Impact of NFL Coaching Changes (Fantasy Football)

Feb 26, 2018

Every offseason comes with a renewed sense of hope for the 31 teams that came up short in the prior year. That hope can be seen in many different forms; free-agent acquisitions, draft picks, personnel changes. In the most extreme cases we see that hope come as wholesale changes in the coaching staff. The infusion of new blood at head coach means changes in schemes and in the utilization of the players left on the roster. Last year we saw both sides of the spectrum of how these changes can affect fantasy production. The switch from Jeff Fisher to Sean McVay saw an incredible uptick for every aspect of the offense:

 Position QB1 RB1 RB2
Change in Fantasy Points/Game 72.19% 113.62% 15.48%

 
While the switch from Rex Ryan to Sean McDermott in Buffalo saw a noticeable decline across the board:

 Position QB1 RB1 RB2
Change in Fantasy Points/Game -24.83% -21.87% -13.06%

 
With both of these outcomes happening this year, it proved worthwhile to back things up and acquire data on coaching changes and see the fantasy impact of coaching changes over the past three years.

Note: The following will inspect the changes in Fantasy Points/Game for QB1, RB1, and RB2 in the final year of coaches and the first year of their successors. WRs were left out with the variability of their performance combined with their direct correlation to that of QB (if QB1 sees a growth in Fantasy Points, then it is assumed WRs will also see a similar trend). Additionally, the data will be organized by the type of background each coach had (Offensive or Defensive) to see if there is a correlation that can be found within the coaching philosophies.

Overview

Position  QB1 RB1 RB2
Avg. Change in Fantasy Points/Game -0.28% +21.90% +14.32%
% of Teams w/ Growth 20% 55% 45%

 
Before taking a deeper dive at the data, it’s important to take an aerial view of what’s been recorded. Since the coaching changes that occurred between the 2014 and 2015 NFL seasons, there have been 20 coaching changes. Of those changes, only 20% of them resulted in growth at the QB1 position and on average, the change resulted in a less than 1% change in fantasy production. However, by looking at the frequency of how many changes result in increased production, it’s clear that in general, most teams see a decline at the QB1 position, after bringing in a new coach. On the flip side, when that 20% of teams “hit” and found growth at QB1 they found an average of nearly 40%. At RB1, the average change in fantasy production per game was a growth of 21.9% and with a frequency of 55%. Meanwhile, RB2 saw an average growth of 14.32% with new coaches and saw an increase with a frequency of 45%. Keeping this in mind, let’s see how these numbers are broken down when considering coaching background.

From Offensive Coach to Defensive Coach

(2017: Denver – Gary Kubiak to Vance Joseph | 2016: None | 2015: Buffalo – Doug Marrone to Rex Ryan, Chicago – Marc Trestman to John Fox, and San Francisco – Jim Harbaugh to Jim Tomsula)

Over the past three years, we’ve seen four coaching changes where the exiting coach, of an offensive background, was replaced by a coach from a defensive background. With these changes, only one team (Buffalo) saw improvement at all three positions (QB1, RB1, and RB2) from a fantasy perspective.

Team Old Coach New Coach QB1 Change RB1 Change RB2 Change
Denver Gary Kubiak Vance Joseph -7.83% -4.99% -7.05%
Buffalo Doug Marrone Rex Ryan +19.62% +15.77% +53.94%
Chicago Marc Trestman John Fox -15.22% -18.28% +183.50%
San Francisco Jim Harbaugh Jim Tomsula -2.05% +9.35% -27.67%

 
QB1 Avg. Change: -1.37%
This does not come as a surprise, as the data suggests that there is usually a drop-off at the QB position when a defensive-minded Head Coach takes over. Often times, this is because of conservative play calling and an emphasis on ball-control. The lone increase in fantasy production at QB1 can be seen in Buffalo as Rex Ryan took over. It is worth noting that the reigns of the offense were turned over from Kyle Orton to Tyrod Taylor during this transition, so the switch at the position (especially from a pocket QB to a mobile one) is at least partially responsible.

RB1 Avg. Change: +0.46
At RB1, It was a 50-50 split on growth vs. decline in fantasy production, with the average change being negligible. In the instance of decline in Chicago, Fox decided to include Jeremy Langford (RB2) much more in the offense, taking carries away from Matt Forte (RB1). With this as an example, it shows how important it is to consider what young players may be lurking on the depth chart that could see an increased role with new coaches making decisions on playing time.

RB2 Avg. Change: +50.68%
As with RB1, the growth vs. decline was split with two instances of each for RB2. The major difference, however, is the average change in production is upwards of 50% growth. Obviously, this is heavily weighted by the Bears’ inclusion of Langford in the 2015 season, however, even if they are excluded as an outlier, there is still more than 6% growth at the RB2 position.

