Draft Prep: NFC Offensive Coaching Changes for 2019

Kevin Taylor takes a look at the coaching changes in the NFC and what they could mean in the coming year.

There have been a number of coaching changes on the offensive side of the ball this off-season. The NFL has 17 new Offensive Coordinators and 8 new Head Coaches. Some of these HC’s will call their own plays so I will dive into them more than the OC’s of those particular teams. This is a two-part article, the first covering the AFC changes and the second covering the NFC. Link to the first article is here.

 

NFC East

 

Dallas Cowboys – New OC Kellen Moore

The expectation is that the Cowboys will run a very similar offense in 2019 as they did the last few years under Scott Linehan. Moore has spent six seasons under Linehan both with the Cowboys and with the Lions before that. Moore has spent the last two seasons as a coach under Linehan and was a backup quarterback while he was the OC before that. In 2018, the Cowboys were 21st in situation-neutral pace according to football outsiders. In the last three years with Linehan as OC, the Cowboys have finished top 10 in rushing attempts each year (with two top-5 finishes) and have been 21st or lower in pass attempts in those three years as well. Expect a heavy dose of running back Ezekiel Elliott again this year behind a top-ten run-blocking offensive line from last year. They also get back stud center Travis Frederick from injury. The bread and butter of the offense will be ground and pound with Elliott while playing great defense again (9th in Defense DVOA in 2018).

 

Washington Redskins – New OC Kevin O’Connell

O’Connell steps in as offensive coordinator this year replacing two year OC Matt Cavanaugh in Washington. However, head coach Jay Gruden will still call the plays as he has done the prior two seasons. Expect a lot of the same from Gruden and his offense in 2019. Here is how they ranked with him calling plays the last two years

2018 2017
Points 29th 16th
Yards 28th 16th
Pass Attempts 26th 18th
Rush Attempts 14th 24th
Offense DVOA 29th 20th
Pass DVOA 29th 14th
Rush DVOA 20th 28th

Looking ahead to 2019, this offense isn’t one to be very excited about as the quarterback situation is in flux: there is currently a competition between first-round rookie Dwayne Haskins from Ohio State and veterans Case Keenum and Colt McCoy. There is also expected to be a committee at running back with Adrian Peterson leading the way, second-year back Darrius Guice and fourth-round rookie Bryce Love mixing in, and passing game specialist Chris Thompson filling in on third downs. It also doesn’t help the team that stud all-pro left tackle Trent Williams is holding out due to the handling of medical treatment last season and his current contract according to reports. Their top three receivers from last year Paul Richardson, Jamison Crowder, and Josh Doctson and all finished outside the top 55 in PPR points per game–a useless finish in most fantasy leagues. Tight end Jordan Reed did finish 11th in PPR points per game at his position among those who had at least 40 targets last year. The only caveat with Reed is his health and last year was no exception; he has never played a full 16 games in his six NFL seasons and has played in over 12 games in just two of those seasons.

 

NFC North

 

Detroit Lions – New OC Darrell Bevell

2018 Offensive Team Rankings:

Points Scored: (25th)

Total Yards: (24th)

Offensive DVOA: (23rd)

Passing DVOA: (22nd)

Rushing DVOA: (25th)

Bevell takes over as offensive coordinator for Jim Bob Cooter who was there for four seasons. This is not the same “throw it all over the yard” offense that we have come to know and love. Last year was the first time in the last six years that quarterback Matthew Stafford hasn’t been in the top 10 in the league in pass attempts. He was 11th and I expect that to tick down even more as the Lions turn more into a run-first, defensive team under head coach Matt Patricia. Bevell was the offensive coordinator with Seattle from 2011-2017 and the Vikings from 2006-2010 before that. His teams were top 10 in rushing attempts 7 out of 12 years and top-3 five times. Those teams had a great feature running back in Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. As noted by Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) of action network, Touches for Darrell Bevell lead running backs by year …

Year Touches Year Touches
2006 345 2012 338
2007 257 2013 337
2008 384 2014 317
2009 357 2015 157*
2010 319 2016 137*
2011 313 2017 83**

*running back Marshawn Lynch played 7 games in 2015 and left the team in 2016

** In 2017, the Seahawks had 5 different players start at running back

In 2018, only five running backs had over 300 touches. This would no doubt be a breakout year for running back Kerryon Johnson if he gets this kind of workload. Also of note, the Lions parted ways with long-time pass-catching running back Theo Reddick in training camp which should secure the passing game work for Johnson as well.

