One of the hardest things about fantasy football is that it is a year-to-year game. Every season, dozens of NFL teams shake things up, making it infinitely harder to use the previous year’s stats to make informed decisions. We know this to be true about players who switch teams. What about the ones who stay in the same place, however, while new coaching staffs come in?
This year, 10 teams switched head coaches. Nearly a third of the league will have new guys at the helm, and those coaches will inherit rosters for which they have little-to-no attachment. Often, to get a sense of how players will be used, it’s wise to look at how players fared at the new coach or coordinator’s previous stops. So, let’s look at some notable teams that changed coaches and try to project how the players that stuck around will fare in the new system.
New York Giants
Going from Joe Judge, Jason Garrett and Freddie Kitchens to Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka — key constructors of the Bills’ and Chiefs’ offenses, respectively — gives new meaning to the word “upgrade.” The Giants almost literally can not be worse than they were last year, when they scored 15.2 points per game — ahead of only the Urban Meyer Jaguars. So, this is an easy place to start.
The most obvious candidate for improvement is Kenny Golladay. Last season, Golladay was one of fantasy’s biggest busts, scoring a whopping zero touchdowns. Still, the 28-year-old managed to lead the Giants in targets while playing just 14 games. He did nothing with those targets, however, setting career lows in catch rate (48.7 percent), yards per target (6.9) and yards per reception (14.1). But we can assume that was at least in part due to how bad the offense was. If Golladay creeps back toward his career efficiency averages while maintaining his target share, he could be an excellent value at WR52.
Kadarius Toney, who also didn’t score a touchdown in 2021, is a bit trickier. He was a rookie last year, so there’s no NFL track record to fall back on to determine what he’d look like in a competent offense. The best we can hope is for Daboll to unlock his explosiveness and yards-after-catch ability in a way Judge and company were unable to do. He’s going in the 10th round (WR45), so if the cost remains low, he’s a solid upside play.
The last notable Giant for fantasy purposes is Saquon Barkley, who is probably the least scheme-dependent of the bunch. Barkley’s problem last year was a notable lack of burst and explosiveness after he had suffered a torn ACL in 2020. Now another year removed from the injury, Barkley will go as far as his knee can take him. Daboll never had a back higher than RB19 (last year with Devin Singletary), but he has also never had a back with Barkley’s skill set.
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If the Giants’ offensive coaching upgrade wasn’t the biggest one of the offseason, that honor goes to the Jaguars — who went from Urban Meyer to Super Bowl winner Doug Pederson. Armed with generational quarterback prospect Trevor Lawrence, it’s a near-guarantee Jacksonville will improve from being the lowest-scoring offense in the league.
What makes this one trickier is that though some faces remain from last year, there are a lot of new ones, too. The most notable may be Christian Kirk, whom the Jaguars signed to a (perhaps excessive) four-year, $72 million deal. Kirk plays a majority of his snaps from the slot, a position Pederson has had success with — Jordan Matthews led Pederson’s Eagles in targets in 2016, and Nelson Agholor got snaps out of the slot in the years that followed. Considering the investment Jacksonville made in him, an 18 percent or so target share for Kirk should be realistic — which would make him an intriguing buy at WR44.
Both James Robinson and Travis Etienne were technically around last year, though Etienne missed his whole rookie season with a Lisfranc injury. Pederson had a varying quality of backs throughout his time in Philadelphia, but the best he had was probably Miles Sanders in 2019 — who led the team in carries (179) and was third in catches (50), more than any receiver. Could that be Etienne in 2022? Or will it be closer to the 2016 Eagles, for which Ryan Mathews was the only back more than 100 carries and Darren Sproles the only one with more than 50 catches? My bet is on Etienne to smash his fourth-round ADP, especially in PPR, as Robinson recovers from an Achilles tear — typically a tough ask for running backs.
Zay Jones could be a big-bodied, Alshon Jeffery type, but he hasn’t been efficient or a red zone threat throughout his career, so tread carefully. As far as the guys who were around last year, Marvin Jones has survived countless coordinator changes throughout his career and should approach 100 targets again, making him a decent WR4 option. And Laviska Shenault, a subpar receiver, probably deserves to be on the waiver wire now that he has legitimate competition for targets.
The Vikings produced fantasy studs with defensive-minded former head coach Mike Zimmer. Will former Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, who is replacing Zimmer, kick them into overdrive?
Justin Jefferson deserves consideration as the first wide receiver off the board in all formats. He already has elite efficiency numbers (15.4 yards per reception in two seasons). What happens if O’Connell decides to start throwing more? Jefferson is a great bet to lead the NFL in receiving (+900 on FanDuel) and is my fifth-ranked player overall. The perpetually undervalued Adam Thielen is also falling under fantasy radars, though one expects his absurd touchdown rate (24 scores in the past two seasons) will fall eventually.
As for Dalvin Cook, in the past three seasons, Minnesota 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, whom the coaching staff didn’t trust, at quarterback). So, maybe a slight downturn in usage for Cook, who is getting older — though not enough to drop him out of the first round. I’d take him over Najee Harris, who isn’t a guarantee to repeat his insane target volume.
The Dolphins also moved from defensive-minded head coach, Brian Flores, to Mike McDaniel, an offensive mind who loves to run the ball. McDaniel was the run-game coordinator with the 49ers before his offensive coordinator promotion, and San Francisco ran the ball on nearly half of its plays in 2021. Chase Edmonds is the highest-drafted Miami back at RB34, but the pass-catcher is more appealing in PPR. Raheem Mostert, signed from the 49ers, has sleeper appeal at RB51, but when he predictably gets injured, Sony Michel (RB58) would be the guy to step in.
The Bears did the opposite of the Dolphins, moving from an offensive mind, Matt Nagy, to a defensive coach, Matt Eberflus. They hired Luke Getsy from the Packers to run the offense, one that is expected to utilize Shanahan-esque zone concepts. The run-heavy forecast is good news for David Montgomery, but perhaps 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 healthy, but if he gets injured (or if he loses snaps), Herbert could be a league-winner. He’s going RB59, behind Brandon Bolden and D’Ernest Johnson, which simply should not happen. Justin Fields should also be more efficient in an offense more tailored to his strengths, and as a running threat has sneaky low-end QB1 appeal.
Betting on the NFL?
The Raiders and Broncos landed notable new offensive coaches, Josh McDaniels and Nathaniel Hackett, and also landed notable new offensive superstars, Davante Adams and Russell Wilson. Considering the changes on those teams are much more dramatic than just scheme, they will be covered in a future article.
The Saints, Buccaneers and Texans all promoted head coaches from within, and kept their offensive coordinators in place. No major changes there.