4 Winners From NFL Coaching Changes (2019 Fantasy Football)
“Empty. Dark. Hollow. A plastic bag, drifting through the wind, wanting to start again. So paper thin.”
Unfortunately, Katy Perry’s lyrical genius also captures the vacant feeling that’s now devouring the souls of us fantasy football addicts. Sure, we may have just survived our second Sunday without the NFL. Maybe AAF fantasy is serving as a band-aid to this gash. Still, these fixes are only temporary. The only true antidote remains 28 red zone-less Sundays away.
Thankfully, the Fantasy Football Stock Market never sleeps. Even now, just a few weeks after the final whistle of the Super Bowl, fantasy values have been wildly rising and falling. We can find purpose and meaning after all!
Though cliche, the saying “there is no offseason” certainly holds true for fantasy wolves. While many owners and sites recognize the value swings during offseason anchors like free agency and the NFL Draft, few analyze the much more subtle, but equally important, changes the coaching carousel can bring.
Two seasons ago and with largely the same roster, the Rams went from worst-to-first in points scored under Sean McVay. Since McVay’s hire, Todd Gurley went from a 2016 bust to a fantasy cheat code for back-to-back seasons. Though not quite as drastic, the Bears went from a laughingstock 28th in points per game under John Fox to ranking in the top five in 2018 under Matt Nagy. In the process, Tarik Cohen exploded with proper utilization. Meanwhile, Indianapolis leaped from 30th to eighth under Frank Reich, with Eric Ebron booming under the tight end whisperer.
Coaching scheme was essential to these monster turnarounds. Thus, we weigh it heavily when evaluating fantasy values with our Fantasy Stock Formula and create 50+ page guides analyzing all the crucial schematics and trends. Undoubtedly, play-calling will once again spark plenty of breakouts in 2019. Here’s my top four fantasy football winners from the 2019 NFL coaching carousel.
Note: If you enjoy this type of analysis, be sure to reserve your *FREE* copy of our 2019 Coaching Carousel Guide.
1) Baker Mayfield (QB – CLE)
To Chef Up Sophomore Masterpiece in “Freddie’s Kitchen”
After igniting the Browns’ offense for the final eight games of 2018, former interim Browns OC Freddie Kitchens earned a serious promotion. “The Chef” became Cleveland’s 17th head coach, and no one should be happier than Mayfield.
Unlike Todd Haley, Kitchens quickly morphed his play-calling to Mayfield’s quick-slinging strengths, and the results on the entire offense were enormous. Under Kitchens, Cleveland tied for the league lead in yards per pass attempt (8.72) and ranked fourth in both total yards (395.1) and passing yards (285.9) per game all while leading the NFL in yards per play (6.86). The Browns also surrendered just five sacks over the final eight games, by far the lowest in the NFL. By comparison, Cleveland surrendered 33 in the eight previous games — over six times as many.
Unsurprisingly, Mayfield’s stats similarly skyrocketed to close out 2018. His completion percentage rose from 58% to 68%, while his YPA rose from 6.6 to 8.6, despite the quicker-hitting style. Additionally, Mayfield was on pace for 4,508 yards, 38 TDs, and 16 INTs, equal to 300.3 FPs and a QB9 finish — just three points below Drew Brees. Contrastingly, under Haley and Hue Jackson, Mayfield was on pace for 3,922 yards, 21 TDs, and 16 INTs, which equals 208.8 FPs — good enough for a QB20 finish just below Case Keenum.
— Roto Street Journal (@RotoStJournal) February 10, 2019
Instead of learning an entirely new offense, Mayfield will now be able to develop inside a system where he’s already thrived. In addition to continuity, Mayfield will also benefit from ingenuity with new OC Todd Monken. Despite Monken’s wildly successful campaign as the Bucs OC, he passed over play-calling gigs to come to Cleveland (Kitchens will continue calling plays). Still, Monken and his 23 years of coaching college air raid offenses will be heavily relied upon for scheming. This has already translated well to the NFL, as the 2018 Buccaneers led the league in passing yardage (5,125 total, 320 per game) thanks to an emphasis on the deep ball (8.6 YPA, second in the league). In fact, Monkens stated:
“I like having fun. I don’t know why it has to feel like such drudgery all the time. Who needs more 5-yard plays? How can we be explosive? That’s what the game is about, man. People like big plays. I like big plays.”
