Over the course of the off-season there have been many changes around the league; changes that could significantly impact the 2012 fantasy football season. One area that you don't find too much focus on is coaching changes.
Coaching changes almost always has a profound impact on fantasy whether it is for the good or the bad, but with so much focus on sleepers, rankings and drafting strategy, you rarely come across a piece that tackles this important topic.
Don't worry, we have you covered.
In a two part series, my colleague Phil Clark and I will be examining the various coaching changes in each conference along with their expected fantasy impact.
I will be handling the AFC, while Phil delves into the NFC. So let's take a look at the AFC, and the fantasy impact you could expect in 2012.
Teams who HAVE NOT undergone significant coaching changes: Tennessee, Houston and Cincinnati.
Out: DC - Chuck Pagano
In: DC - Dean Pees
Fantasy Take: Ravens linebackers coach Dean Pees has been given one hefty promotion to DC. This sort of endorsement is like trading the keys to your Hyundai for a BMW. Baltimore has a very rich defensive tradition which Pees is expected to live up. This defense has been a Top 10 defense since 2003, finishing in the Top 6, eight out of the past nine years.
What has made this defense so terribly difficult to handle has been its up-tempo and aggressive style of play, particularly from the linebackers. While Pees won’t have the luxury of Terrell Suggs anymore, he does have an explosive rookie in Courtney Upshaw (Alabama) who is expected to take control of the outside LB position.
I would also advise fantasy owners to place both Pernell McPhee and Paul Kruger on their potential IDP sleepers list. Both players are figured to be on the field when the Ravens feature their “rush” packages. Kruger is taking almost all the first-team reps, with Upshaw on the opposite side.
It’s worth noting that when Pees was the DC for New England (2006-2009), the Patriots D were the only team in the NFL to finish in the top 10 in scoring defense each season.
Out: DC – George Edwards
In: DC – Dave Wannstedt (Asst HC / LBs coach)
Fantasy Take: After having marginal success as head coach of his alma mater Pittsburgh (42-31) Dave Wannstedt will return to the NFL and reunite with a few buddies that helped him carry the Miami Dolphins to two playoff appearances (2000-2004)—ironically enough, he also finished 42-31 in that time.
Wannstedt will reunite with some old staff members from Miami, including Bills head coach Chan Gailey who—ironically enough again—was Wannstedt’s offensive coordinator. But can Wannstedt make a big enough impact for fantasy owners to take advantage?
Well consider this:
1. When Wannstedt was the DC for the Dallas Cowboys in the early nineties, he turned a near league-worse D into a Top 10 defense that helped the Cowboys win a SB ring in 1992.
2. When Wannstedt was the DC for Miami in 1999 (before becoming the head honcho) the Dolphins sported the number 5 ranked defense in the league.
3. While coaching at PITT Wannstedt produced some very notable players in his tenure including 2007 first-round draft choice CB Darrelle Revis (New York Jets), 2008 first-round selection T Jeff Otah (Carolina Panthers) and 2009 second-round selection RB LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia Eagles).
So yes, I do believe Wannstedt is going to have a significant fantasy impact for individuals looking for sneaky D/ST pick. Veteran Karlos Dansby is one individual IDP player that stands out in my mind. The Dolphins will switch to a more aggressive 4-3 alignment allowing Dansby to attack more than hold his zones…an IDP stud waiting to happen.
Out: OC – Pat Shurmur
In: OC - Brad Childress
Fantasy Take: I am personally not a very big fan of this move but apparently the Cleveland brass are. The problem I have with Childress in regard to fantasy is that he's only called offensive plays (as a coordinator) just once in his career (2006 as the HC of Minnesota) and believe me folks, it didn’t go well—this coming from a person who covered the Vikings for almost three years.
The other issue is just who exactly Childress has to work with.
Greg Little is the “in-the-hunt No. 1 receiver” for Cleveland, but his 54% catch-rate of a year ago is an indictment of the shaky talent level at his disposal—Little was also third overall amoung WRs in total drops.
Childress will, however, have the explosive rookie RB Trent Richardson at his disposal, which will be a good thing, but I fear that Childress’ inexperience as a signal-caller could wind up limiting the fantasy ceiling of all fantasy parties involved, including Richardson.
Out: DC – Dennis Allen
In: DC – Jack Del Rio
Fantasy Take: Jack Del Rio takes over a Bronco defense that played with a lot of heart in 2011, but still only found themselves in the middle of the pack in regard to overall fantasy points (17th). But this was an aging squad with a bevy of injuries, so there is some favor that perhaps they did not play up to snuff in 2011.
For those who don’t know, Del Rio is most notably known for utilizing highly aggressive and successful interiors to warrant overall defensive success. Since it is hard to find quality IDP interior lineman in bulk, this comes as good news for fantasy owners.
