Every new NFL season yields a fresh and/or rotating crop of coaches and coordinators who will either right the ship or sink it straight into the abyss. Let’s take a look at each of the new offensive coordinators and the impacts they’ll have on their respective teams.
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John Morton - Jets
Imagine you’re a mechanic. You’ve just been hired and are excited to start a new job. The shop where you’ll be working is kind of shabby, but you took the job anyway. You walk in and see that their selection of tools are junk compared to the competition. The manager walks up to you with a huge grin on his face and says, “Hey, new guy, come check out the new pens we got! Man, we’ve really needed some new pens.” Your eyes dart between the rusted, old tools and shiny new pens and ask, “Are you sure that’s ALL we needed?”
This is what I imagine Jets offensive coordinator John Morton - formerly of the Saints - must’ve felt like on draft day. The Jets, who ranked 26th in total offense in 2016 and with needs all over the offensive side of the ball, spent their first two picks on safeties. They lost Brandon Marshall to the Giants and Eric Decker spent most of last season on injured reserve. The void at quarterback is perhaps most concerning. Morton will be hamstrung when the Jets take the field with Josh McCown or Christian Hackenberg under center.
One encouraging tidbit was the work the Saints were able to do on the ground with both Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower. Morton will have Bilal Powell and Matt Forte at his disposal in New York. Even though he was the wide receivers coach in New Orleans, Morton must’ve gleaned how to manage two quality backs in the same backfield. Ingram and Hightower combined for 1,591 rushing yards and 10 touches, strikingly close to the 1,535 yards and 10 touchdowns produced by Forte and Powell.
And who knows, maybe Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa continue to develop into consistent fantasy options.
Kyle Shanahan - 49ers
Kyle Shanahan brings a lot to the 49ers. He’s both their new head coach and offensive coordinator. He’s been at the helm of a top-10 ranked offense six times in his career. Last season, he engineered one of the most fantasy-friendly offensive attacks in NFL history. The jury is still out as to whether he can manage all three phases of a football game and there are some things to consider when drafting any 49ers in hopes that Shanahan will make them a fantasy superstar.
When the Redskins jumped from the 16th-ranked offense in 2011 to fifth-best in 2012, one major thing changed: the addition of first-round draft pick Robert Griffin III. I know this sounds ridiculous now, but consider that two of Shanahan’s most successful seasons have come with RGIII fresh off a Heisman and Matt Ryan paired with Julio Jones. To his credit, he did get the Texans to be a top-five offense with Matt Schaub at quarterback in 2008 and 2009.
From a fantasy perspective, the most pressing question is how Shanahan will handle the extreme downgrade in talent between Atlanta and San Francisco. The 49ers spent their first three draft picks on defensive players before they finally settled on Iowa quarterback CJ Beathard - who probably won’t play. Brian Hoyer’s reunion with Shanahan will make everyone feel warm and fuzzy. Hoyer joins a quarterbacks room with Matt Barkley as his only real competition. Pierre Garcon had two of his three best years in terms of receiving yardage under him in 2011 (947 yards) and 2013 (1,346 yards). Carlos Hyde is coming off his best season as a pro, but has yet to play 16 games in a season. The 49ers offense will improve, but there’s a lot riding on the play of Hoyer/Barkley.
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Mike McCoy - Broncos
It will probably come as no surprise that Mike McCoy’s highest ranked offense as a coordinator coincided with Peyton Manning’s first season in Denver. McCoy returned to the friendly confines of Mile High this offseason under new head coach Vance Joseph. There are no first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks on this roster, but McCoy will have some toys.
Despite the loss of Manning, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders both had 1,000 yard seasons last year. The real hurdle for McCoy and the Broncos will be sorting through the crowded backfield. Chances are Trevor Siemian will beat out Paxton Lynch to start at quarterback. Will McCoy lean more toward Devontae Booker or CJ Anderson? The newly acquired Jamaal Charles hasn’t played more than five games since 2014, but he further complicates things if healthy. Can sixth round pick De’Angelo Henderson carve out a role? I think the most likely scenario is that Anderson, Booker and Charles share the load, creating uncertainty for fantasy owners. There’s nothing more ulcer-inducing than your running back’s one-yard touchdown getting poached by his backup.
The winner of all this chaos may end up not being a part of the backfield at all. After suffering an ACL tear All-American tight end Jake Butt’s draft stock plummeted. He fell to the Broncos in round five and joins a system which is notoriously tight end-friendly. Antonio Gates was top-20 at his position in receptions in each of his four seasons under McCoy and climbed as high as top five in 2013 and 2014. Butt has the ability to be Denver’s best receiving tight end from the jump.
