2021 Fantasy Football Coaching Changes and Effects

by Cale Clinton
2021 Fantasy Football Coaching Changes & Effects

As part of our preview for the upcoming NFL season, we will be taking a look at 2021 Fantasy Football Coaching Changes and Effects!

I know what you're thinking. Coaching? Play-calling? Why would I about offensive scheme when preparing for my fantasy draft? I understand that most fantasy football players turn to statistics and analytics when trying to find an edge. I get how much information you can glean about a player from certain statistics.

However, I argue that a new offense can tell you just as much as last season's numbers. Having at least a general understanding of the offensive scheme and the play-caller behind it can drastically change your perception of a team.

A very efficient running back may not generate many fantasy points if his team is pass-heavy. Failure to consistently scheme a receiver open may be the difference between starting WR and flex output. Understanding how teams rotate players under certain personnel sets could help you land your sleeper in a deep league.

While it may not be as intuitive as straightforward data, understanding the X's and O's can help you determine how teams will be using their weapons. That alone is enough to help you determine your own value for players, helping you land that big steal on draft night.

Today, we take a look at four new head coaching hires in 2021. From there, we will break down who is calling plays and the scheme they may be implementing this offseason. All of this information should tell us where opportunities for fantasy scoring will arise in this offense.

Let's dive into the 2021 Fantasy Football Coaching Changes and Effects

2021 Fantasy Football Coaching Changes and Effects

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Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions

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The hiring of Dan Campbell by the Detroit Lions is, in my opinion, one of the most intriguing head coaching changes of the 2020 offseason. At first, I simply just enjoyed all the memes and content surrounding his first few public appearances as head coach. However, if we can set the pet lions, kneecap biting, and 'Big Lebowski' references aside for a moment, I admit that I am morbidly curious as to just how successful this ultimate football guy will fare in Detriot.

Campbell's central job as head coach is to establish a new culture within the facility. Matt Patricia's multiple failed attempts to install his spin on the Patriot Way--coupled with the exodus of longtime quarterback Matthew Stafford--has created the perfect timing for a player's coach with a positive attitude and love for smashmouth football to come along and make his mark. With Cambell responsible for team culture and general decision-making, offensive playcalling will fall into the hands of former Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn.

Background

Dan Campbell has already given us a brief tease of the new-look Detroit Lions offense. Per Sports Illustrated, Campbell stated the Lions are "going to run a system that puts our best on your worst," later claiming that he is "not a system guy."

He would later expound on this idea:

"We're going to find a way to put our guys in one-on-one matchups, whether it's run or pass. If you're telling me that our left tackle is better than their right end and we can run outside zone all day, we're going to run outside zone, as long as we cut off the backside. Why not? If we can exploit a weakness, we're going to do it. You tell me that we need to run it 10 times in a row to open the game so we can throw it, (then) we're going to run it 10 times."

History proves that Anthony Lynn's offenses are extremely malleable based on the roster. A deep dive into Anthony Lynn by SBNation's Pride of Detroit highlights just how versatile Anthony Lynn's playcalling can be. Take 2016, for example, when he was the offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills. The team finished second-to-last in the percentage of pass plays run while ranking second in percentage of run plays called. The rushing attack finished first in rush yards per carry and led the league in rushing DVOA. By contrast, the Bills air game finished 22nd in yards per pass attempt and 17th in Passing DVOA.

Fast forward to 2019, where Lynn was the head coach for what would be Philip Rivers' final season on the Chargers. That team ran the third-highest pass percentage and third-lowest in run percentage, generating the ninth-best yards per pass attempt through the air and ninth-highest Passing DVOA while rushing for 23rd-highest rush yards per carry at the 22nd-best rushing DVOA. Anthony Lynn has also never finished bottom 10 in points scored nor Offensive DVOA.

