Those of us who want to excel at fantasy football spend infinite time analyzing numerous factors as we prepare for our drafts. We research various statistics for each skill player, and also scrutinize their age and their health. We study their recent history of success or lack of it, and judge how the other skill players on their team will affect their performance. We do the same for their offensive line, and we even estimate how likely they are to remain motivated, and away from legal issues that could result in a meeting with Roger Goodell.
But sometimes, offseason coaching changes are not given nearly enough deliberation when owners determine how to best construct their rosters.
However, here at Fantasy Knuckleheads, we have taken this critical element into consideration, and want to make sure that you are well-versed in how the new coaches might impact the value of players that you are contemplating for your teams.
In a two part series, my colleague Ray Tannock and I are examining the many coaching changes in each conference, and evaluating the fantasy impact that will result from them. For Ray’s in depth look at the AFC, just click here
A review of the NFC teams that experienced coaching changes continues below. The teams from the conference that did not change their Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, or Defensive Coordinator, will of course not be included (Arizona, Carolina, Detroit, New York Giants, Dallas, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington).
Fantasy Take: You probably didn’t need another reason to target Julio Jones and Roddy White in your drafts, but the Falcons will go vertical with more frequency under Koetter, who comes to Atlanta after spending the last five seasons as OC for the Jaguars. Where he lacked the downfield weapons that will now be at his disposal. His reputation as a proponent of the passing game will be upheld, and owners of White, Jones, and Matt Ryan will reap the benefits. Also, don’t be shocked to see Jacquizz Rodgers more involved, particularly on screen passes, which Koetter will also dial up more often. While Michael Turner’s workload will diminish, the shortage of dependable RBs this season will keep him as a late third round pick. This will be the seventh team that has employed Nolan as the DC, but his units have been effective during each stint. While the Falcons finished a respectable 12th overall in total defense last season, and a stellar sixth versus the run (97 YPG), expect better numbers both areas, similar to Nolan’s Dolphin teams that ranked sixth overall during his two seasons with the team, after finishing just 22nd immediately before his arrival. Miami’s rush defense also strengthened considerably under his watch, jumping from 18th (114.7 YPG) to seventh (100.1) and third (95.6). Also expect a less hospitable group than the one that ranked only 18th in scoring, while permitting 21.9 PPG. Safeties have traditionally enjoyed big seasons under Nolan, which should help the tandem of Thomas DeCoud and William Moore. Sean Weatherspoon remains the most appealing IDP option on this unit, which can be considered a low end No.1.
Out: OC – Mike Martz, In: OC – Mike Tice
Fantasy Take: Add Chicago to the list of teams for which Mike Martz wore out his welcome. As a result, Tice was promoted after two seasons overseeing the O-line. He will be far less stubborn than his predecessor in his utilization of the Bears’ various weapons, and therefore the offense will be less predictable. Jay Cutler will be allowed to roll out, rather than being continually cemented to the pocket. And with the addition of Brandon Marshall, he inherits his most talented target since… well… Marshall. The duo connected on 206 passes, and generated 2,590 yards as Broncos in 2007-2008, and their reunion should greatly enhance the value of each player. Cutler can now be considered a very high end No.2 who can be used as a No. 1 with the right matchups. And Marshall is a borderline top 10 WR. Kellen Davis also becomes an enticing sleeper option, who should be employed more under former TE Tice, and collect more than last season’s paltry 18 receptions. None of which means that Tice will ignore his rushing attack, which was the NFL’s ninth best last year. His background as a player and coach dictate that just the opposite will occur. A healthy Matt Forte will continue to thrive, and easily remains a top 10 back. Even though he will lose goal line touches to Michael Bush, Forte will still capture over 200 carries, and remain a heavily utilized target for Cutler. Meanwhile, Bush becomes a “must handcuff” for Forte owners.
Fantasy Take: The Cowboys have a unique situation in that Garrett will continue to call the plays, just as he has since joining the organization in 2007. But for the first time since his arrival, he will not carry the title of Offensive Coordinator. Instead, Callahan has that designation, even though it comes without the usual responsibilities. He will also be in charge of the O-line, which provides a better blueprint concerning his true role. Callahan has instituted new blocking techniques, and has also altered the Cowboys’ schemes, in hopes of revitalizing the team’s running game. Dallas ranked just 18th in rushing last season, averaging 112.9 YPG. Plus, only 13% of their offensive TDs occurred on the ground, as Cleveland was the only team that ran for fewer scores than the Cowboys’ astonishingly low total of five. Garrett’s penchant for throwing near the goal line is a primary reason, as their percentage of passing TDs (87%) led the NFL. But Callahan’s hiring and subsequent job duties should signal a change in philosophy. Fantasy owners should expect the overall TD total to remain the same, but the ratio of passing vs. rushing will be more balanced. This will enhance the value of DeMarco Murray. However, it does not mean that you should have concern about selecting Tony Romo, Miles Austin or even Dez Bryant, as the passing game will remain potent.
