NFL Coaching Changes Fantasy Impact
Arizona Cardinals – Steve Wilks OUT Kliff Kingsbury IN
Biggest Impact – The entire offense
The Cardinals front office and fans are hoping the team pulls off a 180 degree offensive turnaround similar to the 2017 Los Angeles Rams by ousting their head coach Steve Wilks and quarterback Josh Rosen after only one season in the desert. If the Cardinals want to improve their last ranked offense and become fantasy relevant they better hope that Kingsbury’s air raid spread offense and Kyler Murray can translate to the NFL. The main difference between McVay and Kingsbury is that McVay came from the NFL ranks where he worked behind successful offensive play-callers Jay Gruden and Kyle Shanahan. Kingsbury has no experience at the NFL level and we’ve seen college play-callers like Steve Spurrier, Chip Kelly, and most recently Steve Sarkisian come and go in the league. I applaud the Cardinals’ brass for going all-in by getting Kingsbury’s guy Murray, but what will be the fantasy impact for the Cardinals’ offensive players? Let’s start off with the biggest name David Johnson. The offensive line is still a work-in-progress and Kingsbury is a pass happy offensive mind which doesn’t bode well for Johnson as a rusher. Although I think Johnson improves upon his 3.6 yards per carry, I don’t believe he will get back to his 2016 form of 1239 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Where I do see him thriving is in the passing game. Johnson approaching or even eclipsing his 80 catches for 879 yards in 2016 is a distinct possibility in 2019 as I expect the Cardinals to target him in the passing game frequently. Therefore, in PPR leagues Johnson is still a RB1, just not a top 5 pick in your fantasy drafts. Murray will have his share of struggles as a passer in his rookie season, but his running prowess makes him a fantasy quarterback sleeper who should put up QB1 numbers. The receiving core and tight end position will be the hardest to predict from week to week. The Cardinals drafted three wide receivers in their 2019 NFL Draft and added tight end Charles Clay in the off-season to compete with Ricky Seals-Jones and 7th round pick Caleb Wilson. Lots of mouths to feed in what should be a pass heavy offense, with at least 3 receivers on the field predominately; with a chance of possibly 4-5 receivers lined up on any given play. My money is on the ageless one Larry Fitzgerald leading the charge with Christian Kirk and rookie Andy Isabella vying for the second highest target share in the offense. If you’re looking for a tight end sleeper I believe Clay takes over as the Cards number one tight end and returns to fantasy relevance.
Cincinnati Bengals – Marvin Lewis OUT Zac Taylor IN
Biggest Impact – Joe Mixon
New Bengals head coach Zac Taylor is a relative unknown due to his lack of play-calling experience, but what he has going for him is his two years of experience under Sean McVay in Los Angeles. The wonder-kid McVay already has his own coaching tree due to his early success and Taylor’s service under him was a boon to jump start his NFL head coaching career. It’s a copy cat league and I fully expect Taylor to implement a very similar offense to the Rams 11 personnel which plays predominately three wide receivers on the field with heavy misdirection, outside zone running schemes, and play-action concepts. Joe Mixon is no Todd Gurley but Mixon is a beast that is fully capable of learning the playbook quickly and having instant success with Taylor. After a slow rookie season due to an inferior offensive line, Mixon broke out in 2018 with 1168 yards and 8 rushing touchdowns. With the Bengals improving their offensive line even more with the draft selection of Jonah Williams and Taylor’s innovative offense coming to Cincinnati, I believe the sky is the limit for Mixon so much so that I believe his fantasy ceiling is that of the number 1 running back in fantasy football this season. Grabbing Mixon at the end of the first round in your leagues can become a game changer and provide great value. I am high on Mixon this season and expect his upward trajectory to continue. If A.J. Green stays healthy, I expect at least 1000 yards and 8 touchdowns. Pretty much par for the course so I don’t think there is a substantial fantasy impact on Green pursuant to the Taylor hiring one way or the other. Another winner with the Bengals coaching change is slot receiver Tyler Boyd. Boyd put up his best stat line by far last season with 1028 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns. Considering Taylor’s history with McVay, the fact that the slot receiver is heavily targeted in McVay’s offense and he puts his slot receivers in a position to succeed, should keep Boyd on the WR2 radar. The sleeper of the bunch is wide receiver John Ross who gets an opportunity to get out of former coach Marvin Lewis’ doghouse. The former top ten 10 pick should eclipse his 60 total targets in his first two seasons this year under Taylor.
