Fantasy football: NFL offensive coordinator changes

by Tim Heaney on July 30, 2012 @ 15:30:37 PDT


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Sixteen teams named a new offensive coordinator this offseason, and knowing how those systems drive can identify fantasy green lights and warning signs for the chess pieces.

Only 12 of those alterations, however, will have a significant impact. The entries for the Cleveland Browns (Brad Childress), Dallas Cowboys (Bill Callahan), Green Bay Packers (Tom Clements) and San Diego Chargers (Hal Hunter) are merely titular - focused on quality control and strategic assistance. Pat Shurmur, Jason Garrett, Mike McCarthy and Norv Turner run those play-calling shows. (Callahan might have a bit more influence on increasing Dallas' run game.)

On to the changes that matter:

Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons RB Jacquizz Rodgers
Jack up Jacquizz

The former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator and QBs coach upgrades from Blaine Gabbert to Matt Ryan. Maybe he'll actually give this talent-loaded team an identity, as well.

Expect Atlanta to implement more spread sets and screens, and in general more downfield pressure as they lighten Michael Turner's responsibilities. Koetter should expand their means of working the middle of the field and piling on yards after the catch. Getting the ball into the hands of their playmakers more quickly could produce devastating results and augment their already effective pass protection.

Ryan and Roddy White's connection commands elite fantasy attention, but in this design, the dynamic Julio Jones could close the value gap between him and No. 84.

Koetter believes in dump-offs, so Jacquizz Rodgers, as part of the Turner fade-out, could rack up PPR points - ditto for Harry Douglas, for depth purposes, though the general involvement warning applies when you go further down the ladder.

Maybe those cheapie targets Tony Gonzalez has been hand-fed will be dispersed to these two up-and-comers, making the vet an even less attractive settle option for drafters.

Chicago Bears

His pro-style system aims to refine the running game. The Bears have considerable firepower on the ground with Matt Forte now under contract and Michael Bush coming to town. Tice's expertise is along the line, which could do wonders for Chicago's suspect front five.

There are plenty of elements that resurfaced from Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall's Denver Broncos days, including slinger coach Jeremy Bates. Cutler has permission to audible, something he didn't have under Martz - speaking of which, buh bye, seven-step drops with five-man protection. The O-line improved as 2011 went along and their strategy evolved; they should be better to start 2012 with its former first-hand coach running the whole show without Greatest Show on Turf limitations. More so than most teams, this offense's fortunes ride on the OL's play.

Proper development by Devin Hester and Alshon Jeffrey could make this a surprisingly impressive aerial game. Marshall's midrange game should also cost Forte some receptions - you hear that, PPR drafters?

Indianapolis Colts

Arians conjured up a sometimes competent offense with Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb in Cleveland and helped groom Ben Roethlisberger from his rookie year on. Now, he has another first-year flinger in Andrew Luck.

Arians adapted to run spread offenses in Pittsburgh, so he should be flexible in playing to Luck's strengths and weaknesses. Look for a base attack of two tight ends with an emphasis on single-back, run-heavy sets. Luck has been working on his deep throwing motion to get the ball out faster and with more downfield accuracy. Typical rookie problems will arise this season, but don't expect Indy to coddle him.

Tight end Coby Fleener, Luck's roommate at Stanford, is his most comfortable target. Sure-handed snarers Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie, depending on where he lines up, should also welcome Luck's ability to ... you know, throw, unlike Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins.

The Donald Brown-Delone Carter pair receives a boost from this change. Arians' ground-first philosophy was so conservative Pittsburgh chose to replace him in efforts of opening up their offense. He brought in a former Steelers mainstay in Mewelde Moore as lurking depth, although the veteran back may be there to help teach the offense.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Bratkowski follows new head coach Mike Mularkey from the Atlanta Falcons. They endured a tumultuous run there, directing a talented O but falling short of expectations. This operation is a whole other beast.

Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings could form a potent one-two punch that'll keep the run-first M.O. Bratkowski, however, must complement that with his Air Coryell vertical foundation, with which he propped up the likes of Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh during the aughts period for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Upgrading Jacksonville's throwing apparatus was the organization's main goal this offseason. Signee Laurent Robinson and draftee Justin Blackmon give the Jags more teeth in their tosses, but do they need braces to align properly?

Blackmon is more about overpowering opponents than blowing by them for deep chucks. Robinson was a red zone wonder for Dallas last year, but how will he do under a developing QB and new installation, while downgrading from Tony Romo? They're both bench material but are worth drafting for their talent.

Lee Evans actually fits quite well, but at age 31, his speed is dwindling. Mike Thomas moves back to the slot but doesn't gain much fantasy luster as a result, except maybe for PPR depth.

Marcedes Lewis? A non-factor. Zach X. Miller is intriguing, especially in this speed-valuing system, but too much needs to go right for his fantasy relevance to jump into draftability.

