Putting the Right Amount of Stock into Coaching Changes (Fantasy Football)
Coaching changes can be a welcome sight to fantasy fans who have idly sat by and watched their favorite players waste away due to improper usage. But, there is a lot to consider when a team switches over its coaching staff and things can drastically change for better or worse over the course of one season. In this article, we will breakdown some of the key factors to consider when evaluating a player’s potential value shift based on coaching or coordinator changes.
The first and most important thing to think about when welcoming a new coaching staff is how have they utilized players in the past. Coaches and offensive coordinators have unique styles and tendencies they generally follow that they bring with them wherever they go. This is one thing that owners look at when searching for a new coaching staff is finding the right coach to fit the needs of the team. The best place to research coaching history as it relates to fantasy performances you’ll find is from the good people at FFStatistics.com.
Quarterbacks are mostly affected by their coaches’ or coordinators’ play-calling ability. How much leash the coach gives the QB to call the plays on their own or rely on run/pass options is also something to consider. A good example of a QB who has been heavily affected by coaching changes in recent years is Nick Foles.
Foles has seen it all in his career. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2013 under the coaching of Chip Kelly and OC Pat Shurmur. Then Foles fell hard when he went to join the Rams, who were “led” by head coach Jeff Fisher. This change from a creative offense to a completely predictable scheme had a huge negative impact on Foles’ output. Fast forward to 2017-18 and Foles enjoyed success again given the best coaching situation in his career, with the help of Doug Pederson and Frank Reich (2017 OC).
You’ll hear the term “system QB” thrown around a lot when it comes to coaches who can have a tremendous impact on a QB’s success and that is something we have seen with Sean McVay’s coaching of Jared Goff. While coaching styles and systems can play a big part in a QB’s success, this position specifically relies a little more on the QB’s actual skill and ability more so than other offensive positions in my opinion.
Running backs are probably the most affected skill position based on coaching changes. It’s not often anymore that you see a coach who prefers to ride a workhorse running back out there for 300+ carries in a season. Looking at the coach’s preference for utilizing a feature back or a committee approach is crucial. Also, understanding the dynamics of past RB committees is equally important. Three-headed monster committees can bring death to fantasy value when you have an early-down back, passing-down back, and goal-line back all in the mix.
Andy Reid is again another good example of a coach who has preferred to have a bell-cow RB lead the backfield. On the opposite side, Doug Pederson has used a heavy committee approach at RB that has included three-to-four different RBs featured at a relatively even split of touches. Sometimes he may simply just ride the hot hand.
What is interesting about this is that Pederson was Reid’s offensive coordinator in Kansas City from 2013-15 before becoming the head coach of the Eagles. You often hear the term “coaching tree” used when referencing situations like this, but what we have seen from a fantasy perspective is that you can’t always use that coaching tree to predict how a new coach will utilize players on his own team. Pederson has still been successful with the running game, finishing top 12 in the league in rushing yards two of the last three seasons, but again, that has only amounted to, at best, an RB24 finish on his offense, while Reid has given us a top-12 RB in six of the last nine seasons.
Another maddening thing we see from coaches that affects fantasy performance is their inability to properly utilize RBs or their decision to use a committee when there is a clear leader at their disposal. We have seen recent examples of this in Green Bay as former head coach Mike McCarthy refused to treat Aaron Jones as the lead back he deserved to be. Another recent example of improper RB usage was on full display when Steve Wilks and Mike McCoy refused to use David Johnson properly in the passing game, which is where he thrived in recent years. These are traits to remember when coaches take over a team.
Tight ends are another position heavily affected by coaching styles. A perfect example of a tight end-friendly coach coming in and turning a lemon into lemonade was witnessed with the Colts in 2018. Frank Reich has a history of utilizing tight ends heavily in his offenses and has given us a top-12 TE in fantasy in each of the last five seasons. Eric Ebron was his most recent success story as the former first-round draft pick of the Lions had the best season of his career in 2018 after struggling to find success in what was one of the league’s most pass-happy offenses in Detroit. Knowing the success we have seen from the position under Reich, it’s safe to assume that wherever he goes, the tight end has a good shot at fantasy relevance.
On the other side of the spectrum for tight ends, Bruce Arians has been a successful coach in his time and had passing offenses that ranked in the top half of the league more years than not. Yet, Arians all but ignored the TE position in the passing game over the last decade. You have to go all the way back to Arians’ time with the Steelers when Heath Miller once roamed the gridiron to find a shred of success at the position. It simply wasn’t a key to the offense for Arians when he coached in Arizona.
This will be something interesting to watch in 2019 as Arians will now get O.J. Howard at his disposal as a weapon. Howard is easily the most athletic TE Arians has ever worked with.
In my research, wide receivers seem the least affected by coaches directly and are most impacted by the performance of the QB. However, some keys to look for with coaches’ usage of WRs are how the players are targeted. This somewhat goes hand-in-hand with coaches’ and QBs’ preferences when analyzing factors such as average depth of target.
Lastly, something else to look out for in past coaching records is outlier performances tied to elite players. Peyton Manning’s record-breaking run in Denver led everyone to believe that Adam Gase was suddenly a mastermind as the offensive coordinator behind it all. As we have slowly begun to find out though, the Manning years may be looked at as an outlier performance in the grander scheme of things on Gase’s track record.
In conclusion, past player performances under specific coaches are pivotal in understanding what to expect from a new coaching staff and how it is going to affect the individual player’s fantasy value. Identifying common trends in player usage under specific coaches will be the best determining factor you will get to help you predict the future.