As is the case every year, there were several coaching changes in the NFL this past offseason. In the NFC, we saw coaching changes in Arizona, Chicago, Detroit, and New York, all which figure to influence the production of several notable fantasy players. However, there were also several coaching changes at the offensive coordinator position. These moves tend to fly slightly under the radar, but often have quite an impact on a new offense as well. Let’s take a look at the players that are most likely to be affected by these NFC coaching changes.
NFC Coaching Changes That Affect Fantasy
Steve Wilks was brought in to be Arizona’s new head coach. Wilks comes from Carolina and has made his intentions known about wanting to establish the run. But he has also brought on Mike McCoy to be his offensive coordinator, which may signal a slight shift in that thinking.
McCoy has been one of the more pass-happy coordinators in recent memory. However, when McCoy was calling plays for Denver in 2011, he wisely limited Tim Tebow’s attempts and reads. This proves that McCoy is smart enough to properly utilize personnel without forcing his personal preferences on them. Based on this, I do not believe Sam Bradford’s value is enhanced much. He remains a spot starter in fantasy leagues.
One may look at historical trends and worry that no primary back has caught a lot of passes with McCoy calling plays, but I believe this is more a result of the running backs at McCoy’s disposal during those years. I fully expect David Johnson to approach 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving this year, making him a top-flight RB1 in all formats.
McCoy has always funneled targets towards his top receiver, and I expect no different in 2018. With no other proven options on the roster, the ageless Larry Fitzgerald is in line for a fourth consecutive 100-catch season, making him a solid option currently available in the fifth round. Fitz has been a Top-20 fantasy receiver in each of those three years and I expect the same in 2018.
The other player most likely to benefit under McCoy is tight end Ricky Seals-Jones. McCoy has always made a point of getting his tight ends involved in the passing game, and there is already some buzz surrounding Seals-Jones in training camp. He can still be had on the cheap in Round 13 and may flirt with TE1 value this season.
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No head coaching change was made in Carolina, but Norv Turner has replaced Mike Shula as the offensive coordinator. Turner has exclusively worked with pocket passers throughout his career, so his history may be a little hard to trust when attempting to forecast his influence on quarterback Cam Newton.
Turner will be primarily tasked with helping Newton become more efficient. Newton has not had a completion percentage above 60 percent since 2013. I don’t think Turner magically turns Newton into a 70 percent passer, but Newton should enjoy a slight uptick in completion rate. Still, I don’t think it changes much for his fantasy outlook. If Newton’s carries are reduced at all, I think that would be more a result of another year of tread on the tires and not a refusal by Turner to let Newton run the football.
Turner has not shied away from running the football with his running backs, and I think C.J. Anderson can be a nice fantasy value this season. Anderson has not exhibited ideal efficiency recently either, but Christian McCaffrey struggled to rush the ball last year and is best suited as a pass-catching specialist.
Tight ends have historically flourished under Turner, and I expect Greg Olsen to pick up where he left off prior to breaking his foot in September of last year. I believe Olsen will return to top-five form this season.
The wideouts are a little tougher to project. Upper echelon wideouts like Josh Gordon and Stefon Diggs have been productive under Turner, but I do not put Devin Funchess, D.J. Moore or Torrey Smith in that class. Funchess is the only one of the trio I would trust as a WR3/Flex option heading into 2018.
When Matt Nagy was tabbed to replace John Fox in Chicago, fantasy players rejoiced. Of all the offseason coaching changes many believe this particular one can have a major impact, as was the case in Los Angeles last season with the hiring of Sean McVay. Nagy was in Kansas City and called plays last year when players at four different positions finished in the top-four in fantasy points. That might be a bit unrealistic in Chicago this year, but the arrow is definitely pointing up on Chicago’s fantasy prospects.
Mitchell Trubisky should take the next step under Nagy and new offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Trubisky averaged 27.5 attempts last year, and I expect that number to increase by at least 20 percent in 2018. Trubisky is currently being drafted as a fringe QB2 but I see him easily outpacing that expectation. It’s hard to justify a draft pick in one-QB leagues, but he is my favorite value on the board in two-QB leagues.
