There are always major offseason changes in the NFL, but 2021 saw quite a few coaching eras come to an end. All told, nearly a quarter of the league will have a new head coach, as seven coaches were replaced during the winter. The group hired to replace them is an intriguing one, to say the least, and includes relatively inexperienced first-time coaches like the Chargers’ Brandon Staley and an experienced college coach, Jacksonville’s Urban Meyer, who has never coached at the NFL level.
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It’s impossible for fantasy football owners to know how each of these coaches will fare in their new roles, but one thing we can study is their tendencies. Play-calling often is understated when preparing for fantasy football drafts, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. Some of the new coaches may be a bit pass-happy, but others will run more balanced. Those run-pass splits are obviously important, but the real insight is gleaned from comparing them to what the outgoing staffs were doing.
Here’s how these new coaches and coordinators might impact some of the top players that fantasy football owners will target during draft season.
We’ll start things off with the toughest new coach to evluate. Staley’s experience as a coach comes almost exclusively on the defensive side of the ball. He has been in the NFL since 2017, serving as outside linebacker coach for the Bears and Broncos anddefensive coordinator for the Rams. Now, he’ll be a first-time head coach.
It remains to be seen what he’ll do on the offensive side of the ball. Last season, he learned under Sean McVay, whose Rams ran the ball 44.3 percent of the time (seventh most),so he could take a page out of that playbook. However, it seems more likely that he’ll focus on improving the Chargers’ defense while his offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi, molds the offense in his vision.
Speaking of Lombardi, he’s a respected, young assistant and has experience as an offensive coordinator. That came in 2014-15 as a member of the Lions coaching staff under Jim Caldwell. Lombardi’s Lions ran a pass-happy offense, throwing 62.4percent of the time in ’14 (seventh most) and a league-high65.6percent of the time in ’15.
In recent seasons, Lombardi has served as the Saints’ quarterback coach, and he witnessed them pass53.1 of the time, the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL. The Saints’ approach was much more balanced during his five years there.
That fact, coupled with the Rams’ tendencies when Staley was there, could be positive news for Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley in the Chargers’ backfield. Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles passing offense will still get plenty of opportunities, but they may see a slight downtick in passing volume after ranking almost dead-middle in pass percentage last season (58.7 percent, 17th).
Brady is taking over for Nick Sirianni, who left the Colts to become the Eagles’ head coach. Frank Reich decided to make a hire from within his already-established offensive system, so that’s why Brady was chosen.
Brady enters his fourth season with the Colts in 2021. He spent the first three seasons as an assistant quarterbacks coach and a quarterbacks coach for Indy. The Colts ran the ball44.1percent of the time during his tenure, good for the ninth-highest rate in the NFL. Since 2017, the Colts have ranked top-10 in run percentage in three of four seasons. Two of those three seasons have come under Reich, who has coached the Eagles since ’18.
Indianapolis will likely continue to be run-heavy under Brady, especially with some uncertainty surrounding Carson Wentz (out indefinitely with a foot injury) and its history as a run-heavy team under Reich. That said, Brady’s Toronto Argonauts did throw the ball 70.7 percent of the time when he served as their offensive coordinator in 2017. That wasgood for the second-highest rate in the CFL.
Perhaps we’ll see a bit more passing than before from the Colts. However, that could dependon whether Wentz is starting or Jacob Eason has to take the reins.
OK, here’s where things get confusing. Chan Gailey retired during the offseason and Brian Flores elected to appoint co-offensive coordinators in Studesville and Godsey.
Studesville has more experience in the NFL. He has been in the league since 1997, starting as aquality control coach and later transitioning to running backs coach in 2001. He coached four games as the interim head coach for the Broncos in 2010 after Josh McDaniels was fired. He posted a 1-3 record and ran the ball 50.8 percent of the time. Of course, that was with Tim Tebow at quarterback, so take that witha grain of salt.
Meanwhile, Godsey has been in the NFL since 2011 and served as the Texans’ offensive coordinator for two years from 2015-’16. During each season, the Texans ranked top 12 in run percentage, including a No. 7 ranking in 2016.
