At Cornell University, Bill Lazor was a three-year starting quarterback and graduated with 26 passing and total offensive program records. He then entered the coaching ranks immediately upon graduation and spent seven years as an assistant at Cornell. The next 12 years were spent between the NCAA as an offensive coordinator and the NFL as a positions coach. Last season, while serving as the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterbacks coach, Lazor had the privilege of being an understudy to Chip Kelly and also oversaw the record breaking season of Nick Foles, who threw 27 touchdowns compared to just two interceptions.
Up to this point in his career, Lazor has not yet called plays at the NFL level, but served as an offensive coordinator in a total of five seasons. Those terms were 2001 through 2002 at the University of Buffalo and then 2010 through 2012 at the University of Virginia. The offensive tendencies from those years were compiled below and compared to those of the recent Miami Dolphins' offenses, as well as the recent NFL averages:
Offensive Tendencies; Lazor vs. 12-13 Miami
|Statistic||Lazor||12-13 MIA||12-13 NFL|
|Total Offensive Plays||71.6||59.0||62.2|
|Pass Attempts Per Game||36.7||34.3||35.1|
|Rush Attempts Per Game||34.9||24.7||27.2|
Over the past three seasons, the average NCAA team has run 70.0 offensive plays per game. Even Lazor's offenses dating back to 2001, which are outlined above, have eclipsed that average, which has steadily risen over the years. Furthermore, Lazor's offensive plays per game rises to 72.8 when considering only his past three seasons as an offensive coordinator. While Lazor's offenses have helped to set the pace, the recent offenses of the Dolphins have not; Miami has finished below the NFL average in each of the past two seasons.
In his introductory press conference, Lazor spoke on the Eagles' offense in 2013:
"When you come off of a season like we did where we were the leading rushing team in the NFL. We had the leading rusher. We had the highest rated passer. We were able to be an explosive offense. Certainly a lot of things that led to that are going to have a great impact on what I believe works going forward."
Considering Lazor's history, it's safe to say that the Dolphins' offense will exhibit a higher sense of urgency, which should result in an uptick in total offensive plays. While the Eagles ran plays more quickly on offense than any other NFL team in 2013, their 1054 total offensive plays ranked only 13th in the NFL - although Kelly hopes to improve that mark this season. Even so, a return to the NFL average would still result in an extra 50+ plays over the course of a full season, which is nearly the equivalent of a full game.
Additionally, we can expect to see a higher emphasis placed on the running game. The Dolphins only ran the ball on 41.8% of their offensive plays over the past two years - that number dropped even further to 37.0% in 2013. The Eagles ran the ball on 49.6% of their offensive plays last season and as an offensive coordinator in college, Lazor ran the ball 48.8% of the time. Here's a look at the running back production under Lazor as an offensive coordinator:
Running Back Production with Lazor as HC or OC
By looking at the table above, it's clear that Lazor has preferred a two-back system for his run-based offense. During those seasons, the lead backs have averaged 17.4 touches per game, while the second backs have averaged 12.1 touches per game themselves. Although LeSean McCoy totaled 314 carries and 52 receptions last season for the Eagles, with no workhorse back on the Dolphins, another two-back system is in store for Lazor.
Lamar Miller has been dominating first team reps throughout the offseason and is easily the most talented back on their roster, earning himself pole position for the lead role. In his first two seasons, Miller has averaged 4.21 yards-per-carry on his 228 career carries. That YPC is made all the more impressive when considering the state of Miami's offensive line, which unfortunately won't be much better this season. Footballguys' own Matt Bitonti ranks the Dolphins' offensive line 29th in the NFL.
The sixteen-game averages for lead backs of 243 carries and 35 receptions would plant Miller in RB2 territory. However, his lack of workhorse potential along with an expected touchdown deficiency leave him better suited as an RB3/Flex for redraft fantasy football leagues in 2014. According to the most recent ADP, Miller is currently being drafted as the 37th running back off of the board.
Prior to the news surfacing about Knowshon Moreno's health, he looked to be the reliable compliment to Miller. If Moreno is not ready to start the season, then Dolphins fans may get to see a familiar sight with a Daniel Thomas joining Miller in the attack. Irregardless, there should be enough touches along on a week-to-week basis with potential goal-line duties for the second back to be considered as a desperation play RB4.
A casualty of Lazor's run-based offense is the passing volume. As noted in the first table, Lazor's playcalling resulted in pass attempts on just 51.2% of the offensive snaps, which is a steep drop-off from Miami's 58.2% over the past two seasons. Here's a look at the team passing during Lazor's time as an offensive coordinator:
Team Passing Per Game with Lazor as HC or OC
It is notable that Lazor did not have the most talented pieces to work with in his passing game during his tenure as a college offensive coordinator - the poor completion percentage is a direct reflection of that. By comparison, Tannehill completed 62.5% of his passes in college and is at 59.4% so far in his NFL career. Nevertheless, reviewing the past may still provide some indicators of what to expect in the future.
