New AFC Offensive Coordinators 2017
Over the off-season, multiple NFL teams decided to make changes to their coaching staff as front offices aim to take their teams in a new direction. The most valued position on a coaching staff is the offensive play caller. In the AFC, four teams added new offensive coordinators, and below is an outline of the coordinators’ tendencies and history, and how this will impact fantasy players in the 2017 season.
BUFFALO BILLS – RICK DENNISON
Dennison is an intriguing appointment by incoming coach Sean McDermott, as he has very limited experience as a play caller. Dennison worked for the Denver Broncos from 1995-2008 and worked for the first decade of that tenure alongside Gary Kubiak, and the two have maintained a very close relationship. In a way, Dennison is Kubiak’s wingman, as he worked with him for many years, and this is the first time the two have been apart since 2006. When Kubiak joined the Texans in 2006, Dennison was promoted to offensive coordinator of the Broncos by Mike Shanahan, but the legendary coach still opted to call the plays ahead of Dennison. After Shanahan departed Denver, Josh McDaniels then demoted Rick Dennison to offensive line coach to make room for Mike McCoy, and Dennison then opted to join Gary Kubiak in Houston, before following him to Baltimore and Denver. In all of these spells, Kubiak remained the play caller, so Dennison has insufficient play-calling experience despite being involved in the NFL for over 20 years. He took over the offensive play-calling in a couple of games last season due to Kubiak’s ill health, but the results were mixed.
So, how can we gauge what a Rick Dennison led Buffalo Bills offense will look like? Well, in all honesty, it probably won’t look all that much different to how it did under Anthony Lynn. Dennison has learned a lot from Gary Kubiak and shares his philosophy of running a west coast offense designed to get yards after the catch, and he also places a great emphasis on establishing a creative and well organized run game. LeSean McCoy will clearly be the primary benefactor of this, and he will likely be running behind a fullback for the majority of plays as the Kubiak scheme utilizes a fullback in the run game. In Denver, it was Andy Janovich, and the Bills spent big on Patrick DiMarco this offseason which shows they are committed to handing off the ball to LeSean McCoy as much as is humanly possible.
In the passing game, Taylor should be able to avoid interceptions as most of the work will be in the short pass game designed to get receivers running in the open field. The Bills current top two wideouts are Sammy Watkins and Zay Jones, and although both are handcuffed by an average NFL quarterback, they should, in theory, see a lot of targets. Over the past two seasons, Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas both ranked in the top 20 in targets, and last season they both ranked in the top twelve for Redzone targets. This was largely because that offense often targeted tight ends in the redzone in 2015, but none of the 2016 tight ends were good enough. To put it short, the Bills top two wideouts have a very high floor, and Charles Clay could be a late round tight end sleeper.
DENVER BRONCOS – MIKE McCOY
Mike McCoy is a very difficult coordinator to characterize, as he has always built an offense around the strength of his players. Mike McCoy built a quick snap offense in Denver around the skill of Kyle Orton, then changed it to a mobile QB offense built around Tim Tebow’s legs, before designing a more pass-heavy offense for Peyton Manning. Denver’s running backs were relatively useless last year as none finished in the top 25 of scoring, and only Devontae Booker managed to finish inside the top 100. Injuries played a huge part here, but Gary Kubiak’s run scheme was too one dimensional and the Broncos offense was bottom five in the NFL. McCoy will perhaps diversify their run game, and this means that Broncos running backs could be worth owning again. CJ Anderson will probably be the RB1, and he is likely to be worth a look in the mid rounds as McCoy has mostly maximized his running backs in both the pass and the run game. Some people do not worry about offensive lines during fantasy football, but Denver’s run game was largely awful last year because their line had one good player- center Matt Paradis. The team added Ron Leary who should help generate some push in the run game, so Denver’s running backs are worth a look. Fantasy Pros have CJ Anderson’s ADP at 49, which is about right, I would take a look at him at the end of the fourth round in re-draft Leagues.
Denver’s wide receivers will once again have high floors, although their ceilings may be limited in comparison to other NFL wideouts purely because Denver’s QB situation is hugely questionable. Denver beat writers are divided over whether Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch wins the job, but neither are very enticing options, even with a wizard like Mike McCoy coaching them. Thomas’ ADP is currently 40 according to Fantasy Football Calculator, but I feel he should be going slightly higher than this as he is a proven producer even with limited QB play. In comparison, Sanders ADP is 83, which is ridiculously good value as he was in the top 25 of WR scoring for the last two years despite being handcuffed by below average QB play. Leaning on Thomas or Sanders as a WR1 could be risky, but both will be incredibly productive players this year, and their red zone opportunity will increase because of Mike McCoy’s genius. At their current ADPs, both Thomas and Sanders have excellent value.
