NFL Offensive Schemes and Coordinators in Fantasy Football – AFC
Dan Schneier takes a look at offensive coordinators and schemes in the AFC and how that will affect players on each team from a fantasy football perspective.
NFL Offensive Schemes and Coordinators in Fantasy Football – AFC
In part one of this piece we looked at the coaching/scheme changes in the NFC where four teams reinvented their offensive philosophy. In the AFC, nine different teams will have offenses that look different than their 2012 version. More than half of the entire conference will have players whose production will change based on the changes in their offensive coaching personnel.
Fantasy football is all about absorbing as much information as possible and applying it to make the right decisions on what players to target. Understanding an offense’s scheme and how it affects each player from a fantasy perspective should be looked at as more information at your disposal.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the AFC’s new offenses, starting from the top with the AFC East.
The Bills brought in Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone, who brought in his offensive coordinator from Syracuse, Nathaniel Hackett. In his first couple of seasons, Marrone ran a balanced approach. Last season, in his fourth year, he simplified and sped things up with more no-huddle, single back formations, and simplified routes. As a result, after a slow start Syracuse finished with the best offense in the Big East. Marrone, a supporter of PFF metrics, explained that he doesn’t think tempo is a gadget: “The aim is to get more possessions, knowing more possessions will get you more scores. We will use that as much as possible.” The most important fact about Syracuse in 2012 that can translate to the Bills’ 2013 offense is that they ran the ball 52 percent of the time, versus 44 percent for the Bills last season. During the entire four years Marrone was there, the Orange averaged just 401.5 pass attempts per year compared to 465 runs. The Bills would be smart to base their offense on their strongest point: C.J. Spiller and their run game.
Player Most Likely Benefit: C.J. Spiller, RB
When asked if he will use Spiller in goal line and short-yardage situations, Marrone replied, “My philosophy’s always been if someone starts off and they’re running well, keep feeding them the ball.” While former coach Chan Gailey limited Spiller to 12.3 touches per game over the past two seasons, Marrone sounds like he believes in the feature-back philosophy. Spiller has said that he expects to be used in the slot and in different ways to get him the ball in space. Spiller is currently undervalued and has potential to be a top-five back this year and should be drafted as an RB1.
New York Jets
The Jets moved away from whatever flawed system they ran under first-time coordinator Tony Sparano in 2012 to Marty Mornhinweg’s West Coast offense. We’ve seen this offense before with many different teams but there is not much more to be said for the Jets offense. Regardless of coaching scheme, the offense is supremely lacking talent at all 11 starting positions and besides Chris Ivory they do not need to be considered from a fantasy standpoint.
The 2012 Browns offense was difficult to watch. There was talent at QB, RB, WR1, and across the offensive line. Unfortunately, this talent was utilized incorrectly in a West Coast offense. With the best blind-side tackle in the game, a quarterback with solid mechanics and a strong arm, and a WR1 (Josh Gordon) who could stretch the field, they were best suited for a vertical, attacking style offense. Enter in new head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner. With the Panthers, Chudzinski implemented an attacking, innovative scheme that featured his tight end (Greg Olsen). I fully expect the Chud/Turner combination offense to feature heavy play-action passes in the intermediate and long range. While we all love to laugh at Turner, it is easy to remember his mishaps as head coach and forget his innovations as an offensive coordinator. He will be calling the plays and that means great news for the entire Browns offense.
Player Most Likely to Benefit: Trent Richardson, RB
I struggled with this decision, as I believe that Jordan Cameron, Josh Gordon, and Brandon Weeden will also greatly benefit, respectively. However, those three have concerns about past production and off-field problems. Richardson is coming off a monster season as a rookie despite being hampered by a rib injury. Turner has preached that the Browns will be an “attacking team,” which should lead to more scoring opportunities for Richardson. Also, Turner has coached the NFL rushing champion five times in his past and has a history of using a strict feature-back approach (save for last season when he lost his trust in Ryan Mathews, something his fantasy owners can attest to was entirely warranted). Richardson is a solid RB1; you can bank on it.