Del Rio produced some famous gruesome-twosomes such as Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams (Baltimore 2000), Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner who combined for 12 sacks in 2002 under HC John Fox in Carolina, and most recently John Henderson and Marcus Stroud while in Jacksonville.
I would say that fantasy owners have a prize possession in DE Elvis Dumervil with the above information, but a felony arrest that included a weapons charge and road rage incident could cause the league to suspend Dumervil causing his fantasy value to take a significant hit. If I had to mention a nice player to consider, I would keep your eye on Derek Wolfe, who Del Rio himself recommended to Denver BEFORE ever having the job. Del Rio has compared Wolfe to recently retired Steelers stud Aaron Smith.
HC – Jim Caldwell
OC – Clyde Christiansen
DC – Larry Coyer
HC – Chuck Pagano
OC – Greg Manusky
DC – Bruce Arians
Fantasy Take: OK, this is actually just the skimming of the surface in Indy, as literally the entire staff has been replaced or rearranged, and due to space limitations, there’s no way I can get into the Colts situation entirely.
What I can do for you is tell you I like the hiring of Chuck Pagano. He will bring a world of experience, a highly aggressive style of play—particularly on defense—and eventually rebuild this franchise into a legitimate threat.
Both Arians and Manusky are also being spoke of as aggressive coaches, which could either go really well for the players involved, or could eventually create a mutiny if they get to out of control. I like Andrew Luck as a late round flier, and I do especially love Coby Fleener’s upside since the two worked together at Stanford. I do see both veteran receivers Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie producing this season, just not at the level we are used to seeing.
Defensively I would give a serious look towards potential IDP Sleeper ILB Pat Angerer.
HC - Jack Del Rio
OC - Dirk Koetter
HC - Mike Mularkey
OC – Bob Bratkowski
Fantasy Take: Umm, I’m going to make this one short, and then perhaps turn it over to any Bengals or Falcons fan, familiar with Bratkowski and Mularkey. The situation in Jacksonville right now isn’t all that great with a pending holdout with MJD, a rookie quarterback who didn’t perform quite the way he was touted last season, and a crop of receivers that have a lot of talent on paper, but will probably NOT benefit from this change.
And you may not either.
The only real value I do see coming is at the RB position. Bratkowski is the type of coordinator that utilizes a RRP cycle (run, run, pass). Now, MJD is expected to hold out of mandatory camp especially considering the Jags front office has no plans of extending a new deal to him, and if that’s the case, Rashard Jennings would become a very sexy pick as a 13th rounder.
Kansas City Chiefs:
Out: HC – Todd Haley
OC – Bob Muir
HC Romeo Crennel
OC – Brian Daboll
Fantasy Take: This is one of three exciting AFC makeovers I believe will significantly benefit fantasy owners straight across the board. Crennel was promoted to the HC position for the last three games of the 2011 season. He led the banged up Chiefs to a 2-1 record with his most notable accomplishment coming as the only team to defeat the Green Bay Packers in the 2011 regular season.
Crennel was previously the Chiefs' DC who orchestrated the league’s Top 3 defense; a duty he will also retain.
Brian Daboll had previously worked as the OC with both the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns. His biggest claim to fame is the fact that Reggie Bush, Peyton Hillis and Jerome Harrison all had breakout seasons under Dabol’s guidance—good news for those of you hoping to draft Jamaal Charles.
Other strong considerations who could be affected by this change are: Jonathan Baldwin (WR) and Kevin Boss (TE). Boss should benefit greatly from Dabol’s expected installation of the two-TE system that the Patriots and Ravens currently deploy.
Out: HC – Tony Sparano
OC – Brian Daboll
DC – Mike Nolan
HC – Joe Philbin
OC – Mike Sherman
DC – Kevin Coyle
Fantasy Take: Here we have the second of three most exciting AFC makeovers, especially for those of you looking for mid-round value prospects from Miami.
Both Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman have ties to the powerhouse offense that was orchestrated in Green Bay which was led by Aaron Rodgers (Philbin’s era) and Brett Favre (Sherman’s era), so fantasy owners have plenty to think about when looking at Miami.
The Dolphins want to increase the offensive tempo this season, and they want to change things up just a bit. Many owners looking to draft RBs Reggie Bush and/or Daniel Thomas should benefit greatly from the newly incorporated West Coast Offense. Sherman and Philbin want to spread Bush out wide more while getting Daniel Thomas into the ground assault more so owners drafting Bush in PPR leagues should reap the rewards while Standard leaguers should see some backend value in Thomas.
Thanks Mr. Philbin and Sherman!