Another intriguing aspect of Mike McCoy’s offense is his use of tight ends. He utilized multiple tight ends often with the Chargers, but Denver’s current tight ends are hardly inspiring as Virgil Green is a blocker, and Jeff Heuerman and AJ Derby are basically unknowns. In deep leagues, Jeff Heuerman might be worth a look in the late rounds, and I would almost certainly pick up Jake Butt in dynasty leagues as Mike McCoy will use two-tight end sets when he gets people healthy.
OAKLAND RAIDERS – TODD DOWNINGon 24% of their plays. To put this into perspective, the next lowest on the list was the New York Jets at 42%. Ted Nguyen of Fan Rag Sports believes that the offense will be even more diverse this year, as Todd Downing has explicitly said that he likes to test the defense as much as possible in the first plays of the game to identify their tendencies and weaknesses, before attacking them throughout the game.
Oakland’s offense is designed to protect Carr, as they utilize a lot of heavy sets with six O-linemen, or multiple players designated for blocking duties. The player who will gain the most in this Raiders offense is Marshawn Lynch, and I believe he is being under-drafted. Lynch will be running behind an extra offensive lineman a lot of the time, but even when he isn’t, he is still running behind the best interior line in football. For a team that earned a lot of praise for their passing game, the Raiders were a balanced offense last year as 41 percent of their offense came in the ground game, which was 14th in the NFL. Lynch’s current ADP according to Fantasy Football Calculator is 17, but I would consider taking him at least six places higher than that as he is a great fit in the offense Downing will want to run.
The Raiders biggest question mark is at the tight end position, as they did not utilize the position. Clive Walford was their most targeted tight end, but he was only 26th in overall targets for tight ends in the NFL. 32 percent of the Raiders plays did not include a tight end, and only the New York Jets topped that number. The Raiders signed a legit tight end in Jared Cook so that number might change slightly, but Downing will probably keep things very similar to how they were last year as protecting Carr is the priority in Oakland. Jared Cook’s current ADP is 156, which is probably about right, as there is no evidence that a tight end can thrive in this Oakland offense. Downing told reporters he is an ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ kind of coach, so the Oakland offense will likely look very similar next season, which means Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree will once again be very valuable.
NEW YORK JETS – JOHN MORTON
The most mysterious offensive coordinator is John Morton, as no one knows an awful lot about him. Morton has worked under Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh, and Sean Payton, but he has only called plays on two occasions, and they were both at the collegiate level. Morton was poached from Sean Payton’s staff, and the Saints Head Coach said that Morton will be both imaginative and hard working. Chan Gailey’s play calling was bland and outdated as he refused to use tight ends and weirdly did not utilize Matt Forte on third down despite the fact he is a great route runner.
There is very little evidence of the type of offense Morton will attempt to run, but it is likely to be a west coast system, which means the tight ends will become more involved. The Jets were dead last in fantasy points from tight ends this year, but the addition of Jordan Leggett suggests that they want to provide John Morton with as many weapons as possible, as they easily have the worst QB situation in the NFL. I don’t know why anyone would, but do not draft Josh McCown or Christian Hackenberg under any circumstances.
One thing Morton will likely do is get his running backs more involved in the passing game. Bilal Powell and Matt Forte combined for 42 receiving yards per game last year, and that number should in theory rise. The main issue with the Jets running backs is simply that there are two of them, so relying on one of them as a consistent source of fantasy points is very risky. The Jets are rebuilding, so will likely give their young players room to develop, so Bilal Powell is probably the better bet in fantasy football. His ADP is currently at 75, which is about right as he was very productive last year despite the Jets revolving door at offensive line and quarterback.
The receiving corps is something that should be avoided until at least round 12 in re-draft Leagues, but the likes of Ardarius Stewart and Jordan Leggett are intriguing options purely because the Jets have absolutely nothing else on the roster. The Jets should be a run heavy team this year due to the fact they have a good guard pairing, but players such as Stewart, Leggett, and their 2016 breakout player Robby Anderson could provide some good value in the late rounds.