Senior analyst Michael Fabiano breaks down the fantasy history & potential of the AFC South’s coaches & offensive coordinators
These days, there’s no shortage of information to prepare for your fantasy drafts. Heck, there might even be too much info! Well, I’m going to add to the madness by looking at how offensive coordinators and head coaches have run their offenses and what it might mean for the 2021 season. After all, the coaches and OCs are the minds behind the chess game that is the National Football League. Some coaches like to run the football, thus producing a ton of fantasy points at the running back position. Others prefer the air assault, making fantasy heroes out of quarterbacks while loading up wide receivers and tight ends with oodles of targets and chances to score points in the passing attack.
Well, this article will break it all down for you.
We’ve already looked at both the AFC East and AFC North, so let’s continue this series with the AFC North. What you’ll find below are each team’s current head coaches and offensive coordinators. I’ll discuss which positions have thrived or failed based on past statistics and fantasy finishes during their respective tenures in the league.
Head coach: David Culley (2021)
Offensive Coordinator: Tim Kelly (2019-present)
Culley has a long, impressive resume as an offensive coach in the NFL, working with the Eagles, Chiefs, Bills, and Ravens. Kelly has been the Texans offensive coordinator since 2019, during which time Deshaun Watson has produced a pair of top-five fantasy finishes. Of course, his off-field issues and desire to be traded makes Watson a real risk in fantasy drafts at this point. He’s worth just a late-round look as a speculative QB2.
Kelly’s running backs haven’t done much in the stat sheets, as David Johnson (RB21) is his best fantasy finisher. Houston has added Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, and Rex Burkhead in the offseason, making for a potentially confusing backfield committee that fantasy managers would be wise to avoid in a prominent role this upcoming season.
Texans wideouts have had some level of success under Kelly, as DeAndre Hopkins had a WR5 season in 2019. Will Fuller averaged 17.1 points per game and was on pace to have a top-10 fantasy season in 2020, but he was suspended in his final five games. In his absence, Brandin Cooks stepped up and finished with an average of more than 15 points. With Fuller now in Miami, Cooks is the most valuable of the Texans wideouts, with Randall Cobb also worth a look. Unfortunately, it’s tough to gauge the true value of either player since we’re unsure who the team’s quarterback will be at this point.
The best tight end rank under Kelly came last season when Darren Fells finished TE17. However, Fells is no longer on the roster, so Jordan Akins and Brevin Jordan will battle for targets. Neither player will have much value in traditional 2021 fantasy redrafts.
READ MORE: Houston Texans Fantasy Team Outlook
HC: Frank Reich (2018-present)
OC: Marcus Brady (2021)
Brady has spent much of his coaching career in the Canadian Football League, but he’s been with the Colts as a quarterbacks coach since 2018. However, I’d expect that Reich will still call the plays on offense, so I wouldn’t expect a big change in philosophies. He has had a pair of top-five quarterbacks in his time as a coordinator and head coach, one of them being Carson Wentz (2017). That’s good news for the veteran quarterback, who knows Reich’s offense and could experience a rebirth with his new franchise.
Reich has produced a pair of top-six running backs, Danny Woodhead (RB3, 2015) and Jonathan Taylor (RB6, 2020), at the NFL level. He has also had at least one runner with 260+ touches in each of the last two seasons, so Reich will use a lead back. That should be Taylor once again in 2021, though the presence of Nyheim Hines and the return of Marlon Mack could keep Taylor from improving on his rookie total of 268 touches. Regardless, the powerful runner remains a surefire first-round selection in all drafts.
At wide receiver, Reich hasn’t had a player finish better than WR14 (T.Y. Hilton, 2018). What’s more, just two wideouts have finished in the top 20 in fantasy points under the watch of Reich. While we like Michael Pittman Jr. as a potential sleeper, this trend does suggest that his best-case scenario might not be much more than a No. 3 wideout.
Reich’s offenses have produced tremendous fantasy tight ends seasons, however. He’s coached four top-six players at the position, but Reich has also had stars like Zach Ertz and Antonio Gates at his disposal. He coached Eric Ebron to a top-four finish in 2018, but the current roster doesn’t have a tight end to get excited about at this point. If the Colts swing a deal for Ertz, he could easily push back into the top-12 conversation.