Prediction

If playing to the team's strengths is true, the Detroit Lions are set up to be a run-first team whose passing attack maximizes short and intermediate targets. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Jared Goff was most successful targeting receivers within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, to the middle of the field within 20 yards, and deep down the left side of the field. The new-look Lions receiving core may help maximize those parts of the field for Goff. Breshad Perriman, Quintez Cephus, and T.J. Hockenson recorded average depths of target (aDoT) of 15.42 yards, 14.54 yards, and 7.03 yards, respectively.

Perriman and Cephus, along with Tyrell Williams, lead a wide receiver group just capable enough to help Goff feel comfortable on a new team. I expect T.J. Hockenson, who will also have the benefit of learning from a former NFL tight end in Dan Campbell, will end the 2021 season as the Lions leader in both targets and receiving touchdowns.

D'Andre Swift, however, will be the star of this show. Running behind a rebuilt offensive line spearheaded by 6th-overall pick Penei Sewell, running backs Swift and Jamaal Williams will be given a hefty workload deep into games. I am especially high on Swift in PPR leagues. Watching a good deal of Chargers football last year, Anthony Lynn loved himself a good screen pass. 20% of Justin Herbert's passing attempts last year were targeted at players behind the line of scrimmage. Considering that Swift finished fourth on the team in passing targets in his rookie season, Lynn may see an Austin Ekeler-type role for the Lions lead back.

Urban Meyer, Jacksonville Jaguars

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The Urban Meyer hire is equal parts high-profile and head-scratching. Meyer was incredibly successful at the collegiate level, winning three National Championships and awarded Coach of the Decade at the end of the oughts. He helped pioneer the modern spread offense, bringing the system to each team he coached from Bowling Green onward. However, Meyer doesn't have the cleanest track record. His tenures at Florida and Ohio State ended on particularly bad notes, and Meyer quickly re-entered hot water with one of his first hires in Jacksonville.

In a 2012 interview with Eleven Warriors, Urban Meyer stressed just how important to his system: “The one thing about our offense, you can’t have a bad quarterback. And the quarterback can’t have a bad day or you’ll lose.” Lucky for him, Jacksonville just so happens to have the most hyped quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning on their roster. The success of the Jacksonville Jaguars--and Urban Meyer's NFL coaching dreams--rests in the hands of Trevor Lawrence.

Background

Urban Meyer's traditional scheme is self-described as "a combination of a one-back offense and a 'shotgun-to-run' spread," also categorized as "power football with a spread set." Seeing as this inveterate offense has been the backbone of every college offense Meyer has led, we can assume this will be the core of Jacksonville's offensive system.

While this offense will be molded and influenced by Urban Meyer, he will not be the one calling plays. That responsibility has been given to former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Bevell, who won a Super Bowl as offensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks, will be assisted by yet another former Seahawks offensive coordinator. Brian Schottenheimer, the brains behind 2020's "Let Russ Cook" phenomenon, accepted a position as Jacksonville's passing game coordinator.

Interestingly, both Bevell and Schottenheimer share more than a former job title. Both run offenses heavily predicated on the success of the quarterback.

You can find the same table for Schottenheimer here. Bevell's track record in particular highlights just how imperative quarterback play is to offensive success. You can even see the disparity within particular seasons. In 2019, the Detroit Lions averaged 25.5 points and 0.043 EPA/play in Weeks 1-9 with Matthew Stafford at the helm. After a season-ending back injury, David Blough and Jeff Driskel averaged 17.1 points and -0.122 EPA/play in Weeks 10-17.

Prediction

I think we have all known this for months now, but the ceiling to this Jaguars team is entirely dependant on how high Trevor Lawrence wants to take them. While DJ Chark and Marvin Jones won't be found near the top of any articles ranking the "Best WR Duos," both are athletic receivers who give Lawrence the chance to succeed. Schottenheimer and Bevell should have no problem scheming a passing offense that plays to Lawrence's strengths.

