NFL’s Most Impactful Coaching Hires For Fantasy

Author Jay Clemons

Sports Hub Technologies, in conjunction with partner LeagueSafe.com, offers a listing of the NFL’s top 10 most impactful new coaching hires for 2017, relative to the fantasy realm.

It goes without saying: This numbers-heavy countdown has an offensive slant, meaning that new head coaches Sean McDermott (Buffalo) and Vance Joseph (Denver) can only serve this process indirectly.

STEVE SARKISIAN, FALCONS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR

Countdown ranking: 1
Previous stop: Alabama offensive coordinator/QB coach (2016)
NFL Play-calling experience: None

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Tough call here. Almost a damned-if-I-do, damned-if-I-don’t situation.

Of the new coaches listed here, Sarkisian walks into the sweetest situation, inheriting the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense (33.8 points per game) and No. 2 total offense (6,653 yards). He also gets quarterback Matt Ryan (reigning NFL MVP), receiver Julio Jones (three-year average: 108 catches/1,624 yards/7 TDs), running backs Devonta Freeman (1,541 total yards, 11 TDs last year) and Tevin Coleman (941 total yards, 11 TDs) in their collective, high-end primes.

On the flip side, Sarkisian has zero experience calling plays at the NFL level, unless you count Alabama’s penchant for stocking its roster with future pros; and even then, it’s hard to gauge whether Sarkisian (Raiders QBs coach in 2004) routinely had opposing defenses eating out of his hand.

Simply put, there’s a lot of pressure here; so let’s not assume anything for the Falcons just yet.

In fact, when perusing the list of Associated Press NFL MVPs, it’s difficult to locate a quarterback recipient (Ryan, in this case) who joined forces with a new offensive coordinator the following season. The closest example to that: For Kurt Warner‘s dream campaign of 1999 (MVP/Super Bowl champion) … it was also Mike Martz‘s first year as an NFL O-coordinator.

ANTHONY LYNN, CHARGERS HEAD COACH

Countdown ranking: 2
Previous stop: Broncos O-coordinator (2015-16)
NFL Play-calling experience: 1 year

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This ranking may be a tad misleading by season’s end, since holdover Ken Whisenhunt will again handle the Chargers’ play-calling reins, thus enabling Lynn to focus on The Big Picture with his first head-coaching gig (excluding the ‘interim’ tag from last year’s Bills).

But given Lynn’s offensive background, he’ll still garner credit — or abject criticism — for the Chargers’ progress in Year 1 of the Los Angeles experiment. As such, it shall be duly noted in these rankings, even if Whisenhunt oversees the big Denny’s menu of offensive plays on Sundays.

On the field, the Chargers boast the AFC West’s deepest collection of offensive playmakers, beginning with receivers Keenan Allen (healthy lock for 1,000 yards this year), Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman (69 catches/1,059 yards/4 TDs last season), Tyrell Williams, tight ends Hunter Henry, Antonio Gates and running back Melvin Gordon (1,416 total yards, 12 TDs last year), who collected 41 receptions and 57 targets last season.

And don’t forget about first-round pick Mike Williams, a Plaxico Burress-type with all-world potential. In fact, Williams could be an instant game-changer for opposing defenses, even when commanding only 6-7 targets per game in Year 1.

Bottom line: Go ahead and pencil QB Philip Rivers in for 4,500 yards passing/30 touchdowns; and mark the Chargers down for at least seven outings of 30-plus points.

MIKE MCCOY, BRONCOS O-COORDINATOR

Countdown ranking: 3
Previous stop: Chargers head coach (2013-16)
Play-calling experience: 5-plus years

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Only time will tell if Vance Joseph evolves into the next Mike Tomlin (four division titles, two AFC championships, one Lombardi Trophy with the Steelers) … or just another Raheem Morris, Jim Schwartz or Gus Bradley — previously red-hot defensive minds turned lukewarm head coaches.

But we can make one immediate judgment on Joseph, who succeeds Gary Kubiak as the Broncos’ head coach: Joseph made the right choice in quickly turning over the offense to Mike McCoy, the old architect of Denver’s offense (2009-12) and former San Diego head coach (2013-16).

Last season, the Chargers ranked 9th overall in scoring (25.6 points per game) and 14th in total offense (357 total yards per game). But those respectable places would have been tangibly higher, if it weren’t for a litany of injuries to the offensive line, receiver Keenan Allen, tailback Danny Woodhead and Melvin Gordon, who averaged 118 total yards/1 TD before succumbing to a season-ending injury.

Which begs the question: Do the Broncos have anything close to Gordon at tailback?

As individuals, probably not. But the triumvirate of C.J. Anderson (injury plagued the previous two seasons), Devontae Booker (showed flashes of potential as a rookie) and the aging Jamaal Charles (my favorite fantasy player for the longest time) should be fine in a group setting. Better tailored for daily fantasy leagues.