Bevell’s offenses traditionally are in the bottom half of the league in pass attempts (10 out of 12 years). However, from 2012-2017 with Russell Wilson as his quarterback, Wilson finished in the top half in net yards per attempt each season and four of the six in the top ten. This tells me that Bevell doesn’t like to throw it often but when he does he tends to throw the ball downfield which is great for our fantasy quarterbacks and receivers. Stafford was 30th in fantasy points per game at his position last year and 27th in net yards per attempt; expect an uptick in both of those this year.

 

Green Bay Packers – New HC Matt LaFleur, New OC Nathaniel Hackett

2018 Offensive Team Rankings:

Points Scored: (14th)

Total Yards: (12th)

Offensive DVOA: (7th)

Passing DVOA: (12th)

Rushing DVOA: (3rd)

Long-time Packers coach Mike McCarthy is gone after 13 seasons in Green Bay and so is interim coach and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. In comes LaFleur after two seasons as OC for the Rams and the Titans and Hackett who was the OC for the Bills and the Jaguars the last five years. Head coach Matt LaFleur is going to be calling the plays and has only done that once before–last year with the Titans.

It will be quite the change coming from Tennessee, where quarterback Marcus Mariota dealt with a nerve injury last year, to Green Bay, where he will be working with Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best quarterback in the league. Rodgers hasn’t had an elite year since 2016, with a down season in 2018 and an injury-plagued 2017. He really struggled with his accuracy in 2018 finishing 29th or worse in true completion %, red zone completion %, and play-action completion %. Also, according to his player profile page, Rodgers’ receivers were the third-best group in target separation last season. The Packers made no upgrades at receiver or tight end this offseason. He still has stud wide receiver Davante Adams who tied for second in fantasy points per game last year with Antonio Brown and was second in the league in targets with 169. Adams also was the number one receiver in the NFL in red-zone target share at 44%.

At running back, LaFleur said early on that “a committee approach is the most effective use” of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. It remains to be seen if that comes to fruition as that was said before the draft and now they add rookie running back Dexter Williams to the mix as well. The Packers performed well in the running game last year, finishing third in rushing DVOA, but McCarthy never committed to the run game with the Packers–they finished dead last in rush attempts. In both years as a coordinator, LaFleur’s offenses have been top ten in the league in rushing attempts.

LaFleur hasn’t had the Jimmy Graham type of tight end to work with the last few years. Delanie Walker was hurt most of last year and the Rams didn’t have a downfield threat at tight end the year before. Graham struggled his first year in Green Bay with only two touchdowns, but perhaps he will eat into Davante Adams’ large share of the red zone work this upcoming season.

 

Minnesota Vikings – New OC Kevin Stefanski

Kevin Stefanski steps in as OC in Minnesota as he has been with the team in some capacity every year since 2006. Head coach  Mike Zimmer is more of a defensive mind, so Stefanski will be calling the plays. I wouldn’t expect too much of a change from how the Vikings have been running their offense though. Honestly, not a lot is known about how Stefanski will run his offense. Long-time coaches Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison are assistants and they will for sure be of influence to the offense. Kubiak has traditionally been known to prefer a run-heavy offense (14 of 22 years top half in rush attempts/8 of 22 years top half in pass attempts) which bodes well for running back Dalvin Cook. The offensive line was ranked 23rd in run blocking and 9th in pass blocking according to football outsiders. PFF doesn’t have them improving as they are ranked 25th in their preseason metrics.