Mayfield himself thrived in an air raid offense at Oklahoma. Between Kitchens’ familiarity and Monken’s aggressiveness, Mayfield and the Browns offense are set to explode in 2019. He’s far-and-away my favorite late round QB target, and now up to No. 9 in my rankings. Consider him 2019’s Patrick Mahomes.
2) Dalvin Cook (RB – MIN)
Primed to Explode Under Gary Kubiak
Though many owners won’t touch Dalvin Cook following two injury-plagued seasons, they’ll deeply regret this by the end of 2019. Already a fantastic individual talent, Cook is primed to explode after the Vikings hired Gary Kubiak as an “offensive adviser” to pair with returning OC Kevin Stefanski. In fact, with health, Cook is in prime position to be 2019’s Christian McCaffrey.
This is especially true with Latavius Murray expected to depart to free agency. Just like McCaffrey last year, Cook’s always had the talent, but his surging usage and scheme scores should send him into the land of elite RB1s.
What’s most important is Kubiak’s heralded zone-blocking scheme. By creating massive cutback lanes and overall space for backs, this scheme has consistently churned out monstrous rushing totals. Overall, 14 of Kubiak’s 22 offenses have ranked top 10 in rushing (63%), with 10 of these finishing among the top five (nearly 50%). Half of his teams have been top five in rushing TDs as well. Simply put, the zone blocking effect is very real.
The best part? These stats largely funnel to one back, because Kubiak loves a true bell cow:
“I can tell you this, I believe in the (bell cow),” Kubiak told the Denver Post. “I think if a guy goes out there and he shows he can play three downs, can protect the quarterback, and can handle it, then he should stay out there.”
The proof is in the numbers. During Kubiak’s 22 years as an OC or HC, 15 RBs topped 1,200 YFS (63%). This includes 13 backs netting over 1,480 YFS, 10 going over 1,600, and seven finishing with 1,800+. Even better, of those seven to fall under 1,200 total yards, five were injury related, meaning only two of 22 RBs have flat out busted under Kubiak.
Supreme talents like Terrell Davis, Clinton Portis, and Arian Foster were all 1900+ total yard, 18+ TD monsters in this scheme. Yet, even no-names like Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Reuben Droughns, and Steve Slaton have been 1,500 yard, 10+ TD beasts. Cook’s ability and ceiling are much more in-line with those first three names.
Plus, when provided with a capable pass-catching back, Kubiak will fully exploit it. Six of his last nine RBs caught at least 40 balls, and Cook drips in receiving ability. Even in a down year and across only 11 games, Cook caught 40 passes for 305 yards in 2018.
Though this offense will have Kubiak’s fingerprints all over it, he won’t be the play-caller. That’ll be Stefanski, who helps Cook in his own right. In Week 15, Stefanski’s first game taking over for the fired John DeFilippo, he rode Cook for a season-high 20 touches, 163 yards, and two TDs. Overall, Stefanski flipped the Vikings from a 67/33 run-to-pass ratio (31st ranked run rate) to a 52/48 balance (ninth highest run rate). He will dial up Dalvin far more often in 2019.
Yes, Cook’s health is a major question mark after he missed serious time in his only two professional seasons. With health, however, Cook is finally set up to unlock his elite RB1 ceiling.
3) Aaron Jones (RB – GB)
Finally Will Be Freed Under New HC Matt LaFleur
Jones has consistently produced when given the chance. In fact, among players with at least 200 career rushing attempts, Jones ranks first in NFL history in yards per carry (5.5). Although inconsistent usage has kept Jones’ fantasy ceiling capped, this should change dramatically under new HC Matt LaFleur.
