Coaching directly impacts NFL box scores more than any other sport. We see it every year as certain schemes favor certain kinds of players and certain coordinators know how to squeeze the most out of a certain position.
Last year, Jordan Cameron was bound to take a statistical hit without tight end guru Rob Chudzinski. The same was said about Pierre Garcon/Alfred Morris without the Shanahan scheme. The Bengals running game was a lock to improve and see more volume under Hue Jackson, and Matt Forte was a great bet to set a career-high in catches thanks to Marc Trestman.
Understanding the tendencies of new coaches can go a long way toward fantasy success. This year, seven teams have new coaches and 13 have new offensive coordinators. A look at who benefits follows below:
HEAD COACHING CHANGES
Atlanta: Dan Quinn replaces Mike Smith
Buffalo: Rex Ryan replaces Doug Marrone
Chicago: John Fox replaces Marc Trestman
Denver: Gary Kubiak replaces John Fox
New York Jets: Todd Bowles replaces Rex Ryan
Oakland: Jack Del Rio replaces Dennis Allen/Tony Sparano
San Francisco: Jim Tomsula replaces Jim Harbaugh
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR CHANGES
Atlanta: Kyle Shanahan replaces Dirk Koetter
Baltimore: Marc Trestman replaces Gary Kubiak
Buffalo: Greg Roman replaces Nathaniel Hackett
Chicago: Adam Gase replaces Aaron Kromer
Cleveland: John DeFilippo replaces Kyle Shanahan
Dallas: Scott Linehan replaces Bill Callahan
Denver: Rick Dennison replaces Adam Gase
Jacksonville: Greg Olson replaces Jedd Fisch
New York Jets: Chan Gailey replaces Marty Mornhinweg
Oakland: Bill Musgrave replaces Greg Olson
San Francisco: Geep Chryst replaces Greg Roman
St. Louis: Frank Cignetti replaces Brian Schottenheimer
Tampa Bay: Dirk Koetter replaces Jeff Tedford and Marcus Arroyo
1. Latavius Murray, RB, Raiders
The previous Raiders regime wasted Latavius Murray for the first three months of the 2014 season, criminally giving carries to Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew. New offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has no plans to commit the same crime.
Upon arriving in Oakland, Musgrave said he’s going to “tailor” the run game so it’s “right up [Murray’s] alley.” This is a play-caller that was part of voluminous years from Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, Clinton Portis and Fred Taylor in previous stops. Murray will be up to the task, as he’s a 6’3/225 freak with 4.38 wheels. We saw what he’s capable of late last year, rushing 76 times for 413 yards (5.43 YPC) with two touchdowns over the last six games. Murray added 14-124-0 through the air during that span. With the backing of his run-centric offensive coordinator and a defensive-minded/ball control head coach in Jack Del Rio, Latavius’ arrow is pointing straight up.
2. C.J. Anderson, RB, Broncos
As part of the Mike Shanahan coaching tree, new head coach Gary Kubiak will implement a one-cut zone scheme that is annually effective. It’s been that way since 1995, when he first landed an offensive coordinator gig next to Shanny in Denver and rode rookie Terrell Davis as his workhorse. Over the next four seasons, Davis rushed a whopping 1,343 times for 6,413 yards (4.77 YPC) with 56 rushing TDs. Davis was a great player, but Shanny and Kubiak proved the scheme was equally great over the next seven years as Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis and Reuben Droughns all became fantasy studs.
In 2006, Kubiak finally left Shanahan to became the head coach of the Texans. Of course, he brought his dominant run game with him. Ron Dayne had two of the best years of his career with Houston in 2006-07, Steve Slaton went 268-1,282-9 as a rookie in 2008 and Arian Foster was a fixture at the top of the rushing ranks until Kubiak left ahead of last season. In 2014, Kubiak turned journeyman Justin Forsett into a beast, somehow coaxing a 235-1,266-8 season out of the 29-year-old 200-pounder. The 2014 Ravens also set a franchise record in offensive yards per game (364.9) and scored roughly a touchdown more per game than they did in 2013.
All of that is a long way of saying that Kubiak knows how to scheme offense and it starts with the run game. We saw C.J. Anderson show he has foundation back ability last season, easily icing Montee Ball by running quicker and with more decisiveness. That fast nose for the hole and plus vision will serve CJA well as a nice fit for the one-cut zone scheme. He’s a great bet to hold off Ball and Ronnie Hillman, therefore sustaining RB1 fantasy value with Peyton Manning and Kubiak projecting to rely plenty on the run game.
3. Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens
4. Torrey Smith, WR, Free Agent
Marc Trestman likes to throw the football. As our Evan Silva noted on Twitter, Trestman has been an NFL head coach, assistant head coach or offensive coordinator in 13 seasons. His teams have been in the top half of the league in terms of pass attempts every single time, including eight top-10 finishes. Compare that to the Ravens, who have been in the top-10 once in the seven-year Joe Flacco era and been in the bottom half of the league five times.