So, it would seem that Studesville and Godsey will want to be a top-10 rushing teamin 2021. That could provide a boost to Myles Gaskin if he can emerge as the clear-cut top option in the Miami backfield.
Sirianni comes from the Colts’ coaching tree. In three years with Sirianni as the offensive coordinator, Indianapolis twice finished top 10 in run percentage, so the Eagles could try to mimic that behind an offensive line that should be stronger with Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson and Andre Dillard all returning from injury.
As such, fantasy football owners might be more willing to trust Miles Sanders as a high-end pick. Or, they could take a flier on Kenneth Gainwell as a late-round sleeper. Of course, Sirianni’srun-heavy style could also help Jalen Hurts rack up some extra yardage if the team decides to execute option plays and designed quarterback runs.
Either way, the Eagles’ RBs look a lot more appealing than their receivers, especially since there is no established pecking order among that group.
Steichen was a sensible hire by the Eagles since his mission just about meshes with that of Sirianni. Steichen’s Chargers ran the ball41.4percent of the time last year. That ranked 16th in the NFL, but the Chargers were often playing from behind. In fact, 308 of Justin Herbert’s 396 passing attempts came while training.
In 2019, Steichen took over as the Chargers’ offensive coordinator midway through the season. In the first eight games of 2019, they ran for 100-plusyards twice. In the next eight under Steichen, they ran for 100-plusyards five times and notched 93 yards on the ground in another game.
Steichen will certainly want to have a strong running game to take pressure off his young quarterback in Hurts. Whether that’s establishing Sanders, Gainwell, or another option as the starter, he and Sirianni will find a way to do that.
Smith will join the Falcons not only as their head coach butalso play-caller. He is coming off a strong two-year stretch as the Titans’ offensive coordinator. During his time in Tennessee, he helped form a top-10 offense that ran the ball very well under the sheer force of Derrick Henry. That’s part of why the Titans ran the ball50.3 percent of the time in 2020. They were one of three teams to run more than 50 percent of the time, joining the Ravens and Patriots.
However, Smith still had the passing offense humming. The team posted a104.8 passer rating with Ryan Tannehill starting every game. That was the fifth-best total in the NFL.
Smith will want to run the ball more than the Falcons did last year. They had a run percentage of just37.9, which ranked 24th. Certainly, fantasy owners shouldn’t expect Mike Davis to put up Henry-like production, but he should get some carries and help balance the Atlanta offense.
Meanwhile, Matt Ryan’s fantasy relevance won’t wane.He may see fewer passing opportunities with Smith at the helm, but he should be more efficient — much like Tannehill — if the running game can improve.
McDaniel isn’t a fully new offensive hire. He served as the run-game coordinator for the 49ers for 2017-’20. However, with former pass-game coordinator Mike LaFleur heading to the Jets, McDaniel will now be the offensive coordinator for San Francisco.
It’s hard to learn a lot from what the 49ers did last year, as they were without starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for a good chunk of the season. However, in 2019, when Garoppolo stayed healthy and the 49ers went to the Super Bowl, they ran 51.4 percent of the time and were the second-most run-heavy team in the NFL.
McDaniel will probably rely on the running game in 2021 considering his familiarity with the RB room and the questions the team has at QB — Garoppolo has been inconsistent and perennially hurt, while Trey Lance is a rookie who played one game at the FCS level last year. Raheem Mostert, Trey Sermon, Wayne Gallman, and even Elijah Mitchell could be fantasy factors at some point this season as a result.
Meyer hasn’t coached since 2018. He has also never coached at the NFL level at any point during his career. Nonetheless, the Jaguars opted to roll with him as their head coach, and he will be one of the most unpredictable coaches in the NFL for ’21.
During his final college season, Meyer’s Buckeyes were more of a pass-heavy team. They ranked 36th in FBS with a50.7-passingpercentage and Dwayne Haskins at quarterback. However, they were more of a run-heavy team in previous years and ranked top-40 in run-play percentage in each of his other six seasons with the Buckeyes.
