The talent disparity at the NFL level is not as wide as one would believe. Oftentimes, success comes down to teams finding coaches who can maximize talent and put players in the best positions to succeed. This often carries over into fantasy football as well. NFL coaching changes can have a much larger impact than most people realize.
We don’t need to look beyond what Sean McVay did last season for the Los Angeles Rams. Heading into the year, the Rams offense was, well, offensive. They ranked last in the NFL in points in 2016, and their individual fantasy stock heading into last year was in the toilet.
However, with McVay at the helm, the Rams’ fortunes changed, both in real life and fantasy. Jared Goff’s ADP was outside the top-25 last season. He finished 10th in QB scoring. Todd Gurley was drafted as the 10th running back off the board, and of course, went on destroy all non-quarterbacks in total scoring. And three Rams finished the year as WR3s despite Sammy Watkins being the only one of the bunch to be drafted as such. Let’s look at how recent NFL coaching changes could produce undervalued fantasy players in 2018.
7 Players Who Benefit from NFL Coaching Changes
Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders
Last year, many fantasy analysts who are quick-witted and super handsome warned that Derek Carr was largely overvalued in fantasy drafts. Derek Carr went sixth among quarterbacks last year yet finished just 19th.
It seems the hate has gone too far as we head into 2018. Right now, Carr is going 17th among quarterbacks, and I expect him to exceed that value. Among the reasons I like Derek Carr this season is the addition of Jon Gruden as Raiders’ head coach. Gruden has been known for his prior work with quarterbacks. He turned Rich Gannon into an MVP candidate and knows what it takes to be a successful quarterback in the NFL. I do not think he would have signed on with Oakland if he wasn’t fully confident in Derek Carr’s ability to reach the next level. (OK, the $100 million probably didn’t hurt.)
Carr will have plenty of weapons at his disposal, including Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, and Martavis Bryant. I know Gruden said he wanted to play like it’s 1999, but do you really think the Raiders are going to play Ground and Pound with washed-up running backs like Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin? I imagine he’ll leave the ball primarily in the hands of his franchise quarterback. I have Derek Carr as a fringe QB1 this season.
Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears
Many people will point to the Bears as “this year’s Rams” due to the addition of new coach Matt Nagy. Nagy has spent his career under offensive-minded (though often clock and situationally-challenged) Andy Reid. When Nagy assumed play-calling duties for the Kansas City Chiefs last year, the offense thrived, and the Chiefs made the playoffs.
The Bears’ offense should be among the most-improved units in all of football. Leading the charge is quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Trubisky is still green, so a leap to a top-10 performance ala Jared Goff is probably unrealistic. However, his current ADP of QB25 is a bit too low. Trubisky finished last season as overall QB28, but that is a bit misleading. Trubisky didn’t start until Week 5 and averaged only 8.37 fantasy points per game until Chicago’s Week 9 bye. Following the bye week, Trubisky was a little better, raising his weekly average by nearly 50 percent over the last eight weeks of the year.
With the recent additions of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton to bolster Chicago’s previously lackluster receiving group, I think it’s fair to consider Mitchell Trubisky a top-18 fantasy quarterback this season. This would make Trubisky a must-draft in 2QB leagues.
David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
I know … I’m really going out on a limb proclaiming that David Johnson will be an elite fantasy performer in 2018. Still, I think we’re underselling him.
New head coach Steve Wilks is a defensive mind who is getting his first taste of being in charge at the NFL level. Wilks will want to help his defense by re-establishing the running game with David Johnson. Johnson essentially missed the entire 2017 season with a dislocated wrist, but he is back at 100 percent. Before the injury, Johnson ran roughshod through opposing defenses. For all of the hoopla surrounding Todd Gurley’s 2017, people seem to forget that Johnson’s 2016 was better from a fantasy perspective.
New offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has always been smart enough to utilize his playmakers, and Johnson will be the centerpiece of Arizona’s offense. Johnson is currently going as the fourth pick in drafts, but I have him as a top-two selection. Johnson dominated fantasy football in 2016, and there’s no reason he cannot duplicate the feat in 2018.
Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears
Jordan Howard should also see a boost in his totals with Matt Nagy playing the role of offensive mastermind in Chicago.
Howard has finished his first two NFL seasons as the overall RB9 and RB10 in fantasy, but he was largely hampered by the Bears’ ineptitude and inability to remain in games. Just 17.2 percent of Howard’s career rushing output has occurred in the fourth quarter, and just 31.1 percent has occurred while Chicago was leading on the scoreboard.
If the Bears can be a competitive team, Howard can post monster rushing totals. His receiving skills are still sub-par, so expecting him to approach Johnson’s 2016 or Gurley’s 2017 is not realistic. However, Jordan Howard can easily finish the 2018 season as a top-six fantasy back in standard leagues. He is currently being drafted as the 10th running back off the board, making him a potential value pick early in the second round.
Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears
Honestly, pretty much every skill position on the field earns a boost with Nagy at the helm. I’ve already touched on Mitchell Trubisky and Jordan Howard, and tight end Trey Burton deserves to be included in the conversation, but we’ll focus on Allen Robinson here.
Among Nagy’s strengths is his ability to highlight elite wide receivers, and that focus was never more evident than when Nagy called plays in December for Kansas City. From Week 13 through Week 16, star wide receiver Tyreek Hill’s averaged a ridiculous 15.9 fantasy points per game, finishing as a weekly WR1 in three of four weeks. This is not to say that Allen Robinson should be drafted ahead of Antonio Brown or DeAndre Hopkins. But Robinson’s current draft stock at WR18 feels low to me.
Robinson already has an overall WR4 to his credit, and it would not surprise me to see him approach that level of production once again in 2018. I believe Allen Robinson finishes the season as a low-end WR1 in fantasy leagues.
Jack Doyle, and Eric Ebron TE, Indianapolis Colts
In maybe one of the most impactful NFL coaching changes, Frank Reich takes over as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, which bodes well for both Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron heading into 2018.
In Reich’s four seasons as offensive coordinator, tight ends have played major roles in his offenses. Sure, Reich had the luxury of such tight ends as Antonio Gates and Zach Ertz, but it’s not as if the Colts’ current duo have no street cred. Doyle finished last season as the overall TE9 and Ebron finished last year as the overall TE13. Both tight ends are currently being drafted below their performance level from a year ago. I suspect this is out of fear that they cancel each other out to some extent, but each has arguably better circumstances than they had a season ago.
With Jacoby Brissett at the helm last year, Indianapolis averaged just over 30 passes per game. For his career, Andrew Luck has averaged nearly 38 attempts per game. Assuming full health for Luck (I know…), those extra eight targets per game are going to primarily be split among T.Y. Hilton and the tight ends. I like both as values heading into this season. I have Doyle as a surefire TE1, with Ebron just behind him.