Another year, another slew of coaching changes around the NFL. Some big names got the boot, and some up-and-comers will get the chance to prove why they deserve head-coaching gigs at the highest level. Today, we’re going to take a look at six of the biggest coaching changes and their impact on the world of fantasy football. Let’s get to it, shall we?
*Coordinators weren’t mentioned in this article. A separate article analyzing coordinator changes will be published later this month.
Arthur Smith – Atlanta Falcons
Resume: Titans Offensive Coordinator (2019-20)
Was the decision to hire Smith based on his highly-successful work with Derrick Henry? Across the last two seasons, Tennessee’s offense has ranked in the top-10 in rushing attempts and rushing yards, including No. 2 in both categories in 2020. The team also finished in the bottom-3 teams for pass attempts per game but eighth in passing touchdowns in both seasons. That means Smith has been ultra-efficient with his play-calling while hammering the run game. That will be a stark contrast to a Falcons’ team that has been among the bottom teams in rushing attempts and even worse in rushing yards while finishing among the top-5 in pass attempts.
On the surface, a potential drop-off in pass attempts might seem detrimental to Matt Ryan, but as mentioned, Smith was able to get some uber-efficient play out of Ryan Tannehill over the last two seasons despite a modest amount of pass attempts. If Atlanta’s run game can open up, the team should take on a more balanced offensive approach and lighten Matt Ryan‘s load, which could actually be beneficial for him on the back-nine of his career. Less attempts + increased efficiency doesn’t sound like such a bad deal. Out of the backfield, a renewed focus on the run game should benefit Ito Smith, who could have a hold on lead-back duties entering the new season. Todd Gurley looked like a shell of himself last season despite the touchdowns, and he doesn’t appear to be in a place where he’s capable of handling 300+ touches a season. Don’t forget about Hayden Hurst! Smith was the OC for Tennessee when Jonnu Smith broke out last season, so it’s very possible Hurst sees some additional touches schemed up for him.
Dan Campbell – Detroit Lions
Resume: Dolphins TEs coach (2011-15), Dolphins Interim Head Coach (2015), Saints Assistant Head Coach/TEs Coach (2016-20)
It’s a bit more challenging to gauge Campbell’s impact on the Lions because of his work to this point. In 12 games as the Dolphins’ interim head coach way back in 2015, Campbell’s offense was terrible. The team ranked last in rushing attempts and 17th in passing attempts, though these numbers aren’t much to hang our hat on. The Dolphins’ moribund offense wasn’t likely to see success with any head coach. So what can we expect from the Campbell-run Lions in 2021?
The Lions are likely to move forward as a team that puts more emphasis on the run and tries to rejuvenate a flailing defense. That bodes well for D’Andre Swift, though Swift’s star was on the rise before Campbell’s hiring. It’s an easy connection to make for TJ Hockenson, Detroit’s Pro-Bowl tight end, and a new head coach who played a decade in the NFL as a tight end and coached the position for another 10 years. Hockenson should continue to be a bright spot in Detroit’s offense, and it’s possible he sees even more shine with Campbell at the helm.
Urban Meyer – Jacksonville Jaguars
Resume: 17 years NCAA Coach with Four Teams, 187-32 Overall Record, 12-3 Bowl Game Record, Three National Championship Wins
Meyer brings one of the most illustrious college resumes of all time to the NFL. For every year with Florida and Ohio State, his teams ran the ball more than they passed it by a significant majority. In 13 seasons, Meyer’s teams averaged 69.8 offensive plays per game. Of those, 28.6 were passing plays, and 41.2 were running plays. It certainly helped that Meyer had mobile quarterbacks while with both teams and an excellent group of running backs that included J.K. Dobbins, Ezekiel Elliott, and Carlos Hyde. Still, it’s absolutely worth noting the significant difference in running vs. passing plays in Meyer-led teams.
That bodes well for James Robinson, who had an excellent rookie campaign and one of the best rookie seasons for an undrafted back of all time. Laviska Shenault is also set up nicely for success under Meyer. The rookie showed off his dual-threat abilities as a runner and receiver in 2020, and he could be utilized like Curtis Samuel was while under Meyer at Ohio State. In three seasons from 2014-16, Samuel went 172/1,286/15 as a running back and 107/1,249/9 as a receiver. If Meyer chooses to get Shenault involved on both fronts and take advantage of his unique skillset, he could be in for a significant boost in production in 2021.
Brandon Staley – Los Angeles Chargers
Bears Outside LBs Coach (2017-18), Broncos Outside LBs Coach (2019), Rams Defensive Coordinator (2020)
Staley is another coach whose limited resume gives us trouble in predicting how the Chargers will perform in 2021, but we take a look back on 2020 for some guidance. Staley took a middling Rams defense and transformed it into an elite unit that ranked first in fewest points and fewest yards allowed last season. His transformative abilities should come in handy for a team that is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball but has continually underachieved. Anthony Lynn did not get the most out of Justin Herbert or Austin Ekeler last season, and both stand to benefit from the new head coach. That goes double for Los Angeles’ defense, which has the playmakers to be elite in 2021.
Robert Saleh – New York Jets
Resume: Texans Assistant LBs Coach/Defensive Quality Control (2005-10), Seahawks Defensive Quality Control (2011-13), Jaguars LBs coach (2014-16), 49ers Defensive Coordinator (2017-20)
Saleh comes to New York with high hopes placed upon his shoulders. Gang Green went 9-23 under Adam Gase, and many of the moves the team made under Gase were questionable at best. New York’s offense ranked dead last in yards in 2019 and 2020 and 31st and 32nd in points in those years, respectively. The defense – something the Jets hung their hat on in the past – was abysmal, ranking in the bottom-10 in yards and points allowed in 2020.
Saleh joins the Jets with an elite resume. He was a coach on two Super Bowl teams – the Seahawks’ 2013 win and the 49ers’ 2019 loss. He was a part of the Legion of Boom and San Fran’s elite defenses of the last four years. That’s excellent company and a winning attitude that should spark some life into a listless franchise. Unlike Gase, who piggybacked Peyton Manning’s success into two head coaching jobs, Saleh is a proven winner with multiple franchises and is well-respected among many players in the NFL. It may sound like a cop out to say that every Jets player will be better next season, but it’s the truth. This team has nowhere to go but up, and with a coach that knows how to get the job done and carries a lot of respect in the locker room, New York’s fantasy-relevant players should benefit tremendously.
Stock Up: All New York Jets players, New York Jets D/ST
Nick Sirianni – Philadelphia Eagles
Resume: Colts Offensive Coordinator (2018-20)
Sirianni joins the Eagles as Doug Pederson’s successor, and he has a tall task ahead of him to right a ship that took on a lot of water in 2020. In two of his three years as offensive coordinator for the Colts, Sirianni’s offense ranked among the top-10 in both points and yards. That feat was even more impressive in 2020, with Philip Rivers and a limited cast of receivers. Sirianni brings a run-first attitude to the Eagles, who will likely be led by the mobile Jalen Hurts at quarterback. An uptick in usage for Miles Sanders seems imminent, as he’s been on the cusp of breaking out for fantasy managers for two seasons. Sanders’ rise into the elite tier of fantasy backs has been hampered by injury and misuse, but if he stays healthy, that could all change in 2021 under Sirianni.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – which allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team, and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.