New England Patriots:
Out: OC – Bill O’Brien
In: Josh McDaniels
*Significant Change* - Matt Patricia takes over DC duties for HC Bill Belichick.
Fantasy Take: And here we have THE most exciting AFC makeover in my opinion. Fantasy owners are going to benefit greatly from an offensive standpoint and from a defensive standpoint.
Josh McDaniels reunites with his former HC and QB when he was the OC in New England before, and boy-howdy did he dial up some successful fantasy players. But in addition to this, he also reunites with his former WR Brandon Lloyd from Denver whom he helped transform into a force to be reckoned with.
You can literally take your pick from the offensive side of the ball and wind up with a solid fantasy option, but I would seriously consider taking Tom Brady as your primary QB.
Matt Patricia was promoted to actual defensive coordinator which should take the burden off of Belickick’s shoulders. Patricia has been around the block working as the linebackers and safety coach while overseeing the defense, but now he gets the keys to the car.
This should especially bode well for Safety Pat Chung, who is in a contract year.
New York Jets:
Out: OC – Brian Schottenheimer
In: OC - Tony Sparano
Fantasy Take: The Jets have a few team issues that I am not entirely excited about, and while Tony Sparano will undoubtedly tighten up a few loose bolts, I don’t see him having a significant fantasy impact this season as the new offensive coordinator.
RB Shonn Greene and WR Santonio Holmes are sure to be the fantasy standouts offensively, but pull away from these two and you have nothing but waiver wire fodder at best.
You can also expect something cute called a “two QB system” in New York which is pretty much setting itself up to be a good old fashion dog and pony show. Sparano utilized a lot of trick plays in Miami and trick plays rarely benefit fantasy owners, so be aware.
He’ll be playing hell trying to navigate through Mark Sanchez’s erratic play, and Tim Tebow’s presence.
HC – Hue Jackson
OC – Al Saunders
DC – Chuck Bresnahan
HC - Dennis Allen
OC – Greg Knapp
DC - Jason Tarver
Fantasy Take: This overhaul is a particularly interesting one. Gregg Knapp returns as the offensive coordinator, but he is set to work with a much more talented crew than he did in 2007. HC Dennis Allen absolutely needs Knapp to function as individually as possible, because the defensive minded HC will be looking to work with the boy-genius twin brother of Jon Gruden—Jason Tarver.
Seriously, the two look like twin brothers.
Oakland’s offense quickly came into its own by the end of the 2011 season, and they are set to greatly improve in 2012. Oakland’s defense, on the other hand, was absolutely horrible in 2011.
A lot of the blame can be placed on ex-DC Chuck Bresnahan, but the players themselves also looked disinterested at times; an aspect that both Allen and Tarver will have to repair.
Still, I really do believe this defense does a significant turnaround in 2012, and fantasy owners utilizing team defense could find some backend value with the Raiders. For IDPers, Tyvon Branch is no longer the only solid option form the Bay area. I especially like Aaron Curry and Michael Huff’s upside under this new regime.
Out:OC – Bruce Arians
In: OC – Todd Haley
Fantasy Take: This is actually one of those situations that when and how it happened made me initially think…yikes!
Big Ben has thrived under the same offense that he and ex-coordinator Bruce Arians built over the past five years. Now? Well let’s just say all of you fantasy fans can pretty much throw whatever you’re used to seeing from Pittsburgh out the window.
Many offensive players are calling Haley’s approach 90% different than what they were doing under Arians. Haley wants a run-first approach and he’ll have to not only be successful at it, he’ll also have to sell it and teach it to Big-Ben.
The thing I worry about is just how this will affect WRs Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.
Haley is basically asking Big Ben to start over at age 30, and perhaps he is doing so in an effort to protect the quarterback a little bit. If Big Ben adapts and accepts the new system then Haley will probably change this team for the better, but for fantasy owners looking to cash in on Haley’s presence, the only sort of “guarantee" right now is RB Isaac Redman.
Everything else is currently under the microscope.
San Diego Chargers:
OC – Clarence Shelmon
DC – Greg Manusky
OC - Hal Hunter
DC – John Pagano
Fantasy Take: The Chargers decided to promote within by elevating Hunter (O-Line coach) to OC and Pagano (LBs coach) to DC. What's interesting is the move shows itself to be rather intelligent since both of these men not only have entrenched relationships with the players, but also have excelled at their previous coaching positions.
With the exception of the ground game, the Chargers offense did rather well in 2011—as to be expected—while the defense conversely did not. The Chargers did upgrade through the draft by grabbing OLB Melvin Ingram and DE Kendall Reyes—Ingram is the only one who currently holds any fantasy upside.
I do believe that Pagano restores a threatening ground assault with Ryan Matthews and I also believe that Hunter turns this defense around in 2012.