Of the myriad of variables to consider with every player, the least noted and yet often the most important is a change in coaching staff and offensive scheme. It may not matter what a player did the previous season if he will be used in an entirely different way or worse yet – not used as much. When a team changes their scheme it is a rebuilding year regardless what is said because everyone has to learn a new playbook. And in fantasy football, the reality is that it doesn’t matter how many times a quarterback can pull a game out in the final seconds or that a towering receiver can catch a six-yard pass over the middle for a first down at will. What matters are how many times a player is going to touch the ball and what is the likely product of all plays in a game.
Here are the changes that you must know and what they likely mean.
They missed out on Ken Whisenhunt and settled for Jim Caldwell for head coach and he brings in his history with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and most recently as offensive coordinator for the Ravens when they went to the Super Bowl. Though Caldwell has been mostly an offensive coordinator or head coach, he is being helped out on offense by Joe Lombardi, grandson of Vince Lombardi. More importantly, he was most recently the quarterbacks coach for the New Orleans Saints and is bringing along that playbook. Installing a Saints-based scheme can only help Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Eric Ebron and Reggie Bush. Having a respected quarterbacks coach work with Matthew Stafford should bring this offense to the next level.
The Fins dropped the Mike Sherman plan that said run the ball but not very well and spread the ball around when you were finally forced to pass. New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor comes over having been the quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia. He was credited with making Nick Foles into an NFL-caliber quarterback and intends to do the same for Ryan Tannehill who was the 1.08 pick in 2012. Lazor also worked with Dan Reeves, Joe Gibbs and Mike Holmgren in the past as well. The scheme is not going to change so much as will the ability of the players and how they are used. A better passing game invigorates the run. His impact should be obvious with Ryan Tannehill and hopefully Mike Wallace as well.
New York Giants
This is going to be very interesting. Kevin Gilbride was the quarterbacks coach there in 2004 to 2006, and then the offensive coordinator from 2007-2013. Eli Manning was drafted in 2004 and has known no other than Gilbride. Eleven years with the same coach is almost unheard of in this age of such mobility and job-hopping. New OC Ben McAdoo spent five years as the tight end coach in Green Bay and the last two seasons he was their quarterbacks coach. He brings in a West Coast variant that should increase the completion percentage and more three receiver sets. The Giants offense did appear stale and predictable last year so any reinvigoration will be good. This means positive impacts for Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The change in coaches and scheme could be profound here but hard to forecast. Lovie Smith takes over as head coach and hands the offense off the new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford who led the University of California Bears from 2002 to 2012. He has been considered a QB guru having produced Trent Dilfer, Aaron Rodgers, Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, David Carr and Kyle Boller. Though some did not go on to sterling NFL careers, they were stars in college where Tedford was able to maximize their abilities. Tedford also developed running backs to include Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. His scheme is quarterback-intensive and complex. His new style will impact Josh McCown, Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. He also uses a committee backfield so Doug Martin will share with Charles Sims.
The Titans turned over all their coaches and ended up with Ken Whisenhunt as head coach and Jason Michael as the offensive coordinator. While Michael will assist, the Titans offense will feel the presence of Whisenhunt who previously led the Steelers to being one of the best rushing teams and yet also headed up the Cardinals as they were tops in pass attempts until losing the personnel to get the job done. His style is very flexible and seeks to make the best use of the talent on the team and not force anyone into something that they are not. He has to determine if Jake Locker is the answer there or if he has to press the rookie Zach Mettenberger into duty early. But his background is certain to help Bishop Sankey, Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and Delanie Walker.
This has the promise of significant and positive change. Gone is Mike Shanahan’s offense of the 90’s and Jay Gruden takes over after spending the last three seasons directing the offense in Cincinnati where Andy Dalton has grown into a quarterback that passed for 4296 yards and 33 touchdowns just last year. Gruden likes his committee backfields and that will mean that Alfred Morris remains the primary runner but likely Roy Helu gets a healthy bump in production if only as a receiver. Robert Griffin III has to learn to remain more in the pocket but his passing attempts should see a healthy increase. He threw 456 passes with 266 completions while Dalton threw 543 times for 331 completions in 2013. While Morris is less likely to turn in a big year, Gruden will directly impact increased production for Griffin, Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed.