Many fans and analysts are pointing to the Minnesota Vikings incredibly high use of 12 personnel during 2019 as a reason why tight end David Njoku should be happy with the Browns this coming season and have a chance to shine. Let’s dive into the numbers and see what they actually say!
Snaps, Snaps & More Snaps
If we go to Pro Football Reference we can see the breakdown of snaps for the Vikings skill positions during the 2019 season (min 10%):
Dalvin Cook – 59%
C.J. Ham – 35%
Alexander Mattison – 19%
Ameer Abdullah – 13%
Kyle Rudolph – 77%
Irv Smith Jr. – 60%
Tyler Conklin – 27%
Stefon Diggs – 75%
Olabisi Johnson – 53%
Adam Thielen – 43%
Laquon Treadwell – 17%
According to Football Outsiders, Rudolph is 7th in the NFL when it comes to the total number of offensive snaps in 2019 for a tight end with 793. Smith comes in 26th with 620 snaps, he is the 2nd highest TE2 behind Philadelphia Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert.
The Eagles and Vikings saw incredibly high tight end usage in 2019, this was heavily impacted by both rosters lack of wide receiver talent as well as a high amount of injuries in those position rooms. It is likely both offenses will regress to the mean in terms of their usage of two-tight end sets in 2020.
Njoku got 501 snaps in 2017 and 871 snaps in 2018, so if he was to receive Smith’s snaps then he is certainly seeing a regression on his 2018 opportunity.
Wide Receivers Hogging The Targets
Despite all the talk of the tight end usage in Stefanski’s scheme, it is clear they aren’t the focus of his passing game when it comes to targets. The 2019 Vikings targets were split: 47% to Wide Receivers, 29% to Running Backs, and only 24% to Tight Ends. (FootballGuys)
Despite Rudolph getting nearly 200 more snaps than Smith, he got the same amount of targets according to PFF, 47. They were tied 29th in the NFL during the 2019 season for targets. This would be a dramatic reduction since Njoku got 58 targets in 2017 & 83 in 2018.
Njoku was never going to get a trade before the 2020 season or hold out of camp as to the new CBA making it impossible for a rookie contract player to do if they ever want to become a free agent. As I said at the time and maintain, hiring Drew Rosenhaus was about setting up a trade next offseason so that he can put himself in the best possible position before becoming a free agent.
Stefanski’s scheme offers Njoku a good opportunity to get onto the field but not to become an impact player in the receiving game that is so important for a tight end if they want to get paid big money in the NFL. Snaps aren’t the be-all and end-all for tight ends, those pointing to this as the only metric are missing what opportunity really is for the position.
The Browns already decided that Hooper will be their number one tight end for the next four years when they effectively gave him a 100% guaranteed four-year deal. They then prepared for the end of Njoku with the team in the near future by drafting Harrison Bryant with a fourth-round pick. If no long term deal is likely to be available in Cleveland, Njoku wants to give himself the best opportunity to shine these next two years.
Hopefully, the three top names in the Browns tight end room all outperform expectations in 2020 and they can cash in on Njoku next offseason because they feel Bryant is ready to step up and fill the void. Those pointing to his snaps as ‘opportunity’ appears to be nothing short of lazy reporting because without the ball Njoku will struggle to make a mark.
Any questions, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @JackDuffin. The DMs are open for any salary cap/roster construction questions you have.