That being said, the Jacksonville run game cannot be ignored. Urban said it himself: "I'll fight anybody on this -- you have to run the football to be successful at the highest level." This should bode well for James Robinson, Travis Etienne, and Carlos Hyde.

Meyer's last two years at Ohio State saw a near 50-50 split between run and pass plays, while Bevell's splits during his last two years in Detriot hovered around 60-40 in favor of pass. My main concern for this team is the offensive line. If James Robinson doesn't have a hole to hit, or if Trevor Lawrence lacks the time necessary to take a shot downfield, this could be a long 17 games.

Urban Meyer could be the ultimate X-factor in this Jacksonville offense. While Bevell and Schottenheimer are proven play-callers with big-time experience, Meyer's college experience could inject some schematic creativity. The Jacksonville roster is filled with athletically gifted gadget players.

I believe Urban Meyer wants to maximize the opportunities for this Jaguars offense by having as much positional versatility as possible. It's why Travis Etienne spent most of OTAs taking repetitions at wide receiver.

It's (hopefully) the explanation as to why Tim Tebow was brought in to play tight end. Having players like Lavishka Shenault with deep skillsets puts defenses on their heels. It forces them to read the play and react, instead of acting as the aggressor and disrupting the play.

Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Chargers

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I am absolutely enamored with the Los Angeles Chargers' decision to sign Brandon Staley as their head coach this offseason. While I was personally hoping that Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll would be able to mold Justin Herbert into a superstar, I think that Staley will lead to more long-term success for the franchise. At 38 years old, the former Rams defensive coordinator joins a growing number of young head coaches. However, one thing sets Staley apart from the other youthful hires of the last few years. While San Fransisco's Kyle Shanahan, Green Bay's Mike LaFleur, and Staley's former boss Sean McVay are all innovating on the offensive side of the ball, Brandon Staley is a defensive auteur.

While I intend to break down Staley's defensive scheme on my own time, what he implements has little effect on how the Chargers D/ST unit will impact your fantasy team. Instead, we will focus on their offense, led by former New Orleans Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi.

Background

Lombardi's offensive playbook is simply fascinating. The backbone of the playbook is based on Sean Payton's offense with the New Orleans Saints. This interpretation of the West Coast offense is centered heavily around a variety of offensive personnel groupings featuring a deep roster of skill position players.

When Drew Brees was at the helm, New Orleans prided itself on its offensive complexity. Payton was able to incorporate a bevy of formations, alignments, and personnel groupings to confuse defenses. When functioning at a high point in 2018, the Saints used 13 different personnel groupings on offense. That year, Drew Brees threw touchdowns to 13 different pass catchers.

To maximize Herbert's skillset, Lombardi is incorporating some aspects of another West Coast offense variant--this one popularized by Mike Shanahan. This is the same offense that has most recently been popularized by previously-mentioned head coaches Kyle Shanahan, Mike LaFleur, and Sean McVay, all on the coaching staff for Mike Shanahan's tenure in Washington, D.C.  Judging by comments Justin Herbert made to The Athletic about his offseason film grinding, this offense will primarily be a mix of Payton's offense in New Orleans and Kyle Shanahan's in San Francisco

Justin Herbert will have his work cut out for him this offseason adopting this complex playbook. It is no secret that Sean Payton has constructed one of the most challenging offenses in the NFL. Luckily for Herbert, he will have plenty of assistance learning it. Staley and Lombardi aren't the only two familiar with this system.

Many of Staley's hires have ties to the Saints, Shanahan-led 49ers, and LaFleur-led Packers. On top of that, former Saints tight end Jared Cook joined the team this offseason, and longtime Brees backup Chase Daniels will now share a QB room with Herbert. Drew Brees himself has even shown up to Los Angeles to lend a hand to Herbert.

