Kliff Kingsbury is bringing his air-raid offense to the Arizona Cardinals. How will this affect the fantasy value of David Johnson, whoever ends up playing quarterback and the rest of the offense? Also, do us a solid and follow Mike Sullivan on Twitter (@mikesully58.)
Kliff Kingsbury is the new man in charge in Glendale, Arizona, after taking the head coaching job for the Arizona Cardinals. One of the things Kingsbury packed along with him is his air-raid offense from Texas Tech. The hopes are high that Kingsbury might become the next Sean McVay-type coach and help the Cardinals bounce back from 2018, when they were last offensively in every statistical category in the NFL.
For those who aren’t too familiar with the air-raid offense, it has been around in the college ranks for some time now. It is primarily run out of the shotgun formation with typically four wide receivers (or trips formations) and one running back. Usually, it’s a no huddle type offense that is very pass-heavy and often incorporates quick passes like screen plays. Kingsbury has been utilizing the air-raid offense throughout his coaching career, but has come into the spotlight more over the last six years as he was head coach at Texas Tech.
For the purpose of this article, I will be attempting to extrapolate as much information as possible to explore the possible fantasy football implications of Kingsbury’s offensive scheme. One thing to keep in mind is that there are quite a few variables here. Some of these being the overall talent, speed and athleticism of NFL athletes versus college players. Also, the coaching talent is quite capable, and often very well at adapting to a new style of offense in the NFL.
All in all, we will do our best to dive into the mind of Kingsbury and explore possible fantasy implications, but only time will tell how Kingsbury and his air raid offense will really do in the NFL.
Overall Offensive Scheme
Before we break down each position, let’s take a peek at the offensive scheme as a whole. In terms of total offense, Kingsbury-led teams have finished within the top sixteen teams over the past six years. This includes four seasons in the top 10, a second-place finish (2015) and a first-place finish (2016). In terms of scoring-offense, Kingsbury has finished within the top 23 teams five out of six years at Texas Tech. This includes a second-place finish (2015) and fifth place finish (2016). It helped that he had Patrick Mahomes in 2015 and å2016 but finishing inside the top 25 in total offense and scoring offense in five of his six years is definitely impressive.
In six years at Texas Tech, Kingsbury has averaged 58.8% passing attempts to 41.2 % rushing attempts. Last season appeared to have the biggest difference, as he was around 63% in passing attempts and 37% with rushing attempts. In comparison, the top five NFL offenses in 2018 averaged 56.6% passing attempts to 43.4% rushing attempts.
Now I am not comparing Kingsbury and his offense to the top five NFL offenses of 2018, but it helps us get an idea of the type of play calling we might expect. Despite the firepower the air-raid offense comes with, Kingsbury managed to pull together just one winning season and an overall record of 35-40 in the Big 12 Conference.
Kingsbury has worked with some familiar names at quarterback. In his six years at Texas Tech, Kingsbury has worked with Mahomes and Baker Mayfield (also Johnny Manziel while he was offensive coordinator at Texas A&M). He also coached Davis Webb (3rd round draft pick in 2017) and three other quarterbacks who had at least 100 pass attempts within his six years as head coach. Some of the quarterbacks ran the offense better than others, but all appeared to be mostly effective college passers under Kingsbury.
While at Texas Tech, Kingsbury’s pass-heavy offense has finished, on average, at the 3.67 ranked spot for passing offense in the NCAA. This includes one first place finish (2016), two second place finishes (2013, 2015) and one third place finish (2018). If we zoom in a little more, the quarterbacks he has worked with have averaged 30.9 completions on an average of 48.3 attempts per game (63.95% completion percentage), 380.2 yards per game, 2.98 touchdowns and a 7.86 average yards per attempt.
Also, in six years, Kingsbury has had four quarterbacks who averaged at least 14 attempts per game. In those four years, the quarterbacks had an average NCAA final ranking of 14.75 in pass attempts, 20.5 in completion percentage, 16.25 in yards per game, 16 in passing touchdowns and 19.75 in passer rating. In these years there was 99 or more eligible quarterbacks who had 14 attempts per game. As expected, the air-raid offense produced high passing numbers for all quarterbacks involved.
As I am writing this, Josh Rosen is the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals, but many people believe that may change. Either way, we can explore the possible fantasy implications at the quarterback position for the Cardinals.
