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What Do Coaching Changes Mean For Fantasy Football?

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
May 19, 2017

Coaching changes can have a significant impact on certain fantasy players.

When you go through and look at thousands of numbers, variables, and percentages in order to create projections like I do, you’re going to notice some trends. You’re also going to see some things that stand out as major differences from the prior years. While most things remain within a certain percentage of one another, there are some things that we see change drastically.

When you see a number change significantly from the prior season, there’s often a reason. Maybe they added a big-name free agent, swapped quarterbacks, or drafted a running back, but a majority of the time, it comes back to one thing – a coaching change.

The off-season gives me time to sit back and figure out what really matters to you, the fantasy player. I want my projections to be as good as possible because that means I can give you the best advice. It’s easy to project a team that hasn’t changed much. We know how often they want to pass the ball, and we know how often they target their running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends. What I wanted to know what difference a coaching change actually means to teams, and more importantly, how it applies to fantasy.

Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator Change

There are some teams that swap offensive coordinators in an attempt to give the head coach a last-ditch effort, or simply because they lost their previous coordinator to a head coaching job. We will talk about those teams in a minute, but the ones that had the biggest effect were those who revamped the entire coaching staff, both head coach, and offensive coordinator.

Combing through the last three years, there have been 21 teams to bring in a new coaching staff, and of those teams, 17 of them totaled fewer pass attempts. Some ranged as low as a one pass differential, but others decreased their pass attempts by an amazing 177 attempts. On average, teams with a new head coach and coordinator averaged 40 less pass attempts than the previous year. This is significant, because when you’re looking at players with new head coaches like Philip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor, Blake Bortles, and Trevor Siemian to take a step forward in 2017, it’s very likely that they’ll throw less than they did in 2016 (though it’ll be difficult for Taylor, who threw the ball just 437 times in 15 games). This of course has a trickle-down effect throughout the entire offense, as the target share number decreases.

You might automatically think that this is a huge increase for the running backs, but it’s not as big as you might think. On average, teams with a new coaching staff run the ball 9.2 more times than the prior year. You might ask yourself why that number doesn’t match the one above by the passing games, which was 40 less attempts. It’s a great question, and the answer is that the teams simply didn’t run as many plays under their new coaching staff. When you think about the intricacies of running a no-huddle offense, it actually makes sense, as players need time to adjust to the scheme.

So, in short, teams that have a whole new coaching staff benefits the running backs potential touches, while limiting the quarterback’s attempts. The teams that swapped their coaching staff heading into 2017 include the 49ers, Chargers, Rams, Bills, Broncos, and Jaguars.

Offensive Coordinator Change

This one can be affected by a lot of different factors, as the head coach may essentially be the coordinator, regardless of who is given the ‘offensive coordinator’ title. With that being said, the research was done in order to see what changes.

Not surprising, the variance was much lower than that of a new coaching staff, as the average team threw the ball 4.2 more times while running it 1.6 more times. Again, this is basically static, since we’re talking about a 16-game span. Of the 20 teams that swapped coordinators, nine of them threw the exact same or less, while 11 of them threw the ball more. Oddly enough, there were nine of those 20 teams who ran less, while there were 11 who ran more.

So what can we take of this? Nothing, outside of the fact that a change in coordinator isn’t going to completely shake up fantasy projections the way a new coaching staff would, especially if that coordinator was already in-house. The teams that had a change in the offensive coordinator this off-season include the Falcons, Jets, and Redskins. If I had to guess, the Falcons offense will see the biggest change considering head coach Dan Quinn is not known for his offensive coaching, which will be left up to Steve Sarkisian, who has very little experience. The Redskins promoted from within, so don’t expect much change there. And the Jets still have so many unknowns that it’s tough to say what difference new offensive coordinator John Morton will do.

No Coaching Change

Now that we know what the differences are when a team changes their entire coaching staff, as well as what happens when they change just an offensive coordinator, but what happens when all remains the same? If there’ve been 21 teams with entire coaching hauls and 20 with new offensive coordinators, that leaves us with 55 teams who remained stagnant from the prior year.

Maybe just as important as those with a coaching change, it appears that teams get pass-happy as their tenure goes on. Whether it is the coach’s comfort in making the play-calling a little looser, or it’s possible that the quarterback is a bit more comfortable after being in the offense for another season. Whatever the case, there were just 20 of the 55 teams who threw the ball less and just 14 of them who threw the ball 20 times fewer than the previous year, making it very unlikely that a quarterback who has the same coaching staff sees a dip in pass attempts. On the flip side, there were 13 teams who threw the ball at least 50 more times than the previous season. On average, a team that has no coaching staff changes throws the ball 15 more times per season.

So naturally, when a team is throwing more, they’re likely running less, which is exactly the case. Of the 55 teams without a coaching change, just 20 of them ran the ball more often, while just 12 of them saw an increase of more than 15 carries. On the other side, there were 35 of the 55 teams that ran the ball fewer, including 25 of them who saw a decrease of more than 22 carries. On average, teams with the same coaching staff ran the ball 12 fewer times per season.

What We Learned

We came here to learn about what this meant for fantasy football purposes, so let’s break it down in this simple chart:

Coaching Situation Pass Att/yr Rush Att/yr
HC/OC Change -39.9 9.2
OC Change Only 4.2 1.6
No Change 14.6 -12.0

So if you’ve learned anything, it’s to be a little weary of a team’s quarterback or pass catchers if they have a new coaching staff in town. We can see that the pass attempts take a big dip, while the running backs on those teams should see more work. The change in offensive coordinator has the least bit of change, though as we talked about, there are variations of those situations. And then, lastly, a coaching staff that remains in place will likely throw the ball a bit more than the previous year, while their running backs may suffer a bit.

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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.