NFC Offensive Coordinators 2017
Four NFC teams changed their offensive coordinator following the 2016 season. Here, I offer my thoughts on how these new appointments could affect the fantasy appeal of the players on their squads.
ATLANTA FALCONS – STEVE SARKISIAN
After losing Kyle Shanahan to the San Francisco 49ers, the Atlanta Falcons hired former USC head coach Steve Sarkisian to become their new offensive coordinator. A slightly left-field choice, Sarkisian filled the offensive coordinator role for Alabama in the 2017 National Title game…and ONLY in the title game. He was inked to replace Lane Kiffin for the 2017 season, but upped sticks and moved to the NFL at the behest of Dan Quinn. He hasn’t coached at the NFL level before, so it is somewhat difficult to attempt to project just what type of offense he will run with the Falcons. Early reports are that he will emulate the existing scheme to an extent, but he has stressed that he would like Julio Jones to be more involved in the red zone. That makes at least two of us, then. During his head coaching career with Washington State and USC, he did lean towards the run more so than the pass. In only one of his six complete seasons at the helm did his teams attempt more passes per game than rushing attempts, and that was in his first season back in 2009. While he favors a lead back, he has also spread the carries around on his teams. Back in 2013, while Bishop Sankey saw the lions share of the carries with 327, he was one of seven different players that had at least ten rushing attempts that season. This is good news for both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman (especially Freeman, hunting his third consecutive 1000 yard season), and could also see both Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel receiving carries. Falcons players can safely be drafted as you would have if Shanny were still in town.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers – KYLE SHANAHAN
Kyle Shanahan is serving as his own offensive coordinator with the 49ers, in a sense following in his dad Mike’s footsteps. Shanahan Senior was the play caller for the 49ers in the 1994 season, which ended with the team’s fifth (and last) Super Bowl title. Known for his zone blocking run scheme, Kyle has actually been something of a slave to the passing game in his time as an NFL offensive coordinator. His teams finished in the top ten in terms of passing yards six times in his nine seasons on the sidelines, and five of his teams placed in the top eight in terms of passing yards. That isn’t to say he has no time for the ground game. His final two seasons with the Washington Redskins (2012-13) coincided with the team leading the NFL in rushing yards in 2012 and finishing 5th the year after. The Falcons team he leaves behind also finished 5th in rushing yards in 2016.
With question marks all across the roster, especially at quarterback and wide receiver, it is likely that while Shanahan will use the ground game in 2017, any real production will come through the air. Brian Hoyer, the presumptive starter, has shown flashes that he can produce decent production (at least from a fantasy standpoint), and in Pierre Garcon Shanahan has a WR that has served him well in the past. Garcon should see a healthy number of weekly targets, making him someone to target in the later rounds of redraft leagues. But given the Shanahan tendency to ride with the best running back out of camp, it is too early to say for certain whether Carlos Hyde is worthy of his current third-round ADP.
LOS ANGELES RAMS – MATT LEFLEUR
With somewhat ordinary options at wide receiver, second-year man Tyler Higbee and rookie Gerald Everett should be heavily involved in the offense this year, but a great deal depends on 2016’s first overall pick Jared Goff showing some improvement after a lackluster rookie season. Todd Gurley, a player who chaffed at the unimaginative offense he was trapped in last season, could become something of a focal point again for the Rams, especially after he showed well as a receiver last season. But it is worth noting that McVay has favored the use of a pass catching back in the past (namely Chris Thompson). If he continues to take his main back off the field in short yardage and/or passing situations, then Lance Dunbar could offer some PPR value in deep leagues. Unless McVay can actually use Gurley, and not try and force a talented square peg into an uninviting round hole.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS – MATT CAVANAUGH
Unlike LeFleur, Matt Cavanaugh has experience as an NFL offensive coordinator. He was calling the plays for the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2004, a run that included a Super Bowl victory. However, like LeFleur, Cavanaugh will not be calling the plays for his team. Redskins head coach Jay Gruden will assume those duties, after giving them over to the now departed McVay following the 2014 season. An acolyte of his brother Jon, the younger Gruden has had success as an OC with the Cincinnati Bengals between 2011-2013. The Bengals finished 10th, 17th and 8th in rushing attempts in this span, but only 19th, 18th and 18th in yards on the ground. They improved through the air every year, thanks to Gruden’s work with Andy Dalton. They moved from 20th in pass attempts in 2011 all the way up to 12th in 2013, whilst also finishing 8th in passing yards in year three.
Gruden will no doubt be more inclined towards running the ball than the departing McVay (because he couldn’t really fail to be), meaning that Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley should offer decent value if either of them can cement their grip on the starting tailback berth. But the real fantasy value for the team will once again come from the quarterback Kirk Cousins and his plethora of pass catchers. Jordan Reed, if he can stay healthy, is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the NFL, Jamison Crowder could be a PPR monster, while Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson offer fascinating upside as prospects (Pryor is far from a rookie, but is only in his second season as a full-time WR). I would expect the drop off from McVay to Gruden to be minimal, and as such believe that faith can be put in most skill options on the Redskins roster.