What Do Coaching Changes Mean For Fantasy Football?
One of the most fun articles I wrote last offseason turned out to be a hit among most fantasy football players, simply because it pointed out which directions that most offenses were headed. While it’s impossible to correctly predict every situation, history tells us more than most care to admit, especially when it comes to coaching changes in the NFL.
When you look through as many numbers as I do, you’ll start noticing trends in certain things and just when you think you get the hang of an offense and what they typically do, you’ll see a number unexpectedly jump. There’s always a reason for that jump, whether they added a new quarterback in the draft, a big-name wide receiver in free agency, or maybe they traded for a running back. But most of the time, it’s because of a coaching change.
Over the last four years, there’ve been 75 teams who’ve remained stagnant, 27 who’ve hired a new head coach/offensive coordinator combo, and 26 teams who’ve simply gone with a new offensive coordinator and retained the head coach. It’s not that difficult to project a team whose offense remained stagnant, but what about the others? We’ll examine each of them today and give you examples of which teams to look at in 2018.
Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator Change
If there’s one of these changes you want to pay attention to, it’s this one, as head coaching changes are what moves the needle most for fantasy football players. Of the 27 teams who’ve gone with a new head coach over the last four years, 20 of them have totaled fewer pass attempts. That includes the 2017 Chargers and Bills, who threw the ball a combined seven times more than the previous year. So, just five teams increased their passing attempts by more than five attempts, which is just 18.5 percent.
On average, teams with a new head coach wound up averaging 30.8 fewer pass attempts per year. This is rather significant because it’s nearly two full pass attempts per game. That, of course, trickles down through the rest of the offense because the overall target share decreases.
When you see the pass attempts decrease, you’d probably assume that it’s good for the running backs, right? Yes, they average 18.2 more rushing attempts per season under a new head coach. You might be asking how the pass attempts and rushing attempts differ, and it’s because the plays per game decline with a new coaching staff. This is likely due to the players learning a new offensive scheme and not being able to run a no-huddle as effectively. Still, a head coaching change typically means a bit more volume for a run-game.
In short, teams who go through a head coaching change are often more run-heavy, though there are a few exceptions to every rule. Just know that the majority of the time, quarterbacks will throw the ball less often and the running backs have increased workload potential. Here are the teams who swapped their coaching staff heading into 2018: Cardinals, Bears, Lions, Colts, Giants, Raiders, and Titans. Knowing the 18.5 percent rule, I’d say the Bears are the ones likely to see increased pass attempts under Matt Nagy.
Offensive Coordinator Only Change
There are some teams that swap offensive coordinators to give the head coach a last-ditch effort, or simply because they lost their previous coordinator to a head coaching job. Others will assume that the coordinator was the problem. Then you have other head coaches who are the offensive coordinator, though they don’t carry that title. While there are a lot of if/ands/buts about this one, the research says that the changes aren’t significant.
Of the 26 teams who swapped coordinators, 11 of them increased their pass attempts, 14 of them decreased, and one of them remained the exact same. On average, though, teams with a new offensive coordinator averaged 7.1 fewer attempts than the previous season. This is essentially a lesser extent of what happens with a coaching change, though it’s not as significant because the head coach will always trump his coordinator. It’s not a massive change, though, so it’s not something you want to rely on in your projections.
There was an even smaller change in their rushing output, as a change in offensive coordinator netted just 1.2 more carries per season. In fact, there were 12 teams who increased carries, 13 who decreased, and one that remained the same. Once again, the plays per game went slightly down under the new coordinator, leading to less opportunity for the offense as a whole.
In the end, the changing of an offensive coordinator without a change at head coach often means very little when projecting a change in the offense. Again, there are outliers who will always curve the grade, but over the span of 26 different occasions, we have a solid sample size. The teams who stayed with what they had at head coach but changed the offensive coordinator in 2018 are the Bills, Panthers, Bengals*, Browns, Broncos*, Packers, Chiefs, Dolphins, Vikings, Jets, Eagles, Steelers, and Seahawks.
*New OC was interim coach in 2017.
No Coaching Change
There are some who believe if all remains status quo, that there’d be little change to report. I would’ve been one to agree with that logic, though after researching it a bit, there’s good reason to expect some change, especially after learning what we did about the coaching changes. Specifically, you’d expect them to be a bit more pass-heavy due to the understanding of the offense and scheme they’re playing in.
As it turns out, this is the case. Teams who played the following season with the same head coach and offensive coordinator averaged 4.9 more pass attempts per year, while averaging 10.7 fewer carries. Oddly enough, there were just four of the 75 teams who finished with 88 or more fewer pass attempts than the following season, and all of them came in 2017. The Saints, Ravens, Colts, and Bears all saw their pass attempts dip at least 88 despite not having anything changed with the coaching staff. One of those teams had their starter go down (Colts), and another had their starter play so bad, they pulled him (Bears). In the end, 43-of-75 teams saw an increase in pass attempts with the same staff in place.
As for the run-game, just 44-of-75 teams decreased the amount of their rushing attempts, including three teams who ran the ball more than 100 fewer times than the previous season. Think some head coach/offensive coordinator is going to drastically change their ways to running the ball more? Unlikely, as none of the 75 teams saw an increase of 100 rushing attempts.
What We Learned
It’s not an exact science, I get it, but in fantasy football, you’re looking for every little piece of information you can get. Coaching changes do mean something, and to recap what they mean, here’s a chart for you:
|Coaching Situation||Pass Att/yr||Rush Att/yr|
|OC Change Only||-7.1||1.2|
The main takeaway from this article is to be a little weary of quarterbacks and/or pass-catchers who are going to be playing under a new head coach, as their volume goes down quite a bit in the majority of cases. On the same token, look for running backs who fall into that category, because that’s when they’re likely to see an uptick in volume. As players get more comfortable in an offense with no change, expect them to not only see more passing volume, but expect them to become a bit more efficient as well.