Steve Sarkisian - Falcons
The much maligned Steve Sarkisian doesn’t have any NFL coordinating experience, but he’s worked wonders with collegiate running backs. His teams have featured a 1,000-yard rusher every year he was a head coach (Chris Polk 2009-11, Bishop Sankey 2012-13 and Javorius Allen in 2014). There’s no guarantee that success will translate to the NFL, but it has to be encouraging if you draft Devonta Freeman this fall. As long as Sarkisian doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, the two-headed beast of Freeman and Tevin Coleman should continue to flourish. The Falcons rushed for 120.5 yards per game last season – ranked fifth in the league.
Matt Cavanaugh - Redskins
Matt Cavanaugh likes to run the ball. He was the Ravens offensive coordinator from 1999 to 2004 and his backfield have ranked top-10 in rushing attempts five times in his career. It will be interesting to see how he and Jay Gruden (who will handle play calling duties) balance Kirk Cousins and the bevvy of running backs they have on their roster. Oklahoma’s Semaje Perine was added to the mix of Matt Jones, Robert Kelley and Chris Thompson. Gruden has expressed a desire to improve their running game in the red zone, but unless one of these players separates himself from the pack, I’m steering clear. Kirk Cousins was third in the league in passing yards in 2016 and certainly isn’t going to cede many pass attempts in a contract year. Hello, Terrelle Pryor!
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Nathaniel Hackett - Jaguars
Nathaniel Hackett joins a Jacksonville system that fits his skillset perfectly. In 2012, when he was the offensive coordinator for the Bills, Hackett spearheaded the league’s second-best rushing attack on the backs of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Leonard Fournette looks like he has all the tools to be a star. The selection of Cam Robinson in the second round means Jacksonville is aware of their deplorable offensive line. Blake Bortles has been sacked 140 times in three seasons. Expect Hackett to run, run and run some more with Fournette.
If Fournette succeeds for the Jags, Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns may see fewer targets. However, the increased attention paid to the line of scrimmage could open things up for bigger plays down the field. Look for their receptions to dip, but yards per reception to increase.
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Matt LaFleur - Rams
Matt LaFleur’s most recent NFL stop was as the Falcons quarterbacks coach for the last two seasons. His only offensive coordinator experience came at Ashland University (Ohio) in 2007. I would imagine LaFleur shares Kyle Shanahan-approved offensive philosophies. This should mean the zone blocking scheme and play-action passing game would come into play for Todd Gurley and Jared Goff. Look for Todd Gurley to get plenty of rush attempts and to improve his yards per attempt, which shrunk to 3.2 in 2016. Goff is still unproven, but he was downright awful in his seven starts last year. Fantasy owners have to hope Goff doesn’t hurt Gurley’s value.
Rick Dennison - Bills
Rick Dennison has tons of NFL experience and has been at the helm of a top-five rushing attack five times in his career. He’s worked as an offensive coordinator for nine of the 22 years he’s been in the league. Dennison’s best work came in Houston during Arian Foster’s apex from 2010 to 2012. His masterpiece was Foster’s insane 2010 which yielded 1,616 yards rushing, 66 receptions and 18 total touchdowns.
Dennison has his work cut out for him in Buffalo. The so-so Tyrod Taylor returns at quarterback after undergoing offseason groin surgery. Sammy Watkins always seems to be dinged up. Fortunately, he still has LeSean McCoy in the toolbox. McCoy ran for 1,267 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. I expect McCoy to remain a fantasy top dog.
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Todd Downing - Raiders
Let’s be real: the Raiders offense is going to be good as long as Derek Carr is healthy.
Todd Downing should be familiar with elevating young quarterbacks. Downing has been Carr’s quarterbacks coach for the last two seasons, and he was the Lions quarterbacks coach in 2011 when Matthew Stafford threw for a career-high 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns. In the same season, Calvin Johnson and Nate Burelson teamed up for 2,438 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns (16 of which belonged to Megatron). In fact, 41 of the Lions' 50 offensive touchdowns came through the air. This is great news for Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Don’t forget about Jared Cook – tight end Brandon Pettigrew was second on the 2011 Lions with 83 receptions and five receiving touchdowns.
Where does that leave Marshawn Lynch? In the same 2011 campaign, the Lions were 29th in rushing. Ouch. It will be worth taking note of early trends once training camp and the preseason starts. If the Raiders run and gun, Lynch might not have the fantasy value he had in Seattle.