The Departed: Offensive Coordinators
June 19, 2013 | Jason Willan
Much is being made this summer about the fantasy implications of offensive upgrades for teams like Arizona, Chicago, Cleveland, and Kansas City. And rightfully so. But don’t forget to take into account that several high-profile offenses from a year ago will be breaking in new offensive coordinators in 2013. Sometimes the transition to a new coordinator is seamless, particularly if the head coach has an offensive background or has been heavily involved in the team’s past success on the offensive side of the ball. However, all three OC’s that moved on to lead their own NFL teams this season leave behind defensive-minded head coaches. What will that mean for the offenses that were left behind, and to the fantasy prospects of key players on those teams?
After two seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Panthers, Rob Chudzinski moves on to be the head man in Cleveland. The only OC that Cam Newton ever knew as a professional led Carolina to the sixth best offense over the last two years in terms of total yards per game (375.3) and the eleventh best scoring offense (23.9 PPG). Fortunately for Newton – and potentially fantasy owners, as well – Carolina erred on the side of continuity when they named Mike Shula the new Panthers’ OC. Shula spent the last two years as Carolina’s quarterbacks coach, and he isn’t expected to deviate much from what Chudzinski did in Carolina last season, particularly in the team’s last six games when Newton threw 10 of his 19 touchdown passes against just two interceptions. The Panthers also won five of those last six games after starting the year 2-8.
Recent news that Carolina is moving away from the zone read is actually old news. After being criticized for running too complicated a system early in 2012 and with limited success, Chudzinski and Shula pared back the offense late in the year, including a move away from zone read packages. In addition to making things simpler for Newton down the stretch, Carolina also relied more heavily on the running game, averaging almost 22% more carries in the last six games of the season than they did in the first ten. Fantasy owners can probably expect to see something similar in 2013. And while that sounds like it comes at the expense of Newton’s fantasy potential, keep in mind that Cam was a top-5 quarterback from Week 12 through Week 17, in terms of total passing and rushing yards, as well as combined touchdowns.
The story in Denver is similar to that of Carolina. Last year’s offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, moved on to become San Diego’s head coach. The quarterbacks coach under McCoy for the last two seasons, Adam Gase, slides into the OC role for 2013. As long as Peyton Manning is at the helm for the Broncos, you’re not likely to see a ton of changes to the offense, but the focus at OTAs this year was on accelerating the tempo. Another year removed from neck surgery, there is greater confidence in Manning’s health ahead of 2013 and the Broncos hope a faster tempo will translate into more opportunities for Peyton to utilize his stable of wide receivers.
Gase’s time with the Broncos dates back to the Josh McDaniels era and he also counts Mike Martz as one of his early mentors, having worked with Martz in both Detroit and San Francisco. This makes it easy to see where Gase earned his love for tempo. Expect him also to borrow from Matrz’ penchant for involving running backs in the passing game, as well as his use of shallow cross routes. This could mean increased value for someone like Ronnie Hillman out of the backfield, and certainly for Wes Welker. But the most important takeaway for fantasy owners is that Denver’s offense shouldn’t be expected to take a step back from last year’s success, and in fact could still have room for additional growth in 2013.
Finally, we come to the team that is likely to be the most impacted by the loss of last year’s offensive coordinator. With Bruce Arians generating warm and fuzzies for the Arizona passing game in 2013, the Colts will look to Pep Hamilton to build on last year’s strong rookie campaign from Andrew Luck. While Hamilton is not a former position coach in Indianapolis, the Colts still looked to build on the theme of familiarity, as Hamilton spent the last two years as Stanford’s OC, including the 2011 season when he worked with the aforementioned Mr. Luck.
Arians’ downfield passing game contributed a great deal to Luck and the Colts’ offensive successes in 2012. However, it also played a role in Luck being sacked 41 times as a rookie. In an effort to keep him upright more often this season, Hamilton is going to rely on high-percentage intermediate routes and a running game that sets up the play-action pass. The West Coast style should be reminiscent of the system Luck ran at Stanford, including bubble screens, short outs, and a focus on tight ends in the middle of the field. This is by no means a red flag for the Colts passing game for 2013, but they aren’t likely to replicate last year’s ratio of big plays, when more than 30% of Luck’s touchdowns went for at least 30 yards. A more controlled system might temper Luck’s yardage numbers, as well as the fantasy potential of T.Y. Hilton, but it could be a boon for Reggie Wayne and Colts’ young tight ends.
Jason Willan is the Fantasy Consultant, a self-described fantasy degenerate that has been participating in fantasy sports leagues since the spiral notebook scoring era. He enjoys all things fantasy, from football, baseball, and basketball to desert islands inhabited by Ricardo Montalban and mid-90’s pop songs featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Follow Jason on Twitter and send him all of your fantasy-related questions.