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 Four of Eight – Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland Browns
Freddie Kitchens? Who the heck is Freddie Kitchens? Well, it turns out he’s like the William Fichtner of coaches in the NFL. You don’t know his name, but you soon realize he’s been a key part of many teams that you’ve loved. You might also ask this: “how could they not hire Gregg Williams?” The answer to that is quite clear, Williams may have looked great as the head coach to run out the string last year in Cleveland, but he’s a PR nightmare waiting to happen. And was that turnaround really about the defense, or was it about the offense and Baker Mayfield? The Browns front office seems to think it’s the latter, and that’s why they hired Kitchens to take over the team and hopefully continue to usher Mayfield down the path of greatness.
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Now, let me put out a short list of some coaches he’s worked with: Bill Parcells, Nick Saban and Bruce Arians. Not a bad list, eh? He’s also coached on the offensive side of the ball for 13 years in the NFL. He’s spent time coaching tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks. He also had an awfully good stint last year as the offensive coordinator in Cleveland after Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were shown the door. Now I know you probably love Baker Mayfield after that finish, and Kitchens was the man who got him there. It’s also not the first time he’s gotten the most out of a quarterback, as he was the QB coach in 2015 when Carson Palmer threw for over 4,600 yards and 35 touchdowns for the Arizona Cardinals.
And boy did Kitchens turn that Cleveland offense around. Mayfield looked lost in the first eight games, but looked like a future pro bowler during the second half. There are two keys to their offensive success, in my estimation. First, the Browns really spread the ball around under Kitchens, with eight different players scoring touchdowns. He also made a point to protect his young QB. Mayfield was sacked 33 times over the first eight games, but only five times in the remaining eight.
In order to continue the hot offensive streak, Kitchens hired former Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Former Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter called the plays in his first two seasons with Monken as his offensive coordinator, and largely leaned on Monken to help design the offense. Koetter did turn over the play-calling duties to Monken last season, where the Bucs put up a league-leading 320 yards per game through the air.
Monken’s experience working to design the offense rather than call plays will help in Cleveland, as Kitchens plans to continue to handle play-calling duties. Kitchens found lightning in a bottle last year, and perhaps Monken can help design an offense to keep the magic alive. Monken also brings a long history with the Air Raid offense to Cleveland, and Mayfield played in an Air Raid offense throughout college. Will we see the spread out, aggressive air raid style in Cleveland? We will soon see. They do have a new wide receiver to put through his paces.
On the defensive side, Kitchens went with experience and brought in Steve Wilks, who was released from his duties as the Arizona Cardinals head coach after a dismal first season at the helm. Wilks does have a history of running strong defenses, however, so perhaps he can put his time in the desert in the rearview mirror. One of the only positives from his horrible one-and-done run as head coach of the Cardinals was a strong pass defense. Hopefully he can translate his past success in Carolina and other stops to work in Cleveland.
There is all kinds of offensive talent in Cleveland, and that was before “the trade.” It starts at quarterback with the rising star of Mayfield. If you don’t have Mayfield in superflex, you probably can’t get him. If you do have him, good work! There really isn’t much more to say here, other than don’t overpay for him if you’re in a one-quarterback league.
At running back, Nick Chubb had a very strong rookie season himself. Once the Browns shipped out Carlos Hyde in October, Chubb was able to take over the top running back job fully, and boy did he take it over. Over 1,100 all-purpose yards and ten touchdowns for a team that struggled half the season? Yes, please. And if that wasn’t enough, the Browns also took a chance on Kareem Hunt, who had an awful lot of success on the field, even if he has had some serious issues off the field. They also have my old buddy Duke Johnson still on the roster, but the winds say he may be headed out of town at some point. Johnson may be the best receiving running back in the league.
Ok, ok, we made it here. “The Browns got Odell Beckham!” In the most shocking move of this off-season, the Browns pried perhaps the best wide receiver in football away from the suddenly clueless New York Giants. While I love the new, trade-happy NFL, I don’t know how you move a player like Beckham. A top three wide receiver who is still that young? I don’t get it. The Browns also still have the services of Jarvis Landry, who may catch north of 300 balls this year with Beckham wreaking havoc on coverage. There are other wide receivers on the team like Rashard Higgins and the once boutique pick Antonio Callaway, but I wonder how to pick who to go after past the big two.
At tight end, at least, the choice is clear. You want David Njoku. This may be the year and the offense to truly unlock his talent. I expect Njoku to blot out the sun numerous times in the end zone this year. He’s a great player to have at the position if you can’t get one of the top three tight ends.
The Bottom Line
Whew. Just listing the offensive talent in the Dawg Pound is a little tiring. The problem is that almost all of those talented players are likely fetching full price or more this off-season. I’d love to own quite a few of them, but it may not be in the cards. Players aside, I do like the look of the new coaching staff. I know some didn’t love the Kitchens hire, but in my estimation, that’s more about a lack of familiarity with the new head honcho. He’s just never been the kind of hot name that football fans love to talk about, and therefore a lot of us looked at the hire and said, “huh?” I felt unsure myself, but the more I read about Kitchens the more I liked him. And with all that talent, as long as he can keep the team together he’ll have a great chance at success.
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