The NFL coaching carousel continues to turn, and we’re tracking all of the moves. Below is a summary of anything that should strongly factor in for fantasy football considerations, but we have free agency and an NFL draft ahead before the dust settles, so we’ll keep it high level for now. Look for more info in our upcoming divisional previews to help prepare you for a fantasy draft season that will be here before we know it.
Head coach Sean Payton, Denver Broncos
The prize of the coaching market has landed in Denver, but it took a 2023 first-round pick and a 2024 second-round selection to secure him following his single-season hiatus. Denver also netted a 2024 third-rounder.
Payton was among the most stable coaching forces during his 16 years in New Orleans, and the one constant theme to his success was having an elite quarterback. If this situation came prior to 2021, Russell Wilson would have been deserving of such a label, but there are serious questions at this point. Coming off two down years, including an abysmal 2023 that never once felt like it was poised to improve, Wilson’s rebound is paramount for a successful start to Payton’s Denver tenure.
Running back Javonte Williams (knee) is recovering from a torn ACL, so his 2023 early-season outlook is less than appealing. Both wideouts Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton should be back on the field, and tight end Greg Dulcich showed some promise in 2022 as a rookie. The offensive line will need to get retooled as five different players, including a couple of starters, are poised to hit the market.
The Broncos have a smidge over $3 million in cap space, which ranks 15th, so some moves will need to be made to create enough operating room. Restructuring Sutton, Wilson, Justin Simmons and Randy Gregory alone would create $30-plus million in cap space. With some clever maneuvering, this number could jump into the $40-47 million range. Anyway, the point is that Denver can make some adjustments this offseason, but from a fantasy perspective, those should come in the way of bolstering the line to better protect Wilson.
The bottom line is this team’s real-world and fantasy fortunes rest squarely on Payton being able to coax the old Russell Wilson out of whatever that was last year. There’s a strong chance of it happening, but we’ll need to see the bulk of the offseason play out before rallying behind Wilson’s return to fantasy relevance.
Head coach Shane Steichen, Indianapolis Colts
The 37-year-old Steichen has been the primary coaching force behind two of the NFL’s most prolific offenses over the last few years while serving as offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers (2020) and Philadelphia Eagles (2021-22).
Most of Steichen’s career has positioned him for this day, rising from the ranks of defensive assistant with Chargers in 2011 to Indy’s head man in 2023. This marks consecutive hirings in which the Colts turned to a Philadelphia OC for a vacant head-coaching gig.
The former UNLV quarterback is aggressive in his play-calling and creative in the game planning as well as play design. We’ve seen vertical passing attacks that blossom from offenses committed to the running game. Steichen has worked the football all over the field, including short-area screens to downfield bombs, and this flexibility has helped keep defenders on their heels. Long-time NFL head coach and coordinator Norv Turner was a pivotal character in Steichen’s journey as a play caller, and the former imparted an intangible sense of “feeling” when to call the right play in the latter’s coaching DNA.
From a fantasy perspective, everything hinges on what the Colts do at quarterback. The team has developed a reputation for relying on veterans on the downside of their careers, and owner Jim Irsay noted how important it is for Indianapolis to find a young passer to groom under Steichen — whose tutelage has done wonders for Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts. Until Indy addresses this glaring need, about all we can safely say is Jonathan Taylor profiles as an RB1, and Michael Pittman Jr. has a No. 2 floor in PPR. We’ll come back to this one for sure once the offseason shapes the roster.
Head coach Frank Reich, Carolina Panthers
The Indianapolis Colts fired Reich after a 3-5-1 start to his fifth season as head coach, ending the stint with a 40-33-1 record. He made the playoffs three times, losing twice.
A longtime NFL veteran coach and player, Reich’s pedigree isn’t in question. His personnel is the concern for the time being as the Panthers enter February a projected $10.3 million over the cap, the 12th-lowest available space. Whether it be through restructuring or painful cap casualties, something has to give to help restock the cupboards.
