Fantasy Football

AFC West Breakdown of Coaching and Offensive Line

Justin Herbert

NFL Breakdown of Coaching and Offensive Line 2023 Series

OLine and Coaching Series Quick Links

 

Like many of you, I play in seasonal and dynasty leagues and dabble in DFS. My preparation for this season started way back in February as I began to study the positional players who had declared for the draft. (Yeah, I’m that guy.) As part of my personal prep for each season, I take a dive into coaching schemes and offensive lines.

Why do I do this? Some may say I’m obsessed, others that I need a hobby, but I would simply argue this:

Across the NFL, there are five new Head Coaches, 16 new Offensive Coordinators, and 13 new Defensive Coordinators. On top of that, many teams revamped their offensive lines and have even changed their O-line coach. Some got better; some got worse. The 2022 NFL season is over, and while many teams and players rewarded and disappointed us, I argue that we must discard our biases and begin anew. Just because Russell Wilson was awful under Nathaniel Hackett doesn’t mean he will continue to be under Sean Payton. Just because Hackett was a terrible HC doesn’t mean the Jets are doomed to fail now that he’s their OC.

My Goal

I don’t draft players. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out. I draft their situations.

Here’s my favorite example: Le’Veon Bell. Bell was arguably the best RB in the league for years when he ran behind Pittsburgh’s all-star O-line. Then he went to the Jets and sucked because they didn’t believe in offensive lines at the time. Bell was on my team as a Steeler; he was not when he was a Jet. You may say that Bell got older and was distracted by off-the-field stuff. Fair. But then how does that apply to Kurt Warner, who was terrible with the Giants but made it back to the Super Bowl with the Cardinals? Or Matthew Stafford? Or Marshawn Lynch? Or Randy Moss?

Coaches, their schemes, and offensive lines, which are the engine of the offense, factor into positional players’ fantasy output. Once my draft is over, I want to be able to say that each player on my fantasy team has a halfway decent offensive line going for him.

Game Plan

As I demonstrated earlier, most of the league made significant coaching changes for 2023, and nearly every team adjusted their offensive line.

So I will go through each team in the league and highlight their coaching situations, O-lines, and notable additions. Today’s batch features the AFC West division. I’ll be rolling out the others in 7 installments, so that’s four teams each for those who are not currently down for math. I’ll tell you some of the players I’m considering and some that I won’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

Kansas City Chiefs

NFL Futures: Regular Season Win Odds: 11.5

It seems only appropriate that we begin with the reigning NFL Champs. It’s easy to say, “It’s the Chiefs; they’re going to be good.” My problem with that line of thinking is that it promotes complacency.

  • HC: Andy Reid
  • OC: Matt Nagy
  • DC: Steve Spagnuolo

Andy Reid is back for his 11th year at the helm. Eric Beniemy’s time as KC Offensive Coordinator is over, and now it’s Matt Nagy’s turn to reprise his role as OC in Kansas City, a position he had in 2017 before going to the Bears for their HC spot. I still find it funny that Nagy gets the luxury of coaching Patrick Mahomes, a player the Bears passed over for Mitch Trubisky (seriously, that happened).

Nagy actually returned to KC last year as an assistant and QB coach, so many thought this change had been in the works for some time. When he coached Alex Smith, Nagy helped turn this KC offense into one of the best in the league. There is no reason not to think much will change in Andy Reid’s West Coast Offense, which incorporates more shotgun and spread looks and is opponent-specific. If anything, this offense might get better.

Spagnuolo is entering his 5th year as DC for the Chiefs. His typical base defense is a 4 – 3, but he’s known for dialing up pressure from defensive backs in Dime settings. By bringing pressure in Dime packages, the opposing offense is often left to guess where pressure will come from. Spagnuolo likes players with versatility, and a major goal here is to induce the opposing offense into mistakes. However, this defense is frequently getting tested, as opposing teams often have to throw against them and/or increase their pace of play just to keep up with the KC offense.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters

  • LT: Donovan Smith / Jawaan Taylor
  • LG: Joe Thuney
  • C: Creed Humphrey
  • RG: Trey Smith
  • RT: Lucas Niang / Jawaan Taylor

Line coach Andy Heck has been involved as either a lineman himself or as a coach in the NFL for over 30 years. This will be his 10th year coaching the Chiefs offensive line.

The Chiefs’ interior of Thuney, Humphrey, and Smith is about as good as it gets in the NFL, and the 3 starters will be together for the 3rd straight year. All 3 are top tier at their positions. The tackle situation, however, poses a new challenge.