When normalizing the statistics of Lazor's college offenses for the transition to the NFL, the 587 passing attempts would drop to around 516. Last season, the Eagles attempted a similar 508 passes. Tannehill saw his pass attempts rise from 484 as a rookie to 588 as a sophomore quarterback. The transition to a more run-focused offense should lead to Tannehill finding a happy medium between the total attempts in his first two seasons. With that being said, Foles still managed to rank second among quarterbacks in fantasy points per start even with a volume disadvantage compared to his peers.
It's well noted that Tannehill was a former wide receiver at Texas A&M and exhibits plus-athleticism. That athleticism has contributed to his career 5.14 yards-per-carry on 88 career rushes. Last year, Foles averaged 5.3 rushes in his starts, which was a crucial aspect of his fantasy value and would translate to 85 rushes over a full, sixteen-game season. Health permitting, career-highs across the rushing categories is a near lock for Tannehill in his third year.
Heading into 2014, the depth of the quarterback position leaves Tannehill as a mid-range QB2, but his dynasty value shines bright as he posesses the potential to grow into a QB1 alongside Lazor.
Lastly, let's look into how the receiving corps may project under their new offensive coordinator:
Average Passing Distribution under Lazor as HC or OC
*WR1, WR2, and WR3 were defined as the leading, second leading and third leading wide receivers in each season respectively. TE1 was defined as the leading tight end in each season respectively
The difference in usage between the WR1 and WR2, combined with the usage of DeSean Jackson last season, does bode well for Mike Wallace becoming more of a focal point. In his first season with Miami, Wallace experienced some turbulance, ending with a final line of 73-930-5 - the 12.7 yards-per-reception (YPR) was a far cry from his career 16.2 YPR. By comparison, Jackson's career YPR is 17.2 and he recorded a 16.2 YPR last season en route to a career best, 82-1332-9 line. Lazor has already hinted at manufacturing more opportunities for Wallace, who is optimistic about the upcoming season for himself. An improvement from last season is on the horizon for Wallace, who ranks as a high-end WR3 with WR2 upside.
After back-to-back seasons of at least 74 receptions and 1016 receiving yards for Brian Hartline, a decrease in passing volume and the arrival of Lazor will make it difficult for him to match his recent success. The number two receiver for the Eagles last season, Riley Cooper, only recorded 47 catches, which falls in line with the sixteen-game averages for WR2s under Lazor. On top of an expected drop-off in opportunity, Hartline is also returning from a torn PCL that he suffered in Week 17 and is best considered as nothing more than a fill-in WR4.
Last season wasn't a complete wash for Miami WR3s; Brandon Gibson and Rishard Matthews tallied a 63-681-5 line in games when either of them occupied that role. Those two, along with Jarvis Landry, will all be jockeying for position this season. Unfortunately for them, WR3s have not fared well in the past under Lazor and with the Dolphins toning down the passing volume, that's not expected to change, which leaves all three out of consideration in standard fantasy football leagues.
Charles Clay was perhaps the most consistent and usable player on Miami last year, recording 12 games of at least four catches and notching a 69-759-6 line. He added seven carries for 15 yards and a touchdown on the ground. While the passing distribution table above does not look favorable, Lazor has stated the following:
"The number one factor in how we do it and specifically how it looks is going to be the ability of the players we have."
With that in mind, Lazor did feature a tight end during his two years at Buffalo; the sixteen-game averages in those years would have led to 61 receptions and 550 receiving yards. Even so, Clay is in line for some regression, but maintains some value as a borderline TE1 with low-upside.
All in all, the Miami Dolphins' hiring of Bill Lazor is a breath of fresh air for the organization and does provide optimism for the offense's future. While the offensive line must be improved going forward, the change in philosophy still leads to improved fantasy football outlooks in year one for their key playmakers: Ryan Tannehill, Mike Wallace, and Lamar Miller.
More from Kyle Wachtel:
Player Spotlight: Ryan Tannehill - July 24
Player Spotlight: Michael Crabtree - July 14
Player Spotlight: Doug Martin - July 11
Coaching Carousel: Hue Jackson - June 10
Coaching Carousel: Scott Linehan - June 9
Coaching Carousel: Jeff Tedford - May 28
Coaching Carousel: Jay Gruden - May 13
Coaching Carousel: Norv Turner - April 28
Coaching Carousel: Kyle Shanahan - March 27
Volatility of Early Round Running Backs and Wide Receivers - February 25