Carolina has some core players to build around on both sides of the ball but still no quarterback to steer the ship. Until that is resolved, expectations for Reich returning to the postseason and Carolina providing a wealth of fantasy weapons should be kept to a minimum.
Head coach DeMeco Ryans, Houston Texans
Unlike Frank Reich’s situation in Carolina, Ryans’ Texans boast the fifth-most cap space. The commonality, however, is neither team has a clear-cut QB of the future.
The San Francisco defensive coordinator parlayed his success into Ryans returning to Houston, where he played six seasons before winding down his career with Philly. The 38-year-old gets a chance to put his stamp on a flailing franchise that has a few interesting pieces on the youthful side. This roster also won’t be dealing with any key impending free agents.
WR Brandin Cooks may not stick around as he doesn’t want to be part of a rebuilding process, though his contract presents an issue thanks to $34.22 million in dead money. That’s a massive chunk to absorb, but keeping him without a restructuring will cost $26.463 mill, so neither scenario is pleasant. Without Cooks, the position is in desperate need of some star power. There’s not much at tight end, either, so expect amplified focus on upgrading the skill positions.
Finally, Ryans will turn to first-time OC Bobby Slowik from San Francisco’s coaching tree for his offensive play-caller being that he’s a defensive-minded coach. This situation has among the most moving pieces and will require a review at a later date.
Head coach Jonathan Gannon, Arizona Cardinals
Arizona finalized his search for a new head coach but landing on Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, whose defense may have fallen flat in the second half of Super Bowl LVII but had been impressive otherwise all year. While the recent sting from a collapse at the worst possible time, Gannon has earned the respect of at least one franchise’s leadership team.
The Cardinals hired a 40-year-old veteran coach who has worked his way up through the ranks as a defensive assistant and even a member of the scouting department during his six pro stops. He inherits a defense that generated an impressive five touchdowns on just 20 total takeaways, good for an eighth-place finish in standard fantasy scoring. The turnover tally has to improve, along with the 36 sacks recorded, because no fantasy owner can consistently count on five scores from year to year. This defense has several key pieces in place and isn’t losing much in free agency, so look for utility with the right matchups in 2023.
On offense, it remains unclear where he’ll turn for a play caller, but the Cardinals have a tough road ahead in the early going with Kyler Murray (knee) unlikely to be ready in the first month of next season and the offensive line needing a massive overhaul. DeAndre Hopkins could be sent packing, and we may be staring down a multiyear rebuild before things start looking up again.
Offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, Kansas City Chiefs
Arguably the least surprising coaching move of the offseason, Nagy moves back into the play-calling role in the wake of Eric Bieniemy’s departure. Prior to the latter running the offense, Nagy held this position in 2017. In fact, his quick ascension led to the Chicago Bears hiring he as head coach following that season. A longtime Andy Reid ally, Nagy found his way back to the KC coaching staff in 2022 as an offensive assistant to Reid and quarterbacks coach.
Continuity is important in the NFL, and while Nagy will have a different style than Bieniemy in some regards, the overall approach of the offense won’t differ enough to expect dramatic changes from last several seasons. Under Nagy’s leadership, the Chiefs went from the 20th-ranked offense in 2016 to a well-balanced, top-five unit a season later, sporting the No. 9 rushing offense and No. 7 passing attack in terms of yardage generated under starting quarterback Alex Smith.
Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Los Angeles Chargers
Moore went from one of the hotter candidates to fill a head-coaching vacancy the last couple of years to a mutual agreement to leave his position shortly after Dallas exiting the playoffs. He wasted no time to move on to join the Chargers. The team has a promising offensive line and a strong nucleus of players set to return, so there’s plenty to like here.
The Bolts sit with the seventh-least cap space at $22.042 over. That can be remedied with restructuring several deals, however. No one of note on offense is poised to hit the market.
