Senior analyst Michael Fabiano breaks down the fantasy history & potential of the NFC North’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 with a look 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 the entire AFC, and NFC East, so let’s continue the series with a look at the NFC 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: Matt Nagy (2018-present)
Offensive Coordinator: Bill Lazor (2020-present)
Nagy handed over the play-calling duties to Lazor last season, but he’ll be back in that role in 2021. While Alex Smith ranked as the QB3 while Nagy was the Chiefs offensive coordinator (with Andy Reid), no Bears quarterback has finished better than the QB15 under his guidance. That was Mitchell Trubisky, who hit the mark in the 2018 campaign. Chicago is expected to start Andy Dalton top open this season, but it’ll be just a matter of time before Nagy moves to rookie Justin Fields under center.
The running back position has had some success under Nagy, as Kareem Hunt (2017) and David Montgomery (2020) both finished as the RB4 in their respective seasons. What’s more, Tarik Cohen had an RB11 finish in 2018. Montgomery will be the obvious top Bears runner in fantasy drafts this season, but the return of Cohen and the addition of Damien Williams almost guarantees he’ll see some level of statistical regression.
Nagy has had one top-10 fantasy wide receiver in three of the last four seasons. Tyreek Hill was the WR9 in 2017, and Allen Robinson had a WR8 finish in 2019 and a WR9 rank last season. Unfortunately, no other wideout in a Nagy offense has finished better than WR41 (Taylor Gabriel, 2018). That might be bad news for sleeper Darnell Mooney.
The tight end position has had success under Nagy, but the best season came while with the Chiefs (Travis Kelce, 2017). In three seasons in Chicago, Nagy has coached Trey Burton to a TE8 finish in 2018 and Jimmy Graham to a TE13 finish in 2020. The fantasy world will be focused on Cole Kmet this season, making him a late-round pick.
Head coach: Dan Campbell (2021)
Offensive Coordinator: Anthony Lynn (2021)
The Lions will have a new look this season, as the Dan Campbell, knee-biting era has begun. Lynn will be in charge of the offense, and he’s had some real success with the quarterbacks. In fact, Tyrod Taylor (QB8, 2016), Philip Rivers (QB8, 2017) and Justin Herbert (2020, QB9) have all had top-10 finishes. Rivers also had a QB11 rank in 2018. Unfortunately, that would be a pie-in-the-sky scenario for Jared Goff. With mediocre options in the passing attack beyond T.J. Hockenson, Goff won’t be picked in many drafts.
Lynn’s offenses have produced a top-8 finish four times among running backs, including three top-5s (Austin Ekeler – 2019, Melvin Gordon – 2017, LeSean McCoy – 2016). He has liked to use a main runner, as one back has averaged at least 17 touches in five seasons under Lynn. However, just two backs have seen more than 225 touches in a single season. Last season, D’Andre Swift (160 touches) finished as the RB18 despite averaging fewer than 13 touches a game. The presence of Jamaal Williams is a cause for concern, but Swift should still be considered a viable No. 2 running back.
At wide receiver, no one aside from Keenan Allen has finished better than WR32 under Lynn. That list includes the likes of Mike Williams, Robert Woods, and Sammy Watkins. His No. 1 wideout in Detroit could be Tyrell Williams, who played in Lynn’s offense in Los Angeles. He averaged an unimpressive 8.6 fantasy points in those two seasons as the Chargers No. 2 wide receiver. Rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown will be the most-drafted Lions wideout in 2021 redrafts, but he’ll be worth no more than a flier in most leagues.
Lynn’s system has been somewhat tight end friendly, as Hunter Henry had one top-10 finish and another top-12 finish. None of his tight ends have had more than 54 catches, 652 yards, or five touchdowns in a single season, but he’s also never had a tight end as good as Hockenson. He’s a lock to be one of the first six tight ends selected in drafts.
Green Bay Packers
Head coach: Matt LaFleur (2019-present)
Offensive Coordinator: Nathaniel Hackett (2019-present)
LaFleur has suggested he might give Hackett play-calling duties this season, but let’s take a look at the former’s fantasy successes. He’s had the good fortune of coaching Aaron Rodgers, who had been a top-10 fantasy quarterback in two straight seasons. Whether Rodgers remains the Packers signal-caller remains to be seen, however. In the two other seasons LaFleur has been an offensive coach without Rodgers, he saw Goff finish as the QB12 (2017) and Marcus Mariota finish as the QB24 (2018).
The Packers have fielded a top-5 fantasy running back (Aaron Jones) in each of the last two seasons under LaFleur. He also helped Todd Gurley finish as the RB1 in 2017. He has had just one pair of backs finish in the top 30 in fantasy points in the same season, however. That happened in 2018 with Derrick Henry (RB16) and Dion Lewis (RB28). Jones is the obvious top option (first-round grade) in Green Bay’s backfield this season, but it also makes sense to target A.J. Dillon as an RB3/RB4 in 2021 fantasy redrafts.
Davante Adams finished as the top wideout in the NFL last season and averaged 17.7 fantasy points in his 12 games from 2019. Aside from Adams, however, no wideout has finished better than WR22 in LaFleur’s offense. In fact, only Cooper Kupp has ranked higher than WR28 in a single season under the young head coach. Beyond Adams, there isn’t a single wideout on the Packers roster worth more than a late-round choice.
Most tight ends haven’t thrived overall under LaFleur, as just one has finished better than TE21. That was Robert Tonyan, who ranked fourth at the position last season. He did that based on his 11 touchdowns, which is 10 more than all tight ends had scored under LaFleur in his previous three seasons combined. Tonyan also scored once for every 4.7 receptions, which is not going to happen again. He’s a regression candidate.
Head coach: Mike Zimmer (2014-present)
Offensive Coordinator: Klint Kubiak (2021)
The Vikings are moving to Klint, the son of Gary Kubiak, as the offensive coordinator this season. He was the team’s quarterbacks coach in each of the last two seasons, with Gary serving as the OC. Assuming much of Klint’s tendencies will mirror his dad’s, it’s notable that Kirk Cousins ranked as the QB11 under Gary’s guidance last season. Overall, Gary has had eight top-12 quarterback finishes as a head coach or coordinator.
Dalvin Cook ranked second among running backs a season ago, earning a 44 percent touch share. That sort of workload should remain in place in 2021. Gary’s offense was always running back-friendly, as he oversaw a combined 14 top-12 fantasy finishes.
The Vikings had a pair of top-10 fantasy wideouts, Justin Jefferson (WR6) and Adam Thielen (WR10), in 2021. Wide receivers have had 80-plus catches in a single season 15 times in Gary’s system, including Jefferson’s 88 last season. It also makes 15 times a wideout has posted a top-12 season under the elder Kubiak. Another 11 players have finished WR13-WR24. If Klint follows in his dad’s coaching footsteps, expect Jefferson and Thielen to both produce fine numbers again both for the Vikings and fantasy fans.
At tight end, neither Irv Smith Jr. nor Kyle Rudolph finished in the top 20 last season. Smith did rank as a top-5 tight end over the final four weeks, however, and Rudolph’s departure opens up nearly 40 targets in the passing game. That could mean a breakout season for Smith, as Gary’s offensive system has produced a combined 13 top-12 tight ends. Shannon Sharpe did it six times, but far lesser-known players like Desmond Clark, Owen Daniels, Dwayne Carswell, and Jeb Putzier have also found success.
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!