2019 Head Coach Changes: Impact On Fantasy

January 19, 2019



Kliff Klingsbury – ARI


Previously the head coach of Texas Tech, we have information available to see what he does with the position; however, this is his first NFL coaching experience. The most notable coaching style to take from Klingsbury is his continuation of the Air Raid offense. During his tenure, Klingsbury saw current star QB Patrick Mahomes to a record breaking pass yards per game in 2016. Although the scheme provided the opportunity for Mahomes to lead the NCAA in air yards per game, it is not necessarily indicative of Klingsbury’s coaching style that led to the record-holder; it might rather be that Mahomes himself proved to be an exceptional talent.


Mahomes’ translational success in the NFL is indicative of one thing, however, that the air raid is potentially fruitful in the NFL. Though his new QB, Josh Rosen, comes mostly from a spread offense, he has had plenty of college opportunity to spread the ball around to outside and slot receivers.


Looking back at Klingsbury’s history in Texas Tech can tell us a number of things. Air Raid offenses pass at higher levels than the NFL, traditionally between 65% and 75% of snaps, which could translate well into an NFL which is becoming increasingly pass reliant, increasingly pass-first, and increasingly WR-focused in personnel. In his tenure, only one TE stands out—Jace Amaro, who led the team in receptions in the nascent Klingsbury era. The most fruitful RB has been James Washington, who saw ever increasing carries, but hardly the receptions to rival the rest of the team. Except for Keke Coutee, no WR has made an impressionable impact over the field. Receptions have been fairly evenly split between 3 or 4 WR sets, and even carries have trended toward committees.


Losers: Ricky Seals-Jones; David Johnson

Stay the course: Larry Fitzgerald

Winners: Christian Kirk; Josh Rosen (dynasty / deep redraft)


Freddie Kitchens – CLE


An inside hire, Kitchens only had positional coaching experience prior to 2018, in which he rose from running back coach to offensive coordinator. As the Browns made some startling moves between the 2017 and 2018 seasons, it’s no surprise that the entire team has risen, winning more games in 2018 than the previous three years combined. Is this the result of Kitchens? Probably not. Kitchen’s promotion to OC occurred within the year, and although it certainly had an impact, I think roster changes more closely account for season performance than coaching personnel. While Cleveland might have given up the world for their top draft picks, there is no doubting that Baker Mayfield was the most impactful rookie on a team in 2018.


Intuitively, we should expect that an RB coach taking the reins is good for the RB and bad for the WR, but this might not be the case. While we don’t know what impact Kitchens’ decisions fully were on play-calling, if we compare the 3-year team average before Kitchens took over as OC to the 2018 season, what we see is that total RB attempts increased by about 9.2%, and RB ground yardage increased by a whopping 25.2%. However, the leading rusher commanded 11.8% less of the ground opportunity than in previous years. I think this might be explained by Chubb’s late emergence, specifically with regard to Carlos Hyde’s early (and dominant) presence. What we can surmise with Kitchens’ influence is that RB efficiency very greatly increased, and overall attempts increased.


On the air side of the ball, Kitchen’s Browns passed for a negligible 1.7% less attempts, but his WR1 commanded an absurdly large increase of 41.6% of targets over the previous three years. One year isn’t enough information to put together a more rigorous sample, but early indications suggest that rushing efficiency will increase, and the WR1 will command a greater percentage of team opportunity.


Losers: None

Stay the course: David Njoku

Winners: Nick Chubb; Jarvis Landry


Vic Fangio – DEN


Fangio has been employed in the NFL as a defensive coordinator since 2011, first for San Francisco and then in 2015 for the Chicago Bears. Prior to that, he has served various roles, almost all of which include a DC position that rolls all the way back to Dunmore High School in 1979. This is his field.


The Chicago Bears unquestionably led the league in defensive prowess, from a fantasy perspective and otherwise. However, 2018 stands as an outlier in Fangio’s tenure, as the team has averaged a middling 13th-best in total defense in points allowed per game. However, this is a marked difference from Denver’s defense over the past two years with Joe Woods as DC, ranking only 17th-best in PPG.


But what about in fantasy? If we compare both DC’s in DEN and CHI over the past two years, what we can see is the Bears have scored an average of 44% more fantasy points in ESPN standard scoring. Wow!


What we should assume is that the defense will very generally increase. This could mean an increase in opportunity for RBs and a decrease in opportunity for WRs. I wouldn’t put much stock in this, however. Although Fangio might be the most exciting prospect for real NFL performance, the translation to fantasy football is much less so. Even in dynasty, we shouldn’t put much stock in defense and instead should consider a streaming approach more than a stash and save. Even if this adds a bit of opportunity to the running game, it’s not clear that Philip Lindsay will stand to benefit. I already think he is over-weighted due to an exceptionally efficient one-year sample and is being drafted alongside more sure performers.


Losers: None

Stay the course: All receivers; Philip Lindsay

Winners: D/ST; Royce Freeman


Matt LaFleur – GB


LaFleur has been moving around the NFL recently as an offensive coordinator, first for the Rams in 2017, and then Tennessee in 2018. His last coaching opportunity greater than three years with a single team was way back in 2013, and while he’s been steadily moving up in the world, he hasn’t been established anywhere. Since receiving his first coaching gig, LaFleur has remained tied to the offensive side of the ball, specifically the quarterback.