Jordan Cameron makes for another player who should greatly benefit from Turner calling the plays. Although Cameron has not produced at the NFL level, the new offense is promising for his chances of breaking out. Tight ends under Turner, as recently as Antonio Gates, have dominated in his system. The same position under Chudzinski has had similar success (see Greg Olsen’s breakout campaign from 2012). In organized team activities (OTAs), early on Cameron was already running with starters and running deeper routes. The way the offense is set up (with receivers clearing out deep) allows for the tight end to get open in the middle. Cameron had this to say about the new offense: “They’re making an opening for the tight end. They’re running deep routes, and it makes it easier for tight ends to work the middle a little bit, and we stretch the field as well, so there’s a lot of guys running deep, vertical routes.” (Source: clevelandbrowns.com). Cameron can definitely finish as a middle-ground TE1.
Josh Gordon is another player with a lot of breakout potential in this offense. His off-field problems have already resulted in a two-game suspension and rumor has it that if he makes one more mistake he will receive a one-year ban. These concerns make Gordon a risky investment. However, at 6’4″ and 220 pounds with a 4.52 40-yard dash time, Gordon has breakout potential running mostly post and go routes. If he plays all 14 remaining games, Gordon has a very good shot to finish as a WR2.
Lastly, Brandon Weeden should of course also improve in this offense. He was not meant for a three-step-drop, West Coast offense (as seen by his league-leading 21 batted-down passes in 2012). In 2013, the Browns will utilize their top-tier pass-protecting line and seven-step drops combined with intermediate and deep routes. Weeden could make his way into the mid-QB2 tier.
The Jaguars hired Jedd Fisch, who was recently coordinator of the Miami Hurricanes offense, but his tenure in the NFL dates back to time spent as a position coach with Mike Shanahan. Fisch plans to install an offensive attack very similar to those in Shanahan’s past with the Broncos and an offense that mirrors the current Texans scheme. This scheme is known as the stretch zone scheme. The offense features a zone-blocking scheme and a lot of movement (bootlegs, rollouts) by the quarterback. The idea is to take pressure off of the quarterback position. While any pressure taken off of Blaine Gabbert is a good thing, two of the Jaguars major offensive pieces in Maurice-Jones Drew and right guard Uche Nwaneri are better suited for a power-blocking scheme as they have run in the past.
Player Most Likely to Benefit: Marcedes Lewis, TE
If we follow the progression of the Texans style of offense, we easily figure out that the tight ends play a major role. They are usually blocking in space on stretch plays and can flare out and become often the first read of the quarterback on play-action passes. When asked about his role this season, Lewis replied, “They’re going to give me the opportunity to get the ball in my hands and get busy.” Lewis however fared much better under Chad Henne than Gabbert last season, so I would still classify him as a TE2 without too much upside.
Maurice Jones-Drew is one of the biggest question marks in fantasy football this year in my mind. He will be moving away from the power-blocking scheme that he has been so effective in. The transition last season for another AFC back, Darren McFadden, turned out to be a disaster. The positive is that this system likes to feature its backs in the passing game, so his receptions should go up. With a weak quarterback and an offensive line making a transition, I wouldn’t count on MJD as anything more than a middle-low end RB2.
The Titans got rid of ancient and outdated coordinator Chris Palmer, the second-worst offensive coordinator in 2012 behind Cam Cameron. The offense under Palmer sputtered and it led to disappointing seasons from Chris Johnson, Jake Locker, Jared Cook, and Kendall Wright. New offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains should help cash in on some of the promise of these young players that fantasy owners hoped they would see in 2012. He also brings in a zone-stretch scheme similar to that of the Texans. We just discussed that offense with the Jaguars but it is also vital to note that the Titans brought in the best guard on the market in free agency, Andy Levitre, and drafted Chance Warmack, arguably the best guard in the draft. On their offensive philosophy, Chris Johnson had this to say, “Coming in this year, (we know) it’s going to be a run-first offense.”
Player Most Likely To Benefit: Chris Johnson, RB
Fantasy analysts were torn on CJ last season. Some advised to grab him as the fourth back off the board while others advised to exercise caution and grab him in the early-mid second round. He finished with the 13th-most points for a running back. Thus far in OTAs/mini camp CJ has been explosive and in great shape. In this offensive scheme with a run-first approach, increased usage in the passing game, and his most talented offensive line, I believe Johnson will finish as a mid-high end RB1.