A key will be how the shaky offensive line can protect Blaine Gabbert to give the receivers time to develop the frequent go routes. Gabbert is surely better than he proved to be last year - he at least deserves a chance in a new system - but there are way too many steps he needs to take to add optimism to this scheme for 2012, especially early on.

Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs QB Matt Cassel
Building a new Cassel

After his days trying to extract something out of the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns, a branch from the New England Patriots tree gets some blooming leaves for his run-first, pro-style vision. Was he vanilla in his previous tries, or did he have to dumb things down for those squads?

A healthy Jamaal Charles, Matt Cassel and Tony Moeaki could make for a promising fantasy group, even if Daboll sticks to the basics. He was the wideout coach in New England when Cassel started his career there, so there's a hint of a connection and knowledge of Cassel's working as a thrower.

Daboll's offensive creativity hardly had a chance to expand with the lack of talent he had to work with previously. He's preaching aggressiveness with his new club. In previous jobs, he preached QB freedom in at-the-line adjustments and has adjusted his plans around his slinger's sound attributes, so it's safe to expect Cassel to be more in command than in recent years in a system that could resemble a poor man's New England outfit.

Peyton Hillis will be a valuable tandem back with Charles, whose knee recovery will determine how quickly he can act as a catalyst in this format. Dexter McCluster could be used all over the field, potentially finally being a useful toy that fantasy owners will want to own. WR Jonathan Baldwin is a physical specimen who showed growth near the end of last season.

Dwayne Bowe, unfortunately, might hold out, and the fact that he'd miss the installation of a new technique jeopardizes how much he can offer this season, regardless of how much talent he has.

Miami Dolphins

Head coach Joe Philbin's specialty is the offensive line. Sherman's, meanwhile, has been the guy behind that wall. There's a level of trust that goes back to when Sherman coached Philbin in prep school. Now, the roles are reversed, with Sherman calling the plays under Philbin's watch in this West Coast style.

A competent offensive line inaccurately portrayed as disastrous last year should pave the way for an up-tempo methodology, including more no-huddles and motions. David Garrard leads the slinger battle, and Matt Moore is in the picture, but if Texas A&M alum and 2012 first-rounder Ryan Tannehill ascends to the job, he should be comfortable with Sherman, who directed his college O last season. That doesn't mean the offense would excel for him, though, in his first NFL taste.

Sans Brandon Marshall, the reception distribution lines up to be painful. Wideout production will cycle erratically. Chad Johnson is the "best" bet to be something of a fantasy asset, but this system is foreign to him because of its precise route-running requirements. Anthony Fasano has to hold off rookie Michael Egnew and might not fit the offense well.

The run game will continue serving as the focus for this season given all the changes on the passing side. With his likely frequent dump-off chances and opportunities to run some routes, Reggie Bush should enjoy this formula - of course, if he can stay on the field. Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller are relevant, at least for fantasy benches, because of Bush's painful health history.

Miami's lead back rocks the value boat plenty, and this O will have rough swimming.

New England Patriots

A new, but old, name, yet this attack will still be one of the most coveted in fantasy. McDaniels returns to his old stomping grounds and ideal role - his head coaching stretch and force-feeding Sam Bradford his high-paced system didn't go so well.

Tom Brady thrived under Bill O'Brien but won't scoff at reuniting with the man at the helm for his 50-touchdown 2007. There'll be a "nice to meet you" period with some of the skill players, but Brady's comfort, despite working on some mechanical stuff recently, will speed things along. Too bad the ground game will once again induce fake-football headaches. Wes Welker's fantasy red flag has to do with his contract dispute, not his team's strategy with the ball.

Don't worry: The OC's spotty history of using the tight end won't strip Rob Gronkowski's targets. The Pats will "advise" McDaniels to adjust ... or else. Though the pair wreaked havoc last year, Aaron Hernandez isn't as safe. Brandon Lloyd, a system disciple and MVP in both Denver and St. Louis, can slide right in and become the Pats' No. 3 target; he could be a middle-rounds steal.

New York Jets

Ground ... pound: They rhyme, and they define the former Miami Dolphins general's commands. The Jets just might have an identity again.

That would lend you to think Gang Green would become Gang Greene. Shonn Greene, in theory, would make fantasy drafters salivate in this format. He's not talented enough as a runner to create things on his own, but this is a system that at least increases the optimism if you can get him at a value.

Joe McKnight bulked up but has the best speed in this backfield, and the other backups, Bilal Powell and Terrance Ganaway, will have to settle for scraps. Don't forget about Tim Tebow, who might be their best goal line gouger and could block his teammates even in limited work. An offensive line with a healthy Nick Mangold should pave way for the toters more clearly than it did in 2011.

At least he's working with a steadier QB this time. Mark Sanchez reportedly has more lower-body strength this year, and play-action passing is one of his fortes. But Tebow's presence and the overall goals of this setup sustain his fantasy backup worth.

Sparano's experience with two-tight end sets in South Beach should play in Dustin Keller's favor; he's already No. 6's best friend.

