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Faceoff: Impact Of a Coaching Overhaul

July 22nd


Clayton Gray: How much does a big change in coaching factor into your projections or rankings? (By "big", let's go with a coaching move that produces huge difference in philosophy.) Are you more in the camp of "a player is going to do what a player is going to do", or do you believe that production is largely based in the style of the coach?

Jason Wood: One of the things I love about football is the importance of scheme and coaching. Unlike baseball or basketball, a good coaching staff can mean the difference between a deep playoff run and a 6-win season. It all starts with preparation, and installing a system in all three phases that can succeed, and adapt as the season evolves. But not all coaching changes are created equally. Generally I think the biggest mistake people make in evaluating new coaches is evaluating their abilities based on the statistical achievements of the units they come from. For example, when Sean Payton was hired in New Orleans, many doubted his abilities because of the up-and-down production both Dallas and New York showed under his watch as OC. Yet, being a head coach is a much different task than being a coordinator, and great head coaches are not necessarily the best coordinators or vice versa.

You also have to understand whether the personnel fit a planned change. Al Saunders is a proven offensive mind, but he's also known for having a voluminous playbook. That wouldn't play well if the Raiders were going to use a rookie QB necessarily, but with Hue Jackson maintaining the play-calling duties, and Jason Campbell already experienced in Saunders playbook from their time in Washington, it's less of a risk. At the end of the day, you have to take each coaching situation on a case-by-case basis.

Jene Bramel: It's a huge deal and something I track closely, especially on the defensive side of the ball where a matter of inches in how a player aligns can make the difference between fantasy stardom and irrelevance. There's a reason we have arguments about system players and whether a quarterback needs to have the playbook narrowed for him.

You don't have to get super-technical to put a good draft board together, but if you want to be more accurate in pegging the players most likely to jump (or fall) multiple tiers from last year's production, you need to have some idea of which teams are moving to a zone blocking scheme and whether/which of their backs are a good fit. You need to cross-check which WR will be in motion in the new WCO in Cincinnati and which WR will be more of a downfield threat. Both players could be valuable, but if one player runs his particular routes better, he'll be a better fantasy option. Understanding those factors, or finding the right people who do, can greatly increase the chances that your middle round risk-reward picks will hit.

Matt Waldman: Jene and Jason have two excellent articles posted last month that demonstrate their understanding of the importance of scheme and how it impacts player production. I like Wood's point abut Sean Payton. I'd turn that point inside out just for the fun of it and add that maybe Payton wasn't so great as an OC because he worked under management that didn't allow him to do what he believed would work best. It is very common for organizations to hire talent and then inexplicably restrict them from doing exactly what they were hired to do. A great example was the 49ers hiring Mike Martz and then having him use more of a conservative ground attack with Frank Gore. The 49ers offense was a better match to pound the ball than air it out, but then why hire Martz? Inexplicable, isn't it?

A huge change in philosophy should force you to reconsider what you've seen in that player. It means you have to throw their stats out of the window if they haven't played in a similar system somwehere else even "prior" to the old system. Jonathan Vilma was a stud early in his career with the Jets when he was a 4-3 LB. When the Jets when to the 3-4, it detracted from his natural skill sets and he wasn't as productive. Move Vilma to New Orleans and its 4-3 and it was obvious he would become a quality starter once again. He wasn't the stud he was in New York, but definitely a valuable IDP producer you could hang your hat on.

If the Falcons changed to a run and shoot attack, you would have to reconsider Michael Turner at this stage of his career. Turner is still a good runner, but does have the quickness and explosiveness from a stop to be a consistently effective shotgun runner? I think we'd see a lot more Jacquizz Rodgers. So the answer is yes, scheme can be very important. The nice thing about the NFL is that there aren't usually massive changes with more than handful of teams every year.

My advice: read Jene and Jason as well as beat writers reporting what they observe in practices before you draft.

Jeff Pasquino: Coaches and coordinators matter a great deal. Offensively we know that Andy Reid will throw the ball a ton. John Fox loves veterans and a ground game. Even offensive coordinators matter - look no further than Mike Martz. Lesser known coaches can be almost as important, especially towards a ground game where zone blocking favors one type of rusher while motion / guard-tackle pulls favors a totally different type of runner.

On defense, every time you hear about a defense changing from a 4-3 to a 3-4, you question how they will adjust their personnel. Every single player in the front seven have different roles in a 4-3 vs. a 3-4, as the 4-3 favors a middle ("MIKE") linebacker to make the tackles while the defensive ends set the edges and create the pass rush. That gets turned on its head with a 3-4, where the outside linebackers are more of the stars with a pass rush mentality while the two inside backers must rely on defensive tackles to chew up offensive linemen. Even the DTs are different as they could be playing two-gap vs. one-gap schemes. That's why it can take two seasons to really get the full scheme change implemented as it takes new personnel and talents to correctly execute a new scheme (and that's why in the first year you'll see more "hybrid" schemes).

Mark Wimer: There is no doubt that a player's fit in the offensive or defensive scheme being run by any given coaching staff is most likely going to impact their opportunity for production. Matt's example of Michael Turner vs. Jacquizz Rodgers in a hypothetical run-and-shoot offense is illustrative. One of the reasons that DeAngelo Williams may have a huge rebound this year is the notion that he may reunite with John Fox in Denver if free agency plays out as rumored.

However, there are certain guys who have the talent to succeed regardless of the system that they are brought into - Randy Moss's ENORMOUS season in New England during 2007 was a case where an elite talent (coupled with an elite talent in Tom Brady) excelled on a team that had a magical season as far as the passing game was concerned. He had double-digit TDs each year in New England excepting his final season last year, yet Moss was a miserable player (and a miserable fantasy wide receiver) while unhappy in Oakland during 2006. Elite players at the height of their prowess can rise above system, but there is only a handful of players like that in the NFL at any given time.

Most players will be enormously impacted by coaching/scheme and their fit therein.