Coaching Carousel: Kyle Shanahan

Examines the potential impact that the Atlanta Falcons' new offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, may have on the offense.

A year ago we were projecting the impact that Kyle Shanahan might have on the Cleveland Browns' offense. One abysmal season later, we are having a similar discussion, but this time with Shanahan heading to a team that boasts a more established offense in the Atlanta Falcons. Granted, all blame for Cleveland's 2014 season certainly does not fall on a team's offensive coordinator. The team drafted Johnny Manziel to become their franchise quarterback and he ended up barely seeing the field, while performing poorly when given the opportunity. The Browns offensive line was also never quite the same after losing their All-Pro center, Alex Mack in Week 5. Not to mention, their best offensive player, Josh Gordon, was suspended for the season's first 10 games. With all factors considered, giving Shanahan a complete pass for the 2014 season would not be an outlandish courtesy.

Team Offense with Shanahan as OC

YearTeamPointsRankYdsRankPlaysRank
2008 HOU 366 17 6,113 3 1,019 8
2009 HOU 388 10 6,129 4 1,043 6
2010 WAS 302 25 5,392 18 1,002 19
2011 WAS 288 26 5,387 16 1,032 9
2012 WAS 436 4 6,131 5 994 23
2013 WAS 334 23 5,915 9 1,107 4
2014 CLE 299 27 5,193 23 1,010 19
Avg --- 345 18.9 5,751 11.1 1,030 12.6

Prior to 2014, Shanahan's career was on the upswing with his offenses ranking among the top-10 in total yards in four of his first six seasons as an offensive coordinator. There were struggles during his first two seasons in Washington, but at the risk of making excuses for Shanahan, much of that can be attributed to a luckluster supporting cast. In 2010, Shanahan's offense was led by a 34 year-old Donovan McNabb with playmakers that included Santana Moss, Chris Cooley, Anthony Armstrong, and Ryan Torain. The roster did not improve in 2011 either--Rex Grossman was under center with Jabar Gaffney as the team's No. 1 receiver.

Washington then drafted Robert Griffin III III in 2012, who Shanahan guided to one of the most productive rookie seasons for a quarterback in NFL history--Griffin III finished fifth among quarterbacks in total fantasy points despite missing one game. Another rookie, Alfred Morris, stepped in as the starting running back and became a perennial 1,000-yard rusher, not unlike many running backs before him that found the graces of the zone-blocking coaching tree.

Despite the turbulance year-to-year, Shanahan's offenses have consistently ranked among the top-half of NFL teams in total plays, finishing in the top-ten in four of seven seasons. This tempo bodes well for continued production for Atlanta's top playmakers. With Matt Ryan directing the offense and viable weapons on the outside, look for Shanahan cruise to what will be a rebound season for himself.

TEAM PASSING WITH SHANAHAN AS OC

YearTeamCompRankAttRankYdsRankTDsRankIntRank
2008 HOU 367 5 555 7 4,267 4 21 13 20 29
2009 HOU 399 2 593 4 4,654 1 29 5 17 17
2010 WAS 349 11 605 4 3,931 8 21 22 19 20
2011 WAS 346 12 591 5 3,773 14 19 23 24 29
2012 WAS 291 26 442 30 3,422 20 24 13 8 1
2013 WAS 355 17 611 9 3,751 16 20 24 19 20
2014 CLE 274 32 502 26 3,465 20 12 32 16 19
Avg --- 340 15.0 557 12.1 3,895 11.9 20.9 18.9 17.6 19.3

Shanahan's offenses have ranked among the top-10 in pass attempts in five of his seven seasons as an offensive coordinator. Last season notwithstanding, the only year his offense failed to break the top-10 in pass attempts was during Griffin III's rookie year, which should be considered an outlier since it was a rookie quarterback with plus running capabilities heading the offense. It should also be noted that the 2012 season proved to be Shanahan's best year with his offense ranking among the top-five in total points and total yards despite finishing among the lower-third in total plays. Being able to adapt schemes to a roster's strengths is an area where many coaches often fail, but Shanahan has proven cabpable of doing just that.

Over the past four seasons in Atlanta, Ryan has averaged 615 pass attempts with a dysfunctional running game. Even though an improved running game is expected in 2015, the passing game is what both, Atlanta and Shanahan, have relied on. A fourth straight season of 600+ pass attempts is on the horizon and Ryan remains a safe mid-QB1 with the potential to blossum into an elite QB1.

PASSING DISTRIBUTION WITH SHANAHAN AS OC

Depth*SpanGPRecYardsYPRTD
WR1 Avg Season 15.0 85 1,144 13.4 5.6
Per 16 Games 16 91 1,220 13.4 5.9
WR2 Avg Season 14.4 49 642 13.2 3.3
Per 16 Games 16 54 712 13.2 3.6
WR3 Avg Season 13.3 27 390 14.6 3.1
Per 16 Games 16 32 470 14.6 3.8
TE Avg Season 11.1 48 611 12.6 2.6
Per 16 Games 16 70 877 12.6 3.7

It pays to be the No. 1 receiver in Shanahan's offenses, whose per game averages translate to 91-1,220-6 over a 16-game season. Furthermore, if you only consider the seasons where there was a true X-receiver (2008, 2009, 2012 and 2013), then the average season rises to 103-1,314-7.2. Julio Jones is no stranger to a 100-catch pace either. Over the past two seasons, his per game averages would round out to a 117 receptions over a 16-game span. Jones is locked in as an elite WR1 and will be a strong candidate to finish atop all wide receivers at the season's end.