Which iteration of Meyer’s Jaguars will we see? It’s tough to say, as the team spent first-round picks on a quarterback (Trevor Lawrence) and a running back (Travis Etienne). So, fantasy owners will want to look more at the tendencies of Darrell Bevel, Meyer’s new offensive coordinator.
We may have little to go off with Meyer, but Darrell Bevell has been an offensive coordinator in the NFL since 2006. Bevell’s teams were run-heavy during the early stages of his career and ranked top 10 in rushing attempts in seven of his first 10 seasons. That’s about what you’d expect for a coach that had prime Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch at his disposal.
However, Bevell’s offenses have become more balanced in recent seasons. Seattle started passing more as Russell Wilson ascended, and the Lions had to throw the ball a lot while trailing the past two years.
It seems that Bevell may prefer to establish the run, but he won’t get in the way of top quarterbacks — like Wilson and Matthew Stafford — making plays. If Trevor Lawrence can perform well early, the Jaguars will probably be a balanced offense. Even still, Bevell seems more likely to rely on Travis Etienne and James Robinson to carry the offense, so they’re the more intriguing fantasy picks for now.
Last year, the Jets ran the ball slightly more than they passed. That trend should continue with Saleh at the helm in 2021.
Saleh comes from a 49ers system that has tended to value running over passingin recent seasons. That said, it’s interesting that he brought Mike LaFleur along to be his coordinator as opposed to Mike McDaniel. LaFleur was the 49ers’ pass-game coordinator the past four years, so that could signal more of a pass-heavy outlook for the Jets in 2021. It could also just be that Saleh wanted apass-focused coach to work with rookie Zach Wilson.
We’ll find out soon enough, but one would assume the Jets will want to continue to establish the run, which likely means a decent amount of work for rookie Michael Carter and former-49ers Tevin Coleman. Either way, Saleh will focus more on his defensive responsibilities.
LaFleur’s name should be familiar to NFL fans, as he’s the younger brother of Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. His brother tends to run a pretty balanced offense that skews pass-heavy when the Packers aren’t leading.
But how does the younger LaFleur coach? Similarly. The 49ers have, typically, been a team that has passed the ball ata below-league-average rate. That peaked in 2019, when the team ran 51.4 percent of the time, second to only the Ravens.
The only time during LaFleur’s career when San Franciscoranked as an above-average passing team was in 2017, when Brian Hoyer and CJ Beathard quarterbacked them for most of the season. They had to pass a lot because they were playing from behind.
What can we learn from this? If all goes well in New York, LaFleur’s team will rely on rookie Michael Carter to carry the load at running back. However, if the Jets struggle to compete, they’ll skew pass-heavy. That would be a bonus for Wilson, Corey Davis, Elijah Moore and the other Jets receivers.
Campbell might be more notable for his weird array of press conference quotes and desire to bring an actual lion to the Lions organization(no, really — it’s true), but he has extensive high-level coaching experience. He spent the past five years as the associate head coach of the Saints and was the interim coach for the Dolphins in 2015 before that.
Campbell posted a 5-7 record as an interim coach and was lauded for his ability to get the Dolphins to play hard. He was an aggressive coach, and as such, favored the passing game. In 2015, the Dolphins passed on64.8 percent of their plays, good for the fourth-highest mark in the league. The Saints were far more balanced during Campbell’s time there, but that may have been due to Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael having been together for eight years before Campbell’s arrival.
Detroit doesn’t figure to be very good in 2021, so Campbell will have an excuse to pass as much as he wants. That could make Jared Goff somewhat appealing as a QB2, while Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams and Amon-Ra St. Brown could be nice sleepers. T.J. Hockenson should get a lot of targets at tight end, too, while D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams will come with plenty of PPR upside.
Lynn seems like a good match with Campbell in Detroit. Lynn did a great job helping Justin Herbert succeed en route to an Offensive Rookie of the Year award last year, and it seems that Lynn will look to bring his pass-heavy approach to the Lions in 2021.