The passing game is dominated by receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen who ranked 10th and 11th in target share last season. Tight end Kyle Rudolph disappointed last year and his underlying metrics weren’t great either. His average target distance was 23rd among tight ends, he was 26th in target separation, and he was 84th in yards per pass route. The Vikings did draft a tight end in the second round this year (Irv Smith Jr.), so we could see him start eating into Rudolph’s playing time this season.

Overall, expect more of the same from the Vikings who will try to establish the run with Cook. Be aware, though, that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy; he’s played in 15 of 32 games in his two years. Make sure to see who is the top backup with Latavius Murray in New Orleans, rookie Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah, and Michael Boone are competing. Diggs and Thielen will dominate targets again and be low-end WR1s this year.

 

NFC South

 

Atlanta Falcons  – New OC Dirk Koetter

2018 Offensive Team Rankings:

Points Scored: (10th)

Total Yards: (6th)

Offensive DVOA: (8th)

Passing DVOA: (7th)

Rushing DVOA: (22nd)

Koetter inherits one of the leagues better offenses–they were top ten in points scored and yards last season. Koetter was the Falcons coordinator from 2012-2014 with Matt Ryan as his quarterback, and they will be working together this year as well. Ryan is coming off a great year where he was second in fantasy points per game among all quarterbacks. Ryan had his highest three pass attempts in a season during the three years with Koetter at OC, but his rate stats were roughly in line with his career average (NY/A 7.0/6.0./6.8, with a career avg at 6.8, TD% 5.2/4.0/4.5 with a career avg of 4.8%). I’d expect Ryan to have another great year with weapons all around him and what should be an improved offensive line.

With running back Tevin Coleman in San Fransisco this year, there is a lot of hype for Devonta Freeman being the bell-cow running back this year. In Koetter’s last seven seasons as OC, and most recently as head coach of the Buccaneers, no running back has gotten over 56% of the snaps. We may be seeing more Ito Smith on the field than expected this year.

There should be enough passing volume in this offense that the guys behind mega-stud receiver Julio Jones, who led the entire league in targets last year, can still be productive. The problem may be figuring out which games tight end Austin Hooper and receivers Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley should be started in. The three of them had 15 games of seven-plus targets last year combined (Sanu – 7, Ridley – 4, Hooper – 4).

This should be one of the best offenses in the league again as they play at a fast pace (Falcons and Koetter’s Buccaneers top-10 in pace in 2018). The Falcons also return all of their playmakers, including getting running back Devonta Freeman back from injury. They should see an uptick in offensive line play with guards James Carpenter and Chris Lindstrom penciled in as starters this year.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – New HC Bruce Arians, New OC Byron Leftwich

2018 Offensive Team Rankings:

Points Scored: (12th)

Total Yards: (3rd)

Offensive DVOA: (12th)

Passing DVOA: (9th)

Rushing DVOA: (24th)

Arians replaces Dirk Koetter in Tampa Bay as head coach, and he is going to be calling the plays this year. Last year, the Buccaneers struggled with interceptions (last) and running the ball (31st yards per attempt / 29th yards) while their defense got crushed by injuries and poor play. They gave up the second-most points in the league. The last two years Tampa Bay has been fourth and third in pass attempts and first and fourth in passing yards in the league while playing at one of the fastest situation-neutral paces in the league–4th and 11th. Arians’ teams have been in the middle of the league in pace for his last three years coaching 16th/17th/22nd.

Arians gets a lot of hype about what he can do for an offense but in reality, his teams have been in the top 10 in yards and points only three times in his 14 years calling the plays. This will be a big-time “prove it” year for quarterback Jameis Winston after he couldn’t cleanly keep the starting job over Ryan Fitzpatrick last year. Winston also loses three of his top five receivers in terms of receptions last year in running back Jacquizz Rodgers, and receivers DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries.

