A quarter of the league turned over their head coach, with each bringing on board a new offensive coordinator as well—something we have documented extensively here.
In the shadow of that monumental overhauling are five new offensive coordinators with teams who didn’t change at the top. Three men replace OCs who stepped up to head coaching jobs elsewhere, while two take over for ineffective predecessors.
And just like with the new regimes mentioned earlier, there are nuances to these changes fantasy owners need to be aware of.
Mike Shula, Panthers
When the Browns tabbed Rob Chudzinski to take over as Cleveland’s head coach, Carolina opted to elevate Mike Shula from quarterbacks coach to play-caller. Shula is intimately familiar with the talent on this team, having been Cam Newton’s position coach since Newton entered the league, and he has already indicated he has ideas about how to get even more out of the Panthers’ primary weapon.
Shula also has experience with a run-heavy offense from his previous stint calling plays for the Mike Alstott/Warrick Dunn tandem in Tampa Bay. While the Bucs failed to finish in the top half of the league in total offense during Shula’s four seasons there, they did finish 11th and fourth in rushing after Dunn joined Alstott in the backfield.
While little will change with Carolina’s run-heavy, play-action attack, Chudzinski’s departure does take some of the luster off Greg Olsen. Chud’s background as a tight end-whisperer led to an uptick in the position’s role in Carolina; Panther tight ends ranked 29th in fantasy points the year before Chud arrived, then finished fifth and 12th in his two seasons calling plays. With Chudzinski gone, Olsen’s involvement—and numbers—are bound to fall off a bit.
Adam Gase, Broncos
Mike McCoy left Denver to take over the division rival Chargers, so the Broncos elevated quarterbacks coach Adam Gase to the OC job. It’s the 34-year-old Gase’s first opportunity to call plays full-time, though McCoy frequently sought input from Gase last year and even let him call plays for the occasional series later in the season.
But let’s be honest here: Peyton Manning calls the plays in Denver. That’s not necessarily bad for Gase, who worked closely with Manning as his quarterbacks coach last year. The system stays essentially the same, but Gase does bring something interesting to the table: a background working with Mike Martz.
There won’t be an overhaul to the Denver offense, but you can expect Martz concepts like the shallow cross—a natural for big, fast receivers like Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker and a comfortable fit for a guy like Wes Welker who’s used to working the middle of the field—to see increased exposure in the playbook.
The Broncos have also talked about running the ball more, though truth be told last year they were quite balanced for a Manning-led team with a 55/45 percent split in favor of throwing. Martz teams were known for involving backs in the passing game, so the compromise here could be increasing the use of Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman as receivers.
All things considered, don’t expect much of a change in the way the Denver offense hums along this year. In fact, given the continuity of promoting from within and a second season of Manning, upticks from last year’s 30 points per game (second in the league) and 397 yards per game (fourth in the NFL) wouldn’t be surprising.
Pep Hamilton, Colts
It usually takes years for an NFL quarterback to earn enough clout to bring in his own people; it took Andrew Luck just one season. With Bruce Arians leaving to become the head coach in Arizona, the Colts hired Pep Hamilton, Luck’s former OC at Stanford, to handle the same job in Indy.
But while the quarterback remains the same, the system will be markedly different. Arians was a proponent of taking the deep shot and comfortable with a pass-heavy ratio; Hamilton’s track record suggests a more balanced, West Coast approach. To wit, even with Luck chasing a Heisman at Stanford the Cardinals kept the ball on the ground more than half the time.
Of course, that’s the college game and this is the NFL, and if Hamilton wants an extended run in The League he’s smart enough to lean more on Luck than Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw. Still, given Hamilton’s leanings it would be wise to dial back expectations for Luck—who ranked sixth in passing attempts as a rookie—and bump up projections for the Indy ground game.
The passing game is also likely to center less around Reggie Wayne, who accounted for almost a third of the team’s receptions last year. West Coast offenses typically spread the ball around anyway, and Hamilton’s offenses at Stanford were no exception. Moreover, Stanford tight ends and H-backs accounted for almost 40 percent of Cardinal receptions the past two seasons under Hamilton; that’s almost twice what Coby Fleener and Duane Allen combined for in Arians’ offense last year.