2018: Arizona – Bruce Arians to Steve Wilks, Detroit – Jim Caldwell to Matt Patricia, and Tennessee – Mike Mularkey to Mike Vrabel

From Offensive Coach to Offensive Coach

(2017: LA Chargers – Mike McCoy to Anthony Lynn and San Francisco – Chip Kelly to Kyle Shanahan | 2016: Miami – Joe Philbin to Adam Gase, NY Giants – Tom Coughlin to Ben McAdoo, Philadelphia – Chip Kelly to Doug Pederson and Tennessee – Ken Whisenhunt to Mike Mularkey | 2015: None)

From 2015 to 2017, six teams made changes from one offensive-minded coach to a different offensive-minded coach. Of those changes, only one team (Tennessee) saw a growth in fantasy production at QB1, RB1, and RB2.

Team Old Coach New Coach QB1 Change RB1 Change RB2 Change
LA Chargers Mike McCoy Anthony Lynn -0.44% -2.24% -68.62%
San Francisco Chip Kelly Kyle Shanahan -11.87% -3.24% +88.08%
Miami Joe Philbin Adam Gase -11.10% +2.65% +3.44%
NY Giants Tom Coughlin Ben McAdoo -23.33% -2.41% -26.45%
Philadelphia Chip Kelly Doug Pederson -9.09% -19.00% -5.23%
Tennessee Ken Whisenhunt Mike Mularkey +2.13% +116.72% +1.91%

 

QB1 Avg. Change: -8.95%
When bringing in a new coach with an offensive background, there’s likely going to be a new offense being implemented and the average change in fantasy points per game reflects the growing pains that come with that process. The only coaching change that had better QB1 fantasy production with a new offensive coach was Tennessee when Ken Whisenhunt was replaced by Mike Mularkey — it is no surprise that he had the best QB play, as Mularkey worked as Whisenhunt’s assistant HC in Whisenhunt’s final year in Tennessee (allowing for continuity for Mariota, in Mularkey’s first year).

RB1 Avg. Change: +15.41%
The clear outlier in this data set is once again seen with the Titans. Their RB1 production increased by 116.72% but coaching change may not be the main reason for this dramatic boost. In the offseason between Whisenhunt and Mularkey’s seasons, the Titans acquired DeMarco Murray from the Eagles (replacing Bishop Sankey as the RB1). Without the Titans, the data would suggest a drop in RB1 production by 4.85%.

RB2 Avg. Change: -1.15%
Half of the coaching changes listed had an increase in RB2 production, but only one coach had a dramatic one: Kyle Shanahan. This should have been anticipated, as Atlanta utilized one of the most two-headed RB attacks in recent history. On the flipside, the teams that saw a decrease in RB2 production had more significant declines — the Chargers, without McCoy saw decline across the board, but the shift in philosophy to keep Melvin Gordon the king of the backfield and increase his role in the passing game really ate into the RB2 production.

2018: NY Giants – Ben McAdoo to Pat Shurmur

From Defensive Coach to Defensive Coach

(2017: Buffalo – Rex Ryan to Sean McDermott | 2016: None | 2015: Atlanta – Mike Smith to Dan Quinn, NY Jets – Rex Ryan to Todd Bowles, and Oakland – Dennis Allen to Jack Del Rio)

As four teams transitioned from one defensive-minded Head Coach to another, only one of them was able to see an increase of fantasy production across the board (New York Jets).

Team Old Coach New Coach QB1 Change RB1 Change RB2 Change
Buffalo Rex Ryan Sean McDermott -24.83% -21.87% -13.06%
Atlanta Mike Smith Dan Quinn -20.72% +121.89% -47.06%
NY Jets Rex Ryan Todd Bowles +50.29% +31.85% +40.11%
Oakland Dennis Allen Jack Del Rio +53.93% +36.55% -3.59%

 
QB1 Avg. Change: +14.67%
This came as a bit of a surprise on initial inspection as Oakland and New York saw significant growth at QB1. Oakland saw Derek Carr develop further going from his rookie season in 2014 to his sophomore season in 2015. The Jets went in a different direction, transitioning to Ryan Fitzpatrick after a season struggling with Geno Smith. However, the two defensive minded coaches who kept veteran QBs in place (Buffalo and Atlanta) saw a decline at the position.

RB1 Avg. Change: +42.11%
This seems pretty straightforward in concept — defensive coaches will place an emphasis on ground and pound to maintain ball control. Atlanta’s major jump seemed to come from the utilization of Devonta Freeman after the twilight of Steven Jackson‘s career. Oakland also saw an increase as they transitioned from Darren McFadden to Latavius Murray. The only team that saw a decline in fantasy production for their RB1 was Buffalo, as LeSean McCoy failed to match his 2016 production in the 2017 season.