Both LT Orlando Brown (now a Bengal) and RT Andrew Wylie (now a Commander) are gone. Jawaan Taylor and Donovan Smith were brought in via free agency. Lucas Niang, drafted by KC in 2020, will ascend from depth. They also drafted former 5 star recruit Wanya Morris out of Oklahoma in the 3rd round. While he has the potential ceiling to be a top lineman in the NFL, he has never logged 600 snaps in a collegiate season.

The Chiefs parted ways with Brown and Wylie after they allowed the 1st and 2nd most pressures in the NFL last year. So the exterior of this line should arguably only get better.

Verdict

Between coaches and linemen, not to mention one of the best QBs in the league, the Chiefs are in great shape to do well and be fantasy relevant in 2023.

Mahomes and Kelce are in play of course. If this team were to ever commit to a clear WR1 (potentially Toney or James) or RB1 (potentially Pacheco), then I would be highly interested in them. This team just won a Super Bowl by spreading the ball around and being game plan specific depending on their opponent. I don’t expect that to change. However, Andy Reid has a history of producing top RBs in fantasy as he historically allows 1 back to do most of the work. Names like Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, and Kareem Hunt come to mind. While this hasn’t been true in recent seasons, Pacheco has that opportunity more than any other back on this team. I’m not banking on it happening, but I am certainly admitting that it could. As of this writing though, Pacheco is still recovering from surgery for a torn labrum.

Denver Broncos

NFL Futures: Regular Season Win Odds: 8.5

  • HC: Sean Payton
  • Assistant Head Coach: Mike Westhoff
  • OC: Joe Lombardi
  • DC: Vance Joseph

We have our first Head Coaching change with the Broncos as former Saints HC Sean Payton takes over. There was a major overhaul in the coaching roster for the Broncos this offseason as many of the positional coaches and assistants were not brought back. OC Justin Outten moved on to the Titans and DC Ejiro Evero is off to the Panthers and took some defensive staff members with him. Our man Leo Sells has a nice breakdown of the Broncos as well.

If Vance Joseph sounds familiar, it’s because he was the Broncos HC in 2017 and 2018. He most recently served as the Cardinal’s defensive coordinator. Despite nagging injuries to all-star Randy Gregory and pros like Ronald Darby and Baron Browning (who may begin the year on the PUP list), the Broncos’ defense was quite good in 2022. Joseph, who is known for his aggressive 3-4 defensive scheme which blitzes often and employs man-to-man coverage, has the chance to make this unit even better. This could be a very good situation for Randy Gregory if he stays healthy.

Joe Lombardi most recently served as OC for the Los Angeles Chargers, and outside of a short stint as OC in Detroit, he has worked with the Saints under Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael for over a decade. Despite being the grandson of Vince Lombardi, Joe Lombardi has not really had much success as an OC. Lombardi’s play calling in both Detroit and Los Angeles led to some appalling depth of target numbers for Matt Stafford and Justin Herbert. Even though he helped turn Austin Ekeler into one of the best fantasy RBs, he was let go after the 2022 season. Hopefully, a reunion with Sean Payton will help Lombardi to grow in the OC role.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters

  • LT: Garrett Bolles
  • LG: Ben Powers
  • C: Lloyd Cushenberry
  • RG: Quinn Meinerz
  • RT: Mike McGlinchey

Zach Strief is becoming a head O-line coach for the first time in his career. Strief played tackle in the NFL for none other than the New Orleans Saints. After a very nice career, he retired in 2018 due to repetitive knee injuries. He was hired as an assistant O-line coach for the Saints in 2021, and here he is following Payton to Denver.

The Broncos have the lovely distinction of having allowed the most sacks in 2022. There are many reasons for this, including coaching and different combinations for what seemed like every game, but a large reason is the broken leg that Garrett Bolles suffered. Bolles had a rough start to his career, but has improved significantly in recent years.

Denver did the right thing here, though and has tried to sure up this group. Mike McGlinchey was brought in via free agency. He’s a former 1st round pick and has had a nice career playing for the exceptional 49ers offensive line.

Ben Powers could be the real gem here, though. Despite being a 4th round pick, Powers has put together an exceptional resumé in a short amount of time with the Baltimore Ravens. In 2022 he allowed zero sacks and only committed one penalty. In his career, he has but six penalties. He went from a backup at this time last year, to securing a four year, $51.5 million dollar deal with Denver this offseason. According to Pro Football Focus, Powers is ranked 2nd in the league in pass blocking.