Ultimately, Wayne is still the go-to guy in this offense and 195 targets last year demonstrate Luck is comfortable looking in his direction. But if Luck’s overall attempts diminish due to an increased emphasis on the run, and Wayne’s share of the looks decrease because of the offense itself, both players need to have their fantasy expectations dialed back accordingly. Meanwhile, that same rationale suggests Bradshaw and/or Ballard, TY Hilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Fleener and/or Allen are being undervalued.
Marty Mornhinweg, Jets
Despite recently being named in an online report as the worst head coach in NFL history, Mornhinweg has actually had a decent amount of success directing offenses. He’s a descendant of the Bill Walsh WCO, having studied under Mike Holmgren, Steve Mariucci, and Andy Reid, and that’s the system he will attempt to run in New York.
Of course, the trick here is that WCOs—especially the kind Mornhinweg runs—are predicated on timing and accuracy, and Mark Sanchez has never completed more than 57 percent of his passes in a season. You could look to Mornhinweg’s success with Michael Vick, who had his only season north of a 60% completion percentage on Marty’s watch, and hope for the same for Sanchez… or you could look to Geno Smith, who completed 67 percent of his passes as West Virginia.
Jets fans will appreciate that Mornhinweg’s offense takes a few more shots down the field than the typical WCO, and its spread-the-wealth approach could help mask New York’s lack of a true go-to receiver as well. Who knows, maybe there’s even a comeback season for tight end Kellen Winslow—though holding one’s breath is not recommended.
The Mornhinweg plan also deviates from several years of “ground and pound” in New York, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon Jets backs as fantasy helpers. First, Mornhinweg will return the Jets to the zone blocking scheme that yielded success despite the lack of elite backs—and also better fits the current o-line personnel. You might recall backs like Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy having success as both runners and receivers under Mornhinweg in Philly; Chris Ivory would be in line to do the same, if he can stay healthy. And seasons like Cory Schlesinger’s 60-catch campaign for Mornhinweg’s 2001 Lions suggest it’s as much about the role as it is the back.
There isn’t much optimism surrounding the Jets’ offense, which in turn deflates the fantasy values of all its members. However, Mornhinweg’s past success give reason to look for potential sleepers amongst Gang Green.
Greg Olson, Raiders
Last year the Raiders brought in Gregg Knapp and installed a zone blocking system; the results were not pretty, and Knapp was gone before the calendar turned to 2013.
Perhaps Knapp’s gravest mistake was trying to force-fit the Raiders’ personnel into his zone-blocking system. Olson, on the other hand, is on the record as stating he’s more about adapting his system to fit the talent available as opposed to the other way around.
Olson has cited former Raiders coach Jon Gruden as the most influential mentor in his career thus far, so Oakland fans should be familiar with many of the things he will try to accomplish offensively. Matt Flynn will be working out of a West Coast-based passing game, while the ground game will return to the power-blocking roots that yielded success for Darren McFadden (when healthy) prior to last season. If Gruden’s work with Mike Alstott and Jon Ritchie is any indication, there should also be a healthy role for Marcel Reece as well.
Where the Oakland roster may require the most flexibility from Olson is at tight end. While WCOs tend to feature the position in the passing game and power running attacks benefit from blocking TEs, the Raiders are inexperienced at the position with Richard Gordon and David Ausberry the top options. Neither project to be major playmaking factors, which could lead to Reece being more involved in the passing game and whichever wide receivers who manage to stay healthy seeing more balls thrown their way as well.
Bill Callahan, Cowboys*
Callahan isn’t necessarily new to the Cowboys’ OC job, but much has been made of Jerry Jones’ decision to give him play-calling duties this offseason. Rest assured this is still Jason Garrett’s offense, but for the first time since 2006 it will be someone else in Tony Romo’s ear.
So after three straight seasons of a 60/40 or greater split in favor of the pass—including 66.8% passing plays last year, the second-most pass-heavy offense in the league—that might mean the Cowboys exhibit a little more ground-game moxie this year.
Former Cowboys scout Bryan Broaddus said as much to the Dallas Morning News, indicating that he sees Callahan as more patient with his play-calling and more willing to grind it out on the ground. This would be good news if DeMarco Murray could stay healthy, but since that hasn’t been the case yet it makes Joseph Randle an intriguing deep sleeper candidate.
Bottom-line, however, the Cowboys have too much invested in Romo to turn him into a hand-off machine. Maybe this year’s split won’t be two-thirds passing, but you can still expect the Cowboys to throw 60 percent of the time—with Romo, Jason Witten, and Dez Bryan given the opportunity to put up their usual big fantasy numbers.