Moore proved to be flexible in Dallas by suiting his designs and calls to the players’ best attributes. We saw Dak Prescott grow, the shift to Tony Pollard at the expense of franchise-favorite Ezekiel Elliott, and the emergence of Dalton Schultz as a bona fide TE1. Moore’s job won’t be to come in here to completely blow up what has worked with this offense but rather tweak some things. He will put his stamp on it, but he’s also going to stick with what works, and that’s letting Justin Herbert sling it while Austin Ekeler does his thing in multiple facets of the game. Working to the strengths is going to be key here, and there’s no obvious reason to expect the Chargers won’t thrive once again on this side of the ball.
Offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, New England Patriots
Fresh off a narrowly missed postseason berth, Bill Belichick wasted no time in going back to an old friend by hiring O’Brien as his offensive play-caller. There was no shortage of questions and criticism surrounding Belichick’s decision to not formally hire an OC in 2022, and rightfully so. There is one goal set ahead of all others this offseason, and it is to get Mac Jones back on the upward trajectory.
New England’s offense will be retooled but not thoroughly reworked in all likelihood. The backfield probably loses Damien Harris to free agency, and there’s a chance Jones’ favorite target, Jakobi Meyers, also walks. Nelson Agholor is a free agent as well but should be replaced by 2022 rookie speedster Tyquan Thornton. With just six teams having more cap space at this time, the Pats are in an intriguing situation to offer more fantasy successes if Jones gets straightened out and a few pieces are added.
Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, Tennessee Titans
Head coach Mike Vrabel opted once again to promote from within to fill the vacant offensive coordinator gig on the heels of Todd Downing’s firing. Kelly was Tennessee’s passing game coordinator in 2022, and while rewarding him may seem bizarre on its surface since this was the weakest area of the offense, Kelly has experience calling plays in Houston. From 2019-21, he was the OC under both Bill O’Brien and David Culley. Kelly also taught the quarterbacks in 2020, which could come in handy for a team that may move on from Ryan Tannehill.
From a fantasy point of view, everything comes down to what happens at quarterback. We saw nothing from Malik Willis’ rookie season to suggest he’s even remotely close to starting, and Tannehill’s departure will leave Tennessee on the hook for $18-plus mill in dead cash. The team desperately needs to see 2022 first-round wideout Treylon Burks take a massive step forward in Year 2, and though this offense will continue to go through Derrick Henry, the passing game needs to open up. Someone else will have to ascend, whether it be second-year tight end Chig Okonkwo or another player not on the roster.
As with several other situations, too much is poised to change before we can offer any kind of concrete fantasy assessment beyond speculating.
Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, Los Angeles Rams
Prior to joining the Jets for consecutive seasons ahead of LaFleur joining the Rams, he was the passing-game coordinator for San Francisco but didn’t call plays. Expect a similar role with the Rams under Sean McVay.
Los Angeles has several key questions to sort out before we can get fully on board with this one, but it’s not a terrible hiring by any stretch. The health of Matthew Stafford is No. 1. While all signs point to his return, we saw last year how quickly things can unravel if he’s not on the field. And, let’s face it, he wasn’t exactly playing his best ball prior to the season-ending injuries. The next thing is whether the Rams will have a viable WR2 and a capable third behind Cooper Kupp. The Allen Robinson experiment failed, and we have yet to see much from the oft-injured Van Jefferson. The offensive line is a major liability right now and needs to be shored up. LA has cap issues to boot, though not insurmountable.
Look for LaFleur to have a say in the game planning, but McVay’s vision runs the show here, and he’s the likely play caller yet again. While that last part isn’t set in stone, and there’s merit for McVay giving up the job, which is tough to see from a team that still views itself as a contender. If things go sideways, LaFleur then stands a greater chance of assuming the play-calling chores. Enter the fantasy draft season expecting little to change based on this hiring.
Offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles promoted Johnson from the quarterbacks coach gig to offensive coordinator after Shane Steichen was hired by Indianapolis, and he’ll be given the opportunity to call the plays as head coach Nick Sirianni declined to take over that role. Johnson’s hand in developing Jalen Hurts cannot be understated, and the two will work closely together to help finely tune the offense. Don’t expect a radical departure from what worked so well in 2022.
Keeping Hurts trajectory on the upswing is key, and the hiring of Johnson is a key step in the right direction. While no one will know exactly what to expect from Johnson as an in-game decision-maker, it will take an impressive lack of judgment to falter in this role. Based on everything we’ve seen from Johnson to date, this offense is in capable hands. The Eagles have key personnel in the passing game, though the rushing attack needs to find a replacement for the presumed departure of Miles Sanders, which is likely to happen in the draft. Free agency and the draft warrant a close eye given Philly’s cap situation, but most of the core components should return.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, Dallas Cowboys
The dismissal of former OC Kellen Moore sparked questions about where Dallas would turn to call plays in 2023, and Jerry Jones quickly dispelled any rumors. Head coach Mike McCarthy will return to calling plays and employ his classic West Coast offense. The hiring of Schottenheimer, a long-time NFL assistant coach, is to help with game planning and system implementation, such as fast-tracking players who may be unfamiliar with the system’s nuances.
This move is a formality, and it shouldn’t have much direct impact in fantasy. We’ll go deep on the Dallas offensive outlook from a fantasy perspective following the upcoming draft and free-agent process.
Offensive coordinator Dave Canales, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Canales served as the Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach in 2022 and helped resurrect the career of Geno Smith in a way no one on Earth saw coming. He held the same position in Seattle in 2018 and ’19 with a stint as passing game coordinator in between the two runs as QBs coach. He caught his break with the Seahawks as a wide receivers coach in 2010 and held that role through the 2017 season, largely thanks to serving on Pete Carroll’s staff at USC.
While Canales hasn’t called plays in the NFL, he has been around the game long enough to have a feel for how things work, and that’s what the Bucs are counting on with the 41-year-old. It’s a double-edged sword in that knowing how to do and actually doing are to very different things. On the other side of it all is the advantage that defensive coaching staffs have no track record to use against Canales.
Known for his skills as a teacher and his lofty football IQ, Canales has been exposed to multiple types of offenses, though the majority of his experience came under a classic West Coast design. The most recent system in Seattle is a Sean McVay derivative, which is a modernization of the old-school West Coast offense.
Given all of the uncertainty, including major salary-cap questions for a team with the least amount of space and no answer to the retirement of Tom Brady in sight, the fantasy outlook is purely guesswork. We’ll extensively review the situation after the team bolsters its roster through free agency and the draft.
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken, Baltimore Ravens
The departure of Greg Roman created a vacancy for Baltimore, resulting in Georgia Bulldogs offensive coordinator Todd Monken returning to the NFL. He was an OC for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2016-18 and again for the Cleveland Browns in 2019. Neither stop was particularly effective on the ground, but we saw Jameis Winston enjoy a career year under Monken’s guidance.
He’s a no-nonsense style of coach who has shown the ability to adapt to his personnel, and Monken’s preference for an RPO-based design will fit nicely with Lamar Jackson’s skill set and John Harbaugh’s desire to pound the rock. That is, of course, if Jackson is re-signed or tagged as expected.
The Ravens still have to add more playmakers around Jackson in the passing game. Thus far, oft-injured wideout Rashod Bateman hasn’t materialized into a WR1, and no one else waiting in the wings offers the profile of being a pro starter. We should see more two-TE sets that bleed into the passing game, and Mark Andrews will remain the primary weapon for fantasy purposes. Provided Jackson returns, the overall approach and offerings shouldn’t vary enough from Roman to Monken to expect a healthy Jackson to be anything less than a midrange QB1.
