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 One of Eight – Bruce Arians, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As this is our last article and my number one rated coaching hire of the year, let’s spend a little time talking about the ranking. In past years, I never tried to grade or rank the hires, but if you read the articles you could almost see an implied grading. This year I decided to make it a little more explicit. What I found is that it’s a lot harder to do an explicit ranking vs an implicit one. Implicit rankings allow more nuance and wiggle room, while specifically applying numbers forces the issue a bit.
From the beginning, I had a clear top hire and a clear bottom hire. I also thought I had number seven locked down but my research and work on the articles changed that initial assumption. (I had initially pegged Brian Flores in Miami as the seventh-ranked hire, in case you were wondering.) Beyond that, it really became difficult to rank. I soon found myself quite sure about one, seven and eight, but all the other shifted in the wind.
At this point, the die has been cast, my picks are in and we’ll see how they shake out. But let’s get back to business.
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Like the Denver Broncos, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went in a different direction with their head coach hire. Rather than go for a young, dynamic offensive mind with little experience, they went with an older, dynamic offensive mind with a whole heck of a lot of experience in Bruce Arians. It sounds like a winning formula to me, and Arians is my pick for the best new head coaching hire this season.
Where some of the new head coaches around the league can still count their NFL experience in months, Arians first coached in the NFL in 1989. He has over 20 years experience in the league, including nine years as an offensive coordinator and five as a head coach. Arians has also won AP Coach of the Year honors twice, once in 2012 as the interim coach for the Indianapolis Colts and then again as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 2015. This guy has done it, and he’s done it well.
In fact, Arians has done just about everything in the NFL save one – win a Super Bowl as a head coach. He does have two super bowl rings, as he was Steelers OC when they won Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLII. Perhaps the desire for his own bit of hardware brought him back from his one year of retirement. If that is his goal, he certainly chose a talented team to run. The Bucs have had all kinds of offensive output, they just don’t have any real success to show for it.
Arians hired former quarterback Byron Leftwich as his offensive coordinator, and Arians plans to turn play-calling duties over to Leftwich. This is an interesting wrinkle, as Arians has classically called plays himself. He must have an awful lot of faith in the still green (from a coaching perspective) Leftwich, but an endorsement from Arians is good enough for me. Arians has a long history of support for Leftwich, as he played a part in convincing him to come back to the game as a coach. Arians also predicts Leftwich will be a head coach in the future. Leftwich has a lot of experience with Arians’ system, so it looks to be a good fit.
Arians went to another coach he has history with on the defensive side of the ball. Todd Bowles was his defensive coordinator under in Arizona, and he’s back to handling defensive duties in Tampa Bay. Bowles ran very strong defenses for Arians in Arizona, and his success is what helped him land the head coaching job with the Jets. Bowles has close to 20 years of NFL coaching experience himself and is a great addition to the strong staff in Tampa Bay.
Can Arians unlock the potential of Jameis Winston? A perennial disappointment, Winston is entering the fifth year of his rookie deal and must prove it this year. He could not have asked for a better outcome than having Arians come to town. After all, Arians has worked with Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger. That is not a bad list, and a set of quarterbacks Winston (and his dynasty owners) would love to emulate. Blaine Gabbert is the current backup, but perhaps the Bucs will look to add a quarterback in the draft as insurance.
Running back is a bit of a mess in the Bay, and it has been for a few years. Peyton Barber is the current starter, but I don’t think anyone is excited to own him. Also in town is second-year runner Ronald Jones, the butt of many dynasty jokes. A prospect who many folks liked, he had an absolutely abysmal rookie year, failing to get on the field very much at all. Count me in the camp that believes there still may be something there, as I don’t trust the judgment of the old coaching staff at all. Tampa Bay is one team that could certainly be drafting a running back, so watch the draft closely.
There is talent all day at wide receiver. Mike Evans had another fantastic year, and there is hope the Arians offense could drive him even further than he’s been. (If that happens, he may find himself atop the dynasty wide receiver heap next year.) Across from Evans is the much-loved Chris Godwin. A boutique later pick, Godwin now moves fully into a starting role in this dynamic offense. He’d likely one of the more expensive WR2s in dynasty right now. The Bucs also brought in the disappointing Breshad Perriman, but perhaps Arians can work some magic with him as well.
The tight end spot is also filled to the brim with talent. The duo of Cameron Brate and OJ Howard may be the best tight end tandem in the league. The rub here is that the Arians offense hasn’t classically featured the tight end, but I also don’t believe he’s ever had this much talent at the position. And at a position with a severe drop off past the first three or four players, Howard or Brate are both good tight end options in dynasty.
The Bottom Line
Bruce Arians was the best coaching hire this off-season, and I don’t think it’s particularly close. He brings the offensive dynamism teams are looking for, but he brings a great deal of experience and success along with it. He’s had success both as a head coach and an offensive coordinator, and his background of bringing the most out of quarterbacks will hopefully help with the development of Jameis Winston.
If there’s one complaint I have about the Bucs, it’s that the players I know will be successful are too expensive. The best we can do is try to get Jones or Winston at a discount and hope Arians can help turn their careers around. In any case, I expect the Bucs to do great things under Arians, and I look forward to seeing the talent on this team finally matched with a worthy head coach.