The Wildcat offense has taken the league by storm. When run correctly it is so effective that most teams are attempting to work it into their weekly game plans. This article will explore what the Wildcat is, which teams run it, and the potential impact of use on individual player performance from a fantasy football perspective.
If you have been living on a different planet and are not familiar with exactly what the Wildcat is, essentially it is a formation where the ball is snapped directly to the running back rather than the quarterback. Since the quarterback typically does not have blocking responsibilities the formation allows the offense to use an additional blocker. In addition, there is often a receiver / running back in motion from the slot that gives the offense the ability to run up the middle or to the outside. Defenses now have to account for not only the additional blocker but if the play will go inside or outside. To make things even tougher for the defense there are flavors of the wildcat that line a quarterback up on the outside, opening up the potential for a passing game out of the Wildcat!
All of that sounds great, but does it work? The answer is yes. In 2008 the Dolphins (who feature the Wildcat offense more than any other team) employed the Wildcat on 11% of their snaps. They averaged an impressive 6.5 yards per carry out of the Wildcat versus 3.9 out of traditional formations. This season the Eagles have worked the Wildcat into their offense and are averaging 5.04 yards per carry out of it versus 3.9 yards per carry out of traditional offensive formations. Other teams have not been as successful. The Raiders have attempted to feature Darren McFadden out of the Wildcat, however he is only averaging 5 yards per carry versus 4.4 yards per carry out of traditional offensive sets.
It seems that the combination of the proper personnel and experience running the formation contribute to Wildcat success. For that reason, other than the Dolphins and Eagles the Wildcat will remain a trick formation for most NFL teams and have little impact on individual player statistics. Table 1 is a list we have put together of NFL teams that run the Wildcat offense. This list may have changed to date as more and more coaches work Wildcat schemes into their game plans. In any case we have broken the Wildcat teams into three categories, Heavy, Moderate and Light. The categories differentiate teams by their use of the Wildcat. The table also highlights which players could see a potential fantasy football impact from their teams utilization of the Wildcat package. Miami is the only team that falls into the Heavy category. This year they are using the Wildcat about 13% of the time versus 11% last year. So, as you can see even the gold-standard Wildcat team is not really using the package so frequently. Teams in the medium category run approximately 5% of their snaps out of the Wildcat while teams in the Light category use it very sparingly.
So, what does the Wildcat mean for fantasy football? Essentially unless your player is on the Dolphins don't expect to change the way you value your players. However, given the right weekly matchup, against a team with poor run defense, Wildcat usage can be used to differentiate between two similarly ranked players. Wide receivers that run in the wildcat may see a slight rise in value due to additional rushing yards that they most likely would not be getting out of traditional offensive sets. Players like DeSean Jackson, Devin Hester and Anquan Boldin are the real names to watch. Most running backs will see only a slight benefit at best from running the wildcat. As previously stated, since the scheme is used 13% of the time at most by the Dolphins and more like 5% of the time by average NFL teams, Wildcat running backs should see only a small up tick in value. Likewise, Quarterbacks involved in Wildcat systems should not see a significant decrease in value. With the offense only being utilized on average for approximately 5% of a teams plays, the issue of the Quarterback coming off the field should be of little concern.
So there you have it. Hopefully this provided an in-depth look at what the Wildcat is and why it provides an advantage to the teams that run it. Is the Wildcat a fad? Will defensive coordinators find a way to shut it down? Only time will tell. For now, there is one thing that is for sure -the formation should NOT have a large impact on the valuation of fantasy football players.