive regardless of the blocking design. His style is often compared to Frank Gore, who topped 1200 YFS in four straight seasons inside Roman’s scheme:

  • Gore (2011): 299 touches (17 rec), 1325 YFS, 8 TDs, RB16
  • Gore (2012): 286 touches (28 rec), 1448 YFS, 9 TD, RB10
  • Gore (2013): 292 (16 rec), 1269 YFS, 9 TD, RB17
  • Gore (2014): 266 (11 rec), 1217 YFS, 5 TDs, RB19

LeSean McCoy and Alex Freakin’ Collins were also on pace for over 1500 yards under Roman, and Ingram is a fantastic bet to hit at least 1300 if he remains healthy.

In that regard, many may be scared off by Ingram’s age (29 years old) as he approaches the dreaded “30-year old RB cliff.” Yet, with only 1549 career touches (193.6 touches), his mileage isn’t overly high, as Ingram’s shared the work for his entire eight-year Saints career. In fact, Ingram only topped 200 touches in four of those eight seasons, and has never had more than 230 carries in a single year.

Yet, he has been hyper-efficient with his work, especially as of late. In the last four seasons, Ingram has topped 5.0 Y/TCH while leading all RBs in seasons with at least 4.5 YPC since 2014, ahead of Todd GurleyHis average of 4.85 yards per rush trails only former teammate Alvin Kamara (5.13) among 47 backs with at least 300 rush attempts between 2015 and 2018. His efficiency should dip slightly with more volume, but Ingram should still hover around 4.5-5.0 yards per look, making him a genuine threat for 1400+ total yards on the 285-300ish touches we can expect.

Despite the perfect-fitting run-obsessed scheme, Roman does present a few question marks. For one, his backs haven’t been overly active in the passing game, as McCoy’s 42 reception pace in 2015 was by far the most active receiving back. Ingram is fantastic in this facet of the game, so ideally this trend will change to maximize his skills. At times, such as McCoy’s 2015, Roman has also turned to a goalline hammer (Karlos Williams), and the Gus Bus waits in the wings as a potential vulture. Ingram has been fantastic at the stripe over his career, and will ideally maintain this role.

Nonetheless, with health, Ingram should top his career high in touches (288) within Roman’s offense. As a perfect fit, 1500 total yards and 10+ TDs isn’t without question, making Ingram a fantastic option at his current RB23, 4th round price.

 

2) Lamar Jackson Benefits in Real Life… but Fantasy? Meh

After successfully crafting offenses around Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor, Roman is lauded for his work with “dual threat” QBs. Certainly, with all of these teams finishing 8-8 or better, including a 49ers Super Bowl run, Roman’s real life track record is impressive. The Ravens and Jackson have perhaps the ideal offensive architect for his mobile skillset, and Roman’s been hard at work “reimagining” the offense:

“How do we want to move forward with Lamar Jackson?” Roman added. “He’s a unique player with a unique skill set, so let’s build an offense that really accommodates that, as opposed to try to fit him into something that other people had once done.”

Still, this doesn’t guarantee the fantasy results will be pretty. In fact, I expect plenty of bleh.

Amidst his run-obsessed ways, Roman’s passing game productivity has taken a massive hit. To reiterate: In​ five full​ seasons as an​ NFL offensive coordinator, Roman’s passing offenses ranked 29th, 23rd, 30th, 30th and 28th, respectively.

Now, you weren’t drafting Lamar Jackson for his erratic arm. Jackson’s rushing upside — 4.3 speed, insane elusiveness — is the obvious appeal here.

Still, as passing stats grow more and more inflated, QBs lacking a steady air point source become increasingly risky. No matter how many reports emerge that “Jackson’s accuracy has improved” or that he’s “focused on mechanics,” I’m not buying it.

Just take a peak at QB Finishes under Roman:

This is even more startling when you consider the historic fantasy success of rushing QBs:

Three of the seven QBs (Kaepernick x 2 + Taylor) to finish outside the top-six, despite receiving 100+ rushes, were part of a Roman coached offense. None of them finished Top-10, and two were QB16.

And *ducks* both may have better arms than Jackson.

While Jackson and the Ravens may roll out a dangerous real-life attack under Roman, don’t expect a fantasy factory for the QB. He topped 20 FPs just 2/7 times as a starter, with one of them a meaningless Week 17 contest. At such a loaded fantasy position, dripping in so much more upside, Jackson won’t be on my draft-day radar.

