Fantasy owners should always keep coaching changes in the back of their minds at all times. A run-oriented head coach and/or offensive coordinator could easily drop the value of a top receiver when going to a more conservative offense. On the flip side, a pass happy coach can boost the value of a receiver who normally might fly under the radar (Josh McDaniels and Brandon Lloyd). Below are the coaching changes that occurred in the NFC earlier in the year and also how their presence will affect the skill players on their new team.
San Francisco 49ers
- Head Coach Jim Harbaugh replaces Mike Singletary
- Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman replaces Mike Johnson
The signing of Harbaugh was supposed to breathe new life into Alex Smith, whose career has been lackluster so far, but Smith hasn't exactly endeared himself to the new staff. The team used a fourth-round pick on Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick, but he is a bit too raw to take the starting job. However, Harbaugh has officially opened up the starting job and it was also revealed that the 49ers were courting, now Titans, Matt Hasselbeck. Not to mention the team had brought in Daunte Culpepper in for a workout. So while Harbaugh had been able to use his magic on players like Andrew Luck and Buccaneers backup Josh Johnson, there might not be enough to make Smith a competant starter.
Frank Gore's role doesn't change with the coaching change. He will continue to be the bell cow in the backfield and should reach another 1000-1100 yard season, but health is always a factor. Harbaugh was able to turn Toby Gerhart into a top player, so he should be able to keep Gore alive as one of the league's leading rushers. But, again, Gore has to remain healthy to do it.
The passing game was supposed to have improved, but Michael Crabtree has already gotten bit by the injury bug when he suffered a foot injury early in practice. The team, worried about Crabtree's availability, signed former Jets receiver Braylon Edwards to a one year deal. Once Crabtree comes back, current No. 2 Josh Morgan could kick into the slot in three-receiver sets. Tight end Vernon Davis could easily lead the team in receptions in 2011.
- Interim Head Coach Leslie Frazier named head coach
- Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave replaces Darrell Bevell
After much speculation regarding the quarterback situation, the Vikings finally settled on former Eagles/Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb as the stopgap until rookie Christian Ponder is ready to take over the reigns. McNabb showed last year that he is clearly on the decline, but Musgrave will still use what arm strength he has left to stretch the field and make more down-field throws.
Just weeks after Frazier's promotion, it wasn't much of a surprise that he officially announced that the offense would run through Adrian Peterson. As the top back in the backfield, expect AD to flirt with 300 carries and close to 1300 rushing yards. And now that Musgrave is calling the offense, Peterson could start seeing an increase in receptions if he can show he can stay in on third downs, which AD has been lobbying for in training camp.
With Sidney Rice gone, Musgrave will use Percy Harvin a lot this year, moving him around in certain situations and creating mismatches. Unfortunately, outside of Harvin, this receiving unit is going to need to be coached up a lot in order to have any success. Bernard Berrian is pedestrian, Michael Jenkins is a better blocker than receiver and Greg Camarillo is just okay. Because of the lack of talent, Musgrave will use more two-tight end sets with Visanthe Shiancoe and rookie Kyle Rudolph. This will also help McNabb as he has shown in the past that he loves throwing to tight ends.
- Head Coach Ron Rivera replaces John Fox in Carolina
- Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski replaces Jeff Davidson
Rivera will have some work to do for an offense that had troubles at all the skill positions last year.
Starting with quarterback, it's still a tossup as to who will start Week One between rookie Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen. Neither has shown enough in the preseason that made one stick out from other other. As far as fantasy owners are concerned, Newton should only be owned in Dynasty leagues. Don't expect this team to pass much in Rivera's year one as the head coach.
Somehow the Panthers managed to bring back running back DeAngelo Williams, who was the hottest free agent on the market after the lockout ended. With Williams locked up, expect Rivera and Chud to use a lot of the ground game in 2011 to easy the passing game slowly into the fold as the season wears on.
Along with Williams, the Panthers also managed to appease receiver Steve Smith to the point where his trade demands disappeared. As the lone wide receiver with any sort of legitimate talent, Smith is going to see a lot of defensive attention this year.
