For this set of articles I’ll be looking at NFL teams, their offensive coordinators and how their coordinating has or might impact their team’s offense and in turn our fantasy expectations. I’ll be using the offensive coordinator info compiled by Mr. Jeff Brubach, which tries to look at the last three seasons of a coordinator’s offensive output.
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New Orleans Saints
The Saints have had the most consistently great offense of any team over the last eight years and until Drew Brees and Sean Payton move on to other endeavors it’s hard to see that changing anytime soon. It truly doesn’t matter who Brees is throwing or handing off to, they still put up yardage and a lot of it.
Over the last three seasons the Saints have passed for the most yardage twice and the second most once (and you can thank the record breaking Broncos for that). So you know that Brees is going to throw for around 5,000 yards no matter who is catching the ball. His accuracy and the surgical offense Payton and Carmichael have is a machine you just have to keep finely tuned.
The question of course comes down to who will catch passes and get rushing attempts? This offense loves to spread the ball around. Last season six players had 50+ targets, the same the year before, seven players in 2011. 2010 had eight over 40 targets and so on and so forth. The target leader over the last three seasons, Jimmy Graham, is safe to continue that distinction as long as he’s healthy. Like Brees he is as safe a fantasy player as you can imagine. In his three seasons as a starter he has averaged 90 receptions, 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those are insane numbers for a wide receiver, let alone a tight end. So as long as the 6’7’ 265 pound freak of nature can stay healthy, well, you know what to do.
But after Brees and Graham, who can we count on? There are 350+ receptions, close to 4,000 yards receiving and 30 receiving touchdowns left to dole out to other players along with 400 rushing attempts, 1,700 yards rushing and 12 rushing touchdowns.
Marques Colston has been good for a big chunk of those stats, but his body is wearing down and so are his stats as he had his first season under 1,000 yards receiving where he played in over 14 games. He is 31 years old and the Saints have been collecting receivers to take over for him. Kenny Stills, Brandin Cooks and Nick Toon to name a few, will all start to eat into Colston’s production. And with so many big juicy fantasy stats on the table, it means someone could really break out for the receivers this season (my money is on Stills).
The running back situation for the Saints is always somewhat confusing, but we could usually pencil in Darren Sproles for a ton of receptions at the very least. But now that Sproles is gone, we have to rethink what we might see from this offense and the running backs. We know that Payton is flexible, so he doesn’t need to just plug in the next Sproles for his offense to work, but he does have a player with a similar skill set at wide receiver in Brandin Cooks. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Cooks get Sproles’ 70-100 receptions if he is healthy and on top of the offensive scheme. Of course the running back beneficiary should be Pierre Thomas. Last season he caught 77 passes and had three receiving touchdowns. The question is, will Cooks take Sproles’ role and Thomas stick to his previous one while maybe someone like Mark Ingram or Khiry Robinson or Travis Cadet or all three cut into his rushing attempts? This is where the Saints offense gets tricky for fantasy. You know the yards and touchdowns are going to be there, but consistency from week-to-week is usually reserved for Brees and Graham, you just have to hope your pick stays healthy and makes the best of his chances.
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After Mike Smith became head coach in 2008 the Falcons were eighth or better in pass attempts from 2009 on. His newest offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, has continued the passing ways, but there has been little choice with Michael Turner, Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers unable to get the job done during Koetter’s two-year tenure.
The Falcons 2013 season was killed by injuries to Julio Jones, Roddy White and Steven Jackson. They still threw the ball a lot because they had to, but were not nearly as efficient as they have been, with Matt Ryan attempting his most passes ever at 651, but having his fewest touchdowns since 2009 and his highest number of interceptions in his career. The return of a healthy Jones and White will turn those numbers back closer to 30 and 10 this season.
Last season Jones started on a tear. In just five games he caught 41 passes for 580 yards. Extrapolate those numbers out to a full season and we’re talking Calvin Johnson and Jerry Rice numbers. And also consider how much those numbers would have helped Matt Ryan, the running game, the defense, everything.
