For me, it all started with the 2013 Bears. Marc Trestman was the coach. Jay Cutler was the quarterback, the man who launched 1,000 memes. The team didn't really go anywhere — eight wins, eight losses. But the Bears scored 445 points (while allowing 478 points, talk about a fantasy carnival), and the box scores were delightfully tidy.
Consider Chicago’s 40-32 loss to Detroit in Week 4 of that season. All those points. All those yards. And while the Lions used a phonebook’s worth of engaged players, the Bears' offense essentially boiled down to four guys:
— Matt Forte, rushing and receiving (19 touches, 117 total yards, touchdown)
— Alshon Jeffrey, receiving (5-107-1 on 11 targets)
— Brandon Marshall, receiving (7-79-0 on 14 targets)
— Martellus Bennett, receiving (8-90-0 on 12 targets)
There were just a few random Chicago plays without fantasy relevance that day. Cutler had one run for nine yards. One other teammate was targeted: Earl Bennett had four looks — two catches for 19 yards and one rogue touchdown (surely to no one’s fantasy benefit). But when it came to the 2013 Bears, you usually knew where the bread was buttered. Bennett, the third receiver, finished with just 32 catches, about two per week.
Sparked by good health, a lousy defense and proactive usage, Forte (RB3), Marshall (WR5), Jeffery (WR8) and Bennett (TE10) all paid the fantasy bills in 2013. The modern narrow usage tree was established.
Today’s exercise is to look for 2023 offenses that are similarly streamlined. When it comes to narrow usage, we don’t want teams that mess around with a cast of thousands. We don’t want those endless boxscores. And if the quarterback isn’t a scrambler, all the better for our narrow-tree purposes.
Understand up front, this is not necessarily a discussion on offensive optimization. If Andy Reid thinks his best offense comes with a wide usage tree, who are we to say he’s wrong? The Buffalo offense has a running quarterback and several good targets, and pinball scoring is expected.
But there’s something glorious about an offense that focuses on a limited number of guys, too. It's the easy button in fantasy.
There’s some jumbling in the Dolphins backfield — and they’re rumored to be interested in every disgruntled back around the league — so that could be tricky for our purposes. But when Tua Tagovailoa looks to throw, he’s thinking two things: Where’s Tyreek Hill, and where’s Jaylen Waddle? The backs don’t catch a lot of passes, No. 3 wideout Braxton Berrios isn’t a big factor, and although the tight ends will grab an occasional flip at the goal line, no one’s going to be a yardage hog. Tagovailoa is also a reluctant scrambler, perhaps more than ever given some of the injuries he’s encountered.
Detroit OC Ben Johnson is a rising star, reviving Jared Goff’s career and effectively play-calling behind a strong offensive line. And to be fair, Detroit needs to find a fourth pitch somewhere, someone it can consistently rely on after slot machine Amon-Ra St. Brown and backs Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery.
Perhaps Jameson Williams will be that guy in the second half. What’s left in the tank for Marvin Jones? Can Kalif Raymond or Josh Reynolds find a meaty role?
Ahh, who are we kidding — St. Brown, the Sun God, is probably headed for 165 targets. Delicious. And Detroit’s backfield underscores what we’re looking for in 2023: a two-headed approach is fine, more than enough work to go around. When you see three, that’s when you flee.
No worries in Motown. Keep playing the hits, Johnson.
Los Angeles Rams
It’s not all sunshine and lollipops for the 2023 Rams, dealing with a spotty offensive line and the late stages of Matthew Stafford’s career. And I’ve been reluctant to draft Cooper Kupp, who's dealing with a hamstring injury this month. But the usage for Sean McVay’s offense looks notably streamlined — a bunch of Kupp, a heavy role for TE Tyler Higbee and weekly projectable volume for Cam Akers, who came on like gangbusters at the end of 2022.
Perhaps receiver Van Jefferson can crash the party at some point. Maybe one of the backs will provide support for Akers. But whenever the Rams find the end zone in 2023, it’s likely to come from the Big Three.
Arthur Smith loves to run to set up the run, and he has three capable backs for that pursuit, with rookie hotshot Bijan Robinson, second-year man Tyler Allgeier and versatile star Cordarrelle Patterson. That could be a little congested. But when it comes to downfield passing, most of Desmond Ridder’s focus will be on Drake London and Kyle Pitts.
The overall run slant of this offense shouldn’t dissuade you from targeting London and Pitts, two players who are both on the escalator, early in their careers, and looking at significant target shares.
When the Seahawks drafted Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the first round, some feared this offense would become complicated for fantasy purposes. But I still see a narrow focus — the tight ends don’t do much in this passing game, and no running back will see more than the occasional target. DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett have been early ADP targets, both draftable at their presumed floor, and JSN’s initial share is clouded now that he’s coming off a wrist fracture.
Veteran quarterback Geno Smith is a resourceful scrambler, but it’s not a proactive call for the Seahawks. Keep adding shares of the veteran receivers here.