READ MORE: Indianapolis Colts Fantasy Team Outlook
HC: Urban Meyer (2021)
OC: Darrell Bevell (2021)
Meyer has long been a collegiate coach, but Bevell has a long resume at the NFL level. He’s had the advantage of coaching a few elite quarterbacks, including Russell Wilson, Brett Favre, and Matthew Stafford. That makes it no surprise that he’s overseen six top-10 quarterback finishes based on fantasy points. He’s also seen a QB11 (Wilson, 2016) and a QB16 (Stafford, 2020) finish. His offense was aggressive in the passing game in 2019, as Stafford was on pace for a top-10 finish before injuring his back. This is good news for Trevor Lawrence, who’ll be drafted as a QB2 in most 2021 fantasy redrafts.
Not only has Bevell coached several elite quarterbacks, but he’s also had two Hall of Fame level running backs (Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch) as well. Those two have produced a combined eight top-10 finishes among backs. Chester Taylor (RB13, 2006) and D’Andre Swift (RB18, 2020) have also found success under Bevell. That seems like good news for James Robinson and Travis Etienne, but this could end up being one of the toughest backfields to gauge in 2020. Robinson is coming off a top-10 finish, but Etienne was hand-picked in the first round by the new regime. If a committee emerges, neither back will be more than a flex starter in most leagues. Etienne could end up as more of a pass catcher, but keep in mind that no runner has ever hit 50 catches in a single season under Bevell. Swift had 46 catches a season ago, which tied Mewelde Moore (2006) for the most receptions from a running back under his guidance.
Bevell’s success with the wide receiver position hasn’t been all that high, as he’s seen just four top-10 fantasy finishes in his 14 years as an offensive coordinator. Those four finishes are also the lone quartet who have had 1,000-plus yards under Bevell. While that’s difficult to believe, it’s true. Furthermore, he’s had just eight top-24 finishes at the position. So, the presence of Lawrence should mean good things for the likes of D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones Jr., and Laviska Shenault, I’d still temper your expectations.
Tight ends have had a combined five top-10 finishes in Bevell’s offenses of the years, including Jimmy Graham and T.J. Hockenson, but the current Jaguars roster doesn’t have a pass-catching, playmaking player at the position. Sorry, Tim Tebow.
READ MORE: Jacksonville Jaguars Fantasy Team Outlook
HC: Mike Vrabel (2018-present)
OC: Todd Downing (2021)
Downing is getting a second chance at being an offensive coordinator after a brief, one-year stint in Oakland (2017). That offense didn’t have much success through the air, as Derek Carr ranked as the QB19 with 3,496 passing yards and 13 interceptions. The Raiders also threw the ball 61.1 percent of the time. That isn’t going to happen with the Titans and Derrick Henry in the backfield. Of course, Downing now gets to work with a veteran in Ryan Tannehill, who has been a top-10 fantasy quarterback in recent years.
Downing had Marshawn Lynch in his backfield in 2017, but “Beast Mode” was past his prime and finished as the RB24. Henry, who is coming off a 2,000-yard season, is in the prime of his career. While regression is guaranteed at some level, Henry should remain one of the offensive centerpieces. He’ll also remain a top-eight pick in fantasy redrafts.
The Raiders had a talented duo of wide receivers in 2017, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, but neither had more than 700 receiving yards. I wouldn’t use that against the Titans’ new super duo, A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. Brown, who finished as the WR12 last season, should remain on that same level even with Jones in the mix. Keep in mind, the Titans lost well over 100 targets when Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith left as free agents. What’s more, Carr has rarely had a productive fantasy wideout due to his tendency to throw short and intermediate passes more often, which benefits the tight end. That’s part of the reason Jared Cook was the TE12 under Downing in 2017.
Speaking of tight ends, Anthony Firkser looks like the projected top option for the Titans with Smith and MyCole Pruitt no longer on the roster. While he won’t emerge into a top-end starter with Henry, Brown, and Jones, Firkser is worth a late flier.
READ MORE: Tennessee Titans Fantasy Team Outlook
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!