No. 2 receivers have not fared as well under Shanahan, averaging nothing more than WR4/5 production in fantasy football terms. However, Shanahan's history is only one part of the equation. Ryan has supported two near-WR1s for a few years now and the Atlanta depth chart is rather barren after Jones and Roddy White, including nothing much to write home about among their tight ends. Not to mention, Kevin Walter has arguably been the headliner of Shanahan's No. 2 receivers to date, so it's understandable that their production has been lackluster. Heading into 2015, White has rid himself of the injuries that nagged him last season and a rebound year is on the horizon. He is as safe of a WR2 as they come.

Over the past couple of seasons, thanks to an injuries that limited Jones and White, Harry Douglas averaged nearly 78 receptions per game as Atlanta's No. 3 receiving option. There is only so many pass attempts to go around though and Douglas no longer with the team. This leaves Devin Hester and rookie, Justin Hardy, vying for the No. 3 role. They should be expected to cannibalize each other's production, leaving neither of them as anything more than a WR5.

Tight ends have been heavily utilized by Shanahan throughout all of his stops, despite a wealth of injuries (see the average of 11 games started per season). In the wake of Tony Gonzalez' retirement, Levine Toilolo has been a non-factor in the starting role. Atlanta has brought in help, albeit it more of a stop-gap than solution, with the signings of Tony Moeaki and Jacob Tamme. This training camp battle will be one to monitor because if one of them is able to emerge as an every-down option, they will find themselves in a fruitful situation with a 50-catch season realistically at hand.

TEAM RUSHING WITH SHANAHAN AS OC

YearTeamCarriesRankYdsRankYPCRankTDsRank
2008 HOU 432 16 1,846 13 4.27 13 16 11
2009 HOU 425 20 1,475 30 3.47 31 13 18
2010 WAS 351 31 1,461 30 4.16 16 9 24
2011 WAS 400 25 1,614 25 4.04 22 8 26
2012 WAS 519 3 2,709 1 5.22 2 22 2
2013 WAS 453 13 2,164 5 4.78 3 14 13
2014 CLE 477 6 1,728 17 3.62 28 17 4
Avg --- 437 16.3 1,857 17.3 4.22 16.4 14.1 14.0

When it comes to the ground game, Shanahan's teams have been all over the board. Perhaps that has resulted from the hands he has been dealt though; describing the running back situations that Shanahan has overseen as unstable may be an understatement. In only three of his seven seasons as an offensive coordinator, has Shanahan had a running back that started more than 10 games. In 2009, Steve Slaton enjoyed a career season, finishing as the No. 7 running back in total fantasy points. The next three seasons were filled with injuries, lackluster talent, and committees. Players that had stints as the lead back included Ryan Moats, Ryan Torain, Roy Helu, and Tim Hightower.

With Washington in 2012, Shanahan settled on Morris as his lead back and the coach was rewarded. Morris played all 32 possible games over the next two seasons, averaging 306-1,443-10. Shanahan's reliance on Morris indicates that with the right horses, he is content with cutting his teeth on the ground. But with the manner in which the Falcons' roster is constructed, a bottom-half finish in total carries is more likely, similar to Shanahan's first four seasons as an offensive coordinator.

RUSHING PRODUCTION WITH SHANAHAN AS OC

YearDepthGGSCarriesYardsYPCTDsRec.YardsYPRTDs
Avg RB1 14.0 10.9 214 952 4.45 6.0 27 217 7.90 1.3
RB2 12.9 2.1 80 319 4.01 3.6 18 139 7.59 0.6
Per Gm RB1 1.0 0.8 15 68 4.45 0.4 2 15 7.90 0.1
RB2 1.0 0.2 6 25 4.01 0.3 1 11 7.59 0.0
x16 Gm RB1 16.0 12.4 244 1088 4.45 6.9 31 248 7.90 1.5
RB2 16.0 2.7 99 397 4.01 4.4 23 173 7.59 0.7

Atlanta's No. 1 running back from 2014, Steven Jackson, is gone. Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith are the holdovers and they will be joined by rookie, Tevin Coleman. Struggling behind Atlanta's poor offensive line last season did not bode well for Freeman's image and Coleman will likely challenge him for the lead back role. Coleman's fit in the zone-blocking scheme is unknown, but the Falcons' investment in him gives him the edge in the competition.

As Slaton and Morris have shown, there is plenty of upside as a running back under Shanahan, but in order to realize that upside, a running back must first separate himself from the pack. Atlanta used as many as four running backs last year under their previous offensive coordinator, while Cleveland devolved into an unpredictable committee under Shanahan, often not naming the starter until hours before the game.

It is seemingly likely that regardless of who wins the lead role, they will be stuck in a committee. Coleman should be considered an RB3 with mid-RB2 upside, but his average draft position is fast-rising and will have his upside already built in. Freeman is more of an RB3/Flex play with little upside barring an injury to Coleman.


More articles from Kyle Wachtel

See all

More articles on: Atlanta Falcons

See all

More articles on: Offseason

See all