How will coaching changes affect the outlook of the 2020 season?
Every off-season in the NFL comes with a series of coaching changes that will affect franchises for years to come. Many people focus on the shiny new toys their teams acquire through the draft or free agency. While it’s important to have talent on your roster you also need the right coaches behind the scenes. This is why it’s so important to pay close attention to coaching changes and schemes heading into each new season.
Whether it’s a complete restructuring of the staff or adding a coordinator or position coach, each move has fantasy implications. In today’s NFL, it’s not unheard of to have multiple coaches responsible for the offensive philosophy. Offenses are more complex than ever and teams are adapting. Every year, some teams need a complete renovation and that can work in the long run. But for fantasy purposes, especially this year, bank on stability at the coaching staff and at QB. The most successful franchises of the past decade bank on this stability and you should too.
While the ingredients you cook with are no doubt important, the cooks in the kitchen determine if the meal is a success or not.
Now that the basic plan is set for the upcoming NFL season, we can get to planning our drafts. One aspect that is overlooked is how important coaching changes will affect each team. With zero preseason games and a total lack of OTA’s, any new coaching staffs will struggle. Fantasy players in stable situations have always been more successful and this year is no different. There are some situations where the head coach changes but some coordinators remain so the fall off won’t be as jarring. Regardless of that fact, any change in the coaching tree can make, or break, your fantasy player’s season.
Major Renovation Time-Head Coaching Changes
1. Cleveland Browns- Kevin Stefanski (HC) / Alex Van Pelt (OC)
The Cleveland Browns were an unmitigated dumpster fire from the opening kickoff last year. While fantasy twitter was rosterbating to all the offensive riches the Browns had collected, they should have paid more attention to the man without a plan, Freddie Kitchens. Kitchens inherited the job and looked good, only in comparison to Hue Jackson. Kitchens was a band-aid for an organization that was circling the drain plain and simple. The Browns needed a total revamp and a coaching change was the answer.
With the hiring of Kevin Stefanski, the Browns will have a steady, rock-solid influence to lead that football team. Stefanski cut his teeth working in the Minnesota Vikings franchise since 2006, working with running backs, tight ends and quarterbacks before taking over as OC last season. During his time with the Vikings he has learned under some of the more advanced coaches of the West Coast offensive philosophy, such as Brad Childress and Gary Kubiak.
Why Kevin Stefanski Might Be the NFL's Next Great Offensive Coach
I wrote about how #Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski is designing and sequencing creative play calls that fit his players' strengths and buck the NFL groupthink:https://t.co/eAxE1wJAeM pic.twitter.com/12WFWjUtXJ
— Nick Olson (@NickOlsonNFL) October 29, 2019
Fantasy wise, we should expect a more balanced approach to the Cleveland offense overall. This West Coast scheme will thrive or fail depending on how well Baker Mayfield can adapt. Stefanski will look to simplify the playbook and focus on getting the ball out of Mayfield’s hands as quickly as possible. While Mayfield has the ability to improvise, the Browns must have Baker put the ball in the hands of their playmakers.
Alex Van Pelt
Alex Van Pelt is the biggest addition to this coaching staff because of what he could do for Mayfield. Earlier in his career Van Pelt worked closely in developing Aaron Rodgers into the future HOF’er that we see today. If Van Pelt can slow the game down for Mayfield and utilize his natural skills, the Browns offense will have some bite for seasons to come.
Nick Chubb should once again be the lead back heading into 2020 even with a full season of Kareem Hunt serving as running back 1B. Outside, we should see Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry post similar stats from last year. While they added breakout TE Austin Hooper he will be hard pressed to find the same success he did in Atlanta. While overall these changes will stabilize this franchise, this is not the year I would bank on for fantasy riches in Cleveland.
2. Dallas Cowboys- Mike McCarthy (HC)
After taking a year off to re-charge, McCarthy was tabbed by the Cowboys brain trust to be the new head man in Big D. McCarthy once upon a time was one of the offensive wunderkinds when he took over at Green Bay in 2006. He helped supercharge Green Bay’s West Coast offense but that creativity soon fizzled out. He became more and more of a game manager that ultimately cost the Packers a shot at a Super Bowl title in 2015.
The caveat for this hire is that while McCarthy will be the main man, they still kept young OC Kellen Moore. Moore had an up and down rookie campaign calling plays and McCarthy can be a mentor to help guide Moore’s game planning and strategy. While there is certainly a bounty of wide receiver talent in Dallas they will still lean on the run game. Ezekiel Elliot will get to eat, game in and game out, as McCarthy has always had a balanced running game as basis for his offenses.
The biggest question I have for this offense is how they will spread the ball out among Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and rookie CeeDee Lamb. Dak Prescott is more than capable of leading this offense but at times the offense went through slumps when it wasn’t an “Amari Cooper” game. And while many are excited to see Blake Jarwin break out at TE, I don’t see him as anything more than the 4th option in the passing game.
The big winners here are Elliot and Prescott heading into 2020. Amari Cooper has always been hit or miss and will continue to be a low end WR1 as more targets are shared. Gallup is still a value as a WR3 and Lamb would be nothing more than bench depth for me to start the year.
3. New York Giants- Mike Judge (HC)/ Jason Garrett (OC)
The Giants pulled the plug on the Mike Sherman experiment two years in and took a chance on hiring Mike Judge from New England. This was a hire that picked up steam, but initially came out of left field for many fans. Judge was the special teams coordinator for the Pats and while we have seen coaches such as John Harbaugh have success, it was unexpected. The dynamic between Judge and Garrett will be interesting to watch to see how much control each exerts on the offense.
