Worst Coaches & Coordinators For Running Backs (2021 Fantasy Football)
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.
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.
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.
2021 Offensive-Minded #NFL Head Coaches/OC's whose offenses average the fewest HB carries per game (career)
37. Bill Lazor (19.47) - CHI
38. Kliff Kingsbury (19.31) - AZ
39. Eric Bieniemy (19.17) - KC
40. Tim Kelly (18.56) - HOU
41T. Matt Rhule & Joe Brady (17.94) - CAR
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) May 21, 2021
A look at the number of carries per game Chicago Bears OC Bill Lazor has provided his RB room each year (as an OC/HC)
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) March 18, 2021
Bill Lazor has never been big on feeding his running backs on the ground, with his backs consistently receiving less work on the ground than the average play-caller. The good news is that David Montgomery was efficient and saw a high enough percentage of the team's tailback carries to make up for Lazor's low-volume rushing attack and finish as the 4th best RB in PPR formats last year. But if Montgomery goes down, the team's handcuff would have a hard time living up to expectations in this low-volume rushing offense.
A look at the number of carries per game Arizona Cardinals HC Kliff Kingsbury has seen from his RB room each year (as an OC/HC)
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) March 17, 2021
Kliff Kingsbury's running back room was well below the league average in tailback carries per game for the 2019 season, and his career average ranks in the bottom five among active offensive-minded coaches. It is important to note that he provided his backs with a more average amount of carries in 2020, but looking at the data, it makes sense why James Conner and Chase Edmonds have a relatively low ADP.
A look at the number of carries per game Kansas City Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy has seen from his RB room each year (as an OC/HC)
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) March 25, 2021
Eric Bieniemy has yet to call plays on game day, but he does help a lot with the installs and overall gameplan of the team each week. In his three years as the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator, the Chiefs running back room has sat below the league average at under 20 carries per game each season. If you plan on drafting Clyde Edwards-Helaire, you are doing so because you think he will get a majority of the carries, be an above-average pass-catcher, and be efficient with his touches - not because you think the Chiefs will suddenly pound the rock on the ground.
A look at the number of carries per game Houston Texans OC Tim Kelly has seen from his RB room each year (as an OC/HC)
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) March 9, 2021
Tim Kelly has been the Houston Texans offensive coordinator since 2019 and will be the team's offensive play-caller under head coach David Culley. In 2019 working with Bill O'Brien, his running back room saw a fairly normal number of carries. But in a 2020 season where Kelly was the primary offensive play-caller, the team's tailback carries per game dropped off a cliff. This can partially be attributed to the fact that the Texans ran the fewest plays in the league last year, but at the same time, it's hard to see them suddenly significantly improving in that area in 2021. Keep this information in mind if you plan to roster one of the Texans' running backs (David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, Mark Ingram II, or Rex Burkhead) since they may not have as much upside on the ground as other running backs.
Matt Rhule & Joe Brady
A look at the number of carries per game Carolina Panthers HC Matt Rhule has provided his RB room each year
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) March 5, 2021
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.
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.
2021 Offensive-Minded #NFL Head Coaches/OC's whose offenses average the fewest HB targets per game (career)
38. Kevin Stefanski (5.31) - CLE HC
39. Tim Kelly (5.25) - HOU OC
40. Brian Daboll (5.18) - BUF OC
41. Arthur Smith (3.44) - ATL HC
42. Greg Roman (3.35) - BAL OC
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) April 28, 2021
A look at the number of targets per game Cleveland Browns HC Kevin Stefanski has provided his RB room every year (as an OC/HC)
*Stefanski was MN's OC the last 3 games of 2018 after John DeFilippo was fired pic.twitter.com/YqRHVHDt0X
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) February 26, 2021
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.
A look at the number of targets per game Houston Texans OC Tim Kelly has provided his RB room each year (as an OC/HC)
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) March 8, 2021
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.
A look at the number of targets per game Bills OC Brian Daboll has provided his RB room each year (as an OC/HC)
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) February 9, 2021
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.
A look at the number of targets per game Atlanta Falcons HC Arthur Smith has provided his RB room each year (as an OC/HC)
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) March 10, 2021
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.
A look at the number of targets per game Baltimore Ravens OC Greg Roman has provided his RB room every year (as an OC/HC)
*Roman was fired 2 games into the 2016 NFL Season pic.twitter.com/YJRBBd8X0D
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) February 23, 2021
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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