The Colts lost one of the most innovative offensive minds and play-callers when Bruce Arians became the head coach of the Cardinals this offseason. They will also move away from their vertical, attacking style offense and towards a West Coast scheme headed by new coordinator Pep Hamilton. Hamilton wants to get Andrew Luck using more three and five step drops, as opposed to the seven step drops he used for the majority of 2012 when Luck averaged 12.9 yards per pass. Hamilton described what he was aiming for as “the short efficient passing game, with a high completion rate.” (Source: Indianapolis Star). He also added that he is a big believer in the power running game in hopes that it will open up your passing game with the play-action pass. I think that this offense is one of the NFL past and is completely outdated. I believe that all Colts skill position players will have a worse 2013 than 2012 after the departure of Arians. I have Luck ranked as a QB2 and one player I will avoid in all drafts in the West Coast scheme.
Player Most Likely to Benefit: Ahmad Bradshaw, RB
Owner Jim Irsay brought in Bradshaw to be his featured back and in this new scheme he should have a great opportunity to get a lot of carries, catches, and scoring opportunities. Remember, Bradshaw still averaged a healthy 4.6 ypc last season and should be a back-end RB2 in 2013.
Kansas City Chiefs
Most of you are familiar with new head coach Andy Reid and his scheme and tendencies. To quickly refresh, he runs a West Coast offense and he loves to pass the ball. Did you get that last part? He calls passes more than almost any other play-caller in the league. While talent limitations should keep Alex Smith from landing on your radar, WR Dwayne Bowe is due for a bounce back season. In his first time playing in a true West Coast offense since college, I think Bowe will finish as a high end WR2.
Player Most Likely to Benefit: Jamaal Charles, RB
Let me start by making this clear and making sure it is written down on paper (electronically at least) … bold prediction: Jamaal Charles will finish as the second-best running back in fantasy football this season. Charles and Reid have both stated on multiple occasions this offseason that Charles will be a major part of the passing game as well. Reid’s past with Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy give great examples of how a supremely talent back can become the focal point of a Reid offense. Charles is definitely a high-end RB1 and again, I would grab him at #2 overall.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers finally ended Norv Turner’s tenure as head coach and brought in one of the best young offensive minds in football—Mike McCoy. The former Broncos coach will implement a shorter passing offense that is designed to get the ball out quicker and for quarterback Philip Rivers to take more three-step drops. Although I generally tend to side with vertical, attacking offenses for fantasy purposes (see the above section on Cleveland), I fully believe that this scheme change is crucial for Rivers. Rivers has continued to demonstrate great anticipation and timing but in recent years his arm has fallen apart. Well I don’t believe he will regain the zip on his intermediate and deep passes, he can still perform in the short passing game.
Player Most Likely To Benefit: Vincent Brown, WR
Brown is one of those rare athletes in the NFL who possess natural ability and incredible lateral movement and agility. He can stop and start better than most receivers. An injury riddled his 2012 season, but he came on strong at the end of 2011. Brown is best suited for this new offense and Rivers has yet to find a go-to receiver since Vincent Jackson left. I believe that Brown is an excellent late-round pick and will be a high-upside WR3 with the potential for more if/when he becomes Rivers’ go-to-guy.
The Raiders failed experiment with Greg Knapp’s zone-blocking scheme combined with sub-par run-blocking from his offensive line destroyed Darren McFadden’s 2012 campaign. The Raiders brought in Greg Olson to coordinate the offense and he will bring back the power-blocking scheme that McFadden once thrived in. Overall, it is tough to figure out what to make of the Raider offense as a whole after they let go of Carson Palmer and Darrius Heyward-Bey. I wouldn’t expect much progress and I am planning to stay away from all Raiders in 2013.
Player Most Likely To Benefit: Darren McFadden, RB
The switch back to a power-blocking scheme will benefit McFadden. The reason why I am still deciding to avoid him is because the Raiders have not improved their offensive line and have actually gotten worse at quarterback. He should have even less scoring opportunities than 2012 and I wouldn’t be surprised if McFadden finished as a bottom-of-the barrel RB2.
Other Offensive Scheme/Play-Calling Notes
– Denver will use three wide receiver sets predominantly in 2013, which will make it hard to predict what WR will be the best. It is great news for Peyton Manning’s outlook.
– The Baltimore Ravens will now get to enjoy the benefits of a full season without Cam Cameron calling the plays. This means more play-action and heavy use of the intermediate and deep routes. Perfect combination for QB Joe Flacco.
– TE Dennis Pitta came alive when the Ravens switched to Jim Caldwell as their play-caller. Look out for him as a back-end TE1.