For Daniel Jones, working with Jason Garrett will only help his development over the next few years. Garrett is a stickler for QB mechanics and footwork which should help Jones with reducing his 18 fumbles from his rookie year. Going forward, Jones can be a low end QB1 due to his occasional rushing ability. Saquon Barkley is a stud and should be one of the first two players taken in almost every draft this year. Garrett knows how to base his offense around a workhorse and Barkley should be in for a monster year.
On the outside the Giants have plenty of weapons but their availability has been the major hang-up. Evan Engram has TE1 potential but has played fewer and fewer games as he enters his final year of his rookie deal. Engram showed good chemistry with Jones to start the year but the injuries have continued to derail his progress. In this offense, we know how important a good TE is as a safety valve from the years of Jason Witten in Dallas.
At wide receiver the Giants have some young talent with Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard. Golden Tate is still a usable weapon out of the slot but Jones needs one of these young bucks to step up as his primary go-to guy. There is some value in Slayton and Shepard but they should be counted on as WR depth at this point.While there is room for optimism for continued development of this offense, I would only focus on Jones and Barkley as key fantasy contributors in 2020. Engram is a high risk/ high reward option at TE that could give you an edge. Stick to the meat and potatoes when drafting your G-men this season.
4. Washington Football Team?- Ron Rivera (HC)/ Scott Turner (OC)
Listen, some NFL teams are train wrecks, and then you have the dumpster fire that is the Washington Football team. While hiring Ron Rivera gives some stability and accountability to this team, it has continued to be hindered by Dan Snyder and the toxic culture he has fostered. Ron Rivera brings with him Scott Turner, who worked as his quarterbacks coach the past two seasons in Carolina. Turner is the son of long-time NFL stalwart Norv Turner so we can expect a very similar heavy dose of the running game combined with play-action shots downfield.
Turner will be working with Dwayne Haskins to lead his offense as he calls the plays for the first time in his career. Haskins had an extremely rough rookie campaign and Washington must determine if this kid is their quarterback of the future. In a shortened off-season, with zero preseason games, it’s safe to assume this offense will struggle early. They will have to lean on their running game going forward.
Terry McLaurin was a revelation as a rookie and one of the lone bright spots for this Washington squad. While McLaurin still has plenty of potential as a play-maker, he will struggle in year 1 of this offense. I find it hard to trust his ADP this year when I can have more proven commodities like T.Y. Hilton and Stefon Diggs. Based solely on how bad this passing offense could be starting out, it may be best to fade the second year wide out.
The relatively young skill players on Washington will be forced to learn a whole new playbook and terminology. The growing pains for this passing game could get real ugly right out of the gate. The only high upside skill player I still like in Washington is Derrius Guice. Washington lost Pro-Bowl LT Trent Williams but Brandon Scherff should help stabilize that line. Rivera isn’t a fool and he will look to grind out games with his running game. If Guice has any of the explosion left from his myriad of injuries he could be a steal based on his 6th round ADP.
5. Carolina Panthers- Matt Rhule (HC)/ Joe Brady (OC)
The Panthers underwent a massive rebuild of not only their coaching staff but of many of their long-time veteran stalwarts. When you say goodbye to Riverboat Ron, Cam Newton, Greg Olsen and Luke Kuechly, it signals a massive overhaul of your team identity. Ron Rivera had plenty of success in Carolina, but it did seem like it was time to change scenery. While I preach looking for stability at play calling and the quarterback, I am intrigued by what Carolina could become.
Hiring Matt Rhule from Baylor was a logical coaching change compared to the relatively defensive minded Rivera. Rhule managed to pry Joe Brady from the college ranks after he helped create one of the most explosive college offenses. The 31 year old Brady doesn’t have a lengthy resume but he does hail from the Sean Payton coaching tree. And unlike other new OC’s, Brady will be working with a familiar face in Teddy Bridgewater.
Joe Brady’s Influence
This familiarity between OC and QB is what gives me some hope for some possible offensive fireworks this year. Brady and Bridgewater worked together with the Saints and they will be essentially running the same offense. The rest of the team will have to catch up to the playbook but Brady showed that his spread offense can be implemented quickly. In his lone year with LSU he turned around a backwards offense into the national champion juggernaut of 2019.
Teddy Bridgewater replacing Cam Newton seemed like an odd choice to some, but for this offense he could excel. While there is no denying the physical gifts of Newton, he had many weaknesses as well. While looking to extend plays he tends to hold onto the ball too long waiting for a play to develop. Newton also struggled with his accuracy over the past few seasons rarely topping 60% completion percentage.
Joe Brady’s focus will be to spread the defense out with 3 and 4 WR sets to extend the defense. The quarterbacks job in this offense is to distribute the ball as quickly as he can to his play-makers. Bridgewater doesn’t have the cannon arm of Newton but he is polished and precise enough to run this offense. Many fantasy analysts still mock Bridgewater’s depth of target even though he led the Saints to a 5-0 record. During that stretch he had 67.9% accuracy and 9 TD’s to only 2 INT’s.
The intrigue with Carolina is their bevy of offensive talent led by all world RB Christian McCaffrey. The receiving corps is led by rising star D.J. Moore along with speedsters Curtis Samuel and Robby Anderson. McCaffrey can be counted on to be a presence rushing and receiving but D.J. Moore could be the big winner in this offense. With Moore’s ability after the catch he will have ample opportunity to make plays and rack up the YAC. While D.J. Moore’s ADP sits squarely in the third round he could be this year’s Chris Godwin. While there is risk in a new offense, the upside is what you shoot for in fantasy.