Cleveland Browns – Hue Jackson/Gregg Williams OUT Freddie Kitchens IN
Biggest Impact – Baker Mayfield
In this scenario, we’ve already seen glimpses of the Freddie Kitchens’ effect for the Cleveland Browns. After firing Hue Jackson, the Browns went from a 2-5-1 record to drastically improving their offense and finishing the season 5-3 once Kitchens took the reigns. Personally, I believe the most significant change that was made by the Browns other than the firing of Jackson was the decision to feature Nick Chubb as the bell-cow back in the offense. The running back position doesn’t get much credit anymore in this pass happy league, but the fact remains that a good running game makes it easier for your quarterback and the offense as a whole. Baker Mayfield’s in-season progression resulted in him breaking the rookie passing TD record via his leadership, maturity and willingness to spread the ball around and give his receivers an opportunity to win one-on-one matchups. Although I don’t foresee Mayfield continuing to complete 70% of his passes as he did during the second half of last season, a full season of the aforementioned Kitchens and offensive coordinator Todd Monken should place more emphasis on getting the ball out of Mayfield’s hands quickly, resulting in fewer sacks and allowing the Browns’ host of play-makers to do damage after the catch. Odell Beckham Jr will be the main beneficiary and will no doubt continue to be a WR1 in all fantasy formats. Jarvis Landy had an inconsistent fantasy season in his first year with Cleveland due to the “spread the ball around” nature of the Browns passing attack. I believe the addition of his college teammate Beckham Jr will open up the offense more for Landry to do damage underneath which should put him in the WR2 territory with over 1000 receiving yards. Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins were good sleeper candidates before the Odell trade, but I don’t see much consistency there unless an injury to Beckham Jr or Landry occurs. Next up is the mystery man David Njoku who struggled with drops and consistency last season. I am buying once again this year as a guy this talented in an offense so explosive should have a significant fantasy impact at a position lacking in depth across the league. Njoku’s ceiling can reach top 5 tight end status. Last but not least is my favorite guy out of the bunch, Nick Chubb. The rookie finished as an RB2 last season despite starting only 9 games. The addition of Kareem Hunt can cause some pause for concern but Hunt won’t be ready immediately due to suspension and this is still Chubb’s backfield. I’m expecting over 1200 rushing yards for Chubb with double digit TD production.
Denver Broncos – Vance Joseph OUT Vic Fangio IN
Biggest Impact – Royce Freeman
The hire of Vic Fangio was an astute move for the Broncos but the names of importance from a fantasy perspective are offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello and offensive line coach Mike Munchak. The Broncos are trying to improve their offensive line play and running game with these hires. Play tough, physical football with Fangio’s 3-4 defense and follow that philosophy on offense with a ground and pound attack to set up play-action with Joe Flacco. The former Super Bowl MVP quarterback will not be asked to throw the ball as much as he did in Baltimore, therefore he shouldn’t be on your fantasy radar unless you can start 2 QBs. The biggest winners are the backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. Lindsay brokeout on the scene rushing for 1037 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns in his rookie season; however an off-season wrist surgery should give Freeman an opportunity to show the new coaching staff what he can bring to their offense. Freeman is a no-nonsense, north-south runner that can also get wide in Scangarello’s zone system and run with toughness to wear out opposing teams. The Broncos backfield workload will be more of a shared attack than it was last season which increases Freeman’s fantasy value. The receivers will be hit or miss most weeks with Emmanuel Sanders, if healthy, leading the way. Courtland Sutton flashed last season as a backup but he didn’t step up to what fantasy players were expecting after the mid-season trade of Demariyus Thomas. With an off-season under his belt and one full season as a pro, I expect Sutton to be more consistent. Sutton can give you WR3 type production that can be had later in your drafts (9th round ADP). Rookie tight end Noah Fant was drafted in a good position as the clear cut number one receiving tight end in an offensive scheme and quarterback that likes to get the ball to their tight ends. I like Fant to be a factor in the Broncos offense but you always have to remember that the tight end position usually takes longer to transition in the NFL than most other positions. From a dynasty perspective, Fant and his teammate T.J. Hockenson should be targeted as they both should have very productive careers after they get beyond the rookie learning curve.
Green Bay Packers – Mike McCarthy OUT Matt LaFleur IN
Biggest Impact – Aaron Jones
The end of the Mike McCarthy era finally reached its boiling point last season as questions about his vanilla offensive scheme and rumored turmoil with star quarterback Aaron Rodgers led to an in-season firing. The team made the right decision giving McCarthy the pink slip, but the decision to hire Matt LaFleur to work with Rodgers is a decision that will be questioned until LaFleur proves that he can handle the pressure of winning football games with arguably the best quarterback in football. LaFleur is a relative unknown, who has coached under Kyle Shanahan’s tutelage at multiple destinations and most recently under Sean McVay in Los Angeles before becoming offensive coordinator for the Titans last year. It was a mixed bag for LaFleur as his Titans offense ranked 25th overall and did not really get on track until late in the season when he finally decided to feed Derrick Henry. From a fantasy perspective, I am betting on the emergence Aaron Jones as a volume ball carrier for two reasons. First, despite the reports from LaFleur stating that he wants a committee approach, I doubt he makes the same mistake twice by not giving his most effective running back enough touches to get going and develop a feel for the game. Secondly, a big disagreement between Rodgers and McCarthy last season was not having Jones on the field enough. I am sure LaFleur does not want to get on the bad side of Rodgers, which is good news for Jones’ fantasy value. Although Rodgers played amazingly last season (by most standards), he should bounce back in terms of fantasy production due to a clean bill of health. Davante Adams is a target monster that’s locked in as top 3 fantasy wide receiver and should be selected in the 1st round of your fantasy drafts. The battle for the number two passing option in the Packers’ offense is a toss-up at the moment which should become clearer after the pre-season. Jimmy Graham will be competing with rookie tight end Jace Sternberger and veteran Marcedes Lewis for snaps and I am not comfortable with any of those options as my starting fantasy tight end. Out of the remaining receivers on the roster, my money would be on Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison to compete for snaps and opportunities behind Adams.
