One of the hardest things about fantasy football is that it’s a year-to-year game. Every season, dozens of NFL teams shake things up, making it infinitely more difficult to use statistics from the previous year to make informed decisions. We know this is true for players changing teams. What about those who stay in one place, though, while new coaches come in?
This year, 10 teams have changed head coaches. Nearly a third of the league will have new guys at the helm, and those coaches will inherit rosters they have little or no attachment to. Often, to get an idea of how players will be used, it’s wise to look at how players performed during previous stops by the new coach or coordinator. So, let’s look at some notable teams that have changed coaches and try to project how the players who stayed will fare under the new system.
New York Giants
Going from Joe Judge, Jason Garrett and Freddie Kitchens to Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka — the primary offense builders for the Bills and Chiefs, respectively — gives new meaning to the word “upgrade.” The Giants almost literally can’t get any worse than they were last year, when they scored 15.2 points per game – ahead of only the Urban Meyer Jaguars. So, it’s an easy place to start.
The most obvious candidate for improvement is Kenny Golladay. Golladay was one of fantasy’s biggest busts last season, scoring a whopping zero touchdown. Still, the 28-year-old managed to lead the Giants in the targets playing just 14 games. However, he did nothing with those targets, setting career lows in catch rate (48.7%), yards per target (6.9) and yards per reception (14.1). But we can assume that was at least partly due to the seriousness of the offence. If Golladay gets back to his career efficiency averages while maintaining his target share, he could be excellent value at WR52.
Kadarius Toney, who also hasn’t scored a touchdown in 2021, is a little trickier. He was a rookie last year, so there’s no NFL track record to go by in determining what he’d look like in a competent offense. The best we can hope for is Daboll unleashing his explosiveness and yardage-after-catch ability in a way the judge and company couldn’t. It goes 10th round (WR45), so if the cost stays low, it’s a solid upside game.
The last notable giant for fantasy purposes is Saquon Barkley, which is probably the least diet-dependent of the group. Barkley’s problem last year was a noticeable lack of burst and explosiveness after suffering a torn ACL in 2020. Now, another year after the injury, Barkley will go as far as his knee can carry him. Daboll has never had a back higher than RB19 (last year with Devin Singletary), but he’s never had a back with Barkley’s skills.
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If the Giants’ offensive training upgrade wasn’t the biggest of the offseason, that honor goes to the Jaguars — who went from Urban Meyer to Super Bowl winner Doug Pederson. Armed with the generational hope of quarterback Trevor Lawrence, it’s a near guarantee that Jacksonville will improve after being the worst performing offense in the league.
What makes this one trickier is that while some faces remain from last year, there are also plenty of new ones. Perhaps most notable is Christian Kirk, who the Jaguars signed to a (perhaps excessive) four-year, $72 million deal. Kirk plays the majority of his snaps from the slot, a position Pederson has had success with – Jordan Matthews led Pederson’s Eagles into targets in 2016, and Nelson Agholor got snaps out of the slot in the years that followed. Given the investment Jacksonville has made in him, a target share of around 18% for Kirk should be realistic – which would make him an intriguing buy at WR44.
Both james robinson and Travis Stephen were technically around last year, although Etienne missed his entire rookie season with a Lisfranc injury. Pederson had variable back quality throughout his time in Philadelphia, but the best he had was probably Miles Sanders in 2019 – who led the team in runs (179) and finished third in strikes (50 ), more than any receiver. Could it be Etienne in 2022? Or will he be closer to the 2016 Eagles, for whom Ryan Mathews was the only fullback with 100+ carries and Darren Sproles the only 50+ catch? My bet is on Etienne to crush his fourth-round ADP, especially in PPR, as Robinson recovers from a tearing Achilles – usually a tough ask for running backs.
ZayJones might be a big body, Alshon Jeffery type, but he hasn’t been effective or a red zone threat throughout his career, so be careful. As for the guys who were there last year, marvin jones survived countless coordinator changes throughout his career and should approach 100 targets again, making him a decent WR4 option. And Laviska Shenaultan inferior receiver, probably deserves to be on the waiver wire now that he has legitimate competition for targets.
The Vikings have produced some fantastic stallions with defensive-minded former head coach Mike Zimmer. Will former Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, who replaces Zimmer, put them into overdrive?
Justin Jefferson deserves to be considered the first wide receiver off the board in any format. He already has elite efficiency numbers (15.4 yards per reception in two seasons). What happens if O’Connell decides to throw more? Jefferson is a great bet to lead the NFL in reception (+900 on FanDuel) and is my fifth player overall. The perpetually undervalued Adam Thielen also falls under fantasy radars, although his absurd touchdown rate (24 scores over the past two seasons) is expected to fall eventually.
As for Dalvin Cook, in the past three seasons, Minnesota has ranked fourth, sixth, and 15th in rush percentage. Under O’Connell last year, the Rams were 19th (they were fifth in 2020, but that was with Jared Goff, who the coaching staff didn’t trust, at quarterback). So maybe a slight drop in usage for the aging Cook – but not enough to knock him out of the first round. I’d take it over Najee Harris, which is no guarantee of repeating his insane target volume.
The Dolphins have also gone from defensive-minded head coach Brian Flores to offensive-minded Mike McDaniel who likes to run the ball. McDaniel was the run-game coordinator with the 49ers before his promotion to offensive coordinator, and San Francisco has run the ball on nearly half of his plays in 2021. Chase Edmonds is Miami’s most drafted back at RB34, but wide receiver is more attractive at PPR. Rahim Mostertsigned from the 49ers, has dormant appeal at RB51, but when he gets injured predictably, Sony Michel (RB58) would be the guy to step in.
The Bears did the opposite of the Dolphins, going from an offensive mind, Matt Nagy, to a defensive coach, Matt Eberflus. They hired the Packers’ Luke Getsy to lead the offense, which is expected to use Shanahan-esque zone concepts. Strong forecasts are good news for David Montgomerybut maybe even better news for Khalil Herbert — whose speed and vision make him a more ideal fit in the outside zone. I expect Montgomery to meet ADP if he’s healthy, but if he gets injured (or loses snaps), Herbert could be a league winner. He goes RB59, behind Brandon Bolden and D’Ernest Johnson, which just shouldn’t happen. Justin Fields should also be more effective in an attack more suited to his strengths, and as a common threat he has a sneaky appeal to low-end QB1.
Betting on the NFL?
The Raiders and Broncos landed notable new offensive coaches, Josh McDaniels and Nathaniel Hackett, as well as notable new offensive superstars, Davante Adams and Russell Wilson. Considering that the changes on these teams are much more dramatic than just a pattern, they will be covered in an upcoming article.
The Saints, Buccaneers and Texans all promoted head coaches from inside and kept their offensive coordinators in place. No major changes there.