Fantasy football 2013 draft preview: Analyzing the coaches' roles

Thursday August 29th, 2013

Jim Harbaugh hasn't been afraid to let Colin Kaepernick defeat teams with his feet or his arm.
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Some of them may hate us. Some of them may ridicule us. Some of them might think we're nerds without anything better to do than construct fake football teams. Some of them may even envy us, though they'd never admit it. Whether they want to acknowledge our beloved pastime or not, though, NFL head coaches have an undeniable footprint in fantasy football. From the schemes they implement to the decisions they make to the tendencies they show, coaches can increase or decrease the fantasy value of their players. Yet in 2013, when the proliferation of statistics and analysis creates an unyielding tide of information all summer, gamers rarely think about the role coaches play in our fantasy world. Well, that ends right now.

AFC East

Bill Belichick, New England Patriots -- It has to start here, doesn't it? If you own one of Belichick's players he might be maddening during the week considering he's about as transparent as an NSA analyst, but there's no better coach on Sundays. We've seen him refuse to take the foot off the pedal time and time again. That makes Belichick a fantasy owner's best friend.

Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins -- We only have one year of data on Philbin as a head coach, but he came up through the ranks on the offensive side of the ball, and guys like that tend to be a bit more aggressive. He was previously the coordinator of an elite offense in Green Bay, and he liked to take big shots with Aaron Rodgers. Then again, who wouldn't? Philbin's aggressiveness may be muted a bit by the Dolphins' personnel, but you can bet he'll love having Mike Wallace at his disposal this year.

Doug Marrone, Buffalo Bills -- Marrone came up on the offensive side of the ball, and brought an exciting, up-tempo system to Syracuse as the head coach of the Orange from 2009 through 2012. Marrone has talked about how he studied some of the most dynamic college offenses -- Oregon and Missouri, for example -- before his final season at Syracuse, implementing what he saw on film. He brings that same attacking mentality to Buffalo. That could be great for C.J. Spiller. A team that wants to run as many plays as possible will undoubtedly feed the touches to its player early and often. It wouldn't be a shock to see Spiller get 300-plus touches.

Rex Ryan, New York Jets -- Ryan has been forced to embrace a ground-and-pound style during his tenure with the Jets, thanks to a roster utterly bereft of playmakers. It's no different this year, but that really doesn't matter. No one on this team other than Bilal Powell interests me in the least.

AFC North

Marvin Lewis, Cincinnai Bengals -- Lewis has been praised around the league as a defensive coach, but he essentially gives offensive coordinator Jay Gruden autonomy with his guys. A former quarterback, Gruden likes to put the ball in the air. A.J. Green would be a beast no matter where he played, but playing under Gruden might give Tyler Eifert a greater chance to contribute than if he landed elsewhere. As for Lewis, he has shown a tendency to be conservative with a lead late in the game. Don't expect him to pile on, a la Belichick.

Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers -- Tomlin's another defensive coach, though he has taken a more hands-on approach with the Pittsburgh offense than Lewis has in Cincinnati. He also employs a talented offensive coordinator in Todd Haley, and with the two of them, you can expect to see Ben Roethlisberger put the ball in the air a ton this season, especially after the injury to Le'Veon Bell.

John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens -- Harbaugh's offenses are a bit more creative and have a higher risk appetite than you see from most coaches with a defensive background, but that appears to be the Harbaugh way. Joe Flacco may not be positioned to take advantage this year, though, with a decimated corps of pass catchers, but it's still something to keep in mind when projecting Torrey Smith's 2013 numbers.

Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland Browns -- The only offensive coach in the division, Chudzinski doesn't have a ton to work with this year outside of Trent Richardson. Jordan Cameron has built up a good amount of sleeper buzz this preseason, and here's another checkmark in his favor: Chudzinski spent 10 of his 19 years as an assistant coaching his team's tight ends. He was Carolina's offensive coordinator each of the last two years, and he felt comfortable putting the ball in Cam Newton's hands. He may have to dial that back a bit with Brandon Weeden.

AFC South

Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans -- Kubiak didn't have success as a head coach until recently, but his Houston teams routinely finished toward the top of the offensive leaderboards. In four of his seven years with the Texans, they've finished in the top 10 in total offense. They've also been in the top 10 in points scored four times under Kubiak. While that was a necessity early in his tenure because of Houston's sieve-like defense, they no longer need to get involved in shootouts to win. That has resulted in them killing clock more regularly in recent years.

Mike Munchak, Tennessee Titans -- Munchak's style is driven by his background and his personnel. The third-year coach spent 12 years in the NFL as an offensive lineman, and rose through the ranks as an O-line coach. Chris Johnson is clearly the best player on his offense, and Tenneesee's run game is miles ahead of its pass game. As such, fantasy owners are underrating Chris Johnson this draft season. Keep Munchak's tendencies in mind if you still have a draft on the horizon.

Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts -- Pagano made his way to the head coach in Indy on the defensive side of the ball, but we haven't seen a ton of his offensive philosophy after he missed most of the 2012 season while battling leukemia. If the preseason is any indication, however, Pagano will keep in place the heavy passing offense implemented by Bruce Arians a year ago. We should learn more about Pagano early on, but it's safe to expect him to lean on Andrew Luck and Co.

Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars -- Bradley's in his first year as a head coach after spending the last four seasons as Seattle's defensive coordinator. It's hard to get a read on him based on the preseason, mainly because Jacksonville's offense figures to struggle at the quarterback position. They should be aggressive in the passing game, though, especially if they're trailing late, as they likely will be frequently.

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AFC West

John Fox, Denver Broncos -- Fox has proved to the fantasy community that he's willing to adapt to his personnel. In Carolina, he rode running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Now that he has the privilege of coaching one of the best quarterbacks in league history, he has morphed into a pass-first coach. That won't change this year. He and Manning, though, are always willing to salt away the clock when protecting a lead.

Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs -- Reid gets panned for his clock-management failures, but there isn't a doubt he has been one of the most effective, innovative offensive head coaches of the last 15 years. That mentality is a big reason I believe the Chiefs will surprise and make the playoffs this year. He loves to get his running backs involved in the passing game, and implements a West Coast style perfectly suited to Alex Smith. I expect career years out of both Smith and Jamaal Charles, and something approaching a career year from Dwayne Bowe, though it will be hard for him to top his 15-touchdown season of 2010.

Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers -- Here's another bright, young offensive mind getting his first chance as a head coach. McCoy was a quarterback at Utah, then played two seasons in the CFL. He has been an offensive assistant since 2000, spending the last four years as the coordinator in Denver. Needless to say, he won't exactly have the same talent in San Diego this year, but he did more with less before Manning landed with the Broncos. Remember, he helped Kyle Orton turn in a 3,802-yard, 21-TD, 7.0-YPA season.That's Kyle Orton we're talking. The Chargers offense could be more productive than expected with McCoy at the helm.

Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders -- Allen's a defensive coach in his second year leading the Raiders. As such, he'll likely give his new offensive coordinator, Greg Olson, plenty of freedom. This is another team that will likely be inhibited by its roster. After all, its seriously considering starting Terrelle Pryor at quarterback. There isn't much to be excited about on this offense, though they could get creative with Pryor and Darren McFadden in the backfield.

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NFC East

Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys -- Ever since taking over as the head man in Dallas, Garrett has embraced an offensive philosophy of using his receivers to really stretch the defense. It helped turn Dez Bryant into a star last year and Miles Austin into a fantasy mainstay before him. That also creates a lot of openings in the middle of the field, which no doubt had a role in Jason Witten's 110-reception, 1,039-yard season last year. This focus is part of why I believe Tony Romo is significantly undervalued in fantasy leagues.

Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins -- Shanahan has long been the bane of fantasy owners' existence due to his early adoption of the running back by committee, but he has also overseen some of the most explosive offenses going back to his days with John Elway. His scheme fits the skills of Robert Griffin III, but it's safe to bet they'll modify it some this year with the future of the franchise coming off a serious knee injury. They'll still use a read-option predicated on zone blocking, but Griffin will likely put the ball in the air more this year than he did last year.

Tom Coughlin, New York Giants -- It's hard to remember because Coughlin has been a head coach for so long, but he came up as an offensive coach before earning his first top job with Boston College in 1991. He has also shown a tendency to lean on his best player, building the offense around Tiki Barber in the middle of last decade before handing the reins to Eli Manning and the receivers. Like so many coaches, he's a branch of the Bill Parcells tree, and as such will always be one of the more aggressive coaches in the NFL.

Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles -- This should be fun. We can expect Kelly to use a lot of the same principles with the Eagles he popularized at Oregon. Philadelphia should be among the most aggressive teams in the league, looking to run as many plays as possible. It's also hard to imagine him going any less than full throttle, though they might slow it down more than people think, similar to the way the Ducks would frequently not huddle, yet use a decent chunk of the play clock.

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NFC North

Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears -- Trestman's a first-year coach, but like Kelly, we have a pretty good idea of the sort of offense he'll run. We know the Bears are going to throw the ball a ton in Trestman's version of the West Coast offense. He'll want Jay Cutler to spread the ball more than he did last year, which should be a boon for Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. He was the offensive coordinator in Oakland when Rich Gannon won the MVP and Charlie Garner caught 92 passes, and he's installing a similar system in Chicago.

Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers -- McCarthy is on record as saying the most important thing about an offense is that it is built around the strengths of its quarterback. Given that he has the best QB in the league (at least for my money), that gives him a lot of flexibility. The Packers have shown a tendency to attack under McCarthy when more conservative coaches might dial it back a bit. They also have a shaky kicking situation entering 2013, though Mason Crosby was one of the better kickers in the league before last year, and could put any fears to rest early in the season.

Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions -- With Schwartz having come up as a defensive coach, the Lions' offense is more crafted in the image of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who has head coaching experience of his own. However, it doesn't take a genius to try to get the ball to Calvin Johnson as often as possible. The Lions will continue to be a pass-happy group, which could mean big things for Reggie Bush and Ryan Broyles. Schwartz' imprint on the offense comes from his aggressive nature, something that carries over to all phases of the game for Detroit.

Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings -- Frazier's a defensive coach, having learned at the feet of Marvin Lewis and Tony Dungy after a short playing career in which he won a Super Bowl ring as a member of the 1985 Bears. We don't have a ton of data on him as a head coach, and it's largely dictated by his personnel. He has the best running back on the planet in Adrian Peterson, a below-average quarterback in Christian Ponder, and one of the league's best kickers in Blair Walsh. That mix would lead any coach to be a bit more conservative than most. That should hold this year.

NFC South

Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons -- Smith is a defensive coach, having been the coordinator in Jacksonville for five years before taking over as the head coach in Atlanta in 2008. Dirk Koetter took over as the offensive coordinator last year, and made them much more of a pass-first unit, which makes sense given the presence of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White. Smith's been known to buck convention from time to time, willing to go for it on fourth down more often than his timid counterparts. I like that, and you should too.

Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints -- Payton is an aggressive, innovative, offense-first coach who trusts his elite quarterback as strongly as most of us trust our own mother. That has been a great thing for Drew Brees and his receivers over the years, and it will continue to be so this year. Look for this team to try to strike early and often, and be among the league leaders in plays ran at the end of the season.

Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Schiano made his name on defense, but despite the fact that this is just his second year running the Buccaneers, he has been a head coach for longer than nearly every current NFL chief, holding the position at Rutgers from 2001 through 2011. The Bucs are predicated on running the ball behind a zone blocking scheme, which helped propel Doug Martin to stardom last year. While that remains their bread and butter, they do have two receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams capable of stretching the field. And we know Schiano will remain aggressive with a lead.

Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers -- Rivera's another defense guy, having played linebacker in the league and served in a variety of assistant roles on the defensive side of the ball before getting the job in Carolina in 2011. The offense under coordinator Mike Shula will look a lot like it did under Rob Chudzinski before the latter left for Cleveland. That means plenty of running with zone blocking. You can expect Rivera to be one of the more conservative coaches in the league with a lead. How many leads the Panthers have, though, remains to be seen.

NFC West

Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers -- Now that Jim Harbaugh has a quarterback he trusts in Colin Kaepernick, we can bet that the Niners will again be one of the most, if not the most, aggressive teams in the league. Expect to see a lot of creativity with this offense, giving Kaepernick plenty of opportunity to make plays with his arm and legs. He may be content to sit on the ball if a field goal gives him the win, but only if that field goal is a sure thing. In other words, don't expect him to set up his kicker in the middle of the field from 45 yards out, unless there are just seconds remaining.

Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks -- If any coach could challenge Harbaugh for the title of "most aggressive," it just might be Carroll. These two have developed quite a rivalry, first in the then Pac-10, and now in the NFC West. Like Harbaugh, Carroll is going to let Russell Wilson take plenty of shots. The overarching scheme is West Coast, just as it is in San Francisco, but Carroll will give Wilson the ability to use his legs to freelance. Expect plenty of fireworks out of Seattle this year.

Jeff Fisher, St. Louis Rams -- Now that the Rams have added vertical threats in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey to go with Chris Givens, as well as tight end Jared Cook, the Rams can utilize some of the field-stretching schemes Fisher would like to use. However, don't expect him to go too crazy late in close games. He has shown a willingness to lean on Greg Zuerlein's powerful leg. Still, the Rams offense should be a lot more fun to watch this year than it has been in the recent past.

Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals -- With Arians at the helm in place of Chuck Pagano last year, the Colts threw the ball deep downfield with regularity. Arians changed addresses during the offseason, but he's still the same man he was in Indy and Pittsburgh, where he was the offensive coordinator before joining the Colts. Look for Carson Palmer to put the ball up a ton this year, especially since he has two big receivers on the outside in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Believe it or not, the NFC West just might be the most exciting division in football this season.

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