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Worst Coaches & Coordinators For Running Backs (2021 Fantasy Football)

Jul 17, 2021

In the fantasy football world, one of the most underrated aspects to look at is each team’s coaching tendencies. After looking at the best coaches for running backs earlier this month, this article will look at the flip side and dive into the worst coaches for running backs. To start, we will look at which coaches provide the fewest overall opportunities (carries + targets) to the position. Then, after looking at the coaches that provide the fewest opportunities overall, we will dive more specifically into the worst coaches for running backs on the ground and the worst coaches for running backs through the air – so if you need to adjust accordingly based on your league 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 plan to create your own personal rankings for your fantasy football draft, it’s always good to know which coaches have historically given their running backs the fewest overall opportunities (carries + targets) since we are constantly talking about how ‘volume is king.’ To help you with this, here are the bottom ten active coaches (with previous NFL experience) in providing opportunities to their running backs.

Before diving into this data, it's important to note that these teams are still capable of producing good fantasy running backs - it just takes a higher percentage of the work going to the lead back. The Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals, and Houston Texans each have one coach that ranks in the bottom 10 of running back opportunities per game with Mike McCarthy (33rd), Dan Campbell (35th), Brian Callahan (36th), Bill Lazor (37th), Kliff Kingsbury (38th), and Tim Kelly (42nd). Of these coaches, only Bill Lazor, Kliff Kingsbury, and Tim Kelly are projected to be the primary play-callers of their teams. This may make it harder for guys like David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, James Conner, Chase Edmonds, David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, and Mark Ingram II to hit their ceilings compared to other players and means they will need to have a higher percentage of the work and be more efficient than the average running back to overcome the play-calling deficit they are facing.

Looking at this table, you will also see both the Kansas City Chiefs coaches Andy Reid (34th) and Eric Bieniemy (39th) rank in the bottom 10, as well as both of the Carolina Panthers coaches, Matt Rhule (tied 40th) and Joe Brady (tied 40th). Because Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Christian McCaffrey are both the clear bell-cows of their respective teams, they should be able to largely overcome this and be strong fantasy backs - but this is just information to keep in the back of your mind when deciding where to draft them.

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

Rushing (Carries)

Looking at which coaches and coordinators have historically given their running backs the fewest carries per game, we see that these coaches have been behind the rest of the pack in providing their backs opportunities on the ground: Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Houston Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule, and Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady.

Matt Rhule and Joe Brady really didn't utilize their running backs on the ground very much last year, giving them just 17.94 carries per game. While that can be partially attributed to the fact that Christian McCaffrey only played in three games last season, this does make you wonder if his ceiling under this coaching staff is the same as his ceiling was in 2019 with Norv and Scott Turner calling the plays.

Receiving (Targets)

Given how the NFL is largely a passing league nowadays, it is also important to determine which coaches offensive system typically provides smaller workloads through the air. Looking at the career averages, the coaches and coordinators that are a little behind the pack in this area are Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, Houston Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith, and Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

Kevin Stefanski

Kevin Stefanski is the king of feeding his tailbacks on the ground, but it's a completely different story with how much he feeds his running backs through the air. Over the course of Kevin Stefanski's 35 game career as a play-caller, his tailbacks have received 5.31 targets per game. This usage is a little more concerning for Kareem Hunt rather than Nick Chubb since he's the primary pass-catching back on the team, but as we touched on in the 'Best Coaches & Coordinators For Fantasy Running Backs' article earlier this month, Stefanski is in the top 10 in overall opportunities per game - so we shouldn't be too concerned with this.

Tim Kelly 

Tim Kelly ranks in the bottom five among active offensive-minded coaches in both running back carries per game and running back targets per game, which makes the fantasy outlook of his running backs look bleak. David Johnson, Mark Ingram, Rex Burkhead, and Phillip Lindsay will have uphill battles to being fantasy relevant, and the ceiling of the Texans starting running back is likely a FLEX caliber player.

Brian Daboll

Brian Daboll's offense embraced throwing the ball last year, but it wasn't really so much to his running backs as they saw just 4.56 targets per game last year. Not utilizing his running backs much through the air has been a consistent decision in Daboll's career as an offensive coordinator, with his running back room averaging just 5.18 targets per game over his 112 game career and only receiving over six targets per game once in his seven seasons as a play-caller. This is concerning to see if you were planning on rostering Zack Moss or Devin Singletary because it shows there's a limit on their potential upside in Daboll's offense.

Arthur Smith

Over the course of Arthur Smith's career as an offensive play-caller (32 games), he hasn't provided his running backs with much work through the air as they've received just 3.44 targets per game. Statistically, this is the 2nd worst mark in the league. But in Smith's case, it probably has more to do with his offensive personnel than his general offensive philosophy. When you have a game-changing running back like Derrick Henry, a phenomenal runner but a terrible pass-catching back, you need to play to his strengths and pound the rock on the ground. Smith did that in Tennessee but will now have a new challenge in Atlanta with Mike Davis - who is an above-average pass-catching back but a mediocre back on the ground. Because of this major change, it's likely that Arthur Smith plays to his team's strengths more and provides his running backs with a league-average number of targets in 2021.

Greg Roman

While his usage of running backs in the ground game has been pretty good, over the course of his 114 game career as an offensive coordinator, Greg Roman has been the worst play-caller for fantasy running backs in the passing game. If you are planning on rostering J.K. Dobbins or Gus Edwards in your fantasy leagues, their upside will be capped in this system with little to no passing-game usage, and they are better investments in standard leagues rather than PPR leagues.

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Eli Grabanski is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Eli, check out his archive and follow him @3li_handles.

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