So even if coach John Harbaugh insists Trestman scale back his pass-happy ways a bit to fit the Ravens’ “culture,” we’re still going to see a bump in volume for Flacco. He was already fantasy’s No. 13 quarterback last year, putting a QB1 season well within the realm of possibility. Never forget that Trestman turned Josh McCown into a weekly top-5 fantasy quarterback in 2013.
I’m expecting Torrey Smith to re-sign with the Ravens as he’s from Virginia, went to the University of Maryland, was drafted by Baltimore and the team remains thin at wideout. If this happens, he’ll be primed for an obvious boost in production thanks to the aforementioned Trestman effect.
5. Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
The Shanahan offense schemes volume to the “X” receiver. Under Kyle Shanahan from 2006-09, Andre Johnson averaged 6.6 catches for 90.2 yards and 0.52 TDs per game. When Shanahan got to Washington, he fired up Pierre Garcon to the tune of 6.0 catches for 76.1 yards and 0.34 TDs per game across two seasons together. In 2013, Garcon led the entire league in targets with 184. Now that Shanahan is in Atlanta, he’ll have his most talented “X” yet in the form of Julio Jones. Julio is also in a contract year, setting up an eruption that will easily have him on the first-round radar of fantasy owners.
6. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Bucs
When new Bucs OC Dirk Koetter was making his opening remarks, he mentioned the obvious studs in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. But he also noted Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a player that could have been easy to gloss over considering he posted just 21-221-2 as an injury-hampered rookie. It’s an encouraging sign for ASJ, already a fine second-year breakout candidate as a 6’5/262 mountain of a man with 4.56 speed who will be getting a quarterback upgrade in the draft. Perhaps more importantly, Koetter has a history of utilizing tight ends. He was at the controls of Marcedes Lewis’ career-outlier season in 2010, featured Zach Miller while at Arizona State and oversaw the final two years of Tony Gonzalez’s career, when he tortured the league despite being on the wrong side of 35 years old.
7. Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons
At just 5’8/206 with Combine measurables that leave a lot to be desired, Freeman doesn’t necessarily profile as a feature back. His rookie performance was uneven as well as he averaged just 3.81 YPC and ranked 128th out of 148 in PFF’s running grades.
However, new OC Kyle Shanahan doesn’t have a lot to work with in his backfield as Steven Jackson is done and Jacquizz Rodgers is a free agent. It’s at least possible that he gives Freeman a crack at the gig, which would give him major statistical upside. “Devonta was someone I loved coming out of college last year,” Shanny said Tuesday when asked about his running backs. “There’s no absolute. I’ve had big guys, I’ve had smaller guys. I’ll take any type of guy. … I think any type of back can succeed in this system.”
Just like the elder Shanahan and Gary Kubiak, Kyle’s one-cut zone scheme is going to be effective as we’ve seen in the form of Arian Foster, Alfred Morris and Isaiah Crowell/Terrance West last year. At the very worst, Freeman will have a change-of-pace role in a plus scheme.
8. Colin Kaepernick, QB, 49ers
Colin Kaepernick wins with his legs. Former coach Jim Harbaugh asked Kaep to win with his arm last season, as evidenced by just 45 designed runs in 16 games last season. The results were an ugly 60.5 completion percentage, 3,369 passing yards and QB17 fantasy finish. The new regime, consisting of in-house promotions Jim Tomsula and Geep Chryst, has wasted no time in changing that around – at the request of CEO Jed York. “How many quarterbacks in the league can run 90 yards for a touchdown? … You’ve got to put Kaep in a position where he can make those plays,” York said.
This version of the 49ers promises to be more like Seattle’s, using read-option as a true dual threat instead of handing it to the back 78 percent of the time (like they did last year). An emphasis on getting Kaepernick more designed runs means far more fantasy upside. It also means good things for Carlos Hyde, as running quarterbacks consistently open up extra lanes.
9. Jace Amaro, TE, Jets
Chan Gailey may be 63 years old, but he’s not over the hill when it comes to creative offense. His forte is getting his playmakers in space, something we saw him do during C.J. Spiller’s breakout 207-1,244-6.00-6 season (2012). Since Gailey left Buffalo, Spiller has averaged 4.40 YPC. Jace Amaro obviously isn’t a running back, but he stands to benefit from the spread formations Gailey will install. At 6’5/265, Amaro has difference-making size and possession-receiver kind of skills – especially in the red zone. Gailey will be desperate for any kind of playmakers, especially with Percy Harvin likely out the door. Amaro should be on TE2 radars heading into the offseason.
10. Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins
Alfred Morris was the cover boy of my “Coaching Change Losers” column from 12 months ago as he lost the Shanahan scheme and gained Jay Gruden’s pass-happy attack. I think he gets a marginal uptick this year thanks to the arrival of offensive line guru Bill Callahan, who is fresh off dominant work he did with Dallas and DeMarco Murray. Callahan will bring back the power runs that tackle-shedder Alf needs as he enters a contract year. Most importantly, he’ll ensure that the holes are there for Morris to power through.