If you ask me, the importance of coaching changes is one of the most overlooked aspects of fantasy football. It’s not that we’re ignorant of coaches and what effect they can have, but rather that we tend to paint with very broad strokes and work in generalities. We operate on assumptions like “the New Orleans Saints have a good passing offense, I want a piece of that” or “I want any player Aaron Rodgers is targeting.”
While these things may be true, all too often they are retrospective analysis – we find out too late that the Los Angeles Rams, for instance, are now a really good offensive team.
In this series, I’ll take a close look at the major coaching changes throughout the league. My goal is to provide a little more context of what to expect out of the new regimes and hopefully help you find some angles to attack in your leagues this off-season.
The John Fox era ended with a whimper. The Bears last reached the postseason in 2010, and it’s been quite the rocky road since then. Heck, the last time they had a winning season was in 2012, and Lovie Smith got fired right after that. Marc Trestman turned quickly into a trainwreck, and John Fox, well, John Foxed the hell out of the team. John Fox’s superpower seems to be an ability to destroy offensive creativity wherever he finds it. Well, the worm has turned again in Chi-town. Let’s take a look.
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New coach Matt Nagy has been a part of Andy Reid’s coaching staff for the last ten years. This hire is very much in the mold of the Sean McVay hire last year. Nagy is a young, unproven coach with an offensive background, much like McVay. This is also reminiscent of how things went when Sean Payton took over the Saints in 2006. Both Payton and Nagy were former quarterbacks, and both spent extensive time coaching quarterbacks. The hires worked out in the case of Payton and McVay, and I’m sure the Bears are hoping for a similar result.
Nagy will likely bring his version of the Andy Reid offense, but he will also certainly add his own wrinkles, which we already saw last season. The Reid system is a West Coast system at its core, reliant on short, high-percentage passes that then open up the field for longer runs and passing plays. When Nagy took over play-calling duties late last year, he also worked in more RPOs (run/pass option plays.) These plays took advantage of Alex Smith’s skill set, and helped lead him to one of his best seasons as a pro. Given the mobility of Mitchell Trubisky, it’s not hard to see how this type of offense might be useful in Chicago as well.
But while Nagy will be calling plays, he did bring in an offensive coordinator as well. Former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich will help Nagy design and scheme the offense. This is an interesting development, as Oregon used an even more RPO-heavy spread offense. Helfrich also coached Marcus Mariota, which could be another benefit of his hire. Perhaps he can help unlock the potential of Trubisky. This could also be interesting in terms of the speed of the Bears offense as well, which moved like molasses in January at times under Fox.
Nagy also brought along a very experienced coach from Kansas City, convincing Brad Childress to un-retire and come help out as an offensive assistant. Young coaches like Nagy often bring along folks like Childress to help lend wisdom, and Childress most certainly has a lot to offer there.
Lastly, Nagy also hired Harry Hiestand from Notre Dame as the new offensive line coach. Hiestand is very well regarded throughout the league, and his tutelage at Notre Dame has also produced quite a few pro linemen. He’s a career offensive line coach and actually spent time in that same role in Chicago from 2005-2009. The Bears had very good offensive lines during this period, and also made a Super Bowl appearance.
There’s already been quite a bit about Trubisky here. At this point, I expect him to be the starter for at least the next two full seasons (barring injury.) There is no competition, and Chicago has built a staff around making Trubisky successful. All the Bears’ quarterback eggs are in Trubisky’s basket. We’ll have to see what he does with them. Trubs did get stronger and stronger as the season progressed, and he will now have a full off-season as ‘the guy’ to make improvements. I’d love to own him right now in a superflex or 2QB league. (Oh, and if you aren’t playing SF or 2QB, why not??)
If everything goes how Chicago hopes, they could very well be this year’s Los Angeles Rams, and that rising tide lifted all boats. That being said, we can all agree that Jordan Howard is no Todd Gurley, but he has had a very promising start to his career. I’m personally a strong supporter of Howard (and I’m not alone) but he does have plenty of doubters. The fact is that he has produced even on an offense bereft of wide receiving talent where virtually everyone knew they were running the ball. If the Bears can get less predictable, perhaps he can do even more. Also, the Kansas City offense has classically used their running backs quite a bit as receiving threats. This could bode well for Tarik Cohen. He can be an incredibly dynamic player in space, and I have a feeling the Nagy offense will get him more touches with more room to do his thing.
Wide receivers now, and I have no idea what to do here. I’m not sure the Bears do either. The former seventh overall pick Kevin White is still under contract, but his career has been absolutely mauled by injury. Cameron Meredith was a boutique flyer last year, but he’s coming off a season lost to injury as well. The Bears wide receiving corps was arguably the worst in the league, and I don’t think I’d target anyone currently. This is an area where we really have to let things shake out in the draft and free agency. The Bears are certain to be active in this area and at this position, so we’ll see what their plans are.
The tight end position has only slightly more hope for the Bears. Rookie Adam Shaheen flashed once or twice, and perhaps the new staff can do something more with the position overall and help out the young tight end. The rest of the tight ends on the roster really aren’t worth mentioning.
The Bottom Line
I’m impressed with the coaching changes in Chicago. They went from hiring a dinosaur a few years back to an entirely different direction here. Nagy is energetic and exciting, and also made what look like some good coaching hires on paper. But that’s on paper. The Bears built a staff specifically to try to help Trubisky succeed, but their wide receiving crew needs an awful lot of help just to become average.
I’m high on the Bears and their offense longer term, but I can’t totally buy in until I see what they do for wide receiver through the draft and free agency. They could be in line for a significant offensive turnaround in 2018. I’m ready to buy Trubisky, but not as my full-time starter as of yet. I also do like Jordan Howard, even though many are a little sour on him. Lastly, I’m not sure the Bears even have a wide receiver on the roster, so we don’t really have to worry about that.
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