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RPO Prevalence in 2023 and Fantasy Impact

In August 2018, 6-time Pro Bowler and 2-time all-pro safety Eric Weddle planted his flag, stating that the RPO or Run-Pass Option was a fad. “I think in five years, it’s going to be out,” Weddle said to ESPN, before proceeding to compare it to the Wildcat offense and brushing it off with a “yada yada yada.”

At the time, RPO – the sort of cousin to play-action, where the QB reads a particular defender in order to decide whether to hand the ball off or pass – had already swept through the college game after a rule change enabling linemen to block further downfield. Many credit Chip Kelly with popularizing it in the NFL, and his successor Doug Pederson used it to strong effect in the Eagles’ Super Bowl winning run just half a year prior to Weddle’s comments.

Now, well over the 5 year mark, let’s see how his prediction has played out. 

Pro-Football-Reference.com only has RPO data dating back to 2019, so the sample size isn’t exactly there for drawing sweeping and statistically significant conclusions, but let’s just look at total RPO play calls over the last 4 years and then compare to 2023:

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2019: 145.56 RPOs ran/week in the NFL

2020: 120.81 RPOs ran/week in the NFL

2021: 198.29 RPOs ran/week in the NFL

2022: 139.18 RPOs ran/week in the NFL

2023 (so far): 147.77 RPOs ran/week in the NFL

So five years in and the RPO is looking a bit less like a fad and a bit more like a tool that most NFL offensive coordinators are keeping squarely within their toolbox.

What is perhaps more interesting is the remarkable consistency of the RPO:

2019: 6.36 yds/RPO called

2020: 6.55 yds/RPO called

2021: 6.05 yds/RPO called

2022: 6.55 yds/RPO called

2023: 6.68 yds/RPO called

So from 2019 through now, RPOs have yielded an average of 6.44 yards every time they are called. This is a notable improvement over the average across all play types in the same timeframe (5.41 yds/play) – so it is no surprise that RPO play hasn’t gone by the wayside quite yet – it seems that defenses haven’t found an easy way to mitigate the impact of the play.

Impact on WRs and WR Production

Over this past offseason, Ben Gretch (@YardsPerGretch) dug into RPOs on his Substack. And then, drawing on the work done by Gretch, JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) looked specifically at the production of WRs in RPO heavy offenses with mobile quarterbacks.

It is understood that mobile quarterbacks impact the production (and fantasy output) of the skill position players on their team. It makes sense – the rushing quarterback essentially has a third offensive leg to stand on and there is only so much room for production. The presence of mobile quarterbacks has been a justification for lower fantasy draft ADP for skill players for a while now.

But the combined analysis by Ben and JJ pointed to the idea that the lead WR on a team with a mobile quarterback that uses a lot of RPO is likely to see a larger target share – where teams that don’t use a lot of RPO tend to spread the ball around a lot more.

So let’s take a look at how this has played out thus far in 2023. When you look at RPO-heavy teams (top 16 teams in total RPOs run), there are 5 quarterbacks with over 40 rushing attempts – Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Herbert.

The WR1s playing with these quarterbacks have target shares of 23.2% (Zay Flowers), 29.4% (AJ Brown), 28.8% (Stefon Diggs), 22.7% (Christian Kirk) and 31.5% (Keenan Allen) respectively. This puts all five of them in the top-20 WRs by target share. And we know target share is one of the most important stats for WR success.

In terms of fantasy production, here is how these wideouts are performing against their ADP:

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  • Stefon Diggs – Sleeper ADP WR4, Fantasy WR5
  • AJ Brown – Sleeper ADP WR5, Fantasy WR6
  • Keenan Allen – Sleeper ADP WR18, Fantasy WR2
  • Christian Kirk – Sleeper ADP WR31, Fantasy WR26
  • Zay Flowers – Sleeper ADP WR41, Fantasy WR34

All five of these players have ended up being values so far this year, with Diggs and Brown meeting their already lofty expectations, Keenan Allen on pace to beat his 2017 WR3 finish and crush any and all haters, and Kirk and Flowers both solidly beating their ADP.

RPOhno? RPOhno? RPOHHHH YEAH!

So to wrap it up – despite the risk of Pro Bowl Safety Eric Weddle busting through the brick wall in my living room – I’m going to say that the RPO is not, in fact, a fad. Instead it has proven itself to be a tool that adds versatility to an offense and it has seen a lot of continued success.

As we watch the 2023 season down the stretch, I’m going to be keeping an eye on the WR1s in RPO offenses and when the 2024 prognosticators turn noses up at WRs in offenses with mobile quarterbacks, I am absolutely going to dig into these RPO rates to discover hidden values.

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Stats reference (not to be included)

  • 2019
    • Total RPO plays called in the NFL: 2,329
    • RPO playcalls/NFL Week: 145.56
    • RPO leaders
      • Baltimore Ravens – 271/1733 (6.39 yds/RPO)
      • Arizona Cardinals – 185/1140 (6.16 yds/RPO)
      • Houston Texans – 143/899 (6.29 yds/RPO)
    • League RPO efficacy – 6.36 yds/RPO
  • 2020
    • Total RPO plays called in the NFL: 1933
    • RPO playcalls/NFL Week: 120.81
    • RPO leaders
      • Baltimore Ravens – 213/1679 (7.88 yds/RPO)
      • Arizona Cardinals – 176/1458 (8.28 yds/RPO)
      • Philadelphia Eagles – 135/786 (5.81 yds/RPO)
    • League RPO efficacy – 6.55 yds/RPO
  • 2021
    • Total RPO plays called in the NFL: 3371
    • RPO playcalls/NFL Week: 198.29
    • RPO leaders
      • Philadelphia Eagles – 305/1920 (6.30 yds/RPO)
      • Arizona Cardinals – 269/1660 (6.17 yds/RPO)
      • Kansas City Chiefs – 226/1282 (5.67 yds/RPO)
    • League RPO efficacy – 6.05 yds/RPO
  • 2022
    • Total RPO plays called in the NFL: 2366
    • RPO playcalls/NFL Week: 139.18
    • RPO leaders
      • Philadelphia Eagles – 185/1498 (8.1 yds/RPO)
      • Atlanta Falcons – 161/1172 (7.28 yds/RPO)
      • Baltimore Ravens – 145/1097 (7.57 yds/RPO)
    • League RPO efficacy – 6.55 yds/RPO
  • 2023 (through the Week 12 day games)
    • Total RPO plays called in the NFL: 1548
    • RPO playcalls/NFL Week: 147.77
    • RPO leaders
      • Philadelphia Eagles – 100/482 (4.82 yds/RPO)
      • Washington Commanders – 84/448 (5.33 yds/RPO)
      • Jacksonville Jaguars – 81/500 (6.17 yds/RPO)
    • League RPO efficacy – 6.68 yds/RPO

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