The Chargers ranked top 10 in total pass attempts in three of Lynn’s four seasons as the team’s head coach. Routinely, they finished in the bottom half of the league in run percentage and top half in pass percentage. Lynn will look to continue to air the ball out, and the Lions have the personnel to mimic some of his success in Los Angeles — at least at RB and TE.
Most notably, D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams could have a chance to emerge as Austin Ekeler-type weapons in Lynn’s offense. Even if there’s an emphasis on passing in this offense,don’t shy away from them, especially in PPR leagues.
The Steelers moved on from Randy Fichtner after his offense sputtered to close the season and became a one-dimensional attack revolving around short passes. Mike Tomlin brought in Canada as an internal hire replacement, but Canada had only spent the 2020 season with the Steelers.
Canada has been with eight organizations since 2010 –seven college teams and the Steelers. He was the interim head coach at Maryland during the 2018 season and passed the ball just 35.7percent of the time, ranking124th in the FBS. Similarly, LSU passed 37.5 percent of the time in ’17 (109th)during Canada’s lone season there.
It’s not a lot to go off, but it seems like Canada will run the ball more than the Steelers did last year, at the very least. In ’20, the Steelers passed65.5 percent of the time, second in the NFL to only the Jaguars. They invested a first-round pick in Najee Harris, so it seems like they’ll rely on him to carry the load and take pressure off Ben Roethlisberger.
The short passing won’t stop entirely, but Canada’s presence should be a stock up for Harris.
Waldron is replacing Brian Schottenheimer in Seattle and comes from the Sean McVay coaching tree. Waldron served as the pass-game coordinator for the Rams each of the past three seasons after spending time with the Patriots, UMass, and the Washington Football Team.
The Rams fluctuated between being run-heavy and pass-heavy during Waldron’s time with the team, but Russell Wilson is said to be a fan of him because he’s been “super collaborative” in his early days with the Seahawks.
Wilson’s qualms with Seattle last season were their lack of aggressive play-calling and often run-focused playbook.So, it would seem that Waldron is preparing to take advantage of Wilson’s ability to stretch the team vertically.
That’s good news for DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett along with Wilson. RookieD’Wayne Eskridge could also prove to be a nice sleeper if Seattle does truly commit to more of a passing-oriented offense.
Downing is replacing Arthur Smith as the Titans’ offensive coordinator. He figures to run a similar offensive system to the Derrick Henry-focused offense Smith operated the past two seasons.
The Titansran the ball50.3 percent of the time last year, and Henry led the NFL with a whopping 378 rushing attempts. It was his second consecutive year logging at least 300 rushing attempts and leading the NFL in that category.
Downing doesn’t seem likely to change that, though the Raiders ran just38.9percent of the time (24th) under his watch in 2017. That was Downing’s lone previous stop as an offensive coordinator, but he’ll probably stick to what’s worked in Tennessee.
Culley, 65, was a surprise hire as the Texans’ head coach, but he comes to the team with 27 years of NFL experience under his belt. He’s also not planning on making many changes to the offensive staff.
Culley is keeping last year’s offensive coordinator, Tim Kelly, onboard for 2021. Houston passed63.4percent of the time last year (third most), and it figuresto do that again this season, as they may be trailing quite a bit.
That said, Culley coached with the run-heavy Ravens the past two years. Could he ask Kelly to try to establish the run a bit more? It’s possible. But in all likelihood, the Texans’ passing weapons like Brandin Cooks and Tyrod Taylor/Deshaun Watson (pending his status) will continue to benefit fromKelly’s system.
Gary Kubiak retired as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator. Minnesota replaced him by promoting his son. The elder Kubiak, a former quarterback, tended to favor passing but rode guys like Arian Foster and Dalvin Cook when circumstances dictated it. That included 2020when the Vikings ran 45.8percent of the time (sixth highest), and finished with the eighth-most rushing attempts.
The younger Kubiak has worked on his father’s staff for five years in both Denver and Minnesota, so he’ll likely follow a similar approach to his father. For’21, that probably will mean rolling with Cook and Alexander Mattison as the driving forces behind the offense.Kirk Cousins will continue to be trusted, but not at the same rate as his peers in other offenses.