Another year, another group of coaching changes in the NFL. We had eight head coaches lose or vacate their positions, so there are eight new faces – some fresh, some not so much.
Everybody loves to talk about the new head coaches, but it often stops there. I believe that by paying closer attention, we can better evaluate how the entire staff is constituted, which can help breed fantasy success.
In this fourth year of writing about coaching changes and their dynasty impact, I’m adding a new wrinkle. We’re going to release them this year in ranked order, starting at the bottom. And before you get too offended, maybe all eight of these hires will have long, illustrious careers. Who knows? Let’s get to it.
Coaching Hire Rank Eight of Eight – Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals
Some teams go with old, grizzled veteran coaches (like the Denver Broncos and the Tampa Buccaneers this year), but some go with hot young names. The Bengals went with the latter in Zac Taylor, who spent the last two seasons working under Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams, first as an assistant wide receivers coach and then as the quarterback coach.
He also spent a four-year stint with the Miami Dolphins under Joe Philbin, primarily as a QB coach, and worked as the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bearcats in 2016. Here’s a quote about Taylor from a Cincinnati alum familiar with the Bearcats when Taylor was the OC in 2016:
“…he hasn’t held the position of coordinator at the NFL level and has never been a head coach in college or the pros, so my feeling is that I think he could be a good hire….”
It doesn’t breed a whole lot of confidence, does it? Oh, and did I mention that the 2016 Bearcats had one of the worst offenses in the country?
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Taylor is the latest sign that many NFL front offices have the ‘McVay fever’. Matt LaFleur rode it to the head job in Green Bay, and now Taylor finds himself running the Bengals. It is understandable. Any time a fresh new mind takes the league by storm, those working under that coach reap the rewards. Still, it feels like a bit of a reach here.
All that being said, Taylor is young, and he saw how one of the most innovative offenses in the NFL came together while in LA. But he is also quite inexperienced, so hopefully he found some experience in his staff to help him along.
Only he didn’t. For his offensive coordinator, the Bengals hired Brian Callahan, the quarterback coach from Oakland. Callahan has been coaching since 2010, and has spent time with the Broncos, Lions and Raiders. But he has never called plays or held a coordinator job. He spent most of his pre-Bengals time just like Taylor himself, as a quarterback coach.
At defensive coordinator, they went with Lou Anarumo, who has been coaching since 1989. The problem isn’t his experience, it’s that most of that experience came as a defensive backs coach – not exactly a stunning resume for a DC. Anarumo did work with Taylor for a few years in Miami, so they have a history together.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with hiring people for jobs they haven’t held in the past. In fact, it often works quite well. What worries me with the Bengals is that all three top jobs are going to coaches who aren’t experienced. It might be tough to overcome, and is a huge part of the ranking here.
Well, the Bengals have more than their fair share of quarterback coaches, so could that lead to a renaissance season for Andy Dalton? I don’t know about you, but I’m not banking on it. He might be a cheap second or third QB in your superflex league, but in most single-quarterback formats, he’s not really worth a mention. There’s a fair to middling chance that the Bengals try to find their quarterback of the future, but with the experienced and relatively steady Dalton, they can afford to take their time developing a successor anyway.
The Bengals do have a strong tandem of running backs in Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. Mixon is one of the only must-own players on the Bengals, but Taylor and his staff are so green that I’m not sure what their presence will mean for the offense. Will they run a lot? Will they feature Mixon both as a runner and receiver a la Todd Gurley? My Magic 8 Ball says the answer is unclear.
AJ Green and Tyler Boyd are both strong position players at wide receiver, and Green is a great player to own on a contender year after year. He might not get the publicity of the top wideouts, but he keeps on producing. There are other interesting names at wide receiver in players like John Ross, Alex Erickson, Auden Tate and more. But we have the same problem at wide receiver we had at running back – we have no idea how this offense will be run.
I know our instinct is to expect some variant of the McVay attack, but that didn’t seem to happen last year in Tennessee with LaFleur. Are we so sure we’ll get that here? And even if we did get the LA passing attack, that might be a negative for Green, as the Rams attack has seemed more likely to spread the ball around than to focus on one player.
Remember when Tyler Eifert was a thing? He scored 13 touchdowns in 2015, but that was a long time and a lot of injuries ago. The tight end has only managed six touchdowns since. He’s risky but could really pay off. CJ Uzomah had a decent game or two last season, but he’s only worth owning as some kind of insurance.
The Bottom Line
The point of this series is to identify coaching tendencies and expectations through looking at how the staff is constituted and how they’ve performed in the past. But that is more difficult with the 2019 Bengals than with any team I’ve put under this microscope. It feels as if this whole staff is a shot in the dark, and it has me stumbling around wondering what advice I can give.
The fact is that if I can’t make even an educated guess, I’m going to stay away from making any real predictions. If I have AJ Green or Joe Mixon I’m certainly going to start them, but I won’t be making any moves with specific designs on landing any other Bengal players. As I said before, I can respect teams that are willing to take a shot on unseasoned head coaches or coordinators, but I find it tough to swallow when so many of the top guys are so new to their positions. I’ve ranked Zac Taylor and the Bengals at the bottom here for that reason.
One silver lining I see here is the Bengal ownership has shown a tendency to let their coaches stick around and grow, so perhaps this particular coaching crew will just need a little time to marinate.