Miami Dolphins – Adam Gase OUT Brian Flores IN
Biggest Impact – Albert Wilson
Do you know the phrase “Bill Belichick hates your fantasy football team?” Well this is something you need to keep in mind with all of his coaching disciples as they all attempt to duplicate the “Belichick way” and as result aren’t likely to feed any single running back; rather spreading the football out to all of their playmakers. New Dolphins head coach Brian Flores is a defensive minded head coach from New England that also brought in an ex-Patriot, Chad O’Shea to coach the offense. The Patriots offense plays from the inside out; therefore, the biggest beneficiary to me is slot receiver Albert Wilson. Wilson’s season was cut short last year due to injury, but on the field, he flashed big play potential for the Fins. The outside receivers DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Brice Butler will be volatile to own all season long but a player like Wilson should be the most consistent receiver from week to week if healthy. The wildcard and X-factor sleeper receiver is another big play guy Jakeem Grant. The offensive scheme is also a boon for second year tight end Mike Gesicki but I am not ready to invest in him as of yet until he learns the nuances of the tight end position at the NFL level. The backfield is a toss-up due to a preferred committee approach but the Dolphins refusal to add much help in the off-season and early in the NFL draft is good news for Kenyan Drake owners. In PPR formats, I would not be surprised if he ends up as a RB2. Dynasty owners should target sophomore back Kalen Ballage as his upside is enticing. Pass on the quarterback position in re-draft leagues as the competition between the veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and newcomer Josh Rosen may be frustrating for fantasy owners.
New York Jets – Todd Bowles OUT Adam Gase IN
Biggest Impact – Le’Veon Bell
The New York Jets brought in Adam Gase, the first offensive minded head coach they’ve had since the mid-90’s to help guide and develop their second year quarterback Sam Darnold. Gase is considered an offensive mind due to his background; however he hasn’t had a top 20 offense since 2014 when he was the offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos and Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning. Is he a product of Manning? That question still looms large as he tries to improve a Jets offense that was ranked 29th in yards gained last season. Gase is known for tailoring his offense to his personnel, therefore the big free agent acquisition Le’Veon Bell should be extremely active in the run and passing game. There were many examples of Gase using and targeting his running backs in Miami as receivers split out wide which is an area that Bell excels in. I am extremely high on Bell bouncing back this season and showing the world and fantasy owners why he was the best running back in the game before his holdout last season. Everyone is expecting Darnold to take a step up in his sophomore season but temper your expectations as he will be learning a new offense that will take some time to master. Another trend from Miami is that they attempted many passes outside of the numbers; therefore I would rank the Jets’ receivers Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, and then Jamison Crowder. Chris Herndon had a pretty solid rookie season last year and I fully expect for him to continue his trajectory, but keep in mind that he may face a suspension for a DWI from a June accident. He is a name to watch in your available players pool if he is not drafted in your fantasy leagues.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Dirk Koetter; OUT Bruce Arians IN
Biggest Impact – Jameis Winston
New Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians has many similarities to ex-head coach Dirk Koetter in terms of offensive philosophy. Arians is an aggressive play caller that likes to take vertical shots down the field early and often. This is something Koetter tried to execute many times but his quarterback Jameis Winston either didn’t have the time to take the shot or just flat out missed open receivers streaking down the field. Winston will need to improve his deep ball accuracy if he wants to succeed in his pivotal 5th year in the league. Some differences between the two coaches however were Arians’ success in close games and effectively running the football throughout his illustrious career, something Koetter couldn’t accomplish in his time with Tampa. From a fantasy perspective, Arians’ pedigree and tutelage should help Jameis become a more consistent fantasy quarterback that can be a QB1 if the running game can be effective in taking some pressure off the quarterback. Speaking of the running game, as of right now the backfield still belongs to Peyton Barber. Barber can give you a safe floor but not a very high ceiling due to his lack of elusiveness and the Bucs second round pick (2018) Ronald Jones looking to get more involved in the offense. Arians has talked up Jones during the off-season and if the Bucs want to be more dynamic in the backfield, Jones will need to step up and gain an understanding of the offense quickly. Jones is a dynasty stash at the moment that can give you high rewards if he earns more playing time. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard are must adds in your fantasy leagues. Evans has a 2nd round ADP but can give you 1stround value. Godwin is being drafted as the 22nd ranked receiver but can finish inside the top 15. Howard’s floor is a top 10 tight end but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up among the top 3.