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AFC Coaching Changes That Affect Fantasy

Last week, I highlighted some of the coaching changes in the NFC and their potential impact on their respective teams’ fantasy players in 2018. This time I will turn my attention to the coaching changes in the AFC.

There were only three head coaching changes in the AFC but plenty of changes at the coordinator level. More than half of the teams in the AFC have changed offensive coordinators this offseason.  That doesn’t even include Cincinnati and Denver, who are retaining Bill Lazor and Bill Musgrave, respectively following in-season promotions. Let’s see how some of these changes will impact some of your favorite fantasy players.

AFC Coaching Changes and Their Fantasy Impacts

Buffalo Bills

Brian Daboll has been brought in to run the offense for the Buffalo Bills. In four seasons as an NFL offensive coordinator, no quarterback has even thrown for 2,500 yards in a season. Sure, that’s mostly because the talent hasn’t been there, but it’s not as if A.J. McCarron is any great shakes. He can be avoided altogether in fantasy.

Running backs, conversely, have had success in Daboll’s systems. Daboll has coaxed 1,000-yard seasons out of Reggie Bush and Peyton Hillis, among others. If LeSean McCoy avoids suspension, he should be a high-end RB2. If he does miss significant time, Chris Ivory can be a nice plug-and-play during McCoy’s absence.

Primary wide receivers have had mixed results under Daboll and their results have been mostly based on individual talent. Kelvin Benjamin makes for an interesting WR4 as the main target on what should be a pretty bad team, but his weekly production will likely remain inconsistent. Zay Jones is being drafted as bench depth only and is best suited as a desperation bye week fill-in.

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Cleveland Browns

Todd Haley is the new offensive coordinator in Cleveland. This is one of the more high-profile coaching changes at the coordinator level this offseason. Haley has historically called a high number of passing plays, but as is often the case, this is largely based on the talent available at his disposal.

Ben Roethlisberger averaged 37.0 attempts per game in Haley’s offenses, Kurt Warner averaged 35.0, and Matt Cassel averaged 31.1. I don’t expect Tyrod Taylor to suddenly throw the ball much more than the 28.1 times per game he averaged during his tenure in Buffalo. He’s a mere QB2 for as long as he can hold off Baker Mayfield.

It will be interesting to see how Haley uses Cleveland’s trio of running backs. Haley has usually boosted his backfield’s touches by involving them in the passing game. This seems to favor Carlos Hyde over Nick Chubb for early-down work. This is reflected in their current ADP, where Hyde is being selected in the fifth round compared to Chubb’s eighth-round ADP. But it’s Duke Johnson who is my favorite value in this backfield. Johnson is thought of as a PPR specialist, but he finished last season as an RB2 in standard scoring as well. He should continue to be a check-down option out of the backfield for a team that figures to play from behind quite a bit.

Haley tends to funnel targets towards his top receiver, but as is the case with quarterback play, this may be a byproduct of the players themselves. It’s just smart football to target the likes of Antonio Brown and Larry Fitzgerald as much as possible. Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry are each presently going in the fourth round. Haley’s tendencies seem to favor Gordon, but he is a volatile WR2. Landry should have more consistent weekly volume, but Gordon has the higher ceiling. Corey Coleman and David Njoku will fight for scraps behind Gordon, Landry, and Johnson in the passing game.

Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis hired former Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive coordinator Frank Reich to be their next head coach and brought in former Los Angeles Chargers’ wide receivers coach Nick Sirianni to be their new offensive coordinator. Sirianni has also coached quarterbacks in the past. Both hires mean good things are ahead for Andrew Luck.

Philip Rivers submitted consecutive top-12 fantasy seasons under Reich in 2014 and 2015, and Carson Wentz finished fifth in scoring despite missing three games last season. Luck is currently going off the board as the overall QB12 and has the potential to finish much higher. If Luck can stay on the field and prove he is 100 percent healthy, he has top-five upside.

The main principle of a Reich offense seems to be the idea of spreading the wealth. Over the last four years, no running back in a Reich offense has had more than 184 carries or 766 rushing yards. Reich likes to keep everyone involved and will likely repeat that strategy on a Colts team without an obvious solution at running back.

Reich also likes to spread the ball around to a multitude of pass-catchers. In the last four years, 12 players have totaled more than 80 targets in a season. However, none had more than 121 targets or 856 receiving yards in a single season. I think T.Y. Hilton should eclipse those numbers, but I think he’s a dicey third-round pick. I expect the Colts to use a lot of two tight end sets and create mismatches for Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle. Each can be had after Round 10 in most drafts and should produce solid numbers in Reich’s offense.

Kansas City Chiefs

Andy Reid promoted running backs coach Eric Bieniemy to replace the departing Matt Nagy as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator. Reid will resume playcalling duties as he brings along first-year starter Patrick Mahomes. Bieniemy will not make a huge impression on this offense and his promotion in and of itself will not have a major impact on Kansas City’s fantasy production.

Miami Dolphins

Dowell Loggains has replaced Clyde Christensen as Miami’s new offensive coordinator. Loggains reunites with head coach Adam Gase. The duo worked together in Chicago in 2015 when Gase was the offensive coordinator and Loggains was the quarterbacks’ coach. That team finished 11th in rushing yards but outside of the top-20 in total points, total yards, and passing yards.