McCoy’s biggest task comes in the passing game. Quarterbacks Trevor Siemian (3,401 yards passing, 18 TDs last year) and Paxton Lynch (Round 1 pick in 2016) are 50-50 propositions as breakout fantasy stalwarts. McCoy will also need to prove that Demaryius Thomas‘s two-year downturn (mild regressions in catches, receiving yards, TDs) has no sustainability.

After all, Thomas’s breakthrough campaign of 94 catches, 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns, circa 2012, came on McCoy’s watch.

RICK DENNISON, BILLS O-COORDINATOR

Countdown ranking: 4
Previous stop: Broncos O-coordinator (2015-16)
NFL Play-calling experience: 5-plus years

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There aren’t too many fantasy negatives to lament here, outside of the Bills possibly encountering treacherous weather for Weeks 12-16 — which includes trips to Kansas City and New England and back-to-back-to-back December home outings with the Patriots, Colts and Dolphins.

As for the Dennison-affiliated positives …

a) LeSean McCoy could surpass last year’s terrific numbers (1,623 total yards/14 TDs), even without a major bump in carries. The reasoning: In Dennison’s tailback-friendly passing offense, McCoy should topple last season’s marks with receptions (50), targets (57), receiving yards (356) and receiving TDs (1).

b) The Bills finally have a 1-2 receiving punch worthy of fantasy recognition, starring the injury-riddled Sammy Watkins (100-plus receiving yards and/or one TD in 12 of his last 24 games) and uber-athletic rookie Zay Jones (158 catches/1,746 yards/8 TDs as a senior at East Carolina).

c) Quarterback Tyrod Taylor (3,023 yards passing, 23 total TDs last year) has shown glimpses of sustained goodness and bedrock consistency over the last two seasons, passing for 3,000-plus yards, completing 60-plus percent of his passes and tossing only six interceptions each time. Plus, Dennison already has a professional relationship with Taylor, circa 2014 with the Ravens.

d) Last year’s Bills (10th in scoring offense/16th in total offense) were formidable at times, despite numerous injuries and weekly inner turmoil (the Rex Ryan effect).

JAY GRUDEN, REDSKINS HEAD COACH/O-COORDINATOR

Countdown ranking: 5
Previous stop: Broncos O-coordinator (2015-16)
NFL Play-calling experience: 3 years

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Bengals QB Andy Dalton posted sterling averages of 3,787 yards passing and 30 touchdowns in his first three NFL seasons (2011-13), coinciding with Jay Gruden’s time as offensive coordinator. And for 2013, Cincinnati enjoyed top-10 rankings with scoring offense and total offense.

This bodes well for the 2017 Redskins, now that Gruden has resumed the play-calling duties. QB Kirk Cousins has a two-year average of 4,542 yards passing, 27 touchdowns and absurd completion rate of 68.3 percent; and despite the free-agent losses of Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, Cousins still has an impressive arsenal of playmakers in Terrelle Pryor (77 catches/1,007 yards/4 TDs in his first year as a full-time receiver), Jamison Crowder (67 catches/847 yards/7 TDs last season), Brian Quick, Josh Doctson (first-round pick in 2016) and top-3 tight end Jordan Reed (annual threat for 90 catches/1,100 yards/10 TDs).

The running game has some upside, as well. Robert Kelley (786 total yards/7 TDs last year), Chris Thompson (49 receptions) and rookie Samaje Perine (potential late-round draft gem) could all be major factors with an offense that requires creativity and balance.

KYLE SHANAHAN, 49ERS HEAD COACH

Countdown ranking: 6
Previous stop: Falcons O-coordinator (2015-16)
NFL Play-calling experience: 5-plus years

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Last season, the 49ers ranked 27th in scoring offense (17.4 points per game) and 30th in total offense (4,930 yards) with warp-speed Chip Kelly running the show … and two quarterbacks (Colin Kaepernick/Blaine Gabbert) doubling the amount of passing touchdowns (21) to interceptions (10).

The above info suggests — no, screams — that Shanahan will experience similar difficulties in Year 1 with the 49ers. The rationale: Unlike Shanahan’s time-tested weapons with the Falcons, there’s no immediate fear factor with the 49ers’ pass-catching corps of Pierre Garcon (notable free-agent signee), Jeremy Kerley, Bruce Ellington, Marquise Goodwin, Aaron Burbridge or tight ends Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek.

And frankly, I’d prefer Matt Barkley over Brian Hoyer at quarterback, even though the latter will probably start Week 1 against Carolina.

The only absolute certainty for 2017: Under Shanahan’s direction, tailback Carlos Hyde will be a healthy lock to eclipse last year’s rock-solid numbers (1,151 total yards/9 TDs).