A quick glance at the two recent Green Bay HCs is startlingly similar. Both cut their teeth primarily as QB coaches before serving two stints as OCs. The main difference is that McCarthy came in with more coordinator experience than LaFleur. Is LaFleur’s hiring an indication that he’s progressed more quickly than other coaches, or an indication that the Packers needed to move fast to acquire an HC in a dwindling market? Although we can’t know that answer, it should be safe to surmise that the future of the Packers offense will go through Aaron Rodgers, but there’s really no surprise there.


LaFleur’s hiring coincides with the hiring of OC Nathaniel Hackett, who previously coached for Jacksonville and the Bills as offensive coordinator (both) and QB coach (JAX). As both JAX and BUF are run-first teams, and LaFleur is coming from a run-first TEN team, this suggests the Packers might break away from the future norm and focus more on the run game. Taking a three-year average of a team’s performance before LaFleur and comparing it to his tenure reveals some interesting information. Although he’s associated with run-first teams, his time as QB coach has seen his teams through a negligible decrease (-0.6%) in overall pass attempts while simultaneously increasing air yards gained by 7.2%. As OC for the Rams, his team was top 10 in total yards, points, air yards, and rush yards, compared to a three-year average not exceeding 19th-best in any category. In fact, the Rams were the absolute least efficient offensive team in the year before LaFleur’s arrival. Contrarily, his year in TEN is less rosy, with only the team rush yards rank increasing from previous years.


The data are ambiguous. LaFleur is a huge question mark going forward, and it is hard to see how he might be better than McCarthy, who had 8 contiguous years of top-10 points scored.


Losers: Unknown

Stay the course: Aaron Jones; Davante Adams

Winner: Aaron Rodgers


Adam Gase – NYJ


Ignoring the admittedly hilarious memes, let’s take a moment to critically look at Gase’s fantasy impact on this team and see if it is equally hilarious.


Yes. Yes it is. The short of it is that Adam Gase has not been good for his team, and now he’s only moving deeper into a black hole of roster talent. The Miami dolphins have at least had somewhat productive RBs in Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake and a WR in Jarvis Landry in recent years. He will be moving to a team where the lead RB will probably once again be Isaiah Crowell, but maybe not, or maybe it will be a committee. As well, his most talented WR, Robby Anderson, has a number of off-the-field issues, though that hasn’t stopped the receiver from seeing 14 or more games each season. The one bright star in Gase’ future is Sam Darnold, who has little chance of being worse in his career than either Cutler or Tannehill. So I guess the sky’s the limit?


More critically, Gase’ tenure in Miami has seen the team drop from 21st and 22nd in points scored and yards gained (respectively) to 24th and 27th (respectively). From a pass/rush perspective, Gase ran the ball 7.7% less frequently than the team did in previous years and rushed 12.5% more frequently.


Losers: Almost everybody

Stay the course: Sam Darnold

Winner?: The lead RB


Bruce Arians – TB


A year away from football, Bruce Arians’ return could spell great things for Tampa Bay. In his 5-year rein in Arizona, Arians saw the Cardinals to two top-10 seasons, one of which they led the league in yards and were 2nd in points. Although they couldn’t quite keep the points down, Arians also had four top-10 seasons in yards allowed to opposing offenses. One year without Arians? The Cardinals finish 32nd in both offensive points and yards. Ouch. Was it all the rookie quarterback?


Probably not. In the years prior to his arrival, the Cardinals were bottom five in offense. Arians led them to a respectful middle of the pack at 15th in points and 14th in yards. As well, Whisenhunt’s Cardinals were in the bottom half on the defensive front. Not so with Arians.


Although Tampa Bay has finished last in their division an absurd 7 times over the last 8 years (including the last two), they haven’t been statistically terrible. In fact, last year was quite good if we throw out the quarterback carousel that led to one of the most inconsistent seasons; we might be surprised to find out that the Bucs where 3rd-best in offensive yardage in the entire league. Teams that score significantly less than they produce in yardage are due for positive regression toward the mean. As long as TB can keep up a trend of offensive production, we should expect scoring (and wins) to follow suit. Arians should have no problem with that.


Comparing his tenure to a three-year average of the Cardinals during the Whisenhunt era, Arians was able to increase air yard production by 27.7% and ground production by 12%. I’ve seen it suggested that the Cardinals’ track record of high WR production (specifically Fitzgerald) and little or no TE production spells bad things for OJ Howard, but I beg to differ. Although it is true that the top TE in Arians’ system has never received more than 10% of team targets, OJ Howard has only averaged 7% of targets in his NFL career. Brate is here to stay, so that stinks for Howard owners, but overall, I don’t think things look bad for the future. Arians will play to his team’s strengths, and if OJ Howard clearly deserves more targets, he’ll get them, and on a team that should realistically outproduce its 2018 self.


Losers: None

Stay the course: OJ Howard; Cameron Brate; Ronald Jones

Winners: D/ST; Jameis Winston; Mike Evans


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