The biggest plus that Rob Chudzinski gives the offense is that the tight ends will be used a lot in the passing game. As a former tight end and a former tight ends coach at San Diego, Chud will make good use out of guys like Greg Olsen, who was mostly used as a blocker in Chicago. We already saw the tight ends make some noise in the first preseason game after Olsen and Gary Barnidge led the team with four targets a piece. And if Newton winds up being thrown to the wolves Week One, he will need the tight end safety net to make it through.
St. Louis Rams
- Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels replaces Pat Shurmur
With Pat Shurmur now in Cleveland as the new head coach, McDaniels brings his pass happy offense to St. Louis. This will be huge for the development of Sam Bradford, who had already grown leads and bounds in his rookie year. Bradford should easily match his passing numbers from 2010 and should see an uptick in passing touchdowns from the eighteen he threw last year.
Steven Jackson is Steven Jackson. A hard runner and one of the better pass-catching running backs in the league. The upside is that McDaniels will continue to use Jackson as the featured back in the running game. The bad news is that Jackson's receptions might not be there this year. To find a running back who had more than 50 receptions in a year, you have to go all the way back to 2008 when Patriots running back Kevin Faulk had 58. Jackson is also starting to get a bit long in the tooth and is slowly breaking down, but he should squeeze out one more year of production.
St. Louis has a lot of receivers on the roster, but only a few of them possess enough talent to even be considered every-week starter. Newly-signed Mike Sims-Walker figures to end up landing one starting spot, but Brandon Gibson has really looked good in the preseason. The lone guy who I absolutely love is Danny Amendola. After 85 receptions in 2010, he reminds me a lot of a poor-man's Wes Welker, who McDaniels had coached before going to Denver. If Bradford can continue to play well, Amendola will easily lead the team in receptions. Rookie tight end Lance Kendricks has the most upside of all the tight ends on the roster and will have a big role early.
- Interim Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett named head coach/offensive coordinator
Talking about Garrett and the Cowboys will be short and sweet. Expect Tony Romo to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2010. Felix Jones, if he can stay healthy, should enjoy his best season yet as a pro. Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten will all be huge assets in the passing game. Since Garrett called the plays near the end of last year, don't expect his offensive philosophy to change.
Only difference between Garrett and Wade Phillips? Don't expect the practices to be like eating a slice of blueberry pie. Garrett will push these guys to the limit unlike Phillips, whose practices were considered "creampuff."
- Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell replaces Jeremy Bates
Bevell goes from Minnesota to Seattle with the same title and will take his West Coast offense with him. This offense looks good on paper, but head coach Pete Carroll's affinity for sticking with Tarvaris Jackson as his starting quarterback is going to kill this entire offense. I beg of you Pete, PLEASE GIVE CHARLIE WHITEHURST A CHANCE!!!!!!!
Marshawn Lynch, an early sleeper of mind, will get most of the workload if he can find running room in Tom Cable's zone blocking offensive line. But with Leon Washington expected to get an expanded role and Justin Forsett still lingering, this backfield could become a committee if Lynch doesn't get going early in the season. And with the huge question mark at quarterback, defenses will be ready for the run.
In a perfect world, Sidney Rice will benefit the most as Seattle's version of Percy Harvin. Newly-acquired tight end Zach Miller will see an expanded role in the passing game after John Carlson fell out of favor with the coaching staff in 2010. Unfortunately, I find it hard to believe Big Mike Williams will be able to improve his numbers from 2010.
- Offensive Coordinator Mike Miller replaces the OC vacancy
With Miller calling the offense, the passing game will be a major factor this year. The signing of Kevin Kolb finally gives the quarterback position some legitimacy is severely lacked last year. Larry Fitzgerald will be the center point, but there really isn't anyone else who sticks out. Andre Roberts? Stephen Williams? Please.
Outside of Fitzgerald, the second highest passing option, in my opinion, will be Todd Heap, who finally gives this offense a talented option at tight end that it hasn't seen under head coach Ken Whisenhunt's tenure.