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.
We certainly saw odd happenings in the land of coaching changes this off-season. The Josh McDaniels debacle was the shining example. But odd things were afoot in Tennessee as well. It appears that the Titans planned to fire Mike Mularkey should he lose the Titans’ first playoff game, but they pulled off a strong comeback and managed to get by the Kansas City Chiefs.
After the win, it appeared perhaps they were inclined to keep Mularkey around, and even mentioned an extension, but then it all fell apart after the blowout loss to the Patriots in the divisional round. General manager Jon Robinson and the owners really were not happy with the development of Marcus Mariota or Mularkey’s plans for the team. You can get the whole sordid tale here.
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Robinson also went the “young and exciting” route with their new head coach, though in this case on the defensive side of the ball. He hired 42-year-old Mike Vrabel, who played linebacker for 14 years in the NFL and was a part of three championship teams. He doesn’t have the longest coaching resume and has just four years of experience coaching at the NFL level. He spent those four years in Houston, coaching the linebackers for three years before taking over as defensive coordinator last year.
Given the hire of Matt LaFleur as the offensive coordinator, I think we can safely say goodbye to “exotic smashmouth” football in Tennessee. (I don’t know if that worked for anyone in any case, but it sure sounded cool.) Matt LaFleur made a lateral move, as he was the OC for the LA Rams last year under Sean McVay. McVay called the plays in LA, so LaFleur probably saw this as a chance to really take over an offense, especially with a defensive minded head coach.
LaFleur helped architect the very successful offense in LA, and he’ll now ply his trade for the Titans. McVay’s offense combines outside zone running concepts with a strong play-action game. He also runs a multitude of route combinations that make the receivers very difficult to defend. I don’t know if LaFleur can do exactly that with the personnel in Tennessee, but I know they have the talent at running back and quarterback to give it a real try.
The Titans also hired Pat O’Hara as their quarterbacks coach, who Vrabel worked with while in Houston. O’Hara is an interesting hire as he spent the past three seasons under Bill O’Brien, a noted “quarterback guru.” (Which sounds like a great Halloween costume to me.) He doesn’t have a ton of NFL coaching experience, but he did work as a coach in the AFL for ten years, much of that time as a head coach. He also had a 16-year career playing QB in the NFL, the World League, and the Arena League. He also played a QB in The Waterboy, which would be good enough for me.
The Titans offensive line had quite a disappointing 2017. Many saw them as a top line from a talent standpoint, but they did a poor job creating for the running game and were middling in pass protection. The Titans brought in Keith Carter, who spent the last three seasons with the Falcons. Carter was the assistant O-line coach in 2015 and 2016, and the running backs coach last season. This is interesting, as the Falcons use zone blocking concepts as does the McVay offense, yet the Titans ran a power game last year. There may be a bit of a transition here. We’ll have to see how it shakes out.
Marcus Mariota didn’t have the 2017 most fantasy owners hoped to see. He finished 18th in QB points scored last year, after finishing tenth in 2016. Many think Mularkey made all the wrong moves with Mariota, including the GM who fired Mularkey. If LaFleur and O’Hara can do anything close to what McVay did in LA last year, I want Mariota on my squad.
The Titans released DeMarco Murray last week and they were already talking up Derrick Henry. If they do indeed transition from a power game to an outside zone game, it will be interesting to see how Henry adjusts. I don’t believe he has a lot of experience in zone schemes that require more patience.
Can LaFleur get production out of the Titans wide receivers like McVay did in LA? It’s hard to say. LaFleur does have a first-round pick, Corey Davis, going into his second season. We saw flashes of his talent last year, just not enough. I really expect this offense to do a lot more with their wide receivers. There’s another young, talented wideout in Taywan Taylor to think about as well. Given the age of most of the wide receivers, perhaps they re-sign Eric Decker for his veteran presence.
There are many tight ends out there who aren’t sexy but will score you points. Delanie Walker has been that guy for a couple of years now. We’ll have to see how he works in the new offense. The Titans also have a nice young TE in Jonnu Smith who may see more work in 2018.
The Bottom Line
I see two distinct possibilities here, and they both surround new OC Matt LaFleur. LaFleur either learned a lot of great tricks from McVay and is ready to make the Titans an exciting, high-scoring offense, or he’s not quite ready to run the whole show offensively and either burns out quickly or needs time to develop. LaFleur went from the QB coach in Atlanta two years ago, to the OC who didn’t call plays in LA, to the offensive architect in Tennessee. The good thing is he’s been a part of some very good offenses and has some really good players to work with.
With that in mind, I’m buying guys like Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis this off-season. I’m likely not buying Derrick Henry for two reasons. One, I’m not sure if he’s cut out for the kind of RB role LaFleur will likely utilize with a big role in the passing game. The second reason is: man, is he expensive right now. I’d also love to get Mariota on my roster, particularly in 2QB or superflex.
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