 

3) Even in a lackluster passing attack, one viable 1,000 yard option should emerge

Although the volume of Baltimore’s Aerial Pie will be small, Roman has typically concentrated the stats to one, maximum two pass-catchers.

In fact, despite ranking in the bottom-four in passing yardage in all but one year, Roman’s offense has boasted a 1,000 yard WR in four out of five seasons:

  • 2011: None – Michael Crabtree closest with 72 rec (115 tgts), 874 yds, 4 TDs
  • 2012: Crabtree – 85 rec (127 tgts), 1113 yds, 9 TDs
  • 2013 Anquan Boldin – 85 rec (129 tgts), 1179 yds, 7 TDs
  • 2014 Boldin – 83 rec (130 tgts), 1062 yds, 5 TDs
  • 2015 Sammy Watkins (13 GP): 60 rec (96 tgts), 1047 yds, 9 TDs = 73 rec, 1288 yds, 11 TDs pace

Typically, Roman’s passing game has featured a big-bodied “Alpha X” style weapon who thrives on intermediate, play-action based routes. Unfortunately, with the Ravens corps is a complete question mark, we have no clue who that might be… if anyone.

Willie Snead is the lone “proven” option here. Yet, he only stands at 5’11” and has been more of a slot weapon throughout his career.

Rookie Marquise Brown offers the highest intrigue as the most talented and explosive option, but he’s still only “hopeful” for camp while recovering from Lisfranc surgery, which is an incredibly difficult recovery for a speed-based WR.

Fellow rookie WR Miles Boykin offers freakish athleticism, with the 6’4″, 220 lbs size Roman craves, alongside an absurd 4.42 forty, 43.5 vertical, and the fastest three-cone time (6.77) of all wide receivers invited to the combine. Even still, he’s raw, and has been missing valuable developmental time due to a hamstring injury.

In their absences, relative unknown Chris Moore has been receiving all the OTAs reps, and garnering all the praise. He’s been labeled a “breakout candidate” by both the owner and coach. Still, with 44 career catches over three seasons, how excited can we really be?

Overall, the depth chart is wide open to be that 120+ target guy. But until the rookies get healthy and the pads come on, predicting who is a complete dart throw, and not all that worthwhile in such a lackluster attack.

Of course, any WR success will be completely dependent on Jackson taking the next step as a thrower. He didn’t sustain a single startable fantasy option through his seven starts:

Perhaps, instead, the tight ends could emerge here? Roman did have some success with Vernon Davis, including a 850 yard, 13 TD masterpiece in 2013. But Davis was among the premiere TE-talents in the league, and still only mustered one Top-8 campaign under Roman’s watch.

Hayden Hurst, last year’s first round pick who was widely regarded as the top-TE of the class, was completely irrelevant as a rookie. Though he’s decided to combat that with the classic “20 lbs of muscle” addition, he’s also now sidelined with a tweaked hamstring.

Instead, maybe the less-heralded but more-productive rookie Mark Andrews can build upon his 553 yard, 3 TD campaign? During OTAs, Andrew reported looked “bigger, stronger and faster than he did last season… made a ton of plays the last… playing with confidence and swagger, which the offense sorely needs.”

Ultimately, none of these TEs or WRs are worth drafting until we see if a favorite target emerges, and if Jackson can get his arm under control. Still, at least a slight glimmer of hope exists for one fantasy weapon to fight through this otherwise wasteland set up.

Summary

In five years calling plays for the 49ers and Ravens, Greg Roman has been a mastermind at crafting run-games, especially around dynamic, dual threat QBs. Roman marries a variety of packages and blocking concepts to create an attack unlike any other in the league. He’s never finished below 8th in total rushing or 9th in attempts, and is the ideal architect with the Ravens currently all-in on Lamar Jackson.

Though Roman, Jackson, and this offense could be successful in real life, the fantasy stats are likely to be hard to find, outside of Mark Ingram in the backfield. As a downhill, physical runner with the versatility to thrive in Roman’s myriad of run-concepts, Ingram is a perfect fit here. Though 29, he has been lightly used and should set a new career high in touches (288) is the bar). If he can come close to maintaining his insane efficiency from the past four years, Ingram should hit 1400+ total yards and threaten for 9-10 TDs.

Otherwise, trusting any of the passing game is difficult. Many experts are excited to take Jackson as an “Upside QB2” due to his rushing abilities, but Roman’s never had a QB finish above 11th… and those QBs had much better arms. As such, he’s an avoid for me. Unless a clear top-target emerges throughout camp, I’ll likely be avoiding the entire WRs and TEs corps here as well.

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