RB2 Avg. Change: -5.9%
The Jets were the only team to see growth in their RB2 production and this is largely due to the changing of Bilal Powell‘s role. His contribution helped the entire offense run more smoothly as his third-down role helped extend drives. Outside of New York, the decline was widespread as RB2 usage, in general, was not emphasized.

2018: None

From Defensive Coach to Offensive Coach

(2017: Jacksonville – Gus Bradley to Doug Marrone and LA Rams – Jeff Fisher to Sean McVay | 2016: Cleveland – Mike Pettine to Hue Jackson, San Francisco – Jim Tomsula to Chip Kelly, and Tampa Bay – Lovie Smith to Dirk Koetter | 2015: Denver – John Fox to Gary Kubiak)

Six teams have opted to change from a defensive-minded Head Coach to an offensive-minded one. Of those, all but one team (Tampa Bay) was able to improve one of either QB1, RB1, or RB2 production by at least 24%. One step further, all but two (Tampa Bay and San Francisco) improved one by at least 53%. However, The only team that improved every category, across the board, was Los Angeles, as McVay turned Fisher’s old offense up to 11.

Team Old Coach New Coach QB1 Change RB1 Change RB2 Change
Jacksonville Gus Bradley Doug Marrone -9.65% +44.43% +70.65%
LA Rams Jeff Fisher Sean McVay +72.19% +113.62% +15.48%
Cleveland Mike Pettine Hue Jackson -15.12% +53.08% -12.23%
San Francisco Jim Tomsula Chip Kelly -10.09% +24.95% -4.35%
Tampa Bay Lovie Smith Dirk Koetter -2.29% -18.22% -49.04%
Denver John Fox Gary Kubiak -40.17% -42.52% +93.72%

 
QB1 Avg. Change: -0.86%
The clear outlier in this category is McVay in his turnaround of the Rams. This could partially be due to Goff’s growth into his second year (similar to Carr’s growth in his second year in the category above) however McVay’s creativity and offensive impact has been highlighted for quite some time and should not be overlooked. Excluding the Rams, these coaches averaged a decline of 15.46%. Be it the implementation of a new offense or that of a new QB, the adjustments necessary at the QB1 position with an offensive-minded coach seem to be enhanced.

RB1 Avg. Change: +29.22%
All but two teams (Tampa Bay and Denver) saw improvements in the RB1 position. In these four teams, the %growth at RB1 was greater than the %decline at QB1. It seems there’s an increase in the ways these coaches are able to creatively utilize RB1s in their offense (e.g. McVay with Gurley).

RB2 Avg. Change: +19.04%
This seems to be directly related to the talent on the RB depth chart, however, it makes sense that if the RB2 has anything to contribute, the offensive-minded coach would better be able to utilize their skills in a creative manner. This can be seen with Gary Kubiak’s RBBC approach to the running game, allowing Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson to share the load rather than trying to rely too heavily on either to do it all. If teams have talent buried on the depth chart, look to offensive-minded head coaches to bring them into the fold on offensive schemes as they look for any way to improve production.

2018: Chicago – John Fox to Matt Nagy, Indianapolis – Chuck Pagano to Frank Reich, and Oakland – Jack Del Rio to Jon Gruden

Final Thoughts

Like everything in Fantasy Football, there is no golden rule about what to do or what not to do regarding new situations, as there will always be outliers. However, looking at the frequency in which they occur gives players a great opportunity to anticipate results.

QB1
Anticipate a decline in QBs with new coaches (especially offensive-minded ones, as their new schemes tend to be more complex) unless there is a significant reason suggesting otherwise (young QBs with high potential paired with a flexible, creative mind). If you’re taking a gamble on an outlier in 2018, Mitchell Trubisky‘s trajectory with Matt Nagy could be one to watch. Otherwise, curb your expectations for QBs with a new Head Coach.

RB1
This is where players in 2018 have the most to gain. New coaches re-prioritize the running back position and seem to find new ways to get them involved. If a team has a three-down running back (or gains one in the offseason) it should be expected that they will have heavy involvement in the offense. With every coaching transition category, RB1 averaged more points with a new coach than with the team’s previous one. Exploiting this tactic has the potential for huge payoff and is something to watch next season. The teams to watch, specifically, this season should be Chicago, Indianapolis, and Oakland as they are transitioning from a defensive-minded coach to an offensive-minded one. In the past three years, the uptick in production has occurred 66% of the time with this transition.

RB2
RB2 should absolutely be revisited when we have a better idea of what every team’s RB depth chart looks like. Just as with RB1, the defensive-minded coach to offensive-minded coach transition is the one with the highest frequency of increase. Chicago, Indianapolis, and Oakland should be the first place to inspect depth charts, come spring. From there, look for talent that may be on rosters with new head coaches. Young RB2s behind aging vets are usually more likely to get love from a new, future-minded coach than a coach on his way out the door.


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Ethan Sauers is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Ethan, check out his archive and follow him @ethansauers.

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