DOUG MARRONE, JAGUARS HEAD COACH

Countdown ranking: 7
Previous stop: Jaguars interim head coach (2016)
NFL Play-calling experience: 3-5 years

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Here are three reasons why Marrone (and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett) cannot fail this fall, in the eyes of fantasy observers:

a) Rookie running back Leonard Fournette (3,830 rushing yards, 40 TDs, 6.2 yards per carry at LSU), an Adrian Peterson clone, should be the face of Jacksonville football for the next 8-10 years.

b) Quarterback Blake Bortles set the bar incredibly low last year, guiding the Jaguars to just three wins, while accounting for 3,905 yards passing and 26 touchdowns (three rushing) — a dramatic dip from the 2015 numbers (4,428 yards passing, 37 TDs).

c) The 26-and-under receiving corps of Allen Robinson (73 catches/883 yards/6 TDs last year), Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee and Rashad Greene have performed admirably, despite the lack of veteran leadership at wideout (Anquan Boldin would be perfect here); and they’ll have minimal incoming competition this fall, outside of drafting Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook.

SEAN MCVAY, RAMS HEAD COACH/O-COORDINATOR

Countdown ranking: 8
Previous stop: Broncos O-coordinator (2015-16)
NFL Play-calling experience: 3 years

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I love McVay’s long-term potential as a head coach, the byproduct of his relentless energy, boundless optimism, play-calling creativity and advanced acumen with the vertical passing game.

In the short term, however, the Rams are a disheveled bunch — at best — at receiver, with Robert Woods, Tavon Austin, Pharoh Cooper and Mike Thomas leading the way. (Sleeper alert: Rookie Josh Reynolds could be a late-round gem in PPR drafts.) And quarterback Jared Goff still needs another full campaign of seasoning, before forming any definitive opinions of his NFL worth.

There’s also one more Debby Downer factor to consider: If the Rams are continually playing catch-up in Year 1 of the McVay era, it might lead to fewer carries for tailback Todd Gurley (tight two-year averages of 1,253 total yards, 8 TDs), thus diluting Gurley’s chances of becoming an elite-level back in his third NFL campaign.

TODD DOWNING, RAIDERS O-COORDINATOR

Countdown ranking: 9
Previous stop: Raiders QBs coach (2015-16)
NFL Play-calling experience: None

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At this point, Downing’s low ranking represents more ‘placeholder’ than ‘short-term condemnation.’

Yes, he’s only 36 years old and has never consistently called plays at the pro level; but the Minnesota native has also been an NFL-coaching fixture since 2003, working his tail off for five different franchises during that span (Vikings, Rams, Lions, Bills, Raiders).

The significance of that: Either Downing has incriminating photos of numerous NFL executives, ensuring his continued employment (highly doubtful) … or he has been a prized member of various staffs, similar to how Jay Gruden once moved heaven and earth to keep Sean McVay in the Redskins assistants’ fold.

As such, Downing has finally landed his dream job, albeit under the white-hot glow of directing an offense that ranked seventh in scoring last year (26 points per game), sixth in total yardage (5,973) and sixth in team rushing (1,922 yards). And if it weren’t for his Christmas Eve injury against the Colts, Raiders QB Derek Carr (28 TDs/6 INTs/64-percent completion rate) would have easily eclipsed the 4,000-yard passing mark (finishing with 3,937).

Luckily, Downing already has a strong rapport with Carr (as QBs coach). He also has access to a top-5 receiving pairing (Amari Cooper/Michael Crabtree), a productive free-agent tight end (Jared Cook) and a future Hall of Fame back (Marshawn Lynch — averaged 1,612 total yards/14 TDs from 2011-14, before “retiring” last year), an Oakland native who has dreamed of donning the Silver and Black since Pop Warner ball.

Bottom line: From a daily fantasy perspective, Carr, Lynch, Cooper and Crabtree shall be primary considerations every week; and with standard fantasy drafts, they might all be scooped up by the end of Round 5.

JOHN MORTON, JETS O-COORDINATOR

Countdown ranking: 10
Previous stop: Saints WRs coach (2015-16)
NFL Play-calling experience: None

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Neither the presence of Matt Forte (future Hall of Famer) nor Eric Decker (three seasons of double-digit TDs) can dilute the following subjective proclamation: Right now, the Jets have the NFL’s worst collection of offensive playmakers.

In the short term, this doesn’t bode well for Morton, whose only tangible play-calling experience involves USC for two seasons (2009-10). At quarterback, he’ll either be stuck with a low-upside, short-term placeholder (Josh McCown) or be saddled with a young passer (Christian Hackenberg/Bryce Petty), who’s certain to struggle for at least two years.

And among the receivers, it’s merely Decker (recovering from a season-ending injury), Quincy Enunwa (averaged only 3 catches/43 yards in final five games), Charone Peake (zero career TDs), Quinton Patton (one career TD), Robby Anderson and Alabama rookie ArDarius Stewart.

Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media) and 2008 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year (Fantasy Sports Writers Association), can be reached via Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.

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