Last year Quinn Meinerz was in his second year and was arguably the team’s best lineman. Many believe he will continue to improve in his third year.

The center spot is a question mark for the Broncos. Sean Payton gave Lloyd Cushenberry a vote of confidence, but he too was injured last year. He just didn’t get a chance to return to the starting lineup after being deemed healthy enough.

In short, this group has the potential to make the unit one of the more improved in all of football.

Verdict

If we get some clear details on Javonte Williams’ health, then I am very interested, considering what both Payton and Lombardi have been able to produce from the RB position. Should I draft Williams, I’ll be looking to handcuff him with Samaje Perine. There’s still a chance that the Broncos bring someone else in, a Leonard Fournette, Dal Cook, or Zeke Elliot for example, so the situation bears monitoring. I’m interested in having one of Jeudy or Sutton on my team, depending on ADP and my team’s needs, but I’m hesitant to dive all in on this offense. Russell Wilson will probably have his good days, and I’ll be keeping him in mind for DFS, but he’s a fringe top 12 QB in fantasy. Josh Butler has some good info on Marvin Mims’ fantasy value.

Las Vegas Raiders

NFL Futures: Regular Season Win Odds: 8.5

  • HC: Josh McDaniels
  • OC: Mick Lombardi
  • DC: Patrick Graham

McDaniels returns for his second year as the Raiders HC, and it’s year 2 for Lombardi and Graham as well. Lombardi and McDaniels are quite familiar with one another since their days under Bill Belichick in New England. Graham has been working on the defensive side of the ball for 14 years in places like Miami and New York (Giants) before landing this position in Vegas, but he was also on the Patriots coaching staff from 2009 – 2015.

Last year got ugly for the Raiders despite having all-world fantasy production from Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs. McDaniels and Lombardi incorporated a multi-faceted, West Coast/Erhardt-Perkins offensive approach. It’s a complicated offense to run, one which was apparently too complicated for Derek Carr. The good thing about Jimmy Garoppolo is that he has already spent extensive time under McDaniels, so Jimmy G should be able to run the offense. If he can stay on the field that is. The Raiders have a clause in Jimmy G’s recently signed $72.75 million contract that allows them to release him without penalty if he can’t pass a physical due to his surgically repaired foot.

Graham incorporates a near equally complicated system on the defensive side. The Raiders use a mix of fronts beyond just 3-4 and 4-3, and they use a mix of zone and man-to-man coverages in the secondary. The team honestly might not have the right personnel for it, or they needed a year of learning to master it because the team comes in ranked as one of the worst defensive units in football. They do, however, get the unfortunate situation of having to play Herbert and Mahomes a total of 4 times every year.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters

  • LT: Kolton Miller
  • LG: Dylan Parham
  • C: Andre James
  • RG: Jermaine Eluemunor / Alex Bars
  • RT: Jermaine Eluemunor / Thayer Munford

Carmen Bricillo enters his second year as the Raiders O-line coach. He spent time (guess where) with McDaniels and company in New England as well. The Raiders offensive line was a notable area of concern going into last season, but Bricillo did a remarkable job with this group. Parham was a rookie last year who played over 1,000 snaps and Eluemunor earned a top 25 rank from Pro Football Focus. Eluemunor is listed as the team’s RT on many depth charts, but he has the versatility to play guard or tackle on either side of center. Munford showed some promise toward the end of his rookie year, so he or Bars might end up the starter after camp. Miller turned in another excellent season, specifically improving as a run blocker, and he ranks toward the top of the league in both run and pass blocking.

For years the New England Patriots had a ton of success. Yes, Tom Brady is a huge reason why. However, the Patriots have prided and continue to pride themselves on having a good offensive line. For decades they consistently had good O-lines to protect Brady and execute the offense. McDaniels, Lombardi and Bricillo clearly see that as a priority as well. This unit really stepped up in 2022 compared to their 2021 selves. If they can continue to improve, they could be one of the best lines in football.

Verdict

The offense is a run-first approach, so I will not be drafting Jimmy G. Under McDaniels, Josh Jacobs had the best year of his career. It is not out of the realm of possibilities for Jacobs to have similar success, but the contract issues around the Raiders franchise tagging Jacobs persists, and he has not signed nor reported to any offseason programs. Jacobs wants a long-term deal and why not, he won’t have many more years of football in him if he continues to receive the volume of work he got last year. I am interested if he’s on the team, which he should be. His ADP of 15 overall is palatable if you’ve landed the pick you wanted in round 1.