As we’ve seen above, quarterbacks in Kingsbury’s air-raid offense have put up nearly top 20 numbers throughout the NCAA ranks. Whoever happens to be the quarterback for the Cardinals, statistically, we can expect only improvement from the last-place finishes in all NFL offensive categories.
The real question will be if Rosen can adapt to the new offense, as he will be now working under his 6th offensive coordinator (or head coach who calls plays) in five years. One thing that can possibly benefit Rosen is the usage of quick passes and screens in the air-raid offense, which could help simplify decision making.
It’ll be important to see if Rosen adapts well, but we definitely can expect, just by sheer volume alone, that he will be given the opportunity to improve. Overall, particularly in redraft formats, it may be best to wait and see how Kingsbury’s offense adapts to the NFL before buying into the quarterback position.
Throughout his six years at Texas Tech, Kingsbury has often utilized running backs in several different ways while averaging 288.8 rushing attempts per season. In 2013, 2017 and 2018. Kingsbury appeared to take a running back-by-committee approach. In each of these years he had two running backs who had at least a 28% share of the touches out of the backfield. Also, the difference between the first and second running backs during those years was never greater than 6.5% of total carries.
The reverse was true in 2014, 2015 and 2016, as Kingsbury appeared to primarily ride one running back. One of those backs was DeAndre Washington in 2014 and 2015. In 2014, Washington commanded 68.1% of total carries (the second RB was around 17%). Again, in 2015, Washington commanded 75.4% of carries (compared to 28.7).
In 2016, Da Leon Ward held onto 46.2% of the rushing attempts (compared to 28.7%). I feel like this shows Kingsbury is flexible and will adapt his play calling/usage of players based off of who is on the roster.
Kingsbury’s pass-heavy offense also appeared to trickle down to the running back position. In five of his six years at Texas Tech, Kingsbury has had four different running backs ranked in the top 30 of the NCAA in receptions (18th, 19th, 8th, 27th, and 24th). This shows that he has a tendency to utilize the running back in his offensive scheme and rely on them to produce in the receiving game as well.
However, if we take a look at rushing production from the running backs over the last six years, we find some interesting statistics. From 2013 to 2018, Kingsbury’s top running backs averaged a 142.8 NCAA rank in rushing attempts, 136.8 rank in rushing yards, 153.5 rank in rushing touchdowns and a 117 rank in yards per carry. From 2013 these ranks consisted of at least 280 players (some quarterbacks) who averaged at least 6.25 rushing attempts per game.
With David Johnson and Chase Edmunds being the primary running backs utilized in 2018, let’s discuss the possible implications for each of them.
It appears Kingsbury has the flexibility to go with a lead back approach versus a committee, which should obviously benefit Johnson. Although, Kingsbury has never had a second running back below 17.3% of total carries, which means Edmunds could very well be involved (20% of touches in 2018). With Kingsbury averaging 288.8 touches per season for his backs in college, this could look like 50 rushing attempts on average for Edmunds in a season. That would mean Johnson would be around the 240-touch range (258 touches in 2018).
Overall, I feel like Johnson sees a similar rushing workload, as in 2018, as the air-raid offense is still a pass-first approach. But Johnson has also proven to be extremely useful in the passing game. I have to feel like Johnson gets a bump in PPR and half-PPR leagues, as I expect Kingsbury to take advantage of Johnson’s skillset and pass-catching ability.
I also believe Edmunds does stick around and possibly sees the same workload as 2018, which many Johnson owners perceived as a a thorn in their side. Either way, it appears Johnson has a potential increase in receptions, which helps bail him out from Kingsbury’s pass first offense.
Johnson could be in line for a potential bounce-back season come 2019 with the increased usage in the passing game. I feel like we can be optimistic about Johnson finishing in RB1 territory and even possibly higher than his 10th place finish in 2018 and with a second round ADP (2.01), he is an intriguing option.
In a pass-heavy offense, the wide receiver is most likely going to be the beneficiary. Over the past six years, Kingsbury has had several wide receivers who were near the top in the NCAA in wide receiver statistical categories. If we dive a little deeper, Kingsbury’s top receiver each year has produced an average of a 23.8 ranked finish in wide receiver receptions, 24.7 ranked place for reception yards, and a 26.5 ranked finish for wide receiver touchdowns. Each year these rankings consisted of at least 400 eligible receivers in all of college football.