The RB1 in LaFleur’s run-centric offense has touched the ball 15+ times in 42 of the last 48 games (87.5%). Meanwhile, Jones has been elite with proper volume. In his eight career games with at least 15+ touches, Jones has netted 145 touches (24 rec), 883 YFS, and nine TDs. Over a full season, this equates to a 290 touch (48 rec), 1,766 YFS, and 18 TD pace. In other words, Jones would’ve scored 308 FPs (19.3 FPPG), trailing only Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, and Alvin Kamara in 2018.
Explored in more detail here, LaFleur’s entire offense is predicated on establishing a “marriage between the run and pass games.” This is achieved through a bevy of play-actions and screens off of what appear to be runs. For these misdirections to work, however, a firm run-game presence must be established. As such, LaFleur utilizes the always-effective “Shanahan zone blocking scheme” to open up wide lanes and get defenses biting.
With superb vision and elite acceleration, Jones is the perfect fit. Moreover, the Packers’ top-seven offensive line is plenty athletic to execute. Even better — LaFleur loves throwing to his backs, especially in the screen game. An RB has caught 54+ passes in his system for three straight seasons. Jones will be incredibly dangerous with blockers in space. Both Todd Gurley and Devonta Freeman ripped off top-five RB seasons in this offense for three straight years, and Jones is set up to be the next beneficiary. Between the volume and scheme improvements, Jones is now the ideal second-round RB.
4) Christian Kirk (WR – ARI)
Premier Fantasy “Penny Stock” in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid Offense
Despite a largely useless rookie season in an abysmal situation, Kirk has quickly emerged (alongside Keke Coutee) as my favorite “penny stock” WR for 2019. This is almost entirely because of new HC Kliff Kingsbury and the air raid offense he’ll be bringing to the desert.
Regarded as an offensive guru for his work at Texas Tech, Kingsbury’s offenses constantly broke the scoreboards in the Big 12. While at Tech, Kingsbury peppered his wide receivers, who accounted for 78.1% of receptions (compared to 17 percent to RBs and only 4.6 percent to TEs). On scheme alone, Kirk’s a lock to see his 5.7 targets per game skyrocket.
True, no NFL team has committed to a full-on air raid offense. Still, Arizona didn’t make an unconventional hire in Kingsbury, a sub .500 college coach, to reign him in. Kingsbury will utilize plenty of three and four wide receiver sets. He’ll frequently dial-up key staples like “four verticals” and “mesh,” which have already been largely successful at shaking WRs free at the professional level.
Kirk stands to be the primary benefactor. Yes, the ageless Larry Fitzgerald is returning, but Kirk possesses the ability to shoulder what projects to be a high-volume passing game. Kirk’s game in college was mostly based on yardage after the catch, turning shallow crossers into long gains. He’s not necessarily explosive downfield (4.47-40), but his footwork, positive route running, and plus-hands will make him a key target in this quick-hitting attack.
When looking at Kirk’s NFL.com draft profile, it was noted that he’s “impressive on whip routes,” and is “quick in and out of breaks with sharp turns.” He was also described as playing “with strong, natural hands as a pass-catcher.” He will be a YAC monster in this offense.
When asked about Kingsbury, Kirk was ecstatic:
“Oh man, I think about it every single day,” Kirk told The Republic. “I’m definitely super excited just to be able to realize what I can do in this league. I got on a roll there and obviously it was unfortunate that it ended short for me, but I know what I can do and I know what I need to work on this offseason to feel like I can put myself in position to be one of the top receivers in this league.”
Though these are four of the biggest fantasy risers, there are many more. Be sure to tune in later this week, or check out our Fantasy Stock Watch and upcoming 2019 Coaching Carousel Guide and Podcast Breakdown to not miss a single beat!