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, New York Jets
One of the most embarrassing and shortest tenures as a head coach ended with 4-11 record for Hackett in Denver, and it is easy to dismiss his efforts as an offensive play-caller following the sheer failure in 2022. Some coordinators are just awful head coaches. However, we really don’t know if Hackett himself is even that good of an OC since he had a Hall of Famer as his quarterback during the three years he was running Green Bay’s offense, and the system was already in place. Prior to that, he spent five largely lackluster years between Buffalo and Jacksonville where the situations weren’t conducive to success.
There will not be less stress and lower expectations in New York given the media spotlight and Hackett joining a coaching staff that is on thin ice. Several factors also work against him from the get-go, namely the team’s lightning-quick pivot away from Zach Wilson as the starting quarterback. This situation brings Aaron Rodgers’ name into the mix as a possible trade target, and there’s definitely some logic behind the chatter, particularly stemming from their time together in Green Bay.
Long story short, no one should get overly excited about anything Jets related until we see how the team solves its cavernous hole at quarterback. Expect a push for a veteran, and if Rodgers isn’t the guy, Derek Carr makes sense, too, given his experience in a similar offense under Jon Gruden. We’ll revisit this one down the line.
Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, Denver Broncos
Lombardi entered the NFL coaching ranks in 2006 as a defensive assistant with the Atlanta Falcons, but it was a move to the other side of the ball in 2007 with Sean Payton’s New Orleans Saints that set his career on its current trajectory. He’d become the quarterbacks coach in 2009 and move his way up to being hired as offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions for basically a season and a half until the firing of Jim Caldwell. A return to the Saints in 2016 ran through the ’20 season before Lombardi moved to the Los Angeles Chargers to serve as OC again.
The Chargers saw Lombardi’s offense post explosive numbers on the ground and through the air, largely due to the rapid ascension of Justin Herbert. Payton will not turn over the play-calling duties to Lombardi, at least initially, so we’ll see the grandson of the Super Bowl trophy’s namesake return to his roots of working closely with quarterbacks. Getting Russell Wilson sorted out will dictate everything else around him and take some pressure off the defense.
The Broncos have a cohesive offensive vision with two talented play callers to help implement the system and facilitate player growth. The rest falls on the shoulders of the personnel, and there’s more to come on that front.
Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Washington Commanders
Bieniemy, 53, was a hot candidate for vacant head-coaching gigs in recent years, though he continually was passed up. As a result, he remained as the offensive coordinator in Kansas City. The former NFL running back headed up that same position for the Chiefs from 2013-17 prior to Andy Reid promoting him to OC in 2018, a position he held through the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LVII win.
Bieniemy signed a one-year deal last offseason to return to KC but was not retained and made his way to Ron Rivera’s Commanders in a lateral move. The entirety of his success, at least in the short term, resides with the progress of quarterback Sam Howell. Rivera recently named the second-year pro as the starter entering the offseason program, and it will be his job to lose throughout the summer. Expect Carson Wentz to be sent packing, and there’s a chance free agent Taylor Heinicke could return as the backup, which suggests a veteran will be acquired in the coming weeks.
We’ll get a true understanding of how ready Bieniemy is to step out of Reid’s shadow and put his own stamp on an offense with an inexperienced quarterback — a tall task after having the luxury of Patrick Mahomes under center. Presuming Howell does enough to hang on to the QB1 gig into the regular season, the Commanders will employ a ground-heavy attack. The move to Howell could mean a step backward for Terry McLaurin in the vertical game but a possible boost for short-area targets. It indicates we could see a much less creative offensive design in the early going. This offense is full of individual talent, but it’s only as good as the quarterback situation, and we’ll be keeping an extra close eye on Howell’s development over the coming months.
Offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans
Son of a long-time NFL defensive coordinator, the 35-year-old Slowik followed DeMeco Ryans from San Fran and will call the offensive plays for Houston in 2023. His background recap shows a small-school wide receiver who joined Mike Shanahan’s coaching staff in Washington as a defensive assistant in 2011 and ultimately followed Shanahan’s son, Kyle, to the Bay Area by joining the club in 2019. Slowik worked his way up to being passing-game coordinator in 2022, helping mostly with game planning and player development.
