This year, fourteen teams will have new play callers on offense. That insane number includes four men from the college ranks and one from another professional football league. And it does not include the two coordinators who took over during the 2012 season, Jim Caldwell in Baltimore and Dowell Loggains in Tennessee. So basically the turnover at play caller from this time a year ago is 50 percent.
Knowing who is calling the plays is important, but knowing their tendencies is even more important. Every coach will tell you they prefer to let the talent dictate their coaching decisions (except for Mike Martz) but some coaches are either too stubborn or too stuck in their ways to change certain things about the playbooks they carry with them. Knowing these things will help paint a picture of what to expect from their offenses and in turn their key Fantasy players.
What we've done is looked back at the relevant history of the five most intriguing playcallers coming into new jobs this season. Instead of studying the production of the players coached by these five guys, we looked at their play calls from a high level. How often they ran the ball, how often a running back ran the ball, how often they passed the ball and how often each position group caught it. The resulting numbers should better prepare you for what to expect from them this season.
Chip Kelly, Eagles
|2012 UO||2011 UO||2010 UO||2009 UO||2008 UO||2007 UO||2006 NH|
|% rec RB||26.4||34.3||14.1||14.2||7.3||14.7||41.5|
|% rec WR||61.6||48.7||74.2||58.4||70.6||66.8||52.5|
|% rec TE||11.6||16.5||10.5||27.4||17.6||18.4||5.0|
Like all coaches, Kelly will play to his strengths, but it's pretty evident that he leans on his running backs and the run game in general in his up-tempo approach. His last three years at Oregon were not only significantly run heavy but also featured an average of 35 to 39 carries per game just for running backs. And in those last two years the running backs were catching a high percentage of passes (thanks to De'Anthony Thomas, who we'll probably tout highly in 2014 drafts). But using rushers as receivers isn't something new for Kelly -- he leaned on them going back to his days at New Hampshire, especially if they couldn't get going on handoffs. Wideouts got a good cut of the pass attack whereas tight ends were only prominently featured once: Ed Dickson's senior season in 2009 when the Ducks didn't throw the ball nearly as much as in other seasons.
Bottom line: Not only should you expect LeSean McCoy to see a big dose of work this year, but whoever backs him up (for now it's Bryce Brown) will probably get a healthy dose of reps too. While the Eagles pass game might be a mix of West Coast principles with a quick-hitting mantra, there's a chance the pass game won't be as dynamic as the talent suggests.
Marc Trestman, Bears
|2012 MTL||2011 MTL||2010 MTL||2009 MTL||2008 MTL||2006 NCSt||2005 NCSt||2003 OAK||2002 OAK||2000 ARI||1999 ARI||1998 ARI||1996 SF||1995 SF||1989 CLE|
|% rec RB||35.5||21.5||21.4||20.5||21.0||19.9||21.3||25.9||31.6||35.1||27.9||27.0||34.6||35.0||34.6|
|% rec WR||62.8||77.8||78.4||79.5||78.8||55.1||48.1||56.1||54.3||53.2||57.8||58.3||48.9||47.2||54.7|
|% rec TE||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||25.0||30.6||18.0||14.1||11.7||14.3||14.7||16.5||17.6||10.0|
Note: Trestman's last five years involved him calling plays in the Canadian Football League, which varies greatly from the NFL. In the CFL, 12 players are on the field at one time and tight end isn't really a position. Slotbacks are regular contributors, which for this study we lumped in as receivers since they're basically receivers who line up in the slot. Canadian teams have three downs to get a first down instead of four in the NFL, meaning there are more possessions per game but fewer plays from scrimmage (more punting). The CFL also uses a 20-second game clock and the field is 10 yards longer than in the NFL. It all makes for a more pass-friendly league (you should check it out!).
The first thing that stands out is that Trestman loves to lean on his running backs as receivers. In his 15 years as a play caller his rushers have caught essentially 20 percent of the completions or more every single year. So if we give Jay Cutler 350 completions, that's 70 for the Bears running backs and Matt Forte will probably dominate those. Trestman's lack of use of running backs in the run game in the CFL is because of the rules, but in the NFL and college his running backs totaled at least 21 carries on average in nine of 10 years. His utilization of tight ends was never high in the NFL -- a seemingly troubling sign for Martellus Bennett -- but if Alshon Jeffery can't keep up his end of the receiving game then that trend could turn. Besides, it's been five years since Trestman has even needed to use a tight end. Finally, you don't see it here but Trestman has used a goal-line back religiously, including using quarterbacks in the CFL (a common use for backups in that league is to work the goal line). Michael Bush should have his role carved out.
Bottom line: Trestman should be a fairly predictable play caller in terms of annual stats. On a week-to-week basis, he'll probably mix things up aside from these obvious facets: Matt Forte will touch the ball a lot and Brandon Marshall will get thrown at a lot. Those are the two must-draft Bears players regardless of who is calling plays. There is no data that suggests Cutler will throw like crazy, especially since Trestman's NFL quarterbacks averaged over 38 pass attempts just twice in eight years.
