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Picking the NFL’s best offenses at every personnel grouping for 2020
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  • Matt BowenESPN Staff Writer

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      Former NFL safety Matt Bowen is a veteran of four teams over seven seasons, and now provides analysis for ESPN Insider.

Every NFL team’s personnel makeup is different. The Ravens and Eagles are stockpiled with playmaking tight ends. The Saints have quarterbacks who can contribute in different ways. The Browns have two talented running backs. NFL offenses aren’t one-size-fits-all.

Finding success when you have the ball means playing to the strengths of your roster and playcaller. That’s why you’ll see teams run some personnel groupings — different numbers of running backs, tight ends, wide receivers and even quarterbacks on the field at a time — more often or just flat-out better than others.

Let’s take a look back at the 2019 season and evaluate the offenses that excelled at 11 different personnel groupings, like we did last summer. Which teams ran each set the most and the least, and which ran it the best? And which offenses are the ones to watch in each set during the 2020 season?

Jump to:


21 | 11 | 12 | 22 | 13 | 10


23 | 20 | 2 QBs | 02 | 00


21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE, 2 WRs)

Why it works: Once considered the classic “pro” set, operating from 21 personnel gives the offense a lead blocker at the point of attack. And that extra back matters for teams that want to run downhill — that’s the fullback leading up through the hole — play-action or run-pass options. That stuff is deadly when it mirrors the core running game.

The team that ran it the most: The San Francisco 49ers logged a league-high 270 snaps out of 21 personnel in Kyle Shanahan’s offense last season, while also leading the NFL with 153 rushing attempts. It’s a combination of playcalling and personnel under Shanahan, with heavily schemed play-action throws and misdirection (pre- and post-snap), along with the ability to gain numbers with fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the running game.

The team that ran it the best: Also the 49ers. In 2019, San Francisco averaged 6.83 yards per play out of 21 personnel — including a league-best 32 total explosive plays — while posting 9.59 yards per pass attempt and 5.51 yards per carry. Think of the middle-of-the-field throws here for Jimmy Garoppolo, who led the NFL with 1,055 yards passing out of 21. Play-action and RPOs led Deebo Samuel, Emmanuel Sanders, George Kittle and Juszczyk all to the top 10 of 21-personnel receptions.

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