Now, you might say this makes sense in a pass-first offense, but I think it is also important to know how the offense spreads the ball around to all its wide receivers. In the six years at Texas Tech, the biggest difference in receptions amongst the first and second wide receiver was 7%. However, there were also two years where two receivers had nearly the same amount of receptions (2014, 2015). Additionally, the biggest difference from the first receiver to third receiver was 11%, but it was also as low as 1% in certain years.
As expected in an air-raid offense, there are often several wide receivers who get involved. In the six years at Texas Tech, Kingsbury has had 19 receivers reach 10% of total receptions, 12 receivers with at least 15% of the team’s receptions, and four with at least 20% of team’s total receptions. If we look at the average yards per reception for Kingsbury-led teams, it has been 14.62, 12.63 and 13.88 for his top three receivers.
In 2018, the Cardinals had Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, Trent Sherfield and Chad Williams as the top four in receptions. If we were to examine the offense in a vacuum, we can only begin to assume that the air-raid style offense has to give each wide receiver a boost. Now, I am not saying these guys are going to be league winners, but they could add some decent depth to your fantasy team.
One stat that sticks out is yards per reception — Kirk had the most in 2018 with 13.7. If we look at the top three receivers each year for Kingsbury (18 total wide receivers), 56% of them had a higher yards per reception than Kirk and 94% were higher than Fitzgerald, Williams and Sherfield.
If we break down each individual player, we can all probably agree Kirk and Fitzgerald appear to be the one-two punch in Arizona. But Kirk, who is 5’11’’ and 200 pounds, seems to fit the mold of receiver that Kingsbury likes. Over the last six years, the average wide receiver who had at least 25 receptions (15 wide receivers) in a season was 6’0’’ and 187.5 pounds. Should Kirk stay healthy, I believe he catches more than his 43 receptions last year based on sheer volume alone.
Fitzgerald is an interesting fit as well, as one has to believe that he will get some continued work in the slot. I think he gets a bump in production as well. The other wide receivers are merely flyer picks but based off the principle of an air-raid offense, I can definitely see someone stepping up into that wide receiver three slot, which still might not make them fantasy relevant.
I think I like Kirk the most and he definitely is appealing at his current ADP (9.01). Fitzgerald also has a ninth round ADP, which is intriguing as well. Overall, I believe there is really only one way to go for Cardinals receivers, as I can’t fathom them being any worse than last year.
Interestingly enough, Kingsbury only had three players designated as tight ends in his six years at Texas Tech. The only one who appeared to be significantly involved was Jace Amaro in 2013 when he had a stat line of 106 receptions, 1352 yards, and seven touchdowns. Outside of Amaro there were only two other players designated as a tight end and they did not register a single reception.
Now, this makes it interesting to try and extrapolate any data in regard to the tight end position, but what can be explored is Kingsbury’s flexibility. He was offensive coordinator at Houston and Texas A&M prior to his tenure at Texas Tech. This means he already had a system he liked to use and when he came to Texas Tech, he most likely recognized the talent of Amaro and decided to utilize him.
With Ricky Seals-Jones, Charles Clay and Darrell Daniels currently on the roster at tight end, it may be best to take a wait-and-see approach for fantasy. It’s possible the tight ends get worked into the fold and get reps lined up as wide receivers as well, as the air-raid tends to utilize three and four wide receiver sets, primarily.
One thing that sticks out here is that Seals-Jones actually played wide receiver in college and went through the combine as a wide receiver. He was also recruited to play at Texas A&M in 2013, which was the year Kingsbury left for the Texas Tech head coaching job.
Seals-Jones could possibly see more reps and line up outside at as a wide receiver, but he was one who garnered criticism at the combine and coming out of college as not being quick enough and had difficulty getting separation. If he has improved on these or can show improvement, a 6’5” Seals-Jones could be quite a mismatch at times. He’s also similar in height and weight to Jace Amaro (6’5”, 265 pounds), the only tight end under Kingsbury to show any sign of life.
I believe Seals-Jones is the most intriguing option at tight end here, fantasy wise, but it’s still up in the air how he will be utilized in Kingsbury’s offense. I think we may find out quickly what this looks like in preseason action. Either way, it might be best to wait and see how this all shakes out.