The players make the plays, but the coaches draw them up. Sometimes, a change in management can affect the output of a team just as much as a change in personnel.
Last season the 49ers and the Broncos were drastically impacted by the new head coaches brought in to run the show. Jim Harbaugh helped San Francisco increase their scoring by almost five points-per-game and their passer rating by 12. The biggest fantasy beneficiaries were David Akers, Alex Smith, and Frank Gore. John Fox took over in Denver and his hard-nosed ground-oriented offensive approach improved their rushing attack by 68 yards-per-game. This improvement dug up Willis McGahee from the fantasy dead-and-buried and opened the door for Tim Tebow to be a big-time asset.
A change in coordinator can do this too, as evidenced by Houston's signing of Wade Phillips to orchestrate their defense. He helped turn their unit around from third and fourth-to-last in total yards and points, respectively, to second and fourth overall in those categories, increase interceptions by four and sacks by 14, all in one season. As a result the Texans were a viable starting unit in virtually all formats and guys like J.J. Watt and Connor Barwin become solid IDP options.
So who are the whistle-blowers who shifted allegiances this offseason that will have an impact on fantasy in 2012? Glad you asked. Below I've ranked the five biggest coaching moves that will affect the upcoming season.
5. Todd Haley - Offensive Coordinator - Pittsburgh Steelers
Haley didn't enjoy a particularly successful run as a head coach in Kansas City, but he was the man in charge of the explosive Kurt Warner-led Cardinals offense from 2007-08 which ranked in the top-5 in passing each season. Like the man he replaces, Bruce Arians, Haley's background is as a wide receivers coach so he should have a beneficial impact on that group and perhaps this is the year Mike Wallace reaches his very high ceiling. Arians was around for both Pittsburgh championships, so the move was controversial, but as the team continues its transition from a rough and tough ground-based attack to a high-flying explosive unit, Haley could be the man to put all the pieces together and make that final leap to capitalize on the insane amount of speed on this roster. An improved front line should keep Ben Roethlisberger from having to duck for cover each time he drops back as well.
4. Joe Philbin - Head Coach - Miami Dolphins
This listing of the new coach in South Beach isn't necessarily an endorsement that things will get better in Miami, but it sure will be different. On the way out is Tony Sparano and the run-heavy, sometimes Wildcat offense, and on the way in is Philbin who spent the last five years serving as the offensive coordinator in Green Bay. Of course he won't have Aaron Rodgers running the show, or all those talented weapons, but some credit is due, and a more balanced attack with increased emphasis on the passing game should be a safe bet. It's tough to say who'll be making those throws at this point, but David Garrard was a decent fantasy QB in deep leagues and formats that allow two starters before he missed last season and Matt Moore did an admirable job in 2011. The receivers are another big question mark, but Brian Hartline could be an intriguing option, as could rookie B.J. Cunningham. If the template in Green Bay is an indication of what to expect, a time-share in the backfield could be coming too, which could spell disappointment for those owners taking the plunge with the reinvigorated Reggie Bush.
3. Brian Daboll - Offensive Coordinator - Kansas City Chiefs
The transition of the Chiefs into "Patriots-Midwest" continues with the hiring of Daboll. He was most recently the coordinator in Cleveland and then Miami, but he spent seven years on Bill Belichick's staff as a defensive assistant and a wide receivers coach. The organization also hired Romeo Crennel as head coach (former Patriots Defensive Coordinator) and still have general manager Scott Pioli and quarterback Matt Cassel running things, each of whom also migrated from New England. Daboll is preaching that he wants to install an up-tempo attack that will include utilization of the no-huddle approach the Patriots exploit so well. It might be tough to get the system up and running smoothly in year one, but if Jamaal Charles is fully recovered from his knee injury this should be an ideal offense to get him the ball in space where he is one of the NFL's most dangerous weapons. It is worth noting Daboll was O.C. for the Browns in 2010 when Peyton Hillis went nuts should he get a chance to be more than a complimentary piece behind Charles. Third-year scatback Dexter McCluster is another player who could benefit from a more wide open approach on offensive, and while the team is likely to remain run-oriented, Matt Cassel and his two big receivers on the outside should see more opportunities to produce through the air.
2. Jeff Fisher - Head Coach - St. Louis Rams
Fisher is no Sean Payton, or Belichick, but he should provide some stability for the Rams moving forward. Poor Sam Bradford has had to learn a new system every year of his pro career and this season will be no different. Brian Schottenheimer was anointed to run the offense and he enjoyed pretty good success bringing along Mark Sanchez in New York, although it was more as a game manager than a big-time producer so expect an improvement, but not a giant leap from Bradford. Fisher has always sought a power running game and with Steven Jackson he'll have a lead man to get that done. He also, however, hasn't been shy about using youngsters, like he did with Chris Johnson and LenDale White, so I would suspect the second-round investment in Isaiah Pead was to put him to use sooner rather than later. Each guy should get plenty of touches and have decent value if scored for the right price. A ball-control approach on offense and Fisher's expertise should help the defensive side as well, making the Rams a sleeper pick in fantasy. Incumbent stars Chris Long and James Laurinaitis lead a unit that has some upside with the potential progression of second-year end Robert Quinn, the addition of cornerback Cortland Finnegan, and the drafting of Michael Brockers and Janoris Jenkins.
Bradford, Jackson, Pead, Rams DST
1. Tony Sparano - Offensive Coordinator - New York Jets
I'm sure you all saw this coming, but how could this move not rank No. 1? The hiring of Sparano in conjunction with the trade for Tim Tebow is like throwing a wrench into the plan, then backing a flaming gasoline tanker over it. The arrival of Sparano was interesting enough on its own, as Rex Ryan has long stated his desire to be a ground-and-pound unit reminiscent of the Ravens teams he left behind, and he has frequently flirted with the Wildcat formation. Then "Tebowmania" comes to town and every aspect of the 2012 Jets team immediately comes into question. What to do with Sanchez? Will he even see the field inside the 20-yard-line? Will he lose his job outright? And if that happens, are all the Jets receiving options worthless? And what about Shonn Greene, who just had his best season posting 1,054 yards and six touchdowns? Can he work with Tebow in the option like Willis McGahee did last year, or will he simply play in between the twenties with a stagnant Sanchez-led traditional attack only to be pulled in the red zone? What about 6-foot, 239-pound sixth-round draft pick Terrance Ganaway who ran the spread option at Baylor with Robert Griffin III last year to the tune of 1,547 yards and 21 touchdowns? Obviously these moves have generated a lot of questions in the Big Apple this year and I don't have the answers. The funny thing that comes out of all this, is that there's only one guy I'll be considering from the Jets for my teams this year, and it's Tebow. He's the only player who you know what you're going to get. He's going to score touchdowns. And maybe do a whole lot more. The other Jets are a complete crap shoot.
Ok gang, that wraps up my set of articles dissecting the NFL's offseason movements. I hope at the very least they've been informational and provided you a few snippets to carry with you into the real evaluation period rapidly approaching. Moving forward I'm going to be bringing more controversial and debatable topics to try and stir up some banter and get more involvement from your comments. As always, thanks for reading.