Davante Adams goes at pick 11, which is fine, I just am not sure I would go with both him and Jacobs on my team. The starting slot receiver for the Raiders is a conundrum. Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Renfrow have played the same slot position in their NFL careers, so I’m curious how that will be finalized. Rumors of trading Renfrow are out there as well as Meyers becoming a perimeter receiver. The Raiders also took Tre Turner in the 3rd round of the draft. Guess where he plays. Slot receiver. If I’m putting money on it (which I guess I will be), Meyers was a Patriot pick when McDaniels was in NE, and McDaniels selected Turner, so I expect Renfrow to be the odd man out eventually. Also, Meyers wasn’t given a 3-year deal of $33 million with 21 of it guaranteed for nothing. I suppose there are worse chances to take in the 10th round with Meyers’ ADP of 122. Something named Mack Hollins got 94 targets in this offense so…

Also, Meyers did win a game for the Raiders last year.

 

Los Angeles Chargers

NFL Futures: Regular Season Win Odds: 9.5

  • HC: Brandon Staley
  • OC: Kellen Moore
  • DC: Derrick Ansley

Brandon Staley is back for his 3rd year with the Chargers. He’s a defensive-minded coach who had previously left coaching and calling the offense to his HC Joe Lombardi, now gone to Denver (see above). Despite a decent enough offense and defense, including a Divisional playoff appearance where they only lost by a point, the Chargers have replaced both their OC and DC.

Saying that the Chargers “only lost by a point” is misleading as the Chargers at one point had a 27 – 0 lead in that game. That loss helps tell the story of the possible replacements. With this roster, Staley’s job will be in question if failure like that happens again.

Since Staley is historically defensive-minded, he is the one who is actually in charge of the defense and the calls that happen on the field. It’s probably why they promoted from within, making secondary coach Ansley the DC. Staley’s defense is complicated and requires versatility from nearly all the defensive players. When successful, the Chargers’ defense executes mismatches in the passing game through double coverage and 2 on 1 situation, and they try to let the opposing team think they can run the ball when they actually struggle. However, in recent years teams have not struggled to run against LA.

Kellen Moore joins the team after serving four years as the Cowboys’ OC. In Moore’s time as OC in Dallas, he was noted for putting a good amount of the decisions in his QB’s hands. Depending on the drive and game script situation, Moore would offer several plays for his QB to choose from and then it was on Dak Prescott to make the correct calls based on what the opposing defense was showing. The goal of this style is to play at a fast pace, something the Chargers have historically done under Staley. The caveat is that you need a competent QB to execute it. I would argue that Justin Herbert has that ability, but we will find out just how good Herbert is or isn’t this year.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters

  • LT: Rashawn Slater
  • LG: Zion Johnson
  • C: Corey Linsley
  • RG: Jamaree Salyer
  • RT: Trey Pipkins

Line coach Brandon Nugent returns for his second year in the position. He has over 10 years of NFL coaching experience, including 7 for, stop me if this sounds familiar, Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints.

Last year Nugent helped to strengthen this line as the team saw some nice development from Salyer and Pipkins. Linsley is one of the best centers in the league and Johnson is in his second year after being a first-round pick in 2022. Slater is an all pro who missed time last year with injury, but that served as the vehicle for Salyer to get more playing time. Overall, despite losing LG Matt Feiler to the Bucs and RT Storm Norton to the Saints, a nice class of starters here. (Why do the Saints keep coming up???)

This is a good group with a good coach. They have done an admiral job of keeping Herbert upright and a decent job blocking for Austin Ekeler, though that arguably could be better. Should they incur some injuries, Nugent has already shown that he can coach up backup players. If the goal of this offense is to play at a fast pace, then the players on this offensive line are going to need to be in phenomenal physical shape.

Verdict

I’m probably not going with Austin Ekeler at his current ADP (3rd or 4th overall), but if he falls to the back half of the first round, I might take a stab. My plan is to go WR in the first round of most drafts, though. Also, I’m unsure if Ekeler will be featured as much under Moore as he was under Lombardi.

Justin Herbert is currently going 45th overall. I don’t mind drafting him there at all; it will just come down to him or Trevor Lawrence for me at that point though.

There’s a lot of excitement for Quentin Johnston, for whom Leo Sells has a great writeup. The problem is the group of receivers who are arguably higher than him on the depth chart. This offense should produce though, so one, if not multiple, of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Josh Palmer, and Quentin Johnston is in line for a good year. Monitor the injuries; though, I’d even argue for handcuffing Williams or Allen with Palmer or Johnston.

 

Thanks for reading! I’ll see you all again for the next installment!

 

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