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Coaching Impact: Best Coaches & Coordinators For Fantasy Running Backs (2021)

Jul 11, 2021

In the fantasy football world, one of the most underrated aspects to look at is each team’s coaching tendencies. This article will dive into the best coaches for running backs by looking at which coaches provide the most overall opportunities (carries + targets) to the position. After looking at the coaches that provide the most opportunities overall, we will dive more specifically into the best coaches for running backs on the ground and the best coaches for running backs through the air, so if you need to adjust accordingly based on your leagues scoring settings you can. Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Writer’s Note: These lists only include the 42 active offensive-minded head coaches and offensive coordinators who have previous NFL experience as either an offensive coordinator or NFL head coach. 

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Opportunities (Carries + Targets)

When you are planning on creating your own personal rankings for your fantasy football draft, it’s always good to know which coaches have historically given their running backs the most overall opportunities (carries + targets) since we are constantly talking about how ‘volume is king’. To help you with this, here are the top ten active coaches (with previous NFL experience) in providing opportunities to their running backs.

The Packers, Dolphins, Browns, Patriots, Lions, and Colts each have one coach ranking in the top 10 of running back opportunities per game with Nathaniel Hackett (3rd), George Godsey (5th), Kevin Stefanski (6th), Josh McDaniels (7th), Anthony Lynn (9th), and Frank Reich (10th) respectively. Of these coaches, Kevin Stefanski, Josh McDaniels, Anthony Lynn, and Frank Reich are the primary offensive play-callers on their teams. This is great to see if you are planning on drafting Nick Chubb, D'Andre Swift, or Jonathan Taylor early, and guys like Kareem Hunt, Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Jamaal Williams, Marlon Mack, and Nyheim Hines could potentially be undervalued as well. Looking at this table, you have both the Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni (8th) and the Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen (1st) on it - which means that there could be some good value in the Eagles backfield with Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell. In addition, you'll notice that both of the Saints coaches - Sean Payton (2nd) and Pete Carmichael (4th) are on here as well, which makes Alvin Kamara a pretty safe 1st round pick and Latavius Murray a great handcuff.

Now that we've looked at the coaches that provide the most overall opportunities to their tailbacks let's get a little more specific and look at the top five coaches who are statistically the best in providing their tailbacks with carries and targets.

Rushing (Carries)

Looking at which coaches and coordinators have historically given their running backs the most carries per game, we see that these coaches stand above the rest: Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith, Miami Dolphins co-offensive coordinator George Godsey, Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, and Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.

Kevin Stefanski

Kevin Stefanski is the king of utilizing his running backs on the ground, and it's led to some great fantasy seasons. In his offense, we've seen Dalvin Cook finish as the RB6 in PPR (2019), Kareem Hunt finish as the RB10 in PPR (2020), and Nick Chubb finish as the RB11 in PPR (2020). Stefanski's emphasis on pounding the rock gives Nick Chubb a decent floor for the 2021 season and makes him a pretty safe early-round pick.

Arthur Smith

Arthur Smith has done a good job of feeding his backs on the ground in his two years as a play-caller, but it's easier to give a backfield led by Derrick Henry a ridiculous amount of touches on the ground than one led by Mike Davis. It's likely we see Arthur Smith scale back the number of running back carries this year, given the Falcons roster, but Mike Davis should still get an average to slightly above average amount of work on the ground.

George Godsey

George Godsey was the Houston Texans offensive coordinator in 2015 and 2016, but in those years, the team's primary offensive play-caller was former Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien. This, combined with the fact that George Godsey will only be a co-offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins, makes it difficult to say if Myles Gaskin will get a heavy workload. But nonetheless, it is good to see that Godsey has previously worked for a team that fed its backs on the ground.

Alex Van Pelt

Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt may not have seen his running backs get as much work historically on the ground as head coach Kevin Stefanski, but he has been no slouch in the department himself, giving his running back room 24.75 carries per game over the course of the 32 games that he's been an offensive coordinator. Seeing both the Browns head coach and offensive coordinator land in the top five of this list makes it crystal clear that the Browns will be one of the best teams in the league in feeding their backs on the ground.

Nathaniel Hackett

While Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur has been the team's primary play-caller on game day, it's clear that Nathaniel Hackett has had an influence on the team's willingness to feed their backs on the ground based on his track record as an offensive coordinator and should make you feel pretty good if you are planning on rostering Aaron Jones or A.J. Dillon in your fantasy league.

Receiving (Targets)

Given how the NFL is largely a passing league nowadays, it is also important to determine which coaches offensive system typically provides the largest workload through the air. Looking at the career averages, the coaches and coordinators that stand above the rest are Washington Football Team offensive coordinator Scott Turner, Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, and New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton.

Scott Turner

Scott Turner has only been an offensive play-caller for 20 games, but he's made one thing clear: he loves passing to his running backs. In 2019, you could maybe chalk it up to him simply being lucky enough to have Christian McCaffrey as his lead back. But after a 2020 season where J.D. McKissic saw 110 targets and Antonio Gibson saw 44 targets, it's clear that passing to the running backs is a point of emphasis in Scott Turner's offense. If Antonio Gibson can tap into his WR background a little more in year two and take a larger share of the receiving work, you are looking at an RB1 from a fantasy perspective.

Joe Lombardi

Joe Lombardi received a lot of flak for his poor job as the Detroit Lions offensive play-caller in 2014 and 2015, but there were some bright spots from a fantasy perspective. One of the biggest bright spots was how much he had his team throwing to his running backs Joique Bell, Reggie Bush, and Theo Riddick. Considering he'll be working with one of the most talented pass-catching running backs in the league in Austin Ekeler, this tendency shouldn't change much. Ekeler should see a monster workload through the air and could lead all NFL running backs in targets for the 2021 season in this offense.

Shane Steichen

Shane Steichen will be the Eagles offensive coordinator in 2021 after serving as the Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator for 24 games. In his time in Los Angeles, he gave Austin Ekeler and the rest of the Chargers running backs 10.17 targets per game. While he may not quite use his running backs through the air to that level in Philadelphia, they should still be well above-average in this area with Kenny Gainwell and Miles Sanders.

Pete Carmichael

For the past decade investing in the Saints' primary pass-catching back has been a good idea because of the amount of work that they've seen under the coaching duo of head coach Sean Payton and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael. With both coaches once again in the fold for 2021, Alvin Kamara should see a high number of targets again this season and be a great investment in PPR formats.

Sean Payton

Sean Payton has the longest track record of any coach in the top five of running back targets per game, spending 272 games as either an NFL offensive coordinator or head coach. If you are looking for a backfield that you can count on getting a large workload through the air, the Saints are one of the best bets you can make.

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