He’ll get to call plays in Houston and should implement a West Coast-based design that likes to control the clock on the ground and create big plays through mismatches as well as presnap deceit. Expect something that looks to be on the more conservative side of things by today’s NFL standards, though much of the potential pros and cons boil down to what the Texans do at quarterback. There are some pieces in place here, and securing the right man to lead the offense on the field will ripple throughout the skill positions’ outlook.
Until more is known from the personnel aspect, we’re left with a lot of guesswork. About the safest thing fantasy owners can expect is Dameon Pierce should offer RB2 or better value, particularly thanks to the system, and that’s about all we can say with any degree of confidence.
Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, Carolina Panthers
A standout NCAA back in his day, Brown cut his teeth coaching his position at various stops and as the Miami Hurricanes offensive coordinator in the collegiate ranks. Brown comes over after serving as Sean McVay’s running backs coach, assistant head coach and tight ends coach over the past three seasons.
It isn’t yet clear whether Brown or head coach Frank Reich will call plays, but we can be sure the underlying system will be of the West Coast variety with a focus on the ground attack thanks to each of their backgrounds. As mentioned in the Reich section above, far too many unknowns with personnel cloud the overall fantasy outlook. We’ll circle back after the bulk of the offseason transactions reshape this offense.
Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts turn to the 38-year-old veteran coach to fill its vacant offensive coordinator spot, but we already know head coach Shane Steichen will call plays. Cooter officially held the same OC role in Detroit from 2016-18 and was the interim coordinator partway through the 2015 season. He has extensive experience coaching quarterbacks and running backs, as well as helping as an offensive assistant at several stops, including a 2009-11 stint with the Colts.
Indy needs to find its quarterback of the future, and Cooter will play a role in developing the player chosen to lead this offense. He was instrumental in the development of Matthew Stafford, and last year’s brief stay with Jacksonville as the passing game coordinator coincided with a marked improvement by Trevor Lawrence. The offense will be Steichen’s flavor of a modern West Coast system with nuances catered to the personnel traits, especially the quarterback’s mobility. More to come in the weeks ahead …
Offensive coordinator Drew Petzing, Arizona Cardinals
The 35-year-old Petzing comes from a West Coast tree and spent time on Mike Zimmer’s staff with Minnesota before heading over to Cleveland with Kevin Stefanski. He has coached wide receivers, quarterbacks and tight ends in his NFL tenure, though the former defensive back at Middlebury College has yet to call plays. He’ll get his chance with the defensive-minded Jonathan Gannon running the show as Arizona’s new head coach. Even though it’s impossible to know how he will handle in-game trials and tribulations as a play caller, Petzing is expected to incorporate West Coast roots with a modernized twist.
The offense should blend staples of the traditional WCO with fresh RPO-based nuances. Kyler Murray (knee) is the wild card here, giving his lengthy rehab and the likely lack of his trademark mobility hampering all of what this system can offer in 2023. For now, gamers should brace for a rough ride from most things Cardinals offense as it will take time to get the system functioning smoothly as Petzing learns the ropes of being a pro coordinator.
Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, San Francisco 49ers
Wilks joined the Carolina Panthers in 2014 as an assistant under Ron Rivera and worked his way into the defensive coordinator spot as of 2017. A successful season made him a hot coaching commodity, which he parlayed into being the head man of the Arizona Cardinals in 2018. A 3-13 disaster led to his dismissal following that season. After a one-and-done as Cleveland’s DC and a year calling defensive plays for Missouri, he resurfaced in Carolina on Matt Rhule’s coaching staff. The firing of Rhule saw Wilks get promoted to interim head coach, which raised his profile once again thanks to a spirited showing.
This time, instead of getting another crack at leading an entire team, he joins the 49ers as the brain trust of San Fran’s vaunted defense. The situation in Cleveland wasn’t conducive to success, unlike what awaits his tutelage in the Bay Area.