Santonio Holmes, unfortunately, probably won't enjoy this setup; he was already a bystander when the Jets tried to wedge in more tosses last season in an inconsistent play-calling atmosphere. Holmes isn't a true No. 1 NFL wideout, so it's questionable whether he can make a dynamic statement under these circumstances.

Maybe Stephen Hill and Chaz Schilens can stretch the field, but this unreliable corps doesn't have sunny prognosis in the immediate fantasy future.

Oakland Raiders

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger
Big Ben's big change

Returning for his second tour of Silver-and-Black duty, Knapp is a disciple of the zone-blocking offensive line scheme with a West Coast aerial focus. It'll revamp the Hue Jackson's Coryell philosophy of vertical inclination and return them to grind-it-out football.

Darren McFadden had issues when this scheme was in play during his first few years as a Raider, considering his penchant for hitting holes and seams with immediate authority. Zone blocking requires a bit more patience from its carriers, who must wait for an opening and make a singular, decisive move.

McFadden will probably have some trouble here and there off the bat, but not enough to downgrade him other than his ever-present health risks. He's not a system-fueled talent by any means, and since he already had experience with the setup under Tom Cable, it should be an easier transition this time.

Oakland's speedster wideouts should get the ball in their hands quickly to make plays. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford all have boosted fantasy intrigue as a result.

How will the O-line adjust to their new responsibilities? They'll probably be rusty in the first few weeks. At least Carson Palmer has a full offseason to digest a new playbook; turnovers will plague him but won't come at the high rate they did in his abbreviated Oakland tenure in 2011.

At 33, with a statuesque playing pattern, can he manage the rollouts and bootlegs this scheme demands? Will this prompt an unnatural change to the offense so Palmer feels more comfortable? Matt Schaub wasn't exactly fleet-footed while running this ship when Knapp was Houston Texans QB coach, so there's hope, at least.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Haley has adjusted to his offensive surroundings in his years of guidance: See his high-flying Arizona Cardinals stint and run-down-your-throat Kansas City Chiefs approach. Expect his time in the Steel City to show an alluring mix of the two. Pittsburgh must keep their aging D off the field more often. Rashard Mendenhall (knee) probably won't make a big fantasy dent, but physical and versatile toter Isaac Redman can easily become the new bell cow.

Ben Roethlisberger said he was frustrated working with Haley this offseason in transitioning to his first new system in nine years. The outspoken Haley micromanages, and Big Ben is leaving his comfort zone. Luckily, Mike Tomlin should sheriff this situation.

Plus, this new system might go a long way in preserving Roethlisberger's health, given his sometimes reckless style and willingness to take a hit. In fact, upper management wants their QB to tone down his on-the-fly play and release passes sooner.

This won't be a Woody Hayes operation. Big Ben will get to sling the rock often - just a bit more tempered in doing so. The vertical elements should benefit Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown - perhaps his new Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin - with slot man Emmanuel Sanders potentially getting in on the action. Bet on Heath Miller seeing more work before Sanders, though both deserve deep-league fliers if you're scrambling in the late rounds.

St. Louis Rams

Schottenheimer took some flak for his work with the New York Jets last year and now must resurrect Sam Bradford's potential. He'll have some work to do to get the third-year slinger to be comfortable in the pocket. Will he simplify his reportedly thick playbook from last year? More importantly, can St. Louis' shaky O-line pick up on it enough to keep their franchise player upright?

Regardless, expect Steven Jackson and Isaiah Pead to see plenty of work, but in his age-29 season, Jackson is on the decline.

There's a mess of receivers headlined by Danny Amendola, Danario Alexander and rookies Brian Quick and Chris Givens. It's a mess, though, and unless it sorts itself out quickly, this group could be a frustrating fantasy lot. Lance Kendricks could become the new Dustin Keller in this O.

Schotty's, well, shoddy track record and fluctuating offensive identity says that there may be too much tinkering involved to get anything consistent going this year. Head coach Jeff Fisher will probably keep a tight leash on his offensive captain, as well, so this could be a quite vanilla fantasy setting.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sullivan was the QB coach for the New York Giants in 2010 and 2011, when Eli Manning experienced his two biggest growth years to date. This doesn't guarantee Josh Freeman will leap to the next level this year, but having Sullivan isn't a bad place to start.

While Sullivan most likely will call the plays, Greg Schiano's run-heavy and downfield-challenging philosophy will reign supreme. Vincent Jackson likes this. However the tailback split divvies up between Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount (likely the rook beating out Blount over the course of the season), they'll each at least deserve ownership throughout 2012. Newly signed guard Carl Nicks and Jackson, from his wideout spot, increase the run blocking of this unit.

Though Mike Williams has V-Jax to take attention away from him, this system doesn't initially look all that friendly to midrange inhabitants, especially since Freeman needs work in that area. Same goes for Dallas Clark, especially at age 33 and with a QB that's a 180 from Peyton Manning when it comes to accuracy.

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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