Ryan Tannehill is likely to outproduce his current ADP as the overall QB30, but he should not be considered unless you are looking for depth in a two-QB or Superflex league.

Gase will continue to call plays, but the addition of Loggains could mean good things for the Dolphins’ running game, which should be led by Kenyan Drake. Lead backs have dominated touches in Loggains’ Chicago offenses. In Jordan Howard’s 29 starts since 2016, other running backs have combined for just three games with more than ten carries. And in those three games, Howard himself had 82 carries for 454 yards. Drake should be a featured piece in a Gase/Loggains offense.

Davante Parker and Kenny Stills figure to lead Miami’s receiving attack, particularly in the absence of target monster Jarvis Landry. Landry’s slot role will be filled by the combination of Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson. Stills, Amendola, and Wilson can all be had after pick 150 and make for nice late-round fliers. Parker flopped last year but may make for a nice post-hype sleeper in 2018.

New York Jets

Jeremy Bates has been promoted to offensive coordinator in New York, where he previously served as quarterbacks coach. However, Bates will not necessarily enhance the fantasy value of any Jets player in particular. No Jet is currently being drafted as a fantasy starter and I don’t think Bates will do much to change that. I do think Robby Anderson is undervalued, but that is more my opinion based on his talent and potential game-flow than any tweak to the gameplan that Bates figures to install.

Oakland Raiders

The Oakland Raiders made a big splash among teams making coaching changes when they lured Jon Gruden out of mini-retirement and tabbed him to be their next head coach. Gruden then hired Greg Olson to be his offensive coordinator. Olson has a long track record as an offensive coordinator in the NFL, having served that role in 12 seasons, plus one additional year as Jacksonville’s assistant head coach. Gruden figures to call plays while Olson will be primarily tasked with taking Derek Carr’s game to the next level.

Carr has never thrown for 4,000 yards or averaged more than seven yards per attempt in any of his four NFL seasons. Fantasy players are still buying in to some degree, as Carr is currently the 17th quarterback off the board in Fantrax drafts. Carr should enjoy some success in Oakland under the tutelage of Gruden and Olson, but it’s hard to justify him as a starter in standard leagues.

Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin will man the Raiders’ backfield, and no amount of coaching is going to change the fact that both have a lot of miles on their tires and should not be counted on for too much in fantasy circles. Lynch is currently being drafted as a Flex play and shouldn’t provide much more than that in 2018. Martin has arguably been the worst running back in football for two years.

As is the case with Carr, fantasy owners are not holding Amari Cooper’s disappointing 2017 against him. Cooper finished as a WR3 last season but is being drafted fifteenth among receivers. Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant have been brought in to replace Michael Crabtree. Oakland may increase their passing efficiency with Gruden back at the helm, but I’m not sure it makes any player other than Cooper worthy of starter consideration. Nelson, Bryant, and tight end Jared Cook will have usable weeks but should fall short of season-long starter level production.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh let Todd Haley walk and promoted longtime quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner to replace Haley. Fichtner joined the Pittsburgh coaching staff in 2007 and has worked his way up the ranks. He has a good relationship with head coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. There should not be much of a change in philosophy with Fichtner calling plays. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown will continue to be elite players at their respective positions, and Ben Roethlisberger and Juju Smith-Schuster should put up starting fantasy numbers as well.

Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans completely overhauled their coaching staff following a loss in the Divisional Round of last year’s playoffs. Among the coaching changes was the hiring of Mike Vrabel to be their next head coach and the addition of former Rams’ offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur to the same post. These changes should be a nice boost for Tennessee’s offense.

LaFleur was the quarterbacks’ coach when Matt Ryan won the NFL MVP award in 2016 and was the offensive coordinator for a Rams team which went from worst to first in terms of total points last year. If defensive-minded Vrabel leaves LaFleur to his own devices, Marcus Mariota could be headed for a nice bounce-back season. Mariota finished 12th in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks in 2016 but just 17th last season. He can be a bargain in 2018 drafts where he is going 18th among signal callers. Mariota is currently being drafted behind the likes of Carr, which I think is a major mistake. Mariota has the potential to be a QB1 again this year.

In LaFleur’s lone season as an offensive coordinator, Todd Gurley was the best player in fantasy. However, LaFleur himself did not call the plays, and Tennessee should have a relatively even distribution in workload between the returning Derrick Henry and free agent signing Dion Lewis. The pair figure to bring a “Thunder and Lightning” dynamic to the Titans’ backfield and I think both will have their weeks where they shine. But ultimately, Henry’s early third round price is a little steep for my liking.

Despite a potential increase in passing productivity, no Tennessee pass catcher outside of Lewis is being drafted in the first six rounds. Second-year wideout Corey Davis and tight end Delanie Walker are available in the seventh round, but I have my eye on Rishard Matthews. Last year’s Rams had three receivers who put up WR3 production or better last year, and Matthews is currently being drafted as the overall WR58. Matthews has led all Tennessee wideouts in receiving yards and touchdowns in each of the last two years in a much more conservative offense under Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie. He is a massive bargain in all formats at his present ADP.

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