From 2010 to 2013 the Falcons had the second-most rushing attempts inside the five-yard line. Much of that had to do with Michael Turner, but this offense doesn’t want to throw the ball quite as much as they did last season. The offensive woes without their star players kept the defense on the field longer and in turn made the defense even worse. They want to get leads with Jones and company and hold them with Jackson and company. Of course Jackson is already hurt in training camp and Jacquizz Rodgers has underachieved and Devonta Freeman is still a bit of an unknown. Without Jackson though, they do not have anyone who can keep those ‘killing the clock’ drives sustained in short yardage. I could easily see this team needing to throw the ball to get the lead and throw the ball to keep it.
The Panthers have Cam Newton and then some other guys on offense. Riverboat Ron Rivera had to get riskier with his play calling because the team is deficient of talent and he wanted to save his job and he did just that with a strong defense and the versatile Newton leading the way last season.
Newton had his least number of yards passing last season, but his best completion percentage and highest number of touchdown passes. This came with his best receiver statistically being tight end Greg Olsen. He finished as the third best fantasy quarterback even while having his “worst” season rushing the ball so far as he rushed 11 times for 585 yards and six touchdowns. And now with Steve Smith gone and no true replacements to save the day, I don’t see how Newton won’t need to continue taking off with the ball. The good news is that he is a smart and large runner who can take hits and avoid them as well. He seems to be developing as a passer, but with nobody to throw to I don’t expect his rushing numbers to take a nosedive too soon.
Last season the Panthers didn’t have a wide receiver top 745 yards or five touchdowns. An aging Steve Smith and mediocre Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn were not the answers, so it makes sense that all three are no longer on the team. What doesn’t make sense is that their replacements are a rookie and two journeymen receivers. There’s some talent in there no doubt, but it’s not going to blow defenses away anytime soon. Newton will very much need to rely on good play calling and his own legs. Kelvin Benjamin, the rookie receiver, is a behemoth at 6’5” 240 pounds and should make a nice red zone target for Newton to go along with the 6’5” 253 pound Greg Olsen. Speaking of Olsen, he led the team in receiving last season and without Smith could do it again and have the best season of his career.
The Panthers invested in two running backs and it has been a bad investment. DeAngelo Williams has stayed relatively healthy, but never could live up to his huge 2008 and is now 31 years old while Jonathon Stewart hasn’t even come close to being able to stay healthy with just 15 games played in his last two seasons and a paltry 3.7 yards per carry during that span. They’ve been able to piece together a decent running game with the help of Mike Tolbert and Cam Newton, but there is little upside left in this group.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers offensive game plan is hard to figure out based on their offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford. As the coach for Cal, over the last four seasons at Cal he ran the ball a whopping 58% of the time. This was in large part due to his personnel, but with the Bucs it’s hard not to see a similar run-first mentality materializing with a backfield of Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Mike James and Bobby Rainey, all of whom have a good amount of upside. And we know Josh McCown can be a good quarterback, as seen last season, but can he do it with Lovie Smith and Tedford versus the quarterback whisperer Marc Trestman? Maybe, but Lovie has always been a defensive-minded coach and if he can, he will always opt for running the ball and playing defense. In his last three seasons with the Bears the offense ranked near the bottom in all passing categories.
The Bucs’ best receiving option remains Vincent Jackson who should be the beneficiary of some big plays as teams look to stop the run. And we know that McCown can get the ball to them as he did for Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery last season deep. The same could be true for first round pick Mike Evans, but getting two receivers good fantasy numbers in this offense seems like a stretch, especially with two talented tight ends in Tim Wright and Austin Seferian-Jenkins and pass catching running backs taking up many of the targets.
Those pass catching backs of course start with Doug Martin. Some talk has come up of him getting less work as Charles Sims, who was drafted by the new regime, learns the offense and the speed of the NFL. This may be true, but Tedford seems like a coordinator who will find multiple ways to use his running backs in what should be a run-first or at the very least, a run as much as they pass offense. A combination of Martin and Sims seems like a decent investment this year in fantasy.