Out: OC - Joe Philbin, In: OC – Tom Clements
Fantasy Take: Philbin’s departure elevates Clements into the role as OC, after serving for the past six seasons as Green Bay’s quarterbacks coach. During his tenure, Clements has helped develop Aaron Rodgers, tutored Matt Flynn, and has been intimately involved in the Packers’ passing strategy, just as his job title would lead you to expect. He has previous experience as an OC, after spending two years in that capacity with the Bills (2004-2005). Of course, Mike McCarthy has been calling the plays during games and practices since his arrival in 2006, and that won’t change. Therefore, providing that Clements will have the offense prepared to a similar degree that Philbin did, his ascension in itself should not alter the value of any Packers that fantasy owners have considered drafting. Last season, Green Bay led the NFL in scoring, producing an exceptional 35 point per game. The team was also was third in total offense, averaging 405.1 YPG, and also third in passing, averaging 308 YPG. The Packers do not have trouble moving the ball or scoring points, and as long as a healthy Rodgers is lining up under center, that will not change. He will deliver another exceptional season, while Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley and James Starks can still be targeted in that order as you progress through your drafts. Randall Cobb is an enticing sleeper, who is worthy of a late round flier.
Fantasy Take: Last season’s brutal 3-13 record delivered inevitable change, as former DC Pagac was stripped of his duties, and Williams was chosen to help HC Leslie Frazier revitalize a unit that struggled mightily last season. It’s a decision that is difficult to question, considering Minnesota’s lengthy assortment of unattractive numbers in 2011. The Vikings finished 21st overall, while being pillaged for 358.2 YPG. The unit was even worse at keeping opponents out of the end zone, as their 28.1 points per game left them 31st in that category. They ranked a meager 26th against the pass (251.2 YPG), and were also dead last with just eight INTs. While they maintained their recent respectability in stopping the run (ranked 11th), the inadequacies were to widespread to ignore. Enter Williams, who worked with Frazier in 2005-2006 while both coaches were with the Colts. And although this will be Williams’ initial season as a DC, he is familiar with the 4-3 and cover 2 that Frazier prefers to employ. While that will represent a step forward from Pagac’s ill-fated preference to use man coverage, the secondary contains too many flaws for any of its members to be considered by fantasy owners. However, there are some enticing IDP choices. Nothing will derail 2011 sack leader Jared Allen from delivering another Pro Bowl season. Chad Greenway will continue to collect tackles, and Erin Henderson is an another intriguing possibility for rosters. But overall, this unit remains extremely underwhelming from a fantasy standpoint, and you should search elsewhere for your No. 1 defense.
New Orleans Saints:
Out: HC – Sean Payton, DC – Gregg Williams
Fantasy Take: New Orleans is included in this examination of coaching changes, primarily because the temporary adjustments that must be made to accommodate league mandated suspensions should not be ignored. There is a major difference with the Saints’ situation in comparison to the other teams that have been analyzed, in that these some modifications are not taking place due to performance issues on the field. While Sean Payton’s absence will certainly be impactful in some ways for the organization, it will not provide a corresponding change in philosophy. And therefore the fantasy values of the team’s key components on offense will not be significantly altered. While Joe Vitt acts as HC, OC Pete Carmichael will call plays for this prolific unit, just as he did for the final 10 games of the 2011 regular season. The Saints were 9-1 during that time, on their way to becoming the NFL’s top rated offense last season, and torturing opponents through the generation of 467.1 YPG. They were also second in scoring, with 34.2 points per game, as Drew Brees led all QBs in yardage (5,476), and TDs (46). The coaching transition will not alter his value on draft day, which is also the case for Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Darren Sproles.
Former Ram HC Spagnuolo was chosen to spearhead the defense, after Gregg Williams departed for (ironically) St. Louis, prior to becoming the centerpiece for all things bounty related. Spagnuolo now assumes the task of improving last season’s 24th ranked unit, which permitted 368.4 YPG, and was just 30th against the pass (260 YPG). But Spagnuolo’s approach should reduce the troubling number of big plays that were surrendered last season by the secondary. First, by instituting more zone coverage, with less reliance on man coverage that was prevalent under Williams. He will also avoid exposing the secondary quite as often by moderating the blitz packages. That will enhance Roman Harper’s value, as he becomes the best DB in IDP. However, former Falcon Curtis Loften is the more enticing option among all Saint defenders. While the Saints should improve due to these alterations, far better options will exist when you select your fantasy defense.
