Fantasy Football Impact of NFL Coaching Changes (2020)
When football teams undergo dramatic shifts in their offensive production, it can often be attributed to personnel changes, coaching changes, or both. The Chiefs offense was nowhere near as dynamic as they were before the arrival of Pat Mahomes despite head coach Andy Reid being in Kansas City since 2013. At the same time, all it took was a coaching change from Mike McCarthy to Matt LaFleur to create a much more balanced Packers offense in 2019 which finally let Aaron Jones run wild. We’re still weeks away from the NFL Draft and free agency, so we’ll have to wait on the personnel changes. But the coaching carousel has stopped, and we know who will be calling plays for (almost) all 32 teams next season. Let’s take a look at those play-callers and the player that should be most impacted.
New Play Caller: Jay Gruden
Player to Watch: Leonard Fournette, Running Back
Did you know Leonard Fournette had 100 targets last season? I also did a double take when I saw that but it’s true. The 100 targets in 2019 were 24 more than Fournette had accumulated over the previous two seasons and contributed heavily to him being a top-10 fantasy running back. And while fantasy owners of Fournette rejoiced, they were also the beneficiary of a pitiful lack of depth at the position in Jacksonville. Fournette’s 265 carries far outpaced any other Jaguar. The player who finished second on the team in carries was none other than quarterback Gardner Minshew while the next closest running back was fifth-rounder Ryquell Armstead with 35. No other player had double-digit carries for the Jaguars last season.
But back to Fournette. His 100 targets are truly an outlier for an offense in which Jay Gruden is your coordinator. Over the course of Gruden’s three seasons as offensive coordinator for the Bengals, the most targets a running back saw was 71 by Giovani Bernard. That was with Bernard acting as the pass-catching specialist in the backfield while fellow back BenJarvus Green-Ellis led the team in carries. In typical PPR leagues, 30 less catches for Fournette is almost two less fantasy points-per-game, and that doesn’t even count the yardage that goes with it. Fournette will still have value but not nearly as much without those receptions.
New York Giants
New Play Caller: Jason Garrett
Player to Watch: Daniel Jones, Quarterback
This one is obvious, but the success of the entire Giants franchise will depend on the development of Daniel Jones. Despite many questionable play calls in Dallas, you can’t deny Jason Garrett has overseen the developments of good-to-great quarterbacks during his coaching career. As the Cowboys coordinator for three seasons, Garrett worked with Tony Romo and got him to the Pro Bowl in 2007 after Romo threw the most touchdowns in a season he’d ever throw (36). He coached Romo to another Pro Bowl in 2009 when Romo turned in his lowest interception rate in any season (1.6%). Romo continued to have success under Garrett when the latter became head coach, reaching another Pro Bowl and ending his career with multiple seasons of 4,000 yards or 30-touchdowns or both.
After Romo, Garrett was then tasked with overseeing the development of Dak Prescott into the two-time Pro Bowler he is today. Only two other quarterbacks taken in the fourth-round, like Prescott, have made a Pro Bowl since 1994, and Garrett is at least partially responsible for that. Garrett will need to bring that same combination of magic and luck to the Giants in order for Jones to succeed.
New Play Caller: Joe Brady
Player to Watch: Christian McCaffrey, Running Back
Perhaps most impressive about Christian McCaffrey‘s historic fantasy season is he, a running back, did it while the Panthers ranked 24th in rush attempts. Obviously, his fantasy season was buoyed by the passing game where he saw 142 targets, good for 10th among all players in the NFL — including receivers. He and the Panthers will now run plays called by new offensive coordinator Joe Brady of recent LSU fame. Brady was technically the passing game coordinator at LSU, but many attributed him as most responsible for the historic offense LSU fielded this year. The team led the nation in points per game, passing completion percentage, and passing touchdowns per game and finished near the top of several other categories. We don’t have a lot of data to glean from Brady as he was just an offensive assistant prior to his LSU stint, but looking at LSU’s play calling last year, the Tigers were quite balanced. They attempted 38 passes per game while rushing it 34 times per game.
If Brady balances Carolina’s offense and the Panthers don’t finish second in the league in pass attempts like they did in 2019, McCaffrey may see a dramatic decline in targets. It’s also hard to see any chance of an increase when it comes to his rush attempts, as the 287 he had last year was still fourth-highest in the league. McCaffrey will still be great, just not at a historic level in fantasy leagues.
New Play Caller: Scott Turner
Player to Watch: Derrius Guice, Running Back
Along with new head coach Ron Rivera, we now get new offensive coordinator Scott Turner, previously of the Carolina Panthers. Much like Joe Brady above, we don’t have a lot of experience to look at since this is Turners first full-time gig as offensive coordinator. He did have a month’s worth of games where he was calling plays in Carolina, and during that month is when Christian McCaffrey was most productive in the passing game. He totaled more than 70 yards receiving in each of those games while he did that just three times during the prior 12 games of the season.
In Washington, many thought of Derrius Guice as another Christian McCaffrey, a back who was just as good a receiver as runner. In his limited time last year, where Guice played just five games because of injury, he averaged nearly six yards per carry while ripping off a 45-yard touchdown reception. Health has been a prominent issue during Guice’s brief NFL career, but if he can stay healthy, Turner may have found the Washington version of McCaffrey.
New Play Caller: Chan Gailey
Player to Watch: Mike Gesicki, Tight End
Unlike most coordinators in 2020, Chan Gailey’s coaching career goes back three decades with stops all over the NFL. While we have an extensive track record, it’s not exactly current. Gailey was coaxed out of retirement after three years and is now tasked with rebuilding the Dolphins offense with, presumably, many new parts.
One piece that will be around is tight end Gesicki. After a turbulent rookie season, which is typical of many tight ends, Gesicki finished his sophomore season strong. He saw at least six targets in eight of the Dolphins last nine games in 2019 and scored five touchdowns in that span. Unfortunately, that strong finish may not continue, as Gailey appears to have a particular disdain for tight ends. As a coordinator (with the exception of the 2008 season when Gailey was in Kansas City and had Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez at the position) he’s never had a tight end see more than 30 targets for an entire season. That means in six of his last seven seasons as a coordinator with the Jets, Dolphins (the first time) and Steelers, no tight end under Gailey has seen more than two targets per game (he was a coordinator during the 1989-1990 seasons, but that was before targets were tracked). It’s not a great sign for Gesicki’s fantasy prospects in 2020.
New Play Caller: Pat Schurmer
Player to Watch: Noah Fant, Tight End
Unlike the situation in Miami, tight end could become a bright spot for the Broncos. New offensive coordinator Pat Schurmer has overseen the development of two of the most productive fantasy tight ends in recent memory. His most recent stint as a coordinator for the Vikings, saw him utilize tight end Kyle Rudolph in a way no one else has. Despite never topping 93 targets before or after Schurmer, Rudolph totaled 132 during the 2016 season to finish as a fantasy TE1. Prior to his stint in Minnesota, he was tasked with the development of Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, who totaled 36 receptions for 469 yards in his rookie season and totaled 75 receptions for 853 yards by his third.
Schurmer now has Noah Fant — who totaled similar numbers to Ertz in his rookie season with 40 receptions for 562 yards — to mold in Denver. Fant, who may be the most athletically-gifted and certainly is the highest-drafted tight end Schurmer has had as a coordinator, is primed for a bigger role.
Michael Moore is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, follow him @DLF_Moore.