Nathaniel Hackett, Bills
|2012 SYR||2011 SYR|
|% rec RB||16.3||15.3|
|% rec WR||66.4||56.7|
|% rec TE||16.9||28.0|
Hackett is an interesting case: He's the son of long-time NFL coach and offensive coordinator Paul Hackett. He also picked up a lot of pro experience as a quality control coach before jumping to Syracuse with Doug Marrone and then following him to Buffalo. There's not much of a track record of Hackett as a play caller -- just two years -- but they're radically different. As Ryan Nassib told me at the Senior Bowl, Hackett scrapped the Orange's offense literally just before the start of training camp last year and re-invented his system to mimic elements of what Chip Kelly was doing in Oregon: Hyper-tempo, no-huddle offenses. Syracuse squeezed out more than 11 plays per game from 2011 to 2012 as a result and the team was successful. Hackett leaned on his run game much like Kelly did in both seasons, but they were far more represented on handoffs in the new scheme compared to the old. And unlike Kelly, backs didn't catch a ton of passes under Hackett -- hopefully something that will change now that Hackett has C.J. Spiller on his side. Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel is also a different kind of player than Nassib and could further influence how Hackett calls plays.
Bottom line: It's a little dangerous to make assumptions on Hackett's intentions given the limited data and new talent he has in Buffalo, but Spiller (and, yes, Fred Jackson too) should handle a lot of work. Steve Johnson should see a lot of catches. And if the Bills had a healthy, capable athletic tight end, he might also be valuable.
Bill Callahan, Cowboys
|2007 NEB||2006 NEB||2005 NEB||2004 NEB|
|% rec RB||32.1||29.9||22.6||23.1|
|% rec WR||59.1||55.3||67.8||56.4|
|% rec TE||8.8||14.3||9.2||19.2|
Callahan made a late rush to our survey when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones named him the play caller for the 2013 season (he was already the offensive coordinator). Callahan previously called plays at Nebraska but a reliable source told us he only coordinated the run game in Oakland with Marc Trestman as the play caller. The last time Callahan called the shots he was very running back friendly. Over four years at Nebraska running backs had a huge cut of the offense while receivers and tight ends got whatever they could. But there's a catch: Callahan never had talent like Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten at his disposal. It stands to reason Callahan isn't so hard-headed that he discounts the Dallas pass game that posted 295.6 yards per contest ...
Bottom line: ... but it does suggest the run game won't get lost in the shuffle either. The Cowboys were ranked 31st in rush attempts last year, averaging 22.2 per game. That's a nice positive for DeMarco Murray, who is still otherwise an injury risk.
Pep Hamilton, Colts
|2012 STAN||2011 STAN|
|% rec RB||27.5||27.9|
|% rec WR||32.9||42.8|
|% rec TE||38.8||29.0|
Again, not much of a sample size with Hamilton, but like Callahan in Dallas he is expected to lean on his running backs a little more than his predecessor did. The Colts' run game ranked 14th in rush attempts but finished 22nd in yards gained. That's not pretty. Hamilton has used a West Coast scheme that leans heavily on running backs and tight ends in the pass game, par for the course for most coaches in that system. Note that in both 2011 (with Andrew Luck) and 2012 (with a quarterback far inferior to Luck) Hamilton called more runs per game on average than passes. In fact, in both seasons, running backs had more carries than quarterbacks had pass attempts! While it would be surprising to see the Colts be close to a 50-50 balanced offense with Luck under center, maybe they'll be closer to that mark than you might think.
Bottom line: Whoever ends up as the Colts' primary rusher after training camp should have a spot on your roster. Whereas Bruce Arians might have given up on the ground game a little too early, Hamilton has shown he'll stick with it even if his quarterback is named Luck. Naturally, Hamilton won't be afraid to lean on Luck either, especially considering the variety of receiving threats he has. The Colts might not be quite as explosive as last season but they should be as effective.
A note on the other new playcallers
|Bruce Arians, ARI||Aggressive and pass-happy. Should be very good for Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer.|
|Mike Shula, CAR||Good track record as quarterback coach but has leaned toward run in play calling career.|
|Norv Turner, CLE||Long history of leaning on running backs, throwing downfield. Josh Gordon is a legit sleeper.|
|Adam Gase, DEN||First-year coordinator will probably yield to Peyton Manning. Good idea.|
|Jedd Fisch, JAC||Another up-tempo coach from the college ranks. Fisch will use zone blocking & timing patterns.|
|Andy Reid, KC||Reid might follow the up-tempo and pistol movements after being a West Coast guy for 10-plus years.|
|Marty Mornhinweg, NYJ||Like Reid, a West Coast guy who might change it up. Won't matter with a tepid offense.|
|Greg Olson, OAK||Will use power blocks to suit Darren McFadden, deep throws to suit Matt Flynn.|
|Ken Whisenhunt, SD||Whiz's history in Arizona post-Kurt Warner is ugly, but the Chargers might air it out.|