Prediction

I see fantasy value all over the Chargers offense. I do not know if this is the year Justin Herbert makes his first playoff appearance. However, I am confident this new Lombardi offense will make the Chargers one of the league's most potent offenses. Justin Herbert is a young quarterback with the tools and traits to be great. He has a respectable roster of skill position players. While this offense is certainly tough for any quarterback to learn--let alone a second-year player in a brand new system--it could take Herbert from promising prospect to top 10 in the league.

One place New Orleans and San Francisco's offenses overlap: how each team uses running backs. The Saints rely heavily on Alvin Kamara in the passing game. In Kamara's first four seasons in New Orleans, he has finished top-two in targets each of the last four years.

In three of those seasons, he targeted over 100 times. Meanwhile, multiple running backs played a part in San Francisco's passing attack. Three running backs, along with fullback Kyle Juszczyk, caught touchdowns in 2020.

This bodes extremely well for Chargers running backs Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, and Joshua Kelley. Not only are these backs capable pass catchers, but the Chargers also spent this offseason completely retooling their offensive line.

This will make this trio of backs more valuable by default, seeing as the Chargers rostered an offensive line that finished 31st in Pass Block Win Rate and dead last in Run Block Win Rate in 2020. I personally think Ekeler is poised to have a dominant season. Fantasy Pros Consensus ADP list Ekeler as RB10 in half-point PPR leagues. However, he could easily find himself cracking the top 5 if things go his way.

As for the receivers, the two to really covet are Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. How about we keep drawing parallels to the Saints? I think Keenan Allen has a chance to take a Michael Thomas-like role in this offense.

That feels like a lofty prediction, but Herbert needs a reliable high-volume receiver for these over-the-middle timing routes. Comparing the route charts of Keenan Allen in 2020 to Michael Thomas in 2019, I see enough similarity in usage to make me believe this is a real possibility.

As for Mike Williams, I think his value is highest in Best Ball drafts. Mike Williams will be perfectly poised to gash defenses on big home run balls. Unlike last year, Herbert is now in a system equipped to take the top off of defenses. Williams will be the prime beneficiary to those deep balls.

Robert Saleh, New York Jets

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I don’t want to jinx anything, but the New York Jets may be…a smart football team. I know, I know, it’s not what you expect, but the Jets made a lot of smart moves this offseason. The team picked up some savvy veterans in free agency without blowing too much of their cap on one player. Their draft class helped to revamp their offense. They even landed a nice lottery ticket for a new franchise quarterback in Zach Wilson.

The biggest change they made this offseason, however, is their coaching staff overhaul. Out goes Adam Gase and in walks former San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. Known for energy and personality, Saleh has already received rave reviews from players at minicamp. A culture change certainly seems to be well underway.

Background

The Jets' newest offensive coordinator is coming cross-country with Saleh from San Francisco. Mike LaFleur, brother to Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, was the 49ers passing game coordinator in 2020. LaFleur will most likely be bringing Kyle Shanahan's West Coast system with him to New York. Can New York match the running back talent of San Francisco? No. Can San Francisco's style of play still help the Jets succeed? Absolutely.

For starters, the Jets are going to immediately improve off of motion on plays. Kyle Shanahan's offense relies on skill position players to go into motion. This forces defensive mismatches and creates extra blocking opportunities for the offensive line.  Per Seth Walder of ESPN, the 49ers led the league in motion. The Jets finished bottom five. While the system is complex, signing former 49ers running back Tevin Coleman will hopefully alleviate a lot of the headaches.

The real benefit of the motion will show in the passing game. Motion and outside zone runs both lend themselves beautifully to play action. Per Football Outsiders, the 49ers ranked 4th in play-action frequency and 3rd in play-action yards per play. While the Jets finished 15th in play-action frequency, they sat in the bottom ten in yards per play.

LaFleur's offense will be critical in creating openings for Jets skill players in the passing game. The offensive scheme alone can create open looks-- something Adam Gase's offense was evidently incapable of last year.