Fantasy owners should remain high on the Niners as a DT1 in 2023, if for no reason than talent alone. In many ways, all Wilks has to do is not screw this up.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Miami Dolphins
A year away from the game after being fired as Denver’s head coach has the longtime coordinator back in charge of a pro defense. Fangio, known for a pressure-based 3-4 alignment, inherits more than enough talent to make his mark early and often. Even though Miami is $12-plus million over the cap to begin February, Fangio is the kind of coordinator who can attract free agents. Getting the balance sheet back into the positive isn’t going to take much work, so there will be room for at least one splash play on the market.
The Dolphins boast a familiar face in Bradley Chubb but also have star corner Xavien Howard to go along with several blossoming pieces. Miami generated a respectable 40 sacks in 2022 and pressured quarterbacks 21.7 percent of the dropbacks. From a fantasy perspective, this defense desperately needs to step up its takeaway game. Eleven teams had more interceptions than the ’22 Dolphins forced total turnovers. Get that sorted out and we’re looking at a potential top-10 unit.
Defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley, Los Angeles Chargers
A well-traveled, experienced coach in the college ranks, Ansley was promoted from being the defensive backs coach to the head man on this side of the ball. His only experience as a DC came in 2019-2020 with the University of Tennessee, so there may be a bit of a transitional period, but the leap won’t be pronounced. Ansley will be tasked with improving the big-play nature of a defense that tallied a mere TD in 2022, despite a respectable 24 takeaways and 40 sacks.
Fantasy-wise, this defense finished a neutral 16th in conventional scoring and has the talent to improve. Injuries hampered them to a degree in ’22, and while that’s not something anyone can predict or account for, the raw talent alone puts the Bolts in contention for a top-10 placement entering 2023. Gamers are likely to be able to snag this unit on the cheap after the more established names come off the board.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Cleveland Browns
Schwartz hasn’t coached since 2020 but was a senior assistant for Tennessee the past two seasons. Cleveland is facing a few defensive free agents who may be tough to replace, and eight players are scheduled to carry cap charges of at least $12 million, including three of at least $23 million. To complicate things, the team is $18 million in the hole with the ninth-lowest amount of space.
Cleveland generated 34 sacks, nine fumble recoveries, 11 interceptions, and a pair of defensive touchdowns in 2022. Schwartz and his 4-3 alignment will have to make the most out of what could be a lesser talent pool in comparison to last year, but there’s still no reason he cannot maintain a neutral-ranking fantasy placement.
Defensive coordinator Sean Desai, Philadelphia Eagles
Following a lengthy tenure with the Chicago Bears, surviving multiple coaching staffs, Desai replaced Chuck Pagano as the defensive coordinator in 2021, his lone season calling the shots in the NFL. The Bears finished sixth in rushing yards and third in passing yards allowed, but this was the 11th-worst unit when it came to points surrendered. Despite racking up a hearty 49 sacks, this defense managed only eight fumble recoveries and as many INTs. Two of the 16 total takeaways went into end zone to help create the 14th-best fantasy ranking that season.
Philly has a wealth of individual talent but also faces cap woes and needs to address several free agents, so a step backward in fantasy is inevitable. Even still, there’s potential for a DT1 finish in the neighborhood of the bottom half of the starting options.
Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Carolina Panthers
Evero comes over after one year as Denver’s defensive coordinator to join Frank Reich’s staff. His lone season manning the Broncos’ defensive play-calling is of little prognosticative help given the lack of talent and worst-place offense. For the record, Denver finished 26th in fantasy production, stemming largely from 23 total takeaways without a score and only 36 sacks (9th fewest). No team missed more tackles (96), and the Broncos finished as the seventh-worst team at applying pressure on the quarterback.