Those departures are good news for the current group of pass-catchers, because the Bucs did not do much to address the losses; they only brought in 30-year-old running back Andre Ellington and speedy draft-bust receiver Breshad Perriman. It is assumed that Perriman will try to take Jackson’s field stretcher role with his 4.3 40-yard dash time. With a more concentrated target tree, I expect receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to command more targets than they did last year. Evans was 10th in the league in targets, but he was only 22nd in target share. Godwin steps into the number two role and will no doubt get more targets than his 95 he had last year. Humphries, Jackson, and Rodgers leaving means there are 224 targets up for grabs. Arians’ teams are known for passing the ball downfield a ton. From 2013-2017, his quarterbacks were in the top seven every year in aDOT which is great news for Evans and Godwin. They were number one and twenty respectively in air yards last season.

Tight end O.J. Howard should get a boost from his 4.8 targets per game and 11.7% target share he had in his ten healthy games last year. This downfield scheme should fit in very well with Howard, who was already number one among tight ends in yards per target and yards per reception in 2018. Lastly, according to his player profile, he was the number one tight end in fantasy points per pass route run and per target.

The backfield will be some sort of committee between running backs Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones, and the aforementioned Ellington. None of them particularly stand out, but whoever gets the passing game work would be of interest here.

 

NFC West

 

Arizona Cardinals – New HC Kliff Kingsbury, New OC Tom Clements

2018 Offensive Team Rankings:

Points Scored: (32nd)

Total Yards: (32nd)

Offensive DVOA: (32nd)

Passing DVOA: (32nd)

Rushing DVOA: (31st)

Kingsbury is now the head coach and will be running the offense in Arizona as Mike McCoy and Byron Leftwich are gone. He will try to implement the air-raid offense that he used at Texas Tech. The plan is to play up tempo and use predominantly four receiver sets. In his last four years of college coaching, Kingsbury’s offenses were 16th, 23rd, 5th, and 2nd in points per game with the two top-five teams led by superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Kingsbury was able to handpick his quarterback in the draft, selecting Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray with the first overall pick. Murray provides great value with his legs too. In 2018, he averaged 10 rushing attempts per game and 7.2 yards per carry to go along with the 12 rushing scores he had. Murray will provide an every week floor with his legs and top-three fantasy quarterback numbers if he can succeed throwing the ball too.

The Cardinals were next to last in plays per game last year at 56.2 while the league-high was Baltimore at 70.2 per game. The Cardinals should be somewhere around 70 per game if they play at the tempo that they want too. Running back David Johnson has number one overall upside in this offense in my opinion. As the number one running back in fantasy in 2016, he had the most running back targets with 120 and was first in the league in touches at 373. Last year he was fifth in the league in touches which is great, but only 11th in targets with 76. He had an injury-filled 2017 only playing in one game. Johnson had the seventh-most carries with a stacked box last year and played receiver (slot or out-wide) only 7% of his snaps compared to 18% and 20% in 2015 and 2016. Expect Johnson to be utilized out wide more in some of these four-wide formations and he will have the benefit of un-stacked boxes to run against with this style of offense.

The Cardinals have an intriguing receiving corps as they bring back legend Larry Fitzgerald and second-year WR Christian Kirk. They also have rookies Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler, and Keesean Johnson. Expect Fitzgerald and Kirk to be the one and two and the rookies to fight for time in the four-wide sets. Tight end will be a bit of a battle as incumbent Ricky Seals-Jones struggled last year (48.7% catch rate, 4.9 yards per target, and only one touch down) and the Cardinals bring in Charles Clay and Maxx Williams as competition. It will be interesting to watch in the preseason how often the tight ends are used in the four-wide sets and who they view as the starter.

Overall, this should be a fantasy-friendly offense that runs a lot of plays and provides good volume for Johnson, Fitzgerald, and whichever receiver steps up behind those two.

 

(Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire)

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