2020 NFL coaching changes: Denver Broncos

2020 NFL coaching changes: Denver Broncos

Coaching Change

2020 NFL coaching changes: Denver Broncos

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(Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports)

Sitting on what must already feel like a lukewarm seat, Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio turned the offense over to 21-year NFL coaching veteran Pat Shurmur after firing Rich Scangarello after his first season as a pro playcaller.

Shurmur, 54, coached tight ends, offensive linemen and quarterbacks from 1999-2008 during his first stint in Philadelphia for Andy Reid. It led to an offensive coordinator gig with the St. Louis Rams (2009-10) under Steve Spagunolo, which he managed to spin into the head coach of the Cleveland (2011-12).

Following Shurmur’s firing in Cleveland, the Eagles rehired him as the offensive coordinator, this time under Chip Kelly, and Shurmur was promoted to interim head coach for the regular-season finale after Kelly’s dismissal. Two years of coaching tight ends and coordinating the offense in Minnesota was parlayed into running the New York Giants (2018-19).

Offensive concepts and expectations

Shurmur having cut his teeth under renowned offensive minds in Reid and Kelly is reflective in his West Coast themes and creatively aggressive play designs. He consistently has involved tight ends and running backs in the aerial calls. The 2019 Giants ran three-wide 59 percent of the time on running plays, which is utilized to help keep defenses guessing since the passing game operated in this same “11 personnel” design a hearty 82 percent of the snaps.

The next highest percentage (12) passing plays came from the 12 grouping, which is a two-tight end base, whereas 26 percent of the rushing snaps came from this formation. Denver passed only 61 percent of the time from three-wide and ran 59 percent of its ground carries from the same formation for a more balanced approach. Of all offensive plays, 52 percent of Denver’s 2019 snaps came from 11 personnel, compared to a league-high 74 percent from the Giants.

Expect the offense to push the ball down the field. Denver managed 46 completions of 20-plus yards in 2019, while New York posted 54. More impressively, the Giants ranked second behind the ultra-explosive Kansas City (the Reid connection) with 15 touchdown passes of 20 or more yards. KC tallied 19 of them.

Shurmur likes to set up the run with the pass when all is working properly, and he’s fond of utilizing play-action. The receiving route tree will focus heavily on crossing and clearing combinations, wheels, and ample shallow routes to serve as checkdowns. Look for a marked increase in short-area throws to help the offensive line not have to hold blocks as long and to get his QB into a rhythm.

Personnel changes

Denver has no notable free agents on offense, and the Broncos will have approximately the 11th-most salary-cap space of all teams entering the 2020 open market. They can save roughly $10 million with the release of Joe Flacco, assuming he passes a physical, and Von Miller’s deal is in dire need of being restructured. This is a young roster with plenty of starters returning after being battle-tested in 2018 and ’19.

The Broncos need to add a proven receiver to help Courtland Sutton after trading away Emmanuel Sanders in 2019. Free agency features several veteran names, including Sanders (improbable), A.J. Green (intriguing), Randall Cobb (uninspiring), Robby Anderson (too expensive?), Nelson Agholor (knows the system), Amari Cooper (probably sticking in Dallas) and Breshad Perriman (late-season star with upside).

The tight end position has an up-and-coming weapon in 2019 first-round pick Noah Fant, which bodes well for Shurmur’s history of utilizing the position in the aerial attack.

Table: Pat Shurmur’s offensive rankings (Lower the number the better)

Offense
Rushing Off
Passing Off
Year
Tm
Role
Yds
Pts
TO
Att
Yds
TD
Y/A
FL
Att
Yds
TD
Int
2009
STL
OC
29
32
27
22
20
32
11
22
16
28
29
28
2010
STL
OC
26
26
8
14
25
24
31
2
5
21
25
13
2011
CLE
HC
29
30
4
21
28
32
31
5
11
24
27
8
2012
CLE
HC
25
24
17
24
24
13
21
9
13
19
28
26
2013
PHI
OC
2
4
4
4
1
2
1
16
27
9
5
3
2014
PHI
OC
5
3
32
7
9
5
15
31
5
6
12
32
2015
PHI
OC/HC
12
13
29
11
14
10
21
28
6
12
20
26
2016
MIN
OC
28
23
7
25
32
26
32
24
12
18
21
2
2017
MIN
OC
11
10
3
2
7
7
23
7
21
11
12
2
2018
NYG
HC
17
16
11
29
24
16
10
8
9
11
21
12
2019
NYG
HC
23
18
30
29
19
22
7
32
9
18
5
25
  • Personnel deficiencies have plagued Shurmur at times in his coaching career, or at least enough to warrant the mentioning of it. The Broncos are a work-in-progress with several inexperienced key pieces, but it all goes through the development of 2019 rookie quarterback Drew Lock. Shurmur has a respectable history of helping develop quarterbacks, and while it hasn’t always worked out in his favor, the most recent example of success is Daniel Jones. QBs Donovan McNabb, Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and Nick Foles have enjoyed finer years in their otherwise mostly unassuming careers while under Shurmur’s tutelage.
  • A strong running game is paramount in making his system consistently dangerous, however. Regardless of strong quarterback play under Shurmur, he has enjoyed dynamic backs, such as Saquon Barkley, LeSean McCoy, Steven Jackson and Dalvin Cook. Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman aren’t on that level, but being serviceable will help keep defenses honest to give Lock a fighting chance.
  • One thing has been evident: Without playmakers across the board, Shurmur has struggled to consistently get the most out of inferior talent as a whole unit. We’ve seen strength in areas (Barkley, S-Jax, tight ends, etc.) from Shurmur offenses, and he has accentuated mediocre quarterbacks’ play, but his offensive designs have required better than average personnel to be routinely effective.