St. Louis Rams:
Out: HC – Steve Spagnuolo, OC – Josh McDaniels, DC - Ken Flajole
In: HC – Jeff Fisher, OC – Brian Schottenheimer, DC - Dave McGinnis
Fantasy Take: In 17 seasons as a HC, Fisher has been an interim coach, and experienced a franchise transfer from Houston to Memphis, which continued further eastward to Nashville two years later. He watched his team fall one yard short of forcing overtime in their lone Super Bowl appearance, and became the longest-tenured HC with one team among all active coaches. That should give him perspective in his attempt to execute a massive transformation with the Rams, who have manufactured a woeful 15-65 record since 2007. Fisher’s staff overhaul, included the hiring of Schottenheimer and Gregg Williams, whose one year suspension will force Fisher and assistant head coach Dave McGinnis to guide the defense. There will be a multitude of deficiencies to tackle on both sides of the ball, and former Jets OC Schottenheimer must now rejuvenate an abysmal offense that was dead last in scoring last season, barely achieving 12 points per game (12.1). The unit also ranked 31st in yardage, averaging only 283.6 YPG. Their rushing attack fared somewhat better, finishing 23rd with 104.2 YPG. That can be attributed to Steven Jackson, who delivered his seventh consecutive 1,000+ yard season. Even though Jackson has now amassed an exhausting 2,138 rushing attempts in his career, including an average of 305 in the past three years, Fisher is a huge proponent of running the ball, and will lean heavily on his veteran. That upholds Jackson’s fantasy value, although owners must also grab second round selection Isaiah Pead as a handcuff, in case Jackson is sidelined by injury. Fisher will have little choice but to emphasize the run, due to shortcomings in the St. Louis “aerial attack.” The team finished 30th in passing offense last season, averaging an anemic 179 YPG. They were also dead last in passing TDs, by only manufacturing nine all season. That’s correct… nine. But deficiencies in the Rams’ passing attack go far beyond 2011. No St. Louis WR has produced a 1,000 yard season, or exceeded 90 receptions, since Torry Holt caught 93 passes for 1,189 yards back in 2007. He was also the last Ram wideout to register double digit TDs (2006), and all dubious streaks will continue this season, as rookies Brian Quick and Chris Givens are the likely starting tandem. Up to seven new starters will join a defensive unit that ranked 22nd last season in yardage allowed (206.3) and a woeful 26th in points allowed (25.4). First round draft selection Michael Brockers should start at DT, along with former Dolphin Kendall Langford. But Chris Long is the top IDP option among the linemen. Cortland Finnegan migrated from Tennessee, and could be joined at starting CB by second round pick Janoris Jenkins. Linebacking will be the unit’s weak link, although James Laurinaitis is easily the best IDP option. Owners should definitely not consider the Rams to be their defensive unit.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Out: HC – Raheem Morris, OC – Greg Olsen, DC – Raheem Morris
Fantasy Take: The organization is attempting to rebound from last season’s disappointing 4-12 record, which hastened Schiano’s arrival after 11 years at Rutgers. He inherits a team that possessed a myriad of shortcomings last year, and now requires significant improvement on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Schiano’s stated goals are to establish a power running attack, and take shots downfield in the passing game. He has summoned former Giants assistant Sullivan to develop a system that accomplishes those objectives. While this will be the new OC’s first experience with calling plays, he did spend six years in charge of the WRs, and two years as QB coach in New York. Not only did he help execute the Giants’ system, but Eli Manning experienced his best two seasons under Sullivan’s direct tutelage. He will now attempt to help Josh Freeman reverse last season’s disappointing trend, when his TD total dropped to 16, and his INTs soared to 22, which was the NFL’s second highest number. Sullivan will help his signal caller reduce the mistakes, and boost his TD total. But, Freeman’s progress won’t be sufficient to be considered a No. 1 option on your rosters. However, Vincent Jackson will be the most talented target that Freeman has ever worked with in Tampa, and should thrive in the Buccaneers’ vertical approach. He will generate high quality numbers, and can be entrusted as a high end No. 2. Schiano and Sullivan will also focus on improving a feeble rushing attack that ranked 30th in 2011, while averaging just 91.1 YPG. First round draft selection Doug Martin possesses the combination of skills that will enable him to eventually become the primary back. He is a capable pass blocker and receiver, which should give him the advantage over LeGarrette Blount. Not only does the veteran have just 20 receptions in two seasons, but his fumbling issues (nine in 385 rushing attempts) will further alienate him with Schiano. The new HC faces another formidable task in attempting to rejuvenate his defense. The Buccaneers ranked a lowly 30th in 2011, permitting nearly 400 YPG (394.4). They were dead last in scoring, after enabling their opponents to generate a whopping 30.9 points per game. They were also the NFL’s worst at stopping the run, allowing an enormous 156.1 YPG. New DC Sheridan served in that role for the Giants in 2009, although his tenure lasted for only one season. This after his unit ranked a lowly 30th in scoring, and surrendered the second highest number of points in franchise history (427). But even though he will be making defensive calls during each contest, even he acknowledges that this will be Schiano’s defense. The Buccaneers will maintain their 4-3 scheme, although there will very likely be some employment of a two gap attack, blended with Tampa Bay’s customary one gap style. Also, the team will become more aggressive in their approach toward pressuring opposing signal callers. This is a necessity, for a unit that was dead last in sacks last season (23). Rookies Mark Barron and Lavonte David are the most promising IDP options, on a unit that should otherwise be avoided.
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