It will be interesting to see how Nagy and Helfrich utilize Jordan Howard. Howard has finished in the Top-10 in fantasy points in each of his two seasons but has been a liability in the passing game, with a whopping 14 drops compared to just 52 catches. Howard believes he will improve as a receiver, but the Bears also have Tarik Cohen, who has already caught Nagy’s attention with his dynamic playmaking and route-running ability. I think Howard is being slightly undervalued as a high-end RB2, but Cohen makes for a high-upside Flex play, especially in PPR leagues.
Chicago brought in Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel in free agency to bolster their wide receiving corps. Robinson is recovering from a torn ACL but can easily regain WR1 status on such a pass-happy team. As for Gabriel, he will likely be tough to trust on a week-to-week basis, but going outside of the Top-100 wideouts is pure lunacy in my opinion. Nagy would not have signed off on a four-year deal for Gabriel had he not seen something in him. Gabriel finished as the overall WR44 in 2016 and I can absolutely see him finishing in that neighborhood this season.
Perhaps no player has had his projected value boosted by offseason coaching changes more than tight end Trey Burton. Burton has never finished as a Top-20 fantasy tight end but is thought of by almost everyone as a Top-10 option this year due to Nagy’s influence. Burton should easily set career-highs across the board due to his expected role in Nagy’s scheme. Burton will play the part that led Travis Kelce to fantasy greatness in Kansas City. I think Burton is a safe low-end TE1 but he will not come very cheap.
Matt Patricia was hired to replace Jim Caldwell in Detroit. We do not yet know how Patricia will fare as head coach, but he retained offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, so I don’t think any of Detroit’s players will be affected much by the move.
Green Bay Packers
Green Bay – In Green Bay, Joe Philbin was hired to replace Edgar Bennett as the Packers’ offensive coordinator. When Philbin held the same position from 2007-2011, Green Bay was a Top-10 offense in terms of points scored and total yards. Head coach Mike McCarthy figured to continue calling the plays, but as long as Green Bay keeps Aaron Rodgers upright, their offense should thrive regardless of who is calling plays. Rodgers is being drafted as the overall QB1 and with good reason. I also expect Davante Adams and Jimmy Graham to be high-end fantasy starters at their respective positions.
Los Angeles Rams
Matt LaFleur was the Rams’ offensive coordinator last season, but he will now be calling plays in Tennessee. LaFleur has been replaced by… well, nobody. The Rams have no official offensive coordinator, and head coach Sean McVay will continue to call plays. The Rams should be a force offensively again in 2018.
Jared Goff was incredibly efficient in 2017, but it remains to be seen whether he can take another step forward this season. For all of the accolades he received last season, he only finished as the overall QB12. He should be treated as a borderline QB1 again in 2018. Todd Gurley led all backs in fantasy scoring last season and is the consensus number one pick in fantasy drafts this season.
McVay traded for wide receiver Brandin Cooks in the offseason. Cooks has finished as a Top-8 fantasy wide receiver in each of the last two seasons and is a good bet to do so in 2018. He appears to be an excellent value in Round 4. There’s a reason McVay was willing to give up a first-round draft pick to acquire Cooks’ services.
Former Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur left Minnesota to become the New York Giants’ head coach. Shurmur is replaced by John DeFilippo, who most recently served as the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback coach.
All of the Vikings‘ skill position players are being drafted highly, which should come as no surprise. New quarterback Kirk Cousins has finished each of the last two seasons as the overall QB6 in Fantasy, and I would expect a similar result this season. That may have more to do with the weapons around him, but I don’t think having DeFilippo in the fold will hurt, either.
Running back Dalvin Cook returns after blowing his knee out in Week 4 and can potentially finish 2018 as a Top-10 back, though I personally don’t know if I would take him in the first round of fantasy drafts.
The Vikings boast one of the best receiving duos in the league with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Both are being drafted as top-15 options this year, with Thielen being valued as a WR1. I think Thielen is going a round too high. I’ve been burned by Diggs’ lower body injuries, but I still believe he is the better bet to put up a Top-12 fantasy season. Thielen owned a nine percent higher target share than Diggs last season, and I don’t see that repeating itself in 2018. Thielen is certainly no slouch, but I prefer him as a WR2.
Kyle Rudolph is another weapon who should remain an important piece of the offensive puzzle. I think another top-six finish is at the high range of potential outcomes, but DeFilippo knows full well the value that tight ends bring to an offense and I think Rudolph will be just fine. All told, Minnesota should have five fantasy starters in 2018, health permitting.
John DeFilippo likes where the #Vikings offense is at heading into training camp.
— Let’s Go Vikings (@letzgovikings) July 10, 2018
New York Giants
Shurmur lands in New York as the Giants’ head coach and will be tasked with returning quarterback Eli Manning to his 2015 form. Manning has a trio of potentially elite weapons in Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham, Jr. and Evan Engram. Shurmur’s West Coast offense should be a nice fit.
I found it interesting that Shurmur tabbed Mike Shula to be his offensive coordinator. Both have experience with coaching quarterbacks, but Shurmur will call the plays. Manning may improve on his overall QB23 ranking from a year ago but is not worth drafting in one-QB leagues.
Shurmur has shown a willingness to feed running backs if their talent allows. Just last season, Shurmur trusted rookie Dalvin Cook with 71 touches through the season’s first three weeks. I do not envision Cook’s injury causing Shurmur to shy away from those tendencies. I think Barkley should easily top 300 touches, making him a potential Top-5 running back in his rookie season.
Beckham should also return to elite status in 2018. As alluded above, Adam Thielen enjoyed a 27.3 percent target share in Shurmur’s offense last year. If that piece of the pie becomes Beckham’s on a team that is likely to play from behind a lot more than last year’s Vikings, the sky is the limit.
Evan Engram finished as the overall TE5 last season but may struggle to maintain that perch in 2018. Shurmur has not historically gone out of his way to force feed tight ends, and Sterling Shepard is still in the mix for scraps behind Beckham and Barkley as well. I think drafting Engram ahead of Greg Olsen or Jimmy Graham is a mistake.
As often happens to Super Bowl winning teams, Philadelphia went through several coaching changes this offseason. In addition to DeFilippo, The Eagles lost their offensive coordinator Frank Reich as well. He has been replaced by Mike Groh, who had previously served as Philadelphia’s wide receivers coach. Head coach Doug Pederson figures to call plays, so there should not be a tremendous shift in usage or fantasy value based on Groh’s promotion.
Darrell Bevell was let go as Seattle’s offensive coordinator following the 2017 season. Many think the writing had been on the wall ever since Bevell’s infamous called pass from the 1-yard line in Seattle’s Super Bowl loss. Bevell is succeeded by Brian Schottenheimer in what most consider one of the offseason’s more underwhelming coaching changes.
Schottenheimer’s offenses historically tend to be a bit conservative. And by “a bit” I mean, “ridiculously”. He has reportedly kept many of Bevell’s principles and concepts intact, which hopefully doesn’t hamper quarterback Russell Wilson and wide receiver Doug Baldwin too much. Each should remain a high-end starter in all formats.
It looks like Rashaad Penny could be given the chance to touch the ball 15-20 times per game, which makes him an ideal low-end RB2 in fantasy leagues. Schottenheimer certainly will not shy away from the run if Penny proves himself worthy of the workload.
After Baldwin, Tyler Lockett should see an uptick in target share, but I believe that is more a byproduct of the free agent departures of Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham rather than Schottenheimer being hired. In his last stint calling plays in Saint Louis from 2012-2014, no secondary receiver ever had more than 51 catches. Lockett’s career-high is also 51 receptions.
Find tons more fantasy goodness, including sleepers, busts, rankings, draft strategy, and more in Fantrax’s 2018 Fantasy Football Draft Kit!