Table: Pat Shurmur’s offensive playcalling ratio (2015-19)

Rk
Year
Team
Ru Att
Ru Att/G
Pass Att
Pass Att/G
Plays
Plays/G
Run %
Pass %
16
2015
Philadelphia Eagles
442
27.6
623
38.9
1065
66.6
41.5%
58.5%
9
2016
Minnesota Vikings
380
23.8
588
36.8
968
60.5
39.3%
60.7%
28
2017
Minnesota Vikings
501
31.3
527
32.9
1028
64.3
48.7%
51.3%
5
2018
New York Giants
354
22
583
36
937
59
37.8%
62.2%
3
2019
New York Giants
362
23
607
38
969
61
37.4%
62.6%
  • The ranking column shows the order in which his offenses placed from the perspective of highest passing attempt percentage in relation to the field. In the last five years, 60 percent of his teams have placed in the top 10 for most passing attempts.
  • The 2017 Vikings didn’t pass much for two main reasons: Keenum is a game manager, and Mike Zimmer demands a high-volume rushing offense.
  • Shurmur’s two Giants teams each were in the top five, due in large part to having weak defenses that forced the offenses to play from behind. In Denver, the Broncos have a defense that is on the rise but needs more personnel pieces during the offseason. Defense is, after all, Fangio’s bread and butter.

Fantasy football takeaway

Lock needs more receivers, and the offensive line could stand to be upgraded. As previously mentioned, getting the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible will be a focus of the coaching designs. The jump in Year 1 under Shurmur could be substantial in fantasy, mainly because of the aggressive nature of how he calls games. Lock is a midrange QB2 with huge upside if the Broncos can add just one more talented pass-catching option. Expect on the Missouri standout to look like a stud a few weeks and struggle to be relevant in plenty of others.

Lindsay and Freeman are the presumed top backs, but there’s no guarantee either is entrenched in the lineup. This backfield could see an uptick in passing work in 2020. Last year, Lindsay (48 targets, 35 catches) and Freeman (50 targets, 43 catches) were heavily involved due to the lack of reliable receivers after the Sanders trade. Neither of them is an ideal fit for this spread system, but Freeman is a better receiver than many seem to recognize, and Lindsay continues to plug away enough to be heavily involved without another player (rookie?) being added to the mix. Long story short, this backfield will require a wait-and-see approach before a firm fantasy prognostication can be made.

Sutton is well on his way to playing like a true No. 1 receiver, unless he,  for whatever reason, struggles to fit into this system — seems unlikely given his maturation through two NFL systems in as many years. His floor is high, and Sutton’s outlook is as bright as any third-year starter’s could be in a fresh situation. Think WR2 for now in fantasy.

Maybe a new system will do wonders for getting DaeSean Hamilton’s promising career back on the right track. He regressed under Scangarello and is going to be a wild card under Shurmur.

Fant landed 40 of his 67 targets as a rookie in 2019, going for 562 yards and three touchdowns, averaging an awesome 14.1 yards per grab. Of the top 25 in fantasy points, he was No. 2 in yards per reception, behind the New Orleans Saints’ Jared Cook (16.4). Fant finished with the 14th-most PPR points among tight ends who made at least 12 appearances. Given the emphasis placed on the position in Shurmur’s offense, it’s not crazy to envision Fant doubling his 40 receptions as a sophomore. Even splitting the difference would put him in the conversation of being a top-five tight end if he can sustain such ease of yardage generation.

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