Prediction

The run game itself is primarily based on the outside zone. 2020 rookie standout Mekhi Becton already spoke about the run scheme at the Combine, emphasizing how much he thrives in the system: “It’s just fun running a man out of the play and taking him where I want him to go.”

Running an offense behind one of the most promising tackles in football is already a good decision. Having the depth to run the ball frequently is even better. It seems evident early that Tevin Coleman will be seeing the most targets in this Jets backfield. Before you reach, take a look at former UNC running back Michael Carter.

Drafted in the fourth round, Carter shared his backfield with the highly-touted Javonte Williams. While Williams was drafted higher, Carter has the traits to also be an NFL talent. At 5-foot-8 and 200 lbs, Carter won't bowl anyone over, but he has unmatched elusiveness.

Carter finished sixth in all of college football in broken tackles while averaging a whopping 8.0 yards per carry. Carter has the agility to make men miss in open space, a trait paramount to success in the offensive zone. I like Carter to take the RB2 job, ahead of Ty Johnson. Carter may even have a commanding share of snaps as early as next season.

As for pass catchers, there's nowhere to go but up. LaFleur's offense will undoubtedly raise this team above the league-worst Dropback EPA put out in 2020. While San Francisco thrives with a tight-end-heavy passing game, I don't think Chris Herndon will all of a sudden become George Kittle. However, Chris Herndon is going to be schemed open just as often as George Kittle was in San Francisco. He won't have the same YAC abilities as Kittle, but the receptions will be there.

I think Denzel Mims will be due for a second-year breakout. The traits that made Mims a 2020 second-rounder are ideal for a Shanahan West Coast system, and he has a more accurate quarterback targeting him. Curtis Samuel might end up as a solid WR2 option with high upside, but should probably be more sought after in Best Ball drafts. Zach Wilson certainly proved he could air it out at BYU. I just don't see LaFleur dialing those plays up frequently his rookie year.

My real galaxy-brain take for this New York Jets receiving group?

2021 Elijah Moore *handshake emoji* 2019 Deebo Samuel.

For being arguably the worst skill position group in the league last year, the Jets wide receiver room is oddly crowded. Jamison Crowder, Keelan Cole, and Braxton Berrios are all going to be vying with 34th-overall-pick Elijah Moore for targets. However, Moore is certainly already capable of starting. His athletic traits alone put him in the conversation to be the 4th receiver off the board in this year's draft.

Instead of forcing Moore to find targets, I anticipate LaFleur creating targets for Moore. The model we'll use to compare is Deebo Samuel's rookie season in 2019. Samuel and Moore both measure in around the same size, but comparing Moore and Samuel's combine grades shows just how gifted Moore is athletically.

Samuel was everywhere for San Francisco in 2019. He caught 57 passes for 802 yards and 3 touchdowns while rushing for 159 yards and another 3 scores. Overall, Samuel managed 961 yards from scrimmage, a total of 13.5 yards per touch. In a system like this, Moore might serve best as the Jets' ultimate gadget player.

I'm not suggesting that he won't be catching downfield balls from Zach Wilson. It's just that mixing in jet sweeps with a receiver with a 4.35s 40-yard dash wouldn't hurt, either.

Thank you for reading the 2021 Fantasy Football Coaching Changes and Effects! I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing it!


Check out the rest of our 2021 Fantasy Football content from our great team of writers!

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4 comments

Kyle July 9, 2021 - 7:47 pm

Nailed it with the Jets! They’re smart! If Cleveland can do it so can the Jets – great article.

Reply
2021 Fantasy Football ADP Analysis - Fantasy Six Pack July 20, 2021 - 7:00 am

[…] You can read my breakdown of the offense Trevor Lawrence will be running this season here. […]

Reply
Dave July 27, 2021 - 3:02 am

I think you got Curtis Samuel mixed up with Corey Davis.

Reply
Cale Clinton July 29, 2021 - 10:11 pm

Thanks for pointing that out! It’s been fixed

Reply

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