Carolina sits 21st in available cap space and could rework some deals to free up cash, but that’s unlikely to result in loading up on players. The defensive core is young and talented, sporting such names as Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, Shaq Thompson and Jeremy Chinn — legit performers at all three levels. None of the key personnel is facing free agency on this side of the ball.
Fantasy gamers saw Carolina finish as the 10th-worst unit in 2022. While three scores to their credit is solid, the Panthers created 17 turnovers and only 35 sacks. For comparison, five defenses had as many or more interceptions than Carolina mustered takeaways, and six groups tallied fewer sacks. If those numbers don’t dramatically improve and the suspect offense cannot do its part, there’s not a lot of fantasy upside here.
Defensive coordinator Matt Burke, Houston Texans
Burke comes over after a season coaching Arizona’s defensive line and with nearly 20 years of NFL coaching experience. He was a defensive coordinator in Miami for two seasons (2017-18) and primarily coached linebackers during his eight pro stops.
Head coach DeMeco Ryans hasn’t decided yet whether he or Burke will handle the play-calling chores. Either way, we’re looking at a defense that is in the process of creating an identity, gathering talent, assessing said players, and then making it all happen on the field. The cupboard isn’t barren, and Houston finished as the 10th-best defense in standard fantasy scoring in 2022 on the strength of 39 sacks and 27 takeaways. This unit could provide sneaky value in ’23 and bears monitoring throughout the offseason.
Defensive coordinator Brian Flores, Minnesota Vikings
There’s much to like about Flores himself and his coaching pedigree, but personnel issues will have to finalize ahead of the season. Minnesota has to figure out what to do with veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson in free agency and also address the lofty cap demands of Za’Darius Smith, Harrison Smith, Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks. All but Hunter is at least 31 years old, so we could see some tough cap casualties come from of this defense. As of Feb. 7, only five teams have less projected cap space.
Flores is aggressive and will look to generate more pressure than the 11th-fewest sacks Minnesota generated in 2022. The pressure rate was the 10th worst and just eight defenses blitzed at a lower rate. That’s a large part of why this unit struggled so mightily — even better cornerbacks can hold up for only so long when a quarterback has all day to pass.
From fantasy perspective, much of this comes down to how the defensive personnel is handled. The Vikes absolutely need to make a push to get younger on that side of the ball before the window slams shut. If free agency and the draft can add even two or three consistent contributors, we could see Minnesota vault into a midtier No. 1 fantasy unit after finishing as a matchup play a year ago.
Defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, Atlanta Falcons
Probably not a name many casual gamers recognize, Nielsen comes over from New Orleans after serving in multiple roles since leaving N.C. State in 2016. The bulk of his duties involved coaching the defensive line, culminating in a role as co-defensive coordinator in 2022.
Learning under Dennis Allen cannot hurt, but the Falcons must bolster their personnel before Nielsen becomes a scapegoat. Head coach Arthur Smith is familiar with this incoming defensive style due to the divisional rivalry, but a system alone can’t get it done without capable players. Improving the pass rush is a must, and the secondary will see some help because of it. The 21 sacks tallied in 2022 ranked second to last, and it all begins with fixing this aspect of the defense.
From a fantasy perspective, there’s not a lot to get excited for in 2023 when it comes to Atlanta’s defense. Sure, it’s quite possibly the worst division in football at this moment, but no team applied less pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2022. Until that radically improves, expect another lowly fantasy performance.
Defensive coordinator Nick Rallis, Arizona Cardinals
The former Philadelphia linebackers coach followed Jonathan Gannon to the desert and will hold the title of offensive coordinator. It’s unclear whether Gannon will call the plays himself with Rallis working in a game-planning role. However, we can expect Gannon’s stamp to be placed on this defense no matter which man is sending in the signals. Rallis knows what Gannon wants out of his scheme, especially in the front seven, and the familiarity will help install the system faster than bringing in an outside coach to run the defense.
From fantasy perspective, Arizona has plenty to address in the coming weeks, so we’ll dive deeper later in the spring once things start taking shape.